Japan is Finally Here!

***Due to my vacation, this will be my last post until September 10th :)***

The wait is over. Christina and I will be flying to Japan this week, and I feel like my Chihuahua when he hears the words “let’s go bye-bye!” The travel will be arduous, but I am trying to remember that you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time. The flight is a 13-hour red-eye which will probably leave me depleted – I am bringing some boring books and Benadryl which will hopefully help me sleep.

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As most of you know, I have been reading various texts on Japan to obtain a greater understanding and respect for this complicated country. My last book before heading off was an excellent summary of the history of Japan by Christopher Goto-Jones – Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction. This book is actually one of many in Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series; each book tries to concisely address difficult topics. These books are similar to my Tackle the Library series *cue shameless plug*  except they are longer and dryer in nature. Nevertheless, I was able to get a comprehensive view of Japan from its feudal past to its post-modern present; Japan’s history is pertinent to Western readers because it shows how modernization can both destroy a culture and uniquely define national identity.

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Today Japan is the third largest economy in the world with a population of nearly 130 million people – for context, Japan’s neighbor, Russia is the 12th ranked economy with a population of only 145 million inhabitants. Japan was not always a powerhouse of human resources, and it wasn’t long ago that it was completely isolated from the world. For 250 years, Japan had very little to do with the burgeoning powers of Europe and the United States. It wasn’t until 1853 that Japan was forced by the United States to sign a trading agreement – within 50 years of that date the entire country would undergo a political revolution, establish a new constitution, become an industrial economy, and begin a colonial empire.

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Japan was highly motivated to develop their country because of the “Unequal Treaties” which were Western treaties that viewed Japan as a backwater not worthy of fair trade. This view was partially accurate, but Japan was far from simplistic – by the 17th century, Tokyo was the largest city in the world and Japan had a sophisticated religious system that facilitated the famous samurai class and a revered Emperor. Suffice it to say, Japan in the 19th century was primed for development, and with Western technology, it shot off like a rocket into the “modern” age.

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At the turn of the 20th century, Japan was involved in a paradoxical policy of Imperialistic Anti-Imperialism. Confused? The Western countries were trying to dip their fingers into the honey pot of Asia – taking land from less developed societies in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Japan believed Asia should be in the hands of Asians and subsequently went to war with Russia, Korea, and China to secure their own holdings; they were extremely successful in these endeavors, and the Japanese began to get a taste for military power.

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By the time of WWI, Japan assisted the Allies and was given a seat for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. This “seat” was celebrated in Japan as a concrete symbol of their worldwide respect and modernity. All optimism was short-lived once Woodrow Wilson and the other Western nations decided that Japan would not have an equal voice. This “Western racism” highlighted to the Japanese that no matter how modern they became, they would be inferior because of their ethnicity and culture; this would lead to the conflicts of WWII in which the Japanese highlighted their national superiority.

 

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Following their hard-fought defeat in WWII, General MacArthur occupied Japan and modified their constitution: disbanding the military, adding a bill of rights, and transforming the role of the Emperor. In the 50’s Japan’s economy quickly rebounded thanks to the Korean War and by 1960 Japan was the world’s largest shipbuilder. The next 57 years followed a close line with the development of the United States – cars, technology, and the middle-class became the standard.

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Japan however to this day differs from other modern countries. Because of their early isolation and disrespect, Japan was determined to maintain their culture and their Emperor. With the US occupation post-WWII, Japan was able to stay out of the Cold War and invest in their country – leading to its cutting edge technology, education, and infrastructure. Japan’s forced pacifism has made it difficult for them to reconcile their past and to reconcile their place in the “post” modern world. With an aging population, an overworked middle class, and a technological-isolated youth the question for Japan today is defining what the “Japanese Dream” actually represents and how it is different than the “American Dream.”

