31 May 2006

Summer Forecast: Very Light Posting

Over the next few months, I'm going to have to concentrate on some high-priority projects with relatively tight deadlines, so posting will be very light to this blog. However, I will continue backfilling my Japan travelogue posts with photographs. On top of that, I recently opened an account on Flickr (under the name Joel in Japan) and will be loading as many photos each month as Flickr's free bandwidth allocations will permit.

Japan Travel Compendium (now illustrated!)

30 May 2006

Saipan Impressions: Chamorro and Carolinian

Carolinian village marker, GarapanWhen I went to Saipan I didn't expect to encounter either of its two indigenous languages: Chamorro and Saipanese Carolinian. And indeed I saw next to nothing written in either language. Nothing in Chamorro but the greeting "Hafa Adai" (on every license plate), and nothing in Carolinian except a plaque (pictured here) in the American Memorial Park that marked the site of the old Carolinian village at Garapan.

But then I found KCNM-FM 101.1 on my rent-a-car radio and stayed tuned to it whenever I was driving. It played a wonderful assortment of contemporary Micronesian music, from Palauan enka to Chuukese country to Gilbertese gospel, which can all be sampled on Jane Resture's Micronesian Music Radio on Live365.com.

The music was interrupted periodically by NPR news in English and occasional announcements or classified ads in Chamorro, with prices quoted in English and telephone numbers in Chamorro. The Chamorro number system is now based on Spanish: unu, dos, tres, kuatro, sinko, sais, siette, ocho, nuebi, dies. (According to Wikipedia, the basic set of old Chamorro numbers was hacha, hugua, tulu, fatfat, lima, gunum, fiti, gualu, sigua, manot/fulu—far more Philippine-looking.)

Chamorros and Carolinians on Saipan are fighting an uphill battle to preserve their ancestral languages (and many have already surrendered). The resident population of the Northern Marianas is about 35% Filipino, 20% Chamorro, 10% Chinese, 10% Korean, 5% "Anglo", with smaller numbers of Japanese, Palauans, and other Micronesians. Most of the retail clerks and wait help I encountered spoke Filipino and Filipino-accented English to each other. Most of the tourists I encountered spoke Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. The signage around Chalan Kanoa, which used to be the main Micronesian barrio when the U.S. Navy controlled most of the island, is now overwhelmingly Chinese and Korean, with some Japanese—and English, of course, one of the official languages of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

The most ubiquitous signs in Saipan say Poker. Many such signs are lit up round the clock. Almost every little country store has a Poker sign over one door, often next to one above the store entrance that says Food Stamps Accepted.

On 18 March 2005, the Saipan Tribune published three essays from a "contest held by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs' Chamorro/Carolinian Policy Commission to promote indigenous languages in the Commonwealth." Let's examine a few sentences of each.

Meta e welepakk sibwe kkepasal Refaluwasch rel?

Mwaliyasch Refalawasch nge eghi prisisu sibwe ghuleey bwe iyel yaasch IDENTITY me kkosch me eew malawasch ghisch aramasal Seipel. Sibwe abwaari me amalawa mwaliyasch leel olighat, fatattaral iimw, gangisch nge mwetelo mmwal nge sibwe kki yaali schagh.
When I took linguistic field methods back in grad school, our class worked with a speaker of Saipan Carolinian, which was not well described at the time, although a lot was known about closely related Trukese (now Chuukese). I've studied quite a few Austronesian languages, but you really need to be familiar with the Micronesian subgroup of Austronesian before this starts to look very familiar. Nevertheless, here are a few items that strike me.

Ethnonym: The Saipan Carolinian name for themselves is Refaluwasch. The name Carolinian is derived from the Caroline Islands, where the ancestors of today's Saipan Carolinians came from, probably starting around the 1700s, after the Northern Marianas had been almost entirely depopulated.

Unusual sounds: I believe the Germanic looking sch indicates a retroflex affricate that sounds a bit like Yapese ch or Kosraean sr. The double consonants in word-initial position are a bit unusual and take some getting used to for English speakers who ignore the medial double nn in Japanese konnichi-wa.

Dialects: The Trukic languages form one long dialect chain, where speakers on neighboring islands can understand each other fine, but speakers from farther apart have increasing difficulty. There is no contrast between l and n in most of the dialects. Where this speaker writes aramasal Seipel 'people of Saipan', a speaker of a different dialect might write aramasan Seipen. Similarly, the town of Tanapag, settled by a different group of Carolinians, also goes by the name of Tallabwog.

Hafa Na Prisisu Na Ta Praktika I Fino' Chamorro?

Kumu uniku yu' na pagton [sic] palao'an gi familia yan todu I dos saina-hu Chamorro, gi anai pa'go mafañagu yu', hu hungok I sunidon Chamorro despues enao mo'na I fina'na'guen nana-hu yan tata-hu. Este I lengguahen Chamorro impottante na ta tungo' sa' I mismo lengguahi-ta dumiklaklara hafa nasion-ta na rasan taotao....

Pot uttimo, prefekto yu' na patgon Chamorro ya ti bai hu sedi na bai hu maleffa osino bai hu na' fo'na I otro lengguahi ki I mismo lengguahi-hu Chamorro.
A Spanish reader's reaction to written Chamorro must be very similar to a Chinese reader's reaction to written Japanese. The huge number of familiar borrowings let you know the subject matter, but the foreign grammatical framework remains opaque. You know what they're talking about, but not what they're saying.

Ethnonym: Many Chamorros prefer to call themselves Chamoru, perhaps especially Guamanian Chamorros, whose orthographic standards (at least at Unibetsidåt Guahan) seem to differ somewhat from those in Saipan.

Unusual sounds: Chamorro ch is pronounced like [ts] (and some capitalize both members of the digraph: CHamoru, like Dutch IJssel); while y is pronounced like [dz]. The apostrophe marks a glottal stop. Spanish syllable-final -r regularly becomes -t and syllable-final -l assimilates to the following consonant.

Grammar: One of my term papers in grad school was an analysis of the historical morphology of Chamorro and Palauan, both of which look more Philippine-like as you go farther back. And both are verb-initial to a significant degree. (So is Yapese, but it's not very closely related to any other Austronesian language.) But Palauan morphology is far more opaque: with Philippine -in- showing up as -l- and -um- showing up as -o- in some environments. Chamorro is more straightforward. The Spanish loanword diklara, for instance, is both infixed and reduplicated in d-um-iklaklara. Compare Tagalog bili 'buy' and one of its inflected forms, b-um-ibili.

29 May 2006

Validating the Road to Genocide

Finally, the role of validation must be considered. We saw that failures to adequately punish the perpetrators of earlier massacres either of Armenians in 1894–96, Jews in Ukraine in 1918–20, or Tutsi in Rwanda beginning in 1959 likely contributed to the perceived vulnerability of these groups.

With the rise of contemporary mass communications, perhaps even resulting in a global village in the half-century since the Holocaust, validation does not have to be confined to the earlier unpunished murder of the potential victims themselves. If the ongoing process of massacre is not addressed, then victimizers anywhere in the world may conclude that mass killing will not be interrupted or punished, even if in a different location and with different victims. A process of this type likely occurred prior to the Rwandan genocide, and specifically in the early stages of the Bosnian conflict two years earlier. At this time, it had all the appearances of genocide, at least to many observers. The fact that the apparent mass murder of tens if not hundreds of thousands in Bosnia went unopposed, at least militarily in the opening, most influential stages of the conflict, made it appear that genocidal activities could be accomplished without serious external constraint in the post-Cold War climate of the 1990s. In other words, "if they can get away with it, so can we."

Regarding another African conflict, "I call it the copycat syndrome," said Dame Margaret Anstee, who was the UN secretary general's special envoy in Angola in the early 1990s. She said that, in 1992, when the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi "chose bullets over ballots," he had been watching the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [still at large!] "getting away with murder." This interpretation accords with the finding of Stuart Hill and Donald Rothschild that receptivity to outside political violence is conditional upon a recent history of domestic strife, amply found in both Angola and Rwanda. The fighting between Hutu and Tutsi in 1959–64, the sporadic persecutions after independence (especially in 1973), and the ongoing strife after the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] invasion of 1990 amply satisfy this condition.

Widespread massacres anywhere in the world, particularly in regions with powerful states such as Europe, have the potential to be extremely influential, especially if these states do nothing to stop the massacres. If power disparities between potential interveners and victimizers are substantial, again as in Europe in the early 1990s, and no intervention occurs, then validation of massacre, if not genocide itself, can be even more pronounced. Thus, prevention of genocide in one location is dependent on prior occurrences not only in that location, but in almost any place in the world in which successful intervention to prevent mass murder could have occurred, but did not. As in understanding the etiology of genocide, prevention is a complex matter requiring vigilance and awareness of the appropriate antecedent variables.
SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 394-395

Genocide Prevention by Democracies: OIMBY?

