Archive for October, 2008

The fire may well have reached a level requiring suriban…  Musings hachiyorenge

During the Edo period (1603-1867), a hansho, or fire bell, was struck once when a fire broke out some distance away. If a fire was spotted closer to hand, the bell was struck twice. If a fire broke out in the immediate vicinity a hammer was inserted into the bell and the bell was rapidly beaten in an action called suriban, or bell pounding.

If the U.S.-triggered subprime mortgage crisis is compared to a fire, a fire bell was struck once when the crisis first emerged, twice when Lehman Brothers went bust, and the fire may well have reached a level requiring suriban when the Nikkei Stock Average sank to a 26-year low Monday.

The global financial storm makes it increasingly uncertain when the House of Representatives will be dissolved for a snap general election. People who favor holding an election at an early date assert that if a stable administration is established after winning a public mandate, it will be possible to deal with the crisis flexibly, and holding an election–which excites everyone–can be seen as a pump-priming measure.

But this kind of logic might be hard to understand when translated into foreign languages.

If Japan withdraws from an international relay of water-bucket holders helping to extinguish the fire, saying, “Will you excuse us for a moment, we’ve got to pull out now to resolve some domestic chaos,” the United States and Europe, which have been hit harder by the financial turmoil than Japan, would not be inclined to say, “Please, take your time.”

The major opposition Democratic Party of Japan condemns any postponement of a lower house election, claiming the Liberal Democratic Party is merely maneuvering based on partisan interests over concerns it will not fare well in the election.

Even if there is some truth regarding an LDP ulterior motive, there are times when maneuvering for partisan interests can coincide with national or international interests.

All lawmakers, regardless of their party affiliation, should listen to the suriban.

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

今は擂り半の警戒域に入ったか・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華


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This ferocious animal with the appearance of a human…  Musings hachiyorenge

Animals traverse mountainous areas on trails, and to avoid problems with large animals, small creatures make their own trails.

TV and film producer Naoya Yoshida, who passed away recently, called pedestrian overpasses the “ultimate animal trail.” With a herd of vehicles that can be likened to ferocious animals prowling the streets, Yoshida felt he had to flee from the ground.

“Every time I walk across a pedestrian overpass, I experience the same kind of unease small animals must feel as they make their way along trails,” reads a passage in Yoshida’s book “Me kara No ni Nukeru Hanashi” (Stories that Go Straight from the Eyes to the Brain), which was published as part of the Chikuma Bunko pocketbook series.

I thought I had got used to hearing news about traffic accidents. But a recent accident still made me seethe with anger at the brutal act committed by a “ferocious animal.” This time, an “animal’s” vehicle hit a 30-year-old company employee at an intersection in Osaka and dragged him along for three kilometers. Investigators found bloodstains dotted along the path traveled by the vehicle. The man died, and the vehicle sped away.

A driver can notice a plastic bag being caught on the wheels because of the sound it makes, let alone a human being. “Murder,” rather than “hit-and-run,” is a better way to describe the accident.

I cannot even imagine how much pain the victim suffered as he died and how distressed his bereaved family members are at thinking about the pain their loved one suffered. His family members must be spending sleepless nights, tormented by images of the accident that will not go away even when their eyes are closed, and by his voice that will be heard even when they cover their ears with their hands.

This ferocious animal with the appearance of a human must be caged.

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

人の姿をした猛獣・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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Inheritors differ from person to person …  Musings hachiyorenge

A son born the heir of a big merchant family in the Edo period (1603-1867) is said to have been given a koban gold coin instead of a toy.

“He was said to be able to differentiate between a genuine coin and a fake one in due course. As he grows, he won’t be cheated into receiving fake money. Thus, the wisdom of merchants is said to lie in that practice.” This is a passage from a rakugo comic story titled “Senryo Mikan” (An Orange Worth 1,000 Ryo) that is contained in the book “Katsura Beicho Korekushon” (Katsura Beicho Collection) published by Chikuma Shobo.

Rakugo master Beicho’s eldest son, Kobeicho, 49, who was renamed Katsura Yonedanji V, might be described as one familiar with his own version of koban, a genuine art, since his childhood.

