Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Jakucho Setouchi

A few days ago the Japan Times published a fascinating article on the Buddhist nun Jakucho Setouchi. Who's that you ask? Never heard of her? Then perhaps you've heard of the novelist Harumi Setouchi, author of Natsu no Owari (The End of Summer) [follow this and other book title links to Amazon.com]. Ms. Setouchi was the head priest at Tendai-ji in Shoboji, a small town in northern Iwate from 1987 to 2005. She often speaks there and at various other places in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. A few years ago I even saw her in a shoe shop on Odori in Morioka but I was too shy to go in and meet her!

It seems she is now going about speaking on the novel Genji Monogatari which is celebrating its 1,000th anniversary this year. In 1996 she translated the story into modern Japanese which has also been made available in an English translation. While it is a fine story and I am happy to see it made more accessible to modern readers, there is one thing about it I find upsetting. The title. It is called, The Tale of Genji: Scenes from the Worlds First Novel.

Who ever claimed it was the world's first novel and why is the myth repeated so often? This kind of leaves the ancient Greek and Roman novelists out in the cold! Granted nothing much has survived from the period except fragments, but I can definitely recommend the Metamorphoses of Apuleius which has survived entire and will come out in a new translation next year. It is only about 800 years older than Genji Monogatari and has more sex scenes in it!

One of the comments that surprised me in the Japan Times article was when Ms. Setouchi said, "Apart from me, nobody writes really honestly about their own experiences. Nobody writes about their most embarrassing things or things they never want others to know." I find it quite curious she would say such a thing. Numerous examples spring to mind of people who do just that. But read the article for yourself and learn about a famous and fascinating resident of Iwate.

Living high: living deep; Jakucho Setouchi a most unlikely nun
Japan Times - October 5, 2008

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Kamaishi Steel

Kamaishi City, on the coast of Iwate, is famous for steel if nothing else. Until the Americans shelled the city in the first naval attack on the Japanese mainland in 1945, the city was an important mining and shipbuilding center.

Nippon Steel
[ Nippon Steel Facility at Kamaishi Bay ]

One of the people who helped turn Kamaishi into a modern industrial city was Takato Oshima - 大島高任. He was born in Morioka in 1826 and built the first reverberation blast furnace in Kamaishi in 1858. He had built two others before in Mito in 1855 to make guns for Japan's military but he didn't have the best raw materials to work with. He was finally able to get high grade pig-iron from Kamaishi and made larger high quality cannons. He died in 1901.

Takato Oshima - 大島高任
[ Statue of Takato Oshima in front of Kamaishi Station ]

So after this long and eventful history of iron production, ship and gun making, etc. - what commodity essential to the prosperity of Japan do you think is being produced here in large quantity? PACHINKO BALLS! Kamaishi produces 80% of the pachinko balls used in Japan. Well, that's better than guns I suppose.

Lotsa Pachinko Balls
[ Pachinko Balls ]

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Importance of Being Abe

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe (安倍 晋三), is now a candidate for next month's Liberal Democratic Party presidential election and is considered the one most likely to win.

Abe from VOA copy
[ Shinzo Abe (from VOA.com)]

Wikipedia reports that, "Abe was born into a prominent political family in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture. His father was Shintaro Abe, former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and his mother's father was former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

"Following graduation from the Department of Political Science of the Faculty of Law at Seikei University in 1977, Mr. Abe studied politics at the University of Southern California. On his return to Japan, Mr. Abe began work at Kobe Steel, and continued there until 1982. He then served as executive assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, private secretary to the chairperson of the LDP General Council, and then as private secretary to the LDP secretary-general."

The Japanese Wikipedia site has more about him that is not included on the English site. One tidbit is that Shinzo Abe claims to be a descendant of Munetou Abe. Munetou Abe was a member of the Emishi Abe clan that was allowed to rule Iwate in the 9th and 10th centuries in collaboration with the Japanese. They made their headquarters in the Koromo Stockade on the North bank of the Koromo River where it meets the Kitakami. The family monopolized the gold, iron and horse trade in Northern Honshu and traded by sea directly with the Asian mainland. They were also innovative in designing a type of stockade able to withstand a long seige.

