Category Archives: tidbits

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.

in which I acquire typographical empathy

Guys. I humbly apologize for forcing you to read monospace font of your browser’s (or OS’s) choice for the past year. I’ve learned the error of my ways.

From now on it’s serif all the way.

And I now supply Linux font defaults just in case, which I didn’t before out of ignorance. At least there’s something to try to fall back on before font-family: serif now.

my poor laptop, cont’d.

I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into obsolescence, despite having perfectly good hardware and a brand new battery.

This time, it’s not being able to upgrade to Java 1.6 without installing Yellow Dog Linux, following instructions for putting IBM’s PowerPC release of 1.6 on it, and hoping for the best. Ordinarily, I would do just that, but I didn’t know I needed Java 6 for anything until, well, yesterday.

It’s downright embarrassing. I have to borrow a laptop from a kind workshop organizer on Saturday at DH2011 because one of the visualization tools we’re running is a Java app that needs, yes, 1.6.

I’m being pressured toward a newer laptop more and more, apropos of my recent two posts which were more my complaining about something that wouldn’t necessarily force me to upgrade to something less than 5 years old. How frustrating!

(And I never thought I’d regret not having brought my Linux netbook along with me this summer, thinking there’s no way I could need a desktop and two laptops, which is ridiculous – but there is probably a JDK 1.6 sitting on that Ubuntu install. But there are 12 hours between me and the netbook until August. Too bad!)

A random positive note to end this series of posts about my ridiculous computing situation. When I was doing research to find Java 6 for PowerPC, I came across a cottage industry of people helping others install it (and Linux) on their – get this – 64-bit PPC Playstation3! It warms the heart to know that there’s still a phenomenal console out there (and really, it is the best of the three) that uses PPC architecture. Hooray for Sony (and for IBM, which is using 64-bit PPC architecture in their workstations and releasing the JDK for the rest of us).

cat in the car!

On a light note…

I came out of the restaurant where some friends and I play trivia last night, to find…

a cat in my car!

A CAT IN MY CAR.

This is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. It made my year, anyway.

(It’s not quite as mysterious as it seems: it turns out a stray cat wandered in through my open sunroof and then couldn’t get back out. But still. Not exactly the first thing you expect to find in your car.)

PORTA – at the National Diet Library

Did you know? (I didn’t.) The National Diet Library (NDL) has a digital archive portal, PORTA, which not only lets you search their own digital holdings but an amazing array of other databases, digital libraries, and archives in Japan.

What’s wonderful about this portal is that you can click to expand the list of resources it will search, and beside restricting your search to specific ones, you can also simply use it as a way to discover new online resources relating to Japan and beyond. I myself learned a lot from poking around PORTA in the past few days while looking at digital archives for a course at the School of Information.

I will write more about this portal later, but a quick link for those who would be interested in using it.

By the way, my favorite thing that I found is the Japanese version of the Wayback Machine, the Web Archiving Project (インターネット資料収集保存事業) at the NDL.

And yes, there is an English version of PORTA (accessed by clicking “English” at the top of the page) that provides English translations of the digital archive titles.

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.

quick note: digital reading coverage in Eureka 8/10

Eureka, a monthly poetry and criticism publication in Japanese, has a theme of “reading digital materials” for the August 2010 issue. If you’re in a position to do so, I recommend picking it up. There are a lot of interesting perspectives in here. Not least is the fact that it specifies “reading materials,” not “books,” and that kind of take on digital reading vs. print reading isn’t something I see enough of in English-language coverage.

Not to mention that Japan is living proof that the magazine industry is not only not dead, but will never die – at least not here. I had to wade through literally hundreds of different magazines in a corner bookstore in Ueno station to find my copy of this one.

The info in Japanese is ユリイカ2010年8月号・特集「電子書籍を読む!」 (“let’s read digital stuff!”) If anyone has a more eloquent translation for 書籍 please leave it in the comments. I am coming up empty at the moment.

presentation accepted: MCAA

A quick tidbit.

