First Days in Okinawa

Flew from Tokyo to Okinawa on Thursday, the 15th. My flight landed at 5:30 or so, and even though I didn’t wait long for my bags, nor wait long for a monorail train out of the airport, nor wait long for a bus to campus at the bus terminal, somehow in total I severely underestimated how long it would take to actually get out of the airport. So, I only finally got to campus around 8pm. But, I’m here now, and all is swell.

Right: Sunset over the Tsubogawa, in Naha.

Just taking the monorail out of the airport, being back in Okinawa put such a smile on my face. And the moon was so beautiful that night (even though it didn’t really come out in the photos)! I suppose that makes sense, given it was Moon-Watching Festival (月見, tsukimi, aka 十五夜, jûgoya), though I didn’t realize it at the time.

As I was saying in the previous post about seeing how Tokyo changes each time I come by, I quite enjoy seeing the same in Okinawa. In order to get out to the University of the Ryukyus campus, I had to take the monorail from the airport to the main Naha Bus Terminal, then catch a different bus.

(They do have buses that go straight from the airport to campus, but they stop all the way at the other end of campus, and I was told this might be easier, esp. with all my luggage. In the end, I think I might have been better off with the other option – just take a bus to the wrong end of campus, then suffer a short walk, or catch a cab… Still, I made it in the end!)

The Naha Bus Terminal at Asahibashi/Izumisaki, as it appeared in 2013. Not much to look at, but it was what it was.

As I got off the monorail at Asahibashi, though, something felt wrong. Then I realized what it was – they had torn down the entire bus terminal, for renovation!! I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures of the construction (I still might, on a later day), but, yeah, it’s these small things – having been someone who saw the old one, and not someone who’s only familiar with the new one – that make me feel just that tiniest bit more “insider”, more experienced, more worldly/cosmopolitan, more well-traveled, in the extent of my familiarity/experience with Okinawa.

The 50 Year Anniversary Hall 50周年記念館 at Ryûdai.

Met up with my professor, who helped me get situated in the temporary lodgings – he had my key card, and all that. And then the next morning, we met up again to just get some paperwork stuff done. Had to pay for the hotel-like place I’m staying in now, and then also formally apply for a room in the International House (国際交流会館) next door, where I’ll be staying from October onward.

I then headed into town, in the hopes of getting some various things done – formally registering my residence with the town hall (町役場), so I could then have a formal address on my resident alien card (在留カード), so I could then open a bank account and get a cellphone plan. As it turns out, none of that was destined to happen – I need to wait until I’m actually living in the International House before I can claim that as my residence. I suppose it makes sense to some extent. And, I don’t know why, maybe I was just in a better mood myself, or maybe it’s because everyone here in Nishihara was so kind and understanding and authentically apologetic about it, but I’m not so worked up about it. I have a place to live, and a temporary cellphone plan that’ll last me through the end of the month, so I’m safe – nothing is going to run out on me, or leave me in the lurch, before October.

Most of the walk to the town office looked like this. Some beautiful views of Nakagusuku Bay at times, but mostly just greenery and walking along the side of a road, passing by small clusters of shops, just a few at a time, looking somewhat rundown and not entirely welcoming…

Anyway, the walk down to the Nishihara Town Office (西原町役場) was about 45 minutes from campus. A bit of a trek. My first time getting a feel for the town. We’ll see how things go as the year goes on, whether I discover some other part of town that’s different, but for now, it all just seems terribly disparate. If there is a dense, lively, walkable, town center, I haven’t found it yet. Which is weird for me; I’m a city boy, both by upbringing and by experience since then, and I’m just not used to this sort of thing. Even in small cities like Honolulu, Naha, and Kagoshima, it’s still a city – a whole complex grid of streets, one building after another, conglomerated into busy shopping districts or residential areas, or whatever, without these vast areas of just emptiness (unless they’re public parks or the like). Even in the town I grew up in, which is officially designated a “hamlet,” you’re not walking along freeways past fields or just empty natural spaces – you’re mostly walking past homes and shops, a thoroughly suburban environment. Even in Goleta, CA, a town which I constantly complain is comprised primarily of freeways, office parks, and strip malls, there are good sections of walkable shopping & residential areas, in Isla Vista and Old Town. I don’t mean to go on and on about this point for too long, but anyway it’s just interesting to me that as soon as you leave campus here in Nishihara, there’s like one fast food restaurant, and like a car dealership(?), and just not much of use immediately right there. Where’s the “college town” of bars, restaurants, cafés, shops? And, all along that 45 minute walk, I feel like I passed by very very few establishments of any interest. Which isn’t to say there weren’t establishments – it wasn’t all fields or pure void – but, whatever it was, it wasn’t anything that caught my eye at all as somewhere to check out. No cute cafés. No inviting-looking restaurants. No bookstores. Only one or two grocery stores. Certainly no big-box electronics store where I might hope to get a visitors’ SIM card plan (no address required), or a longer ethernet cable (can you believe there’s no wifi here? what?).

But, again, maybe it’ll just take some time before I settle in to a better appreciation of what’s around. I’m hoping to get a bicycle soon, so that’ll make exploring a lot easier. I hope. If there aren’t too many hills or freeways or whatever.

Cheesy, but, whatever.

After my unsuccessful trip to the town hall (I really do need to be living at the International House before I can get my address registered), I did at least order a hanko (a personal stamp) for the first time. I can’t wait to have my very own seal, so I can stamp documents all official-like, rather than signing by hand (Japanese bureaucracy generally prefers the seal). And, to my pleasant surprise, I checked with the bank, and they’re cool with me using whatever design I want – it doesn’t have to be my legal name (in English letters). So, while I’ve long thought about doing something with the character for “tiger” (虎 – since the Japanese word for “tiger,” tora, sounds like the first half of my name – Travis->Torabisu->Tora), in the end I’m just going to go with a hiragana version of my surname.

