Thursday, 9 December 2010

Structuralism

[Yet another Murakami short story from the Spider Monkey collection]

Please don't ask me anything about Roppongi. Concerning the area of Roppongi, I have absolutely nothing I can teach you. If I have any kind of business there (and naturally, if I didn't have business there, I wouldn't go) I always alight at the Roppongi train station. In that instant of exiting the train, I am already confused. Is it Kamiyacho that is Roppongi? Or is this Roppongi? No matter how many times I've been there, I can never remember. Well, in any case, I stick it out and alight at Roppongi proper. Whilst being frightened by some distasteful foreboding - Today's going to be a bad day, for sure - I climb the stairs, then exit above ground. I regulate my breathing and all too soon I'm glancing about the place. Over there's the Mitsubishi Bank, and that's, um, the Almond Cafe and... As my thinking progresses, the inside of my head becomes confused, like wet mud spreading outwards slickly in the middle of a darkness. In my mind's eye I try to put together some kind of map but I always lose sight of the buildings and their interrelation. Which one is the Actors' Stage? Which one is the Defense Agency? Which is the WAVE Building? ...

I don't want you to misunderstand me: I am definitely not bad with directions. Rather, I think it must be something to do with the place. When I'm in Aoyama, or Shibuya, or Ginza, or Shinjuku, or any other place, and I'm walking around, I have not once become lost. But I want you to believe me: it's only Roppongi that's bad. I can't find my way anywhere in that place. I don't know the reason why, but it's bad there. Some kind of strange magnetic field or something like that might be having a strong effect on my spirit. Or maybe the Defense Agency is using a secret electronic device in some strange experiments. Or it could be that some aspect to do with Roppongi is stimulating some aspect of my subconscious, and in turn confusing some aspect within my frontal lobes, perhaps. Beyond that, there is no further reason I can imagine. There is no reason why Roppongi should make me so violently confused to such an extent.

So, to get back to the point, please don't ask me anything about Roppongi. And also don't ask me anything about structuralism. Concerning structuralism, I have absolutely nothing I can teach you.

Well, anyway, take care of yourself.



[In this translation I have attempted to be quite literal, as far as structure, content, and grammar are concerned. You might find some of the phrasing a little awkward, perhaps a little out of place or repetitive, and this might in part be attributable to its alien sound. If I were to translate it how I normally do, sentences would be moved around & chopped up, little phrases added to make the flow of it more natural sounding, and a general effort would have been made to give the translation a more English feel.

[Interesting vocabulary alert: bad at directions in Japanese is: 方向音痴 (ほうこうおんち) which breaks down into direction (方向) and tone-deaf (音痴). In the original it struck me as quite a Murakamiesque word to use, when one considers how much music permeates his work. When reading Murakami one can't help but notice the frequency of such sign-posts; his constant references to darkness & subtle strangeness on the one hand, and music & sports on the other. They are the symbols which give meaning to his world.]

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Another Self Portrait もう一つの自画像

Recently I haven't been posting that much, and for that I apologise. Reasons are, my wife one month ago finally came over to the UK, after a two month delay, and at the same time we moved into a new apartment in Queen's Park, London. So I've been a little preoccupied -- enjoying the good life, dining out, walking about the big city, and catching up in general.

This little number below I started around New Year and finished a couple of months ago. Quite happy with the results. I made this self portrait initially from looking in a mirror, and finally just by looking at the canvas and figuring out what colours should be what and what lines and shapes looked best. A long time ago, I remember speaking with a girl who maintained, staunchly, that one should never paint without consulting the subject: that is, never paint from your head. Well, she was (and is, I suppose) a great painter, and I guess that method works for her. Different horses, different courses, as they say. I personally think that every artist, whether they want to or not, will always be influenced by their own impressions and imagination. The difference between her and I is, I actively seek my own head for inspiration, and for her, it just leaks in anyway.

Well, anyway, whatever she or I or anyone thinks, I suppose, at the end of the day, the paintings will take care of themselves.

Self Portrait, oil, 8 x 10 inches.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Night-time Spider Monkey

[The eponymous story at the heart of Murakami's collection of ultra short stories, Night of the Spider Monkey (to give an alternative translation of the title). You can see my other Murakami translations here, mostly from the same collection.]



It's two o'clock in the middle of the night, I am facing my desk, working on a story, when a spider monkey has somehow broken open the window and entered.

"Woah! Who are you?" I asked.

"Woah! Who are you?" The spider monkey said.

"Don't copy me," I said.

"Don't copy me," the spider monkey said.

"Doon't copee mee," I said, also copying.

"Doon't copee mee," said the spider monkey in italics.

Man, I thought, this is going to become a problem. If I get caught by this night-time spider monkey mimicry maniac, I'll never see the end of it. At some point I've got to throw this bastard out. There's some work I have to do by morning, no matter what. I can't just let this continue until God-knows-when.

"Heppo kurakura shiman ga totemu ya, kuri ni kamasu to kimi wa koru, pocopoco," I quickly said.

"Heppo kurakura shiman ga totemu ya, kuri ni kamasu to kimi wa koru, pocopoco," the spider monkey said.

Even spoken like that, because I had spoken at random, I couldn't judge whether the spider monkey was right or not. Bit of a waste of time.

"Yoseyona," I said.

"Yoseyona," the spider monkey said.

"Wrong! I wasn't speaking in italics."

"Wrong! I wasn't speaking in italiques."

"Is that the right spelling?"

"Is that the write spelling?"

I let out a sigh. Whatever I said, it had no influence over the spider monkey. Without speaking any further, I decided to continue my work in silence. But whenever I pressed a key into my word processor, the spider monkey silently pressed the copy key. Tap. But whenever I pressed a key into my word processor, the spider monkey silently pressed the copy key. Tap. Yoseyona. Yoseyona.



[This particular story presents a few interesting problems for the translator. Where I used italics as opposed to a normal font ("Doon't copee mee,") in the original Japanese Murakami uses katakana and hiragana ("マネヲスルルンジャナイ"). Also, where I make the spider monkey give the wrong spellings, Murakami made the spider monkey talk using different kanji. (Or maybe it was the spider monkey in the driving seat?) The last couplet of conversation is, I feel, difficult to translate. In the original Murakami says, 「字が違ってるじゃないか」 which translates roughly to "Aren't the characters different?" And in reply the spider monkey changes the first kanji, , to which has the same pronunciation but instead of meaning "characters" means "time". So what the monkey says in response is, "Isn't the time different?" Which I think is a quite witty (if senseless) repost. To do the same thing in English, a language of far fewer homophones than Japanese, might well be impossible. As I said, it's difficult.

[On another note, the title, Yoru no Kumozaru, could be translated in a few ways. Until I had read the actual story, I always assumed it was "night of the spider monkey". However, in the story, the expression is used in such a way as to necessitate the translation, "night-time spider monkey". I'm not sure if I was just wrong before, but, well, in any case, it does work both ways, and both translations do come up if you google them...]

