Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On Long Commutes


n Saturday, when I went to M's friend's house for dinner, we talked about riding the train home from work. One person said that he noticed that very few passengers do what the Japanese do--read a book or listen to music. I don't really agree. I have seen my share of those who read novels, work on their laptops or listen to their iPods, although many also seem to be content to just stare out the window and be involved in their own thoughts. But I didn't say anything because I didn't really want to get into a discussion about something as inane as Metro passenger behavior. However, there is one thing that I have rarely seen an American commuter do that all Japanese commuter's will do more than just occasionally: Sleep.

I don't make it a habit to "check out" the other passengers--well, not unless they are... y'know, exceptionally good looking?--but there are very few who fall asleep. But this is a habit that I have adopted whole-heartedly, being the good student of Japanese culture that I am. And I'm not just talking about being drunk and falling asleep, although I have done that, too, on more than a few occasions. Indeed, once M and I were fast asleep in the train--after having imbibed on 5 or 6 beers at the Red Lion next to campus--when we were awakened by a loud clap of the hand right in front of our faces. We snapped our heads up only to see this huge mug of a Metro police officer staring at us. My first thought was, Woah, what's up dude? Do we look like terrorists to be accorded such a rude awakening? But he just said:

"Vienna, last station."

Oh, thanks. And we sheepishly got off the train. I guess we were pretty much wasted by the beer, but still I was surprised that M had not awakened on her own accord. You see, the Japanese have this uncanny ability to wake up at their own station. I'm pretty sure it's not a genetic thing for I was not able to develop this ability fully; but when I lived in Japan, I was slowly getting the knack of waking up right when I reached my station in Tama. I've never been able to figure out why, but it seems that the body develops a sense of "train-ride time". That is, the body--or subconscious mind--knows how long you been on the train and you wake up when you've been on it for X minutes. Of course, this is my unproven and unscientific theory which, of course, is another way of saying it's bullshit. But I have not other way of explaining that sense of "knowing" when to wake up.

Naturally, this sense can be dulled by extraneous factors, the most obvious being alcohol. Many Japanese share the same story of sleeping on the train after a night of drinking, then waking up just as the door is closing at their station, or like me ending up at the last station on the line--I've walked home from Tama Center to Nagayama twice, having missed my station on the last train of the night. So, I guess it wasn't so odd to be awakened at Vienna by the Metro cop. Thankfully, I live off of Vienna so I didn't have to walk to another station.

Interestingly, the dulling of these senses seems to have conversely triggered the genius of some. Look at the photo. It is a woman wearing a brand new invention--the "Wake Me Up" hat. Besides preventing her from resting her head on the shoulders of a neighboring passenger--and this DOES happen in Japan--the hat has a sign on it. It's hard to read from our camera angle except for the bottom, which happens to read, Nishi-Ogikubo. Since this is the name of a train station on the Chuo-line, I can easily guess the message that precedes it: "If I'm sleeping when the train reaches the station named below--begging your indulgence--please wake me up."

Only in Japan...

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Grading, grading, grading


spent most of the weekend working on material for class. I intended to spend most of Saturday night grading... well, at least I wanted to get started on the grading, but I forgot that I had to go to a dinner party at one of M's friend's house. Like the good little husband, I do as she bids. As a result, unfortunately, I will spend all of Sunday grading my little heart out. Hope I can finish it. I hate returning papers back late. Besides, I'd rather spend my time here on my blog.

Hope all you cats in blog-land are having a more relaxed weekend that I.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Work Weekend


had an interesting day today. No, nothing spectacular happened. I did not hit the Lotto. There was no major scandal DC. I just taught my one Thursday. But, on the way to work, I met a former student. I was on the Metro, incognito, as usual--I have sensitive eyes and so I wear my sunglasses even on cloudy days, and I don't usually take them off even on the subway. Anyway, the car is half empty but someone gets on at Ballston and plops right down next to me. Yes, she didn't sit, she plopped. I'm sitting there trying to focus on my Sudoku--yes the O-man is addicted too--when I realize she is staring me from the side.

What the f...

It was a former student of mine, Triphox. I knew it was you, sensei. The sunglasses don't fool me. She is currently a law student at a local university and seems to be doing quite fine, thank you. She wrote an article for a journal that she and her colleagues put out at school. The title is "Deconstructing the Politics of Being Yellow." I don't know how much Derridian deconstruction will be going on in the article, but is sounds interesting enough and when it comes out, I will let you guys know about it. It is a contrast of the success of the Latino community to get together politically and the coughs and wheezes of the Asian community to do the same. Sounds interesting to me.

About an hour ago, another former students pops his head in my door and hands me a letter. Sensei, I'm getting married. It's in Hawaii. I love my students, but I'm not sure I can go to Hawaii for a wedding. But the invite was very nice and makes me feel special. The point, however, is that it is nice to know that my students remember me, and that they are growing and being successful along the way. It is nice to know.

There are other good things about a college teacher, like having the luxury of making my own time schedule. It is now Thursday evening and the weekend will begin after I sign off of Xanga and start for home--yes, I will sometimes write a little at school after I've finished my work. But "weekend" is a relative term for me. While the week has come to an end, in that I do not have classes to teach, I have plenty of work. Mostly I must do the following.

  • Grade 31 J-literature papers
  • Grade 50 J-film papers
  • Prepare readings for Classical Japanese--we're doing Heike monogatari and I need to put together Yumi nagashi--stray bow.

So it looks like another work weekend for me. The Spring semester has finally started.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Say What?!?


veryone has already heard the jokes about Vice President Dick Cheney. He's a Republican, so he hates lawyers and supports the NRA. Of course, this is not really a laughing matter. Shooting a friend by accident--and I am pretty sure that it was an accident--is no laughing matter. But worse than making jokes of it, some are taking the matter lightly.

