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Life on campus hasn’t been entirely uneventful – to the contrary, there was the Ryudai-gakusai (University Festival). Tons of booths with student groups selling food, or running other sorts of activities, to raise money for their clubs. Plus, eisa!

10/2

Today was another busy day of adventures down in Naha/Shuri. After staying on campus and just doing readings and otherwise “working” for most of the week, I felt it was about time for some new adventures. Plus, I just moved dorms yesterday, and while the previous place was a little more like a hotel, with most basic amenities provided, the new place is rather lacking in just a few certain basic things, a few of which I could not seem to find for sale anywhere in the immediate vicinity immediately around campus. Now that I’ve explored a little further, I’ve found a supermarket, more convenience stores, a few large drug stores, a kaiten-zushi place, a “family restaurant” with a nice (if basic) variety of both Western/Italian and Japanese dishes, and quite a few ramen places. Even found a store that sells almost nothing but Magic: the Gathering cards. But trying to buy a basic cooking pot (saucepan) – let alone a frying pan, rice cooker, electric tea kettle, or used bicycle (in decent condition, for a reasonable price) – was proving rather unsuccessful.

I considered that I could go almost anywhere today, and so long as I made sure to hit a home goods store (to pick up a cooking pot at the very least), I’d be good. There’s a typhoon on the way – they say it has the potential to be really quite bad; I really hope it isn’t… – but if I do have to hunker down and just survive through a storm, I need a cooking pot. So long as I have water and gas, even if I don’t have power, I can have ramen, spaghetti, etc. So, I was thinking of maybe going to Futenma (to hit the temple I missed that’s right next door to the Futenma Shrine), and then making my way the relatively short distance from there to Nakagusuku, to see Nakagusuku castle, and the Nakamura House (one of a handful of serious historical house-type establishments on the island). A second possibility was to take a bus way up to Katsuren, check out Katsuren Castle, and also the small Yonagusuku local history museum where they’re currently displaying the Roman & Ottoman coins that have so made the news this past week. And just make sure that before I catch a bus back down towards campus that I hit up a home goods store. The third possibility was to go out to Urasoe, a city just a little ways west of here, and just north of Naha, where I could visit Urasoe Yodore – the graves of several of the kings not buried in the royal mausolea in Shuri – and whatever else might happen to be in the area. In the end, I decided to put all of these off to instead just go into Naha.

The torii for Sueyoshi Shrine, leading the way into Sueyoshi Public Park.

The regular public bus (#97) from campus happens to let off at Gibo, so that was plenty convenient, to just get off there and hike up towards Sueyoshi Park. First, I thought I’d go looking for the grave of Haneji Choshu, aka Sho Shoken, an 18th century Confucian reformer who is easily one of the most prominent figures in the kingdom’s history. The grave is supposedly right outside the park somewhere… I didn’t manage to find it on my last visit, and spoiler alert, I didn’t actually find it today either, though I was certainly a lot closer. Following Google Maps, walking up the small residential side street that runs roughly along the northeast side of the park, you’ll see a small path to the right, hemmed in by a fence, leading upwards away from the homes. There’s a sign about it being a wildlife area. This is the path to follow – if you stay on the streets, you’ll just hit a cul-de-sac / dead end. Follow this path up a little ways, until you find a whole group of stone tombs. Haneji Choshu’s tomb is supposed to be somewhere in here. At least according to Google Maps, if you keep going deeper into the unpaved, woodsy path, you’ve gone too far. Though maybe you do need to go that way; maybe it doubles back eventually or something. Or maybe the pin-drop from the one website I got it from was mistaken. I dunno. But I explored that one group of tombs – carefully and respectfully – and according to the pin-drop was in precisely the right place, but still didn’t find it. I dunno.

(Now that I’m on the computer writing this up, I’ve zoomed into the map further, and realized it looks like its a bit deeper in the woods – maybe one needs to enter through the gate I found closed along the path. But I’m certainly not going to open a closed gate – not going to risk entering private property; in any case, it does look like it’s a bit of a ways into the woods, not immediately among that group of tombs, so no wonder I didn’t find it. And I’m certainly not climbing through the underbrush – which may be full of deadly venomous snakes – just to find some historical site.)

