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.
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Posted: June 19th, 2013 | Japan | No Comments »
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 »
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 »
I have published an essay about the Confucian scholar Wang Yangming on Gornahoor.net. Anyone will be able to enjoy this exposition of Traditional doctrine. Below is an appendix to that post.
Yōmeigaku, the study of Yangming’s teachings in Japan, was especially prominent during the period of modernization. During the Russo-Japanese War, Emperor Meiji did a perfect imitation of Evola’s anecdote:
During the Russo-Japanese War, the emperor never felt impelled to offer advice on the conduct of the war, and he rarely revealed his emotions, even when told of Japanese victories. As soon as he learned of the fall of Port Arthur, the vice chief of the general staff, Nagaoka Gaishi, rushed to the palace to inform the emperor. … Nagaoke, too overcome by joy to even wait for the emperor to be seated, declared that serving as the messenger of glorious news was the greatest blessing of his life. Having blurted out these words, he started to make his report. He looked up at the emperor’s face. It was calm and self-possessed, exactly as it always was, not revealing a trace of emotion. During the fifteen or sixteen minutes while Nagaoka described the victory, the emperor nodded almost imperceptibly a few times … Nagaoka was deeply disappointed. [Donald Keene, Meiji and His World, 619]
During that war, the Admiral of the Japanese Navy is known to have carried a stamp with him that read, “A life dedicated to following the example of Yōmei”.
Yōmeigaku was shoved aside after 1945 to make way for foreign ideologies, but it captured the interest of Yukio Mishima. Just before his failed coup d’état, he wrote an article on “Yōmeigaku as a Revolutionary Philosophy”. The newspapers of 1972 were written by young, postwar-educated reporters who had no idea of even the most basic tenets of Yōmeigaku, but that didn’t stop them from blaming the unfamiliar old tradition for driving Mishima to suicidal heroism, and if you Google any of these terms today you will find all sorts of baseless slanders about the philosophy online. This is a shame, because both Japan and the world have much to learn from Wang Yangming
Posted: May 13th, 2013 | Confucius, Kokoro | No Comments »
Green Shinto reports that a European is now a shrinekeeper at a major shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. This position required top-level appointment.
Unlike Green Shinto, I don’t consider this a “breakthrough” from the Japanese side. Shintoists have theorized about shrines for other nations since the 19th century. Although there was strong opposition from the populace to letting foreigners enter Japan at all, shrinekeepers have never moved to stop anyone from visiting shrines. On the contrary, shrines are considered so nonsectarian that there was no objection to exporting shrine practices to Hawaii, Brazil, Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. Recently a shrine was built in Washington with foreigners as its specific mission.
It is certainly a “breakthrough” on the side of the gentleman who had to learn all the norito, though. Good work, Rev. Wiltschko!
Posted: May 4th, 2013 | Kokoro | No Comments »
The following is a translation from The Analects for the Modern Man (2006) by Kure Tomofusa.
The Magistrate of Shou said to Confucius, “There is a very honest person in our village. When his father stole sheep, he prosecuted his own father.” Confucius said, “In our village, honesty is different from yours. Father defends his children and Children defend their father. Here you may find true honesty.” [Analects 13.18]
I’d like to use this commentary to think about Confucianism’s strong point, filial piety.
When most people think of Confucianism, they reflexively think of filial piety, moreover a stiffly imposed filial piety. In Legalism, to be sure, filial piety is symbolized by bad customs like the Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars. But, recently, filial piety has received notice as a way of thinking to overcome the limits and pathologies of Western individualism. This is the treatment of filial piety as an assimilation of oneself with the whole, of filial piety as symbolizing the continuity of life. In an age where it has become necessary to consider the standpoint of the whole human race, since it is difficult to create a principle for conceiving of humanity from an individualist perspective, this is only natural. We must recognize the absurd spectacle of Western rationalism or individualism being unable to judge the relationship between parent and child.
Parents cannot choose their children, nor can children choose their parents. For that reason, love and hatred are tangled together. The undertaking of that entangled love and hatred– is that not what we call filial piety?
This view is not so far-fetched. When the Analects speak of filial piety, more often than not they are speaking specifically of this social system. Here is an example from the first book:
The Teacher said, “While a man’s father lives, we should evaluate his character by his home life and aspirations. After one’s father dies, we should evaluate his character by his public life and deeds. Three years after his father’s death [when the period of mourning has ended], if his conduct is still in line with his father’s, he can be called a dutiful son.” [Analects 1.11]
This is clearly regarding a social system. The “way of the father” which the son is meant to imitate is furthermore that of the management of a fiefdom, the selection of faithful stewards, and statesmanship. Don’t be tempted to confuse this “way of the father” with knowing when to flip the burgers on the barbecue; such erroneous readings are on the rise these days.
