Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tsukumi / 津久見

(Better Know a City)

Monday, June 15, 2009
As I work my way further and further from my home city of Nakatsu, I'm spending more and more time in the car. Despite leaving my house shortly after 7, it was about 11:30 by the time I arrived in Tsukumi. (Had I known what I was doing, I probably could have taken a shorter route. Instead, for lack of any better directions I just followed the coast.)

After driving through Usuki, I went through a long tunnel. When I exited the tunnel, I was in Tsukumi, and the first sight that greated my eyes was a great view of the mountains.
There was what looked like a scenic overview, so I stopped there to take a picture. (After I had already stopped the car, I saw a sign forbidding parking because it was a truck turn around--or something like that. But I was only there for a couple of minutes).
I tried to capture the view on film as much as was possible.

After that, I continued driving into Tsukumi. I followed the signs and stopped at the town hall, where I picked up some maps and pamphlets.

Tsukumi seemed like a really beautiful area, and I was sorry I didn't have more time to spend there.
If you look at Tsukumi on a map, the town boundaries look a bit like an octopus. It's a long thin boarder around the coast with several tentacle like peninsula's that jut out into the water. Not surprisingly, it's famous as a port town.
Southern Oita prefecture is extremely beautiful on the right day. The ocean water looks really clear and beautiful, and the mountains are filled with so much green vegetation it almost has a bit of a tropical look (at least to my mid-Western eye).
Tsukumi has plenty of both ocean and green mountains, so it has no lack of scenic views.

They are, however, in the process of carving up and tearing down several of these mountains to make cement out of them. [Obligatory reference to "Dogs and Demons" (A) here]. The cement industry is the big industry in Tsukumi, and so driving through the town you also see lots of mountains with their faces torn off and also a lot of big factories for processing cement.
What was interesting to me was that the town makes no attempt to try and hide this. Even the town brochures have many pictures of the torn up mountains, and the cement construction cites are on the tourist map. (Admittedly In any wide angle photo of the city, it would be hard to remove the construction completely.)

I left my car parked in the town hall and decided to wander around central Tsukumi a little bit.
Tsukumi wasn't huge, but compared to a lot of the really dinky towns I've been to on this project, I thought it at least had a decent downtown area. There were several shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors (W), et cetera.

From the town hall, I walked on a foot bridge over the train tracks to Tsukumi train station. I went down the stairs on the other side of the station, and saw a picture of Otomo Sorin.

I had no idea who Otomo Sorin was before coming to Tsukumi, and since there was no English information available in the town I only got a vague idea of his significance while I was there. I could tell from all symbolism surrounding his memorials he must have been one of the early Japanese Christians, but that was about it. If you read the wikipedia article, they explain his historical significance there.

I followed the road down to the ocean, where there was a ferry port.
The ferry is for the two islands off the coast of Tsukumi, Hotojima Island and Mukujima Island. (Actually there are more islands in Tsukumi, but I think these are the only two the ferry makes regular trips to).
I'm sure both of these islands are quite scenic, but I didn't feel like I had time to fit them in. The day was already almost half over, I still had all of mainland Tsukumi to explore. It was a 25 minute trip one way just to get to one island, not counting buying the ticket and waiting around for the next ferry to depart, et cetera.
So, alas, I skipped the islands. My loss I'm sure.

Next to the ferry port was a big park called Tsukumin Park. It had a huge playset for the kids to climb around on. (Actually it was more like several different playsets connected to eachother with a series of ladders and tunnels, but it was still pretty cool). Being a weekday afternoon, however, the only people wandering around the park where old people.

I walked down the road along the ocean for a while, and marveled at how clear and beautiful the water looked, and how beautiful the mountains were.

I saw signs for the grave of Otomo Sorin, 2 kilometers away. Maybe I should have saved time by going back to my car and driving, but after having spent the entire morning behind the wheel I was still feeling like doing some walking. So I walked out there, and enjoyed the charm of the small town streets.

On the way there was a park on a hill (high enough up apparently that there was a sign designating it as one of the tsunami safety points) called "Otomo Park". I walked up there. Not too much to report. There was a miniature wooden ship, and a lookout tower from which I got a good view of the town.

And I continued on towards the grave of Otomo Sorin.
It was a pretty scenic walk, and I got some more pictures along the way.

The grave and surrounding memorial park about Otomo Sorin still didn't tell me much about who he was. But I walked it and took some pictures.

And then I walked back.

At this point I felt like I had explored central Tsukumi, and it was time to get back in the car and go out along the coast.
And so I drove along route 217. After going through a couple tunnels, I took a turnoff for Enoura and Akasaki Peninsula.
Actually it's a little confusing telling which is which. As far as I'm concerned, they're the same peninsula but the part that juts out a little further, Akasaki, gets its own name. So I stopped here for a minute to consult the map, while I simultaneous admired the orange tree orchard carved out on the mountainside. (I had seen a few of these before, but this is the first one I stopped to video tape).

Next I followed a long and windy road out to Akasaki Peninsula. It was a short distance from where I was, but everywhere takes a long time to get to in Tsukumi because you always have to go up and down the mountainside. So I drove up the mountain, down the mountain, and got to the edge of Akasaki Peninsula. The map had advertised a small shrine and a scenic view. And there was a small shrine. I'm not sure if the view was all that special.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that the drive out to Akasaki Peninsula was worth it, but that's all part of the fun of exploring. You never know what you're going to find when you head out.

