Sunshine Recorder

物の哀れ

Meaning literally “”a sensitivity to ephemera,” mono no aware is a concept coined by Japanese literary and linguistic scholar Motoori Norinaga in the eighteenth century to describe the essence of Japanese culture, and it remains the central artistic imperative in Japan to this day. The phrase is derived from the word aware, which in Heian Japan meant sensitivity or sadness, and the word mono, meaning things, and describes beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. It can also be translated as the “ah-ness” of things, life and love.

According to mono no aware, a falling or wilting autumn flower is more beautiful than one in full bloom; a fading sound more beautiful than one clearly heard. The sakura or cherry blossom tree is the epitome of this conception of beauty; the flowers of the most famous variety, somei yoshino, nearly pure white tinged with a subtle pale pink, bloom and then fall within a single week. The subject of a thousand poems and a national icon, the cherry blossom tree embodies for Japan beauty as a transient experience.

Mono no aware states that beauty is a subjective rather than objective experience, a state of being ultimately internal rather than external. Based largely upon classical Greek ideals, beauty in the West is sought in the ultimate perfection of an external object: a sublime painting, perfect sculpture or intricate musical composition; a beauty that could be said to be only skin deep. The Japanese ideal sees beauty instead as an experience of the heart and soul, a feeling for and appreciation of objects or artwork—most commonly nature or the depiction of—in a pristine, untouched state.

An appreciation of beauty as a state which does not last and cannot be grasped is not the same as nihilism, and can better be understood in relation to Zen Buddhism’s philosophy of earthly transcendence: a spiritual longing for that which is infinite and eternal—the ultimate source of all worldly beauty. As the monk Sotoba wrote in Zenrin Kushu (Poetry of the Zenrin Temple), Zen does not regard nothingness as a state of absence, but rather the affirmation of that which is unseen, existing behind empty space: “Everything exists in emptiness: flowers, the moon in the sky, beautiful scenery.”

(Source: jaitra.srichinmoycentre.org, via sunrec)


The Beauty of Words
In 1890, after living and working in the U.S. for 20 years, Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn moved to Japan and immediately fell in love with a culture and language about which he would then write until his death fourteen years later. In 1893, he sent the following wonderful letter to his friend and occasional editor, Basil Hall Chamberlain, and eloquently defended the use of unintelligible but physiognomically beautiful Japanese words in his English-language work.

June 5, 1893
Dear Chamberlain,—
Thanks for strictures and suggestions. I changed the text as you desired, except in the case of the word Kuruma. That has been fully explained in preceding articles. (By the way, I never heard a Japanese use the word jinrikisha.) My observations about the sailors were based upon police reports in the Japan “Mail.” I killed the word gwaikokujin; as you said, it is an ugly word. I revised, indeed, the whole paper.
Recognizing the ugliness of words, however, you must also recognize their physiognomical beauty. I see you and the Editor of the “Atlantic” are at one, however, in condemning my use of Japanese words. Now, I can’t entirely agree with either of you. As to the practical side of the question, I do. But as to the artistic, the romantic side, I don’t. For me words have colour, form, character; they have faces, ports, manners, gesticulations; they have moods, humours, eccentricities;—they have tints, tones, personalities. That they are unintelligible makes no difference at all. Whether you are able to speak to a stranger or not, you can’t help being impressed by his appearance sometimes—by his dress—by his air—by his exotic look. He is also unintelligible, but not a whit less interesting. Nay! he is interesting BECAUSE he is unintelligible. I won’t cite other writers who have felt the same way about African, Chinese, Arabian, Hebrew, Tartar, Indian, and Basque words—I mean novelists and sketch writers.
To such it has been justly observed: “The readers do not feel as you do about words. They can’t be supposed to know that you think the letter A is blush-crimson, and the letter E pale sky-blue. They can’t be supposed to know that you think KH wears a beard and a turban; that initial X is a mature Greek with wrinkles;—or that ‘—no—’ has an innocent, lovable, and childlike aspect.” All this is true from the critic’s standpoint.
But from ours, the standpoint of—  The dreamer of dreams  To whom what is and what seems  Is often one and the same— To us the idea is thus:
"Because people cannot see the colour of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motions of words:
"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums which are thinly and weirdly played by words:
"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words:
"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words—the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words:
"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel? Surely one who has never heard Wagner, cannot appreciate Wagner without study! Why should the people not be forcibly introduced to foreign words, as they were introduced to tea and coffee and tobacco?"
Unto which, the friendly reply is—”Because they won’t buy your book, and you won’t make any money.”
And I say: “Surely I have never yet made, and never expect to make any money. Neither do I expect to write ever for the multitude. I write for beloved friends who can see colour in words, can smell the perfume of syllables in blossom, can be shocked with the fine elfish electricity of words. And in the eternal order of things, words will eventually have their rights recognized by the people.”
All this is heresy. But a bad reason, you will grant, is better than—etc.
Faithfully,
Lafcadio Hearn