My hopes of getting anything real done dashed, I decided that at least while I’m down in town, I should maybe check out some historical sites. The one main one in the area, which Google Maps told me was amazingly close by – like a 10 min walk, maybe 15, from the town hall – is Uchima Udun, the ruins / former site of the 15th c. mansion of Kanamaru, lord of Uchima, who in 1469 staged a coup, overthrowing Ryukyu’s First Shô Dynasty and installing himself as the founder of the Second Shô Dynasty. As it was this Second Shô Dynasty which then continued down until the fall of the kingdom some 400 years later, Kanamaru (aka King Shô En) is a pretty major guy, and thus his mansion definitely something worth seeing.

I don’t know if it’s preparations to safeguard the site against the impending typhoon (Typhoon 1616 Malakas), or if it’s repairs from a previous recent event, or more normal (non-disaster-related) restoration / conservation efforts, but I was surprised and disappointed to find Uchima Udun all covered in construction fences, nets, tarps, and so forth. I guess in a certain way I feel kind of special to have gotten to see it in this unusual state. But, I’m definitely hoping that the work is completed soon enough, that I can go back and see it in a more proper, cleaned-up, visitable and photogenic state.

It then began raining. Pouring, really. So I dashed into a small community center that was right there. Thanks so much to the people hanging out in the Kadekaru Kôminkan that day, who welcomed me in. I don’t know if we have quite the same sort of institution in the States. A kôminkan is basically just a single space that I guess is free and open for people to hang out in, and to use for special events. A sort of open auditorium space, with a stage, folding tables and chairs so you can rearrange the room for whatever purpose, and then also a small kitchen, and that’s about it. Pictures and documents hanging on the walls relating to prominent local civic figures. And a small bookcase of books of local history. If these books weren’t available elsewhere (e.g. in the university library), it’d be kind of neat (if inconvenient) to get to work in such a space, and to feel like I’m using really local materials, getting a really local perspective…

Anyway, the rain stopped quite quickly, and though the people warned me otherwise, I decided to risk it and to head out on the walk back to campus. I got totally soaked. Through and through. But, while the walk was thoroughly unpleasant for a good 20 mins or so of it, all in all the 40-45 min walk back went quite quickly. Walking along the side of the highway was certainly less ideal than if this were a normal walkable town, with cafés and shops on every block, but, on the plus side it means I had a very direct way of walking back, that took me straight right to campus.

Anyway, that’s about it, I guess, for now. I ended up staying right around campus the following day – just sitting in the library getting some work done, and so forth. A nice, quiet, and fairly productive day. The university library is quite sleek and clean and new-looking, making for a very pleasant environment to study in. And they have a separate room set aside for Okinawan Studies, which makes me feel like I have my own special space, which is very cool. Even in this relatively small room, though, the extent of the books is kind of overwhelming. I want to read them all! But it would take multiple lifetimes.

A Few Days in Tokyo

Prior to flying to Okinawa to begin my research year in earnest, I had a few days in Tokyo, mainly organized around the need to go in to Japan Foundation headquarters in Yotsuya for a one-hour orientation meeting, to get situated with paperwork and so forth. But these few days were also a good opportunity to see the city a little bit, catch up with some friends, meet (however briefly) a whole bunch of other grad students currently doing their research years as well – many of whom are staying in Tokyo, but many others of whom, like myself, left within the next day or two for Okinawa, Fukuoka, or Sendai.

And, while in Tokyo, of course I squeezed in a bit of history wandering. I don’t know how the blog posts will go from here for the remainder of this year. I would really love to keep up with writing about every place I visit, every thing I do, to engage with these things not only in the moment but also by writing about them afterward, and thus thinking about them a bit more, and also feeling I’ve produced something that I’ve shared – feeling that I’m contributing in some small way to informing or entertaining others, the Internet; that I’m doing public history, maybe, in some small and amateurish way, if that’s not too grandiose a thing to say about my ramblings on this little blog. But, then, of course, on the other side, as much as I would like to do that, blogging is time-consuming, and I just don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up, while also devoting appropriate levels of attention to my research, which is what I’m really here for, and what I’m getting paid to focus on. So, we’ll see. In the meantime, though…

The entrance to the PARCO Museum, done up for its first ever exhibit, “STRIP!”

I arrived in Tokyo on Monday night, Sept 12. On Tuesday, I skimmed briefly through the first ever exhibit of the newly opened PARCO Museum, an art space located on the 7th floor of the PARCO department store in Ikebukuro. Their opening exhibit is of drawings by mangaka Anno Moyoco, who I know best from her Yoshiwara-themed series Sakuran, which was turned into a live-action movie in 2006, starring Tsuchiya Anna and with rocking music by Shiina Ringo. There is so much going on in Tokyo at any given time – it’s awfully tempting to immerse myself in that art world, to become (again) someone well familiar with the latest goings-on, who has been to the latest exhibits, and who has real thoughts on exhibit design, aesthetics and artistic choices of the artists themselves, and so on and so forth. But, boy, that is a whole other ‘me’ yet; I would need three of me, three clones, just to be all the different people I want to be – the Historian / grad student / researcher; the art historian, museumgoer, art world member; the history nerd visiting and blogging about obscure historical sites; the culture nerd attending and blogging about and getting involved in festivals and performances… Still, I’m excited to return to Tokyo in a few months and get involved in all that again.

I’m not sure I have too much to say about the Anno Moyoco exhibit. I’ve grown so detached and distant from the worlds of anime, manga, and pop culture otherwise in recent years… The exhibit design was pretty cool, with walls and curtains and other elements evocative of the worlds or aesthetics of each of Anno’s different manga. While I understand the arguments for letting art speak for itself, I think that immersive exhibits are a worthwhile, impactful, experience unto themselves, and artworks in their own rights. And this one did a great job of that.

Screw Hattori Hanzô. Who cares? Totally over-hyped weeaboo bait. This here is a memorial monument (kuyôtô) for Tokugawa Nobuyasu, son of the great Tokugawa Ieyasu; poor Nobuyasu gets no attention, no recognition at all, and why? Just because he died decades before he might have ever gotten the chance to succeed his father as shogun? Feh.

