"Mr. Yamamoto, this is a downright tragedy"

Wednesday, November 11 2015 @ 01:23 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

WARNING: This post is rated NC-17.

If the Anglo-Saxon was, say 45 years of age in his development, in the sciences, the arts, divinity, culture, the Germans were quite as mature. The Japanese, however, in spite of antiquity measured by time, were in a tuitionary condition. Measured by the standards of modern civilization, they would be like a boy of twelve as compared with our development of 45 years.

-Douglas MacArthur

Up until late last year I was obsessed with a silly idea that I had to become fully prepared for my disappearance even though I have nothing tangible to hand down to my offspring. My Microsoft Outlook was filled with so many overdue tasks to catch up with that I hit the snooze button several times everyday.

In December I had to change my plan as my physical condition had worsened one step further.

In the last three and a half years I have been using MS Excel to closely monitor my systolic and diastolic blood pressure and some other cardiovascular readings. Not that I fear death. When I wrote I am immortal, I really meant it. The main reason I started the daily measurement, nonetheless, was because I wanted to keep to an absolute minimum the medical cost entailed in the prescriptions and occasional triage sessions with my friend Dr. Shiono.

I brought the most up-to-date chart to his office because I thought I could expect a reliable opinion from him on whether to take a simple electrocardiogram test. I didn't explicitly added that it was as far as I could barely afford. But well aware of my resolve to stay away from Japan's medical cartel, he just said that was the right thing to do.

Looking at the test result along with the MS chart, Dr. Shiono matter-of-factly said he saw an unmistakable sign of severe atrial fibrillation induced by a cardiac valvular disease and that most probably it was a matter of time it would develop into a fatal cerebral infarction. We didn't talk about a closer examination or an additional medication.

On my way home I said to myself: "With my days, or even hours and minutes, being numbered, I can't afford the time to tidy up all that mess resulting from my Diogenes Syndrome. Why should I bother to save someone from the daunting task I may otherwise leave behind? At any rate I need to wrap it up so I won't have to waste another life, which I don't actually believe, by asking the same stupid questions over and over about where I came from and what for. But after all wrapping up a life isn't packing up for a long journey."

My lifetime philosophy teacher used to say, "We are our choices," or "We are condemned to be free " When I look back on my trajectory, I must admit it was during a relatively short period of time that I could really change my path because committing myself to something or someone always meant finally closing the door to other opportunities. For the rest of the time I've been just reaping the harvest from my choice, or trying to come to terms with the adverse consequences inevitably entailed in it. This is why most individuals among my audience don't want to face the ontological reality of life.

For my part the first step to further going on is to admit what is done is done. And yet I still remain condemned to freely choose a way to sum up my own life. The most sticking point, therefore, lies with the fact that it's always too soon until it becomes too late when I try to deal with something while it's still going on.

Maybe I had expected someone to give me a little clue to the way out of the thorniest dilemma.

On the evening of May 3, the day which fell on the 68th anniversary of the enactment of the MacArthur Constitution, I came across a plump and short woman who was presumably in her mid-to-late 60s in a small eatery I frequent. She later introduced herself as a retired schoolteacher. Apparently she didn't have any kind of handset as far as I could see. But who knows? She could be just one of those technology-shy or IT-illiterate old people.

I was almost through with my humble dinner when I overheard her having a serious talk with two male Indians across a nearby table. She didn't have the faintest air of femininity as if she'd used it up in the course of indoctrinating her pupils while getting assimilated herself into the male-dominated system. I wouldn't have paid a closer attention to the broad if she hadn't been giving the Indians a history lecture on postwar Japan.

In everyday discourse in this country, people have a strong tendency to avoid sociopolitical issues. Not that they are too divided over them. On the contrary there is no real political contention in the nation of digital shamanism where professional priests singlemindedly pursue the traditional art of governing serfs (matsurigoto) through ritualized proceedings.

Although people who are already suffering senile dementia may still have a faint memory of their reverence for the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, it had to be buried deep inside like your childhood trauma. As a result those afflicted with juvenile dementia know nothing about his contempt for their parents and grandparents.

