The following is a summary of William Newman’s book on the history of alchemy, Promethean Ambitions. Due to the overwhelming information offered in the book, I will divide summaries into several portions rather arbitrarily, the first of which deals with the longstanding contest between man and nature from the antiquity, and three things are discussed here. I will start with the differing opinions about the various forms of art and how they relate to nature, arriving at Zosimos’ claim to replicate nature, i.e. proto-alchemy stage. Second, the argument against the view that alchemy as not only a perfective art but also equivalent to nature is advanced by Avicenna. Here, the discussions about the substantial forms and a debate on juxtaposition and mixture are analyzed. A further rejection of alchemy as a genuine replication of nature is then made by Albertus Magnus in the 13thcentury.

Chapter One: Imitating, Challenging and Perfecting Nature

Although we commonly conceive of science as an antinomy of nature, the Greeks viewed the fine arts to be overstepping the realm of nature. The sculptor, Myron, made a statue of a cow that seemed so full of life that it fooled even a herdsman. The painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius are said to have fooled one another by their mimetic skills displayed in their paintings. The ancient craftsman, Daedalus, impressed even Aristotle, who reports that the artist made a self-moving statue of Aphrodite that owed its motive capacity to quicksilver hidden within. Such figures demonstrate the classical ambivalence in the meaning of artesand technai,which we now distinguish them as arts and technology, respectively. Aristotle, for example, viewed painting and sculpture as technaialong with agriculture, building and medicine amongst others, much in the same way as poetry to him was. Indeed, to Aristotle, an art simply meant a reasoned state of capacity to make, i.e. the ability to produce in a methodical and clever way. Whereas painting and sculpture were thought to be a mimicry of nature as their primary goal, an art was generally perceived to be acquired by imitating various aspects of the natural world. Democritus, for instance, expressed how men learned the art of weaving from spiders and that of singing from birds. The underlining notion in all these stories about learning from nature is the idea that the human ingenuity owes its origin to the production of simulacra of nature. However, even though an artifice mirrors the performance of things found in nature, i.e. a saw is like a jawbone and the process of baking bread is like eating and digesting grain, no one actually argued that a saw is a jawbone or the bread making is identical to the assimilation of food in the body.

Plato, in his Republic, contrasted the carpenter to the painter, saying that the former imitates the work of nature by mimicking the ideal form of a bed, while the latter only copies the imitation of that form. Artists, then, are said to be performing some sort of deception in making us believe what is painted as the real thing, e.g. like the sculptor who made a statue of a cow. Plato deems art as trickery and holds its mimetic nature in disdain. Aristotle, too, makes a distinction between the product of nature and the product of artifice in Physicson the basis of the fact that the natural products have an innate principle of motion and thus able to put themselves into motion without an external help, whereas those of artifice are static and do not possess any inherent tendency to move. Aristotle, however, explains that art can function in two different ways: the arts can 1) either carry things further than Nature can, or 2) only imitate Nature. In other words, arts can be interpreted in two distinct ways, i.e. as a perfectiveart and an imitativeart. The former tries to perfect natural processes and bring them to a state of completion found nowhere in nature, while the latter merely imitates nature without fundamentally altering it. The art of the first kind was championed by medical practices, since the physicians did not generally lead the human body to an unnatural state, but merely brought it to its natural condition of health by eliminating impediments. In this sense, medicine can be said to be the servant of nature, as Galen called it, and perfective as it brought nature to an end which would not otherwise be realized.

Contrary to the Aristotelian conception of perfective art, however, the Neoplatonic belief states that immaterial forms exist apart from matter, and the latter receives its qualitative characteristics from the forms. Since artists get their ideas from the superior immaterial world of forms, shaping matter and imposing the forms on matter is seen to be at least improving the matter, if not perfecting it. In this sense, artists try to mirror not the things actually found in material world but rather the forms themselves. Hence, molding the matter according to these unfiltered forms bypasses the temporal constraints that are needed for things to naturally come into a certain shape and being, and such an act is likened to the acceleration of natural processes by directly bringing down the forms, so to speak, from the superior world of forms.

For Aristotle, however, it is one thing to improve uponnature in the sense of making something better than nature itself or even outdoing it, and quite another to improve nature itself, which just means to make nature itself better. These can be said to be mimetic in the sense that they too imitate the natural processes but carry it further than nature itself would. However, purely imitative art does not bring a product into its perfection or to a natural state. Painting and sculpture belong to this type of art since they have nothing to do with perfecting nature in the Aristotelian sense. Indeed, no matter how perfect and how natural the statue of a cow or a painting of a plant it is, neither of them can compete with nature, as they lack in the internal constitution of change.

Mechanical Problems, a pseudo-Aristotelian work, claims that marvelous phenomena can be produced either when we do not know the cause of a thing or when art is induced to act against nature. What the latter means by ‘acting against nature’ is that, according to the Aristotelian system of the sub-lunar world, all things are composed of four elements, fire, air, water and earth and they have their own natural place to settle. However, some art contrives nature to work contrary to their natural tendencies, i.e. lifting a heavy body or flying an airplane, for instance, and to that extent, arts or mechanics work againstnature. This type of art differs from merely mimetic arts mentioned above, i.e. painting and sculpture. For the latter produced changes that were irrelevant or superficial to the inner principles of nature, but mechanics worked directly in opposition to what nature is supposed to do. However, all three arts have this in common, that is, that they are limited to the production of artificialia– the iron lever could not breed new levers any more than a painted horse cold assuage its hunger by eating its painted hay. However, one thing is different from the other types of mimetic arts – namely, in that mechanics is no longer a mere mimicry of nature but by forcefully contriving nature to act in different ways it tries to achieve an actual triumph over nature.


Ancient Alchemy and the Relationship between Art and Nature


The definition of alchemy was ambiguous – alchemy was concerned with reproducing natural products in all their qualities and not merely to make a superficial simulation, as in painting and sculpture. Alchemy then was a perfective art, and not a memetic art, that was like medicine, but also differed from medicine in the sense that medicine aimed to reinstate or acquire a physical state (health) while alchemy was concerned with creating physical objects.

According to a historian of late antique religion, A. J. Festugière, the outlook of ancient/proto-alchemy as a decorative art began to change in the period between 200 B.C.E. and 100 C.E., when it started to mention about sympathies and antipathies between different substance. Up until then, alchemy was concerned with technical recipes used in embalmment and making objects similar to or even better than their natural counterparts. However, when they began discussing about the inner constitution of things and their relationships with one another, it was now wanting explanation and subject to philosophical scrutiny.

Zosimos, a native of Panopolis in upper Egypt (circa. 300 C.E.), who was well-versed in the works of Hermes Trismegistus and Gnostic literature, tried to explain the technological basis already used for embalmment in terms of philosophical notions from the late Stoic philosophy. Zosimos viewed alchemy as not simulating natural products but as providing the means by which nature itself can pass from an imperfect state to a regenerate one. Zosimos’ alchemical commitment can be seen in the visual descriptions of distillation and sublimation apparatus given by Zosimos. He explains evaporative process in nature as the conversion of a body into a semi-material spirit, or pneuma. In accordance with the Stoic philosophy of matter, pneumais here equated with the principle of brilliance, activity and life itself.  A still or sublimatory thus acquires a profound soteriological importance for the alchemists, as it allows pneumato be liberated from its material prison.


Chapter Two: Alchemy and the Art-Nature Debate


Was art always limited to the imperfect mimicry of nature, or could human beings genuinely recreate natural products? If the latter, then alchemists could assert the power of God to create beings where none had been there before. If they could replicate nature in its entirety, could they also replicate life itself, perhaps even making it betterthan the natural life?

The Persian philosopher, Avicenna (Ibi Sīnā, d. 1037), waged what was probably the most influential attack on alchemy ever made in his book, Book of Remedy. Avicenna makes two very powerful arguments against alchemy: 1) Art is weaker than nature and does not overtake it, however much it labours – the art is naturally inferior to nature because of its imitative nature, and therefore it cannot make a product that genuinely measures up to its natural exemplar. 2) Species of metals cannot be transmuted – Avicenna here stresses that the mere fact of belonging to a single genus (metallic substance) does not mean that the individual species (the different metals) can be transmuted among themselves.

The basis of Avicenna’s rejection of alchemy as possessing the power that is equal to divinity arises from his core philosophy adhering to Aristotle’s theory of mixture that genuine mixture (mixis) is distinct from mere juxtaposition of tiny particles (synthesis). In order for juxtaposition or aggregates of particles to become homogenous mixture, a new form must be imposed onto the matter, i.e. the form of the mixture (forma mixti), which would produce a single new substance (forma substantialis) out of the four elements and is distinguished from the previous juxtaposition. Avicenna also argued for the belief in a dator formarum(giver of forms), which explains that this new substance-changing form would not emerge out of matter, but is imposed from without by the celestial intelligences, the world of forms, as it were. Further, Avicenna believed that the primary qualities, hot, cold, dry and wet did not combine to form a mixed body, but merely set up the precondition that allowed the imposition of a new substantial form by the dator formarum. A substantial form has a specific role to play in the explanatory system of mixture, or homogenous substance. For example, what is it that makes a human a human, instead of a mere heap of elements? It is the substantial form, Avicenna argued, that unites the elements to impart an identity and have an individual belonging to a recognizable species. Due to the role of the substantial form as making an individual belong to a specific species, the term specific form (forma specifica)was also used for the substantial form. The true nature and the substantial form of a thing is reserved to God and the celestial intelligences and cannot be known to man nor can its specific differences be influenced by artificial means. A further denial of alchemy is proposed by a Muslim historian Ibn Khadūn, who observed that if what alchemists claim were true, then they could produce a new substance/metal in a matter of weeks. This implies that their methods are more effective than those of nature itself, which is impossible. In this way, Ibn Khadūn augments the view held by Avicenna by stating that such a work must be attributed to supernatural powers, and that the products of alchemical success can only be viewed as miracles or acts of divine grace, or as sorcery.

Yet another great Arabic Aristotelian philosopher, Averroes, argues against the legitimacy of alchemy. Averroes argued that just as beings created spontaneously cannot reproduce by sexual means, and just as what is generated sexually and what is generated spontaneously are essentially different, so is it impossible for a single specific form to have diverse materials upon which it can act and produce beings of the same species. He continues to argue that just as one and the same thing cannot be made both by art and nature, so also the causes of natural entities cannot be different and yet agree in species and form.

During the 13thcentury, since many Arabic texts had been translated into Latin by the late 12thcentury, many scholastics joined the debate on the basis of Aristotle’s Meteorologyand since attack against alchemy by Avicenna in De Congelatione,which was at the time was believed to be the work of Aristotle, fell short to say that the artificial transmutation of metals could be possible if they were first reduced into their “prime matter” – the undifferentiated substrate of all things according to Aristotelian physics. Albertus Magnus is another figure who argued against the genuinereplicationof nature by alchemy. He says that only four types of transmutation are possible: 1) by means of medicinal operation of the drug theriac, where the ingredients of a mixture retain their identity and operation, while also working in unison to produce a new effect, 2) by means natural process of fire or evaporation, where a body is dissolved into its components, 3) by means of alchemy, and 4) in case of spontaneous generation. The alchemical transmutation occurs through the stripping off of properties and the imposition of others through liquefaction, cibation, sublimation and distillation. However, Albert argues, alchemists do not give substantial forms because one cannot find the properties comprising the species in the things produced thus. Furthermore, alchemical gold is consumed in the fire more easily and the other alchemical stones also do not last as long as the natural ones of that species. This is because they do not have the specific form, and so nature has denied them the virtues that are given with the specific form for the conservation of the same. Indeed, Albert’s claim is that the alchemists can only strip off transient accidents and replace them with equally superficial ones. This fact renders the alchemical products the inability to resist the dissolutive power of fire. The only possibility for a transmutation of metals for Albert is if it is done in the same way as doctors would approach their patients, that is to say, the alchemists can first cleanse and purify the old metal just as a doctor employs emetics and diaphoretics to purge his patient. By this method, the elemental and celestial powers in the metal’s substance are strengthened, and the purged metal can receive a new and better specific form from the celestial bodies. But this is not a true transmutation of a substance since the alchemists have only removed one specific form and prepared the way for the new one to be received.


In what has been noted, Newman begins his book by trying to determine the rise of alchemical practices in the history of science while extracting the philosophical content involved in what he called proto-alchemy. He illustrates the classical dichotomy between art and nature with an especial focus on whether arts can transcend nature in the sense that arts improve upon nature as opposed to merely helping nature to reach its natural sequence, i.e. mimetic or perfective arts. He then moves onto introducing a prolific alchemist in the 4thcentury C.E., Zosimos, whose late Stoic philosophy encouraged him to pursue unveiling the inner workings of the natural phenomena rather analogously, equating the evaporation process of water with liberation of imprisoned spiritual substance from its material counterpart. However, the theories of alchemical transmutation were met with a number of hostile views during the 13thcentury, when many of the Arabic texts and commentaries on Aristotle’s works such as Physicsand Meteorologywere being translated into Latin. Among the major criticisms against alchemy and its claim to outdo nature came from the philosophers such as Avicenna, Averroes and Albertus Magnus, who all argued that the art is of necessity inferior to nature, and as such, it cannot replicate nature. Further, such product as created by alchemical means does not possess the forma substantialisthat can be only given by a pure activity, i.e. God, or divinity. Hence, while alchemy may strip away the properties that are accidental to a thing’s being, it is not possible for an alchemist to substantially change, i.e. transmute, a given substance into a whole new substance. For even with the inter-species transmutation, it requires a new specific form which cannot be produced by human means.

