Monday, October 31, 2005
Further to my post about G. being "haafu", I was interested to come across this forum for young people who are half Japanese. It is called Hapa Japan, named using a Hawaiian word meaning "multiracial people". Hapa culture is really quite strong in Hawaii and it seems to have helped inspire this very positive development in Japan. Basically, the society seems to be run by young adult "hapas" and is much more of a social meeting ground than a political organisation: just a space for mixed race young people to hang out without "having to answer all those ridiculous questions about whether we eat natto", as one hapa put it. Another said that some younger people felt out of place in groups of older "haafu", who tended to be more bitter about their experiences.
The term itself is a bit of a liberation because the Japanese "haafu" terminology seems rather disempowering. One of the reactions to this among some people has been to start talking about mixed race children as "double", which some of the "hapa" involved in this site say doesn't feel quite right either. What was needed was a term that got away from all this ridiculous quantification of nationality and identity. "Hapa" seems to do it in the Japanese context. I think in Hawaii it actually also means half or fragment but it is a term the group themselves have elected to use and also its quantification is not clear unless you know the roots of the Hawaiian.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
An Englishman in Osaka comments on the lost art of queueing back in Blighty (and the found art of cross dressing).
He points out it is alive and well in Japan. If this is true, it is a development of the most profound historical importance, threatening the very foundations of what it means to be English. I quote George Mikes and Nicolas Bentley's classic 1946 account of Englishness "How to be an Alien" (the text of the book is here, but half the fun is the illustrations ):
Queueing is the national passion of an otherwise dispassionate race. The English are rather shy about it, and deny that they adore it.
On the Continent, if people are waiting at a bus-stop they loiter around in a seemingly vague fashion. When the bus arrives they make a dash for it; most of them leave by the bus and a lucky minority is taken away by an elegant black ambulance car. An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.
The biggest and most attractive advertisements in front of cinemas tell people: Queue here for 4/6; Queue here for 9/3; Queue here for 16/8 (inclusive of tax). Those cinemas which do not put out these queueing signs do not do good business at all.
At week-ends an Englishman queues up at the bus-stop, travels out to Richmond, queues up for a boat, then queues up for tea, then queues up for ice cream, then joins a few more odd queues just for the sake of the fun of it, then queues up at the bus-stop and has the time of his life.
Many English families spend lovely evenings at home just by queueing up for a few hours, and the parents are very sad when the children leave them and queue up for going to bed."
Yesterday's driving podcast was:
On Cynicism from the BBC series In Our Time.
We need more Cynicism. Early Greek Cynicism, especially. Bit like ancient punks only far more extreme (copulating in public!) and a bit more systematic in their thought. Was Jesus influenced profoundly by Cynicism? This program tentatively suggests that he may have been.
Cynicism attacked the idea that man is defined by his social context and status, insisting with Socrates that happiness is a life of virtuous self-sufficiency and adding that to achieve this you have to live in accordance with your nature as a rational animal. They said the mores and standards of human society are often at odds with human nature and we have to rid ourselves of these unnatural restrictions and desires. We have to live according to our simple natural desires: do what we want, where we want and whenever we want.
The method of Diogenes, the pioneering cynic, was to expound this philosophy not just in books and lectures but in real actions. That meant living in a barrel, acting like a dog, defecating and copulating in public. This was philosophy as a performance art.
One anecdote is that Alexander the Great visited Diogenes in his barrel. Alexander asked what do you want from me. Diogenes replied, "Stand aside so that I can see the sun". (see pic above.)
He seems to have been rather good at these kinds of quips. Another anecdote has it that, when captured by pirates and sold as a slave, he was asked his trade. He replied that he knew no trade but that of governing men and that he wished to be sold to a man who needed a master. Very Samuel Beckett.
But the quote that I found most interesting from this program connects with this idea of them rejecting civilised values. Looked at another way, that mean problematising the city and calling for a return to a more natural, less civic life. Angie Hobbs, lecturer in philosophy at the University of Warwick, says: "Diogenes and other cynics castigated the city, they castigated its mores and traditions and customs and yet they go on living in the cities. As far as we can tell they... make no serious attempt to try to reform these cities and of course you could argue that outrageous exhibitionism is nothing if it doesn't have an audience." This is something I have always wondered about groups in modern society who perform their rejection of society for the rest us. Why are they performing for us? I suppose in a strange kind of way they might be teachers too?