If he is compared to a character in a rakugo story, Yonedanji would be the young would-be proprietor of a big merchant’s shop who has no experience of hardships in society. His voice and demeanor impart natural feelings and glorious atmosphere. I enjoyed his rakugo performance held in Tokyo on Sunday to mark his inheritance of the traditional rakugoka name Yonedanji.

As Katsura Nanko, who served as an emcee at an onstage ceremony to announce the renaming that was attended by Beicho, a living national treasure, said in relating the process leading to his renaming, “Well, he has a wonderful father….” Yonedanji lurched a bit, prompting a laugh from the audience.

Such a comment could be an affectionate jibe by Nanko as his senior rakugo storyteller, as if telling Yonedanji to refute criticism that he succeeded to the famous name of Yonedanji on the coattails of his father by honing his rakugo skills.

Inheritors differ from person to person, with one using koban coin as a fertilizer for growth and another ending up placing koban before the cat (meaning casting pearls before swine).

As I listened to a comic story titled “Kuradetchi” played vivaciously and delightfully by Yonedanji, one or two names of politicians who would belong to the latter group of inheritors, I should say, sprang to my mind.

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

世襲にもいろいろある・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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 I dreamed incessantly about performing in plays…  Musings hachiyorenge

The man himself named it usagi meshi (rabbit’s meal)–a dish made from okara (bean curd leftovers), sliced carrots and leeks, all simmered together before being placed on top of rice. The dish was delicious and cheap after all, he writes.

This is part of a memoir contributed to this newspaper by actor Ken Ogata on his days as an apprentice at a theatrical group. “I ate okara at every meal, and my eyes turned red as I trained into the small hours,” he recalled.

Growing up in a poor family, Ogata earned his own school and living expenses and eventually graduated from high school. Many others likely have similar stories of such hardship.

However, the image of him bolting down a bowl of okara rice with bloodshot eyes is as unforgettable as his acting on the silver screen.

If I was a criminal, I would not like to be chased by a detective such as Ogata. If I was a detective, I would not like to chase a criminal like him. He conveyed his great zest for life in major roles in movies such as “Fukushu Suru wa Ware ni Ari” (Revenge is Mine” and “Kichiku” (Savage).

Ogata died suddenly (on Oct. 5).

A passage from his memoir on his youthful days reads: “Lying on a makeshift bed made of orange boxes in a toolshed and looking up at the stars through an opening in the roof, I dreamed incessantly about performing in plays.”

This image of him serves not only to paint part of his adolescence, but also as a self-portrait of the man throughout his whole life.

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

芝居の夢ばかり見ていた・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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Last living memory ….  Musings hachiyorenge

Long ago, a student at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture, broke wind during a lecture by a visiting speaker.

“The person who farted will now step forward,” an instructor at the academy said. Five students claimed to be the perpetrator.

“The visiting instructor was very impressed by this,” author Hiroyuki Agawa wrote in “Kaigun Koborebanashi” (Navy Episodes) published by Kobunsha Co.

The following incident occurred at the same venue and among the same kind of people determined to work for the security of the seas. What happened to the noble, traditional spirit of sacrificing oneself in the name of protecting a friend?

It has been learned that a 25-year-old petty officer third class enrolled in a course to train members of a special unit at the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s 1st Service School in Etajima died last month. He sustained heavy blows to his head during martial arts-style training with 15 other members. This kind of training normally is conducted with members fighting one-on-one.

The petty officer had requested that he withdraw from the course because he felt he did not have the confidence to continue. He had been scheduled to be transferred to another unit.

In an earlier case, another MSDF member, who was due to leave the course midway, sustained injuries during similar training.

The recent case was nothing but punishment meted out to show others what awaits someone who wants to withdraw from the program.

The MSDF school reportedly explained to the man’s bereaved family that the training session was meant partly as a farewell exercise.

Is this explanation meant to justify the school letting the petty officer set out for a journey to the netherworld with the punitive mob action as his last living memory?

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

逃げ出す奴はこうなる・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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Do not understand his medical condition ….  Musings hachiyorenge

Despite looking physically strong, he is always dozing off and never works. This is a character in a folktale titled “Monogusa Taro” (Lazy Taro). Writer Takehiro Irokawa said in an essay that Taro might have suffered from narcolepsy.