This has been a summary only of the beginning of the book (the chapter 1 and the part of the chapter 2) where it primarily deals with the historical origin of alchemy and the attacks against alchemical claim that it can create something that was not there much faster than nature can. I will next discuss about the proponents and supporting views for alchemy.


[Newman, William R. Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.]


I have been fortunate enough to have my friends visit me in Japan frequently even after 2 years since my (temporary) leave from school in the North America. I love showing them around the cities I love and taking them to the restaurants for the food I crave, but I have not been recording the accounts of my travels with them in writing, which would have helped a lot for me to concretely learn about the places I have taken them to as well as to explain to the visitors why I take them to these places that are canonical in various guidebooks. It would not be sufficient for me to offer myself as a guide if I am taking them to places any guidebooks can simply tell them. In order for me to fulfill the honour which my friends have bestowed upon me, I need to show them the cities in the way I love about them – I need to have a personality, as it were, in my recommendations that are unique to my perceptions about those places. While I have been very satisfied with the places I have taken them to, I have been unsuccessful in offering them the proper reasoning with which they can satisfactorily understand why they are being taken to these specific places and not to other places.

I thought it would be a good occasion for me to be aware of the activities and histories implicit in appreciating the places I have taken them to so frequently. My hope is that this travelogue would serve as a clearer guidance as to why visitors should visit these places rather than any other place, and further, I hope to hear from my readers any suggestions or comments on my reasoning to better improve my sightseeing itinerary. On that note, let me begin with the most recent pleasure I had of showing my friends around the city of Kyoto.

Chapter 1: NijōCastle, Eikandō Zenrinji, and Heian Jingū

A friend of mine from school and her family in Montreal came to Japan on vacation, and I was honoured to be asked to be their guide while they stay in Kyoto. Even though I am not an expert in Japanese history, I dabble it a little, and I am an aspiring academic whose area of focus primarily includes the history of ideas in Early Modern Europe and in Japan. Being originally from Osaka, I have often travelled to Kyoto since I was little and have visited numerous temples and shrines with my family and form schools ever since. My specific interest in medicine in the 16thand the 17thcenturies has also made me appreciate more about the history before Edo-period, and I am always excited to talk about the history as well as the cultures in a given local setting.

Our first day in Kyoto turned out to be a rainy day. We had initially planned to start with Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple; see Chapter 2 for detail), followed by a lunch and Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple; see Chap.2), ending with Kiyomizu Temple (see Chap.2), but fearing that walking in those areas can be undesirable on a rainy day, I decided to change the plan and switched around the places we were supposed to visit on the following days to fit the weather constriction. There are of course many temples which you can safely spend time at without worrying about getting wet in Kyoto, however, this is a Kyoto trip for someone who visits Kyoto for the first time that I am planning, and not a day trip plan for someone who can afford to come to the city whenever they feel like it. So, it must fulfill the following requirements: 1) the places they visit must have some degree of historical significance that is internationallyrecognized, i.e. must have an International Appeal, 2) the places must be somewhat thematically organized so the histories or cultures about those places can be more easily retained in memory, i.e., memorability, 3) each place to be visited must have a uniqueness of its own so as not to be confused in memory later with all the other places they have visited, i.e. distinctness from each other while being thematically similar, and 4) the local and regional food or activities must be included, i.e. cultural appreciation.

In sum, places to be visited must be internationally famous so that even if they did not enjoy the places, they can still say that they have beentoKyoto with authority and that they can have their own opinions about them. This requirement satisfies the purely formal criterion of “having been there” aspect. The thematic organization and distinct categorization each avoids geographical/spatial separation and temporal conflation. By that, I mean if the places visited on a day is thematically organized, no matter far away they are from one another, they will always be remembered by association as a set, and one idea of any one of these places visited will necessarily trigger the other memory that is associated with it. Furthermore, if the places to be visited are chronologically connected or express a certain period in time rather than a whole range of periods at random, again, the idea of one period will necessitate in their mind to think of the following or preceding era(s) because they have experienced them by going to those places in a temporal order. These will encourage curiosity in them to learn more about the period(s) and the places and appreciate them more qualitativelyas opposed to the mere quantitativeappreciation satisfied in the International appeal. Lastly but not least, food and cultural activities that are parochial need to be included so they are not only learning about the new places and enjoying the tour intellectually but also empirically.

So, my tour plan must include both the quantitative-qualitative aspect and the intellectual/rational-empirical aspect in order for it to have a fully satisfying experience for any visitors. But that would only be said to be a full experience in an internal and subjective manner, i.e. the visitors can have those experiences without having me as a guide as long as they have a well-planned itinerary. Hence, I need one more criterion for justifying why it is better to have meas a guide rather than travelling by themselves or with someone else as a guide. That is to say, I as a guide must exhibit an emic perspective that is unique to who I am. The interactions with the locals or the ones who have studied about the area exclusively would add much more insight and meaning to the travel experience and make it unique to their own. With that in mind, I eventually settled on visiting Nijō-Castle[1],Eikandō Zenrintemple[2]and Heian-Jingū[3]on this rainy day. Now, on the surface, these three places have nothing in common, as Nijō-Castle was built for Tokugawa family’s residence during the Edo-period while Eikandōwas established during the Heian-period. As for Heian-Jingū, it was only built in 1895 to replicate the Heian period as a commemoration for its 110thyear anniversary of the establishment of Heian-kyō, over twenty years after the Edo-period ended! What I focused on here, then, was not the historical connections with each place but on the various types of landscapes and gardens from Japanese history. The architecture of the main palace at Heian Jingū, for instance, mirrors the design and features of the Kyoto Imperial Palace in the late Heian Period (11th-12thcentury). The Japanese garden at Eikandō-Zenrinjiexpresses the solemn beauty that is a characteristic of the Muromachi period landscape. Nijō-Castle came in a much later period, yet its garden makes its use of space so abundantly that the sheer magnitude of the entire premise is sure to overwhelm any visitors with awe. Nijō-Castle, however, has another significant role to play in the visiting of Kyoto. In fact, Nijō-Castle marked both the beginning and the end of Edo-period. While it is true that the capital moved to Edo (the present-day Tokyo) in Edo period, the emperors still resided in Kyoto and the Shoguns needed to pay occasional visits to them throughout the era. The castle was used for the Shoguns’ lodging when they visited the old city until the restoration of power to the emperor that promoted Meiji period in 1868. Hence, Nijō-Castle is a product of Kyoto and is not at the same time in the sense that it is of the oldperiod. Indeed, the other places most frequently visited in Kyoto were from the period when Kyoto was still the capital of Japan. Its unique status in a historical standing as well as its historical value set itself apart from the rest of the establishment, I think, and that is the reason for my putting Nijō-Castle into the category of ‘landscape’ viewing itinerary, as opposed to, say, a ‘temple visiting’ itinerary. It seemed also fitting to start the tour of Kyoto from the grandiose Edo-period Shogun’s residence that marked the beginning of a new era both to grovel the visitors before the power of Shogun and to make an opening, so to speak, into the belly of the history of Japan. There were a few other advantages in choosing Nijō-Castle as the starting point and not visit there on the same day as we would visit Kinkakuji and Kiyomizu-temple. Even though it was a residence, it was at the same time a place of formal reception. As such, it was built in the center of the city, close to the Imperial Palace. However, all the majortemples in Kyoto are located at the outskirts of the city, and it is rather difficult to include Nijō-Castle if we plan to visit three temples in one day. There are few places that could be visited in the central Kyoto, however, including the Imperial Palace and Heian-Jingū amongst the others, which are also difficult to fit into a multiple temple visiting itinerary. On top of that, it was a raining day after all, and the castle provided us with a shelter for a short period. If it was raining heavily, neither Nijō-Castle nor Heian-Jingū would have been a very good choice. However, a little rain would enhance, rather than detriment, the expression of beauty in the gardens full of greenery, I reasoned. So here we were, starting with Nijō-Castle to mark our first activity in Kyoto.

After walking in and around the castle, we would see a rather stereo-typical Japanese garden that one may see in a botanical garden of the Japanese garden section in the West. It is rather a long walk in the garden when it is raining after the initial viewing of the castle. Such a walk is made exciting during the spring light-up of the castle and the garden, however, the light-up event had already been over by the days we got to Kyoto. The time allocated to the viewing of the castle and walking in the garden was about 90 minutes – I normally try to make it before 10 am so I would have enough time to find a restaurant for lunch and begin the next spot on the list flawlessly. It is always challenging to find a good restaurant that can be a representative of a Kyoto-experience. What are the famous food in Kyoto? The first few things that come to my mind are vegetables, tofu-skin (yuba), soba, udon noodles and sweets with macha or dango and so on. These are only a very few of the candidates representing the Kyoto food culture.[4]Generally speaking, dish with vegetables and/or fish are traditionally relatively predominant in Kyoto. Kyoto may also be a city where it is easier for vegetarians to find food that offers a traditional experience rather than having to choose to have a bowl of salad. Kyoto is, however, very much conscious of its culinary style and dashi stock (or, bouillon) is often an essential ingredient in Kyoto dish. This could be problematic for vegans or vegetarians who do not consume fish, for dashi stocks are oftentimes made from fish. There are of course vegetable dashi-stock, but it may generally be difficult to find a restaurant that does not use fish-based dashi not just in Kyoto but in all over Japan. My friends in this trip were not vegetarians, though they preferred vegetables to fish or meat. Kyoto, luckily, offers a very wide range of traditional food in that respect. So we went to this restaurant called Okakita[5]that has served various udon noodles and rice bowls for the last 70 years. It is located right next to Heian-Jingū and thus is in the center of the city.


After lunch, we headed towards our next destination, Eikandō-Zenrinji, which was about a 30 minute-walk from the restaurant to the east. By then, it was already past 1 pm. Each temple/shrine visit would necessarily take about 90 minutes, and I had initially planned to go to Heian-Jingū since it was right next to the restaurant, only to find out that Heian-Jungū would be open until much later and Eikandō-Zenrinji would close almost 2 hours before the former would close. Quickly changing the plan, we hurried to Eikandō-Zenrinji, which was first built in 853 as a Shingonsect temple to worship Five Wisdom Buddhas, but shifted its style to Jōdosect, formally introduced to Japan in 1175. Eikan 永観 (or also pronounced as Yōkan), who was the seventh head monk at the temple since its establishment in 853, built a facility used to give the needy and care for the ill. It was during Eikan’stime that the temple gained prestige so much so that there is a rather unflattering story of Eikanrecorded in document that is still told to this day. According to the story, Eikanalong with a number of monks was reciting sutras, when the statue of Amidacame to life which halted the ritual. AmidaBuddha then looked back at Eikanand told him, “You are too slow”. Ever since then, the posture of the statue has remained in that position. This statue of Amidais securely stored at the Amida-Hall.[6]

This temple is also known for its autumn foliage. It is much visited by many during November into early December, but it is surprisingly quiet during the spring to early summer season. The orange coloured Japanese maple leaves (Momiji) are mesmerizingly beautiful, but the green and new Momijileaves too are quite beautiful as well.

The next and the final stop was Heian-Jingū. By the time we got to the shrine was, I believe past 4 o’clock. Luckily, we still had about 2 hours to see the garden. As has been stated earlier, this shrine was built to replicate what it would have looked like during Heian-period for its 1100th anniversary of the city’s establishment during the Meiji period for the industrial exposition fair held in Kyoto in 1895. Heian-period began in 794 and is named after the city of Heian (meaning ‘long lasting peace’), which formally ended in 1192 at the beginning of Kamakura period (initiating the rule by warriors in the subsequent centuries). It was the time of peace, as the name prophesied, and many art forms were cultivated and encouraged during this time. The Tale of Genjitoo is a product of this period. As a replica of such period, Heian-Jingū hosts many aspects of ‘good-old’ Kyoto. Its garden is probably most spectacular feature, as it takes up over the half of the area. The water in the ponds comes from Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, in nearby Shiga-prefecture, and rare species of fish and turtles are seen here.[7]Although it was for an exhibition, the building remained to commemorate the emperor Kanmu, who was the emperor when Heian-kyō[8]became a capital.

By the time it was closing, there were almost no people left at the garden, which gave us a private viewing of the place with only the sound of a drizzle onto the pond to be heard. In this way, we ended our first day in Kyoto after 8 hours of walking.

