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Chinese philosopher Mencius (372-289 BCE)

Very few Japanese adults are self-reliant. Most of them have developed the typically Japanese behavioral pattern of constantly wetnursing each other since their childhood. As a result they have also lost their innate spontaneity. They act only in response to external stimuli.

In that sense, the person I'm talking about here is a real exception. I will call him by a pseudonym "Shohei."
In 2007 I launched a family website, perhaps the first of its kind here, which initially consisted of three parts: Family Reunion pages, Memorial Service section and Cyber Museum to commemorate my late father who was a prominent scientist. The first two have already been closed because my siblings, sons and in-laws did not understand what I intended to have these sites for. But the Museum is still there.

Since the onset, I've had great difficulty gathering documents, reports, photos and 35mm film footages concerning my father's accomplishments. It's this youngish guy that volunteered to help me out.

At libraries and museums, the dedicated person has been trying very hard to dig out these valuable materials to help beef up the exhibits on my site. Sometimes these materials were buried deep underneath other items piled up in the basements of these museums, and totally unattended as if they were trash.

I encountered Shohei on the Cyber Museum. He is in his mid-30s. Since graduating from university where he majored in photographic art, he has been working at a small shop dealing in traditional cameras.

So aeronautics is very foreign to his educational and occupational background. He says he is still not really interested in aircraft as such. According to him, the only thing that has made him deeply engaged in what he is doing, after work, is personal relations he has developed with his customers.

His clientele are predominantly elderly people except for a handful of professional photographers. And among these old people there are not a few retired aeronautical engineers. I don't know why, but traditionally those who specialize in aeronautics tend to become hooked on cameras. (My father, too, treasured his Leica in his lifetime.)

This is how Shohei has become personally involved in the preservation of Japan's history of aviation. Some of these retired engineers have already passed away, but those who are still living the last days of their lives keep telling him the stories about their unfulfilled dreams every time they drop in the camera shop. They also provided him with materials he had been looking for, to no avail, at libraries and museums.

Shohei summarizes his part of the story this way: "It is a series of coincidences that has made me do what I'm doing right now. I take it as my destiny."

Actually he doesn't look like one who believes in fatalism. So I was still wondering how come this guy keeps looking for these materials so enthusiastically, expecting no rewards.

A couple of weeks ago, he sent me a CD that contained an e-book he wrote by MS Word. Properties Dialog Box says these files are as voluminous as 25 MB altogether, including spaces and JPG files inserted here and there. (A Japanese character takes up 2 bytes.)

Again, he says he has no intention to make it a "real" book bearing an ISBN in expectation of royalty income. At any rate, he knows that given this climate where there is no tradition to hand down intellectual legacies to posterity, it wouldn't sell.

The e-book depicts a factual story about his encounters with these retired aeronautical engineers. It is a real "page-scroller" because it is written in a lighthearted and humorous touch unlike the book I might have written a couple of years ago. Yet, I was deeply moved by the author's enthusiasm to convey to a limited number of readers the incurable distress these old scientists have suffered since the end of the Pacific War.

Last week a book written by Haruki Murakami was released here. Just from the author's name, I could tell it would be a total waste of money and time to buy a copy at the price of 1,890 yen. But surprisingly, the first print of one million copies sold out in a matter of a week. The author is well aware that all he has to do is to prostitute himself to the me-too crowd if he wants his book to fly off the shelves.

In stark contrast with the guy who seems to have pocketed more than 200 million yen out of the rubbish last week, Shohei is a man who does not believe money serves as the yardstick of one's success. He never goes with the flow. That's where the way of thinking of the 30-something-year-old has deeply resonated with this old man.

In the middle of the e-book I came across a citation of Mencius' famous words. The Chinese philosopher (photo) says something like this:

"Anyone who accidentally spotted a baby crawling along the edge of a well will never hesitate to dash toward the well to prevent him from falling into it."

Mencius seems to be saying it's instinct that urges the passerby to help the baby out of the imminent crisis; he does so not because he wants to be thanked by the parents or win praise from anyone, or he just dislikes to hear the baby cry.

When I finished with the e-book, I thought everything about Shohei has now all added up.

He is one of the few Japanese who are solely driven by spontaneity. His wholehearted devotion has nothing, whatsoever, to do with empty ideologies or shallow theories other people are toying with all the time.


I love jazz because spontaneity is what it is all about. The YouTube handle of this lady is fancynancystillhasit. My interpretation of her pseudonym is that the Nancy lady still keeps spontaneity despite all the ordeals she seems to have gone through. As long as she has it, I have it, too. My "it" is a world filled with good music like hers and nice folks who are willing to share it with everybody - for absolutely nothing. ·

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Authored by: samwidge on Friday, April 30 2010 @ 02:46 PM JST

The things you are saying about spontaneity are exactly right. Somehow, doing a thing because you want to do it is so much better than doing the thing because it lets you manipulate people.

You are right again by showing Fancy Nancy and her work. On YouTube, the thing that makes her music so very outstanding is that she puts her performances online because she enjoys it. There is no money. The instrument she plays is about 35-years-old. Its manufacturer expected the organ to be outdated and useless within ten-years but, because the manufacturer worked only for the joy of making something good, it is exactly that and it lasts.

I hope you will share more about Shohei.