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Surfaces 表面

Here are some photos I took; various surfaces from about Japan; the seaside, a cave, a train, &c.












Friday, 9 July 2010

2 More Murakami Stories

Old Man Mushikubo's Ambush*

As he cleared his throat, Old Man Mushikubo said, "I'm Old Man Mushikubo."

"Yes, I am aware of that," I replied. In this part of town, there were none who hadn't heard of him.

"I know I'm being abrupt, but I'd like to say to you one thing about my young daughter's virginity."

"Hold it. Hold it right there. I'm right in the middle of preparing my dinner. If you want to talk about that, some other day--" Disconcerted, I tried to maneuver him out, but Old Man Mushikubo must have sensed something because all of a sudden he quickly pushed half of his body in through the door.

"I won't keep you all that long. If you like, you're welcome to make your meal here, and while you're doing that we can talk."

Well, that's it, I thought, game over, as I cut the aubergine and garlic, chop-chop-chop. He must have planned this really carefully, calling at this time, coming to the kitchen door. Even though Old Man Mushikubo normally acts like a dope, it's at times like these he has a mind like a steel trap.

"May I ask what you are making?" he questioned me, appearing to show a deep interest.

"Um, aubergine and garlic spaghetti, with a haricot bean salad."

"Is that your dinner?"

"Yes," I answered. What a person eats for dinner is no-one else's business. If he wants to eat haricot beans, he eats them; if he wants butter-squash, it's butter-squash. And much like his young daughter's virginity, he has no right to go around talking about it. I was of a mind to open my mouth and tell him just that. But if Old Man Mushikubo were to dislike me there's no telling what he might spread around the neighbourhood, so I held my tongue. Once he's said what he wants to say, he'll go home after all.

Right up until after I'd eaten my spaghetti and salad and washed the dishes, Old Man Mushikubo kept droning on from the doorway, without pause, about the importance of virginity. His voice was so horribly loud, after he had left, my ears were left growling and barking. Such unbelievable misfortune. Then again, I suddenly thought, virginity has become remarkably uncommon these days.




The Spanner

The young man whose collar bone was smashed by Mayumi drove a white Nissan Skyline with an attached spoiler. She didn't know his name. On Sunday she was walking near her home when she was asked, "Won't you come for a drive?" For no real reason she got in the car, but then she was in Enoshima, against her will, being taken it seemed to a motel, so she took up a spanner from somewhere beside her and struck at the man's shoulder as hard as she could. With a snap, the collar bone broke.

Grunting, she escaped from the car, leaving the stricken man, and ran to nearby Odakyuu Station. She then went to buy a ticket from an automatic machine, when she noticed for the first time that she was still holding in her right hand a large spanner. The surrounding people were all staring at her and the spanner with undisguised suspicion. No shit they were. I mean, if a beautiful young girl walks onto train gripping a spanner, who wouldn't think "What the hell is this?"

Assuming an innocent attitude, she placed the spanner into her hand bag, boarded the train, and went home.

"Since then, I've always carried this spanner with me in my bag," she said to me. "Of course, I don't take it to parties or anything like that."

"Right," I said, pretending to be nonchalant. "Have you had any opportunities to use it since?"

"Yeah," she replied, looking into a pocket mirror and applying lipstick. "Two times. Once, in a Fair Lady; the other time, in a Silvia. Why is it only Nissans, I wonder?"

"Both times, collar bones?"

"That's right. Collar bones are the easiest to aim for. Not life-threatening either."

"Huh," I said. Though inside, once more, I grimaced. A smashed collar bone must be really painful. Just thinking about it made me shudder.

"But you know what?" She said, closing her make-up pouch with a click. "There are guys out there who deserve to get their collar bones smashed."

"Yeah, I guess so," I replied.

I guess so.




*The name Mushikubo looks like this in Japanese: 虫窪 and it means, taken literally, insect pit. At first, I didn't realise it was a real name (I'd never come across it before) so my first draft contained the moniker Old Man Fly Hole, which certainly lent the story a different flavour. It's lucky I checked it out on the internet. I should say, though, that it is rather a rare name, has an almost Dickensian flavour, and might cause the same stir as when an English speaker sees a funny name like, say, Bottomley. While this could be seen as a cautionary anecdote (it reminds me a little bit of a translation gaff made by another translator of Murakami stories) I guess it also makes you think about how deeply you could translate any Japanese text, say, by giving all the names their literal meanings. Yamashita (山下) would become Undermountain, for example; and Murakami (村上) would become Overvillage. If I recall, one famous Japanese text was actually translated this way, but I can't quite remember where I read it, or which one... Certainly, most translators, myself included, give names the phonetic treatment. Speaking for myself, if someone were to translate my name, George, into Japanese as 農業者 (nougyousha; farmer) I would feel perhaps less well represented than by the phoneticization, ジョージ (Jyouji). I don't think I am so far removed from common thought in believing that it is the sound of our names we are more attached to. Of course, Japanese people do have their own way of thinking about names, and when they name their children, the meanings of the constituent kanji are very important among other things. Though I can honestly say, I don't think you will ever meet a Japanese person who would introduce themselves as, for example, using given names, Exceptional Beauty (Nozomi; 希美) or Spring Tree (Haruki; 春樹)... In any case, whichever way you choose, it certainly goes to show there is always something lost in translation.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

3 Murakami Stories

[The three following translations I have taken again from Haruki Murakami's collection of ultra short stories, Night of the Spider Monkey. I chose these three specifically because they all contain the character of Noboru Watanabe. Of course, this is a name Murakami uses quite freely in his writing, and I don't think they are all supposed to be the same person, even if they do share a name. Murakami fans might recall that the missing cat from The Wind-up Bird Chronicles was also called Noboru Watanabe. Here, the first two stories, no doubt, do share the same character, but the third could be incidental. By the way, here's a link to another story I translated from the same collection.]

Pencil Sharpeners (or, Luck in the Form of Noboru Watanabe, No. 1)


If it were not for Noboru Watanabe, I would most probably still be using that dingy old pencil sharpener. Thanks to him, I was able to come into possession of a brand spanking new one. This kind of good luck is not such an everyday occurrence.

No sooner had he entered the room than his eyes halted on my old pencil sharpener atop the table. On that day I was doing my work in the kitchen for a change of mood; and so it was that the pencil sharpener was placed between a bottle of soy sauce and the salt.

As Noboru Watanabe repaired the drainage pipe on the sink -- he was after all in the plumbing business -- he occasionally made furtive sideways glances at the table. At the time, though, I had no way of knowing that he was an obsessive pencil sharpener collector, so wherever on earth his sharp eyes were being drawn to I hadn't the faintest idea. There was stuff scattered all over the table.

"If you don't mind me saying, that's a nifty pencil sharpener you've got there," he said after he'd finished his repairs.

