The Evolution of the Japanese Ego: Part I 

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Michael Hoffman writes: When Adam and Eve defied God, creator and master of the universe, and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what did they learn? To say “I.”

They learned that they were “naked” — they were selves, egos. As such, there was no place for them in paradise. Their expulsion was “the fall of man,” narrated in the biblical Book of Genesis.

This seems a long way from Japan. It is. Japanese myth records no “fall,” no defiance of the undefiable, no primeval descent into selfhood. The Japanese ego evolved very differently from the Western one.

This is the introductory installment of a four-part series examining what the Japanese mean when they say “I.”

A peculiarity of the Japanese language gives it many first-person pronouns, varying with circumstances, rank, age and gender, but comparatively few occasions to use them. Japanese often leaves sentence subjects
unspoken. You can speak of yourself without emphasizing and reinforcing, as Western languages force you to do, your “I-ness.”

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Japanese tradition denigrates not only selfishness but selfhood. To Buddhism it was a delusion; to Confucianism, an object of “self-cultivation” whose ultimate object is self-denying, society-dedicated “benevolence.” Bushido, the “way of the warrior,” was especially hard on the self. “The way of the warrior is death,” declared the grim 18th-century military treatise known as the “Hagakure.” “This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death.” The self that instinctively protests51e9jgsshl-_sl250_ its death sentence must be rigorously suppressed: “Every day without fail one should consider oneself as dead.”

[Check out Michael Hoffman’s book, “In The Land of the Kami: A Journey Into The Hearts of Japan at Amazon.com]

The first “I” in Japanese literature is identifiable but not nameable — her name is unknown. A noblewoman and poetess, she lived in 10th-century Kyoto and left posterity a diary — the “Kagero Nikki” (“Gossamer Diary”). It’s a brilliant portrait of a soul in torment. Her “I” is her suffering; her suffering forces her into the black hole of selfhood. Hers is no plea for individualism; if anything she pleads for release from it. She would be anyone other than herself, if only she could. Other people were like other people; only she was different, condemned to the morbid isolation of selfhood by an insufficiently attentive husband and the perversity (which she admits) of her own feelings. Sharing a husband was gall to her. Polygamy among the aristocracy was the norm. Other noblewomen resigned themselves to it, more or less graciously. Why couldn’t she? Why did she alone torture herself over slights and neglect that others shrugged off? Because she was she. She wanted a husband “30 days and 30 nights a month,” and, knowing she demanded the impossible, refused to settle for less. “If only the Buddha would let me be reborn in Enlightenment,” she prays. In other words: If only the Buddha would release me from the agony of selfhood. It never happens.

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Between the long peace of her time and the long peace of the Edo Period (1603-1868) stand 500 years of war — civil war, mostly — in which bushido prevailed. Life was nothing, death everything, the self a mere sacrifice to be laid on the altar of loyalty. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong’s Top 10 Box Office Hits of 2014

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Dean Napolitano and Joyu Wang report: The blockbuster “Transformers: Age of Extinction” topped Hong Kong’s box office in 2014, a year in which big-budget Hollywood tentpoles again dominated local cineplexes.

The fourth installment of the “Transformers” franchise pulled in HK$98.2 million (US$12.7 million), according to Hong Kong Box Office Ltd. That far outpaced “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which came in second and earned HK$56.6 million.

Rounding out the top five were other effects-filled Hollywood movies: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” came in at No. 3, followed by “Interstellar” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

Sandra Ng with Anthony Wong in a scene from ‘Golden Chickensss.’ Treasure Island Production Ltd

Sandra Ng with Anthony Wong in a scene from ‘Golden Chickensss.’
Treasure Island Production Ltd

Director Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” was something of a hometown film: A major part of the action takes place in Hong Kong, including the movie’s climax, in which much of the city is destroyed in a battle between giant robots

The movie held its world premiere at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, with stars Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer and Nicola Peltz hitting the red carpet while admiring the city’s dramatic skyline.

The cast also included popular Chinese actress Li Bingbing in a co-starring role, while other Hong Kong and Chinese actors took minor roles. Still, the movie failed to match 2013’s top hit, “Iron Man 3,” which made HK$106.4 million….(read more)

Top 10 Films by Box-Office Receipts in Hong Kong in 2014

  1. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” – HK$98.2 million
  2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – HK$56.6 million
  3. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” – HK$54.7 million
  4. “Interstellar”* – HK$51.1 million
  5. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” – HK$50.8 million
  6. “Golden Chickensss” – HK$41.3 million
  7. “Maleficent” – HK$40.9 million
  8. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” – HK$36.97 million
  9. “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”* – HK$36.5 million
  10. “From Vegas to Macau” – HK$33.6  million

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Ratings: Burning Yule Log Beats ‘CBS This Morning’

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Savor this little gem, from  John Nolte:  Between 10pm Christmas Eve and 9am Christmas morning, Texas television station TXA21 broadcast a burning Yule log accompanied by Christmas music. Throughout its run, a large number of viewers tuned in to the virtual fireplace. During its final 30 minutes, an average of 28,405 viewers chose to watch a burning log over everything else, which beat the last 15 minutes of “CBS This Morning” on CBS11.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC       

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This Day In History: Apollo 8 Safely Returns to Earth

Photo: Crew of Apollo 8. From left to right: James A. Lovell Jr., William A. Anders, and Frank Borman. Photo by NASA.

Photo: Crew of Apollo 8. From left to right: James A. Lovell Jr., William A. Anders, and Frank Borman. Photo by NASA.

December 27, 1968: On this day in 1968, Apollo 8 returned to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean after a six-day mission. Prior to launch, crewmembers Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders trained for only four months instead of the typical year. Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to orbit the moon and was able to complete ten lunar orbits.

This week, forty-five years after Apollo 8’s live Christmas Eve broadcast, former astronaut and retired Captain James Lovell Jr. re-enacted the reading of Bible verses from Genesis at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Get the story from PBS NewsHour.

This Day In History


NY Times: Obamacare Extensions ‘A Sweeping Exercise of Executive Power’

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Wynton Hall writes:  On Christmas Eve, the Obama administration announced yet another Obamacare enrollment extension on its HealthCare.gov blog for anyone who claims to have missed the myriad sign-up deadlines due to problems with the website.

The New York Times called the announcement “vague” and noted that “it was not clear on Tuesday how many people would be affected, or how consumers would prove that website errors had prevented them from signing up by the deadline on Tuesday night.”

The Obama administration announcement also failed to note when the “special enrollment period” would cease; however, White House spokesperson Tara McGuinness assured Americans it is not offering a “blanket extension” but will consider “assistance to individuals on a case-by-case basis.”

Insurance industry experts say the White House’s endless rounds of delays and shifting deadlines create more confusion and uncertainty in an already murky market.

“The goal posts keep moving,” insurance lawyer William G. Schiffbauer told theTimes. “That raises questions about whether insurers can collect premiums in a timely manner to pay claims from doctors and hospitals.”

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[VIDEO] Christmas Eve Spacewalk Astronauts set out on dangerous mission a day before Christmas

NASA: Christmas Eve spacewalk could wrap up repair The Christmas Eve spacewalk planned by NASA at the International Space Station should wrap up repair work on a faulty cooling line.

Mission Control said Monday that unless something goes awry, two astronauts ought to finish installing a new ammonia pump Tuesday, during this second spacewalk. NASA originally thought three spacewalks might be needed.

Astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins removed the faulty pump Saturday. Everything went so well, they jumped ahead in their effort to fix the external cooling line that shut down Dec. 11.

A bad valve in the pump caused the breakdown, prompting the urgent series of spacewalk repairs.

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