In a recent poll by TIME Magazine, 1001 people were asked "Has the shooting accident made you more negative about the Vice President, more positive, or has it had no effect." I would have said "No effect" but astonishingly, 4% said that the accident has made them more positive about the Vice President. More positive? How does shooting a friend in the face effect a favorable image? Either these respondents are right-wing sociopaths (I wouldn't be surprised if Ann Coulter was one of the 40) or they are taking the matter far too lightly with a flippant response.

Of course, this could be a response to the media brouhaha over Cheney's timeliness in relating the event to the press. Personally, I think it has been blown out of proportion. Should he have reported it right away? Surely. Is it another link in a long chain of events that indicate his secretiveness? Probably. I don't get it. I agree with virtually nothing he represents, but I have never thought of him as stupid. Doesn't he realize that being secretive conveys a bad impression? Of course, he does. He has to. He's not stupid. But he doesn't care, and that is what scares me. He doesn't give a shit about what others think of him and this allows him to do whatever he wants. Haliburton gets a huge contract without competetive bidding and everyone bitches? So what, let them bitch? He says on one show that it's been "pretty well confirmed" that Atta met with Iraqi people before 9/11, but more recently on another show he says with a straight face that he had "never said that", all video evidence to the contrary. But so what? He could care less that people catch him talking out of both sides of his mouth. What are they gonna do? Pull the troops out of Iraq? As long as he can continue doing what he wants to do, he seems perfectly content.

One-thousand-sixty plus days left in this presidency. Am I the only one counting?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Procrastinating weekend


spent the four day weekend procrastinating. If there was an Olympic category for this, I think I would be world class. Lets see... I finished up some work on our family's homepage. It's a place I setup where M's family and friends can see how we're doing. I put up a meesage announcing I was closing the old JAJournal site. I added some new pics to my RBJ tomodachi gallery--those who have bookmarked me there--I really appreciate it guys. But I ran out of things to do.

What should I do? Grade papers or fix the toilet? Hmmm. I could grade papers to not have to deal with the toilet. Or I can fix the toilet to avoid grading papers. Neither are good ways to procrastinate. Dang! I was so desperate looking for other things to do that I even ran/walked for 2 hours on Sunday. TWO HOURS! That's more than 8 miles and over 1000 kilocalories, which is quite a feat for a pudgy little riceball. The worst thing is that I don't feel any skinnier. I certainly don't look any thinner. Ugh!

Speaking of which...

Some of you may remember that I wrote an entry a few weeks ago about tyring to walk myself skinny, that M said that "Running is the fastest way to lose weight and get fit, but I am perhaps getting too old for that" so M suggested that I try walking since I would probably not exhaust myself, and therefore talk myself out of exercising. Well, thanks to that post, Jeeves now seems to think that I am the know it all for losing weight fast. When a person desperate to lose weight goes to AskJeeves.com and types "fastest way to lose weight", guess who comes up #1? CLICK AND SEE. I'd bet that anyone who'd type in those key words is not looking to read my blog, let alone the words "RUNNING is the fastest way" to lose it.

I figure this is a combination of Xanga's popularity and the simplicity of AskJeeves program. My words are located by Jeeves on Xanga and since Xanga in total has a kazillion hits a day, my blog goes straight to the top of the list. What an insipidly simplistic search engine. My blog definitely does not command the kind of traffic to get myself on the top of any search--unless you search for Onigiriman, where I will be number one, numero uno, ichiban, on any search engine.

Speaking of which...

I just found out that two people actually bought official Onigiriman t-shirts. If you haven't noticed--or more likely, just ignored it--on the left column of the main page is a link to CafePress.com where I have set up shop. There you can get Onigiriman T-shirts, sweat shirts and coffee mugs. I set it up on a lark thinking that if I ever wanted to get O-man stuff for myself, I could give myself a discount. However, there is virtually no markup on these items, so I'm not really giving myself a discount. But anyway, whoever you are, thank you. I am truly flattered. Hope you enjoy wearing them.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Presidential Thought--More Holidays


oday is Presidents Day. What a day. The fourth day of a four day weekend for me. So I should perhaps think about something presidential. I could imagine all manner of isues, from the congressional hearings on the failures of FEMA and Homeland Security reagarding Katrina. I could make a crack about lawyers, the NRA and Dick Cheney. I could muse on Bush's 39% approval rating and Cheney's 29%, both reflections of what I felt during the 2004 presidential campaign. But I think I'll leave it to those who voted for him to ponder.

Instead, I find my thoughts drifting to a Democrat from the past: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. onebear reminded me that yesterday was an important day for Japanese Americans--the day FDR signed an executive order to relocate all persons of Japanese descent living on the west coast to concentration camps. I have met some Americans who have protested that they were "relocation" camps. Yeah, right. A group of people of the same ethnicity are gathered (concentrated) into one area. The area is fenced in with barbed wire on top. There are armed guards at the gate and in watch towers. So how is this more relocation than concentration? Some have defended the move as a way to protect the Japanese from the possible violence they would have met from narrow-minded right-wing conservatives--but I'm pretty sure that the guards at these camps in isolated locations such as Manzanar and Poston were armed to keep the Japanese in as much as to keep whites out. I guess this just proves that Democrats can be just as blind and narrow-minded as Republicans. Anyway, I wrote about it last year, so I won't dwell on it here. It only upsets me needlessly. READ MORE.

