Archive for December 2003
Happy New Year
Tawawa.org got started as an undergraduate composition course back in April 2003. With a dozen students posting to it on a regular basis, it soon got into the swing of things. Deliberately situated outside the walled garden of a typical "e-learning" course, it managed to carve out -- or at least I think it did -- its own little niche among Japan's anglophone weblogs.
August wasn't a good month for the site. At the beginning of the month a server incident obliterated the database and all archive pages after mid-June, and, since the course was over, most participants chose to stop contributing to the site.
Still, Tawawa managed to scramble back to its feet, with students now posting entries and comments on a voluntary basis.
For the next term, starting in April 2004, I scheduled another composition course in which students will be posting to Tawawa. It'll be a non-mandatory course open to third-year students and up, and I hope there'll be a fair number of participants.
Former and new contributors who would like to post entries to this site without participating in the upcoming course are welcome to do that; the site is open and flexible enough to accomodate separate groups. So, if you've lost your login or would like to become a new contributor to the site, just drop us a line.
Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who contributed to Tawawa in one way or another in 2003, and in particular to Wakako-san, who showed enthusiasm for the project when it most needed it.
May it be a good year!
Christmas, Beethoven's Ninth and Chushingura
I like the Christmas season, and I don't think I'm the only one.
Many musical events are held. Last week, I played and sang "Silent Night, Holy Night" with the M.U.E.S.S. members, in English of course. Also in the street, famous traditional (and sometimes inevitable) Christmas songs are sung and listened to by many people.
Japanese people like to sing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I like to play it (parts of it, that is, not the whole). Although I know the lyrics in neither English nor German, I try to sing it in both languages.
The reason why the Japanese like "Beethoven's Ninth" is that the progression of mood agrees with the Japanese mind. This is what I read in a newspaper (perhaps Mainichi shinbun, no link to the article because it is a very old one).
The Ninth is a long symphony (I do not know how long it is) in four movements. Each movement has its own atmosphere, and the sense of joyfulness and happiness increases gradually. From the first to the third movement, the atmosphere is not joyful or happy but it builds up as the symphony progresses, and the fourth and final movement reaches the highest point of joyfulness and happiness. This development fits the Japanese taste very well.
The same structure can be seen in Chushingura. In this traditional and historical Japanese revenge story, Asanotakumino Kami is bullied by Kira until he loses his calm and injures him. For this, Asano is sentenced to death and executed. In the following year, Oishi Kuranosuke and fourty-seven warriors who supported Asano decide to take revenge on Kira for Asano's death. Eventually, they succeed in doing it and the story finishes happily and successfully. The struggle and pain come first. The success comes last.
That the struggle and pain come first and the joy and happiness come last is what Japanese people like. In this way, we conclude the year to be good and peaceful. Even though there is so much war and crimes, we come to think that every year is very good. Doing so, we welcome the coming year and hope it will be as good as the previous one. In Beethoven's Ninth and in Chushingura, the same structure of progression are seen. This is the reason why we like the "Ninth," especially at the end of a year.
What we often hear in the street is the fourth movement of the "Ninth." I like it very much. Can anyone sing it in English or German?
I always need much time to make decisions. I seldom make up my mind instantly.
For one thing, I don't find it easy to select from many things. For example, in a restaurant, I take much time to choose a dish from the menu. Except when I have already decided what I want to have, I usually have a hard time choosing.
I also think about things too carefully. When I was a high school student, I had to choose between science and biology since I could take only one class. I had good grades in science, but my home-room teacher said I had better choose biology. Science was getting more and more difficult and I was a student who was going to take a university-entrance examination, so he said that. I was puzzled about it, but finally I took biology.
I can't decide things quickly. So, when I'm asked to speak, I'm confused what topic I should talk about. But many students don't seem to have this problem, which I find admirable.
Yesterday, determination was required again. I found a nice sweater in a shop. I want a sweater like that, but it was expensive. I didn't buy it after all; however, it also took much time to make this decision.
Lewis Carroll's Jabberwock can lay some fair claim to being the greatest nonsense poem in the English language. I've just recorded it (mp3, 1.4 MB) using an outstanding piece of free, cross-platform audio software: Audacity. It allows you not only to make recordings but to edit them as well and to add various sound effects.
At last night's bonenkai I mentioned the software to a sensei who was greatly interested in recording audio files and distributing them via the Internet but shied away from downloading the software and installing it on his system. For him and for anyone else who might be interested, here's a quick step-by-step guide.
The following assumes that you're using Microsoft Windows (that's Win98 or more recent) -- which isn't necessary since the software is available for Mac and Linux as well. Here goes:
- Create a new directory on your hard drive, something like c:\downloads (the Japanese version of Windows will probably give you "¥" instead of "\"). This isn't strictly necessary since you can also download the software to c:\My_Documents (or whatever they call it now). It doesn't matter, but it's nice to have a folder for the stuff you download, just to keep some order.