Poking around Yotsuya prior to my meeting at Japan Foundation, I found my way to the small local temple of Sainen-ji 西念寺, where I grabbed some photos of the grave of Hattori Hanzô (“ninja” retainer to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who is probably a pretty cool figure, but who has been blown far out of all proportion by sammyrai geeks), and of a memorial stone (kuyôtô) for Tokugawa Nobuyasu, a son of Ieyasu’s who gets majorly short shrift and is treated as merely a footnote – if that – in the vast majority of scholarship on Tokugawa Ieyasu or the shogunate. Granted, he died some twenty years before the founding of the shogunate, but, still, he’s still a person, a figure, who had at least some significance. Doesn’t really deserve to be relegated to the dustbin of history just because he didn’t survive to be more explicitly influential.

For anyone looking to visit these sites yourself, Hattori’s grave and Nobuyasu’s memorial stone are just around to the side of the main hall. As you enter the temple’s main plaza, just walk straight and a bit to the left. I was wandering around in the cemetery itself, trying to look around for them, and got chastised. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last – I do my utmost, of course, to be as respectful as possible towards the fact that it’s an actual cemetery, and I hope that people (Japanese mourners, temple staff) see that; the vast majority of the time, in my experience, people associated with the temple understand and appreciate that people like myself are interested in these historical spots, and they are almost always plenty willing to guide you to the right place. But, yeah, it’s a balancing act. Some temples have signs pointing you in the right direction; some don’t, and so you just try to be as respectful as possible while trying to find what it is you came there for.

I then took a very brief run through the Fire Department Museum, a surprisingly large (seven floors of exhibits?) museum, with free admission, that stands adjacent to the Yotsuya Fire Department. Didn’t really have time to engage properly, but just ran through taking photos of the displays on Edo period firefighting; I’ll come back to these at some point in the future and read the labels I photographed, and learn a tiny bit more about how Edo (Tokyo) functioned at that time. I really love museums like this, because they just have so much stuff, and they just put it all out so nonchalantly. Can you imagine ever seeing more than one or two or three Edo period firefighting-related objects on display at the same time at the Metropolitan Museum, or LACMA? Can you imagine actually learning anything of real volume, real extent and consequence, about early modern Japanese firefighting, at the Freer-Sackler or the Museum of Fine Arts? I know that for the average general American museumgoer this is all terribly obscure. But it’s not so exceptionally obscure, is it, really? You don’t have to be a super crazy deep “history of firefighting” nerd to be interested in this stuff – all you have to be is someone who’s heard of it and wants to learn more; someone with an interest in Japan, or in premodern societies more generally, curious about how fires were fought – for example – prior to the advent of modern techniques and technologies. All you need is to take it that one next step – from having ukiyo-e woodblock prints of firefighters because that’s “art”, and perhaps a fireman’s robe, because that’s “textile art,” and taking the next step to include a historical fire-fighting tool – even just one – so that museumgoers can learn something not just about the art and the artist and the aesthetics, but also about the subject matter itself. What was life like in Edo? How did the city work?

Following my Japan Foundation orientation, around 4pm, I then met up with some friends for happy hour (and what for me was a very late lunch, which is actually about the time I normally eat lunch) in Harajuku, followed by some brief clothes shopping adventures. I don’t know if I was just tired, or because I’ve just finished packing up my entire life back in California and thus am particularly keenly aware of how much shit I already own, or because for a change I know I’ll actually be back here for a many-months-long stay and so there’s no need to go crazy right now today, but somehow the whole Harajuku thing just wasn’t grabbing me that night. In a few months, after I’ve gotten a better sense of what clothes I do and don’t have, what styles I’m yearning for, and so forth, I’ll come back and I’ll buy all the things.

Wednesday saw more general random history wandering. I was meeting up with a friend in the Akasaka/Nagatachô neighborhood, so while I waited to get together with her, I found my way to the ruins of the Akasaka-mitsuke, the approach to the Akasaka Gate of Edo castle. Marky Star has a wonderfully thorough explanation about mitsuke and so forth here, so I won’t bother to rehash that. Still, it was neat to see some stonework surrounding a small former section of the castle moat, along with its associated bridge (Benkei-bashi) – to get some sense of what had once been there, much more so than if it were just a few stones and a marker saying “you can’t see anything at all, but just imagine…”

Adjacent to this is a massive, shiny, very new-looking residential+shopping complex, which we are told stands on the former grounds of the Kishû Tokugawa Kojimachi mansion. Here too, while there is less explicitly to be seen of anything surviving from that time (such as a gatehouse, for example), I was happy to see as many plaques and markers as I did, explaining even just a little bit the history of what once stood there. For a moment, I got mixed up and thought this was maybe the Kishû Tokugawa Akasaka mansion which in the Meiji period became the temporary imperial palace for a time, but later in the day we visited the far more famous Akasaka Palace, and I was reminded that that was built atop the former site of the Akasaka mansion I was thinking of – and so the one more immediately adjacent to Akasaka-mitsuke was a separate mansion.

Incidentally, directly across the street from the Akasaka-mitsuke ruins I could see (across the street, in the distance, behind serious gates) the official residences of the heads of the two Houses of the Japanese Diet (i.e. the two houses of parliament). Had I taken the time, I could have easily sought out the Diet Building, the Prime Minister’s residence, the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party, and so forth, all of which are clustered right around that neighborhood.

Instead, I poked around in a slightly different direction, walking left instead of right, or something to that effect, and happened upon a building associated with the Korean royal family, who in Japan’s Imperial period were incorporated into the Japanese European-style peerage/aristocracy, or kazoku. Not something I think the Japanese government or whoever are necessarily trying to hide, per se – that the last members of the Korean royal family were present and resident in Tokyo in the 1900s to 1940s – but just a corner of the international history that just doesn’t pop up so much on the Japan side (of course, this is quite prominent in Korean history); empire is one thing, but what happened to the royal family, as individuals, where they lived in Tokyo, and so forth, gets brushed aside in the face of the much more boldly and starkly obvious issues of Empire and imperialism and colonialism – political history and all of that. Still, I think it fascinating, the place of Koreans, Ryukyuans, Chinese, within Japanese culture and history.

