Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama: the Oldest Hot Spa in Japan

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After Naoshima we went to Matsuyama City in Shikoku Island, Japan. We first went back from Naoshima to Okayama via a ferry and local train basically to catch a JR express train Shiokaze because the view of Seto Island Sea through the long suspension bridge Seto Ohashi was recommended by a travel guide (I forgot which one). By staying in Okayama overnight we could do some laundry (across from the famous canal) and shopping (my husband needed a pair of pants which we could purchase at Uniqlo in a huge department store near Okayama station – we are amazed that Uniqlo could alter the hem length in less than one hour without any additional cost).

The following day we left Okayama for Matsuyama in an “Anpanman train” (popular children’s comic character). The view of Seto Island Sea was beautiful but after the view from our Oval hotel room it was somewhat anti-climactic. The hotel/ryokan we stayed in Matsuyama was called Funaya, the “best onsen ryokan in Dogo onsen,” (according to a taxi driver) which was recently used by imperial family members. Funaya was not only very close to the famous Dogo Honkan (prominently featured in a comic-satirical novel “Botchan” (Young Master) written by my favorite modern Japanese author of Meiji and Taisho eras, Soseki Natsume) but also close to many popular tourist spots, such as Masaoka Shiki Museum dedicated to the life and work of a Meiji haiku poet, a mechanical “karakuri” cuckoo clock tower and an Meiji era train station. The famous bath house Dogo Honkan was an ancient bath house that had a special bath for imperial family. It was surprising to see so many people were still using this bath house and its several accoutrements, such as resting rooms (one of these was commemorated for Soseki, his poet friend Shiki Masaoka and others who used it to have get-togethers after bath). We had a tour there to see the imperial family’s bath as well as Soseki/ botchan room. We had a French dinner (decent) as well as Japanese “Kaiseki” dinner while we stayed at Funaya.

On the second day at Dogo/ Matsuyama we visited the Shiki Museum and the Matsuyama Castle. The Matsuyama Castle which was rebuilt in mid-19th century was a huge complex of several buildings located at the top of a hill. It was quite breezy but we enjoyed walking around the castle compound which was still evocative of pre-modern Japan. In order to get to the Matsuyama Castle people can either walk or take a cable car or a ski-lift. We took a cable car to go up the hill and the open chair-lift to go down.

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Tadao Ando’s Sublime Architectural Complex in Naoshima Island in Seto Inland Sea: Benesse House Museum, Benesse House Oval, and Chichu Museum

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Naoshima is a small island among 3,000+ islands of Seto Inland Sea in Japan. This small island of about 3500 residents, whose natural environment had been compromised severely by the metal refinery industry, was miraculously converted into an island of art, culture and nature by the great Japanese architect Tadao Ando and other artists. Since this architectural-art project seems to be aimed at the realization of a space where life, art, and nature coexist seamlessly, the pathetic state of the small island, in a way, may have worked positively in the end – judging solely from the outcome of the architect and artists endeavor. Naoshima as it exists now is a fantastical place where we can experience art intimately. For instance, as one walks around a road one can encounter art objects placed nonchalantly in a rectangular cave, rock wall, or pier. Such encounters give one delight and moments of reflection.

I booked a hotel room at Oval almost 6 months in advance for I wanted to stay in this particular hotel which has only 6 rooms including 2 suits. When we arrived at the hotel after trains, ferry, and a shuttle bus provided by Benesse House hotel it was already dark. (I had almost forgotten days are much shorter in winter even in Japan.) As soon as we arrived at the hotel I knew we would experience architectural bliss (if you like modern architecture of reinforced concrete and minimalist austere beauty – I’d hazard to say Versailles fans might not like this place). We were guided into the hallway of an art museum to get to the door of the monorail (my husband thought it was a funicular but he confirmed it was a monorail after fact-checking on Wikipedia as the hotel bell boy told us). Since the door to the monorail works only with a room key, the Oval is accessible only by the people who stay at Oval rooms. The monorail start point had a camera that showed if the car was still at the top. As we moved up the steep hill we began to hear waterfalls, which was part of Ando’s architectural wonder. The six rooms and a reception room surround blue oval pool brimming with water. The atmosphere there was serene and mysterious. As I checked the balcony (though it was chilly and a little windy) I could see the far lights of Takamatsu city on Shikoku Island. The room heater was either all on or all off due to the malfunction of the thermostat. We used it as a sort of fireplace rather than calling a repair person. We certainly didn’t want to be bothered by anybody. We had dinner at Benesse’s French restaurant Terrace situated in another Benesse hotel Park. The dinner was quite good though the waiters seemed a little untrained.