And now we arrive at a paradox of genocide prevention. Although one of the best preventives of the genocide of a state's minority population is the existence of a liberal democratic regime within that state, quite the opposite is true of democracy in bystander states. Here, the desire to be reelected, as in the case of the Allied governments at Versailles, or simply to avoid negative public reaction, may preclude any governmental action on behalf of endangered citizens of another state. Recall ... President Roosevelt's refusal to authorize the bombing of Auschwitz because of the fear of embarrassment, not to mention his earlier narrowing of immigration possibilities for Jews seeking refuge in the United States. Opinion polls had revealed the high level of anti-Semitism in the United States that might make his governing more difficult and, of course, his reelection as well. The British followed a similar path, as did President Clinton more recently in the Rwandan genocide.

At the Evian immigration conference in 1938 ..., the only state to open its borders to Jewish immigration was the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo, a dictator who was among the least responsive to public opinion. The Western democracies were extremely uncooperative in opening their borders. To be sure, public outcry on behalf of a threatened population potentially may reach a larger audience in a democracy than in an autocracy, if allowed, but on the whole the presumption in democracies, almost universally accepted, is that the electorate will be far more responsive to issues directly concerning its own perceived well-being than to the concerns of "alien" people....

Democracy, therefore, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its spread will make the lives of minorities more secure within states that democratize successfully. This conclusion is suggested by the findings of Rudolph Rummel and Barbara Harff. On the other hand, populations threatened with genocide may find fewer islands of refuge within democratic states. Recent restrictions on the granting of political asylum in European countries, not to mention greater difficulties generally in immigrating to Europe, and all of this even after the European Holocaust experience, suggest the importance of this distinction.
SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 392-394

Proving One's Faith in Tehran Jails, 1980s

We exchanged stories as we walked that day. Nassrin told me more about her time in jail. The whole thing was an accident. I remember how young she had been, still in high school. You're worried about our brutal thoughts against "them," she said, but you know most of the stories you hear about the jails are true. The worst was when they called people's names in the middle of the night. We knew they had been picked for execution. They would say good-bye, and soon after that, we would hear the sound of bullets. We would know the number of people killed on any given night by counting the single bullets that inevitably came after the initial barrage. There was one girl there—her only sin had been her amazing beauty. They brought her in on some trumped-up immorality charge. They kept her for over a month and repeatedly raped her. They passed her from one guard to another. That story got around jail very fast, because the girl wasn't even political; she wasn't with the political prisoners. They married the virgins off to the guards, who would later execute them. The philosophy behind this act was that if they were killed as virgins, they would go to heaven. You talk of betrayals. Mostly they forced those who had "converted" to Islam to empty the last round into the heads of their comrades as tokens of their new loyalty to the regime. If I were not privileged, she said with rancor, if I were not blessed with a father who shared their faith, God knows where I would be now—in hell with all the other molested virgins or with those who put a gun to someone's head to prove their loyalty to Islam.
SOURCE: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004), p. 212

28 May 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Imari, Potters, and Abduction

Recently the Far Outliers finally got around to visiting one of Ashikaga City's principal tourist attractions, the Kurita Museum near the Flower Park, both of which lie in the outlying town of Tomita, one JR train stop to the east.

The beautiful Kurita Museum grounds house not only one of the finest and largest collections of Imari and Nabeshima porcelain (磁器 jiki) in the world, they also include exhibits of international archaeological finds and pottery-making techniques, a climbing kiln (登り窯 noborigama, as opposed to the single-chamber 穴釜 anagama), gift and snack shops, and an off-limits working potters' village. The Sushi and Maple Syrup blogger has posted a lot of photos from a weekend visit to the Museum (and Ashikaga Gakko) last year.

伊萬里 (or 伊万里) Imari - My sources seem to indicate that Imari is one subset of Arita ware and Nabeshima is another. They were all manufactured in Arita (有田), in Saga Prefecture in northwest Kyushu. Imari is the port (near Hirado in neighboring Nagasaki Prefecture) from which export varieties were shipped, and Nabeshima (鍋島 'Pot Island') is the name of the Saga domain lords who controlled production, guarded secrets, and commissioned works of the highest quality for their peers in Japan.
As porcelain grew in popularity, the Nabeshima Clan took steps to keep their production and decorating techniques a closely guarded secret. They were aided in this effort by the Tokugawa Shogunate and other feudal lords, who commissioned the Nabeshima Clan to make porcelain for only the elite classes -- the sale of Nabeshima ware to commoners was actually forbidden, and the number of kilns and wheels was strictily limited by law.
無名陶工 Mumei toukou 'Unnamed potters' - The highest point on the grounds of the Kurita Museum is a memorial hall dedicated to all the unknown potters whose work Mr. Kurita so obviously cherishes. Unfortunately, Mr. Kurita's flowery words of appreciation fail to note that the first of these potters were Korean, and that at least one went by the name Ri Sampei in Japanese (李参平, 1579-1655).
In the early 1600s, Nabeshima Naoshige, the feudal lord of the Sage [sic] Clan, brought a group of Korean potters to Japan, including the potter Risampei, who in 1616 discovered a superior white-stoned clay at Izumiyama (Izumi Mountain, Arita). Wares fired with this earth are called "hakuji" (white porcelain ...). Some say this was the beginning of Arita Ware.
拉致 ratchi or rachi 'abduction' - This word is much in the Japanese news these days as the government and individual citizens seek to determine the fate of various young people thought to have been abducted by North Korea in order to teach Japanese to North Korean spies. After failing to find the word (under either pronunciation variant) in my electronic dictionary, I had to resort to looking up the individual characters. The first kanji (拉, Sino-Japanese ratsu) is used to indicate the sound Ra as an abbreviation for Raten 'Latin' (which is usually written in katakana when spelled in full). But 拉 also appears in the native Japanese verb 拉ぐ hishigu 'crush, smash, overpower' and in the Sino-Japanese verb 拉っする rassuru 'drag along; kidnap'. The second kanji, whose Sino-Japanese reading is chi, is used to write 致す itasu 'do; send; cause; render (assistance); exert (oneself)', as in どう致しまして dou itashimashite 'what have I done (to deserve thanks)?' (= 'Not at all / Don't mention it').

The Japanese arts website bleu et blanc provides a succinct account of the role of international supply and demand in the early history of Imari ware. ("Blue-and-white" is the English epithet for 染付け sometsuke porcelain. Literally, it means 'dye added' but the default coloring agent for porcelain was cobalt, just as the default dye for textiles was indigo, which I recently heard is also effective as an insect repellent.)
Porcelain was first fired in Hizen province of Northern Kyushu in the early 17th century by Korean potters, and most likely by the potter named Ri Sanpei, who was brought to Japan by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in his second invasion of Korea in 1597.

Early examples were somewhat primitive (but now highly prized) white or celadon toned wares, decorated with underglaze cobalt blue, until the 1640s when the first enamels were fired in red, green, blue, yellow, purple, and eventually gold; associated with the first enamels is the famous Sakaida Kakiemon (1596-1666). Before long Dutch traders aggressively sought to obtain Japanese porcelains, whose sources in China had been disrupted due to political turmoil [the fall of the Ming and rise of the Qing dynasties]; they quickly turned to Arita to provide for European demands. The first large order at Arita was placed by the VOC in 1653, and in a short time the area enjoyed prosperity as providers for the European elite, with export production reaching a peak in the 1680s, the beginning of Arita’s “golden age.”

While market demand continued for some time into the 18th century, Arita could not compete with China, who from a near cessation of operations in the 17th century, rebounded in the 18th century. The last official order from the VOC in 1759 was for three hundred pieces, and the VOC itself was dissolved in 1799.

Simultaneously, and more substantially, Arita provided for its own domestic market throughout its long history. Both style and form evolved parallel with artistic and cultural trends, and show the strong influence at different times of Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu), Chinese ceramics, painting trends, and Chinese style tea ceremony (Sencha). Some of these domestic pieces were exported privately and incidentally to the West, however much of upper tier pieces were reserved for use by feudal lords and like members of society. Arita porcelains are remarkable for their rich variations in form, style and subjects.
POSTSCRIPT: To those who think I am suggesting a moral equivalence between contemporary North Korea and contemporary Japan, let me suggest a much better match, one between Kim Il Sung, would-be unifier of a fractured Korea, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, successful unifier of a fractured Japan. That should irritate both Korean and Japanese nationalists.

