July 27, 2017

The bosozoku squat

In chapter 1 of Fox & Wolf, after giving him a thrashing, Yuki squats next to Jirou "bosozoku biker style, forearms resting on her knees, feet flat on the ground."

Courtesy of Dan Szpara, here's a veteran bosozoku (暴走族) biker dude showing how it's done.

As Szpara points out, the bosozoku have become a cliché, so in many cases the "acting out" just turns into "acting." Still, a few have kept the faith. Kyra Sacdalan describes the true believers as

a gang, now a lifestyle, still notorious amongst police enforcement. So much so that certain colors and stylings of their flamboyant West Side Story meets Lost Boys uniform are illegal in Japan.

As with the yakuza, the police in Japan have carte blanche to crack down as hard as necessary to maintain (the appearance of) public order. So these "wild ones" have to be careful about where and how they rebel.

But Harley-Davidson riders? "They appear to have an attitude which is carefree, cordial, and genuinely passionate."

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July 23, 2017

Prison of Dusk (5)

I've posted chapter 5 of "Prison of Dusk."

The old Chinese proverb Sotsuyuu cites is 「以刑止刑」 (yi xing zhi xing), or "Abolish punishment with punishment." A close western version is "Spare the rod and spoil the child" It's based on Proverbs 13: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."

In this chapter, Sotsuyuu articulates a longstanding argument in regards to the U.S. Constitution and the death penalty. The question is whether capital punishment can be ruled "unconstitutional" (short of the amending process) when the Constitution itself assumes its lawful existence.

Rakushun explains the Divine Decrees in chapter 42 of Shadow of the Moon.

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July 20, 2017

Fox & Wolf

The second edition of Fox & Wolf is now available. It includes two new chapters and a redesigned cover.

Yuki Yamakawa comes from an old yakuza family. She loves training dogs and beating up bullies for a more secret reason: she's a werewolf. After one fight too many, Yuki's uncle sends her to Osaka's most exclusive girl's school to straighten her out.

There she meets her exact opposite, Ami Tokudaiji.

Ami is as high in society as Yuki is low. But with her family threatened by a financial scandal, the Tokudaiji fortune depends on Ami's mother breaking the law in a shady real estate deal. Just as Yuki's estranged father returns to Osaka to launch a criminal investigation.

As it turns out, on her father's side, Yuki's blood runs bluer than any of her aristocratic classmates. Even so, that long-hidden family connection pales in comparison to the most fantastic fact of all: Ami is a kitsune, a Japanese werefox, and doesn't even know it!

When the two of them end up in the same homeroom class at school, Yuki is determined to make Ami her new best friend. That is, if they don't kill each other first.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased from Amazon, and ePub version from iTunes, Smashwords, and Google Books. Visit the Fox & Wolf website for more details, including maps and an introduction to were-creatures in Japanese folklore.

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July 16, 2017

Prison of Dusk (4)

I've posted chapter 4 of "Prison of Dusk."

Rikkan literally means "six ministries," the equivalent of the cabinet: Administration, Education, Protocol, Defense, Justice, Public Works. Also known as the Ministries of Heaven, Earth, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.

The Chousai (title) heads the Ministry of Earth and serves as the "Chief Cabinet Secretary" of the Rikkan.

Lingchi (凌遅), often translated as "death by a thousand cuts," was a form of torture and execution used in China from roughly 900 AD until it was banned in 1905.

"Eikou knelt and bowed with his hands locked together in front of his chest." The word in Japanese is kyoushu (拱手). The Chinese reading of the word (gong shou) should be familiar to viewers of Chinese historical dramas.

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July 13, 2017

Sub vs. dub

Watching stars like Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise and Diane Lane on Asa-Ichi (NHK's morning show) plugging their latest movies, I'm impressed at what great interviewees they are--not only at ease going through a translator, but setting everybody else at ease too.

Charisma is a real thing. Of course, lots of practice doing lots of interviews helps too.

But it's also a reminder of how rarely American television viewers have to work through the intermediary of a translator. The Il Divo guys default to English on Asa-Ichi. It's easier than arranging for French, Spanish, and German translators everywhere they go.

2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato did his post-race interview in English. Though he's more the exception than the rule. Due to the feudalistic posting system, Japanese baseball players come to the American game midway through their careers, too late in life to bother getting fluent.

Come to think about it, sports is where you're most likely to listen to an interviewee through a translator. English is the world's lingua franca, if not as a first language then as the default second.