The Beauty of Words

In 1890, after living and working in the U.S. for 20 years, Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn moved to Japan and immediately fell in love with a culture and language about which he would then write until his death fourteen years later. In 1893, he sent the following wonderful letter to his friend and occasional editor, Basil Hall Chamberlain, and eloquently defended the use of unintelligible but physiognomically beautiful Japanese words in his English-language work.

June 5, 1893

Dear Chamberlain,—

Thanks for strictures and suggestions. I changed the text as you desired, except in the case of the word Kuruma. That has been fully explained in preceding articles. (By the way, I never heard a Japanese use the word jinrikisha.) My observations about the sailors were based upon police reports in the Japan “Mail.” I killed the word gwaikokujin; as you said, it is an ugly word. I revised, indeed, the whole paper.

Recognizing the ugliness of words, however, you must also recognize their physiognomical beauty. I see you and the Editor of the “Atlantic” are at one, however, in condemning my use of Japanese words. Now, I can’t entirely agree with either of you. As to the practical side of the question, I do. But as to the artistic, the romantic side, I don’t. For me words have colour, form, character; they have faces, ports, manners, gesticulations; they have moods, humours, eccentricities;—they have tints, tones, personalities. That they are unintelligible makes no difference at all. Whether you are able to speak to a stranger or not, you can’t help being impressed by his appearance sometimes—by his dress—by his air—by his exotic look. He is also unintelligible, but not a whit less interesting. Nay! he is interesting BECAUSE he is unintelligible. I won’t cite other writers who have felt the same way about African, Chinese, Arabian, Hebrew, Tartar, Indian, and Basque words—I mean novelists and sketch writers.

To such it has been justly observed: “The readers do not feel as you do about words. They can’t be supposed to know that you think the letter A is blush-crimson, and the letter E pale sky-blue. They can’t be supposed to know that you think KH wears a beard and a turban; that initial X is a mature Greek with wrinkles;—or that ‘—no—’ has an innocent, lovable, and childlike aspect.” All this is true from the critic’s standpoint.

But from ours, the standpoint of—
The dreamer of dreams
To whom what is and what seems
Is often one and the same—
To us the idea is thus:

"Because people cannot see the colour of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motions of words:

"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums which are thinly and weirdly played by words:

"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words:

"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words—the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words:

"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel? Surely one who has never heard Wagner, cannot appreciate Wagner without study! Why should the people not be forcibly introduced to foreign words, as they were introduced to tea and coffee and tobacco?"

Unto which, the friendly reply is—”Because they won’t buy your book, and you won’t make any money.”

And I say: “Surely I have never yet made, and never expect to make any money. Neither do I expect to write ever for the multitude. I write for beloved friends who can see colour in words, can smell the perfume of syllables in blossom, can be shocked with the fine elfish electricity of words. And in the eternal order of things, words will eventually have their rights recognized by the people.”

All this is heresy. But a bad reason, you will grant, is better than—etc.

Faithfully,

Lafcadio Hearn


The Crayola-fication of the World
How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains.
In Japan, people often refer to traffic lights as being blue in color. And this is a bit odd, because the traffic signal indicating ‘go’ in Japan is just as green as it is anywhere else in the world. So why is the color getting lost in translation? This visual conundrum has its roots in the history of language.
Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being –midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.
One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.
In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.
And it’s not just Japanese. There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all. In Vietnamese the Thai language, khiaw means green except if it refers to the sky or the sea, in which case it’s blue.  The Korean word purueda could refer to either blue or green, and the same goes for the Chinese word qīng. It’s not just East Asian languages either, this is something you see across language families. In fact, Radiolab had a fascinating recent episode on color where they talked about how there was no blue in the original Hebrew Bible, nor in all of Homer’s Illiad or Odyssey!
I find this fascinating, because it highlights a powerful idea about how we might see the world. After all, what really is a color? Just like the crayons, we’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.

The Crayola-fication of the World

How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains.

In Japan, people often refer to traffic lights as being blue in color. And this is a bit odd, because the traffic signal indicating ‘go’ in Japan is just as green as it is anywhere else in the world. So why is the color getting lost in translation? This visual conundrum has its roots in the history of language.

Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being –midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.