The evening podcast was about Samuel Johnson. One of the lesser known things about Johnson is that, when writing his famous dictionary, he used "an attic full of Scottish hacks" in his house to help him order the material. Nowadays, I suppose, he could have used a computer but that would not be as cool as keeping an attic full of Scotsmen. I might go down to Yamada Denki today and see if I can get one. It will probably be an attic full of Hokkaido men though.
Infact, so rarely do the Tigers win nowadays that some of their fans believe they are living under a curse: the curse of Colonel Sanders . In 1985, the Tigers won the Japan Series (Christ almighty, I hear the Newcastle fans grumbling, call that a barren period!) Anyway, after their team clinched the title, ecstatic fans uprooted a statue of Colonel Sanders from its home in front of an Osaka Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and dumped in a river. The Colonel hasn't been seen since and Hanshin has never won another Japan Series.
Well, it seems the Colonel is not the forgiving type, because the Tigers lost this years Japan Series against the Chiba Lotte Marines (a bit like being beaten by Reading). The Tigers fans were not happy. Infact, that is a bit of an understatement. One of them, has built a grave to this year's hope (courtesy of www.planetkyoto.com.) The text says: "In memory of the Championship. Hanshin Tigers. Manager: Yoshio Yoshida."
Friday, October 28, 2005
About a fortnight ago, I put up a little link saying MP3 players would be obsolete within a year. Which is why I went straight out and bought one. It doesn't do to be too up to date.
Anyway, in classic late adopter fashion, I have been exploring the wonderful world of podcasting. Over the last year or so my media consumption has been completely revolutionised by RSS. I suspect it is about to be revolutionised again by podcasting. Basically, podcasting is a system which allows you to subscribe to podcast feeds which automatically update your mp3 every morning with audio files from your favourite sources. (There is already such a thing as vblogging, which is the video equivalent.) Podcasting is particularly great for me here because the only English radio I have is Eagle 810，the US forces network's station in Japan.
Anyway, podcasting allows me to syndicate my own stuff instead of relying on Airman First Class Reul Brenhauser to make the decisions for me . I have been having a great time listening to all kinds of programs on my morning and evening drives. I'm not particularly musical, so most of it has been talk radio. There is already a reasonable amount of quality content available (in order of interest):
I think the culture of podcasting is that people like me are supposed to get into subscribing to the ramblings of some chap sitting in his underpants in a log cabin in Oregon going on about his interest in collecting 1920s tomato soup cans. I have found to some extext that my RSS subscriptions have gradually come to be dominated less and less by the New York Times, Guardian etc and more and more by interesting tomato can blogs. However, I'm at the start of my podcasting life and that Oregon guy is going to have to wait a bit for my attention.
Meanwhile, in addition to my public broadcasters, I have discovered a load of universities are podcasting lectures straight onto the web (in order of interest):
This and this are both round ups of lectures from the Boston area universities.
This morning, during the drive to the station, I was listening to Daniel Dennett talking about why tiny parasites that drive ants like four wheel drives can be compared to organised religion and other ideals. He is a clearly a very brilliant man and his lecture brightened my morning (although I didn't feel his analogy was as insightful as it seemed.)
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Of all the newspapers I worked for in London, I was a little surprised to find which one was subscribed to by the Tokai University Library. No Times, no Independent... but there is a crisp new Times Educational Supplement there every week. It was strangely comforting reading the diary (which I used to write) in this far off land. Should have been doing my Kanji learning though.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Sunday, October 23, 2005
We went to the beach today. A. told a yarn:
There was a poor village on a small hill beside the sea.
The villagers made their living farming the narrow strip of infertile land between the water and the mountains. That year had been kind to them. It had been a good harvest. The whole village had worked flat out over the last few weeks to bring in the crop. The bails of rice were stacked in the fields around the village and everybody had gone down to the beach to get ready for the festival. The men and the more serious boys were trying to snag a few fish to help the festivities. The children kicked about in the surf and mothers chased the children. The village delinquents chatted up the girls who would inevitably marry the serious boys. There was a bit of an earth tremor, a mere rumour of a trouble far off. Hardly anybody noticed it such was the sense of release that the end of the harvest brought.
In those days, the Lord of the Manor was paid in rice by his tenants. He would receive his rent in the fullness of time, but today he just happened to be riding with some retainers on the road beside the village. He stopped his horse to enjoy the scene. He was chuckling to himself, quietly proud of the energy of his underlings frolicking on the sands, when one of his men pointed out a ridge of white on the horizon. A tsunami! All the villagers on the beach would surely be killed. But there was not enough time to send a messenger and the beach was too far away to shout. The villagers were doomed if they did not flee the beach quickly.