I’m a little annoyed and disappointed, especially after walking all that way, but at the same time, if I had found it, then what? Just to have a picture of it, just to be able to include on this here blog post, and on the Samurai-Wiki, and so forth? I mean, I still really like the idea of having been to a place myself, to have my own photos, to not just be using whatever I find on the internet. But, at the end of the day, what difference does it really make? And most especially, if by chance I had encountered a habu (pit viper) in there, or gotten in some other kind of trouble, then even if I had found the tomb, would it have been worth it? I dunno, maybe I’m just getting over-cautious, over-worried, un-adventurous in my old age. In any case, I found a way out of the cemetery area out a different side, right into a residential neighborhood. For anyone looking to find Haneji Choshu’s tomb yourself, I would suggest you might have an easier time of it this way, rather than going up that slightly (just slightly) worrying side-path up and up and up alongside that fence… but, then again, I never did find the exact right tomb, so who am I to say which path is the best one?

The main hall of Sueyoshi Shrine.

Giving up on that matter, I moved on to the next task. Fortunately, this one turned out to be quite easy. The last time I came to Sueyoshi Park, I had a hell of a time finding Sueyoshi Shrine. The park overall is far more densely forested than most parks I’m used to, and involves lots of narrow winding paths that are, well, they’re certainly maintained to some extent – they’re not wild and overgrown – but they’re not nicely, cleanly, manicured or whatever either. And signs pointing around the park are fairly minimal; or at least, that was my experience, entering the park from the south and not realizing the shrine is all the way at the northern end. I just wandered and wandered, sometimes not even knowing what was and wasn’t an official path… and never did find the shrine. This time, though, today, after leaving the cemetery via that small residential neighborhood on the north side of the park, I simply walked along that quiet suburban street, until only a block or so later I found a gateway indicating the way towards Sueyoshi Shrine!!

Well, that was easy. Follow the path in away from the street, and up a few steps, and there’s a beautiful plain wooden torii (above), followed by a rather steep stairway (with a nice red metal handrail) leading down into the park, as if descending into a cave or something. But, at the bottom of the stairs, bam, more or less right there, suddenly, is the stonework of the bottom of the Shadan (“shrine platform”). Steps lead up from there to the main shrine buildings, and there you have it, Sueyoshi Shrine. I’m not sure how much of this is original, and how much is postwar reconstruction – I’ll have to read into it; I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the stonework is original, or repaired, and if the slightly run-down looking shrine office building were a prewar survival, I would be surprised, but I could certainly believe it. The main shrine building, though, looks far too nice to be pre-war. Then again, it could be, just repaired and restored and repainted. In any case, it’s a gorgeous building. Really impressive. I’m so glad to have finally found it. I’ve now been to seven of the “Eight Shrines of Ryukyu.” The only ones outside of Naha/Shuri are Futenma Shrine, which I visited in the last blog post, and Kin Shrine, way up in Kin Town, which will have to be a day trip of its own one of these days. I don’t know the full story behind who chose those eight or when or why, but it’s certainly interesting to me that Kin Shrine, of all the provincial (so to speak) villages and towns on the island, got chosen. Returning to Sueyoshi, I’m also a little unclear as to whether it’s considered an active shrine today – the shrine office was labeled as such, and seemed to have protective charms (omamori) and other things stocked… but, then, why were they not open? And the shrine building itself, looks quite nice, restored & repainted and whatever, and there’s also a donation box out in front – and a sign explaining procedures for worshippers. So it would seem active enough – but, then, why do the signs leading into the park from the street say 「跡」, meaning “ruins of” or “former site of” the shrine, rather than just saying “this way to Sueyoshi Shrine” (without the “ato”)? Maybe it’s that even with the building restored, the spirit is not considered to reside there anymore? Maybe there are actual physical objects of worship that were lost, destroyed, or relocated? Or maybe even without physical objects of worship, there had been some ceremony of relocating or disbanding the shrine? Whatever the case may be, it’s a truly beautiful sight. I definitely recommend you to go check it out if you’re visiting Naha.

I then left the shrine to make my way to Shuri Tônokura-chô, for an exhibit of artworks by professors at the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts. The exhibit closes next week already, so I’m glad I decided to go into Naha today, and caught it. Of course, they didn’t allow me to take any photos (*fist shake!*) but on the plus side, they did give out a nicely produced catalog of the exhibit for free, so that’s something? I still really would have preferred to take my own photos – I don’t know the precise ins and outs of copyright law, especially across Japan + US copyright law both, regarding posting my own photos online of someone else’s copyrighted work, but that’s still gotta be better, at least to some extent, than just scanning photos out of a catalog… Anyway, I wrote a comment card about it. (Also, see this great Tweet / post about photo policies at libraries/archives.)

I think I’ll write a whole separate post about this exhibit, but for now let me just say that I’m really looking forward to more engagement in future with local art events like this, by local artists, getting a sense of what’s really going on, right now. And maybe, just maybe, by the end of these six months, getting to be just regular enough an attendee at such things that some people might start to recognize me, to know me..