Chapter 2: Kinkakujitemple, Ginkakujitemple, Kōdaijitemple,

Entoku-Inand Kiyomizu-dera

The second day onwards was a sunny day in Kyoto – a perfect weather for walking around the city and visiting temples. As it was just after the rain, the temperature was just right. We continued our trip with the initial itinerary plan for the first day, which ended up a much longer day than we had anticipated.

When I take people around in Kyoto, if they only have one-day there, I always follow this route to experience Kyoto. Kinkakuji – Ginkakuji – Kiyomize Temple is a route that covers the main temples in Kyoto, including the two of the most visited temples, i.e. Kinkakuji and Kiymizu-dera. This not only satisfies my criteria for a quantitative aspect but also a qualitative one as well, since in addition to be able to visit two most famous places in Kyoto, the paths leading towards them are just as what you would expect in Kyoto. Just in terms of popularity and notability, some might put Nijō-Castle in stead of Ginkakuji, but there is a logistic difficulty in such a plan. For if one were to visit the latter three set of places, there may not be enough time left to complete all three. Geographically, it only makes sense to either start with Nijō-Castle and work way up to Kinkakuji and then back to Kiyomizu temple or start with Kiyomizu temple and end with Nijō-Castle since Kinkakuji is located father north of the city and if you want to economize the time, you do not want to end up in the north when the sun begins to set. However, there are way too many distractions and souvenir shops along the path towards Kiyomizu temple that it is not wise to go there in the first thing in the morning, as it is very easy to spend time on the streets and to get tempted to just forget about the rest for the day. The most you could accomplish as tourists if you go to Kiyomizu temple in the morning would be one more place to visit on that day. But if you are only staying in Kyoto for a few days at most, and if you want to see and experience a variety of culture and be exposed to as many historical wonders as possible during your stay, Kiyomizu temple needs to be visited at end of the day. However, as I mentioned above, if you were to visit Nijō-Castle in the morning and then to Kinkakuji temple, and then to Kiyomizu temple, the transportation alone could take up some of the valuable time and I fear there would not be enough time to get to Kiyomizu temple.[9]While I would agree that you could visit all those places in one day, you will be necessarily taking a bus back from Kinkakuji to the downtown Kyoto to get to Kiyomizu temple, which takes away some fundamental experience of walking in the suburban part of the city. For a mere transporting to a place to another is not necessarily better in terms of experience – while such an itinerary may satisfy the quantitative requirement of sightseeing, it would rob away the qualitative aspect of the trip. Riding on the bus in a foreign country is surely an experience, but when you have to do it many times, it is refreshing to take a different means to explore the city. Walking in Kyoto is in itself an experience, but when you are just visiting for a few days, you do not have much time to spend on walking aimlessly in hopes that you may find something interesting. Chances are that you will find something interesting walking in a foreign country, if ‘something interesting’ just means ‘anything new’. However, something new does not necessarily fit into the grand scheme of narratives you are here to explore. It is good if you find something interesting in your trip, but it is even betterif you find something interesting that is grounded in a theme to tell a cohesive story. My itinerary on the second day, then, is organized around achieving that goal.

As usual, I started with Kinkakuji for two reasons. First, it is situated in the further north of the city of Kyoto that, by starting the day early in the far north, it would save time because I start at the northernmost area and gradually move my way back to the center, as opposed to starting at the center and then move northward and then come back. Second, Kinkakuji is ravishingly golden in its appearance that it sets a glorious mood for the day. It is better to start a day with the main and most lively attraction of all than to start it with a relatively minor spot and move upwards on the scale of excitement. Kinkakuji also uses up a lot of energy not because of the largeness of the garden but because of the swarming school students and tourists, constantly clogging your way through. After the customarily photo-op of the golden temple in the background, we walked along the beautifully arranged pathway and arrived at the Macha tea house, where you can have a quiet experience of having a cup of macha tea in a traditional setting. At Nojō-Castle the day before, we saw the political display of power right before us, making us aware of the period of battles and conflicts that once comprehended the entire city of Kyoto. On this day at Kinkakuji, sipping a bowl of macha tea surrounded by the natural gardenic landscape, we cleansed ourselves in the part of the history which embraced the cultural and religious appreciation of nature. With this activity, we end our visit to the golden temple and headed out for lunch and Ginkakuji.

Whenever I follow this route, I always make it a rule to stop at a local udon noodle restaurant called Ómen.[10]However, as luck would have it, it turned out to be closed on that day (Wednesdays). Having arrived at the area right by Ginkakuji, I was suddenly at a loss as to where to eat. This question may not seem as grave as I make it sound to be for many, however, I am an academic foodie and, like writing an essay with premises to support a conclusion, I like to tell a narrative about the places with the restaurants we eat at in order so that I could present a larger picture of the food culture by the end of the trip. This means that not anyrestaurants would do the job. Just as I cannot make an argument that dogs can swim because I had cereal for breakfast to-day, I cannot tell a consistent narrative to make a point about the food culture if a Kyoto themed restaurant had to be replaced with a mediocre Italian restaurant. Again, I am not saying that you cannot find a good Italian restaurant in Kyoto and that you would not have enjoyed the meal anyway, but only that it seems not only a waste but also detrimental to fill your stomach with a premise that does not necessarily support your conclusion.

In this way, we were forced to look for a suitable replacement that aligns well with the theme of the day and the visit. Many of the restaurants there on the street had similar items on the menu, which is fitting for the argument they are trying to advance as well. Indeed, each district should be making an argument in their own environment. This is why we do not see, especially in a smaller district nearby a temple, any European dish or Indian restaurants but they all seem to serve similarly oriented dish that represents that area of the town. This should make things easier, you may think, because if they all have what each other has to offer, it should be obvious that eating at any restaurants would suffice because they are all the same anyway. That is true and false at the same time, however. It is true in the sense that we know what food to focus on, lest so that we would not accidentally get the French-fries or pancakes, but it is false in the sense that we are now presented with many sets of premises for a specific conclusion we want to advance. As I have said above, each restaurant and each food we eat along the way until the very end of the trip builds up a likelihood of the conclusion in an inductive way. If we are presented with the similarly themed premises for a specific conclusion that needs to be reached at by the end, due to the limitation of how much we can eat in a day, using up one meal out of three on a wrong dish would leave us farther away from reaching that conclusion. At its worst, we may be entrenched with dealing away with the weakpremises, if not wrong, that we may not advance. I had only several minutes to decide in the entire street of restaurants leading up to Ginkakuji. Which restaurant would be best substituted for the one we had set out to eat at? There was no right answer (though there seemed to be many wrong ones), but we opted out for what seemed to offer a different narrative that best suited for our purpose of the trip. We went to the one that served udon noodles and grilled onigiri rice balls. That worked quite well, since grilled rice balls are something that the Japanese are casually fond of but it is hard to get when travelling – no convenience stores would have a freshly grilled onigiri nor restaurants usually carry that item on the menu. Furthermore, this restaurant, the name of which I cannot recollect now, had a yuba-dōfu udon noodle (i.e. udon with tofu-skin), which is among many things what Kyoto is known for.[11]This also helped us set a leitmotif in our food experiences in Kyoto, as we had udon noodle with thick starchy sauce the day before and then another type of udon dish unique to Kyoto on this day. If we could go to the udon restaurant I had initially planned to go the next day, we could theme our lunch with variations of udon noodles that are all unique and express the city of Kyoto. The grilled rice bowls too had played a significant role in expressing the sentiment of Kyoto, as it was grilled with soy sauce and white miso, which Kyoto is also known for.


Having enjoyed our supporting premise, i.e. meal, we resumed our itinerary into Ginkakuji. This is often translated into English as Silver Pavilion/Temple, as opposed Golden Pavilion/Temple of Kinkakuji, and was built somewhat in competition with the latter, for the purpose of building such a ravishingly golden Kinkakuji was to display the political authority (taxing the people to pay for the gold). So it was with Ginkakuji, though the temple does not actually use any silver at all.[12]Instead, it is a stereotypical wooden structure that is characteristic of Muromachi period. Many tourists tend to just go to Kinkakuji, as it is internationally more famous for its flashiness. However, those who actually have visited both places would often prefer Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) to Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), as the former displays a more nuanced spiritual calmness compared to the latter. It is also located at the polar opposite side in the northeast of the city from where Kinkakuji is located, which is in the northwest of the city, and both thematically and geographically, it makes sense to visit both places on the same day to cover the outskirts of the city. Another reason for choosing this place as the second spot in the itinerary is that it gives us a smooth transition to Kiyomize-dera, for there is a path starting from Ginkakuji that continues down south to the center of the city that you can walk called The Philosopher’s Path, so -called for a Japanese Hegelian philosopher and a professor at Kyoto University during the early 20thcentury would often promenade by the river canal that runs through the city.[13]The path is also a great walk during the cherry blossom season and in the autumn. It starts from Ginkakuji to Eikandō-Zenrinji and into Nanzenji temple and Chión-In temple towards Kiyomizu-dera district. It is a good 40-minute walk from Ginkakuji, and normally by the time we get to Kiyomizu-dera area, also known as Higashiyama district, it is about 4 pm and plenty time to see the temple and browse souvenir shops in the area. As I said earlier, it is best to have some spare time planned ahead for this part of the city, as this is where most souvenir shops are located and many things Kyoto are definitely found here. However, one thing to note is that the shops around here (or around temples, unless they are in the downtown Kyoto) close at 5:30 to 6 pm, within the hour the temple closes. So if you arrive at Kiyomizu area at 4 pm, allocating 60 to 90-minute to the temple area would leave you only an hour or less to shop around. This would usually be enough, as long as you have extra hours at the end of your visit to Kyoto to come back for a souvenir shopping. This first visit is spent usually on promenading through the shops and decide what you may want to come back to buy for later. That was the plan, but yet another unexpected event was inserted. We did arrive at around just before 4 pm at the area yet continuing with the theme of Japanese gardens and knowing that my friends would enjoy seeing more of the traditional gardens, I made a judgment call to stop by at Kōdaiji temple (which is coupled with Entoku-In right across the street). Kōdaiji temple is located in the midst of the Higashiyama district and is a temple where Hideyoshi’s wife, Néné, dedicated her remaining life as a priestess after her husband’s death.[14]This temple and its garden represent a Zen philosophy and the landscaping was designed by a well-known aristocrat and a landscape gardener, Kobori Enshū, and completed in 1606.

The decision to stop by at Kōdaiji was good but also a tricky one, since visiting here would make us available at only around 5:30 to go to Kiyomizu temple just in time for its close at 6 pm. This would mean that there is no time left for the souvenir browsing, which was worrisome. However, we somehow managed to get out of the temple by 5:15 and then to browse around the shops walking up the streets and made it in time to get into Kiyomizu dera before 6 pm. It was already known to us that the said temple was under renovation and the most of the main hall was covered with sheets. It was for this reason that I suspected we would not need a lot of time to spend at this temple but it was enough to merely fill the quantitative requirement for this temple at this time. It was really serene and beautiful there, even though the most of it was covered. There were so few people, where it is otherwise overcrowded with tourists. It was not owning to the renovation that was undergoing, however, but it was because we got in 10 minutes before the closing time. It seemed like we were the only ones there and although it was rushed a little bit, it was very aesthetic and pleasing to walk in the quiet temple garden.

We were not out of the temple and ending our second day – yet we had more things to do on that day. The shops were still semi-open and we could go into several of them including my one and only favourite incense store on Ninen-zaka street called Niimi.[15]This is where I always make sure to get incense whenever I visit Kyoto and I have even had them ship incense to Canada in the past decade. It is that good. I was told by the manager at the store then that there is going to be a second branch opening in the midst of Gion street on Hanami-kōji[16]in July of 2018. It would be an amazing store to have in the center of Kyoto.

