Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Murakami/Cat Connection

COMMENTARY/ Hanshinkan Kid: Haruki Murakami's love for cats comes through in his works

July 13, 2014
The Asahi Shimbun  By KOJI KONISHI/ Special to AJW  

Editor’s note: This is part of The Asahi Shimbun AJW’s series on internationally acclaimed writer Haruki Murakami and the seventh of Koji Konishi’s “The Hanshinkan Kid” commentaries.
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Haruki Murakami is known for his fondness for cats because he frequently includes felines in his works.

In “Murakami Harukido wa ikanishite kitaeraretaka,” a collection of essays, Murakami tells an interesting story about a cat in its old age he once kept.

In a piece titled “Choju Neko no Himitsu” (The secret of an old cat), Murakami described how he asked a senior executive at Kodansha Ltd., a publishing company, to take care of his cat while he and his wife were away from home for a long period. In return, Murakami promised to the executive to write a novel for the company. The writer kept his promise and wrote “Norwegian Wood,” which turned out to be a phenomenal bestseller.

Murakami named the cat “Fuku Neko” (Lucky Cat). In his childhood years, Murakami would play at Nishinomiya Shrine in Nishinomiya, a city within the so-called "Hanshinkan" area between Osaka and Kobe. I’m familiar with the shrine because it was also my favorite place to play when I was a child.

Nishinomiya Shrine
As a Hanshinkan kid like Murakami, I suspect that the name the author gave to the cat was inspired by the famous “Fuku Otoko” (Lucky Man) race, held early on Jan. 10 as the main event of the shrine’s annual Toka-Ebisu festival. A legion of participants sprint perilously more than 200 meters from the shrine’s main gate to the main hall to be chosen as “Lucky Men.”

In the same essay, Murakami also describes how the cat was sitting on his lap while he was writing his debut novel, “Hear the Wind Sing.”

Murakami and friend

“I still remember well the days when I was writing my first novel at night, with the cat on my lap and sipping beer. The cat apparently didn’t like me writing a novel and would often play havoc with my manuscript on the desk.”

Unlike a dog, a cat kept as a pet in a house is not chained outside. While its whereabouts is often unclear, the furry animal occupies an important place in the owner’s heart. If a cat, which always returns home even if it is away for a while, goes missing, that should be taken as an ominous sign indicating that something serious is going to happen.

Such mysterious and symbolic felines often appear in Murakami’s novels in exquisite timing. In “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,” which revolves around the protagonist’s search for his missing wife, their cat runs away first, and then the woman mysteriously disappears as if prompted by the cat’s disappearance.

Cats also play an important role in his long novel “1Q84,” which contains a tale about an imaginary “Town of Cats” where cats are the only residents.

A traveling young man gets off the train at a station and finds the town completely deserted, with no one to be seen. But it was, in fact, a town of cats. When the sun starts to go down, many cats comes into town and go about their business like human beings. When he attempts to take the train away from the town, the train doesn’t stop at the town's station and passes by without slowing. The young man knows that he is irretrievably lost.

The New York Times Liked it too...

The New York Times applauded the fantastic description of the town of cats, while the New Yorker magazine carried an article only about this story. In the article, Murakami said the following:
" 'Town of Cats' is a story that I made up. I think I probably read something like it a long time ago, but I don’t have a very precise recollection of whatever it was that I read. In any case, this episode performs a symbolic function in the novel in many different senses--the way a person wanders into a world from which he can never escape, the question of who it is that fills up the empty spaces, the inevitability with which night follows day. Perhaps each of us has his or her own 'town of cats' somewhere deep inside--or so I feel."

There are at least two famous Japanese writers who wrote stories about cats before Murakami. One is Soseki Natsume, whose “Wagahai wa neko de aru” (I Am a Cat), depicts Japanese society and people during the Meiji Era (1868–1912) in a satirical way from the viewpoint of the speaker, which is an anthropomorphized domestic cat. (See bottom of post)

The other is Junichiro Tanizaki, who wrote “Neko to Shozo to futari no onna” (A cat, Shozo and two women), which describes how cats live their lives. It is arguably the best Japanese novel about cats ever written.

