September 29, 2014

Hanako and Anne


Yuriko Yoshitaka (featured in the second season of Galileo) just finished playing Anne of Green Gables translator Hanako Muraoka in NHK's Asadora morning melodrama, Hanako and Anne.


The series is based on a biographical novel written by her granddaughter, Eri Muraoka. The fictional version streamlines and simplifies her childhood, and goes out of its way to draw parallels between Hanako's life and Anne's story.

Hanako had seven siblings in real life, three in the series. As in Anne of Green Gables, the farming out of "excess" children to relatives was common practice. Hanako's daughter was actually her sister's child. Her own son died at the age of five.

This adoption (once quite common in Japan and still done today) is depicted in the series.

A Christian, Hanako's father had his daughter baptized into the Methodist Church (that part left out). From the age of ten, Hanako boarded at a missionary school for girls in Tokyo. The school, Toyo Eiwa Junior High and High School, still exists.

Like Anne, after graduating (with the equivalent of an associate's degree), she taught school before marrying and becoming a full-time writer. In the 1930s, she hosted a weekly children's program on NHK radio.

Hanako translated just about every popular work of young adult English literature published in the 19th and early 20th centuries, starting with The Prince and the Pauper and including Polyanna, The Secret Garden, and Anne of Green Gables.

Between 1927 and 1968, she translated two books a year on average (about one book a year before the war and three books a year after). Published in 1952, her abridged version of Anne of Green Gables (completed during the war) became a bestseller.

Over a dozen new translations and annotated editions of "Red-Haired Anne" (as it's titled in Japan) have been published since. The book appeared at exactly the right time in 1952 to leave a lasting imprint on the culture.

Hanako's life and career are also a good example of necessary and sufficient conditions coming together. Hanako was born with all the right tweaks in her Broca's area to make the most of a unique opportunity, and coupled that with tons of drive.

The television series depicts her as fanatical about learning English, far more than her classmates, which I think is exactly right. Nobody devotes that fabled "10,000 hours" to mastering a skill if they don't like it and don't consistently improve at it.

The series ends with the publication of Anne of Green Gables. Hanako traveled to North America for the first time in 1967. She died the next year at the age of 75.

The life of a translator is not all that interesting, so the series devotes a considerable amount of screen time to the real-life soap opera of Hanako's classmate and friend, Byakuren Yanagihara ("Renko" in the series), a cousin of the Taisho Emperor.

Their friendship reveals the sociolinguistic conventions of the time: Hanako always refers to Renko using the honorific "-sama" while Renko addresses Hanako using the diminutive "-chan."

Byakuren married three times. The first two were blatant exchanges of titles for money, her brother having screwed up the family finances. She ended the second marriage (to a coal magnate thirty years her senior) with a scandalous affair and very public divorce.

Along the way she published several collections of tanka poetry and became a vocal advocate for women's rights.

Stripped of her title, she lived a much happier life as a commoner (though was devastated by the war-time death of her son in 1945). She and her third husband were married for 46 years, until her death in 1967.

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September 25, 2014

Poseidon of the East (38)



"I'm a greedy man, I guess. Give me a choice between a million or a million and one, and I'll always choose the latter."

Here Shouryuu is expressing a sentiment similar to that in the "Parable of the Lost Sheep," found in the Gospels of Matthew (18:12–14) and Luke (15:3–7). In the parable, a shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep in order to find the one who is lost.

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September 22, 2014

"Galileo" (streaming)


The first season of Galileo is now streaming on Crunchyroll (watch the first episode here). It's a police procedural similar to Numbers or Bones, with a physicist (Masaharu Fukuyama) in the Sherlock Holmes role. I also greatly appreciate that it's an episodic series, with one complete mystery per show.


In the second season, Yuriko Yoshitaka (seated above) replaced Kou Shibasaki as the stymied cop who seeks out the professor's advice.

More videos

No Dropping Out (reviewed here)
I'm Mita, Your Housekeeper (reviewed here)

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September 18, 2014

Poseidon of the East (37)


Aside from using kanji in their writing systems, Chinese and Japanese are grammatically and phonologically unrelated, with Japanese classified in the oddball Altaic language group that includes Korean, Mongolian, Turkish, and sometimes Finnish.

"Shouryuu" is the Japanese approximation (or on'yomi) of "Shanglong," which is how his name would be pronounced in Chinese. "Naotaka"  (尚隆) is how it's pronounced in native Japanese (or kun'yomi), and would be entirely unfamiliar to his listeners.

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September 15, 2014

A scooter in every garage


If you thought the bungled healthcare.gov roll-out was an exception to the rule, consider Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold's investigation of Medicare fraud involving power wheelchairs, specifically of the electric scooter variety, detailed in this C-SPAN interview.
Nope, no exception. Business as usual.

Scooter scammers recruited doctors to write "scooter prescriptions" for "patients." Medicare paid the bill for heavily marked-up scooters, no questions asked. They only started asking questions when the crooks got so freaking greedy it was impossible to ignore.

Nor was this the work of criminal masterminds. An analyst cited in one of Fahrenthold's Washington Post articles:

We're mostly getting people who didn't finish high school, who've stolen more than $10 million in three months. Those are the ones we get. And you know the clever people are just invisible.

If that isn't bad enough, do you know how the federal government processes pension applications for retiring federal workers? Dave Barry and P.J. O'Rourke couldn't concoct something this crazy on purpose. As pure fiction, it'd be too unbelievable to suspend disbelief.