Leaving the University of the Arts, I decided to walk over to Omoromachi, seeking to stop at a home goods store which Google Maps said was along the way. Somehow it ended up being a much longer walk than it should have been – or at least it felt like it. Then again, a 30+ min walk maybe just feels that long…

The main hall of the Shuri Kannon-dô, aka Jigen-in.

But, along the way, I stumbled upon the Shuri Kannon-dô, a Buddhist temple I had seen on my first trip to Okinawa, some eight years ago, but which I decided to check out again. I don’t really remember that first time too well, but I feel like maybe I didn’t explore the grounds much at all (perhaps because it was raining) – as familiar as the gate looked, once inside nothing rang a bell. It’s a gorgeous little temple, clearly very well-maintained and/or recently restored. And while I don’t normally venture all the way inside, the doors were wide open and welcoming, so I went inside and actually saw the object of worship – the 1000-armed Kannon – and also bought a little protective charm (o-mamori) for safe travels.

This blog is named for the classical Ryukyuan song “Nubui kuduchi,” a song which tells of the journey from Ryukyu “up” (nobori, or nubui) to Kagoshima. The very first line of the song references exactly this temple, which is why it was particularly cool to visit. As the song says, 「旅の出立ちに、観音堂、千手観音。伏せ拝で、黄金尺取て、立ち別る」 (tabi nu njitachi ni, kwannun dou, shinti kwannun. Fushi wugadi, kugani shaku tuti, tachi wakaru). When departing on a journey, [first we visit] the Kannon Hall, the 1000-armed Kannon. And, while I have no doubt that the temple, and quite possibly the Kannon statue itself, were lost in the war, and that all of this is quite likely quite new, nevertheless, in name and in spirit it carries on as a rebuilding of that very same temple – the same one Ryukyuan scholar-aristocrats prayed at before leaving on their journeys to Kagoshima. I put my hands together, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and said a quick prayer to Kannon, for safety in my journeys here in Okinawa, and beyond, over the rest of the year.

I then finished walking to Omoromachi. I had been thinking of going to the Prefectural Museum to check out an exhibit on Okinawan “folk arts” (mingei), but I just wasn’t in the mood for more intense reading Japanese at this point.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, so far as history & culture are concerned. I found my way to the home goods store, and bought a pot (saucepan), frying pan, and a couple of other things. My kitchen is now much more well-equipped. Although I did realize later that night I still have no napkins, paper towels, dish towels / hand towels, or a sponge. No sponge to wash dishes with. Idiot.

There’s a bit more to say – not much – but as this post is getting quite long already, I’ll post a continuation another day.

Except where indicated otherwise, all photos are my own.

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Tea is Not Tea

Thanks to Mindy Landeck for introducing me to this wonderful poem & piece of calligraphy by Ii Naosuke, which reads:

茶非茶、非非茶、只茶耳、是名茶

Cha wa cha arazu, cha ni arazaru ni arazu,
tada cha nomi, kore cha to nadzuku.

Roughly:

“Tea is not tea. It is not not tea.
Just drinking tea, that is what we call tea.”

The title of my blog here has changed from “A Man with Tea” to “Nubui Kuduchi,” but, even so, when I saw this, I remembered it had been way too long since I had blogged about tea at all, and this is the perfect sort of thing to post about about tea.

I am a bit surprised to learn that Ii Naosuke – most famous for his political role as chief of the Shogunate Elders, who supported the ‘opening’ up of the country to trade & formal relations with Western powers, and who was later assassinated just outside the castle – was a major tea guy, at all. But, then again, so many of these daimyô engaged in various cultural pursuits. I am not surprised, though, that such a piece of calligraphy would be done as a gift for his Zen teacher. Thanks again for sharing this, Mindy!

(Image of 19th century public domain object reproduced in a book… not sure on the citation, though. Sorry!)

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The Writing Process

Way back when, I did a post on biking, as part of “Japan Blog Matsuri,” but I don’t feel I see these sorts of things come up too often. I’d be happy to do more of them, if they came around more often. Today, with thanks to Leah of The Lobster Dance for nominating me to blog on it, we have a post about my writing process. I really enjoyed reading about her process, and am glad for the poke, the push, to write about my own.

The Rules

In the words of Gene’O:

The rules are very simple and, if I may say so, designed to not require a lot of work, which I truly appreciate:

*Link to the blogger before,
*answer 4 questions,
*and nominate 3 bloggers to keep the hop going.

Why do I write what I do?

