As a draw on my old photos sometimes I’ll hit upon a trip and I distinctly remember being there when my Parents visited me. These are good memories, and not to be taken for granted. Daibutsuden is the Great Buddha Hall in Nara. The overall complex is Todai-ji or Todaiji. Daibutsu is the largest copper Buddha in the world. As with all major Japanese temples, this one has a tale.
Originally the site was a 8th Century temple built by Emperor Shomu to honor his infant son’s death. This is when Nara was Japan’s capital, though the country was not totally united during this era. The larger temple, and chiefly the Daibutsu came later, between 738-752. It seems (by legend) that in order to finance such a grand undertaking Shomu had to cut a deal. The Buddhist monk Gyoki would help, but only if he was allowed to teach Buddhism to the people. This was part of a very complicated transition in Japanese religion where traditional Shinto beliefs began to evolve alongside Buddhism and they merged into a very unique Japanese version of both religions.
But as with all things religion, this transition had its opponents. But money talks, and Shomu wanted what Shomu wanted, so he cut a deal with Gyoki who got what he wanted. Here’s a relatively rare (my opinion) in history where an absolute sovereign and an important religious figure resolved their differences with compromise instead of bloodshed. Contrast this with Henry II and the splattering of some random guy’s brains inside a random cathedral.
It didn’t come cheap. Gyoki and his followers scoured the country for money and materials. The statue itself brought financial difficulties to the entire country and gobbled up much of the country’s entire copper supply. Weight: 500 tons, or the size of a decent sized ship by today’s standards. Back then, it’d have been the largest ship in the world if it could have floated.
the man himself
Like many temples in Japan, the original Hall burned down many times. The current hall was finished In 1709, Great Buddha Hall, Daibutsuden, which houses the Daibutsu. Bizarrely, it’s actually 1/3 smaller than the wooden building it replaced. Even so, until the turn of the 20th Century it was still the world’s largest wooden building. And like the temple, the statue itself has been repaired and redone many times over the years due to fire and earthquake damage, plus wars.
Plus it’s 1,270 years old and is thus beyond comprehension. I’m a big believer that the human brain has limits and the idea that any one of us can properly conceive of 1,270 years inside our brains is asking too much. It’s a long, long time, with countless lives and dreams riding along the waves of time all while Daibutsu hangs out and watches. Bronze statues can’t talk. But maybe if you listen, even if your brain can’t comprehend it, you can still learn from it.
Nyoirin-kannonis next to daibutsu
a pyre outside the main Hall, all these years later I still can’t shake the idea that I botched the angle of this shot
just one man, praying alone, riding the waves of time
Trying to comprehend Japan is a hard by worthy endeavor. I lived there for three years and decades later I’m still learning. Sometimes you run into a gem that’s both fun and helps you along the way.
Lost among the extreme amount of worthless nonsense that Netflix puts out is a 2017 short series in Samurai Gourmet. It lasted only one season of twelve episodes, each a short bite no longer than about twenty minutes each. It wasn’t renewed for another season because Netflix is dumb.
The show focuses on Takeshi Kasumi played by all-purpose multi-talented actor Naoto Takenaka. Kasumi is a 60 year old recently retired salaryman (sararīman) who goes on food based adventures.
A lot of this is straight food porn, but hell so much of television is nowadays. And I find the food aspects interesting but that’s not the real appeal. At its core this is a lighthearted comedy about a guy starting a new (and perhaps his first) real stage of his life. It’s also just plain darn fun, a fact I constantly have whined about on this degenerate blog as missing from much of modern television.
Kasumi is shadowed by the neat, unique concept where his alter-ego is a Sengoku Jidai era samurai (Tetsuji Tamayama) who shares the same experiences but is a badass whereas Kasumi is still figuring out who he is as a person. Essentially if you have any interest in Japan, or food, or just want a fun comedic ride, this is for you. But a few key points I’ll make without getting into the plot, such as it is.