What did the Lord of the Manor do next?
(See the comments.)
Saturday, October 22, 2005
... erm, well, we seem to have lost it. Last time we saw it, it was down the back of the filing cabinet, but it seems to have gone now. We don't have any copies either. Oh dear! Oh well! We'll use this one instead. It's a bit different but the oil companies like it."
I'm in favour of the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory, but be warned that reading this story does almost inevitably lead to a severe case of raised eyebrows.
On a totally different tack, I thought this was funny.
The only post in the letter box today was the "Postmaster and The Merton Record". What?!
For the majority of you who don't know what the hell I'm talking about: the "Postmaster" is my college's alumni magazine. It is published by the "Merton Development Office", a shadowy group who have made it their business to relentlessly track Merton's alumni across the globe and eventually, I suppose, squeeze some cash from them for the good old Alma Mater. Forget Mossad or the CIA, these MDO guys are the best in the business! I've been on the run from them ever since my graduation but I have never quite managed to shake them from my tail. I thought coming to Japan would do it, but no! Within half a year, they have somehow managed to find my address and despatch the compulsory "Postmaster". How do they do it?
Friday, October 21, 2005
Sunday, October 16, 2005
The travel writer Paul Theroux wrote in his book about seeing China by train: "The Kunlun Range is a guarantee that the railway will never get to Lhasa. That is probably a good thing. I thought I liked railways until I saw Tibet, and then I realised that I liked wilderness much more."
So far, it has received surprisingly little coverage in the Western media but one of the world's most extraordinary railway lines is nearing completion. It will do just what Theroux thought could never be done: connect the Tibetan capital Llasa with the rest of China. The line, to be opened next year, will be an amazing achievement. Passengers will travel in carriages with special high altitude enriched-oxygen supplies and UV-protected glass. The cars will be pulled by diesel engines capable of maintaining speeds of about 100 kph even above 4,000m, where the lack of oxygen in the air halves engine performance. The track will take travellers from China's bustling East Coast to Tibet in 48 hours and building it has meant scaling 4000m moutain passes, bridging massive ravines, and tunnelling through mountains at -30 C and in conditions where the least effort makes an oxygen bottle necessary.
The Tibet railway is also deeply problematic. The main Chinese Government line on their invasion and occupation of Tibet has been that it is justified by the benefits of economic and social development that they are bringing to this "backward" region. This, interestingly, is exactly the same type of justification that Japan used when embarking on its colonial adventures in Asia before the last war. It was no doubt true that the Japanese brought economic modernisation to Manchuria. But was it right? This type of "modernisation" talk has been found in almost all colonial adventures and China's wonderful new railway is a symbol that colonialism and imperialism is as much part of our world as that of the first half of the 20th Century. The former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin said he had been advised that the Llasa railroad would not be commercially viable. He replied: "This is a political decision."
Engineering work on the Tibet railway
Poster inviting local participation in the railway's construction
Nevertheless, all Governments, whether colonial or not, are judged partly on whether they improve the economic lot of the people. The question is whether this railway will be seen by Tibetans as being on the credit or debit side of the Chinese colonial rulers' record in Tibet. These things are never simple, there are always inequities in who benefits, and in Tibet the particular worry would be that Chinese immigrants might benefit much more than the indigenous people. I would be interested to see who actually is able to ride on this train but also what positive effects being linked by train to one of the most exciting economies in the world will have. There is a hint, in some of the Western criticism of this railway, of wanting to preserve the Tibetans in formaldehyde as untouched specimens of naive pre-modernism.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
My university, Tokai Daigaku, is seriously sporty. They have at least one Olympic gold medal (judo) and, even in sports they are not so strong at, they seem frighteningly good. I took a look at their rugby team and decided not to join up. By way of further illustration, the 100 metre record there is 10.05. Yes, 10.05. Not sure I could do that on a motorbike!
Anyway, there is a strange phenomenon associated with the male teams. You hardly ever see them practising without also seeing one or two women students in tracksuits hanging around on the touchlines collecting balls, holding the stopwatch or just looking rather forlornly at the sportsmen doing their stuff. These girls are not to be confused with the really serious sportswomen who abound at Tokai. Though they dress in tracksuits, they never actually participate in the sport. They are just kind of there.
