Japanese has a word: shimaguni. It means ‘island nation‘. Unremarkable, you might think. Yet bottled in four syllables is a distillation of a supposed national spirit, the adduced explanation for everything that is unique about Japan. Not just island nation, but island mindset, island culture, island existence. You can apparently see shimaguni in the excessive focus on harmony and consensus in Japanese culture, the strange fads, the jumbled up religious loyalties, and the double economic miracle that the country enjoyed in the early 20th Century, then again in the 60s and 70s. Fervent nationalists will tell you that Japanese simians have more peaceful social orders than mainland monkeys, and that Japanese people love the cherry blossom because they have a unique appreciation of fleeting things. Some will even claim that Japanese people hear music with a different part of the brain than Europeans or the Chinese. Serious-minded academics will swear that Japanese people can communicate heart-to-heart by a kind of telepathy due to their shared values. Who dares suggest that shared values lead to shared assumptions? It’s hardly magic. Continue reading “Shimaguni Part 1: Island Mindset”
When I lived in Japan, I didn’t watch many films. My Japanese never developed to the extent that I could really understand films without subtitles, which generally ruled out the cinema. Anyway, I was more often focussed on exploring the world outside. But cinema was a route to Japan for me, and now I’m back on the other island frontier of Eurasia, I’ve been watching a lot of films. I’ve also been rewatching some of my favourites, and discovering a new richness and subtlety that I missed before. Continue reading “My Desert Island: Japanese Films”
Like many people born in 1991, I first became aware of Japan when someone handed me a Vulpix trading card. Back then, I didn’t know the cunning foxes with nine tails of east Asian folklore, but I was mesmerised by the lo-fi, cuddly ecosystem of Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori’s creation. As a result, my later years of primary school played out against the inevitable backdrop of rash trades, battle themes and the inevitable banning of the card game from my Year Five school playground. I still recall being personally affronted when my classmate Theo traded his Charizard for a hundred and fifty energy cards. I jettisoned my pocket money on slivers of shiny card, and soon afterwards on generations of video games. I vividly remember losing my shit when my Gameboy went missing at Whipsnade Safari park. Continue reading “On Bauhaus, the Squirtle Squad and the Gothmother of Black: How Japanese Culture Shapes Your Life”
It was a slow burner, that realization of change. A friend of a friend told me that it took her five months to readjust to England after leaving Japan. After returning for Christmas last year, I often joked to friends that it took me twenty-five minutes. But I can see now that I was wrong- the Earth has shifted slightly beneath my feet. Continue reading “Good Morning, Verulamium (Here and There)”
The steam rises, gently caressing the edges of the bamboo-pattern tiles. A pipe (real bamboo this time) brings bubbling, warm water from a hot spring. A group of friends in their twenties chat animatedly as they get ready for the plunge. An older man sinks deep into the water, eyes closed, world outside invisible. Continue reading “Hell or Hot Water”
Let me set the scene. A Shinto priest waves his1 haraegushi, a staff topped with thin strips of paper that somewhat resembles a mop, in the forecourt of Gokoku-jinja. The onlookers watch a ritual that is clearly pre-modern, a sequence of moves which has been practiced and perfected over time. On other days, the priest might bless the union of a young couple, or pray for the long life and happiness of a child. But not today. Today, a new car is parked within on the forecourt of the shrine. The man of God(s) is spiritually purifying its oily innards. Continue reading “I Do Not Yet Understand”
Mostly they came after the war, a curse in their own way, like England’s ugly new towns.
Continue reading “Juku Box: How Much Education Is Too Much?”
Haven’t written for a month or so. I’ve been busy here, catching up with people, and making the most of a sweet spot when summer is warm but not furiously hot. For a few weeks, I wasn’t sleeping too well either, and between jobhunting, work and social life, my energy’s been fully spent. But I seem to have recovered, and I thought I’d give you a quick update on life as lived, along with some other assorted miscellanies. That’s right- it’s another fuckin’ clip show. Continue reading “The Drums of Summer (Miscellany #3)”
This has been Golden Week, and it’s been manic. There’s been all manner of celebration in Hiroshima, with the Flower Festival, which was as much cheap booze, taiko drums and rawk n’ roll as it was garlands of flowers. There was competitive flower arranging though. There’s a BBC2 primetime show in there, for sure. Elsewhere along Heiwa-odori, I saw comedians, maximum-energy choreographed teen dancing and also the more traditional kind. Hiroshima Sanfrecce deservedly lost to Yokohama Marinos after some poor theatrics. Familiar faces were back in town, emotions were running high. Summer is coming. Continue reading “Reiwa”
Campaigners drive around in cars with megaphones on the roofs, waving at people and blaring messages. Around the city, there are neat, respectful lines of posters up advertising the candidates. The elections are for the city council, and they won’t bring down any government, but they’re still the kind of thing that an election otaku like me ought to find something to say about.