In an open interview he gave in Kyoto in May 2013, Murakami said his favorite Japanese writers included Natsume and Tanizaki. One character in his “Kafka on the Shore,” Satoru Nakata, is an old man who has lost the ability to read and write through a bizarre childhood incident but gained the ability to communicate with cats. This strange character probably reflects an influence from the two master writers.

The Shukugawa River in spring
 Both Tanizaki and Murakami once lived near the Shukugawa river, which runs through Nishinomiya. Located on both sides of the river, Shukugawa Park is a hangout for stray cats in the area. They don’t care at all for passers-by.

Both Tanizaki and Murakami may have been intrigued by cats playing in the park and gotten some ideas for their works.

Temple Cat
“Fuwa Fuwa” (Furry) is a picture book jointly created by Murakami, who wrote the text, and Mizumaru Anzai, who painted the pictures. Anzai died in March 2014.

The book begins with this passage: “I like most cats around the world, but of all the kinds of cats living on this planet, I like an old, large she-cat the most.”

Temple Cats
Even though “Fuwa Fuwa” is a picture book, it is not an easy read as the text is littered with Murakamiesque metaphors.

The cat was kept at a doctor’s house before it is given to the protagonist, a boy. But the cat returned to its former owner’s house by crossing two railway lines and a river. The cat is then brought back to the boy’s house and given the uncatlike name “Dantsu.” It eventually becomes the boy’s good pal.
If I assume Dantsu is modeled on a cat actually kept by Murakami, as it is believed, I, a Hanshinkan kid who has been living close to the Shukugawa river since my boyhood, cannot help but to think of an actual bridge and two train lines that the cat should have crossed--a stone bridge across the Shukugawa river and the Hanshin Electric Railway line and the JR Tokaido Main Line, which have railroad crossings and underpasses in the area.

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Koji Konishi is vice president of the Hanshinkan Regional Culture Institute. He also teaches the culture of the Hanshinkan area as a part-time lecturer at Kobe International University.

Five Harry Potter Notions

5 'Harry Potter' Fan Theories You'll Think Are So Crazy They Might Just Be True

The Huffington Post | By Todd Van Luling  Posted: 11/24/2014 9:08 am EST

This is not a part of the Hogwarts curriculum. The last Harry Potter book may have come out in 2007 and the last movie in 2011, but fans still debate the intricacies and nuances of J.K. Rowling's masterful and magical series. True Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and Slytherins alike will appreciate the more insane fan theories proposed in the Potter world. These five theories are going to make you freak out:

1. Albus Dumbledore is actually a time-traveling Ron Weasley (the Ronbledore theory).

This theory is based on physical similarities between the the two characters and small plot points in the books. Presumably the theory implies that an alternate reality exists where Voldemort is not defeated and an old Ron Weasley is forced to travel back in time to assume the character of Albus Dumbledore to guide himself and other students into victory over the dark arts.

Both Dumbledore and Weasley have long fingers, share a left-leg injury, like chocolate frog cards and have naturally red hair. Dumbledore seeing himself holding socks in the Mirror of Erised (which shows people's deepest desires) is tied to Weasley not appreciating his mom's Christmas socks in the books. It's also argued that Dumbledore had to have grown up in the same generation as Weasley due to a comment about eating Bertie Bott Every Flavor Beans in his youth and Bertie Bott not being born in time to even make his product yet.

Mallory Ortberg at The Toast covered this Ronbledore theory extensively throughout 2014. One article listed deniers of the theory with arguments that Dumbledore had siblings, Weasley married Hermione Granger in the books and a younger photo of Dumbledore is seen by Harry Potter and it doesn't look like Weasley. To the deniers Ortberg wrote "You are all wrong" and to the believers, "Keep the faith, keep the watch, and keep a light burning in the night for Ronbledore."

