Thursday, January 13, 2011

Late Coming of Age

Last Monday was Coming of Age Day, a national holiday celebrating the entrance to adulthood of those who become 20, the age of majority in Japan.

As usual, TV news and variety programs interviewed many of those attending the coming of age ceremonies held across the country, asking them predictable questions about what they intended to do as newly full-fledged adult members of society, about their aspirations and dreams, and the like. Along with many positive, optimistic, even idealistic comments, there were plenty of anxious or outright pessimistic ones, as might be expected in the current grim economic conditions. One that really attracted my notice, however, was "I wish I'd (been born early enough to have) experienced the bubble".

Japan's economic bubble was pretty much over in the early years of the '90s, with the last vestiges gone by around '95. Economists would probably argue that that's too late, and it probably is from an economic point of view. There were still quite a few people behaving as if things were better than they were, though, dancing on the fantail of a sinking ship, until about then.

That young man would have entered kindergarten about the time that the last notes had been played and the last steps danced, when the bubble had unarguably burst, and I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for his parents, too; their son was conceived at a time when relatively few people even noticed that the ship was taking on water, when it looked to many people as if the carefree party cruise was still going to continue for a long time, if not forever. Those parents probably expected a much brighter future for their son, and for themselves.

Having heard, from his parents, from others of their generation, from the media, and from movies and dramas, of the heady bubble days, that young man is understandably envious, and disappointed.

I don't blame him. I was lucky enough to experience that bubbly era, and I had a great time. He missed a lot by coming of age too late.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Return of the Tiger

Just at the tail end of the Year of the Tiger, an anonymous benefactor styling himself "Naoto Date" donated some "randoseru" book satchels to a facility for underprivileged children. These sturdy knapsack-like bags are essentially required for elementary school children, and they are quite expensive. Appropriately, the satchels appeared on Christmas Day. Also appropriately, "Naoto Date" was the "real" name of a character from a manga and anime of around 40 years ago, whose alter ego was "Tiger Mask", a professional wrestler who kept his real identity secret, and who, having been brought up in such a facilty, donated much of his winnings to children in similar straits. This makes the Year of the Tiger an apt choice, too.

Since then, evidently inspired by this act of charity that caught the media's attention, more donations have been made to institutions across the country...almost 100 the last time I checked. Some of the gifts were randoseru, some were stationery items, or toys, or cash. A recent gift was a large quantity of fresh vegetables. It appears that people are giving whatever they can that they think will be of benefit to the children.

Some of the donations have come with letters from the anonymous donors, at least one signed with the name of another famous old manga/anime character, Joe Yabuki ("Ashita no Joe"), a boxer who also had an underprivileged childhood and also finally won fame and success--or at least a sort of redemption--in the ring. The letters sometimes say very little except that the gifts are meant to be used to improve the lives of the children. Sometimes they indicate that the benefactors were motivated by hearing or reading about the initial donation from "Naoto Date". A few of the donors mention that they are not rich, but want to contribute even just a little toward the children's well-being.

Some of the media coverage has been describing this phenomenon as a "charity campaign". What I particularly like about it is that it's not a campaign: it is a series of spontaneous charitable acts by people, apparently all individuals rather than organizations, to benefit underprivileged kids. The donations subsequent to the first one have been characterized as being "copy-cat" gifts; that's fine with me, too...these "copy-tigers" may have been motivated into action by the first and subsequent donations and the publicity they received, but to me that in no way diminishes the value of the gifts, or of the sentiment behind them.

I'd bet that the kids--many or most of whom are probably too young to remember even the reruns of the manga characters that were popular among people who are now mostly over 50--would agree with me.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gone Tomorrow

I'm sorry to see that Anne Francis has passed away, not long after Leslie Neilsen.

Apparently they are both more remembered for other roles, but I remember them best for Forbidden Planet, which--along with The Day the Earth Stood Still--is among my favorite old science fiction movies. I don't remember exactly when I saw Forbidden Planet, but it may very well have been at a theater when it first came out; I would have been only six or seven, but my Dad took me to quite a few movies when I was younger than many people would think appropriate for the content.

Dad was pretty iconoclastic sometimes; at least, he didn't seem to hold many opinions because they were popular. His take on "age-appropriate" seems to have been "whatever the kid can understand sufficiently to enjoy", and he determined that by trial and error. He gave me a copy of Moby Dick when I was maybe nine or ten, and I recall enjoying it even though I had to struggle through parts of it at the time, and probably missed a lot of what the author wanted to say. When I read it again some years later I appreciated having had the earlier opportunity even though I naturally understood the book very differently when I was older.

I understood Forbidden Planet differently, too,  when I saw it again later in life, and it motivated me to read The Tempest earlier than I might otherwise have done so.

It seems that a remake of Forbidden Planet is planned. I'm not sure how great of an idea that is; when I heard about what they'd done to The Day the Earth Stood Still in its remake, I decided to catch it on TV or on a rented video, and even if they don't utterly ruin it by making egregious changes from the original, Forbidden Planet without Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen just wouldn't be the same.

That's one past future that I'd just as soon they leave alone.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hare Today

Happy New Year!

May the Year of the Rabbit bring you all of the health, prosperity, happiness, love, adventure, and excitement that you could possibly want, even in your wildest dreams...and then a lot more on top of that.

Too much is never enough; it may be wiser to be moderate, but it's certainly not as much fun. Wouldn't you rather burn out than fade away?

Think twice about avoiding temptation, because the opportunity may not present itself again.

That probably doesn't sound like very rabbit-like advice, but Napoleon Bonaparte was born in the Year of the Rabbit, and he said, among many other things, "Ability is nothing without opportunity". Walt Whitman was another born in the Year of the Rabbit, and he said "The road to wisdom is paved with excess". I can't argue with either of those sentiments.

Have a great year!