27 May 2006

Burma: Once Wealthy, Now Wasteland. Why?

While I was in Katha I went to visit a woman who is the guardian of one of Burma's many secret histories.... 'We historians must keep our mouths tightly shut,' she said as she bolted the door and motioned me to a seat.... Tin Tin Lay used to work as a history professor in Rangoon University,... She now sat down opposite me and asked, 'What is it you want to know?'

Before the Second World War, Burma was one of the richest countries in the region. Any economist comparing it with other countries in Asia would have thought it safe to wager that it would develop one of the region's most successful economies. Since then, civil wars have raged across Burma's border areas, taking an infinite toll on lives and natural resources, and the military regime has outlasted almost all other dictatorships around the world. How, I wanted to know, had the fertile ground of Burmese Days evolved so quickly into the wasteland of Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Tin Tin Lay blames all Burma's woes on a streak of authoritarianism that she believes runs through Burmese society. Before the British arrived in Burma the country was ruled by an absolute monarchy. 'We Burmese spent eight centuries living under these all-powerful monarchs,' she said. 'A Burmese king could kill you or destroy you or arrest you whenever he wanted.' As a result, she argued, the Burmese have become conditioned to authoritarian rule. 'We are trained to listen to our elders, she said. 'We are trained to obey.' In other words, the Burmese have a psychological receptiveness to authoritarian government.

I had heard this controversial theory before. It was set out in a famous essay published in the early 1960s by the late Maung Maung Gyi, who had a doctorate from Yale University. He wrote about the despotic nature of Burmese kings, who were traditionally extolled as Thet-oo Hsanbaing Mintayagyi, which means 'The Great Owner of Life, Head and Hair of His Subjects', or a more succinct title could be used: Bawa-Shin Min-Taya, meaning 'The Arbiter of Existence'. Because there was no consistent law of primogeniture, the history of Burmese kingdoms is drenched in bloodshed.... The large number of rivals and challenges to the throne led to brutal massacres not only of the challengers themselves, but also of their families. The people lived at the whim of these great Arbiters of Existence; whole villages could be turned into slave markets, or be burned to cinders for harbouring dissenters. The result, wrote Maung Maung Gyi, can be seen in a Burmese proverb that says there are four things in life which cannot be trusted: a thief, the bough of a tree, a woman and a ruler. The Burmese thought-pattern had become adapted to the idea of a government as something oppressive and evil. The Burmese came to believe that misrule was an inevitability of governance. This psychological legacy has taught them that it is futile to stand up against a bad ruler, no matter how bad things get.

It is a theory that Tin Tin Lay would never be able to discuss in public, unless she wanted to provoke the ire of the military junta (not to mention the many Burmese who would disagree with her). 'The views are unpopular – I know they are,' she told me. 'But there is a truth to them. Look at us. Here we are, suffering. Suffering under our own people. Year after year we are made poorer. Year after year we become more downtrodden. The government runs free, robbing, looting and raping us. Why?' She repeated her question, more sharply: 'Why?'

I suggested a more accepted explanation of how authoritarianism was able to take root in Burma: it was the fault of the British. When the British took over Burma, they destroyed all the country's traditional institutions of government – the monarchy, the monkhood, the central administration. They deported the king, who was the linchpin of the country's administration and religious systems, keeping him until his death under careful guard in exile in India. And they practiced a system of divide and rule among the ethnic minorities. This system was unsustainable without the British, and, when it crumpled in on itself after they left, the Burmese army stepped in to quell the ensuing chaos.

Tin Tin Lay looked at me with absolute disdain.... 'The British,' she said, brought us democracy. It was the first time we had tasted it. We had never even heard of it before the British came, and we were not ready for it. I am ashamed of the Burmese people. I am ashamed of Burma and I am sad for the Burmese. We are very, very ignorant. We are always looking for someone to blame, so we blame the British.'
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), pp. 203-205

25 May 2006

Knowing How to Use vs. Knowing About Keigo

Information presented in the how-to industry confirms that the formal grammar of keigo ['polite language'] itself is not the central issue for Japanese speakers. Of much greater interest are situations associated with keigo or that call for particular language. In the classes I took at the hanashikata-kyōshitsu ['how-to-speak classroom'] formal instruction was kept to a minimum. Even when it was included, its function seemed to be as much to lend credibility to the enterprise as to teach. When our formal knowledge was tested in the hanashikata-kyōshitsu, the results frequently brought me up short. As we sat through numerous keigo quizzes, I noticed that a friend, a woman in her thirties, was consistently befuddled when asked to provide, for example, the honorific (sonkeigo) form of iu ['say'] (ossharu); the humble kenjōgo form for iku 'go' (mairu); or the error in Okyaku-sama no onamae wa nan to mōsararemasu ka? 'What do you say your name is?' (Mōsararemasu is incorrect because it is an honorific inflection [-araremasu] attached to a humble verb [mōs-u].)

These were tasks that I, as a language student and a linguist, found eminently reasonable and even comforting. But for most of those around me, including my friend, appeared to find such tasks frustrating and artificial. They exhibited consternation at the analysis of language. But at the same time, I never heard my friend err in any of her conversations with our instructors. She may have lacked the confidence in or been suspicious of what educational psychologists term her "declarative" knowledge of Japanese, but she was far from inept in her "procedural" know-how. She just used common sense—and apparently took comfort in the instructor's excursus on the importance of correct keigo. What she lacked, in my estimation, was confidence in her own ability to apply her common sense to heretofore unknown situations. So to the extent that the hanashikata-kyōshitsu class expanded its participants' horizons, it served an educational purpose. But from the relational perspective, the proffered advice of how-to does not serve actually to instruct consumers in using language. Rather, it lays out familiar (to the insider) contexts that serve as frames for keigo usage that speakers may not have seen or heard before.

This is surely one way in which native speakers differ from non-natives, as I had demonstrated to me again and again. One aspect of the hanashikata-kyōshitsu that I found instructive was the constellation of contexts and other phenomena that came together in the course of a class—naturally for the Japanese participants, in edifying fashion for me. One example of this was the six-week class called shikaisha yōsei senka 'training for emcees'. A shikaisha in Japan is the person who chairs the PTA meeting, operates as master of ceremonies at weddings, or in general runs the social event. We were given specific training for weddings and business meetings, but we also did a unit on running outings for work associates. In our case, because it was May, and spring was upon us, we elected to role-play a get-together at a park to engage in hanami (cherry-blossom viewing). I learned that for such get-togethers there are secondary roles that had to be filled, for which the shikaisha was ultimately responsible: the person who made the reservation, the "treasurer" who collected each participant's contribution, the person who acted as uketsuke 'receptionist' for the event. There was also an agreed-upon progression for the event itself, where each person was given a chance to speak in front of the group. Each of us was expected to practice and gain control of the language forms associated with our role. My colleagues were already inculcated in the roles, as well as in the secondary basic communicative practices (who did what when). Keigo emerged as just one aspect of the whole package of what it meant to be a shikaisha.

Such conflation of language and the real world is not unique to Japan.
SOURCE: Keigo in Modern Japan: Polite Language from Meiji to the Present, by Patricia J. Wetzel (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2004), pp. 99-100

If only foreign languages were taught in Japan in the same way as keigo, that is, as an instrument of social interaction rather than as a body of facts to be memorized and tested on.

Wordcatcher Tales: Noborifuji, Shakunage, Tsurubara

This afternoon the Outliers paid another visit to the Ashikaga Flower Park. We waited until the peak season crowds had cleared and the price had dropped, thereby saving ¥600 each at the cost of missing the Park's signature exhibit: the huge arbors of purple, white, and yellow blossoms hanging from massive wisteria trees (藤 fuji). But the great profusion of roses (バラ, bara), clematis (クレマチス, kuremachisu), and rhododendrons (シャクナゲ, shakunage) almost made up for it. And so did the chance to learn a little more about plants and their names—in English as well as Japanese.

上り藤 noborifuji 'ascending wisteria' - Although we missed the hanging wisteria, we discovered another plant still in bloom whose nickname in Japanese is 'ascending wisteria': lupines, also called ルピナス, rupinasu (pictured above). I remember first reading about lupines while devouring a lot of Steinbeck during language school in Monterey, California, but had never really studied them up close, and had certainly never compared them to wisteria.

