Thursday, 10 July 2014

Canada Day

The Interview

President and I tried to go to bed at a not completely moronic time, but then we stayed up late talking because couldn't sleep and now sort of ready to die. But we're pretty stoked, too. It promises to be an interesting day.

A Japanese girl we've known for a few years gets on the bus and sits down. We wave.

“She's really grown up since she got here,” I note, by which I mean that she no longer dresses like a small child. It's a bit more than that, though. People get older, and ryuugakuing really accelerates the process. Or maybe just augments it?

We're headed for the Hilton downtown, where a delegation from our sister city in Japan will be staying for the week. They've just gotten in last night but we're hustling them out of bed bright and early for a CBC interview. President and I relax in the lobby and watch an older, lanyard-wearing Asian woman make her way from the elevators to the breakfast hall. So we're at the right place then. Shortly thereafter the CBC guy arrives and then so does the mayor, along with the man in charge of Water and Sewage and also some third individual who hangs around the periphery and whose function I never do divine. They spend a few minutes socializing as hotel staff set up an interview area for us.

The interviewer attempts some English conversation with the water guy, and with a little effort and a lot of smiling they are able to communicate some basic pleasantries. I let them struggle. In situations like this, I generally try not to jump in with the interpretation unless it seems necessary, or if somebody specifically asks. Partly this is because people like to practise, but more importantly I don't want to mess up any flow they've developed; even if they end up fully depending on me immediately after, those first few minutes can provide a crucial icebreaker. The mayor is a pleasant enough man, somewhat lacking in the flair of his predecessor, but a good guy and very mayoral.

“Who's going to do to the interpretation?” he says suddenly, looking to the others.
“I'll be interpreting,” I assure him.
“Oh, great,” he smiles, and hurries off to his place.

At no point does anyone present suggest that my speaking Japanese is anything other than the most natural thing in the world. It's weird.

The interview goes pretty well, I think. It's a fairly fluffy piece and I asked to see the questions in advance, so I was able to look up a couple of words beforehand. Though I'd thought I might fixate on the microphone and start to get tied up in the minutiae of my own speech, within seconds I forget all about that and am able to mainly focus on interpreting the mayor's sentiments as accurately as possible. Because it's in the moment, and I want him to come off well, I err on the side of a “feeling” translation rather than a “word-for-word.”

I only have one serious slip-up: one of the mayor's responses is complex, makes heavy use of technical vocabulary, and goes on so long that by the time he finishes I've forgotten what he said at the beginning, and by the time I remember and make my way through that, I've forgotten what he said at the end. Fortunately after some consultation with him and a few (painfully long and quiet) moments to collect my thoughts, I'm able to avoid mangling it too badly.

The rest is pretty smooth. The questions have mainly to do with the sister city agreement, his thoughts on its significance, and so on. The most interesting went something like this:

Question: How would you feel about shifting the sister city agreement to a more business-oriented arrangement?
Answer: Business is indeed very important to our city, and to Japan, and if the possibility is there we should definitely pursue it. However, it would be a mistake to focus on only business at the expense of other opportunities, such as cultural and educational exchange, which are themselves very valuable and would be a shame to lose.

I thought that was interesting because basically all sister city relationships, everywhere, are derided by citizens as a bunch of free vacations for mayor and council. So while the true benefits are self-evident to those of us lucky enough to be in the thick of these functions, they are intangible, and thus justifiably dubious to anyone not directly involved. This is why the financial issue comes up from time to time, often accompanied by the suggestion that the soft stuff should be abandoned in favour of a strictly economic arrangement. Obviously I myself am a huge proponent of the intercultural aspects of sister city relationships, which changed my life, but I also see the unused potential for such “business opportunities.”

A Lazy Afternoon

After the interview President and I walk over to park, which is already saturated with festival atmosphere. Later, we notice various persons of interest begin forming up in the reserved section of the audience. I see the youngest member of council, a Green, enthusiastically mingling. “Ohio,” he says to the delegates. He says this a few times.

“That's about the limit of my Japanese,” he confides to me.
“Oh, it's a start. Actually,” I remind him, “they'll be pretty stoked no matter what you say. They pretty much just appreciate the effort.”
He laughs and agrees, and heads off for more schmoozing.

The two of us spend most of the rest of the day taking things in. It's scathingly hot but at least the atmosphere hasn't liquefied, like it does in Kyouto. We walk amongst the crowds, and run into Jugs. We take in interminable speeches, and also a performance by our local taiko group. We eat some Indian food. We point out hot girls to each other, because President is bi and an awesome gf. Oh, and also President is my gf now, that's a thing.

We see a guy with a German flag draped about his shoulders.
“But Belgium played today,” President frowns.
“Maybe he actually is German,” I suggest. “Anyway, what do you suppose would happen if a guy showed up at the 4th of July in America wearing a German flag?”

For a moment, I feel like I've hit upon the heart of Canada Day, and, indeed, Canada itself.

Fireworks and Frustration

There is only one thing that spoils my mood, and it really does. In previous years, since I was 15, I've volunteered to help with the sister city delegation and spent a week or more trundling around with them, interpreting and just generally making myself useful. And I love doing this. I love Japanese people, I love helping out, and this event is a bit of a personal tradition of mine. But suffice it to say, a miscommunication meant they ended up going with other interpreters, presumably because they didn't realise how much better of a job I'd do. So I ended up feeling like I'd been cheated out of something very dear to me through someone else's incompetence.

But maybe all isn't lost. We have just one chance. I happen to know that they'll take dinner (where I should have been interpreting) at a certain room in the park stadium, and that afterward they'll be milling around for a while waiting for the fireworks. It would be inappropriate to crash the dinner, but surely no one will mind if we show up and socialize afterward? We won't be costing the city money, and the Canadians there will all be city hall types, so I'll know most of them anyway. It won't be the whole week, but at least I'll get one shiny hurrah.

Alas, we're quickly foiled, as there's no way into the building. I get steadily more melancholy over the next half hour. I try not to let it show but I can't hide anything from President. We settle for watching from below the balcony, on the off-chance that somebody will look down, recognize us, and invite us up. I know it's a dumb plan but it's the best I can think of. We hear people talking and laughing above us, the occasional snatch of Japanese. I can't stand it because I should be up there.

“Would it be easier if we moved away?” she asks, brow knitted.
“No,” I say miserably. “It's like trying to get laid. If you at least ask, there's a chance somebody'll say yes, even if it's very small. So if we at least hang around here there's a chance somebody might come take pity on us. Even though I know that's not actually going to happen.”