On the drive back, I stopped the car briefly on the side of the road to get a picture of the view from the mountain looking down.

I continued driving on to Enoura Peninsula, and then around to Youra Peninsula.
Again, this might sound like a simple drive along the coast, but it was winding up and down mountains again and it took a consider amount of time to move a small distance on the map.

From one of the mountains on Youra Peninsula there was a scenic viewing area, where you could look out and see the ocean and the mountains.

And I continued driving down the coast. Eventually I went out onto another peninsula. (Or was it the same one. The naming system is a little bit confusing.)

Right out on the very tip of this last peninsula is the Mamoto district. And right off the coast of the Mamoto district is Hotojima Island.

I had already decided that I didn't have time to fool around with the ferry time tables today. But as I drove out towards the edge of the peninsula, Hotojima Island looked so close I thought I'd be able to drive right up to it.

Nope, no luck. The road ended. Still, as I got out of my car and walked on the rocks by the ocean, the island looked so close that I thought I could just use some stepping stones to skip and jump my way over to the island.

And it really was almost that close. If there had been a few more strategically placed rocks, I could probably have hopped, skipped, and jumped my way across.
I thought for a moment there might be a foot bridge across to the island, but then I realized those were just telephone wires.

Actually the island is so close that it beats me why they don't just build a little footbridge connecting it to the mainland. That way people wouldn't have to mess around with the Ferry.
It would be great for tourists like me, but the people who live on the island would be the ones who really benefit. They must get sick of taking that 25 minute ferry all the time when they are (literally) spitting distance from the mainland.
Why in the world don't they build some sort of bridge?
Well, I'm no civic engineer. Maybe there are problems with the ocean current or other complications I don't know about. Maybe the powerful ferry boat lobby is in control of this town.
At any rate, from what I could see it looked like everyone on the island had there own private boat anyway, so they probably weren't too inconvenienced.

There was a clump of houses on the island coast, and in fact the island looked a lot more populated than the Mamoto district peninsula did. Maybe there were cool places to hang out there, I'll never know.
I considered wading across the ocean, but it might be deeper than it looked in the middle. I'd probably have to swim it. Which means I should have to leave my video and camera behind. And my wallet and my car keys. And then I would arrive on the other side soaking wet, covered in sticky salt water, and without any money.
No, it wasn't worth it. Hotojima Island was so close, but for me so far away.

I saw a pillar sticking up on one of the rocks on the coast, and I thought it was some sort of shrine. I started climbing up the rock, although halfway through I noticed that there was no trail of any kind and I probably shouldn't be climbing on it. I half expected the fisherman to start yelling at me (as people often do in Japan when you try and get off the beaten path) but they just ignored me, so I climbed up anyway.
The pillar turned out to be...I don't know actually. Something connected with the phone lines I guess. At any rate from the top of the rock I got a good view of the island, and took some video.

I now decided to turn around and head in the other direction.
I drove back west on the 217 and returned to the center of town. I kept driving along the coast and, before I knew it, the road took me right through a cement factory.

I was still on the main road, but I had the feeling of driving through a private factory and wondered if I was supposed to be there. On both sides of the road there were industrial buildings, factories and smokestacks. And above the road were all sorts of conveyer belts enclosed in tubes connecting the two buildings. I had the feeling of suddenly being in one of those disutopian futuristic movies where the robots have taken over everything. Oh yeah, and it smelled bad too.

After getting through the factory I tried to continue driving up the Northern coast of Tsukumi, but I ran into the usual roadblocks, construction,winding roads and confusing street signs.

I was beginning to lose patience with it all, and I was also feeling tired and hungry. I hadn't had lunch yet, and I had been out in the sun all day. It was now 4 o'clock, so I decided to return to the main part of town.

I ate at my favorite chain restaurant in Japan, Joyfull, and indulged myself at the free coffee bar for a bit whilst I read my book.
Once I felt like I had my energy back, I set out again. It was after 5, but in the summer days the sun stays out a little bit longer.

I walked around the downtown area, and retread a lot of the ground I had gone over that afternoon. I even toyed with taking one of the ferries out, but when I got to the ferry port they were already closed for the day. I went back to the train station, and looked around there some more.
Right off from the train station was a road labelled, "Showa Road" and I decided to follow that and see where it would lead.

As I walked down the street, I saw a sign for an English school.
Even though I've been in Japan for a number of years now, I still kind of feel like I have a special connection whenever I see one of these schools, especially out in the countryside where foreigners are few and far between. "Oh, look, there's an English school. And here I am, a native English speaker. I have a connection here."

There was an older woman sweeping below the sign, and she called out to me to ask me where I was from and what I was doing. "I'm from Nakatsu," I said without thinking (as we long term expats tend to do) and then had to correct myself. "No, sorry, I mean I'm from America. I live in Nakatsu now. I'm just out sight seeing in Tsukumi today."

"Do you have some time? What is your schedule?"
"I don't really have a schedule. Yeah, sure I have some time."

"Will you come inside with me? I'd like to talk with you."

It was a bit odd, but you get this sometimes in Japan. Maybe she just wanted to have a chat with a foreigner. And if this would make her day, I was more than happy to do it. I suspected she probably wanted me to work at her school, which I couldn't easily do from Nakatsu. But I didn't have a good reason not to at least hear her out on the proposal either, so I went inside with her.