We then went to the other one and only Starbucks whose building is tailored to the local culture – that is, this Starbucks uses the Japanese traditional old housing of Kyoto and has seats with tatami mattresses inside.[17]


Having emerged ourselves with the richness of Kyoto culture, we were now headed for the dinner. Again, my travel plan is asset of arguments with each activity supporting its intended conclusion. However, I purposefully deviated from the underlining theme of Kyoto for dinner plans. This was because I could only get to see my friends during their visit in Kyoto and Osaka, and while there are many Kyoto specific dish to advance, there were also other aspects of Japanese food that I wanted to demonstrate to them. Therefore, I themed lunch and snacks in a Kyoto style fashion, but I advanced an argument for Japanese food culture in general in the evening. I only had a few days with them, and as such I had to make choices. While there are varieties of Japanese food that is authentic and traditional, such as sushi and tempura, etc… those items are easily acquired with good quality in the West as well. I wanted them to taste something they could only taste in Japan and limited to the food category in mostly chicken and vegetables which they enjoyed, but that did not narrow down much yet either. This is where the locals could be useful in offering an emic perspective that the tourists could otherwise not have been able to experience had they come all by themselves. There is simply way too much variety in food in Japan that one is often at a loss as to where and what to eat. In fact, food culture in Kyoto-Osaka area (as well as other parts of Japan) is such that you cannot probably try all the restaurants in a life time. Faced with many premises, I needed to be conscious of the kind of argument I wanted to make, which was for dinner to introduce them to Japanese dining experience. It does not have to be a fancy, expensive restaurant experience but it could also be a very local, family-oriented chain restaurant that the locals would frequent. Since I could only choose a few dishes out of so many that I could show to them, by the process of elimination, I could take out the Japanese food that is often offered overseas and whose quality is quite well-preserved outside Japan. Sushi restaurants and tempura restaurants as well as some of the common food such as rice bowls and fish can be enjoyed in Canada as well with just as good a quality as they are in Japan, thanks to many Japanese chefs opening restaurants over there. I asked myself what I had missed the most in 10 years of living abroad. What were the food that is both difficult to recreate at home and impossible to find at restaurants overseas? And such food must be primarily chicken or vegetables for this occasion. The first thing it came to my mind was yakitori. For some reason, I have never had a good yakitori in Canada or in the States that can be properly called ‘yakitori.’ The chicken tends to be cooked more thoroughly in the North America and probably they use a different breed of chicken as well, as in Japan, we do occasionally eat chicken sashimi– raw chicken, the idea of which is abhorred by foreigners. Oftentimes when I mention to my friends in overseas, they would tell me that it is not safe to eat chicken raw. However, that is not really accurate. It is accurate in the sense that beef tartar or even raw squid is not safe to eat. Chicken needs to be raised in a specific way for a raw consumption and must be disinfected thoroughly, but it is not contradictory in its definition to be prepared raw, as experience shows. It is a particular delicacy in southern part of Japan for a long time, and one can get safe raw chicken at various restaurants. In any case, it is nonetheless a rather high bar for those who are not accustomed to eating raw meat to try. But I would recommend it if any of the willing readers ever visit Japan, because it is really good.

Going back to the dinner, because of the reasons I raised above, chicken meat often has a different texture in Japan from in the North America. Even at Japanese restaurants run by Japanese chefs could not replicate yakitori served in Japan. So the first thing I wanted to try when getting back to Japan was to eat yakitori. With this passion in mind, I decided that we would have yakitori grilled chicken skewers as a sampler of Japanese local cuisine. One problem with many of the yakitori restaurants in Japan is that they are often smoking-allowed inside the store, probably due to the Izakaya culture in which customers would often smoke and drink after work. Even though many restaurants have followed the suit of the European countries in banning smoking inside the restaurants, some Izakaya places still operate under the old tradition. Yakitori is one of the soul food for workers in Japan that smoking while eating and drinking still remains deeply rooted. We wanted to avoid smoking-allowed restaurants, so our options were rather limited. The one yakitori place I really like is a chain restaurant called Daikichi, but its customers are usually smokers. So I ventured into a yakitori restaurant that is local and unknown to me. The dinner there was great – yakitori, to be honest could have been better, but the miso glazed eggplants and umeshu, i.e. plum wine, were supremely divine.

Thus, we concluded our second day, and we would rest well for the last day in Kyoto together.[18]

Chapter 3: Arashiyama and TenryūjiTemple in Kimono

Our last day together in Kyoto meant it is also a time to make a concluding remark in my argument. Some people may think that it is inconceivable that we did not visit Fushimi-Inari or Byōdō-In temple, to which I would agree with them. However, I did not include that in my 3-day visit itinerary in Kyoto with them because they were going to visit those two places the following day with another friend of theirs. So I decided that the only other places that need to be visited in Kyoto on the first trip are Arashiyama and Tenryūji, surrounded by a deep bamboo grove. Instead of simply visiting there, my friend suggested we would wear kimono and walk around. That was such a brilliant idea that we planned the day accordingly. We also had planned to attend a tea ceremony in Higashiyama district near Kiyomizu temple later in the afternoon. This worked out well since, even though it would be far away from Arashiyama to the center of the city, we still had not yet a proper time to shop around the souvenirs. The appointment at the tea ceremony set us the time limit in Arashiyama and that made it easier to plan the morning plan accordingly. We began our day, as per usual, early in the morning so that we would get to our first destination at the earliest time possible. Since we planned to wear a kimono and walk through the bamboo forest, we got to the kimono rental place at around 9:30 am. We changed into kimono and began walking slowly, as the footwears did not allow us to walk fast. We arrived at the bamboo forest at around 11:30 am, and spent some time taking pictures in costume. We then arrived at Tenryūji temple[19]where I also made a reservation for a traditional temple dish, Shōjin Ryōri.[20]


The lunch was amazing and it was very filling as well. Especially sitting on the tatami room in a traditional resto-house with kimono in Kyoto was something exquisite and enriching. Shōjin Ryōri is also something that encompasses the culture of Kyoto that it was better appreciated after having been to all the places we went and having tried all the food we tried. It was in essea summation of Kyoto trip, a finale to be impressed upon memory. After the lunch, we hurried our way back to the kimono rental place to return the kimono (as we were all getting quite uncomfortable with the shoes) and changed into our own clothes and resumed our walk into Togetsu-kyō bridge. Along the way, we stopped for macha drinks and rest at Arashiyama station. We had to leave the place to catch the train at 3 pm, so we walked rather hastily across Togetsu-kyōbridge and got to the station. We then got back to Shijō area, the center of Kyoto to walk up to Kiyomizu area. We went through Yasaka shrine and arrived just in time for the tea ceremony at Ninenzaka street where we were to have the experience. It took about an hour, learning a little about how to drink tea properly and then we had exhausted all the activities that were time-sensitive. We then looked around the souvenir stores and visited Ghibli store and other cute shops. It was time to go back for the last dinner in Kyoto together, and we strode through Hanami-Koji and were lucky to see a real Geisha passing by us. The concluding paragraph for the Kyoto visit naturally consummated in the udon restaurant that we had planned to go earlier. Ómen, the restaurant, is a chain restaurant in Kyoto and there is a branch in the downtown as well. This udon is uniquely Japanese in that you dip the noodles into soup and eat, rather than the udon already soaked in soup. You also put vegetables of your choice and spices to taste. With this dish, we completed the 3-day plan of visiting Kyoto.


Conclusion: The Itinerary Revisited

In this way, our all day long activities of experiencing Kyoto in terms of history, society and culture was concluded.  We had to make several in-the-moment choices due to the bad weather and unexpected events, which are a part of what it is to travel, but it was overall a complete success. In this itinerary, I divided the activities into 3 distinct categories according to the themes; namely,

DAY 1: Nijō-Castle => Eikandō-Zenrinji => Heian-Jingū shrine,

DAY 2: Kinkakuji => Ginkakuji => Kōdaiji => Entoku-In => Kiyomizu-dera

DAY 3: Arashiyama => Bamboo-Grove=Tenryūji temple.

These 3-day activities, where each day stands on its own, can be rearranged according to the purpose and preference of the individual tourist. However, I would argue that my plan for each day beautifully illustrates the themes allocated to its respective day in order to successfully reach its own conclusion of the day, which in turn supports a further argument that Kyoto culture is experienced only thorough the aggregates of monadic experiences. Only when these perceptions and sentiments felt have intertwined with one another can a theme of the historical harmony come to life. In other words, each single day filled with the activities by themselves would only express one aspect of Kyoto and it is necessary, for instance, to have experienced previously various types of udon noodles and Japanese food to appreciate the summation of udon at Ómen or Shōjin Ryōri at Tenryūji temple in Arashiyama. Similarly, it was necessary to have been to Nijō-Castle and Kinkakuji temple as well as other temples visited to reach an enlightenment at Tenryūjitemple, whose name means a dragon in the heavens. It is only at this stage in the third day after the series of activities that one finds home at the spiritual awakening in the bamboo forest, dreaming of becoming one with the drago




[4]There are of course Kaiseki Ryōri, Shōjin Ryōri, Yu-Dōfuand many other Dashi-based dish that are distinctly Kyoto. Nishin(herring) sobaand tempuraare also locally known. Sushi also was first inventedin Kyoto, i.e. nare-zushi. Ayu(or sweetfish) too is a delicacy.

[5]See https://www.yelp.com/biz/岡北-京都市for reviews and see http://www.kyoto-okakita.comfor the official website (only in Japanese).


[7]Namely, striped bittering, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_bitterlingyellow pond turtles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_pond_turtleand Japanese pond turtles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_pond_turtle.

[8]Heian-kyōjust means ‘the capital of peace’, as ‘kyō’signifies a place where the emperor resides. So it was with Kyōto, which simply means ‘the city in which the emperor resides’- similarly, Tokyōjust means ‘the eastern place where the emperor resides’ – this is because after Edo period, the emperor moved to Edo, changing the place name to ‘a city in the east where the emperor lives’, i.e. Tokyō.

[9]This could be contested, however, since normally if you start with Nijō-Castle at 10 am, you are most likely to get out and have lunch by 1 pm. You may begin your visit to Kinkakujifrom 1:30 and then leave there at 3 pm, which would give you enough time to not only get to Kiyomizutemple but also have time to shop around. However, I believe this way of visiting each area would necessarily omit the pathways in the city of Kyoto that may be of an equal value to visiting those places, as I explain above.

[10]See here for the reviews in English https://www.insidekyoto.com/omen-restaurant-kyotoand here for the official website http://www.omen.co.jp


[12]There are some theories as to why it is called Silver Pavilion, and one of which suggests that it used to be initially coated with silver but after the multiple destructions of the temple over the years, it was aborted in rebuilding the temple for the expense.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkaku-ji

[13]https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3906.htmlsee also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosopher%27s_Walk

[14]https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3927.htmland https://www.kodaiji.com/e_index.htmlfor its official website in English. In Japanese, here http://www.kodaiji.com/index.html

[15]For an amazing selection of original and traditional incense, visit here! http://www.2nenzaka.ne.jp/EN/article/11



[18]My friends would stay 3 more days in Kyoto, but I was only available for the first 3 days.





While it is obvious to the native Japanese speakers and some non-Native Japanese speakers, the names of the characters in Dragon Ball series can be both entertaining and, more importantly, informative about some of the dynamics of the interplays among the characters in the series. I have laid out some of the most important names of the characters and their meanings with respect to the races they belong to so that some of the categorical differences among them will be made obvious below. Further, this will certainly elucidate some of the underlining sharp distinctions existing that necessarily separate the characteristic traits of each character from one another. My analytic introduction will follow as the names are explained.



1: The Saiyan Race and Earthlings


The name Vegeta comes from vegetables; Nappa means leaf vegetables in Japanese; Raditz comes from radish[1]. Here, you can also see the hierarchically arranged ranks of each character, Vegeta being the whole category of vegetables. Goku’s Saiyan name is Kakarrot, which comes from carrot, signifying weakness in the vegetable kingdom compared to Vegeta and Nappa, for instance. Also, Goku’s father, Bardock means burdock, again just as carrots, suggesting that these vegetables are rooted in the soil, i.e. the earth. Although Bardock never came to Earth, the root vegetable theme in the family seems to foreshadow the eventual arrival of Goku on the planet. Another Saiyan who only appears in movies is Broly, which is derived from broccolis. His power is said to have been so strong that he became the basis for the legendary Super Saiyan. Incidentally, the race Saiyan in Japanese is pronounced Saiya-jin, where the word “Saiya” is a phonetic rearrangement of the work yasai, which means vegetables in English, and “jin” just means a person or a race belonging to.


The names of the Earthlings are most often derived from food of Chinese origin – this has probably a lot to do with the Dragon Ball episodes when Goku was still a child. Different from Dragon Ball Z, the original ideas prevalent in Dragon Ball are taken a lot from the Chinese mythology and literature. Since it will be too long a list to name everyone from the first Dragon Ball series, I will only list some of the important ones that also appear in Dragon Ball Z. As you will see, since many of the original characters from Dragon Ball continue into the plot of Dragon Ball Z, oftentimes the theme of the names borrowing from food category run through early into Dragon Ball Z.

The name Goku comes from the classic Chinese literature, Journey to the West, and its main character’s name is Son Goku (or in Chinese, Sun Wukong, meaning Monkey King). Aligning with the Chinese theme, Oolong and Pu’ar (or Puar or Pu-erh) are from Chinese tea of the same names. Yamcha means in English Dim-Sum. Chiaotzu means dumplings and Tien Shinhan comes from Tenshin-don, which is a Japanese arranged Chinese dish that does not exist in China, but the inspiration for the dish may perhaps come from a Tianjin city in China. Kurillin comes from kuri in Japanese, which means chestnuts. This also explains his daughter in the very late in Dragon Ball Z is named Māron, which means chestnuts in French. Gohan means rice in Japanese.

Bulma and her family’s names differ from food, and her name as well as her family members’ names are derived from articles of clothing. Bulma means bloomers in English. Incidentally, bloomers in the 19th century represented the freedom for women and helped advance the women’s rights movement. This perhaps explains Bulma’s independence, talents and individualistic characters. Her father’s name is Briēf, meaning a type of underwear or swimwear, briefs. Bulma’s son is similarly named after swimwear, Trunks meaning, perhaps and more appropriately, brief shorts. Bulma also has her daughter much later in the series, named Bulla, which in Japanese is pronounced Bra, meaning bras, or brassieres.