1) Kasumi retires at 60 after working for the same corporation for forty years and ended at essentially middle management. It’s typical sararīman. At more than one point he remarks that he walked to and from the same train station every day for decades and never took a detour. The show (wisely, because it would break the fun) doesn’t dwell on the absolute misery of the life of a sararīman. The punishing hours, the demeaning work, the lack of independence, and absolute total deference one must show to one’s superiors regardless of their brutality or lack of talent. When you understand what being a sararīman really is, it makes Kasumi’s adventures mean so much more. He’s finally free to be his own person, and now that he has that freedom, he’s on an adventure to discover who that person is.
The very first episode he dwells at his anxiety that he cannot possibly have a beer with lunch, oh no, that’s not proper. For a sararīman, beer is for late night mandatory after work events with your boss where you get plastered and arrive home after your wife’s already asleep. But in the episode, Kasumi orders the lunch beer, it’s a release for him. The very first step on his journey to be free, a person he actually wants to be. In many ways, and this is where Naoto nails this performance, Kasumi is also still emotionally a little boy. He wife (Honami Suzuki) has a remark in episode three that’s telling where Kasumi has to overnight at an inn and she’s astounded because he’s never been alone all his life. He grew up with his parents, lived with them through university, and moved out when he got married. Now who he is? Sometimes they intersperse scenes from his childhood, before he became a sararīman, which is of course a perfect foil for what happened to him the past four decades. He’s a free child, had a punishing four decade gap, and now? That’s the core of the show.
2) The other major theme is Kasumi and Shinzuko’s marriage. If you want to understand what a lot of Japanese marriages might be like, particularly in the sararīman theme, here you go. There is a deep respect between the two, but essentially they barely know each other and lead completely different lives. He was a four decade sararīman. It’s never mentioned if they had children. It’s never mentioned if she had a job, because she probably didn’t. She has her own hobbies, she’s completely independent of him, and you clearly get the idea that she really doesn’t need this guy at all to be happy. She cooks for him and helps him here and there but otherwise one could mistake this for a loveless soulless marriage.
I don’t think it is one. They never actually say the word love, but I think it’s there. The closest they come to it is late in the season where they go out for their anniversary. And they both joke about how they hardly ever did this, or even went out to eat together at all. There’s an extremely emotional, even romantic moment where Kasumi opens up to her in a way he probably never has. But the word love isn’t there. He simply states, nearly but subtly tear eyed (Naoto is a superb actor), “I ask for your continued support.” And she says the same back. It reminds me of The Fiddler on the Roof song Do You Love Me? These two people have been together a very, very long time, haven’t had the easiest of lives, and have just somehow made it work. They’re together and in love even if they’ve never realized it’s happening in such a way. I think their marriage would have been explored a great deal more had Netflix not cancelled the show.
3) The samurai parts are fairly typical, but just fun. Tetsuji is cut from cloth to play this era of samurai and it’s such a joy. But they keep it short, and leave you wanting more. Tetsuji is only on screen for maybe two minutes of each episode. But each vignette is a good look at that era of Japanese culture and contains countless thoughts on war, class, etc, etc that are short but on point.
4) The food parts are the food parts. It’s indeed modern food porn. But if you like Japanese food you get the usual oden, yakitori, yakiniku, etc, etc. There’s also a surprisingly large amount of times, about a 1/3 a think, where Kasumi goes and pursues Western style dishes with their own Japanese twist. If you like this kind of food (I worship it) then this will leave you hungry as it should. I went to a local yakitori place off this show’s cravings alone last week. The result? It sucked, I was so disappointed the place failed. Why can’t I live three train stops from Shinjuku? We need teleporters to be invented, right now.
5) A pox on you Netflix, did we really need another season of Bridgerton? How much did that cost them to make, ~$124M? I think the budget for Samurai Gourmet is about five bucks. And it’s more emotionally engaging and thought provoking. It’s been five years, so this is a dead show. But it is very much worth anyone’s time. It’s fun, enjoy the ride.
Five years later I can’t really say my overall opinion of the Olympics has changed much. This boondoggle probably made a whole bunch of Japanese construction guys super rich ala The Bad Sleep Well. Instead, they probably should have spent all the money fixing Fukushima but oh well. What’s a two week sporting event for supermen and superwomen when you can just go ahead and dump a billion gallons of radioactive water into the oceans. Silly oceans, what do they really do for humanity anyways?
