Monday, December 1, 2008

Concluding remarks (aka what Remains of our blog)...

In the Bibliography post, the last website link mentioned was the British Council, Contemporary Writers page for Kazuo Ishiguro. This website was helpful for an overall understanding of Ishiguro the author. It has categories such as Biography, Genres, Bibliography, Prizes and Awards, Critical Perspective, Further Reading, etc.

To inspire some closing remarks for our journey discussing civilisation exclusivity and many posts and comments about The Remains of the Day, Japanese concepts, and our own experiments with these ideas, I think that Ishiguro's Author Statement from the British Council is particularly relevant:

“I am a writer who wishes to write international novels. What is an 'international' novel? I believe it to be one, quite simply, that contains a vision of life that is of importance to people of varied backgrounds around the world. It may concern characters who jet across continents, but may just as easily be set firmly in one small locality.”

This quotation leads me to believe that Ishiguro was intending his novel to be a "bridge" across cultures, just as Dr. Nitobe envisioned. However, this is one quotation taken out of context from an interview. We cannot know what Ishiguro was intending, even if we ask him directly, because the novel takes on its own purpose as a work of art from a specific time - in other words, pre-Huntington and Fukuyama articles. It is our job (as students engaging these questions) to connect the concepts and texts together and emphasise the relevant information.

Personally, I consider our blog dialectic a pertinent method of contemplation. I don't need to decide whether or not I agree with Dr. Ogden's civilisation exclusivity thesis because I have made a conscious effort to understand both positions (and many in between) to satisfy my curiousity. Maybe one day - possibly after I visit Japan - I will stake a claim; but for now, I choose to remain as objective as possible while continuing to acknowledge my so-called Western bias.


Chinmoku: What it is and where it is

Another Japanese concept that we can factor into our exploration of The Remains of the Day is one of several forms of silence in Japanese. Those familiar with the English tradition during Steven’s time will recognize the presence of silence which we often attribute to an English appreciation of stoicism. In the case of chinmoku it is not a silence of restraint or indifference, but instead another method of communicating.

Our course text, The Japanese Mind, as cited in our Tea Ceremony post, likens chinmoku to other forms of nonverbal expression. While some culture use facial expressions, gestures, and body movements to communicate nonverbally, the Japanese excel at using silence to communicate. It takes a lifetime of immersion in Japanese culture to be able perfectly understand this form of communication, which is why foreigners often miss out on the real meaning of a conversation in Japan.

Throughout the text there are crucial scenes where the most important thoughts or ideas communicated are only done so through silence. Stevens’ encounter with Miss Kenton in which she tries to discover what book he is reading in his free time would have no importance if it weren’t for the thoughts and emotions communicated in the silence between their dialogue. There is no evidence of anything romantic in their verbal exchange. It is the silence as Miss Kenton pries the book from Stevens’ hands that reveals the sexual tension between them (166, 167).

We are able to get much more out of our texts and our explorations of Japan when we recognize that there is much being communicated nonverbally.


Judo Interview

My uncle is a Judo instructor. He runs the Abbotsford Judo Club in Abbotsford, where he is head instructor and sets the curriculum, trains other instructors to help him and oversees the running of the club with his staff. Both his children: Ian and Kimi have grown up doing Judo. Ian no longer participates, but Kimi spent most of her life practicing and traveling the world doing competitions. While no longer within the competitive field she does work at her dad’s dojo helping to instruct.

In class, Dr. Ogden has talked a lot about the Japanese Aesthetic, and through reading Robert Twigger’s Angry White Pyjamas we can understand the mentality behind it. We also visited the Burnaby dojo where Robert Mustard, a crucial character in the novel, teaches and had a chance to talk to him. So I wanted to explore what Judo was all about and see if any similarities came up. What I plan to do is present some of the questions and the answers I received. At the end I will do a little interpretation connecting where I can or highlighting differences if there are any.

I asked my Uncle Touke what attracted him to Judo:
Touke: I like that it keeps you in shape, and lets you practice different techniques safely. It is a sport you can do when you are very young or very old, and is a very good way to meet people and have fun while exercising.

I asked them all what the “mentality” behind Judo was:
Touke: Judo is” the gentle way” it is about being respectful, polite, and knowing how to handle life without getting angry or being violent. It teaches you to be flexible in life to help you deal with problems, and help make society a better place for everyone.
Ian: Self defense. The definition of Judo in Japanese is “the way of gentleness”
Kimi: It helped me learn respect. You must respect your coaches and opponents. It is not about anger; it’s about technique and art. Everyone has their role, and this plays into life and to respect others. It also teaches one to work hard, to have discipline. Sometimes so hard that it can hinder your own health, it’s a fine line. But overall I think it has benefited me. It’s helped with my self-confidence and I’ve gotten to travel. It’s and overall sport, well rounded you have to be prepared both mentally and physically.