Mr. Satan obviously comes from Satan, an evil figure from the Abrahamic religions. So it is no surprise that his daughter’s name, Vīdel, is a play on word of devil. Gohan and Videl have a daughter, named Pan (who only appeared in the last two episodes of Dragon Ball Z), which in Japanese just means bread in English, but the Japanese origin of the word is from the French word, pain. This is in opposition to rice as the traditional commoners’ food in daily life. It may perhaps something to do with many Japanese breakfast has begun to consist of bread and toasts, and it could be a partial social commentary implied in the naming of the younger generation after the classic Western breakfast and the main meal. Therefore, their daughter, Pan, represents something new and a change as well as hope. Pan, however, also has a dual meaning in that it is a name of a Greco-Roman god of the wild and has horns and legs of goats, wherein it is associated also with fertility and season of spring. The Greeks also considered Pan to be a theatrical criticism and impromptus, signifying spontaneity and chaos. The word ‘panic’ comes from this god. So the name Pan is clever not only because it belongs to the theme of Gohan’s family, but also because it inherits the Vīdel’s lineage. Either way, it is a great leeway to the new journey into the universe in Dragon Ball GT, where Pan is the main character.[2]



2: The Namekians and Other Races


The name Namek comes from namekuji, which means land slugs in English. Land slugs are often found in farming areas and prefer Ajisai plant, which is a deciduous plant native to Japan and its official name is Hydrangea Macrophylla. This is why the entire Planet Namek is greenish and the Namekians are seen planting Ajissa plants (i.e. Hydrangea in Namekian). They also do not eat but only drink water, as Dende tells in one of the episodes.[3] They are also hermaphrodites, as land slugs are; this too is explained when Dende tells Bulma there is no gender among Namekians.

Dende comes from dendenmushi,[4] which means snails in colloquial Japanese. Snail in Japanese is katatsumuri, and its variations, Katattsu and Mūri are also used as the names of the Namekians. The former was sent to Earth when the environmental crisis occurred in Planet Namek long before the Dragon Ball Z story began, as explained by Dende as well as by the Eldest Namekian. Katattsu’s son came to be Kami (meaning god in Japanese) on Earth, who spew out his evilness within him, who then became King Piccolo. Similarly, Nail does not mean ‘nails’ on the fingers as English speakers might suppose, but it comes from snails. Also, the name of the child who was killed by Dodoria as he was fleeing with Dende is Cargo, which is taken from escargot[5], a French name for snails.

Piccolo appears to be rather unique in that he does not have his name derived from slugs of any kind. Instead, it comes from the musical instrument. However, in Dragon Ball, where the enemies of Namekian origin are introduced, they are named as various musical instruments, such as Tambourine, Piano, Drum, Cymbal. The Namekians with names of musical instruments are categorized as demons, and hence Piccolo too is named after a musical instrument. It has been often said that Piccolo also means the little one, or small in Italian, which may be the origin for his name but this does not seem likely. As explained earlier, although Piccolo was spewed out as an evilness within by Kami as a form of an egg, which may tempt us to think that the Piccolo suggests the little kami. However, Piccolo never showed himself until he was very old as King Piccolo, and his birth story also comes in the reflection as a supplemental story. Further, all his subordinates he has created are named after musical instruments as has been said. What is more likely the case is that, traditionally, piccolos are played in orchestras to enhance the elegance and adding brilliance to the overall sound since it is the highest sounding instrument in the woodwind family. It is thus more reasonable to think that Piccolo is named after within the musical orchestral settings since piccolos are often used in repertoire with pianos, and traditionally used in conjunction with drums in marches, both of which are King Piccolo’s creations as well. It is also noted that Piccolo means a “Different World” just before the Earthlings depart for Planet Namek. Other than obvious meaning of the trip to the different planet, perhaps indicating that the piccolos in orchestras create a whole different world, and this possible double meaning may have encouraged the author to reveal Piccolo’s Namekian meaning – since what his name means in Namekian does not really help the plot at all, but it is a piece of information that is merely interesting at the time, and only then.

Perhaps it is fitting here to speak of Shenlong and Porunga, the dragons summoned up from the dragon balls to grant wishes. Both mean the same thing, but the former is a Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word for a God Dragon, and the latter means the same thing in the Namekian language.


There are other races from different planets that appear only tangentially to help the plot flow. Probably the most important of these are Planet Kanassa, Planet Meat and Planet Tsufuru. Planet Kanassa appears in the special episode of Dragon Ball Z, Bardock: the Father of Goku. In that episode, Bardock and his companions are seen killing the inhabitants of Planet Kanassa, who are covered with fish-like scales all over their body. This is because Kanassa comes from a Japanese word for fish, sakana. The last standing Kanassan gives Bardock the heavy blow on the neck that is cursed with the ability to see the future. This is how he learns about the destruction of Planet Vegeta, however vaguely at first, and leads him to fight against Frieza all by himself. This blow renders him unconscious and he is taken to the medics on Planet Vegeta. While Bardock is being treated in Medical Machine, his companions had been sent to Planet Meat, which means of course meat in English. Healed from the wounds, Burdock remembers having dreamt of Planet Vegeta destroyed. Nonetheless, he soon follows his companions to Planet Meat, only to find out that the Frieza’s henchmen are killing them, as Tōma, the sub-leader of Burdock’s group has told him. The name, Tōma, comes from tomato, which becomes important in the paragraph to follow. The incident on Planet Meat convinces him that what he had seen while being treated is a reality, and becomes decisive to go against Frieza.

The story of Planet Tsufuru comes much later in the series. Although it is mentioned in Dragon Ball Z in recollection once briefly, it only comes in Dragon Ball GT, however, the confrontation with the Trufurians is very instrumental in the Saiyan history as well as all of Frieza’s technology.[6] So here I briefly mention about them. The name Tsufuru comes from a word play on fruits. In contrast to the Saiyans (i.e. vegetables) who are savages and barbaric, the Tsufurians are technologically advanced and intelligent. The former is endowed with strength in physical power, while the latter is blessed with strength in intelligence. This is perhaps adumbrated in the fact that fruits are born high above the ground, never to dirty their hands, while vegetables are hands on soil work. This may be why categorically ambiguous food item when talking about the names in Dragon Ball Z such as tomatoes (i.e. Tōma) could still count as a vegetable since they rather grow on the ground as opposed to grow high above the ground, relatively dirt-free.[7] However, being intelligent did not help the Tsufurians when the Saiyans invaded them and stole all their technologies, including the scouters, which accurately measures the combat power of the individuals. But since this explanation only comes from Dragon Ball GT, it may be just an add-on information on what had not previously been clarified, and it is possible that Frieza’s army had invented all the technologies by themselves. However, it is strongly implied that this is consistent with Dragon Ball Z series when in the later episode, Tusfurians received information that the communication with Frieza from Planet Namek ceased to exist, and Frieza might be dead. For one Tsufurian victoriously claimed upon hearing the information, “Frieza is now dead, who has eliminated our race, and we now have a new age coming!”, to which another Tsufurian responded by killing the former, saying “Frieza-sama has promised us prosperity to our race!” This at least indicates that there are factions within the army of Frieza and constant distrust as well as deception against one another might have existed.[8]

It needed to be mentioned, since all the other major food groups have been named, and with the variant of the fruits, it appears that the list is complete.



3: The Other Main Enemies in Dragon Ball Z


Most importantly, Frieza comes to mind. His name is derived from freezer, as in one of the compartment of refrigerator. His name suggests cold-blooded evilness, which is how he got his name. This is why his brother in the Dragon Ball movies “Dragon Ball Z: Cooler’s Revenge” and “Dragon Ball Z: The Return of Cooler,” is named Cooler, whose name comes from coolers. Frieza’s father also appears just after the battle on Planet Namek as King Cold, whose name is obviously from the variation of freezing temperatures. This explains why all his close subordinates are named after what you can find in a refrigerator. Dodoria comes from a fruit, durian, which is harvested from the tree of the same name. Zarbon is somewhat obscure but is derived also from a fruit named pomelo (it also has many variants of names), which is in Japanese called zabonn. Kiwi, as in kiwifruit, came to Planet Namek, chasing after Vegeta, only to be killed. The often-forgotten character, Apūru, too is named after a fruit, an apple. Apūru appeared a few times when searching for villages on Planet Namek with Frieza, and it was him who treated Vegeta, after badly beaten by Zarbon, in Medical Machine inside Frieza’s spaceship.

Ginyu Special Force’s members are also named after things you would find in the refrigerator. Ginyu comes from milk, or gyūnyu in Japanese. Guldo is named after yogurt. Remember that in Japanese, there is no phonetic distinction between l and r. Recoom comes from crème, a daily product just like his captain, Ginyu. Burter is derived again from a daily product, butter. Jeice may be the only member whose name is not necessarily attached to daily products. The name Jeice is from juice. Here too, there seems to be a top-down hierarchy, as fridges used to have the freezer on the top and refrigerator below, while fruits and vegetables tended to go even below the daily products are placed.


Cell is from the biological terminology cells. This is self-evident from how he is a clone made out of various cells collected over the years by Dr. Gero, which just literally means Dr. vomit, or perhaps, though less likely, means the number zero, as he is the creator of all androids in Dragon Ball series. However, he himself appears as the android 20, and all of his creations ended up as failure, as something that has disgusted him, which led him to turn himself into the android and create Cell. Hence, perhaps the former interpretation holds.


Majin Boo needs a little explanation, but an acute fan would probably have guessed that it is from the novelty song composed in 1949 and used in Disney film “Cinderella”, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, also known as The Magic Song. So, Boo was made by Bobidi, whose father, Bibidi, was an evil master wizard. Majin just means evil person. Bobidi’s henchman, Dabura comes from Abracadabra, which is derived from the Aramaic language meaning “I create like the word”[9], often used as an incantation in magic historically. Children in Japan simply know this incantation as something wizards would say, somewhat similar to “Open Sesame!”



4: Some Further Characters in an Ongoing Series, Dragon Ball Super


Some Saiyans appear in the parallel universe in the new Dragon Ball Series, Dragon Ball Super, that might be of some interest here. Namely, they are Cabbé from cabbages, Carifulla from cauliflowers and her sister Kale from kales. They are once again consistent with the theme of Vegetable Race (i.e. Saiyan from yasai). Also interesting is the Frieza’s counterpart, Frost. Here, it is also consistent with the theme of freezing temperature. Further, Frieza was revived by the Frieza’s remaining soldier, named Sorbet. Sorbet comes from the frozen dessert of the same name, also known as sherbet or sherbert.

This concludes, for the moment, my analysis on the character themes according to their names in Dragon Ball Z.



[1] Latin name is Raphanus raphanistrum


[2] The source from which I got this information is found here, although it is in Japanese. https://dic.pixiv.net/a/パン(ドラゴンボール) accessed on July 21st, 2017.

[3] A lot about the characteristics of Namekians are explained in the episode 51.

[4] The word “Dendenmushi” originated in a 1911 Japanese folksong Katatsumuri, in which dendenmushi appears.

[5] Cargo never really got to speak and his name is only mentioned once in the episode 48.

[6] There is a lot about the origin and the history of Tsufurians that are not explained in anime series, and oftentimes includes contradictions. So all we can do about Tsufurians is to make as much sense as possible from the available contradictory resources. In fact, one source says that the planet was not called Tsufuru, but Planet Plant, and Saiyans came along to live there, and took over years after they inhabited the planet, changing the name to Planet Vegeta, which was then destroyed by Frieza seven years later. So it is entirely possible that the names of vegetable origin and that of fruit origin can be found among Tsufurians or Saiyans in the case of Tōma, for example.

[7] However, tomatoes are vine fruits, so if supported, they grow high above the ground. So this nullifies my attempt to make fit the characters in the conceptual system. Given that the character Tōma appears only in the special episode, and Akira Toriyama had a specific desire to use a character with a name of a juicy red vegetable that can be likened to blood when squashed, I am willing to concede that this may be a necessary anomaly, for Toriyama’s purpose here was to soak the cloth Tōma was wearing in blood, which Bardock takes it to tie on his head, to show his strong determination to defeat Frieza who has killed his best companions as well as to show his strong bond with Tōma. See, http://dragonball.wikia.com/wiki/Tora accessed on July 21, 2017. *you can see that the English name of the character is Tōra and not Tōma. Further, see my footnote 6 for a possible reconciliation.

[8] As will be explained in the following section, there are soldiers in Freiza’s top ranking henchmen named after fruits. This implies that the characters who are named after fruits are loyal to Frieza. In Dragon Ball GT’s explanation, the Saiyans destroyed Tsufurians and stole their technology, but seeing those technologies were being used on Planet Frieza, the Saiyans were most likely acting on order by Frieza to kill and destroy Tsufurians. Assuming with consistency that the characters named after fruits are indeed descendants or belong to Tsufurians (as all characters named after vegetables are Saiyans, with the exclusion of Tōma, whose name is derived from what is scientifically a fruit [see footnote 6 above], and all characters named after slugs or musical instruments are indeed Namekians, thus forming their respective races), how is it possible that the Tsufurians would swear loyalty to Frieza, who had killed their compatriots? And why would Frieza believe such allegiance? See also EP96.


