Capitalizing, directly or indirectly, on the blessings of the Internet, political analysts have
been proliferating all over the world. In America, alone, there are millions
of them if you include self-styled pundits.
You can classify them into two types: weather forecasters and Monday morning
quarterbacks. It's a known fact that there always is a cozy relationship
between the two groups. Unless pundits who specialize in predictions are
so prone to misread clues to future events, MMQBs are out of work. And
if MMQBs have a good command of sophism to convince their audience that
they are not just secondguessing, prophets lose their jobs.
In between the two categories, you sometimes come across amphibians who
have the guts to play the two different roles all by themselves. By doing so,
they effectively hedge against the risk of losing jobs.
It's some of these amphibious pundits who foresaw the emergence of a new
and viable Japan in June when Naoto Kan and Katsuya Okada succeeded Yukio
Hatoyama and Ichiro Ozawa as prime minister and secretary general of the
Democratic Party of Japan, respectively.
In fact, though, signs of the total collapse of the country have since been felt, rather than just imagined, around the clock and on every corner of the Japanese archipelago. Those who have good ears even hear the entire edifice crashing down.
Five months after the misogi-like transition of power, even these zombie-like people can tell the Kan administration will fall apart in a matter of months.
When it comes to foreign relations, the Tokyo government is now in total
gridlock because Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang are steadfastly closing
in on the doomed nation. I'm inclined to term it the MBP strangulation
regimen after the ABCD alliance against Japan in 1941.
Kan and his foreign minister Seiji Maehara are counting even more on their
American counterparts for help. They know that if the Republicans are to regain lost ground toward 2012, that won't make a bit of difference
to the absurd security arrangement between the two nations, one dead and
the other dying.
This is yet another confirmation of Douglas MacArthur's testimony at a
joint committee of the Senate. On May 5, 1951, the general exquisitely
said: "Measured by the standards of modern civilization, [the Japanese
would be like boys] of twelve, as compared with [Americans' and Germans']
development of 45 years."
MacArthur was so foresighted that he also knew by 2010, all Americans would look like 104-year-olds.
So, are amphibious pundits in America blushing or scratching their empty
heads these days?
No, that's what they will never do. As usual, they have a good excuse, particularly in
this November. "Currently we are too preoccupied with the midterm
election to be really concerned about Japan. Maybe we were a little too
optimistic when we said the country was getting back on the right track.
But so what?"
It's in this intellectual vacuum that a growing number of political analysts in the U.S. have started twittering. The eagles have lost their piercing eyes to identify their targets
and sharp claws to cut out enemies' hearts. So all they can do is just to keep chirping.
It's true that they can't outdo the Japanese who are very good
at compressing ideas into the traditional 17-syllable format. But that doesn't really matter; Haiku poetry and tweets are basically the same thing. · read more (88 words)
Thursday, October 28 2010 @ 03:53 AM EDT
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
Chen Tien-shi's book about statelessness
One year ago today, I stumbled on a Japanese book titled Stateless. I instantly gave it a five-star review on my website.
If you look at customer reviews on Amazon Japan's website, you will think
I am not alone in being so enthralled by the book. As of today, the Amazon rating has averaged 4.5 stars.
But actually I have very little in common with these readers.
A comment posted by a reviewer who gave the book a 3-star rating reads
like this: "I found the book very informative but I can't agree to
the author's way of thinking because of its tilt toward negativism."
An oldish Japanese woman, who is one of my former colleagues, has once
told me the same thing about this book. She said something like Joseph
McCarthy would have said sixty years ago: "I find the author's negativism
really disgusting. Her family came over to Japan on their own. Nobody brought
them here against their will. So, love it, or leave it."
The Amazon reviewer, and Japan's McCarthy alike, have much more in common with
many other ignorant and arrogant people in and outside the United Nations than with this blogger;
they all have a bug-ridden logic circuit embedded inside their skulls. They constantly mix up things at issue with their take on them. That is basically why they use these words, positive and negative, so lightly.
Because of this confusion, they always distort the arithmetic rule. While, for instance, a negative view of a negative thing makes a plus, my positive view of something they think has a negative value does not always mean I am a negativist.
Take statelessness for example.
Those whose brains are prone to logical confusion take it for granted that
any word suffixed with "-less" is a negative thing. But what
about the word "flawless" for instance? You say, "I got
your point." But hold on, because you don't. If I say, "Your
skills in pickpocketing are flawless," how would you respond?
In fact, things are all neutral - neither positive nor negative.
The word stateless simply means that the nationality column of your passport
says you have no nationality - no more, no less. It's you that should decide
whether or not statelessness is a desirable status to be in.
To me that status is something you have to be proud of. You are mistaken when you label me as a negativist simply because I'm in favor of statelessness which you think is a negative thing.
The same can be said of humanright advocates in and outside the U.N. They keep mixing
up subjects with objects. That's why, for instance in 1961, the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees drew up the "International
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness" based on the obsolete
document called "The Universal Declaration of Humanrights."
If you are stupid enough to insist that the international body founded
when the Chinese continent was still under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek has not
yet outgrown its raison d'etre, you should give us a specific reason you
think statelessness should be reduced, rather than increased. Or at least you should tell us why
no more than 19 countries have signed the treaty of 1961 thus far despite
the ardent call by the UNHCR in the last half century.
I think it's not only useless but also harmful to cling to the outdated
hypocrisy based on the absurd assumption that Pax Americana will last many more years, if not forever.
With the pathological obsession with statelessness as something undesirable,
these people are contributing to the proliferation, not the reduction,
of stateless population. They claim that they know no borders, but actually
they know them more than anyone else does. Besides, they have put up another
wall that separates the stateless from the "stateful."
Here, I am talking about a book written by a first-rate scholar who specializes in ethnology
and international law, and people's responses to it. It's a different story
when it comes to what doers do.
