Rockabilly in Japan, Baby

japan-rockabilly-sceneRockabillies – or as we call them in the States: Greasers – is a fashion style that can still be found in Harajuku district in Tokyo. The rockabilly (or rokabiri in Japanese) is a strange import from America. Despite being in the style of Greasers, the fashion has roots in country and western music, dating back in the mid to late 1950s (Furmanovsky, 2008; 2014) .  The music came with the American soldiers that stayed around after World War II.

The Rise of the Rockabilly, Baby

American Radio broadcasts to the troops gave the Japanese their first taste of American Greasers and Rockabilly music. Army Sergeant Ted Clemens introduced the people of Kyoto and Osaka to hillbilly and cowboy music in 1946-47 (Furmanovsky, 2008). This generated interest in various young musicians who started to emulate the style. The  simple English lyrics, melodies, and the American flavor appealed to young Japanese men. These men would later become rokabiri after American rock ‘n’ roll entered the mix. Yep, think Elvis Presley (Fumanovsky, 2008; 2014).

Elvis Presley – One of the slickest rockabillies

The word rockabilly comes from smashing “rock” with “hillbilly” (Tulane, n.d.). Pretty much like how Elvis smashed rock with southern American music to make the rockabilly sound.

The Japanese musicians tried to emulate the sound down to southern drawl (Furmanovsky, 2008). Now, consider the challenge of this. Learning to speak (sing) English AND sing it in a southern accent. The groups, like Chuckwagon Boys, managed to become popular with both GIs and other rockabillies despite the challenge (Furmanovsky, 2014).

Just as Greasers were considered degenerate, the rokabirizoku (rockabilly gangs) were considered degenerate.  Yamashita Keijirou and Micky Curtis were among the most popular singers and made Japanese media pay attention. The two singers found themselves the target of groupies. Japanese teen boys would drag them from the stage in excitement and girls would throw stolen toilet paper on stage.  Western Carnival, the trio that included Keijirou and Curtis along with Hirao Masaaki, drew large crowds of toilet paper flingers. Ironically, the trio were shocked by the behavior as well.  Masaaki was Japan’s new Elvis-style performer. The combination of music, groupies, and stolen TP started a backlash that would kill the rockabilly music movement (Furmanovsky, 2014).

The End of Rockabilly Music, Baby

tokyo-travel-things-to-do-138Rockabilly lasted only a decade. By 1960, political changes in Japan and a crackdown on the genre because of fears of open sexuality and drugs stomped down the genre. Sound familiar? The same arguments were used against American rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis and his swaying hips were too much for many authorities. So too in Japan.

However, the element that shove the genre into a niche was the music companies.  The shifts in politics created an interest in popular culture and family friendly images. Music goes where the money is. In 1958, in an interview with Hirao Masaaki, the rokabiri star spoke with a reporter who would write a hit pop song. The rokabiri turned pop.  The song sold more than any of rokabiri song. Pop became the music genre. Kawaii also entered the fray.  (Furmanovsky, 2014). To state the obvious, kawaii won.

The Japanese covers of English songs mainly exists for fans of the 60+ age group (Furmanovsky, 2008). However, the rokabiri look continues on.

It’s all in the Pompadour, Baby

In Tokyo, there is a club where the greased hair and pompadour shine and tower proudly. For 30 years, the Tokyo Rockabilly Club gathered in Yoyogi Park to dance and sing of their love of 1950s American culture. ( CBS News, 2014).

Think the movie Grease, only Japanese. Here is a video:

The big hair style is called a pompadour, and it used to be a lady’s hair style.  The oil slick hair was just slicked back hair without much of a name to it. Although slickers was another name for greasers. In any case, the guys could change their car’s oil by rubbing their head on the engine.

The towering pompadour hair style was named after Jeanne-Antoinette Piosson (1721-1764), the Marquise of Pompadour. As a mistress of King Louis XV, Miss Pompadour created a fashion statement that involved wire and straw (or fabric). Ladies would frizz their hair and stuff it full of straw or fabric to make it tower over them. The pompadour became a symbol of wealth and status – it grew taller and more embellished over time (Sherrow, 2006).

