Adults only

Work is busy! All I have time to do is post this example of Kansai fashion that I picked up on the way back from Izumo:

This scene of horror is described as a chotto otona na hitotoki, "kinda grown-up time" (on the top-floor lounge). And indeed, I would not want my children to see this guy's outfit.

(Otona na is a modern adjectival construction used by and on the behalf of youths, particularly young women, to describe an item or act which allows them to dabble in adulthood while still maintaining their valuable, responsibility-free status as children. When you're 20, going to the top-floor lounge with your boyfriend is chotto otona na. When you're 40, it just means you're too tired to go out and find a proper bar.)

(Insert Meitantei Conan joke here.)



C. and I are back from the Dark Side of the Mountains, which we visited over the weekend. Here are some old postcards I bought up there, showing a roughly Taishō-period Izumo Shrine.

出雲大社 (Izumo Ōyashiro)

Here's something I didn't know about Izumo Ōyashiro (as they prefer to call it there): its administrators claim descent from the gods, just like the emperor. The story is that Ōkuninushi no Ōkami moved into the dangerous and disease-ridden mundane world, fixed it up, then handed it over to his aunt Amaterasu Ōmikami in an event fondly known as the kuni-yuzuri (nation-yielding).

大社教本院 (Ōyashiro-kyō hon'in)

This cleared the way for Amaterasu Ōmikami's grandson Ninigi no Mikoto to claim temporal Japan, while Ōkuninushi no Ōkami himself "retired" to a residence which Amaterasu Ōmikami had built for him out of gratitude. She also ordered her other son, Ame-no-Hohi no Mikoto, to serve him there (thus inventing the Shintō priesthood, as it happens).

And so, as Izumo Ōyashiro's English pamphlet puts it:

[That residence] is Izumo Grand Shrine, and it is from here that O-kuninushi-no-okami lovingly guides us all to happiness, and even now he is devoutly worshipped for this. The administrators of the rituals for O-kuninushi-no-okami and Izumo Oyashiro are descended in a single lineage from Amenohohi-no-mikoto, the original servant of the shrine.
大社教本院神殿 (Ōyashiro-kyō hon'in shinden)

(Note that Ame-no-Hohi no Mikoto was not Ninigi's father—that was Ame-no-Oshihomimi no Mikoto—which means that the latest common ancestor shared by the imperial line and the Izumo administrators is Amaterasu Ōmikami herself.)


Machine love in the news

Latest manifestation of creeping Hostism in Japan: the hot guy piggybank. (Official site.)

Not only do you have to give him money, you also have to defuse his self-loathing and general anxiety. According to this, he disappears leaving only a scrawled sayonara if five days go by without a deposit. Damn, Ikemen Bank, that's cold.

Anyway, women, enjoy your digital pimp. We men have a date with a robot that can kiss us (and, more importantly, will).

Watch the video and you will see that the robot is about the size of a toaster, and not quite as sexy, but the Grauniad nevertheless describes it as an "adult-oriented android" for desperate Japanese geeks. In fact, if you didn't know better you might even think it was invented in Japan, instead of the good old US of A Canadian Quarter of Hong Kong! I should have known. We're tired of you pushing your freakish sexuality on us, America Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth territories!


16 strings enter, 3 to 13 leave

Saitō Ryokū on the "noble, lovesick" koto vs the "common, lustful" shamisen (although the word he uses is "samisen", because he was straight out of Edo):

The koto is a flower, it admires other flowers: it is inviting. The samisen is a moon, it floats like the moon: it is provocative. A beggar pauses at the side of the road or at one's front gate: if he plays the koto, it rings with misfortune, one's thoughts turn to ruin; if he plucks the samisen, the song is one of vice, one's thoughts turn to decline.

"Think on the Mount Li of old...": this is a koto song. "When you stayed all through the night...": this is a samisen song. The aware of the koto is sought at leisure, and is at last concerned with another. The aware of the samisen is pursued in haste, and is ultimately about oneself.

Reverse the two, call the koto a moon: it is but a veiled and hazy one. Call the samisen a flower: it is brittle and dying.

(Of course, these are merely "miscellaneous impressions" that Saitō formed "in town" and "at festivals".)