The following day we visited Chichu Museum located perhaps the highest point of the island. But the museum itself was built underground. As we walked toward the museum after getting off the shuttle bus I recognized a garden which looked so much like the garden from Monet’s painting, Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pond, Giverny. Later we discovered it was a reproduction of the lily pond in Giverny. The art works in Chichu Museum were breathtaking. All the art works were presented in great harmony with the museum architecture itself. Walter de Maria’s sculptural work, “Time/ Timeless/ No Time,” was truly awe-inspiring. As we walked through the dark corridor to a huge open space we were faced with a huge black granite ball placed on the mid-point of a wide staircase lined with golden tubed objects bathed in sunlight from the skylight. It was almost a spiritual experience. James Turrell’s installations “Open Field” and “Open Sky” were also evocative of mystery and spirituality. Monet’s huge three paintings of water lilies in Claude Monet space were also meditatively presented in this labyrinth-like museum.

Later we visited the Lee Uphan and Ando Museum and found these them equally moving.

Visiting Naoshima Art Island was not necessarily convenient but the experience we had in this Tadao Ando’s architectural project was certainly worth it. It was sublime.

Perfect Getaway in Japan, December 2016: First Four Days in Tokyo

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My husband and I traveled to Japan partially to escape the gloom that was pervasive in some sectors of US in post-election 2016. In truth (even in this “post-truth” era) I planned this trip almost 6 months ago – but, it did come at a right time.

As usual, the first few days in Japan was dedicated to recuperation from a severe jetlag. (What Bill Murray’s character suffered in “Lost in Translation” was only slightly exaggerated version of what we experienced.) We spend most of these lazy days in Tokyo which I am familiar with.

We went to Shinjuku-gyoen Park to see the last of colored leaves. Since winter comes late in Tokyo the park was still adorned with red, yellow, and orange topped trees. Since we visited the park on Saturday it was full of young families, some of them were spreading picnic lunches on the yellow-browned lawns. (It was slightly odd to see people sitting on lawns which lost their color probably because I am quite used to seeing green lawns in the rainy Pacific Northwest. I suppose Tokyo government was saving water.) It was nice to see so many young children. Later we went to Ginza to shop and to have dinner. We had a Kyoto style “kaiseki” dinner. It was beautiful as well as tasty. (I love the way Japanese dishes are presented in small exquisite dishes. As in tea ceremony in Japanese cuisine serving dishes themselves are often considered as minor art works.) Later back in our hotel room I realized that I dropped my Pasmo card (digital money you can use for transportation and other things in Japan) probably when I pulled out my glove from my coat pocket. Since I had just loaded the card with over 6000yen I felt bad about it. I hoped that some truly needy person picked it up.

On the third day in Tokyo we went to Nagano from Tokyo by Hokuriku Shinkansen. Nagano, which hosted the winter Olympic Games in 1998. It is famous for soba noodle and Zenkouji, the main temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. Nagano is a typical local city that developed around the main railroad station in a mountain valley. We had a soba lunch at one of the oldest soba restaurants in Nagano and visited the temple complex. The highlight of this visit was an accidental viewing of a priest’s prayer offered for private family in one of the side temples, which was accompanied by a fire display, drums and cymbal. I don’t remember seeing any of these Buddhism prayers in my life obviously because each sect has its own customs and rituals. We could not capture the image of this spectacular prayer in any form since photographing of this ritual was prohibited.