What really gets my goat is the fact that Presidents Day is a day for all presidents. No, no, no. I do not begrudge FDR or Dubya this day. My issues is that there is only one day off. Once upon a time, there were two days off. When I was in elementary school and high school, we got TWO (2) seperate holidays: Lincoln's Birthday on February 12 and Washington's Birthday on February 22. And there was none of this "Happy Monday"--as the Japanese term this transference of holidays to create three day weekends. Three day weekends are nice, but there was something exciting about having a random Wednesday or Thursday off. It made the week seem really short. And if the holiday fell on a Sunday, we still got Monday off. Of course, if it fell on a Saturday, we were screwed out of a holiday. Can we start a movement and reinstate the two birthday system. Maybe we can hire someone to lobby for a third holiday: one for Lincoln, one for Washington, and one for the remaining presidents.

But I suppose I shouldn't complain too loudly. Hattorihanzo writes that at the public university of Bush's brother' state, Florida, they don't even get the one President's Day off. That must suck. Can't you guys protest or something? You can claim that they are dissing Dubya, and brother Jethro... I mean Jeb, wouldn't be able to rebut.

To Hatorihanzo and others--like potatohead127--I'll make sure to enjoy the day off for you guys as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Presidents' Day


ope everyone is enjoying a pleasant three day weekend. It is not snowing here in the nation's capital, but it is pretty cold by my standards. It is below freezing all day today. It will warm up a bit tomorrow with a high of about 40 degrees, but I'm not sure I want to have a Bar-B-Que.

Anyway, enjoy the day off!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Do Monkeys Fly?


n my never ending effort to take my mind off of the direction our nation is headed--the growing debt that most of you will have to deal with when you reach my age, the billions spent on the Iraq war which could have been spent on the Katrina victims or on education, inflexible supreme court justices--I waste countless hours watching J-Drama. Yes, it took the Republicans to get me addicted to J-Drama.

Anyway, I've started watching Saiyuuki, the famous Chinese story featuring the character Son Goku, starring Katori Shingo. The theme song is called "Around the World" by Monkey Majik, a group of two Canadians and two Japanese that started in Sendai in the northeast of Japan. READ MORE. It's a pretty good song, but I learned they have another song on the Oricon charts called "Fly". It is a mixture of English and Japanese and is pretty good. The two Canadians do all the singing, and their Japanese is pretty good. Certainly better than the English lyrics sung by Japanese artists such as L'arc en Ciel, Oda Yuji (ha!) and even *gulp* Kuwata Keisuke.

Of course, their music has a characteristic that many may not like. It's a bit poppy, mostly acoustic with a a style that would fint into a genre that includes Nine Days, Duncan Sheik, maybe Dave Mathews. Is there a genre for these guys? Anyway, I kinda like it. The lyrics are below. If you wanna sing along, click here.

Fly -- Monkey Majik

Leaving on that 7:30 train.
I don't know how far I'll go.
Round in circles just as long as I would tell you.
I am alone but we could be.

Tell me something I haven't heard before
except for when you shut me down.
Rememver when we stayed up all night drinking whiskey.
I know that you've been waiting.
I'll see you on the other side.

Oh! We're better off alone.
I told you once before.
so don't knock on my door.
you'll see it if you will.
but I don't wanna know.
I'm feeling so resentful

Cuz' I wanna fly, Fly me up so high
Take me to the skies, I won't get by
(itsu made mo kimi no koe ga boku no kokoro de hibiku)
If you can't believe me, take me home

(kimi no chiisana te wo semete ato sukoshi)
(tsuyoku nigiri-shimete-ita nara )
(yukkuri ashita wo matterareta no ni)

(namida no wake shitte-ita kedo)
(ima de wa mou oso-sugiru kara)
(sore wa sugi-yuku keshiki no you ni)

Cuz' I wanna fly, Fly me up so high
Take me to the skies, I won't get by
(itsu made mo kimi no koe wa boku no michi ni aru sa)
If you can't believe me take me home

Everybody's talking always up and groovin'
come on up and join up with me yeah!
Always on and dancin' always on the move and.
come on everybody won't you come with me?

Cuz' I wanna fly, Fly me up so high
Take me to the skies, I won't get by
Everybody needs to go beyond the seas
If you can't believe me, take me home
If you can't believe me, take me home

Cuz' I wanna fly. I wanna fly.
Take me high. cause I wanna fly.
I wanna fly. take me high!

I wanna fly, Fly me up so high
Take me to the skies, I won't get by
If you can't believe me take me home

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I'm an Idiot


es, I am officially and perhaps even legally idiotic. Why? Because I believe that words are unstable and meanings can be easily displaced. I have mentioned this many times, here and elsewhere. Words and texts can change given different contexts and circumstances. I've done this before, I think, but just for the heck of it, let's do it again. Read the following sentence:

For goodness sake.

Look at the word "sake". It consists of four different letters, S-A-K-E. Pretty easy, right? Now consider the following list:

Beer, wine, sake.

I'm pretty sure that most of you pronounced the last word, "sake", differently, as in the Japanese rice wine. You will note that the word is spelled exactly the same as it did in the first sentence. And yet, you probably pronounced it differently. Think about it. Did the word itself change? No. Did you change? No. Did the words around it change? Yes. But that isn't why you pronounced it differently. What changed is the context.

But don't the different words provide the different context?

No, Little Grasshopper, it is not the words that provides the context. It is you, the reader. Let's say there is a hick who lives in the sticks who thinks that Japan is a province of China and has never heard of rice wine. Do you think he would know how to read and understand the word "sake" in the list of beverages? Of course not. He'd be scratching his head wondering, What the heck is this word doing here. He is unable to provide the appropriate context.