The fireworks start. I try to enjoy them. It's hard to do when all I can think of is how much better of a view I usually get. We start to move, to get a better angle around a tree.

“Hey guys, do you wanna come upstairs?”

It's the youngest member of council, standing right behind us, holding the door open. Well, I'll be fucked. The three of us rush upstairs so as not to miss anything. No way. I'm seriously actually getting my due.

“And it's open bar,” he laughs.

The fireworks go on an appropriate fireworks-y length of time, during which we touch base with various dudes and dudettes, such as the lady who failed to get us up there. We spot a young Japanese guy we'd noticed earlier in the day, and President goes to talk to him. Later she confirms that he's a new student at our university, here as an interpreter rather than as a member of the delegation, which makes sense. I'd thought at least a couple of new students would be here, and meeting them was one of my main goals for the night, so, success! I point him out to another councillor and tell her that he looked so lonely and bored, we'd been thinking of absconding him to the nearest bar.

“I really think you should,” she grins conspiratorially.

Heading Home

My spirits buoyed, we go to catch the bus back to President's, where we run into the Japanese girl from the morning bus ride. This girl is young and adorably useless. She's the kind of girl you're afraid to leave to her own devices for more than a couple of minutes, lest she get lost between the front door and the sidewalk, or accidentally lock herself inside her apartment. She knows it, too. It's hilarious.

Today her existential crisis is actually semi-legitimate. She came straight to Canada after graduating Japanese high school and is now on the cusp of getting a certificate, which she's pretty sure is going to be borderline worthless in the Japanese job market in the absence of an actual degree. So she's debating whether to spend another year here, which will incur extra cost on her parents, or to return home and just take a stab at it. I try to give her advice but she rejects it and then chases herself in mental circles for a good five minutes or so. So I tell her to do the opposite thing, and then she repeats the process in reverse. She knows she's not being reasonable or making any sense, but I get the feeling I'm helping her work through it just by standing there and listening, so I don't feel like I'm wasting my time.

Basically, she just wants to escape the situation and get married. Yup, that would be the life. In fact, she's 21 now and a bunch of her friends are married already. Her own mother waited until 23, but if you think about it, you have to know somebody for around two years before you marry them, right, so to keep to that schedule she has to meet somebody, like, tomorrow! Has she been looking? No...no, she hasn't... So what kind of a guy would be good? Rich. Oh, and also tall.

She worries, too, that people always think she's younger than she is. When she was in junior high school people thought she was in elementary school, etc. I point out that maybe when she's 50, people will think she's 30. Ooh, she likes that! But she still doesn't get why.

“Maybe because you seem so pure,” I say honestly.
“Heh! You have no idea, do you?” she smirks.
“Oh? So you've been up to a lot of impure things?”

“No,” she says sadly.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Japanese traffic

Previous experiences with Japan had girded me against nearly all the vagaries of culture shock, but there was one part of the country that just didn't wash: The driving was just plain messed up. I haven't had the pleasure yet, but I've gleaned a fair amount just by observing my surroundings, such as the razor-thin alleys and switchbacks that pass for residential streets in the country. Reed Richards would be hard-pressed to squeeze through the average Japanese neighbourhood. Roads near my university were so poorly maintained that cars rolled up and down like a ship on stormy seas, creating the impression that everyone was constantly flashing their lights at you, a prospect that seems not entirely unrealistic to a foreigner in Japan.

Vehicles are not allowed to turn left on a red in Japan, which to me seemed totally bizarre until I realised the reason for it. Fact is, stop lines are generally set back several hundred kilometres from their associated intersection, requiring all Japanese motorists to carry a telescope in the glove compartment in order to discern when the light changes. This would make any attempts to creep up to and slip around the corner potentially disastrous. The eccentric positioning of these stop lines is, in turn, a necessity borne out of the narrow streets, as any lateral traffic that turns towards you needs to be able to swing into your lane without punching you in the face, otherwise buses, fire engines, and monster trucks would find most every route impassable.

But that's just the conditions; the real issue is the participants. Driving in Japan is less a means of transportation and more a contest to see who can break the largest number of traffic laws at a time. When I first arrived and began observing the traffic, the entire ecosystem seemed chaotic and dangerous. Japanese drivers constantly made risky manoeuvres that would have caused Canadian passengers to scream in fear and anger. They pulled out to block an entire lane so that they could turn in. If somebody ahead of them was waiting to make a right turn, they freely swerved around them, continuing on like it was no thing.

While often in Canada the centre line may as well be a physically impassable barrier, here it does little more than demarcate the midpoint between either side of the road. You park wherever you can, be it in a marked parking space, a random nook or cranny, the middle of a busy thoroughfare, a stranger's living room, on roofs, in alleys, every way but upside down, really. People whip around at a startling pace, dodging grannies and inconveniently placed hydro poles, giving the reflexes and brake-pads of every other driver a good solid workout, and it's all just considered normal.

Pedestrians aren't much better, possessing a relationship with self-preservation that is antagonist at best. They are fond of wandering around on the road when there's a perfectly good sidewalk across the street, swaying back and forth, stumbling around blind corners, and generally presenting as large a profile as possible when ambulating in groups, for the benefit of any casual human-hunters should they happen to make a go of it on their way to the store. I ended up becoming eminently comfortable with cars hurtling past my body at breakneck speeds, casually forgiving scandalous incursions into my personal space bubble that would earn them a stream of expletives and public humiliation in Canada.

At about the seven-month mark, however, it finally dawned on me that while the Japanese style was certainly much less cautious, it wasn't necessarily worse. I never actually encountered an accident, after all, despite weekly witnessing situations that in Canada would have caused ruination or, at best, an interminable delay as the confused drivers tried to work out how to extricate their vehicles from the tangle they'd tied. Japanese drivers, meanwhile, balletically weave between each other at high speed, never in doubt, never in danger. It was frankly beautiful to see in action. It was as if tight Japanese traffic conditions had forced the drivers to hone a better sense of timing and spatial understanding, a deeper intuition regarding the intentions of the vehicles around them, or, if not that, then at least they as Japanese drivers had a better sense than I had of how another Japanese driver was liable to react at any given moment.


