Reading kuzushiji, kanbun, and other premodern Japanese

Over two years ago Matt wrote an introduction to reading Edo literature. The books that he chose seem to be pretty haphazard and some can no longer be located. Since I’m trying to accomplish the same thing, here is a list of online resources that have helped me. I have no special talent for foreign languages, but if there’s premodern stuff you really want to read, it’s my experience that even if you are not a language genius, a few tools can help you get far.

Kanbun 漢文

Kanbun is classical Chinese, but it also refers to Sino-Japanese with diacritical marks. Think medieval Latin, but a bit more garbled. In Japan, kanbun is generally learned in the 2nd year of middle school (8th grade).

One option is to simply learn classical Chinese directly. My school is using a textbook by the late Prof. Archie Barnes which can teach you classical Chinese from scratch. If you already know Japanese this is a waste of time. Also, this textbook has some errors and omissions in it; there is no particularly good classical Chinese textbook for English speakers out there. Finally, this textbook is not a good preparation for reading medieval Japanese kanbun from scratch.

If you want to learn kanbun like a proper Japanese schoolboy, you will find it a lot easier than one might expect from looking at frightening walls of Chinese text. Japanese Wikibooks has a guide that can be mastered in a number of minutes. For more complex kanbun there is a high school guide that takes a couple of hours.

To look up Chinese characters you need a good kanji dictionary. If you are learning English->Chinese, Mathews’ dictionary is pretty standard. But it is not very fun, especially because you are more likely to induce errors into your translation from the outdated nature of the book than to make new discoveries. If you want real fun, get Kanjikai, which is up to date and will challenge your Japanese knowledge.

When reading original texts you will find that some variant characters that are not locatable in Kanjikai or any standard dictionaries at all. This is just a pain in the butt because there is no easy way to look these up. If you don’t have a knowledgeable specialist on hand, your best bet is to plug a guess into Hanzi Normative Glyphs and see if your character comes up.

Kuzushiji 崩し字

A while ago a blog post about how to read kuzushiji floated through Reddit. I scanned through it, opened up the PDF file (mirror), and thought to myself, “is this guy a masochist?” That was the end of my thoughts about kuzushiji until this year, when I attempted to read an Edo period document myself, opened up the PDF file again, and thought, “am I a masochist?”

Understanding how kuzushiji works makes it no less insane. Digging in deep, I found a set of Waseda University OpenCourseWare lectures from 2004. Listen to these and you might begin to see an approach to deciphering the doctor’s prescription scribbles that are pre-Meiji literature. However, the course will by no means give you the ability to actually read the things.

The only online resource I know of for this is U Tokyo’s mysteriously named SHIPS, and it will not be very helpful because you have to know roughly what kanji you are looking for.

Vocabulary and Grammar

If you run into some medieval Japanese that doesn’t appear in a modern dictionary, you should really just get a high school prep book (they have anime versions!), but Googling it rarely fails me. You may run into a website called Gejirin proffering an attempt at definition. This is a website devoted to the parahistorical document Hotsuma Tsutaye and is basically amateur-run. Don’t rely on it like you would a full medieval dictionary, but it can help point you in the right direction.

Grammar is something I’m just starting to wrap my head around. There is stuff out there online, but this too probably requires a formal textbook.

Posted: September 27th, 2013 | Japan | No Comments »













Posted: September 13th, 2013 | Kultur | No Comments »

Why were the common people called “black heads”?

In 221 BC the First Emperor renamed the Chinese common people to 黔首 “black-headed ones”. Why was this?

Chinese, Japanese, English, and French language sources were surveyed.

  • Baidu Baike: The First Emperor declared an “age of water”. Water is associated with the color black, so the common people were wearing black headscarves.
  • René Guénon: Black is associated with “anonymity”, but also with the Center and stillness, i.e. the “Middle Country”, and therefore with the purity of the “non-manifested”. (Note: Guénon was laboring under the false impression that it was the entire people, not the common folk, who were called “black heads”. Black is associated with north in China.) [source: Symbols of Sa. Sc.]
  • Wu Kun (吳崐, 1552-1620): The hair of the common people was black.[source: 黄帝内经素问吴注]
  • E.S.B.: Perhaps the hair of the nobility was not black.
  • Daijisen: Because they didn’t have any hats.

