Honour bound

‘Dishonour is like a scar on a tree, which with time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge’ – Bushido maxim

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I quite like this quote, I’m not entirely sure why. I find it alluring in a primal sense, taunting me with perhaps more layers than I am capable of understanding. Still, that doesn’t stop me hauling it out, dusting it off and mulling it over every now and then. Even if I do tend to believe it is quite self righteous to discuss honour in any form or medium.

Isn’t honour one of those concepts that is supposed to be exhibited through action and deed, as opposed to discourse and confabulation? Any person claiming to be honourable, after all, is almost undoubtedly met with, at best scepticism, but more likely, derision.  Best to keep that sort of thing to yourself, lest you grind up against the benchmark of your fellows. Unless of course your people have the same code or value system. In which case, virtue signal away.

Sometimes I pretend to be some deciduous broadleaf… but I am likely one of the more knobbly, gnarled and crooked conifers in the forest. I tend to think of myself as having lots of non-negotiable terms in my life. Which I constantly seem to be breaking. Of course I keep these failings strictly to myself, but moralise and gossip over others failing my own rule set.

‘that mother fucker, driving like a maniac down my quiet suburban street’. Of course when I do it, its totally fine. Justifiable even. -Insert a gazillion examples of hypocrisy here-

Maybe honour is a percentile game? Given the choice between an honourable and the dishonourable action you take the achievement award if you choose correctly 51% of the time? I feel the spirit of the game is more akin to a single instance of wavering on any of the non-negotiables equals immediate disqualification. No take backs, quick saves or starting over.

That is quite serious.

Fortunately the Japanese have another concept I find potentially more appealing. That of Wabi-sabi.

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

This makes my barky exterior much more cheerful.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is – Jiro Ono

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When it comes to movies I’ve become a serious curmudgeon in my old age. I hate almost everything. A childhood friend of mine recently confessed to me that he likes the new Star Wars movies. It pains me to cut him loose… but unfortunately there’s no real coming back from that. We had a good run…

Having said that…

I loved Jiro Dreams of Sushi. 

I suppose I should caveat this tirade with the acknowledgement that I am an unashamed Japanophile. I also love sushi! If I had to live off one ‘type’ of food for the rest of my life, it could easily be this ambrosia-esque fusion of rice and raw seafood. So… there might be a smidgeon of bias in this post.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not really about sushi. Well… it is. And it isn’t. Its more about (borderline compulsive) obsessiveness, insane discipline and the desire to be the absolute best at your chosen craft or profession. Which is often cosmically aligned with being Japanese. (I’m also fascinated by Japanese woodworking videos on Youtube)

Jiro loves his job. (How many of us can say that?) I mean REALLY loves it. At 85 thats all he wants to do. He has dedicated his entire life to that ‘one’ thing. I wonder how it must feel like to have that level of dedication, that will power, that single-mindedness?

You know that dreaded ‘So what do you do?’ question. At the moment its most often casually tossed at me when all the dads are defensively wagon forted round the snack table at -insert name here- toddlers birthday party. I hate that question. Its not like people really care what you do, they’re just taking a polite breather so they can talk about themselves again in a moment or two.

‘I pursue opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled’. Is my standard answer. Usually no one is brave enough to ask me what the fuck that actually means. I purposely tend to obfuscate because I don’t really have a ‘thing’. I think thats true for a lot of us. We narrowly define ourselves when asked, but thats not necessarily true. Sometimes I worry about my lack of a thing… you know, a serious devotion that defines me, gives meaning to my life, my reason for existing etc.

Would I trade places with Jiro. No… I think there is huge opportunity cost to living like that and even though I sometimes feel like my mind is a windswept directionless wasteland, its still my life. Even if it has been dropped a couple of times… and not necessarily picked up before 5 seconds are up.

Still, I find ‘that’ presence of mind and sense of purpose quite enviable. I suppose it depends what our metric for a successful life is. I don’t know what mine is. I often think you only find out right near the end, and by that stage its difficult to pivot… so I’m keeping my options open. Well, this what I tell myself.