In other words, all these differences that had initially seemed incredible turned out to have their own logic, which became perfectly clear once I'd discovered it – much like many things I came to grips with in Japan. It was an interesting revelation. Culture really is pervasive. When we imagine foreign countries, we think of the food, the music, the language, but the driving culture doesn't generally occur to us until we're forced to confront it. And, as in all those other cases, unfamiliar doesn't automatically mean worse.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Reparation

Now to provide a little context for my last post. Every spring, a university from Toukyou sends a cadre of Psychology students to my Canadian university. The students commune with Canadian Psychology majors, receive an intensive English course, and explore the world outside Japan. (Sometimes we also get groups of future CAs coming to practise English for their internationally oriented jobs, but this seems to be more sporadic, although, as you might imagine, also more fun.) Back when President and I were the Japanese Club leaders, we also tried to show them our hospitality, holding parties for them, sharing meals with them, and, as if I even have to say it, taking them out drinking.

And that's awesome. Unfortunately, that's also what got me into trouble a couple of years ago. I ended up getting way too drunk at an informal function at the campus pub, and, I am told, mouthed off a lot. I say “I am told” because I actually recall very little of what transpired. I do remember falling asleep in the bathroom and being set upright once more by a concerned citizen, then leaving suddenly for no apparent reason, to President's consternation. She ended up tracing the route back to my apartment, but missed me, because I'd stopped off at another bathroom and fallen asleep there too. After a while I woke up on my own and made my way to the next building in my path, where I fell asleep in a third bathroom. Luckily I did eventually make it all the way home, where I finally fell asleep for the night...in my own bathroom.

So I got an amusing anecdote out of it, but unfortunately, before all that happened I ended up getting in a scrap. For all the reasons I explained in that last post I feel I had call to get my hackles up, at least in regards to the one asshole who was provoking me. Unfortunately, that one asshole was their teacher, who comes every year. I'd obviously offended him at least as much as he'd offended me, hence the escalation of the confrontation. And since we never actually resolved our dispute, my anger never really dissipated, even when they'd all gone back to Japan. You can see how diplomatic relations might become strained.

Obviously, I completely mishandled the situation. Setting aside the fact that I should never, ever have gotten that drunk to begin with, I shouldn't have risen to him, either. What the hell did I think I was going to accomplish? Nothing I could say would have persuaded him to my point of view, because he had his mind made up and just wanted to unload at me. And when it's somebody of authority such as a teacher, even if you win, you lose. Especially if you win, you might argue. No, I should have just kept my head down, bitten back every response, and quietly accepted his completely unwarranted criticism of my entire lifestyle.

Instead, I put a palpable strain on the rest of that group's trip, and holy hell do I regret that. That experience specifically is why I never drink “on the job” anymore. So I absolutely take responsibility for that mistake (God knows I've pissed enough people off while drunk), and for some time feared that I'd caused irreparable damage to what had been a very profitable partnership between the other university and our Club. By putting my own aggravation ahead of the interests of the Japanese students, I'd betrayed the very people I was supposed to be serving.

Of course, I wasn't around last year, and since I'm no longer officially affiliated with Japanese Club I was able to put a little cognitive distance between me and my own past transgressions. So when a group came this year, I considered avoiding the whole thing, but ultimately decided, fuck it, if there's a problem, I'll just stare it down. When I arrived at the campus pub, it was already roaring with a crowd of J-students and a complement of white people. Gently squashing the realisation that I was blowing off class to go hang out at a bar, I quickly found President, pulled up a chair, and – within minutes – was offered the teacher's hand.

Not in marriage, mind you. I mean he reached around the guy beside him – I mean like tried to lean past him, not give him a reacharound – and he wanted to shake my hand, that's the point I'm making. No, it's actually not, of course it isn't. The point I'm making is that he greeted me with a goddamn smile. “It's good to see you,” he said, and he seemed to actually mean it. Well, fuck me. That's just great. Here I've been holding a quiet grudge against this guy for two goddamn years and he hasn't thought twice about me. Of course he hasn't. People think about you way less often than you think about them thinking about you. So I felt awfully silly.

Tell you what, though. President and I had a great time at that thing. Somehow the two current executives, neither of whom actually speak Japanese, had gotten all caught up in a group with the aforementioned teacher and one of the Psychology dudes from our university, so we broke for the far end of the table to chat up some of the other students. President just led us straight into the crowd and we sat down with some people and suddenly, socializing. It was just like the old days: President intrepidly charging into battle, me at her side as loyal lieutenant, in this case providing translation and social lubrication. Not that she needed much of either; she manages quite admirably to communicate with a mixture of English and Japanese, and she's one of the most social damn people I know (as am I, which is one of the reasons we get on so well).

Right after, we had to practise for our performance at the international culture festival the following week. I'm using the Royal We here because I was not, myself, performing, rather I offered feedback as a group of about ten practised in a dance studio at student residence. I'm pretty damn brutal about it, but it's all out of love. As a huge fan of rhythm games, I can tell instantly when any individual member is off time. Not that it's very hard when half of them are following different beats and others, none at all. But that's just a matter of practise. Anyway, this is part of the story because some of the J-Psychology Majors came to watch for a little while. When they'd seen a couple of runthroughs they retired to the penthouse, where their teacher was holding an afterparty, which he does every year, and which does not in any way scream of harassment lawsuits.


President had managed to get us invited to lunch two days hence. As always, we seemed to have hitched ourselves to, or been hitched with, a small group of students, in this case five of them. I don't know why it so often seems to work out this way; I guess just because the people most motivated to make friends tend to find each other, and because it takes time and energy to get to know someone and you really can't do that with 20+ people in just two weeks. Of course, they've left now, and we'll never see them again. Every once in a while, though, we'll pop up on each other's Facebook feeds, until the day we all die. More to the point, we made their visit as much fun as we could. I hope that, this time, they walked away with a favourable impression of Canadians, and that maybe that's something they'll take with them.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Attitude

I originally wrote this way back when I was still toying with the idea of starting a blog, after a particularly frustrating incident left me needing to vent. That was over two years ago, so the writing is a little amateurish compared to my more recent stuff. Next post, I'll tell the story that inspired it.

*

When most Japanese people I meet find out that I'm interested in the language and the culture, they're delighted. They're flattered that I'm trying to participate and pleased that I'm trying to understand. They're forgiving when I make mistakes and wonderfully supportive of everything I'm trying to do. This has overwhelmingly been my experience, and I'm grateful to all the people who have helped me, been my friends, and invited me through the door.

Some aren't like this.