What’s today known as the Classic House at Akasaka Prince, standing on one portion of the former site of that Kishû Tokugawa Kojimachi mansion, seems to be the restoration of a residence constructed in 1930 for the last Crown Prince of the Korean Kingdom; this 1930 building seems to have replaced one built in 1884 for Prince Kitashirakawa by Josiah Conder – arguably the most significant architect of the Meiji period, or at least the most widely featured in introductory Japanese Art History survey textbooks.

So, that was pretty cool. Meeting up with my friend, we then poked around Hie Shrine for just a bit – they were having a gagaku concert and some kind of festival procession the next day in conjunction with Mid-Autumn Festival and also the 300th anniversary of the accession of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune, all of which sounds quite exciting but I won’t be able to attend.

We then made our way to the Akasaka Palace – the more famous one, built in 1909 on the former grounds of the Kishû Tokugawa mansion which had been appropriated and modified to serve as a temporary imperial palace from 1873 to 1889. Whereas I imagine the 1870s-90s palace to have been largely unchanged from its architectural style, layout, construction, character as an Edo period daimyô residence – wooden construction, tatami mat flooring, shôji and fusuma screens for walls, ceramic tile roofing, and all the rest – the Akasaka Palace built in 1909, the one we know today, is a glory of Meiji architecture, in a Neo-Baroque style inspired by palaces of Germany, Austria, and France. Originally constructed as a residence for the Crown Prince, it has since the 1960s (if not much earlier? I’m not sure) been used to provide lodgings for top-level visiting foreign dignitaries, such as heads of state. Sadly, we failed to consult any public opening schedule or public tours application process ahead of time, and so were only able to see the palace from a distance, from outside the impressive gates. Kind of like visiting the White House. But that’s fine.

So, that’s it for Tokyo for now. Just a few scattered adventures, and now, off to Okinawa. I expect I’ll be doing a lot of exploring and adventuring in Okinawa – historical sites, traditional arts performances, museum exhibits – so, watch this space. Then, in the spring, I’ll be back in Tokyo, and the more mainstream Japanese adventures will continue.

The Beginning of a New Journey

Harajuku Crossing, looking ever different from how I saw it last time, two years ago.


Well, here we are. After many years of grad school, the first day of my “fieldwork year” of PhD dissertation research. This will vary considerably from person to person, and field to field, and so forth, depending on personal circumstances, funding, the character of one’s research topic, and so forth, but stereotypically, we PhD students typically spend a year or so, in the 4th or 5th year of our programs, to poke around in the archives, perform ethnographic interviews, and/or conduct research in some other fashion.

Arrived in Tokyo a few hours ago after a long but not-too-bad flight. I’m back in Japan for the first time in two years, and will be staying here for my longest stay yet: 11 months, divided between Okinawa and Tokyo. So, expect lots of upcoming posts about my exploration of historical sites, maybe museum exhibits, maybe research discoveries or experiences, and other such Japan-based adventures. Either that, or I’ll just get really busy, and won’t end up posting so much. We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, it’s just nice to be back. First impressions – feelings on that first night coming (back) to a place – can be really powerful, and really interesting. I’m not sure I have /too/ much to say tonight, but, just to record my feelings at the moment, before I get too settled in and start thinking differently about it again.

It’s nice to be back in Tokyo – and it’s nice in a very chill, relaxed kind of way. Maybe this is because I’m just so tired from my travels, and because it was already dark out by the time I even left the airport, but as of this moment right now, Tokyo just doesn’t hold the kind of excitement it once did for me, back when it was all so new, and when I was embarking on an adventure – undergrad study abroad – of a scale and type unlike anything I’d ever done before, traveling to a more exotic locale than anyone in my family had ever been, and thinking it just might be my one and only time in my life doing such a thing. Since then, I’ve been back here, what, six times? And it only feels more normal, more familiar, less exciting, each time. But that’s okay. It’s exciting in new ways. Where Tokyo was once (for me) a place to explore and discover, with brand new awesome wonders around every corner, now it’s a place to come back to – an excitement for the things I’ve missed. For sights and sounds and smells. And it’s become a place to keep up with – what’s changed since I was last here? I’ll check in with the latest museum exhibits, see what might be new in terms of famous major popular sites (e.g. train stations) that might have gotten remodeled or something… I’ll be heading to Harajuku tomorrow to meet up with some friends and to do some clothes shopping…

I think I’ll feel differently tomorrow, once it’s a fresh new day. Waking up in Tokyo, ready for a real new adventure.

In the meantime, a few things I learned tonight:

Yamato Transport Co., also known as Kuroneko (“the black cat”), one of the chief takkyûbin companies in the country. Photo from travel guide website GPA-Net.

1) While Japanese baggage delivery services are amazing, and super crazy convenient if you fit into certain normal circumstances (e.g. shipping your luggage from the airport to the hotel, so you don’t have to lug it on public transportation across the city..), as with so much in Japan’s wonderful world of services, if you don’t fit into such normal circumstances, you’re pretty much out of luck.

(I do want to be clear, though, that I’m not ragging on Japan specifically. It can certainly feel to an outsider like a particular flavor of sources of frustration, but I’ve had similar experiences in the UK, as well.)

My dorm in Okinawa won’t accept luggage deliveries, apparently, so that’s ugh number one. But, I figured (and several friends suggested) that it should be fine to have the bags shipped from Narita to Okinawa Airport, and I could just pick them up at the Okinawa airport on Thursday. Guess what? Nope. I don’t know if it’s because it’s too many days out, and they don’t want to have to hold (store) my bags at the other end, or if it’s the reverse, and they don’t want to have to guarantee that my bags will make it there by Thursday, but whatever the reason, they wouldn’t do it. Which leads me to point number 2:

Making your way through the crowds at Shinjuku Station; Ikebukuro isn’t much easier. Photo by Rizap Gym.

2) There’s nothing like awkwardly trying to wheel two wheelie suitcases (one of which keeps tipping sideways and refuses to just roll straight) through the second- or third-busiest train station in the world to make you feel like an obnoxious doofus.