The upshot of this is that you, the reader, are providing the context. Or in a larger context, people--conscious, experienced people--provide the context. And if people are the constituents of a society--any society--then it is the greater society that determines how to read and interpret the meaning of all texts. And as society changes, as the collective experience of society at large changes, then the interpretation of texts will change as well. And texts include all manner of documents, literary, political, legal. That's why words such as "All men are created equal" meant one thing to a slave owner such as Thomas Jefferson than it would to us today. Same words, different context, new interpretation. (Note: This is not a knock on Jefferson, who was, afterall, a product of his own time.)

Unfortunately, not everyone holds to this very simple, very basic, very obvious concept. Take Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He criticized those who believe in what he refers to as the "living Constitution."

"That's the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break."

"But you would have to be an idiot to believe that," Scalia said. "The Constitution is not a living organism, it is a legal document. It says something and doesn't say other things."

I am not about to contradict a Supreme Court Justice. I think I'll just accept his ruling and leave it at that.

I am an idiot.

But I'd rather be an idiot than be like him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

J-Drama Junkie II


think I've OD-ed on J-drama. I'm beginning to hallucinate, I think. Well, not really, but I do think I saw a sign that I should try to break this habit. Over the past few weeks, we saw all 49 episodes of Shinsengumi. For those of you who don't know, Shinsegumi was an organization that originated as a group of friends and associates of a modest, rural swordsmanship dojo--Shieikan--west of Edo in an area still known as Tama.

The son of the headmaster, Kondo Isami, was born a peasant, but was adopted to continue school. This, of course, placed him at a disadvantage. Throughout most of the Edo period, members of one class were not allowed to cross lines. A peasant or merchant could not cross lines and become samurai. A samurai, could till the land if he wanted, but he was still considered a samurai. Kondo became skilled enough to become the primary son who would inherit the Shieikan dojo, but he always faced discrimination as an inaka-zamurai (hick warrior). He and his friend Hijikata aimed at being "true" samurai, if not in lineage, then at least in heart. And this probably was their motivation for supporting the Tokugawa Bakufu, the military government of Japan.

When there was a call for masterless samurai--at this time, they used the term roshi instead of ronin--to go to Kyoto help protect the Shogun during his say there, they gladly went with their peer and dojo mates. Upon arriving in Kyoto, there was a call to return to Edo by the organizers Sasaki and Kiyokawa. The story is that this was simply a ruse by Kiyokawa to gather samurai who he would eventually turn against the Bakufu. Kondo and Hijikata for whatever reason remained--according to the drama, they couldn't accept returning to Edo without having done anything to protect the Shogun. They stayed at an inn in an area of Kyoto called Mibu and were hence known as the Mibu-roshi. From there, they worked to recruit more members and appealed to Lord Matsudaira--leader of the Aizu clan of Fukushima, official protector of the Shogun's interests in Kyoto--to allow them to participate in their official endeavors of policing Kyoto. They actively worked to police the capital, and their efforts were recognized by Matsudaira, who designated them the Shinsegumi--Company of the Newly Selected. This name reflected what Kondo had always aimed for: a new band of brothers from all walks of life, chosen by merit, not lineage. After the Ikedaya Incident where the Shinsengumi squashed a plot by the anti-Bakufu members from the Choshu clan, Matsudaira named Kondo and the Shinsengumi hatamoto--direct vassals to the Bakufu. Unfortunately for the Shinsengumi, their idealistic image of the samurai led to an undying loyalty to the Bakufu and the inability to recognize the sea change occurring in Japan.

The NHK story, of course, romanticizes a group of men who killed indiscriminately in the name of the Shogun. In many instances, it is also humorous, thanks to the group af actors chosen play the main roles, first and foremost Katori Shingo of SMAP. I'm not sure if anyone noticed this, but on the back wall of the Shieikan are two calligraphy scrolls on which are the names of the gods that protect the way of the sword. One of them is *ahem* Katori Myojin. Still, the drama was fun to watch and I enjoyed Katori a lot. I was sorta sad when I watched the last episode. Maybe too sad...

For two nights after I viewed the last tape, Katori's appared in my dreams. He wasn't playing Kondo and IU wasn't a member of he Shinsengumi. We were just hanging out..

Yup, I think I have definitely OD-ed on J-drama.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

J-Drama Junkie


ear my house in Vienna-Fairfax is a Korean supermarket called Lotte. They have a video rental section. I checked it out. They had Japanese animation. They had Japanese movies. They had *gulp* Japanese drama. I told M. They have a bunch of shows! She reminded me that I'm pretty busy with work. They have Taiga dorama! She reminded me Taiga dorama lasted 50 episodes. It's only $1.50 per tape! She reminded me that our last name was not Rockefeller. But there's two episodes on each tape! She reminded me that I have a compulsive nature and that once I started watching one episode, I would watch the rest without stopping until I saw the last episode. I had to concur. M won. I tried to forget... really hard...

We soon began shopping at another Korean place called Super H and the videos at Lotte soon became a distant memory. But recently, M has been shopping at Lotte again because sometimes Super H is too far just to get vegetables. Then last November, before Thanksgiving break, I accompanied M to Lotte to do some shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. You never know when you might need some bok choi or daikon or shimeji mushrooms for Thanksgiving dinner, right? So I went and was suddenly reminded of the J-videos.

As M was strolling through the produce section, I sauntered--yes, sauntered--off to the video section. In front of me was a long row of the Taiga dorama. For those of you who don't know, Taiga dorama is an NHK program that usually focuses on an historic figure or group. It runs for a year, hence the 50 episodes. Many of the stories are martial/samurai and so I used to imagine it meant Tiger Drama, but it really means Great River drama. Well, right in front of me was 44 episodes of Yoshitsune, the tale of the storied Minamoto Yoshitsune, handsome youth and valiant warrior of the late Heian-early Kamakura period. He is the younger brother of the first Kamakura shogun, Yoritomo, and his story is as famous as anyone's in Japan.

