January 29, 2006

Part 10 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Chapter 38

地綱 [ちこう] The Law of the Land
天綱 [てんこう] The Divine Decrees or The Great Colonnade (太綱)

Rakushun further explains the origins of the rule of law in Chapter 42 of Shadow of the Moon.

During Youko's argument with Enho over taxes, Ono glosses the Duchy of Yellow (黄領) as chokkatsuchi (直轄地), meaning a domain under the direct control of the shogun, meaning in this case, Keiki.

When Youko considers using an imperial rescript to punish Gahou, Marquis of Wa, she is debating the merits of bills of attainder, laws promulgated with the intent of punishing specific individuals, independent of a generally and equally applied rule of law. In the United States, bills of attainder are prohibited in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution.

The verb "ostracize" comes from the Greek, ostrakon, a potsherd used as voting token. The people of Athens were allowed to literally vote people off the island, exiling them for ten years. This early form of a bill of attainder, alllowing individuals to be punished according to the whims of public opinion, cumulatively caused enormous damage to Athenian democracy.

Chapter 39

"From the husk you born, to the husk you shall return." Ono is paraphrasing Genesis 3:19: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

Chapter 40

北路 [ほくろ] Hokuro, border crossing between Ryuu and En
院白沢 [いんはくたく] In Hakutaku, Chousai of En

"She said that there was no more distance between us than that of two people standing next to each other." This exchange takes place in chapter 52 of Shadow of the Moon.

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January 25, 2006

The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns is the most light-hearted and purely comedic of Studio Ghibli films. It is a sequel to Whispers of the Heart (1995), to the extent that two secondary characters (the cats), The Baron and Muta, are here principal characters. Otherwise it’s a standalone effort, though the English title might make a bit more sense if Whisper of the Heart had been released first. The Japanese title, Neko no Ongaeshi, translates as "The Gift of the Cats," or more specifically, "the gift that keeps on giving whether you like it or not."

The story begins with Haru (Anne Hathaway) rescuing a cat from getting run over by a truck. The cat turns out to be the son of the King of the Cats (Tim Curry, as a kind of unreformed 1950s hipster), who decides he likes this kid and that she’d make a good daughter-in-law. After failing to persuade her with presents, such as dozens of little gift boxes stuffed with mice, they kidnap her and drag her off to the Kingdom of the Cats, an Alice in Wonderland place where Haru finds herself shrinking to cat proportions herself.

It is then up to The Baron (Cary Elwes), along with Muta (Peter Boyle) and a giant crow (Elliot Gould) to rescue her. At this point the movie very much turns in a cat version of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler, made even sillier by a steady stream of sight gags (made funnier by the fact that they’re all--cats!) that veer off into Coyote & Roadrunner territory. The film’s one significant failing is that, unlike Miyazaki’s carefully realized fantasy worlds, the internal workings of the Kingdom of the Cats quickly lose any logic further than the next joke.

Still, they’re pretty good jokes and, after all, this is director Hiroyuki Morita’s first feature effort. You have to applaud a Studio Ghibli project determined not to take itself seriously in the slightest. And Morita does rein things in sufficiently in the denouement to deliver the requisite object lesson without too much saccharine.

And to give credit where it’s due, Disney has again done an outstanding job producing a dub track every bit the equal of the original, which is frankly always a bit surprising considering Disney’s seemingly grudging indifference to the Ghibli library it spent a hefty sum licensing. Someone there must be determined to do it right or not do it at all. To top it off, they brought Cary Elwes back for the far superior Whisper of the Heart, a truly wonderful movie about books and writing and imagination.

The theme song for The Cat Returns was written and performed by Ayano Tsuji. NPR interviewed her on its Weekend Edition 21 January 2006 program. You can listen to the audio here. The Studio Ghibli production of Whispers of the Heart is based on the manga by Aoi Hiiragi. My translation of the manga and some sample scanlations are posted here. A magazine like Cricket really should serialize it. It'd be perfect for a pre-teen female audience.

