Friday, March 18, 2011


as far as the ongoing tragedy/disaster in japan, & the helpless horror & sorrow i feel when i dwell on it (which is often), i simply have no words...

without ever actually having been there, this weird little island, thousands of miles away, has had an enormous impact on my life over the last dozen years. as i came to feel more'n'more a 'stranger in a strange land' in the u.s., i also began to feel more'n'more comfortable within the bent, chewed-up, 'east meets west' revised version of u.s. (& all western) culture that the japanese have proven so capable of imagining. my culture, as seen through this kaleidoscope, became alive again. while, along with it, came insights & entryways into another one, one old enough, & rich enough, to have pulled this off...

so, unable as i might be to speak about the current situation, i can at least extend my appreciation to some of those who have enriched, entertained, & enlightened me over the last decade plus. they have, through their craftsmanship, become part of who i am, & have made my life a more joyful, & magical, experience...

akira kurosawa - a director who can do everything from 'cast of thousands' epics to extraordinarily low-key character studies, & never fail to imbue it all with a sense of universality, reminding us of all we share, for better or worse, wherever we are...

shigero miyamoto - the personification of nintendo, & father of mario & link (legend of zelda). has likely evoked more laughter, frustration, & ultimate gratification among more 9-12 year-olds than any one in history...

haruki murakami - when it comes down to it, my single favorite novelist. jazz club owner turned writer, his ability to effortlessly slide back'n'forth between the mundane & the surreal, without ever becoming either disruptive or incoherent, captures reality as it's experienced, subjectively, & results in stories that penetrate on a level most others can't...

"Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it's time to drink."
— Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

"I've wanted to find out as much about China as I could. But that China is only my China. Not any China I can read about. It's the China that sends messages just to me. It's not the big yellow expanse on the globe, it's another China. Another hypothesis, another supposition. In a sense, it's a part of myself that's been cut off by the word China.
I wander though China. Without ever having boarded a plane. My travels take place here in the Tokyo subways, in the backseat of a taxi... all of a sudden this city will start to go. In a flash, the buildings will crumble. Over the Tokyo streets will fall my China, like ash, leaching into everything it touches. Slowly, gradually, until nothing remains."
— The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

"So what can I do now?" she spoke up a minute later.
"Nothing," I said. "Just think about what comes before words. You owe that to the dead. As time goes on, you'll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn't, doesn't. Time solves most things. And what time can't solve, you have to solve yourself. Is that too much to ask?"
"A little," she said, trying to smile.
"Well, of course it is," I said, trying to smile too.
"I doubt that this makes sense to most people. But I think I'm right. People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if posible, sincerely. It's too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies. Personally, I don't buy it."
Yuki leaned against the car door. "But that's real hard, isn't it?" she said.
"Real hard," I said. "But it's worth trying for."
— Dance, Dance, Dance

"You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed 'em to the fire, they're all just paper. The fire isn't thinking 'Oh, this is Kant,' or 'Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition,' or 'Nice tits,' while it burns. To the fire, they're nothing but scraps of paper. It's the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there's no distinction--they're all just fuel."
— After Dark

"At a certain point in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. This isn’t always the case, but from experience I’d say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the contents of the message. It isn’t the messenger’s fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none other than our old friend Reality."
— What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

fumito ueda - the bad news: he is only now working on his third video game (which has been in progress for 5 years). the good news: the 2 games he has completed, 'ico' & 'shadow of the colossus', are for me (& many others) the 2 greatest video games ever made...

nobuo uematsu - the god of video game music composition. he's done everything from samba to ragtime to surf to full orchestral, & the popularity of some of his soundtracks have come to equal or exceed the popularity of the games themselves...

takeshi kitano - former comedian turned writer/director/actor/celebrity. his yakuza/gangland movies, while unapologetically violent, usually end up going to some strange, & sometimes surprisingly reflective, places in betwen the rounds of gunfire. his other movies are pretty much all over the place, &, well,... never, ever dull? :) ...

osamu tezuka - the godfather of manga & the creator of astro boy, the first manga (via cartoon) to appear in the west. while his 'renegade outlaw unlicenced surgeon' series, 'black jack' is my personal favorite (tezuka actually was a doctor before he did manga, & the illustrations are often amazing), i'd strongly recommend 'buddha', his 8-volume version based on the buddha's life, to beginners. think you could never be 'moved' by a comic book? think again..

keigo oyamada - aka 'cornelius', pop star/composer/guitarist supreme. a musician sooo clever, inventive, & often extraordinary, that i've pretty much been bored with all pop/rock ever since first listening to him...

hideo kojima - genius behind the now 20+ saga of 'metal gear' / 'metal gear solid', the anti-war war game series. always topical, always knowledgeable, always tinged with humor & high weirdness, always innovative every-which-way (graphically/musically/gameplay-wise), & always featuring the most over-the-top casts (of both good & bad guys), not to mention boss fights, of them all...

hayao miyazaki - often described as 'the walt disney of japan', but, if you've seen any of his movies, you know that this isn't quite true. miyazaki's stories always manage to ground the exaggerated elements of classic disney in generous doses of simple, down-to-earth characters, environments, & situations. which makes the surreal aspects that much more striking, & memorable...

toshiro mifune - i'm guessing just about everyone, even if they might not want to admit it, even if they don't even consciously realize it, has an image somewhere in their mind of what they imagine the 'ultimate bad ass', that 'quiet, intimidating (tho, beneath it all, kind-hearted) loner who goes his own way, & plays by his own rules' would be like. well, that's what toshiro mifune is for me - the consummate 'ultimate bad ass'...

ichiro suzuki - before finally passing on what had been a life-long interest in the game, my last 10 years following baseball were spent as a seattle mariners fan. &, of course, as an ichiro fan. &, if like me, you feel that baseball, at it's core, will always be more about grace & speed than raw power, seeing ichiro play was seeing baseball at it's very finest...

my most heartfelt prayers, & gratitude, to the people of my adopted 'home away from home'. may you find the strength within you, as you so often have before...

