Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

July brought many exciting developments. I was promoted to full Professor and became chair of my department at the University of Chicago. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon came out from Byakuya Shobo. At around the same time, the discovery I helped make of some previously unknown 1950 Sacramento concert recordings by Misora Hibari, Kasagi Shizuko, Yamaguchi Yoshiko and many other Japanese singing stars became big news in Japan. I was apparently a featured item on television “wide shows” for a couple of days; I’m told that at least one of the shows introduced me with a photograph that was not actually of me. The Japanese edition of the book was well received, too; dozens of newspapers and magazines ran favorable reviews.

The whole family flew to Tokyo in late July. I spent a couple of days doing press interviews at my publishers’ offices in Takadanobaba. On July 29, Satoko and I were able to participate in one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations of the year, a march that started from Hibiya Park and ended up surrounding the Diet building. We celebrated the children’s birthdays up in Sendai with Satoko’s parents. With the help of a reporter from the Kyodo Tsushin wire service, I was able to get a copy of the 1950 wire recording of her Sacramento concert to 92-year-old Yamaguchi Yoshiko, who gave an interview about how delighted she was to hear it. As a result, once again I showed up in newspapers across Japan.

We returned to Chicago in early August. I recorded a segment for public radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” which was broadcast nationally later in the month (you can listen online here). We brought the whole family to a terrific play,”The Death of Harry Houdini,” at the House Theater. We ran up to Minnesota again to celebrate what would have been my father’s 75th birthday on August 15, and while there I saw another ballgame at Target Field. I also got to see one of my old favorite local bands, the Flamin’ Oh’s, play a show at Mears Park in downtown St. Paul. Back in Chicago at the end of the month, we attended the opening night “Tribute to Ella” with Dee Alexander, Frieda Lee, and Spider Saloff at the Chicago Jazz Festival. I returned again on the last day of the festival to catch stellar sets by the Steve Coleman Group and Pierre Dørge And The New Jungle Orchestra–two more favorite musical discoveries of the year.

In September things started gearing up in my new role as department chair, but on a stormy night we saw Bruce Springsteen give a fine concert up at Wrigley Field, and when the Twins swung through town early in the month I ran over to New Comiskey Park to take in a game. Late in the month I filled my car with grad students and drove to Kalamazoo for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs meeting at Western Michigan University.

Classes started in October. I taught two seminars this past fall–one on Japanese literary discourses of “furusato” (hometown), the other on Japanese cultures of the Cold War. As usual, I learned a great deal from the students in both. Extracurricular activities slowed down as I resumed full-time teaching, of course, but I still managed to get out now and then. In early October, I saw a nice set by guitarist Wayne Krantz at Martyr’s and later in the month caught an intriguing performance by shamisen composer Kimura Shunsuke. In October, I attended the Association for Japanese Literary Studies meeting at Ohio State, reconnecting with many old friends and meeting some new ones. I also enjoyed the opportunity to make a presentation about the 1950 wire recordings at the annual Humanities Day celebration here on campus in Hyde Park.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, with me preparing the turkey as usual. In December, we enjoyed a show by Leo Kottke up at SPACE in Evanston, as well as a terrific performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony by the CSO. I made another trip to Los Angeles to give a talk at UCLA and to film an interview about the 1950 wire recording of Misora Hibari for a television special which was broadcast in Japan on the BS-TBS network on December 7. We spent Christmas with family in Minnesota, quiet and relaxing. On Boxing Day, we went ice skating with a big group of my cousins and their children.

Later today we’ll bring our 2012 cultural calendar to a close by attending the acclaimed production of “Annie” at the Paramount Theater in Illinois: the last few years, our family has made a tradition of attending a musical in the week between Christmas and New Years. We also have tickets to see the opening night of Buddy Guy’s annual stand at his own blues club downtown later this week, and we’re off to Second City a few days after that for some comedy.

It really has been a blessed year for us: writing this up has helped remind me how lucky I am. I’m surrounded by a supportive family, wonderful friends and colleagues, students who keep me on my toes, and a city that bustles with creativity and energy. As usual, I have compiled a long list of New Years’ resolutions, but I won’t bore you with those. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to 2013.

Let me end by wishing you joy, peace, and health in 2013. Thanks for stopping by.