This lead me to ask Kimi to elaborate on what she meant by “art”, as well as ask my Uncle if Judo was an aesthetic form:
Kimi: There is a big focus on form. The moves are like dancing, graceful and spiritual.
Touke: Judo is a very aesthetic martial art. The beauty I think lies in the simplicity of the moves, and the idea of yielding to force, rather then opposing it. We practice Kata, prearranged movement to help us keep our Judo precise and accurate.

Kimi, in a much earlier interview, had said that her father had adapted his teaching style for here in Canada. I asked my Uncle if this were true and how so:
Touke: Judo instruction in Japan can be very tough. The idea is to train hard to make you a better competitor and a stronger person. Students are expected to do what they are told, and not ask many questions. This differs from Canadian teaching styles in that questions are encouraged. So I have come to accept that Canadian students ate different than Japanese students, and have changed my teaching style over the years.

Not surprisingly there are many similarities between what we have learned in class and these answers. We see that the aesthetic is important, and that emphasis is put on precise movements. There are many ties between what I learned though reading Angry White Pyjamas and talking to Mustard. One thing that sticks out for me is the fact that the process is supposed to help you run your own life while benefiting society. Mustard said the same thing while talking to us in his dojo. Also, when my Uncle talks about Judo training in Japan being tough, my mind immediately goes to the novel and how harsh their training was. It also jumps to our talk with Mustard and how he himself admits to the training being tougher in Japan then here. In Kimi’s answer she talks about everyone having their role and respect; I think these concepts are also apparent within Angry White Pyjamas, as lesser students were assigned teachers for help. All levels have their place, but each place is respected for what it is. Even talking to Mustard we got that feeling of him inspiring respect, and I believe he made a comment about knowing when a student didn’t really understand, commit or respect him or the art, and then kicking them out. In the end, there seems to be many more similarities then differences, which I am not surprised by. I think that most martial arts probably have similarities in the values of work ethic, respect and roles, as those are values held by the entire Japanese culture as a whole.


Family Interview Part 2

Due to length I cut my piece in half. This is the second half it follows directly the first. See below.

This next grouping is a combination of two questions: The first is about the compromising/ giving up of any values when moving to Canada, and I asked the kids about their parents and asked Uncle Touke about his own experience. The second part concerns the impression they have of Canadian culture, again I asked the kids about their parents and Touke about his own Impression.
No (he didn’t give-up/compromise), most people in Japan would like to live in Canada for a while I think. I am sure he likes it (living here) a lot better then Japan or he wouldn’t be here.
No, but they have definitely had to acquire new skills, such as being assertive. Canadians have stronger opinions (if you want something you make it known), but Japanese people don’t (if you want something you hint at it and skirt around the topic and hope that the other person gets it). I am not quite sure (how her parents view Canadian culture). I know they like it here.
Definitely, he gave up his Japanese traditions and holidays. New years is a very big thing in Japan. He also had to learn more about the differences between the two cultures in terms of values i.e.- Canadian culture holding more individualized goals/values and Japanese culture having more of a common value/goal (w/in family, work etc). Kind of like the saying: “the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down”. He had to adapt and learn about this Canadian culture. I think he really enjoys living here! It probably feels more to him like a free culture… and that freedom puts less pressure on him (my dad), yet his work ethic is still unbelievable. Teaching styles are different from Japanese culture to here- and he has had to adapt to less of an authoritative instructor on Judo, to be more accepting of each individual in the class and how they learn. I think he enjoys interacting with people here and enjoys relaxing and downtime that this culture allows too! I think he probably misses the food most from Japan!
I had to start thinking in a Canadian way about something’s. But I like Canada very much. I think Canadian culture is more relaxed than Japanese culture, also the population density of Canadian cities is much less here than in Japan. I miss the food so much. And I have some friends and family I like to visit when I go back.
I found the answers to these questions very interesting, especially since Touke is the father of Ian and Kimi you get to see if they are correct in what they feel he thinks about Canada and any compromises. Here adaptation seems to be key, and highlights that went entering a new country you do have to adjust to their value system. This again highlights some of the differences between our two cultures.