And it’s not just Japanese. There are plenty of other languages that blur the lines between what we call blue and green. Many languages don’t distinguish between the two colors at all. In Vietnamese the Thai language, khiaw means green except if it refers to the sky or the sea, in which case it’s blue.  The Korean word purueda could refer to either blue or green, and the same goes for the Chinese word qīng. It’s not just East Asian languages either, this is something you see across language families. In fact, Radiolab had a fascinating recent episode on color where they talked about how there was no blue in the original Hebrew Bible, nor in all of Homer’s Illiad or Odyssey!

I find this fascinating, because it highlights a powerful idea about how we might see the world. After all, what really is a color? Just like the crayons, we’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.


"I shall be waiting for you"
In 1615, having successfully commanded an army at the Battle of Imafuku some months before, 22-year-old Japanese samurai and “peerless hero of the nation” Kimura Shigenari once again prepared to lead his men at the Siege of Osaka, despite his troops being heavily outnumbered. His young wife, Lady Shigenari, feared the worst and, having decided not to continue without her brave husband, wrote him the following farewell letter. As predicted, Kimura Shigenari was killed during battle, and then beheaded. By that point, his wife had already taken her own life.
(Source: The Goodbye Book; Image: Lady Shigenari, via The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.)

I know that when two wayfarers take shelter under the same tree and slake their thirst in the same river it has all been determined by their karma from a previous life. For the past few years you and I have shared the same pillow as man and wife who had intended to live and grow old together, and I have become as attached to you as your own shadow. This is what I believed, and I think this is what you have also thought about us.
But now I have learnt about the final enterprise on which you have decided and, though I cannot be with you to share the grand moment, I rejoice in the knowledge of it. It is said that on the eve of his final battle, the Chinese general, Hsiang Yü, valiant warrior though he was, grieved deeply about leaving Lady Yü, and that (in our own country) Kiso Yoshinaka lamented his parting from Lady Matsudono. I have now abandoned all hope about our future together in this world, and, mindful of their example, I have resolved to take the ultimate step while you are still alive. I shall be waiting for you at the end of what they call the road to death.
I pray that you may never, never forget the great bounty, deep as the ocean, high as the mountains, that has been bestowed upon us for so many years by our lord, Prince Hideyori.

"I shall be waiting for you"

In 1615, having successfully commanded an army at the Battle of Imafuku some months before, 22-year-old Japanese samurai and “peerless hero of the nation” Kimura Shigenari once again prepared to lead his men at the Siege of Osaka, despite his troops being heavily outnumbered. His young wife, Lady Shigenari, feared the worst and, having decided not to continue without her brave husband, wrote him the following farewell letter. As predicted, Kimura Shigenari was killed during battle, and then beheaded. By that point, his wife had already taken her own life.

(Source: The Goodbye Book; Image: Lady Shigenari, via The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.)

I know that when two wayfarers take shelter under the same tree and slake their thirst in the same river it has all been determined by their karma from a previous life. For the past few years you and I have shared the same pillow as man and wife who had intended to live and grow old together, and I have become as attached to you as your own shadow. This is what I believed, and I think this is what you have also thought about us.

But now I have learnt about the final enterprise on which you have decided and, though I cannot be with you to share the grand moment, I rejoice in the knowledge of it. It is said that on the eve of his final battle, the Chinese general, Hsiang Yü, valiant warrior though he was, grieved deeply about leaving Lady Yü, and that (in our own country) Kiso Yoshinaka lamented his parting from Lady Matsudono. I have now abandoned all hope about our future together in this world, and, mindful of their example, I have resolved to take the ultimate step while you are still alive. I shall be waiting for you at the end of what they call the road to death.

I pray that you may never, never forget the great bounty, deep as the ocean, high as the mountains, that has been bestowed upon us for so many years by our lord, Prince Hideyori.

Shigeru Umebayashi - Yumeji’s Theme (from In the Mood for Love’s Soundtrack)

梅林茂 (born February 19, 1951 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka) is a famous japanese composer. He began his career as the leader of the Japanese new wave rock band EX. Subsequently, he began composing music for films and television series. He has composed music for more than 40 Japanese and chinese films. His minuet, Yumeji’s Theme, originally composed for the 1991 Seijun Suzuki film Yumeji, was used by acclaimed director Kar Wai Wong in his 2000 film, In the Mood for Love, and Umebayashi was subsequently commissioned by Wong to write the score for the film’s 2004 sequel, 2046. He also composed the musical scores for two wuxia films by Zhang Yimou, the Oscar-nominated 2004 film, House of Flying Daggers and the 2006 film, The Curse of the Golden Flower.