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Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)

I have several projects with looming year-end deadlines. I really should be working on those this morning. Which, of course, makes this an excellent time to devote instead to an update here. 2012 is fast winding down. What kind of year was it?

A fine and memorable one, thank you. Not without its bumps and bruises, of course, but those just help remind me that I’m alive. I end the year feeling gratitude and hope.

The first half of 2012 found me on sabbatical. In early January, I flew to Seattle for the MLA convention. I saw old friends, sat in on some good panels, caught the film “The Descendants” in a cinema across from the hotel–and accepted the Scaglione Prize for the translation I co-edited of Natsume Soseki’s Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings. Later that month, I flew up to Ann Arbor to participate in a faculty workshop, and a week later I presented a talk at another faculty seminar at Northwestern University. The month ended with Satoko and I enjoying a performance by Westside blues legend Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater at SPACE, the little-club-that-could up in Evanston.

In February, we caught Ricardo Muti conducting the CSO in Franck’s Symphony in D minor and then, a few days later, I attended the University of Chicago Folk Festival, featuring Billy Boy Arnold. The most exciting event of the month: my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, came out from Columbia University Press. I heard many nice things about it from people–to the point that I started to worry that it must not be very good. If something you write doesn’t piss anyone off, how interesting can it be? But later I heard through the grapevine that a number of senior scholars in my field hated it. I felt reassured. In late February DePaul University hosted a fun workshop based on the book for Chicago public school teachers.

On the first day of March we watched Pierre Boulez lead the CSO in a wonderful performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The next morning I was off to NYC for meetings. Then on March 10-11 I co-hosted a conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. “What March 11 Means to Me” brought together an amazing group of public intellectuals from Japan for personal and philosophical reflections on the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster: Amamiya Karin, Komori Yoichi, Ryusawa Takeshi, Takahashi Tetsuya, and Yokoyu Sonoko. The following week, I traveled to Toronto for the AAS annual meeting, where I chaired a roundtable discussion on the 1950 wire recordings of Japanese performers in concert in Sacramento (more on those anon).

In April, I was back in NYC for a lecture at Columbia University. While there, I saw the acclaimed revival of “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and caught up with a few old friends. Back in Chicago, we attended a lively concert by Rodrigo y Gabriela and a fine performance by the Alvin Ailey dance company a few days later. Later in the month, I drove up to the Twin Cities to visit family and friends, catching a Twins game while there and a Beloit Snappers minor-league game on the drive home. During the month, I also finished up an article on Natsume Soseki’s conception of world literature, which appeared in the May/June issue of the Iwanami Shoten journal Bungaku.

On May Day I joined the protest march that started out from Union Park and made its way past the site of the Haymarket Massacre (the historical origin of May Day) before ending at a rally downtown. A few days later, we caught a live performance by one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year: Kids These Days. The group manages to combine rock, funk, jazz, and hip hop and make it all work; their debut album Traphouse Rock came out later in the year and was one of my favorite records of 2012.

Later in May I attended the Atomic Age II conference at Chicago. It featured a keynote address from Koide Hiroaki, one of the most important critics of Japan’s “nuclear village.” The next day, we joined a group to visit the nature preserve in the western suburbs where the remains of Chicago Piles 1 and 2 (the world’s first nuclear reactors) are buried. Later in the month we caught a surprise cameo appearance by Ray Davies at a public television benefit concert, and then I was off to Tokyo for a quick one-week visit. During that trip, I attended the May sumo tournament, met a number of scholars, visited libraries and bookstores, and stopped by an exhibit of photographs by Mike Nogami. After coming back to Chicago, I survived the NATO conference shut-down of the city, dragged the kids to the reunited Beach Boys concert at the Chicago Theater, and enjoyed a Millenium Park performance by Kelly Hogan (another key musical discovery of the year). We ended the month by catching Court Theater’s production of “Angels in America” with Larry Yando’s memorable turn as Ray Cohn.

As June began, I flew to Los Angeles to join in the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. It was lovely to catch up with old friends from UCLA, and while there I got to meet and chat briefly with one of my childhood heroes, Daniel Inouye (RIP, Senator Inouye). It turned out that he was one of the 442nd veterans involved in inviting Misora Hibari to Hawaii in 1950 for a charity concert–which led in turn to the 1950 Sacramento concert recordings. Another quick trip to Minnesota followed, and I was back home to catch the last day of the Chicago Blues Festival, including an uplifting headliner set by Mavis Staples. During June we also caught the CSO a couple times, including an eye-opening public rehearsal led by Ricardo Muti, and we visited the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute. But the cultural highlight of the month was the acclaimed production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theater, with an ensemble cast so strong that the supposed stars, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane, mostly just blended into the scenery.