In this grouping, there are a few different questions going on. I will present the answers in the order I say the questions here. I asked Ian and Kimi if they felt they were taught the Japanese culture within the home. Ian I also asked if it was important for him to teach future children the culture. My Uncle Touke I asked the differences between how he was raised and his children were raised, I also asked him if it was important for him to teach them the Japanese culture. I asked Yuko if it will be important to teach her future children the Japanese culture.
By my family in Japan when we were went to visit them, yes. (is where he was taught about the culture). I don’t know if I am qualified to do it (teach his future children). I would like to take my future children to go visit Japan sometime though. I think it is important.
Yes, (she was taught) helping with chores, not expecting things back influenced my work ethic and interactions with others… my respect for others.
I was raised in a more strict environment. I think the importance of family is a similarity both cultures share, however, children have less input into the running of the household in Japan. They also have higher expectations put on them. Doing well in school is very important in Japan, it is less stressed in Canada. I thought it was important to bring them (Ian and Kimi) to Japan when I go visit relatives, and get a chance to see what Japan is like. But also, I want them to be at home in Canada. Also both my children Studied Judo, so they learned something of Japanese Culture from practicing a Japanese sport.
Yes, however this is a very difficult task, when one parent is of Japanese origin, and the other is not.
These answers tell me that although the Japanese culture is important to all of them, so is the Canadian perspective. It seems my cousins may be a bit caught, wanting to teach values in the future, but maybe not having the best well of knowledge to draw from. This is shown even by Yuko, Ian’s fiancé who seems to suggest that Ian wouldn’t be a good source to help teach the Japanese culture, and in fact, in his answer he does state the same thing. Interesting to note is that in a question not included in this section Ian states that he does feel connected to the Japanese culture but is not sure why. While I talked to her on the phone, Kimi became confused over some of the values she was taught growing up. She labeled them as Japanese but said her mother (Canadian) had a hand in teaching them to her. I feel that these answers highlight just how tricky it can be to teach two cultures equally.

The last set of questions I am going to include in this part of the interview is one I asked my Uncle Touke and Yuko. I wanted to know from them if the Japanese culture (its morals, values and sensibilities) is completely unique and separate from Canadian culture.
I think that there are always similarities across cultural lines, however there are unique values as well.
Yes, very unique. I can’t think of another culture that is similar to ours.
As you can see these answers are short but powerful! Our blog is about civilization exclusivity and this question really got to the heart of that; is the Japanese culture unique? As you can see while both agreed on uniqueness, they didn’t agree on the disagree. Yuko was much stronger in her opinion, while my Uncle reminded me that there are always some similarities along with the unique differences. Perhaps this has come with my Uncle's age and because he has lived in both Japan and Canada for a number of years.

I have presented for you my interview, with many different answers. Through them you can see differences between the Japanese and Canadian civilizations. As a student, you will have to make up your mind what these answers say about Civilization Exclusivity specifically. Personally I found that it shows that there is not one easy answer and that while some Japanese values are adapted into Canadian culture, others stay strong and singular.

I did not use all the questions gathered. Some will be presented in my Judo Interview to follow. If you would like to see the whole interview transcript please e-mail me at and I will send you all the questions and answers.


Interview With Family Part 1

I wanted to gain some more personal insight into the question of Civilization Exclusivity, figure out just what my own opinion would be if I could shift from “comme ci comme ca”. So I interviewed part of my family, whom are attached to the Japanese culture in some way, looking for answers on what Japan is about, how it transfers to Canada, and if things change or stay unique. What I found was that there were as many similarities as there were differences in opinions. I decided to split my interviews in half. The first post being more general, the second post focused around my family’s involvement in Judo.

My Uncle Touke, is Japanese and came here in 1976 when he was 26 to help the Montreal Judo Olympic team. Here he met his wife, my aunt, who is a white Canadian and they had two children; Ian and Kimiko both of whom were involved in Judo. Kimi so much so she was in world competitions. Ian, now 26, has a fiancé named Yuko who is Canadian born Japanese, meaning both her parents are Japanese. Yuko sees herself more as Japanese, but born and raised in Canada. I interviewed them all, allowing for a very diverse group of answers. I stayed around certain themes, asking them all very similar or in some cases the exact same questions. So how I am going to present these interviews is by explaining the question, attaching the answers and then giving my interpretation of the answers at the end of each grouping. I am going to start with some of the lighter questions and move into the more in-depth.

I asked both Kimi (Kimiko) and Yuko about their names. I got Kimi to elaborate on hers because as a child she didn’t like to be called Kimiko, but as she aged has used it more and more.
It means “beautiful princess” that’s why my parents chose it. When I was younger I wanted to fit in more, hence “Kimi” . I didn’t want to be made fun of. Now I think it’s a beautiful creative name and represents half of where I came from.
My name means “Brave Child”. FYI: because Japanese uses Chinese characters, there is no meaning to the sound, but the character assigned to it. So there are other “Yuko’s” but their name could mean child of friendship, child of sunset etc.

I wanted to know from my cousins Ian and Kimi when they really realized that they are both “Japanese” and “Canadian”.
I always knew that I was part Japanese but I didn’t really start to become aware of it or understand it until High School when I started thinking about the differences. I started learning Japanese classes.
I can’t remember exactly, but very young. Probably when we visited my grandparents in Japan.
I thought this question was important because Ian and Kimi were raised in a household where only one parent was Japanese and so the specific identity association may not have been as strong as that in Yuko’s home, where both were.