Posted: September 10th, 2013 | History | 8 Comments »

First ever English translation of the Hitsuki Shinji

I cannot claim to have made the first translation of the Hitsuki Shinji. It was made in March 1949 by unknown of Okamoto’s followers. Unfortunately I don’t have the whole thing. The top half of it was printed in 『岡本天明伝』 in 2012 and I would have to go to the National Diet Library to see the rest. I don’t have time to do that so instead I will transcribe what is visible in the photograph, typos and all.



What is Hikarikyokwai Society?

Jehova revealed Himself to those elects of old Judea in the times when He felt that it is necessary to do so. Books of Moses were written like that and those books of prophets the same. However, if we limit that such a revelation could be given only to them, St. John’s revelation as the last and never afterward, doesn’t it sound unreasonable? Why can’t Jehova have any elects among those nations which are not Jews? Isn’t hat also thinkable that God is willing to reveal Himself to the Asiatic nations sometimes?

Swedenbrog had to explain exactly the same sort of thing while he was woking hard to write down what the Lord has shown him in 18th century. Zeal of these notes is to introduce that we have the same sort of case which has taken place here in Japan since June of 1944.

It was in the suite of Shinto shrine Mahgata, in Kohzu-mura, Chiba prefecture, when a Japanese painter Mr. Okamoto was there. He got a kind of shock and painful impulses to write. He wrote down what he himself could not read at all at the beginning. But it was much afterward that those writings were found to be quite valuable.

[... later half of document out of photo ... ] by Hitsukunokami, that is a kind of divine revelation that was given to Japanese nation at the close of the war. However, we are convinced that this revelation is not addressed only to Japanese alone but to whole nation of the world, and that’s the reason the Hikarikyokwai Society started to publish this tabloid both in English and Japanese.

Concerning the reasons why it can be said divine revelation addressed to the whole nation of the world, shall be understood with the study of the said revelation itself, which would be introduced here afterwards. However, some characteristic points of the said revelation is that it shows very intimate relationship between so called divine scriptures of the world.

There are many who found very deep truth in it and who are convinced that things shown through the revelation are true and the commandments written in it must be fulfilled. Hikarikyokwai Society is the …e… the … of such people… [... missing...]

Following is the English translation of another part from the revelation. [This is from Book 1, Chapter 1. --AHM]

Behold! Fuji has driven off clouds of chaos, and all heavens are cleared.

The time has come at last when true God of kingdom of maruchon will show His mighty power. Buddhism, Christianity, and even Islamism shall be united for this sacred mission.

There shall be no need of difficult theories nor logics, neither any hardship of livelihood. God will provide you such a happy and merry world, therefore, seek after the truth with earnestness, purifying your spirit in cessantly. Hoewver, there lies a tribulation before the Kingdom of God comes. Unless you are purified and cleansed, you shall not be able to preserve yourself through this tribulation. Becauss this is the tribulation, such as was not since the very beginning of the world to this time, nor shall ever be. And the end of this tribulation shall never be brought unles God’s power is revealed.

Everything that shall happen from now on is absolutely beyond the capacity of human conception.

Kingdom consisted of purified souls shall gain real power, however, kingdom of dirty spirit shall not be able domminant any more.

Cities must be purified and the [... missing ... presumably "land must be purified, and the people must be purified".]

Example of original writing. 一んねんTけ二〇かmaruchonの三三一四もの一二四キ・T一八〇二もか〇二もか三〇つれ十も四で

English translation from the original writing, illustrated. “This revelation can be understood in the measure of the depth of each soul destined to understand. The … has … the …”

[Bibliography removed for revisions]

Posted: July 24th, 2013 | Kokoro, Secular-Religious | No Comments »

Signs of the End, according to the Muslims

A recent discussion on Gornahoor, which was scrubbed from the site’s comments section, makes this quite relevant:

SAHIH BUKHARI, Volume 9, Book 88, Number 237. Narrated by Abu Huraira.

The traditions of Bukhari are considered the most authentic hadith and were compiled in the 9th century.

Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established

[Signs of the Hour]
(1) till two big groups fight each other whereupon there will be a great number of casualties on both sides and they will be following one and the same religious doctrine,
(2) till about thirty Dajjals (liars) appear, and each one of them will claim that he is Allah’s Apostle,
(3) till the religious knowledge is taken away (by the death of Religious scholars)
(4) earthquakes will increase in number
(5) time will pass quickly,
(6) afflictions will appear,
(7) Al-Harj, (i.e., killing) will increase,
(8) till wealth will be in abundance… so abundant that a wealthy person will worry lest nobody should accept his Zakat, and whenever he will present it to someone, that person (to whom it will be offered) will say, ‘I am not in need of it’,
(9) till the people compete with one another in constructing high buildings,
(10) till a man when passing by a grave of someone will say, ‘Would that I were in his place!’
(11) and till the sun rises from the West. So when the sun will rise and the people will see it (rising from the West) they will all believe (embrace Islam) but that will be the time when: (As Allah said,) ‘No good will it do to a soul to believe then, if it believed not before, nor earned good (by deeds of righteousness) through its Faith.’ (6.158)

[Swiftness of the Hour]
(12) And the Hour will be established while two men are spreading a garment in front of them but they will not be able to sell it, nor fold it up;
(13) and the Hour will be established when a man has milked his she-camel and has taken away the milk but he will not be able to drink it;
(14) and the Hour will be established before a man repairing a tank (for his livestock) is able to water (his animals) in it;
(16) and the Hour will be established when a person has raised a morsel (of food) to his mouth but will not be able to eat it.”

Posted: July 11th, 2013 | Signs of the Times | 1 Comment »

The Tale of His Majesty’s Capital

In the sixth ward of Asakusa’s theater district, there is a little storefront where the crowds never thin. It’s not an aquarium, nor is it a sideshow. It is, of course, the “haunted house”. Long-necked hags, knife-handed beasts, mermaids, and snake-women beckon spectators from the signboards.

Of course, we can’t forget the Ryōunkaku, the nation’s first skyscraper. Ascend to the twelfth story of that great tower, and all the splendor of His Majesty the Meiji Emperor’s Imperial Capital stretches out before your eyes. To speak of the fruits of civilization and development, we must be reminded of that twelve-story “Ele-Vator”. Thanks to the power of this device all of us may ascend to the very top.

But today, the curtains have been raised on one program that will catch the eyes of all Asakusa. The title: “The Exorcism of Rashōmon!”

The rabble assembling below the Ryōunkaku, the women of ignoble trades, the honky-tonk(?) Salvation Army band trying to save their souls, maids and apprentices with a half-day’s freedom, clerks of the big storefronts, everyone, everyone lines up for the peep-hole show.

Right in front of the doorman, an unasked-for barker drums up the crowd in a high-pitched voice. From inside the room we hear an accompaniment of well-kept bells ringing, twinkle, twinkle

Step right up, step right up, His Majesty’s Realm is full of civilization and development, and our peep-hole show is like never before!

Step right up, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes upon the Oni of Rashōmon! We’ve got an Oni! The Oni is here!

Observe, if you will, within the peep-hole, the arm of the oni itself. Shock as you watch it claw towards heaven, writhing in agony!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an educational experience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can tell your grandchildren about, the arm of a living oni, something you’ll never see again, so have a look today!

Before you’ve even time to be surprised, look again within the peep-hole, and there she is, the snake-woman. Observe this sorry girl, born in the northern wilderness, where her woodsman father one day struck the trunk of a viper with his hoe. His children were punished by the viper’s curse, and this is the sad result!

Eighteen years of age this year, no legs, her trunk all wrapped up. Hanako’s her name, Hana-chan to her friends! Ten cents an adult, five cents a child. Half price for one eye, but women with child pay double!

Step right up, step right up. It’s an Oni, an Oni, the Oni is here! In the midst of civilized, developed, Tokyo, it’s a real, live Oni.

Look while you still can. It’s an Oni! The Oni is here!

It’s an Oni!

It’s an Oni!

Heeere’s the Oni!

The people of Tokyo, being invited by the Oni of Rashōmon, were taken up by the eerie sights and sounds of the little storefront. Oni, long-necked hags, snake-women, all the monsters of the pre-civilized past had come together in Asakusa. But these monsters were pathetic, captured creatures. None of them would ever take a single step outside the confines of the little storefront.

