Category Archives: nostalgia

Rethinking Adaptation in Meiji Japan

I recently read J. Scott Miller’s Adaptations of Western Literature in Meiji Japan (New York: Palgrave, 2001) and am full of Thoughts on Meiji writers, literature, zeitgeist, continuity, and adaptation. Let me express some of them here.

Continue reading Rethinking Adaptation in Meiji Japan

ruins – the past, the real, the monumental, the personal

Did I ever tell you about one of my favorite buildings in the world? It’s a public housing project named Kaigan-dori Danchi 海岸通り団地 (not to be confused with the type of projects one finds in the US, it was perfectly desirable housing in its time). This particular danchi (“community housing” or – generally public – housing project) was located smack in the middle of the richest section of Yokohama, between Kannai and Minato Mirai, perhaps one of the richest areas of the Tokyo region. Here it is in all its dirty, dirty glory, with Landmark Tower in the background.

Yes. This is Kaigan-dori Danchi, one of the grossest “ruins” (haikyo 廃墟) I had ever seen. Or, I thought it was a ruin. You know, an abandoned building. Because it looked too much like a shell to be anything else.

Then I got a message on Flickr.

In it, the messager wrote that he grew up in Kaigan-dori Danchi and now lives in New York City. He advised me that yes, it’s still inhabited, and thanked me for putting so many photos of it on Flickr. (Yes, I went for a photo shoot of this complex, more than once – hey, it was on my walk home from school!) He felt nostalgic at seeing his boyhood home and was interested to see what it looked like now.

In other words, what I’d felt vaguely strange about as some kind of ruins voyeurism – the same kind of ruins porn that takes hold of nearly everyone who wants to take photos of Detroit, for example – turned out to be a two-way street. It wasn’t pure voyeurism; it was a way to connect with someone who had a direct experience of the past of this place, a place that was still alive and had a memory and a history, rather than being some monstrosity out of time – as I’d been thinking of it. I saw it as a monument, not an artifact.

So this was in 2008, a half year after I’d become obsessed with Japanese urban exploration photography, which was enjoying a boom in the form of guidebooks, a glossy monthly magazine, calendars, DVDs, tours, photo books, and more, in Japan at the time. (Shortly thereafter, and I CALLED IT, came the public housing complex boom. I do have some of the photo books related to this boom too, because there’s nothing I love more than a good danchi.)

As part of the research for a presentation I gave on the topic for my Japanese class at IUC that year, I’d done some research into websites about ruins in Japan (all in Japanese of course). These were fascinating: some of them were just about the photography, but others were about reconnecting with the past, posting pictures of old schools and letting former classmates write on the guestbooks of the sites. There was a mixi (like myspace) group for the Shime Coal Mine (the only landmark of the first town I’d lived in in Japan). The photo books, on the other hand, profoundly decontextualized their objects and presented them as aesthetic monuments, much the way I’d first viewed Kaidan-dori Danchi.

So I wonder, with ruins porn a genre in the United States and Europe as well, do we have the same yearning for a concrete, real past that some of these sites and photographers exhibit, and not just vague nostalgia for the ruins of something that never existed? How much of ruins photography and guidebooks are about the site in context – the end point of a history – and how much is just about “hey I found this thing”? How much of this past is invented, never existed, purely fantasy, and how much of it is real, at least in the minds of those who remember it?

These are answers I don’t yet have, but I’ve just begun on this project. In the meantime, I’m happy to share Kaigan-dori Danchi with you.