物の哀れ

Meaning literally “”a sensitivity to ephemera,” mono no aware is a concept coined by Japanese literary and linguistic scholar Motoori Norinaga in the eighteenth century to describe the essence of Japanese culture, and it remains the central artistic imperative in Japan to this day. The phrase is derived from the word aware, which in Heian Japan meant sensitivity or sadness, and the word mono, meaning things, and describes beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. It can also be translated as the “ah-ness” of things, life and love.

According to mono no aware, a falling or wilting autumn flower is more beautiful than one in full bloom; a fading sound more beautiful than one clearly heard. The sakura or cherry blossom tree is the epitome of this conception of beauty; the flowers of the most famous variety, somei yoshino, nearly pure white tinged with a subtle pale pink, bloom and then fall within a single week. The subject of a thousand poems and a national icon, the cherry blossom tree embodies for Japan beauty as a transient experience.

Mono no aware states that beauty is a subjective rather than objective experience, a state of being ultimately internal rather than external. Based largely upon classical Greek ideals, beauty in the West is sought in the ultimate perfection of an external object: a sublime painting, perfect sculpture or intricate musical composition; a beauty that could be said to be only skin deep. The Japanese ideal sees beauty instead as an experience of the heart and soul, a feeling for and appreciation of objects or artwork—most commonly nature or the depiction of—in a pristine, untouched state.

An appreciation of beauty as a state which does not last and cannot be grasped is not the same as nihilism, and can better be understood in relation to Zen Buddhism’s philosophy of earthly transcendence: a spiritual longing for that which is infinite and eternal—the ultimate source of all worldly beauty. As the monk Sotoba wrote in Zenrin Kushu (Poetry of the Zenrin Temple), Zen does not regard nothingness as a state of absence, but rather the affirmation of that which is unseen, existing behind empty space: “Everything exists in emptiness: flowers, the moon in the sky, beautiful scenery.”

(Source: jaitra.srichinmoycentre.org, via sunrec)

Japan’s Obsession with Perfect Fruit

Giving fruit as a gift is a common custom in Japan. But this fruit is not your normal greengrocers’ produce, complete with bumps, bruises and blemishes. The pick of the crop is grown with exquisite care and attention to detail - and commands an eye-watering price when it comes to market.

Classical music plays softly over the speakers in the Senbikiya shop in central Tokyo. The uniformed members of staff are politely attentive, ushering the customers to chairs and crouching down beside them to take their orders.

The ceilings are high, the fittings elegant, the lighting tasteful and the displays are beautiful. But this is not some designer handbag emporium or high-end jewellery store. Senbikiya is a greengrocers.

Ushio Oshima is showing us around. He is a sixth-generation member of the shop’s founding family. The business began back in the 19th century, piling fruit high and selling it cheap.

That was until the wife of the second-generation owner astutely realised the real money was to be made by inverting the business model. Now Senbikiya must surely be the most expensive fruit shop in the world.

There are apples, the size of a child’s head, with evenly red, blemish-free skin on sale for 2,100 yen, or $25. That’s each, not for a bag. Senbikiya Queen Strawberries come in boxes of twelve perfectly matched fruits at 6,825 yen, $83. Even on a slow day they sell 50 boxes.

Then there are the melons, each perfect, of course, and topped with identical T-shaped green stalks. They’re 34,650 yen, or $419, for three.

"We specialise in gift-giving, fruits as gifts," says Mr Oshima. "So it really needs to look good. The appearance is a very important part of it. Then there’s the service. The combination is what you pay for."

Japan has two gift-giving seasons a year, one in summer and one in winter. Family members exchange presents but the tradition goes well beyond that. People offer presents to express gratitude, such as to their bosses. Companies often send gifts to customers and business partners.


Japan Remembers: Mourning the loss of almost 20,000 people gripped Japan yesterday on the anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. While the nation has made enormous strides recovering from the triple disaster, yesterday was was a time for remembrance. But the country is rebuilding even as it still suffers the loss of lives and the economic effects of an estimated $210 billion price tag - the costliest natural disaster in human history. Gathered here are images from memorial services, the rebuilding efforts, and of people forging ahead with altered lives a year on from the catastrophe. [40 photos total]
Japan Remembers: Mourning the loss of almost 20,000 people gripped Japan yesterday on the anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. While the nation has made enormous strides recovering from the triple disaster, yesterday was was a time for remembrance. But the country is rebuilding even as it still suffers the loss of lives and the economic effects of an estimated $210 billion price tag - the costliest natural disaster in human history. Gathered here are images from memorial services, the rebuilding efforts, and of people forging ahead with altered lives a year on from the catastrophe. [40 photos total]