Sure enough, after exchanging some pleasantries, she mentioned she had need of a native speaker for a couple hours a week. "But it's probably too long from Nakatsu."

"Yeah," I said. "Sorry. It took me almost 3 hours just to get here today."
Her husband (who had also come into the room)chimed in, "Yes, 3 hours, that would be about right from Nakatsu."

"Oh, that's too bad. I was hoping we'd be able to use you here. Oh well."

But as long as I was sitting in their living room, I figured I might as well ask them a few questions about Tsukumi. And for their part, they seemed more than happy to play the tour guide and tell the foreigner all about their home town, so it worked out well.
"Right," I said, pulling out my maps, "so what's worth seeing in Tsukumi."

"In Tsukumi? There's not much to see in Tsukumi," the woman said. "It's just a coastal town, and the coast is so mountainous that it's difficult to drive around easily. Not many people come here for tourism. The only thing it's really famous for is its mikan (W) orchards."

I pointed on the map to a few of the places I had already been to. "I went up to the tip of this peninsula," I said, "And I tried to go to Hotojima Island. There's no way to get there from the peninsula, is there?"
"No, you have to go back to the center of town and take the ferry port."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Well, was there anything interesting on that island missed out on?"

She and her husband both thought for a while, and then answered, "No, the island has nothing. It's just a bunch of fishing boats, and houses for the fishermen. Young people don't find it interesting at all."

"And Mukujima Island?"

"No, nothing interesting."

"Alright, now I also passed a big baseball stadium on the road. Does that get a lot of use?" [I didn't stop to take a picture here, but there was a big baseball stadium out on one of the peninsulas close to the town center."

"Oh yeah, they play a lot of games there," the husband answered.

"And I also noticed a lot of cement factories around here. And a lot of the mountains are carved up."

"Yes, that's for the limestone. It's Tsukumi's main industry."

I moved on to more banal questions. "Now this road here is named "Showa Road". Is there any reason for that?"

"Because it was made during the Showa era," the woman answered. "That's the only reason, just a reference to when it was built. Have you ever been out to Showa Town in Bungo Takeda? There they've got a street built to look like the Showa era. When you enter it, it's like going into a time slip. But this street is nothing like that."
(In a previous post on Bungo Takeda, I was somewhat critical of the effectiveness of this "time slip". But we'll let it pass here.)

The woman went on to tell me more about Tsukumi. "Tsukumi is in a bad way," she said. "It has been ever since the economy went sour."

"You mean last September?"
"No, I mean since about 15 or 20 years ago, when the bubble burst in Japan. It's been really tough on Tsukumi. In fact the economic depression has probably hurt Tsukimi worse than any other city in Oita. So many of the shops have had to close around here, there are only a few shops left in the downtown area now. And all the young people had to leave for the big cities to get jobs. Now only the old people are left in Tsukumi. There are almost no children left anymore. He," she indicated her husband, "used to run a music school. Now he's lucky to just teach a few private lessons a week. That's just how it goes here."

I can't count the number of times I've heard this story. Apparently 30 years ago or so all of these country towns in Japan were actually vibrant communities instead of the retirement centers and ghost towns they've turned into today. If I had a time machine, I would love to see what all of these towns looked like back then.
As for the shops, well I don't doubt that Tsukumi was probably better off 20 years ago. But compared to a lot of the other small towns I've visited in Oita, I thought Tsukumi had a decent downtown center.

"But why has Tsukumi been hit harder than all the other towns?" I asked.

"Well, aside from the things I've already mentioned, the main problem in Tsukumi is that there's no real industry. We're just a small fishing town, so when the economy started to go bad, there was nothing to fall back on other than just fishing."

"What about agriculture?" I asked. "I saw a lot of orchids driving around."

"Yes, people are getting quite interested in agriculture," she answered. "Even more so than they used to be. Japan imports most of its food now, but with the world food crisis looming, and with the energy crisis, we're wondering if we're always be able to do that. So many people are returning to farming now, and converting land that used to be used for recreation back into farming."

[I should note I'm not sure about the accuracy of any of this information. I'm just reporting the conversation. Sometimes from my students in Nakatsu I get the opposite picture, of perfectly good rice fields lying fallow because no one can be found who has time to work them.]

After talking a bit more, I mentioned I wanted to see a few more things in Tsukumi before the sun went down. When I entered the house, I had been slightly worried about getting sucked into a long conversation but they were very good about letting me leave. I asked what else I should see in Tsukumi and the woman recommended Akahachiman Shrine to me.

I followed her directions to Akahachiman shrine, and it turned out to be right behind the town hall where I had started the day.
Akahachiman was a standard shrine. Nothing special but I took a picture anyway.

Walking down the block, I can across Ishigane shrine, which had a path leading up the hill behind it.
I decided to climb up this to see where it would lead.
The walk up the side of the hill had a very beautiful view of downtown Tsukumi, and I took a few pictures.

When I got to the top of the hill, however, the view was not so great. It was just a tower with speakers mounted on top of it. I couldn't even get a view of the surrounding town because all the trees were in the way.
"Well, that's a funny path," I thought. "Climb all the way up the hill just to see a speaker tower."
But then I noticed the path went down, and then up again to a second peak. "Ah, no wonder," I thought. "This is the path I'm supposed to follow."