石楠花 shakunage 'rhododendron' - When I checked the labels and read their name in kanji, it took me a good while to figure out that what seemed to be seki+nan+ka 'stone+camphor+flower' was actually read shaku+na+ge and meant 'rhododendron'. That's why plant identification labels in Japan usually render the names in katakana.

つるバラ tsurubara 'rambling rose' - When we first encountered a long hedgerow with trellises, the flowers didn't look like roses, but a nearby label identified them as tsurubara カクテル (kakuteru, 'cocktail' probably meaning 'hybrid'). The flowers looked a bit like John Cabot explorer roses, but with golden centers. They turned out to be just one of the varieties of rambling roses (or climbing roses) on display in the park.

24 May 2006

Animal Farm in Burma

Animal Farm was unpopular in Burma when it was first published there in the 1950s. Many of the leading intellectuals at the time had leftist leanings and read it as a criticism of the socialism they admired. When the US Embassy printed excerpts as anti-Communist propaganda, the book's fate was sealed. The society which had sponsored the translation had to give away remaindered copies. But years later, when people began to reread it, they saw similarities to their own history. I met one university lecturer who told me she had tried to put Animal Farm on the syllabus for English-literature students, but the authorities had warned her off: the text was just too similar to what was going on in Burma. A few years ago Animal Farm was serialized on the BBC's Burmese radio service. For weeks afterwards, Tun Lin told me, Mandalay tea shops were abuzz with attempts to match the animal characters to Burma's own leaders. Could you compare 'the Lady', as democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is known, to the exiled porcine revolutionary Snowball? And which pig was General Ne Win? Was he Major, the imperious old pig with a vision who died so suddenly? (Hopefully.) Or was he Napoleon, the grotesque ruler who grew stronger and more deranged each day? (Probably.)

Ne Win was perhaps a bit of both. He was a famously reclusive leader, known for his foul mouth, many marriages and obsessive superstition. It was his dabblings with numerology that had the most dramatic consequences for Burma. In 1987 Ne Win demonetized certain banknotes, replacing them with new notes with denominations of 45 kyat and 90 kyat – each value neatly divisible by nine (an astrologically auspicious number, and the general's favourite). People's already paltry savings were wiped out overnight and, with little to lose, a year later they took to the streets in the 1988 uprising.
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), pp. 89-90

Saipan Impressions: Three Meals

No one goes to Saipan or Guam for the cuisine, but I did want to try something localized and not the standard American, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean fare near the major hotels. I had a bit of success, but it wasn't easy. And I only had three meals to worry about.

Breakfast on the way back to the airport included the obligatory Spam: a Spam & egg sandwich combo (with coffee and donut) at Winchell's, a U.S. West Coast chain whose menu may have been adapted to Saipan tastes. But I hadn't expected the huge dollop of mayonnaise that dripped off at every bite (with a little help from me).

My first meal on Saipan was delayed until I returned from a drive to see the sights at the north end of the island, since there was almost nowhere to eat on that stretch of road. So I turned off into the port area on the way back and found the dowdy Seaman's Restaurant at the end of a pier past a shipwreck listing in the shallows. It was 11 a.m. and I was the only customer—but a hungry one. The Chinese-run restaurant offered a $5 bento with Saipanese characteristics (pictured above). New England clam chowder substituted for miso soup, served with a Korean soup spoon. The rice and sashimi (with wasabi) were Japanese, the beef broccoli Chinese, and the fish jun vaguely Korean (with a wedge of local citrus to squeeze onto it), while the stewed chicken and onion looked like Philippine adobo, but with little pepper and garlic and even less vinegar or bay leaf. The ice tea was served with a squeeze bottle of sugar water, not packets of sugar or sugar substitute. Two orange slices served as a Chinese final course. It was just the sort of motley Pacific Island cuisine I was looking for.

After driving all over the island most of the day, I decided to see if any place looked promising within walking distance near the hotel. Moby Dick answered the call. A chalkboard listed fish kelaguen, a Chamorro dish of soft chunks of boneless raw fish "cooked" in lemon juice and tossed with slices of green and round onion, and sweet and spicy peppers. It was wonderful—and big enough to serve as an appetizer for two people. But I couldn't resist ordering the local bottomfish catch of the day, either opakapaka or mafuti. I hadn't heard of mafuti. When I asked what kind of fish it was, the Filipina waitress didn't know any other name for it but brought it over to show me. I didn't recognize it, but ordered it grilled. The whole fish came back to me a little bit overcooked, but I demolished most of it anyway. A Tagalog-speaking waiter later explained that "maputi" got its name from being a white fish. Tagalog for 'white' is indeed puti, but the fishname appears to be Chamorro, where the word for 'white' is a'paka'. So I don't know what the story is. (More on Chamorro language later.)

23 May 2006

Saipan Impressions: Package Tours

I needed to make a quick trip abroad by the end of May in order to renew my 90-day no-visa entry permit in Japan. Mrs. Outlier is on a work visa and had to teach, so I was on my own. Fortunately, package tours had dropped in price after the end of Golden Week, and so I began shopping for the cheapest, quickest tour to either the island of Cheju in Korea or the island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas, neither of which I had visited before. (I've spent a bit of time in Guam, Yap, Palau, and Pohnpei.) Saipan not only proved the cheaper option, but offered better chances of breaking away from the pack. In each case, the package was cheaper than the roundtrip airfare alone.

My only previous package tours were a relatively lavish academic junket in South Korea in 1995 and a dollar-denominated official minitour of the painted monasteries in Romanian Bukovina in 1983. Both were interesting, but confining. However, during the many setbacks in our self-booked travels around China in 1987-88, we wished more than once for the comfort and predictability of a package tour.

The timing of the JTB departures and arrivals was bizarre. The tour offered barely 30 hours in Saipan: two half-nights and one day in between. The major advantage seemed to be that tourists from near Narita would only have to miss one day of work. They could leave after work one day, and return before work two days later. I wonder how many of the (apparent) OLs on that flight called in sick for the Monday they were gone. There's only a one-hour time difference between Saipan and Japan, but this trip left me rather jet-lagged.

NW 18 left Narita about 9 p.m. and arrived in Saipan about 1:45 a.m. I had no checked baggage and breezed through customs, so I had rented a car (from Budget, the only booth manned at that moment) and navigated in the dark to the massive Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan well before the rest of the tour had left the airport. (I had to wake up the gatekeeper to get out of the airport parking lot.) After some consternation, the hotel front desk was able to issue me a separate room key so that I could check in before the rest of the group arrived. The lobby was awfully quiet at 2:30 a.m., but the hostess bars, massage parlors, streetwalkers, and their potential clients were still at work just across the street in the contemporary equivalent of the old 城下町 jouka-machi 'town below the castle'.

NW 17 left Saipan around 5 a.m., so the tour bus left the hotel at 2:40 a.m. I decided to aim for 3 a.m, but wasn't sure that I could rely on the wake-up call or would hear my wrist alarm. But I awoke shortly after 2 a.m. to the sound of doors slamming as my neighbors headed for the lobby. I checked out of the hotel about 3 a.m. and had enough time to refill the gas tank (5 gallons for $18!), grab breakfast at a 24-hour coffee-and-donut shop, wake-up the car rental agent, check in at the very friendly NW counter overflowing with student trainees (all of whom later showed up at the boarding gate), and get a 10-minute (for $10) back massage in the departure lounge. Others spent most of that time in the Duty Free Shop.

Parts of Saipan never seem to sleep: the airport, gas stations, poker casinos, and the "pleasure quarters" near the big hotels.

UPDATE: I have flown a lot of miles on Northwest Airlines (visiting in-laws via Minneapolis) and don't have any greater animus against them than I do against most other major airlines, but they do a really shoddy job on NW 17 and NW 18. Despite the fact that 3 out of 4 passengers is Japanese on that route, they didn't stock a single pair of chopsticks in case passengers asked for them, and they enforced (at least in economy class) a strict limit of only 1 serving of alcohol per person on a flight that was maybe 1/3 OLs (not athletes) on holiday. I learned this from overhearing the requests of Japanese passengers around me. Finally, NW relied on one poor bilingual flight attendant to translate all the English-only messages, whether routine or exceptional. No kudos on this flight, Northwest.