I feel I have written about this before, so apologies for the rehashing, but, I think there are two interconnected motivations behind my maintaining this blog. One is that as grad students, we are encouraged to really focus in and specialize, and even when we’re not working on our specific research project (in my case, on activities of Ryukyuans in early modern Japan), we’re taking courses and reading books on particular topics (this week, Robert Hellyer’s Defining Engagement, on Tokugawa foreign policy). And yet, we all have so many interests; if I limited myself to only my coursework/scholarly writing, and didn’t blog, I would feel terribly constrained. So, the blog allows me to write about different periods and aspects of Japanese history & culture, about issues of tradition and identity, about gender, about pop culture and comic books, about art exhibits and museum studies. And, furthermore, it allows me to do it in a context where I don’t have to revise and revise and revise, where it doesn’t have to be perfectly polished, as formal scholarly work does, for my advisor or my committee or for peer review. The blog is, of course, a much more public side of what I do, especially given I’ve barely been published yet in the formal scholarly world, and I am perpetually worried about how it might affect my scholarly reputation, to be honest, but, even so, it’s not like proper published journal articles, which really do define your scholarly reputation.

The second interconnected motivation is the desire to feel actively involved in the Internet. I read all these blogs, listen to podcasts, watch far too many YouTube channels, and here are people who are really engaged and connected, and it makes me feel like I want to be engaged and connected too. Not that I expect I’ll ever become an Internet celebrity, or anything, but, especially since life as a grad student can seem quite provincial/local in a way, talking to nobody outside your department, or nobody outside your campus, and even when you go to conferences or get published, it doesn’t circulate all that widely, and only happens relatively infrequently. So, this is my way of feeling actively engaged, reading about or watching things every day, responding to them, feeling connected in with what’s going on around the world, the blogosphere, current events, current events in pop culture, whathaveyou.

lol. This is already so much longer than Leah’s post. I just can’t help it.

How does my writing process work?

Generally, I get an idea, and just start writing something, a very rough draft. Generally it happens when I don’t have a lot of time – either I’ve just read or watched something, and feel I just need to get my thoughts out while I finish my breakfast before I rush to campus, or sometimes (especially a few of my upcoming posts that I’m still working on) I’m lying awake in the middle of the night, and just need to get those ideas down before I forget them, but without staying up the whole rest of the night writing. Or, in the case of posts about art exhibits or other things I’ve seen or done out in the big wide world, I often take notes during or right after the experience, and then later on (usually, hopefully, days later, and not weeks or months later…) I type up those notes into the beginnings of a blog post.

I don’t plan things out, at least not explicitly, consciously. I mean, I think about it, of course, think about what parts will come later, but I don’t do formal outlining or anything. For the most part, I just write. Which is probably why most of my posts end up really long, and kind of rambly, and not really so tightly structured as some other people’s…

Generally, I write a blog post in two or three sittings. I don’t rewrite and rewrite, revision after revision, but I have that first draft, that first germ of an idea, and on the second sitting, I come back to it, expand it out, write it out into a full post. And then, I usually leave it until another sitting to put in all the links and the pictures and such, before hitting Publish.

Incidentally, in case anyone’s curious (and I know I’m curious how others do it), I write the HTML tags into my posts. Nothing fancy, clearly – I’m not playing with CSS or PHP or anything at all, just hyperlinks and pictures, and very basic text formatting mostly – but I do type it out, and don’t use the Visual editor, or any of the “click here to start underlining,” “click here to Insert Picture,” buttons.

How does my writing differ from the genre?

I guess it all depends on who I compare myself to. When I write about travel, at least sometimes I think I’m fitting more or less right into the genre of people who write about their day exploring this or that town. If I compare myself to many of the blogs on Japanese pop culture and its intersection with gender (lol; I say many. Leah’s is really the main one I read; I don’t know what other ones I’m even thinking of), or with reviewing or talking about pop culture otherwise, I think my posts are generally much more historical, traditional, or “high” culture of one sort or another. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about pop culture, and I love thinking about pop culture, but, somehow it just doesn’t turn out to be my focus.

I think my blog sort of bursts boundaries or categories. Which is to say, I’m all over the place. I lack focus. Some people are much more properly and exclusively blogs about Okinawa & Okinawan culture, or about Japanese cultural events in New York, or about ukiyo-e, or about literature, and I kind of dabble in each and all of these. I tend to think of my interests and my focuses as being on (1) early modern Japanese history, (2) issues of tradition in the arts, (3) art exhibits & exhibit design, (4) Okinawan history & culture, (5) Noh & Kabuki, but there I’ve already mentioned five different things, and I know I’ve posted blog posts on things outside those topics too. So, maybe I’m right there firmly within the genre of people who write about all sorts of things, lacking a single distinctive theme/focus for their blog.

