Buddha and the Boozer

Habushu, an Okinawan snake alcohol. Image: Wikipedia

Have you ever come across such a perfect line while reading translated literature that you just have to go check it out in the source language, comprehension be damned?

I found one such line in the Konjaku Monogatari Shu, a collection of hundreds of late Heian-period Japanese short stories, 90 of which appear in English in Japanese Tales from Times Past (trans. Naoshi Koriyama and Bruce Allen). It was a Christmas present, but I’ve already hit volume 19, tale 21 in the Buddhist moral tales section, titled “Snakes are seen in a vat of sake made from rice cake offerings.” In the context of its most delightful line though, I think I might want to rechristen the story “Buddha and the Boozer.”

But first, a quick synopsis of the barely two-page tale for context:

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Weird Japan: the tomb of Jesus Christ and Isukiri’s Creed

The apparent final resting place of Jesus Christ in Shingo Village, Aomori Prefecture, Japan

[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]

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Ineffective Altruism? The Japanese charity that trades bottle caps for polio vaccines

Those bottle caps aren’t even worth a penny

[I left most of the numbers in yen, but since the recent exchange rates have hovered around ¥107 to the dollar, just divide any yen value by 100 to make a rough conversion. And sorry, most of the links are in Japanese… I couldn’t source any of this in English.]

Last week, a student gave me an essay about the “EcoCap Movement,” a Japanese charity which collects and recycles bottle caps in order to exchange the plastic scrap for polio vaccines (among other causes). As she tells me, she has started collecting caps with her friends on the volleyball team so that she can “save the life of a child.” Because a polio vaccine costs ¥20 and 430 bottle caps scrap for ¥10, she just needs to gather 860 caps. The team goes through dozens of sports drinks at practice every week so they should reach their goal in just a couple months. A solid charitable effort by middle schoolers, right?

But woah woah woah, back up. 860 caps means 860 bottles of water, tea, soda, or other soft drinks. How much did those cost? At Japanese convenience stores, most plastic-bottled drinks retail for between ¥100 and ¥200 — enough to buy 5 to 10 vaccines for the same price as one cap. Why not just skip the sports drinks for a day and bring tap water in reusable bottles to practice? The whole team would save a couple thousand yen, which they could then donate for the purchase of over 100 vaccines, thus “saving the lives” of dozens of children without waiting months to accumulate 860 caps.

I don’t want to criticize some feel-good altruism by a bunch of children too harshly but um… this might be the most absurd charity I’ve ever heard of. Yugh… too harsh. Let me explain with some middle-school grade math and a bit of behavioral economics…

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A comprehensive criticism of the depiction of Japan in Ready Player One

[I suppose this post will spoil the plots related to the Japanese characters. But then again… Ready Player One has so few surprises that I doubt it matters…]

As a break from my MMO isekai anime binge, I thought I would jump back to my own culture to observe the state of American virtual reality fiction. However, I had one requirement: it had to be a book so that I could read it during summer break downtime in the teacher room. The obvious choice seemed to be Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, which had been riding high on media hype early this year following the release of a film adaptation directed by none other than Steven Spielberg. Two friends were already reading it, so I decided to pick it up and make a book club of it.

And o-ho boy, did I make a mistake. Ready Player One might be the worst book-for-pleasure I have ever read. I should have stuck to anime for my VR fix…

Since this site has become a de facto anime blog, I’ll skip a more general review and focus on Ready Player One’s shocking ignorance of Japanese culture and language. Plenty of other people have criticized the book but I have yet to come across a comprehensive breakdown of its awful depiction of Japan. So, while trying to stave off heat exhaustion in an unairconditioned Japanese middle school, I thought I would give it a shot.

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