The Marquise de Pompadour rocking an early pompadour.

The Marquise de Pompadour rocking an early pompadour.

The pompadour involved rats. Yep, rats. They would take the furry rodents and…. just kidding. Rats was the name for the padding and false hair that poofed the hairstyle in the 1800s (Sherrow, 2006). Women and men literally had rats in their hair! Maybe the fake hair was made from rats?

The pompadour, as we think of it, with all the greasy sheen was worn by Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, and James Dean (Sherrow, 2006). This is the pompadour the Tokyo Rockabilly Club rocks. Although some of the pompadours rival that of France and Victorian England:

Eat this pompadour Victorian England.

Suck it Victorian England. This pompadour rocks gravity.

Over time, rockabilly morphed from a music movement grounded in the tradition of American western to a fashion style found at Harajuku. Rockabilly styled characters appear time to time in anime, with Space Dandy being one of the most overt rokabiri.

The pompadour is still cool, baby.

The pompadour is still cool, baby.

The music of rockabilly may be mostly forgotten. Groups like the Tokyo Rockabilly Club and anime like Space Dandy will continue to preserve the style and feel of 1950s America and Japan.

References

CBSNews (2014).  Tokyo’s Rockabilly Scene. http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/tokyos-rockabilly-scene/

Furmanovsky, M. (2008). American Country Music in Japan: Lost Piece in the Popular Music History Puzzle. Popular Music and Society 31 [3]. pp. 357-372.

Furmanovsky, M (2014). “Rokabiri, Student Radicalism and the Japanization of American Pop Culture, 1955-60. https://www.academia.edu/7619226/_Rokabiri_Student_Radicalism_and_the_Japanization_of_American_Pop_Culture_1955-60

Sherrow, V. (editor) (2006) Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. p.309-310.

Spacey, J. (2012). Why Harajuku Rocks on Sunday Afternoon. http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/why-harajuku-rocks-on-sunday-afternoons

Tulane (n.d.) Rockabilly. http://musicrising.tulane.edu/discover/themes/29/Rockabilly.

Space Dandy – It was a Dandy of a Ride, Baby

Space Dandy

Space Dandy, like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo before, is  genre to itself. It plays with and breaks themes found in scifi and anime. The series lacked  a cohesive plot, and it was sporadic at times. Yet, some episodes were the stuff of legend. Other episodes were the stuff of meh.  Where Cowboy Bebop was episodic, but Space Dandy took it to the extreme. It seemed as if zero episodes were related. The final episode explains the structure and pulls everything together, just barely but enough.

I wasn’t expecting the last episode to be able to pull that off. I won’t ruin the last episode beyond that.

It's all about the booty, baby. Actually, even this is a subtle plot thread.

It’s all about the booty, baby. Actually, even this is a subtle plot thread.

It is interesting how subtle this rockabilly anime was. Oh, not in the lavish, varied animation. The show was quite in-the-face about that. Rather, the subtle threads laced in every episode that the finale yanks together. Of course, in one episode QT makes an offhand comment about Dandy’s changes in female tastes. Dandy starts out preferring the booty. Several episodes later, Dandy makes a comment about boobs being the best. Then back to the booty in the High School Musical spoof episode.  Events with Dr. Gel also point to goings on. His personality shifts from mustache twirler to absent minded professor and back again. Space Dandy’s tie together is worthy of Star Trek’s convoluted timeline arcs.

Dandy being dandy wth  Adelia

I quite enjoyed the romp. Dandy is a dandy guy. Interestingly, his love for the ladies and their various gifts does not fall into misogyny. Rather, he treats women with respect in an old fashioned, 1950s sort of way. Dandy fits with the 1950s time period in every way – from the Greaser look to the cheesy science fiction movies.

