koknishu: spring 1, #5

I think just the act of posting that last translation has made me dislike it.  I’m sending Spring I, #3 back to the drawing board.  Don’t look at it any more.  We’re moving on:


    the warbler
back in the branches
    of my plum tree,
singing in the spring
even as the snow falls

Japanese poetry often lacks a sense of “speaker”, due in part to the structure of the language itself.  Using “my” inserts a presence not expressly there in the original, but I find it shrinks and personalizes the scope of the poem.  “my plum tree” has a softer, smaller feel than “the plum tree”, pulling the scene of the poem into a familiar back yard, rather than a vague, open space-with-a-plum-tree.  Still not committed to the punctuation here–I played with dashes and different use of commas, even a colon, but nothing stuck, so I went with this one-comma version.

As always, comments and criticisms welcome!


kokinshu: spring 1, #3

In an effort a higher echelon of dorkdom (Nerdvana?), I have been devoting a portion of my free time to the translation of classical Japanese poetry.  The following tanka–a short poetic form which dominated Japanese culture for quite a long time–is from the Kokinshu, specifically the first book of spring verses.  I do not claim that it is perfect, or even necessarily done, but it is the first one I think I’ve gotten to the point of “decent”.

Here we go:


oh where
do the spring mists rise?
here in fair Yoshino,
in the mountains of Yoshino,
snow keeps coming down

I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the “oh where”, it’s a little melodramatic…  Thoughts, comments, and criticisms are welcome.

my fears were completely unfounded

Fifth of February, Two-Thousand and Ten: Rene Engstrom’s beautiful, sad, funny, disturbing web-opus, Anders Loves Maria, has ended.  If you haven’t been reading it, for the love of God, do not jump straight to the end.  Start here (and be aware that it is not safe for work, not safe for kids, not safe to read around your parents–sex, nudity, bad decisions, pain, and heartbreak abound).

Much could be said about Anders Loves Maria.  Much has been said.  All I will add right now is this:  it is a mark of pure artistry that, upon finishing the strip, the simple act of looking back at the title re-contextualizes everything, and makes you want to just cry (more so than you did just a second before).

Kudos, Rene.

the bastard-child of functionality

vans and the places they were” may be the only website I’ve ever seen that makes good, intentional use of horizontal scrolling.  What could have been one-trick, internet gag fare (that is, shots of custom vans) is tied together in an engaging way by its sideways-sliding gallery.  Though the shots portray stillness, the scrolling imparts on them a semblance of their natural motion, and invites the viewer to dwell in the differences between the images–not just differences of space and design, but of color and feeling.

BoingBoing makes an interesting argument about these shots as ephemeral art–that is, the placement of the vans in their respective environments is inherently fleeting (none of these fellas are up on blocks, rotting away), making the appreciation of their juxtaposition keyed to a limited period of time.  One might argue, of course, that photography–especially photography posted on the internet–is the opposite of ephemeral, in that it takes a passing moment and makes it (relatively) permanent.  The artist himself adds another dimension to the conversation:

Over the course of the project the vans themselves have become more and more of a rarity. The reasons are as simple as rust and changing tastes; and as complex as government “cash for clunkers” initiatives encouraging more fuel-efficient transportation. Notably, at the same time these vans have been disappearing from our roads – film photography as a visual medium has also begun it’s slow death. Consequently the goal of the project is to one day shoot the last remaining van on the final frame of photographic film in existence. Then the project will be finished.

What, then, of horizontal scrolling, the bastard-child of functionality?  If the conversion van and the film camera are technologies that are fading away to make room for the new, horizontal scrolling is a technology which, despite its irritating near-uselessness, is unavoidably here to stay, necessary in order to preserve the integrity of web-design, but never (well, almost never) used with artistry or intention.  Is this a sad tale of neglected dimensions?  Or a heartwarming yarn about the potential of the underdog?  Scroll to the right to find out.

thursday sumo: big goings-on

I tend to watch sumo tournaments on a time delay–that is, I download them, and make my way through the thirty hours worth of video where I can, usually while doing dishes.  When I’m catching up, I tend to avoid sumo news sites for fear of spoilers.  As of right now I’m only on day six of the January basho, but when sumo news makes it onto BoingBoing, I figure I should come out of my hole and check for my shadow.  This week, we get a double header:

First off, after an incident in which Asashoryu allegedly punched a dude in the face during a bout of extreme drunkenness, the yokozuna has announced his retirement.  The news feed at Sumotalk has a fine account of the details of the altercation, and its aftermath, so I’ll leave the technicalities to them.  I’m sad to see him go–he was a dynamic, powerful figure who, despite his attitude problems, brought a lot to the sport–but given the stoic, traditional culture that exists around Japan’s national sport, there isn’t really another path.

My main curiosity is: what does this mean for the sport?  The two yokozuna have been completely dominant for years now, to the point where there’s no real candidate to fill the vacuum at the top level.  Only two of the ozeki, Kotooshu and Harumafuji, have recent tournament wins, and both have been inconsistent at best.  Still, there will be pressure on the Sumo Association to fill the vacancy, and with the recent withdrawal of Chiyotaikai, I expect we’ll see some unusual movement at the top of the rankings.  Perhaps Asashoryu’s absence will make it a little easier for somebody-or-other to really shine?  Kisenosato, I think we’re all looking at you, here.

Meanwhile, in less punchy news, Takanohana-oyakata seems to have staged a coup, sidestepping the Sumo Association’s normal political process and getting himself elected to the board of directors (normally, elections are perfunctory, and members are selected by their own ichimon, or collection of training stables).  This has caused a great deal of murmuring amongst the various coaches, council members, and stable heads, with those who voted for Takanohana being branded traitors (again, Sumotalk has better details than I can provide).  It’s difficult to say. especially as an outsider and a foreigner, what impact this will have, but, schismatic that I am, I think this shake up may bring a new energy to the Association, and hopefully help them cope with the loss of a great, if troubled, yokozuna in a creative, intelligent way.

Or maybe it’ll look like this:

(you guys may recognize Akebono from that Glee commercial from last week.)

tin roof: rusted.

I am not even kidding when I tell you that I am watching this for research for a writing project:

big man sings Journey (uh, thursday sumo? sure.)

Yes, that’s yokozuna Akebono in this ad for the Japanese release of Glee. (via Neatorama)