On the fourth day we went to Marunouchi, the main office district of Tokyo, to retrieve my husband’s repaired watch at the Seiko Customer’s Center. Later that day, we saw the Marie Antoinette exhibit in Mori Museum in Roppongi. It was packed with women, mostly older women. I am not quite sure why this exhibit should be so popular with older women but I find it hard to believe they share the extravagant rococo taste displayed by Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI as well as our current president-elect. My husband anticipated the exhibit of a guillotine but we did not see it at this exhibit. Instead, we saw great many portraits of Marie Antoinette and other French royalty.

Post-Election Blues #2

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I’m finding it rather difficult to overcome the post-presidential-election sadness. Each time I see on TV news programs the video footage of people screaming “Lock her up,” I feel horrified. Particularly, I do not understand why so many women found it so enjoyable to shout in this way (the video I saw involved mostly women – I guess the video-recorder found it more titillating to show women in this way). Each time I see a group of men display Hitler salute while shouting “Heil Trump” I feel terrorized. (In many ways, these men are very much like the ISIS men, according to a research report “Similarities of Hate: White Supremacists and Islamic Extremists” on the “Counter Extremism Project” site.) So I felt a little relieved to learn that Trump said “I disavow and condemn” the white supremacist such as KKK and Neo-Nazis during his meeting with staff members of The New York Times on Nov. 22. I also felt comforted to learn that Trump would not prosecute Hillary Clinton. Since these statements were delivered only in a private meeting it’s not clear if the president-elect really meant them when he spoke. I hope he will clarify in his official address to American people as soon as possible his intent not to realize many of his extreme plans voiced during his campaign if he really wants to be successful as a president to all people in the United States of America.

Post-Election Blues: The Heart of Darkness in Mid-America?

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The presidential election 2016 was devastating in the fact that its result changed many people’s perception of the United States of America almost completely. It is no longer the “beacon of freedom and democracy” founded on the core belief in the “Enlightenment Project” as characterized by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas in his essay “Modernity – An Incomplete Project.” (He defined the major beliefs of the Project of Enlightenment” as:
faith in human intelligence and universal reason;
human equality;
demystification of knowledge
human creativity, scientific discovery and individual excellence;
the use of knowledge, such as objective science, universal morality and laws, for the pursuit of human emancipation and the enrichment of daily life.)

In fact, this huge country seems clearly divided into two camps, judging from the electoral college map: on the one hand, more educated and perhaps wealthier coastal states and “big cities” mostly embrace racial, gender and class equality; on the other hand, the people of the middle and southern states currently left behind economically due to the dominance of knowledge-based industry in the US, seem to struggle to go back to the less enlightened time of the US instigated by Trump and his chief strategist Bannon who unabashedly claims “Darkness is good, …Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power” (The Hollywood Reporter).

This extraordinary event earlier this month made me think of Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness” and a quote from C. S. Lewis: “That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended – civilizations are built up – excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and the cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.”

2016 US Presidential Election Aftermath


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The president-elect chose his campaign boss from August, Stephen Bannon, as his chief strategist, sending a signal to the world “God knows what.” Bannon is a very controversial figure who operated “Breitbart News, a website popular among white nationalists” (USA Today 11/16). He became even more infamous when it was revealed that he wrote in 2014: “Let the grassroots turn on the hate … because that’s the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty” (NY Times 11/15). He certainly seems to have applied these demagogic strategies to win 2016 presidential election judging from D. Trump’s textbook case of demagogic behaviors.

Wikipedia lists 10 specific tactics demagogues use to gain power and influence the populace. Amazingly, Trump/ Trump campaign used all 10 of the following tactics to sway the populace to his side. Let me here cite “methods of demagogues” part of “Demagogue” from Wikipedia:

Methods of demagogues

Below are described a number of recurring techniques that are reported among demagogues from many different times and places. No one demagogue uses them all, and no two demagogues use exactly the same methods to gain popularity and loyalty…

Scapegoating

The most fundamental demagogic technique is scapegoating: blaming the in-group’s troubles on an out-group, usually of a different ethnicity, religion, or social class….

