Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dinner Tonight

Sugina (スギな) Equisitum arvense, or Common Horsetail. Apparently this is the only edible species in the Equisitum genus — rich in silicon, potassium, and calcium. Right now the heads are loaded with dusty green pollen, so when we cooked them up with other vegetables, the dish turned a muddy pea green.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tidal Flats

So happy — everything's alive. 

                                                                                                                — Masaoka Shiki

Monday, March 26, 2012

History's Layers Here

Niihama really pleasantly surprises me sometimes. Out cycling the neighborhoods behind the station, tucked in behind this
and this
I came across something at first glance radically different.
But thinking about principles — clean, straight lines without unnecessary ornamentation — perhaps it wasn't so out of character after all.
Above is a view from the front. Notice the tasteful orange noren partially screening the interior courtyard.
The lights and electric outlets and mail slots are small and unobtrusive. And I love the fact that the building is sitting in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Weren't the 70s Rad?

Karuta (from the Portugeuese carta, "card" in English) is a traditional Japanese game in which opponents must swiftly select a matching card from an array displayed on the floor.

There are two basic versions of the game, the iroha-garuta and the uta-garuta. In the latter game, the players are given the first three lines of a tanka and must find the matching card which contains the last two lines. All songs are chosen from the Hyakunin-isshu (100 Famous Poems from 100 Famous Poets).

In the 1970s, at least one card maker decided to modernize the design (traditional example on the right):

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Novelists Must Be Unhappy

Echosquirrel and I were sitting around talking yesterday, reminiscing really, when I asked her where she thought she'd be right now if she had never met me.

She somewhat gruffly replied that she didn't waste her time thinking about such things. I didn't ask her why — I think I know why — it has to do with her desire to stay centered and live in the present.

I did say that I thought it was at least interesting to explore counterfactuals.


"'Factuals.' You know, ask 'What if so-and-so had done X instead of Y?' Or 'What if such-and-such had happened to A instead of what actually did? How would history have been different? (Would history have been different?)"

What if, for example, Darwin had contracted tuberculosis before his voyage on the Beagle? Could he still have produced his theory of evolution by natural selection? Would we now be talking about Wallacian, not Darwinian evolution? Would the thrust of history have remained the same, with just some of the details having changed?

Counterfactuals are not solely the realm of historians however. Novelists employ them as well, though when conjecture and imagination come into play we call the resulting fiction Alternate History (AH).

I guess Nabokov's Anti-Terra spinning somewhere outside the space and time of Terra in Ada is the best example I know: a delusion of Van's, a love song to what could never have been, a parallel world with its own distinctive morals and science, standing what we think we know on its head.

So what do counterfactuals and alternate histories have to do with novelists being unhappy? Well, if we equate happiness with enlightenment, or at least the striving for such a state, we see that being grounded in the present — not obsessing about the past or projecting too much into the future — is one of the conditions for achieving that state.

I remember once watching a Tibetan Buddhist mandala being created and destroyed at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. I wondered if any poet or novelist would do such a thing to their "work of art."

Novelist in particular (at least the ones I'm interested in) are past miners and future fellaters — our own past or future or our characters' or some weird hybrid of the two. We're always busy rewriting the past, and our selves into it, a past imperfect or a future dystopia, the present sliding forward into something we'd really rather not say.

I guess what this admittedly ragged blog post wants to propose is that in our attempt at creating or recreating a world, we are striving for a permanence that simply cannot be. We speak to our own generation, at best maybe a few generations removed.

After that, or sooner, impermanence. Get used to it. Maybe made into a movie. Coming soon to a theater near you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Are Here

Curiously alive, like some culture, foetus, or ambulatory circuit of the brain.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Swallow Carving

Inside the Shiki-Dō, Matsuyama.(子規堂のなかに、松山)

The Shiki-Dō is a recreation of the poet Masaoka Shiki's family home. Crouching in the shadow of a giant Mitsukoshi department store with a ferris wheel on its roof, the house, tucked away on the side of a Zen temple, seems a little downtrodden and unloved; but the entrance fee is only 50 yen, which probably only buys the poor grounds a little raking every now and then. Anyway, the swallow remains undisturbed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

For Now — Sayonara

I have to thank echosquirrel for introducing me to The Books. They're an American duo whose first album Thought for Food came out way back in 2002.