Some are of a very different opinion. Because I'm not Japanese I can never understand Japanese culture. Sometimes I screw things up when I talk, therefore I don't speak Japanese at all. My goals are messed up, or else they're a waste of time because I could never possibly achieve them as an outsider. I'm just a sad hanger-on, a skinny obsessive little weeaboo, and would I just knock it off and go wallow in my own ignorance with my little white friends who, like me, also speak only one language but fetishize Asian girls and sit alone in our rooms by ourselves all the time.

And it pisses me right off. When I encounter stuff like this elsewhere in my life, I can pretty much let it be. Because I've made a point of surrounding myself with people who like me, and will call me out if they think I'm wrong but mostly just make me feel good about myself. Anybody who tries to go against that, I don't need. But this is a little different. A handful of magic words can make my blood boil.  "You can't X." "You don't know what you're talking about." "Your Japanese doesn't make any sense." I can and I'm going to. I've been looking into the topic for YEARS of my life now and I've earned the right to put forth an informed opinion. It does make sense and you goddamn know it, it's just not perfect. It's the attitude, the condescension. It's the dismissiveness.

As soon as I can, I'm going to move back to Japan and then I'm going to live there for the rest of my life. I decided that a very long, long time ago. This is the primo goal I'm working towards at all times, to which all others are subordinate. So when someone tries to tell me that all the energy I'm putting towards this – the hours of study I put in each day, all the work I do, both as Japanese Club Vice President and on my own time, trying to make sure the Japanese students on campus are taken care of and feel comfortable and welcome, without agenda, simply because I love Japanese people – is basically worthless, I get angry, because they're making me feel like my identity is being invalidated. Not as some loser white guy trying to 'be Japanese,' but as a proud Canadian who has decided to make Japan his home.

What really gets me is the double standard they apply, a sort of Japanese exceptionalism wherein it's totally possible for them to grasp Canadian culture (and yes, there is such thing as Canadian culture, but we're not going to talk about that right now), but I can't do the reverse, and when I point this out they just wave it off as me just plain not understanding. Can you imagine if I went around telling foreigners in Canada that they'll never be able to learn English? People would think I was a complete asshole! That's not  really material, though. And I've done some things in the past that people had every right to get angry about, and from time to time I still do. But I think that's a separate issue, too, and when that stuff happens it's usually an honest mistake, or at least not because I'm trying to make waves.


I really believe that the good I do outweighs the bad, and that I take more flak than I deserve. The only thing I can think to do is refuse to give in. Try to show how I earnest I really am, that I mean business, and maybe, every once in a while, get somebody to rethink their view of me. I don't expect to change many minds, but I really shouldn't let the naysayers upset me, either. Keep studying Japanese, keep trying to learn about the country, and keep making Japanese friends. Then surround myself with the ones who get me.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Warrior Who Never Shaves

There is a Culture Festival held at my university every year, serving as an opportunity for all the various peoples on campus – noted as one of the most international in the province – to share of themselves, teach, learn, and party. It's fucking awesome. Since I've been doing international-type things since I was a little kid, it's always struck a chord with me, and as a member and later Vice President of the Japanese Club, I've been an enthusiastic participant for years.

Just one difference this time: President and I are retired now, so we didn't have to do a goddamn thing. I saw a problem, I told either the current President or Vice President about it and then I let them deal with it. Or not. What do I care? I don't want to see Club's reputation suffer but I don't feel responsible for it anymore either. Not like I used to. Anyway, all this meant a lot less work for us and not that much less glory.

Or should have, except that New President is kind of useless and couldn't lead either of the dances that Club was supposed to be doing...so President, ever stalwart, stepped the fuck up and took over the whole operation. And then I got in on that, and pretty soon both of the current executives were kowtowing to the will of the Ancients. Which was fine; I certainly don't mind being afforded the respect I'm owed. But it is a little worrisome considering that President and I have been trying to let go of the reins and let the next generation come into its own. It was kind of good, though. As much as I love the festivities themselves, I enjoy the weeks leading up to them nearly as much. The preparation, I mean – the heady feeling that you're putting in a lot of work that's leading up to something truly impressive, and you feel so driven to do the best you possibly can because your Club's reputation is on the line and you're trying to share of yourselves and show what you're capable of.

Although I wasn't slated to perform, I attended every practise, serving as DJ and then, more importantly, sort of micromanaging individuals. Chiefly, the issue was timing, which both President and I found bafflingly frustrating. She used to be in Cadets and taught music to the goddamn military, and while I don't have quite such impressive credentials, I am an avid player of rhythm games so I too have a pretty bulletproof understanding of how to keep a beat. Trying to work with people who did not was therefore pretty vexing for us, because trying to teach somebody to stay on beat is like trying to explain that the sky is blue. Fucking look at it. Blue. What the hell else can I do to help you understand? Why do you still think it's purple?

Overall, though, it was a fun experience, as it always is. There was a good mixture of both Canadian and Japanese students, with a group of six performing a relatively recent AKB song and an impressive 15 doing a rendition of Soran Bushi. The latter has gathered us surprising renown over the years, with our slot being gradually moved toward the back end of the program, where the audience size peaks. We wanted to live up to the prestige, so we tried to get it as close to perfect as possible, with President patiently putting the performers through their paces, and me shouting out corrections and accepting only the utmost quality, because people have a tendency to deliver what you expect of them. It's called the Pygmalion Effect, I learned that from Running Man.

Then, two days before the big event, an interesting thing happened, which is that President and I hooked up. And to be honest it was about fucking time, you could have cut the sexual tension with a goddamn knife. Both of us had been wanting it for weeks and weeks and weeks, but neither of us was willing to make a move for fear of hurting the friendship. Hilariously, everyone else in the universe predicted it and we chided them for being silly, but then, it's hard to get a good look at something if you're too close to it. Anyway, we did as much as we could and later it wasn't weird at all, it was awesome. Only thing was, I really wanted to bang her, so on Judgment Day, I was determined to obtain some condoms – not assuming anything, but also refusing to be unprepared.

Leaving my car at the arcade where they know me and let me park all day without giving me hell, I first checked Shopper's Drug Mart, but I couldn't fucking find what I needed. I don't know how that's even possible, and it certainly made me feel like a dumbass, but I was too self-conscious to just stroll up to somebody and go “Excuse me, where are the condoms?” So I decided to give Target a shot, and I saw the sign for the section called “Baby,” and I was like “No I'm looking for NOT Baby!” Luckily Jugs advised me they should be “with the women shit” but then when I got there, there were three pharmacists who do nothing but fucking stand behind a counter and judge you while you consider your purchases, so I couldn't even bring myself to look. So I went to cocksucking Safeway and...could not fucking find them there either. In a last-ditch effort, I visited my favourite gas station, and finally managed to get a three-pack. Oh, Husky...you've never let me down.