This lead me to ask Ian and Kimi what aspects of themselves they see as “Japanese”. In order to connect with this, I asked Yuko how her Japanese household has influenced her and what she doesn’t think she would have gained without it.
My shyness maybe?
I think I get my respect for elders and other people from that side. Always saying “please” and “thank-you”, not wanting to accept gifts, my personal presentation to others. Also my work ethic and discipline.
One thing that has probably helped is being more sensitive to situations. Because Japanese people can’t say “no”, they actually have to come up with different ways to convey this. This actually turns out to be useful at work when I am trying to tell my clients something without being offensive.
What interests me about this group is how detailed and subtle Yuko’s answer is compared to Ian and Kimi’s. Ian, I believe, wasn’t really sure what to say, and Kimi’s was no doubt influenced by her experience with her Judo. Yuko’s answer suggests that she has been in contact with a sensibility that really is uniquely Japanese, and just growing up in a Japanese household in Canada, that sensibility was still strong.

I asked everyone (except Kimi, forgot to, oops!) what they thought were key Japanese morals/values or sensibilities, and also if they were similar or different from Canadian ones.
There are a lot of cultural differences between Japan and Canada. The biggest might be work related. In Japan, when you get hired into a company, they take care of you for life. Some people never change jobs once they have been hired at one place. Unlike here where people seem to always be changing jobs constantly, and don’t feel much responsibility or attachment to their jobs.
Politeness and being proper, respect for others, blending into the mass, not showing that there are problems. Japanese and Canadian values are very different. Canadians value their freedom, and are very open (not quite rude, but some people may think so) and their uniqueness. Where as Japanese value their politeness (speaking properly to others using polite words. Japanese language has 2 types of speaking, formal and non-formal. I speak to my parents and friends in the non-formal manner, but formal to strangers, and elders.) and “blending in” (example: Schools have school uniforms that are identical and have very specific rules about accessories, hair styles etc.). Boasting about your skills or accomplishments is frowned upon (so a parents bragging about their child is not done)/ My parents didn’t really compliment me on my accomplishments ( I guess in some ways it is expected of you to excel), which is very frustrating for me since all the other kids were rewarded. Also in the Japanese culture you don’t say what you want or don’t want, in Canada you do. So in Japan if you want something done you would bring the topic up and skirt around the topic until the other person gets it. If you don’t want to do something you don’t say “no”, but skirt around the topic again (e.g. “So next Saturday, huh… well… lets see… we are kind of busy these days with this and that… Saturday may be a bit tough for me… I could try to squeeze you in somehow… but…”. Where as in Canada it would be: “Sorry I am busy Saturday. We’ll have to pick another day.”)
Fitting in is very important in Japan. Being a very different person is not valued in the same way that it is in Canada. Working well with groups is important. Individual achievements should be put aside for the good of the group. In Japan things are much busier in the cities, and work hours tend to be longer. The diet is quite different, and has more fish in it. People live in much smaller spaces, houses are much bigger in Canada. (* I combined my Uncle Toukes answer about Japanese sensibilities and how Japan is different from Canada for this answer, but the wording and order is untouched)

Cultural Diversity in The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day can be construed as a text with somewhat ambiguous contexts. Due to the author's diverse background surrounding his cultural identity and values the text is able to represent both Japanese and British cultures simultaneously. The Remains of the Day may be interpreted as a hybrid of either a primarily Japanese text or a primarily British text depending on how the work is interpreted. This entry will present these varying perspectives equally to allow you to creating your own perspective of the work.

In portraying The Remains of the Day as a primarily Japanese text, I will feature the use of the Japanese technique of writing and narrative, Ki Shō Ten Ketsu. Ki Shō Ten Ketsu uses various techniques broken down into four respective parts. First there is the introductory Ki, which presents an idea or subject in a passive and very subtle manner. The Remains of the Day is introduced with a prologue, stating when, “July 1959” (2) and where, “Darlington Hall” (2) the novel takes place. The narrative then begins, “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.” (3) This introductory sentence allows the reader to be drawn in by using information of which they have no previous knowledge.

Slowly the story begins to unfold and the reader discovers that Mr. Stevens is the speaker, and that he is an English butler working under an American gentleman named Mr. Farraday who recently purchased Darlington Hall. These minute details are what further develops the main events that occur throughout the novel, and these details could also be considered the novel’s Shō. Shō being the aspect of developing an idea or subject after the Ki within the technique Ki Shō Ten Ketsu.

Once the basic characters and ideas of the novel are established, the form of Ki Shō Ten Ketsu brings into play the use of the Ten, or turn. These turns present seemingly unrelated concepts that significantly connect the work as a whole. The use of Ten in The Remains of the Day may be seen by analyzing the amount of seemingly arbitrary memories that Mr. Stevens recalls erratically throughout his journey. For instance, soon after he depicts his experience of almost running over a chicken he turns to his various memories, stating “But I feel I should return just a moment to the matter of my father” (69). How the experience of almost running over a chicken leads to a reflection on his father is ambiguous, yet it nevertheless becomes an integral part of the storyline. Stevens himself evens admits to his somewhat accidental thought process, saying “But I see I am becoming preoccupied with these memories and this is perhaps a little foolish.” (67) However, he cannot avoid the nature of his stream of consciousness and thus the significant memories of his life continue to interrupt the present day narrative of his journey through the English countryside.