20 May 2006

Military vs. Monks in Burma Now

In Burma, there is no escape from politics – not even at the pagoda. Many Buddhist monks joined the protests of 1988, and hundreds were shot and killed by soldiers. Two years later, some 7,000 monks walked silently through the streets of Mandalay with their begging bowls, to collect alms in memory of those who had died in 1988. The peaceful remembrance ended in bloodshed as soldiers shot into the crowd, killing and wounding a number of monks. Afterwards, the sangha, or holy Buddhist order, launched a nationwide religious boycott of the regime by refusing to accept alms from military families or to oversee their weddings and funerals. The action is known as pattam nikkujana kamma – 'the overturning of the alms bowl'. This passive protest reportedly upset members of the army, as it robbed them of any control over their spiritual destiny: at Buddhist funerals, monks are necessary to guide a person's vulnerable soul into the next life. Soldiers raided over 100 monasteries, arresting more than 3,000 monks and novices. The sangha now operates under strict government control. All monks must be checked by the government before ordination, even those who take holy orders for only a few weeks or months, as many Buddhist men do. Traditional ceremonies require prior permission from local authorities. And informers, dressed in the brick-red robes of a Burmese monk, are rife within the sangha itself. Senior monks are coerced into toeing the party line with threats and bribes. Abbots, who often have influential moral power within the village, are ordered to keep villagers in check.
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), p. 84

19 May 2006

Root Causes of the Burmese Crime Wave of 1924?

Orwell's first year on the beat was a catastrophic one for the British police force in Burma. Retired civil servant J. K. Stanford wrote in his memoirs of that time, 'Everyone had realized what an astounding assortment of malefactors – murderers, dacoits, thieves, robbers, house-breakers, forgers, coiners, blackmailers, and so on – each district possessed. They seemed to spring up like dragon's teeth. Violent crime in Burma had risen at an alarming rate. Dacoity – defined as crime committed by roving gangs of more than five hooligans – had doubled in the last ten years, as had murder rates, giving Burma the dubious distinction of being the most violent corner of the Indian Empire. As one police report put it: 'Murder stalks through the land with impunity.' The sheer brutality of the crimes astounded British administrators. Dacoits raped women and girls as young as eleven, afterwards covering their victims in kerosene-soaked blankets and setting fire to them. There were descriptions of a dacoit king famous for crucifying his victims. The dead body of an Indian was found in a well with a bamboo stick forced up his anus. A monk was lured out of his dwellings to have his throat slit. A fisherman was hacked to death for his daily catch. 'This year,' said the police report for 1924, with considerable understatement, 'has been a very difficult one for the Police.'

Burma's unprecedented crime wave sent the police force into turmoil, and Orwell found himself right in the deep end. 'Crime season,' as the police called it, was between January and June, when the demands of agricultural labor were low. And this was exactly when Orwell began his first posting out in the field. The British police authorities set up countless committees to investigate the root causes of what one report called the 'bestial savagery' and to find out how best to deal with it. All police leave during crime season was revoked. Ninety British officers and 13,000 Burmese policemen had to oversee a land of some 13 million people. The Burmese policemen were underpaid and undertrained. Corruption was rampant among magistrates, and criminals were seldom convicted. It was a potentially disastrous situation.

The British authorities desperately searched for solutions. One committee denounced alcohol as a catalyst for murder. The ever present dani [nipa palm], which lined the rivers I had sailed through, could be distilled into a lethal brew, and toddy was attainable from any palm tree. The committee recommended total prohibition for Burmans. Another pointed to the demoralizing influence of the imported adventure movies – mostly violent depictions of America's Wild West – that were doing the rounds on travelling cinematographs. One officer blamed the high rates of violence on the Delta's infernal mosquitoes. And there were some, much more disturbing, diagnoses which referred to 'the innate criminality of the Burmese character'. Only one report ventured to look at the impact of British intervention on Burmese culture: the way in which the British government had removed respected headmen and replaced them with its own bureaucratic counterparts. A Burmese police officer added 'a minute of dissent' to one report, pointing out that young Burmese boys now had to attend schools styled on the British educational system and were no longer able to go to the pongyi kyaung, or traditional monastic schools. He felt the government should have had the foresight to see that disabling the country's centuries-old religious education system would lead to disaster. There is, he wrote, 'no reason to assume it has come to such a stage that the Burmese people are less moral than any other nation'.
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), pp. 71-72

Anti-imperialist Orwell "Bred for Empire"?

In 1923, Orwell came [to Maymyo] for a week's holiday with Roger Beadon, a fellow probationary assistant district superintendent undergoing police training in Mandalay. Beadon was later one of the few old Burma hands able to remember much about the writer's time in Burma. It was in Maymyo that Beadon realized that Orwell was not a typical empire builder. He recalled that, though they both enjoyed the trip, Orwell remained aloof the whole time and limited his conversation to what Beadon termed commonplace remarks. 'I realized that he and I had very little in common, I presumably being an extrovert, he an introvert, living in a world of his own: a rather shy, retiring intellectual.'

Everything in Orwell's background, however, indicated that he was, almost literally, bred for the Empire. He came from a long line of colonial families. His father's ancestors had owned Jamaican sugar plantations. His grandfather had been ordained as a deacon in Calcutta, later serving as a priest in Tasmania. And his father spent his entire career in the colonial service in India, overseeing the production of government opium crops. On his mother's side, Orwell's family had lived and worked as shipbuilders and teak-traders for three generations in Lower Burma. Orwell himself was born in Motihari, a small town in northern India, and first moved to England, with his mother, shortly before his second birthday. Yet, in Mandalay, Orwell acquired a reputation as someone who didn't fit in. According to Beadon, Orwell was thought not to be 'a good mixer'. Beadon described him as a man who was 'sallow-faced, tall, thin, and gangling, whose clothes, no matter how well-cut, seemed to hang on him'. Beadon spent his time living it up at the Upper Burma Club, playing snooker and dancing, but Orwell 'cared little for games, and seemed to be bored with the social and Club life'. He preferred to stay behind in his room at the mess, reading, spending most of his time alone – much like John Flory, who, in Burmese Days, 'took to reading voraciously, and learned to live in books when life was tiresome'.

The social life of Mandalay and Maymyo, it seems, was too hedonistic for the young Orwell.
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), pp. 42-43

18 May 2006

Restraining Rock Concerts in Tehran

I should put the word concert in quotation marks, because such cultural affairs were parodies of the real thing, performed in private homes or, more recently, at a cultural center built by the municipality in the south of Tehran. They were the focus of considerable controversy, because despite the many limitations set upon them, many in government considered them disreputable. The performances were closely monitored and mostly featured amateur players like the ones we went to see that night. But the house was always packed, the tickets were always sold out and the programs always started a little late....

When we finally entered the auditorium, we found people stuffed into the concert hall, sitting in the aisles, on the floor and standing clustered against the wall.... We were greeted by a gentleman who insulted the audience for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, telling us that the management did not wish to entertain audiences of "rich imperialists" contaminated by decadent Western culture. This brought smiles to many of those who had come that evening to hear the music of the Gipsy Kings. The gentleman also admonished that if anyone acted in an un-Islamic manner, he or she would be kicked out. He went on to instruct women to observe the proper rules and regulations regarding the use of the veil.

It is hard to conjure an accurate image of what went on that night. The group consisted of four young Iranian men, all amateurs, who entertained us with their rendition of the Gipsy Kings. Only they weren't allowed to sing; they could only play their instruments. Nor could they demonstrate any enthusiasm for what they were doing: to show emotion would be un-Islamic. As I sat there in that packed house, I decided that the only way the night could possibly be turned into an entertainment was if I pretended to be an outside observer who had come not to have fun but to report on a night out in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Yet despite these restrictions and the quality of the performance, our young musicians could not have found anywhere in the world an audience so receptive, so forgiving of their flaws, so grateful to hear their music. Every time the audience, mostly young and not necessarily rich, started to move or clap, two men in suits appeared from either side of the stage and gesticulated for them to stop clapping or humming or moving to the music. Even when we tried to listen, to forget these acrobats, they managed to impose themselves on our field of vision, always present, always ready to jump out and intervene. Always, we were guilty.

The players were solemn. Since it was almost impossible to play with no expression at all, their expressions had become morose. The lead guitarist seemed to be angry with the audience; he frowned, trying to prevent his body from moving—a difficult task, since he was playing the Gipsy Kings.
SOURCE: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004), pp. 299-301

17 May 2006

Trusting Only Old Books in Burma

Hla Htut sat reading a collection of Tolstoy's short stories in a faded deckchair. I gave him my letter of introduction, from a mutual friend in Rangoon. He read it carefully, folded it up, and handed it back to me. With great solemnity he pulled a plastic stool from behind some boxes and offered me a seat. Then he leaned back in his chair, lit a slender cheroot, and confessed that he hates books.