I am a funny person whose favorite pastime is to give an ad hoc lecture, for free, to anyone who desperately need to avoid the tangible or intangible cost entailed in his blind obedience to social taboos. One of the reasons behind my peculiar habit is that I believe educating others is the only way to get educated. Galileo is believed to have said, "I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him."

A recent example was when I taught a small barbershop owner how to avoid being overexploited by the certified tax accountant she has long retained for her annual tax return. I said all she would need to do to save her a substantial part of retainer was to find herself an inexpensive software package built on Luca Pacioli's double-entry accounting method, because it would at least take care of the calculation of the consumption taxes (Japan's VAT) which was a little too tricky for anyone who is in the dark about accounting. I don't know if she has decided to heed my advice.

In a separate session we had soon after her husband had died, I gave her a tip on how the widow can evade an exorbitant donation demanded by her family temple under the name of Buddha to give her deceased husband a fancy posthumous name.

When passing by their table on my way to the checkout counter, I approached the lecturer to say: "I didn't particularly try to eavesdrop on your conversation, but can I tell you something about MacArthur just to set the record straight?"

Still confident in herself at that point, she generously said with a defenseless grin: "Why not? Just shoot."

In between she kept taking sips of wine while the younger Indian was holding the bottle with his right hand so he could quickly refill her glass whenever it was emptied. I later learned the students were merchants peddling pricey fashion items imported from their home country in the nearby shopping mall and that the lecturer was one of their most important customers. It was obvious that the Indians had been listening to their customer's lecture so attentively just out of the sense of obligation.

But when I jumped in, the Indians were quick enough in gathering my impromptu lecture would be an unavoidable step to further duping the sucker into buying an extra saree or two. One of them brought me an extra chair and a glass. I sat down and said, "Thanks, but I don't drink." But now they were all ears although I still didn't intend to give them a full-fledged lecture.

Throughout my career, I strove to develop a proprietary teaching method based on my belief that education is not indoctrination or counter-indoctrination, but training for practice of principled and creative thinking, no more, no less. When I finally came up with a unique way to effectively provoke creative thinking among my audience, I realized I'd been influenced to a great extent by management guru Peter F. Drucker (See NOTE)

NOTE: Time and again did Drucker warn his audience, in many different contexts, to the effect that giving a wrong answer to the right question is much better than giving the correct answer to a wrong question. He died 10 years ago today at the age of 95 but if someone had told him that an evil Jewish cabal (or al-Qaeda) was behind 9/11, he must have said: "Oh, is that so? But so what? At best that's giving the correct answer to a wrong question."

I've invariably tried it with my audiences, be it the MBA class of 2000 at the International University of Japan or business and IT professionals I was addressing on various occasions. To tell the truth, however, this method was so unconventional that it did not always prove very effective, even with the audience of my blog. When I said, "Let's think," people said more often than not that's what they were doing. But how can you think like man when you don't know exactly how to use the brain-shaped thing sitting at your top?

Since I saw no reason to make my lecture on the night of the Constitution Day an exception. I automatically applied my method although inside my brain I substituted the above-linked post for the syllabus. But before really getting started, I had to make a correction to her understanding of the general's remark.

I said: "You were saying that 70 years ago MacArthur said Japanese adults were all 12-years-old. But to be more precise, it was 64 years ago, May 5, 1951, that the repatriated SCAP recounted his experience with Japanese adults he'd dealt with. Actually he said they were all 12-year-olds when compared to the Anglo-Saxon and the Germans who he thought were as mature as 45-years-old.

"More importantly, you shouldn't play it down as if it were a casual slip of the tongue; it was a sworn testimony he made before the U.S. Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee."

She was just listening as if my correction hadn't made any difference to the topic. In the total absence of the willingness to redefine the issue at hand on her part, I had to play the role of the questioner, as well. Now Our conversation which wasn't really interactive went essentially like this thereafter.