Scattered throughout the series are references to modern issues and cultural norms. Meow is constantly screwing around with his blog or Twitter. His smart phone is always in his hand. It often distracts him from goings on around him. Sounds familiar? Honey is also a reference to attitudes toward women. Honey works at Boobies where she wears not much of anything. Despite coming off as a bimbo at work, she is actually a genius and capable pilot. This reflects how women who work at places like Hooters are often looked down upon.  Many are working their way through college and are far more intelligent than the tight shorts and shirts suggest to people. Space Dandy alludes to how we make (wrong) judgments of people based on surface interactions and the clothes they wear.

Space Dandy

The series is unlike any other I’ve watched. It is refreshing to see storytelling be daring and strike out into new ground. Although, at its core, Space Dandy’s storyline is straight out of Star Trek, the execution is what sets it apart. It doesn’t try to tie anything together, but offer threads in every seemingly unrelated episode to pull together at the end. The series doesn’t try to be something it is not: a fun ride through space in a Hawaiian themed space ship.

Adelie is one of the more memorable and cute characters Space Dandy encounters.

Adelie is one of the more memorable and cute characters Space Dandy encounters.

I am a little disappointed that the cute Adelie failed to make one last appearance. I expected to see her appear as a adult to torment and perhaps marry Dandy. Hey, weirder things happened!

It is interesting how Space Dandy played with String Theory and the multiple universe hypothesis without becoming overly confusing. Star Trek tends to get lost whenever it plays with the same ideas.

At the end of the day, Space Dandy doesn’t have much of a message. It plays with sci-fi tropes and ideas from the fringes of science. It doesn’t get itself lost in lofty serious messages about existence. Space Dandy sets out to entertain. The anime isstuffed with visuals that massage the retinas and zany action that remind me of the more playful days of animation. It is also very western and wonderfully funky. Anime often takes itself too seriously. Space Dandy is everything but serious. Space Dandy is a nice break from the tired high school anime that clutters what we see here in the US.

See you, Space Rockabilly

See you, Space Rockabilly

I am sad to see Space Dandy end. It was a dandy ride, baby.

Midoricon 2014 Coverage Pt. 2-Interview with Marble Hornets/THAC

1095097_591822877563445_2111684502_nAt Midoricon 2014, I had the chance to sit down with Troy, Tim, and Joseph, the creators and stars of the amazing YouTube series Marble Hornets, to talk about their future projects, Luke Skywalker’s GoPro camera, and other things.

Was there any point in time that you were tired of the series and wanted to end it early?

Troy: Not end it early-

Joseph: That’s what the season breaks were for though when we were getting tired of the series to prevent burnout.

Tim: When we would have burnout, that’s what the THAC shorts were for.

Troy: Yeah they were kind of our release valve for dumb stuff we wanted to do with Marble Hornets but couldn’t.

Joseph: We never really considered ending early from being tired of it. There were a lot of times where we would go “This should just stop, this is the last entry”, but it was never under serious consideration.

What was each of your most favorite entries of the series? Either favorite story-wise or favorite to film?

Tim: I really liked 72 in Season 3-

Troy: Was that the one we threw you in the water?

Tim: No, that was the one with the multiple operator appearances we shot at my grandparents’ house. That was one of the few times where, you know, you never know how an entry’s gonna turn out with the final product with how people are going to react and whatnot, but that’s the only time I could think of when we were driving away after we were done and were like “This is gonna be pretty bad***, just trust me. I believe in this one”. I was excited about that one before we even posted it.

Troy: Was 65 the one we threw you in the water?

Tim: Yes.

Troy: Ok then 65 was my favorite because, it probably wasn’t for Tim, but just because we got to go back to Season 1 roots of “Hey this would be a cool thing to shoot, let’s do that.”

Joseph: I think my favorite actually goes all the way back to Entry #6. Just The Operator gliding across the window like that. Short, sweet, to the point. Just pretty straightforward, and not much to it. I like that.

At what point did you decide to create THAC LLC as your own company?