The final stage of the Japanese narrative is the Ketsu. The Ketsu ultimately binds together the two or more arguments or perspectives presented throughout the work. The subjects unite and do not contend for a prevailing point of view, they are simply presented. It is left up to the audience to decide on one perspective or another. This can be seen in The Remains of the Day at the conclusion of the novel when

Stevens resolves to, “adopt a more positive outlook and try to make best of what remains of [his] day.” (244) despite his unfortunate circumstances. For he realizes he missed his opportunity to share his life with Miss Kenton, “I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?” (243) Thus it is up to the reader to determine whether or not Stevens lead a happy or at least satisfactory life serving the late Lord Darlington, and ultimately it is the Ketsu of the novel.

Yet an argument can be made that Ki Shō Ten Ketsu does not exist within the framework of the novel. This position rests on the basis that Ishiguro, while Japanese in origin, actually spent all his school-aged years in England. This means that Ishiguro may have never come into contact with the writing style of Ki Shō Ten Ketsu, but was in contact with, and did learn the Western style of building towards a climatic event or climax. In my mind the Western style of writing can be broken down into five distinct parts: The setting of the scene or establishing the setting, use of symbolism or metaphors, building tension towards the climax, the climax and finally the conclusion as a result of the climax.

In The Remains of the Day the important elements that set the scene and introduce the setting are similar to those used in the Japanese ki. In fact the same sentence used on page three, “It seems increasingly likely that…”, is also one used to introduce the premise of the novel. However the difference is in the detail, since Western novels incorporate more background and visual settings. In the first chapter we come to understand how the idea of a journey comes to fruition, starting with the passage “Miss Kenton’s letter set off a certain chain of ideas” (5), and we find out how Stevens plans to address the “errors” he has made lately. This tells us that Miss Kenton is an important character and puts forth the idea that there may be more going on with her then he states. Is the journey about the errors or is it about Miss Kenton? This idea is important for the rest of the novel. On page six we get introduced to the fact that Darlington Hall has changed owners, highlighting the new owner’s different habits. Darlington, and the fact that the hall is under new ownership, are also important to the rest of the novel. Within the first chapter alone, we are shown what is important and who to watch out for.

Throughout the entire novel the use of symbolism and metaphors can be debated. This is an important point because, according to Dr.Ogden, symbolism does not exist within Japanese literature. Out of The Remains of the Day I could pull out many examples of this, so I will just highlight a few examples. One is the use of nature; it often highlights feelings going on within the character himself. On page twenty-four he talks about leaving the hall and how he could “sense the steep drop… though [he] could not see it”. This suggests his feelings of letting go of his comfort and being dropped into an entirely new place. On page twenty-eight he uses the English landscape to talk about what “greatness” is, and uses it to enter into the central argument of what makes a butler great. Later, he is lost and talks about the road being a “narrow lane, hemmed in” (117) and having no idea “What was around [him]”.This can symbolize Steven’s himself, often not being able to see what is so obvious for some of the other characters more in touch with their feelings. There is also use of metaphors on page seventy-eight where we see words like “mounting” and “penetrating” to describe a scene between Stevens and Miss Kenton. The scene itself is not sexual, but the words purposely create allusions to sex. Stevens himself also uses a “nature” metaphor to explain sex to another character.

The use of the metaphors and symbolism help to build the next element: tension building. In this novel we can easily see the tension build towards the climax through Stevens’ memories and his reaction to having them. He tells us that he is “becoming preoccupied with these memories” (67) and that it is “a little foolish”. “I am becoming unduly introspective, and in a rather morose sort of way” appears on page one hundred seventy nine, followed by “I am unable to prevent my mind from continuing to wander” (211-12 ). Each time his memories arise, he states that they are not under his control. Also, the subject matter of the memories becomes more emotional as he himself revisits the same memories and thoughts and tries to muddle through his own confusion. For example “greatness” is brought up more then once, becoming more and more personal in connection to his own service and whether he was a great butler. He mentions seeing things in new ways because of the memories, admitting that he has “never in all these years thought of the matter in quite this way” (117), and saying that it leaves him “unsettled”. The emotional context builds until he can admit that his “heart was breaking” (239) after understanding Miss Kenton will not return with him.

His heart breaking is what sets up the climax of the novel. This book’s climax is more subtle than some dramatic Western novels, but when you understand Stevens’ controlled character, it becomes easy to see how out of the norm and dramatic this little climax is for him. He cries in front of a stranger while sitting in public on a bench and talking about Lord Darlington and his life, stating “ I’ve given what I had to give. I gave it all to Lord Darlington” (243). This is Stevens coming to terms with what his life is about, whether he wasted it, and what is important to him. It is a huge moment within the novel, and clearly a climax.

