Monday, February 27, 2006
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Short trips like this have become part of our life here as opposed to longer cross country vacations that we would sometimes take in the US. We have several short excursions like this every year.
What is exciting about this trip, other than a chance to breathe fresh, clean air and see a few trees and hills that aren't surrounded by (or covered in) concrete, is the fact that we will be staying in a ryokan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. But the best part is that we will be having in-room meal service. Usually, in fact always in my experience, the food is absolutely delicious. Most people who have never eaten much Japanese food think of rice and sushi or some strange unusual food. You do get unusual food as compared to most Tokyo restaurants (of which many serve western-style food), but the food often includes regional specialties. In Nikko, it was yuba, which is made form tofu and has numerous forms. My wife didn't care for it, but I loved it. I am not sure if there is any specialty in the Hakone area---the last time we went there, we ate French food at Fujiya Hotel. Fujiya is where John Lennon and Yoko Onno lived for a while in the 70s. It is a beautiful hotel, and one I would recommend if you want a western-style room in a hotel that looks stereotypically Japanese from the outside.
I should have pics from the area sometime in the middle of next week.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
But Japan is really not that bad. For most, especially those of European (Caucasian) background, it is for the most part subtle and benevolent. There are other countries in which it is much worse. In a lot of Asia apparently, it is just fine to advocate the idea of a "pure race" or "pure blood." This idea has significance in Japan, but it is not something that hits one in the face here.
I remember when I was in the Air Force years ago and spent 2 years in South Korea. I loved Korea and the Koreans, but it nobody ever assumed that the Korean did not practice open discrimination. For some reason, nobody complained much, like we tend to do about Japan. I wonder why this is? Lower expectations for the Koreans? Fewer foreigners living there?
Anyway, the Koreans, unlike the Japanese, have no qualms about getting in your face about something. If they don't like you, you'll probably be more likely to know it.
Here is an interesting article about discrimination against Koreans born of Korean mothers and American fathers and the "pure blood" idea pushed in the education system there.
The article is at http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/22/news/mixed.php
If that link vanishes, see it at: http://archive.wn.com/2006/02/23/1400/seouldaily/ From an ostracized class, a hero for Koreans
Should both disappear go to: http://archive.wn.com/2006/02/23/1400/p/fe/5220bccd58e2f0.html
Should all those links be missing for this post, searh the internet for an article titled, From an ostracized class, a hero for Koreans from the International Herald Tribune, originally published on 22 February 2006.
The more I read about kyudo, mostly books written by the zen-seeking, mystery-of-the-Orient believing, unique Japanese spirit loonybird crowd, mostly from Europe, Australia, and the U.S., the more I am turned off by it. As I wrote about below, that connection---especially with zen---seems to be a recent arrival, not an original Japanese idea. A supposed "bible" of kyudo for the mystery-of-the-Orient, unique Japanese spirit crowd is Kyudo: The essence and practice of Japanese Archery http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/4770017340/sr=8-1/qid=1140672744/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-8488976-0271210?%5Fencoding=UTF8 I am reading this book now, but it has started out with the mystical heeby-jeeby that I cannot tolerate. So if this is how kyudo is practiced, I want nothing to do with it.
However, of the Japanese whom I have spoken with about kyudo, none seem to take the heeby-jeeby seriously. At least not in the quasi-religious way that non-Japanese seem to. So how much it really infiuences the actual practice of Japanese archery, remains to be seen---for me. (When I mentioned that accurately hitting the target was less important that all rituals one must do before and during shooting, I was almost scoffed at. Admittedly, the folks I spoke with are not currently in kyudo. Some were in clubs in university, a few never actually participated, so my sources are not the most knowledgeable.)
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I find myself making the same (supposed) mistakes many students do when learning English. (Focusing too much on form/grammar etc.) when speaking---in class anyway. It is nice to tell someone not to do this, but damned hard advice to follow. It is hard to define what "too much" is. Of course, one has to be somewhat cautious about being too dogmatic with these theories. They are mostly just the best evidence, not a universal truth.
