Culture / Literature

In a world of Globalization, cultures are to be discussed


This week, 9 of my acquaintances are on holiday or have taken days off from work to participate in carnival activities. One of them lives in Binche, Belgium, where every year during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday (i.e. today) there are street performances, dancing and merry making. The Shrove Tuesday’s parade includes the throwing or giving away of oranges to spectators by the Gilles – famous participants colourfully dressed with wax masks, ostrich-feathered hats and wooden footwear. The oranges are considered to bring good luck because they are a gift from the Gilles and it is an insult to throw or give them back. (Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras, Pancake Day or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French as it’s the last night of eating rich and fatty food before fasting during Lent, which is 40 days before Easter).

According to The History of Carnival (on, the Catholics in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means “to put away the meat.” As time passed by, carnivals in Italy became quite famous; and the practice spread to France, Spain and all Catholic countries in Europe.

Two years ago, I was at the Notting Hill carnival in London and it had a fully Caribbean flare with lots of feathers, and I have since found out that in Africa feathers are used in masks and headdresses as a symbol of humans’ ability to overcome problems, pains, illness and difficulties. I’m certain you’ve heard a lot about the spectacular carnival bonanza in Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, and the lavish Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Sydney, Venice and other cities.

Language, identity and global necessities

Language is a cultural, political and economic tool, and English has shown great success in this domain. The spread of English internationally has been aided and abetted by the advancement in technology, forging of international organisations, and bare economic and political necessities. On the other hand, languages have been (and can be) taken over by one which is spoken by those from an economically, politically and socially dominant nation.

People who speak English as a second language do so because either they want or are obliged to (it is imposed from the outside). These days, they represent more than two-thirds of English speakers in the world, and the distinction between native and non-native speakers is not that significant anymore.

In the Philippines, for example, English is used in government, private and public dealings. Although Tagalog is the official language, English is the medium of instruction in schools and universities and is used lavishly in the mass media. This country was a Spanish colony for more than 300 years; however, it's the Americans who have had the recent influence on its culture. Its proximity to Australia - another native English speaking country - has been a convenience. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines has the largest population of English-speaking inhabitants (over 102 millions).

The majority of this year’s Eurovision songs were in English. Even the winning title by Jamala of Ukraine has more English than Tatar words. For the first time, Spain's entry was also in English which aroused criticisms from its Royal Academy of Spanish Language (RAE), the official body that oversees language use. The French entry was also mainly performed in English. (In Eurovision's earlier days, contests were dominated by francophone nations - e.g. France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg & Monaco - and by entries in French). These days, contestants believe that English gives them a better chance to win because it is more widely understood than other languages; as well, successful songs have English lyrics.

The words in our language

“How was your staycation?” my student asked her colleague.

“It was relaxing,” he answered.

Another young woman sitting next to him raised her hand. “What did you say? What was it?” “stey-key-shun?” He replied, “Ah.. you were not with us last year. Staycation means vacation spent at home doing something you enjoy. In the beginning, I also thought it sounded funny.”

Then he added, “holiday in UK and vacation in US English.”

I couldn’t help smiling and was glad that my student remembered something from our previous course. Languages evolve, appear and disappear to adapt and cater to the changing needs and developments (e.g. technology) in our society. Often, new words are created by: 1) putting together letters from 2 different words (e.g. ‘Brexit’ – British/Britain’s exit from the European Union. There’s a referendum on this issue in June 2016); 2) shortening words (e.g. company representative = company rep); 3) borrowing from other languages (e.g. French ‘chef’ – cook); and 4) even from mistakes or words of celebrities (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling which describes divorcing or separating couple who find the source of unhappiness in themselves and refrain from blaming each other).

日本礼賛 と 星の王子様のうぬぼれ男

I have just started my own site and posted my English essay. Please visit the site!

日本礼賛 と 星の王子様のうぬぼれ男(1)

「日本すごい!」本が、ブームなんだそうですが。 まず芥川賞作家のツッコミを、読んでみてください。


と思ったこと、二つ三つ。       (中略)



女の口髭 文春文庫 1987年 116~118頁


「敗北を抱きしめて」(Embracing Defeat)雑感

This blog is about my thoughts on John W. Dower’s book Embracing Defeat in Japanese. Several years ago, I read the conclusion chapter only (yes, shame on me). I thought that we Japanese already know this stuff, so the book had been sitting on my bookshelf for years.

But somehow I thought of this book and started reading it. And, once I started reading, I could not stop… and I kept murmuring to myself or growling “Omoshiroiiiii (interesting).” It was an immense pleasure to read.

Contrary to the lyrics of the Southern All Stars (the school textbooks run out of time before getting that part), the book starts with “the part we most want to know.”

