Friday, December 30, 2011

Out of the Box

New Years is coming and in my household that means it's time once again for our annual board game marathon. It will be 24 hours of letting the good times roll with the dice plus a dab of the ruthless backstabbing that almost naturally comes with most competitive games. Inevitably somebody will take out Risk, the classic game in which players move little wooden soldiers around a board resembling the world map in an attempt to dominate the globe through military might. The rules are simple enough and players have basically two options on their turn, either attack or defend. All international conflicts are settled at the point of a gun as the fate of nations are decided by six little chance cubes. Even though it’s all good fun, in the end most of the players lose out, often leaving the gloating winner a target of well deserved ire. Sadly, the rules of this game look like they were ripped from the current US foreign policy playbook. Fortunately options for peaceful resolutions to international conflicts are still on the board for many players across the globe who look to the power of cooperation over bombs to pave the road to peace.

While another, more peaceful, world may still be possible, this week it just got a little less probable when Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda announced that his country would be scrapping its nearly half-century long ban on arms exports. While the ban has been national policy since the sixties, many Japanese citizens see it as a natural extension of their war renouncing constitution that was forged in the smoldering aftermath of the devastating bombings that eventually brought an end to World War II.

Essentially drafted by the conquering US occupation forces, the Japanese Constitution, is “one of the few if any alien documents that have ever been as thoroughly internalized and vigorously defended,” writes historian John Dower. One of its most cherished components is Article 9, which states that the Japanese people forever renounce war as well as the right to maintain an army, navy, or air force (ostensibly a domestic patrol force,  Japan’s Self Defense Forces, the nation's de facto militaryskirts this proviso). While Tokyo has said that the new weapons export rules still adhere to the spirit of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution, it would seem that the Article 9 spirit is at an all-time low in the land of the rising sun. 

Article 9 had long been the lid that boxed Japan’s SDF forces within the confines of its national borders. Over the last decade Japan’s legislature has been steadily stripping away that lid. Recent laws have paved the way for Japanese boots on the ground in places like Iraq and elsewhere for the first time since Japan's military forces wreaked havoc in the Pacific and Asia over half a century ago.

Green-lighting arms exports is one more nail in the coffin for Japan’s famed “Peace Constitution.” Lifting the ban does more than open the global arms bazaar to Japanese defense industry giants like Mitsubishi or Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It gives Japan a chip in one of the biggest upcoming games in the world, a contest that pits the U.S. against up-and-coming contender for the world crown, China. Easing the arms export ban allows Japanese arms manufacturers to partner in joint weapons production with US, European and other companies from countries on the US allied team. That chip is a key motivation for Japan since in any China war game scenario, it plays a forward position with the ball falling squarely in its court.

As any seasoned Risk player knows, Japan’s slow but steady retreat from its long standing renunciation of war will look like a hostile move and do little to thaw the frigid relations it has fostered over the years with its neighbors in Asia. Like most players in this game of risk, they are likely to lose out in the end. It would be better for Japan and the US to quit now and instead of playing games, work to build bridges of cooperation in the region that can weather any stormy waters that may lie ahead.

Related post: Games People Play

Monday, December 26, 2011

Love by the Boxful

What better way to celebrate Boxing Day,  than opening a box full of love. That's what somebody I know got from their significant other for Christmas. A simple gift of love, this little wooden case is filled with "kindness coupons" to be redeemed whenever tempers flare, etc. While the number of coupons is limited, the capacity of the box once opened knows no bounds.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Taking Christmas to Heart

Enjoy this Japanese Christmas classic, Koibito ga Santa Claus ("My Sweetheart is Santa"), by Yuming, because after all it's all about love.