I have found that reading a lot---in addition to listening practice---has helped my listening comprehension considerably. I can't say it is definitely because of the increased focus on reading, but my listening ability has improved at a faster pace since I started it. It hasn't helped my speaking as much, but speaking improvement usually follows listening improvement. They are rarely concurrent, and speaking improvement rarely precedes listening improvement.
I just passed the nationwide Japanese test, but have a ways to go to pass the next and probably the most challenging level. I studied Japanese in college via grammar-translation which does little to help one communicate. I studied at Nichibeigakuin in Tokyo for 3 months in 2000, but quit mainly because of too many people in one class (13) and the huge amount of homework given daily. (4 hours minimum. Too much for someone working full time. It was more than 4 hours if one had any problems.) I only got back into serious study just over a year ago.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
One big contrast of Japan vs. the US is that Japan is usually much quieter. Even in the middle of a huge city. Even in an apartment. Was a very quiet and enjoyable walk tonight. There are some very beautiful---and absurdly expensive---houses around too. And, of course, a lot of small "farms." The farms are run mainly for the tax breaks. We'd call them gardens in the US.
Friday, February 17, 2006
It had been pulled years ago because of foreign protests about its racist connotations--especially "Sambo" which is a racist epithet for black people. The Japanese, who are said to have no racist feelings towards anyone, were truly shocked to hear that the book was considered racist.
Here is an interesting post with more details and analysis: http://www.pliink.com/mt/marxy/archives/000579.html
One thing that worries me in addition to the tendency to waste time on the irrelevant (in my mind) is the heeby-jeeby stuff about Zen. Most Japanese know nothing about Zen and pay no attention to it. I took a Japanese Buddhism course in college* and have forgotten most of it, but still know more than 99% of the Japanese who I have spoken too. However, kyudo seems to have been converted by some into a semi-religious Zen experience. Just exactly what I have zero, none, zilch interest in. Hopefully, I will be able to find a club where I don't have to worry about this. If not, I will just start back into regular archery with some disappointment.
Kyudo was not so strongly associated with religion or zen until Eugene Harrigel published Zen in the Art of Archery in 1948 (originally in German as Zen in der kunst des Bogenshiessens in 1948). Before then, the Japanese never thought of a mystical Zen-connection with shooting a bow. Now nearly everything one reads or hears about it, from Japanese and especially from non-Japanese, claims that it is spiritual training more than it is archery. See this paper: The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery by Shoji Yamada from the Journal of Japanese Religious Studies: http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/pdf/586.pdf
This is the type of nonsense that drives one nuts. Everything about Japan in the eyes of westerners has something to do with zen. Japanese individuals are often referred to as having some "zen-like" characteristic. Japanese movies are all related to zen. Director/actor/comedian Beat Takeshi has said he often tells foreign interviewers that his film ideas are somehow zen connected even though it is not true. He has been asked about it so many times, he will just agree and say, "Yea, it's zen."
The Japanese don't sit around trying to solve koan. They spend little time in a temple being hit with a stick by a rich monk for losing concentration during meditation. Few seem to have much interest in eliminating desire. Few have any interest in any religion, except for the fundamentalist Japanese religion of the uniqueness of the Japanese. That is the true religion of Japan. Zen is for naive foreigners seeking the mysteries of the orient.
*One of my professors (Japanese politics) who was Japanese said that Buddhism was never something practiced or believed in by the average Japanese---only the elites practiced it as a religion in the past. This would truly disappoint many of the mysterious Orient, zen nuts.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
A student of mine was telling me about a book written by a Japanese math "scholar" in which claim was made that westerners cannot truly understand haiku. You see, we can't picture the image represented by the poems.
For example, Basho's famous poem of the frog goes something like:
An old pond.
A frog jumps in.
Westerners cannot get this. We cannot discriminate between one frog and a number of frogs:
An old pond.
Frogs jump in,
This fool posing as a scholar (note: I later learned that this was Fujiwara Masahiko) is a perfect example of the those who come up with this ninhonjinron (theory of the Japanese) garbage. And most is as idiotic as the above.
This kind of thing is wide-spread in Japan. You always hear the Japanese talking of "we Japanese" much more than one hears other nationalities talking about their own specialness, uniqueness, and implied superiority.