A Chihuahua Haunting

Have you ever seen a ghost? Or maybe experienced something that couldn’t be explained with words? I once saw a little girl in a mirror upon waking – it still gives me the willies today. I believe certain people are more in tune with the “other” realm and they are more apt to experience ephemeral encounters. IMG_0561Children are prone to “seeing” ghosts or talking to rooms that are completely empty; maybe because of their innocence or even openness to the unknown. This logic can be extended down the tree of life to my idiotic Chihuahua – Max. There is no creature that is more innocent and open minded than Max – his outlook on life is an eternal Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Tour. I imagine him waking up to the world each morning with a complete erasure of memory; only remembering his “chocolate” surroundings when he hears me dishing out his daily allotment of tortilla chips. Hence, this complete innocence is why Max can interact with all sorts of paranormal activity. It is not uncommon that he barks to an empty room; or stares eerily at the vacuum cleaner; or evenIMG_0543 throws up nasty green stuff as if possessed by a demon. A chihuahua is the boiled down version of all our fears – everything is a potential poltergeist. Like Max, we all to a degree fear the unknown and search for answers to unexplained phenomenon. For these reasons, I read one of NPR’s great reads of 2016, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey.

America has a myriad of supposedly haunted houses, commercial buildings, ruins, cemeteries, and even entire cities. Dickey lists several examples but there are a few that stand above all others. One is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California that was built bImage result for winchester mystery housey Sarah Winchester – the heiress to the Winchester Gun fortune. It is over 20,000 square feet and has 160 rooms which are discombobulated to confuse spirits. There is also the Lalaurie Mansion in New Orleans, the previous host to slaves who were punished with crude experiments, starvation, prolonged chaining, and dismemberment. Head over to Pennsylvania to take a tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary with its formidable facade and even more foreboding interior to hear the cries of long dead inmates. Better yet, search around the city of Detroit for an evil-red-dwarf known as the Nain Rouge – said to be responsible for all of the city’s calamities. Go back west to the hotel that inspiredImage result for eastern state penitentiary Stephen King’s The Shining. The Stanley Hotel, located in Estes Park, Colorado is an isolated building that throughout the years has seen its fair share of ghost sightings. Suffice it to say, no matter where you are in America, you are not far from a haunted place.

 

Is there any truth to these haunted places? I believe there is an underlying mystery to these locales because of their histories but many times the stories are twisted for a specific purpose. For example, many haunted places are connected with Indian burial grounds. TheImage result for slaveryse “backstories” are usually completely erroneous and are added to give merit to the “spiritual” activity. We use ghost stories to sanitize history which goes counter to our modern idea of a “Just America.” Whether it is a black slave left to wander the plantation or a young girl who was killed in cold blood – a haunting helps us interact with a past that just doesn’t fit with our worldview. Of course, many times these haunted places are passed off to the public for the sake of money. Ghost tourism is a booming business  -especially in haunted cities like New Orleans.
Image result for nain rougeCapitalism is a strong harbinger of the dead and it does a great job of perpetuating half truths and whole lies. The modern day ghost story is a caricature mirrored after images that the public expects: from big screen movies to the Haunted Mansion ride in Disney. Humans are always in search of answers and we project our current beliefs into the past – today more than ever we are disconnected from the idea of “death.” Just like Max, the ghost stories of today can either be explained as just another mistaken bump in the night or an actual murderer lurking outside. To me these places are haunted – they are haunted by the living who can’t let go of their fear of the unknown. Do ghosts exist? Look in the mirror.

Winter Sucks, but…

Are you sick of winter yet? Females, have your legs gotten to Chewbacca levels? Males, have your hands dried up to Walking Dead levels? Has your dog finally said enough is enough and now uses your whole house as a “potty?” Are your Vitamin D levels so low that you randomly have cravings for whole milk? Yeah…winter sucks. Before you put that third layer on, read this – winter is almost half way over. I am not fooling you, this coming Sunday will mark the point in which everything goes downhill in terms of seasonal suffering. Before you know it, it will be March and the prospects of summer heat will be wafting through your defrosting imagination.

Being that winter is nearly half way over, I am half way done with my 14 books on the French Revolution. Surprisingly I am not sick of the subject and I am actually enjoying my topical experiment. It is nice to focus on one thing and dig deep into the material. To celebrate this journey, I listed five quirky facts about the French Revolution for your enjoyment.