Hla Htut is in his early thirties. He has placid, sculpted features and an easy, slow manner. Since his schooling was disrupted by the government's frequent and haphazard closure of Burma's universities, he never finished the bachelor's degree he started in English literature. Instead, he began dealing in books. It isn't that he hates all books, he clarified: he just hates Burmese books. In fact, Hla Htut has no time for any contemporary Burmese writing, be it novels, newspapers or magazines. 'I don't trust them. They always lie,' he said....

Burma has always had a high literacy rate, thanks to a strong tradition of education instilled by the country's Buddhist monasteries, and reading for pleasure became a widespread pastime under the British. After a few generations under the colonial education system and with the introduction of printing presses, Burmese writers began to write more for the masses rather than for the palace elite. An adventure story inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo was published in 1904 and is considered the first example of the novel in Burma. It was an instant hit, and a few years later novels and short stories written by Burmese writers were everywhere.

The Burmese, explained Hla Htut, had always been primed to love stories. All Burmese children were weaned on the Jataka stories, a collection of some 550 moral tales which described the many reincarnations of Prince Siddhartha before he achieved enlightenment as the Buddha. Prince Siddhartha appears in human and animal form wandering through the Buddhist cosmological landscape – a wonderland of celestial beings and forests filled with mythical beasts. Among other early favorites were H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle (the translator of the latter transformed Sherlock Holmes into the longyi-clad Sone Dauk Maung San Sha, or Detective Maung San Sha, and the sleuth's famous Baker Street address became Bogalay Zay Street in Rangoon). A hundred years later, both Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle are still big sellers. Hla Htut puts it down to the oppressive political environment in which people live. 'We Burmese, we need to escape. We don't want to read non-fiction. We want only fiction and fantasy. We want to read about heroes – strong men, clever men.'
SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), pp. 26-28 (reviewed here and here)

16 May 2006

Sumo's Battle of the Ozeki

With the only consistent tournament winner and only reigning yokozuna (grand champion), Asashoryu, on the injured list, the competition is tight among the remaining top wrestlers as they reach the home stretch of the Natsu Basho, which ends on Sunday. (Inconsistent ozeki Tochiazuma, who won the opening tournament in January, also dropped out after a string of losses.)

Two veteran Japanese rikishi, ozeki (champion) Chiyotaikai and sekiwake (junior champion) Miyabiyama, share the lead (at 9-1) with the newly promoted Mongolian ozeki, Hakuho. However, both the Japanese veterans are relying on relatively crude techniques, mostly unrelenting thrusts and slaps, as they try to avoid the clinch. They face each other today, so one of them is going to fall off the lead. Hakuho seems favored to win, and he already has the calm, confident gravitas of a yokozuna (more so than Asashoryu, in my opinion).

Just one loss (at 8-2) behind the leaders are Japanese veteran ozeki Kaio (my favorite among the Japanese contenders), Mongolian "Supermarket of Tricks" Kyokushuzan, and the Estonian phenom Baruto (the "Balt"), Kaido Hoovelson, whose ceremonial apron shows a Viking helmet, and who rose to sumo's Makuuchi division (the "Majors") after winning the last Juryo ("Triple A") division tournament with a perfect 15-0 record.

UPDATE, Day 12: Chiyotaikai lost first to Miyabiyama, and then to Kotomitsuki, dropping off the pace at 9-3; while Miyabiyama defeated the struggling Bulgarian Kotooshu to preserve his one loss at 11-1. So Miyabiyama, a veteran Japanese ozeki, remains neck-and-neck with Hakuho, a rookie Mongolian ozeki, in the home stretch, with the giant newcomer Baruto just one loss behind.

UPDATE, Day 13: All three leaders won. Hakuho (now 12-1) pulled down fellow ozeki Kotooshu (now 6-7), who risks demotion if he doesn't win the next two bouts. Miyabiyama (now 12-1) shoved out Kyokushuzan (now 9-4). And Baruto (11-2) managed to get both hands on (yokozuna Asashoryu's stablemate) Asasekiryu's belt, immobilize him, then lift him up and drop him outside the ring. The rookie has done his homework and is winning respect. You might expect a wrestler of his size to just drive his opponents backward out of the ring, but over 13 days Baruto has won by 10 different techniques, many of them defensive moves where he helps his opponent charge down toward the clay or out of the ring.

UPDATE, Day 14: Well, Miyabiyama quickly ended the Estonian rookie's dreams of winning the tournament during his makuuchi debut, handing him his 3rd loss. Baruto made the mistake of trying to force Miyabiyama's head down. All that accomplished was to lower the center of gravity and concentrate the weight of the heaviest rikishi still wrestling. Hakuho and Miyabiyama remain at 13-1 and could face a final playoff if both win or both lose on Day 15, when Hakuho gets his shot at Baruto (11-3) and Miyabiyama faces Asasekiryu (10-4). Even if he doesn't win the tournament, Miyabiyama is sure to win promotion from sekiwake to ozeki, while the Bulgarian Kotooshu (7-7) risks demotion from ozeki back to sekiwake unless he can defeat fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai (10-4) tomorrow.

UPDATE, Day 15: New ozeki Hakuho wins his first tournament after defeating Miyabiyama in a playoff. Both rikishi finished at 14-1 after Hakuho quickly left Baruto (11-4) prone on the clay and Miyabiyama shoved out Asasekiryu (11-4). Miyabiyama is likely to be the newest ozeki at the Nagoya basho in July. Kotooshu (8-7) barely managed to retain his rank by defeating fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai (10-5). However, the two Mongolian komusubi are likely to lose their ranks: small but scrappy Ama (4-11) and middle-of-the-pack Kyokutenho (5-10). Asasekiryu and Baruto may well replace them.

RELATED POSTS: Japundit's Danny Bloom notes a Japan Times article about the differences between how well foreigners in Japan master Japanese in professional sumo and in professional baseball.
Twenty years ago, the most prominent foreign rikishi (sumo wrestlers) tended to be from Hawaii, which has a large Japanese-American population and close cultural ties with Japan. More recently, however, most foreign rikishi have hailed from Mongolia (Asashoryu), as well as Bulgaria (Kotooshu), Russia (Rohou) and other former Soviet bloc countries. Frequently appearing in TV interviews, the wrestlers do, of course, make the occasional error -- but when they speak, they sound like sumo rikishi, and they express themselves in a manner remarkably similar to their Japanese counterparts [yeah, mumbling and inarticulate in both cases--J.].

This language proficiency, particularly among foreign grapplers from countries with only tenuous historical and cultural ties to Japan, has become a topic of academic study. Dr. Satoshi Miyazaki, a professor at the Graduate School of Japanese Applied Linguistics, Waseda University, began his field work in 1997....

"To learn the language, they don't need a teacher or a dictionary," Miyazaki says. "They just learn through osmosis. Foreign rikishi are not here to learn Japanese, but to learn sumo. But by learning sumo they have to learn Japanese. That's their motivation. Many students who learn in classroom studies don't know what to do with the language they learn. So it's a matter of identity."
And Japundit's baseball contributor (and NY Yankees fan) Mike Plugh has two informative posts about ironman Hideki Matsui's wrist injury: a backgrounder, Godzilla vs. Misfortune, and an update on fan reactions in Japan and the U.S., Feeding the monster.

15 May 2006

Reading Said vs. Austen in Tehran

Olga was silent.

"Ah," cried Vladimir, "Why can't you love me as I love you."

"I love my country," she said.

"So do I," he exclaimed.

"And there is something I love even more strongly," Olga continued, disengaging herself from the young man's embrace.

"And that is?" he queried.

Olga let her limpid blue eyes rest on him, and answered quickly: "It is the Party."
Every great book we read became a challenge to the ruling ideology. It became a potential threat and menace not so much because of what it said but how it said it, the attitude it took towards life and fiction. Nowhere was this challenge more apparent than in the case of Jane Austen.

I had spent a great deal of time in my classes at Allameh contrasting Flaubert, Austen and James to the ideological works like Gorky's Mother, Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don and some of the so-called realistic fiction coming out of Iran. The above passage, quoted by Nabokov in his Lectures on Russian Literature, caused a great deal of mirth in one of my classes at Allameh. What happens, I asked my students, when we deny our characters the smallest speck of individuality? Who is more realized in her humanity, Emma Bovary or Olga of the limpid blue eyes?

One day after class, Mr. Nahvi followed me to my office. He tried to tell me that Austen was not only anti-Islamic but that she was guilty of another sin: she was a colonial writer. I was surprised to hear this from the mouth of someone who until then had mainly quoted and misquoted the Koran. He told me that Mansfield Park was a book that condoned slavery, that even in the West they had now seen the error of their ways. What confounded me was that I was almost certain Mr. Nahvi had not read Mansfield Park.