It is said that Japan has changed remarkably for the last seven decades. Yet, seemingly there are so many things unchanged: low status of women, their legal and social oppression, poverty, younger women’s resorting to sex work, the gap between the rich and the poor, the inept government, and the like.

I find the chapters on politics most fascinating. Also, I like the chapters on how the image campaign successfully transformed the emperor of war responsibility into an almost saintly figure.

When I started school, the emperor was already a transformed character. But, as a child, I could sense his discomfort: something painfully awkward, stolid, and severe. (Although kids do not have a wide vocabulary, we could feel and judge things.) I was intrigued by his past and character (e.g. what happened to him?). Perhaps, that was the part that even the successful campaign could not change. And, the book provides us some important answers to “the part we most want to know” in our history.

「敗北を抱きしめて」(Embracing Defeat)雑感







Eco-friendly Christmas Decor

We posted the blog on the christmas markets in Strasbourg last Thursday.  But, of course, I wish the Christmas lights were powered by renewable energy.

If those markets have existed since Medieval times when there was no nuclear power, we can certainly make fabulous Christmas decorations without wasting too much energy.

Necessity is the mother of invention....  See the photo (with my folding bike).


What a Wonderful World...

I would like one of my last blogs this year to be something hopeful and positive (although I am not happy at all with the current political situation of Japan).

Here are nice photos of the Christmas Markets in Strasbourg taken by our French friend, Cyril Hazotte. He kindly shares the photos under a Creative Commons license. Cyril has captured the spirit and the charm of the Christkindelsmärik there: all kinds of colorful gifts and ornaments; smells of hot wine, choucroute, and chocolates; all kinds of regional and foreign accents; dazzling lights; and a festive atmosphere.

The Christmas markets in Strasbourg were far nicer and more enchanting than I ever expected. I think they are nice for all ages: magical for kids, romantic for the couples, friendly and welcoming to the tourists and families, and appetizing to their dogs.

Now I am determined to learn to say “Hot wine, please” in German to visit Nuremberg's Christmas markets in the future!

Of course, we can use the title above with heavy sarcasm. For those who are interested to learn about the current Japanese issues, see below, for example:

... click here to read more ...







The Wilderness Downtown

This is cool! You can enter your home address, your office address, or the name of your school, and click on the button “Play Film.” (Then, do not touch anything)

I do not run as fast as this guy does, but I see my neighborhood!

I saw where my friend lives in the Hague. I asked my Algerian "brother" to show me where he grew up. I will send this link to our Sister Geneviève (who is buying a new computer this week) to show her the Vatican city!


p.s. According my IT husband, the creator of this cyber artwork is a living God and he is well known for many of his experiments (e.g. the 3D three.js framework): Mr.doob

Culture, Leisure, Literature

I’m writing this in the balcony of a charming chalet in Courchevel, France’s famous ski resort, with a scenic view during a blue bird day. Snow skiing is definitely part of a western culture. I’ve been going to the slopes every day and haven’t yet seen Asian- or African-looking skiers. Obviously, skiing is a sport and leisure for the Haves considering the prices of equipment (either purchase or rent), ski outfit, lift tickets, accommodation, food, travel, etc.

Les conseils du 8ème dan Ogura Noboru sur le Iaido: de la maîtrise technique au développement spirituel

Ogura sensei

Gesi est un de mes amis belges. Il a 71 ans et a survécu au cancer. Il possède deux ceintures noires en Judo et en Iaido où il est 5ème dan.

Le professur de Gesi est Ogura Noboru Sensei: 8ème dan en Iaido, 7ème dan en Kendo Kyoshi, et consultant pour la All Japan Kendo Federation. Bien que Gesi soit un grand fan de la culture japonaise, sa maîtrise de la langue japonaise est relativement limitée, et donc, dès qu'il écrit un poème ou une lettre pour son Sensei, il me demande de la traduire. C'est ainsi qu'il m'a été donné de connaître Ogura Sensei depuis plus de 7 ans, via correspondance.

Cette année, j'ai eu la chance de rencontrer Ogura Sensei en personne pour la première fois. C'était à Versailles, près de Paris. Malgré ses achèvements remarquables, il est une personne humble, polie et enjouée. Energiquement, et pendant les trois jours consécutifs de la rencontre de Versailles, il a enseigné donnant des explications détaillées et faisant de temps à autres des commentaires humoristiques, mais jamais blessants.