[9] There are many conflicting views on what it actually means or how it is read, which is beyond the scope or interest of the present treatise.

It is 5:30 am, and yet another sleepless night has passed. I am on a sleeping pill, but it has not kicked in. I kept thinking about my newly flared up motivations for academic writings and things I could accomplish with them. It is truly an exciting thing to think about – just not at 3 am in the morning if I ever want to fall asleep. But here I was, thinking about useless things and planning a day ahead. I even downloaded an app for an aquarium on live so I can watch the fish swimming in a coral leaf somewhere in the ocean. But it failed extraordinarily to make me fall asleep, since the app came with a loud music and I soon realized that I would have to keep looking at the screen when I want to close my eyes and fall asleep. Then the birds began chirping and the main officers came by to drop newspaper. It’s blatantly bright outside, and there is no way I can just magically fall asleep. So here I am, writing a new blog entry that has nothing to do with academic essays. Partially this activity was motivated by the fact that I have not yet uploaded any essays for the last two years of any substantial contents, and partially because the writer in me wanted to fill that void of not having written up anything creative that has originated and sprang up from within: my true voice.


As I was thinking about all those possible academic topics I am to accomplish, it came to me that how did I get where I am right now? (Remember, this is all conjured up in my attempt to fall asleep, so forgive me for any incoherent or way too poetical form of framing a question) Well, as I have mentioned many of you already, had I not seen the movie Titanic, I would not have been where I am right now – starting with illegitimacy with English at all. And had there been no actual tragic incident of Titanic, there would not have been a movie that came to touch me from distance (a philosophical interest cleaving in already). But this is a story I tell to people how things happened. Not necessarily why things have had to happen that way.


There was a girl I admired in my 10th grade. She had just moved to Hiroshima, where I used to live at that time. Little did I know, I was to move away instead of her coming in to the school I was in shortly after. She was, sort of my replacement, or vice versa. In the short period of time when I got to know her, I soon fell in love with her, and she once said to a group of us what she was looking for in a guy. I am not going to bother listing all up, but she mentioned some qualities she wished her boyfriend would have. At that time, I did not question about them. In fact, until just few hours ago, I didn’t question about it. I just accepted them as natural requests or wishlist. But then, in conjunction with my recent academic flare, I began to put them into perspective. What she said was something any girl or boy would have said – a decent set of request for a partner. You can see them everywhere now with the Internet dating sites like Tinder, OKCupid and eHarmony, etc… I suppose this trend has also camouflaged the ambiguity in this set of requests people have about each other. Think about it, these are qualities you want to have in your partner. Qualities. Ever since I heard what my crush had said at that moment in May of 1994, I kept striving for acquiring those qualities, and I still am. It’s a good thing. In many situations, I was able to become the kind of person with the kind of set of moral standards because of her. So I owe her a lot for who I am. For that I will be eternally grateful for her.


A man was in a cave, looking for a shelter as it was raining so hard, when he finds a girl in the same situation. He started telling her the story of his first crush and what qualities she wanted of him, and the girl said in utter wonder, “But are qualities not inherent in oneself?” The man shrugged his head, and responded, “No, they can’t be. Otherwise you are born with qualities such as sociability or good handwriting, but babies can’t have that.”


But can qualities something you can acquire actively or do they come to you because your environment requires you to have them? Can you will to be sociable and become sociable, or can you will to write well and have good handwriting? Maybe you can fake it once or twice, but that is not the same as possessing those qualities, like virtue. So would it not be cruel to ask for someone to have such and such a quality? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Even if my crush did have someone already in mind, and not that she was trying to change someone to have those qualities, as a result, it made me want to be a better person. Does that not count as good? I believe it does. Even though, I admit, I have not yet mastered all those qualities she wanted in her partner, I think because of her, I was able to hold onto some principles and adhere to them in times of hardship. Further, she made me want to be someone whom people want to have conversation with, and someone whom they can feel glad that they have met. Because talking to her was such fun that I wanted the same for others who may come across my way when they talk to me.

I think my morning rant is coming to an end. The sleeping pill is kicking me in, and I don’t know how long I can last. I will end with a picture of me that I discovered I could take with my iPhone today that also foreshadows, in hindsight, what I have decided to write just now. (because it seems like it’s all substance without qualities)

inoue_enryoEnryō Inoue (井上円了) 1858-1919 was a philosopher and a pioneer of occult studies in early modernity in Japan. His views on occult, or Yōkai, was unique in that he categorized anything supernatural or superstitious as well as natural things that are simply unexplained as Yōkai. His aim in occult studies, or henceforth Yōkai studies, was to explain away the unexplained by means of reason and rationality. He divided the category of Yōkai into four segments: 1) that which cannot be explained with the present method of scientific reasoning, 2) that which can be explained as a natural phenomenon, 3) that which occurs psychologically and therefore a creation of mind due to fear or misunderstanding or prejudice, and lastly 4) that which is made up by people. He published a 8-volume book on these Yokai phenomena that exists in the world, and below is a small section he wrote on the generation and corruption of the soul as well as the status of the soul.

Because the topic at hand is interesting for the Western scholars who study on the soul, and because for reasons incomprehensible to me, Inoue’s work on metaphysics has not been translated into English, I have offered as best as I can a translation on the sections he specifically deals with such topics. For those of you who want to see the original text, from which I have translated, click here: enryo-on-the-soul


Chapter 7 “On the Generation and Corruption of Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. vii, pp33-35, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


Before explaining what the soul per se is, it should be noted first and foremost on one of the most difficult problems in the ancient religions, that is to say, concerning the generation and corruption of the souls. It is often said, on the one hand, that “Souls must at all perish. For we have never heard that once a living body has died, that which is now dead has returned to life. Further, no one has yet to have examined on the existence of a soul after death. This is because the soul dies with the body.” However, such opinion is of an utmost absurdity for it is no different from the argument that when you see someone in a deep sleep, you judge him to be dead, because you have called his name but he does not respond. On the other hand, it is also said that “He who has died sometimes appears in the form of a ghost, or a certain someone has returned to life after death. These suffice to prove that the souls must not perish.” Such opinion too is of a result of a faulty reasoning due to not knowing what a soul per se is, and hence, neither side of opinions is less than credible. First of all, those who argue that souls must perish focus only on the non-existence of the souls after death, yet they do not talk or examine at all about the existence of souls in the living beings. For come to think of it, aside from whether the souls exist or not after death, our minds do not at all agree whether souls exist or not even in the living beings. Nevertheless, they say souls that have already existed in living beings must perish simultaneously at the time of death. Such an opinion is far from rational. For many things often change their shapes but do not perish. For instance, a glass full of water evaporates into steam when it is heated, yet we do not say that water per se has perished. Thus, it would be even more mysterious and the strangest thing to say that the soul that has once existed has perished all of the sudden than to say that the soul is immortal. If we say that the souls have existed in the living beings, from whence they have come from? In other words, we must investigate their origin as well by looking back into the past.

Thus, generally speaking, those who argue that souls are mortal only tell us that there are no souls after death but never stop to think from whence the souls have come in the living beings. It must be concluded that they have such narrow minds. However, on the other hand, those who argue that the souls are immortal too busy themselves with scanty explanations on reincarnation and souls manifesting as ghosts, and it is obvious that they too have no idea what they are talking about. For they say that they have proofs of having seen someone reincarnated or having seen ghosts, yet the number of ghosts seen is one or two even though millions of people have died in the past. Those particular instances far from guarantee the universality of the phenomenon. For they must first of all explain how in the world these numerous dead have never communicated to us or manifested to us. In sum, both of these opinions regarding the souls’ [im]mortality result from the fact that they are at a loss for they do not understand the nature of the souls. If we want to argue for a position clarifying what the souls as such consist of, it would be far more imperative to study the souls in the living beings than the souls after death. For all the emotions of happiness and sadness, of laughter with our mouths wide open, and of sorrow with our tearful eyes; uttering the beauty on seeing flowers, feeling pleasant on listening to the music, all these mysterious changes in behaviors are all due to the faculty of the souls. What a mysterious power souls must have and how they manifest such power! Without understanding the status of the soul in the living being, it would not be easy to understand the soul after death. For if you only speak of after death, and not before death, such an opinion would be a narrow insight and falls short to speak of the souls in general.


Chapter 8 “On the Immortality of the Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. viii, pp35-36, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


In aligning with the academic reasoning of the immortality of the soul, first of all, nothing really perishes according to the law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy. For it has been scientifically proven that one thing does not spontaneously occur and perish completely all of the sudden. The law of physics and the chemistry is built upon such premises. In other words, in the academic world now, that the universe conserves and maintains mass and energy is a principle to which we all adhere. However, my mind too exists as one of the things existing in this universe, hence such law of conservation must also apply to my mind as well. If the mind is nothing but energy, like materialists would argue, it sill must obey the law of conservation and it must be admitted that it never perishes. Suppose that the materialists would say that the mind is neither a thing nor energy, but rather an experience or feeling. Still then, as soon as they admit of saying that there is such a thing as a soul, whatever it is, they must deny that it does not exist. When reasoning with the conservation of mass and energy, they must necessarily say that the mind is immortal.

Second, by the latent power and apparent power of the soul, we can say that the soul active and manifests its apparent power even though it is unable to exercise its apparent power and hidden latent when dead. In this way, it is easy to see that even though the soul seems to perish when the body is dead, even though it was apparent when the body was alive, it would just mean that the soul ceases to manifest apparently in the dead body. The difference is truly in that the difference between latency and apparency of the soul. Take an example of moving your hand. The force exerted in moving your hand does not arise spontaneously. When you suddenly stop the force as to cancel moving your hand, that force does not return to nothingness. In the first case, the force is manifested apparently, but in the second example, the force still exists latent within the body. Power that is latent is only activated when a certain condition is met. Take an example of a seed of a plant, for if you plant it underneath the earth, it will come out and form a specific plant and flower, yet the same seed will remain as it is – a seed – if it is kept in the basket, away from the soil. However, the seed in the basket still possesses the power to become a plant, neither is it the case that the seed planted in the earth gets its power from outside the seed itself. Kept inside the basket, its power is latent and not apparent, whereas once it is planted in the earth its power is made apparent. It is obvious from this that the power itself existing in the seed is any different from the seed being in the basket or underneath the earth. Considered in this line of reasoning, it is natural to think that the mind becomes activated so conditioned when alive, while it conceals its power as latent when the body is dead, that is to say, the actuality of power turns back into potentiality when is it not conditioned to exercise its power.

By the two reasons raised above, it is proved how the mind [soul] is immortal. If so, then, what we need to consider is how the soul in the present and the soul in the future can be different. Yet, that is a topic for the next section.



Chapter 9: “On the Status of the Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. ix, pp36-41, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


If the soul is to be immortal, what could be the status of the soul after death? That is a big question. When compared the soul after death to the soul in the living, the soul in the living is comprehended in the body with senses perceptions. Everything external is seen by the soul through the window of the sense perceptions, yet when dead, the mind has already departed the body, and the things cannot be seen through the same window of the sense perceptions. Therefore, the first difference between the soul after death and the soul in the living body is that while in the living it is embedded with sense perceptions, it is without sense perceptions after death. Next, the soul in the living is affected in the consciousness, but it enters into the realm of the unconsciousness after death. For instance, it is like the difference between the soul when the body is awake during daytime and when the body is asleep during nighttime, for the status of the mind is different on the one hand being conscious and on the other hand being unconscious. The soul in the living and the dead is the same as such example, which is the second difference. The third difference is that while in the living, the soul establishes a certain individual identity, yet when after death, it has no such tie to the individuality; namely, it enters into the complete equality with the sea of non-self. Judging from the above three points of difference, the soul after death is in the infinitely vast, elegantly boundless place where there is no suffering nor pleasure, no wisdom nor consciousness. Nonetheless, we have said that the soul is immortal, what difference does it make from being its dead? Even though they say there is nirvana, hell, dying with peace or salvation, such can be just a manner of speech. However, in religion, they do not only preach the immortality of the soul, but also there is the status of the soul’s being suffering or pleasant, and further in Buddhism, on what principle and reasoning can we explain the belief in the endless circle of transmigration of six posthumous worlds (Rokudōrin’ne, 六道輪廻) and the rise and fall of fate? This further requires the studies and researches on the part of scholars. To begin with, such a theory differs from the perspective of the materialists and from that of the rationalists. Yet, this is not the time to enumerate the disagreements between the two schools of thoughts. What follows below will just explain the reasons for why the soul must, even after death, maintain and continue to possess the individuality or identity.