Especially when most of the Japanese people coming out of the airport have normal real home addresses and thus can and did ship their bags home from the airport, leaving the foreigners looking like people who just don’t get it – don’t know how to do things in a smoother, more efficient, less obtrusive manner.

The Moto G I bought unlocked from Amazon a few months ago, and the packaging for the temporary SIM card I bought at the airport.

3) Similarly, with the cellphones. Thankfully, this is getting easier all the time. Now that we get our zairyû card (“temporary residency card”) at immigration at the airport, instead of having to apply through the city office for a “resident alien registration card” (gaikokujin tôrokushômeisho) and waiting weeks, that’s at least one step that’s so much easier. But, you still have to register your address with the local city office or town hall (市役所、町役場, etc.) before you can get any sort of cellphone plan other than the most basic pay-as-you-go, so if you’re like me and spent a good few days in Tokyo before traveling out to whatever region you’re going to be living in, you haven’t had a chance to do that yet. And, further, since I can’t move into the dorms for another two weeks, I don’t have an official residence / address to register with the town hall yet either, so I guess I won’t be getting a phone or a bank account for another two weeks still…

And even if I did know my exact address, what kind of proof, exactly, are they expecting me to have on me? … Plus, what if I didn’t have a place to stay yet? What if I was apartment hunting? Can’t get a phone without an address, but it’s also much harder to get an address (that is, to find an apartment to rent) without a phone. … Can’t I please just get a phone, for godsakes?

(To be fair, admittedly, I’m talking about a very particular set of types of plans. For all I know, it may in fact be quite easy to just do it some slightly different way. If anyone has info on this, I’d be happy to hear about it. Even in English, the intricacies of cellphone plans make my head hurt, so I don’t doubt at all that there are other possibilities, other slightly different ways to go about this, that may work out better, and I just didn’t know to ask for them – or that the staff at the electronics store failed to suggest such alternatives to me. I think one of my friends got this kakuyasu plan thing without providing an address, but then when I tried, I was refused. So, who knows?)

On the plus side, though, it looks like it’s getting easier and easier to get temporary SIM cards, and other sort of tourist-aimed plans. After being given the run-around several times (at Narita, DoCoMo is based on the 4th floor, by departures, quite a ways away from where I’d arrived, but actually that desk is closed and they’ve relocated some distance away; but once they couldn’t help me, it turns out SoftBank – another major Japanese phone carrier – has their counter on the 1st floor, back where I started to begin with. Oh, but this is an express elevator, and it doesn’t stop at the 1st floor….), I decided enough with dealing with people, and I bought a temporary SIM card from a vending machine. I don’t know if 1.5 Gb of data for a week for 3500 yen (roughly US$35) is a good deal, really, monetarily, but, it’ll do me for now. For now, for the first time in my Japan-traveling life, I have a smart phone and a data plan, and can look things up as I go, use Google Maps, post to Facebook, and all the rest. Pretty sweet.

Still, while companies are now offering kakuyasu plans that function like the temporary, quick-and-easy, SIM cards, just over a lengthier period, without quite as fully extensive a contract, even in these cases I discovered you still have to have a formal registered address. Seriously? What.

I can’t wait to be properly situated and settled – unpacked in the dorm room I’ll be keeping for a good number of months; with a proper cellphone, a bank account, and all of that. A library card. Hopefully maybe a desk in the history department, though I’m not sure that’s going to be happening… In the meantime, just one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

The view from my room at Ryûdai’s 50週年記念館lodgings.

Nubui Kuduchi Radio Show!

Thanks to Simone Salmon, I had the opportunity a week or so ago to guest host a radio show on UCSB’s campus radio station, KCSB 91.9. I of course used the opportunity to share Okinawan music with whoever was listening… Probably did more talking than any music host ever. But I wanted to share with listeners (all, you know, ten of them or whatever) something more about the historical context, the meaning of the songs, and so forth…

It was just a one-time gig, but it was a ton of fun! I wish I had thought to try to pursue doing a regular radio show earlier on… But, then, that one night guest hosting also went so much easier because I had Simone manning the mixing boards and everything. Who knew running a radio show involved so many buttons and sliders and meticulous timing!?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

1. “Kagiyade-fuu ~ Intro” by Mongol 800
2. “Asadoya Yunta” 安里屋ユンタ by Daiku Tetsuhiro 大工哲弘
3. “Asadoya Yunta” 安里屋ユンタ by Natsukawa Rimi 夏川りみ
4. “Nada Sou Sou” 涙そうそう by Yanawaraba やなわらばー
5. “Ka Nahona Pili Kai” by Kealiʻi Reichel
6. “Shimanchu nu takara” 島人ぬ宝 by Begin
7. “Shima uta” 島唄 by The Boom
8. “Nubui Kuduchi” 上り口説 by Ukwanshin Kabudan 御冠船歌舞団
9. “Wuduyi Kuwadisa” 踊くはでさ by Shimabukuro Masao 島袋正雄
10. “Tomari Takahashi” 泊高橋 by Noborikawa Seijin 登川誠仁
11. “Uchina Noir: Ghosts of Chibichiri Cave” by Joseph Yoshimasu Kamiya (available on BANDCAMP!)
12. “Hana – Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo” 花~すべての人の心に花を by Kina Shokichi & Champloose 喜納昌吉 & チャンプルーズ
13. “Heiwa no Ryûka” 平和の琉歌 by Nenes ネーネーズ
14. “Miruku Yugafu, Undercooled” 弥勒世果報 ~ Undercooled by Sakamoto Ryûichi & Unaigumi 坂本龍一 & うないぐみ
15. “Kanpoo nu kweenukusaa” 艦砲ぬ喰ぇーぬくさー by Deigo Musume でいご娘
16. “Toki wo koe” 時を越え by HY
17. “Miruku Munari” ミルクムナリ by Hidekatsu 日出克
18. “Shichigwachi Eisa” 七月えいさー by Rinken Band りんけんバンド
19. “Iwai Bushi” 祝節 from a YouTube video that seems to have been taken down. So sorry to not be able to give proper attribution!! yikes!
20. “Snow in Okinawa” 沖縄に降る雪 (Okinawa ni furu yuki) by Miyazawa Kazufumi 宮沢和史
21. “OK” by Talvin Singh
22. “Tinsagu nu Hana Dub” by Ryukyu Underground
23. “Uchi-NanChamploo” うちなんちゃんぷるー by HIFANA (ft. Kotobuki)
24. “Ashimiji Bushi” 汗水節 by Okinawa University of the Arts Gamelan Ensemble 沖縄芸術大学ガムラン (see also this post from two years ago)
25. “Country Roads” カントリー・ロード (from the Studio Ghibli movie “Whisper of the Heart” 耳を澄ませば) by DJ Sasa & the Islanders
26. “Kajadifu Bushi” かぎやで風 by Harry Seisho Nakasone
27. “Tôshin Doi” 唐船どーい from this YouTube video uploaded by teamrimi