Filial piety is part of this system, and it took form naturally preceding Confucius, as Pre-Confucianism. Taking this as the soil, Confucius was the one who consciously gave it meaning. This meaning-giving could rather be said to give readings to unclear parts of filial piety. The above passage is such; let’s translate it.
The Magistrate of Shou put a question to Confucius. Shou was a province in China, and this magistrate was known for being a wise man, but a haughty one. [Rest of translation omitted; it's as above.]
Parents could not be expected to rejoice in their child’s crime, nor could a child rejoice in his parent’s crime. With all that weeping and lamentation, trying to protect their kin by concealing the crime is only natural for humans. Confucius stressed people over laws. More important than good government is a virtuous people. This insistence in Confucian government, and the nepotism it generated, was the source of social stagnation. The importance of kinship and the restraints of nepotism warded off social progress. While we must remember that fact, even more than that, we must take note how a curiously strong insistence on the objective character of law arose in 20th century America. Believing that their own troubles were caused by the bad education they received from their parents, some American children have even sued their parents and sought restitution.
Li, Confucius’ son who preceded him in death, of course had an untroubled childhood, but was a perfectly mediocre individual. But for his father, Li was a beloved, wonderful son. “Whether or not he possesses genius, he is still my child.” (Analects 11.8)
There is a passage in the Analects which has eluded intepretation since ancient times:
Meng Wu Bo asked Confucius about filial piety. Confucius replied, 父母唯其疾之憂。 (Analects 2.6)
The following readings have been proposed.
Ba Yu of the Later Han: “One should only be concerned for one’s parents in times of terminal illness. At other times, we must not be concerned.”
Shu Shi of Sòng: “Parents are concerned for their children only in times of sickness, so we must pay attention to our health.”
Jinsai Itoh (1627-1705): “The first duty towards one’s parents is to be concerned for them in times of sickness.”
[By the way, here are some other modern readings: “The main concern of your parents is about your health.” ”Have your parents be concerned about only their health.” "Parents are anxious lest their children should be sick."]
In all of these readings, though, we see that the relationship between parent and child is not one of choice.
Confucius himself lost his father at the age of three, and lost his mother at the youthful age of 24. In the roughly 500 sayings of Confucius in the Analects there is not a single one about the kind of filial piety which the Teacher himself carried out. Nor do any of his disciples relate a single word about their teacher’s piety.
He was still a child when his father died, but it is thought as well that something must have happened, preventing him from meeting his mother.
Posted: May 3rd, 2013 | Confucius | 1 Comment »
The original sacred text of Oomoto was a piece of “Ofudesaki” automatic writing produced by Nao Deguchi, an illiterate farmer’s wife, channeling a kami that she called Ushitora no Konjin. We do not know if this text is authentic but people who knew her seem to think the following was really written by her in 1903. Also, this contradicts the teachings of Onisaburo, who printed the text. When it came time for him to select his favorite teachings of Nao’s this was not among them.
People use the fine earth planting trees and flower seeds, without a thought for the importance of the land, and do not produce the rice, wheat, beans and millet of our parents, which are the very life of the people. They are saying, “Rice, beans, wheat, whatever, we can buy it from foreign countries,” but that won’t last forever. Even in a place with cats, if you plant the five staple grains, they’ll come. Everyone accepts the foreign country’s material teaching, so in the country of Japan, live the Japanese way, and if you see someone planting those trees, dig them up. The ways of today won’t go on forever. People who are going up in the world won’t be able to accept this teaching today, but when that season comes, they must follow the way prescribed by God, and pass into this world.
If you don’t follow a teaching for Japan, the world will have no rule. If you copy the foreign countries, building your homes from stone and tile, building up your money, saying that you are living a developed life, sticking your nose up in the air, your nose will be so long it gets in the way of your eyes, and you won’t be able to see up, nor will you be able to see down, and while your nose sticks to the sky your feet become lazy, and when people are needed for the nation of God in the moment of truth, there is not a single one right now, so they will need to find the Japanese spirit in this Oomoto, so when the order comes to open the Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave again, we will have to save the universe. The selfish teaching of the foreign nations who say, “Things are all right,” dirties their hearts like beasts, and they will grasp nothing of this teaching.
November 9 [Old Style], 1903
This specific prophecy was suppressed by the Japanese government. Most of the issues of the magazine which carried this quote were destroyed.
Nao was spotted more than once pulling up flowers that Onisaburo had planted.
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Posted: April 5th, 2013 | Tradition | 5 Comments »
The 666th discourse in Reikai Monogatari is entitled “666″. However, this 666 is pronounced “Miroku”, the Japanese word for Maitreya, the future Buddha who will unite mankind. In Japanese, 3 is “mi” and 6 is “roku”, so “Miroku” = “three sixes” = 666. I have decided some parts of this bizarre chapter are worth translating.