Which also means that American rarely have to read subtitles. Unless you are an anime fan, in which case it is a perennially lively topic of discussion. I can't ever remember seeing the subject discussed on a mainstream American chat show the way it is on mainstream Japanese chat shows.

In Silence, Martin Scorsese believably minimizes the use of subtitles. The Shogun miniseries eschews them altogether, depending on in-context translators and the occasional Orson Wells narration. And 47 Ronin has Japanese actors speaking dang good English throughout.

(47 Ronin is a movie with a plethora of problems, beginning with a script that was never going to appeal to American or Japanese audiences. But it does demolish the canard that Japanese actors can't speak English well enough for standard Hollywood productions.)

When subtitles do pop up in lower-brow fare like John Wick II, the director tries awfully hard to pretend the subtitles aren't really subtitles. They're misplaced opening credits! Read them! They might help!

As a general rule, I prefer subs to dubs. For languages other than English and Japanese, my fluency is zero. But when I watch Inspector Montalbano, for example, half the fun is listening to Luca Zingaretti speaking Italian.

I saw an interview with Zingaretti (his English is quite good) in which in said that he plays Montalbano a bit over the top, more "Italian" than the typical Italian. You would miss that in a dub, unless perhaps he dubbed himself. Or recruited Al Pacino or Nick Stellino for the part.

I don't totally discount the possibility of a good dub. Thanks to John Lasseter, Studio Ghibil films can attract top-tier talent. Most U.S. anime releases can't rely on Disney's cache or deep pockets. Though I always hope to be, and sometime am, pleasantly surprised.

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July 09, 2017

Prison of Dusk (3)

I've posted chapter 3 of "Prison of Dusk."

The cruelties of the legal system in the Kingdom of Hou are documented in A Thousand Leagues of Wind. The Imperial Hou was eventually toppled in a coup.

The growing problems with imperial governance in Ryuu are also discussed in "Kizan." Traveling undercover on a fact-finding mission, Shouryuu meets up with Rikou of Sou, who's there for the same reason.

By now, the Kingdom of Ryuu was renown as a kingdom of law and order. And yet it was hitting the skids. To Rikou, this was an entirely unexpected turn of events.

When he said as much, Fuukan [Shouryuu] tilted his head doubtfully. "Unlike you, I'm surprised the dynasty lasted this long. When Rohou acceded to the throne, he didn't strike anybody as regal material. He'd been a county supervisor and then a governor in the provinces. The locals thought well of him, but not so much that word of his accomplishments ever made it to the capital. Nothing much to set him apart from the next guy."

Fuukan knew Rohou's given name as well, evidence that he moved in the same circles as Rikou.

"Well, you'd expect a man from En to know about such things. You're next door neighbors, after all?"

"I guess so. I swung by shortly after the coronation. A middling choice, was my impression. Like a ship that looked nice sailing out of port but would sink during the first real gale."

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July 06, 2017

Peeks at a post-Ghibli world

With Hayao Miyazaki again coming out of retirement to direct his (absolutely positively) last film, Renato Rivera muses about the Studio Ghibli legacy. At this stage, Miyazaki is a one-man show, recruiting free-lancers to work under the Ghibli banner on one-off productions.

Directors like Mamoru Hosoda, Makoto Shinkai, and Hideaki Anno are readily mentioned as heir apparents, but Rivera points our attention to what lesser-known Studio Ghibli alumni have been up to.

Debuting this summer is Mary and the Witch's Flower, with ex-Ghibli staffer Hiromasa Yonebayashi at the helm (The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There).

At least based on the previews, what we have here is Kiki's Delivery Service meets Spirited Away (and perhaps Howl's Moving Castle), which certainly has me interested.

And for something completely different, an ad campaign from Francois, a Kyushu-based bakery chain. It's been going on now for ten years now. Edited together, the ads tell the ongoing story of Cassis and Arle.

The work of Ghibli veterans, it's Kiki's Delivery Service (Kiki lives above a bakery) meets Whisper of the Heart meets Only Yesterday

In these videos it's easy to spot almost identical scenes from original Ghibli productions. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I put it down to great artists stealing. Often from themselves.

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July 02, 2017

Prison of Dusk (2)

I've posted chapter 2 of "Prison of Dusk."

Japan has the death penalty and uses it, not often but consistently and with little fanfare or public controversy. Execution is always by hanging. Seika's arguments in this chapter are a good reflection of how the general public in Japan thinks about the subject (when they think about it at all).

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June 29, 2017

Feeling (too good) about ourselves

The junk science that became the self-esteem movement, by which a bit of common sense was turned into a politically-funded cult, is an old story with a few new cast members. Over half a century ago, Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir observed that scientists (and politicians) can trick themselves into

false results by a lack of understanding about what human beings can do to themselves in the way of being led astray by subjective effects, wishful thinking, or threshold interactions.

