Jul 21, 2014

This is the Direction Science Fiction Should Take: My Impression of the Film “Her”

Somewhat belatedly, I managed to catch Spike Jonze’s great contemporary science fiction film“Her".

Before seeing it, I had believed that science fiction as a genre was dead.

Although the great novels and films in the history of science fiction have always depicted a new vision of the future, nowadays science fiction novels and films seem to be nothing more than imitations of what has gone before.

For example, in the film “Transcendence,” the consciousness of a scientific genius is transplanted into cyberspace. I read this idea in William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer” which was first published back in 1984.

In "Transcendence", the transplanted consciousness attacks human beings. Again, I first came across this idea (computers attacking human beings) in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

In contrast, the film, “Her”, envisions a future L.A., which is both similar to, and slightly different from, today's actual L.A. Spike Jonze's attention to every detail is what makes the film's vision so convincing.

The main character and an AI fall in love with each other. They constantly communicate with each other via PC and smartphone. While I find it hard to believe that computers would attack human beings in the near future, to me the idea that a human being and an AI could fall in love sounds entirely plausible.

I believe this film indicates a new direction for science fiction.

Every actor did a really good job. Scarlett Johansson, who voiced the role of the AI, was especially good. Watching "Her", I was once again struck by her talent.

Jun 10, 2014

Simple Is the Best: My Impression of Kindle 4th Generation

It took such a long time for Amazon.co.jp (the Japanese branch of Amazon) to begin to sell Kindle, so I couldn’t wait it and bought “Kindle 4th generation” from Amazon.com.

Finally, Amazon.co.jp started selling “Kindle Paperwhite” and “Kindle Fire”, but they don’t sell “Kindle,” which does not support Japanese digital books. Now, I read English digital books with Kindle 4th Generation and Japanese ones with Kindle app on Nexus 7.

Kindle 4th generation has many restrictions. It is obviously inconvenient for me, as a native Japanese speaker, not to be able to read Japanese books. Its display is just black and white, and too low resolution for us to watch photos and read mangas. Unlike Kindle Paperwhite, it doesn’t even have a touchscreen and a light.

But it is really comfortable, when you just read a string of character on a book.

Firstly, it is very light in weight. It is quite important. Nexus 7 isn’t heavy as compared with other tablets, but I feel it is much heavier than Kindle 4th generation when I read digital books for a long time.

Secondly, it is just suitable for carrying out. I don’t have to be careful for running out of battery, because it isn’t necessary to recharge its battery almost for a week. It is just a right size to put in a jacket’s breast pocket.

When I flip a page with Kindle 4th generation, I have to push a button on its side. Pushing a button isn’t fashionable, but actually it is much more convenient for me just to push a button than to swipe a display.

Kindle 4th generation has nothing but functions just only to read digital books.

Simple is best.

May 14, 2014

Your English’s Getting Very Good: Munenori Kawasaki and His English

A few years ago, I heard that Munenori Kawasaki, who was a member of the Japanese national baseball team in 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, would try out for MLB.

Honestly, I thought that it would be really hard for him to become successful. Although there are many Japanese pitchers showed good performances in MLB, most Japanese infielders failed because of lack of power. Kawasaki, as a shortstop player, is agile enough, but it was obvious that he didn’t have enough power to be in the starting lineup in MLB.

Since I hadn’t heard anything about him for a while, I'd almost forgotten about him.

I'd heard that he'd become popular on the Internet, and so I watched a video about him on YouTube.

In a post game interview, his teammate, Mark DeRosa, called him over, and he just shouted, "Thank you very much. My name is Kawasaki. I'm from Japan. I'm Japanese!"

He was pretty funny. When I saw it the first time, I laughed out loud.

The following video is an interview with him from a program on the MLB network.

In this one, both Kawasaki and DeRosa reappear. Kawasaki read out some phrases from his small notebook.

I laughed out loud again, but at the same time I was really impressed that he had really made an effort to survive in MLB.

English may not be great, but his character shines through. I can’t help loving him.

Recently, I've heard that his English has gotten much better.

The interviewer said, "Your English's getting very good." I agree with him. He has made great progress. What he was talking about might not have been all that important, but he was able to have a conversation with the interviewer, whereas in the earlier videos it was like he was just making pronouncements.

It’s wonderful that he doesn't seem to be the least bit timid or shy.

In the interview he said, "I have teacher. Everyday talking."  I guess that he talks a lot with his teammates. That might be quite important for his MLB life.

I was wrong.

He has an enough ability to play in MLB.