Usually the thinking behind it is as shallow as the ignorance of others required for someone to believe it is. Let's see, most places have ponds, most have frogs, probably most people have seen and heard a single frog jump into the pond, or could imagine it, so why couldn't foreigners understand this haiku? The real question is, what kind of mind could come up with this ? A scholar????? A borderline r--c-st?
It is something you must get used to in Japan. You generally have to ignore it because you aren't going to change many opinions. The fact that you as a foreigner don't accept or believe it, or that you can refute it, seems to reinforce the belief that the Japanese are uniquely unique among many Japanese.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Were one in the US and such a thing happened ( which seems entirely possible nowadays), you could expect a lot of outrage and moral as well as legal support. Haven't seen any of that in Japan...
Sunday, February 12, 2006
I have also become very curious about kyudo, traditional Japanese archery. Japanese long bows are used, and it appears to be more about form than anything else---very Japanese. There seems to be a lot more sitting and waiting, and concentration on basically---to me---unrelated trivial details. One may wait several hours to shoot a couple of arrows during a match, and (I have read) that you can hit the target correctly and still lose because you did not follow the correct procedure. And I am not talking about safety violations either.
In a way, this seems as if it would irritate me to no end. However, it is a different view of archery involving a much different point of view than I have used in the past in the sport. So it seems that it would combine my own interest in archery with a more traditional Japanese philosophy. Plus, I would not be there only as a foreigner to semi-tolerate and entertain. At least I wouldn't after the novelty wore off. I would also be able to improve my Japanese a lot easier by not being expected to speak English. Ideally, I would have to use Japanese 100% of the time.
If I join a group in downtown Tokyo, I will probably be with other non-Japanese which would even further reduce any special treatment for me, though I would not be using only Japanese.
Hopefully, I will have the time and money to get involved with both, as well as stay deeply connected to cycling, and get back into photography in a serious way.
Who knows, in a few years in the future, perhaps I can even get back into hunting. (Yes, one can own a rifle or shotgun outside of Tokyo.)
Saturday, February 11, 2006
As I remember, it is basically a children's holiday, where they throw beans at devils. I forget the details, because it is a holiday that I have never been really involved in. I don't see any children throwing beans at devils either, except on TV.
It is a beautiful, warm (15 centigrade) day here. It feels nice because it has been unusually cold in Tokyo this year. I was so cold during my bike ride yesterday, I cut it 18 miles short of my original plan of 50 miles. (It only made it up to 8 degrees yesterday).
I still cannot believe how much more I enjoy life after leaving Berlitz. That still qualifies as the worst place that I have ever worked, both from an employee point of view and the moral and ethical point of view of a teacher (well, as much as I can be here). I still get nauseated when I think of the way that some of the directors and ISs will cheat their employees out of money---basically steal from them---and the way that Berlitz takes a more or less hands off approach to dealing with that if one complains to them. (Berlitz HQ visits this blog occasionally too. Bet they take no action, but blame it all on a "disgruntled employee.") That is not even mentioning the poor quality of their classes and materials by professional standards. But, then again, there is no point of classes and materials up to professional standards in Japan. Most students don't really care about that. Certainly, the idea that they are responsible for making an effort and most responsible for their success or failure is something they don't want to hear.
Anyway, it is a beautiful day, and it makes me more determined to become more involved in hobbies I enjoyed in the States. This will be a challenge, because except for cycling and photography, it will require me spending a lot of time in remote areas in the woods and mountains. I'll have to hook up with locals----not an easy thing in a closed society where I will be viewed as a novelty by most. No problem, because I probably will be. It will also require continued improvement in my Japanese ability. Right no I am working on reading as well as the other 3 skills. This ain't easy with all the Kanji. Over 2000 are used, and different combinations have different meanings. The good thing is, that if you recognize the kanji, you can know or guess at the meaning without really knowing the word (or sound) it represents in Japanese.
Anyway, it is a beautiful day in my second favorite big city in the world. (New York City is my favorite, but probably because I spent only 3 1/2 months there. Had I spent more time, perhaps I would have liked it less. Or, perhaps more.)