So, I followed the path up to the second peak, which turned out to be just as disappointing. I don't even know what it was. Some sort of...something. A rusty tower with a sort of box on it.
I left the hill a bit confused as to why it had all these hiking trails leading up to it. But at least the view walking up had been nice.

After that I decided to call it a day, and leave Tsukumi.

Tsukumi Links
Road to Encounters: Life on a Rias Coast --Several links from this page to different articles on Tsukumi
Onto the slightly more bizarre: School teacher arrested for peeping up student's skirt in Tsukumi, Oita,
Living by my-monstrous-self a blog about living in Tsukumi,
Tsukumi panorama gomagara-mountain Photo

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky Interview - VideoConference

Thursday, June 25, 2009


(Movie Review)

This movie was recommended to me by a couple different people, so I thought I would check it out.

I didn't know anything about it before I popped it in the old DVD player (like a lot of movies that come out while I'm in Japan, I sometimes miss out on all the release publicity), but it turns out that this movie is based on a true story about the Zodiac killer (W), who terrorized California in the late 1960s.

Now, despite being a bit of a 60s nut, I never heard of the Zodiac killer before I put on this movie. (I guess true crime stories were never really my interest). But, as portrayed in this movie, he apparently made quite an impression on the citizens of California at the time. And I learned a great deal by watching this movie.

This movie is incredibly historically accurate. Surprisingly so for a Hollywood movie. (And if you watch some of the DVD extras, you learn how much effort they went through to get everything as accurate as possible.)

In fact, so far does this movie go in pursuit of accuracy that they break some of the principle rules of plotting and screenwriting. In any other movie you would expect maybe composite characters, a streamlined story, and a climatic conclusion. You get none of that in this movie.
In fact, for most of the movie, it's hard to tell who the main character is. Robert Downey Jr. hogs the screen as Paul Avery for the first half of the film, but then his character drops off the map for the second half. Jake Gyllenhal's character is in the background for most of the movie, until he becomes the main character near the end. The police officer David Toschi (W) dominates the middle of the film, but then fades away to become a supporting character.

You've got to admire the courage of the film-makers to go for accuracy over entertainment. And you would think that this would be the kind of film that a history geek like myself would go nuts over. But to be perfectly honest, it tested my attention span.

I think the problem was, when it came down to it, I just didn't care that much about the Zodiac killer. If this kind of meticulous accuracy had been applied to a subject I was more passionate about (like any of the people on my wish-list for biopics, for example) I would have loved it. It's a pity we get so many biopics about serial killers, and so few movies about civil rights or labor leaders. Oh well.

The first half of the film, when the killer is active, is really interesting. The film shows the killer attacking his victims, and there are a lot of really suspenseful scenes mixed in with the investigation. And Robert Downey Jr. really chews up the screen as the hard-drinking, smart mouthed, investigative reporter Paul Avery (W).

As a former Star Trek fan, I also enjoyed small Star Trek connection in here. It turns out that Melvin Belli (W), famous defense lawyer who went on live TV to answer a phone call from the Zodiac killer, also guest starred in a Star Trek episode, and the film-makers were nice enough to throw in a couple lines of dialogue highlighting this connection.

Where the film drags on is the continuing investigation long after the Zodiac murders have stopped. This second half of the film is where I started to get restless in my seat, especially as this film goes on for 2 hours and 40 minutes.
And (spoiler) since they never conclusively find their man, it means that there's never a very satisfying end to this movie, even if it is an accurate ending.

Still, before I put in this movie, I had no idea who the Zodiac killer was. Now I know all about him. And for at least half of the movie I felt like I was entertained while I was learning. Can't complain about that.

Link of the Day
The Torture Memos
and Where is Obama's solidarity with the freedom-loving peoples of Iran?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne

(Book Review)

A couple summers ago I was back home for my brother's wedding. Since this was a backyard wedding, my sister's bookcase was taken outside and converted into a bar. During the clean-up, my brother and I carried the bookcase back up to her room and restocked her bookcase. At this point we discovered many of the books that filled this bookcase actually belonged to us.

Being possessive, we naturally began re-claiming what was ours.

"The Fall of Paris" was one of the books on that bookcase. It seemed like something that was probably mine, but I couldn't remember clearly. So I decided to go by the old siblings code: if in doubt, claim it as your own.
"Oh, I don't care, go ahead and take it," my sister responded.

I brought it back to Japan with me, and a couple years later read through it.

In the end, I decided it probably wasn't my book. I certainly didn't remember reading any of it before. But I enjoyed reading through it now, so, thanks for the book sis.

This book, originally published in 1965, is considered one of the classics on the Paris Commune. It is always cited in the bibliography of any book that came after it, and even now is still sold in bookstores. (This is probably why the book seemed very familiar to me when I saw it in my sister's bookshelf, even though I couldn't remember if I had read it or not.)

And, this book is a classic for good reasons. Alistair Horne is one of those few historians gifted with the ability to write well. This is one of those great armchair history books that reads more like a story than an academic thesis. Horne writes in clear easy to understand prose, and he gives lovingly detailed and almost literary descriptions of all the principle characters.