"This?" I said, surprised, holding it in my hand. It was one of those regular hand-operated pencil sharpeners, and one which I'd been using for the past twenty years, since junior high. If you compared it to any other, you wouldn't notice any differences. The metallic parts were for the most part rusty, and an Astro Boy sticker was stuck on top. In other words, it was old and dirty.

"That's a 1963 Max PSD, and I can tell you, it's pretty rare," he said. "The setting of the blade on this model is a little different from other types, and so the shape of pencil shavings are subtly changed."

"You don't say?" I replied.

And so it was that I was put in possession of a brand spanking new pencil sharpener, and Noboru Watanabe took my 1963 Max PSD (with Astro Boy sticker). Apparently he always walks around with new pencil sharpeners he can trade in his bag. I know I'm repeating myself, but in my life this kind of good luck is just not such a common thing.


Time Machines (or, Luck in the Form of Noboru Watanabe, No. 2)

There was a knock.

I placed the rind of my half-eaten tangerine on the kotatsu, and when I went to the front door Noboru Watanabe (the pencil sharpener enthusiast plumber guy) was standing there.

It being already 6 o'clock in the evening, he said to me, "Good evening."

"Good evening," I replied, not really knowing what was going on. "I, um, can't remember calling for any repair work."

"Yes, that's not why I'm here. The reason I came today is to ask a small favour of you. I was wondering if in your home you might not have an old time machine, and if so, might I be able to exchange it for a newer model?"

Time machine, I said to myself, a little shocked, though I didn't let it show on my face. "Yes, I have one," I spoke without any discernible emotion. "Do you want to see it?"

"Oh, yes, if you would be so kind."

So I went with Noboru Watanabe to my four-and-a-half tatami mat sized room, and I showed him my electric kotatsu with the rind of the half-eaten tangerine still there. "Look, a time machine!" I declared. It cannot be said that I do not have a sense of humour.

But Noboru Watanabe did not laugh. He picked up the rug covering the kotatsu, and with a serious face he turned the dials, checked the temperature gauge, and tugged on each of the four table legs.

"I have to say, sir, this is a real rarity," he said with a sigh. "Unbelievable. What you've got here is a 1971 'Toasty Warm' by National. This must have given you some good times, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose," I replied without thinking. One of the legs was a little shaky, but it certainly did keep me warm.

He asked me if I would like to exchange it for a newer model, so I replied, "Sure." He went outside, and from a van parked in front of my house he brought out a new electric kotatsu (or, rather, a time machine) kept I imagine for occasions such as these, which he then carried to my room and in exchange took away my National 'Toasty Warm' (or, rather, my time machine).

"Thanks for everything," he said waving from the driver's seat. I waved back, then I returned to my room to continue eating my tangerine.


Octopus

Noboru Watanabe sent me a postcard with a drawing of an octopus on it. Underneath the picture of the octopus were these words, written in his typically messy hand.

"Thank you so much the other day on the subway for taking such good care of my daughter. Let's meet up over a meal of octopus some time soon."

I was surprised when I read this. I'd just been on holiday for a short while, I hadn't ridden a train for the past two months or so, and I definitely couldn't remember taking care of Mr Watanabe's daughter. I mean, in the first place, I didn't even know he had a daughter. Perhaps he's mistaken me for somebody else.

Although eating octopus doesn't sound too bad.

I wrote Noboru Watanabe a letter. I drew a picture of a dusky thrush, and underneath that I wrote, "Thanks for the postcard. Octopus doesn't sound like a bad idea at all. Let's do it. Contact me at the end of the month."

However, after a full month had passed, I received no reply. Perhaps, as per usual, he had forgotten, I thought. Strangely, in that last month I'd had cravings for octopus, but I figured I'd eat it with Mr Watanabe, so in the end, while waiting for it I missed my chance.

It was around the time I'd forgotten both about octopus and Noboru Watanabe when I received another postcard from him. This time there was a picture of a sun fish. Beneath that, there was some writing.

"Wasn't that meal the other day delicious? It's been a long time since I've been able to eat such exemplary octopus. However, I must say, I do object a little to the views you stated that day. As the father of a daughter of marriageable age, I cannot bring myself round to your way of thinking regarding the value of sex. Let's meet up some time soon and talk about it over a pot of hot stew."

Well, well, I sighed. It seems Noboru Watanabe has mistaken me for somebody else again.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

A couple of portraits from 2006 平成18年に描いた二つの自画像

Back in England, life is good. In spite of our poor performance in the World Cup, my bowel movements have become far more regular, so I'm happy.

Looking through my old paintings, I was struck by a couple - I could hardly believe I'd done them to be honest. Has that ever happened to you? Where you've read an old essay, or, in my case, looked at a painting you did long ago, and sincerely believe that another person did it? Well, anyway, I recommend them to you as fine examples of paintings done in oil. The depth of them, the richness of colour despite the darkness, is incomparable. I maintain of course that good paintings can be done in any medium, but it's like the difference between LPs and CDs, or analog and digital; one approximates the other, and in many cases is a poor substitute.

Self portrait of old G Dawg. Size, 20x30 inches.

"Faceless Portrait". Size, 24x30 inches.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The First Documented Labyrinth 最初の記録された迷宮

“...they decided to leave a common memorial of their reigns, and for this purpose constructed a labyrinth a little above Lake Moeris, near the place called the City of Crocodiles. I have seen this building, and it is beyond my power to describe... The pyramids, too, are astonishing structures, each one of them equal to many of the most ambitious works of Greece; but the labyrinth surpasses them. It has six covered courts – six in a row facing north, six south – the gates of one range exactly fronting the gates of another, with a continuous wall round the outside of the whole. Inside, the building is of two storeys and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them... the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contained the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms, and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade...”

~Herodotus


“...others, again, assert that it was a building dedicated to the Sun-god...”


“...in addition it must contain temples of all the gods of Egypt and forty statues of Nemesis in the same number of sacred shrines, as well as numerous pyramids... banquet halls reached by steep ascents, flights of ninety steps leading down form the porticoes, porphyritic columns, figures of gods and hideous monsters, and statues of kings. Some of the palaces are so made that the opening of a door makes a terrifying sound as of thunder. Most of the buildings are in total darkness...”

~the Roman writer, Pomponius Mela

Monday, 24 May 2010

屋久島 Yakushima

Man, I've been so damn busy recently, packing up my house, seeing buddies for last drinks, getting ready to go back to Blighty: hardly any time to myself. Deciding then to go on a hiking holiday last week to Yakushima was probably not such a great idea. Writing this blog entry, even, kind of makes me feel guilty. Boxes don't pack themselves. The gas company won't cut my gas if I don't tell them to (well, except those times I kept forgetting to pay the bills...). And somebody has to dump my mama-chari somewhere, before it's too late.

But anyway, back to the topic of Yakushima. What a fan-dabby-doozy place. Really beautiful island, sweet people, and superb food. Without going into details (and I really could, it was such a cool place, so many memorable encounters, mini-adventures, monkeys...) I post below some photos from the trip. Enjoy, and if you have the time, go yourself.