Actually author Chen Tien-shi has another face; she is a dedicated activist.
Besides delving into issues
with statelessness and the "Chinese Diaspora", she has also engaged in grassroots activities such as building up a worldwide
network for the stateless. So it's quite understandable that she has no
guts to tell these individuals, in person, that they should be proud of
the plight resulting from their status. Presumably, all she can barely say is: "You shouldn't feel ashamed of the predicament you are going through."
Life is not so simple as you think it is. · read more (40 words)
Tuesday, October 19 2010 @ 10:38 AM EDT
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
The flag of the Ryukyu Independence Party
The natives of the Ryukyus, better known as the Okinawa islands, call themselves Okinanchu or Uchinanchu when they want to stress their distinctive cultural identity.
On the other hand, they call the people in the main part of the Japanese Archipelago Naicha or Yamatonchu. The connotation of the former appellation is contemptuous while the latter is a neutral word. In that sense, Naicha to Okinawans are what gringos are to Latin American people.
The biggest difference you see between the two peoples lies in their quality as human beings measured by integrity, maturity and viability.
Traditionally, Naicha leaders have all been known for their propensity toward indecision, inaction and procrastination in the face of crises. Especially when it comes to foreign affairs, they have always let things drift until the problem solves itself. To them politics is like weather, as Ian Buruma once observed. They invariably fall into a state of thanatosis until the ferocious typhoon is gone.
That is why they make believe timeliness in action is not that important in diplomacy.
This way Japanese leaders have piled up formidable problems which should
have been addressed much earlier and more straight ahead.
Just to mention a few, the Russo-Japanese
dispute over the "Northern Territories," the Sino-Japanese feud
over oil and gas fields in the East China Sea and the issue with the Japanese
citizens kidnapped more than 25 years ago by North Korean agents all remained unaddressed until
the other side had fully entrenched its interests there.
Believe it or not, never once has the Japanese government shown its readiness for a bloody warfare against the other claimant of the disputed territory or filed its territorial claim with the international arbitration organization. Instead it keeps grumbling all the time out of fear that a provocative word or act will inevitably lead to an all-out confrontation.
It is true that leaders of other countries sometimes procrastinate, too. But they are fundamentally different from Japanese procrastination artists. They always act first to get a head start and once a fait accompli is established, they start buying time to defend status quo, whereas Naicha leaders just wait and see all the while and start selling time when the other end wants to buy it.
More or less the same thing can be said of the issue with the Senkaku Isles, Diaoyutai in Chinese.
On September 7, a Chinese trawler collided against a patrol ship of Japan Coast Guard in the disputed waters off Senkaku. At the onset, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation Seiji Maehara were saying they would handle the incident "strictly in line with Japanese law."
But once again it proved totally useless for them to raise their voices to repeat the same old claim that Japan has a "legitimate" right on the uninhabited islets. As always the Chinese leaders by far outsmarted and outpaced their Japanese counterparts. In retaliation, they arrested four employees of a Japanese construction company on the charge of spying military facilities in Hebei Province.
Amid the fuss, Maehara, now as the new Foreign Minister, visited New York where he had a talk with his U.S. counterpart. The moron was momentarily heartened by Clinton's signature lip service. She said, in effect, that the disputed isles were included, albeit implicitly, in the 1972 bilateral deal to "return" Okinawa from the U.S. to Japan, and thus, Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty could be invoked to secure Japanese interest there.
Back home the media were also stupid enough to gush over the "diplomatic victory" Maehara had achieved. But in a matter of hours, China could bring Japan to her knees like taking a candy from a baby. The skipper of the Chinese fishing boat was freed.
Yesterday, I was really taken aback by Kan's declaration of 有言実行・引き延ばし一掃内閣
(a cabinet to act without delay.) In his mistimed as well as misplaced declaration, the moron
wanted to say that habitual procrastination in the past decades, mostly under the rule by the Liberal Democratic Party whereof he used to be a member, has now taken a devastating toll on the fate of this country and that he is now fully determined to quickly fix it.
What a laugh.
Actually things are getting even uglier. Yesterday, China released three hostages out of four in a gesture to mend the
relations between the two countries.
The dull-witted Yamatonchu felt at a loss because with China's move, the problem was three-quarters solved before they could attain anything. They just kept wondering why only three until it slowly dawned on them that the Chinese government wanted to keep the
unlucky guy in custody to deter the Japanese government from releasing the video of the crime scene. The Chinese knew one hostage is enough to stop the move.
The embarrassing situation triggered an outcry from among Japanese lawmakers of both camps for the release of the video footage - something none of them had thought about demanding from the Okinawa prosecutors in the last three weeks.
Political commentators and self-styled China experts, too, responded to the situation larghissimo. They started saying the video should be made public "immediately" to show the "international community" how the Chinese vessel hit the patrol ship, twice, in the starboard only when the problem had been 75% solved unilaterally by the country which had created it also unilaterally.
As usual, the idea of releasing the hard evidence occurred to these quarterbacks only when it was already Monday morning. Now there were only two options before the Naicha government.
Option 1: Turn the clock back to September 7 by complying with the demand to release the video. Option 2: Swallow the remaining 25%.
Whichever way it goes, the end result is the same. Japan goes around in circles forever.
Small wonder Kan's cabinet supposedly to act without delay has started stalling for time once again in a matter of hours from his declaration of no-procrastination policy. · read more (619 words)
Monday, October 18 2010 @ 09:40 AM EDT
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
You know what - there are weapons even more dangerous than nuclear devices or biochemical substances; they have been developed for the use in more covert
hostilities including cyber-warfare.
The unconventional weaponry they use in modern-day battlegrounds is more of
corrosives or toxics than explosives.