What really is kind of crazy is how the IOC and the Japanese government are so hell bent on making this happen. To them the Olympics must happen. All the athletes are already there, rearing to go. Why? What makes these two weeks so special that they have to risk the health of the Japanese nation just so a bunch of creepily machine engineered humans can defeat the other creepily machine engineered humans by 0.15 seconds.
Well, the first answer is money. And the second answer is money. The third answer is politics (Japan sees cancellation as a political failure. Let’s not forget the IOC is a corrupt money pot like FIFA where dishonest men and women go work to take backhanders from politicians and corporations. Don’t think these politicians and businessmen are just gonna go ahead and let the Olympics get cancelled just because somebody’s health might be endangered.
I have this idea for an official Tokyo Olympics commercial. It’s of a random human buying a Coke with a Visa credit card and then getting into their Toyota with Bridgestone tires while wearing an Omega watch and they’re talking on their Samsung phone and so are so distracted as they exit the parking lot they run over a 78 year old Japanese woman on her way to get tested for covid. Then they quick cut to a whole line of rich dudes in suits licking their cigars with 10,000 Yen notes and the CEO of Omega looks directly into the camera and wryly states, “Stupid peasant, she should have gotten out of our way.”
Eh, why bother? I’ll probably just binge watch a BBC series on Netflix for two weeks. Or, like, read a book.
On March 10th, 1945, 279 B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers conducted the most devastating conventional bombing raid in human history. Their target was Tokyo. The new tactics they employed had been tested but never implemented on such a large scale.
High altitude precision bombing over Japan had proved difficult compared to Europe due to high altitude winds over Japan. The US Army Air Forces decided to switch tactics, primarily at the behest of Curtis LeMay, although the ideas were not entirely his own.
The tactic of large formations of B-29s conducting high altitude precision bombing using high explosive bombs was completely altered. The attacks would happen at night. The B-29s would attack as a swarm, with each bomber flying individually without formation. The attacks would be conducted from very low altitudes to ensure accuracy and to confound Japanese anti-aircraft defense. Finally, the B-29s would use incendiary bombs instead of high explosive bombs.
The target was Tokyo itself, its people, and the largely wooden based construction of Japanese homes and small businesses. Some bombers carried a small number of high explosive bombs which were the first out of the bay. The idea being to crack open the roofs of structures using high explosives so the follow on incendiary bombs would fall within.
LeMay took extreme risks in the plan. To increase bomb load, all defensive guns on the B-29s were removed except for the tail gun. A lack of defensive formation meant each B-29 would be highly vulnerable to Japanese night fighters without mutual defensive support from other B-29s. Nevertheless, LeMay decided to proceed with the new tactics.
The raid succeeded on a scale few could have imagined. The Japanese were completely taken off guard by the new tactics. No Japanese night fighters were able to engage a single B-29. Japanese anti-aircraft guns did manage to down 14 B-29s with the loss of 96 Americans. But generally, Japanese anti-aircraft fire was ineffective as the gunners were not prepared for a low altitude attack and the low altitude run of the B-29s rendered Japanese radar mostly blind.
The attack started a firestorm throughout Tokyo with a ferocity previously seen in places like Hamburg. However, the wooden base of Japanese construction made the consequences even stronger. An estimated 100,000 Japanese died in one night, almost all of them civilians.
Until the end of the war, the USAAF would continue to employ the nighttime, low altitude, incendiary attacks across all of Japan. And yet, by August 1945 even after five months of firestorm bombing Japan was no closer to surrender. As World War II would demonstrate, no amount of conventional strategic bombing would ever bring an Axis country to surrender.
In Germany, it had taken a complete conquest via ground forces. American plans were in place for a ground invasion of Japan to start on Kyushu which estimates claimed would cost millions of lives. And so the decision was made to try and short circuit such a scenario. The Soviet Union would enter the war, and America would employ atomic weapons in a last attempt to force Japan’s surrender without a ground invasion.
On August 6th, 1945 the first atomic weapon was dropped on Hiroshima with perhaps over 100,000 Japanese killed. And yet, Japan still did not surrender. President Truman did announce to the public and to Japan what had been done. A single plane, with a single bomb, had done what had previously taken hundreds of bombers.