Meiji nostalgia: the 1910s-1920s

I’m always struck by the nostalgia for the Meiji period (1868-1912) that I find even before the end of Meiji, but especially in what ramps up in the 1910s-late 1920s, in particular with the reprinting of literary coterie Ken’yūsha’s Garakuta bunko (late 1880s) in 1927, the re-publication of Waseda bungaku‘s special Meiji articles and issues in the form of Meiji bungaku kenkyū in 1929, and the publication of Meiji bungaku meicho zenshsū (The Complete Collection of Famous Meiji Literary Writers) from 1926. It’s something about this late-20s flurry of Meiji activity, plus what precedes it in the literary journal Waseda bungaku, that fascinates the part of me that is interested in archives and social memory.*

Why social memory? Well, Waseda bungaku, the literary journal of Waseda University (started by Tsubouchi Shoyo in the 1880s-1890s, then on hiatus until 1906, restarting in that year – late Meiji), contains a huge number of articles written by surviving members of Meiji literary groups about their memories and their friends, long or recently dead, and their reminiscences of the early days of those groups and associated publications. Shimazaki Tōson writes of the founding and early period of literary magazine Bungakkai and its coterie in the early 1890s, Kōda Rohan writes of the death and life of Awashima Kangetsu, and Emi Suiin writes volumes about Ken’yūsha and its early and late history.

In fact, Suiin not only wrote these lengthy articles, he also penned the book Meiji bundanshi – jiko chūshin (A History of the Meiji Literary World – Focused on Myself) in 1927, and another, Ken’yūsha to Kōyō (Ken’yūsha and [Ozaki] Kōyō) in the same year. These are focused entirely on his memories of his life in the Meiji literary world, including big shot Ozaki Kōyō, Ken’yūsha’s founder and one of the most popular and influential writers of the mid-Meiji period (d. 1902). His books, coincidentally – or perhaps not – came out in the very same year as a reproduction of Ken’yūsha’s first literary magazine, Garakuta bunko, reprinted by an individual (Kaneyama Fumio) with the express purpose of providing more material to Meiji literary scholars interested in that coterie’s activities, for whom the archives were dwindling if they existed at all. Likewise, in 1927 an article appeared in Waseda bungaku on Ken’yūsha’s somewhat later Edo murasaki magazine, testifying to renewed (if perhaps not sustained) interest in that coterie’s publications and, importantly, that specific time period of the early Meiji 20s (late 1880s-early 1890s).

Just two years later, in 1929, a publication came out that commemorated the 27th anniversary of Ozaki Kōyō’s death with a special society pamphlet, for lack of a better word (kaishi 会誌). Why it’s the 27th anniversary is anyone’s guess (or, if I’m missing something culturally significant, please fill me in!).

I recently received a fascinating set of books for my library that collects the “Meiji issues” (Meiji bungaku gō) of Waseda bungaku from 1925-1927, and was published in 1929. It appears to be bound volumes of individual, original Waseda bungaku issues, although there is a discrepancy between those and the reproduction of the “originals” that also arrived – the ads are different, and the ones in the “1925” issues all date from 1927 or later. Leaving this fascinating publishing story aside for the time being, let’s take a look at the preface. Just as with the Garakuta bunko reprints, the editor (Honma Hisao) of Waseda bungaku and these volumes claims that there is a dearth of material for those studying “Meiji literature” and in order to help future scholars, it is a mission of “a magazine with a tradition stretching back into the Meiji period” (i.e., Waseda bungaku) to collect its issues in a gappon 合本 and re-release them to the public.

preface As Michael Williams pointed out to me, this isn’t even primary sources on Meiji literature – it contains Taisho and Showa writing on Meiji. But I think there’s a particular draw, an almost-primary-source quality, because the articles are by and large written by other Meiji big shots (if not the deceased Kōyō himself) such as Rohan and Tōson and Suiin, and they’re about those Meiji memories and Meiji experiences. They’re social memories of Meiji, giving the reader a direct connection to events and literature of the past through the firsthand experiences of the writers.