Fukushima: a Strange Kind of Homecoming
One year on from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Unuma family return to the exclusion zone and what was once their farm.
I first met Yoshitada and Tomoe Unuma, aged 45 and 36, in a futuristic sports arena near Tokyo, 10 days after the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi power station plunged into crisis on March 11 2011. The quiet-spoken couple and their 10-year-old daughter Hana had been forced to flee their farm just 2km from the plant in the coastal district of Futaba, leaving behind almost all their possessions, their pack of beloved cats and dogs and 40 cattle. After a chaotic flight south, they and more than 1,000 fellow Futaba residents had found refuge in cardboard cubicles set up in the arena’s corridors.
Those were extraordinary times in Japan. The nation was still reeling from the biggest earthquake in its recorded history and a resulting tsunami that devastated the north-east coast, killing nearly 16,000 people and leaving more than 3,000 missing. Workers, soldiers and firemen were toiling in desperate conditions to cool Fukushima Daiichi’s radiation-spewing reactors. The day after I met the Unumas, then-prime minister Naoto Kan secretly commissioned a worst-case scenario for the crisis that would raise the dreaded possibility of evacuations as far away as the megalopolis of Greater Tokyo, with its population of 35 million.
One year on, those fears have receded. Conditions at the plant have been stabilised, radiation leaks stemmed and new jury-rigged cooling systems installed. Yet for many in Japan, the crisis is far from over. More than 100,000 people are still exiled from their homes; millions more suffer the anxiety of living amid elevated levels of radiation. The failure of Fukushima Daiichi has thrown into question resource-poor Japan’s energy strategy and shaken public faith in the government.
Like all the best horror story settings, the forbidden zone around Fukushima Daiichi is a blend of the bizarre and the banal. To enter, you have to show a travel pass at police checkpoints and then stop at an outdoor processing centre where you are issued with a white suit of disposable overalls, mask, gloves and shoe covers, a thin shield against radioactive dust or mud. The irregular flow of trucks and buses bound for the plant gives a veneer of normality to a road lined with a standard Japanese suburban sprawl of automobile dealerships, noodle shops and farm produce packing centres. It is only when you look closely that you notice all the lights are off in the convenience stores and grass is poking up through cracks in the tarmac of the chain restaurants’ forecourts. Off the main road, the shallow valleys are eerily quiet. Occasionally you spot a slowly patrolling police car or a fellow visitor, also clad in a white radiation suit. Otherwise all is still, except for a circling kite in the cold blue sky.
As we turn the last corner before the Unumas’ farm, Tomoe cries out at the sight of a small group of cows that start and run at our approach. It is the first time she has seen any survivors from the family herd. These were in the fields when the Unumas fled and were later set free by animal welfare volunteers. Now they roam wild. The cows and calves stuck inside on March 11 were not so lucky. We find their corpses lining the floor of the barn in tangles of skin and exposed bone. In one pen, however, there is a panicking live cow that has returned out of habit and become trapped. Tomoe finds a tool kit to dismantle the pen’s fence, then gently shoos the cow outside. “Take your time, take your time,” she tells it. “Go and join the others.”
For the Unumas this is the strangest kind of homecoming. Futaba’s coastal villages were scoured by the tsunami, but most houses inland survived the earthquake. Now, neglect is exposing them to a more insidious kind of destruction and everything is tainted by the fear of radiation. I find in the Unumas’ home a chaotic mess, created first by the earthquake, which turned over furniture and tossed toys off shelves, and then later deepened by their rushed efforts to find prized belongings and by the defecation of abandoned pets. At least the family appears to have been spared by the burglars who looted many homes and businesses in the evacuation zone in the first months after the disaster. But the house where Tomoe’s parents lived, a long, low structure that combines living quarters and a barn for rearing calves, is already starting to sag. Its paper interior walls are torn and rot is spreading across its ceilings.

Fukushima: a Strange Kind of Homecoming

One year on from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Unuma family return to the exclusion zone and what was once their farm.

I first met Yoshitada and Tomoe Unuma, aged 45 and 36, in a futuristic sports arena near Tokyo, 10 days after the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi power station plunged into crisis on March 11 2011. The quiet-spoken couple and their 10-year-old daughter Hana had been forced to flee their farm just 2km from the plant in the coastal district of Futaba, leaving behind almost all their possessions, their pack of beloved cats and dogs and 40 cattle. After a chaotic flight south, they and more than 1,000 fellow Futaba residents had found refuge in cardboard cubicles set up in the arena’s corridors.