July is when things really got busy. I’ll write about the second half of the year tomorrow. In the meantime, I really should get hopping on those year-end projects….

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Pop Envy

Posted in Current Events,J-Pop,Music by bourdaghs on the November 27th, 2012

I think I’m the last human being on earth who actually cares about this. NHK yesterday announced the line-up for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” its annual New Years Eve pop music spectacle. At first glance, the only thing that caught my eye was the fact that recently reunited J-Rock veterans Princess Princess were going to be making their debut appearance on the show. Beyond that, it was just a ho-hum list of the usual suspects. You can check out the whole roster here (Japanese-language).

But then press reports (e.g., here and here) started pointing out a conspicuous absence. In recent years, the bill has always included top K-Pop idols, but this year nary a single performer from across the Sea of Japan (or, depending on one’s geopolitical allegiances, the East Sea). NHK cites “public opinion” as the reason for this, referring obliquely to the flare-up earlier this year over the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islands (see this report from the NY Times on the increasingly bitter row).

This carries on a news thread from earlier this year: the odd fact that Japan was the one place on earth where PSY’s Internet sensation “Gangnam Style,” now the single most watched video in YouTube history, failed to become a hit. According to news reports, South Korea was “irked” about this indifference. Ian Martin, writing in the Japan Times last month, speculates that this may be entirely to Japan’s credit:

But it’s Psy who is the first Korean artist that the West gathers to its collective heart, while Japan stands by nonplussed, and I have to wonder if a lot of the reason for “Gangnam Style” ‘s Western popularity still boils down to, “Hey, look at the funny little Asian man dancing!” (This was essentially the gist of a sketch on comedy show Saturday Night Live that parodied “Gangnam Style” on Sept. 15. Psy also made an appearance in that sketch.)

It’s an awkward area to go into; no one likes to think of themselves as prejudiced. However, even if you’re not, mass media still wields influence on what society collectively considers cool. So think for a moment: How many genuinely “cool” Asian celebrities are there in the West? I don’t mean subcultural or art-house cool, so scrub Cornelius and Tony Leung off your list. I’m talking about Asian stars in the Western mainstream whose image is something people aspire toward and seek to imitate.

What’s struck me most about the “Gangnam Style” phenomenon is its close resemblance to 1963 and Sakamoto Kyu’s accidental worldwide hit, “Sukiyaki.” As I argue in my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon, that incident has to be understood within its specific historical context, including the massive 1960 protests in Tokyo against renewal of AMPO–the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty–and the Cold War strain of Orientalism that transformed Japan into an object of fetishistic desire. Not to mention the escalating Vietnam War, for which Japan and Okinawa would serve as major staging areas.

The current tensions recall to mind something that Karatani Kojin wrote about a couple of decades ago. We have to always keep in mind that historians someday will write that we were living in the pre-war era.

A Tasty Musical Snack

Posted in Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the August 22nd, 2012

Probably you’ve already seen this. Kids in a Minneapolis YMCA summer youth program created a terrific rap song called “Hot Cheetos & Takis.” With an assist from some adult producers, they released a video of the tune, which in the last week has gone viral:

You can read the back story to the video here and here. Rolling Stone magazine declared the song “the summer’s final truly great jam.”

I like the tune quite a bit. Whereas grown-up rappers focus on grown-up desires (wealth, drugs, sex), the kids rhyme about what kids really desire: snacks. It occurred to me today that another reason for liking the song is that it provides a perfect marriage of content and form–the content of the song is its form. The lyrics are all about the joys of tasty snack foods, while the song itself is the musical equivalent of an after-school snack: tangy, a little spicy, not too heavy. And the song has one great advantage over its namesakes: it doesn’t turn your fingers red (though the kids actually seem to like that aftereffect from eating red hot Cheetos).

I have to confess I’ve never eaten Takis. I’d never even heard of them before watching the video. I’ve learned since that it’s a brand of corn chips. I have no idea what they taste like, but they sure sound good.