I pulled out the first tape. Takizawa Hideaki. Ugh! Isn't he Tackey of Tackey & Tsubasa, the young boy-band-like singers in the mold of the johnnies? There's also Matsudaira Ken. Okay, he's pretty solid in period pieces, although he's also become well know for his rather corny Matsuken samba. You have to see it to believe it. Can you imagine Toshiro Mifune singing and dancing The Macarena? Well, you get the picture...

But still, I caressed the case. I fondled it, trying futilely to get a sneak preview through my fingertips. I returned the case to its shelf and skipped back to the produce section. I had to tell M.

You know, it's going to be Thanksgiving break and its been such a long semester, and I've been working so hard that I think I need and deserve a break because if I don't, I'll go crazy, and it would be really relaxing to just kick back and watch some TV, maybe some Japanese drama, because it would be fun, and... (brief pause for breath) who knows? Maybe it'll come in handy with my work at school, because it's in Japanese and maybe I'll find something I can use in class, so it would be a like killing two birds with one stone, and if I play my cards right, maybe I can even write it off OUR taxes, because it would actually be a legitimate deduction, since it would be something I'd use at work, and...

M put her hands up in that universal sign for "STOP!"

"You win," she said, "but don't say I didn't warn you."

That's the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it, I hummed, skipping back to the video section. I pulled out five tapes, And went to the counter. I gave the lady at the counter my address and she told me what my ID number was. I put down a sawbuck, she gave me back $2.50. I was so happy that when she said "Thank you " in English, I responded komapsmida, (Okay, my transliteration sucks) and again skipped back to M, showing her what felt like ill gotten goods.

She smiled weakly and once again reminded me check my compulsive nature at the front door. Yeah, yeah. don't sweat it. doll face. I'm in total control...


Well I watched fifty 45-minute episodes over the next three weeks, sneaking in as many as I could in between work, grading, eating. when one episode ended, I had to see the next one. And every time I would go back to Lotte to return the tapes, I would look at the shelves and make a mental note of available series for future viewing. I was and am hooked. I have since seen Shinsengumi (50 episodes), Last Christmas (12), Sea Monkeys (12), Brother Beat (11), as well as other miscellaneous programming. We have just started seeing Saiyuki, the story of Son Goku.

I think I need to go into rehab.

Sunday, February 12, 2006



very warm winter has turned into a snowy one. It started snowing Saturday morning, started to accumulate by mid-afternoon, and it's been snowing since. I'm sure it's no big deal for many, but there's about a foot of snow, and the thought of having to shovel it is already making my back hurt. I'm hoping it keeps snowing 'til Monday morning. If we're lucky, the school will declare a snow day. That would give us 2 three-day weekends in a row.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Samurai Fiction


very spring semester, I teach a course called Japanese culture through film. It is not really a film class, because I'm not really a film instructor. I can view films and critique them in my own way, but I don't consider myself a film expert. I couldn't break down a mis-en-scene if my life depended on it--well, actually, I could but don't tell anyone at school because they'd just have me teach one more class. I have seen a number of J flicks, but no where near as many as a true film experts. Geez, I've probably seen fewer J films than Whonose. Still, I do know Japan and its culture--albeit from a personal point of view--and I have lots of opinions about how it is reflected through film. Take samurai films for example...

Mild spoilers

Note: The following presents basic plot lines and possible spoilers--although I think most have already seen or heard of these movies. But it might, in a small way, provide insights that could make the film more enjoyable to watch.


I have not seen any of the older, silent samurai motion pictures (katsudo shahin), although maybe I should as they are not that old. Bloody Town directed by Yashiro Takeshi was relieased in 1938, eleven years after the first American talkie The Jazz Singer (1927). While there is no audio, the action sequences are purportedly superb. If nothing else, I am tempted to see Makino Shozu's Chushingura (The 47 Ronin, 1910, 1913), the oldest extant version of the 47 loyal samurai, but to get a good grasp of the symbol of the samurai in J films, one only has to see Mizoguchi Kenji's version, Genroku chushingura (1941).

Filmed and released during the Pacific War, Mizoguchi's Chushingura seems to represent many of the values that the Japanese expect from their warriors. The story itself is about a group of 47 loyal samurai who avenge the death of their lord, Asano, who was forced to commit seppuku (ritual disembowelment) because he unsheathed his sword and slightly injured another lord, Kira, within the shogun's palace. Kira was a petty conniving lord who often insulted Asano. He went too far once, inducing Asano to draw his sword in the palace, a serious crime--can you imagine drawing a gun in the Capitol? The penalty is death--albeit an honorable one, it seems that all crimes commited by samurai are resolved by death. The 47 loyal samurai plot for years to exact revenge, after which they all commit seppuku for murdering Kira, a vassal of the shogun.

The interesting aspect of this film is the fact that there is virtually no swordplay. No, I take that back. There is exactly no swordplay. Every act of violence--the seppuku of Asano and his loyal retainers, as well as the murder of Kira--takes place off screen. It is, for a samurai movie, incredibly non-violent. The movie, however, does focus on the honor and loyalty expected of these warriors: They demonstrate loyalty to Asano by exacting revenge, and manifest honor because they exact this revenge knowing and accepting the consequences of their actions. Mizoguchi (remember this name) was a talented and highly respected director, so perhaps it would not be so far-fetched to suggest that his image of the samurai--in step with the romantic figure already cut in Japanese tradition--became the baseline, the foundation to which future directors would look when creating their own version of the samurai image.