Il est, sans l'ombre d'un doute, un grand pratiquant de Iaido et un excellent professeur, mais en parlant avec lui, j'ai également pu me rendre compte qu'il un philosophe sage et averti. Ce qu'il m'a dit était à la fois si simple et profond, et pourtant (et regrettablement), il n'est pas simple de le traduire. Durant les conversations avec lui, je me suis souvent sentie "mottainai" c'est-à-dire un peu coupable de garder pour moi tout ce que j'entendais, aussi je me suis dit que je ferais mieux de traduire et de partager ces enseignements avec d'autres.

Pour Ogura Sensei, celles et ceux qui quittent le Iaido à la suite d'un échec lors d'un examen de passage de grade poursuivent peut-être un mauvais objectif. Bien sûr, il est crucial pour les disciples de travailler dur, en essayant de gagner la maîtrise des mouvements physiques et de passer les grades, mais le Iaido est bien plus qu'une suite de compétences techniques, me fait-il remarquer. Dit simplement, la valeur essentielle et fondamentale du Iaido est avant tout dans le développement personnel afin de devenir un être meilleur, ce qui implique un engagement au quotidien, de l'ardeur et de la persévérance. L'essence du Iaido, c'est-à-dire l'esprit du mononofu (qui signifie "tout ce qui a un rapport avec être un samurai”), c'est d'acquérir un esprit harmonieux et d'apprendre le respect et la considération envers les autres.

Komentáře k Iaido hanšiho Noboru Ogury: technické znalosti a duchovní růst

Ogura sensei - keiko in the dark

(translation - Petr Brezina - kontaktujte: チェコの克己道場

Gesi je můj belgický přítel. 71.letý-muž, který prodělal rakovinu. Je držitelem černého pásu v judo a 5. danu iaido.

Gesiho mistr je sensej Ogura Noboru: 8. dan iaido, kendo kjóši 7. dan, konzultant Celojaponské Federace Kendo. Přestože je Gesi velkým fanouškem japonské kultury, jeho japonština je poměrně omezená, takže kdykoli píše básně nebo dopis svému učiteli, ptá se mě, jak co přeložit. Takto jsem poznal senseje Oguru během 7 let, skrz korespondenci.

V letošním roce jsem měl poprvé možnost se setkat se sensejem Ogurou osobně a to ve Versailles v Paříži. Navzdory jeho pozoruhodným výkonům, je skromnou, zdvořilou a veselou osobou. Učil energicky po celý den, poctivě po dobu tří dnů, dávajíc podrobná vysvětlení a vtipné, ale věcné připomínky.

Je to bezpochyby velký odborník a mistr iaido, ale při rozhovoru s ním jsem měl dojem, že je i moudrý filozof. To, co mi řekl bylo tak jednoduché, ale hluboce k přemýšlení a bohužel, není to jednoduché přeložit. Během rozhovorů s ním, jsem často cítil "Mottainai," pocit malé provinilosti, že jsem to slyšel úplně sám, ale také jsem si myslel, že bude lepší přeložit jeho učení a sdílet je s ostatními.

Ogura Noboru Hanshi’s comments on Iaido: technical proficiency and spiritual growth

Ogura sensei

Gesi is my Belgian friend. He is a 71-year-old survivor of terminal cancer. He holds a black belt in Judo and 5th dan in Iaido.

Gesi's professor is Ogura Noboru Sensei: 8th dan in Iaido, Kendo Kyoshi 7th dan, a consultant of the All Japan Kendo Federation. Although Gesi is a big fan of Japanese culture, his Japanese is quite limited, so whenever he writes a poem or a letter to his Sensei, he asks me to translate it. That's how I’ve got to know Ogura Sensei for over 7 years, via correspondence.

This year, I had a chance to meet Ogura Sensei in person for the first time in Versailles, Paris. Despite his remarkable feats, he is a humble, polite, and jocular person. He taught energetically all day long for three days straight, giving detailed explanations and making humorous, but kind comments.

He is, no doubt, a great Iaido practitioner and professor, but while talking with him, I had the impression that he is also a wise philosopher. What he told me was so simple, yet profoundly reflective, and regrettably, it is not easy to translate. During the conversations with him, I often felt “mottainai,” a sense of little guilty to keep what I heard all by myself, but I thought I'd better to translate and share his teachings with others.

For Ogura Sensei, those who quit Iaido when they fail a promotional exam may have the wrong goal. Of course, it is crucial for disciples to work hard, trying to gain mastery of physical movements and pass a grading, but Iaido is much more than technical proficiency, he remarked. Simply stated, the essential core value of Iaido is about cultivating oneself and becoming a better being, entailing daily commitment, eagerness, and perseverance. The essence of Iaido or the spirit of mononofu (meaning “all what relates to being a samurai”) is to acquire a harmonious spirit and to learn about respect and consideration for others.

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