Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Earliest Christmas Cards from Two Ladies

Last week I already received two Christmas cards. The senders of these were Eugenia and Jola.

Eugenia is a professor of physics at Moscow State University, and Jola is the late Stan's wife living in London. Eugenia's husband, Volodya, was also a professor of physics, and had been working jointly with her. However, he died some years ago (she wrote me then, "It is so difficult [for] me [to live] without Volodya"). So both Eugenia and Jola happen to be widows. (Don't think that I become friends with widows only!)

Eugenia wrote nothing new in her card. The card were decorated with bright powders, many of which were pealed off from the card on my opening the envelope and dropped on the desk and the floor. I do not like this type of card, so that I trashed hers instantly. Sorry Eugenia, but don't send me such a kind!

Jola's card usually comes first, but was the second this year. Her husband was the head of the radiation section at the London Hospital, and his research was closely related to mine.

Jola wrote in her card the followings: She retired from dentistry and now travels a lot. She was in Thailand the week before and may be in Japan in the future. Four years ago she got a degree at the London University in Egyptology. Her son and his wife retired last year at 48 and live in Spain. -- They live such interesting lives as are rare in our country. --

God bless the two ladies!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Girl of Masculine Spirit

I made a search of the name H. I. at the Google Web site to learn her recent activity. She was a classmate of mine at an elementary school in Kanazawa, and now works at the University of California, Santa Barbara, U.S.A. I have not heard from her these years. There were a considerable number of hits for the search. Among them I found a review [1] of John Nathan's book [2]. Under the title of the review, the Editor writes this note:
Associate professor of Japanese H. I. was incorrectly referred to as "he." H. I. is a woman.
This note refers to the following passage of the review (italics by the present author):
H. I., UCSB associate professor of Japanese, has been a colleague of Nathan for 30 years, and he said the book offers a unique and much needed insight into the culture itself.
Which was this "he," a typos or the reviewer's actual impression of her? I believe that the latter is the case. H. I. was a girl of masculine spirit, as she always admitted herself. She had even a masculine look when I met her five years ago. Thus the Editor did not correct the reviewer's text, but wrote a note instead. Humorous treatment!
  1. K. Richer, "Book Probes Japan's History, Culture" Daily Nexus Online (February 18, 2004). [Note added later: The page became unavailable.]
  2. J. Nathan, "Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose" (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

Monday, November 29, 2004

"Italian, Please"

Mr. K, a former colleague of mine, told me the following story.

One day K and some of his friends went to a restaurant and enjoyed a talk over supper. Then they wanted to have more talks, and moved to another shop where drinks and light meals were served.

All of them wished to have a cup of coffee. The kind of coffee many Japanese people like is "American." K's friends ordered American, but he wanted to have something different. He said jokingly to the waiter, "Italian, please." The waiter said, "OK," and went away.

K was rather surprised to know that they served Italian coffee there, and expected espresso or something like that to come.

After a while, the waiter came with a big dish of spaghetti for K. K was quite at a loss how to do with it after eating an enough amount of supper already.

This is a favorite story of mine to tell to my friends when I have coffee with them.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

"This is Hyogo!"

The countryside of Shiota Spa, Hyogo (17 October 2003).

The countryside of Yunogo Spa, Okayama (18 October 2003).

Past February Indra Das, a friend of mine working at the University of Pennsylvania, came to Hyogo Ion Beam Medical Center in Harima Science Garden City, Hyogo, Japan. He looked at the accelerator installed there and did some experimental work with it.

In the evening before his return to USA, he and I met in Osaka and had a chat over supper. I took two sketchbooks with me to show him the small works I made during my trip to Italy and New Zealand.

