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History of Japan: Seamless Transition from Haiku to Keitai


It's not that the Japanese have been disabled to communicate since the beginning of their existence. But as a matter of fact, my fellow countrymen today are totally disabled to communicate among themselves, and with foreigners for that matter.

In my definition of the word, communication is an activity intrinsic to any species of creatures in which they juggle thoughts and feelings back and forth between them. Desire to communicate, therefore, is just like craving for air, food and flesh. But if there is anything particular to communication among human beings, it's that a certain amount of value is added each time the information changes hands, from its original sender to the first receiver, and then to the next. This is exactly what the Japanese people are unable to do. They just pass around one and the same idea which was given from out of nowhere.

One good example is what they call dibeto, Japanese transliteration of a debate. The most important thing to note about dibeto is the fact that the issue is always given beforehand. At a glance it's the media that seem to pick the topic they think is debate-worthy. But in fact, it comes down from further up above. The media are just mediating the whole process. At any rate nobody is allowed to question the validness and relevance of the selected issue.

The problem here lies with the fact that there is no living human being sitting high up above, as has always been the case with this nation whenever it faced a crisis. Worse, only this nobody knows the right solution for the problem although the mediating media sometimes know it like an examiner does. Without the correct answer tacitly established in advance, the issue isn't considered debatable in the first place. Hence, dibeto always looks like a ritual in which to authenticate the predetermined answer with the moderator acting like a priest and the debaters toying with the given idea all along .


I hypothecate that this all started somewhere between the 7th and 8th centuries when direct trade ties between Japan and China were officially established. Since the people in the Middle Kingdom in those days were confident that the world is revolving around them, the Japanese imported everything while exporting nothing. Without doubt, the most important import from China was kanji, Chinese ideograms. Until that time, the aboriginal Japanese had a rich culture as exemplified by Manyo-shu, the Anthology of Myriad Leaves. But regretfully, they didn't have letters. So it was only after the import of kanji that the cultural heritage from the Manyo Era, that further dated back to the 5th century, could be compiled in 750 AD, substituting the ideography for phonogramic purposes.

Actually what I term linguistic and cultural salad resulted from the import and subsequent distortion of kanji. I even suspect there was an overwhelming influx of people from the continent as well as the Korean Peninsula. Ever since the people living in this archipelago have developed an oppressive-compulsive neurosis which constantly urges them to falsify their racial as well as cultural identity. That way the myth of homogeneity has taken root deep in this land. They haven't emancipated themselves from it thus far, and will never get over their pathological problem in the foreseeable future.

As the native culture, that once flourished here, diminished, the Japanese people have developed what I call the haiku mentality. Haiku is, as most of you know very well, a 17-syllable format of poetry which established itself with the arrival of Basho Matsuo (1644-1694), also known as haisei, the Haiku Saint.

You may be fond of haiku poems because of their simplicity and crispness. I, too, used to love them when I was a kid. But what do you think is the magic of the 17-syllable poetry? How come the Japanese are able to share ideas and feelings in such a small number of words? The secret lies in the fact that they inherently share, or at least they think they do, the same set of word associations. Saijiki, or Lexicon of Season Words, says every piece of haiku should have at least one word listed in Saijiki in which each of these designated words is assigned to a specific month. A tomato, for instance, is associated with the month of July and is supposed to be ripe and reddened, and thus whet a good appetite in everyone who hears the word. If you are a person who, like myself, grimaces at the sight of a tomato, you are considered a social outcast.

As this form of poetry has become internationalized, however, problems have arisen with the rigid rule book in many ways. Because of the modern cultivation and refrigeration technologies, tomatoes can be associated with any month of the year today. They are harvested in July only in the Northern Hemisphere. Moreover, it's next to impossible to compose a 17-syllable poem in English. Against this backdrop, haiku authorities have had to gradually loosen up the restrictive rules.

It's a pity, though, just loosening up the rules, alone, can't liberate the Japanese from their group-oriented way of thinking, feeling and communicating. That is why we still see today they are dibeto-ing mostly false issues so feverishly.

As anywhere else in the world, the last decade or so has seen the proliferation of keitai, or cellphones, so much that they are now pervasive throughout the nation. But it's noteworthy that in Japan, keitai are not replacing the conventional fixed-line phones. As recent surveys have revealed their use of handset devices as the tools for verbal communication is quite limited, in part because of the overdeveloped public transportation system. When compared to their counterparts in the West, the number of hours they sits behind the wheel is a far cry.

Instead, Japan's keitaii users are glued to their handsets (or it's the other way around - handsets stick to their fingertips) almost around the clock just to exchange text messages which really look like haiku poems. Small wonder their thumbs are growing in length. I suspect their thumbs are getting longer at the cost of their brains which keep shrinking like hell. Most of them can neither form their own opinions using their own brains, nor communicate them in their own words. To put it more bluntly, their brains have stopped functioning. Believe it or not, this is a deliberate statement.

They always remind me of octopi or cuttlefish. The octopus has 8 tentacles (some zoologists say they are arms, not tentacles, though) and 8 miniature brains at their roots. Since 8 miniature brains are almost enough for him to catch his prey, his main brain on the top can be that small relative to high efficiency he can sometimes demonstrate in everyday life.

I think the Japanese should thank the Haiku Saint for being able to leverage the modern technology without having to renovate their mindset they have inherited from their parents and distant ancestors. The native culture that once flourished among the aboriginal Japanese has long gone, and for good. Even so I don't care too much about this anymore because I've already stopped being part of this culture.

What worries me, instead, is the fact that as haiku spreads to the other part of the world, more and more educated Westerners find the impressionist as well as opportunistic approach associated with it quite instrumental in cherrypicking certain aspects of the things when they discuss them, say, on the Internet forums. To my regret, these intellectually lazy people won't believe what an independent political blogger like myself is saying simply because they think his views which are 135-degrees, if not 180-degrees, different from the media's cannot be true.

Now it looks as though they think over various issues in 17 syllables, wrenching the issue at hand out of the total context of history of mankind. To them only a couple of key words, per se, are at issue. For instance, they must think the moment Hu Jintao says, "Hey, it's about time we go for what they call representative democracy in the West, I guess," all these formidable problems facing China will melt away like a lemon drop. Hence, all we see in their superficial arguments is an endless stream of empty words, such as democracy as against autocracy or humanrights versus suppression. I suspect these words are all preregistered in their political lexicon in which stereotypical associations have been established between them. By comparison, even the wildest stories by "conspiracy theorists" which often date back as far as to the Diaspora of 586 BC sound by far more plausible and truthful.

I don't particularly value wordiness as such, though. But these Western Netizens who habitually misuse the spirit of haiku should know that even haiku poets in the early days of this format were almost as exquisite in extracting the essence out of fairly complex thoughts and feelings as their Western counterparts such as William Blake and Stephane Mallarme. They didn't just cherrypick a couple of facets of things that would have required a minimal amount of mental effort. Among other things, it should be noted that great poets, great thinkers, or great whatever, for that matter, could internalize things, first and foremost, rather than just swallowing what their neighbors or other contemporaries were telling them.
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