[Book] ‘Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold’ (2006) by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave

GoldWarriorsThis is the follow-up work of the Seagraves after their controversial book The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family (1999).

Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (2006) is the chronicle of how the Japanese military joined hands with yakuza and indigenous gangsters alike throughout Japan’s conquered territories in Asia to systematically blackmail, terrorize and loot civilians of valuable assets during the Pacific War. At the risk of simplifying a very complex story that took many decades to unfold, essentially the Japanese military had outsourced spying, intelligence and counter-intelligence activities to the yakuza. The yakuza in turn forged links with indigenous gangsters in occupied lands, who provided valuable information as to what wealth was owned by whom in the local areas and helped to make these blundering operations both effective and efficient. At the top overseeing these activities was Prince Chichibu, younger brother of the Showa Emperor.

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[Book] ‘The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family’ (1999) by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave

The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family (1999) by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave

An eye-opening account of the Japanese Imperial family from the Meiji Era onwards. It is explosive, controversial and fascinating. It chronicles the colourful life of the bon vivant Meiji Emperor, followed by the reign of the Taisho Emperor and whispers of his mental insanity in corridors of power, to direct war-time involvement on the part of the Showa Emperor and senior-ranking princes and their subsequent bailouts and evasions of war crimes in the post-war era, and finally to the effective hostage of the Imperial Family in the hands of Right-wing conservatives up to the present day.

Two things from the book impressed me in particular:

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[Book] ‘Lost Japan’ (1996) by Alex Kerr

LostJapanReading this book was like having a long conversation with a sophisticated, level-headed observer of Japan who has spent decades digesting the country’s culture and history. Alex Kerr (1952 – present) is a rare mind who possesses a deep appreciation of Japan’s aesthetics and is nonetheless not blind to her darker, dysfunctional sides. In addition to being a Japanologist (he did Japanese studies for his undergraduate degree at Yale), he also has the unique advantage of being also a Sinologist (afterwards he did Chinese studies at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar). In addition to being a scholar and aesthete, he also has the uncommon experience of having also worked as a businessman during the Bubble Era. Only someone with his background could have had the insight and authority to say things like:
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[Book] Lee O-young (III): A cultural theory of rock-paper-scissors

Lee O-young [李御寧] (1933 – present)

Lee O-young [李御寧] (1933 – present)

Continuing from Part II of this series. Lee O-young – having highlighted some key differences in outlook between the East and the West as embedded in linguistic structures in the first half of Janken Bunmei-ron [ジャンケン文明論] (2005), or “A Cultural Theory of Rock, Paper and Scissors” – then proceeds to the main argument of his book. He argues that the game of rock-paper-scissors is a metaphor for understanding how East Asians perceive the balancing forces of nature and adopt the game to govern certain aspects of human relations.

Rock-paper-scissors is a game of random chance. Anyone has the chance to win at this game. It is also a game that is outside the traditional top-down structures of social relations. More importantly, the game reflects the idea that there is never an absolute top-dog or winner in nature (even the strongest or cleverest mammal can fall prey to germs). So rock is defeated by paper, paper is in turn defeated by scissors, and scissors is in turn defeated by rock.

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[Book] Lee O-young (II): ‘As above, so below’ in linguistics

Lee O-young [李御寧] (1933 – present)

Lee O-young [李御寧] (1933 – present)

Continuing from Part I of this series, Lee O-young also observes the tendency of East Asian languages to incorporate contradictory properties into the same noun. For example, the English word ‘elevator’ becomes 升降機 in Chinese, meaning ‘a machine that elevates and descends’. Whereas the Chinese mind observes the elevator’s abilities to both elevate and descend, the western mind focuses on the ‘elevation’ bit and the ‘descent’ part just disappears.

The tendency of European languages to submerge two polarities into one is also observed in the word ‘man’ which can include both male and female. In a sense, the ‘woman’ has disappeared into the ‘man’.