The sketchbook I used in Italy included some works from domestic trips. When I opened the page of a sketch made in Shiota Spa (the upper picture), Indra instantly said to my surprise, "This is Hyogo!" Sure, Shiota Spa is located in Hyogo. The scenery sketched seems to be very similar to the one he used to see during his stay at the Medical Center.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


The blogger Obachan writes a good series of essay on Japanese comics (manga) [1,2]. On its first piece I wrote the following comment:
As one of the Japanese I applaud your essays that introduce Japanese culture on the Internet. Possibly you'd rather want to hear comments from overseas readers. So I'll make my comment short. Actually I, born before the World War II, seldom read manga so that I have little to write about this topic. In my childhood, however, I enjoyed the manga Norakuro. (Note: Norakuro is the hero's name meaning "the black, stray dog.") It depicted the military life by the use of humanoid dogs. Those dogs were very humane, suggesting that the author Suiho Tagawa (1899—1989) did not like wars at the deep part of his mind in those days of militarism.
Obachan replied:
Thank you for your comment! Yes, I know Norakuro. I have read only a few episodes so I don't know this manga very well, but I, too, had the impression that the author did not like the war. I also read somewhere that Osamu Tezuka respected Suiho Tagawa very much as his predecessor.
Osamu Tezuka (1928—1989) is the famous author of comics about whom Obachan writes in the first piece of her essay. One of Tezuka's representative works is Tetsuwan Atomu (Atom with iron arms), the hero of which is the charming robot of the name Atomu. Tezuka contributed much to make manga one of unique cultures of Japan, as Obachan told us.

Another manga I liked to read in my boyhood was Fukujiro Yokoi's Putcher in Wonderland. It is SF manga, in which the boy Putcher and his robot friend Beri experience adventures of encountering Martians and the underground mankind, fight against those creatures, and finally establish peaceful relations with them. I had forgotten the story, but a website [3] reminded me of it.

That manga was published as a serial in the journal Shonen Kurabu (Boys' Club) after the World War II, from 1946 to 1948 [3]. It was my junior high school days, and our young teacher of science said to us, "I don't recommend you to read manga, but Pitcher Putcher is an exception." On hearing the teacher's wrong citation of the title, some boys including me laughed secretly, and were proud of being regular readers of that manga.

I have to write also about the manga author Machiko Hasegawa (1920—1992), who learned the making of manga from Suiho Tagawa and was awarded the Prize for Honorable National in 1992 (the first winner of this prize was the home-run hitter Sadaharu Oh). Hasegawa's representative work is Sazae-san (Ms. Sazae). It is a comic strip dealing with the three-generation family Isono, in which Sazae is an active woman of the second generation. The strip first appeared in The Evening Fukunichi in 1946, moved to The Asahi-shimbun in 1949, and continued for 25 years in the latter newspaper.

One day when I was a graduate student, I saw the following strip of Sazae-san, in which no person of Isono family appeared: A thief of a scaring look stealthily comes into a house. In an empty room he takes out one of books from a bookshelf. Then he read it with a pleased smile. The last scene shows a corner of the street, where a sign with the words "Reading Week" stands.

The words "Reading Week" in Japanese consist of four Chinese characters. Hasegawa used the very difficult, original style character for the first one and a simplified style for the last. I disliked such loose use of Chinese characters. So, I sent a letter to her, writing like this:
I enjoyed your comic strip about Reading Week very much. However, I advise you consistently to use Chinese characters designated for daily use by the Cabinet. Many children read your strips, so that you have to be careful about their educational effects.
I got no reply from Hasegawa. I believe however that she highly valued my advice, because I never saw her loose use of Chinese characters in Sazae-san after that. She must have been just before her forties at that time.
  1. Japanese Manga (Comics) -1- (2004).
  2. Japanese Manga (Comics) -2- (2004).
  3. What is Putcher? (2000) (in Japanese).

Sunday, September 26, 2004

My Favorite Suit

The other day, I was walking in a brown suit. Then an ex-pilot of the U.S. Navy spoke to me, saying, "General, don't you go to Iraq?" (Read details in a recent story of my "Femto-Essay" site.) It seems that he thought me in that suit to be a high-rank officer of the Self-Defense Force of Japan. There are more stories about this brown suit.

It was August 1979. I visited National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada, in that suit. (I use the suit for so many years, less than a few times per year.) There I saw Dr. K. W. Geiger, a son of Hans Wilhelm Geiger. -- The German physicist H. W. Geiger (1882—1945) is famous for the development of the Geiger—Müller counter to measure radioactivity. -- K. W. Geiger wore completely the same suit as mine. He said, "This was made in Korea." I said, "Oh, no! I bought this in Japan." Then I checked my suit and found the words, "Made in Korea." I had to say, "Oh, I didn't know this had been made in Korea."

