Thursday, 26 March 2015

Kita Ikki [北 一輝] and the Origins of Democracy in Japan.

The 1936 uprising in historical photographs.
The 1936 uprising in cinema: 1962's 二・二六事件 脱出 & 1989's 226.
At a time when Article 9 of the Japanese constitution is being re-examined, Kita Ikki ( 一輝) provides a political philosophy of military domination that is as blunt and direct as Thomas Hobbes or Machiavelli --and yet (unlike Hobbes or Machiavelli) his objectives were to create and maintain a "citizen state" of "social democracy". (Wilson, 1966, p. 91)  Kita's combination of militarism, socialism, and democracy (with an expansive view of Japan's leadership for the rest of Asia) is, perhaps, more salient to 21st century Japanese politics than anyone would like to admit.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

協, Kanji of the Week

If you're interested in politics, you see the symbol 協 quite a lot, in both Japanese and Chinese.

In Japanese, 協 is a rare example of a character in common use that has just one sound (consistently): kyō (きょう).

Vegan Politics (Real Talk)

The unadorned monologue, Youtube in its purest form:

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Last of the White Elephants

Photo by Brent Lewin (

In Laos and Northern Thailand, women used to say something to me that I could, at first, only interpret as, "Hey, come with me and drink beer through a straw."  The wording wasn't always exactly the same, nor were the circumstances they'd say it in, but that word for drinking straw always seemed to be in there somewhere.

The reply I'd give to deter them was, most often, "No, I've had enough already", usually resulting in laughter.  They knew it wasn't beer that I was saying I'd had enough of, but, just as in western culture, there's something slightly strange about the concept of enough sex, especially for the male of the species, expected to pretend this is something he'll never have enough of.

Eventually, I figured out that they were using a slang term that couldn't be found in the dictionary: it just meant "handsome man", not drinking straw.  The rest of the sentence suddenly fit together a bit more clearly, and the possibility that there was anything subtle about the propositions I had been turning down disappeared.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Lil B, Not Yet Vegan

In a career pinioned (verb) by the audience's apprehension that anything (and everything) the artist says is likely to be an act of self-parody, Lil B's support for veganism is a grey area within a grey area.  When he says he's gay, you know he's not really gay --and, let's not forget, CNN covered this as news.  When he finally comes out and says he's vegan, presumably he'll find some way to switch it up and score a newspaper headline.  Hey, even if he never follows through with it, Lil B > Nelly's vegan credentials.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Japanese Red Army (日本赤軍), Wakamatsu Kōji (若松孝二) & Adachi Masao (足立正生)

Shigenobu Fusako in the 1971 film and (in handcuffs) in 2000.
The decade of the 1970s began with an airplane hijacking (called the Yodogo incident) that elevated the Japanese Red Army from obscurity into front-page headlines; the film-makers Wakamatsu Kōji (若松孝二) and Adachi Masao (足立正生) attached an artistically-respectable "call to arms" to the movement's name soon thereafter.  The hijacking itself linked the Japanese Red Army to North Korea and Cuba, while the 1971 film by Wakamatsu and Adachi linked the radicals to Palestine (explaining, at length, how the Proletarian struggle and the Palestinian struggle were supposedly one and the same).  Thus, a radical dissident group that never led more than a few dozen followers at a time created the illusion that the future of Japan would be contested by an international network of professional revolutionaries.  The illusion didn't last long, and the Japanese revolutionary clique disintegrated due to the same type of infighting (self-criticism and purges) familiar from the history of China --although on a miniature scale.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

露, Kanji of the Week

When typing in pictographs (in languages like Japanese and Chinese) I sometimes put the character into Google image-search to confirm that I've got the right one (i.e., that I haven't ended up with a similar-looking glyph that's slightly wrong).

With characters like 露, the results can be surprising.

The primary meaning of 露 in both Chinese and Japanese is "dew" (つゆ), but in Chinese it somehow ended up with a sense of revealing something that should not be revealed (my dictionary provides the unusually comical example of, 你褲子破的都露屁股了).  In Japanese, this has become yet another word for "nude" with the phonetically-unrelated あらわ as its Kun-Yomi (cf. the Japanese use of 露骨, ろこつ, "blatant/blunt", but sometimes meaning "lewd").

So, if you're expecting images of dew (つゆ) you'll be strangely disappointed in putting 露 into Google.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Buddhist Influence on Wu-Tang in 30 Seconds

It only takes a few seconds for this to degenerate into an incoherent rant about Earth Day, but during a solid minute of clarity (from 0:30 to 1:27 on the tape) we get a coherent synopsis of how Buddhism (via the Kung-Fu movies of Gordon Liu) became hybridized with the Harlem Five Percent movement in the minds of some young men who went on to become the Wu-Tang Clan.

I note that he chooses to pronounce Buddhism as Buddh-ee-ism.  Nice touch.