  1. During the Reign of Terror, the government got rid of the Christian Calendar and replaced it with the French Republic Calendar: 12 months named after weather events, 3 weeks per month known as “decades”, 10 days per week, 5 or 6 days at the end for non-stop celebration. The first date was September 22, 1792 when the monarchy was abolished by the Convention. Today’s date would be written as 10 Pluviôse CCXXV (10 “Rain” 225).
  2. King Louis XVI was 15 years old when he married a 14-year-old Marie Antoinette. It took them eight years before they had their first child because Louis was shy and couldn’t do the dirty.
  3. Charlotte Corday stabbed Jean-Paul Marat, a radical Jacobin leader, in the chest while he was in the bathtub. Marat’s friend subdued Corday by holding her chest while laying on top of her. She was eventually sentenced to death and guillotined.
  4. Christianity was deemed pointless and dechristianization efforts included vandalizing churches, killing priests, and dressing up donkeys as cardinals.
  5. In certain areas, men avoided being drafted into the Revolutionary Armies by drinking poison, dismembering limbs, and marrying elderly women.

Hopefully, those facts piqued your interest and helped you appreciate our modern world. Stay strong and be thankful that you don’t fear the guillotine after a Facebook post or have to sleep with a 15-year-old version of King Louis.

When Prayer Kills

Guess the context…”They found a two-year-old boy whose treatable kidney tumor weighed six pounds and a twelve-year-old girl whose bone cancer was the size of a watermelon. They found a two-year-old girl who had accidentally inhaled a small piece of a banana…turned blue and died…They found a twenty-three-year-old woman who had come to an emergency room after fifty-six hours of active labor because her baby’s head was stuck at the vaginal opening. The dead baby, delivered by caesarian section, ‘was in an advanced stage of decomposition.’ The mother died within hours from puerperal sepsis: a bloodstream infection. The coroner noted that ‘the corpse of the infant was so foul smelling that is was inconceivable that anyone attending the delivery could not have noticed…Swan and Asser also found children who had died from treatable bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis. A one-year-old girl named Eva Swanson died of sepsis after she had accidentally spilled a pot of scalding tea on herself. A fifteen-month-old boy named Dustin Gilmore ‘was deafened, blinded and killed’ by meningitis…” Is this list of atrocious medical outcomes from a third-world country? Maybe it is from an isolated area where there are no medical treatments available? Sadly, all of these examples occurred in the United States within the last 20 years and are only a few instances of hundreds that occur every year. How could this happen in a country where there is relatively easy access to vaccines, antibiotics, and children’s hospitals? Paradoxically, the cause of all these unfortunate stories was religion and more specifically certain Christian denominations which do not believe in modern medicine.

I learned about these unfortunate truths in the book Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine by Paul A. Offit, M.D. In total, there are 23 Christian denominations that practice faith healing with 5 sects accounting for most adult and child deaths due to avoidance of medical treatments: Christian Science, Church of the First Born, End Time Ministries, Faith Assemble, and Faith Tabernacle. In general, these sects reject medicine because it is a product of man and believe that having illnesses is a test of faith. These denominations literally interpret verses like Mark 11:24: Whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them. These ardent beliefs come from the common stand of many Christian denominations that their interpretations of the Holy Bible are correct and subsequently God looks favorably on them now and in Heaven. These literal interpretations lead to using prayer as the only treatment for a medical illness. For example, imagine my son had diabetes and needed insulin to survive. Instead of getting a vial of insulin and giving it to my son I would hold a prayer group over him while he threw up and suffered until eventually dying. I would rationalize that God wanted my son to die, that God is punishing me for my sins, and/or I didn’t have enough faith in God’s healing powers.

How the heck could a parent let their child die when they call themselves a Christian? First off, Jesus loved children and said in Mark 9:27:”Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” As a Christian, the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the zeitgeist of Christianity! If there is a way to save an individual within reasonable means then every effort should be taken to provide that help. Modern medicine is not the work of the devil or an avenue taken by unbelievers-modern medicine is the result of great thinkers throughout time. God created those great-thinking brains and thus gave us the ability to invent and the resources to better help people. The other side of this unbelievable coin is the government allowing it to happen. 45 states permit the medical neglect of children if the parents have justifiable religious reasons. Religious freedom cannot trump the inalienable right to life which is taken away from children by these laws. Children are protected by the 14th amendment which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This medical neglect is outlawed in many countries and it is time for the US to actually follow the constitution when it comes to protecting children’s lives. In the end, Christians please remember the greatest commandment, recognize the dangers of myopic religious beliefs, and don’t use prayer as a complete substitute for medical care.