Troy: We were meaning to for a long time. Mostly for tax reasons.

Joseph: Conceptually, it was something that already existed-

Troy: Yeah it was just making it official.

Joseph: At one point we had a Google Doc just trying to think of a name. I didn’t realize Rocket Dog was the name of a shoe company and I really liked that one since my dog’s name is Rocket.

Tim: And then we kept the name THAC because Troy already had his Troyhasacamera channel that we started doing and we were like “We already have this and people already know this channel was here that we might as well make that our brand.”

Has anyone from the cast of Marble Hornets ever been stalked by fans?

Tim: If they’re successful stalkers we wouldn’t know anyway. But as far as I know I have not.

Troy: Our fans are very cool.

Any hints you can give me your next series, either the horror one or the comedy one you’ve talked about?

Tim: One’s gonna be scary and the other’s gonna be funny. Both are gonna be weird. I can say that.

Troy: That’s pretty much it.

Will you include your future children in any THAC shenanigans?

Troy: I guess if they’re old enough and they wanna do it I don’t care (laugh).

Tim: You did have a pretty funny Nature Break idea-

Troy: Yeah I had an idea with my kid, like dressing her up like a little Craig Digsby and be like “I found this!” Now we have to.

Joseph: Yeah hahaha.

If you could remake one movie in your own filming style what would it be?

Tim: Star Wars!

Joseph: Found Footage Star Wars? That sounds awesome. That’d be a neat concept.

Troy: Just told from the Rebel side. Oh no, it’s all told from some like, Imperial intern-

Tim: No it’s told from Luke Skywalker’s perspective, but he’s like a space vlogger. Just imagine the original Star Wars, but it’s entirely from the perspective of Luke’s GoPro.

Joseph: But the problem is the GoPro would cause so much motion sickness!

Any plans for a full-length movie made by yourselves?

Troy: We’ve got some ideas, but committing to them is really hard.

Joseph: Yeah we’ve got so much on our plate already; that is a very big undertaking.

Troy: Yeah we’ve got several ideas; maybe we’ll get around to it someday.

Tim: The stuff that we come up with tends to be better in an episodic format, especially when you’re making stuff for the internet. It tends to work better and get a bigger audience when it’s in bite sized chunks. That would require us to sort of like change the way we write things.

How has your success with Marble Hornets changed you as a person?

Troy: I hope not at all!

Joseph: Yeah I feel that we’re still pretty-

Troy: Normal.

Joseph: Exactly as we were before. Just three goofy guys in the internet.

Tim: I will say that like, meeting just a variety of people from a variety of walks of life has opened my mindset over the past couple of years. This has happened sort of as I was still “growing” and forming as an adult, so I will say it was sort of informative experience.

With all the travel problems you guys had, will you be coming back to Midoricon if invited?

Tim: None of it was their fault. Once we got here it was awesome.

Troy: Yeah definitely we will!

 

If you want to check out the series, Marble Hornets you can watch it here.

 Also check out THAC’s website at thac.tv

Make sure to follow THAC on Twitter @thacTV and on Facebook

 

 

 

Pokemon: A History of Friendship and Controversy

cute-pokemon-crewPokemon proved itself more than a fad. Back in 1999, at the height of popularity, Pokemania caused parents to fear for their children. Pokemon was an odd mix of good moral principles like friendship and compassion with acquisitiveness. Gotta catch ‘em all!  (Chua-Eaon, 1999; Kehoe, 2000). The fears of parents had little to do with the video games or cartoons. Parents feared the cards (Kehoe, 2000; Cook, 2001).

The Beginning of Pikachu

pokemon-1440-900-wallpaperBy all descriptions, Satoshi Tajiri was an otaku. As a boy living outside of Tokyo, he spent is time collecting insects and other small critters in the fields, ponds, and forests. Tajiri refused to conform; he spent six years developing a video game idea. No one thought the idea would go anywhere.  Tajiri was a deadbeat who wasted his days at the arcade rather than work. He was such a regular that the arcade gave him a Space Invaders machine.The idea was an effort to preserve his childhood. The main character was even named after its creator: Satoshi. We know the character as Ash in the States.