2. Neville Longbottom was supposed to be the The Chosen One, and not Harry Potter.

As What Culture points out, the central prophecy states that "The Chosen One" will be "born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies" and he will "have power the Dark Lord knows not." Neville Longbottom's parents were tortured for standing up to Voldemort, and Longbottom was born on July 30. The power he has that the Dark Lord doesn't? That could be herbology. How herbology would help Longbottom defeat Voldemort is unclear, but maybe Longbottom just never got a chance with all the Harry Potter hype.

Albus Dumbledore tells Potter in Order of the Phoenix that it actually could have been Longbottom:

    "The odd thing is, Harry," he said softly, "that it may not have meant you at all. Sibyll's prophecy could have applied to two wizard boys, both born at the end of July that year, both of whom had parents in The Order of the Phoenix, both sets of parents having narrowly escaped Voldemort three times. One, of course, was you. The other was Neville Longbottom."

Part of the prophecy does state that Voldemort would mark his equal and Potter has that famous scar, so The Chosen One probably was Potter, a stance that Dumbledore explicitly states. But maybe Longbottom would have defeated Voldemort with his herbs if only he'd been given a shot. Perhaps it would have been easier to just hash things out.

3. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are siblings.

Hermione Granger may be the twin (or older) sister of Harry Potter, something she knows throughout the books. She is part of the protection plan of Harry Potter, the supposed "Chosen One," and therefore those Muggle parents of hers are either adoptive or didn't exist in the manner Granger described them. This might explain why she was able to wipe their memories of her whole existence in Deathly Hallows. Right from the start, Granger acts as a caring figure to Potter, while also being a know-it-all, which may play into a sibling rivalry. If they were siblings, it would also help to explain why they didn't end up together.

Much was made of the kiss Weasley imagined between Granger and Potter in the "Deathly Hallows" movie, with fans calling it "awkward," "creepy" and "disturbing," according to MTV. Something simply seems off about the chemistry between those two characters and maybe it's because they both call James and Lily Potter their parents. If true, and the Ronbledore theory is true, that would mean Dumbledore and Potter were brothers-in-law the whole time.

4. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were in love.

While at Hogwarts, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were best friends, along with James Potter and Peter Pettigrew. Together they all made the Marauder's Map. Lupin does eventually marry Nymphadora Tonks, but this isn't until after Black died in the Second Wizarding War. In 2010, a fan with the username "amuly" created a super in-depth breakdown of instances in the books (at least the American versions) where it seems as if Lupin and Black love each other.

The evidence ranges from quotes, such as when Sirius Black says, "It used to be us ... me and Remus ... and James." Black couples the two together, pointing out that Black lives with Lupin between the fourth and fifth books and then Lupin lives with him. (Also, their joint gift-giving and other scandalous quotes.) From the Order of the Phoenix: "Ron, Hermione, Fred, and George’s heads turned from Sirius to Mrs. Weasley as though following a tennis rally … Lupin’s eyes were fixed on Sirius ... 'Personally,' said Lupin quietly, looking away from Sirius at last..." And this longer quotation, also from Order of the Phoenix:

    Sirius was lounging in his chair at his ease, tilting it back on two legs. He was very good-looking; his dark hair fell into his eyes with a sort of casual elegance neither James’ nor Harry’s could ever have achieved, and a girl sitting behind him was eyeing him hopefully, though he didn’t seem to have noticed. And two seats along from this girl -- was Remus Lupin.

5. Since Voldemort was defeated, Harry Potter is now immortal.

According to the prophecy about The Chosen One and the Dark Lord's fates in the book, "either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives." This line is presented as if Harry Potter is the only one who can defeat the Dark Lord and vice versa, but a fan with the username HPWombat speculated that this might also mean that Potter must live forever since Voldemort is dead and therefore couldn't kill him. As HPWombat explains:

    "Either must die at the hand of the other." Meaning the one who didn't die had no other means of achieving death ... By killing Voldemort, Harry sacrifices his death. It's made clear to us that death is the only way he'll ever be with his loved ones. Dying isn't such a bad sacrifice to make. But sacrificing his own death and living forever would be the ultimate sacrifice for Harry. By killing Voldemort, Harry would become immortal, never seeing his family or friends in death. Harry Potter would, forever, be The Boy Who Lived.