What am I working on at the moment?

I dunno. Let’s go check out the ol’ Drafts box.
-a post on gender roles in Firefly and Game of Thrones which just sort of came to me in the night and which is only a very rough start and which might not go anywhere
-a feminism/gender-informed post on the characterization of Jean Grey.
-one responding to an article harshly criticizing the East-West Center
-a post on the impending strengthening of bans on the import/sale/transport of ivory

Nominations

Thanks again to Leah of The Lobster Dance for nominating me to do this. To those I’m passing it along to, no pressure. I know these things aren’t for everybody.

(1) Kathryn of Contemporary Japanese Literature

Kathryn’s a good friend from back in the IUC days, and though we haven’t seen one another in person in quite a while, I think of her as one of my close colleagues in Japan Studies, and as one of those vibrant, wonderful writers/thinkers/bloggers on contemporary pop culture. Somehow, for whatever reason, literature remains a gap in my arts/theatre-centered thinking of Japanese culture, so it’s good to have exposure to the lit side of things; plus, I don’t find (make) time for anime or manga much, so it’s great to feel connected to what’s going on and have such a great source of recommendations. Plus, Kathryn’s just an amazing writer and awesome all around person.

(2) Marky Star of JAPAN THIS!

I haven’t met Marky yet, but boy am I impressed with his blog. He focuses mostly on local Tokyo placenames, working out their etymologies and histories, but there have been some equally great articles on the shoguns, on historical topics like sankin kôtai, and in the last few weeks, Marky has taken on the unenviable task of trying to sort out the histories of Tokyo’s rivers. His blog posts are always deeply informative, and while he’s touched on it somewhat, I’d be curious to hear more about his research and writing process.

(3) Molly of Wasting Gold Paper

Molly is another good friend from the IUC days, and also another close colleague in Japan Studies. Her blog includes, among other things, some great resource articles on doing research in Japanese sources, and things like that, as well as posts about digital humanities and digitization issues. As someone so involved in digital humanities, and as someone who knows like a gazillion computer languages, I’d be curious what her writing process is, too.

Cheers, all!

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I’ve added a new image into the header rotation. It’s a map of the city of Kagoshima by Yoshida Hatsusaburô (1884-1955), from 1935, visible here on the website of the Maps Communications Museum.

Hatsusaburô’s maps are really something incredible, showing something rather resembling an actual bird’s eye view of what the city might have actually looked like, complete with topography and a few select examples of notable architecture. In a way, they’re the ultimate combination of modern realism of depiction (fine details, correct proportions) and pre-modern bird’s eye views, with nothing of modern abstract cartographic conventions.

You can see more of Yoshida’s maps on recent posts on Shinpai Deshou and Spoon & Tamago, and at the Maps Communication Museum website.

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As we near the end of the academic quarter (my school runs on Fall, Winter, Spring schedule, rather than Fall + Spring semesters), things are getting super hectic. So, I don’t expect I’ll be doing any real updates for another couple weeks still. But, in the meantime, I’ve gone and updated the title banners and such!

The new background is a photo I took last summer at Shikinaen, the former vacation palace of the Ryukyuan royal family. What do you think of it? I’m a little undecided. I tried a few different shots of the sea, or of banana leaves, but the blues & greens seemed too bright, made the blog look too bright and light-hearted, so I’m trying out this slightly darker, rougher image.

Thanks to all of you who voted and commented and helped me decide what new name to take for my blog. I think this change has been long overdue. The URL remains the same – https://chaari.wordpress.com – until I can figure out how to change it without losing all my previous posts. So, for now, it’s a purely cosmetic change, I suppose – just the title.

I’m not sure there’s much to say in this post that I didn’t already say in the previous post, as to where I’m getting the phrase “nubui kuduchi” from, and what it means. For a very brief summary, and a nice video, check out the previous post.

I don’t intend to be changing at all what I post, or anything much else about the blog. This will continue to be a space for me to talk about art history and cultural issues, to review exhibits I’ve gone to or books I’ve read, to share about my all-too-rare traveling exploits and adventures, and the like.

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When I first started this blog, I wanted to give it a name that would not be too specific to any one topic – I didn’t want to pick a title that would express only my interest in kabuki, for example, or to pull from a reference to any one artist or artwork. I thought a title of something doing with tea would work well, suggesting the idea of sitting down with a bowl of tea and thinking about, or talking about, any number of different cultural topics. And I struggled to find a title that would work – I was originally thinking of going with some Japanese saying related to tea, like 滅茶苦茶 (mechakucha), meaning “all mixed up, confused” (lit. “ruined tea, painful/difficult tea”), or 無茶 (mucha, lit. “no tea” or “lacking in tea”), similarly meaning “absurd, ridiculous.” But, then I wanted to not represent myself as confused or ridiculous, but rather as someone who has some sense of what he’s talking about. Of course I’m happy to be self-deprecating, but I also wanted to give the thing an air of authority and respectability. Yes, I am just another shmo, another nobody writing about his adventures in Japan. But, I’m also a graduate student, and an aspiring scholar and expert. So, I thought, better to be a man with tea, rather than a man without tea.