Tajiri, with his fellow otakus, created a magazine called GameFreak in 1982 to publish cheats and tips. He approached Nintendo with an idea for a Gameboy game. Over the next 6 years, Shigeru Miyamato mentored Tajiri in his effort. Nintendo released the game without any expectations.

Pocket Monsters, as it was known, sold slowly and steadily. It kept selling.

Tajiri had an ace in his hand. Unknown to Nintendo, he programmed a hidden mysterious monster that could only be found through the game’s trading feature. People had to trade monsters between their Gameboys. As rumors increased, the sales skyrocketed. The cartoon, trading cards, and empire followed shortly after.

Ties with World War II

pokemonPokemon centers around cute creatures being forced to fight each other. The morality of this is questionable. At least the critters only fight until they are too exhausted to move. Many parents are concerned that Pokemon encourages violence as a means of solving problems. However, most of Ash’s Pokemon fight out of friendship and a desire to help others.

This cricket fighting can be traced to World War II. Children would catch crickets, raise them, and teach the insects to fight. Boys then would challenge each other. Crickets gained fighting experience and improved over time. This allowed young Japanese boys to distract themselves from the fighting of World War II (Chua-Eaon, 1999).

 The Lure of Pokemon

ash-pikachuPokemon goes beyond cute monsters that appeal to children. Pokemon has moral messages and touches on many emotional needs. Of course, all of this is tapped to drive sales. Nintendo has been accused of tying love, family life, and emotional development with profit making mechanisms. The game creates a product that seduces children into buying mastery that cannot be fully obtained.

Nintendo does not claim the commodification of family values and friendship as the company’s goal. The company does use the brand to make profit but states the value of family and friendship is the core of what the company wants to share with the world (Jordan,   2004).

Filling Children’s Emotional Needs

ash-misty-brockThe Pokemon cartoon touches on many emotional needs children have. The series provides many opportunities to explore parent roles while still remaining a child. Ash is 10 years old in the original cartoon and game. The child cares for his Pokemon and helps them grow just as a parent would care for a child. Misty is overtly a mother figure toward Pokemon. She carries around a baby-like Pokemon called Togepi. Misty and Ash often act as a mother-father couple as they learn to care for their Pokemon. At times, Brock and Misty act as father and mother to Ash has he learns about how to be a Pokemon trainer from them.  (Jordan, 2004). This changes as the cartoon progresses.

Ash also learns how to handle loss as a parent. Several episodes involve him letting a “child” go because it is best for that Pokemon. He lets the first Pokemon he catches, Butterfree, go, for example. These episodes of loss helps a child understand her feelings of loss whenever a loved one dies or moves away.

Pokemon also has many non-traditional families. None of the main characters come from nuclear families. Brock, Misty, and Ash all create a family. They each also come from non-traditional families. Brock acts as a father to 9 siblings until  his father returns from a journey to be a Pokemon breeder. There is no sign of his mother. Misty lives with her 3 sisters. Misty has problems with those sisters until she later reconciles by demonstrating her knowledge and care as a Pokemon parent. Family break up and reconciliation is a common thread in the cartoon. Usually it is handled through other people’s families. There is little sign of Misty’s father or mother. Ash comes from a single parent family. There is no sign of his father in the early cartoon (Jordan, 2004).

Pokemon Mastery

pokemon-trading-cardsPokemon’s idea of mastery is the center of many parent’s concerns. Parents like the moral messages of friendship, compassion, and family. Pokemon’s violence is not much of a concern compared to the hyper violence of fairy tales and other children’s media. Pokemon is considered safe with the exception of what it takes to be “the best there ever was” (Kehoe, 2000; Jordan, 2004; Intihar, 2007;
Horton, 2012).