So, the safe, content people could get hooked on the spectacle of the monsters. They scowled at the snake-women and mermaids. But at the same time, none of them knew that one quite uncaptured, raging, and real Oni had begun swaggering its way towards His Majesty’s Capital Tokyo.

So it was, that in the 40th year of Emperor Meiji, that oni was revealing the famous 2000-year grudge of the oni as, unaided, he slipped into the Emperor’s capital…

Posted: June 29th, 2013 | Translations | 3 Comments »

Academic institutionalization I

One of the most complex maneuvers of modernity is the reduction of original thought and creativity to a quantifiable labor product. An apprentice in a Renaissance studio, placed in a time machine and dropped in a 21st century “art school“, would be perplexed about how this could have happened at all.

The method is subtle, and sinister: institutionalization. In an ex-convict, it means inability to adapt to life outside the prison. In an ex-humanities student, it means an inability to adapt to the world outside the academic bubble, and a confusion of one’s own life goals with the goals of the academy itself. In both, a sufferer finds little society and few peers outside the institution. This year I will return to graduate school, because I was asked to do so, but at the very grave risk of making my institutionalization more severe. For expatriate English teachers such as myself, the rate of recidivism is quite high.

Institutionalization has conquered every branch of the art and humanities. About a year ago, I was surprised to learn that one can now get not only a postgraduate degree called “MM”, Master of Music, but something called a “DMA”, Doctorate of Musical Arts, in their favored instrument, e.g. trombone. That is to say, if it is not enough to study the theory of trombones for four years before you start a professional career, you can extend your trombone studies for several more years, or even indefinitely, for roughly $200,000 in non-cancelable loans. The MM was invented around 1890, and the DMA was invented in 1955. Only recently have people begun to notice that both show marks of a scam.

A childhood friend of mine on Facebook is a part-time art school postgrad. Despite the fact that she works half the time, her highest goal in life is getting that continued nod of appreciation from the academy. She recently posted this message to her wall: “I feel so uplifted by passing the review. I feel like I finally did something right and my life commitment to art hasn’t been a total waste.” This is, to me, a perfectly legitimate and honest feeling. But it’s also a symptom of institutionalization that may become lifelong.

Mencius Moldbug wrote about this phenomenon in poetry. Poetry, the most anti-social and solitary art of them all, is now an institutional product, by which one might aspire to tenure by writing a good quantity of poems and soliciting reviews from “established” academic poets (of all the absurdities). I disagree with Moldbug about how this happened, but he does link to a good essay on the subject at the Mises Institute, which should highlight how completely the academy has transformed. This is some guy named Albert Jay Nock, speaking in 1931:

Traditionally, the university was an association of scholars, grouped in four faculties: Literature, Law, Theology, and Medicine. When I say an association of scholars, I mean that it was not quite precisely what we understand by a teaching institution. The interest of the students was not the first interest of the institution. Putting it roughly, the scholars were busy about their own affairs, but because the Great Tradition had to be carried on from generation to generation, they allowed certain youngsters to hang about and pick up what they could; they lectured every now and then, and otherwise gave the students a lift when and as they thought fit.

The point is that the whole burden of education lay on the student, not on the institution or on the individual scholar. Traditionally, also, the undergraduate college put the whole burden of education on the student. The curriculum was fixed, he might take it or leave it; but if he wished to proceed to a bachelor of arts, he had to complete it satisfactorily. Moreover, he had to complete it pretty well on his own; there was no pressure of any kind upon an instructor to get him through it, or to assume any responsibility whatever for his progress, or to supply any adventitious interest in his pursuits. The instructor usually did make himself reasonably helpful, especially in the case of those whom he regarded as promising, but it was no part of the institution’s intention or purpose that he should transfer any of the actual burden of education from the student’s shoulders to his own, or contribute anything from his own fund of interest in his subject by way of making up for any deficiency of interest on the part of the student. I ask you, with your permission, to remark this point particularly.