Fahrenthold reveals the process in the second half of the interview, which ends up sounding like a really boring post-apocalyptic flick written by a really bored accountant (who's spent his entire career processing pension applications for federal retirees).

Frankly, Obama should have gone for the whole single-payer nine yards from the start, just so we could get that hypothetical out of the way once and for all. Except the processing of pension benefits has been stuck in the 1970s since the 1970s and shows no signs of changing.

So don't count on any of this getting better anytime soon. Keep in mind that the federal government has no reliable way of telling whether you're alive or dead either. (The Japanese government has the same problem.)

James Madison was rightly obsessed with the need for government to be ruled by rigorous checks and balances. The law alone is not enough. China and North Korea are living proof that not even an all-powerful police force can otherwise stem the tide of corruption.

And make sure your rabbit is licensed!

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September 11, 2014

Poseidon of the East (36)


A kitsuryou (吉量) is a pegasus with a red mane, white stripes, and golden eyes. Youko rides one into battle in chapter 65 of Shadow of the Moon.

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September 08, 2014

Iwago's Cats


As a tribute to my sister's cat Aurora, who departed for kitty heaven last week at the ripe old age of 19½ (that's 95 in human years), here's a wonderful show about cats.

Though I'm not a pet person, cats project a "leave-me-alone" aura I respect. A neighborhood cat likes to nap on my back porch. Now and then another cat shows up (I don't understand the appeal of my back porch) and they get one of those "When are you going to leave?" vs. "No, you first" standoffs.

Sometimes, company is neither desired nor appreciated. Hottoite (ほっといて): "Leave me alone and mind your own business." The term is discussed in the first video at 6:30 as a particular feline characteristic. "Unfortunately," Iwago observes, "cats aren't necessarily happy to be photographed."

I totally get it.


Dogs evolved to be attentive and empathic human companions, but the whole "give me attention" business gets wearying (that and treating the entire outdoors as a toilet). The neighbor's dog obsessively announces every change in the status quo, including things it's seen several hundred times already.

Meaning everybody and everything it doesn't actually live with. Clouds. Its own shadow. The wind. Passing neutrinos. Bark bark bark bark bark bark. Take a breath. Bark bark bark bark bark bark. And so on and so forth. Cats are infinitely more tolerable mammals to share your immediate environment with.

Which perhaps explains why Iwago's Cats (「岩合光昭の世界ネコ歩き」) is one of my favorite programs on NHK. It's produced by the same team that does Somewhere Street, NHK's equally understated travel show.


As the title suggests, wildlife videographer Mitsuaki Iwago travels around the world capturing the life of cats in various urban and semi-rural environments. One difference with Somewhere Street is that the visual narrative will break the fourth wall and show Iwago talking about and interacting with the cats.

Like Somewhere Street, it's a serene and laid-back travel show that's more about the people than the places. Iwago treats the cats as the people and shows us the world through their eyes and activities. The cats really do start to take on the attributes of fully sentient beings.

Iwago's Cats is one of those NHK shows that makes wonder why nobody's licensed it. The cultural references are all local. The narration is mostly off-screen and (sounds) improvised, so could be easily dubbed (by a cat-loving actor with a mellifluous accent.) But many episodes can be found on YouTube.

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September 04, 2014

Poseidon of the East (35)


An emperor commanding his kirin to kill someone is not without precedent. In chapter 32 of Shadow of the Moon, the Emperor of Kou orders his kirin to kill Youko. She instead stabs Youko through the hand.

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September 01, 2014

How to sell a pilgrimage


Every spring, states in the U.S. engage in competitive advertising campaigns to lure tourists to their respective locales. Here in Utah, Wyoming (right next door) probably makes the biggest push. You'll see pitches as well from Texas and California.

Prefectures in Japan are motivated no less, especially those in the hinterlands experiencing profound population declines.

A TV program with a local setting can do wonders for the featured locale. The docudrama Ryomaden was a boon to Kochi, Sakamoto Ryoma's home town. The Tohoku region in Northern Japan is still cashing in on the popularity of the 2013 Amachan series.

As far as that goes, Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku deserves a medal for merchandizing genius. They're already an established attraction as home to eight of the 88 temples in the Shikoku Pilgrimage (the O-Henro).

But there's no resting on one's municipal laurels with a young demographic out there willing to spend, spend, spend on the (digital) comforts of life. So Matsuyama set out to build a pop-culture media empire based the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

It's called "Oh! My Ring" (there's an English version too), obviously playing off another popular goddess manga and anime series, Oh My Goddess. They'd like to virtually escort you on "An adorable journey around Shikoku's 88-temple pilgrimage."

That will hopefully encourage you to spend your next vacation in Shikoku and experience the real thing.

Each of the 88 temples gets its own cute goddess. Collect them all!

The "ring" refers literally to the loop of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, though it also hints at the Ring horror series, which it turn brings to mind authors like Masako Bando, who made Shikoku the equivalent of Steven King's Maine with books like Inugami.

(Which has much more of a Shinto vibe, but business is business; let's not get all sectarian about the religious affiliations of the various tourist traps.)

The "Oh! My Ring" website is already peddling smartphone apps, online manga, cosplay characters, and badges, T-shirts, posters, and a cafe. Plus actual information about the actual temples. I'm sure the kitchen sink isn't anywhere close to being full.

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