[Like before, the usual disclaimer: I describe weird things in Japan, not weird things about Japan. This week, I’m traveling so I don’t have time for any rigor-ish research. But just google “tomb of jesus christ shingo.” — It’s the bizarre intersection between the occult fascination of a Japanese “new religion,” the credulous hucksterism of a small-time mayor looking to boost his isolated village’s image, and the indifferent villagers (only one of whom is Christian) who put up with the odd tourist in exchange for a little spare commerce. And if it isn’t obvious, Isukiri’s creed is my fictional creation]Continue reading “Weird Japan: the tomb of Jesus Christ and Isukiri’s Creed”
Some advice: don’t go mountain climbing the day after a typhoon rolls through, the day before you move house halfway across the world!Continue reading “I climbed a mountain and I can prove it!”
It’s so hot. I can’t breathe. Is the thick steam making my lungs too heavy to expand or is this a panic attack?Continue reading “Panic at the onsen”
[content warning: historical suicides]
[My main historical sourcing for this post comes from Reto Hofmann’s 2015 book The Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy, 1915-1952 and Michael Lucken’s chapter “Remodeling Public Space: the Fate of War Monuments, 1945-1948” from the 2008 anthology The Power of Memory in Modern Japan. For the sake of convenience, I’ll cite them both by last name only (since you can search both on Google Books) and link any other sources when necessary. Aaand… ugh, stricken by inadequacy again. I regret that I cannot read Japanese better; I would have liked to learn more in the nearby museum. But eh, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered: the displays focused on the Boshin War, not the fascist connection]
It’s “Golden Week” in Japan, this year extended by some extra public holidays for the coronation Emperor Naruhito to usher in the new Reiwa era. So, I’ve been playing the tourist again with some short trips in Tohoku, including one to Aizu, a volcanic mountain basin in western Fukushima Prefecture best known today for its proud history celebrated in the small “samurai city” of Aizu-Wakamatsu. I’ll keep my disclaimer from last time — I describe weird things in Japan, not weird things about Japan. This is not a country profile. But ohhhhh my god, I found something really weird: two memorials dedicated to fallen samurai children …donated by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany!Continue reading “Weird Japan: two fascist monuments in the samurai city of Aizu-Wakamatsu”
[It’s school graduation season in Japan, so I’ve been busy with stupid, ceaseless ceremony. I’m so tired and so cold, and so tired of being cold, and so tired of being cold in rural Japan. Something low effort this week then… time is criminal. As an additional note, I’ve drawn heavily from Dienstag’s neat book Pessimism: Philosophy, Spirit, Ethic]
It snowed yesterday, on March 14, a week away from the official start of spring. It all melted by the end of the work day, but when I saw about four inches (10cm) of the real heavy, wet stuff on my car in the morning, I just about cried. I’m so tired of winter in rural Japan. I want to feel warm again; spring is so close! But now, it’s still so cold.
The feeling of futile anticipation reminded me of a passage from Izumi Kyoka’s short story “One Day in Spring.” As spoken by the despairing lover Mio:
Those people you see out there working in their fields — when fall comes they brace themselves, each doing his best to not be overwhelmed by melancholy. There’s still strength in those dispirited legs. But in spring the strength is stolen away. They float up, as if they’ve been turned into butterflies or birds. They seem anxious, don’t they?
Invited by a warm, gentle wind, the soul becomes a dandelion blossom that suddenly turns into cotton and blows away. It’s the feeling of fading into death after seeing paradise with your own eyes. Knowing its pleasure, you also understand that heaven is heartless, vulnerable, unreliable, and sad.
[trans. Charles Inouye]
Let’s take the point about the seasons literally for a moment: I could bear winter without complaint as long as it seemed inescapable… clearing the thick mountain snow off my car every morning, shivering in my full winter coat during class in uninsulated rural schools, fumbling with clumsy jerry cans to refill portable heaters, de-icing the shower (…and the toothpaste…) in my unheated bathroom. It was so cold. And that was fine.
Oh, but now spring is coming! I’ve gone weeks without shoveling snow. I’ve floated through class with just a jacket! I’ve felt warm air blowing in from the sky again, instead of from a kerosene burner! I don’t even need to heat my toothpaste under the water before I can squeeze it out of the tube! I’m so close to escaping the cold!
But then winter clawed me back into its freezing hell one last time with that snow on the 14th, and then a second last time with another flurry this morning. March promises me rebirth into the paradise of spring, but that stubborn winter refuses to give up its grip and just die already. I’m impatient, anxious in anticipation, tired of winter for not going… But then I resent spring too, for not coming sooner. It’s still so cold.Continue reading “Cold in March, graduation in Japan, and the problem with time consciousness”
Something very, very short again this week because I am exhausted after my vacation and gave up trying to write with a smartphone keyboard on the long, standing-room-only train rides home. I’m also a bit sore from so much touristic walking and don’t feel like writing a proper introduction so here’s a topic sentence: I’ll briefly compare my shopping experiences in Japan’s three largest anime merchandise hubs: Akihabara, Dendenmachi, and Nakano Broadway.Continue reading “A tourist’s brief impressions of Japan’s three largest anime hubs: Akihabara, Dendenmachi, and Nakano Broadway”
[ ~ objectively superior, but for what objective? ~ ]
It is (was) Christmas, so what better (worse?) time to celebrate some excessive commercialism!
I’m on vacation in Tokyo this week and decided to stop by Akihabara to see capitalism in action… just a weird capitalism catering to a niche set of hobbies all assembled together into a giant tourist trap. It’s a lovely place, but given the tight spaces and crowds, it’s perhaps more interesting to explore as living museum to gonzo commercialism than as a place to actually shop.
With the eye of a tourist rather than a shopper then (half the people there must have been tourists), it was fascinating to take Akihabara as a vast sample of what’s new and popular in the anime-mangasphere. On that, one thing stuck out to me after cycling through a few shops: the uncontested ubiquity of Re:Zero’s Rem and Ram.
Oh, but it’s mostly just Rem. And boy is she expensive.Continue reading “Rem is objectively superior to Ram: evidence from some Akihabara window shopping”
I can’t stand the “weird Japan” genre of journalism. It has an annoying habit of unfairly conflating “weird things in Japan” with “weird things about Japan.” However, on a school trip with a class of second-year middle school students from a small Japanese village, I found something really, truly bizarre, the strangest place I’ve ever been. I wanted to call it the physical manifestation on Earth of the uncanny valley except I can’t use that metaphor because it’s on top of a mountain. It’s surreal.
Have you heard of British Hills?Continue reading “Weird Japan: Lonely English authenticity in Fukushima’s “British Hills””