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[Book] Lee O-young (I): Of linguistic bugs and pitfalls in perspective

ジャンケン文明論Lee O-young [李御寧] (1933 – present) is a renowned critic of East Asian cultures from South Korea, and though he is best known in the West for his study of Japanese culture entitled Smaller is Better: Japan’s Mastery of the Miniature (1984)*, I think his magnum opus is actually an untranslated work named Janken Bunmei-ron [ジャンケン文明論] (2005), or “A Cultural Theory of Rock, Paper and Scissors”. It is a compact collection of his penetrating observations and insights into East Asian cultures and their contrasting differences with the West. This series of posts is intended to be an introduction to some of his ideas.

A language is like a software programme that is installed in the human brain. When you use that language to think, the programme executes certain commands that lead to certain inevitable results – that is to say, the language you speak predisposes you to think in a certain way. Moreover, the language programme also comes with bugs.

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[Book] Occult aspects of Japanese cuisine

'Nippon Ryouri no Shinzui' by Abe Kouryuu, published by Kodansha in 2006

‘Nippon Ryouri no Shinzui’ by Abe Kouryuu, published by Kodansha in 2006

I was reading Nippon Ryouri no Shinzui [日本料理の真髄] by the Japanese gourmet Abe Kouryuu [阿部孤柳], and learned that occult concepts lie at the heart of Japanese cuisine. Below are some interesting facts I picked up:

  • When you hold a kitchen knife in your hand, the right side of the knife is considered yang while the left side of the knife is considered yin.
  • Likewise, tableware can also be categorized as either yin or yang. A round dish is considered yang, whereas a square dish is considered yin; a shallow container is considered yang, whereas a deep container is considered yin.

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[Book/Anime] Occult aspects in ‘Shin Sekai Yori’ by Yusuke Kishi

After I watched the anime Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) [新世界より] and also read its original novel by the always insightful Yusuke Kishi [貴志祐介], I cannot help but think of the Japanese educator and mystic Makoto Shichida [七田真] (1929 – 2009).

Shin Sekai Yori, the anime

Shin Sekai Yori [新世界より], the anime series of 25 episodes released in 2012

First, a quick summary of the story of Shin Sekai Yori. Human societies as we know in the present day collapsed after 0.3% of people discovered that they had psychic powers, and after prolonged struggles in which the psychics and non-psychics fought each other to establish a new world order, the earth became depopulated (down to 2% of its height) and a new society in which everyone is psychic finally emerged.  The protagonists of the story – a group of five friends – live in that new society 1,000 years from now. As we follow these five friends from childhood to adulthood, we discover the true history of what happened to the human race in the intervening 1,000 years through their interactions with an inferior race of bakenezumi – mouse-like mammals who are intelligent, speak human language and supposedly worship humans as deities. The story culminates with the rebellion of bakenezumi against the human race.

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[Book] ‘Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou’ by Tsuneyasu Takeda

Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰]

Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰]

There is no lack of self-help books for business people in Japan which regurgitate mainstream self-help ideas from America almost word-by-word. However, if I were to choose books on indigenous Japanese ideas of self-help for translating into English, Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰] would be one of them.

The author Tsuneyasu Takeda (1975 – present) was born as the great-great-grandson of the Meiji Emperor and graduated with a law degree at Keio University. By his own account, he sat for bookkeeping qualifications at middle school and started his own marketing consultancy business at high school. In his twenties, he travelled to Iraq during the war, got hit by the big question of what is the meaning of life, quit his lucrative consultancy business and withdrew to Kamakura where he lived on a shoe-string budget for three years, doing nothing but reading first-hand historical documents about the imperial family of Japan with the intent of making himself an expert on it. Later, he made it big with a bestseller on Emperor Koumei, rode on the wave of the media hullabaloo surrounding the Japanese succession controversy in the early 2000s as a commentator and became famous. He is now the author of a number of books on the imperial family and also runs a ramen restaurant in Tokyo. This particular book I am reviewing is about his personal life-story and useful ideas he has picked up along the way.  Continue reading