Tokyo is from their second album, The Lemon of Pink (2003). I love how at about the 1:21 mark of this video the flight attendant says: "We hope you have enjoyed the flight.... And for now — sayonara."

For an English speaking person sayonara really just means goodbye. But in Japanese, it seems to me, it means "goodbye, I probably won't see you again for a while" which is somewhat at odds with the for now. Sayonara is more like "farewell", so you really don't hear it that often.

There are lots of other ways to say a more temporary goodbye, like when leaving work one says otsukara sama deshita which I like translating, somewhat ridiculously, as "I salute you, oh tired one!" or "Thank you for working so hard!" (The assumption being that everyone always works hard.)

Then there's jâ ne! (More woman's language than men's, meaning "see ya".) Or ja, mata ashita. (See you tomorrow.) Or ato de (later). Or the terrible schoolgirl "bai-bai!"

Anyway, for now, sayonara. I hope you have enjoyed the flight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

2 New Used Books

Rain this past weekend — a good time to lose myself in the local used bookstore. I found a couple of treasures at the ridiculously named Book Off. First this reissue of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's Rashōmon ・ Hana — the matching droopy nose and clothes of the cover art which sold me. As did the fact that (I'm embarrassed to admit) I've only read a bit of Akutagawa (Kappa) the writer the famed literary biannual short story prize is named after.

Rashōmon is probably best known as the title of Akira Kurosawa's 1950 movie that won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, introducing the director to Western audiences. The movie — which took the setting from Akutagawa's story of the same name but its plot from his In a Grove — depicted a crime witnessed by four people, all of whom described it in mutually incompatible and contradictory ways. The success of that movie spawned the psychological term Rashōmon effect wherein the retelling of a crime or event by several witnesses becomes so colored by each person's subjective perception as to make the retellings seem to be discrete events — all of them plausible though mutually incompatible.

Interestingly enough, Japanese people with whom I've spoken, if they know of him at all, don't hold Kurosawa in such high regard as Westerners. And Rashōmon the movie, seen through the lens of more than sixty years on, can seem overwrought and melodramatic, though it does endure as a kind of template for the telling of a story from multiple points of view.

However that may be, I'm looking forward to reading this collection of short stories and will be prepared to offer my unsolicited opinion as soon as I am done.

First, however, I'm going to read my other find, Shokudō Katatsumuri, a 2008 best selling novel by Ogawa Ito.

The title, I guess, can be translated as The Snail Diner or The Snail Restaurant. The first couple of pages compelled me to buy it: a woman comes back to her apartment after her shift working at a Turkish restaurant only to find the place completely stripped of its contents — refrigerator, washing machine, wall hangings, welcome mat, everything. Her Indian boyfriend is gone too with no note or explanation. She is devastated. Loses her voice.

A compelling opening to be sure — at least from the perspective of plot — and a well designed cover to boot which I'm a sucker for.

Recently the novel has been made into a movie, the English subtitled version called Rinco's Restaurant. (Not especially informative or enticing trailer here.) But I think I'll read the book first.

That's all. Happy reading. I'll let you know when I come up for air.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Yosa Buson

Cerise Press has been good enough to publish some Musings on Buson of mine in their 2012 Spring Issue.


                                                             Spring rain —
                                                             nothing written
                                                             starting to feel sorry for myself

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What Do Cycads and Ginkgos have in Common?

Answer: They both have motile sperm.

They're both gymnosperms, plants bearing "naked seeds," i.e. their unfertilized seeds are unenclosed, open to the air for direct fertilization by pollination.

Additionally, they are both fairly ancient species — cycads have been around since at least the early Permian, roughly 280 million years ago (though most extant cycad species have evolved in only the last 12 million years) — and the gingkos nearly as long, 270 million years.

And, you can find both species here on Shikoku.

 *Illustration above from Dokobara by Kumiko Takeuchi 2008