Those were extraordinary times in Japan. The nation was still reeling from the biggest earthquake in its recorded history and a resulting tsunami that devastated the north-east coast, killing nearly 16,000 people and leaving more than 3,000 missing. Workers, soldiers and firemen were toiling in desperate conditions to cool Fukushima Daiichi’s radiation-spewing reactors. The day after I met the Unumas, then-prime minister Naoto Kan secretly commissioned a worst-case scenario for the crisis that would raise the dreaded possibility of evacuations as far away as the megalopolis of Greater Tokyo, with its population of 35 million.

One year on, those fears have receded. Conditions at the plant have been stabilised, radiation leaks stemmed and new jury-rigged cooling systems installed. Yet for many in Japan, the crisis is far from over. More than 100,000 people are still exiled from their homes; millions more suffer the anxiety of living amid elevated levels of radiation. The failure of Fukushima Daiichi has thrown into question resource-poor Japan’s energy strategy and shaken public faith in the government.

Like all the best horror story settings, the forbidden zone around Fukushima Daiichi is a blend of the bizarre and the banal. To enter, you have to show a travel pass at police checkpoints and then stop at an outdoor processing centre where you are issued with a white suit of disposable overalls, mask, gloves and shoe covers, a thin shield against radioactive dust or mud. The irregular flow of trucks and buses bound for the plant gives a veneer of normality to a road lined with a standard Japanese suburban sprawl of automobile dealerships, noodle shops and farm produce packing centres. It is only when you look closely that you notice all the lights are off in the convenience stores and grass is poking up through cracks in the tarmac of the chain restaurants’ forecourts. Off the main road, the shallow valleys are eerily quiet. Occasionally you spot a slowly patrolling police car or a fellow visitor, also clad in a white radiation suit. Otherwise all is still, except for a circling kite in the cold blue sky.

As we turn the last corner before the Unumas’ farm, Tomoe cries out at the sight of a small group of cows that start and run at our approach. It is the first time she has seen any survivors from the family herd. These were in the fields when the Unumas fled and were later set free by animal welfare volunteers. Now they roam wild. The cows and calves stuck inside on March 11 were not so lucky. We find their corpses lining the floor of the barn in tangles of skin and exposed bone. In one pen, however, there is a panicking live cow that has returned out of habit and become trapped. Tomoe finds a tool kit to dismantle the pen’s fence, then gently shoos the cow outside. “Take your time, take your time,” she tells it. “Go and join the others.”

For the Unumas this is the strangest kind of homecoming. Futaba’s coastal villages were scoured by the tsunami, but most houses inland survived the earthquake. Now, neglect is exposing them to a more insidious kind of destruction and everything is tainted by the fear of radiation. I find in the Unumas’ home a chaotic mess, created first by the earthquake, which turned over furniture and tossed toys off shelves, and then later deepened by their rushed efforts to find prized belongings and by the defecation of abandoned pets. At least the family appears to have been spared by the burglars who looted many homes and businesses in the evacuation zone in the first months after the disaster. But the house where Tomoe’s parents lived, a long, low structure that combines living quarters and a barn for rearing calves, is already starting to sag. Its paper interior walls are torn and rot is spreading across its ceilings.

Toshio Shibata (柴田 敏雄 Shibata Toshio, born 1949) is a Japanese photographer known for his large-format photographs of large-scale works of civil engineering in unpopulated landscapes. The photographs of Toshio Shibata convey a powerful drama generated by the conflict of natural forces against man-made structures. Water spills, crashes, glides, and pours over walls, sluices, concrete blocks and channels, in an endless gravity- propelled dance. Huge structures wind around highways and grasp the hillsides on which they are built.  Using an 8 x 10-inch camera, he eliminates most references to scale, placement, and point of view while providing crisp detail and texture. Under Shibata’s eye, the man-altered landscape becomes a mysterious abstract composition in which the shapes and patterns intrinsic to both the natural and artificial forms becomes visible.

(Source: laurencemillergallery.com)

Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer

Haruki Murakami holds the titles of both the most popular novelist in Japan and the most popular Japanese novelist in the wider world. After publishing Norwegian Wood in 1987, a book often called “the Japanese Catcher in the Rye,” Murakami’s notoriety exploded to such an extent that he felt forced out of his homeland, a country whose traditional ways and — to his mind — conformist mindset never sat right with him in the first place. Though he returned to Japan in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo underground gas attacks, he remained an author shaped by his favorite foreign cultures — especially America’s. This, combined with his yearning to break from established Japanese literary norms, has generated enough international demand for his work to sell briskly in almost every language in which people read novels.

