A Guide to Japanese Twitter Slang

Maybe not a lot of people know that Twitter in Japan has its own vocabulary. Talking with your buddies on Twitter is kind of like meeting them on the street.
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Posted: June 25th, 2010 | Japan 4 Comments »

7 Strange and Mysterious Crackpot Books

When someone composes an epic fit for the times, we call that person a “genius”. When their work makes sense only within their own head, the unfortunate author is dubbed a “crank” instead. Nevertheless, cranks and crackpots often go to lavish extents to deliver their personal fantasies to the world. And there is hope within reach for all dreamers: if the resulting work is unambiguously astounding, we are forced to call the author a “genius” no matter how outlandish his subject.

Here, then, is a list of seven books which, despite or because of their difficult or unreadable text, have captured my imagination with their otherworldly images.

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Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Books 1 Comment »

My Global Consciousness Before JET

No human being is really a free agent. We taken in the universe through the filter of our five senses, and we are limited by the ability of our minds to process these experiences and make something coherent out of them. Our actions are thus determined by what we have been permitted to see. It is truly awe-inspiring that we live in a world where information comes constantly steaming in to us, second by second, from millions of fellow humans. It was once thought that the Internet would usher in a sort of utopia, since everyone would have access to the sum of all contributed information. This has not proven to be the case, because so many things disrupt total perception, not least of which is our own limited understanding. But this global consciousness, however problematic, is the main benefit that this age has over previous ones.

Before the 20th century, even the most powerful people in the richest lands could only have a dim sense of what was going on on the other side of the planet and why it was happening. Today, that information is available not only to the ruling class but to roughly half the world. This allows us to root out wrong views and instill peace like never before. It’s not clear how long this age will last, but surely it is not permanent, so the vast information flow of the present day has given us a great responsibility to find ways to put our new consciousness to good use. Most people today are using this information flow for their own entertainment, but I believe that’s because they are unsure of what to do with their power; it’s as if everyone has been made a king in their own house, and they can’t think of much use for their tiny kingdom except to hire an army of jesters. I personally struggle to get beyond that point. Going on JET instead of taking a job at home will be the first of hopefully many excursions to help me increase my understanding.

Consciousness is shared only to the extent that we are willing to put ourselves into other people’s shoes. This is why the work of the translator is precious and delicate, and why, even in the saturated market of American-Japanese dialogue, I want to throw myself in, to disrupt and reconstruct. Presenting people’s own narratives in a positive way helps the rest of the world learn. Twisting words in unintended ways, on the other hand, leads to misunderstanding and sometimes hatred. Japan is a country that has spent almost 150 years trying wholeheartedly to engage itself with Western modernization, yet it is a country still subject to an unspoken distrust that Western Europe and the Anglosphere have long since eliminated from their own cross-national dialogues. If we can’t communicate openly with this culture that has aimed from the start to please us, how can we positively approach the billions of Asians and Africans who treat the West with an open enmity? According to Importing Diversity, part of the impetus for the JET program was the Western world’s distrustful reactions following the death of Emperor Showa in 1989. Japanese officials were gravely moved by the unequal treatment the Emperor was given in outsider eulogies. There must be some lack of understanding going on here; how can it be resolved?

This, of course, links into the greater problem of the endless possibility for misunderstanding. It seems that no matter how much truth lies behind a person’s words, the act of rendering it into speech links you into a specific time, place, and community. Even the simple message of the Buddha, which I regard as sublime philosophy, is today crammed into the box of one “world religion” among many. I recently read a comment that referred to Buddhism as a literal “hoax”. What is the hoax? Cause-and-effect? Impermanence? This is what happens when Buddhism goes through the lens of Protestantism and their insistence on history rather than story, on the question of whether or not something happened hundreds of years ago rather than the truth that underlies it. It would be impossible to correct this wrong view without completely uprooting the culture on which it lies. And if Buddhism is subject to this, then there is no statement which can survive such a brutal, inevitable misunderstanding.

As a spiritual person, I have a sort of conviction that the ideal of world peace can only be built on the foundation of inner peace, after the philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh. In Japan, religion in the Western sense is disliked as anti-social dogma. But Japan, of course, is possibly the most peaceful country in the world; most crime is committed by foreigners. If my theory is correct, where does their inner peace come from? And if I am wrong, what is the origin of their national character? I will try to answer these questions for myself, and bring the answers to the rest of the world.

Going on JET will change my global consciousness radically. I don’t expect to give up my commitment to peace, but I may develop a new outlook on the world. So, I’m archiving these questions now to look back on them in a year, or two, or three; perhaps I will have answers, or perhaps these questions will seem less important in the face of new and larger ones.

Posted: June 2nd, 2010 | JET, World Peace