So is it really about a lack of Meiji sources? Possibly, but unlikely. Meiji literature was being reprinted and recirculated both in single-volume form as well as in zenshū, or “complete” literary collections, of various kinds. I think it’s more a mixture of nostalgia and fear of the experiences and memories of the period disappearing, perhaps along with the fires that accompanied the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and along with those who were dying, like Awashima Kangetsu had only a few years before. It was a time when the original Ken’yūsha members were old and dying off, when major Meiji figures were disappearing and no longer accessible – and no longer surrounded by others who could also remember the time of their youth.

I have one other tidbit to add to the Meiji nostalgia boom of the late 20s. The series I referenced above, Meiji bungaku meicho zenshū, was published in 12 volumes from 1926-1927 and there are publisher advertising leaflets for it stuffed into the books that make up Meiji bungaku kenkyū (the Meiji re-issues of Waseda bungaku that has been discussed). One is nearly poster-sized. The books that make them up, save for Kōyō’s Irozange and Rohan’s Fūryūbutsu, are largely forgotten now, and it even includes one translation by Morita Shiken. Yet it’s a “scholarly resource” including explications, criticism, photographs, and illustrations – not exactly nostalgic. But I’d argue that it’s the context in which I find those leaflets that makes them intimate parts of the fabric of Meiji social memory: they’re reprints of the very books that the writers of the nostalgic essays would have read in their youths, and supply the means to remember Meiji through direct experience in 1927, 15 years after the end of the period in 1912.

All of this Meiji-related publishing activity, I see as a flurry of nostalgia for and fear of the loss of Meiji memories, of Meiji experiences, and ultimately of the memories of the writers’ and publishers’ very youth itself. These actions bind up inextricably the institutions of archives (personal and official), publication (private and commercial), remembering (individually and socially), and commemorating – creating the very idea of “Meiji” and “Meiji literature,” an idea that can never be severed, at least in the late 1920s, from the memory and social fabric of those Meiji survivors still living.

leafletsmall leaflet

* Actually, I came to my dissertation research topic – literary anthologies of the recently deceased – through a course entitled “Archives and Institutions of Social Memory.”

Japan in Days of Yore

I found an interesting book in the library a while ago that I’d like to introduce before I return it. It’s entitled Japan in Days of Yore and is from 1887.

There are several interesting tidbits about this book. First of all is the translator, Walter Dening: he’s a mathematician and missionary who was friends with Lafcardio Hearn. Second, what on earth is the random text that has been translated here, a samurai tale? Who knows.

The book contains a pull-out illustration at the beginning, an “old-fashioned” woodblock print that is in keeping with both the book’s content and its binding. Despite being a hardback book, the paper is bound in Japanese style, with pages printed on only one side and then folded in half, with the edges bound in the spine, instead of being single sheets printed on both sides. This means that each page edge is a fold, creating “double” pages that one can peek into (although there’s nothing printed on the inside).

This isn’t the only book in the Days of Yore series. There are at least five books, three of which are a three-volume life of Miyamoto Musashi. Japan in the days of yore definitely consists of epic samurai tales. The last volume I’ve found was published in 1906, but even then, the traditional Japanese-style paper binding persists even within Western hardback covers. It’s a fascinating combination of technology, American missionaries, ideas about tradition and past, and the persistence of Edo-period (1600-1867) fiction into the 20th century – even in translation.

Given the dates, these stories are some of the first Japanese literature translated into English. Yet they would have been considered light fiction, adventure stories. They’re not considered the great literature of Japan’s past, like The Tale of Genji (which was first translated by Kencho Suematsu in 1900, contemporaneous with Days of Yore). They’re not even generally read anymore: they’ve disappeared into the mass that is samurai tales from the Edo period, hundreds upon hundreds of titles – not to mention the massive amount of parodic fiction and love stories that also exist from this time. Edo literature is often skipped over these days, save for Ihara Saikaku (who only became part of the canon after these translations were published). We read Genji and Kawabata and Murakami Haruki instead. But at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are what Americans in Japan found worthy of translation and publication, and clearly Japanese publishers felt the same way. Days of Yore came out around the same time as Hearn’s translations of Ueda Akinari’s ghost stories, again from the Edo period. Samurai and ghosts: Japan of yore to American missionaries of the late 19th century, and Japanese translations of yore to us now.