Potter has sacrificed his death by killing Voldemort and therefore sacrificed ever truly reuniting with his parents and other fallen loved ones throughout the books. Harry Potter is both blessed and doomed to be "The Boy Who Lived."

Alternately, Neville Longbottom is immortal.

Sorry.  Can't have anything about Harry Potter without my two favorite characters, Professor Snape and Luna Lovegood

'Ashiya Sunflowers'

The 'Ashiya sunflowers' reproduced on a porcelain board (Yu Fujinami)

Casualty of war, van Gogh 'Sunflowers' work gets second life as reproduction

The Asahi Shimbun  December 01, 2014  By YU FUJINAMI/ Staff Writer

NARUTO, Tokushima Prefecture--A painting in Vincent van Gogh's iconic "Sunflowers" series destroyed in a World War II air raid has been brought back to life by a museum here that specializes in reproducing Western masterpieces.

The work, called "Ashiya sunflowers," was painstakingly recreated on porcelain board by the Otsuka Museum of Art and went on permanent display at the gallery on Oct. 1.

The painting was originally purchased in 1920 from a seller in France by Koyata Yamamoto, a wealthy businessman from Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture. He paid the equivalent of 200 million yen today ($1.69 million) for the piece, one of seven versions produced by van Gogh (1853-1890).
Koyata Yamamoto, left, and Saneatsu Mushanokoji sit in front of a work from Vincent van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' series around 1938. (Provided by the Mushanokoji Saneatsu Memorial Museum)
Yamamoto intended to donate the work to a museum to be established by such figures as writer Saneatsu Mushanokoji. However, before the plan was realized, the work was destroyed in a fire that started from U.S. air raids over western Japan on Aug. 6, 1945.

The museum has employed tile-production techniques to make porcelain replicas of many famous paintings in its collection of 1,000 such replicas. However, it was the museum's first attempt to reproduce a painting that no longer exists.

The work was launched in April by Otsuka Ohmi Ceramics Co., based in Koga, Shiga Prefecture, at its plant in Shigaraki.

Referring to a color art book owned by Tokyo's Mushanokoji Saneatsu Memorial Museum, the craftspeople copied an image of the original painting onto porcelain board using an ink that becomes transparent when fired.

They then applied and fired a glaze to produce the same uneven surface as the painting. On top of this they painstakingly made a copy of the original using a special color sheet. The workers manually applied finishing touches, then fired the tile again to complete the process.

As the company was working without an original, getting the luster and texture of the original proved difficult. Three prototypes were made for a job that normally requires one.

"Many renowned pieces have either been stolen or lost in natural disasters," said Chiyoko Asai, the museum's chief curator. "We hope to use this experience (of recreating the 'Sunflowers' painting) for future projects."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Little Wu-Tang

'My Little Wu-Tang' Blends Ponies and Hip Hop 

The Huffington Post  Posted: 06/26/2011 12:33 pm EDT
There's a growing culture of older dudes out there who have a deep appreciation for the "My Little Pony" cartoon, and they call themselves Bronies.
As can be expected when two very different cultures collide, a lot of unexpected mash-ups have come out of this Brony scene. Take this Watchmen/My Little Pony hybrid trailer "Watchponies" for instance.
While it might be an odd pairing, our favorite thing to come out of the Brony movement is this awesome music video pairing a Wu-Tang Clan song with the "My Little Pony" cartoon. 

The lyrics are definitely NSFW, so put on some headphones before you hit play, but there's something oddly Gorillaz about the video. We're into it.

Watch it HERE

And then there's "Pinkie Pie’s on Crack."
Watch it HERE