These agents are by far more perilous than any other weapon for the following
● There is an ample supply of this type of weaponry. It is available to
everybody and everywhere at affordable prices. Normally it doesn't cost
you anything more than your cheap soul.
● More often than not, they are invisible. That also means you can't really
identify your enemy.
This always constitutes a formidable challenge to organizations responsible for national security. While overt cyber attacks by Chinese or revelations of military secrets
by the likes of WikiLeaks are relatively easy to handle, the hardest part lies somewhere
U.S. Cyber Command, for one, is at a loss over who it is really fighting against, let alone what for. Head of "USCYBERCOM" Gen. Keith Alexander cannot even tell what his invisible enemy's target would be and what weapons the enemy is equipped with.
To me, however, it's easy to answer the last question; the weapons most commonly used against him are information spread around, verbally and visually, in every layer of cyberspace. In short, they are words and images.
If there is anything in which USCYBERCOM can find consolation, it is the fact that hordes of cyber warriors are giving it a helping hand from every corner of the country, and even from the other part of the globe,
including Oslo, Norwegian capital.
Most recently, a highly-acclaimed Chinese dissident named Liu Xiaobo was enshrined as the year's Peace Prize laureate by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Liu's wife Xia reportedly quoted her husband as saying, "This prize goes to all of those who died on June 4, 1989," when she visited him in prison.
Very touching, isn't it?
You can't figure out how the Lius are going to share the prize money of
SEK10-million with the deceased, but stupid Americans of both camps have
wasted no time to gush over their empty rhetoric about a free China.
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan was not so enthusiastic about Liu's feat in deference to his Chinese boss, Wen Jiabao. He reportedly said: "My view is that the release [of Liu from prison]
is desirable, but in what form we should seek this will need to be discussed."
Setting aside the absurd remarks made by the Japanese idiot for now, I wonder if you have read the now famous Charter 08 signed by 350 pro-democracy
activists including Liu. If you haven't, I think you better forget it for good.
be a total waste of time to examine the wordy manifesto because as anyone
can easily predict, wornout, empty, banal words, such as representative
democracy, universal suffrage, humanrights and freedom, are scattered all
over the Charter. These reform-mongers based it all on an outdated and watered-down
ideology that dates back to the days long before the Internet took hold.
And what is totally missing there is a clear vision of a free China and
the real life of 1.3 billion individual citizens living there. It's as though they think a change in the
political system will automatically bring about change in people's way
of thinking and living, while in fact, it's the people that change the system.
This way these obscurantists are constantly turning the Internet into a "disenabler" of real change whereas it's potentially a powerful enabler of it.
Unfortunately, it was nothing new that the Oslo-based Committee had discredited
itself by crowning leading ideologues such as Liu.
In his will, Alfred Nobel said to the effect that the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who "shall have done the best work" to promote peace. But the Committee seems to have
rewritten Nobel's will like this:
"The prize should be awarded to a person who talked most frequently and audibly about peace, freedom and humanrights. Whether or not the person has actually delivered on his promises should not affect the Committee's decision."
As a result, it now looks as though the Committee sponsors an annual speech
contest. You just splash flowery words about an oppression-free, nuclear-free
and emission-free world, from your toolbox, which is actually an arsenal
filled with digitalized TNT or fissile material, on notable websites, or
better yet, through the mainstream media. And you become eligible to be
nominated by the Norwegian Committee.
It still remains a mystery why Mahatma Gandhi was passed over every time
he was nominated. Among other years he was shortlisted, 1948 was the year
he had already been assassinated by a fellow Hindu for his unique contribution
to India's independence. No one could deny that "The Father of India"
had done "the best work" by that time.
The same is true, perhaps to a lesser degree, with Ronald Reagan who missed
the medal in 1990 when Mikhail Gorbachev was singled out for the well-deserved
In my previous post, I talked about my way of classifying people I have known in person into four types. Every once in a while, however, we see a man of integrity like Gandhi or Reagan who I would classify into a fifth category.
But actually, an increasing number of dignitaries
who hadn't made any outstanding contribution to Nobel's cause have been awarded the Prize.
They included Henry Kissinger (1973), Eisaku Sato (1974), the Dalai Lama
(1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Yasser Arafat (1994), Kim Dae-jun (2000),
Kofi Annan (2001), Jimmy Carter (2001), Al Gore (2007) and Barack Obama
· read more (221 words)
Mr. S is the one who reminded me of Mencius' words about man's innate spontaneity
through his devotion to adding rare materials to the exhibits of the Cyber Museum I launched three and a half years ago.
Once again he brought in a large pile of photocopies of old magazine articles
written by or about my father Mineo Yamamoto. I said, "I really appreciate
your efforts, but I'm afraid I may not have them uploaded to the site because
I don't have time, money and most importantly, enthusiasm to do so anymore."
The selfless guy said, "That's no problem."
He added: "This time I have realized that your father was primarily
an educator, fully dedicated one."
Among the batch of paper in front of us, there was a 1943 article in a
questions-and-answers format from a magazine meant for schoolchildren.
One of the questions asked of my father was: "Why and how can an airplane
fly high defying the law of gravity?" He was enthusiastically answering
the question by citing how a kite soars and how an atomizer works.
This is what Mr. S had in mind when he said my father was a good educator.
I have inherited from him many things including Parkinson's disease. But
among other things, I owe him this particular attribute. Like him I have
believed throughout my life that the only effective way to learn things
is to teach them, and sometimes vice versa; most of the things I've learned have been learned through teaching. This is where the learning process of human beings differs from that of apes.
Ten years ago, I taught an MBA class at International University of Japan.
I had a lot of fun teaching 30 or so foreign students there. I hope they
also had fun discussing with me the use of the networked computers as an essential enabler of renovation in business. But that was only for a semester and my only experience
lecturing at a higher-learning institute.
