A happy return to the old ways

I was able to get out and watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi last night in Roppongi. It was a pretty impressive movie, though it certainly has some faults. That won’t stop me from watching it a few (dozen) more times when it comes out for purchase.

It seems almost de rigeur to have some conversations about the nature of the force after watching a new Star Wars movie. As a much younger man, my friends and I would often talk about how the Force was something akin to Buddhism or Taoism, and the Jedi as samurai or Chinese Taoists.

However, these conversations were suddenly made moot in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace where Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn provides some exposition that the Force was brought about through a symbiotic relationship with sentient beings called “midi-chlorians” that inhabit all living things. Although it nicely wraps up the Force in a pretty box that tries to explain the origins of Anakin Skywalker and his extraordinary abilities, it also created a host of other problems — including that the Force was no longer something cultivated by ancient mystical practices. After Episode I, the Force became something you were born with.

So, I was quite refreshing to find Chris Plante’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi fixes one of the prequels’ worst problems. In this article he shows how the Star Wars franchise, under Disney, has moved to re-expand the Force to the available-for-all, mystical practice we encountered in the original trilogy.

Also, I couldn’t help but smile when I came across these two pieces in the last couple days:

The Jedi as samurai vs. the Jedi as ninja by Matthew Bortolin

“The Last Jedi” cranks up Star Wars’ Buddhist themes by Tim Carmody at (the always great) Kottke.org

I hope that this Force-as-a-practice trend continues. I think it would be nice to use this device as a lever to finding out more about other characters’ backgrounds in the future.


The first tremors of Japan’s population crisis are felt . . . and dismissed

I moved back to Japan 15 years after I left from my previous time here — a year in rural Tokushima, followed by several months in Fukuoka. I really loved the time I spent here, teaching English in Japan’s JET Programme. As an Oklahoma boy in an equally rural area of Japan, I was not particularly surprised by the advanced age of the population in Tokushima. After all, it couldn’t have been an America-only phenomenon that young people often migrated to the big cities to chase a bigger dream than the family farm.

However, it was pretty shocking to discover upon my return, over the first few months here in 2016, that the aging population was a thing happening to the entire country! In spite of that, even now it seems that life continues on as though nothing is going on. Even though the median age of Japan continues to climb and the birthrate continues to decline, people are still content to keep their nose to the grindstone and pretend that nothing at all could be going wrong.

Thus, it is important to occasionally take some time to review the situation and how the population crisis is affecting us now (as well as in the future), as well as how our inaction today will compound the trouble further down the road.

And that is exactly what we get with this article by Chris Weller in Business Insider (from May 2017). Not only does he give an overview of how the current population issues formed, but also how they continue to compound and proliferate into new problems in Japan’s workaholic culture. Further, Weller continues by showing how this trend could show the future of other industrialized countries, even decades from now.


Autumn fades to winter


What can you say about autumn in Tokyo?

For me, the big picture is pretty bleak, but that does make those few-and-far-between exceptions even more amazing. If you have seen my instagram, you know that one of my favorite spots for taking pictures is at the Kaitokukanteien (懐徳館庭園) on the University of Tokyo Hongo campus. As the rest of the trees in Tokyo are fading into a uniformly brown color, there is still much here to draw your attention.

Anyway, this may be one of the last photos of trees that I take until spring, so enjoy!

Jay-Z interview in NYTimes’ T Magazine

Quite an interesting interview in T Magazine with Jay-Z. The insights are layered throughout — from the theme of O.J. Simpson’s influence, to the breakthroughs that Jay-Z has had with therapy. I really enjoyed reading what Jay-Z had to say about the skills that were required to get him to where he is, compared to the skills and emotional tools needed to excel in his current situation (and even the tools and skills that his child needs, going forward).

Definitely worth the read.


Recent objects of consciousness

Very Bad Wizards, episode 126: The Absurd. From the scatologically fascinating discussion on “oral illusions” at the beginning, to a review of Nagel’s essay on the absurdity of human existence, this was a great specimen of good podcasting. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course. ★★★★★

War for the Planet of the Apes. This is the 3rd movie in the modern re-imagination of the Planet of the Apes franchise. I had waited for some time for it to be available to rent, but the wait was completely worth it, IMHO. Still amazed by the quality of the CG in this movie — I was completely drawn into the story and taken in by the expressiveness of the apes’ faces. The plot, however, was a bit weak, but I feel that the quality of the CG and the almost constant action and fast pace almost completely hides the thinness of the story. ★★★1/2