But, I’ve known all along that the title is terribly awkward and clumsy, and that 有茶 (yûcha) or 茶有 (chaari), “to have tea”, the natural opposite of mucha, isn’t a real word, or saying, of any sort. So, I’ve been thinking for a while now about what I might change the title of the blog to. And, today, I have two ideas, both based around the classical Okinawan song Nubui Kuduchi (上り口説)。

The song is a travel song, sung in association with the journey of Ryukyuan scholar-officials “up” to Satsuma, or in sending them off on their journey. Along with the associated dance, it was also performed in Kagoshima, as part of entertainments for Satsuma officials.

The song opens with 「旅の出立ち観音堂」 (たびぬ’んじたちくわぁんぬんどー, Tabi nu njii taachi Kwannun-dô), meaning roughly “at/before departing on a journey, Kannon Hall.” The Shuri Kannon-dô, also known as Jigen-in, a temple in the Okinawan royal capital of Shuri and housing an image of Kannon, bodhisattva of compassion, was one of several places scholar-bureaucrats typically prayed for safe journeys before departing for Kagoshima or Edo.

And so, in short, I am thinking of two possibilities for a new title for this blog:

(1) Nubui Kuduchi – A Song of Travel, referencing not only my actual travels to and within Japan, and my posts about visiting various sites, but also referencing the “journey” more generally, as I continue to explore and learn and grow.

(2) Tabi nu njiitachi – The Departure Point, because I feel the journey is never over, and we are always, constantly, starting again, departing upon new journeys, new directions. And, maybe, if it’s not being too self-important or anything, if any one of my blog posts should prove a departure point for someone else to want to investigate a topic further, that would just be incredible.

So, What do you guys think? Do you like (1) or (2), or neither? Why? Do you have suggestions for another, different, title?

Thank you so much. Ippee nifee deebiru.

The Shuri Kannon-dô in Shuri, Okinawa, also known as Jigen-in, where scholar-aristocrats would pray for safe journeys before traveling to Japan. Photo my own.

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Liebster Awards


Much thanks to Buri-chan of the blog San’in Monogatari, where she shares wonderful posts about her adventures in tea ceremony, kimono, and otherwise in Matsue, for nominating me for the Liebster Award! It was a most pleasant surprise to see her message this morning. (Of course, I realize now that the nomination was actually back in August… thanks much for the reminder!)

The Liebster award is intended to give some exposure to small blogs with less than 200 followers. The rules are as follows:

1] Link back to the blogger who nominated you
2] Answer the 11 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you
3] Nominate 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers
4] Go to the blogs you nominated and notify them of your nomination
5] Give your nominees 11 questions to answer.

—-
So, without further ado, here are the questions I’ve received from Buri-chan. Apologies that they’re not the tightest, most eloquently written answers…

1. What inspires you to blog?
I think there are sort of two categories of sources of inspiration for me. One, there are simply a lot of things I see, hear about, read, or experience which I want to share, or share my thoughts about. And this is a nice platform to get to do that, to share my thoughts and interests on all sort of things, without being restricted by the limits of proper scholarly production – I can simply post on here without having to be truly expert, without having to do extensive research, and without having to be vetted or peer-reviewed.

Secondly, I take great inspiration from those I’m nominating in return, and from many of my other friends, who are so active and engaged in online communities, blogging, and social media, and who produce such excellent material. Not only do they set a high bar that I hope to reach for, but there is also a sort of romantic notion of involvement, engagement, which I yearn for. Not that I seek “fame” or “popularity,” per se, but it is a wonderful feeling to think that I am involved, that I am an active participant in the online discussion, beyond those I directly, physically interact with in the halls of the History department here in Santa Barbara. And, if through blogging, Tumblr, podcasts, and the like, I can have some impact, gain some small degree of “internet fame,” it’s wonderful to feel engaged in this global, social networking, internet world, to express myself and be engaged in a way I cannot be in academia (given the snail’s pace at which formal research, peer review, publication, etc. works in academia, and given, ultimately, how few people outside of academia will ever see what you produce).