This is important, because for the average reader, keeping track of all the principle characters involved in the siege of Paris and the Commune is a bit difficult. Paris had 4 different governments between September 1870 to March 1871.
First there was the Empire under Napoleon III, then the Government of National Defense, then the Legislative Assembly, and finally the Paris Commune.

I have read many books on the Paris Commune (several - of - them - I - have - reviewed - on - this web-log, many more I read long before I got this book review project going), and this was the only book in which I felt like I had a clear idea of who everyone was.

For example, in his book on the Paris Commune, Marxist historian Lissagaray begins with a vehement attack on the "left" and the "liberals" who deserted the people and failed to support the commune. Lissagary is talking about the mainstream opposition under the Empire and the Government of National Defence But for someone without a detailed knowledge of 19th century French politics it is difficult to know who exactly he is referring to. In Horne's book however we know exactly who all these people are.

Whenever Alistair Horne introduces a new person in his book, he always takes care to give them a proper introduction, usually giving about 2 pages of background. He then treats each historical personage as if they were a character in a play, focusing on their unique personalities and habits.
Just like in a good novel, you naturally remember who all the characters are based on the way they act, and I wasn't flipping back to the index every 2 seconds to try and keep track of who everyone was.

The Paris Commune is an important part of radical history, and traditionally a polemical topic for historians. Alistair Horne, it is worth noting, is no radical. Salon magazine recently featured an article on him in which was headlined "Bush's Favorite Historian" and in which Horne was described as "to the left of Genghis Khan but to the right of Margaret Thatcher".
[Although if you actually read the article (link here) as well as Horne's own writings on Bush (link here) you'll find that he was far from an uncritical supporter of the former president. ]

Alistair Horne, as he freely admits in his introduction, is more interested in the Franco-Prussian war than in the Paris Commune. This book grew out of a series of books he was planning on military history in which he wanted to trace Franco-German relations ("the root of all evil in the world I grew up in") through three wars. In his research on the Franco-Prussian war, he found himself becoming more and more interested in the siege of Paris, and as a result he became interested in the Commune.

This book is about both the Siege of Paris, and the Commune which grew out of it, and it's notable that the the Commune doesn't even begin until the book is over halfway done (page 376 out of 575).
The first half of the book reflects Horne's pre-occupation with military history. Horne frequently compares the Franco-Prussian war with World War I and the battle of Verdun. The siege of Paris itself is frequently compared with the siege of Leningrad during World War II.
Although I'm not a big military history nut, I've got to admit that here too Alistair Horne writes in a clear, concise style which makes all these big battles and military maneuvering easy to follow.

As Horne repeatedly emphasizes in this book, the Franco-Prussian war and the uneven peace that Bismark forced upon France would later lay the groundwork for two world wars, so it is a story worth telling.
And, as Horne quotes, many people realized this even at the time. Karl Marx, for example, way back in 1870 was able to predict that the uneven peace would eventually lead to a new war with France and Russia united against Germany, and that this new war would "act as the midwife to the inevitable social revolution in Russia" (Marx quoted in Horne p. 230--Also see this quote here).

As for the section on the Commune: as someone who is not a trained professional historian, I'm very hesitant to pronounce judgement. Yet in my amateur opinion, I thought it was fair.
He cites Commune historian Lissagary frequently, and calls him a "usually reliable source". He also quotes from Karl Marx's "Civil War in France" which he says, "must be rated on of the all-time classics of journalism. His facts are astonishingly accurate; but he [Marx] then proceeded to distort them for his own dialectic ends."

Horne is neither a supporter of the Commune, nor of the government that suppressed it, crying out for a pox on both of their houses.
And yet, perhaps I'm just reading my own views into Horne, but I thought the Commune came off as sympathetic. He acknowledges the moderation of most of their demands, realizes that the mob violence was not sanctioned by the official Commune government, and recognizes the various splits within the Commune. For example, his writings on the Majority and Minority faction:

"The most fundamental split in the Commune so far had taken place, and henceforth its Assembly would consist of a Majority and Minority faction; the one, controlled by Jacobins, wanting to exercise dictatorship and terror--the methods of '93--and blaming the failures of the Commune upon the sentimentality of the Socialists; the other desiring to govern by reasonably democratic methods, to observe moderation in order to leave, as Rochefort put it, 'the door at least half open to conciliation'. In the light of twentieth-century history, it seems perhaps ironical that the exponents of democracy and moderation should have been chiefly the Internationalists, the forefathers of Lenin's Bolsheviks."

Whether Lenin's Bolsheviks were the legitimate heirs of the largely Prodhounist section of the 1871 French International is perhaps debatable. But at least Horne goes out of his way to acknowledge their chiefly democratic aims.

Many of Horne's portrayals of Communard members are similar to Lissagaray's. Felix Pyat comes off as the same pompous windbag in both books. Cluseret comes off slightly better in Horne, but is portrayed as incompetent in both books.
By contrast, Communard figures like Delescluze, Dombrowski, and Varlin come off as good and noble in both books.

The real villains of Horne's book are Raul Rigault and Theophile Ferre, who were responsible for the organizing and carrying out the terror during the Commune's final days.

In closing: if you only read one book about the Paris Commune, it should probably be this one. It's easy to read, well written, and, because it requires absolutely no back ground knowledge, it works great as an introduction. Like a skilled story teller, the author tells you everything you need to know to enjoy the story.