Irokawa himself had to contend with this rare affliction. The people around him did not understand his medical condition and labeled him as lazy. In a book titled “Izure Waga Mi mo” (It May Happen to Me Someday), published as part of the Chuko Bunko Library of Chuokoron-Shinsha Inc., Irokawa expresses sympathy with Taro, saying, “Taro might have had a hard time of it, as he had no way to account for his behavior.”

Narcolepsy is characterized by sudden bouts of deep sleep at unpredictable times, even during daytime. Irokawa refers to this sudden slumber as “violent sleep.” The trigger mechanism for the condition has yet to be explained. In Japan, an estimated 200,000 people, or one in 600, suffer from the disorder.

A Tokyo University research team has discovered a gene related to narcolepsy. After analyzing the DNA of people both with and without narcolepsy symptoms, the team discovered that a genetically mutated part of a specific chromosome increased subjects’ vulnerability to the disease by 1.8 times. The results of the study could reportedly help find the cause of and contribute toward developing a cure for this sleep-related malady.

Poet Heiichi Sugiyama wrote a poem titled “Nemuri” (Sleep) that reads:


Falling into sleep,

Descending the escalator,

A pleasant basement,

The room belongs to nobody but me.


I hope the team’s discovery will provide the first ray of hope for people who spend difficult times sleeping in this supposedly “pleasant room.”

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

病気と分かってもらえず・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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A tool for illuminating the hidden workings of life.”…  Musings hachiyorenge

There is a tanka poem I found in The Yomiuri Shimbun’s art and literature section about a year ago and jotted down in my notebook. It reads:


When I hear the word “luciferase”

while chasing the glow of fireflies

It sounds like the name of a woman

(By Ko Nagata)


I have been told that luciferase is an enzyme essential for the glow of fireflies and other creatures.

It had long been believed that the Aequorea victoria jellyfish emits a green fluorescence due to an enzyme. However, organic chemist Osamu Shimomura, 80, discovered that the jellyfish glows due to a special protein. The clue that led to this discovery was a photoprotein called aequorin, which sounds a little like a man’s name.

The discovery had much significance and far-reaching implications. For example, when the green fluorescent protein was extracted from the luminescent jellyfish and attached to proteins in cancerous cells, the cancer could be seen as it spread by observing the glowing cells.

Shimomura transformed the glow of the jellyfish into a tool for illuminating the hidden workings of life. In recognition, Shimomura was chosen Wednesday as a recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

His work involved the removal of the generative glands from jellyfish, which he mashed and sifted through in a search for previously unknown bioluminescent substances.

The work he has done must have required the kind of mental strength needed to search for a way to win the lottery, not even knowing if the winning number really exists.

I would like to applaud him for winning the glorious award.

I spent the day trying to cram the basics of physics, such as quantum mechanics, quarks and antiparticles. Now, I am resting my unreliable brain, which was defeated by the task, with visions of jellyfish, as I pursue green glowing forms in an ocean at night.

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

クラゲの光をヒトの生命を照らす・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華
1年ほど前、本紙の文芸欄で知り、書き留めた短歌がある。〈ほうたるのひかり追いつつ聞くときにルシフェラーゼは女の名前 永田紅〉。ルシフェラーゼはホタルなどが発光する際に必要な酵素という◆海中で緑色に光るオワンクラゲも酵素で光ると信じられていた。特殊なたんぱく質が発光するのを突き止めたのは有機化学者の下村脩氏(80)である。発見の手がかりは「イクオリン」、こちらは男の名前にも聞こえよう◆その意義は大きい。例えば、がん細胞中のたんぱく質にオワンクラゲの蛍光たんぱく質を付着させれば、がんの転移も光が教えてくれる。クラゲの光をヒトの生命を照らす「道具」に変えた人である◆下村氏が今年のノーベル化学賞に選ばれた。クラゲの生殖腺を切り取り、すりつぶし、未知の発光物質を探す。作業はおそらく、当たり籤(くじ)がないかも知れぬ宝籤を求めるような精神力を要しただろう。晴れの栄冠に拍手する◆量子力学、素粒子、反粒子…この一日、物理学のにわか勉強で討ち死にした頼りない脳みそを、クラゲの幻想にしばし休めている。夜の海に緑色の〈ひかり追いつつ〉

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