mishima__bot 三島由紀夫

The Internet never ceases to amaze me. Thing found on Twitter today:

@Mishima__bot 三島由紀夫

Here is its description:

1925年(大正14)1月14日に生まれ、1970年(昭和45)11月25日に自殺。代表作は小説に『仮面の告白』、『禁色』、『潮騒』、『金閣寺』、『鏡子の家』、『午後の曳航』等。当Botでは『金閣寺』を一とし彼の試論+対談+代表作よりあらゆる名文句を抜粋。参照作品合計50作の中から、セリフパターン3,000以上を呟く。

Yup. It’s a “bot” that posts famous quotes from his works. To Twitter. Mishima Yukio lives! I highly recommend following it if only for the uncanny tweets you will find in your フロー. I almost want to set this thing to send me texts when it tweets, but it posts too often.

Iseya Opens to Commemorate Ichiyo’s Death

If you were in the Tokyo area today and lucky enough to hear about or come across this shop in the Hongo 5-chome area (Bunkyo-ku), Iseya 伊勢屋質店 (a 19th-century dime store) was open just for today, to commemorate the anniversary of Higuchi Ichiyo’s 樋口一葉 death. From @frognalway, info and a photo if you follow the link:

伊勢屋質店の外観。一葉の命日(11/23)に年に1回の公開をしているんですって。

Ichiyo is one of the authors I study, and is the woman you’ll find on the current 5000 yen bill in Japan. She died in 1896 of tuberculosis, at the age of 24, and just as she began to climb to the heights of an amazing literary career.

The question always remains, would she have been as famous – or as widely accepted by all of her male fans, friends, and critics, who were the big shots of the Meiji literary world – if her life had been longer, forcing her into a category after all, or into choosing between marrying (and quitting) or writing (and not being the right kind of woman). But that is only a what-if; for her life was far too short, and difficult, and poor.

By the way, this shop is allegedly the setting for her most famous work, Takekurabe たけくらべ.

google dropping app support; molly has PPC angst

A decision I made over five years ago has ended up making me quite unlucky these days.

iBook G4 photo

I intentionally bought a PowerPC Mac, the iBook G4, when my iBook G3 succumbed to the infamous logic board defect a year or so after Apple stopped fixing it for free. My first winter semester at Michigan had just started, so I was stuck: I needed the data from my G3’s hard drive even more than I needed a computer, and I knew that Apple would soon drop PowerPC in favor of Intel. Like the idealist I can be, I went for the PowerPC instead of waiting a while for the new hardware, because after taking some computer architecture courses and having done a little assembly programming, I had come to the conclusion that RISC architecture is superior to CISC – meaning that I favored PowerPC over Intel.

Little did I know how ghettoized the PowerPC is out there in the real world. Naive, I had no idea that most operating systems and software are not ported to PowerPC – not even Linux.** In the first few years this wasn’t a problem and wasn’t anything I noticed beyond having a matte screen instead of a shiny one. I still love my G4, with its plucky reliability and long battery life.

Starting about last year, however, more and more software makers dropped PowerPC completely, as OS X only went up to version 10.4.x on PowerPC and many required 10.5, which is Intel-only. Even the software that is still released for 10.4 stopped supporting my laptop, including OpenOffice.***

I resigned myself to having a laptop that is circa 2009 in terms of what it runs. I am okay with running a Japanese version of OpenOffice 3 that will open .docx files for me, and running Adobe CS3 and Word 2004. Honestly, I don’t need the newer versions of these programs for a base model iBook that only has 40GB of hard drive space. What I need is the reliability, toughness, and 5 hour battery life (with the ability to buy new batteries) that my 5 year old friend provides. I have a desktop for everything else!