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January 22, 2006

Part 9 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Chapter 34

山客 [ざんきゃく] zankyaku, lit., "mountain visitors," those swept into the Twelve Kingdoms from China, across the northern range of the Tibetan Plateau.

海客 [かいきゃく] kaikyaku, lit., "ocean visitors," those swept into the Twelve Kingdoms from Japan, across the Japan or Yellow Seas.

必王 [ひつおう] Hitsu-ou, an early king of Hou
芝草 [しそう] Shisou, capital of Ryuu

Chapter 35

温石 [おんじゃく] onjaku, lit. "heated stone" (wrapped in cloth and kept next to the body for warmth); the author describes this one as a box made from metal in which the headed stone or coals are stored for warmth.

Chapter 36

"A whiter shade of pale." The relevant adverb here is「白々」which Daijisen (Shogakkan) defines as "the state of the brightening sky at dawn" (白 by itself means "white"). It's close enough in meaning that I couldn't resist the allusion. Here is the context for the lyric by Keith Reid:

And so it was later
As the miller told his tale
That her face at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale

合水 [ごうすい] Gousui Gorge
止水 [しすい] Shisui (Prefecture), lit. "stagnant water"
夕暉 [せつき] Sekki

Chapter 37

昇紘 [しょうこう] Shoukou, governor of Shisui Prefecture

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January 17, 2006

More about Kirin (and beer)

The question came up in the comments recently, and I thought I'd give myself a bit more room for an answer.

Kirin Beer might be called the Budweiser of Japan. The kanji (麒麟) are the same as those Ono uses, meaning "Chinese unicorn" (also: "giraffe"), though katakana (キリン) is often used in place of these fairly difficult kanji. It was founded in 1870, first used the "kirin" logo in 1888, and officially became the Kirin Brewery Company (麒麟麦酒株式会社) in 1907.

Wikipedia has a good explanation of the kirin's mythological origins here:

Although it looks fearsome, the ki'lin [kirin] only punishes sinners. It can walk on grass and yet not trample the blades and it can also walk on water. Being a peaceful creature, its diet does not include flesh. It takes great care when it walks never to tread on any living thing, and it is said to appear only in areas ruled by a wise and benevolent leader.

So it would seem that Ono is staying very close the kirin's traditional depictions in the Twelve Kingdoms novels.

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January 15, 2006

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword 2

In response to my previous post, Curious George asks,

But doesn’t culture at least partly determine politics? You write as if one could be cleanly divorced from the other, but the idea that Japan’s preceding 700+ years of domination by samurai militarism had nothing to do with the course of its history between 1868 and 1945 is ridiculous.

To which I responded:

Well, of course, "culture at least partly explains politics." It works both ways, hence the pun: "Does Great Britain have a July 4th?" Whenever "cowboy" is used to describe GWB, the reference point is a stereotype largely invented by the popular press during the 19th century and later enhanced in Hollywood. This doesn't invalidate it, but emphasizes that "culture" is not a genetic formulation bred in the bone.

(This is known as essentialism: "[T]he view that all people of a particular race [or culture] inherently possess a particular negative characteristic," a philosophical approach later adopted by the Nihonjinron school of cultural apologetics.)

Similarly, the modern concept of the "traditional" samurai was largely invented during the Tokugawa Era, when, for 250 years, the samurai didn't have much to do (after Shimabara).The shogunate itself relied on Neo-Confucianism to justify authoritarian rule that turned the emperor into an incidental figurehead. Neo-Confucianism also influenced the interpretation of Bushido, along with Zen, another Chinese import.

During the Meiji era, at the same time Bushido was being rekindled in order to energize Japan's expansionist goals, its politicians were looking to Prussia to sculpt a constitutionally active role for the resurrected Imperial Household Agency. And though it might seem silly in comparison, why do seifuku look the way they do? Not centuries of Japanese tradition. Same source.

C. Douglas Lummis, professor of political philosophy as Tsuda University, puts it more bluntly: Benedict's interviewees all reflected the totalitarian patterns she anticipated because those patterns "had been pounded into them by a modern, highly organized, state-controlled school system, and by all the other 20th century techniques of indoctrination which the government had available to it."