I said, "At first let me ask you if you think our parents and grandparents really deserved his slander. If I am not mistaken, it sounded as though you thought they did." Her answer: "You are not mistaken. I think MacArthur was right, more or less." I asked her: "Could you tell me the reason why you think they were that immature?" "I haven't given a thought to the question from that perspective before. But I somehow feel that way."

Now I had to cite my own reasons: "Just let's be reminded that our parents and grandparents pleaded for his special mercy on Hirohito's life instead of claiming it ourselves for having sacrificed his subjects, more than 3 million of them, just to save him and his family. He was generous enough to accept the insane wish. As a result, the SCAP was revered as the the blue-eyed "Second Emperor" during his reign which extended from 1945 to 1951. And on April 16, 1951, the day of his departure, he was once again taken aback on his way to the Haneda Airport at the sight of the streets closely lined with 200 thousands Japanese enthusiastically waving small Stars and Stripes."

I went on to ask her the next question. "Do you think he was really qualified to look down on them?" Once again she was caught off guard because she hadn't expected another question was coming in that respect. I explained: "If MacArthur's had a good reason for his contempt for the 12-year-olds, that does not necessarily mean he was 45-years-old. The pot sometimes calls the kettle black." The retired schoolteacher fidgeted for a while before she managed to mumble out something like this: "To be honest with you, I didn't know exactly what made him think he was qualified to be so contemptuous about the Japanese. I just thought his attitude was somehow understandable."

I answered my own question: "The general had to resort to the unsophisticated age metaphor at the congressional hearing because he was also 12-years-old, maybe 13 at best. If he had been a well-educated, mature man, MacArthur might have used the anthropological term 'neoteny' which would have unequivocally meant an incurable illness particular to the descendants of a rice-growing tribe. Decades later Robert D. Putnam would write of this terminally-ill country, "In some cases where you can get to depends on where you're coming from, and some destinations you simply cannot get to from here."

I went on. "Now that you have acquired some background information, do you think we contemporary Japanese still deserve that characterization? In other words, have we changed in the last 64 years?

The lecturer-turned-student had already started blushing. Or her face may have just flushed because of the uninterrupted gulps of wine. Now that I belatedly realized I'd fallen into the same, old trap despite the utmost precaution I'd taken, I answered my own question on her behalf once again.

"Traditionally we have been so used to being taught by teachers like you that we haven't used our own brains over how to overcome our developmental failure. As a result most of us 'think' we have to learn our lessons from past mistakes as if history were redoable or even undo-able. If there is still something to learn from history, it's the very fact that there's absolutely nothing to learn there."

I stopped there because I knew it would be counterproductive to further grill her and I had no intention to make her lose face before the Indian merchants.

At that point, one of the Indians opened his mouth for the first time as if to placate the argumentative old goat so both sides would find common ground to soft-land. He said, "We wonder why you still keep your brain this sharp at the age of 79. What is the secret of your extraordinary lucidity?" I said, "At least in part I owe this to your home country. As you know, turmeric-rich food such as my favorite noodle in curry soup is available around here at a very reasonable price."

But the retired schoolteacher felt she had to add some spice to the compliment by her vendor. She said as if to hand down the final verdict:

"Mr. Yamamoto, this is a downright tragedy."

"Tragedy" (悲劇) is not an everyday word in Japan. Totally unprepared, I was about to say, "You bet it is!" But before actually uttering these words, I asked her for a clarification: "What exactly is tragic about this? And for whom?" Equally unprepared on her part, she gave me an offhand explanation. "Of course, it's you I'm talking about, Mr. Yamamoto. It seems to me you are completely against the natural providence that says as one grows old biologically, his cognitive faculty should also deteriorate accordingly." Her argument sounded all-too-familiar but once again it seemed she was just parroting the general who said in his farewell speech: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away."

Or maybe she implicitly quoted Pierre de Coubertin who famously echoed the words of Roman poet and satirist Juvenal: "Mens sana in corpore sano." Now she turned out to be yet another Japanese macaque who can't wait until 2020 to see the 2-millennium-old crap reconfirmed as an indisputable axiom.