It was a condom quest as epic as it was asinine, made all the more difficult by the fact that I was wearing geta at the time, and so was limited to a speed of roughly 0 kilometres per hour. I mean I haven't moved that slowly in my entire life as I did while wearing geta, including when I was a baby. And to make the whole thing even goofier, I was dressed in a fucking jinbei and happi while I was going around trying to be inconspicuous and casual. In the end it felt too weird to go into a store and buy just three condoms, so I got a chocolate bar as well. Yeah, that'll throw 'em off.

With all that finally taken goddamn care of I made my way to the university and met up with President again. So far we'd taken in a Japanese tea ceremony and a photo-booth type thing with like various kimono and such for people to try, the latter of which has sort of become a staple of ours. But today was the best part: Performances. Sikhs did weapon demonstrations. Africans performed hip-hop. A Chinese guy did Shanghai-style street dancing. It was rad. And all of it was in an atmosphere of celebration and exultation, all the very best of all the countries smashed together into a delicious medley of colours and motion.

And President and I got to see all of it. It was...oddly disconcerting, actually. For the first time in our lives, rather than watching from the sidelines, we actually got to, like, sit down, in the goddamn stands, and like...enjoy the performances. Because the event's success or failure was not dependent on us in any way. No, things were going along just fine, without us, somehow. Bizarre. Without any obligations I actually kind of had trouble finding things to do, not because I was bored but because I was used to not a moment's rest, which was troubling because it was a five-hour programme.

I did, fortunately, get a taste of the old life, for just a scant few minutes. A bunch of countries and regions were, as always, given space to set up booths at which to showcase whatever the hell they wanted, be it pictures from the motherland, art, clothing, whatever. With President, New President, and New Vice President all doing Soran Bushi, I was the only person left who could competently man the booth during the twenty minutes or so they'd be absent. So, without any real preparation, I eased behind it, and...yup, turns out my skills haven't rusted. I can still speak eloquently, establish rapport with strangers, and promote like a motherfucker at the drop of a hat. I hadn't ever really doubted myself, but it was reassuring to know that I could still call upon those skills whenever I might require them.

“You must miss being Vice President,” commented New Vice President when he got back.
“There are days when I do,” I admitted. “Like today. But then there are also days when I really, really don't.”


To cap it all off, President and I went home and fucked. When we woke up we went for lunch, like it was no thing. And then bought condoms together, because evidently I can't be trusted to locate them for myself.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Introduction to Japanese Philosophy, Part 2: People and Concepts

In the last post, I outlined the historical and cultural/religious factors that influence the Japanese understanding of Philosophy. And it took way longer than I thought it would, so I ended up having to break it up into another post. Which is fine. Thinking up stuff to write about is hard sometimes. Messes up my posting schedule.

As I noted before, most of the big names in Japanese philosophy are Buddhist thinkers. Here's a few of them and a couple of abiding concepts.

The 17-Article Constitution

Shoutoku Daishi
Way, way back in the day, Japan was ruled by the young 聖徳大師 Shoutoku Daishi or, as he is called in English, Prince Shotoku. He was responsible for the drafting and promulgation of Japan's first constitution, except the thing is, it is entirely unlike what you or I would envision. Rather than a system of rights and regulations, Shoutoku Daishi's constitution had more to do with what was considered acceptable and virtuous behaviour. To some extent it was a little biased towards court officials, who were expected to lead by example; this kind of follows the ancient Chinese thinking that if the Emperor is good, his underlings will emulate him and be good, and so on, so that ultimately all of society is good. Trickle-down morality, basically.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Harmony is to be valued
  • Sincerely revere the Buddha, his teaching, and the ordained community
  • Turn away from that which is private, and turn toward that which is public
  • Important decisions should not be made by one person alone.

So there's Buddhism, right there, written into the ancient Japanese constitution. You are literally required by law to be a good Buddhist. The first and third, meanwhile, would not seem out of place in modern Japan! Let's not exaggerate, but it's not unfair to say that Japanese people strive for harmony and facilitation in their everyday lives. And finally, that last one – one person should not have absolute power? That's an interesting thing for an autocratic dictator to write into official policy.

Interestingly, since it was never actually struck down by any act of parliament, some Japanese legal scholars theorize that the 17-Article Constitution is technically still part of Japanese law.

Kuukai

Kuukai
Also known posthumously as 弘法大師 Koubou-daishi, 空海 Kuukai was an explorer of tantric Buddhism and of the most prominent religious figures in Japan. A poet of some note, he is credited, perhaps apocryphally, with writing the いろは歌 Irohauta, which uses every character of the ancient Japanese syllabary exactly once. It's one of the most famous works in all of Japanese literature and is sometimes thought to embody the very spirit of Japan itself (that's “spirit” as in a shared sense of values, purpose, and culture, not like a religious spirit). Also, if I recall correctly (and I may not), Kuukai was the first Buddhist of influence to assert that women could reach Heaven without needing to first be reborn as men and then taking another crack at it. Also, his name is a combination of the character for “air” and the one for “sea,” so that's pretty cool.

Nenbutsu

Yoshimitsu from Soul Calibre
In brief, 念仏 nenbutsu is the Japanese word for invoking the name of Buddha. If you have a passing familiarity with Japanese popular culture, you'll have heard the most basic version before – namu amida butsu. For example, Yoshimitsu from Soul Calibre sometimes recites it after battle. The idea is that invoking Buddha himself brings you closer to the enlightenment he was able to achieve. The nenbutsu is often done in repetitions of 108, which is the number of worldly temptations that humans must attempt to avoid (or seek out, depending on your point of view). To help with counting, Buddhists will sometimes use a string of prayer beads, which, again, you've no doubt seen people holding – hell, some of the pictures on this very page have them plainly visible. But while the basics of nenbutsu are more or less agreed upon, there is still some contention, such as that between...

Hounen and Shinran

Hounen
放念 Hounen and 親鸞 Shinrann are kind of the Obi-Wan and Anakin of Japanese philosophy. The latter studied dutifully under the tutelage of the former, soaked up every bit of knowledge he could, and then said “thanks for that, Imma go do the exact opposite nao,” and then founded an evil empire. Or in the case of Shinran, a competing sect of Buddhism, which I guess isn't quite as bad.

