The Tree in the Middle of the World

The Tree in the Middle of the World (1989) is a Japanese children’s book by Ghibli animator Makiko Futaki. According to the Afterword, Ms. Futaki got the idea for the book while visiting Yakushima to draw great, ancient trees for My Neighbor Totoro, and the idea got stuck in her head of a tree so large it could have animals and people living in it. Another afterword is by Hayao Miyazaki. Here are the first six pages of the book.

In the middle of the world stands one great tree. Long ago there were a few people who knew about it, but these days, it seems that everyone has forgotten.

That tree sprung up in a valley encircled by scraggy mountains, and before long overtook the mountains, and grew so, so tall that you couldn’t see the top. The tall trunk split into far-off branches, and bushy leaves billowed out and melted into the clouds.

Nobody knew how many hundreds or thousands of years ago the first leaf sprouted on this tree. Over the centuries its surface was covered with countless layers of moss, mistletoe, and sprouts, so much that it was impossible to see the original trunk.

In a little cottage at the base of this tree lived a girl named Cici and her grandmother. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: November 5th, 2012 | Japan 1 Comment »

Bureaucratese in Japan

A gentleman on a mailing list once wrote of Japanese bureaucratese, “it has been rumored that top American officials can read Japanese government documents without translation because they speak the same language.” But us ordinary folks must puzzle it out.

The Japanese dialect of this international language has a funny word called seibi. Seibi means anything at all and is vaguely like the English “maintenance”. Here are some lovely examples of seibibun, or 整備文 “maintenance literature”, from a mysteriously undocumented and unknown Canadian named Iain Arthy:

Underground information maintenance
Soil survey

Business maintenance
Promoting business

Computer maintenance
Buying new computers

Roadside arboreal maintenance
Planting trees on the road

Job opportunity maintenance
Hiring people

Specific business accumulation
A street of offices

As you can see, seibi is a word you can’t do without when you are trying to make your ordinary action look very official and important.

Someone wrote an article about this in English a long time ago but I’m afraid I can’t find it. I guess these things disappear from the Internet sometimes.

Posted: September 5th, 2012 | Japan 1 Comment »

The Three Ishes of Mito

It is said that the residents of Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture exhibit three ishes (水戸の三ぽい mito no sanpoi):

Rikutsuppoi: churlish

Okorippoi: snappish

Honeppoi: mulish

Sometimes you also hear akippoi, coquettish. If you regularly display all three ishes in the area, you may be called Mitoish (水戸っぽ mitoppo).

A psychologist once encountered the snappish folk of Mito on a crowded bus. As it pulled up to a stop where more people were waiting, the driver announced, “Folks in the middle, pack it in please!” Said the churlish passengers, “Hey, pops, which way are us people in the middle supposed to pack it in?” Everyone laughed.

It is unknown whether the three ishes of Mito are flaws or merits.

Posted: August 1st, 2012 | Japan 3 Comments »

Frithjof Schuon on Shinto

Frithjof Schuon’s essays on Shinto, included in Treasures of Buddhism (2003), are a record of Schuon’s discovery of two obscurantist like minds in Motoori Norinaga, about whom nothing more need be said for those familiar with this subject, and Genchi Kato, whose work I have summarized in a past essay.

Schuon is writing about a subject he knows nothing about, so I will be brief. Repeating Norinaga’s unique and unjustified pseudo-Christian interpretation of the Kojiki, he seems to believe that the first kami named in the Kojiki is equivalent in the Japanese mind to the creator God, when in fact each national history assigns a different name and function to that original kami. This is irrelevant to someone who lives in the real world, though, because the closest thing to a “creator God” you’d find in the average Japanese mind is Mr. Sun (お天道様), who brings warmth to all human beings and is always watching over us. The Kojiki has been fussed over considerably by Norinaga, but we should be reminded that both it and the Nihon Shoki are first and foremost a record of the imperial ancestors and their noble deeds, and are cited in Japan’s traditional society for this reason and not for their mythical symbolism. He constructs an analogy between Japanese and Greek “myth”, which I have also taken a look at and found not very intellectually profitable. Anyway it seems that if this symbolism can be better understood by a foreigner than it can by most Japanese people then is really not relevant to how the Japanese tradition functions at all, and is the mission field only of syncretic religionists and people with too much time on their hands.

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Japan, Secular-Religious, Tradition

Recently I was out planting rice

I look like a fool in this picture, but I am a fool, after all… not much that can be done about that.

The act of rice planting, in my mind, is magic. You put this stuff in the ground, and six months later it’s food. How does it happen? Miracles, man. Tide comes in, tide goes out. Aliens. Sure, you can explain why it happens while you sit here at your computer and Google up the details, but if you get out there and do it yourself, maybe you’ll realize that you yourself are a wizard.

Getting off the computer. I am in favor of it.