Recently in the Guardian, Will Storr took a closer look at California's [self-esteem] task force that spawned the whole crazy fad. He reports that the credibility of the of the nascent movement

turned largely on a single fact: that, in 1988, the esteemed professors of the University of California had analyzed the data and confirmed his hunch. The only problem was, they hadn't. When I tracked down one renegade task force member, he described what happened as "a lie."

The actual language used to describe the "lie" is considerably harsher. But it didn't matter. At the height of the self-esteem movement, the task force had "five publicists working full time" telling politicians (and Oprah) what they wanted to hear.

Tackling the subject in greater depth, Jesse Singal concludes in his recent New York magazine article,

Maybe the biggest problem here, whether one is discussing the waning self-esteem craze or the possibly burgeoning "grit" one, is the basic idea that some behavioral-science eureka moment will, on its own, do all or much of the work of solving big problems in education or the justice system or any other area rife with inequities.

As far as that goes, the self-esteem movement is one fad that never made it to Asia. As Lenora Chu points out,

"Self-esteem" doesn't exist in the Chinese lexicon, at least not in the way Americans use it. In China, a child's regard for herself is rarely as important as [are] stark evaluations of performance. Almost as if child-rearing were an Olympic sport, the Chinese rank children on everything from work ethic to Chinese character recognition and musical skill.

It's still common practice for Japanese high schools to rank students by test performance—and post the rankings in public. University entrance exam results are also posted in public, although using a numerical code known only to the student instead of a name.

In Japan, it all does come down to "grit," which has been at the core of Japanese education for a century. Known as gaman (noun, "patience, perseverance, self-denial") and ganbaru (verb, "to persist, to stand firm, to try one's best"), if you fail, it's because you didn't ganbaru enough.

As Singal notes, this sort of magical thinking can be just as problematic. But I think it is ultimately a lot more practical than the self-esteem approach. "Showing up (on time)" really is half the battle won.

Related posts

Dragon Zakura
Perseverance makes perfect

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June 25, 2017

Prison of Dusk (1)

I've posted chapter 1 of "Prison of Dusk."

"Riri" could be transliterated "Lily," except the first character in her name (李理) means "plum," so I don't think the English reading is intended.

The Five Punishments (五刑) defined the penalties meted out by the legal system of pre-modern dynastic China. In their earliest forms, they involved (but were not limited to) tattooing, amputation of the nose, amputation of one or both feet, castration, or death.

Japan's Currency Act of 1871 defined 100 sen (銭) as equal to one yen. The ryou (両) was made equal to one yen (円) and taken out of circulation. The yen was defined as 24.26 grams of silver. At the current trading price, around US $10-$15. By the end of the 19th century, the yen was pegged at US $.50, also in the US $10-$15 range when adjusted for inflation.

The yen steeply depreciated during and after WWII. The sen was taken out of circulation in 1953 and replaced by the yen. One yen currently has a value of around one U.S. cent.

The organization of farming hamlets is described in chapter 25 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind. A hamlet typically consists of eight families who farm the eight allotments and one common area. Hamlets are usually only occupied in the summer during the growing season.

Shundatsu's tattoo uses the following characters: Kin (均) Dai (大) Nichi (日) In (尹). Tattooing is one of the penalties spelled out in the Five Punishments.

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June 22, 2017

To Sensei with Love

As I discussed previously, how popular fiction genres overlap in their appeal from country to country can tell you a lot about cultural "universals."

Just as informative are those genres that do not find close analogues abroad, or inspire opposite reactions. For example, in the "conventional" romance genre, the relationship between a teacher and student. The Hollywood version is typically described with words like "forbidden."

Even if we're talking about legal adults, any given episode of Law & Order involving a professor and a college student is likely to end with a dead body.

There are, to be sure, plenty of legal, ethical, and moral reasons for discouraging such relationships. But as Kate argues,

The American attitude is bizarre. Not because teacher-student relationships are a good idea. But because the stigma rests on a proposition that is unsettling in the extreme: namely, that any teenager before the age of eighteen is the equivalent of a child.

And yet, in Japan, it's a go-to plot device, and not one expressly designed to raise eyebrows or breach taboos. Less a May-September romance than May-July, it typically involves a girl who is a high school student (and thus a minor) when we first meet her. Or far younger, as in The Tale of Genji.