- Download audacity-win.exe to the directory you've just created or to any directory where you'll find it again.
- Close any other programs you've got running, including your browser.
- Go to the directory to which you downloaded the .exe file and click on it. This will install the software on your system.
- This is it. You can now use Audacity and make recordings.
- If, however, you want to save the things you record in the .mp3 format, some additional steps are required: download the file lame_enc.dll to the directory you created or to any other place where you'll find it again.
- Plug a microphone into your computer, fire up Audacity and record something.
- In Audacity, click on File | Export as MP3.
- This isn't going to work because Audacity doesn't know yet where the lame_enc.dll file is. But it will give you a dialog through which you can locate the file where you downloaded it to. Go there and click the button.
- You can now save your file as an .mp3. Do it.
To play back audio files on a Windows machine, you might like to use Winamp, which was a free download last time I checked.
Yo, Yo, Yo
It's been a while since the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper’s Delight" in 1978 and Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" in 1982 -- but hip-hop has finally made it big in Japan. The other day one of my students started to flash gangsta gestures in class, back at the university festival there were breakdance performances, and not too long ago I received an essay from another of my students who violently attacked what he sees as the derivative and entirely un-original work of the Japanese rap/hip-hop scene.
On the BBC today, there's an article titled Japan grows its own hip-hop, which denies this charge:
Mr Tamura believes the secret behind its success lies in Japanese hip-hop artists starting to do their own thing rather than copying their US counterparts.
"I think the secret behind the popularity is that Japanese hip-hop lyrics matured. Before they used to copy American gangster rap singing about guns and violence, which there isn't too much of in Japan," he said.
"Now they've realised it strikes more of a chord with listeners singing about reality. A lot of it is peaceful, about everyday life -- poetic even. I think people started to relate to what was being sung. I don't think it will be long before a Japanese hip-hop artist becomes famous around the world," he said.
For a bit of historical perspective and an entirely unsympathetic view of the rap and hip-hop phenomenon in the United States, read John H. McWhorter's How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back.
This weekend I went to Gokasyo, to the south of Ise. In Gokasyo, there is a small yacht harbor and you can see beautifully illuminated yachts as shown here.
Hironori Akutagawa's Oolong, famous for its ability to balance pancakes and other objects on its head, was the Internet's most-loved rabbit. When the creature died back in January, a wave of mourning swept across the world.
The least you can say about the monkeys on the Tawawa Web Development Team is that they've got a weird sense of priorities. Instead of fixing the stuff theat's really broken on this site, they decided a new page header with a horizontal navigation bar was needed. So, adapting code they lifted from Listamatic, they went and redesigned the whole place. Thanks go out to オリさん of Boblet.net for testing their prototype code in a bunch of browsers on Mac OSX Panther.
It all looks fine to me, except for the page header itself, which is a bit drab: too much gray. Maybe we'll have to hold a design contest that invites Tawawa readers to create page headers, and we'll use the best design for a while. More on that later, probably.
Meanwhile: if there's anything that looks strange now -- particularly in the Japanese section -- please complain!
I love Christmas very much.
When it gets colder, I start decorating my house. I don't illuminate, but hang Christmas ornaments everywhere. When I cook dinner, I usually listen to Christmas songs. I bought a DVD, The Grinch. So, when I have nothing to do at night, I watch it.
On Christmas day, I have to work at school, but after working I'll bake a cake and cook dinner.
I'm very much looking forward to the day! Am I too childish?
Earlier this week, Nifty launched CoCoLog and back in early November NTT rolled out DoBlog. Both of them are "hosted weblogging services": they don't require users to install software (such as Movable Type, Nucleus, Drupal, Wordpress, b2 or any of the others). Instead, CoCoLog and DoBlog offer packages that allow users to sign up and get going immediately, without needing to bother with any technicalities.
As far as I'm aware, these two are Japan's first-ever hosted weblogging services -- or at least the first commercial ventures into the field; the short-lived Japan Bloggers Association looked like one of those many online undertakings that foundered on their lack of a business plan. Will these two services popularise the weblog format in Japan?
In the West, the introduction of hosted weblogging services (Pitas in July 1999 and, in particular, Blogger in the following month) did have a big impact on weblogging. Above all, they popularised the practice, but they also changed it. In her very informative essay Weblogs: A History and Perspective, Rebecca Blood describes this change as a shift from "link-driven" weblogs that "filtered" the Web to more personal, diaristic forms. She deplores this shift -- I'm not sure if I agree: the newer, more personal type of weblogs never superseded the old "link-driven" type, they just added a more personal element . So, if anything, hosted services made weblogs a richer and more diverse phenomenon.
If the new hosted weblogging services in Japan will manage to to bring about more diversity, and if they create an environment in which a larger group of people will find a voice with which to express their personal perspectives on things -- why, then more power to them!
Also, the earlier Chain-Haikuing thread is still open.
Feel free to contribute!