Japan’s leadership was well aware of what had happened, but refused to surrender anyways. The same concept, that the Japanese people could endure anything, and Japan could fight on remained inside their minds. It must be acknowledged that by this point most of the Japanese senior leadership were certifiably insane. It is akin to Hitler’s last moments, where he ordered divisions to attack, that no longer existed.
And so the decision was made to use a second atomic weapon, this time on Nagasaki. For the most part, Nagasaki had avoided conventional bombing throughout the war due to its difficulty as a target. But with an atomic weapon accuracy and raid tactics were essentially irrelevant.
On August 9th, 1945, once again, a single B-29, with a single bomb. At 11:01 in the morning a plutonium core weapon detonated about 2,000 feet above Nagasaki (the airburst setting allowing for the blast wave to not be absorbed by the ground). Approximately 80,000 people died.
The devastation is clear to see, before and after:
Hirohito, finally, seeing the inevitable, and perhaps making one of the braver decisions of his life (there was no guarantee that the militarists would not simply assassinate him and fight on) decided to surrender. When he spoke via radio to the Japanese people it was the first time they’d ever heard his voice.
Nagasaki Peace Park began in 1955 and has a museum and hall adjoining it. It’s hard to explain what it was like to visit the place as an American man in my early twenties. Nuclear war on such scale, such horror, is difficult to comprehend when you haven’t seen it or know personally anybody who did.
I don’t really have any conclusions to draw here. I could probably write a super long post on the morals of strategic bombing done by both sides during the war. Or the ethical decision to use atomic weapons to avoid a horrific ground invasion. But others far wiser than I have written legions of books on these topics.
As to the rest of this post, it’s just about the photos I took while there, and a few words from the Japanese themselves.
ground zero or otherwise known as the hypocenter
some of the ruins were left on purpose inside the park
In going through the few photos I have of Nagasaki, the other major bunch are of the hypocenter or peace park. That post will be a long one on history, with a lot of the photos from the park and my thoughts on the museum. However, today is just one shot. I came across this photo and I was shocked I had it. This is at the hypocenter. I had to go back and look it up, I was in Nagasaki in April of 2004. So this is Nagasaki in the Spring, 59 years after a nuclear weapon exploded right above this location. I’ll leave any conclusions and thoughts to you.
I just didn’t take as many photos back then, I guess. Go to a temple, take only two shots? I’ve talked about how this can be a good thing. But when I don’t remember all that much about the visit, I guess it can also be a bad thing.
If you’re in Osaka, you kind of just have to. Osaka’s most famous shrine, seat of all Japan’s Sumiyoshi shrines, and the subject of many legends, Sumiyoshi Taisha is said to have been originally built in 211. Founded by Empress Jingu it’s a shrine to the sea, dedicated to the Sumiyoshi Sanjin or the sea’s three gods. Back then, the shrine was right against the sea itself whereas today it’s somewhat inland.
The appropriately, galactically famous Sorihashi Bridge, one of the most beautiful and quintessential of Japan’s taiko bashi or drum bridges. This is one of my most favorite shots of all time, it was done with my old bad camera, and has its flaws but I still dig it.
The shrine’s west entrance, looking from west to east, with the gate up front, and the bridge in the background.
One of the rarest things I ever saw in Japan, a legit memorial for World War II. The shrine being dedicated to the sea, this of course makes sense. This was tucked away in a corner area and I kind of stumbled into it. I sadly don’t read Japanese in any form anymore, but this is a heavy cruiser. I don’t know the ship name or class, but the painting is an older version of the ship, I think, since the heavy cruiser has only two forward turrets instead of the later installed three.
The secondary temple.
If I’ve got my bearings right, this is the north side of the trio of the three main sanctuary structures. I always love the candid shots I get of just ordinary people happening along their daily lives, unaware or uncaring that this weird dude is taking very serious (bad amateur) photography.
So you want to build a castle. You’re a powerful man but you have a boss. And his castle is awesome. So you want to build one that’s even better than his. So your tower is taller, you throw some gold leaf on there, and you probably think you’ve done an awesome thing.