Scenes from a Month in the Life

It’s been exactly a month since I posted here. I spent that month mostly on the road — two weeks in Japan and a week in Minnesota, sandwiched around a brief stay at home in Chicago. What did I do during that month? A few randomly chosen scenes:

Rediscovery of Zazen Boys. After enjoying their first two CDs very much and watching them play a live set in Sendai back in 2006, I’d drifted away from this post-punk/funk combo. But an entry of Patrick St. Michel’s excellent blog alerted me to “Potato Salad,” a wonderful new track from a forthcoming release, and while in Japan I picked up a copy of Zazen Boys 4, their 2008 CD. Terrific stuff, and back on heavy rotation in my life.

Celebrating what would have been my father’s 75th birthday. The whole family gathered in St. Paul for the event on August 15. We took in a Twins’ game on a lovely afternoon at Target Field (alack, a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, with Ben Revere hitting a triple for the only Minnesota highlight of the day), then supped on pizza, wine, and cake in the evening as we passed around photos of Dad and swapped stories. The next day, I dragged the kids to a free concert in Mears Park in downtown St. Paul by the Flamin’ Ohs, a local Minnesota band I adored during their late 1970s, early 1980s, heyday. The kids hated the show; I loved it. You can decide for yourself:

Enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame. I did about a dozen media interviews in Japan and here about my book and the discovery of wire recordings of 1950 concerts in Sacramento by a number of prominent Japanese musicians, including Misora Hibari and Yamaguchi Yoshiko. This resulted in a large number of stories and reviews in newspapers and magazines, as well as a fair amount of television coverage. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon seems to be selling well, and the press comments so far have been quite positive. Here in the States, I’ll be on the August 26 edition of the public radio program, “To The Best of Our Knowledge.” It will be available as a podcast after the broadcast.

Participating in the July 29 “Encircle the National Diet Building” Anti-Nuclear Protest in Tokyo. It was a disorienting but exhilarating event: tens of thousands of marchers trying to follow bizarre police directions that made me feel increasingly like a laboratory rat trapped in a maze. We were repeatedly directed to walk away from the Diet Building, but eventually we did find the cheese: a swirling carnival that occupied a blocked-off street in front of the main entrance to the building. In the meanwhile, the weekly Friday afternoon protests in front of the Prime Minister’s residence continue.

Dashing off an Angry E-Mail to NBC. How could they possible cut Ray Davies’ performance of “Waterloo Sunset” from the American broadcast of the London Olympics closing ceremony? It was the emotional centerpiece of the whole show. Sigh. I wasn’t the only one who was mad about it, either.

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Those 1950 California Concert Recordings by Misora Hibari and Others

Posted in Current Events,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the July 6th, 2012

In the last few days, the Japanese press have been reporting on a discovery I was involved in of a set of previously unknown recordings made in Sacramento, California around 1950 of a number of Japanese singers in concert. You can see the story in Japanese in the Yomiuri, Nikkei and Asahi newspapers, among others. In English it’s run in the Japan Times and the Mainichi.

The press coverage has understandably focused on the recording of the June, 1950 concert by then thirteen-year-old Misora Hibari and her mentor, Kawada Haruhisa. It’s a remarkably clear recording of the full concert, almost ninety minutes long. But the collection also includes recordings of concerts by a remarkable range of popular musicians from the day: Yamaguchi Yoshiko (known during the war as “Ri Koran”); the “Queen of Boogie Woogie” Kasagi Shizuko together with her mentor, composer Hattori Ryoichi and his sister, singer Hattori Tomiko; Watanabe Hamako together with Kouta Katsutaro; and the Akireta Boys in their postwar incarnation. There are also a number of recordings of performances by local Japanese-American musicians from the Sacramento area. The quality of the recordings vary from concert to concert (unfortunately, the Kasagi/Hattori concert recording has the lowest quality), but most are in remarkably good shape.

The recordings were actually discovered by a retired Bell Canada sound technician who collects old recording devices. In August, 2008, he purchased two boxes of wire recordings in an online auction from a seller in California, without knowing what the contents were. When he received the reels (twelve in all), he digitized them and began to figure out that they were concert recordings of Japanese performers. Although he speaks no Japanese, he was able to figure out the names of most of the performers and that the concerts themselves were held in Sacramento. Through an Internet search, he found my name because of a paper I delivered at a conference several years ago on the 1950 American concert tours by Misora Hibari and Kasagi Shizuko.