Photo my own.

Those who know me know that I pretty much never go to concerts – which is to say, standing up in a pulsing, shouting, crowd; loud; lasers and lights and smoke machines sorts of concerts. I /do/ go, fairly often, to sit-down concerts of so-called “world music,” and things in that vein; in the last couple years, I’ve seen Kealiʻi Reichel, Jake Shimabukuro, the Silk Road Ensemble (twice), Kodō, and the Vienna Philharmonic, among others. And, when I’m in Okinawa, I go to “live houses,” aka “shimauta bars” – touristy though they may be, still, it’s live Okinawan music, and it’s really fun. But, on the rare occasions that I’ve been to the other kind of concerts, I’ve generally found them to be just too loud, for one, and just somehow or other just not my thing.

But, I am *so* glad that my friends Yumiko and Carl suggested that we go see Perfume, live in concert, in Los Angeles. They were at the Wiltern Theater, and the show was just an absolute blast. In its aftermath, three days later, I still have the music and the visuals, and just a remnant feeling of the whole experience, still running around inside of me. I’m watching videos and listening to the group’s latest album – Cosmic Explorer – on YouTube, and as soon as I get to Japan in a couple weeks I am going to seek out a real physical copy. Now, for perhaps the first time, I really understand why people go to live shows, why they get so hyped up about them, why they enjoy them so much – and, why they follow bands, and albums, and why they get so hyped up about buying the merch. I made the mistake of not getting to know the album better before I went, and so unfortunately I only got really revved up during the two songs I knew (from earlier albums). In that moment, I understood why everyone else was already so revved up, throughout the show – knowing the songs better than I did, they were feeling that feeling I only felt during those two portions.

Photo my own.

I do wish I had known we were allowed to take photos. I’ve been to so many performances where they were not allowed, and so I just assumed they weren’t. If I’d known, I would have captured so many more moments – especially during the final song – the encore piece – which had just the most beautiful stage set + screens + costume design/aesthetic. But, so it goes. My huge thanks to those who took video and posted it up on YouTube, allowing me to share bits of the concert here.

I knew and loved Perfume already, from some years ago. Their songs “Polyrhythm,” “Baby Cruising Love,” “Chocolate Disco,” “Secret Secret,” “Nee,” and so forth are all just wonderfully energetic and catchy, and fill me with happiness. I also loved the robotic aesthetic to their dance style (and other aspects of their electronic sound, techno-electronic music videos, etc.), and the juxtaposition of that with cute, feminine, aspects of their hair, dresses, high-heel pumps, and so forth. Creative, unique, just wonderful. Not your typical J-pop, and certainly not your typical mainstream American fare.

A video of Perfume’s performance of “Story” at SXSW, 2015. Apparently, videos of last week’s LA concert are already getting taken down. :(

And all of that was well on show in this live concert. The live performance of “Story” (and the music video all the more so) was just pure techno wonderfulness. Perfume’s costume aesthetic, and robot-like dance moves were front and center. Indeed, they entered to a techno-style video, wearing Tron-like light-up outfits, and it just went on from there. I truly do love that aesthetic – it’s what makes Perfume Perfume, and actually just in the last couple days, watching some of their music videos from a few years ago, and comparing them to the concert, I really began to get a sense of how their style has evolved, matured, whatever we want to call it – and, yet, these fundamental attributes, that make them so distinctive, and so compelling, haven’t gone anywhere.

Ugh. The live version of this one has been taken down, too. Glad I saved/DLed it before that happened. Thanks once again to those who uploaded these videos!

But, in addition to that, on top of that, thinking about the concert, and also the more I listen to songs from the new album, what’s also really wonderful is just how varied it is. Perfume is by no means a one-trick pony, or a one-hit wonder. Within the bounds of that aesthetic (and sometimes venturing outside of it), they really do such wonderfully different stuff.Story” is the ultimate in the electronic, digitized, sort of aesthetic – indeed, it’s mostly techno sounds, bordering at times on machine noise, even, with tons of graphics, and a minimum, actually, of vocals or dancing. This, in contrast to “Cling Cling,” “Miracle Worker,” “Next Stage with YOU,” and a number of the other songs, which feature brightly colored dresses, and really focus on the girls, their voicemodded singing, and robot-inspired dancing.

Perfume – Baby Face (English Ver.) – Live in San Francisco

Perfume – Baby Face (English Ver.) – Live in San Francisco

Can’t seem to figure out how to embed this properly. Sorry.

I don’t know if this is weird, but, as much as I do love many of the songs overall, as whole pieces – the chorus, the melody, the overall thing that is each song – for whatever reason, I’ve gotten particular hooked on the brief instrumental sections. In “Baby Face,” this section features the wonderful sound of the clicks of some sort of wooden instrument – what I’ve been told is a synthesized sound of a pentatonic wood box. As much as I love the full and complex sounds of many of the other songs, I also love the simple, small, ton-ta-ton-ta-ton sound of this wooden box, and the cute hand-rolling to each side dance move that Perfume led us in. In “Star Train,” this is the whoa-oh, whoa whoa oh oh oh. And many of the other songs have something like it too – in “Cosmic Explorer,” they even sing it at the end, switching out of the fuller sound of the synthesized sounds, to the softer, “acoustic” sound of the girls singing it themselves.