Problem is, your boss dies, and you’re left hanging with this big, huge, expensive castle while your enemy instead has a massive killing machine of a mobile field army. Oh, and sorry, fixed defenses are generally of only limited value during a long running military conflict. Just ask China how well the Great Wall was at keeping out those dastardly Mongols.
Ōsaka-jō was built from 1583-1597 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who wanted to mirror the digs of his boss (at the time, everybody’s boss) in Oda Nobunaga. But then Oda died. And soon the son in Toyotomi Hideyori gets Ōsaka-jō.
Then one day in 1600 this ordinary, average, nondescript guy named Tokugawa Ieyasu wins arguably one of the devastating and decisive battles in military history at Sekigahara. Toyotomi loses badly, but it takes Tokugawa until 1615 to acquire enough balance of power to finally settle the score. Tokugawa’s army of several hundred thousand men overpowers Ōsaka-jō, burns it to the ground, Toyotomi dies by his own hand, and Japan’s history is essentially written for the next two hundred years.
Tokugawa rebuilds the castle, because of course. In the subsequent centuries it does what a lot of wooden buildings do throughout history, it burns repeatedly. Gets rebuilt. Then burns again. Then the castle is rebuilt with public contributions. Then during the Boshin War it’s taken and burned again. Then it’s rebuilt, but this time as an arsenal. And so the the Americans carpet bomb the place into oblivion in August 1945.
Only in the late 1990’s is the castle itself restored. But in typical Japanese fashion, it’s done in concrete and not wood. Every time, it still gives me a lack of understanding chuckle at the lack of authenticity and reverence the Japanese have for historical sites and buildings. Nothing quite like the calm, religious experience of a glorious temple, when you can buy hello kitty right inside the door from one of my merchant stalls.
This was a neat visit, it’s cool to look at and the ground themselves are beautiful more as a garden or a park. The tower is interesting, but it feels stale and not real. Probably because it’s concrete and not real. It’s not one of my favorite Japan locations, by far, but it’s worth a short trip if you’re in town.
And also, if you have a Bond style villain demi-god level of power in your future somewhere, don’t build a castle or a god-like evil lair. Building expensive castles usually doesn’t work, see Ōsaka-jō. Or Bond will blow up your lair. Focus on mobile field armies or goons instead.
The interesting thing is despite what you read in the news I’m going by the assumption that Carlos Ghosn escaped from the evil claw death room with relative ease.
– Oh, his home was under surveillance? I love Japan, but the Japanese have a reputation for a stoic, detail oriented nature that is often unearned and comically missing: see Fukushima, the incessant problems with the Tokyo Olympic building projects, and Death Stranding. Ghosn’s home wasn’t likely under anything approaching the level of surveillance he’d have received in Mr Takashima’s subterranean volcano fortress. Ghosn probably just slipped out the back while the cop was asleep or watching the Giants destroy the Tigers, again.
– He certainly didn’t escape in a music case. For you see, what he did is his mercenary handlers drove him to an airport in the dark. Then they went to the civil aviation terminal side and boarded a private jet. For those who are unaware, civil aviation security and immigration checks are a flat joke compared to what folks go through in the steerage terminal. Ghosn may or may not have been required to present a passport and undergo a minor security check. My guess is he did neither, at least in any serious manner, and then they took off. They didn’t even have to break one guard’s neck, so boring.
– So now our hero is in the air, and on his way to Lebanon via Turkey. He flies from Osaka to Istanbul. Turkey is easy, so easy, Ghosn just paid them all off in gold doubloons. Next.
– And finally to Lebanon where he’s well known to the elite and without an extradition treaty. Japan can’t touch him there. Game over. Takashima screams at his giant video board and slams his claw down atop a mostly full brandy glass, shattering it into numerous pieces. Kitty squeals.
Hey man, I’d run too. Japan has a Stazi-like 99% conviction rate for federal charges. A man got a fairer trial in Nazi Germany.
But hey, isn’t the USA’s federal conviction rate also 99%? Why how interesting that you ask, because yes, yes it is. Damn, maybe we all better move to Lebanon while we still can.
Takashima: “I’ll get you next time Ghosn! NEXXXT TIME! [pets kitty]