The Seven Samurai

The director most non-Japanese are familiar with is Kurosawa Akira. Indeed, he is more revered overseas than at home, and virtually everyone of his films can be found in the Criterion DVD Collection. My personal favorite is Yojimbo and its sequal Sanjuro, but his most famous film is, I think, the Seven Samurai (1954). In it, Kurosawa tries to recast the samurai not as a retainer loyal to his lord, but as one who is loyal to his profession, one who manifests all the appropriate principles of "one who serves" which is the literal translation of the Chinese character for samurai 侍. The story revolves around a village regularly raided by bandits. The villagers, at the sugestion of its Elder, go to the city in search for "hungry" samurai. The Village Elder suggests ronin--masterless samurai who have no income and wander the country in search of a lord to serve. The subtext, of course, is the idea of a samurai who is hungry to fulfill his purpose in life as well, one who seeks to serve, to do what is right and just. They find Kambei and he assembles a team of seven, leading them against the bandits.

The film presents the image of samurai with which most of us are familiar. Kurosawa's influence plays no small role in this. As the more represented director of Japanese film, it is his samurai that is embedded in our consciousness: strong, fierce, courageous, independent, just, honorable. And the seven samurai manifest these traits, even the one samurai who was actually the son of a peasant, Kikuchiyo. He was coarse and dirty and often drunk, but in the end, he fought fiercely and bravely for a just and honorable cause, consequently being recognized as a samurai at the end of the movie, as reflected in his burial mound at the top of the hill along with three fallen comrades. His death underscores the rigid class lines established by the Tokugawa Bakufu--no one can cross classes. His fellow samurai (and Kurosawa) allow Kikuchiyo to cross that line, but only in death.

As in Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and the samurai trilogy depicting the life of Miyamoto Musashi (Inagaki Hiroshi), the samurai of the 50s and early 60s continue to manifest the characteristics established in Mizoguchi's Chushingura. Althought masterless, they all try to live there lives by a code of conduct representing the samurai ideal of loyalty and hard work, righteousness and courage. And indeed, they still want to serve. As Kambei says at the end of the Seven Samurai, the farmers won but they lost. By defeating the bandits, the farmers were able to return to their way of life, but the samurai remained masterless. Kambei's words underscore their desire to return to a life of service.

Unlike Mizoguchi's film, Kurosawa's films are full of action. In the first samurai scenei n the movie, Kambei kills a criminal holding a baby hostage. But like Mizoguchi, the killing is done off screen inside a house. But after that, there is plenty of stabbing and slashing and death. Strong samurai, brave samurai, killing for what they believe is right, even if they have no master. I often wonder if this as a reflection of the times. In the late 40s and through the 50s, immediately after losing WWII, many of the Japanese felt betrayed by the government leaders that led them down the path of national disaster. Is it a coincidence that the samurai warriors depicted in films from this era wander about Japan as ronin--strong, willing to fight for what is right and yet leaderless?

Maybe. Maybe not....

Later, I will write a bit about Okamoto Kihachi's Kill! and Nakano Hiroyuki's Samurai Fiction.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

You know you're getting older...


ver since I turned 50, I've been obsessed with it. I think I'm truly going through some sort of mid-life crisis. No, I have no plans to buy a Corvette, although that's mostly because I don't have the money... I presume that most who read this site will not understand this preoccupation with age. Wait another 30 years and you'll know what I mean. By then, I'll be, what? ... Eighty? Egads!

Anyway, a student who graduated and was doing research in Japan came by the other day. He got into Cambridge to pursue a Masters in Asian Studies. He isn't sure if he wants to go, but he is the third student of mine in three years to get in. Of course, they didn't get in because of me, but because of what they have accomplished on their own... but I did write letters of recommendations for all three.

Anyway, I've been partial to baseball caps recently, especially when it's cold because heat does have a tendency to escape through your head and I need all the heat I can keep these days. But this guy walks into my office, and asked me what the deal was with the cap? Is this a new look or are you balding?

I almost asked him to return the letter of recommendation. *sigh*

Oh well, I guess I've reached an age when a little balding would not be odd. But I have such a healthy head of hair that the thought of going bald had never entered my head. Upon closer inspection, I must admit that it does seem to have receded a bit...

But I really felt old last month when I went with M to Ruby Tuesday in Fairfax. We were sitting at a table eating dinner and drinking beer. I suddenly felt a draft, so I put on my jacket at the table, but soon took it off when I got too warm. But in a couple of minutes, I felt cold again, so M suggested I take my wool muffler and place it over my lap. The make-shift blanket felt very comfortable almost right away. We continued our meal and I didn't give the cold a second thought.

When we were about to leave I picked up the muffler from my lap. I immediately felt the cold draft, and then it hit me. Oh my God! I must look like one of those grandpas who needs a lap blanket to stay warm. I never felt as old as I did at that moment...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hump day


swear, Wednesday's are killers for me. It's 9:55 PM and I just finished my last class, the film class. Tonight we saw Samurai Fiction, which I think I'll review sometime this week. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's unlike any samurai movie you've seen, probably. But for now, it is time to turn off the computer and head on home for dinner. I'm exhausted... Hope y'all have a good back-half of the week.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006



f I was a song, I'd be "Free Form Guitar" by Terry Kath. If I was a genre of music, I'd be experimental jazz--with violin. If I was a painting, I'd be a Picasso--albeit a very minor one. If I was a garden, I would be someone's wind-swept, unkempt backyard. If I were clothes, I'd be a pair of unmatched socks with holes. If I was a sport, I'd... hmmm, I probably wouldn't exist, as all sports have rules and organization. The point, of course, is that I am not symmetric. I am different than everyone else around me... or at least I tend to gravitate in that direction.