So I usually introduce myself as a businessman-turned-blogger. But to be
more precise, I was born to be a fully committed educator before anything else. It always sickens me to have to deal with intellectually lazy, learning-disabled guys even when their idiocy is none of my business.
And what exactly have I taught them?
In my recent post entitled A Graveyard for the Musical Legacy of the West, I talked about the inversion of the ends and the means. In that connection I wrote the only thing that can set right the inverted value-creating chain is versatility.
Just remember that George Washington was primarily a farmer and agronomist, and Thomas Jefferson had many faces such as architect's, astronomer's and inventor's. I don't think we can expect single-minded political racketeers and tunnel-visioned political analysts to be able to reverse the ongoing process of the decline of civilization.
That is why I have always adhered to interdisciplinary subjects.
Have I succeeded so far? Only to a certain extent.
I remember educating on-the-job an intern by the name of Nathalie Guy when I was a senior manager at a Zurich-based trading company. I taught the brilliant French lady how to manage the foreign currency positions on a handmade system of my own based on Macros and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications.)
Our teacher-student relation was very fruitful because Nathalie was so
enthusiastic not only about learning computer systems, forex and business
as a whole but also about reciprocating.
When it came to my interaction with Japanese audiences including my bosses,
peers and subordinates, it was a disaster most of the time. Simply they don't have willingness to learn. The same is
more or less true with my own kids.
To borrow Wynton Marsalis's way of saying it, since they think everything has its place, they don't need to look for a new place.
I think I once wrote about Karl Jaspers, a German psychiatrist and philosopher.
Although he has had little influence on my way of thinking and living,
I was deeply impressed by an anecdote inserted in one of his books I read
some 55 years ago. It went like this:
The director of the mental hospital is known for his unparalleled compassion
toward the inmates. One day when he strolled around the garden, he spotted
an inpatient casting a fishing line into the swimming pool. The director
stopped by the patient. Smiling knowingly, he said, "What kind of
fish do you catch here?" The madman replied: "Don't be silly,
doc. You can't catch any fish in a swimming pool."
I'm inclined to classify people into four types like this:
Type 1: Bigmouths who boast they went fishing at the seaside and caught a big
fish while, in fact, they went nowhere and caught nothing.
Type 2: Gripers who claim to have been out at sea for fishing but came home empty-handed; they spend the rest of their lives telling sour grapes stories, or inventing plausible excuses.
Type 3: Tricksters who admit they cast a fishing line at the poolside but caught a big fish which is actually nothing but the product of a delusion.
Type 4: Madmen who fall under the same category with Jaspers' patient.
Throughout my adulthood, I haven't known, in person, a single individual who doesn't fit any one of these descriptions. · read more (191 words)
Friday, September 24 2010 @ 08:57 AM EDT
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
The tomb of my aborted book
The idiot by the name of Naoto Kan barely defeated the bandit named Ichiro Ozawa in the September 14 presidential election of the Democratic
Party of Japan. On the surface, the tumultuous days are over with the revolving door of the prime minister's office coming to a halt.
Wasting no time, American political analysts have already resumed disseminating the same old hogwash about Japan as a reliable partner that shares more or less the same values and the same
problems with the United States. Still they don't know what they are talking about.
Totally clueless about the intricate plot of the political Kabuki, these intellectually lazy Japan experts (or are they just retarded?) have started claiming they now see an unmistakable sign that the country is getting back on the right track.
For my part, the never-ending farce is constantly distracting me from concentrating on something I ought to finish before I go. It bothers me not precisely because it's a farce. To me the most irritating thing is to hear so many educated Americans talk about Japan like they are morons.
I know I can't afford to waste a single minute to try correcting Americans' take on the series of events unfolding
here. But I also know there are times when I must defend my principle regardless of whether the issue at hand is my baby.
Two and a half years ago, I was working on a book which would have been titled The Unviable Japan.
At the beginning, the American literary agent was saying it would instantly
hit the list of bestsellers. Completely in the dark about the reality of the rotten publishing industry in America, I took her words at face value. I didn't notice that actually the broad was just looking for catchy titles such as mine. So I did a lot of preparatory research to fully substantiate my heretical theory.
I had a brother-in-law who was an executive at Nissan North America for many years. He was an extraordinarily versatile
person. But his last years were mostly devoted to writing a book about the foundation of the nation currently called Japan.
He tracked it back to the third century when a shaman queen named Himiko was governing the main part of the archipelago because all the prehistoric truth was sealed off by two history books compiled by court-retained historians in the early-8th century.
To that end the ailing retiree strenuously went through antique books and ancient documents, 1,500 of them.
The former Nissan executive sent me his book weeks before he passed away.
In the enclosed memo, he wrote: "I'm really looking forward to reading
your The Unviable Japan."
In early March 2008 I sent an outline of my book to the agent. A week or
so later I called her up to see what her take on my document was like.
At the end of a lengthy conversation, the agent handed down her verdict
in a roundabout way. In effect, she said: "It's you, not your country,
that is not viable."
I shouldn't have expected an American literary agent to
understand that at times there are wannabe writers who seek truth much
more than money and fame.
Two and a half years have passed, but many educated Americans still remain ignorant,
arrogant and complacent.
For one thing, they never understand, or want to understand that you can't reset history, let alone change it, no matter how fervently the swindler in the White House insists you can.
In general, Americans process thoughts that fit comfortably into their ideologies, or business lines, purely on an ear-to-mouth basis, whereas they let heresies like mine pass through from the right ear to the left. They don't seem to need a brain at all. But let me quote Harvard public policy professor Robert D. Putnam one last time.
He explains his theory about "path-dependent trajectory" like this:
Where you can get to depends on where you're coming from, and some destinations you simply cannot get to from here.
