Yesterday I went to Tokyo on business, just a 45-minute Shinkansen ride away. Whenever I visit Japan's capital I experience a brief period of localized culture shock as I adjust to having that much concrete and steel around me, and having my own personal space cut down to a fraction of what it is in our home prefecture of Gunma. My eyes always go a little wide when I see the, er, extremely beautiful and fashionable women riding trains or crossing the famous "scramble intersection" in Shibuya, so different from the more down-to-earth females back home that it seems to my eyes like the difference between regular television and HD-TV. Even the men are image-conscious in Tokyo, reading magazines like Smart or Myojo and no doubt being subtly influenced by the endless stream of boytoy "talents" from Johnny's Entertainment, Japan's most successful talent management company. Passing through Shinjuku, I spied one extremely fashionable youth who was busy playing with a pink Nintendo DS, and it occurred to me that in Japan today men and women are in open competition to see which set can be more fashionable and stylish -- an odd phenomenon that probably wouldn't happen in the U.S., unless I've really been away too long.
In a very real sense, the culture of Japan flows from China, just as everything in the West from laws and courts to roads originally came from ancient Rome and Greece. China is so much a part of Japan's history that you couldn't express ideas without thinking in kanji, the pictographs that Japan imported along with Buddhism in the 6th century A.D. (this is in contrast to the two Koreas, who have largely decoupled their language from kanji in favor of the "purity" of the home-grown hangul writing system). Just as elements of classical languages survive in our speech ad infinitum, the Chinese language pops up in Japanese from time to time, for example in the poetic phrase shimen-soka (she-men-SOH-kah), which means "being surrounded by enemies on all sides and totally betrayed." The wisdom of China also survives in the form of proverbs that the Japanese have imported, such as the old standby ningen banji saiou-ga-uma, which means "All human affairs are like Saiou's horse." This refers to an old Chinese story about a man named Saiou whose horse ran away, making everyone say how unfortunate he was. "How do you know this is a bad thing?" he asked. His horse came back, bringing another horse this time, and when people congratulated him on his good luck, he asked, "How do you know this is a good thing?" He then or bad happens, no one can say for sure if it is truly a good or bad thing in the end. It's kind of like marrying an 80-year-old billionaire -- in the end, who can say if it will be a good thing or not?
Today is February 9th, which according to the usually-incomprehensible- to-gaijin Japanese numbering system is "Meat Day" (Niku no Hi, 肉の日), since 2/9 can be read ni ku meaning meat in Japanese (refer to Yakuza, above). Today is also my wife's birthday, so we're off to enjoy Korean Barbecue, a popular delicacy in Japan. Have a nice weekend!
Some random images. I have in my home a brand new Magic Window from 1973, which set me back a bit on eBay. Just thought I'd show it to you.
Made and printed in the U.S.A. Pretty spiffy.
Not a great picture of my setup at home (which will be upgraded to a Mac Pro if Apple would *deign* to get a new machine out for us). I've never seen these Japanese notebook computer racks that hold your laptop upright for cooling purposes. They're quite nice to use.
Kicking back at the family restaurant we go to a lot for lunch, called Joyful, a name which somehow makes me happy. This is the steak part of the menu.
Of course, at a cheap place like this a "steak" is always a "hamburg steak."
Of course, the highlight of the manu is, Yuko Ogura appearing in it. Don't ask me, I don't know what she has to do with Hamburg Steak.