I’ve gotten a paper proposal accepted for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs in early October, in Columbus, OH. I’m excited about this conference in particular because of its focus on media and communication throughout history, and thinking hard about how we approach our various fields through this lens (or vice versa).

My own topic is something I will elaborate on later, but for now, let me tell you it’s about the impossibility of separating physicality from social network from archive from publication in the context of a certain book in the late 1800s. To be less vague, I’m going to talk about how one man’s “rediscovery” (via many allusions by a fiction author he liked) of Ihara Saikaku (then mostly forgotten, now Mr. Edo-Period Canonical Author) in the 1880s. Those who got excited about reading Saikaku talk quite a bit about buying, handling, and borrowing/lending old copies of Saikaku’s work, and in their anthology that they published, they go so far as to credit each work with whose archive/collection it came from. The sense of physical ownership – and being able to touch the thing itself – is overwhelming compared to everything else I’ve looked at from this period. It’s fascinating and exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing this finding as well as getting feedback on my methodological approach and conclusions. (Surely weak at best, given that this is news to me and I haven’t had a lot of time to develop my thinking over the past year, buried in a mountain of magazines in the library basement.)

By the way, this probably can’t fit into the paper, but the social ripples of Saikaku popularity vibrate constantly through the Meiji literature and general literary discourse that I read throughout my research. Saikaku love versus hate, going so far as to adopt a pseudonym that translates to “I love Saikaku” while attempting to imitate his style in one’s own writing, republishing his works in random magazines, the changing ideas about whether or not his works qualify as modern works of fiction (小説, now translated as “novel” but then quite contested), and reactions to him – they not only feed into and inform and make clear literary cliques and their interactions, but also literary trends and experimentation in an era where nearly anything goes.

A forgotten author as a window into an historical moment: nothing could make me happier about choosing the path that I have.

arbitrary categorization: temporal boundary installment

An arbitrary annoyance of mine has piqued a strange and obsessive interest, and perhaps you could say, a one-woman mission to rethink the way we cut off time.

A fancy way of saying this: as midnight approaches (well beyond my bedtime on a school night), I look at the clock in the playground below my balcony. And I think, it’s almost tomorrow.

But why is it almost tomorrow? Why mark the day with midnight, why that arbitrary division? Not that any division won’t be arbitrary, that any border or category of “day” and “hour” and any other subdivision won’t be, but that I wonder – why not the dawn?

Surely, one can protest, it is fluid and doesn’t remain constant on every day. It ruins, as Benedict Anderson put it, homogenous, empty time. Is time homogeneous, even for those of us who live in supposed modernity? I argue that it is not, although that’s not much of an argument. I state that is not. I put forward that we give great meaning to temporal boundaries, that those meanings change day today, season to season, year to year. Those boundaries can, and are, meaningful markers, no matter how arbitrary.

As a technical Catholic (there is no escape; trust me, I tried), I reflected recently on my idea to spend Christmas as a vacation, to indulge my atheism. And then it hit me – perhaps I could enjoy a really spectacular Christmas in finding an opulent Catholic church and attending midnight mass.

Midnight mass. What an example. I’ve got my own intellectual issues with Anderson. They are legion. I can’t think of a better example to contradict his argument about time and modernity. Midnight mass is a technicality, like so much in the Catholic faith (and I say that with the utmost good will), a way to get in an obligation just-in-time, before getting off the hook for the commercial and gustatory hedonism that is Christmas Day. It’s predicted “just-in-time” delivery of business services by, well, as long as it’s existed. Something tells me that’s quite longer than the 1990s.

Back to my proposition, which is this: forget this day change at midnight. What is the point? We sleep through it. (Well, some of us. We should. And we don’t.) We can’t directly experience our social marking of the boundaries of the day. There is, really, no social marking, save for those on the night shift or those who are rushing to finish a project that was due tomorrow one minute, then today the next. Midnight projects an air of sadness, loneliness, and sometimes one of panic.

I’m on a one-woman mission to change this. From now on, I call for a universal change of marking the passage of one day to the next. My choice is 5 am. I’d love dawn. But our homogeneous empty time seems to call for an arbitrary number. 5 am. This is what I want.

Anyone with me?