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
I have taken the last few months easy---just under 300 miles per month and most rides have been at a somewhat leisurely pace averaging less than 17 mph for a 17-34 mile ride. This month I have started to step up into more serious training and am beginning the "base building" period in which a solid foundation of miles are laid at moderate (or less) intensity to build endurance for the more severe training ahead. My first race will hopefully be the Mt. Fuji Hill Climb in June. I couldn't go last year due to having to work that the Sunday after the race which would have made going there and returning a logistical nightmare.
I have only had 5 rides in Feb, one of 16 miles, 5 of 50, one of 34, and today's 38 mile ride. One of the tough things in the base period is to keep my intensity down. My heart rate should ideally stay under 157 bpm. Lower than that is better.
Unfortunately, I keep racing others when there is absolutely no need or benefit for it. Today, I was doing a rather relaxed ride, when I noticed some guy coming up behind me gradually. I accelerated just a bit and he dropped back. Over the next several miles, I would slow back down, and soon he would be there again.
I decided to drop him so accelerated the pace to 23-25 mph, and he disappeared again. However, if I slowed, he'd be back. When I dropped the speed way down to go through a crowded area, he was on my wheel. He couldn't hold it well, but would accelerate enough to hang right on me for the next 3-4 miles. If I sped up, so did he. If I slowed, he would catch up and then he would slow. He would not pass and pull a little.
So finally, I slowed to about 10 miles and hour. He got on my wheel (to draft?), but it took a while for him to decide to pass. I thought I might have to stop. After he passed, I got on his wheel to let him take the lead for a while. Time for him to do a little work and not just sit back and enjoy the benefits of me pulling him half the time.
Well, once in front, he started going at about 15 mph. After 200 yards, this pace was apparently too much and he signaled and pulled off and went back the other way! I wasn't pissed, merely disgusted again. This always happens here.
I went another 4 miles or so and turned around. About 30 minutes and 9-10 miles later, I saw him again. I decided to take revenge so I caught him to ride his ass for a while. He was going at about 16-17 mph. When he noticed me behind him, he slowed to about 15 and drifted to the side of the road.
I passed, and as soon as I did, I watched him start to try to catch me again. To hell with that, I sat up and stopped pedaling. First, he got right on my wheel when I was sitting up and not pedalling at about 7-8 mph! I kept the same pace, even took a hand off the bars and put it on my hip to hint to him that I was finished playing the sucker.
He slowly passed, muttered "sumimasen" or something and put on his glasses to roll. Roll he did. At about 20 mph. For about 3 miles. I was on his wheel relaxing and enjoying the ride in his draft. How nice to let another set the pace, especially when I can enjoy the benefits of him blocking the wind.
I watched as his pedal stroke began to deteriorate. It sort of became a side to side wobble. I remained behind. By 3.5 miles, he was about done for, but still game. I was about fully recovered. I kept waiting for him to go for the water bottle---the signal here that one has given up. (It sort of means, "Yea, I would have stomped your weak ass, but I have to get a drink. Go on this time, but don't test me agin'").
I passed again and stayed at about 18 mph. This time, I would have pulled him had he wanted since he had done a little work. However, he never even tried to keep up with me again.
He was a younger guy, maybe 30. Had he been one of those tough old birds of 50-55 or so, I might have gotten my ass kicked again.
Unfortunately, my effort and heart rate average in this ride was way above the zone I wanted and needed. So tomorrow, I will probably pay for it. I had planned a 50 mile ride, but I may reduce that now.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Well the theater was full and as happens here had people standing to watch it. It was not a bad movie, why, the even managed to make it sort of a happy ending. We should be happy that terrible atrocities and disasters happen occasionally, so that we can all watch entertaining movies about it.
This just reinforces how the UN is basically a joke in solving these types of problems, and how hypocritical the West is in dealing with them. We all know that the "Never again" slogan is just that.
I'll bet this will all change if Japan gets on the UN Security Council. Look how much they do already in the name of peace. Even Michael Moore, the great documentary artist and all-around genius , said something to the effect that Japan was the only country devoted to working for peace since WW2. Imagine what would have happened had they done something in Rwanda, or if they were doing something now in Dufar.