Archive for July, 2008

“No longer valid to maintain a hereditary political succession system …” Musings hachiyorenge

Shonan Yokoi, a Confucian scholar assassinated immediately after the 1867 Meiji Restoration, introduced the U.S. presidential system to the Japanese as an example of the merits of American politics since the time of George Washington in his 1860 book “Kokuze Sanron” (Three Theories for National Policy).

“The authority of the president is handed down to a wise man, not to his son,” Yokoi wrote.

To govern for the benefit of the entire nation, it was no longer valid to maintain a hereditary political succession system. Instead, seek a wise man from broader spectrums of the society for the task. So wrote Yokoi, who sounded an alarm bell to a turbulent Japan in the closing years of the Edo period (1603-1867).

Since then, Japan has paid close attention to U.S. presidential races, which are held every four years. This year, Japanese seem to be quite interested in the race.

According to a survey of peoples in 24 countries by the U.S. pollster Pew Research Center announced last month, Japanese ranked top on the list of people who closely follow U.S. presidential races with 83 percent, surpassing 80 percent for U.S. citizens. Germans ranked third with 56 percent, followed by Britons at 50 percent.

The survey results may be a reflection of how much Japanese are worried about serious global matters related to the United States, such as North Korean issues, the situation in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear development program, the dollar faltering as the key currency and the economic slowdown.

In the 1860 U.S. presidential race, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln defeated his Democratic rival. The next U.S. president–whether he is Democratic candidate Barack Obama or his Republican rival John McCain–must be a truly wise man. Otherwise, countries around the world will be troubled in these testing times.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

もう世襲で地位を継ぐ時代ではない… 編集手帳 八葉蓮華


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“Nomo blazed a trail for Japanese MLB players…” Musings hachiyorenge

John Steinbeck (1902-1968), a U.S. writer known for such works as “The Grapes of Wrath,” reportedly said, “Genius is a little boy chasing a butterfly up a mountain.”

I learned this quote from the book “Sugoi Kotoba” (Great Words) written by Yoichi Hareyama and published by Bungei Shunjyusha as part of the Bunshun pocketbook library.

“Look down, and you can see what a distance you’ve climbed”–even if the boy was praised like this, he might simply say, distractedly, “But all I did was chase a butterfly.”

Swap the butterfly for a baseball, and the boy could be hurler Hideo Nomo, 39, who has just announced an end to his career. Nomo blazed a trail for Japanese pro baseball players, including Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, to climb the peak of U.S. major league baseball. Never have we heard emotional, let alone boastful, words from Nomo about his achievements.

Nomo won the rookie of the year title, posted 123 wins and recorded a no-hitter game twice during his major league career. After leaving several great footprints in the major league history, Nomo announced his retirement Thursday.

He said he had some regrets, indicating that he has no interest in the view from a mountaintop and is still chasing an imaginary butterfly.

Let me introduce a work from Hikaru Koike’s anthology of poems “Teki Teki Shu.” It reads:


Nomo’s hips as they turn toward us

Sticking right out

What a breathtaking posture


No longer will we be able to see his “tornado” pitching style that sent winds tearing through the minds of spectators.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

日本人メジャーリーガーの開拓者… 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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a “parental fool” overly preoccupied by his or her children…” Musings hachiyorenge

The late TV scriptwriter and author, Kuniko Mukoda, once said, “If the word ‘baka’ (fool) is ever banned from broadcasting, I will stop writing TV dramas.”

Indeed, the word is often used in daily conversation. Tora-san, the protagonist of the famous movie series “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (It’s Tough Being a Man), would often say to an old acquaintance of his from the Shibamata area of Tokyo: “Hey, are you still the same old fool?”

But, putting Tora-san’s amusing usage to one side, the word is generally difficult to use.

According to reports, the mayor of a city won a libel lawsuit against the publisher of a weekly magazine that called him “the fool mayor.” The ruling was recently finalized.

Trying to learn a lesson from this lawsuit, I made up my mind to use the word fool as little as possible.

