Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Cause a Minor Sensation in the Book Store

I don't want to brag, but I know a lot of useless stuff.

We all do I suppose. Each of us has our own unique areas of interest, and the art of conversation is being able to direct the discussion towards subjects we know about, and thus appear perhaps smarter than we really are.

And then every once and a while something drops in our laps.

Like say this past weekend. I was in Nagoya city looking for Japanese audio books.

Those of you who know me know that I'm a big fan of audio books. It's a good way to get more books under your belt without putting in any more time or effort. Driving, doing push ups, or brushing the teeth suddenly become excellent reading opportunities as well.

Anyway, I was looking for Japanese audio books, because I thought it would be a great way to study. Audio books never really caught on in Japan, so it is hard to find them, but someone told me about a bookstore in Nagoya that had a small audio book section.

I went to the bookstore and was looking at the audio books. One of the clerks assumed I must have been lost and tried to direct me over to the English section. I tried to explain I wanted an audio book in Japanese. To my disappointment however, I didn't recognize any of the titles. But that was probably just because it was all new releases, and I don't keep up too well on the latest Japanese novels. Some of the classics I might stand a better chance of recognizing, or even Western books translated into Japanese would have been fine. Just as long as it was something I recognized.

"This is a bit older," the clerk said. "It is Mishima's debate against the students. Of course you probably have no idea what I'm talking about."

I grabbed the CD excitedly. "The Zengakuren debate!"

Mishima is a famous Japanese artist, novelist, and right wing fanatic (and subject of a movie by Paul Schrader--for all you Chimesers reading this). In 1968 at the height of the student revolt, Mishima went to Tokyo University to debate the Leftist "All Japan Student Federation", or "Zengakuren" in Japanese. Although the debate resulted in a standstill, it is considered on of the defining moments of the 1960s in Japan. (More info on the debate can be found off of this link).

Anyway, the clerk was absolutely floored that I knew about the debate. They don't really expect foreigners to know too much about Japanese culture. I told him I would buy the CD, and he handed it over to me. However shortly afterward I could hear him talking excitedly to several other staff members behind me. "See that American over there? He knows about Mishima debate. I showed him the CD, and he knew all about the Zengakuren."

There was gasps of amazement. "What did he say?" asked one woman. "How did he say 'Zengakuren' in English?"

"No, that's just the thing," the clerk continued. "He said it in Japanese."

"Really?" Another person pronounced "Zengakuren" in an exaggerated American accent, and that got a good laugh. There was all sorts of speculation about how I would know about the Zengakuren.

They weren't standing that far away from me, and being rather indiscreet, so they probably would have been keen if I would have approached and offered to continue the conversation. Who knows, some of them were old enough that they could have been part of the Zengakuren themselves. But I wasn't in the mood to deal with the attention. I pretended not to hear as they talked about me, and then bought my CD and left. Truth be told it's not unusual to over- hear Japanese people talking about me. Often it's a great conversation starter if I'm looking to make friends, but just as often I choose to ignore it and try and make my way as simply as possible. I wish I could say I was friendly and out-going all the time, but there are some days when I just can't deal with the extra attention.

A couple quick addendums to this story:
1). I am so sick of Japanese people imitating American accents. I get this all the time at school. It's bad enough from the kids, but even from my adult co-workers occasionally. Fair enough, I'm sure I talk with a bit of an accent, but you would never make fun of the foreigner's accent back home, at least not in polite company. And the woman at the bookstore never even heard me speak, so I thought that was a bit unfair.
I've seen Japanese comedians imitate foreign accents on TV, and I think that's where a lot of them get it from. Very fucking funny guys.

2). I've been listening to the CD, and it is really way too advanced for me. But I knew it would be when I bought it. I can understand bits and pieces of it, and I content myself with that. At least it's something I'm interested in, so I have motivation to try and understand it.

Link of the Day
Speaking of the student Movement, I thought I'd go back in time a little and link to one of the most provacative pieces of the American Student movement, "The Student as Nigger".

Obviously I'm hesistant to link to something with the N word in the title, but then to a certain extent I think that's part of why this piece was so famous. Does the sense in which the author intended the word justify its usage here? It's an interesting question to debate.

Aside from the provacative title, does reading this bring back memories of school days or what?


vegetarian w/ leather jacket said...

I always thought you were pretty much like a walking encyclopedia....

Anonymous said...

I have a question, sah.

Do you know of anywhere I can get a translated version of this debate, even in transcript form? My Japanese is quite rusty and my interest in learning more about Mishima's political ideology and social capabilities is peaked.

Joel Swagman said...

I've never come across a translated transcript in its entirety. It may well exist somewhere, but I've never crossed paths with it.

If anyone else out there in blogger land knows more about this subject, feel free to chime in.

If you're not concerned about getting every word, however, there are several biographies of Mishima that include summaries of this debate and some of the more interesting quotations. I couldn't give you the names and authors off hand, but I remember leafing through them while standing in the bookstore.

Anonymous said...

could you please say the title, publisher and isbn...or maybe even torrent this.

thank you

Joel Swagman said...

You mean for the audio recording or the biography?

I don't remember the exact name of the biography. I just remember thumbing through it in a bookstore. In fact, I think there might even have been a couple of them.
Any complete biography of Mishima should include at least a mention of this debate, so I would imagine any biography would be OK.

As for the audio recording, the Japanese title is 三島由紀夫 学生との対話 (Mishima Yukio--The Debate with the Students), published by Shinchosha 2002.

As for Torrent...You know, I never quite got that technical. I still don't know how to do it.