Some flying fish tempura, a local delicacy. All gravy, baby.

Old G Dawg is not just a pretty face. He hiked for a day just to get to this tree. A lover of mankind, he benevolently flashed a peace sign to the crowds, and then hiked all the way back. The tree in question is called the Jomon Sugi, so called because it is believed to be super old, dating from the Jomon period. It's 25 meters tall, and 16 meters around. It has a soul, too, according to locals.
Some more pictures of Old Jomon, sans Old G Dawg. They do little justice to the majesty of the real thing. You should go and see it for yourself.
Mrs G Dawg made claim of everything she saw.

According to travel guides, Yakushima and its primaeval forests gave Hayao Miyazaki the inspiration for the settings in his movie Princess Mononoke. Certainly, that is plain to see. The hiking trail he sites in particular is the Shiratani trail, and it is perhaps the most beautiful on the island. I can't help but feel, however, that though he may have found Shiratani more beautiful, he may have been influenced more by the path leading to the Jomon Sugi. A good half of the trail follows an abandoned railway, used in its day by a forestry company, who still, incidentally, own the area. It occurred to me that this plain evidence of man's activity, and his abandoned attempt to subdue nature, may have struck a chord with Miyazaki. Also, too, half-way along the tracks, are the remains of a school, deserted in 1970. All that is left is an ivy-covered staircase leading to nowhere. Ghostly, indeed, and beautiful. No doubt I am jumping to conclusions, but I find it hard to believe something so Miyazakiesque (otherworldly ancient remains, signs of a now gone culture and age (Spirited Away, Laputa, Princess Mononoke...)) would not have made an impression on him. I wish I had taken photographs, but the rain prevented me at the time.

Friday, 7 May 2010

An Exchange on the Merits of Mathematics vs. Mechanical Engineering as a Degree Choice, between Cousin James & Your Humble Servant

Cousin James
02 May at 02:33
Hey George could you give me your thoughts and views on doing a maths degree? Because I'm still undecided. I'm contemplating a 75% maths degree with management or economics. A possibility is Mech eng.
Your views would be helpful.

G Dawg
03 May at 01:42
Maths is a hard degree, whichever way you look at it. Only do it if you are: a) a natural mathematician, b) in love with the subject, or c) both. If you possess neither of these qualities, then you are in for a miserable three or four years. That said, a maths degree puts you in a really good position job-wise when you graduate, so it might be worth the pain.
Personally speaking, I suppose I would have come under class 'c)' from above (definitely more b) than a) however), though I can't say I loved every second of my time at university. The work-load was tough and there were times when I wished I'd done something different. Still, I got through it, and I wouldn't change my decision if I were able to make it again.
On a different tack, I suppose I should say that there are a million reasons why someone might study maths at university, and perhaps I've been too black and white in the matter. At the end of the day if you want to study it, do so, and if you are hesitant then perhaps you should think again.
Also, dude, there's really no need to rush. If you don't know what you want to do, keep thinking. Pick up a book, surf the internet, talk to friends, whatever. Hell, if you want to, take another year to think it over. I mean, at the end of the day, it's your life, right?
Hope I've been helpful. Any more questions, fire away.

Cousin James
04 May at 04:36
Thank You very much for your advice, George. It as been insightful.
Do you know anything about Mechanical Engineering, like how mathsy it is, and how respected it is with Employers?
And could you tell me what you got in your degree?

G Dawg
06 May at 18:07
Mechanical Engineering is so incredibly mathsy that I would go so far as to say it is maths. Of course, it is not the whole of maths, though I suppose nothing is. I took myself a lot of engineering courses and I found them to be very interesting, and in terms of difficulty, some people find them a lot easier than the more abstract courses one has to do as part of a maths degree (like Analysis of Imaginary Numbers, Logic, or Number Theory). I mean, even though the courses are just as rigorous and difficult mathematically, they are far easier to relate to. It is the maths of how things move in the world (or in theoretical spaces, most commonly, a vacuum with constant gravity), from air to water to particles to clouds and so on. The movements of the planets might also be covered. Of course, since I did my courses as part of a maths degree, it is natural that my studies were all done with pen and paper, entirely theoretically. In a mechanical engineering degree, I imagine you would have to complete quite a few practical courses as well as the theoretical ones. Designing and building an efficient motor which can run on canola oil or some such thing... I can only guess. I myself contemplated doing an engineering degree but in the end it was maths which charmed me, with its theories and its aura of philosophy. Of the people who end up studying engineering, one hears tales of children dismantling car engines and putting them back together; or building small model steam trains &c. I found the engineering lot to be the kind of people who love cars and boats and planes and things (though, of course, there are always exceptions... Like I said, people study different subjects for all kinds of reasons...). And I would go so far as to say that a Mechanical Engineering degree is quite possibly more respected with employees than a normal maths one. You see, it is actually something one can use in the real world. It would give you a very solid base to go into almost any industry. Banking? No problem. The stock exchange? Cool. And countless other industries, too, no doubt.
I myself got a 2:1 for my degree, so not bad. A 2:2 is the absolute minimum you must aim for.
Just a thought, but have you considered computer science as a degree choice? I would heartily recommend it as a useful and interesting degree, and one suited to a person with a mathematical mind. I studied a bit of computation for my degree and I found it fascinating stuff.
So there we have it. Hope this helps. Sorry I'm a little late in replying, I've been away in the countryside for the past three days.
Yours,
Genetalius Dawg-breath


Friday, 30 April 2010

Aozora Bunko - Check it

I recently sent an email to Matt of No-sword, relating to things
pertaining to this article, about a section of Osamu Dazai's work,
The Setting Sun, and it's translation.

One thing which really interested me in his article was a link to the
website aozora.gr.jp. What follows is taken directly from the
emails we exchanged.

Me:
> Now, if you will excuse me for rushing ahead, one thing which really
> piqued my interested was this aozora bunko site. I looked at the
> link you gave for "the original Japanese" and bugger me if the whole
> of the Japanese text didn't just appear on my screen with one click.
> What exactly is the deal with this aozora website? If you'll indulge
> me, what kind of books do they have on this site, and are those books
> really there in their entirety and free to read?

Matt:
Yeah, man, Aozora Bunko is like the Japanese Gutenberg: they enter
out-of-copyright books as text files, and make them publicly available.
In Japan, copyright for books (currently) only lasts for life of author
+ 50 years, so anyone who died more than 50 years ago is fair game.
Dazai is in there, so is Soseki, Ogai, Miyazawa Kenji, Ango, etc. etc.
And since it's public domain, not only is it on the site for free,
you're also free to translate it, whatever (as far as I have been able
to figure out -- this is not legal advice etc.) That's why I was able to
e-publish Botchan without paying any money to Soseki's heirs.