(murakami quotes from here - arigato!...)

Kodo (鼓童) : O-Daiko from Jason Minnix on Vimeo.


  1. I can't speak about some of your choices not being a video gamer, Kurosawa is certainly in the pantheon of great directors.

  2. What a lovely tribute to so many well-known Japanese creatives, though I don't know the gamers either. In my small world most of the Japanese that I peronally know are printmakers like me - isn't that amazing? Though Japan is noted for their fine art of papermaking and printmaking so that part is not surprising.

  3. People search alone.
    The hard snow falls on ruins.
    A red sun rises.

  4. Susan
    Interesting to hear from you about your experience with Japanese concepts to impact enormously on your ife. An understanding of another’s philopshocal underpinnings and culture is always rewarding.

    In eastern terminology you determine from your perspective where you’re sitting on the elephants back. Great extracts.

    Best wishes

  5. My friend, this is an awesome dedication to an amazing array of Japanese artists and to the people of Japan in your thoughts of their greatness. I don't know them, but have certainly seen some of their works. Funny how I don't 'play' video games but have heard of all of the games you mention and are familiar with the characters.
    Of course, as a baseball fan, I know Ichiro. I follow Japanese Yakyu league play and cheer for the Hanshin Tigers and Hiroshima Carp. I always hate it when his play, a hit, stealing a base or throwing out a runner at home, wins the game against the team I cheer for, which is the ultimate honor to bestow upon an athlete., In other words, "Wish he was on our team!"
    So much devastation there. An overwhelming task to live through it, but if people can, it is the Japanese people and culture.
    I met many from Japan on The Longest Walk in 2008, still friends on Facebook and in e-mails. Some have visited and stayed in my home. The honor and respect paid to me as an Elder by the younger ones is humbling.
    Great tribute to a great people, made by someone pretty damn great herself. I wish you and the world much peace.

  6. susan I have been neglecting the blog world and sorry to say, even your most excellent blog. I've got some blip friends from Japan that I've been talking to and what has happened is horrible, just horrible.

    There is so much here to digest that I will not comment until I have done so. Take care my friend and hope all is well with you!

  7. In our house we think of Japan as one of the two great nations of introverts (along with Finland) and we also feel some kinship with the land of the rising sun, for that reason. This is a wonderful post of appreciation for some of the thousands of interesting and beautiful things the world owes to Japan and Japan's culture and unique spin on everyone else's culture.

    And I particularly love that you chose Totoro to represent Miyazaki. It's our favorite.

    The Japanese will rise again stronger than before this, because that is what they do. Their discipline and good sense is what kept the casualty numbers from being even higher. A quake like that would have leveled many more buildings with greater loss of life in any other nation in the world.

  8. I'm another one who knows nothing about video games, except what I hear from my students!

    The only thing familiar to me in your post is Kurosawa.

    When I think about Japan, I always go back to what a wonderful time we had on our stay in Japantown, San Francisco. I don't think I have ever stayed in a quieter, cleaner or more respectful neighborhood in any city I've been to.

    I love how in your own unique way, you've put a light on the situation in Japan. I love how you think.


  9. i'm glad that you all enjoyed the post (with so much terrible news, & misery, i wanted to just take a break & think on good things), & doubly-glad it was good enough to make people think susan put it together :) ...

    i'll only add that it's beginning to appear that all land within a 20-30 mile radius of the reactors has, at this point, been effectively poisoned for decades (if not a couple centuries), irregardless of whether they eventually get the reactors under control or not. with this in mind, i hope & pray that japanese officials finally get real, at least double the evacuation radius (from 20 to 40 miles), & begin the process of entombment as quickly as possible...

  10. i am wandering today, in more ways than one, and so had to wander over here to read this, whether written by yourself or others?? we shall never know!

    thank you for sharing these, i would never know well, my friend, i continue my vigil here, the depression that is japan's nightmare only makes mine worse tho i have nothing to even compare to such tragedy. may this noble people see some light soon.... xxxx

  11. just catching up.... and will come back for a longer look when i can.... recently overheard 'experts' talking on the radio about Japan, and the cultural differences between there and other places that have known disaster. interesting, if more than a little callous; the 'experts' say that, historically, the Japanese recover from things better and faster than anyone else, and expect this will be true of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear bedlam now occuring. but, i was thinking as i listened, we're talking about PEOPLE, not a machine.

  12. Susan, this is a perfect post in every way. Your personal descriptions for each of the artists you featured are so fantastic that they stand alone as tributes to Japanese culture.

    There is much here that I was unaware of, as in everything gamer-related and cartoon-related. I am interested in osamu tezuka's comic on the Buddha and will try to find it.

    Agree with you about akira kurosawa, yet I have not seen all his work. And haruki murakami....I have gone so far as to add many of his books to wish list but (this might sound ridiculous) I don't know which to read first. I think it makes a difference, the order, when reading a great writer's work...

    Your heartfelt expression of appreciation and compassion for the people of Japan touched me, and I found comfort here myself because I too am dwelling on the disaster and feel compelled to be involved.

  13. lydia -

    hi! as far as murakami, i'd recommend as a starting point the first book of his that i read: 'hard-boiled wonderland & the end of the world'. if you like it, you'll like murakami; if you don't, you likely won't :) ...