A person’s mind-body relationship is neither that of a single relationship, although a person has one identity, nor that of a double relationship, although a person is composed of two distinct attributes; mind and body. As it were, it has neither a single nor a double relationships, and in one’s life time, every single action with regard to body and mind is acquired through perfuming[1] by means of customs and repetitions, and the more habitual it becomes, the more solidified such an action becomes so as to form as a kind of individuality. Therefore, upon death, when the soul departs body, even though the soul enters upon the sea of equality, the customs once acquired through perfuming in the past must still yet to be differentiated in the soul. Thus, that the cognition during its life time of such soul, however the body it was attached to may have died, due to the power of habit, enters into a kind of the world distinct from other souls differently perfumed goes without saying. By means of such perfuming, my own soul arises into the boundary where there is suffering and pleasantries after death. Such is the reasoning given in order to explain the cause and effect of good and evil, namely, that of Rokudōrin’ne.

Howbeit, if we escape from the self-love and attachment to selfish desire in our lifetime, develop the pure and good light, and if we die with a complete detachment from worldly business and enter upon the rational world of equality, that truly is enlightenment of Buddhist teachings. Hence, should the soul arise and sink into the boundary between suffering and pleasantry due to the individual so perfumed, it exists itself in a kind of state of quandary, but precisely by taking this quandary state as the enlightenment does the soul enter into the sea of equality. In this way, just as the Buddha enters into the enlightenment, whether the soul becomes something of an equal, indiscriminating stuff (平等無差別byoudou musabetsu) and a lone and quiet, non-perceptive entity (空寂無覚 kuujaku mukaku), it is said, “not so.” This point has been debated and argued by various religions, yet if we consider this according to Buddhism, it says that by achieving bodhisattva there exists infinite pleasure and infinite wisdom. Now how can this be, it remains to be a question. Such a question, to begin with, should not be dealt with by means of the current philosophical reasoning. In the realm of absolute, as it were, on the matter of religion, one should wait for the message from the heavens; yet still I wish to explain by means of reason, perhaps according to the perspectives of the religion, so that I may dissolve this doubt that resides within me.

The substratum of the universe and the origin of the consciousness is described as T’ai Chi[2] (太極 taikyoku) in Confucianism and Thusness, or Suchness, (真如shinnyo)[3] in Buddhism. Yet Thusness, when seen from the one side of the equality, it truly means the entity with emptiness and unconsciousness, but when seen from the discriminative side, it means the purest entity of cognition. In other words, Thusness possesses two-sidedness.

The living beings in the terrestrial world, according to the belief in the cosmogony, began as non-conscious state of being and evolved into the conscious and sentient beings, eventually acquiring intelligence[4] as human beings. However, this evolutionary state does not stop at humanity, nor does it mean at all that humanity has manifested all the enlightened attributes that the universe has yet to offer. As the more the universe evolves, the more enlightened the whole state of universe becomes. Even among the same species, the vulgar shines less and dimly, whereas the intellectuals and the scholars demonstrate so much more intelligence. Considering this as a fact, it is not difficult to imagine that there may come a time when there is intelligence that shines tens of hundreds of, or even thousands of, times more. However, this light of intelligence is wisdom of mind, and not something requiring a physical body. Therefore, it is the light emitted from within the mind. In this way, it is not unreasonable to say that this light is the bare individuality of the soul itself. Even though there is a difference between animals and humans, the light of cognizance is similar in quality, for in the case of animals the light is latent within the soul, whereas humanity leaks the light somewhat into the external world. Yet, the humans too do not emit out the light they withhold in their soul, for if they do, the amount of light would probably be near infinite. Therefore, if we have the means to emit all the light out of the soul, it would manifest as the infinite wisdom, the infinite virtue and the infinite pleasure. Speaking in this line of reasoning, the state of complete enlightenment, namely, to achieve the status of gods and Buddha one day is not al all impossible. Hence, Thusness that Buddhism talks of too should be understood as having two sides of interpretation. That is to say, on the one hand, the state of Thusness is utter emptiness, absolutely non-conscious and complete absence of suffer and pleasure, but on the other hand, within this Thusness is also hidden and late the state of infinite wisdom and the infinite tolerance, and when the soul is evolved enough it emits the light of virtue in our minds, becoming itself Thusness, that is to say, the entity of complete cognizance.

In other words, it must be known that Thusness itself possesses the passive and the active qualities.[5] If this is true, even if the state of the soul is now passively following day-by-day activities, if we see it in the active light, it is possible to suddenly shine all its wisdom latent within it, reflecting all the things past and present in the mind’s mirror, reaching the new level of virtue and enlightenment. However, in this physical world, the mind is mesmerized by the sensations from the body, so even the purest mind is surrounded by the clouds of maze and fogs of desire that no one can see through the truth. These clouds and fogs are called kleśa[6] or also known as sins. If now I cultivate good deeds and earn virtue in my body, dissipating the vulgarity once and for all, for the first time in my lifetime, the latent wisdom within my soul will transilluminate the entire universe. The original enlightenment from “Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana”[7] is manifested in such a state. However, the populace preaches in general in the negatively on both souls and the state of Thusness, and they never consider them proactively but only see them on the surface and never argues intrinsically. Arguing thus, they think that the souls after death are like dead trees and ashes, and the nirvana and the hell in the future become idealized and confused, resulting in our never doubting of their existence. However, how or if our own souls came to have consciousness has never been even clarified. What else can you call stupidity, if not this general attitude of the populace?

(Here, Inoue cites two books by Chinese authors who summarize his views so far propounded in the original Chinese and his translation of them for about a page. Because it only reiterates what he has spoken already, and because it is not his writing, I omit the part)

In sum, people do not yet know what the intrinsic light of the soul per se, yet they only see it from the negative aspect of how the soul manifests itself and do not see the proactive side of it. However, Buddhism reasons proactively when it preaches death with one’s mind at ease and achieving enlightenment. Nevertheless, on this point, we can neither offer a physical explanation nor psychological explanation, and it is in actuality a matter concerning the unknowable and the mysterious. We must then enter into the realm of such a state in thinking about it. The kind of religion I speak of opens the gate of the mysterious, and demonstrates the scenery of the realm of the absolute by means of explaining the intrinsicality of the soul according to the proactive reasoning.




[1] Italics mine. This is a Buddhist terminology meaning “affect” (In Japanese, 薫習;くんじゅうread as kunjuu). It explains that experiences through thought and sense-perceptions constantly affect how a person behaves and thinks, gradually coming to form the individual characteristics and hence all current actions and thoughts are the result of what that person has been behaving and thinking in the past. For example, the Consciousness-Only school of Buddhism explains thus: “The first transformation of consciousness is called storehouse in both Mahayana and Hinayana … the other consciousnesses which ‘perfume’ (affect) it and the consciousness which is perfumed arise and perish together, and the concept of perfuming is thus established. The act of enabling the seeds that lie within what is perfumed (the storehouse consciousness) to grow, as hemp plant is perfumed, is called perfuming. As soon as the seeds are produced, the consciousness which can perfume become in their turn causes whch perfume and produce seeds. The three dharmas (the seeds, the manifestations, and perfuming) turn on and on, simultaneously acting as cause and effect…” [excerpted from “A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy”, Chapter 23: Buddhist Idealism, p.p. 370-395, translated and compiled by Wing-Tsit Chan, Princeton University Press, 1963]

[2] It is a supreme ultimate state of undifferentiated, absolute and infinite potential; the oneness from which the duality of yin-yang originated.

[3] Tathātā in Sanskrit. A central concept in Mahayana Buddhism, synonymous with dharma.

[4] I translated 知光 (chikou) and 光明 (koumyou) variously as intelligence, the light, the light of intelligence, the light of cognizance, or enlightenment, depending on how it fits in the context in which it is used. In all cases, however, it appears to refer to the enlightened state of the soul (?) or that which is enlightened, or the virtue.

[5] It appears that the words used in Japanese in this context, 消極 (shoukyoku) and積極 (sekkyoku) may have various meanings present all at the same time. The former can mean passive, negative, pessimistic, latent, hidden, whereas the latter can mean active, positive, proactive, assertive, apparent, and so on.

[6] Sanskrit word for desire, or kleshas in English and煩悩 bonnou in Japanese.

[7] 『大乗起信論』Dai Jo Kishinron, particularly popularized in Kamakura New Buddhism era in Japan during the 13th century. See my paper for more on this topic at



The Dragon Ball series, broadly speaking, illustrates the interrelations among the individuals whose actions are dictated by the lust for power. And this desire for power manifests itself in the quest for the Dragon Balls, which are said to grant wishes of anyone who has collected all seven of them. The Dragon Ball series, then, is a process of power struggle narrated from the viewpoint of Son Goku and his journey into the achievement of absolute power. In a sense, everyone fends for himself and everyone collects the Dragon Balls for his own gain. This is why Goku is suspicious of Bruma when they first meet. Bruma reasons well when she decides to keep Goku close to her as her bodyguard, while intending to steal his Dragon Ball. In this way, a seed has been planted for a potential conflict in the future, and an ally has become at the same time an enemy. This scheme is also seen in Dragon Ball Z, where Goku is defeated by Raditz and forms a coalition with his nemesis, Piccolo. It is a beneficial agreement for both of them, for Goku needs Piccolo’s help in order to save his son, Gohan, from Raditz, while Piccolo needs Raditz to be gone in order to defeat Goku with his own hand. In the similar manner, the seed for trouble unfolds itself naturally in both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, involving those who aim to achieve the absolute power. What is unique to Goku, though, is that he wants power not for his own sake but for someone else. This may seem rather surprising and inaccurate, since all Goku cares for is to be strong simply because he wants to be strong. But if we look at how he fights and how he gets stronger each time, we can see that he is always fighting for someone else. It was his desire to help others for their sake that got him involved with the Red Ribbon Army in Dragon Ball. In the battle against Raditz, he chose to sacrifice himself over defeating his nemesis, Piccolo. The reason why he was able to become a Super Saiyan too was out of anger of Kurilin’s death. This is strikingly different from any other characters when they become stronger, as is most obvious from the battle against Frieza. Frieza’s strength comes from the humiliation he suffers, while Goku’s strength comes from the love for his friends. As we may remember, this is the truth about Goku’s strength as Vegeta also finally recognizes at the very end of the battle against Buu. The Dragon Ball series, then, is not simply an anime about selfish individuals fight against each other, but it is about what a powerful caring individual should do to protect the others when surrounded by the selfish individuals. It is a story of ethics in power politics of everyday life. The Dragon Ball series, through metaphoric means, teaches us how to maintain the good in us when confronted with the evil. In a way, the conclusion is contained in the beginning: once you have learned how to use power for someone else, you have achieved the absolute power that no one can take away from you. Goku may be said to have possessed from the beginning ‘the seed of this enlightenment’, and to that extent, he may have been the strongest of all from the very moment he decided to help Bruma in Mt. Paozu.

*This is just the beginning of what is to come – a project I have always wanted to write. For those of you interested in reading further, you may occasionally come back to check on my earlier post “A Philosophical Interpretation of Dragon Ball Z” for the moment (which is itself incomplete as of yet) to get a better sense of where I am going with this. https://isseicreekphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/a-philosophical-interpretation-of-dragon-ball-z/ But eventually, my aim is to a comprehensive treatise on the philosophy of Dragon Ball series, and this is where it starts.

ISIS meme

On January 19th, 2015, two Japanese journalists, Haruna Yukawa (42) and Kenji Goto (47) were taken hostage by ISIS. The extremist group demanded Japanese government to pay 200 million dollars – the same amount of money the Prime Minister Abe promised to give to aid the countries fighting against ISIS when he was visiting the Middle Eastern countries from January 16th to 20th. The demand made by ISIS appears to be a direct response to the Japanese government’s commitment to help the International communities in the fight against terrorism. ISIS demanded the ransom be paid within 72 hours in exchange for the two hostages. As Japan would not and could not succumb to the terrorists’ demand, the deadline passed and one of the hostages, Yukawa, was mercilessly executed by ISIS. This was in many ways an inevitable outcome, despite the ceaseless effort of the Japanese government to locate their whereabouts to rescue them unharmed. ISIS then made a second demand in exchange for the life of Goto, but this time they did not want money but the release of an Iraqi woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, facing a death penalty in Jordan for bombing hotels in the Arab Kingdom, killing dozens of people. Having failed to make the exchange of the hostage with the terrorist, the second hostage, Goto, too was executed shortly after.

I am writing this, however, not to talk about the political underground maneuvers the Japanese government was undertaking, but rather, the Japanese public’s insensitive response to ISIS’s video message to kill the hostages and, what is more difficult to swallow, the uncanny fascination of the foreign media and the foreign public about the said Japanese response. I have heard people commenting on how clever and brave Japanese people are to respond to ISIS with the memes of the ISIS executioner, photo-shopped so he would look ridiculous and absurd, undermining the fear and apparent authority of ISIS, so as to downplay their threat. Anyone who thinks the Japanese did something the International communities failed to do in responding to ISIS, I think, is full of themselves and completely ignorant of the context as well as the socio-cultural background of the contemporary Japanese public’s mindset with regard to the international relations.