But Genji is a gentlemen—well, one who has bed just about every aristocrat's wife or daughter in Kyoto—so he installs the ten-year-old Murasaki in his villa and waits for her to grow up. Which, back then, wasn't that much older.

A modern version of this story is Bunny Drop. Tellingly, the implied May-September romance the series open with ruffles fewer feathers than the one it ends with (the manga series, not the anime), despite the age difference in the latter being half that of the former.

And unlike Genji, Daikichi is the perfect single adopted dad. It's one of those endings that leaves me curious about what the unwritten sequel would be like. (Keep in mind that "Murasaki" in Genji is generally considered to be the author's autobiographical Mary Sue.)

Bunny Drop dares to keep the subject grounded in the real world. More typical of the genre is I Married a Pop Idol. The book blurb reads as follows: "A young businessman meets a woman and falls in love, leading them to marry. But the man's wife is actually an idol in high school!"

Even frumpy NHK has gotten into the act, with the clumsily titled Ms. Sauce's Love (literally translated), a weepy May-July romance between a college freshman (Yudai Chiba) and a thirty-something (Mimura). Chiba is actually 28 to Mimura's 33, though I'd swear he looks 14, if that.

The manga series R-18 combines the May-July romance with another strange (to American sensibilities) trope, according to which the virginal protagonist writes an explicit sex column under a nom de plume. This year's Eromanga Sensei again leveraged the popularity of that particular idea.

And let's not even get started on the whole sibling romance thing.

But back to teachers and students, a realistic portrayal can be found in Makoto Shinkai's Garden of Words, which has the teacher breaking off the relationship before it can move to the "next level." (And Shinkai's Takao looks and acts more mature than Chiba's Masanao.)

Dancing around the taboo are stories that concoct an excuse for the protagonists to get married, as in the aforementioned I Married a Pop Idol and the obnoxious Please Teacher series. Or the less obnoxious but pornier and occasionally funny My Wife is the Student Council President.

Back in the real world, there's French President Emmanuel Macron, whose wife is 25 years older than him. They met when he was in high school. Okay, reality can be stranger than fiction. How about "real" enough to make a live-action movie? Say, of Kazune Kawahara's bestselling Sensei! manga.

The story centers on second-year high school student Hibiki Shimada, who is in love with her teacher Kosaku Ito, a cold man who seems to hate girls, but is actually kind. The story begins when she accidentally puts a love letter entrusted to her by a friend in Kosaku's shoe locker.

Whatever would happen to high school romance in Japan without shoe lockers? But seriously, the sociology behind the widespread acceptability of this particular romance genre does deserve a closer look.

Japan's consent laws can be easily misconstrued. The applicable civil code is little different than in the U.S. Compulsory education in Japan ends after junior high. Few teenagers leave school at that point, but the legal possibility may help erode the magical 18-year-old boundary.

More importantly, most teens in Japan haven't contracted special snowflake syndrome. Japan is a country where elementary school students are expected to walk to school by themselves. Zounds!

Alas, actor Keisuke Koide recently learned how unforgiving real life can be. A drunken one-night stand with a 17-year-old girl resulted in NHK and NTV yanking shows he was in. Netflix, which cast him in an upcoming big-budget series, "is considering how to respond to the scandal."

(Which sounds to me like they'll let the commotion die down and proceed as planned, counting on there being "no such thing as bad publicity.")

You see, that's not fiction. In a society that can superficially appear devoid of moral limits (when making believe), social expectations ruthlessly enforce the lines that must not be crossed (in reality). Japan has the lowest teen fertility rate in the world and an abortion rate half that of the U.S.

Apparently Japanese teenagers know the difference.

Related posts

Cheese! (part 3)
Kicking down the door
The student-teacher romance in manga

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June 18, 2017

Prison of Dusk

Although best known for her Twelve Kingdoms novels, Fuyumi Ono also writes horror novels and manga, such as the Ghost Hunt series. She wrote Shiki as a homage to Stephen King's Salem's Lot. (The anime series can be streamed at Yahoo View.)

"Prison of Dusk" (Rakushou no Goku) begins with a justice in the Kingdom of Ryuu trying to discern the motives of a serial killer (so the first half of an episode of Criminal Minds). Except the man is in custody and there's no question of his guilt.

From there, the bulk of the story concerns the verdict in light of the weight of evidence (so the second half of a Law & Order episode). Justice Eikou and his magistrates must weigh public opinion against the emperor's own sentencing guidelines.

The problem is, the public wants the accused executed, and the faster the better. But the emperor has apparently taken capital punishment off the table.