Like most novels written in Western style, everything gets tied up in a neat little bow. Stevens makes his decision to stay a butler, seems happy with it and focuses on the happy people around him and their banter, coming back again to the idea that it is something he needs to work on. The book ends with him settled on the bench, happily planning how to work on his banter and be an even better butler. His past resolved and confronted, he can now move on.

The Remains of the Day can be interpreted both through Japanese writing style and Western writing style. We have presented arguments for both, and both are equally strong in their ability to find evidence within the text to support the ideas. This brings up the question of truth. Are both true? Can both be true? Because Ishiguro is a Japanese person raised in England, is this novel Japanese with some Western elements in it or the opposite? The same can be said for civilization exclusivity— how much can one thing affect another and are some sensibilities so innate that they will come out in a person without the person’s knowledge? Could Ishiguro think he is writing from a European perspective but end up writing with a Japanese? These are all questions that have no definite answer, and one must come up with what they feel is the most likely solution.

Rachel and Sara

My Own Angry White Pyjamas

When I was about ten years old I started to practice the martial art of Meibukan Goju-ryu Karate-do, a style of karate developed by Chojun Miyagi in Okinawa during the early twentieth-century.

After a decade of training in my Dojo I was granted the opportunity this past summer to travel to Okinawa and train with my head Okinawan Sensei for a few weeks. It was this experience of training in Okinawa that altered my perception of how I train karate on an incorporeal level. Although I was able to gain a greater technical expertise, I also further developed a specific state of mind that no amount of basic technical training can grant you. This state of mind is truly difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it in full. I was thus able to appreciably identify with Robert Twigger's novel Angry White Pyjamas because of my ability to recall this state of consciousness.

In Twigger's Angry White Pyjamas, Twigger decides to enrol in a yearlong Aikido training course with the Tokyo Riot Police as a effort to realise and affirm his masculinity in contemporary times. Twigger's perspectives on masculinity and life are generously broadened through his experiences by training under the instructors and severe conditions at the Yoshinkan Training Hall.

At one point in the novel Robert Mustard, one of the central Aikido instructors tells Twigger, “People talk about ki – but what is ki? Training is not about ki, it's about giving everything, about being prepared to die. When you come into the dojo you have to cultivate that frame of mind.” (46) In the novel ki is described as the, “mysterious essence of the universe, life force, vital energy...[a] 'mastery of balance'” (311). What Mustard is trying to explain to Twigger in this passage is the importance of developing a state of Mushin through using this overarching “life force”. Loosely translated Mushin means “vacant heart” and it is a Japanese aesthetic of experiencing the somewhat ironic state of the presence of absence. Mushin is the art of relying fully on your intuition, which will influence your actions without the clouding presence of rationalization. To give a further example of the Mushin aesthetic, our course blog by Dr. Stephen Ogden quoted from Albert M. Craig's The Heritage of Japanese Civilisation,
Where should a swordsman fix his mind?...if he centers it on the thought of not being killed by his opponent, his mind will be overtaken by this very thought; if he keeps his mind firmly on his own or on his opponent’s posture, likewise, it will be blocked by them. Thus the mind should not be fixed anywhere.

This state of becoming overly aware is only granted by focusing not on any outward distractions but the power and technique within. Twigger describes his experience of Mushin in great detail during a particularly gruelling training session,
All the cops and the foreign senshusei were groaning and grunting; there was blood on the mats and sweat pouring off everyone's face. Then it happened. Five minutes before the end something clicked inside me. For the first time I felt my mind concentrating more and more inwards, focusing on a tiny point with increasing accuracy, rather than diffusing, spreading and flailing. A new door had been forced open in my brain and I knew I could keep going and going. (99)
I found that during my own intense training sessions in Okinawa I was able to achieve a greater state of Mushin than in my Canadian dojo. Granted, my training sessions were nowhere near the intensity that Twigger experienced, however compared to what I was accustomed to the sessions were so vigorous that I found all conscious thought simply slipping away. Coupling the sweltering heat and humidity (that my temperate body was wildly unaccustomed to) with training sessions several hours per day (instead of per week) allowed my mind the go blank from pure physical exhaustion.