Recently I'm learning more from Nikkan Gendai, the most popular tabloid here, than from other dailies published by the Big 5 media groups about what is exactly going on in and around the DPJ administration. Despite its vulgar sensationalism and unprincipled gossipiness, truth sometimes smells between the lines there.
I have analyzed the ongoing scene of Act Five of the political Kabuki using this relatively reliable source together with Putnam's theory.
For now my conclusion can be summarized like this:
· read more (1,141 words)
It was General MacArthur who taught us the merits of democracy and pacifism and guided us with kindness along this bright path. As if pleased with his own children growing up, he took pleasure in the Japanese people, yesterday's enemy, walking step by step toward democracy.
- from the Asahi Shimbun daily, April 1951. (English translation by Ian Buruma.)
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.
- from Douglas MacArthur's testimony at a joint committee of the senate on May 5, 1951.
One of my sons is the leader of a nonprofessional jazz band. Unlike his father and paternal grandfather, this guy is a people person from tip to toe. The only criterion he uses when selecting pieces for the next concert is what his men want to do and what his friends expect him to do. That leaves him no room to comply with his dad's request for "pure" jazz or heed his advice about the articulation and phrasing particular to it.
I would find his attitude toward music more or less acceptable if ever my son were a mercenarily-motivated professional musician. But that is not what he is.
He is not alone; the Japanese, in general, do music in order to bring themselves together, while in a civilized society, the priority is diagonally different; people come together for the purpose of doing music, and not the other way around.
You can see the same inversion of the ends and the means everywhere.
Take sports for example. To them win or lose does not really matter because it's not what sports are all about.
This all stems from their forced immersion in the Wakon Yosai potpourri which has made their behavior toward state policy ambivalent and noncommittal. Over time, people have developed a weird habit of responding to messages from above, or even from peers, without mental engagement. There is no sense of commitment; there is only a sense of obligation.
Against this backdrop, Japanese rulers have found out that the most effective way to prod their subjects into swallowing the cause they can't really relate to is to condition them the same way Ivan Pavlov did his dogs. Now they know it's a breeze to get their messages through in the total absence of common values if they use musical tones in place of verbal messages.
This way the Japanese have become accustomed to reflexively reacting to particular musical pieces artificially associated with particular messages as if they still owe allegiance to the failed regime.
One small example is the
street concert given by the garbage truck practically every morning. Over and over we hear the familiar Scottish tune Comin' Through the Rye in between taped messages from the city hall and the local police station. Especially in recent months, this message is repeated over and over again: "Don't remit your money to the designated bank account just because someone you can't positively identify tells over the phone you owe him something; it can be a scam."
I have nothing against the idea of using music for practical purposes. Basically it does no harm to deal with music that way because musical art, or any other art form for that matter, is not consumable. But it's a different story when it comes to the Japanese way of constantly subordinating musical values to something else. They go way over the top in that respect. As is the case with my own son, the younger generations now refuse to receive what little cultural heritage we have to pass on to posterity.
Like any other country, Japan has a statutory anthem which is titled Kimigayo, or His Majesty's Reign. But if you listen to this song, you will notice there are fundamental differences between Kimigayo and other national anthems.
For one thing, the Japanese anthem does not represent any value inherent to the regime in the way La Marseillaise is a manifestation of liberty, equality and fraternity. It is still widely believed that the reign of His Majesty dates back to 660 B.C. when the son of the sun goddess created this country. Kimigayo represents an absurd myth, not values.
Small wonder its lyrics never touch your heart strings. Actually, no Japanese understands, or wants to understand, what these enigmatic words want to say.
To make the lyrics even more incomprehensible, the tune does not fit into the drawling words in terms of articulation and intonation. It is said an obscure German composer by the name of Franz Eckert wrote the melody with the help of two Japanese. He should have known that it was next to impossible to make his tune, which is more or less in line with the Western scale, go with the Japanese words, which are as flat as the Great Plains.
All this has made Kimigayo the world's most yawnful (disgustingly so) national anthem. Yet Japanese have never thought about abandoning it, because to them a national anthem does not have to bear any musical value, let alone represent such values as liberty and equality.
Deep inside, however, they wish they could sing a more singable song with straightforward lyrics, such as Das Deutschlandlied (The Song of Germany) composed by Joseph Haydn.
That is evident from the fact that in the late-1940s NHK virtually selected Beethoven's 9th Symphony, often referred to as Daiku (or No. 9) here, as Japan's second national anthem.
In this country there are thirty professional orchestras including the one owned by NHK. If you include semiprofessional and
nonprofessional ones, there are thousands of them. And believe it or not, especially in December, practically every one of them takes up this particular symphony for its regular concert.
Once again, the selection was nothing but arbitrary; the substitute anthem didn't necessarily have to be Daiku. Any other musical piece would have been considered to serve the purposes as long as it comes from the West, and sounds grandiose.
Now even a plumber can sing along to the famous theme of its 4th
movement. Of course they don't have the slightest idea about what Friedrich Schiller's lyrics say. To them, the more incomprehensible the words, the more profound they sound, as is true with the sutra chanted by the Buddhist monk at the funeral.
Rajio Tiaso, or Calisthenics on Radio and TV
If you have visited a Japanese company, or foreign company owned by the Japanese, first thing in the morning, it is likely that you have seen the employees doing an exotic exercise at the company yard or in the office to a boring tune on the radio. You thought they were warming up for the day's work, or just trying to physically keep in shape. But you were wrong. Rajio Taiso is not aerobics or Tai Chi.
Actually it's yet another invention in the wartime NHK should be given credit for.
In those days, the broadcaster repeated a slogan that went: "A hundred million hearts should burn like a fireball (一億火の玉となって)" to fight back barbarians from the West. The broadcaster thought a gymnastic exercise was needed to spark that fireball.
Hitlerjugend (the Hitler Youth) was doing a similar thing, but it was primarily intended to develop physical strength and agility. Besides, the Germans never thought they could train adults that way.