May 8, 2014

The Cultural Trade Deficit: Japanese Intellectuals, Let’s Speak Out in English

It’s often said that the Japanese cultural trade deficit is very large.

Japanese intellectuals who can speak foreign languages have been earning money by bringing foreign knowledge and information into Japan. Most of them haven’t been interested in expressing their thoughts to the world, because it is much easier for them to import foreign knowledge and sell it in Japan.

It’s might not be bad that there are rich collections of Japanese translations of foreign books, but there are much fewer translations of Japanese books. Haruki Murakami is a complete exception.

Through the experience of keeping a blog in English I have realized that Japanese intellectuals should speak out in English to the world much more.

Firstly, remarks by Japanese intellectuals in English have value because of their scarcity at this time. When I write in English on my blog, I found that my opinion was unique because of my Japanese origin, even if I don’t try intentionally insisting on a Japanese point of views. We, as Japanese intellectuals, have a duty to provide our unique point of views to the world.

Now, many non-Western countries fail to build democratic governments. Japan, as a non-Western country, has the experiences of importing the concept of democracy from the West and developing our own democratic government; Japanese intellectuals could point out factors which make non-Western countries fail in building democratic governments that Western intellectuals can't see.

Secondly, we could make our opinions more sophisticated by expressing them in English. When we speak in English to the world, we have to explain things that are obvious for Japanese people. This forces us to think about our fundamental assumptions.

In my blog, I wrote the entry "Is Japan Really a Democratic Country?" Certainly I could think much more deeply about Japanese government by that than writing it in Japanese.

Japanese intellectuals, let’s speak out in English!

Mar 11, 2014

A Freezing Winter in Temporary Housing

This is the third of March 11th since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Although many programs about the earthquake are broadcasted on TV, I can’t stand watching them well, because I am too upset. I could watch them before, but recently I can’t.

The disasters which hit victims of the earthquake were so overwhelming and tragic that I couldn't understand what really happened well. I used to watch TV programs about them, as if they were somebody else’s problems and a kind of myth.

I have seen the scene how the great tsunami went over a seaside town again and again, but I can’t still understand my feelings toward this scene.

In my entry “The J. G. Ballard's World” in March 12th, 2011, I wrote, “I can understand what happens in my head, but I can't accept that it is real in my heart. I'm living in the surreal world now.”

It is very cold this winter.

There are many victims who are still living in temporary housing. I really imagine how hard a freezing cold winter in such temporary housing is. It is not a huge tragedy, but a real hardship.

I deeply wish that they would move to their own houses before the next winter.

Feb 13, 2014

The End of the Good Old New York Yankees: An Impression of Derek Jeter’s Announcement of His Retirement at the End of This Season

Early this morning, I found Derek Jeter’s announcement of his retirement at the end of this season on his Facebook page. I knew that this day would come soon, but it is completely different between what I expected to be and what it actually comes to be.

I wrote about my love for the New York Yankees in the 1990’s in the entry “Goodbye My Good Old Yankees.”

The Yankees in the 1990’s was the most brilliant team that I have ever seen, so I was really happy to watch their games. Now I can clearly remember how Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter played in the Yankees Stadium at that time.

Of course, Captain Jeter is great, but young Jeter was more impressive for me.

In the twenty-first century, it was a bit sour to be a Yankees fan, because I had to watch the old good Yankees collapsing. Paul, Bernie, Andy and Jorge retired one by one. Although the Yankees bought expensive players instead of them, they were not the old good Yankees at all.

In the last season, Mariano was gone from the field, and in this season, Derek, the last old good Yankee, finally will step out. At the end of this season, I will also stop being a Yankees fan.

A farewell to Captain and the old good Yankees.


Masahiro Tanaka MUST take Captain to the world series!

Feb 4, 2014

Reality Is Cruel: An Impression of Super Bowl XLVII

The football season is over.

I had believed that this season must have been Peyton Manning’s one, but in the end that didn’t happened.

Seattle Seahawks completely beat Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Seattle Seahawks didn’t allow Peyton Manning and the other members of Denver Broncos do what they planned at all. Everybody, including Seattle Seahawks themselves, didn’t expect this big win over Broncos.

Peyton Manning is one of the legendary quarterbacks. He used to play as a member of Indianapolis Colts and he won Super Bowl in 2007. But in 2011, he got neck surgeries, and Colts believed that he couldn’t play as well as before, so they kicked him out.

In 2012, he got signed on with Denver Broncos and he brought his team to the playoffs. This season, the 37-year-old Peyton Manning achieved the best performance in his life and got the regular season MVP.

