Japanese Subculture - Gokudo (極道)

Enjoyed reading "Tokyo Vice", a non-fiction by American joournalist/writer Jake Adelstein.
The author was a crimereporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun (not the English-language Daily Yomiuri), which is unusual for a gaijin. In his book, Mr Adelstein described his personal encounters with Japanese cops, gangsters, hostesses, etc.. to get his scoops. The book is an eye opener of how entrenched the yakuza is within the Japanese society. Yakuza likes to use the word gokudo (極道), meaning "the ultimate path", to refer to their lifestyle. To many Japanese, they are like the modern-day samurai, the harbingers of traditional Japanese values such as honor and brotherhood. Sort of like the Last of the Mohicans (for some reason the author likes to use the boyscout analogy). In Japan, one can go to any convenient stores or bookstores to find Yakuza cartoons and fan magazines. Within the past decade, yakuza organizations have become experts at real-estate and stockmarket investing, and the size of the yakuza-controlled underground economy is estimated to be at 20 trillion yen. While interviewing his sources, the author interacted with human trafficking victims from Eastern Europe who are lured into Japan by hostess clubs with links to the underworld. His reporting played a significantly role in raising international awareness about towards human trafficking in Japan, which eventually led to the Japanese government adopting stricter regulations against human trafficking. A very provocative book, with a lot of sex and violence, but with lots of humor. For more information, visit the author's blog: http://www.japansubculture.com/


One Helluva Night on Fuji-san

Last weekend, a friend and I hiked Mt Fuji from the Kawaguchi fifth station. From the start, the weather was rainy, and visibility was poor. Due to the long weekend, countless people came to climb Japan's highest peak (3776m). The sight reminds me of the long pilgrim crowds in Mecca. The hut at the eight station was so full that people had to sleep in mummy-pose on long co-ed bunk beds, shoulders pressed against shoulders of people sleeping next to me. When we started to hike again at 1am, the crowd was already reaching its peak. It is amazing how people can put up with such conditions. After another two-hour crawl to the top, we passed the ninth station. After passing the torii gate, about 100m from the top, the traffic simply stopped. After another half an hour standing in the cold and with not much oxygen to breathe, we finally decided that we had enough and started our descent. Thick clouds blocked the sun completely from sight so there was no chance that we could view the sun rise (ご来光). Needless to say, my first hike to the top of the world's most selfish mountain was not a pleasant experience.


Mt Daibosatsu

Hiked Mt Daibosatsu (大菩薩嶺) in Yamanashi yesterday. Mt Daibosatsu is a one of 100 famous mountains in Japan, a list of mountains selected by the legendary alpinist Kyuuya Fukada. It is also the first 2000m-class mountain I climbed here in Japan. The hike takes one through a virgin, lush forest with diverse kinds of trees like beech (ブナ) to oak (ミズナラ) to Japanese hemlock (コメツガ), which is a new experience for me since hemlocks only grow at 1500m+ altitude around here. The diversity of the forest is just simply amazing. On a clear day at near top (大菩薩峠-1897m) , you can see a grand view of Mt Fuji above the clouds. In fact the mountain is known to be a passing place for thunder clouds, but fortunately the clouds did not not look too dark yesterd ay. The peak (大菩薩嶺-2057m) is surrounded by hemlock trees, so there isn' t much scenery. However the place feels so serene and abundant with many kinds of lifeforms, one can smell, hear, and feel the whole forest. A "strange" eery feeling indeed. Although it is a bit far from the city (around 2.5hr by train from Shinjuku), the richness of Mt Daibosatsu makes it a very enjoyable hike.

My little friend. I found another one crawling on my shirt before I had to remove it. Kind of got used to them after a while.

The mountain radio guy. "八ヶ岳, how are you doing?"

Near Daibosatsurei. がすってる.

How to get there:
Take the Chuo Line from Tachikawa (立川) to Takao (高尾), then the Chuo Line (towards 甲府) to Enzan (塩山) station. Take the Yamanashi bus leaving at 9:25 from Enzan station to the Daibosatsu-tozan-guchi (大菩薩嶺登山口バス停). After 15 min of walking up the road, the Marukawa-touge (丸川峠) trail entrance is on the left but one can also walk another 15 min to the Kamihikawa-touge (上日川峠) enntrace. The hike to the top takes about 3hr and one can stop at several huts on the way up. The shaved ice milk (ミルクかき氷) at the hut near Daibosatsu-touge is quite good. The bus from Daibosatsu-tozan-guchi bus stop to Enzan station leaves at 17:10. Bus schedule can be found here http://yamanashikotsu.co.jp/noriai/timetable03.htm


150th Aniversary of Japanese Protestant Church

Today Christians living in Japan commemorate the 150th anniversary of Protestant mission in Japan. Our church members attended the celebration in Yokohama, where around 5000 people gathered. Ever since the Jesuit priest Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in the 16th century, Christianity in Japan has experienced many ups and downs. Now only less than 1% (0.1%??) of Japanese are Christians, a small number compared to South Korea. The speakers seem to acknowledge that a large part is due to the deep schisms within the church itself, with its myriad of denominations eager to expose on their differences, which in turn creates all sorts of confusion. It is simply hubris to think that one can have relationship with the divine but yet does not care about people living under the other roof. However, I think that the biggest concern to the church in Japan is that fewer young people are going to church. It is up to the Japanese church itself to find its own identity and adapt to the currents of time.


Church Violinist

Michael Rabin on Youtube inspired me to unlock my violin again after a long hiatus. Along with Kogan, Milstein, Morini, and Szeryng, he is one my favorite violinists.

Played some pieces at church today. Not a pretty sound... Renshuu, renshuu, renshuu shinai to...


Facebook Article

An article about Facebook taking on Google

Looks like FB's got the largest people data base second only to the archaic record.
It would be nice if they can add a blog feature as well (dissenters, beware!). And how bout a FB search engine/browser sometime in the near future?


Tsurugidake - The Movie

Still in mountain mood from yesterday's hike, today I watched the new movie Tsurugidake (剣岳). It is said that Tsurugidake was the last area to be charted in the map of Japan. Although it is not the tallest mountain (Fuji is), Tsurugi is one of the gnarliest (険しい) to climb due to its vertical cliffs. Hiking the mountain requires skill and perseverance, and in the movie, which took 200+days to make, the latter is just as important as the former. Kudos for the crew for managing to shoot the film under such extreme and unpredictable environment. Hopefully they will do an English translation so more people around the world can appreciate the film. In one scene, Miyazaki Aoi said 「いざというときってどんなとき?」 and that cracked me up... Even now, people would have a hard time answering that question.