Ironically, stuff that was published TOO long ago is usually only
available in edited editions, prepared painstakingly by comparing
original manuscripts etc., and this act creates a new copyrightable
work. So what they have is basically Meiji through early Showa at the
moment -- stuff that was originally published as a movable-type style
printed text.

Now back to the studio with G Dawg:
Isn't that cool? I feel kind of like a moron for not knowing until now
about this fabled Japanese Gutenberg. Well, I suppose there has to be
a first time for everything.

Here, to give some examples, is a link to Dazai Osamu's
No Longer Human, a book I recently read in English, and
quite frankly amazing; and another famous book, I am a cat,
by old Natsume Souseki. (Interestingly, for the latter
transcript, aozora seems to have provided
kana for every kanji. Very kind of them indeed.)

I really should say at this point, too, a big thank you to Matt from
No-sword. If ever you've a question that needs answering, he's your
man.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

粘土頭 Clay Head






Sometimes, too, for the heck and the thrill of it, I like to mess around with clay. For this one I took a bunch of photos of my own head, and using them as a guide, just to keep the right proportions in mind, I made this kind of quasi-classical bust. It's quite small in real life, about fifteen centimeters tall.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Ms Noriko Takayama & My Sexual Appetite



Up until now, in the process of my life, I have walked side by side with quite a number of women, yet I know of none who walks with such speed as Ms Noriko Takayama (age 25). You can almost imagine her saying, "I've only just been oiled!" as she pumps her arms delightfully back and forth, and with great steps and a fair amount of obvious enjoyment she walks her way. Observing from a slight distance, she looks almost like a water beetle who's been given wings; nimbly and smoothly, when she's walking, she seems as happy as a shaft of sunlight after the rain.

The first time we walked together, just the two of us (we were both going from Sendagaya Elementary School to Aoyama's First District) I was astonished by such swiftness, to the extent that I believed she found being with me a nuisance, and her singular speed was a means to distance herself from me without a moment's delay. Or, alternatively, I postulated that she was, by walking at such a tremendous pace, aiming to calm my sexual appetite (though, of course, since I have in me no sexual longing towards Ms Noriko Takayama, I am unable to say whether or not this method was effective).

That there was no ulterior motive behind her quick pace, and that she walked as if she were flying simply because she liked to do so, I did not learn until several months later. It was at the beginning of winter in front of Yotsuya Station when I saw her walking by herself through a throng of people. Not surprisingly, she was moving across that stretch of earth known for convenience as Tokyo at a ridiculously frightening speed. In her right hand she clutched firmly the strap of her handbag, while the hem of her trench coat fluttered in the wind. She walked with her head held high.

By the time I had taken five or six steps towards her and tried calling out she had already gone far away into the distance, and I was left standing all alone, quite clumsily, like Rossano Brazzi in that Katherine Hepburn movie, Summertime. But I was very happy, because I knew Ms Noriko Takayama had harboured no misunderstandings concerning my sexual appetite.

[Summertime in Japan goes by the name 旅情 (ryojou) which means roughly, I suppose, travel emotion. A quick look in my electronic dictionary informs me it is "the emotion felt when setting out on a journey, or the nostalgia evoked when contemplating past travels." I myself haven't seen Summertime, though I do want to see it now. I inserted Katherine Hepburn's name into my translation, simply to flesh out the sentence, for better scansion, and also because while Haruki may credit his readers with a knowledge of movies equal to his, I do not. So bah.]

Sunday, 11 April 2010

乞食礼拝 Graspers, Worshippers

Size, 6x8 inches.

Painting from the old head, acrylic again. I dropped this one the other day and put a hole in it. Probably wouldn't have happened if I'd used a decent canvas. You can say what you want about acrylics, but I feel like a dumbass now for using cheap shit to paint on. I taped up the back and painted over the scar, but it's not going to last.
I guess you could say that about all art, of course, but still...

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Letter to the next ALT at my school

[The following letter is rather long, and for that I apologise. For budding ALTs, however, it may prove an interesting read.]

March 25th, 2010


Dear New ALT,


First off, welcome to Matsubushi Junior High School. You're a very lucky person to be working here, as the past year I've spent here has been very fun, and I'm sure yours will be too. The reason I'm writing to you is to let you know a few bits and pieces, give you some info on how this school runs &c. If you've any experience as an ALT already, most of the stuff I talk about you can probably ignore. Although, having said that, I guess you could ignore most of what I say anyway, whether you have experience or not. You see, the thing is, I started out here with no prior experience as an ALT, but I got along just fine. I didn't necessarily understand exactly what I was supposed to be doing every day, but, as I'm sure you'll find out, if there's anything you really have to do, or any place you really have to be, someone will probably tell you. If you will indulge me, however, I will try to explain summarily the workings of this school, what is to be expected of you as an ALT, and how best to use your time when you are not teaching.


Your Teaching Duties as an ALT

I had to teach 13 lessons a week: Four first, second and third year classes, and one “A Gumi” class. This means that every week, in theory, you will have to prepare four classes (where the first second and third year classes are taught four times each week, and the A Gumi class once). I say “in theory” because every week is different from the next (a teacher may want to cancel a class one week and have two the next) and each English teacher will ask different things of you too. (Taniguchi sensei, for example, the first year teacher, would most weeks expect me simply to turn up to class and help out with activities she had made herself, or might ask me to prepare an activity which she had already thought up. Ozawa sensei, however, the second year teacher, would expect me to plan a full lesson every week, of my own choosing and design. Hojo sensei, the third year teacher, would usually ask me to prepare a lesson or an activity on varying topics such as “Mother Theresa” or “Irregular Verbs”. So you see, each teacher has different demands.) Preparing a lesson shouldn't take more than an hour, sometimes less, sometimes more, and you can use a variety of media in your preparation for and execution of the lessons. Matsubushi has a school iPod with accompanying in-out lead which you are free to use in lessons (for music, slide-shows, movies &c), a bunch of computers with internet connection, photocopiers, printers, a laminating machine, the contents of the stationery room &c &c. I ended up bringing my own personal laptop into school every day, since I used it quite a bit in my preparations.

All told, you should be spending 17 hours, give or take, preparing for and teaching English lessons.


Outside the Classroom

Work for you begins officially at 8:10 with the first chime of the school's bells, and the beginning of the morning staffroom meeting. After the meeting you have free time (which I usually used to prepare for lessons or make photocopies) until 8:45 when first period starts. Each lesson is 50 minutes long with a ten minute break; 4 lessons before lunch; one or two after. Lunch is at 12:35; fifth period is at 1:40. School will end for you from 4:00.

Every day, on your desk, you should find a largish piece of paper with all the day's and the next day's schedule on it, made by Mr Nagai. If you can read Japanese, this sheet is incredibly helpful for knowing what's going on in the day, if there are any meetings you have to attend or anything. If you don't, you should get in the habit of asking somebody every morning, “Anything I should know today?” For example, often one day's lessons might be changed for another's, there might be an all-school meeting before first period, or the first years have a dental check.

