Sunday, June 03, 2007

Japan E-mails: Aug 16, 2001


More old e-mails from Japan (in the pre-blogging days). On Aug. 16 I sent out 3 e-mails: a few book recommendations to a friend, a group e-mail updated, and a brief e-mail to my supervisor, all reproduced here.

The first e-mail has nothing to do with my life in Japan, but since I've been including so many book reviews on this blog recently anyway, I thought I might as well include them in the Retrospection segment as well. (Also this e-mail, the graphomanic way I go about writing it and the way I look for any small opening to launch into a lecture about my own opinions and book reviews, clearly shows that my personality was tailor made for the age of blogging even before blogs became widespread. No wonder I spend so much time on this thing.)

Any books to recommend you ask? Oh, I've got a bunch. That's a dangerous question to ask me.

I'm currently reading "The November 1918 Revolution" series by Alfred Doblin, which I'm enjoying. It concerns the socialist revolution in Germany at the end of World War I. Doblin mixes historical characters such as Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht with his own fictional characters. The historical parts of the book are great. Doblin is vivid in his descriptions, and he also makes fun of a lot of the historical characters which brings a refreshing humor to the story. Of course, if you're not familiar with World War I era German history (and let's face it, who is?) then there are a lot of strange names to keep track of. I was a history nerd, so I don't mind keeping track of strange names, but be forewarned.

Unfortunately the fictional characters are not as intriguing as the historical characters. They seem a bit flat, unrealistic, and Doblin's portrayal of his fictional female characters is somewhat dated (to put it nicely). Doblin was a Christian Anarchist, and he primarily uses the fictional sections of his book to flesh out both themes. And he tends to get heavy handed and preachy with both the Christianity and the anarchism.

Anyway, there were four books originally. The first one for some reason was never translated into English, so you have to jump into the middle of the story (which isn't too hard to do, although it does give the series a feeling of incompleteness). The second two books have been translated together into one volume, "A People Betrayed" and the last one is "Karl and Rosa" the book I was racing to finish at the end of the summer. Calvin library interesting enough contains a commentary on these books, but not the actual books themselves. The Grand Rapids public library has both books. (You can also get them off line for cheap, which is where I got "A People Betrayed" which I'm currently working through).

Another good book I read this past winter was "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo. The original version is quite long, and Victor Hugo tends to go off for several pages (say 50 pages or so) describing things that are connected with his general themes, but not his story. Many people are happy picking up an abridged version of "Les Miserables" but I have yet to find an abridged version I like. Many abridged version (including all the ones in Calvin's library...I checked) end up cutting out pieces of the narrative as well as the digressions. If you don't care about missing bits and pieces of the story, go ahead and get an abridged version. If you tend to be uptight about missing details, like I am, then just check out the unabridged version, and skim over the parts that aren't important. I think this is best because it allows the reader to become the editor, rather than having someone else make these decisions for you. And once you get started, you'll figure out pretty quick which sections of this book can be safely skimmed over.

I also read "1984" recently. I imagine you've already read this, but if you haven't run to the library right now and get a copy. It's a must read. I can't recommend it enough.


Greetings from Japan. I hope all is well back home (or where ever you are) and I hope to hear back from all of you as to what has been happening in your lives.

I'm here in a little mountain town in Southern Japan called Ajimu. I've been here for a little over a week now, and getting to know my way around and getting to know a few of the local people as well. (Although the names are killing me. I was bad enough with names back in the States, but Japanese names are so unfamiliar to me that I have trouble remembering a single one of them. and to make it worse, everyone seems to remember my name.)

But lest I sound too bitter, I really am having a good time here so far. There are not too many other English speakers around. There's one other guy from New Zealand here, and that's it. so I'm trying to pick up a bit of Japanese.

School hasn't started yet, but because of the emphasis on teamwork here, I have to show up anyway, even though there is not much for me to do. It's not too bad though. It's a bit of a rough change from my workaholic lifestyle back in the United States, but I'm adjusting slowly. During my free time at the office I do e-mail (like the one you're reading right now), study my Japanese, and I've been trying to pursue my interest in the Japanese peace movement. My Japanese supervisor has been helpful in helping me find books on the Japanese peace movement, which I've been reading through, but there are so few of them in English. But I read whatever I get my hands on.

This week is the o-bon festival for the spirits of the dead. People have been trying to teach me the 0-bon dance, but you know me, I'm not very good at anything that is choreographed, and my feet are too big to be graceful.

Let me know how all of you are doing, and take care for your health.


Email to my Japanese supervisor:

Thank you very much for you help in locating books for me. I know it's very hard to find English books on the subject. I had the same problem back in Michigan when I was writing my college paper on the Japanese Peace Movement. It is a shame, because there are so many English books on the Japanese Wars, but so few on the peace movement. I think people should study peace movements as much as military history. I hope to learn a lot while I'm here, and bring the knowledge back home to the United States when I leave Japan.

Link of the Day
Now that we've got internet in our apartment, I'm engaged in the continuing struggle to use it for productive purposes instead of wasting time. So far my track record has not been good.

With that in mind I'm not sure if I'm doing the world any good by providing more time wasting links, but recently I've been spending a lot of time on TV Links. (And I do realize that some of you are way ahead of me on this one, but it's been a new discovery for me the past couple weeks. And maybe there are a few other people out there who don't know about it yet).

In particular I recommend: The U.S. vs John Lennon. (I reviewed this a while back, but if you still haven't gotten around to seeing it, now you have no excuse).

Also this BBC program Japanorama documents some of the more bizarre aspects of life in Japan. (Some of this I could identify with, some of it refers to things more focused in Tokyo and the other big cities, and not so much the countryside).

Video Version

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