Fearmongering

Many demagogues have risen to power by evoking fear in their audiences, to stir them to action and prevent deliberation…

Lying

While any politician needs to point out dangers to the people and criticize opponents’ policies, demagogues choose their words for their effect on their audience’s emotions, usually without regard for factual truth or the real severity of the danger…

Emotional oratory and personal charisma

Accusing opponents of weakness and disloyalty

Promising the impossible

Another fundamental demagogic technique is making promises only for their emotional effect on audiences, without regard for how they might be accomplished or without intending to honor them once in office.

Violence and physical intimidation

Personal insults and ridicule

Vulgarity and outrageous behavior

Folksy posturing

Gross oversimplification

Attacking the news media

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, seems to approve the appointment of Stephen Bannon as the White House chief strategist because he made Trump “win” the presidential election. It seems winning is everything for him and many others. And now media commentators and pundits appear to be normalizing Trump presidency and how he won the presidential election. Shockingly, they don’t seem to find what Trump did and said that problematical. After all the news media such as CNN is complicit in popularizing and normalizing Trump by showing his image constantly in their programs to attract high viewership. It is also possible that now they just want to save their skins at all costs: if you can’t beat them join them.

I wonder if we are supposed to expect most of the political movements in the United States from this time on to operate by these demagogue methods. What a distressing thought!

US Election 2016 #3

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It seems the gap between Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s popular votes is widening further. According to Greg Price of International Business Times, “Hillary Clinton is likely to have secured two million votes more than Donald Trump once all ballots are counted.” This means that people in certain areas have more than just one vote as far as the presidential election is concerned. I know that it is not regular people but the Electoral College (“electors of each state”) that ultimately chooses the president; but the Electoral College value number is based on the winning of the popular vote in each state – except for 2 states (Maine and Nebraska). This sound rather strange considering the United States is a democracy, if in fact some people’s vote counts for more than one.

For instance, ironically “Trump himself had previously called the electoral college ‘a disaster for democracy’ after mistakenly thinking that Barack Obama had lost the public vote in 2012 but retained the presidency.”

I think the Electoral College system should be abolished because at this time in human history where mobility is egalitarian. It has become outdated and unfair because it often devalues the votes of the city dwellers – as it did in this year’s election.

US Election 2016 #2

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One day has passed since the result of the presidential election. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote (59,938,290 at the time of this blog entry on Nov. 10’16) against Trump (59,704,866) due to an often controversial Electoral College that elects the President of the US she lost.

It was all agreeable and comforting to see President Obama and the President-elect sitting together nicely in the oval office in the White House, but I can understand why so many people (particularly young people) were upset by this election result (there were big protest movements organized in 27 cities the day after the election). Some people (interviewed on TV, for instance) scoff at these people by saying they don’t understand why these people were upset, adding they didn’t go out to protest the election of President Obama even when they didn’t like it. Well, the difference between President Obama and the 2016 President-elect is huge. For one thing Barack Obama never incited hatred against certain minority groups of this society. From the start, he was clear that he wanted to be the president for everybody in this society.

Though many people seem to believe democracy is an almost sacred institution, it has its own problems. For instance, it is difficult to stop the appearance of demagogues who seem to be able to incite passions among the populace. And I believe the 2016 US President-elect was its textbook case. (It’s possible his campaigners consciously used the demagoguery technique to excite some people.) Here I want to quote the definition of demagogue from Wikipedia.

“A demagogue /ˈdɛməɡɒɡ/ (from Greek δημαγωγός, a popular leader, a leader of a mob, from δῆμος, people, populace, the commons + ἀγωγός leading, leader) or rabble-rouser is a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues have usually advocated immediate, violent action to address a national crisis while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness or disloyalty. Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so; most who were elected to high office changed their democracy into some form of dictatorship.

Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.