When I started this job I found I had a lot of spare time. I called the previous ALT and I asked him, What should I do when I'm not teaching? And he told me, Do not read books. Study Japanese. And I have to say, that while I didn't spend all my spare time studying Japanese (I suppose I might have spent a little too much time reading emails or on facebook) I did find his advice to be pretty good. In the year I've been here, from talking with fellow staff and students and from hitting the books I've actually improved my Japanese quite a bit. Also, if you're seen to be studying in your free time rather than reading a paper-back, it'll garner you a little more respect.

Your free time after lunch is, on the whole, yours to do with as you please. Realistically speaking, this doesn't leave you a lot of options, since the school, in case you hadn't noticed, is kind of in the middle of nowhere, but it does mean you can moon around, drink coffee, and chat with the other staff uninhibitedly. If you're a smoker, there is a place some teachers go to just outside the main school gate. Lunch period is a good time to hang out with the kids, too; speak Japanese with them, let them practice their English &c.

After sixth period (or fifth on Tuesdays and Thursdays) the children all participate in club activities. You are, of course, welcome and encouraged to join in. There's soccer, fine art, kendo, basketball, track, table tennis and a bunch of other clubs. For myself, I did a little bit of soccer, and I joined the art club. It is a good way to get to know the children, and I have to say it was really fun.

In your spare time, also, it may be a good idea to make posters to go on the walls, promoting English, or English-speaking culture. There is loads of wall-space available to you, so feel free to do what you want.


What Will I Have to Teach?

Well, as I say above, each teacher will expect different things of you, from preparing and teaching a 50 minute lesson every week, to the mundane task of acting as a human CD player, reading from the textbook for a five minute slot. On the whole, though, at this school, I found it was the former rather than the latter, or, at least, I was very rarely relegated to the rôle of CD player, and more often than not I found myself trying to put together activities.

Without getting too much into details, the first year lessons should be utterly basic, the second year lessons simple to understand and the third year ones a little more challenging. The first years, you see, are being taught English under the assumption that they have never been taught it before. Though this is usually not the case – indeed, many of them will have studied a little at elementary school – they are nonetheless taught from their ABCs onwards. They will then study such riveting subjects as “days of the week” “first, second, third...” and “when do you wake up?” Some students will know everything already, others will struggle all year even at that level.

I'm not sure if it is that in the second year all students become awkward and quiet, or if it was just this year in particular, but they were, on the whole, very uncommunicative. This was excruciatingly apparent at the beginning of the year, though by the end they did soften up quite a bit. I think there are a few reasons for their initial behaviour. One, the English level they are taught takes quite a step up. A lot more is expected of them and some (if not most) are not prepared for it. Another reason, I guess, is that this is a very decisive year in their physical and mental growth. They are all thirteen or fourteen, and quite a few of them, regretfully, will be all too comfortable in the rôle of moody teenager. What to do, what to do? Well, I would suggest taking it very easy with them. As I say above, make the lessons very simple to understand. Treat them gently and earn their trust over the year. On a more specific note, I would advise against pair-work activities where girls are paired up with boys. They will, 99% of the time, not talk to one another. It is, like I said, an awkward stage for them. (I should say that the first and third years were fine with it, however.)

By the time the students have reached the third year, they attain a kind of ebullience; brought on, perhaps, by the conceit associated with being the biggest fish in the pond. You may find the students a lot more friendly and willing to ask questions in general. Another factor at play here is no doubt the impending high school entrance exams, in which English is one of the examined subjects. They are, on the whole, the most enjoyable year to teach, simply because they wish to learn, and the lessons are much more interesting and involved.


Some Ideas for Lessons

I have included with this letter some examples of the kind of things I used in my lessons.

As you can see the first year activity examples I have provided are centred around two very simple games, bingo and battleships. This kind of stuff, this kind of level, works great.

The second year lessons are a little more complex. Rôle plays, for example, I used quite frequently, with props and pictures to make them more interesting. With this World Trip lesson, for example, I also provided the students with photos of World locations and some pamphlets from a travel agents. The other lesson you see is a Valentine's Day one. At the end of that, I also gave them some pink cards and asked them to make valentine's cards which I delivered the following week. Pretty fun. It's a good idea if you can plan your lesson around a calendar event or cultural theme. Christmas, Hallowe'en, Thanks Giving... whatever you want to teach, you can. Historical figures and events, too, make a good lesson focus. A large part of our work as ALTs is, after all, the spread of culture.

The third year lessons should be a little more challenging. The two examples here are a listening one focusing on the life of Mother Theresa, and the other, “advantages or disadvantages” is a prop I used to get the students involved in a kind of debate.

Along with these handouts, a typical lesson might include a song (I sung Cold Play, Aerosmith, The Beatles and other stuff with the kids...). All you have to do there is provide the lyrics, practice the song then sing along. Pretty fun, and the kids seem to enjoy it. Another thing I do is I always try and use flash cards with the kids. Whenever you introduce new vocabulary, in a reading excerpt or a television clip, make some flashcards and drill the students with them. You can use them to review the previous week's lesson too.

I normally divide my lessons into three vague sections: warm-up/introduction, practice, and production. In the first section I will give them a warm-up exercise, using flash-cards, perhaps, from last week. Then I will introduce this weeks lesson, very simply. This introduction leads into the second stage, where I get the students to do a simple exercise (or exercises), or game(s) to reinforce the lesson's aim (in my Mother Theresa lesson, I cut up the speech and asked them to put it together again; in the Valentine's Day lesson they had to untangle the words in the hearts). Finally, in the third stage, I might get them to do some cool project, like a rôle play, a debate, or a short bit of writing. Something, in other words, which makes them exercise their creativity. Sometimes, these third stages can be a bit overwhelming for the students, so be careful to explain very carefully what you want them to do, and provide lots of examples.

The A Gumi class (the special needs class) I usually make the level equal to or lower than that of the first years. Word searches or crosswords, “concentration”, games like that.

When you make a handout for students, B5 is the usual size. A4 for A Gumi.

In all the lessons I taught I used to give away little stickers as prizes to those students who volunteered to answer questions. I made them myself, finding the images online, collating them in Word, printing them onto sticker-paper, and then cutting them up. Pretty simple, really, and if you have something like this you can give away in class, it makes the lessons go a lot smoother. On Hallowe'en I gave away a lot of sweets, again, to make the lesson go along better. With this letter I've included some stickers I made and some sticker-paper. Anything you buy which you use in class, by the way, you can claim back the expenses from the school. Talk to Shibata-san about this, or maybe Nagai-sensei.