More than three years ago I posted a piece that dealt with Japan's medical cartel. There I raised dozens of questions those who blindly believe in the myth the World Health Organization has been disseminating about the world's most effective medical system of Japan dare not ask. They included:
● What should the "healthy" longevity Japan boasts mean when one in four Japanese is seriously considering suicide according to the government statistics?
● How can Japan's overall medical achievements be considered outstanding when every third Japanese is supposedly suffering hypertension according to the likes of The Japanese Society of Hypertension?
● Are Japanese doctors considered really productive when "a 3-hour wait for a 3-minute treatment" is the norm for their outpatients?
● Does it make any sense to evaluate the Japanese medical system when 70-90% of outpatients are just pretending to be physically sick, but in fact, mentally ill?

Although not a single individual who read my post gave me a feedback as useful as the retired schoolteacher's, it is evident from the obsessive-compulsive behavior of these supposedly decent and polite people that Japan has established itself as a model country only at the cost of incurable mental illnesses. In a restaurant or a coffee shop, these creepy creatures can't refrain from talking nonstop for hours about their own or their children's blood, pus and excrement, as if their only concern is mere subsistence.

There's more to it. Just take a look at these pictures I took during my recent train ride. As you can see here, these Sumaho-addicted, thinking-disabled zombies become auto-intoxicated, at a certain point of the uninterrupted connection among themselves, from the overdose of what I call "the shared emptiness." And the moment they get disconnected, they instantly fall asleep.

The continuous "hollowing out" of Japan's economy since the mid-1980s has taken a devastating toll on people's minds, and they are now empty inside, figuratively and literally.

It should be noted here that Sumaho is NOT the Japanese contraction for a smartphone. It has nothing to do with a mobile phone with added functionality.
In this nation of conformists, one-on-one communication is not really needed; the occasional exchange of a text message shorter than the 17-syllable haiku poem, sometimes with a selfie or two attached to it is more than enough.

In fact, a Sumaho is nothing but a portable digital shrine.

I started shooting using my cheap digital camera only after most commuters had got off at the Yokohama central station, everyone holding his handset. But at that time they already gave a menacing glance at the old cameraman, perhaps not because I had a digital camera in my hand but because I didn't have a Sumaho. Obviously I am always a public nuisance or a potential troublemaker.

I couldn't care less, though. It's not my fault at all. If something horribly tragic is taking place here, it's their tragedy, not mine.

According to the official statistics, 968 million copies of comic books and magazines were sold in 2011 to the 127 million people including company executives and political leaders. This accounted for 36% of year's publication of all genres. No wonder the population of lingerie thefts and voyeurs still keeps growing among social elites such as former CEO of IBM Japan Takuma Otoshi, incumbent Minister in charge of reconstruction of the areas afflicted by 3.11 disaster Tsuyoshi Takagi, and many others.

Now that comic books have been increasingly replaced with Sumaho, we are getting even more used to it with the population density in this traditionally close-knit society 10.3 times higher than in the U.S.

To say the least, the situation here is more than just suffocating.

And yet I don't think my conversation with the former schoolteacher was a total waste of time. With her unique and original way to recapitulate my 80-year-long life for me only 1.5 hours after we met, she at least reminded me of the importance of wisdom. We sometimes optimize the hard disc with the file defragmentation program to improve the performance. Likewise we have constantly to eliminate unessential knowledge to improve our wisdom.

The real problem here is what criteria to use to weed out unnecessary pieces of knowledge. Actually my criteria are such that make my life challenging. How to avoid risks or how to economize on the use of limited amount of resources is never at issue because if I prioritized the easiest and safest course of action, I would end up in a fairyland where everything is predictably comfortable and everyone is fully assimilated into the existing system.

In fact her words were heavily weighing on my mind for months, but I should have known I couldn't expect anything more than a misplaced verdict from a fully assimilated, androgynous woman like her.