The two had many minor points of contention, but one of the most important was their differing beliefs regarding salvation. Hounen thought that through dutiful nenbutsu recitation, you could effectively reach out to Buddha and rise up to Heaven of your own accord when you died. Shinran was a little less optimistic. He thought that since humans are so utterly mired in sin and confusion, there was no way they were getting anywhere without Buddha's direct intervention. Concordantly, where Hounen advocated busting out the nenbutsu at the slightest provocation, the better to achieve a more thorough enlightenment, Shinran held that it was more for giving thanks to Buddha rather than asking him for more stuff, sort of like saying grace in Christianity, I suppose.

On the whole, I've always felt that Hounen doesn't get nearly the respect he deserves. Shinran is by far the more famous, but Hounen is pretty interesting too, and his temple is pretty rad. Plus, compared to his pupil, he was a rugged individualist who believed in relying on your own power, so where are your stereotypes now, hypothetical Japan-hater who I invented just now?

Dougen

Dougen
I haven't studied 道元 Dougen as much, so I'm less familiar with him (because that's how studying works). Mainly I'm aware that he was pretty up on 座禅 zazen, which is – know what, just go ahead and imagine a Buddhist deep in prayer. There, you almost certainly envisioned him doing zazen, the sitting meditation with legs crossed. For extra potency, you can have his thumbs and forefingers around his abdominal chakra. My History of Japanese Thought teacher demonstrated on himself. “I know it feels stupid,” he said, “but don't be embarrassed, and give it a try.” No one did.

Kyouto School

Full disclosure: I did not talk about the Kyouto School in my original presentation and took most of the information in this next section from Wikipedia, although I had heard of it before, it just completely slipped my mind until I rediscovered it recently while researching something unrelated to this project.

I thought it was interesting for a couple of reasons, one of which is that it originated in the 20th Century, balancing out the ancient slant present in the rest of the post. I'm not a huge fan of 20th Century philosophy – it has, what? John Rawls? Ayn Rand? Vandanna Shiva, if you can call that philosophy? A couple of French guys, Camus I guess, and (that guy Bruce translated). And a handful of Germans, of course, but Germans are just extremely dominant in philosophy in general, owing, perhaps, to their having the best educational system in the world in the 19th Century.

Fittingly, the Kyouto School is heavily influenced by the German tradition, particularly their own German contemporaries. This is pretty natural, though – once you hit the 19th Century or so, the Germans become pretty heavy hitters in philosophy. In fact, my teacher actually went to Germany to study philosophy – in German. (And some of my friends told me not to worry because I could speak German if I wanted to, even though I don't speak German, but do speak Japanese, and they all should have known that, particularly as they were explaining all of this in Japanese and we'd never spoken anything else to each other before then either, but that's another story.)

The other reason I thought them particularly relevant is that the Wikipedia article contained a couple of quotations specifically on the relationship between Japanese philosophy and religion, which, as I've intimated elsewhere, is something I've grappled with myself in trying to understand the topic. I'd feel a little chintzy directly quoting something I'd heard about before but never properly researched, so I'll just recommend you follow the link if you're interested, which, if you've read this far, you probably are. Pay special attention to Nishida, who founded the tradition, and explored the concepts of mu, “nothingness,” and 場所論 bashoronn, “the logic of place.”

The Ten Bulls

Finally, we've come to the main thing I wanted to talk about, and the focus of my presentation at the conference: The Ten Bulls! I'm actually not sure I like the translation, because there's ten images, but only one bull, and he doesn't even appear in all ten panels. The Japanese is 十牛図 juugyuuzu, more like “ten bull pictures,” but anyway, it's an allegory of the search for knowledge, the truth, inner peace and understanding, something along those lines. It actually originates from the Chinese equivalent of Zen Buddhism, but is studied enough in Japan that I'm willing to consider it Japanese philosophy as well. So we're going to go through, step by step, and see what we can figure out.

#1, the boy – or man or whatever he is – is alone in the forest, searching. But he has no idea where to go, or what to do, so he wanders aimlessly, lost.

#2, he comes upon some footprints – a path to follow. He hasn't found what he's looking for just yet, but now he's moving in the right direction. This could be in the influence of Buddha, or a Bodhisattva, trying to help us out. It actually reminds me of that little place near the front of Kiyomizudera, where you descend into a pitch-black basement, and have to follow a railing so you don't crash into anything, and the railing is supposed to represent Buddha's guidance.

#3, he spies the bull's back legs and hindquarters. The bull seems to represent “wisdom,” or whatever you want to call it. But he hasn't caught sight of the important part of it yet – just the tip of it, the ancillary, irrelevant parts.

#4, he manages to actually catch the bull. But it doesn't immediately relax under his grip, it struggles for control. This is significant – at times, the things we most want seem to actively reject us.

#5, the boy has gotten to a point where he can take the bull around on a lead. He no longer needs to exert quite so much discipline to get it to do what he wants.

#6, now he's attained REAL mastery! He's riding on the bull's back, he's playing the flute while he does it, he barely even needs to pay attention to what he's doing. He rides it all the way home.

#7, sitting at home now, alone. The boy seems to have aged, matured. More importantly, the bull is gone – the target was an illusion. He doesn't need it anymore.

#8, this one sometimes moves around, but I'm going by the most common order. My philosophy teacher, in Kyouto, said that this was the most most important image of all. When he explained it to the class he said, “As you can see, this one is blank. Why do you suppose that is? There must be some meaning hidden in that. …Think about it, it's going to be on the final exam,” and then he moved on, without any further explanation whatsoever.

As far as I can tell – through reading various secondary sources – this panel is meant to imply a sort of transcendence. The boy has moved beyond the trivialities with which he was so concerned until now. Another interpretation is peace and tranquility, as the mind has been allowed to fade to white. Personally, I am reminded of Wittgenstein (fucking Wittgenstein), who believed that words, by themselves, were insufficient for understanding ideas. They could cajole you into understanding, drive you down the right avenues of thought, but they could not, by themselves, transmit knowledge. So you could use them as a sort of crutch, a ladder, but one which, as he said, you would then have to “throw away after you have climbed up,” because they're just tools, not the object of the exercise themselves.

#9, both boy and bull are still gone, nothing but the sound of cicadas chirping. Again, tranquility perhaps? Or signaling that he is now attending to more important matters?