The First Few Days of School

Right, so. You've arrived at your desk, you've introduced yourself to your fellow teachers (well, some of them) and you've listened attentively (if uncomprehendingly) to the morning announcements. What, may you well ask, should I do next? You might turn to the teacher at the desk next to yours, bursting with questions, only to find the desk empty, or its occupant deeply engrossed in work. You see, what you may find, at this point in the academic year, is that most of the teachers, if not all of them, except you, will be extremely busy, running about, ordering students around, talking on the phone &c, and if you do manage to elicit a response from one of them, they may well tell you that for now there's nothing you have to do, you can relax, look around the school &c. And though the season will probably be very nice, the sakura may even still be out, and the school is a fairly interesting place to wander about in, this is a whole day we're talking about, and you may want to spend your time slightly more usefully.

Right, so, the first thing you should do is to think about and plan your first lesson. A good idea might be an introduction class, where you talk about yourself, your hobbies, and your country, and then give the students a quiz on what you said. Bring along pictures of your family and friends, famous landmarks, your home, &c. Make lovely handouts and big clear flashcards, that kind of thing. Discuss this (and, indeed, every) lesson with the other English teachers both before and after preparing the lesson. Also, using these first few days to talk with the English team is a really good idea, both to find out what they want from you and for the sake of good relations. Another thing you might want to do is make a few posters to dot about the school. About you and your hobbies, some grammar points. Literally, whatever you want.


The Bus

If you are getting to school the same way I am, by bus, then you should know, the bus which leaves kita-koshigaya at 7:19 is a far more reliable choice than the one at 7:37. The latter is invariably late on rainy days, and sometimes late for no apparent reason. The 7:19 is a safe bet. There is another bus which departs kita-koshigaya between these two, but YOU DO NOT WANT TO TAKE THIS ONE. It doesn't go anywhere near the school, though it does leave from the same place at Kita-koshi. You only want to board buses which say they're going to 野田市 (Noda-shi) or 松伏給食センター (Matsubushi Kyuu-shoku Centre). My advice, ask the driver if you have any queries.

Perhaps you already have experience of this, or you know about it, but you really have to be on time for things in Japan. If you're even one minute late, it doesn't look good. Of course, if you are a little late once or twice, don't sweat it – they probably won't even mention it – but if you're regularly late about once a week, for example, it looks bad and they may get a little cross with you. So, take my advice and get the 7:19 bus, which should get you to school at 7:55 most days.

On another note, from the driver you can buy handy 5000 yen bus cards. They have an actual value of 5,850 yen, so that's quite a saving.


School Events

With this letter, I have included also a calendar for the academic year 2010-11.

The two most important events of the school year are undoubtedly the Induction (April 8th, perhaps your first day of work) and Graduation Ceremonies (March 15th). On these days you have to dress well. If you are a girl, I don't think there are (or, at least, I didn't notice) any specific requirements in dress code, but if you are a guy, you have to wear a dark suit with a white shirt and white tie. I have left my white tie in the middle drawer of my desk, so feel free to use it.

Other important events on the calendar include the Sports Festival (September 11th, a Saturday, you will get the following Monday, the 13th, as a day off) and the Singing Festival (October 22nd). On the day of the Sports Festival the students are divided into four large teams (red, blue, yellow, and green) and they battle it out to win first place as a team. The teachers are also each allocated a team to support, and they will help the team in training and rehearsals leading up to the event. On the actual day it is imperative that you support your team with unalloyed enthusiasm. I was also charged with taking photos. Very fun day, indeed. (There is also a separate Teacher's Sports Day on November 13th, where the staff room plays volley ball against the PTA team. I was unable to go, myself, but I hear it is very enjoyable.) The Singing Festival is another competition, this time between the four classes in each year. The three winners from each year will go on to sing in a concert in the local concert hall, Eroura Hall. Teachers and staff also sing two songs, though I was actually made to do the conducting, no doubt a demotion due to my awful singing. :(

The other events are staff parties (marked “SP”) and the Staff Trip. Of the staff parties, you only really have to go to the first and the last ones. (Though, if you can, I recommend going to them all.) At these parties, you will no doubt be called upon to make a speech, as everyone does, but it's all good fun, and you needn't go about trying to write something like the Gettysburg address. Just winging it should be enough. The Staff Trip on the 9th and 10th of October, I highly recommend you go on. I went last year, and it was flipping amazing. Great food, great places to visit (we went to the Asahi beer factory in Fukushima, and then a really beautiful cave near-by), a big party at a fancy hotel, really good fun, all in all... You should go. It'll set you back 10,000 yen a month (maybe for nine months) which is a little steep, but it is definitely worth it.

In addition to the staff trip, there is another excursion just for the members of staff who do not belong to a year group (called the 4th year, including the headmaster, the vice-principle, the Schedule Maker, Mr Nagai, you, and others, about ten in total). I went on this trip too, to a nice onsen on the Izu peninsula, and, again, it was worth it. (For the fourth year staff trip, the cost is 5,000 yen a month. This charge also covers the coffee and tea you are free to drink at school.) These trips, I feel, and the staff parties every so often are really fun, and I can't recommend participating in them highly enough.


Miscellaneous

Lunch at school costs 4,300 yen per month, payable to Ms Nakamura sensei.

The 10,000 yen per month for the school trip (also it covers some of the parties and presents bought for leaving teachers &c) and the 5,000 yen per month for the other trip is payable to Mrs Hirano sensei. Any money left over will come back to you at the end of the year.

If you can't afford to part with that amount of money every month, you are not obliged to. The lunch money, however, and 500 yen a month for coffee and tea, you will have to pay (unless you bring you own lunch and don't drink the staff room coffee or tea...). Honestly, though, if you can, you should. The staff trips were fantastic and the lunch is the cheapest you'll find, and pretty tasty too. The coffee's okay.

Talking of lunch, you will eat lunch every day in the staff room, with the headmaster, the vice-principle, Shibata san, Inoue sensei, Hirano sensei, and Mr. Nagai. They are all really nice people, and the vice-principle and Nagai sensei also speak fairly good English. Lunch officially starts from 12:35, but Nagai sensei, Kyoutou sensei (the vice-principle) and Kouchou sensei (the headmaster ) usually come a little later. Don't feel compelled to wait for them before beginning your meal; they are just very busy people and they certainly wouldn't want to keep you from your lunch. When they do come to the table, simply say to them “o-saki ni itadaite imasu” which means something like “Excuse me for beginning before you.”

This advice might seem superfluous, but I can't stress the importance of punctuality. Being one minute late in England is not such a heinous crime, as I recall, but in Japan it is not well looked upon; and whilst forgiven, is hardly something which will put you in anyone's good books.

Final Words

As a final word of parting, I should like to say that you get out of this job what you put into it. It is perfectly possible to idle away your free time at your desk and wait for four o'clock to come, without joining in the club activities and without spending time with the students. No-one will suggest for you to do otherwise. On the other hand, if you put in a little effort, prepare extra good lessons, and simply wander around the school in your free time, participating in the various clubs, running with the track team, reading in the library, asking the science club what's going on, painting with the fine art club, playing basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis, table tennis or whatever, and if you offer to help with the various events which pop up now and then, your time at the school will be so much more enjoyable, and the students you teach will be that much more receptive to your teachings in class, and interested in what you have to say.