Pokemon mastery centers around “gotta catch ‘em all.” This causes children to pursue forever elusive mastery of the Pokemon world, driving Nintendo’s profits (Jordan, 2004). There is an endless collection of plushies, new game releases, and trading cards.  The trading card game has caused trouble. Schools banned the game and led some boys to head for-profit trading card ventures on school ground. Schools also saw an increase in violence and thefts related to the Pokemon card game. Older children would con younger children out of cards worth as much as $30 (Cook, 2001).

Pokemon Panic

I will only touch on this event in the history of Pokemon. The Pokemon Panic is worthy of a full article. The Pokemon Panic was started by 700 Japanese children reportedly having seizures while watching a particular episode of the cartoon. In the episode, Pikachu does what Pikachu does: thwart Team Rocket with a Thunderbolt. However, the resulting explosion was a strobe of colors that supposedly caused the children to have “optically stimulated epilepsy.” The incident contributed to negative parental views about Pokemon and forced the Japanese government to suspend the show for 4 months (Papapetros, 2010). Despite the panic, Pokemon retained it popularity.

Benefits of Knowing Pikachu

pokemon_cute_pikachuDespite the problems with mastery and Pokemon trading cards, Pokemon is considered positive by most of the researchers I read.  Pokemon trading cards have been used to study how children learn about plants and animals (Sanders, 2010). Sanders even suggests teachers should relate actual plants and animals to the Pokemon in order for children to better understand the Pokemon’s real world counterparts.

Pokemon has become, at least during the height of Pokemania, a part of the fabric of childhood. The morals of the cartoon, the games, and the trading cards all contribute to the establishment of friendships. Pokemon is forever embedded in the minds of those who grew up during the craze. Older gamers are not ashamed to play the games (Intihar, 2007). Pokemon provides common ground for children and parents; parents grew up with Pikachu and can confidently share that world with their own children.

cute-pokemonPokemon benefits children in several ways:

  • It is social fun that parents are generally okay with.
  • The cartoon allows children to explore parental roles.
  • The cartoon lets children see that non-traditional families are still families that love each other.
  • Children can learn how to understand the value of something relative to other items. This is done through trading cards.
  • The cartoon and games center around friendship and loyalty to friends, valuable virtues to understand.
  • Pokemon provides common ground for parents and children; parents that grew up playing the games can share them with their children.
  • Pokemon helps children understand basic ecology.

Pokemon provides far more benefits than problems. The violence in Pokemon is far tamer than what is on television and in fairy tales. The way Pokemon is a fabric of childhood can be concerning. It seems as if morality is usurped in the name of profit. However, the commodification provides a good environment for parents to teach children the importance of making good purchasing decisions. Arguably, the pudgy Pokemon are better for children’s body image than Barbies and Gi-Joes.

Pokemon-random-cute-group-28917349-500-372The longevity of Pokemon is astounding. Nintendo did not expect much out of a game idea from an obscure otaku. Yet, the idea rose to the point that Pikachu is as recognizable as Mickey Mouse, perhaps even more so than Mickey. Pokemon echoes the same challenges children face as they grow older and change. Pokemon evolve into forms that are much different from their original. We call it puberty. Children and young teens are able to direct that growth; this helps them understand how they can also direct their own. Pokemon houses timeless messages that cross cultural boundaries. I fully expect Pokemon to be around in some form for decades to come. There is always a new generation of children who can rediscover the worlds their parents thought were left behind. Only, for those who grew up playing the games, trading the cards, and watching the cartoon, there is a little Pikachu in each of us.

References

Cook, D. (2001). Exchange Value as Pedagogy in Children’s Leisure: Moral Panics in Children’s Culture at Century’s End. Leisure Sciences, 23(2), 81-98.

Horton, J. J. (2012). ‘Got my shoes, got my Pokémon': Everyday geographies of children’s popular culture. Geoforum, 43(1), 4-13. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2011.07.005

Intihar, B. (2007). Pokémon…AND ON…AND ON. Electronic Gaming Monthly, (213), 52-53.