I dreamed that Peyton Manning would win the Super Bowl title at the end of this season and it make his big comeback perfect.

But reality is cruel.

Seattle Seahawks literary destroyed Denver Broncos and my dream.

It is really painful for me to imagine how this defeat hurt Peyton Manning’s heart.

Jan 20, 2014

Al-Qaeda as “Bandits”

I’ve read the book Eric Hobsbawm “Bandits,” again.

In this book he wrote about the history of “Bandits” around the world. He insisted that groups that were called “bandits” appeared in the age between the demise of tribal societies and the formation of modern capitalized society.

He described the phenomenon “bandits” as follows.
Social banditry of this kind is one of the most universal social phenomena known to history, and one of the most amazingly uniform.

… this uniformity is not the consequence of cultural diffusion, but the reflection of similar situations within peasant societies, whether in China, Peru, Sicily, the Ukraine, or Indonesia.

… Socially it seems to occur in all types of human society which lie between the evolutionary phase of tribal and kinship organization, and modern capitalist and industrial society, but including the phases of disintegrating kinship society and transition to agrarian capitalism.

At the other end of historic development, modern agrarian systems, both capitalist and post-capitalist, are no longer those of traditional peasant society and cease to produce social bandits

… In a broader sense ‘modernization’, that is to say the combination of economic development, efficient communications and public administration, deprives any kind of banditry, including the social, of the conditions under which it flourishes.
When I read this passage, I was reminded of Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda has two faces. The first is the globalized organization using the Internet to instigate terrorism, and the second is the aggregation of small groups revolving in remote areas, such as the tribal area in Pakistan and the mountain area in Afghanistan.

The second face of Al-Qaeda has many features in common with “bandits,” which Eric Hobsbawm focused on. His study showed that “bandits” couldn’t be wiped out by officials but they disappeared through losing their social and economic basis. In fact, Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan is surviving even though the U.S. Army attacked them using their modern weapons.

It might be more efficient to eliminate Al-Qaeda through realizing “the combination of economic development, efficient communications and public administration” in these areas.

Although I don’t know well about the progress of the study about “bandits,” it must be quite important to deal with Al-Qaeda, especially, the study about “bandits” in the globalization and the Internet age.

Jan 15, 2014

I Found Spring Coming in Cold Winter

Last weekend, it was really cold but sunny, so I took an hour walk to Mejiro-teien, which is a small Japanese garden.

Since I got started on Instagram last year, I have been enjoying taking photos. The sunny day was good for taking clear photos with my iPhone 4S.

When I arrived at Mejiro-teien, I couldn’t find anything to take a photo with. There were no flowers blooming and no leaves on the trees.

After I looked carefully at some details, I found a bunch of small buds on branches. I zoomed in on the buds as closely as possible to capture the vitality, which was condensed in them.

Spring was coming even in cold winter.

"If winter come, can spring be far behind."

Jan 12, 2014

How to Look for a Book in the Stone Age

I have written a series of entries, which I call “the Stone Age series.”

Everyday life has been changed drastically by the spread of the Internet, but sometimes I feel that the life with the Internet is so natural, because I forget the life before the Internet. In order to remember how was the life before the Internet, I wrote some entries about it. In these entries, I call the age before the Internet “the Stone Age.”

In the Stone Age, we could survive without the Internet and cell phones. I wrote about the devices that we could use in the Stone Age in the entry “I could survive in the Stone Age.”

In these days, people managed to meet friends with public phones and “real” message boards. If you interested in how they met friends, please read my entry “How to Meet a Friend in the Stone Age.”

Today I’d like to write about a way of looking for a book without amazon.com.

If I were looking for a newly published book, at first I went to a bookstore. Now, in the Iron Age, I can check the stocks in a bookstore with the Internet, but at that time the only thing that I could do was just going to a bookstore. If there were no stocks of the book that I was looking for, I went to another bookstore.

I don’t have to worry that the digital book that I want to read will be out of print, but paper books often became out of print so quickly. In the Stone Age, I had to buy the book that I would read someday as soon as possible, and there were a pile of books on my desk, which I myself didn’t know when I could read.

Paper books are heavy and bulky. It was really hard to bring a shopping bag that was full of books from a bookstore to my house. My room was filled with a lot of books, which I could no longer put together. Sometimes I bought again a book that I had already bought, because I couldn’t find it from a pile of books in my room.

In the Iron Age, I can get a book just with “1-Click” from Amazon.com on my kindle.