Friday, November 16, 2012

Japanese Musings

Of course, upon arrival here at Chez Sarge you may wonder if the old boy has gone off his meds again.

Negative, I assure you that I am fine. A little tired perhaps after a long week, but in full possession of my faculties, thank you very much.

Two things set me off on this particular road. Item the first: I have been re-reading Stephen Hunter's most excellent novel The 47th Samurai. Set in modern Japan, it tells the tale of Bob Lee Swagger and a sword. A sword which came into the possession of his father during the fight for Iwo Jima.

I won't say more than that. If you like tales of action it's just the thing. It is also a tale of honor. Something sorely lacking in modern society.

Item the second: I was visiting over at Buck's Place and noticed an ashtray in one of his photos. The logo on the ash tray was Japanese, katakana characters to be precise.

Of course being an avid amateur linguist, I had to know what the ash tray said. (Well, not what it "said" per se but what was written thereupon.)

Having lived on Okinawa for 2 and a half years, I have some passing acquaintance with Japan and many things Japanese. (Honto! ホント)

Anyway, whipped out Google Search, found a table of the katakana characters and puzzled it out. But of course the logo was (in English characters) Kirin Biru. Which is, of course, Kirin Beer. Appropriate as the topic of Buck's post was beer. A topic near and dear to my heart.

So those two things kind of set me off down this Japanese path. Once again, I blame Buck. No, that's not right. I should say that Buck inspired this post. Or more properly Buck's ash tray I guess.

Ah ha! (I know some of you are thinking this.) The Sarge quit smoking, now he's starting to notice anything connected with tobacco products and smoking! Well, hate to rain on your parade (those of you having a parade that is) but no. That's not it.

Speaking of smoking, it is now DAY THIRTEEN of The Great Smokeout at Chez Sarge. I'm not getting cocky, but this is the longest I've been without a cigarette since about 1989. I'm getting there, slowly but surely.

What's that?

What about the pictures? Oh yeah, right, the pictures! Glad you mentioned those.

The first picture is of Mount Fuji with, of course, cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) in the foreground. I must raise a rather pedantic point here. You can say "Mount Fuji" or "Fujiyama". Don't say "Mount Fujiyama". What you're saying is Mount Fuji Mountain, redundant. Mountain in Japanese is , pronounced "yama".

The second picture is of Miyamoto Mushashi (宮本武蔵), perhaps the greatest samurai who ever lived. He is also famous for his Book of Five Rings (五輪書). This book became something of a "must have" for trendy American businessmen in the 1970s as I recall. Somehow they thought that reading this uniquely Japanese book would somehow enable them to compete more effectively with Japanese business.

I read the book back in the day. I found it fascinating on many different levels. The thought that your average American business-type could somehow read this and suddenly out-Japanese the Japanese was, of course, ludicrous. You could put a bear in a Brooks Brothers suit, but the bear couldn't suddenly start working effectively on Wall Street. (As much fun as that might be to watch, I have too much respect for bears to put them through such a thing. Though who knows, they might be more effective than the current lot!)

To understand the Book of Five Rings, you'd need to understand Japanese culture and history. You would have to think like a Japanese. Nearly impossible for a Westerner to accomplish, the book Shogun and the movie The Last Samurai notwithstanding.

So I confess to a great liking for many things Japanese. The samurai period fascinates me. The swords made in those days were exquisite. Both as weapons and as works of art. I saw a sword on Okinawa which IIRC was produced in the 16th Century. A very old and still very lethal weapon. But it was magnificent to behold.

My wife (who you may recall is Korean) tolerates my fascination with Japan. You may not know this but the Japanese and the Koreans traditionally do not really get along all that well. Think Greeks and Turks. Yankees fans and Red Sox fans. (Though my Dad rooted for the Yankees and my Mom is a Sox fan, somehow my brothers and I survived.) That kind of thing. But she tolerates this quirk in my character.

Come to think of it, there is much she tolerates in me. What a marvelous woman. How great is that, I married perhaps the one female on the planet who could actually put up with my antics, quirks and outright character flaws. I am one lucky guy.

Before leaving you to ponder these ramblings, I wanted to show you a picture of a Japanese sword. Well, I found one that was pretty good and I found one which was humorous. So guess which one you get?

Good night.


  1. First... thanks for the link. You have a good eye.

    Second... this:

    So I confess to a great liking for many things Japanese.

    I do, as well. I spent five years there... approximately three in Wakkanai (as far north as you can go in Japan without getting yer feet wet and/or bein' confronted by guys with red stars on their hats) and two-plus at Yokota. I met the love of my life there, who was studying Nihongo as an exchange student at Sofia U in Tokyo (her BA is in Japanese). Aside: it was GOOD to have a live-in translator during my time at Yokota... for reading things like menus, road signs, and other essential stuff.

    I've put up many a post about Japan during EIP's short and semi-illustrious life. The times I had there were some of the BEST of my life.

    Great pic of Fuji-san, BTW. One of the best I've seen.

    1. Thanks Buck. I kinda figured you'd spent time over there. I spent six and a half years in Asia (Okinawa and Korea) and miss it from time to time. Heck, half of my family is Korean! (Literally, you might say it's my better half as well.)

  2. Nice Mt. Fuji pic. Been there, done that. They say a wise man climbs Mt. Fuji, but only a fool climbs it twice.

    1. I am not wise. Nor am I a fool.

      I flew over Fujiyama. And I know that doesn't count. Unless one was at the controls, maybe.

    2. I am not wise. Nor am I a fool.

      Heh. Neither am I, but I've driven by on numerous occasions and had some rather spectacular meals in its shadow. Does that count?


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