I can’t even tell you how much fun I had at this concert. The ladies roused up the crowd, inviting us to sing and dance with them, and talking with us. They asked who had handmade Perfume “costumes” or “cosplay,” and seemed really genuinely impressed and enjoying seeing such passion in the fans. The three of them all demonstrated really good English, but they also selected someone from the crowd to even interpret for them, which must have been such a blast for her, even if it was nerve-wracking. (There was a great video of this, but that’s also been taken down.) I also especially liked the super-cute “Jenny ha gokigen naname,” a song from, apparently, way back in 1980, from a band called Juicy Fruits (I think I like the Perfume version much better. O_o) – which, as you can see in the video above, Perfume sings at their live shows as an opportunity for the crowd to get really involved and riled up, shouting the name of each girl as they come up.

Screenshot from a fan video of the concert, as Perfume performed “Star Train” as their final encore. Much thanks to whoever uploaded this, for helping capture this moment, and this incredible stage set. Glad I got the video, and the screenshot, before they were taken down by YouTube.

Finally, the whole experience came to its inevitable end. “Star Train,” which was the perfect piece to end on – a soft, kimochi wo komete (filled with feeling), nostalgic sort of song, which just really sort of touched me, leaving me (perhaps all of us) on a note of release, of relaxing and just enjoying the music, and then saying goodbye at the end of a intense fun time. Putting aside the pattern dancing, the girls sat on the steps of the stage set, or stood with mic-stands, in bright aqua dresses – the only bright color to be seen, providing a sort of shot of highlight, under an array of small lights hung from the ceiling to create the impression of a starry night sky. Video projected onto the back screen provided an English translation of the lyrics in a typewriter-style sort of font that lent, I don’t know what to call it, a certain aesthetic.

I think I understand now why people love concerts so much, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing out on. Looking forward to seeing what concerts I might be able to attend in Japan this coming year.

Gradually getting there. After a year of doing this, I’m finally almost done posting these book reviews from my comprehensive exams. Feels like a whole other world – exams feel so far behind me; a month from now, I’ll be in Japan, for the next big step in this PhD process. Well, well. Looks like this was the last of the reviews. I didn’t realize that. Okay. Well, here we are, my last review from the exam process. Look forward to a return to some other sorts of posts, coming up soon.

In the meantime, Marius Jansen’s China in the Tokugawa World (Harvard University Press, 1992)

Jansen’s China in the Tokugawa World provides an outline of a wide range of major aspects and themes in the role of Chinese people in Tokugawa Japan, perceptions of China, Chinese cultural influences, and the like, nestled into overarching narratives of changes and developments in Japanese relationships with China during this period, both as a concept and as a real political and economic entity. He devotes particular attention to the Chinese community at Nagasaki, providing a considerable degree of detail as to the logistics and economics of trade activity, as well as intellectual and cultural interactions in Nagasaki, and the role of the fūsetsugaki, imported books, and visiting Chinese scholars and monks as sources of information and intelligence on goings-on in the outside world, complemented by intelligence obtained from the Dutch, Korea, and Ryukyu. Jansen also touches upon numerous other topics, including the introduction of Ōbaku Zen, interactions with Ming loyalists & their cause, and perceptions of China following the fall of the Ming among scholars, political elites, and the general populace. In the last thirty pages or so of this short 120-page volume, Jansen describes the turn in perceptions of & attitudes towards China, as over the course of the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty experiences considerable difficulties, and in the eyes of many Japanese, severe decline.

The volume serves as a fine introduction to these many themes or aspects, and to the overall arc of interactions with, and perceptions of, China. In a sense, it reads more like a textbook than a scholarly argument piece, summarizing the topic of “China in Tokugawa Japan” overall, and providing descriptions, rarely more than a page or two long, of a variety of individual topics, such as the biographies of Li Hongzhang and the monk Yinyuan Longqi, as a textbook would, less as examples of evidence to further an argument than as descriptions of items within a topical umbrella.

That said, there are significant chronological and thematic arcs presented. Jansen describes a number of related but differing understandings or imaginations among Tokugawa period scholars of a conceptual China, ranging from those who viewed China not as a real place existing coevally in time, but as a land of Sages, tranquility, and the ultimate manifestations of high culture and civilization, to the subtly but importantly different position of those for whom China served as a sort of straw man, an Other against which Japan could be described in contrast. While many Confucian scholars idealized China, many kokugaku scholars, some of them still looking to Confucianism or other aspects of Chinese civilization as an ideal, presented varying notions of why or how Japan superseded China as the civilizational center. Meanwhile, much of the popular discourse conflated China with the foreign more generally, making little distinction between various Others (e.g. Koreans, Ryukyuans, or Dutch). This topic is of particular relevance to my own project, as I attempt to gain some understanding of how Ryukyu was perceived, understood, or imagined at this time; while Keiko Suzuki has argued similarly in her article “The Making of Tôjin” of an undifferentiating perception of the foreign, the true story seems considerably more complex, given that there were numerous widely available popular publications describing or depicting Ryukyuan subjects as specifically Ryukyuan. In any case, I am eager to delve into this subject further, and while Jansen’s discussion of it is most welcome, and valuable in its way, it is also far too brief and cursory for my purposes. The same is true of his discussion of perceptions of Japan (or Korea or Ryukyu) as representing the place where the great high culture and civilization of (Ming) China survives, since it has been corrupted or destroyed in China’s fall to barbarian (Manchu) invaders. This, in particular, is a topic which I think to be of great interest, and potentially of great relevance to my project, and yet Jansen’s brief discussion of it remains, perhaps, the most extensive such discussion I have come across; he does not, in his citations, point the way to any more extensive treatments of the subject.