2. What do you hope readers take away from your blog?
Oh, I don’t know. Of course, I would love if I might have some kind of impact on inspiring readers’ interest in kabuki, Ryûkyû, Japanese arts, or Japanese history more broadly, or if I might help to break down US/Eurocentric attitudes, stereotypes about Japan, or the like. But, I harbor no delusions that I might actually be having such an impact. So long as readers enjoy it, and maybe learn something, that’s more than enough of a “take away” for me.

3. In a world without the internet, how would you try to accomplish the above?
I’m already on my way to hopefully becoming a published scholar; I also entertain ideas of curating museum exhibitions. But, in a world without the internet, I suppose I would also try to get a position writing theatre reviews or as an art critic for a magazine or newspaper or the like.

It’s kind of incredible how much the internet has changed our world, and this question really brings that to the forefront. I very often think how much I’d love to be more involved in podcasts, in writing for major online magazines or aggregator blogs, or the like, but all that too, and not just this one blogging platform, would be unavailable “in a world without the internet.” We’d be relegated to local radio, or local newspapers at best, unless one could crack into the much more exclusive and limited (read: small) world of truly national or international media.

4. Would you rather live in the mountains or by the beach?
Whichever has a more active city, walkable and accessible (i.e. public transportation), with lots going on, the kind of place I’d be “missing out on” if I weren’t there. I’ve never been to, for example, Denver, but I imagine I could be just as happy there as, say, Boston (which does have beaches), more so than Goleta, despite Goleta having the prettier beaches.

5. What food are you proud you tried, but would never eat again?
Crab, basashi, habu-shu, nattô.

6. Do you have any interesting stories behind any scars?
No, not really. Thankfully, I don’t have very many scars, or “interesting” stories of that sort. One very small scar I have on my foot comes from being stung by a Portuguese man-o-war while walking on the beach at Kailua a few years ago. I must say, they’re a lot smaller than I’d thought – about the size of a quarter.

7. How would you pitch your favorite travel destination to someone who has never heard of it?
Places people haven’t heard of? Well, that rules out Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, Tokyo, and Kyoto… So, I suppose if I were to try to pitch someone to visit Naha, I’d tell them about the amazing food, the glorious history and historical sites (especially Shuri palace), and the music. Oh, yeah, and nice weather, beaches, whatever. Granted, I’d want it to be more well-organized and articulated than that, but, that’s the basic gist. Okinawa! More than just beaches and scuba diving and whatever! History! Culture! Food!

8. Your camera breaks while you’re on an exciting vacation. What do you do?
This sadly seems to happen to me quite frequently. I’ve bought new cameras last minute quite a few times; in fact, I think at least half the cameras I’ve owned were bought in such a fashion, in Japan.

9. However big or small, what’s something you have always wanted to try doing?
I’m sure there are a ton of things that would be rightful answers to this, but one thing I’ve been thinking about in recent years that I would very much like to someday achieve, would be to organize a museum exhibition of Okinawan arts, or art depicting Okinawan subjects, that goes beyond the standard tropes of “folk art” or “folk culture,” to really show a fuller sense of the history and elite culture of Okinawa.

On the rare occasion that we see exhibits of Okinawan art at all, it’s usually textiles, lacquerwares, and pottery. And that’s all well and good, and there are reasons for that – chiefly, the fact that these are the objects which are most prevalent and numerous and easy for museums, especially outside of Japan, to acquire. Sometimes we also see exhibits of post-war and contemporary art, which is either very political, or largely abstract and conceptual. But I fear this gives an impression of Okinawa as a quaint, rural sort of place that possesses only “low arts,” and/or as a place defined solely by its much more recent history, when in fact, historically, Ryûkyû was a proper kingdom, with ornate palaces, elaborate court protocols and rituals, and just as much emphasis on “high culture” as Japan or Korea, including ink paintings, calligraphy, gorgeous architecture & sculpture, music, theatre, dance, etc. It’s just that a lot of Ryukyuan paintings and other artifacts were destroyed in World War II, and so are far more rare today than those from Japan or Korea.

But, the Okinawa Prefectural Museum has a few tens of paintings by Ryukyuan scholar-officials, including ink landscapes, birds & flowers, portraits and the like, as well as works of calligraphy. The Imperial collections (at the Sannomaru Shôzôkan) have a series of beautiful landscapes by one of Japan’s first oil painters, depicting scenes in Okinawa. The University of Hawaii, British Museum, and a number of collections in Japan have gorgeous handscroll paintings, also by Japanese artists, depicting the processions of the Ryukyuan embassies to Edo… not to mention folding screen paintings of Naha Harbor held by a number of Japanese universities, the collection of fine 18th century musical instruments held at Nagoya Castle, and the many illustrated books, some in manuscript copies, owned by the University of Hawaii and other institutions. I know that for many of these objects it is exceptionally unlikely, but if we could get these objects together, and put on a proper show about the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom and its “high” arts, that would really be a dream come true.