He contacted me in the summer of 2009 and described his discovery. To be honest, I was a first highly doubtful–I thought perhaps he had discovered recordings of concerts made in Japan that somehow happened to fall into the hands of someone in California. But he was kind enough to send me copies of the recordings. When I started listening to them, it was clear within minutes that these were indeed recordings of Sacramento concerts. It’s still not clear who made the recordings or for what purpose, but since they were clearly recorded directly off the stage microphone, it seems likely that it was someone connected with the Nichibei Theater, the venue in Sacramento that is mentioned in many of the recordings.

I’ve been working with the owner and other colleagues since (notably, Loren Kajikawa of the University of Oregon and Christine Yano of the University of Hawaii) to try to figure out how best to present this archive to the world. We did a roundtable panel at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in Toronto this past March and had a very good reception. The owner has since decided to donate the entire collection of recordings to the UCLA library. We have also sent a copy of the Misora Hibari concert to her management office in Tokyo, and I am currently working to find contact information for representatives of the other performers who appear on the recordings so that we can send them the files, as well.

I’m still in a state of disbelief about the discovery. I’d spent a good deal of time thinking about the 1950 concert tours. The U.S. Occupation lifted the ban on overseas travel by Japanese citizens in late 1949, and Japanese musicians scrambled to arrange American tours. Misora Hibari was invited to Hawaii by veterans of the 442nd Infantry Regiment and 100th Combat Battalion, the famous Japanese-American U.S. army units, for a charity show. From Hawaii, she traveled to the mainland for a concert tour on the West Coast. (More information about the Misora Hibari and Kawada Haruhisa 1950 tour can be found in a very helpful Japanese-language book,『川田晴久と美空ひばり―アメリカ公演』). The other performers crossed the Pacific shortly thereafter for their own tours.

Incidentally, I recently attended a dinner at UCLA where Senator Daniel Inouye was a guest of honor. Knowing that Sen. Inouye was a veteran of the 442nd, I asked him if he remembered the 1950 Hibari visit to Hawaii. He confirmed not only that he remembered it, but that he had been at concerts.

The recordings are significant in a number of ways. They give a remarkable snapshot of the state of popular music in Japan, circa 1950. To my knowledge, there are very few similar concert recordings from the period in existence. Moreover, they give a very palpable sense of the rapidity by which Japan was converted in the American imaginary from wartime enemy into Cold War friend. To my mind, the most intriguing aspect of the recordings is their significance for Japanese-American cultural history. I find it astonishing that a mere five years after their release from wartime internment camps, Japanese-American audiences in Sacramento and elsewhere were able to indulge so publicly and so gleefully in their cultural ties to Japan.

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The Sounds of Summer 2012 in Japan

Posted in Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the July 1st, 2012

The media, both inside and outside of Japan, are finally starting to report on the massive demonstrations ongoing in Tokyo and elsewhere in protest against Prime Minister Noda’s decision to restart the Ohi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. Last Friday, tens of thousands gathered outside the Prime Minister’s residence in what has become a regular weekly event. Another large protest is planned for Shinjuku today, and on July 29 yet another protest will perform a symbolic circling of the Diet Building, the home of Japan’s national parliament.

Musician Sakamoto Ryuichi, who has been active in anti-nuclear and other environmentalist causes for decades, has just released a mesmerizing new recording, mixing sound samples from the protests outside the Ohi plant gates (“Saikado hantai!”: We oppose restarting the reactors!) with ambient-style music. You can listen to the piece here. He announced the release on his Twitter feed last night:

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Takahashi Tetsuya on Fukushima and Okinawa: Japan’s “Sacrificial” System

Posted in Books,Current Events by bourdaghs on the June 2nd, 2012

Takahashi Tetsuya (University of Tokyo) is one of contemporary Japan’s leading philosophers and public intellectuals. I’ve just finished reading his most recent book, Gisei no system: Fukushima Okinawa (The sacrificial system: Fukushima and Okinawa; Tokyo: Shueisha, 2012). It builds on Takahashi’s earlier work on the postwar Japanese social system as one grounded in systematic sacrifices and scapegoating. In other words, Takahashi finds in both Fukushima and Okinawa paradigms for the problematic structure of postwar Japanese society.