I have a sinking feeling about it now, though. We have a problem. Google is going to gradually drop support for older browsers, which includes pretty much every browser that I can download for my PPC Mac. While I applaud their strict use of HTML5 (I use it too!) and refusal to cater to legacy browsers that don’t understand it, I realize that I am basically screwed. And how much I rely on Google, frankly.

Here are things I would like to use a laptop for: Web browsing, Gmail, Google Docs, a little word processing, PDF reading and editing, writing, and possibly a little Photoshop. And some Twitter. If I suddenly can’t access or use Gmail or Google Docs, that is a huge blow to using my laptop to be productive – it’s the point of carrying something around that will let me access my files remotely to begin with!

“Get a MacBook,” a voice pleads in my head. They are so shiny, fast, small, and nice. They’re still only 13″ but have a wide screen that makes it seem so much bigger than the 12″ iBook. They have long battery life. I’m kind of in love with them despite myself. Admittedly, I resent the non-removable battery that will allegedly last for the average life of a laptop. But if I wasn’t suddenly losing all software support for my peculiar architecture, I wouldn’t even consider a new laptop.

I just bought the laptop a new battery. It has 5 hours of battery life, does everything I need it to, and is very hardy. It’s relatively small, light, and convenient. It has some very expensive software on it. Most importantly, it simply still works fine and has nothing wrong with it. I abhor wasting things. I am fond of this laptop. If it weren’t for the uncertain nature of old hard drives and impossibility of replacing that without breaking the case, I’d argue that it probably has many years of good life left in it. It’s the Volvo of laptops.

So even if I bought a new laptop (which I can’t exactly afford now), I’d want to keep using the iBook for as long as I can. Why waste it? But why have two laptops, one running Linux?^ (Seriously, I already have a netbook running Linux.) They’re the same size. It makes no sense to keep the iBook around for anything other than preserving my installation of many pieces of CS3. And because I heart the damn thing.

I’m at a crossroads: my PPC laptop is soon not going to just be dated, but unsupported. I don’t want to waste a perfectly wonderful laptop that has seen me through an entire PhD program. I have good software on it. Why buy a laptop the exact same size and type? Because it will save me from Google no longer supporting my laptop, and Web browsers that are actually implementing new W3C standards from not running on it.

Lesson learned: Even though I want superior architecture and don’t jump at trends (like oh, x86?) that I think are not worth it, I have to just go with the crowd, because sooner or later it will leave me behind. I am still not getting an iPad though. How long do you think I can scorn touch screens before I become officially old?

* (Yes, that is how old the G3 was. About three and a half years. Not bad for a laptop with a manufacturing defect that I was very hard on.)
** There are a number of PPC Linux distributions, but specific software may or may not be ported. Usually not.
*** Weirdly, there are a few local language versions of OpenOffice that do still support PowerPC architecture. Since one of those is the Japanese-language version, I now happily use a Japanese word processor and try to keep my language skills current, at least in terms of menu choices.
^ If I could get it to run for the newest AmigaOS I would run to it without hesitation, but I have only gotten reports of it running on a Mac Mini. Don’t think I haven’t considered getting a Mac Mini solely for this purpose. The lack of a monitor is mostly what’s stopping me.

literature in fashion

Now here’s something you don’t see every day – a photoshoot dedicated to literary-inspired fashion in Vogue.

‘Summer Reading Inspired by the Fall Collections’

Oh wait, of course, I have that the other way around. Some creative Vogue employee(s) actually dreamed up novels FOR these outfits.

Now that is impressive. Seriously!

Being that I’m in Nebraska for the summer, I did a cheer for Willa Cather and My Antonia. The first one at that!

thinking in functional programming

My internship this summer gives me the opportunity to get acquainted with and even use some XSLT – misleadingly the “stylesheets” of XML.