In retrospect, I was an incessant womanizer throughout my adulthood who was driven solely by my unconditional adoration for genuine femininity. To me it was, and still remains, the only source of creative life. Without always having a woman within my reach, I wouldn't have lasted this long, let alone grown into a mature man. Admittedly I've sometimes had an intimate relationship with a wrong woman, including my second ex, and suffered its consequence for years. But now I think that it was unavoidable because I didn't intend to live an error-free life from the beginning.

Not that I loved faceless and fleshless women like most of you sexists and anti-sexists always do. I was extremely choosy about the women I became romantically involved with. In that context I think I was closer to a sex addict than to the believers or disbelievers in the mere idea of "the feminine mystique."

In this regard, I often compare myself with Josef K, the protagonist of Franz Kafka's The Trial because he constantly makes sexual advances "like a thirsty animal" with practically every woman he comes across in his apartment house, the courtroom, and lawyer's office.

But despite our striking resemblance on the surface, there is a fundamental difference between us. French writer Gustave Flaubert once observed: "God is in the details." And Kafka's way of describing the intimate relationships Josef K has with women is too surreal to conjure up vivid images. This indicates that he wants to make love to women just to relate himself to the alienating world through faceless and fleshless women. Needless to say, such an attempt is always doomed to failure. Simply put, Kafka as personified by Josef K was a eunuch.

Recently some critic tried to shed light on Kafka's sexual potency by analyzing Gregor Samsa, the central character of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, from the wornout Freudian perspective. He theorized that the scene in which Gregor's father kills his son who has been transformed into a giant vermin by throwing an apple at it unmistakably symbolizes that his tyrannical father has virtually castrated his son.

I read the two novels several times each when I was in my late teens and early 20s. Each time I found them quite intriguing but they always left me wondering why the author of mere cas cliniques (clinical cases) was touted as one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century who almost prophesied the Holocaust.

My father was also an impossible tyrant. He was fighting against conformism, conventionalism and mediocrity surrounding him with his double-edged sword as any other first-rate scientist would do against the totalitarian regime. But thank god, the talented aircraft designer never used the sword directly against his own son. Instead he was going to use me as an additional weapon by training me to grow into a double-edged sword myself.

When I inventory a dozen or so mates to whom I committed myself wholeheartedly, I am always struck by the fact that my first ex-wife outshone other beautiful women with her irresistible charm and unforgettable grace.

On top of that, she had an extraordinary ability of conceptual understanding. To me it was a bonus because almost by definition, femininity tries to understand rather than conquer. Feminine attributes such as intuitive sensitivity and deep empathy can more than make up for the lack of the reasoning faculty.

Since my second ex demanded I destroy everything reminiscent of my first marriage, I don't know if my memories of the moments we shared in the period from 1957 through 1963 hasn't been sublimated at all in the last century. Yet I'm reasonably sure she was the ideal partner to spend the rest of my life with.

I think this was attributable at least in part to her upbringing.

Her maternal grandfather was one of the Imperial Army officers who were imprisoned for their failed attempt of the coup d'etat of February 26, 1936, which actually paved the way for Japan's stepped-up aggression in China by an odd twist of fate. But his daughter was a prominent figure in the world of the modern tanka (traditional 31-syllable poetry.) My first ex was born between the gifted poet and a reputable physician.

On the other hand, as you can infer from the above picture, which was most probably taken by her, around the time I was 19, Back then I was an impossibly egocentric and immature person as so many old men surrounding me today.

In those days I wasn't a particularly handsome and sexy guy. But my friends were saying I was a "girls' cup of tea" on and outside the campus. Perhaps these girls found my sulky attitude and anti-social behavior somehow attractive. For one thing I skipped almost all classes in my junior and senior years to engage in some political and journalistic activities in the wake of the nationwide protests against the renewal of the U.S.-Japan security treaty.

Maybe she was one of those girls who were precipitously attracted to the punk that I was. On February 14, 1957, she gave me unforgettable 2-item gifts, one of which was a 45-RPM record featuring Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan playing My Funny Valentine. The other one was Sartre's play titled Nekrassov. I was really impressed because those were the days the Western customs such as Barentine's Day had yet to be introduced here (only for an utter bastardization.)