10. A favorite childhood memory?
You know, sad as it may be, I just can’t really bring to mind any particular childhood memories. There are things I know I did, things I remember hearing about, or telling about, or seeing in photos, but things that I actually remember experiencing? I’m not sure any really come to mind.

11. What person, in any place or time period, would you trade places with for a day?
An excellent question. You know, I had never even thought of this, trading places. More often, we see the question “if you could travel to any time and place,” but the problem with that question is that as a skinny white man with an American accent, there are a great many times and places I could not go without standing out like a sore thumb. Send me to early modern Japan, and I’d be immediately executed (or, if I’m lucky, deported to Batavia) as a foreigner.

But, to switch places, and actually fit in, well, that certainly opens up the field. I’d like to be a Ryukyuan scholar-official, able to see Shuri & Naha at their height, and, if it were for longer than just a day, to get to visit Kagoshima, Edo, Fuzhou, and Beijing… Or I could simply switch places with an Edoite, I’m not sure who, someone of some means but not too much responsibility, so that I could see Edo at its height. Visit the kabuki theatre and see one of the truly great stars of all time; maybe, depending on who I’ve switched places with, getting to meet some of the famous artists, poets, and the like of the time. I’d be tempted, of course, to visit the Yoshiwara, too, just to see what it was like, since this is one of the most major parts of Edo popular culture that does not really survive at all today (unlike sumo, kabuki, and prints). But, then, the Yoshiwara was surely overflowing with STDs and just general filth, so I might be better off to skip it entirely.

And now, 11 questions for those I am nominating, mostly borrowed from those asked of Buri-chan on her own Liebster Awards page.

1) What prompted you to start your blog, and what keeps you going?

2) How have your attitudes towards blogging, your style or approach, changed since you’ve begun your blog?

3) What’s your favorite place that you have lived?

4) What is one of your favorite sites (a temple, castle, or other historical or cultural site) that you have visited, and why?

5) What is your next travel destination, somewhere you’ve been thinking about wanting to go visit?

6) What was the last concert, play, or performance you went to? Last book you read?

7) Tell us about a book, movie, or the like that changed your perspective.

8) Do you collect anything (e.g. stamps, action figures)?

9) Who is among your favorite historical figures, and why?

10) What is a historical event you find particularly interesting, and why?

11) What person, in any place or time period, would you trade places with for a day?

And, finally, the nominations. My apologies – and congratulations! – if your blog has more than 200 followers; I’m not sure there’s any way for me to know how many followers you have.

1) Marky Star of JAPAN THIS!, one of the most well-researched and wonderfully detailed blogs out there posting about the history of Edo. And wonderfully snarky to boot.

2) Nate Ledbetter of The Sengoku Field Manual, rewriting our understandings of how samurai did battle.

3) The authors of Shogun-ki, the official blog of the Samurai Archives, which despite Wikipedia’s horning in remains, in my opinion, the foremost samurai history site on the Web.

4) Daniel O’Grady of Japanese Castle Explorer, far and away the shiniest Japanese castles website out there, and with lots of great videos of Dan exploring castle sites. I’ve tried doing videos, but the wind and other background sounds were just terrible, and the camera was shaky, and… I don’t know how he does it.

5) Kathryn of Contemporary Japanese Literature, who is constantly posting great translations and insightful analyses of literature, media, and popular culture.

6) Molly Des Jardin of Wasting Gold Paper, my favorite source for digital humanities talk specifically pertinent to Japan.

7) Matt of Kamigata Rakugo, surely the leading rakugo blog in English.

8) Diego Pellecchia of 外国人と能, a most thought-provoking and insightful blog on Noh and traditional Japanese theatre.

9) The folks at Nihonga 日本画, promoting and keeping alive the tradition of traditional Japanese painting.

10) The folks at Vagabonds RPG, who are putting together probably the most well-informed pen-and-paper Japan-based RPG ever, and are posting some wonderful posts in the process, on various aspects of Edo period society.

11) Julia of I would, given unlimited everything, which keeps me on my feet, and keeps me feeling connected to Honolulu life. Her fantastic blog “Real and Imagined Taxa” has sadly gone the way of Geocities, but I eagerly look forward to more linguistic ruminations from Julia.

And, that’s about it. Thanks again so much to Buri-chan for nominating me! Now I just have to go around and let all these other wonderful people know that I have nominated them.

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