It's interesting to know that the "new NHK" thought it was necessary to revive the same Rajio Taiso format even under the war-renouncing Constitution. Once again it was intended to nourish a sense of oneness among people and loyalty to organizations to which they belong. Even today the Japanese are doing the standard exercise to the supposedly airy tunes (there are two sets of routines) at home, in the workplace and school yards. This ensures harmony and unity among the 127 million people by mentally, or even spiritually warming them up every morning. .
Is There Japanese Equivalent of the Phrase "Captive Audience"?
Actually there is none simply because they don't need such an expression. Around the clock the Japanese are in captivity wherever they go.
I have already talked about the street concert by the garbage truck. Since the walls of my apartment are not really sound-proof, it's as though I am sitting in the front row of the concert hall.
I remain in captivity wherever I go. Even when I go out for my meal, the musical noise never sets me free. I sometimes think I might as well wear earplugs all the time. It's almost as though the articles of incorporation of every Japanese restaurant prescribe that music should be the integral part of its customer Saabisu.
One of my American friends living in this neighborhood once said: "I have been impressed to know the Japanese are avid music lovers without exception. They seem to appreciate all kinds of music all the time." I said: "No, that's not what they are. On the contrary, they disdain music as if it were rubbish. These apes just can't see the difference between Bach and Hippu Hoppu."
When eating out at an eatery you haven't visited before, you've got to be prepared for the annoyance caused by a very unlikely combination of food and music.
If you already have the knowledge about the particular combination, the piped-in music won't bother you too much, though. For instance, I know at a Udon shop I frequent, I hear smooth jazz played by the likes of Chet Baker, Stan Getz, and Bill Evans although it sometimes includes the East Coast stuff which is not too smooth. I am an avowed jazz fan. So I don't have any problem swallowing the Japanese noodle while listening to jazz. I sometimes wonder how other customers, who don't look to appreciate jazz, can easily digest Udon in the roaring sound of the American music. But that's none of my business.
On the other hand when you are not sure about the type of music the restaurant owner is partial to, it can be a disaster. You never know what it feels to have Japanese breakfast of Natto (fermented soybeans) and Miso-Shiru (soybean paste soup) when the entire place is filled with the solemn sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio. (This happens especially in the holiday season.)
The other day I was having American breakfast at a restaurant in a small hotel in this neighborhood. The music for the grand finale of Swan Lake was going on in an earsplitting volume. Tchaikovsky's hyperbole really drove me crazy. I motioned a waiter over. He was a punk with a loony face. I said, "I don't want to eat my fried eggs at the Bolshoi Theater." My message didn't get through to the idiot until I pointed at the outlet of the intercom with a frowning face.
By comparison, catering establishments run by Chinese are a little more tolerable because these restauranteurs are more civilized than their Japanese counterparts. They know when sitting at the table, the normal human being concentrates on food, and some other personal tasks such as witty conversation, reading and writing - except at a dinner show.
At times you may hear those wavy, whining tunes in their places. But you will never suffer motion sickness because these Chinese songs are only faintly audible.
· read more (815 words)
Saturday, September 18 2010 @ 09:33 AM EDT
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
That myth [about the innate ability of early jazz musicians] is being perpetuated
to this day by those who profess an openness to everything - an openness
that in effect just shows contempt for the basic values of the music and
our society. If everything is good, why should anyone subject himself to
the pain of study? Their disdain for the specific knowledge that goes into
jazz creation is their justification for saying everything has its place.
But their job should be to define that place - is it the toilet or the
- from July 1988 New York Times article written by Wynton Marsalis.
Wynton Marsalis, American trumpeter and advocate of purism
Violin-playing robot developed by Toyota
I was working on the next installment of my Japan Trivia series to be titled something like "The Fecal Truth about the Japanese: How They Eat, and What for" when I realized that I would have to shelve the piece dealing with the eating habits of the Japanese to write a separate post about music.
As any sane person living in this country knows, incessant and pervasive nuisance caused by background music is a real nightmare. Especially as a person who eats out everyday, I have great difficulty coping with BGM while having meals because practically every restauranteur is obsessed with the silly idea that his customer invariably wants to hear piped-in music as an essential part of the saabisu. (Saabisu is the Japanese transliteration of the English word "service" but actually it means any worthless thing that is provided to customers for free.)
For my part, music is one of the few things that are too important to trivialize.
I used to be a self-taught musician mainly noodling around at the keyboards and the guitar. Also I was a star singer at karaoke parlors. But that was many decades ago. Now I am just a lay music lover. Yet, I am still extremely fussy about music because it is something I can't live without.
Reverence for Music
Virtually all wartime songs were tributes to cheap heroism and self-sacrifice for the cause of the holy war. So it was only after the war that I first encountered classical music, and subsequently, jazz.
My maternal grandfather was one of those Westernized samurais once stationed in New York as consulate general when Woodrow Wilson was in office. Against this background, my siblings and I found out, when we were still preteens, that our parents had had a small collection of 78-rpm records of classical music.
I still remember huddling, for warmth, with mother and sisters in the run-down living room while listening to Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance. It was the famous orchestral rendition by Hector Berlioz played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. It's not only the frosty air in the unheated room, but also the music that made me shiver. I still didn't know Benny Goodman's Let's Dance, but ever since I have developed an overwhelming sense of awe toward music of any genre.
One of the DVDs I have treasured is titled Ella Fitzgerald - Something to Live for. Indeed, good music, such as hers, is something that has made my life worth living, or at least, a little more tolerable than it would have been without it.
I can't but despise those self-proclaimed musicians and music lovers who deal with music so lightly.
Incidentally, it is for the same reason that this blogger always feels disgusted at these professional writers who have no reverence for words. Languages are just tools for communication, but words are not. As I have always said, words and thoughts are inseparable twins.