Some years later, I went to Tokyo in that suit. A foreign lady stopped me at the Yaesu entrance hall of the Tokyo station, and asked me a donation or something like that in Japanese. I rejected her request in English. Then she said in English, "You look nice!" (So, I like that suit). However, I didn't change my answer to her. -- An old fox is not easily snared. --

Note added later: Hearing this story, a lady friend of mine said to me, "It can be amusing for a man that another person is in the same suit, but for a woman it would be a serious problem. Women pursue originality in their dresses." Sure!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Talking about Spirits Is Scientific

A blog friend of mine, who nicknamed herself obachan (a Japanese word to mean middle-aged woman), recently wrote on her web page as follows [1]:
[My grandma] strictly made me finish the rice, literally all -- without leaving any single grain in the bowl. According to her, there were gods (or spirits of nature) living in rice, so we should never throw them away.
My wife's and my own mother possibly belonged to the same generation as her grandma, and they also taught us to eat rice to the last grain. Regrettably, however, we did not tell our daughters about the spirits in rice. As a result, they do not share with us that good habit about eating rice. I thought that my wife and I were too scientific to talk about spirits. However, I happened to find the following passage in a book written by F. David Peat [2]:
Indigenous science also teaches that corn is the manifestation of something deeper, of something that transcends the particular individual plant and links all corn together -- in this case spirit.
Then Peat describes that the spirits of corn and Native American people had a form of mutually supportive relationship. Corn would grow in response to a request that it should feed the people; and in turn the people acknowledge the power of the plant and care for it in special ways. This represents indigenous science. It moves slowly. On the other hand, genetic engineering of Western science today is impressive, but, Peat criticizes, scientists don't really understand what they are doing to the general ecology.

Speaking of spirits might have been more scientific. I'm not joking here.
  1. "108 Gods in Salad" in "Obachan's Kitchen & Balcony Garden" (2004).
  2. F. David Peat, "Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Universe" (Fourth Estate, London, 1995).
Related Site Added Later

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Frogs or Flags?

Past April I made my first trip to Shikoku, and found the street name "Hata" in the city of Kochi. "Hata" means, "Flags (are) plenty (here)," and is expressed by two Chinese characters. The faithful pronunciation of the characters would be "Hatata." Two ta's must have been shortened to a single ta.

My last name "Tabata" is expressed by the same two characters as those of Hata put in the reverse order. I say to the overseas friends of mine, "My last name means many flags." The flags of Hata and Tabata are of a vertically long kind (nobori-bata) such as used by samurai in wars. I suppose that many samurai of the Taira clan (Heike) secretly lived in Hata after being beaten by the Minamoto clan (Genji) in 1185 in a naval battle at Dannoura.

Possibly my last name comes from the fact that my father-side ancestors were fishermen, not samurai, in a village facing the Japan Sea. They must have come back from fishing with many flags on the boat when they got much fish.

On hearing the explanation of my last name, some friends of mine ask me which I mean, frogs or flags, because my English pronunciation is poor. I say, "Stars and Stripes is the American flag. That flag!" Once I said this to a British friend of mine. I should have referred to Union Jack.

(Modified from my comment on "Another Typhoon" posted at the website "Obachan's Scribbles")

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Physics of Stone Skipping

In January 2004, my wife and I joined a 13-day travel to New Zealand organized by JTB West. It included a two-day visit to Moeraki in the heart of South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. In the morning of the second day in Moeraki, the local guide Andy brought us to Monro Beach facing the Tasman Sea. There he often played stone skipping picking up flat and circular pebbles.

I said to Andy, "To get the maximum number of bounces, you had better give maximum spin to the stone and throw it so as to make the attack angle between the stone and the water surface 20 degrees. Do you know the world record of stone skipping?" He did not know the world record. I told him that it was 38 rebounds.

I learned all these things about stone skipping just before going on the travel. It was from the article entitled "Secrets of successful stone-skipping" and written by the French scientists Christophe Clanet, Fabien Hersen and Lydéric Bocquet [1].

However, a different set of experiments would be necessary to find the optimum throwing for Andy's stone skipping. The wave of the Tasman Sea was rather large, so that Andy was throwing stones not directly to the sea but to the region of the wet sandy beach from which the wave had just retreated. The stones rebounded five or six times on the sands and then on water!
  1. C. Clanet, F. Hersen and L. Bocquet, Nature Vol. 427, p. 29 (2004).