This stockade proved quite useful when the Abe's attempted to expand their holdings, refused to pay taxes and rebelled against the central government. This conflict came to be called the Earlier Nine Year War and lasted from 1051 - 1062. Muneto won a stunning victory at the Battle of the Palisade of Torinomi in what is now Kanegasaki Town in 1061 but had to surrender the following year after his brother Sadatou was killed in battle and the Abes were defeated. Muneto was exiled to Kyushu with his family setting the stage for his descendants to produce the next Prime Minister.

Abe's claim to be descended from a fierce Emishi warrior could be seen in various ways. He could be suggesting that he is tough and fierce as well. He might also be trying to show that he is not really such a political insider. Ultimately, though, such a claim allows him to show a strong affinity with the people of rural Northern Japan where he is otherwise a complete outsider!

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Island for Sale!

Name: Holland Island
Location: Yamada Bay, Yamada Town, Iwate Prefecture
Description: A very small island (about one square kilometer in size) covered entirely with Japanese cedar trees and very mountainous. There is a small Shinto Shrine on top, two sandy beaches and a dock. There is no electricity and no running water.
Price: 20,000,000 yen (about 200,000 US dollars) negotiable

Holland Island & Yamada Bay
[ Yamada Island in Yamada Bay ]

SOLD - last year by the local fisherman's association to the town of Yamada. I think the people of Yamada got a bargain! I'd like to buy it and live there!

Thanks to my friend M.T. who told me about this!

You can see my photos of Yamada Island on Flickr.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Baseball Champs!

The Iwate Prefecture Baseball Tournament has finished. The team from Kitakami Senshu High School has won and the whole city of Kitakami is abuzz. Thursday night there was a festival and all the players wore their uniforms and paraded around town. The shops and public buildings are draped with huge posters and banners for the occasion. Next stop is the National Tournament at Koshien in August.

The Champs!
[Kitakami Senshu High School & Banners around Town]

While many people joke that baseball is a religion it is not taken that way in Japan - especially when it comes to the high school variety. The Church of Perfect Liberty, founded in Japan in 1924, sponsers the most successful high school baseball team in Japan; PL Gakuen of Osaka. They actively recruit players and the best players want to go there. Other Religions such as Tenrikyo recruit high school baseball players to their schools and have been successful in the annual tournaments.

Even when the team is not affiliated with a religious group the community supports their local team with a devotion that can only be considered fanatical. The games are televised and watched by all. The players don't have to study. The entire student body is bused to the games and made to cheer their team on. Of course, with a team like Kitakami Senshu, it's easy and fun to be a supporter!

Good luck at Koshien, guys!

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Musen Ojiisan

Just about every city I've lived in has had at least one colorful eccentric character. In Miami, Florida there was a Latino who stood in the median strip every day at rush hour where two major highways intersected waving flags and shouting at the cars like a cheerleader! In Morioka there is a man who rides around on a bicycle shouting into a walkie-talkie and sometimes playing music from a portable tape player. Some people call him Musen Ojiisan or Wireless Grandpa in English!

musen ojiisan
[Wireless Grandpa - 無線お祖父さん]

He seems to be emulating the right wing fanatics who drive around in big trucks blaring patriotic anthems and shouting right-wing slogans. He also has a variety of placards that he displays on the front of his bicycle; an imperial chrysanthemum or a rising sun and he shouts very loudly into his walkie-talkie.

Some people are afraid of him but I have never heard of him harming or even harassing anyone. He is just loud and obnoxious - or entertaining - depending on your point of view! I personally think he adds a bit of variety and color to what can otherwise be a boring, ordinary day!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Iwate Nippo

The Iwate Nippo (岩手日報) Newspaper celebrated its 130th birthday on July 21st.
Iwate Nippo - 130 years old
[Masthead of Iwate Nippo for July 21, 2006]

The published a special edition with three sections full of history, information and, of course, advertising. One thing that I did not see, though, was a reproduction of the first edition! My friend Mr. Takahashi suggested that maybe they don't have one! There is a reproduction of the front page of the June 21, 1905 edition in Takuboku Ishikawa's Honeymoon House in Morioka. (Notice the very different Kanji for 'Iwate' in the photos!)

Takuboku Ishikawa - Iwate Nippo
[Masthead of Iwate Nippo for June 21, 1905]

From collecting stamps I know that the climate in Japan is not good for preserving paper. The best old Japanese stamps come from North America or Northern Europe where the air is much drier! So I suppose the typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, fires and floods combined with all the other more normal ravages of time have taken their toll. If you ever find a 130 year old Japanese newspaper it just might be worth some money!

The Iwate Nippo web site is only in Japanese!

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