It was only later, on a trip to the States, that I found out where Mr. Nahvi was getting his ideas from when I bought a copy of Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism. It was ironic that a Muslim fundamentalist should quote Said against Austen. It was just as ironic that the most reactionary elements in Iran had come to identify with and co-opt the work and theories of those considered revolutionary in the West.
SOURCE: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004), pp. 289-290

14 May 2006

Peaktalk on the Fall of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Dutch expatriate Peaktalk offers a fascinating take on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's downfall.
The other aspect that should be underlined here is the deep resentment that success and ambition usually generate in The Netherlands. Dynamic careers, success, outspokenness, standing out in the crowd are things that have always been frowned upon, although that has changed a bit in recent years I guess. Still, the Dutch coined the phrase “act normal, that is strange enough” and a very ambitious black Muslim woman who built up a spectacular political career with international allure by holding a mirror in front of the complacent and politically lethargic Dutch was of course not something that would be rewarded with eternal gratitude. Intelligent as she is, Hirsi Ali must have been keenly aware that she was bound to get into real trouble and by that I do not mean a jihadist ready to kill her. No, her once receptive hosts and former friends will now have the honor of wielding the knife.

Coming so quickly after the court ruling in the case that seeks to evict her from her house it is hard not to escape the conclusion that some sort of concerted effort is under way to get rid of her. As it stands, I believe that both the left and the right have a vested interest in bringing this about and without the support of her own party Hirsi Ali’s chances to hang on and run on the VVD ticket in the general election next year are remote.

Guinness Record for Carp Streamers

On Sunday afternoon, the weather was clear enough that the Far Outliers made a short trip to see the already fading blossoms at Azalea Hill Park (つつじが岡公園) in nearby Tatebayashi in Gunma Prefecture. The white azaleas seemed to be the last to bloom and fade; the gaudier varieties were mostly well past their prime. It was a nice sprawling park, and the crowds were much more tolerable than they must have been the previous weekend.

Among the serendipitous delights we witnessed were the Guinness record-holding display of carp streamers (鯉のぼり koinobori)—set last year at 5,283, exceeded this year at 5,478—and a hothouse (温室 onshitsu) containing a wonderful range of tropical plants that made us nostalgic for tropical islands: palms, banyans, breadfruit, tree ferns, coffee trees, anthuriums, hibiscus, passion flowers, 等 (nado 'etc.').

12 May 2006

Feminist Flashbacks in Tehran

At the start of the twentieth century, the age of marriage in Iran—nine, according to sharia laws—was changed to thirteen and then later to eighteen. My mother had chosen whom she wanted to marry and she had been one of the first six women elected to Parliament in 1963. When I was growing up, in the 1960s, there was little difference between my rights and the rights of women in Western democracies. But it was not the fashion then to think that our culture was not compatible with modern democracy, that there were Western and Islamic versions of democracy and human rights. We all wanted opportunities and freedom. That is why we supported revolutionary change—we were demanding more rights, not fewer.

I married, on the eve of the revolution, a man I loved.... By the time my daughter was born five years later, the laws had regressed to what they had been before my grandmother's time: the first law to be repealed, months before the ratification of the new constitution, was the family-protection law, which guaranteed women's rights at home and at work. The age of marriage was lowered to nine—eight and a half lunar years, we were told; adultery and prostitution were to be punished by stoning to death; and women, under law, were considered to have half the worth of men. Sharia law replaced the existing system of jurisprudence and became the norm. My youthful years had witnessed the rise of two women to the rank of cabinet minister. After the revolution, these same two women were sentenced to death for the sins of warring with God and spreading prostitution. One of them, the minister for women's affairs, had been abroad at the time of revolution and remained in exile, where she became a leading spokesperson for women's rights and human rights. The other, the minister of education and my former high school principal, was put in a sack and stoned or shot to death. These girls, my [students], would in time come to think of these women with reverence and hope: if we'd had women like this in the past, there was no reason why we couldn't have them in the future.

Our society was much more advanced than its new rulers, and women, regardless of their religious and ideological beliefs, had come out onto the streets to protest the new laws. They had tasted power and wre not about to give it up without a fight. It was then that the myth of Islamic feminism—a contradictory notion, attempting to reconcile the concept of women's rights with the tenets of Islam—took root. It enabled the rulers to have their cake and eat it too: they could claim to be progressive and Islamic, while modern women were denounced as Westernized, decadent and disloyal. They needed us modern men and women to show them the way, but they also had to keep us in our place.

What differentiated this revolution from the other totalitarian revolutions of the twentieth century was that it came in the name of the past: this was both its strength and its weakness. We, four generations of women—my grandmother, my mother, myself and my daughter—lived in the present but also in the past; we were experiencing two different time zones simultaneously.
SOURCE: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004), pp. 261-262

10 May 2006

Who Really Saved Kabuki After the War?

In the spring 2006 issue of Asian Theatre Journal, University of Hawai‘i professor emeritus of Asian theatre James R. Brandon offers a nice bit of revisionist history in Myth and Reality: A Story of Kabuki during American Censorship, 1945–1949 (Project Muse subscription required). Here's the abstract:
American censors during the occupation of Japan after World War II unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate feudal themes and foster new democratic plays in kabuki. Contrary to popular myths, kabuki flourished under the Occupation, "banned" plays were rapidly released, the infamous "list of banned plays" was not significant, most American censors were captivated by kabuki, and credit for Occupation assistance to kabuki should not limited to one man, Faubion Bowers. Using archival records, I show that the Shōchiku Company, the major kabuki producer, successfully resisted the democratic aims of the Occupation. Shōchiku's "classics-only" policy protected Japanese culture from American contamination and inadvertently fashioned the fossilized kabuki we know today.
Brandon's conclusion enumerates "four proximate causes for kabuki's managers to hold aloof from Japan's modern postwar world."
First, as we have seen, SCAP was unable to mount an effective program of change. SCAP lacked the will to attack the tightly held world of monopolistic kabuki. American policies were inconsistent, personalized, and affected by rapid turnover of Occupation personnel....

A second reason is that Loyal Retainers, Ichinotani, and Subscription List are magnificent theatre pieces that Shōchiku producers were determined they would not give up. Producers knew audiences hungered to see the old favorites. They didn't care if SCAP liked these plays or not....

A third reason is that it was psychologically difficult to create new kabuki plays about a ruined, poverty-stricken, postwar Japan. Had there been no war or had Japan been victorious, it seems very probable that the long tradition of staging new kiwamono ['ephemeral, avant-garde goods'] would have continued in kabuki....

A final reason kabuki did not modernize is that American theatre officials were quick to embrace traditional kabuki and call it a great theatre art. They did not, personally, want to be responsible for harming kabuki by banning plays.... This reification of the traditional mode of kabuki by highly regarded foreigners strongly contributed to classicizing (koten-ka) and aestheticizing (bijutsu-ka) the art in the decades that followed the Occupation.

The Meaning of Tolerance in Tehran

About two weeks into my second semester of teaching at Allameh, as soon as I opened the door to my office, I noticed on the floor an envelope that had been pushed under the door. I still have both the envelope and the yellowing piece of paper I found inside, folded once to fit. My name and address at the university is typed, but on a piece of paper there is only one line, childish and as obscene as its message: The adulterous Nafisi should be expelled. This was the welcoming gift I received on my formal return to academia.

Later that day, I spoke to the head of the department. The president had also received a note, with similar message. I wondered why they told me this. I knew and they knew that the word adulterous, like all other words confiscated by the regime, had lost its meaning. It was merely an insult, intended to make you feel dirty and disqualified. I also knew that this could happen anywhere: the world is full of angry, pathological individuals pushing pieces of paper with obscene messages under doors.

What hurt, and still hurts, is that this mentality ultimately ruled our lives. This was the same language that the official papers, the radio and television and the clerics from their pulpits used to discredit and demolish their foes. And most of them succeeded at their task. What made me feel cheap, and in some way complicit, was the knowledge that so many people had been deprived of their livelihood on the basis of similar charges—because they had laughed loudly in public, because they had shaken hands with a member of the opposite sex. Should I just thank my lucky stars that I escaped with no more than one line scrawled on a cheap piece of paper?