XSLT has been hard to wrap my head around, not least because “stylesheets” and “used to format XML” make me think of CSS, not – well, functional programming. It’s been a good many years since I got to play around in Lisp, let alone make something with it, and this has brought me back to those two great semesters of AI electives that introduced me to this way of thinking. It took a few weeks to get into it, but once I “got” how Lisp worked at a more intuitive level, I remember my impression: I am thinking in a different way. It wasn’t just about programming, it was about problem solving, and about a way of looking at the world.

Diving into a functional programming language again has got me thinking about that experience. Learning how XSLT works has of course made me remember a time when Lisp made sense, because XSLT is functional programming. If I had been introduced to it in that way at the outset, it would have clicked much sooner. Now it makes me yearn a little for the time when I didn’t just know that I was working in a different way, but when that way came to make sense and I was able to start going somewhere with it.

But when I learned Lisp in the context of an AI (artificial intelligence) class, I didn’t learn it as “functional programming” then either. I wasn’t introduced to it in the context of lambda calculus, which I came to find much later – last semester – in a natural language processing course. I knew it was different, but I didn’t know how on a bigger picture level.

Now that I have that bigger picture, I am appreciating this way of thinking more and more.

Why is functional programming “hard”? Why is it something that I had to get used to for a time before it clicked? I have an answer this time – because I have been doing imperative programming for so long, because that’s how I was introduced to programming (I didn’t attend MIT after all), and because that has become the natural and intuitive way for me to solve a problem. But imperative programming isn’t a more natural way of thinking about things. It’s a different way. Obviously, these two ways of approaching problems have different applications, but the elegant and concise ways of approaching problems that functional programming offers are perhaps even more appealing to me now.

Because I am not an expert, I write this not to make a profound statement about how to approach problem solving, but to share a great article about where functional programming came from, why it’s so appealing, and the things it makes possible. I give you,

“Functional Programming For the Rest of Us.”

Take the 10 minutes to read this and enjoy!

killing time at the bookstore – not the library

A quick observation – while reading a New York Times article on the closing of Barnes & Noble stores, I was immediately struck by their first interviewee’s comment: I kill time at the bookstore.

The theme of the article is that bookstores are used in non book purchasing ways just as often, and that the demise of a brick and mortar store is saddening those who don’t buy anything on top of both employees and those who do enjoy purchasing while they browse.

Or just browsing, in general. Amazon does a fairly good job of this but it’s far from the real thing.

I couldn’t help thinking about this situation in terms of libraries: because that’s what libraries are for. I think rather than talking about libraries attempting to simulate the bookstore experience – comfortable furniture, events, coffee – we could think of this from the perspective of the large chain bookstore taking over the library’s role in the community.

When it’s far more convenient to get to a Borders or Barnes & Noble (and there are more of them, making it easier to just pop in wherever you are), why bother funding libraries? If they let you hang out and read as much as you want (again, the interviewee talks about reading a book a chapter at a time when he comes in with time to kill), what need are libraries fulfilling, other than letting you check the books out without paying something on top of your taxes?

Why not rethink this upsetting situation in which bookstores are closing as an opportunity for libraries to make their case as the original entities fulfilling this role, and as an essential part of the community?

It seems to me that “community” spaces are more and more private, commercial spaces in the US. The bookstore, the coffee shop, the gym. I can’t remember ever going to a community center in my entire life. And my local library in Ypsilanti is very isolated, a drive away from where I live downtown, and is not even on public transit (which I use most of the time rather than driving). It’s easier for me to wander into the Barnes & Noble or Borders (or three) that are on my local errand runs – and that are on multiple bus lines – than to take a trip out of my way to the library.

Instead of focusing on single focal points, why not a distributed form of libraries – small storefronts, if you will? I can’t think of anything that could serve a community better than more spread-out, accessible, convenient service that promotes itself clearly and loudly as an antidote to disappearing bookstores – and as an irreplaceable part of the private-but-public fabric of the community.