Jordan, Tim (2004). “The pleasures and pains of Pikachu.”. European journal of cultural studies (1367-5494), 7 (4), p. 461.

Kehoe, Louise (2000). “Monsters with office morals: Japanese Pokemon cards have been banned by many schools, but they offer lessons for children and adults alike”. The Financial times (London ed.) (0307-1766)

Papapetros, S. (2012). In/Animate Victims: Cultural Reactions to Animation. Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies, 9(3), 300-306. doi:10.1080/14791420.2012.708973

Sanders, Dawn (2010). “‘All netted together': is there a need for cultural consilience in the face of extinction?”. Kew bulletin (0075-5974), 65 (4), p. 677.

The Stonecutter

Kano Chikanobu - Mountain and the StonecutterOnce upon a time there lived a stonecutter, who went every day to a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of stones wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful workman he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite happy and contented, and asked for nothing better than what he had.

Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and prosperous. The stonecutter, however, had never seen this spirit, and only shook his head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone spoke of it. But a time was coming when he learned to change his opinion.

One day the stonecutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had never even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow harder and heavier, and he said to himself: “Oh, if only I were a rich man, and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels, how happy I should be!”

And a voice answered him: “Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!”

At the sound of the voice the stonecutter looked around, but could see nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools and went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work that day. But when he reached the little house where he lived, he stood still with amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a stately palace filled with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all was the bed, in every respect like the one he had envied. He was nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

It was now the beginning of summer, and each day the sun blazed more fiercely. One morning the heat was so great that the stonecutter could scarcely breathe, and he determined he would stop at home till the evening. He was rather dull, for he had never learned how to amuse himself, and was peeping through the closed blinds to see what was going on in the street, when a little carriage passed by, drawn by servants dressed in blue and silver. In the carriage sat a prince, and over his head a golden umbrella was held, to protect him from the sun’s rays.

“Oh, if I were only a prince!” said the stonecutter to himself, as the carriage vanished around the corner. “Oh, if I were only a prince, and could go in such a carriage and have a golden umbrella held over me, how happy I should be!”

japanese-artistAnd a prince he was. Before his carriage rode one company of men and another behind it; servants dressed in scarlet and gold bore him along, the coveted umbrella was held over his head, everything his heart could desire was his. But yet it was not enough. He looked around still for something to wish for, and when he saw that in spite of the water he poured on the grass the rays of the sun scorched it, and that in spite of the umbrella held over his head each day his face grew browner and browner, he cried in his anger: “The sun is mightier than I; oh, if I were only the sun!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard; the sun you shall be.”

And the sun he was, and felt himself proud in his power. He shot his beams above and below, on earth and in heaven; he burnt up the grass in the fields and scorched the faces of princes as well as of poorer folk. but in a short time he began to grow tired of his might, for there seemed nothing left for him to do. Discontent once more filled his soul, and when a cloud covered his face, and hid the earth from him, he cried in his anger: “Does the cloud hold captive my rays, and is it mightier than I? Oh, that I were a cloud, and mightier than any!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard; a cloud you shall be!”

Early Summer Mountains in the Rain. Tani Buncho  c. 1826

Early Summer Mountains in the Rain. Tani Buncho
c. 1826

And a cloud he was, and lay between the sun and the earth. He caught the sun’s beams and held them, and to his joy the earth grew green again and flowers blossomed. But that was not enough for him, and for days and week he poured forth rain till the rivers overflowed their banks, and the crops of rice stood in water. Towns and villages were destroyed by the power of the rain, only the great rock on the mountainside remained unmoved. The cloud was amazed at the sight, and cried in wonder: “Is the rock, then, mightier than I? Oh, if I were only the rock!”

And the mountain spirit answered; “Your wish is heard; the rock you shall be!”