I asked A.. "Ah, yes," she said. "The manejaas! Some girls like doing that sort of thing. If you like washing men's dirty sports gear then maybe its fun. They attach themselves to the teams and they get given titles like 'manejaa' and just help out." I'm not sure A. was being entirely fair on the 'manejaas' but her take was that it was a way a certain type of girl tries to get her mits on a hunky sports type. Can't help thinking that, if I was the captain of the Rugby team, I'd want to be going out with the captain of the netball team or the intellectual type at the front at the front of the lecture hall, not the "manejaa". Anyway, suppose it take all types.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Some kanji are easier to remember than others. For instance, "Kan", which is usually found in words associated with government or officialdom, is a cinch. The top part is a roof, which I take to refer to a building. The bottom part means "bottom" or, more specifically, "buttocks". If you look closely at the picture above you might be able to see that it is a pictogram. So, the way I am thinking of it, government or officialdom is a building where people earn money by sitting on their arses all day. Not exactly fair but you have to take every break you get in this kanji learning lark.
I came across "kan" as an element within another kanji which is often found in words for public buildings (which can also be pronounced "kan"). It combines the "government/officialdom" kanji with an element referring to "eating". I'm imagining a public building in which a very affable but rather rotund security guard sits all day eating sandwiches.
As I say, it's a cinch.
[Previous kanji posts: 1, 2, 3, 4]
I think I am way behind on this one but I discovered today that Japan and France are working together on a next generation Concorde. Japan ran a successful scale model test this week.
Whether this will ever become a reality is open to question but I find it a bit sad that Britain is not involved anymore.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Today marked a key moment, perhaps the key moment, in my Japanese enculturation. Forget the language, the people or the social norms. This was far more important: for the first time, I actually chose to buy a kurimu pan (cream filled 'bread'). I have had this stuff before, but it has previously always sneaked up on me in the surprising way of Japanese breads. Today, I actually entered a shop, thought 'What do I want to eat this morning?' and answered "What I really need to fill that hole is a rather inadequate bun filled with an extraordinarily sickly sweet custardy substance." The one I chose to break my virginity was rather special, its name translated as "Two Tone Cream" (you can just about see the two tones in the pic). Yummy. Tomorrow, "Melon Pan" or maybe "Choco Pan". Can't decide.
By the way, Fuji looked beautiful from the top of our road. The autumn is cool and clear and altogether more pleasant than the summer.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
One of the iconic sights of Japanese autumn are hillsides covered in silvery expanses of susuki grass (Japanese pampas). For hundreds of years, poets have been conjuring images of susuki fields whispering under the harvest moon.
But all is not well in susuki's wild gardens. Almost everywhere you see it nowadays, it is struggling with a foreign interloper called Seitaka-awadachi-sou (tall foam-whipping plant), which found its way into Japan from America during the last century and likes exactly the same conditions.
Just one of the poems featuring susuki:
Susuki ni hashiru
Nami no Kage
It was written by Kato Shuson in 1943 for a friend who was going off to fight in the increasingly desperate looking Second World War.
wind blows through susuki grass,
like the shade of waves.
Monday, October 10, 2005
A pretty shocking report from China in The Guardian.
Update: This site claims Lu Banglie survived: "Lu Banglie has been sent back to this home in Hubei. He is alive, but his exact condition is not known" (translation from here). Here is a really thorough chronology of the Taishi election, which is the background to the attack. It makes compelling reading. There are some powerful forces vying in China right now. This is an interesting analysis of the general context from EastSouthWestNorth.
Update: This site also says Lu Banglie is alive: "According to Yao Lifa, who is a national people's congress delegate, 'Lu Banglie came back from Guangzhou to Yichang by airplane and then was sent to Zhijiang City. He arrived at his home around 4pm in the company of the local police.' According to Lu's sister, 'He appeared physically alright. He seemed to be able to speak and take care of everything else. He took off his clothes and washed them himself. He said, 'Today is market day, but I won't be able to help you.''" (translation from here).