I understood then what it meant when I was told that this university and my department in particular were more "liberal." It did not mean that they would take action to prevent such incidents: it meant that they would not take action against me on account of them. The administration did not understand my anger; they attributed it to a "feminine" outburst, as they would become accustomed to calling my protests in the years to come. They gave me to understand that they were prepared to put up with my antics, my informal addresses to my students, my jokes, my constantly slipping scarf, my Tom Jones and Daisy Miller. This was called tolerance. And the strange thing is that in some way it was tolerance, and in some way I had to be grateful to them.
SOURCE: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2004), pp. 189-190

09 May 2006

Carp Fan Rooting for the Giants?

Tonight I'm finding myself in the unusual position of rooting for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, the team I generally love to see lose (like the NY Yankees). Part of the reason is that the Giants are playing against the 2004 merger-created Pacific League Orix Buffaloes, for whom I have no feeling at all.

But the main reason is that the Giants' pitcher is Jeremy Powell, who used to pitch not just for the sorry-ass Buffaloes, but for the sorry-ass Montreal Expos—for whom I did have a bit of a soft spot when they were managed by Felipe Alou, who came to Japan with the San Francisco Giants when I was a kid. (I not only got their autographs; I also accompanied Alou with my dad on the train to Kyoto to speak at our church.)

I like Powell for four reasons: He's effective, he's paid his dues, he's not arrogant, and he knows enough Japanese to answer the postgame interview questions (in English) before waiting for the translation. (Okay, both the questions and the answers are pretty predictable.) His positive attitude comes across very well in an interview last month with Rob Smaal of IHT-Asahi.
What's been the biggest change since joining the Giants from the Buffaloes organization?

I think the biggest change is that actual pressure to win--the media puts it on them, the fans put it on them, the Giants are such a well-known team around the world. I also think the team unity here is way better. I just feel like everybody here is so much more professional, so much more into it, it's exciting.

You had an RBI on Tuesday against the Carp. Since pitchers in the Pacific League usually don't have to hit, how do you like swinging the bat?

It's fun. I'm a terrible hitter right now, but I guess that's not my job. I'll try to go out there and bunt guys over when I have to. I want to try and help the offense out as much as I can. Like I said, it's fun, kind of brings you back to Little League and high school again....

When you first came to Japan back in 2001 did you ever think you'd be here this long?

Never. It was really hard for me my first year mentally to adapt to the game over here. Toward the end of the (first) year I really changed my mind and started pitching better.

But I never thought I'd be here this long, no.

Describe your pitching style ... what are your strengths as a pitcher?

Definitely I'm not an overpowering pitcher. At times I can overpower guys in certain innings, every once in a while I'll have a good fastball. For the most part I'm mixing it up, just trying to keep the ball down, trying to establish both sides of the plate with the fastball that I do have. My breaking ball's been a good pitch for me over here, it's helped me be successful over here and I've gotta have that pitch. I'm kind of in between a power pitcher and a thumber (baseball slang for someone who throws a lot of offspeed and/or breaking stuff), I guess....

Your thoughts on the recent World Baseball Classic ... good idea, bad idea?

I think it was a really good idea. I was glad to see everyone get together and play again since they took it out of the Olympics. Baseball is a huge sport and it's just getting bigger around the world. To play games here, play games in the States, play games in Puerto Rico, at all those different venues--it's great for the game to have the Japanese team win it and to have all those Japanese players going over to the States and doing well. For me personally, it's great. I hope all the best for those guys that go over there because it makes the game look better everywhere. The WBC was a good showcase for the game.

Who were you cheering for in the WBC, Japan or the United States?

To be honest with you, I wanted to see Japan do well over there. I didn't expect them to win it but I knew they'd do well. They have a good team and I just wanted them to do well and compete, and they did so it makes the game look good over here. For me, that's all the better. I've been over here this long now and this is kind of where I made my niche so it's a good thing.
I might even be willing to forgive Powell for his shutout of the Carp last month.

08 May 2006

European Attitudes toward the Confederacy

Although Napoleon III of France wished to recognize the Confederacy from almost the beginning, he was unwilling to take this step except in tandem with Britain. (All other European powers except perhaps Russia would have followed a British or French lead.) British policy on recognition of a revolutionary or insurrectionary government was coldly pragmatic. Not until it had proved its capacity to sustain and defend its independence, almost beyond peradventure of doubt, would Britain risk recognition. The Confederate hope, of course, was for help in gaining that independence.

Most European observers and statesmen believed in 1861 that the Union cause was hopeless. In their view, the Lincoln administration could never reestablish control over 750,000 square miles of territory defended by a determined and courageous people. And there was plenty of sentimental sympathy for the Confederacy in Britain, for which the powerful Times of London was the foremost advocates. Many Englishmen professed to disdain the vulgar materialism of money-grubbing Yankees and to project a congenial image of the Southern gentry that conveniently ignored slavery. Nevertheless, the government of Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston was anything but sentimental. It required hard evidence of the Confederacy's ability to survive, in the form of military success, before offering diplomatic recognition. But it would also require Union military success to forestall that possibility. As Lord Robert Cecil told a Northern acquaintance in 1861: "Well, there is one way to convert us all—Win the battles, and we shall come round at once."

But in 1861 the Confederacy won most of the battles—the highly visible ones, at least, at Manassas [Virginia], Wilson's Creek (Missouri), and Balls Bluff. And by early 1862 the cotton famine was beginning to hurt....

The Times stated that if England could not "stop this effusion of blood by mediation, we ought to give our moral weight to our English kith and kin [Southern whites], who have gallantly striven so long for their liberties against a mongrel race of plunderers and oppressors." The breakup of the United States, said the Times in August, would be good "riddance of a nightmare."
SOURCE: Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam: The Battle That Changed the Course of the American Civil War, by James M. McPherson (Penguin, 2003), pp. 37-38, 58. Originally published by Oxford University Press in its series, Pivotal Moments in American History, which seeks "to encourage interest in problems of historical contingency," according to the editor's note by David Hackett Fischer, who continues:
Ideas of contingency are drawing more attention in historical scholarship, for several reasons. They offer a way forward, beyond the "old political history" and the "new social and cultural history," by a reunion of process and event. They also restore a lost element of narrative tension to historical writing. A concept of contingency makes history more teachable and learnable, more readable and writable, more important and even urgent in our thinking about the world, and most of all more true to itself.
UPDATE: Jim Bennett leaves a well-informed comment that makes me want to add a few more points about the contingencies that McPherson's account highlights:
It has become almost an article of faith in alternate histories that Britian was chomping at the bit to recognize the Confederacy. However, the balance of forces between the pro-Confederate and pro-Union forces was more nearly even than is sometimes recognized. The legacy of the British abolitionist movement was very strong, particularly in the Liberal Party, and in the powerful evangelical movement (to the extent that these three phenomena were not entirely congruent...). The subject cannot be discussed without reference to the mass pro-Union rallies in places like Birmingham and Manchester, by cotton workers who were often unemployed because of the Union blockade and who had every economic incentive to be pro-Confederate. Sympathetic Britons had explained many times to high-ranking Confederates that recognition would almost certainly have to entail a committment to emancipation, however gradual and compensated it might be. Yet the Condererates never took the hint. Once the Emancipation Proclamation had been made, the door to recognition was closed in terms of the realities of British politics.
Here's a bit more from McPherson on European attitudes toward slavery:
Next to events on the battlefield and the worsening cotton famine [due to Southern embargoes as well as the Northern blockade], the slavery issue influenced European attitudes. Something of a paradox existed on this question, however. The American cotton wanted by British and French mills was nearly all grown by slaves. Yet most Europeans were antislavery. Britain had abolished slavery in its New World colonies in 1833 and France had done the same in 1848. The British were proud of their navy's role as the world's police against the African slave trade. Many in Britain who were inclined to sympathize with the Confederacy found slavery a large stumbling block.
McPherson stresses that Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation was contingent upon an important Union victory, specifically, the very costly one at Antietam/Sharpsburg. (Lincoln didn't want the Proclamation to be seen as a measure of desperation.) That victory in turn was contingent partly on Union officers intercepting Gen. Lee's Special Order 191, which revealed how he had divided his forces; on the success of both Gen. McClellan and the citizens of northern Maryland in raising the morale of dispirited Federal troops; and on the general failure of Marylanders to rally to the Confederate cause, even though Maryland was a slave state. Finally, Lee's decision to invade the north in the fall of 1862 reflected a desire to deal a knockout blow in the east to follow on a series of Union losses there and Confederate counteroffensives in Kentucky and Tennessee after the loss of New Orleans and most of the Mississippi River (except Vicksburg) in the spring of 1862. McPherson continually emphasizes the pendulum swings in domestic morale, political momentum, and foreign diplomacy that hinged on a web of contingencies that could have gone either way.