When I was a young whipper snapper, I used to like to wear suits. Everyone thought I was crazy, but it just seemed cool to wear one. Now that I'm a "professional", I wear T-shirts and jeans virtually everyday. This would not be such a big deal at a university on the West coast, but hear in DC, I kinda standout. I've visited classes where students don't know me, and they often think I'm a graduate student studying Japanese. I guess I just don't like to be the same as everyone else. There is something unsettling about being just like everyone else.

Back in the 70s, I went to a private Catholic school and I desperately wanted to have long hair--we were required to keep it short. I kept growing it and then being told by my teachers to cut it, which I rarely did. When I graduated high school and everyone else had long hair, I cut it nice and short. Since my mid 30s, when all my peers were in suits with nicely trimmed hair, I decided to grow it again, and it's been long(ish) for the past 12 years or so--except when I came to interview for my job. Okay, I admit it, I sold out to get this job, so sue me...

My office is a mess. If a tornado blew through here, it wouldn't change much. At home, I'm just as bad. My desk is a mess. My closet has clothes strewn on the floor, and M hates this... with a passion. I eat when I want, work when I want and goof off when I want. I cannot keep a schedule. I do not check my mail regularly. I rarely check my email and I'm always getting in trouble with my boss because I will miss important memos. And it seems that the more she warns me, the more reluctant I am to read my email... not that I do it on purpose, mind you.

Every attempt to organize my life--take notes, use a desk calendar, carry a day planner--has failed miserably. It is just not me. I think M is starting to understand this, thank God. This is not rebelling, per se. And it is not a midlife crisis, as I've been like this as far back as I can remember.

It is what it is. And it is me... Asymmetrical.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Mothers Know...


ast October, I went to school to administer an exemption exam for a student who studied abroad in Japan last year. The exam, which he passed, will give him credit for one year of advanced Japanese. I've had students who have actually had very good Japanese after coming back and still took the class, saying that there is still a lot to learn. And, indeed, being rather advanced allows them to focus on the finer points of the language that make them even better at reading Japanese. But if a student studied a year in Japan, they are entitled to test out. Don't want to punish anyone for working hard. All they have to do is prove to me that they can read Japanese texts and I'm fine with that.

Anyway, soon after I got to school, I got a message that KM called. KM is a friend from long ago and someone I met at our class reunion back in July--has it already been six months? Well, KM was in town and we decided to get to gether for a few drinks--yes, yes, I was supposed to be working on my paper which was terribly overdue, but old friends don't always visit, and I'm not the sort to put work before family and, in this case, friends. We had a few drinks in town at our local dive--the Red Lion, then we moved to Ballston in Arlington, VA, to have a few more at Rock Bottom, a place that brews its beer in-house. We had a very pleasant time.

Talking to him brought back many old memories. KM used to live down the block and we hung out together, but when we first met outside of school, he still lived in downtown LA on Main Street. Yes, back then there were still families living in hotel suites with long term leases, like an apartment, but it was rather unusual for a guy like me from the suburbs. On that one occasion when I went to his home, it was the day his father took us out to the LA Police Academy in Elysian Park. There, we mostly hung out at the shooting range collecting shells. I was about nine or ten years old and had never seen a gun or bullet before, so the thought that we could just pick up spent shells and take them excited me. Juding by the color I presuemd they were made of copper. I put a bunch into a clear plastic bag and took them home. My mother had a fit. She didn't want me having bullet shells in the house--as if they were going to go off. I tried to reason with her, but she would have none of it. She said to throw them away in the trash can out back.

Reluctantly, I stepped out of the kitchen door with the bag of shells and sat on the concrete steps of the back porch. I took out a dusty shell from the bag and held it between my middle finger and thumb, turning it around, admiring it, wondering who had shot it, what it might look like with an actual bullet in it. I threw it back in the bag with the other identical shells and shook them in my cupped hand. As I listened to the clinking sounds, an idea struck me. I'll bury them. Mom'll be none the wiser. So I got a small hand shovel and went to the corner of the backyard patio and, as if burying a pirate's booty, I began to measure my steps: three steps forward, turn right and walk towards the wall. I dug a hole about a foot deep next to a bush, rolled up the plastic bag with the shells in them, and buried it there.

When I went back inside, my mother asked if I had done what she had asked, and I said I did--I was such the liar back then.

"Why are your hands so dirty?" She asked.

"Well, mom, since I was in the back, I thought I'd clean up the yard too."

This undoubtedly aroused even greater suspicion, but she did not show it and did not pursue it any further, only telling me to wash my hands. Wow, that was easy, I thought to myself, relativley sure I had pulled one over my mother. .

About a week later, I thought I'd go back to see how my treasure was faring. But it wasn't where I had buried it. I went back to the corner of the patio and retraced my steps twice, but each time I returned to the empty hole I had just dug up. Did it wash away in the rain? Did our dog, Cleo, dig it up? I was perplexed then and continued to be perplexed for years... seriously. I would occasionally recall that bag of shells and retrace my steps once more, only to confirm what I had already known--They were gone.

I do not know this for a fact, but I'm pretty sure now that my mother knew what I had done and had disposed of the shells. You can never fool a mother...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Super Bowl Weekend


he holiday season will finally end this weekend. The Super Bowl this Sunday is the last opportunity to stuff my face and drink guilt-free beer. I have done most of the work I wanted to do this weekend so I can spend a relaxing Sunday watching guilt-free TV. And with the guilt-free chips and sausages I will be eating, I estimate I will gain about 4 pounds before I return to class on Monday. I had better do some walking Monday morning so at least I won't show up to class with a bloated face. How unappealing.