[... The topic turns to today's colleges.] At Columbia College (which is an undergraduate college controlled by Columbia University) a student may complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree by including in his course of study such matters as the principles of advertising; the writing of advertising copy; advertising layouts; advertising research; practical poultry raising; business English; elementary stenography; newspaper practice; reporting and copy editing; feature writing; book reviewing; wrestling and self-defence. By availing himself of some sort of traffic arrangement with a sister institution belonging to Columbia, he may also count as leading to a degree, courses in the fundamental processes of cookery; fundamental problems in clothing; clothing decoration; family meals; food etiquette and hospitality; principles of home laundering; social life of the home; gymnastics and dancing for men, including practice in clog dancing; instruction, elementary or advanced, in school orchestras and bands.

Without the least wish to be flippant, one cannot help remarking points of resemblance here between the newest type of institutional organization and the newest type of drugstore.

And this was before the late 1960s nuked the liberal arts beyond recognition. How many liberal arts students today would even know what Nock is talking about when he mentions the “fixed curriculum”? A conservative group recently confused the hell out of an entire liberal arts college by simply referencing that concept. The idea of a standard humanities curriculum is simply vanished from the shrinking liberal arts intellect, despite its continued use in the hard sciences, which are now considered to be of a different essential quality than the humanities.

In Nock’s early modern academy, success was based on quality of thought, regardless of whether it was performed inside or outside a specific kind of building. (Think Hegel, and the Young Hegelians who debated him and each other. Unthinkable today.) What existed then, that does not exist anymore? Well, only the reason you went to college in the first place: self-betterment.

Today, the humanities do not aim to complete a well-rounded education, but to point learners towards a type of specialization and critical thought which involves them in the academy itself, directing students to publish their original research and thoughts within the institutional system. This self-obsession has a large number of consequences, most notably tricking people who merely wanted an education into pursuing a professorship they usually do not need and cannot achieve.

Now, I am not going to try to make an argument about the quality of research produced by this system, because that would be another essay entirely. My point is that maybe the people who are going into this shouldn’t be attempting to “produce research” at all. I am not an activist — far from it — but there is one thing I will say in their favor: someone who wants to “change the world” and is reduced over the course of years to writing about it has been duped, and anyone who sees through this smokescreen should be applauded. Even in 1916, many academics recognized that their life energy was being redirected into something slightly silly:

Thirty years ago I went to Harvard University to study the antennae of ‘palaeozoic cockroaches’ . . . I knew there were more palaeozoic cockroaches in Harvard than in any other institution. I divided my time between regular courses and the antennae of palaeozoic cockroaches. At the end of the year I went with my manuscript, quite a bundle of it, dealing with the antennae to the Professor of Cockroaches. I wanted it considered toward the requirements for the doctorate. I was told that Harvard University was not interested in the antennae, that it was interested only in the thorax . . . The Professor would not even look at my manuscript. The manuscript covered really only the first two joints of the antennae of palaeozoic cockroaches. It was afterward published, as the first of a series of occasional volumes by the California Academy of Sciences, and I believe is still the Authority . . .

In 1940, 70% of Harvard faculty were unsure what criteria were used to judge their worthiness for promotions and tenure, and most of them viewed this as a bad thing — contra Moldbug, by the 1940s the academics had already become completely institutionalized, and their institution had devolved into something less than a Socratic symposium. Today, we can happily (?) say that the criteria have become much more clear. Contribution to the interests of the institution, both scholarly and economic, the ability to produce continued quantities of research that do justice to the institution’s intellectual reputation, and keeping one’s nose out of trouble are among the ideological principles most valued by the postmodern academy.

To be continued.

Posted: June 24th, 2013 | Signs of the Times | No Comments »

Japan reporting, take III

Here’s another example of strange Japan reporting that is plopped into American newspapers every day. I have a suspicion that the American media has similarly rubbish standards for reporting on other “faraway” countries like Germany, but I know Japan, so let’s peer inside a Japan story.

Social-network gaffes plague Japanese politicians

When I open up a Japanese newspaper I am always happy to be treated to a broad span of news, which besides usual entertainment and sports, might include complex stuff like labor union negotiations, proposed law revisions, international affairs, etc. etc. The only American-produced mainstream source which I am aware of for this kind of stuff is the Wall Street Journal‘s excellent Japan Real Time blog. In today’s posts alone, the WSJ gives us both amusing sidebars, like “ McDonald’s Premium Burgers an Abenomics Indicator? “, and good indications of what’s going on in the country, like “Constitution Talk-Fest Draws a Crowd“. The coverage is brief but decent and I imagine one story every day could be chosen to run in a national print newspaper.