The terrifying hand of Buddha

Asahi sez:

A 2.3-centimeter gold-plated [copper] hand of Buddha was reported on the 10th of this month to have been discovered near the former site of Hinokuma Temple (檜隈寺) in Asuka, Nara. The shape of the hand, the purity of the copper, and other factors suggest that it was made in the 7th or 8th century C.E. (Asuka-Nara period), when [Japanese] gold-and-copper Buddha production was at its peak, but there is also a chance that it was imported.

The importers in the latter case would presumably be the Yamato no Aya clan (東漢氏), who themselves immigrated to Japan from Korea in the 4th century and are believed to have built the temple itself. (The "Aya", though written 漢 as in "Han Chinese", is commonly thought to signify an origin in Ara Gaya.)

As you can see, the hand itself has lost 60% of its digitry. A thumb and ring finger are enough for a kartari mudra, but it's a gruesome look. Also makes it hard to determine the iconographic type or even the size of the Buddha to which it was originally attached, apparently.

All that can be said for certain is that every night in Asuka village when the clock strikes twelve, the Buddha of Hinokuma shuffles silently through the streets with its bleeding stump held out before it. Meet not its gaze, traveler, an ye value those hands of your own.


Moment of silence


The rain is thick like mist and spring is coming to an end;
  Behold the mountain, then the valley—then your gaze is lost.
The cuckoo has been calling since the sun began to sink;
  Deeper night brings song from deeper yet within the trees.



World on fire

My new Néojaponisme article "Inflammatory Gaijin Piece" is up. It's about The World of Suzie Wong (no, the book) and really not as inflammatory as all that.

[map of Taiwan]

I didn't go into this in the article, but the most alien to me of all the books cultural baggage was its attitude towards "Eurasians". Having grown up in a time and place where the word "Eurasian" was mostly used to describe supermodels, Mason's unprovoked sympathy for these people astonished me. I mean, take this line:

"You said they were very nice," Miss Ruggeroni said in the dreamy yearning voice of a Eurasian who belongs nowhere.

Talk about a nuanced delivery.


Breaking: Manto-kun to Sento-kun: Step aside, pops

Remember the online poll on a replacement for Sento-kun? Rocking in Hakata caught the Asahi story announcing Sento's successor: Manto-kun.


Here's the Creators Yamato release, and here are Manto's designers, Kurogane Jinza.

What does "Manto" mean?

  • It's Japanese for "cape" (from the French manteau, cognate with "mantle")
  • It's a tortured but ultimately unrejectable way of pronouncing 万人, "10,000 people", i.e. "the myriad people", i.e. "everyone". The man here also suggests Man'yōshū_rc, as in the Nara-period poetry anthology. (Speaking of the MYS: Ancient wooden strip containing MYS poem identified!)
  • Manto is also an obscure Sino-Japanese word written 満都 and meaning "the whole capital".
  • Finally, Man to is an Edo-period adverbial meaning "in great quantities" (written 万と or 満と), but I don't think Nara recognizes that newfangled Edo slang as valid Japanese.


Are you a dummy in Japan?

Last week Spa! used these three fill-in-the-blank questions, among others, as shibboleths identifying the dummies of their cover story, "Proud women boast: 'My dummy boyfriend!'" (『女が語る「私のおバカ彼氏」大自慢』):

  1. A very short bath is a ______'s ablutions (__の行水)
  2. When something happens suddenly it is a ______ from a thicket (やぶから__)
  3. When your own misdeeds bring misfortune it is ______ from within (身から出た__)

Answers: 1. Crow (karasu), 2. Stick (), 3. Rust (sabi). You can see that what is being tested here is not intelligence so much as knowledge. Other questions asked about the current Prime Minister of Japan, the pronunciation of certain kanji compounds, the third responsibility of the Japanese citizen (after "work" and "education"—it's "paying taxes", incidentally), and so on.

In any nation, in any age, you could step outside and find hundreds of young men willing to offer goofy answers to such questions in order to entertain their friends, and that is what Spa! did. That's journalism!

In closing, a charming story about how dummies fall in love:

When they went to dinner [for the first time], he went to the bathroom and sent her an e-mail from his mobile phone that read "I love you" [in English]. She replied "me too", also from the bathroom. Afterwards they fell into the habit of sending each other mail from the bathroom that read "Dum-dum!" ["ばぁか"]

This is what you call a bakappuru (baka + couple), but at least they keep it private.