I am making a list of things that René Guénon is wrong about. Here is a start:

  • The role of Tradition in East Asia. Related, Guénon falsely thought that Tradition itself was linked intimately with esoteric knowledge, rather than simply making esoteric knowledge possible and purposeful. Evola corrected some of this, which I will elaborate on in my next post.
  • Reincarnation. Guénon believed that no tradition ever espoused reincarnation and that the clear material evidence in its favor was merely “psychic residue“. This is silly nonsense. He invented the term “psychic residue” himself so he hasn’t a foot to stand on calling other traditions false. Evola bizarrely found a basis for this in Buddhism, which Guénon had rejected entirely as false tradition.

I leave you with an adorable Chesterton quote:

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called,”Keep to-morrow dark,” and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) “Cheat the Prophet.” The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clevermen have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Japan, Tradition

Things you can’t say on Japanese television

Note: This post contains many rude words!
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Posted: April 25th, 2012 | Japan 6 Comments »

Protected: 日本人のヘンな「日本人のヘンな英語」 David A. Thayne’s Scam on the Japanese People

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Posted: February 29th, 2012 | Japan Enter your password to view comments.

The Emperor’s goby researches

His Majesty the Emperor of Japan has an interest in goby taxonomy. Because this is part of the Emperor’s private life, it is not a subject of huge interest in Japan, although it gets a prominent mention in his Wikipedia biography. The Imperial Household Agency has compiled a list of his scientific papers on the subject. Here are some key points:

  1. His Majesty’s first article about gobies appeared in 1963, when he was Prince Akihito.
  2. In the researches, His Majesty displays fluency in English and a good grasp of French.
  3. The research, especially the single-author papers published in the 1960s and 1970s, shows that His Majesty grasped problems of goby taxonomy well, and introduced new methods of systematizing goby species which were controversial but have been proven correct by the test of time.
  4. His Majesty assisted in naming the following new species: Pandaka trimaculata (1975), Glossogobius aureus (1975), Glossogobius sparsipapillus (1976), Cristatogobius aurimaculatus (2000), and Cristatogobius rubripectoralis (2003). All of these papers were jointly authored.
  5. In 1992, Science magazine invited him to contribute an article on “early cultivators of science in Japan“.
  6. In the 1990s, two goby species were named after him: Exyrias akihito and Platygobiopsis akihito.
  7. In 2007, a goby genus was named after him, in the family Sicydiinae. It contains the species Akihito vanuatu and Akihito futuna. The authors comment: “The new genus name honors Emperor Akihito for his many contributions to goby systematics and phylogenetic research and is defined here as a masculine noun.”
  8. His Majesty displays an interest in taxonomy generally and the history of science in Japan, and wrote a quite readable English lecture on the subject in 2007.
  9. In 2008, the National Science Museum published a paper on tanuki at the Imperial Palace, which His Majesty coauthored; but I do not see that he had much to do with the research here, as opposed to the goby papers.

I think there is an interesting point to be made in the fact that Prince Charles has spent his free time designing and marketing a line of homeopathic sugar pills while Prince Akihito made legitimate contributions to science.

Posted: February 17th, 2012 | Japan 1 Comment »

Off-the-map villages in Japan: A Google Maps investigation

I remember reading once about a “town that doesn’t exist on a Japanese map”, where burakumin live. As far as I can tell this was the fancy of some anti-Japanese writer. Still, the idea intrigued me, so I went and scoured the Japanese Web for a list of private residences that don’t exist on maps. Most hisabetsu buraku, old untouchable hamlets, have vanished from town borders and are now replaced with ordinary, nice little suburbs. But on this list, there are a few oddball places that I can’t explain from the information available on the Internet.

Please cue the X-Files theme for whenever you see that a hamlet really has no official name.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: February 8th, 2012 | Japan 3 Comments »

Japan World’s Fair 2600

Kenneth J. Ruoff in Imperial Japan at Its Zenith did an in-depth study of the year 2600 (that’s 1940 to you Westerners) but neglected to mention the World’s Fair that Japan had planned for that year. It was to have been a grand affair on the Tokyo seaside, running from March 15 to August 31. But like the Japan Olympics planned for that year, World War II put a damper on things. This was all the more unfortunate because the World’s Fair committee had already begun raising funds for the event by selling 10-yen tickets, which equates to a large amount of money today, something like 50 to 100 US dollars.

A collective duty was felt that these tickets must not become useless– a duty which apparently extended beyond reasonable lengths of time. When the city of Osaka held its World Expo in 1970, organizers accepted tickets to the cancelled 1940 World’s Fair as permitting free entry to their own event! They didn’t even take the antiques, they just inspected them and gave them back with a complimentary entry ticket. And when Aichi held a World’s Fair in 2005, they did the same! Apparently as many as 90 tickets from 1940 were used to gain access to Aichi in 2005– to this, Japanese Wikipedia adds the obligatory disclaimer, “citation needed”.

The tickets now sell for over $200 on Yahoo Auctions, but that could be a bargain, depending on how many Japan World’s Fairs you and your descendants are planning on attending.

Posted: February 6th, 2012 | Japan