#10, the boy has become a sage or Bodhisattva, and is now using what he has learned in his experiences to educate others.

Obviously, the intent behind this series is very Buddhist. That would make it of very limited interest, but it doesn't have to be that way – actually, you can take this and apply it to almost anything you want to learn! Hell, I could use my own experience learning Japanese as an example.

  1. I knew that I wanted to “learn Japanese,” but I certainly had no idea where to start, or how to go about it.
  2. Fortunately, I had many excellent teachers to show me the way. They provided learning outcomes as well as relevant materials, helped me with difficult concepts, etc.
  3. Naturally, I started simple. Everything written out in roumaji and exceedingly simple. I was not, at this point, actually communicating in Japanese in any meaningful way, but it was a start.
  4. Try as I might, I couldn't actually get to a point where I could use Japanese fluidly or for any length of time. Frustrated, I actually considered giving up a couple of times.
  5. Once I'd mastered the basics, I started to show measurable improvement. Further progress became a little easier. Eventually, I even started having bursts where I could use Japanese without first translating in my head (without even noticing when it happened until later).
  6. Finally I actually came to be able to use it with some degree of fluency, to make it do the tricks I demanded of it. (In the analogy I would now be “done learning,” though in reality of course you are never done learning a language.)
  7. The goal was never to make it all the way through the textbook, or to get a certain score on a test; the goal was to learn Japanese. I don't need those things so much anymore, so I abandon them. (Though if I ever find another textbook that works for my current level, I'm obviously not going to pass it up.)
  8. While I still actively strive to improve my Japanese, I've gotten to the point now where I can just use it.
  9. Cicadas. I admit I don't really get how this one works.
  10. Nowadays, I am capable not only of teaching Japanese to others if I wanted to, but of helping them through the same steps and struggles that I have already overcome.

See that? Ok, it's certainly not perfect, but for the most part it works. Philosophy isn't just this academic, impractical discipline; if it were I'd never have become wrapped up in it. It honestly doesn't provide any answers, either, because for every assertion there's a million objections, and nine different philosophers will give you nine contradictory proposals. But the fun parts of philosophy are finding applications for it in your everyday life. Apply the categorical imperative to your coworker's bad behaviour. Do a Marxist analysis of the other tabs you have open right now. See if you can prove your own existence. That sort of stuff.


As long as Japanese philosophy gives me things to think about, I'll keep it in my mental notebook.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Introduction to Japanese Philosophy, Part 1: Background

In my last post, I shared my experiences of presenting at my first-ever academic conference, where I spoke about Japanese philosophy. This time, I'm going to try to recreate my presentation. In fact, since I don't have the same time constraints here, I'm actually going to expand a bit. But I'll still be mainly drawing on the handful of philosophy courses I took as an international student in Kyouto, one of which dealt specifically with Japanese philosophy. Oddly, though, it wasn't called “Japanese Philosophy.” Instead, it was called “History of Japanese Thought.” I think I have an idea why now, but to get it, you need to understand the Japanese conception of philosophy, and in order to understand that, you need to know a little bit about Japanese history.

Historical Background

Made by myself in MS Paint, hence why it looks so shitty
I've put up all these dates for those of you are interested in that sort of thing, but the main one to pay attention to is the 1603 one. If you study Japanese history in its entirety, I think you'll start to notice two main trends that tend to dominate it. One is “War and Peace;” the other is “Generals and Emperors.”

The first is exactly what it sounds like: Very long periods of bloodshed and carnage broken up by very long periods of relative peace. I do say “relative peace” because it's measured by the standards of the time. Heike Monogatari, a semi-historical period piece that takes place during the Heian Jidai (平安時代、the “Era of Peace and Safety,” 794-1185), at one point notes that its main character is a very strong leader because he's subjected his constituents to only two major wars over a period of ten years. The Heian Jidai was preceded by widespread civil war, and it dissolved into one as well.

The other factor concerns the intermittent struggles of the Emperor and the Shougun. When all is functioning as intended, the Emperor is the unquestionable autocrat, the Son of Heaven and lord of all he surveys, and the Shougun is his top general guy. But every once in a while, the military loses confidence in the Emperor for one reason or another, and stages a coup. When this happens they can't very well up and murder the Emperor, who is a direct descendant of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, and still an embodiment of holiness even when deposed. So he goes into semi-exile and becomes kind of a figurehead, and the Shougun rules for a while as head of a kratocracy or military junta type deal. But the Imperial bloodline is still around, and eventually somebody decides it needs to be reintroduced to power.

This exchange happened a few times, notably in the aftermath of the Heian Jidai, which led into the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai or Warring States Period. Basically, the Fujiwara ended up acquiring so much power in the Imperial Court that they became bloated and fat, until finally the provincial warlords they were supposed to control got so pissed off that Japan just went and completely balkanized itself. So we ended up with several centuries of really gritty, State of Nature-type stuff, with constant rolling, local conflicts. It would be like if Manhattan went to war with the Bronx but then got sneak-attacked by Queens and was forced to forge a tenuous alliance with Brooklyn to overcome its enemies.

Oda Nobunaga
After a couple centuries of this, Oda Nobunaga finally came into the picture, and decided he'd had enough of this bullshit and was going to unify the country. And he came damn close, until he was betrayed by one of his lieutenants and overrun. So his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, finished the job, and then promptly died, so his successor, Tokugawa Ieyasu, stood up and said “Hey guys! Check it out! I totally just unified Japan!” So in 1603, he opened the Edo Jidai (Edo 江戸 being the old name for Toukyou, and which became the national seat of power and culture), which for the length of its run was ruled entirely under the aegis of the Tokugawa Bakufu (or “Shogunate,” if you're a fan of dumb, made-up words.) I'm hard on Tokugawa Ieyasu because he did a lot of idiotic things, like trying to conquer Korea, just for the hell of it, despite all of his best advisors explaining that he wouldn't be able to. But even I have to admit that he did, at least, bring a good three hundred years of relative peace to Japan, which was particularly valuable after what had come directly before.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Unfortunately for his legacy, there were two serious problems with the regime he put in place. The first was that it used a system of patrilineal succession, so, simply put, the reigning Shougun wasn't always the best man for the job. And without any serious pressures on them for much of the Edo Jidai, the Shougun and their Bakufu became increasingly complacent and ineffective, quite understandably arousing popular ire. The other big problem was that Japan then decided to totally close off the country and thereby preserve its pure, unique Japaneseness. This really came back to bite everybody in the ass when Admiral Perry rolled in with his Black Ships in 1858. He was all, “Hey, Japan! Open up or we rip you open!” And Japan was all, “Oh, yeah? You and whose army?” So Perry said, “Not so much an army as these ships and their shiny new cannon, which are capable of drowning your entire country in a sea of fire.” Then he fired a warning volley into the harbour to prove his point and Japan said “oh ok then.” And the Japanese never did anything xenophobic ever again.