Update: There is an emerging debate about whether it may not only have been the assault that was "pretty shocking" but also the Guardian's reporting of it. There seems little doubt that the activist was fairly horrifically beaten by thugs at Taishi, but there is a suggestion that there may have been exageration in Benjamin Joffe-Walt's account. In particular, doubt is being cast on sentences like: "He lay there - his eye out of its socket, his tongue cut, a stream of blood dropping from his mouth, his body limp, twisted. The ligaments in his neck were broken, so his head lay sideways as if connected to the rest of his body by a rubber band." The basis of the attacks on the reporting is that Lu Banglie now seems to be out of hospital and describes his injuries in this way:
After the examination, the hospital said that I had quite a bit of muscle injury, including two spots that were bleeding. I had bleeding on my upper arm and then the shoulder ... the principal diagnosis was "muscle injury" as well as "external head injuries." That was at the Bailizhou hospital. But the examination at Zhijiang basically said that there were no real problems. But I still feel more foggy than before. I am hurting all over, but there are not too many visible signs. Therefore, I think that they were pretty good at beating people. I cannot eat much right now. I can eat a little bit, slowly. I can control my movements and thinking. My body aches, but my will power can control the aches. (From an interview with Radio Free Asia).
It is definitely the case that some of the Guardian's critics are using this issue as a way to avoid the basic fact that a man was horrifically beaten by thugs. However, if Joffe-Walt did not report strictly accurately then, to say the least, it is very bad thing to have done to the villagers. He probably deserves some benefit of the doubt. The facts have not been properly established and he said in his original article that he had himself been assaulted and that he was in a state of shock when writing it. But, if he over wrote this thing, then he should be ashamed of himself.
Anyway, here is Radio Free Asia's full interview with Lu Banglie. The story stands apart from the issue of Joffe-Walt's reporting:
Interview of Lu Banglie by Zhang Min (Radio Free Asia), October 10, 2005.
The Hubei province Zhijiang City national people's congress delegate Lu Banglie was attacked in Taishi village by unknown persons but has returned back to Zhijiang City. He stayed at his sister's home around 4-5pm on October 10. That evening, he was interviewed by me at a friend's place.
Lu Banglie related his journey to Taishi Village with The Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt and assistant Mr. Chen: "He said that he needed to go into the village and check out the actual situation. At around 7-8pm or 8-9pm, we were in the village. The car was about 300-400 meters away from the Taishi village committee office. At a corner, the car was blocked by several motorcycles. We wanted to go to the village committee office but many people came and surrounded the car. They would not let us proceed any further. We said that we would back up the car, but they wouldn't not let us do that either. They looked at us and pointed to me, as if they recognized me.
Q: How many people were in the car?
A: Four people, including the driver. This was a taxi that we hired. I did not ask the name of the driver. On the car too were Benjamin Joffe-Walt and Mr. Chen. The people outside the car were questioning the two reporters sitting behind. The people up front then opened the car door. I sat in the front and they dragged me out. They hit my head with their fists and kicked me all over the body. I fell to the ground and then I passed out. Later on, they poured water on me and I was startled. I only knew that someone poured water on me. I don't know what happened afterwards.
Q: Where did you wake up?
A: When I woke up, the car was almost in Changsa. (Comment from aside) They said that they were members of the Panyu National People's Congress standing committee. There were five or six people.
Q: How were your injuries?
A: At the time, my head hurt. I was dizzy. So I slept all the way to Zhijiang. I threw up several times, including only water. It was difficult to bear. They wanted to give me something to eat. I said that I couldn't eat because I would surely throw up again. I said that I would eat after we stop. But they did not offer me anything when we stopped. At around 6-7pm on October 9, they took me to a hotel in Zhijiang City and contacted the Zhijiang City National's People's Congress standing committee. Then they just ignored me. Afterwards, they arranged for two Bailizhou officials to take me to the hospital at Bailizhou. I did not eat anything all day.
Q: What was the diagnosis of your condition at the hospital? Can you tell us what the hospital said and how you personally felt?
A: After the examination, the hospital said that I had quite a bit of muscle injury, including two spots that were bleeding. I had bleeding on my upper arm and then the shoulder ... the principal diagnosis was "muscle injury" as well as "external head injuries." That was at the Bailizhou hospital. But the examination at Zhijiang basically said that there were no real problems. But I still feel more foggy than before. I am hurting all over, but there are not too many visible signs. Therefore, I think that they were pretty good at beating people. I cannot eat much right now. I can eat a little bit, slowly. I can control my movements and thinking. My body aches, but my will power can control the aches.
Q: Before you passed out, what do you remember the scene was like? How many people were assaulting you?
A: When my hair was pulled, there were five or six people beating me. I don't know how many more after that.
Q: According to what you know, within your group, was anyone else injured other than yourself?
A: They started with me. I don't know what happened afterwards.
Q: How were your attackers dressed? Who do you think they are?