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Part 8 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Chapter 31

劉王 [りゅうおう] Royal Ryuu

Chapter 33

五穀 [ごこく] gokoku, the 5 grains: wheat, rice, beans, awa and kibi (two kinds of millet)

The birds and the bees are further explained in Chapter 53 of Shadow of the Moon.

amanuensis n. a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another; secretary.
internuncio n. a papal ambassador; an intermediary.

I admire the audaciousness of the biology that Fuyumi Ono has created here, but it is not without its problems. Flowering plants (any plant that produces a seed, which is actually a fertilized ovule) rely on good old sex to reproduce, just not in the obvious and recognizable human way. However, it is possible (though rare at the multicellular level) for organisms to reproduce by means of parthenogenesis.

This does present obstacles on the human side, though. Evolution is an ongoing arms race, with organisms developing defenses in response to ongoing threats, and then passing those traits onto their children. One of the best examples of this is the Delta 32 mutation on the CCR5 gene, which is found predominantly among the descendants of the survivors of the Black Death. People who inherit two copies of the gene exhibit an enhanced immunity even to HIV.

Ono implies that some sort of evolution or hybridization is ongoing at the plant level. If viruses and bacteria, reproducing asexually, continue to evolve, but the rest of the animal kingdom remain one-off creations, with no specific genetic inheritance from their parents, they would soon be overwhelmed. The cheetah, due to a "bottleneck effect," evolved with almost no genetic variability in its current population, leaving the entire species one mutation away from extinction.

On the other hand, having every child born with a completely randomized genetic mix, communicable diseases would have a harder time taking hold, the same way a truly randomized security code is difficult to break. However, diseases cross species boundaries, so the intra-species randomization would have to press the limits of what we genetically define as a "species." Among mammals, it's a male and female producing fertile offspring, which doesn't apply here.

It also becomes difficult to explain sexual dimorphism without sexual reproduction. And while the acknowledgement of a purposeful creator in this case does render these arguments rather moot, recent studies argue that evolution continues apace, suggesting that if there is agency at the microcellular level, these forces should inevitably exert themselves at the macro level.

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January 14, 2006

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Akira Fujino recently observed on the Taiwan News site that

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a book written by U.S. cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict in 1946 to shed light on Japanese culture, has become a bestseller in China.

It is not at all reassuring that the Chinese, especially now, would settle on this particular book for revealing insights into the Japanese mind. It was written during Second World War on behalf of the U.S. Office of War Information and remains one of the most pervasive but inaccurate studies of Japanese society ever published.

I write more about it here, but The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is essentially a paean to the fruits of Machiavellianism. Benedict limited the scope of her research to such narrow objectives that in order to justify her conclusions she had to integrate the substance of a civilization reaching back two thousand years into the product of a man-made ideology less than a century old.

Benedict's work was undoubtedly a major reason why SCAP bought so completely into the emperor system that in fact had only existed since 1868. The whitewashing of imperial involvement in the war continues to this day to be at the root of diplomatic tensions between Japan and her Asian neighbors.

And in the case of China, this all does sound hauntingly familiar. But by blaming culture and not politics, Benedict's book only confirms comforting ethnic (essentialist) stereotypes, and does not illuminate the true source of the conflicts in the more prosaic world of political gamesmanship and manipulation of public opinion.

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January 11, 2006

LaCie Mobile Hard Drive

Like Glenn Reynolds, I got one of these little beauties for Christmas. It's a 50 GB USB (2.0) cable-powered HD, about the size of a DVD case cut in half. Worked right out of the box. Backed up everything with plenty of room to spare.

When I worked at Linguatech a decade ago, creating content for CALI (computer-assisted language learning) software, we had a 1 GB drive for mastering CDs. It originally cost $1000 ($1.00/MB) and broke down about every 6 months. In an article I wrote in 2001, I calculated the cost/MB at $.01. Now it's less than $.002. In ten years, the cost/MB has come down a factor of over 500. Amazing.