So Japan opened up for trade, which, actually, was good for them, because they were at this point years and years and years behind the times. But it also demonstrated to the Japanese people that the Bakufu really was not doing its job anymore, if it couldn't even protect them from the foreign dogs, so there was a surprisingly brief civil war, which ended in 15-year-old Emperor Meiji (明治) being installed as formal ruler. It was a fascinating little spell that included the Shinsengumi, and one day I swear I'm doing a whole post on them, but not today. The main point is that in 1868, the Meiji Jidai began.

Meiji Jidai

Emperor Meiji. Man had concubines
Emperor Meiji is one of my favourite Japanese Emperors, not for his warmongering, but definitely for a lot of the other stuff he did for Japan (certainly more than Emperor Shouwa, who was basically a puppet of Shougun Toujo, but anyway). The Meiji government recognized that Japan had been left behind and immediately set about trying to rectify their predecessors' lack of foresight and worldliness, so scholars began to voraciously consume every foreign book, scroll, and handwritten note they could get their hands on. If it was from abroad, they wanted it, especially if it was from the West, which had so decisively demonstrated its technological superiority just recently.

So they started to bring in new ideas on all manner of topics. New ideas about, say, architecture, which is why so many Japanese buildings from this period look like they've been plucked directly out of Victorian England. Some Japanese began regularly wearing Western clothing – still mostly limited to the political and business elite, but it was starting. They began to implement new ideas about governance, and economic policy. Modern medicine was a huge revelation. And they also stated importing more academic, intellectual topics as well, including Western philosophy.

The Japanese word for philosophy is 哲学 tetsugaku. The gaku means “studying,” and is similar to the -logy in biology or psychology. The tetsu means “clarity” (or nowadays can just mean “philosophy” by itself), so if you want to think of “tetsugaku” as meaning “the study of clarity,” you can see how this tracks with our Western understanding of philosophy or the “love of wisdom” as being a search for truth. This word tetsugaku didn't exist until the Meiji Jidai, when a guy came up with it to describe this new Western idea. In fact, he wasn't sure there was even such a thing as “Japanese philosophy,” because anything that resembles it falls more under the category of religion. Personally, I think this misses the point. Not only do plenty of Western philosophers come from a heavily religious perspective (Descartes, Locke) or deal with religious topics (Pascal, Aquinas), but there's a lot of overlap between the two; metaphysics and morality, for example. He's right about at least one thing, though: Most of Japanese philosophy is based in religion.

Shintou and Buddhism

Japan, I'm assuming most of you know, has two main religions. The cool part, to me, is how they interact; that is, they are completely compatible. The majority of Japanese are utter atheists, but they nominally participate in both Shintou and Buddhist activities as the mood strikes them. Most festivals are in honour of the local deity, for instance (and are also awesome). The saying in Japan is that your birth rites are performed at a Shintou shrine, your marriage rites are performed at a Christian church, and your funeral rites are performed at a Buddhist temple. And all the while, most don't actually believe in any of it, so that should tell you something about the unusual relationship the Japanese have with religion.

Shintou 神道 or the Way of the Gods is Japan's native religion, and, like testugaku, didn't even have a name until a foreign influence necessitated one. The core of Shintou is that the world is inhabited by many many many many many many many many gods, called kami. Here's a picture of the pantheon of the most powerful, all gazing upon Amaterasu, who was the greatest of all and maybe a lesbian. Also, she may have been based on Queen Himiko and had the legend distorted over the millennia. Underneath the big dogs we have somewhat lesser gods, like the ones who govern the cosmos and natural forces, many of whom have been mixed up with what were originally Buddhist figures because of that continual cross-pollination. And then there are gods who live in immense ancient trees, or in rivers, or are enshrined. Particularly great human beings can even become gods; the Emperor does upon his death. And inanimate objects can eventually take on gods over time, gaining character and personality. So if you've ever had like a really old, shitty car, and it refuses to start when you're late for work, and you say, “Gah, my car hates me!” - well, yeah! Maybe! Or if you, you know, like to hurl verbal abuse at your computer? Like, “Come oooon! Work, you piece of junk!” You know, like it could work anytime it wanted to, it's just a little lacking in motivation? Then you might make a good Shintou.

Buddhism (仏教 bukkyou), like so many things, arrived in Japan from elsewhere and was repurposed for Japanese palates. This is just my own observation, but as far as I can tell, the Japanese understanding is that Buddhism was born in India; developed in China; and then finally perfected in Japan. So only once we're in Japan are we getting the real, true and best incarnation of Buddhism. In fact there's a particular sect that basically says, “We are the truest and most pure form of Buddhism because we are the only sect that uses the wisdom of this particular scroll, which was written by this one Buddhist master. All those other versions of Buddhism are ok, they're not wrong, but they're not quite as good as ours, because we have harvested and implemented this important knowledge.” And that always kind of makes me laugh when I think about it, because it's not like Buddha himself came down from on high and personally imparted all this shit he'd forgotten to mention earlier! Buddha had already been dead for thousands of years by the time your guy even put pen to paper! But those are their beliefs, and I have to say that it's kind of very Japanese.


To me, Shintou is the much more fun of the two religions. Its places of worship are colourful rather than austere; it's all about living, partying, fucking. Buddhism is about tragedy and asceticism. But for some reason, Shintou philosophy just hasn't gotten the traction that Buddhism has. There are Shintou philosophers, their works are extant, and they've written on topics both secular and specifically relating to Shintou issues, but they're just not anywhere near as read as their Buddhist counterparts. If I were to hazard a guess as to why, I would say it might have to do with the nature of their thought. Buddhism encourages interpretation and consideration, while Shintou is more doctrinaire and dictatorial. Shintou, after all, is the Way of the Gods; you don't question that shit. But much of Buddhism requires you to look inward and find answers for yourself. That's much more conducive to the study of philosophy. Either way, most of the stuff I'm going to talk about in the next post is going to be dealing with Buddhist philosophy in particular. Please look forward to it.