I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Call me Gully the Cynic

I just wanted to share a few words from what a novel I have been reading lately. The book is Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. When presented in such a playful and honest fashion, I love the satire and good-natured (though sometimes cynical) mockery of human existence. I wonder how people can become so ridiculous as to take themselves seriously and believe in their own importance, or worse, natural divinity. Anyway, the following quote comes from the King of Brobdingnag (the Brobdingnagians are a virtuous and peaceful race of giants that live humbly isolated from the rest of the world). After Gulliver explains European history and British society he says, "My little friend Grildrig (Gulliver); you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country. You have clearly proved that ignorance, idleness, and vice are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator. That laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which in its original might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions. It doth not appear from all you have said, how any one perfection is requited towards the procurement of any one station among you, much less that men are ennobled on account of their virtue, that priests are advanced for the piety or learning, soldiers for their conduct or valour, judges for the integrity, senators for the love of their country, or counsellors for their wisdom. As for yourself who have spent the greatest part of your life in travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many vices of your country. But, by what I have gathered from your own relation, and the answers I have with much pains wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives, to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."
That's all, but I'd like to hear what others think about that quote. To begin the polemic I will offer that I cannot disagree with the King's evaluation...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The first image was taken at a nearby temple (tera in Japanese), about a ten-minute bike ride from where we live. Water pours out of the dragon's mouth, and visitors may cleanse their hands if they choose before approaching the shrine (jinja) for a prayer. Sorry for the trite ancient Japanese iconography, but it stood out to me that over 1,500 years ago nearly halfway around the world the Japanese imagined identical mystical creatures as the Europeans. I wonder if there were cultural crossovers before the exploration explosion later in history where some of these ideas were exchanged between East and West. (Just as a warning, I'm only beginning my comparisons between England and Japan. Both are insular monarchies, have similar terrain, although Japan is considerably colder in the winter due to being on a higher latitude. For those interested there will be many more to come; for everyone else, just be prepared to use your clicker to scroll ahead when my musings become dense or stretched :-)

The second picture is of a gravel path leading up to a different shrine. There are seriously more shrines per square kilometer than cars, which for me is like heaven (tengoku) with my own army of bats––don't lie, you know how awesome it would be! (Actually, because we live next to rice fields, bats emerge and patrol outside of our balcony to feast on the gnats and other bugs (mushi) that are attracted to the rice plants. So I figure in about three months I'll have trained a regiment large enough to begin taking over the country. Excuse the digression.) This shrine is only also within ten minutes of our apartment.

The flowers (hana) are merely my attempt and capturing beauty. Those are Katie's legs in the background so bite your tongue––and keep dreaming!

More pictures from our apartment

Now that Katie and I have decided to live together, I guess I should start referring to these pictures as coming from our apartment. This is a dusky summertime version of the ones I displayed earlier. May need to brighten the sceen, but in a full-screen version this photo looks pretty amazing if I do say so myself.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A nearby bridge (about 100 meters from Katie's building) over the Kusatsu River.

Pictures from current location

These are some pictures from the balcony of Katie's apartment. They were taken from back in December when I was visiting, so just imagine everything green instead of snowy white. I'm staying here with her for the summer until I begin teaching in August and the JET Program gives me my own place. We're both living in Kusatsu-shi (shi=city), Shiga-ken (ken=prefecture).

Some Notes on Hiroshima

This was a pretty incredible experience to say the least. There is a building left in ruins from the day that America dropped the bomb on Hiroshima called, not surprisingly, the A-bomb dome. The National Govt and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) have consecrated this site and aim to preserve the memory of August 6th, 1945. In the Museum were several watches that stopped running at the moment of impact: 8:15 am. The A-bomb dome is located less than a few hundred meters from the hypocenter of where the bomb landed. During the explosion everyone in the building was incinerated.
The Hrioshima Peace Museum was amazing. It displayed the history of the city; for centuries Hiroshima was an educational nucleus and it also became a military establishment during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japan wars. Facts about WWII and what led to Truman's decision to use nuclear weapons was also addressed. It sadly appears that many influencing factors on America's actions were not based on necessity. Some controversy exists over whether Truman decided to use a nuclear assault to justify spending $2 billion on the Manhattan Project. It seems that he also wanted to use The Bomb as an intimidating deterrent against Stalin from challenging America's authority (instead it had the opposite effect). The US's common justification for killing several hundred thousand civilians was that it saved the lives of soldiers during an infiltration of Honshu––Japan's mainland. They believed that kamakaze Japanese soldiers would vigorously fight to the death with their backs against the wall. But Japan's army was already enfeebled by the war and attempting to negotiate peaceful solutions. I personally didn't find that the means excused the ends.
On an more chipper note, the museum also detailed Hiroshima and Japan's advocation for nuclear abolition. Their optimism and lack of resentment in light of what happened surprises me, and I feel a strong admiration for their resolution of ahimsa (nonviolent protest). Japan has never invested in nuclear arms. I think this exemplies impressive character and respect for other humans––to not retaliate with blind rage against another's insult.
Anyway enough for now.