Culture in a Salad Bowl
Time and again I have discussed what I term "saladization of culture" which has been going on in this country for quite a while.
For example, religions have been saladized here for many centuries.
In his book titled Princess Masako - Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne, which has been virtually banned in this country, Australian journalist Ben Hills describes what he calls trilogy of faiths like this: "Most Japanese of Masako's generation never worship, but happily embrace a trilogy of faiths. They see no contradiction in being taken to the local Shinto shrine to be recorded at birth, marrying in Christian ceremonies (thousands of them in Australian churches as part of honeymoon package), and having their bones buried in Buddhist family tombs."
I have also talked a lot about the linguistic salad. But very few have taken me seriously.
Their typical response to my salad theory is something like this: "What's wrong with cultural salads? Similar things have happened anywhere else in the world. There can be no such thing as a culture of unmixed lineage. In history, different faiths and languages have always influenced each other and sometimes even converged into one."
It's as though they think I am biased against the Japanese people and their culture because I lack education. But if I'm an uneducated person as they think, I don't know what to call these guys whose toolboxes are filled with ideological (i.e. relativist) rubbish that allows them to prattle about sociopolitical issues without the poorest insight into absolute values people are living for.
Actually what I am talking about has nothing to do with their superstitious belief that something new and better will automatically emanate wherever East meets West. To clarify my point, let me explain my theory one last time.
There had been sporadic cultural exchanges between China and Japan, solely at the court level, until the Shogunate put in place the seclusion policy in the early 17th century. But the bilateral relations were one-sided; at times Japanese emperors sent official delegates to their Chinese counterparts but the Tang or any other dynasty never felt obliged to reciprocate.
When the American warships came along in the 1850s to coerce the Shogunate government to open up its domain to the West, Japan was exposed at a time to everything that had happened outside of China's cultural orbit since a millennium before.
Nothing of this magnitude has happened to any other reclusive regime in history. Even the Soviet regime didn't last more than seven decades.
To effectively cope with the flood of the Western civilization, the Meiji Emperor and his government set forth various countermeasures which all came down to the notions of Fukoku Kyohei, or wealthy nation and strong army, and Wakon Yosai, or Japanese spirit and Western learning. (The word Meiji signifies "rule by enlightenment.")
The success in the Fukoku Kyohei part of their insatiable aspiration for modernization was attributable to the fact that it was solely driven by the government. That way the country could quickly catch up with Europe and America in a matter of several decades.
It was a breeze because the development in sciences and technologies always follow linear paths.
The real difficulty lay with the other part of the drive for Westernization because it was next to impossible for ignorant ex-samurais in government offices to effectively handle the influx of knowledge and expertise in humanities and social sciences which had developed along nonlinear paths. The only thing they could do was to sort them out using arbitrary criteria, put them in a salad bowl, and insist they were effectively weeding out such elements that would go counter to the traditional Japanese values.
For a while, the ingenious art of cherrypicking someone else's cultural heritage, too, looked to be working well. But the deceitful Wakon Yosai policy had to blow up altogether by the time Japan started the suicidal war in the early-1940s.
Japan's approach for Westernization has left incurable scars on the Japanese culture as a whole. Its consequence is twofold.
Firstly, it fatally damaged what little spontaneity the subjects of the Emperors and Shoguns may have previously had. I'll elaborate on this later.
The other fallout is the fact that over time these people have become unable to distinguish between the ends and the means. The value-creating chain is still there, but it's been fatally damaged. The purpose of life and the tools with which to pursue it are now interlinked in the wrong way.
For one thing, I haven't met a single computer engineer who can tell IT is not a goal in itself. Likewise, English teachers or learners who know that a language is nothing but a tool for communication are rare species in this country.
Today Japan still boasts a huge trade surplus that stood at 24.8 trillion yen as of 2007. But if you single out the trade balance in "services" that include payments for royalties and many other intellectual properties, you will know the country has chronically been running deficits in the range from 2.1 to 6.5 trillion yen in the last 25 years.
This is an unmistakable sign that the overall creativity of the Japanese has run dry, if ever it was once there.
NHK, the Certified Gravedigger
In the course of learning the musical art of the West, the Japanese elite had to become familiarized with every school of classical music all at once. Just imagine what it was like to be exposed to Gregorian chants, Renaissance music, Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Mozart's Requiem in Latin, Beethoven's symphonies, Schubert's lieder, Chopin's piano pieces, Viennese waltzes, Brahms' Requiem in German, music dramas by Wagner before and after he revolutionized tonal music with the "Tristan Chord," along with Auld Lang Syne and My Old Kentucky Home - all in a very short period of time.
Obviously this was already too much to digest for ex-samurais in the Ministry of Education. All they could do to put the flood of European and American music under control was to use selection criteria which were nothing but arbitrary. It's small wonder that they felt more at ease when the anti-West chauvinism came to the fore in the late-1930s. Most of these musical pieces were simply banned although their lyrics had been translated into Japanese or totally rewritten.
A more or less similar thing happened in 1945 when Japan was once again forced to open herself up to the outside world. This time around they had to deal with modern classics such as the works of Bela Bartok, Carl Orff, Olivier Messiaen and Samuel Barber, along with all schools of American popular music ranging from New Orleans jazz, to swing jazz in the Big Band Era, even to bebop - once again all at once.
Since the government had been too battered to lead the way by that time, NHK, the same organization which had served as a mouthpiece for the Imperial Army until August 1945, took over the task of Japan's cultural restoration.
The government-owned broadcaster was founded in 1925 although its official website puts its birth at 1950 as if to whitewash the war crimes it had committed not long before. At least, "the new NHK" claims it has modeled itself on the BBC of the United Kingdom.
However, if you take a look at the Royal Charter under which the BBC has been operating, you will know the two public broadcasters have nothing in common at all.