And the rock he was, and gloried in his power. Proudly he stood, and neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move him. “This is better than all!” he said to himself. But one day he heard a strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down to see what it could be, he saw a stonecutter driving tools into his surface. Even while he looked a trembling feeling ran all through him, and a great block broke off and fell upon the ground. Then he cried in his wrath: “Is a mere child of earth mightier than a rock? Oh, if I were only a man!”

And the mountain spirit answered: “Your wish is heard. A man once more you shall be!”

And a man he was, and in the sweat of his brow he toiled again at his trade of stone cutting. His bed was hard and his food scanty, but he had learned to be satisfied with it, and did not long to be something or somebody else. And as he never asked for things he did not have, or desired to be greater and mightier than other people, he was happy at last, and never again heard the voice of the mountain spirit.

This folktale has an obvious warning about desire. The stonecutter was content at first, until he witnessed the rich and how much more they possessed. This started a cascade of desires that refused to be satisfied. In our modern, Western society, we fall prey to the same desires as the stonecutter.  We are encouraged to strive for more: better jobs, better cars, better houses, the next video game system, the next cell phone, and more. The number of doodads and whatsits is a never ending stream. We see what our neighbors drive and want that car rather than the reliable (but rusty) car we drive now.

The folktales ends with the stonecutter realizing just how wealthy he is with his trade and what he had. He realized that there was really nothing to obtain or strive for in the end after experiencing all the powers the spirit offered. He was a rare person to realize this. Most of us fail to learn to stop striving and to be satisfied with the treasures we already possess. The spirit of our age wants to grant us every whim (for a price), but the end result is dissatisfaction.  Dissatisfaction cannot be assuaged by material things or being mighter than others. Rather, it must be cast aside.

This folktale has a decidedly Buddhist message. Buddhist teaches people to be content with the present moment and to not desire. Desire is a fire that forever burns as long as we feed it with more.

References

Andrew Lang, The Crimson Fairy Book (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1903), pp. 192-197. Lang’s source: Japanische Mährchen.

Spice and Wolf Light Novel Volume 1

Spice and Wolf Volume 1 Cover Art

I am a fan of Spice and Wolf. Yet, I haven’t read any of the light novels. I haven’t read any light novels for that matter. I grew up reading behemoth books like those found in the Wheel of Time series. I decided to fix this little problem.

Light novels are an interesting format. The illustrations scattered throughout the first volume of Spice and Wolf are charming. The art style is expressive and compliments the text well. The illustrations fill in the gaps in the proses’ character descriptions and match up well with the anime’s art. The writing style is different from what I am used to reading. The first book reads like a folk tale. The story would be perfect for reading aloud. Many of the descriptions reminded me of oral tales like Beowulf.

spice-and-wolf-holo

Unfortunately, I am a fast reader, but I enjoyed the few hours I spent with the first volume. I average one page a minute on books like Robert Jordan’s. I burned through Spice and Wolf a little too fast.  The anime follows the story closely, only a few details change. The dialogue is crisp and well translated. Although English lacks formal old speech (outside Old English), Holo’s formal, careful speech shines on each page. The dialogue makes Lawrence and Holo come to life in ways description cannot do.

The book opens with Lawrence, the traveling merchant passing through a town celebrating a harvest festival. His brief stay nets him a certain girl with ears and a tail that resembles a wolf. Fortune and misfortune follows when the merchant promises to see the woman wolf to her home in the north.

holo-and-a-chicken

Reading Spice and Wolf is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The story is unique. It lacks villains and evil threats. Instead the story focuses on economics, merchant schemes, and money. Characters are not evil. They are simply human. I find the method of storytelling refreshing. Holo and Lawrence are grounded in a richly sketched world.

I recommend this series if you enjoy banter and solid characters. There is little action, however. Business is the centerpiece for conflicts. Don’t expect fights and blood. Fights do break out, but they are limited in scope. Spice and Wolf doesn’t offer earth shattering conflict that changes the world. It is a story about life and companionship that is easy to identify with. I will be reading more of this series and look into more light novels. The light novel format is a nice break from the massive (800+ pages) works I normally read.

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