Above all else, enjoy yourself. This is a very fun school to be working at.

Yours sincerely,

G Dawg.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Introducing: Dead Heat On A Merry-go-round


[What follows is the introduction to Haruki Murakami's Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round, a collection of short stories as yet unpublished in English, released in Japan in 1985, the same year as Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of The World. Daniel Morales, at his website How to Japonese, and at Neojaponisme.com, speaks much more intelligently than I could ever hope to on Murakami, and on this collection of short stories. I merely attempt a translation of what I found to be a fascinating read.]

I have a certain reservation about calling the sentences gathered here stories. That is to say, they are not stories in a technical sense.

When I go about writing a story, I take all the factual material -- I mean, if that stuff can even be said to exist -- and I throw it into a big pot, higgledy-piggledy, and melt it down until I can't even tell what it used to be. Then, later, I take a ladle of whatever grabs my fancy, and I run with it. It's more or less what you might call a story. Reality is, of course, much the same. The reality of a bakery, for example, exists in the bread rather than the flour it's made from.

The sentences collected here, however, have a fundamental correspondence with the facts. I heard a lot of people's stories: I wrote them down. Of course, in order not to receive any complaints, I played with a few of the stories' details, so they're not completely factual, but the important parts are 100% true. I haven't exaggerated any places to make the stories more interesting, and I haven't added anything. I shuffled some sentences around, but only so as not not to break up the atmosphere.

When I started out writing these kind of strung together sentences -- for now, let's just call them sketches -- it was with the intention of warming up before moving on to a bigger project. It also occurred to me that this business of getting down facts as factually as possible might somehow be useful later on. So you see, in the beginning, I had no intention at all of letting these sketches go to print. They were written on a whim, my only resolve to toss them into the desk in my study, where they would meet the same fate as countless other fragmentary writings.

However, while in the process of writing the third or fourth story, it came to be felt by me that each of them held a common trait, which was wanting to be told. That was, for me, a strange experience.

To give an example, when I'm writing, I select the bits of material I use pretty much without thinking, as my writing style or the development of the story requires. However, the words I write and the life I lead in reality do not always have a one to one correspondence (which is to say, my true self and my actual life do not match perfectly) and so however much I try a sediment will always collect up inside me of things I cannot use in my stories. It is from this kind of stuff I make my sketches. This sediment, then, at the very bottom of my consciousness, is just waiting for an opportunity to be given form and spoken.

I think one of the reasons these various residues gather up inside me is that I like to listen to other people's stories. Honestly speaking, I prefer to listen to other people's stories than to tell my own. Plus, I kind of feel like I have an ability to detect the extraordinary at the heart of them. The majority of people's stories are actually much more entertaining than my own; an average Joe's story especially is always much more interesting than some Indiana Jones' adventure.

This kind of skill, the ability to enjoy listening to another's story, doesn't necessarily have any tangible use. In the years I've spent writing, I've not had one experience where it's helped me out. I suppose there's a chance it might have once, but I can't remember it. People talk to me; I pay attention; and the stories gather up inside: that's all.

If this ability has in any way contributed to me as an author, I think it would be that it has made me a master of a certain kind of endurance. With extraordinary things, before they reveal themselves, I think, they have to pass through a filter of this endurance; and the sentences which go into the stories I write, for the most part, arise from this process. After all, extraordinary things are not the kind to turn on the tap, fill up a glass, and offer themselves to you saying, "Please, drink me!" There are times when all you have left is rain dancing. But that's another story. Let's take a step back.

In one of Carson McCullers' novels there is this gentle young character who's also mute. Now, this guy, whoever is speaking to him, whatever they say, he always lends a friendly ear; at times sympathetically, at other times in good camaraderie. Drawn to him almost without knowing why, people gather about him, make all sorts of confessions, and confide in him. However, in the end the young man takes his own life. Of course, it's then that everybody realises; they pushed all their problems onto him and not one person asked how he was feeling.

I mean, of course, my position and the mute guy's don't exactly overlap. With me, people tell me their stories and then I write them down. But, even so, what I want to say is that these sediments are definitely building up inside.

And it's for exactly this reason that, whenever I take a break from writing, this collection of material rises quite naturally to the surface of my consciousness. To me, these sketch-like materials feel like abandoned orphans. Being included in neither story nor phrase, their sleeping just goes on and on. It gives me bad vibes just thinking about it.

The thing is, even if I do write them down, it's not like I'll be able to let off any steam; and this last point especially, for whatever modicum of pride I possess, I have to emphasise: I am not writing and publishing these sketches so I can make myself feel better. It's like I said at the beginning, these sketches wanted to be written, and I sensed it. Whether or not my spirit can even be set free is another problem altogether, but as for the things I've written here, there's not even the slightest hint of salvation.

The notion that self expression can in any way liberate the spirit is a superstition; at best a myth; and as far as self-expression through the written word goes, it won't save anyone. If such a person existed, one who was aiming for freedom through writing, they would do well to stop. All expression is good for is breaking the soul down, and that doesn't get anyone anywhere. If you get the feeling you have got somewhere, well, you must be dreaming. People write because they can't help it. There's neither rhyme nor reason; and no light at the end of the tunnel.

So these sediments as per usual remain in me. Someday I might change them completely and include them in a new book. Then again, maybe not. No doubt if I did include them in something they would disappear to some dark inaccessible part of my soul.

With regard to what I'm doing here, there was no other way to bring together and give form to these things inside me. Whether this really is actual work or not, I don't know. If someone says to me, you should write a real novel, I can only shrug my shoulders and quote the oft-heard murderer's platitude, "All my actions are for the greater good." For me, there was no other way to present these materials than in the style given here.

The reason I call the sentences gathered here "sketches" is because they are neither fiction nor non-fiction. The material is completely factual, and the vehicle, the container, is entirely that of the novel. If, within the stories, you find something strange or unnatural that is because they are from reality; and if, in your turning of pages, you find yourself without need to pause, that is due to it being a novel.

Listening to other people's stories, and through them catching glimpses of people's lives, it becomes apparent that everyone is held prisoner by a certain kind of helplessness. The essense of this helplessness, as with the sediment inside of me, is the inability to go anywhere. The deal we humans get, and what we all become a part of, is the big human clockwork; always moving, but in completely predetermined ways. Kind of like a merry-go-round; always spinning in the same place, at the same speed. There's nowhere to go: No getting off, no transfers; no overtaking, and no falling behind. In spite of all this, however, on top of our merry-go-round, it seems as if we are locked in a fierce dead-heat, pretending as we are that the people we face are our opponents.

That life in certain situations seems strange or unnatural is most likely for this reason: That, in the overwhelming majority of cases, as soon as free will manifests itself, the supposed gift of humankind, it dies; and though we don't see it happening, it is from these dead spaces that the peculiar and unusual distortions in the structure of our lives come about.

Is what I think, kind of.