For one thing, the 2007 Charter says one of the goals for the BBC should be to "stimulate creativity and excellence" among its audience. On the other hand, what NHK has been doing throughout its 85-year history in business all comes down to serving the political regimes of the times.
It is true that in the postwar era, nation's polity looked to have undergone a significant change, with the demigod opportunistically transforming himself into a mere symbol of national unity. Yet to date, the broadcaster has remained the propaganda machine. The only thing the "new-born" NHK had to do was to make the same recipe of the cultural salad re-attuned to the postwar regime which resembles democracy only on the surface. Obscurantists in NHK still feel mandated to manipulate the hearts and minds of their audiences under the guise of enlightenment.
Andrei Jdanov was a Soviet politician who, in the 1940s through '50s, put into practice Stalin's idea that every art form should serve the cause of the proletarian revolution. But even Jdanov would pale before NHK.
By the early-1950s, all the newspaper publishers, who had also gotten away with due punishment, set up their broadcasting arms. These commercial broadcasters just joined forces with NHK to systematically deform and destroy the cultural heritage imported from the West.
Art of Nipping Homegrown Talents in the Bud
Throughout the history of radio and TV broadcast in this country, the overriding norms have always been conformity, mediocrity and homogeneity.
On the one hand, they have diligently neutralized potentially poisonous elements of music and all other art forms originated in the West. But on the other, these grave-keepers have been watching out for homegrown talents sprouting here and there.
For six years from the late-1940s through early-'50s, Seiji Ozawa and I were attending the same high school. With his unusual desire to excel, he already outdid the rest of us in music, and rugby.
As anyone who loves classical music knows, Maestro Ozawa eventually achieved a phenomenal success as the music director of the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra (1973-2002.) Since early 2010, he has been on a leave of absence from the Vienna State Opera due to esophageal cancer, but he still does not look ready to call it quits because he is too much in love with music.
In the early days of his career, Ozawa briefly served as the regular conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra. He had already been known for his unrivaled talent and un-Japanese style of dealing with music and musicians. But that was exactly where NHK found him outrageous. The young guy was virtually ostracized in December 1962.
When he landed in the U.S., Newsweek magazine (or it may have been TIME) wrote that as a Japanese proverb goes, the nail that stuck out had to be hammered down in his home country.
· read more (606 words)
Tuesday, August 31 2010 @ 08:13 AM EDT
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
The Shinto priest always prays for an immutable world
As always, you didn't take me seriously.
You thought that there was no reason to believe in the heretical argument made by the humble blogger, especially when any reputable analyst wouldn't subscribe to it.
But obviously, it was my fault if you couldn't predict that Ichiro Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama would re-emerge from behind the curtain, where they had been sitting out since early June. Ozawa now seeks the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan and possibly of the country - the positions Naoto Kan has miraculously held in the last three months.
Presumably, the hardest part for you to understand was the implication of the symbolic double-suicide committed by Hatoyama and Ozawa. Actually it was just part of the political kabuki.
But my English writing skills were too poor to convince you that misogi can't make any difference to the trajectory of this nation because avoidance, not promotion, of change is what misogi is all about. No matter how many times the same ritual is repeated, that won't bring about any fundamental change.
To make it worse, that was something you were fully determined to ignore, for an obvious reason.
As a result, you thought the exit of the two had paved the way to a new Japan. That is why you assured your friends, clients and audiences that with the revolving-door situation dissolved by the 8th Prime Minister since the turn of the century, Japan had finally become a reliable partner to do business with.
I'm afraid you may have found it really embarrassing, or even shocking, when you found out the two co-founders of the DPJ had not been dead yet. So let me apologize if you lost face over Ozawa's move in one way or the other. · read more (570 words)
As I always point out in relation to the annual rituals staged in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan is a surreal country where the dead and the
living are "living" together. Believe it or not, I am not exaggerating or analogizing the situation.
Especially at this time of the
year, the threshold between life and death almost melts away like asphalt
in the sweltering heat of midsummer particular to this monsoon climate.
On July 28 in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, a mummified body was discovered lying
in bed when an old woman stepped into the room to celebrate her father's 111th birthday. According to the ward office, the remains were identified as
those of the "111-year-old" who had holed up in his room since
1978. The last words the mummy's family heard from him 32 years ago were:
"俺は今から即身成仏する (Leave me alone; now I'm becoming a living
This prompted municipalities across the nation to carry out onsite investigations
into the actual conditions of all those who are supposedly aged 100 or older. As a result, it was learned that at least hundreds of Japanese
"centenarians" are actually missing for many years, most of them presumably
POSTSCRIPT September 10: According to the data released today, 234,354 "centenarians" were found to be missing. The oldest one among them came into being around the time Polish composer Frederic Chopin was born.
If you have commonsense, you can tell for sure that the missing centenarians must be the tip of the iceberg.
Yet, the Japanese have since singled out "centenarians" to avoid questioning the actual situation for all other age brackets, from 0 to 99. They know that otherwise they would certainly have to gaze into the abyss
lying before them - if they haven't hit its bottom themselves yet, that is.
In this respect, let me add something below:
■ "Living Buddha" here is the Shamanistic way to refer to a zombie, and has nothing to do with Gautama Buddha.
■ According to the official statistics, roughly one-million people die every year, including more than 30 thousand
who kill themselves. On the other hand, as Newsweek's Japan edition once reported in its cover story, there is no coroner system in place here. The reason is because more often than not the bereaved are superstitious enough to believe a corpse is the place where a deity dwells. That's why it's widely considered blasphemous to have the body of the deceased autopsied. As a result, 15% of dead bodies are cremated leaving the cause of death undetermined. Another fallout from this is the fact that a good part of those who die mysterious deaths remain
unidentified. · read more (375 words)