A: At the time, I was not sure. They seemed to be dressed in ordinary clothes. Later on, I heard the person from their National People's Congress standing committee said: "Those were peasants." He also said: "Do you think that the peasants over there are more violent? They are somewhat more barbaric?" At the time, I was still dizzy and I told them: "This was not peasant savagery. This was government savagery." At the time, they smiled.
Q: After having gone through this incident, what are thinking?"
A: I think if the government over there can use these types of high-pressure tactics to treat the people and their legal actions to protect their own rights, then this is too disheartening! Really! If the Chinese peasants are suppressed and abused like this and the legal paths are closed off, it will be a tragedy in the end. When those oppressed people have nowhere to do, they may resort to violence. As for me, if I cannot go the legal way, I might have to resort to violence in the end. That would be tragic.
Q: What will you be doing? Is there anything that you want to do? Will you continue to care about Taishi village? How will you show your concern?
Q: I will continue to be concerned about Taishi village. I will still stay within the boundaries of the law to offer them assistance, support and care. I hope that the Taishi village incident will gain the high attention of the central government which should give support to the people's legal efforts to protect their rights in accordance with the law and to stop the savage actions of the local government. I hope that the central government will offer support and assistance.
Lu Banglie has not yet returned to his own home, because he did not want to alarm his 80-year-old mother. He just stopped by at his sister's home but he did not tell her what happened so as not to get them worried. He is staying with a friend. He wants to recover better before returning home.
Update: The Guardian has issued a correction to the Chinese beating story. This explanation, which appeared a couple of days after the correction, gives a full account from the Guardian readers' editor of the Guardian's view of the faulty report. I feel it is a pretty impressive response and shows that the Guardian is a serious and responsible newspaper. Now, can we get back to the issue of why a man was severely beaten in Taishi?
We went to an outdoor, fire lit performance of Noh theatre at the Kamakura-gu shrine last night.
I had not expected to find Noh very easy. Of the two major forms of Japanese theatre, Noh and Kabuki, Noh is by reputation the hardest to approach. Kabuki has all the exuberant populism of Shakespearean theatre. It traces its roots back to dance and light drama performances in Kyoto in 1603, about the same time Shakespeare was writing Othello, and has always retained its popular feel. It was a particular obsession of old Tokyo (known as Edo). Edward Seidensticker's history of Tokyo quotes an old aphorism that "the son of Kyoto ruined himself over dress, the son of Osaka ruined himself over food and the son of Edo ruined himself looking at things ... Performances were central to Edo culture, and at the top of the hierarchy, the focus of Edo connoisseurship, was the Kabuki theatre... The great Kabuki actors set tastes and were popular heroes and the Kabuki was for anyone, except perhaps the self-consciously aristocratic, who had enough money. " (Just as a footnote on the Shakespeare comparison, one of the main plays at the Kabuki-za this summer was a Kabuki reinterpretation of Twelfth Night, which the director says he intends to take to London soon. It was a hit over here.)
Anyway, I've always fought slightly shy of Noh because it has none of this populism. It has a much longer history than Kabuki and is essentially a religious ceremony, performed on consecrated ground and always telling stories connected with death. Its dramas are very simple, stretched out over long periods with extended poetic monologues and very slow stage movements. The main character wears a mask. You cannot even see a face. Modern Japanese people have difficulty understanding the archaic language so you would have thought it would be a complete nightmare for a dope who can't even understand all the train station announcements.
But no! I suppose the fact that Noh's words are fairly incomprehensible and that they are really designed to provide a beautiful context for the movement on the stage actually makes the drama rather easy to appreciate for the non-Japanese speaker. There is word-play in Noh, but these are not fast, wise cracking stories that can turn on a few dramatic words. As long as you mug up on the often very simple tale before the performance, you can actually understand quite a lot of the context of the actors' lyrical movements and focus your mind on the wonder of the Noh mask: although its expression is completely fixed, the performer seems to fill the seemingly blank face with changing feeling by skillfully moving it in the light.
With the firelight playing on the masks, against the dim backdrop of a forested hillside just starting to turn into autumn reds and yellows, it was certainly the most compelling outdoor drama I have ever attended. The first story we watched was a beautiful story called Izutsu. There was then a comic interlude and then a play called Zegai, about two demons fighting Buddha. We were not allowed to take photos during the performance but below is a pic of the setting taken beforehand and one borrowed from the programme of the start of the drama .
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Saturday, October 01, 2005
When I logged on today, the top story on Yahoo News was "US launches offensive on Iraqi Village". Guess that expresses the futility of the situation we find ourselves in.