Speaking of which, I have been trying to walk as much as possible. I don't walk those 10,000 steps everyday, but I have done it four days this week. 10,000 steps is about four and three-quarter miles for me, so that means that I walked about nineteen miles in total. Last week I walked 10,000 on five different days. The net effect after only two weeks is that I have lost 3 pounds without sacrificing too much from my eating habits. *pats self on back* But as the Super Bowl brings to an end my excuses for binging on snacks and beer, I hope my body will respond even more positively as the spring progresses..

As for the Super Bowl, all the pundits are picking the Pittsburgh Steelers and it's hard to argue their momentum. They have basically steam rolled everyone in the AFC during the playoffs. Further, since it's the Seattle Seahawk's first time to the big game, they might manifest a "just happy to be here" attitude. Of course, this is a recipe for defeat. But you never know. I have nothing against Rothlisburger or Cower or Bettis. But, man! The Steeler fans are coming out of the woodwork and some of them are as obnoxious as hell. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks 20 - 13 Pittsburgh

Friday, February 03, 2006

Settling Into the Semester


he third week of the semester has just finished and I think that I'm finally settling in. As earlier reported--and all rumors to the contrary--I love to teach. But I am only human. After grading finals, I did nothing but relax and spend time with M during winter break.

Usually I get ready for the semester before the semester starts--writing a syllabus, creating a schedule--but not this year. I needed my time and I took it. I took off until the very last day, and I think this was better. This, of course, had its repercussions. Going to class with a syllabus with mistakes is not exactly good form, but things have a way of working themselves out. I apologized to the students, told them to look for changes on Blackboard--the online class management progam--and I went forward and lectured. I think this has worked out best for everyone. I feel more relaxed--not harried--and can enjoy teaching more. I think the students would appreciate a teacher who is more relaxed than one who looks busy all the time... I'm still busy, of course, but I feel more in control--well except for the first week or so when the syllabi really needed more work... Oh well...

Have a good weekend all!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pandora's Music Box


was surfing around quite a bit during winter break, looking for good ways to get music. The older I get, the more excluded I feel. I hear a song that I think is pretty cool, and a student will tell me that that's pretty old. I guess I don't listen to enough radio or don't watch MTV enough. M would probably kill me if I wstarted watching MTV as well. I watch enough TV.

So anyway, I tried Rhapsody because they were having a two week fee trial. It was okay, but I really didn't find anything new that I liked. I did find some stuff that M wanted so I actually purchased a few tunes, but when the two week trial ended, I cancelled. But I found another site someone had mentioned on RBJ. It's a music place that will play music that it thinks you will like. It's called pandora.com.

Many of you may have already heard of this place--as I said, I'm kinda behind the curve. But this is what they do. They have listened to tons of music and have categorized them. After you join, you create a "radio station", input the name of groups or songs you like and ased on your tastes, it will select and play songs on that station. You can create as many stations as you like. As the songs play, you can give them a thumbs up or thumbs down and that should further narrow down the kind of music that will play. You can continue to add music as well. So far it has been a mixed bag. Maybe I put too many different kinds of bands on one station, so I'm getting a large selection. But the concept is interesting so I will continue to listen to it before I render final judgement. Just thought I'd mention it here...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Butt Ring


ow there are rings, and then there are rings. Ear rings. Nose rings. Belly button rings. Even nipple rings. Ouch! Well, I'm not sure how much I should reveal here on Xanga, given that many of my students actually read this--and I've recently learned there are some who read it thinking I don't know it. Well I know it NOW! Regardless, I will tell you that... I have a butt ring. Yes. Really. It doesn't hurt when I sit down, and I'm reasonably sure that it actually fades after awhile.

You see, I spend a good portion of my time on the toilet.

Well, that's not really true. I should say that I used to spend a good portion of my life on the porcelain throne. It is a great place to relax and contemplate the issues of the world. What will I wear today? What witty things can I say to my students in class? Can I contribute to world peace?

But I've cut back my time considerably since I married M. It is not fun to be the butt of her jokes--no pun intended. She will say something like, "Do you need 45 minutes to read the sports page?" Or, "Don't you get tired after an hour?" Or, "Maybe we should move the toilet in front of your desk." Hmmm, now there's an idea...

So I've cut back considerably. 20 minutes was never nearly enough before, but it seems to be enough for me now... or so I thought. I've come to think that maybe my time on the can was actually crucial to my well being. I was almost in a meditative state, focusing on my life and what I need to accomplish on any given day. They say meditation is good, right? But ever since I've abbreviated this portion of my life, things have not been going so well. So lately, in an attempt to fulfill my resolution for this year, I have been slowly extending my, um, meditation time in the morning.

Yesterday morning was no different. As I did my business, I sat, read a bit, and contemplated my day. After I finished, I was going to take a shower and so did not bother to put on my pants again--I would have had to have taken them off right away anyway. So I turn on the hot water and let it run a bit as I get ready. I step out--bottomless--to get a towel and M starts laughing out loud. I figure, Here comes another crack about how long I was sitting.

But she doesn't mention it. Instead she giggles, "A butt ring!" Huh? "It wraps right around your butt."

"What are you talking about?"

"Your butt. You must have been sitting a long time." Here it comes, I think. "Because the indentation circling your butt is really deep." Oh, now I get it. I guess the few extra pounds I've gained has made my butt more susceptible to creasing. And why the hell are you looking at my butt anyway?!?

"And it's perfectly centered! Do you sit right in the middle?!?" She was beside herself with laughter.

I was tempted to look in the mirror after that comment, but thought better of it. I just laughed with her, confident that this might actually be proof that I had meditated a sufficient length of time. And truth be told, I had a very nice and productive day at work.

So there!