My resolution has been a little shaken, however, on seeing the erratic, unprincipled behavior of those involved in the spiraling scandal over the employment of teachers in Oita Prefecture. The Oita Prefectural Board of Education announced Wednesday it would revoke its employment of teachers who passed recruitment examinations with rigged results. The people who effectively bought teaching positions for their children with bribes have ended up humiliating them and turning their lives upside down.

If a person becomes too much of an oya baka–a “parental fool” overly preoccupied by his or her children–we cannot help but remove the word parental from this expression.

When I looked up baka in the Japanese dictionary Shin-Meikai Kokugo Jiten published by Sanseido Publishing Co. I came across the word “bakabaka,” which the dictionary described as a word used by a woman to criticize a man coquettishly.

I sometimes let the word baka slip out of my mouth unintentionally, but I have never heard any woman say the word bakabaka to me, although I would like to hear it.

Baka is ultimately a word you cannot use as you wish.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

「親ばか」も度を越せば… 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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“How wonderful it is that I can do something for others!” Musings hachiyorenge

Born and raised in the Kansai region, the woman seems to have been a fan of the Hanshin Tigers. In a diary entry dated the day when the Tigers scored a come-from-behind victory, she wrote: “Relieved a little bit now that the Tigers have extended their [Central League] lead by four games. I wish I could recover from illness like the Tigers did in today’s game.”

Whenever a summer comes around in which the Tigers are looking good, I am moved to take a book from the shelf. Titled “Wakaki Inochi no Nikki” (The Diary of Young Life) and published by Daiwa Shobo, the book was written by Michiko Oshima in her hospital bed. Her correspondence with a male university student was made into a film, “Ai to Shi o Mitsumete” (Looking at Love and Death). In the film, the character playing the part of Michiko is named Miko.

In the summer she entered Doshisha University, Michiko was hospitalized for treatment of chondrosarcoma, a type of malignant cancerous tumor, that developed on her face. While undergoing a series of difficult operations, she looked at her life of exhaustion sometimes with desperate eyes and at other times with eyes of faint hope. Despite her hardship, her diary is filled with words of gratitude toward the people around her.

She took care of other inpatients in the same room as her during mealtimes and washed their clothes for them. “How wonderful it is that I can do something for others!” she wrote in her diary.

At a time when we have seen a series of incidents in which some people vented their ill luck and misfortune by injuring innocent strangers, my heart is refreshed whenever I read her diary. It contains a poem that goes: “Strong beat of twist music heard from a hospital pillow/Feeling the calmness of youth afflicted by disease.”

She died at age of 21 in August 1963 without scoring a come-from-behind victory over the disease. The 45th anniversary of her death is coming soon.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.


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“It’s the Yonmanrokusen-nichi (46,00 days) and it’s in the height of summer’s heat.” Some might remember with nostalgia this narration from a rakugo story “Funatoku” by the eighth Katsura Bunraku.

Today falls on this year’s Yonmanrokusen-nichi, when temple festivals are held for Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Paying a visit to a temple on this day is said to be worth 46,000 days of meritorious deeds. The visit to a temple described in the rakugo story was probably made in scorching heat as July 10 of the old calendar is around mid-August on the current calendar.

Now, people living in the Tokyo area stroll along stalls set up for Sensoji temple’s Hozuki-ichi, or the Grand Cherry Fair on July 10, while waiting for clear blue sky of the height of summer. Many remember the fair as a rainy-season event.

Actually, 46,000 days represent more than 100 years–a figure that makes some people wonder about our planet in the distant future. Then, the expression, “the height of summer’s heat,” may come to mind because of a pressing global issue.

This year’s Group of Eight summit closed in Toyakocho, Hokkaido, on Wednesday. The G-8 leaders agreed that the world should share the vision of halving global-warming gas emissions by 2050.

This agreement may be like the small flame of a grand cherry fruit now, but it will be an important flame for antiglobal warming steps for the earth in the next 100–or even 1,000–years.

A haiku poem by Kenkichi Kusumoto reads:


Who should I invite

To go

On Yonmanrokusen-nichi


A long journey has started toward preventing the Earth from suffering the height of heats, and many countries are invited.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.