On the campus, and outside, we always stuck together. Some idiots on the campus used to say: "You two seem to be emulating the relationship between Sarutoru (Sartre) and Bobowaru (Beauvoir.)" We never failed to say: "It's none of your business. We don't emulate anyone in the first place."

We were formally wedded in 1960. But our marriage didn't last more than 4 years I left her for another woman as if to rid myself of the pressure of living with an ideal mate. Even worse, in the last days of our life mostly living together, I deliberately made fun of her by flirting with the new girlfriend in her presence.

It is true it was a little suffocating to stay with an exceptionally intelligent, elegant, sensitive, and sensual lady like her when I was still at a loss over which way to go. But to be more precise, it was too hard for me to find a way to reciprocate her willingness and readiness to help me out of the crisis facing me at the workplace and everywhere else.

When trying to sum up my life more than half-a-century after our breakup, I must admit something still remains unsettled deep inside, and that's what hinders my Operation Wrap-up.

What I did to her was really irredeemable because as I wrote earlier in this post, most of the time what's done isn't redoable or undo-able. She may think or want to think she has already overcome the aftereffect of the tragic accident I caused her. But ironically enough, I know she can't recover what she has lost in our failed marriage. For instance, she could have been a first-rate writer leveraging her unparalleled potential.

At one time, I thought I could turn to her to wrap me up because between us we had much more than just a good chemistry or the same wavelength but a deep resonance that could have led us to the same goal of life, though it was a little premature at that time. But I said to myself that it's not the right thing to do to renew contact with my 80-year-old girl this late in life.

Dr. Shiono I mentioned earlier in the post is an ardent music lover. Every once in a while he has prescribed me, for free, his favorite musical pieces such as Hilary Hahn's Bach in one way or the other along with Amlodipine and Valsartan at discounted prices. But late last month, he had his assistant hand me two recordable CDs. The pieces nicely burned onto them included a timely prescription of Carlos Kleiber's excerpts from Tristan and Isolde.

Operas are not particularly my favorite genre. But Richard Wagner's "musical dramas" are a different story because his "endless melodies" totally replaced overly dramatized arias and other showstoppers which are awkwardly bridged from one to the next with boring recitatives. Wagner's melodies just keep flowing throughout a scene.

The famous last scene of Tristan and Isolde is generally called "Liebestod" (death of love, or love of death) but it's believed that Wagner himself wanted to call it Verklärung or transfiguration. Either way Liebestod to me is the same thing as Lebenstod (death of life or life of death.)

Critics say the German composer wrote this musical drama under the influence of Arthur Schopenhauer who was in turn influenced by Buddha's Four Noble Truths. But as an avowed Buddha fundamentalist, I think this is ridiculous. It's my understanding that death can't consummate life or anything else in one way or the other because as I've said many times before, death is at the very core of life.

Another second-rate philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is often quoted as saying: "Tristan and Isolde is the real opus metaphysicum of all art -- insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death." I don't know if that is what Wagner's Liebestod is all about.

This is not to say I wasn't overwhelmed by the overpowering scene in which the dying Isolde sings as if in an ecstasy over her lover's death.

As to the "Tristan chord" (F, B, D♯, and G♯) I think Musical Director of the Royal Opera House Sir Antonio Pappano explains it very precisely in the video embedded below. As he says, the strikingly modern chromatic chord resolves into a diatonic chord which someone calls "the most beautifully orchestrated B Major in the history of classical music." To me the Tristan chord was one of the most important combinations of notes because up until recently, I was giving nontechnical advice, off and on, to young Jazz musicians here.

My Operation Wrap-up still goes on with the inherent dilemma unresolved. But for now I really appreciate Dr. Shiono's Tristan prescription because it at least gave me a clue to resolving the dilemma on time. Now I know my life is neither a tragedy nor a farce.

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