The word demagogue, originally meaning a leader of the common people, was first coined in ancient Greece with no negative connotation, but eventually came to mean a troublesome kind of leader who occasionally arose in Athenian democracy. Even though democracy gave power to the common people, elections still tended to favor the aristocratic class, which favored deliberation and decorum. Demagogues were a new kind of leader who emerged from the lower classes. Demagogues relentlessly advocated action, usually violent—immediately and without deliberation. Demagogues appealed directly to the emotions of the poor and uninformed, pursuing power, telling lies to stir up hysteria, exploiting crises to intensify popular support for their calls to immediate action and increased authority, and accusing moderate opponents of weakness or disloyalty to the nation. While many politicians in a democracy make occasional small sacrifices of truth, subtlety, or long-term concerns to maintain popular support, demagogues do these things relentlessly and without self-restraint.

Throughout its history, people have often used the word demagogue carelessly, to disparage any leader whom the speaker thinks manipulative, pernicious, or bigoted. While there can be no precise delineation between demagogues and non-demagogues, since democratic leaders exist on a continuum from less to more demagogic, what distinguishes a demagogue can be defined independently of whether the speaker favors or opposes a certain political leader. What distinguishes a demagogue is how he or she gains or holds democratic power: by exciting the passions of the lower classes and less-educated people in a democracy toward rash or violent action, breaking established democratic institutions such as the rule of law. James Fenimore Cooper in 1838 identified four fundamental characteristics of demagogues:

1.They fashion themselves as a man or woman of the common people, as opposed to the elites.
2.Their politics depends on a visceral connection with the people which greatly exceeds ordinary political popularity.
3.They manipulate this connection, and the raging popularity it affords, for their own benefit and ambition.
4.They threaten or outright break established rules of conduct, institutions, and even the law.

The central feature of the practice of demagoguery is persuasion by means of passion, shutting down reasoned deliberation and consideration of alternatives. Demagogues ‘pander to passion, prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance, rather than reason.’”

US Election 2016

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This year’s election process has been rather trying to many people’s emotional equilibrium mostly due to the two major presidential candidates’ projected and/or perceived indecency and/or dishonesty. Now Hillary Clinton lost this presidential race to a highly inexperienced person. Like others in this country I accept the result: probably this election merely revealed the true color of America, the USA as it really is. Most American are not more morally developed people: they are no better than other peoples. In retrospect, the US as a nation probably had tried too hard to project itself as a very civilized society compared with others though most Americans are essentially motivated by a pleasure principle which is exemplified by the president Elect.

Here I want to quote a passage from Sigmund Freud’s influential work Civilization and Its Discontent since I believe they sheds light to what happened in US Election 2016.

“We come upon a contention which is so astonishing that we must dwell upon it. This contention holds that what we call our civilization (Kultur) is largely responsible for our misery, and that we should be much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions. I call this contention astonishing because, in whatever way we may define the concept of civilization, it is a certain fact that all the things with which we seek to protect ourselves against the threats that emanate from the sources of suffering are part of that very civilization.

…men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus [man is wolf to man]. Who in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien….

The existence of this inclination to aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbor and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure [of energy]. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man’s aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of them in check by psychical reaction-formations. Hence, therefore, the use of methods intended to incite people into identifications and aim-inhibited relations of love, hence the restriction upon sexual life, and hence too the ideal’s commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself — a commandment which is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to the original nature of man.”

“Dr. Strange”: the Movie

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Yesterday my husband and I saw Dr. Strange to brighten the gray rainy day and (of course) to distract us from the dreary, mind-boggling presidential election 2016. We saw it in 3-D IMAX so that the effect of escapist entertainment would work at its maximum level. And it did… for two or three hours or so.

Dr. Strange tells the “origin story” of one of Marvel Comic Heroes, Dr. Strange, (who is a bona fide physician doctor rather than “Mr. Doctor”): he transforms himself from a mere selfish, arrogant human to a superman with many supernatural abilities, such as pseudo yogic mystical control of body by mind (reminiscent of The Matrix), and manipulation of space-time continuum. Since many of the major characters are played by bona fide actors, such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Mads Mikkelsen, it was very easy to suspend disbelief of what is presented as “real” through impressive digital technology a la Christopher Nolan’s Inception — while the movie lasted. It was fun… but alas the strangest reality of all (the current presidential election) cancelled out the fun I had. I can’t wait for next Wednesday to come.