However, as with anything you read, you should always try and keep in mind the biases of the author. And, if anyone has the time or inclination to read 2 books on the Commune, this should probably be supplemented with another book like "The Civil War in France" by Karl Marx or "The History of the Paris Commune" by Prosper Oliver Lissagaray

This book sat on my shelf for a couple years before I read it cover to cover, and I used it as a reference. That's why I had previously mentioned it twice before in different posts before actually reading the whole thing.

Link of the Day
Obama, Cigarettes and Marijuana with Noam Chomsky

Friday, June 19, 2009

Body of Lies

(Movie Review)

This is yet another movie which seeks to create interest by being topical. (Due to the hype surrounding the release of this film, I'm sure you that know by now whether you've seen the film or not).

The politics never go too deep, but I thought it was a decent suspense story.

The film is set up as a kind of triangle of suspicion. There's a CIA field agent on the ground (Leonardo Dicaprio), his boss back in Washington (Russel Crowe) and the head of Jordanian intelligence.
None of them really trust each other, and all of them play off the other for their own purposes.

The dialogue in this movie is poorly written and boarders on cliche, but I thought the plot was decent. It's a thinking man's suspense film, that requires you to watch it closely in order to keep track of the plot.

For me the most interesting part of this film was watching the DVD commentary.
David Ignatius, the Washington Post reporter who wrote the book on which this movie was based, talks about what in the movie is based on truth, and what is based on fiction. And, although everything in this movie is hollywoodized up a lot, a surprising amount of the events in the movie, and the operation procedures of the Jordanian intelligence, are based on incidents in real life.
So if you do go out and rent this movie, by all means make sure and listen to the DVD commentary as well.

Link of the Day
Prof Noam Chomsky on religion
and Abortion seen through the eyes of the rightwingoverse.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Maetsue Village / 前津江

(Better Know a City)

Monday June 8, 2009
Even before heading out to Maetsue, I knew it would be a small little country town with not much in it. Everybody told me there was nothing there. And, they were right.

I drove down to Oyama town, and then turned off towards Maetsue by Oyama dam.

So far I've visited a lot of what I call small "mountain towns" on this project , by which I usually mean a town in a small valley surrounded by mountains. Maetsue is a mountain town in the sense that the whole town seems to be on a mountain side. Even driving through it you notice immediately that the schools, town hall, post office, and grocery store are all built on the side of the mountain along a road sloping up.

Initially I just drove past the main street area (I would return to it later) and kept driving up the hill to see what I would find.

The main attraction in Maetsue was apparently Tsubakigahana Highland Park, and all the signs pointed up to it.

I followed the signs up the mountain. When I saw a sign for Oimatsu shrine, I took a brief detour and stopped there.

I'm not exactly sure what there was to see at Oimatsu shrine. There was a temple, with a parking lot. A path lead behind the temple to another shrine (Kyuhonden, I think, was the name of it).

There were some more signs and even a bit of a map here, but I had a hard time making anything out. Apparently behind the shrine was a nature trail for something called "Yuzuriha natural forest", but I couldn't find anything. I made several false starts down what looked like they might have been natural trails at one time, but I couldn't find anything.

In the opposite direction was a sign pointing towards (hopefully I'm reading this right) Gyakushuto. What was Gyakushuto? Well, I had no idea. But I had nothing better to do than follow the signs and see where it went.

I followed the sign a short distance, and I found myself wandering into a farmer's field. This is actually pretty standard in the countryside, actually. You find yourself wandering through farmer's fields to get to the historical markers all the time.

In this case, however, two dogs shattered the morning quiet by suddenly letting forth a vicious fusillade of barking. I hadn't noticed the dogs before, and the sudden noise startled the bejeezus out of me. I jumped up about a meter.

Feeling that this path was leading nowhere, I turned and walked back to the sign to try and figure out where I had gone wrong.

I went back to the sign and the map. It was pointing in that direction all right. But there was nothing there but the field and the dogs.
I was just about to give up, when I saw a farmer staring at me intently. I nodded at him. He nodded back, and didn't move and kept standing still staring at me. "He must wonder what this strange foreigner is doing wandering around and disturbing his dogs," I thought.
I decided I should go over and ask him for directions to Gyakushuto. That way he would at least know I was a sight-seer, and not some strange guy wandering around his property.

I started walking towards him, and as I got closer to him I could see that the reason he hadn't been moving is because he was in the middle of relieving himself.

Public urination (by males at least)is perfectly acceptable in the Japanese countryside. I couldn't begin to count the number of times I've seen an old Japanese man relieving himself in public in full view of everyone when there was a restroom just 20 feet away.

The question now is do I keep walking towards him and try to ignore the fact that he was urinating, or do I do an abrupt about face and walk away.
I decided the latter would just compound the embarrassment for both of us, so I decided to keep walking and pretend I didn't notice anything.

I was reminded of a time in Fukuoka when I was with a group of friends, and Usa Chris asked one of the ramen stall vendors for directions. The man calmly pulled up his pants, and politely gave directions to Chris. Something of the Japanese equivalent of, "Well, ya' see here, what you want to do is go down that street over there and..." Only after we had left did the rest of us point out to Chris that the man had been relieving himself at the time. Chris hadn't noticed, and the man answered his question so casually and without any sense of embarrassment that it was obviously no big deal to him to be caught with his pants down. I decided to try and hope for the same result now.
(Incidentally, I know I'm getting slightly off topic here but just as a side note, after I noticed that man was relieving himself right next to his ramen stall, and after I noticed he went right back to work without washing his hands, I've never been able to eat at Fukuoka's famous outdoor ramen stalls again).

