| Feb 6, 2012

Hard to give yourself up when you're a wanted man

‘Hirata Makoto desu. Shuttō shite kimashita.” (「平田信です。出頭してきました」”I am Makoto Hirata. I’ve come to give myself up”). Sure you are! said the first officer he spoke to, in effect. He thought it was an akushitsu na itazura (悪質ないたずら, a malicious prank). Never mind that Hirata ...

| Feb 5, 2012

Stressful times lead to rise in child-abuse cases

Who can contemplate a newborn infant unmoved by its helplessness? Few living things are as vulnerable; none for anywhere near as long. Far beyond infancy, into childhood and adolescence, human beings are, if not utterly at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control, at ...

Unconventional thinking is the way forward for Japan

| Jan 29, 2012

Unconventional thinking is the way forward for Japan

Yubari, Hokkaido, claims several distinctions, few of them enviable. It is Japan’s only bankrupt city, and also its most elderly. Forty-one percent of its sagging population of 13,000 (down from 117,000 50 years ago) is aged 65 or over. That’s of nationwide significance because ...

| Jan 22, 2012

Japan needs a little Cuban-style happiness

A Japanese journalist in Cuba sees decaying buildings and undernourished citizens and wonders, “Why aren’t these people depressed? Why, on the contrary, do they seem positively happy?” She asks around: “What’s the secret?” To which one wag replies, “There’s no order-in pizza here; we ...

The other side of world's 'worst battle'

Jan 15, 2012

The other side of world's 'worst battle'

FIGHTING SPIRIT: The Memoirs of Major Yoshitaka Horie and the Battle of Iwo Jima. Edited by Robert D. Eldridge and Charles W. Tatum. Naval Institute Press, 2011, 224 pp., $26.95 (hardcover) Iwo Jima is a tiny sliver of an island 1,200 km south of ...

| Jan 8, 2012

'Strange' is the new 'normal' for 2012

“Whatever happens won’t be strange.” Thus the weekly Shukan Gendai sums up the prospects for the year now dawning. Shaken by 2011, we face the blank slate that is 2012. Mankind’s history of trying to read the future is very long. We’ve sought clues ...

Dec 25, 2011

The aftershocks of 2011 will be felt for many years to come

We made history this year. They’ll be writing about 2011 a hundred, maybe a thousand years from now, seeing it more clearly than we can. We’re too close for a proper perspective. We know what it feels like — not yet what it means. ...

Dec 25, 2011

Soseki leaps to defense of Japanese literature

Most people probably have a list of universally acclaimed geniuses, icons and luminaries whose greatness they simply fail to appreciate. “Am I stupid?” you wonder — or do claims of greatness tend to be inflated? Topping my personal list, as far as Japan is ...

The holy trinity of religions

Dec 25, 2011

The holy trinity of religions

Michael Hoffman’s latest book is “Little Pieces: This Side of Japan” (VBW, 2010).“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1 “But after all, who knows, and who can say, whence it all came, and how creation happened?” — Hindu ...

| Dec 11, 2011

Japanese 'good-for-nothings' heart Bhutan

Japan is in love — with Bhutan, a supposed Shangri-La of a country nestled in the Himalayas, famous for deemphasizing gross domestic product (GDP, the standard measure of well-being) in favor of a more abstract, possibly more human metric known as gross national happiness ...