One of the greatest differences between Japanese students and Canadian students I discovered during my trip to Japan was the appreciation of this silencing of the rational, calculating part of one's mind. Often I find during classes at my Canadian dojo there is a greater sense of discussion at times. When a new method or advice on how to refine our technique is brought to our attention our Sensei is open to students asking questions regarding such methods. Thus promoting a more cerebral analysis of the art at times. This is not to stay all we do in our dojo is stand around and discuss 'fist theory', our Western Senseis simply bring their own biases of how to teach into the dojo. The majority of our training relies heavily on pure physical exertion however, there is still the element of discussion present and acceptable in our classes. Under the Okinawan dojo the etiquette regarding discourse is somewhat restricted. It is more widely upheld that in order for you to fully understand a new or different method you must practice it exhaustively, and you must primarily watch and imitate your senior belts for guidance. I found my experience training in Japan similar to Twigger's experience training at the Yoshinkan dojo, although his encounter was to a much greater degree of severity. I still found, however, that I agree with Twigger on one thing in particular,

“The greatest difference from a Western lesson was the one-shot lesson, where you did one thing to excess. I think now that it was the one-shot lessons that really changed us. They used pain, and relief from pain, to etch the subject being taught deeply into the brain, so that you could never really forget it. Pain heightens the memory of a lesson, enabling you to relive it in detail. In the West a lesson is just information; in Japan it is an experience.” (92)

External sensations such as pain or fear of an opponent are prospects of martial arts and also life that exist for you to overcome and dominate. In order to do so by Japanese sensibilities you must silence the rational element of your mind and rely on Mushin. Although this sentiment is acknowledged in Western contexts, different teaching styles often leak into the practice and alter methods of instruction. I discovered that the only way to survive a class with the head Japanese Sensei is by understanding in full the beauty and power of silencing your own thoughts. That and drinking plenty of Pocari Sweat.


Bibliography and/or Works Cited

In keeping with our prospectus, which outlines this blog as a potential resource for students, here is a list of sources that we have used both in class as well as for this blog. Some are Works Cited, others Works consulted, and even others are recommended readings or readings that might inspire further research of your own.

We have made a point to refer to other course texts aside from Ishiguro's Remains to offer different examples of Japanese concepts and perspectives on civilisation exclusivity. Our course texts include:

Clavell, James. King Rat. 4th ed. Dell, New York: 1986.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Vintage International edition. Vintage Books, New York: 1993.

Long, John Luther. “Madame Butterfly.” Madame Butterfly and A Japanese Nightingale. Eds. Maureen Honey and Jean Lee Cole. Rutgers, Piscataway, NJ: 2002. 29-79.

Murakami, Haruki. Norwegian Wood. Trans. Jay Rubin. Vintage Books, New York: 2000.

Siku. The Manga Bible. Random House, Galilee Trade: 2008.

Watanna, Onoto. “A Japanese Nightingale.” Madame Butterfly and A Japanese Nightingale. Eds. Maureen Honey and Jean Lee Cole. Rutgers, Piscataway, NJ: 2002.

Some secondary sources mentioned in this blog are cited in the particular posting, while other posts use a source and refer to this bibliography for the citation. The secondary sources in this blog include, but are not limited to, the following:

Calza, Gian Carlo. Japan Style. Phaidon Press, London: 2007.

Davies, Roger J., Osamu Ikeno, eds. The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. Tuttle Publishing, Rutland, VT: 2002.

De Bary, William Theodore, et al. Sources of Japanese Tradition. Volume 1, 2nd ed. Columbia University Press, New York: 2001.

Heine, Steven. “From Rice Cultivation to Mind Contemplation: The Meaning of Impermanence in Japanese Religion.” History of Religions 30.4 (1991): 373-403.

Meli, Mark. “Motoori Norinaga’s Hermeneutic of Mono no Aware: The Link between Ideal and Tradition.” Japanese Hermeneutics: Current Debates on Aesthetics and Interpretation. Ed. Michael F. Marra. University of Hawai’i Press: Honolulu, 2002. 60-75.

Here are some links to secondary sources online:

Lewis, Barry. Kazuo Ishiguro. Contemporary World Writers. Manchester University Press, Manchester: 2000.

Nitschke, Günter. “Rock. Flower: Transience and Renewal in Japanese Form.” Kyoto Journal 50: 2002. 1-12.

Richie, Donald. A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics. Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA: 2007.

Lastly, while online encyclopedias or dictionaries can be useful, they are most often not considered "scholarly." They can however, be a starting point for further research, for example:

British Council: Contemporary Writers. “Kazuo Ishiguro.”


Robert Twigger’s Angry White Pyjamas: A Western Look at Japan and its Martial Arts

As we expand the focus of our blog to our personal explorations of Japanese culture, we have brought in a collection of other sources to help put things in context. Huruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood has added to our debate in several places, and in this post we give background on another useful text we have studied in our class. We will follow author Robert Twigger as he engages Japan as an outsider and explores the inner workings of the world of Japanese martial arts in Angry White Pyjamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons from the Tokyo Riot Police. The text will be valuable as we consider our experiences with martial arts in Canada, and will also help us to make the leap from evaluating the academic side of the civilization exclusivity question, to evaluating its part in the material world. As a class, our experience of this concept was enhanced by having the opportunity to meet one of the book’s characters, Robert Mustard, in person. I will provide a short summary of the book, and then provide an examination of how it connects to the concepts and ideas we have explored throughout the blog and in The Remains of the Day.