I slowed down my walk so that the farmer was able to finish all his business by the time I approached him. I showed him my notebook, in which I had written down the kanji of Gyakushuto, and asked him where it was. I didn't catch his reply perfectly, but it was something like, "Well,I don't really know. But you better go down to the end of the path, and knock at the door of the second house on the right. They'll be able to take you to it."

"Okay," I said, thinking in my head, "well, nuts to this. I didn't want to see that stupid Gyakushoto that badly anyway."

"Do you think you can find the house? I can walk down there with you if you like."

"No, no thank you very much, but I think I can find it on my own."

Very likely Gyakushuto was just some sort of special rock with an historical marker next to it. If the people living right next to it didn't know where it was in their own backyard, it obviously wasn't worth seeing. And I certainly didn't want to put anyone to any trouble.
I thanked the farmer, and then went on my way. As I left, I heard him shout back to someone in the house, "he was trying to find Gyakushuto. He's just a sight-seer."

As soon as I was out of sight from him, I left the path and gave up on tracking down Gyakushuto and any of the other sights on the sign or map.
There was a small pavilion on a hill. And at one time there had been a path leading up to it, although it was all overgrown with grass now.
I'm not sure if this was one of this historical sights or not.

As long as I had my car stopped, I took a few minutes to wander around the neighborhood, and got some pictures of this small rice farming village up in the mountains.

There were also some grave stones marked Shaka no Yurai (The origins of Shaka?). I'm not sure what there significance was, but I took some pictures anyway.

After this, I got back in the car and continued following the road up to Tsubakigahana Highland Park.

The park was up high in the mountains (hence the name) and there were actually several parts to it. The first was the top of Shaka mountain.

There was a road leading up to the top of Shaka mountain, which I drove up with my car.
It was a long, steep, winding drive. My poor engine made a strained whirring sound the whole time, and I worried about the strain this was putting on my K-car (W).

Eventually I made it to the top. There was a good view, as you would expect. You could see several mountains in the distance, and there was a map there explaining all the different mountains. Because it was slightly cloudy that day, I couldn't see the mountains furthest off in the distance, but you can't be too greedy about these kinds of things.

Also at the top of mount Shaka was a big weather radar station. A sign explained how the radar was used to detect oncoming rain storms.
According to the sign, this one weather station serviced all of Northern Kyushu and most of Southern Honshu. I'm no meteorologist though, so I don't know if that's true or not.

Driving back down the mountain, I returned to the central area of Tsubakigahana Highland Park.

There were a few windmills running up on the mountain, providing alternative energy to the people of Maetsue, which I thought was kind of neat so I took a picture. And I climbed up on one of the kids jungle gyms for a view around the park.

There was in theory a lot to do at this park. There was camping lodges, a gym, a "beef station" restaurant, a roller skating area, a miniature golf course, a slide, a playground for the kids, an Onsen, another restaurant, et cetera.

I say "in theory" because the place was completely deserted.
All the signs said, "open" on them, but the place was not open. There were no customers, there, and there were no employees. A few other cars drove through while I was wandering around there, but I didn't see anyone doing anything. One car was parked by the "woods and crafts" building, so maybe that was still active, I don't know.
The sign at the restaurant said they were open all weekdays from March to November, but it was clearly not open. I tried to get in but all the doors were locked. And a lot of the park looked like it hadn't been open for some time, because the weeds were overgrown in the roller skating area, and the buildings were looking pretty shabby.
On the other hand, the vending machines were still stocked and functioning, so I got myself a coke and a canned coffee.

After all those road signs leading up to it, "Tsubakigahana Highland Park" was a huge disappointment.
There was however some hiking in the area. There was a hiking trail up to the top of Shaka Mountain, which lead through a nationally protected forest. I walked a little bit of this path, but didn't get far on it.

On the other side of the park was another trail leading up to Togamitake mountain.

If I had come out here a month or so earlier, no doubt these trails would have kept me occupied most of the afternoon. As it was, I decided it was too hot to do a lot of hiking.
(Actually all things considered, we've had a very cool June this year, and I was probably being a bit of a wimp by using the heat as an excuse. If I had felt like sweating it out, it wouldn't have been a problem, but I was also just feeling tired and irritable from a long week, and didn't have it in me today.)

I left Tsubakigahana and drove down the Greenline road, following signs for the Kongen waterfall. Like everything else in Matsue, I had no idea what the Kongen waterfall was like, but I'm a sucker for waterfalls. If there's a waterfall somewhere in the town, I want to see it.

After driving for a while, I came to another trail head labeled "Gozendake Yusui Shioji Gensei Rin".
There was no parking here, so I just pulled my car over over on the side of the road.

Although I had previously written that I wasn't in a hiking mood, this trail went alongside a river, and it looked pretty scenic. So I decided to give it a try.

I hiked it for about a half hour or so. This trail took me back into another national protected forest (or more likely, another part of the same forest).
Eventually I began to feel like I was just seeing the same scenery over and over again (just more trees and more trees) so I turned around and headed back.
Again, I guess I wasn't in much of a hiking mood that day. If I had stayed with the trail, I think it would have lead me all the way up to the mountain top.