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Posted: April 5th, 2013 | World Peace | No Comments »
Reikai Monogatari, the Tale of the Spirit World, is an enormous sacred text by Onisaburo Deguchi, “the Gurdjieff of the East.” The Oomoto (“Great Root”) religious movement in Japan, from which countless groups emerged, is an excellent example of Counter-Tradition. Even though many Oomoto-inspired groups have translated works into English, not a single chapter of Reikai Monogatari has ever been translated into any language, and after reading this section, which defies all description, you will either begin to wonder why, or cease to wonder why. I have chosen sections to translate haphazardly where it pleased me to do so.
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Posted: April 4th, 2013 | Signs of the Times | No Comments »
A little translation about everyone’s favorite Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima today. Here’s a capsule summary of Mishima’s attempted coup, from Counter Currents:
The General was bound and gagged. Close fighting ensued as officers several times entered the general’s office. Mishima and his small band each time forced the officers to retreat. Finally, they were herded out with broad strokes of Mishima’s sword against their buttocks. A thousand soldiers assembled on the parade ground. Two of Mishima’s men dropped leaflets from the balcony above, calling for a rebellion to “restore Nippon.”
Precisely at mid-day, Mishima appeared on the balcony to address the crowd. Shouting above the noise of helicopters he declared: “Japanese people today think of money, just money: Where is our national spirit today? The Self-Defense Forces must be the soul of Japan.”
The soldiers jeered. Mishima continued: “The nation has no spiritual foundation. That is why you don’t agree with me. You will just be American mercenaries. There you are in your tiny world. You do nothing for Japan.” His last words were: “I salute the Emperor. Long live the emperor!”
Professor Kure Tomofusa is a self-described “Confucian” and “feudalist” at Kyoto University. The following is a translation of Kure’s comments on Mishima’s coup, from his article “The End of the Age of ‘Devotion’”.
A summary of the first two sections: At this time in Japan, tiny Maoist and Stalinist groups were having street fights with each other and violently purging, sometimes murdering, their own members. You can read more about this at the Wikipedia articles on the United Red Army and Japan Red Army so I will not translate this part. Mishima’s actions were met with much harsher condemnation in the mainstream media than the leftist groups. Now, here’s the good part.
From Honesty to Ridicule
If you want to call it natural, it was natural. For a novelist– not a superior officer, but a novelist– to suddenly appear on the balcony and ask them to rise up, there could not have been any expectation that the Self-Defense Forces could have any clue what was going on. Being unreasonably interrupted in the middle of their break would have only added to their annoyance. Mishima Yukio called out boldly to all who would hear. It was a naturally meaningless act, since the officers did not have a “legal duty” to listen to what they were hearing. “Are you not warriors, men?” rebuked Mishima. The officers’ reply was derisive heckling. Were they warriors? No one expected them to be. The Self-Defense Forces are not warriors but bureaucrats appointed by the Self-Defense Law.
Mishima Yukio committed his savings to the Tatenokai, a militia standing at the front against communist conspiracies from China, North Korea, or the Soviets… Mishima was devoted in his actions. This was not the frivolous pastime of a novelist. But… the Self-Defense Forces work only from the obligation of the duties of their job, and are granted their authority only by the law. They are a government bureau. Literally speaking, they are a government bureau on the basis of being an administrative organ.
A group of bureaucrats just doing their job was being respected more than a devoted warrior, on the sole basis of their relation to the administrative organ. This signaled the dawn of a new kind of value. In other words, thus began the age of “practicality”.
I am not denying the value of practicality. Despite the force and the romance of devotion, the effectiveness of “practicality” can bring people happiness. An age that longs for a hero is an unhappy one. An age that respects philosophy, and critical thought, and high literature is also an unhappy one. After the 1970s, Japan sought to separate itself from that unhappy age. Not only heroes, but also philosophy, thought, and literature, in sum all our serious “devotion” got down on bended knees before “practicality” and prayed for an era of happiness. Ritual suicide? What nonsense! Ridicule it!
But the age could not be abandoned that easily. Even in an age of practicality, people long for devotedness. And as if to fulfill that longing, in 1995 a twisted, parodic “devotion” showed its hideous face: the Aum gas attacks. Some of the leftists talked about this with words like “frightening”, “gruesome”, “ghastly”. But, the truly gruesome, ghastly, frightening incident came with the passing of the age when Mishima could die for his devotion. That “devotion”, which we thought we had smothered under a veil of “practicality”, had hideously returned from the dead, like a zombie.
Source: 呉智英 「『本気』の時代の終焉」 in 「三島由紀夫が死んだ日」(2005) excerpted in 『健全なる精神』 2012
Posted: March 13th, 2013 | Japan | 1 Comment »