Related posts: 
Broccoli Ocarina Xmas Carol
Christmas Past

Saturday, December 24, 2011

They're Back

Updated Story

They're back. From out of the darkness they've returned to set the byways of this sleepy little valley ablaze in illuminated Christmas glory. Like the twinkling lights of fireflies emerging from the grass on a summer's eve, one by one they alighted. It started with a small string of lights stretched across a balcony clothesline and spilled over into the street below where they took root and spread to houses across the vale.  Efforts to save electricity be damned, the Christmas lights are back! I guess whatever you do, you just can't keep the light from shining through.

Related post: He's Coming!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Simple Sound of Xmas

Do you remember it? No, I don't mean the sound of Santa's sleigh bells. I'm talking about the kind of sound that comes from Roba House, a magical place where  "instruments from Medieval and Renaissance times create sounds which remind us of something which we - living in modern times - have forgotten." Give a listen and remember.

The troubadours of Roba House are likely to once again favor the children of our mountain hollow and beyond with some musical magic in their annual winter concert held at the hilltop kindergarten overlooking Temple Valley.   

Click the little snowflake icon on the Youtube video control bar if you want to let it snow. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Other Words

I got some feedback today on a proofreading/editing job I did. It looked pretty much like this. The document was a completed Japanese to English translation of a brochure for a subsidiary of a large multinational corporation based in Japan. In bold lettering on the front of the brochure was a quote from a famous English author which didn't need any translating, or so I thought. The customer thought otherwise. It "wasn't true to the Japanese" was the comment written in the margin and so somebody corrected it.

I told my employer, the second to last link (I'm the very last one dangling freelance) in a long chain of translation companies and PR firms leading up to the end client, that they should leave Dickens alone. My employer then told me that if I couldn't do the kind of quality work the client wanted, I should look for work elsewhere. I said it would  be "a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before....a far, far better place I go than I have ever known." Then I realized what I was saying and corrected myself. I mean it would be "a much larger effort to achieve goals that exceed past achievements... a more premium location I transfer to in excess of expectations."

Now the work is pouring in. I guess I'm finally speaking a language somebody understands.

Related post: I'm On It

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Brief Word or Two

"H" in "istorical?" What's what about? Know what I mean? Has she gone all David Blaine? They ought to hire Michael Caine to do some of these videos. Nuff said. Innit.

Lor' luv a duck, time to quit the sportsman's bet and get to Captain Kirk. A big Tom Hanks to everyone at Cockney Rhyming Slang dot com for sharing some of the secrets that made proper (or not)use of all the poetic phrases penned in this post possible.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box isn't so easy. It's especially difficult when your habitat is a box, like the countless cement cubicles that urbanites all over Japan call home. There's just no room for anything, even fresh ideas. While space usually comes at a premium in those cramped quarters, this Tokyo apartment unit (on the left) offers something unusual. Not only that, it's a steal at 55,000 yen (around 600 dollars) a month in a city where the rents are typically sky-high, especially in light of its convenient central location.

They say location is everything when it comes to real estate and maybe that explains the relatively low rental fee for this apartment. If you look closely at the floor plan, you'll notice that the architect has located the toilet bowl in a surprising spot, right inside the kitchenette (marked with a K on the drawing). I guess that makes it more of a kithenlet than a kitchenette but whatever you call it, it's an innovative use of space that never would have crossed my mind.

I've always thought of the porcelain throne as being part and parcel of the bathroom. Not so here in the land of the rising sun, where the defecation chamber is typically given its own individual place of honor, separate and ideally isolated from all other rooms in the living abode, including the bathroom which is rightly reserved for the bath alone. If you think of the commode as a stand alone fixture, I guess it only takes a hop, skip and a jump to see it as an appliance that could be plugged into just about any room in the home, from the living room to the portico, balcony, or wherever. The possibilities are only as limited as your preconceived notions and while one man's ceiling might be another man's floor, here in this neck of the concrete jungle one man's privy is also his kitchen.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

That's exactly what my buddy Tommy T's first apartment in New York had, everything but the kitchen sink. He didn't mind too much though since he only washed the dishes when the set ran out maybe every couple of weeks. Then he would haul all the dirty china into the shower and kill two birds with one stone. Maybe it wasn't ultra sanitary but it sure beat taking a shower in the dishwasher.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Endangered Tree

Here is Ken Aoki (a.k.a. Ken Blue Tree) giving new life to an old Carpenters' tune. I don't know if Blue Tree got permission from the copyright holder to cover this Carpenter's classic but if he didn't, its days could be numbered. The United States Congress is considering legislation (PROTECT IP/SOPA) that could spell doom for videos as well as entire US-based Internet sites like YouTube and more that host them if they contain copyrighted material used without permission from the copyright owner. 