Here’s how Takahashi defines a “sacrificial system”:

In a sacrificial system, the profit of one person (or persons) is obtained and maintained through a sacrifice in the living conditions (life, health, everyday life, property, respect, desires, etc.) of another person (or persons). The profit of the sacrificer cannot be obtained or maintained without the sacrifice of the sacrificed. This sacrifice is ordinarily either repressed from view or aestheticized and legitimated as a “noble sacrifice” carried out for the sake of the community (sate, nation, society, company, etc.) (my translation, e.g., p. 185)

Takahashi, who was raised in Fukushima, traces the ways this insidious logic led to the concentration of nuclear power plants in rural areas such as Fukushima, as well as to the concentration of U.S. military bases on the small province of Okinawa. Each is an instance of a kind of colonization, he argues, and each has been recently aestheticized and praised by national politicians as a kind of “noble sacrifice” carried out for the benefit of the nation.

Takahashi is particularly good at tracing out the complexities of responsibility that lie behind the still-unfolding nuclear disaster in Tohoku. No one is completely innocent here, not even residents of Fukushima prefecture, and yet some people–particular those politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and industry leaders who formed Japan’s now-notorious “nuclear energy village”–bear particularly deep responsibility for the disaster.

In one particularly interesting chapter, Takahashi unpacks the ethical implications of statements by such figures as Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro claiming the 3/11 disaster was “divine punishment.” Takahashi sees such claims as forming a particular kind of ideological obfuscation. He reads them in relation to earlier statements by the Christian intellectual Uchimura Kanzo writing in response to the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and Nagai Takashi responding to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

As Takahashi unpacks the logic of the sacrificial system, he never loses sight of the pressing ethical demand it posits. We can’t simply mourn the victims or celebrate the beauty of their sacrifice (as Takahashi notes, this was the dominant tone in coverage both in Japan and abroad of the workers who remained inside the Fukushima complex during the disaster, trying frantically to try to bring it under control). Fukushima and Okinawa instead demand that the sacrificial system as a whole must be dismantled.

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The Coming Weekend

Posted in Current Events,Minnesota Twins,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the May 3rd, 2012

It’s going to be a busy weekend.

Friday, I’m planning to head downtown to catch Kids These Days, a terrific group that combines hip hop, jazz and R&B, in their set at Columbia College’s “Manifest” festival: 5:40-6:30 p.m. “Under the Big Tent” at 1001 S. Wabash Ave. There will be free music performances all day as part of the event.

Then on Saturday it’s the big “Atomic Age II” conference at the University of Chicago, with guest speakers including Kyoto University nuclear physicist Koide Hiroaki (one of the few specialists in the field willing to speak critically about Japan’s nuclear power industry and the government’s role in promoting it), Muto Ruiko (a prominent anti-nuclear activist from Fukushima), and Robert Rossner, professor of Astronomy, Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago and former Director of the Argonne National Laboratory. Last year’s conference was enormously informative and energizing, and I am hoping for more of the same on Saturday.

Sunday, we’ll be visiting Site A/Plot M Disposal Site, the final resting place of Chicago Pile-1, Enrico Fermi’s first nuclear reactor. It was originally located under the grandstands of Stagg Field (currently the site of Regenstein Library) here at the University of Chicago.

In the midst of this flurry of activity, the May sumo tournament gets underway Sunday at Kokugikan in Tokyo. Yokozuna Hakuho is the favorite going in, but sumo has been pretty unpredictable as of late. I have a ticket to attend day 10, and I can’t wait. It just might take my mind off the seemingly unending miseries of the 2012 Minnesota Twins. After a dreadful 2011, Twins fans came into 2012 buoyed by one slender hope: that this season couldn’t possibly be as bad as last.


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Play Ball! (Japanese style)

Posted in baseball,Current Events by bourdaghs on the March 30th, 2012

The 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball season is officially underway. The Yomiuri Giants (boo!) seem the favorites in the Central league, while in the Pacific League its the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks with their new import pitcher Brad Penny. As for me, I’m curious to see how the Hanshin Tigers fare under new manager Wada Yutaka, a star infielder for the team in the 1990s. In the PL, I’ll be watching to see if the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles can finally turn the corner and become contenders.

To celebrate the occasion, here’s a brilliant tv commercial from the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks (I found it via the Néojaponisme twitter feed) on how they practice:

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