I have a Google News feed that gives me all the Japan-related stories in English. The WSJ stories appear to be limited to their blog and are not reprinted in any newspapers. Instead, newspapers across the country print tosh like the AP story linked above, a collection of recent gaffes made by random high and low officials in Japan (not even part of a single group, just completely unrelated people), which can not really be said to inform the reader about what is going on in the country.

Okay, whatever, it’s a bad story. But it’s bad in a really strange way, that as far as I can tell is part of an extremely consistent pattern with American reporting on Japan.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: June 19th, 2013 | Japan | No Comments »

The Beauty of Unturned Stones

Natsume Soseki was once an English literature teacher, and a student attempted to render the phrase “I love you” into Japanese.

The scene: a starry, moonlit, romantic night, the man turns to his lover and says, “I love you”. The student plopped the clunky corresponding words, “as-for-me-I love you”, into the translated document.

“No no no,” said Soseki. “You must write this the way a Japanese author would write it: ‘The moon is beautiful tonight.‘”


Here’s an excerpt from an essay by Ryōtarō Shiba, author of Clouds Above the Hill, on this subject.

I’m a big fan of the sayings of Confucius called the Analects. But what would an American think if you had him read this book?

In a book I read a long time ago, someone offered an American scholar a copy of the Analects, and this is what he said:

“It’s like the talk of an Indian chief!”

When I read that book I belted out a deep laugh. This encapsulates the difference between East and West perfectly.

Let’s translate the famous first line from that first paragraph of the Analects as if an Indian chief were saying it.

“You must learn, children, and review what you have read. That is fun, see.”

Suddenly, in the next line, a different topic entirely: “Friends — those are good. Especially, when a friend is coming to visit you from far away. There is nothing as good as that.”

And then another: “Some people get angry when the world fails to acknowledge them. That is no good. Unemotional and calm under pressure — that is what we call character. Got it?”

In the East, the Analects are like a sacred book. This book was mandatory reading in China from the early centuries B.C.E., and when it came to Japan through Korea in the 5th and 6th centuries, it was treasured.

Here we see none of the logic of Aristotle, and none of the piercing rhetoric of the modern West. To put it bluntly, it’s like a a bunch of anecdotes about an old man, and it’s full of unclear sayings, leaps of logic, and blank spaces. The reader has to figure it out for himself, thinking, “Ah, that’s what he’s talking about, right?”

But you can’t figure it out without guessing and filling in the blanks. The Analects is not carefully argued logic but a collection of brief and broken phrases. In every verse, you can only determine 50% of the meaning from what’s actually written there. The other 50% must be figured out by the reader himself. In other words, there is no reading without guessing.

I don’t know whether this is related to the Analects or not, but Japan is full of these brief and broken phrases, not only in reading ancient texts but also in everyday conversation. You don’t rigorously explain everything you’re thinking to the person you talk with, but have them read your intentions, and you read theirs as well.

Japanese people don’t like to argue. Even in the courtroom, laying out cold, precise logic to make your conversation partner fall to his feet and beg for forgiveness invites them to form a grudge, so it can only cause trouble later. So when we negotiate, we speak in brief and broken phrases like an Indian, and add a quiet little smile for breathing room. Someone who can do this well in Japan is said to have character or even worth, but a longtime foreign correspondent once warned me drunkenly over beer, “if you pulled that in America, they’d call you an idiot!”

Fair enough: in Japan, if you attempted to demonstrate the strength of your opinion using endless layers of logic, you’d be the idiot! The listener already understands what you’re trying to prove.

From Amerika Sobyou, 1986

Posted: June 9th, 2013 | Confucius | No Comments »

A whale of a tale

Ahoy, me hearties! Are ye ready for a sail on the S.S. New York Times? Come with me through the colorful Sea of Invented Trend Stories, avoiding the Rocks of Outright Fabrication by a treacherous journey through the Straits of Distortion!