Warning. Don’t watch this movie hungry! I ravaged the refrigerator and pantry cupboard about half through this movie. It didn’t turn out well for me…

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Most of all I liked this movie because I like (true) stories that showcase what humans are capable of. (even if I’m not one of them)

It follows a genre of movies like Meru (Review here) or Maidentrip (Reviewed here) or Under an Arctic Sky (Reviewed here) that I’ve really enjoyed recently.

Jiro dreams of sushi is beautifully shot, engaging and I was throughly entertained throughout.

Anonymity and the power of celebrity

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I really liked this…

taken from the Daily Stoic interview with the The Stoic Emperor discussing anonymity and the power of celebrity on social media…

In Japan, during the Edo period, actors had to live in the red light district. It was considered scandalous for respectable people to interact with them. They were thought to be frivolous and contaminating. Do I think that kind of moral panic was justified? Not entirely, but actors are people that trade in illusion. They have a theatrical identity that is very powerful, though it may be built on nothing. Actors and other celebrities tend to be among the most powerful people on social media. They often have confident opinions that are based on very little information. They spend more time looking in the mirror than looking at the facts. They have direct access to millions of people. This is very interesting, and very dangerous.

MJ. I’ve made no effort to research if this anecdote is true, the Japanophile in me wants to believe (and so I do). While I try not get all misanthropic about the human race and our propensity to heap undue value on the (often inane) cerebral musings of the entertainer class… it doesn’t always work out that way for me. That’s not to say my own thoughts are any less vapid but I am comforted by my lack of adherents. After all…

‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – Ben Parker

which I don’t think is always appreciated by people peddling an agenda or exerting their ego on the world. I tend agree with the The Stoic Emperor. Rather assume anonymity and let your thoughts and words be judged on their merit rather than be colored by the cult of your personality.

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Caveat. If I do become famous and attract millions of followers… you should totally listen to me (and potentially elevated me to a position of authority). I have your best interests at heart. For realsies.

The Birth of Sake (2015)

My formative experience with Sake was when I was fifteen, sleeping over at a friends house. His dad marked the bottles in their bar with a sharpie so he would know if there was any clandestine imbibing of alcohol. Except for one, an archaic jar like bottle of Sake, which he didn’t care about.

It was god awful. I suspect it was waaaaaaaay beyond drinking, and tasted what I can only imagine paint thinners tastes like. Perhaps more useful as an embalming agent or to remove tar tracked into your carpet (but what did we know) I likely gave myself alcohol poisoning and ended up having to sleep with one foot on the floor to stop the room from spinning.

That episode colored my perception of Sake for the next twenty years.

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Until I went to Japan. Which was an experience of Damascasian proportions. OH! THIS is how its supposed to be.

I am a generally speaking a Japanophile. Sure there are things that I don’t really ‘get’. Like their insane obsession with pachinko (ball bearing gambling machines) and the otaku culture of Akihabara. But I love sushi, jujitsu, bullet trains, zen gardens and Kyoto.

The thing I admire most about Japanese people though, is the way they do things. The first day I was in Tokyo I went for a walk around the Imperial palace. On my way there, there was this small section of road construction. A temporary walkway had been constructed that deviated from the main pedestrian thoroughfare. It has been taped off and clearly marked out but there was this elderly Japanese gentleman standing there, in some sort of municipal uniform whose job it was to guide you through this small zig-zag detour. He took his job super seriously. He bowed as you approached and then extended his arm to demonstrate how best to engage the detour. I was fascinated. I think about that old man quite often and how he took such pride in himself and his extremely menial and boring job.

The Birth of Sake is a documentary about the 144 year old Yoshida Brewery. They brew Sake in a traditional way, a process that lasts the entire winter. In that time, the brewers eat, sleep and work together. This film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and went on to win the Best Documentary award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Making Sake in the this way is mind numblingly labor intensive. It makes the process of making our western beer and wine seem like adding orange flavored concentrate to water, shaking it up and then drinking the result.

You don’t need to be a fan of Sake to appreciate this movie. Or even alcohol really. This film is engrossing because of the mindset of the people. In a world of automation, devoid of human craftsmanship I find it fascinating to watch people who still take their trade so seriously. It makes me cheerful that stuff like this still exists.

Very much recommended. Catch it on Netflix.