I got back in the car and made more attempts to find the waterfall.

As often happens in the Japanese countryside, the signs led me on a wild goose chase. The signs would point in one direction for the waterfall, and I would go that way until there was a fork in the road, and look in vain for a new sign. Then I would chose one road, and find myself driving in long circles in the middle of nowhere.

And by the way, the road conditions up in the mountains of Maetsue were absolutely appalling. There were signs warning of the dangers of falling rocks, and judging by all the rocks on the road they weren't kidding.
There were no huge boulders on the road, but the road was littered with a bunch of little rocks about the size of a brick. I did my best to maneuver around all of these.
And at some points the vegetation was so overgrown that there were long stretches when, despite driving in the middle of the road, both sides of my car were scrapped by overhanging branches and overgrown bushes.

Eventually I just gave up.
I decided to return to the center of Maetsue (the "downtown" area, if you can call it that) and start over.

I parked my car by the town hall.
Maestue has been absorbed into Hita city since the town mergers, but they still keep a branch office open.
It was operated by what looked like a skeleton crew. There were only about 10 people in the office. They all looked at me when I walked in.
"Um, do you have any maps or pamphlets or anything on Matsue?" I asked.

They conferred with each other, and then someone called over to a guy in the back. "Hey, town pamphlets, that's your department, isn't it?"

He came over and gave me a pamphlet on Maetsue. I thanked him, bowed, and walked out.

As I was leaving the town hall I unfolded the pamphlet and studied the map on it. I tried to figure out where on this map I had already been, and where I should go next.

As I stood there, one of the town hall workers, an older man, came out to talk to me.
"Hello," he said in English. "Where are you from?"

He spoke pretty decent English, and he asked me what I wanted to see in Maetsue.
"Um, I don't know. The waterfall maybe."

"Really? We don't have any big waterfalls in Maetsue," he answered.

"There's a couple on the map here," I replied.

"Well, this one here," he pointed to the one marked Hitotsuji, "isn't really a waterfall. And the other one, well, you have to drive a long way, and there's a sign, and it's, well, it's, it's a bit of a walk, and..."
I could tell he was trying to tell me as gently as possible that it wasn't worth the trouble it would take to get to it.

"What you should really check out is our Tsubakigahana Highland Park. That's what Maetsue is most famous for."

"I was just there, and there was absolutely no one there," I replied.

"Really? Well I'll call them up and have them open it up for you," he said. He got out his cell-phone.

"No, no, no, thank you, but that's okay. I don't want to put anyone to any trouble." (Besides which, I had very little interest in returning to Tsubakigahana Highland Park anyway. I felt like I had already scoped it out.)

The old man advised me to consult with the big map in front of the city hall, and to ask him again if I had any questions. I thanked him and left.

(Incidentally, while I was talking with him I noticed his smell, and realized it had a very familiar quality to it. I don't know what it is exactly, but every older man who works in a Japanese office seems to acquire this smell.
Like most sensations its difficult to accurately put into words. A vaguely sweet smell. Cigarettes and coffee are distinguishable, but possible mixed in with other elements as well.
They say the sense of smell is linked to memory, and as I talked to this man I felt like I was instantly transported back to my first few weeks in Japan, stuck inside of the board of education surrounded by Japanese men with this same smell. And I remembered the feeling I had back then, probably common to all new JETs (W) stuck in the office, of being in a brand new country on a great adventure, and simultaneously bored out of my mind.)

That trip down memory lane aside, I decided to walk up and down the streets as long as I had my car parked. I got a few pictures of the town built on a hillside, walked past the schools and the post office.

There was a small grocery store that I stopped in, although they had so little food in stock that it was probably really more of a convenience store. (I guess the people of Maetsue must drive down to Oyama when they want to stock up on groceries). I was looking for something I could eat for lunch, and ended up buying some bananas and sweet bread.

Finally, I got back in the car and made one last attempt to find the waterfall.

I drove around in circles again, but eventually I found it.

The old man wasn't kidding when he indicated it wasn't much of a tourist spot. Driving down a windy mountain road you suddenly see a sign by the side of the road indicating the trail for the waterfall. There's absolutely no place to park. I drove up a bit further until I got to a fork in the road, and there was enough of a shoulder to park the car off to one side.

Then I walked down back to the sign, and followed a little dirt trail down the hill to where the waterfall was.

It may not have been a major tourist attraction, but it was a beautiful enough waterfall.

By this time, I was feeling tired of driving all over the place. So I just left the car parked, and relaxed by the waterfall for an hour or so. I read my book, I ate the food I had bought, and I just watched the water. No one else came down near the waterfall, so I had it completely to myself.

Afterwards I walked back up to the road, and walked down the street a little bit, and took some pictures of the houses. (I think it was called the Tashiro neighborhood).

Then when 5 O'clock came around, I decided to call it a day.

Final verdict: despite all my complaining, there were plenty of good hiking trails in this town that I bypassed. If I had come in cooler weather, or been in more of a hiking mood, I'm sure I would have had no problem keeping occupied here.

Maetsue Links: Ooita Gongendaki Oita Gongen Waterfall,
Gongen Falls, Sioji-genseirin Shioji Primeval Forest, Tsubakigahana Highland Park

Link of the Day
Chomsky on WNYC