From the start, the author dispenses with the typical red herrings and strawmen. The accused is definitely guilty, definitely remorseless, and understands the consequences of his actions. All that's left is the debate over capital punishment itself.

There's more dialectic here than story, and Fuyumi Ono pretty much leaves no rhetorical stone unturned.

And then toss in the twist that in the Twelve Kingdoms, bad things happening can literally mean that Heaven is casting a "no confidence" vote (it's the ultimate court of appeals). The result is a modern debate cast in medieval fantasy terms.

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June 15, 2017

Church of the extrovert

"Different" is not always "good." Too much "difference" in close proximity causes wars. Especially when it comes to theology, I don't see the point in "kicking against the pricks" if you can't align yourself theologically with a religion. Go find another cause or church.

(In other words, my "activism" ends exactly at the point I'd have to get out of my armchair to do anything about it.)

On the other hand, a religion that promotes itself as having a "catholic" outreach must realize that differences in human nature exist. Unfortunately, it's easier to pursue utopian universality by pretending that everybody is (or should be) a clone of whoever's in charge.

As a case in point, an article about psychological depression in the Winter 2017 BYU Magazine uses missionary service to illustrate several aspects of the problem and then completely misses the point. Because one size fits all.

Consider the sidebar featuring the anecdote in which Lindsay, "a self-described introvert," recounts that "It's really exhausting to me to be in a social environment all the time. Those things don't come naturally to me, and I had a lot of anxiety related to that."

The "advice" that follows never acknowledges that perhaps being "bold and assertive and confident" isn't for everybody and certainly not for every missionary. Instead, one is supposed to "increase resilience" and develop "coping skills." In other words, conform.

The coping strategies that worked for her--"spending time alone or reading a book"--are not allowed. Perversely enough, the only acceptable alternative this Hobson's choice offered her was to be labeled mentally ill.

To be sure, people have all kinds of issues, and being "with a companion 24/7 that [you] didn't choose, learning a foreign language, and adapting to a different culture" are some of the demanding pressures that inevitably come with being a Mormon missionary.

But, frankly, those pressures--which are finite in duration and not that much more demanding than the rest of post-mission real life--are peanuts compared to the expectations of unavoidable social engagement. And yet these expectations are simply never questioned.

Buddhism and Catholicism long ago figured out that there are convert-the-world types and there are vow-of-silence types. If you're one of the latter and find yourself in a church that's pedal-to-the-metal on the former, you're going to have problems, period.

The church of the extrovert is fine for those who are extroverts, want to become extroverts, or are willing to put up with being around extroverts. It's a Darwinistic gauntlet that systematically filters out the "unfit" personality types. That's fine too. It's a free world.

But if being the life of the party is the necessary condition the viability of the organization depends on, a church that prioritizes sociability and good PR may not be long for this earth. As Rod Dreher argues in The Benedict Option,

If believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally, their faith will not survive for another generation or two in this culture of death.

In his conversation with Albert Mohler about the book, he further explains:

My life is shaped around the chanting of Psalms and on all kinds of sensual ways that embody the faith. Of course you can have smells and bells and go straight to hell; that doesn't change you and lead to greater conversion. But for me as an Orthodox Christian and me as a Catholic, the faith had more traction and it drew me in closer and closer. I don't know if evangelicals can do that, because as I look at evangelicalism I see people who are zealous for the Lord, no doubt about it, but also susceptible to every trend that comes along.

(The "Benedict" Dreher refers to is not Pope Benedict XVI but the sixth century Benedict of Nursia. He founded the Order of Saint Benedict that defined the structure and objectives of monastic life and helped preserve Western Civilization through the Dark Ages.)

On the other hand, the Mormon church recently began dismantling its tight relationship with the BSA organization, and has hinted that it may divorce it entirely. So rejecting the popular secular option is always a possibility (though it remains increasingly unlikely).

Related posts

Up with introverts
The weirdest two years
Understanding Japanese women (and introverts)

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June 11, 2017

Hisho's Birds (4)

I've posted chapter 4 of "Hisho's Birds."

Early in the 20th century, the Japanese emperor still conferred with lower-ranked officials from behind a bamboo or rattan blind called a misu (御簾). With the primary light source outside the screen, it essentially functioned as a one-way mirror.

It was General MacArthur and SCAP that turned Emperor Hirohito into a public figure, after which the emperor's handlers proved themselves masters of public relations.

The modern Imperial Household Agency prefers bulletproof glass to bamboo blinds. This year, the annual New Year Greeting (which lasts about a minute) attracted almost 100,000 visitors to the Imperial Palace (not all at once but in five appearances).

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