Surely you can’t have forgotten our last encounter with New York Times Japan reporting. Well, here’s a little flashback to 2002, when they declared, “Yuk! No More Stomach for Whales“.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the Whale Museum, a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But the museum is now padlocked. The company that donated the museum in 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands. The new owner did not want to finance a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.

Okay, now before you read what actually happened, look over those two paragraphs. What common sense conclusions can you make? Was there a museum devoted to whaling in Shimonoseki? Is there still such a museum? Did the owner change his mind about his support for whaling?

Here’s what actually happened in Shimonoseki, which the Times never saw fit to report on. Spoilers ahead!

  1. The structure being referred to was not a “Whale Museum”. It was an aquarium! Specifically, the shuttered institution was called the Shimonoseki City Aquarium下関市立水族館. The popular nickname for one of the buildings at the aquarium was the “Whale Building”くじら館, because it was shaped like a whale — duh.
  2. The donation occurred in 1956, not 1958. The “company that donated the museum”, that is, the local business that donated a whale-shaped building housing an emperor penguin exhibit to a city aquarium, was a seafood operation called Maruha Nichiro Seafoods, Inc. At the time it had several different fishery and whaling businesses going, but a giant salmon probably would not have been a very exciting addition to the aquarium.
  3. The aquarium is not “a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.” It is the Shimonoseki City Aquarium. I regret to inform the New York Times that whales are too large for aquariums.
  4. The aquarium is city property and has nothing to do with Maruha which since 1956 has relocated to Tokyo and no longer has an office in Shimonoseki. Note the very careful wording of these three sentences: “The museum is now padlocked. The company … has changed hands. The new owner…” They strongly imply that the new owner of the company has control over whether the aquarium is open or closed, when in fact, it is a public aquarium in Shimonoseki that has nothing to do with a private business in Tokyo.
  5. Maruha turned over its whaling operations to the Institute of Cetacean Research following international law on the matter, but the company was still canning whale meat when the story was written in 2002, so its “owner” could hardly be opposed to whaling. I am guessing, given the deceptive way the sentence is constructed, is that he actually “did not want to finance” a public aquarium in his corporation’s former headquarters hundreds of kilometers away from his office, which is far from obvious from the wording given.
  6. All that deception builds up to this revelation, which reflects horribly on the heartlessness of the journalist who fabricated this story: The aquarium is not “padlocked” because nobody wants to fund it anymore. It was destroyed by a typhoon in 1999.
  7. The article implies that the aquarium does not exist anymore. Actually, in 2001 the exhibits were moved to the Shimonoseki City Shimonoseki Aquarium, which is also shaped like a whale.

In summary, here are those same two paragraphs, annotated.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the remains of the Whale Building of what was once the city aquarium, a type of structure which a lunatic might call a Museum. This building, which housed one of the exhibits of the aquarium, was a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But as the result of a non-political, freak disaster which caused animals to die and which anyone with a soul would call unfortunate, the ruin of the former aquarium which only a moron could confuse for a museum is now padlocked not due to any lack of interest from the local public, but owing to the unwanted patronage of a typhoon which tore it up; this information need not grace the ears of our readers. Thankfully a new aquarium also shaped like a whale has opened in its place; but we see no need to tell you this, either. Rather, we would like to share, although it is completely unrelated and irrelevant, that the company that donated the building shaped like a whale to the former aquarium which we continue to refer to as a museum in 1956, a year some have been known to confuse with 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands and locations, although it continues to process whale meat. Wasn’t that enlightening? The new owner lives in Tokyo, so he did not want to donate to, or “finance“, the Shimonoseki city aquarium, understandably. But this is unrelated to whaling, and he had no control over the typhoon, nor did his company ever have control over the opening hours of either of the aquariums, which we will happily conflate into one and the same “Whale Museum”. We will also happily slander both institutions, which have educated children about the city’s most important industry for over 60 years, as a single project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals and nothing else, although such an inaccurate characterization of two aquariums was clearly irrelevant to the “owner” of the Tokyo company, since his company continued to process, can, and sell whale meat to customers across the country as of press time.

What did you think, everyone? Did the New York Times accurately report the tragedy of a beloved city aquarium destroyed by a typhoon?

Are you getting your news about Japan through the New York Times? Well, you should stop doing that!

Posted: May 27th, 2013 | Japan, Res pueriles | No Comments »