China in the Tokugawa World represents a great start, a great survey of the subject. The overall thematic and chronological arcs, of differing ways in which China was perceived, and how this changed over time, help provide a fundamental sense of the thing, informing and deepening one’s understanding of the character of the Tokugawa period as a whole. Jansen’s detailed description of the workings of trade and other activity at Nagasaki is also sufficiently lengthy and detailed to constitute a source one can turn to for citeable details. On other topics, however, Jansen’s volume serves as only a starting point, requiring one to look elsewhere for a more thorough or extensive description of kangaku or kokugaku, popular depictions of China, the influence of Ōbaku Zen, or any one of a number of other topics.

The Chinatown (tôjin yashiki) of early modern Nagasaki, as seen in a handscroll painting (detail) on display at the British Museum. Photo my own.

Following up on my post about Mark Ravina’s Land and Lordship, I think it only makes sense to pair that up with a discussion of Luke Roberts’ book Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain. The two books came out right around the same time, and are quite complementary, both significant, influential, books in promoting the argument for seeing the daimyo domains of Tokugawa Japan as semi- or quasi-independent “states” – a critique of earlier scholarly views of Tokugawa Japan as highly centralized and strictly, even oppressively, ruled. The view promoted by Ravina and Roberts has now become the standard view among historians.

Mercantilism in a Japanese Domain focuses on the emergence of the idea of kokueki (国益, “prosperity of the country”) in Tosa domain in the early 18th century. This is a notion which bears some strong similarities to mercantilist thought, envisioning the prosperity of the country as separate from the prosperity of the lord or of his household, and advocating a variety of economic thought in place of a Confucian focus on morality, virtue, and diligent labor.

Advocates for kokueki thought supported a variety of different strains of economic thought, with some supporting the bullionist notion of amassed wealth as the measure of economic prosperity, and therefore advocating strong restrictions on the outflow of precious metals or certain other forms of wealth from the domain, while others argued quite the opposite, suggesting that it’s the volume of trade which brings prosperity, and that the domain should not be afraid to export valuable goods, as it will only allow for the greater import of other valuable goods, enhancing the overall volume of trade. Meanwhile, many samurai officials, at least initially, employed the term kokueki to refer in a more conservative manner to the prosperity of the lord’s household, perhaps with the notion that the lord’s household equals the domain; drawing upon neo-Confucian notions of duty to one’s lord and of proper observance of one’s station, they asserted plans for increased prosperity which did not concern themselves with supply & demand or import & export, so much as the idea that everyone should behave more morally, more virtuously, meaning to be more diligent and more hard-working in their respective professions. Perhaps most interesting about these conflicting economic philosophies is that while the more mercantilistic approaches resemble European mercantilistic thought & policy, none of these approaches match up with what modern economic theory today would consider to be the most correct or valid. To be sure, some are startlingly innovative and progressive for their times, for their historical context, in contrast to the Neo-Confucian approaches. And, as Roberts details, these ideas of everyone working together for the prosperity of the country – the country as a distinct abstract entity disaggregated from the lord or his household, or from the shogun or the shogunate – play a prominent role in the reconceptualization of economic nationalism in the Meiji period. But the various economic philosophies that competed and negotiated in 18th century Tosa cannot be simply placed on a linear line of progress.

An Arita ware dish showing the provinces of Japan. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Photo my own.

Two other threads underlying Roberts’ narratives and arguments about kokueki are also extremely valuable. One is Roberts’ argument that despite documents by samurai officials which represent most (if not all) policy initiatives and ideas as coming from the lord, or from amongst samurai officials and prominent scholar advisors, suggestions submitted by commoners to the domain’s petition box reveal that not only did commoners articulate these kokueki ideas before the samurai picked them up, but further, commoner/merchant ideas had direct impact on domain policy. The vast majority of the book discusses examples from only one domain, and only one aspect of policy approaches, but it strongly suggests the need for a reconsideration of our assumption that commoners, throughout the archipelago, played little or no role in suggesting or determining policy.

Further, Roberts’ account also contains powerful arguments for the validity and importance of regional and local histories. It is my understanding that at the time this was written, the field was only just beginning to more fully open up to the ideas of domainal autonomy, and to seeing Tokugawa Japan as less centralized, less authoritarian, and more like a decentralized confederation of relatively autonomous states, albeit under shogunal authority. Roberts’ Introduction includes a valuable discussion of the varying meanings and usages of the term kuni (“country,” “state,” “province”), and invites us to seriously rethink our imaginations of the political landscape of early modern Japan, which was structured according to a very different set of notions of political geography from our modern sense of the nation-state. Whereas much of the most prominent or most influential scholarship on Edo period politics up until that point had focused on the shogunate, and the shifts and changes in its policies, with the assumption of a relatively direct and strong impact upon the domains, here we see Tosa not simply being controlled by bakufu policy, but rather negotiating positions within that political environment, in order to seek what is best for the lord & his household, and later on, for “the country” of Tosa as a “whole.” Some examples of this are seen not only in decisions about economic policy, in terms of bans or monopolies on exports, and the like, but also in the daimyô’s exercising of agency, and displaying of interests differing from those of pure feudal loyalty, in claims to be ill, asking for delays in performing his various duties owed to the shogunate.

That Tosa presents a rather different case from, for example, Satsuma, makes it a valuable counter-example, alongside various other studies, including the work of Robert Hellyer. Tosa is large, but relatively poor, with relatively little good agricultural land. Unlike the Shimazu, who ruled Satsuma since the beginnings of the Kamakura period, the Yamauchi were not traditional leaders of Tosa and had to come in and assert their rule following Sekigahara. And yet, unlike many domains, Tosa recovered from severe debt, becoming economically strong enough by the Bakumatsu period to play the prominent role that it did. That the petition box system was apparently quite widespread, and yet little discussed in the more mainstream discussions of Edo period Japanese political systems and class structures, also makes this a particularly valuable contribution.

As with Land and Lordship, I would love to see a more thorough narrative description of Tosa history – not to mention the history of any/every other province of Japan – but, in the meantime, we’re learning very valuable things about how to think about the “state” in early modern Japan; political centralization or decentralization; and so forth.