An Oxford graduate and winner of the esteemed Newdigate Poetry Prize, Robert Twigger writes about his experience as a Westerner immersing himself in a traditional and ancient form of martial arts during the incredibly difficult, year-long course required of the Tokyo Riot Police. The book functions as a humorous autobiography and also an excellent piece of literature which explores the issues surrounding masculinity in the modern world and modern Japan. As well, there is a high level of artistry to be found throughout Twigger’s journey to understand his grandfather’s experiences in a Japanese prison camp, how it relates to the Japan he knows, and how his grandfather’s physical and mental strength reflect on his own status as a ‘scrawny oxford poet’.

The book starts with Twigger living a sedentary life as an on-and-off English teacher and translator in Tokyo. In an effort to combat their awareness of ‘going nowhere’, and with Twigger’s mind on his grandfather’s exploits in the east, he and his roommates decide to take up aikido, a form of martial arts founded by ultranationalists and steeped in tradition. After some training, Twigger finds a role model in another Westerner, aikido teacher Robert Mustard, and takes his advice to join the Riot Police Course. The rest of the novel follows Twigger’s struggle through the “brutally demanding” course as he grows physically and mentally. It looks at the relationships he develops with the other foreigners and their experiences of Japan through its nightclubs, funerals, workplaces and food. Through Twigger’s Japanese coworkers, his girlfriend and his acquaintances at the dojo, it explores the way the Japanese view foreigners, and the similarities and differences between Western and Japanese behaviour and norms.

While The Remains of the Day has Japanese concepts woven into its structure and wording, Angry White Pyjamas illustrates these same concepts as they play out in Japanese culture and society, through the eyes of a foreigner who doesn’t necessarily recognize them for what they are. It offers us a chance to stretch our comprehension of these concepts as we consider the variety of ways they are realized in the material world. In terms of civilization exclusivity this text is invaluable. Twigger takes every opportunity to evaluate the differences people’s backgrounds make in the way they view the world. It will be helpful to compare our view of Japan and its cultural components with that of author Robert Twigger, as another representative of the Western worldview.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Nitobe Garden and Civilisation Exclusivity

Our class took an optional field-trip to the Nitobe Garden at UBC, a memorial garden for Dr. Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) who was a Japanese scholar, eductaor, and diplomat. For me, it was an experience that disproves the civilisation exclusivity argument because of the garden's innate multiculturalism, as a hybrid of the cultural aesthetics of both BC and Japan. It was designed by a professor from a university in Japan in honour of Dr. Nitobe, but it is set in BC. It has trees and plants native to BC, but is pruned and arranged in the Japanese style “to accentuate the delicate structures of trunks and branches.” Acknowledging these various aspects, let me describe some of the Japanese concepts that I identified while enjoying the gardens in my own backyard (so-to-speak). Please visit the garden's website for the source of the quotations used in this posting, as well as maps, pictures, and other information regarding Dr. Nitobe.

“The garden realizes Dr. Nitobe’s dream of ‘becoming a bridge across the Pacific’ to foster intercultural understanding.”

The whole garden exhibits the Japanese aesthetic shichi go san, which is the interrelated concept representing formal, informal, and semiformal or true, moving, and grasslike styles of design. Its geometric shapes, and neatly trimmed foliage and trees also evoke wabi-sabi with their simplicity and distinctiveness.

All lanterns or pagodas in the garden represent ten shi jin, or heaven, earth, and man: they reach up to the sky, or heaven; they are objects created by man and stand up-right like man; and they are made out of stone from the earth and rise up from the earth.

This image (left) is the 7 storey pagoda, which is also an example of shichi go san, or 3,5,7 because it has seven levels in the middle and 5 aspects of the whole (base, bottom stone, middle, upper stone, and top).

This image (left) is the Nitobe Father Lantern - the first lantern you see when you walk into the garden. There is also

a maiden lantern, a marriage lantern, and a Nitobe family crest lantern.

In the Nitobe Garden, there is also a waterfall surrounded by seven stepping stones. Waterfalls are a common example of jo ha kyu, an aesthetic that describes gathering, break, and urgent action (the water gathers, the top is the break, and the result is the ugent action of the water falling). The Nitobe garden's website explains the waterfall in another way:

“Illustrating the male and female traits of nature in the Shinto religion, the strength and masculinity of the waterfall contrasts with the calm, feminine energy”

The waterfall is thus another hybrid in the garden that fuses together two different energies, just as the garden as a whole fuses together Japanese and Canadian natures.

Overall, I consider our field-trip to the Nitobe Gardens a personal experience engaging our civilisation exclusivity question. While I felt the Japanese aesthetics, I was also aware that we were still at UBC and that the trees and greens are native to BC and not Japan. I looked at the waterfall and thought of fountains in many Western-style gardens... I looked at the lanterns and thought of statues or modern sculptures. I don't wish to trivialise this experience or even make parallels to these Western designs, but to explain how the gardens made me reflect upon my own culture in contrast to or in combination with others.