I myself once spent a month doing nothing but reading Murakami’s work, and this BBC documentary Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer makes a valiant attempt to capture what about it could raise such a compulsion. Rupert Edwards’ camera follows veteran presenter Alan Yentob through Japan, from the midnight Tokyo of After Hours to the snowed-in Hokkaido of A Wild Sheep Chase, in a quest to find artifacts of the supremely famous yet media-shy novelist’s imaginary world. Built around interviews with fans and translators but thick with such Murakamiana as laid-back jazz standards, grim school hallways, sixties pop hits, women’s ears, vinyl records, marathon runners, and talking cats, the broadcast strives less to explain Murakami’s substance than to simply reflect it. If you find your curiosity piqued by all the fuss over 1Q84, Murakami’s latest, you might watch it as something of an aesthetic primer.


Haruki Murakami
I saw Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World while I was browsing in San Francisco bookstores for a paperback to take on a plane. The cover was good, the blurbs commendable, but what really caught my attention was the list of the book’s components: “a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan…” Bob Dylan? I bought the book.Hard-Boiled turned out to be both a great read and a good book. It employs one of the most elegant literary devices I’ve read, without being at all self-conscious or pointless. The book was also very cool, like a Thomas Pynchon book is cool. But most of all, it was the book’s Westernness that surprised me. And not only me. Man, you should see the reviews I read while preparing for the interview: “Nippon number-crunches,” “A delectable little sushi of a book,” “East meets West in this narrative noodle,” “No kimonos in sight…” I’ll spare you the rest.
I read more of his books—the two volume Norwegian Wood (1987: over four million passed the checkout in Japan alone), A Wild Sheep Chase (English translation published in 1989), Dance Dance Dance (this year’s follow-up) and The Elephant Vanishes (a short story collection)—and strange things happened. I’m stranded in the middle of a blizzard with only a Murakami for company. I’m on my hands and knees in Japantown looking for the English student editions only published in Japan. And then, finally, before playing a Boston concert I’d only arranged in order to do the interview, I find myself talking to Murakami over lunch in his apartment. 
…
John Wesley Harding: I have the impression that people over there got annoyed because what you were doing was not “Japanese.”Haruki Murakami: Yes. There is a very strong tradition of Japanese literature. They claim that the beauty of Japanese language and Japanese literature is special and only Japanese can understand it. Japaneseness, you could say. They say it does not travel. I think they might be right, because our culture and language are so different from the western ones. Haiku cannot be translated, that is true. But that is not all, that is not everything. I am Japanese and am writing a novel in Japanese, and, in that sense, I am different from you. But talking with you like this face to face, I don’t think I am so different from you. We have many things in common. What I want to say is, there should be other ways to convey Japaneseness. True, I am not exotic, but that doesn’t mean that I am not a Japanese novelist.

Haruki Murakami

I saw Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World while I was browsing in San Francisco bookstores for a paperback to take on a plane. The cover was good, the blurbs commendable, but what really caught my attention was the list of the book’s components: “a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan…” Bob Dylan? I bought the book.
Hard-Boiled turned out to be both a great read and a good book. It employs one of the most elegant literary devices I’ve read, without being at all self-conscious or pointless. The book was also very cool, like a Thomas Pynchon book is cool. But most of all, it was the book’s Westernness that surprised me. And not only me. Man, you should see the reviews I read while preparing for the interview: “Nippon number-crunches,” “A delectable little sushi of a book,” “East meets West in this narrative noodle,” “No kimonos in sight…” I’ll spare you the rest.

I read more of his books—the two volume Norwegian Wood (1987: over four million passed the checkout in Japan alone), A Wild Sheep Chase (English translation published in 1989), Dance Dance Dance (this year’s follow-up) and The Elephant Vanishes (a short story collection)—and strange things happened. I’m stranded in the middle of a blizzard with only a Murakami for company. I’m on my hands and knees in Japantown looking for the English student editions only published in Japan. And then, finally, before playing a Boston concert I’d only arranged in order to do the interview, I find myself talking to Murakami over lunch in his apartment. 

John Wesley Harding: I have the impression that people over there got annoyed because what you were doing was not “Japanese.”
Haruki Murakami: Yes. There is a very strong tradition of Japanese literature. They claim that the beauty of Japanese language and Japanese literature is special and only Japanese can understand it. Japaneseness, you could say. They say it does not travel. I think they might be right, because our culture and language are so different from the western ones. Haiku cannot be translated, that is true. But that is not all, that is not everything. I am Japanese and am writing a novel in Japanese, and, in that sense, I am different from you. But talking with you like this face to face, I don’t think I am so different from you. We have many things in common. What I want to say is, there should be other ways to convey Japaneseness. True, I am not exotic, but that doesn’t mean that I am not a Japanese novelist.


Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese soldier who held out in Guam
It’s exactly 40 years since a Japanese soldier was found in the jungles of Guam, having survived there for nearly three decades after the end of World War II. He was given a hero’s welcome on his return to Japan - but never quite felt at home in modern society.

For most of the 28 years that Shoichi Yokoi, a lance corporal in the Japanese Army of world War II, was hiding in the jungles of Guam, he firmly believed his former comrades would one day return for him.
And even when he was eventually discovered by local hunters on the Pacific island, on 24 January 1972, the 57-year-old former soldier still clung to the notion that his life was in danger.
"He really panicked," says Omi Hatashin, Yokoi’s nephew.
Startled by the sight of other humans after so many years on his own, Yokoi tried to grab one of the hunter’s rifles, but weakened by years of poor diet, he was no match for the local men.
"He feared they would take him as a prisoner of war - that would have been the greatest shame for a Japanese soldier and for his family back home," Hatashin says.
As they led him away through the jungle’s tall foxtail grass, Yokoi cried for them to kill him there and then.
Using Yokoi’s own memoirs, published in Japanese two years after his discovery, as well as the testimony of those who found him that day, Hatashin spent years piecing together his uncle’s dramatic story.

 Read more.

Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese soldier who held out in Guam

It’s exactly 40 years since a Japanese soldier was found in the jungles of Guam, having survived there for nearly three decades after the end of World War II. He was given a hero’s welcome on his return to Japan - but never quite felt at home in modern society.

For most of the 28 years that Shoichi Yokoi, a lance corporal in the Japanese Army of world War II, was hiding in the jungles of Guam, he firmly believed his former comrades would one day return for him.

And even when he was eventually discovered by local hunters on the Pacific island, on 24 January 1972, the 57-year-old former soldier still clung to the notion that his life was in danger.

"He really panicked," says Omi Hatashin, Yokoi’s nephew.

Startled by the sight of other humans after so many years on his own, Yokoi tried to grab one of the hunter’s rifles, but weakened by years of poor diet, he was no match for the local men.

"He feared they would take him as a prisoner of war - that would have been the greatest shame for a Japanese soldier and for his family back home," Hatashin says.

As they led him away through the jungle’s tall foxtail grass, Yokoi cried for them to kill him there and then.

Using Yokoi’s own memoirs, published in Japanese two years after his discovery, as well as the testimony of those who found him that day, Hatashin spent years piecing together his uncle’s dramatic story.

Read more.

物の哀れ

Meaning literally “a sensitivity to things,” mono no aware is a concept coined by Japanese literary and linguistic scholar Motoori Norinaga in the eighteenth century to describe the essence of Japanese culture, and it remains the central artistic imperative in Japan to this day. The phrase is derived from the word aware, which in Heian Japan meant sensitivity or sadness, and the word mono, meaning things, and describes beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. It can also be translated as the “ah-ness” of things, life and love.

According to mono no aware, a falling or wilting autumn flower is more beautiful than one in full bloom; a fading sound more beautiful than one clearly heard. The sakura or cherry blossom tree is the epitome of this conception of beauty; the flowers of the most famous variety, somei yoshino, nearly pure white tinged with a subtle pale pink, bloom and then fall within a single week. The subject of a thousand poems and a national icon, the cherry blossom tree embodies for Japan beauty as a transient experience.

Mono no aware states that beauty is a subjective rather than objective experience, a state of being ultimately internal rather than external. Based largely upon classical Greek ideals, beauty in the West is sought in the ultimate perfection of an external object: a sublime painting, perfect sculpture or intricate musical composition; a beauty that could be said to be only skin deep. The Japanese ideal sees beauty instead as an experience of the heart and soul, a feeling for and appreciation of objects or artwork—most commonly nature or the depiction of—in a pristine, untouched state.

An appreciation of beauty as a state which does not last and cannot be grasped is not the same as nihilism, and can better be understood in relation to Zen Buddhism’s philosophy of earthly transcendence: a spiritual longing for that which is infinite and eternal—the ultimate source of all worldly beauty. As the monk Sotoba wrote in Zenrin Kushu (Poetry of the Zenrin Temple), Zen does not regard nothingness as a state of absence, but rather the affirmation of that which is unseen, existing behind empty space: “Everything exists in emptiness: flowers, the moon in the sky, beautiful scenery.”