An Instapundit reader also describes the disk drive units that came with IBM 360/370 mainframes, a stack of platters each more than a foot in diameter. I can still remember seeing one on a high school field trip (yes, I'm that old). A tech pulled the drive unit out of a machine to show us where the data was stored. It looked like a stack of rust-colored LPs. (Wait, does anybody know what an LP looks like, anymore?)

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January 08, 2006

Part 7 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Technically, a duchy is the territory ruled by a duke or duchess. I decided on "duchy" because it is essentially the same system that supports Prince Edward:

Since the 14th century the [Duchy of Cornwall's] main purpose has been to provide an income, independent of the Monarch, for the heir apparent. That income covers the cost of the public and private life of the current Duke, The Prince of Wales. Neither he nor his sons receive an allowance from the Civil List. When there is no male heir, the Duchy reverts to the Monarch, and its income to the Exchequer.

The tax system described here follows the same logic as that of the hamlet (chapter 25). In a hamlet, nine allotments are farmed by eight families, with the ninth being assessed as tax. Similarly, there are nine provinces in a kingdom, with one (the capital province), being partitioned (enfoeffed) and taxed to support the imperial civil service. And within each province, the capital district is partitioned and taxed to support the provincial civil service.

During the Tokugawa Era, chief constables were known as Oometsuke (大目付). They remain the favorite subject of period crime dramas such as Dora Heita, in which the inspector infiltrates a corrupt town and ferrets out the wrongdoers, usually resulting in a climactic sword fight at the end and the revelation of the inspector's true identity.

封領 [ふうりょう] fuuryou, or duchy
和州 [わしゅう] Wa Province 
呀峰 [がほう] Gahou, lit. "bared teeth peak"
大司馬 [だいしば] Daishiba, head of the Ministry of Summer

驃騎 [ひょうき] Hyouki, a panther-like youma, one of Keiki's shirei; he first appears in chapter 5 of Shadow of the Moon.

冗祐 [じょうゆう] Jouyuu, the warrior spirit that dwells inside Youko and helps her fight; he first possesses Youko in chapter 6 of Shadow of the Moon.

遁甲 [とんこう] tonkou, the way shirei can move through the winds in the sky, through the veins in the earth, and through the currents in the water, while remaining hidden from view; a similar term, 遁術 (tonjutsu), is defined as the "art of ninja escape."

畳 [じょう] jou, a counter for tatami mats, each a little less than three feet by six feet (85 cm x 179 cm); real estate listings still use the jou as the standard measurement of room area. A 3 jou room is 4.6 square meters ; a 4.5 jou room is 6.9 square meters.

Chapter 29

高岫山 [こうしゅうさん] Mt. Koushuu
呉港 [ごと] Port of Goto

Chapter 30

背亨 [はいきょう] Haikyou, port city in Ryuu
すう虞 [すうぐ] suugu, a tiger-like flying youma
張精 [ちょうせい] Chou Sei, Rakushun's formal name; "Rakushun" is thus his azana

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January 01, 2006

Chapter 27 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

The image that comes to mind whenever Kyouki is described is that of Gourry Gabriev from Slayers.

掌舎 [しょうしゃ] Shousha, building superintendent in the Ministry of Heaven
玉泉 [ぎょくせん] Gyokusen
吉量 [きつりょう] kitsuryou, a kind of flying horse; Youko rides one into battle in chapter 65 of Shadow of the Moon.

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Chapter 26 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

In chapter 61 of Shadow of the Moon, the Imperial En stresses that is forbidden to invade another kingdom, "even to to suppress an internal rebellion" (for example, General John J. Pershing's incursion into Mexico in 1915 in pursuit of Pancho Villa, who had been conducting cross-border raids into New Mexico). Consequently, unlike in the anime, in the book the Imperial Kou himself never pursues Youko into En, but only uses his youma agents. So in this and other accounts of the downfall of Kou, the king is recorded to simply have died after the kirin succumbs to the shitsudou, the penalty for rejecting the Mandate of Heaven.

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