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At this time of year it is common to hear birds chirping during breaks in the rain, sounding like they are impatient for the showers to stop. Hearing this often gives me a poetic feeling like that of the late actor Kiyoshi Atsumi, who wrote a poem that reads:

Rain a while ago–

where did the sparrows go?


Every piece written by Atsumi under the pen name Futen (literally, flying deity) sounds gentle and sad, as if he is speaking softly to the small creatures around him. They are all unforgettable. Among them are:

Typhoon the previous night–

where did the butterflies go?


Larks flying

as if always searching for something


A lone green shoot–

what are you going to do?


Columnist Eisuke Mori reportedly has found 173 unpublished works by Atsumi. One of them reads:

A lone wild dog seen

as an autumn day falls


Only a flying deity could see the world this way. Another newly found piece goes:

Spring rain falls silently

on a glorious path


This one is said to have been written in January 1995. According to the book “A Funny Guy–Kiyoshi Atsumi,” written by Nobuhiko Kobayashi and published by Shinchosha, Atsumi had revealed that he had a terminal illness to his attendant, Seiji Shinohara, three months earlier. “Shino, I have cancer,” he said, making the phrase “glorious path” sound heavy with meaning.

Atsumi composed the piece on spring rain in August of the following year, shortly before he took the last glorious path.

He died at the age of 68, his departure from the stage like that of an actor treading a rain-spattered hanamichi walkway.

This summer marks the 12th anniversary of his death, which was mourned by many people.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

雨音がとぎれると、待っていたように鳥のさえずりが聞こえる。雨の季節には幾たびか、渥美清さんの詩情を借りて「さっきの雨どこにいた雀(すずめ)」と問うてみたいときがある◆〈ゆうべの台風どこにいたちょうちょ〉。号「風天(ふうてん)」、渥美さんが傍らの小さな命に語りかけた句は優しく、さみしく、どれも忘れがたい。〈いつも何か探しているようだなひばり〉も〈土筆(つくし)これからどうするひとりぽつんと〉もそうである◆コラムニストの森英介さんが、渥美さんの未発表173句を見つけたという。その一句。〈秋の野犬ぽつんと日暮れて〉。風天ならではのまなざしだろう◆新たに見つかったうち、〈花道に降る春雨や音もなく〉は1995年1月の作という。作家小林信彦さんの「おかしな男 渥美清」(新潮社)によれば、渥美さんはその3か月ほど前、付き人の篠原靖治さんに、「シノ、おれは癌(がん)なんだよ」と打ち明けている。「花道…」の一語が重い◆沸かせに沸かせた舞台から雨に煙る花道をひとり歩み、68歳で惜しまれつつ世を去ったのは、その句が詠まれた翌年8月のことである。この夏で12年になる。

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There is a senryu poem from the Edo period (1603-1867) that reads: “A koban coin is shaped such that it can serve as a lid for the mouth.”

The poem likely is about what we now describe as “hush money.”

Indeed, the oval coin is conveniently shaped for lidding the mouth.

If a company has enough time to consider putting a lid on a person’s mouth, it should devote that time to pondering ways to make consumers smack their lips.

Uohide, an Osaka-based eel trader suspected of having falsely labeled Chinese eels as domestic, reportedly paid 10 million yen in hush money to an employee of a seafood-wholesaler client.

Uohide explained that it started putting false labels on its products after sales of Chinese-made products plummeted earlier this year in the wake of a poisoning scandal over pesticide-laced gyoza dumplings made in China.

However, the company tried to disguise its misdemeanors by handing out the hush money and making it appear that fictitious companies were involved in the transaction of its eels. The firm’s behavior was thus malicious in nature.

When a mouth-shaped koban coin is placed on its edge, it looks like a zero. Zero is a strange number. While 1 can be changed to 10 or 100, zero, if absent-mindedly multiplied, nullifies any number–no matter how large. If you count them, you will realize a large number of companies have indulged in this kind of foolish multiplication.

It is said to take three years to master eel-cutting, eight years to master steaming and a lifetime to master grilling–the key processes in producing grilled eels.

A considerable amount of time also is required for a company to establish its credit. But everything can collapse in a split second.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.


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