To learn more about the implications of PROTECT IP/SOPA take a gander at the Colbert clip featured on the side bar. Then move on over to freedom in harmony for a more serious review of PROTECT IP, a bill that would in effect curtail freedom of expression and more, as well as what you can do to stop it from becoming law.  

In the meantime spread the word and scatter seeds of harmony that will enable the sounds of  Blue Tree and other emerging artists like him to flourish so that we can all continue to bask in the shade of their growth.

Related posts: Unlocking Imagination 
              Copyright vs. Copyleft

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Have Saw Will Travel

Photo by Single Leaf
I've earned quite a reputation as a proficient gardener around some parts of Temple Valley. I can't trim a tree into a poodle or anything like that but I'm pretty proficient with a saw. This is a little hillside path I paved with wood cut from a small forest in one of my patron's gardens. I feel guilty about eradicating all that vegetation whose sole purpose in life may be to take the carbon dioxide I, and others like me, exude and turn it back into a breath of fresh air. That's why to offset my dirty deeds I've decided not to touch a single leaf on any tree, shrub or plant that pops up in my own garden. I'm letting the place go wild, leaving it in the hands of  the same architect who landscaped the Garden of Eden. This decision has also earned me quite a reputation, especially among those living within the shade of my little jungle within the city. I'm really exploring the limits of their patience and I'm afraid some of them are beginning to pale from lack of exposure to sunlight. What can I tell them except, I guess the road of life can be pockmarked by little trade-offs along the way.

Related post: Dig This!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

He's Coming!

Or maybe he's going. At least that's how it looks on the southbound platform of Japan Railway's Hamamatsucho Station in central Tokyo. Today, just like every Feast of St. Nicholas for as long as I can remember, the station's famed Peeing Boy donned the suit of red he'll wear all Christmas season. Seeing this little guy suited up in his seasonal regalia is always one of the bright spots of the holidays for me whenever I find myself traveling from the capitol city to our little valley beyond.

In recent years brightly lit plastic Santa figurines and other holiday adornments have been popping up like wild flowers among the tangled vines of little lights that grow rampant like ivy over houses and balconies across Temple Valley during the month of December. While the sight of this largely western tradition taking root in this far eastern land may seem odd to some, there was nothing more strange than what I witnessed on my walk home tonight.

There wasn't a light in sight. Perhaps everyone is cutting down on using electricity in the wake of the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima or maybe they are still holding back on the festive displays in sympathy for those who have less to celebrate this year. I'm not sure why people in the valley trimmed down their Christmas lights this year but it sure seemed somber, no it was serene. It was downright peaceful, and peace is the kind of Christmas tradition that would be nice to see take root everywhere this season and always.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas kids!

Related post: Falling Waters

Friday, December 2, 2011

Streets Paved with Poetry

It looks like the people of New York City are following in the footsteps of the Japanese under an inspiring street safety sign program from the city's Department of Transportation (DOT). Dubbed "Curbside Haiku,” the "DOT safety education and public art campaign launched in November 2011, is a set of twelve bright, eye-catching designs by artist John Morse that mimic the style of traditional street safety signs. Each sign is accompanied by a haiku poem."

To learn more about Curbside Haiku check out the NYC DOT's homepage and to catch a glimpse of haiku street safety signs in the land that gave birth to the elegant form of expression known as haiku come visit Japan (or just go here instead).