“Unfortunately, the fate of those two men has already been sealed,” says one Facebook user in the US, “there is no way that they would ever be freed by ISIS. This meme, while admittedly insensitive to the loved-ones of those two men, is a way of saying that the people of Japan will not fear ISIS and mock their attempts at terrorizing their country.”[1] Yet another user commented, “I actually think this is the most brilliant response to ISIS yet. They feed off of their ability to create memorable, terrifying images that are spread over social media. This kind of undercutting is precisely what’s necessary here.”[2] On the other hand, there are also many Westerners who share the sentiment that these photos ridiculing the execution are simply insensitive and not funny at all. But yet again, those of us who express our disapproval of what the Japanese public did are mercilessly bashed as ‘being ignorant of the Japanese culture’ and hence do not know what we are talking about. Simply because these photos are coming from Japan, this response of Japan becomes so exotic and right. Indeed, a lot of Westerners praise Japanese public for making the memes of ISIS and their executions, and when asked if they are not being insensitive themselves, their response follows more or less the exact same line as this one commenter says with confidence,

“[t]his is a way for Japanese citizens to say ‘fuck you, we will not give in to terrorism’. They’re mocking ISIS, not making light of executions. It’s a cultural difference. You all are just looking for something to be offended about. This is Japanese people trying to turn a terrible situation into a message, and we are Americans judging their response from the outside.”[3]

Whenever people argue in support of these memes, what I find everywhere is the word ‘cultural’ as the support for their claims, as if this word takes care of everything they claim and justifies anything they say. Japan has a different culture, they say. Those who criticize their way of dealing with things are simply idiots who only want to impose the Western viewpoint. We who know that there are various cultures in the world and we who know the plurality of views and accept them are the wise, the smart, the transcendent. But these people do not yet understand that the ethics does not work that way. Stoning of women to death is wrong everywhere in the word regardless of their culture. Rape has in recent years become depicted as a ‘culture’ in the West, but that certain does not make it okay. Overworking the company’s employees should not be excused just because we are talking about Japan, while maintaining that it is completely evil when done in China or in the developing countries. One’s culture does not determine a social ethics – it does not change from region to region, or from time to time. While it is true that some unethical conducts are legally accepted in various regions of the world, either explicitly or implicitly, what used to be ethically commended does not become unethical in our time. Discrimination against women, slavery, or killing of people by Samurai warriors in the past may have been accepted but was never commended except politically. It never was okay to kill with swords any by-passers, for instance. Their killing may have been justified through socio-political code of conduct, but that is NOT the same as saying these conducts were ethically sanctioned. Similarly, the appeal to ‘their culture’ simply misses the point when one is talking about ethics and humanitarian sentiments.

This, however, is not unique to the topic at hand. What is unique about the comments made by the foreign public and media alike about Japanese public is that all these people who argue either for or against this response of Japanese twitters is this: they all assume the Japanese public understands what is at stake in taking any action against ISIS or any foreign affairs. Their arguments are based upon this premise that the Japanese public knows what they are doing – after accepting this premise, both parties argue for or against the response made by the Japanese. Those who say the memes are insensitive do not understand what the Japanese public is thinking by making these memes. Those who say the memes are excellent response attribute a certain intelligence and agency to the Japanese public who created the memes. This is why they praise the Japanese public because they think the Japan made these memes in response to the offense made by ISIS. The reasoning for their support is that Japanese people responded to the fear with the laughter. I thank them for giving us a credit, but I respond to them that they should have done some research into the very Japanese culture they so fondly speak of. Thus, Kirk Spitzer from Time Magazine[4] and Adam Taylor from Washington Post[5] speak accurately when they both reach the conclusion that Japan lacks sympathy for the hostages held by ISIS. By saying, as the aforementioned social media commenter did, that “[t]his is Japanese people trying to turn a terrible situation into a message, and we are Americans judging their response from the outside,” she is also guilty of her own bias that ‘outsiders do not know what the people in other countries do’.[6] In the similar manner, NBC as well as other news media also accepts the false premise in reporting, “Japanese Twitter users are defying their country’s hostage crisis by mocking ISIS.”[7] This should be made obvious when we see how the Japanese public responded the ISIS threat by commenting that Goto and Yukawa are responsible for going to such a dangerous place in the beginning, and that “[n]either Mr. Goto nor Mr. Yukawa went to Syria upon request from the Japanese government,” and “[t]hey needed to know the possible results before going to that region,” concluding adamantly that “[t]hey are responsible.”[8] This is indeed the sentiment the majority of Japanese people unfortunately share.

Indeed, this kind of unsympathetic attitude by the Japanese public for the hostage situation also happened in 2004 when three NGO Japanese members were taken hostage by a militant group in Iraq. Since a lot of foreign media and the public alike are making assertions about the Japanese ‘culture,’ I think a little background about how the Japanese public responded to the hostage situation in the recent past would help them understand the socio-cultural mindset of the Japanese public. If you still think what happened in 2004 was due to the bravery of the Japanese and completely permissible because it is of a different culture from the Western one, you can pat yourself on the shoulder for at least being consistent.

On April 8th, 2004, two freelance activists and one photojournalist were kidnapped by a militant group in Iraq, who sent a video message to the Japanese government, showing the kidnapped with knives held to their throats. The captors demanded that the Japanese government withdraw its troops from their humanitarian mission in Iraq. Although they were released unharmed after a week of captivity through the mediations from the Islamic clerics and the International communities, the released victims were severely judged for their irresponsible behaviors and were unwelcome in Japan. Heavy criticisms followed, blaming their faults for deliberately going to a dangerous place under the slogan, ‘self-responsibility’, jiko-sekinin. When this incident happened in 2004, I was in Japan, teaching at a cram school. As I finish teaching at the cram school, I would usually catch a train home after 11 pm, where a lot of college students as well as salarymen are seen on the train. Only a day or two days after the video was released from the militant group in Iraq, I started to overhear everyone talking about the situation and how the government should respond to the terrorist threat. What I kept hearing from the general public on the train still infuriates me whenever I remember it. Two middle-aged men were talking to each other loudly enough for the others around them could hear them. “It is stupid,” one man started, “that they [the captured] should go to Iraq. It’s completely their fault and they should take their own responsibility [jiko-sekinin].” The other man excitedly responded in agreement and in anger, “why should the Japanese government do anything to save them? They are at fault for putting us in the precarious situation! Young people should think thrice before acting selfishly.” These two men kept complaining about how idiotic the young people are and how they should get killed at that instant so the government would not have to worry about it anymore. In the next few days, I asked around to my friends and acquaintances about the hostage situation, and not a single person responded that the captured individuals were at fault and “although it would be nice if they could be saved, they are causing so much trouble” and it is simply not worth the risk to save them. The conversation always ended with the question, “seriously, why did they even have to go to Iraq? They are so stupid.” It is bad enough that the Japanese public had technically abandoned them while victims’ lives were still at stake, it did not end there. The Japanese media as well as the government also rejoiced in unison that the captured brought this on themselves and they should take jiko-sekinin. Indeed, after the victims were released and rescued back to Japan, then Prime Minister of Japan, Koizumi Junichirou, told the media that “these [the rescued] people should be more considerate of the others,” and should not leave the country. As can be gathered from what the public and the government kept saying, when the three victims returned to Japan, they were severely criticized and literally no one welcomed them back to Japan. Even during the week of this hostage situation, the family members of the captured were constantly harassed, and they received countless number of letters telling them “because of your child, Japan is now in danger,” and “why don’t they just die there in Iraq already?” In fact, the family members received continuous threats and hate mails while their kids were held captive that they had to take shelter under the police protection! “You got what you deserve!” said a sign that greeted them at the airport.[9] Similarly, the Japanese government spokesman, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda commented on the rescued, “[p]eople who go there say they do so on their own responsibility, but they should think about how much trouble they cause when something like this happens,” expressing the sentiment the majority of Japanese public shared, “I wish they would use a little more common sense.”[10] He further added, “if you go to a dangerous place like that, your loss of life is your responsibility. You have to be prepared for something like that.”[11] According to Adam Taylor from Washington Post, a psychiatrist who treated the rescued hostage told the New York Times that “their stress levels back home in Japan probably were worse than they had been while kidnapped in Iraq.”[12] The tragically inhumane response by the Japanese towards the rescued victims did not end here, however. The Japanese government, in addition to bashing the victims for lacking the common sense, billed their family for the airfare home and other related cost in rescuing them – a sum total of more than $6000 each![13]

As you may see, the Japanese public’s attitude towards the hostage situation in the past was a cold one. Looking at the recent ISIS hostage situation with this social background, I am sure the readers will begin to wonder if what the Japanese public did with the insensitive memes was actually a response to ISIS at all. In fact, it is easier to think that the memes were directed at those Japanese captured rather than at ISIS. Let us now take a look at some Japanese twitter comments, instead of those comments made by English speakers on the Internet. Indeed, the Japanese-language social media have been nothing but unsympathetic toward the hostage situation. “They needed to know the possible results before going to that region, especially now. They are responsible,” says one Twitter, while another reprimands Goto and Yukawa for going to Syria ignoring the government’s warnings.[14] What should jump at you when you see these responses from the Japanese public is that the Japanese public is angry at the victims rather than the captors. ‘Of course this was going to happen,’ the Japanese criticizes, ‘there are some dangerous people out there, and by going to Syria, they were asking for it.’ Notice the similarity of the argument in the North America when women get raped – the North American public would say, ‘of course you get raped wearing clothes like that, it is your fault!’ The Japanese public’s response to ISIS, to me, is nothing different from this kind of argument. It is the victims’ fault. They brought it upon themselves. Shame on them. It is not difficult to see in the society whose mindset is so detached from solidarity that hostages “tend to be hard to raise sympathy amongst people, especially anonymous Internet users, and instead the are forced to become a subject of online mockery.”[15] I hope I have shown that the Japanese public had no interest in responding to ISIS but were only annoyed with the hostages and found the opportunity to mock them on the video clip sent by ISIS. For, as is obvious from the comment made by Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, the general public in Japan is illiterate in the International political affairs. Holding an hour press conference, Junko repeatedly equated the Islamic people or religion with ISIS itself, and showed no sign of understanding the issue at stake. Rightfully, a Syrian reporter present at the press conference asked her at the end if she was aware that there is a difference between the extremism and the Islamic religion or people, Junko apologetically responded, “I am sorry, but I was not aware that there are any different.”[16] In my private conversation on Facebook with a friend on how insensitive the memes made by the Japanese public were, I pointed out that the Japanese public is not at all concerned about the hostages, nor are they aware of the current affairs. He responded, however, along with other foreign public, “[b]y reducing ISIS’s self- presentations to banal video-game type images the Japanese memes take away their exoticism. The Japanese public doesn’t need to have been literate about Islam for me to make this argument.” This, I think, is missing the point. Because my argument precisely is that the Japanese public is not making an argument at all. Again, they are mocking the hostages and not ISIS. This is what the foreign media and the public alike do not seem to understand. “Although many people are criticizing ‘ISIS Crappy Collage Grand Prix’ as imprudent,” one Japanese Twitter commented, “ISIS, who uploaded a video clip just because they want to kill people, are even more imprudent.”[17] Comments like this are swarming all over in Japanese-language social media. That this is not isolated incident or a misrepresentation of the Japanese sentiment should be clear from what has been written. It is perhaps natural that they do not, for who could possibly think that the Japanese public is mocking the hostages in the situation like this? But again, by assuming that the Japanese would not make fun of their own citizens, and by assuming that people naturally would be upset about their own people being taken hostage, they are once again guilty of, what I may call, enlightened cultural relativism. Cultural relativism condemns those who speak of what is right and wrong solely according to their own cultural standards. So, a cultural relativist would argue that there is no objective standard to rely on to make a judgment about morals or etiquettes of another culture. So a cultural relativist would acknowledge a certain practice such as slurping of noodles as culturally appropriate and passes no judgment on it even though it is seen as inappropriate in his own culture. While it seems to show respect for other cultures, a cultural relativist faces a more difficult problem when the issue at hand is stoning of women to death or mutilation of female genitalia that are culturally still practiced in various parts of the world. Because these are cultural practices, a cultural relativist must accept them as culturally correct and has no authority to interfere with such practice. This is what I meant at the beginning that the appeal to the culture misses the point when we are talking about humanitarian sentiments. But then, there are other, recently emerging groups of intellectuals who claim to have an emic understanding of issues, and thereby argue with authority that some cultural practices are beyond our comprehension yet they must be coherent in their own cultures and hence are correct, while condemning other cultural practices as outright wrong from emic perspective. These groups of people, i.e. enlightened cultural relativists, claim to argue from inside the said cultural framework as if they themselves are positioned in the culture (which is why they can claim an emic perspective), and while acknowledging, as cultural relativists do, different standards in cultures, they exert their own interpretations of the culture as someone who understands the cultural system they are speaking of. In this way, they can argue that mutilation of genitalia is wrong because presumably a lot of people in the said culture too would feel the same way as the enlightened cultural relativists themselves do. Similarly, they can argue that slurping of noodles is acceptable because although as the outsiders of the culture, it is inappropriate but their emic perspective assures them that it is culturally appropriate and reach the conclusion that it must be acceptable. What gives them the authority is their confidence that they have understood the culture inside out. This is why they are enlightened – they believe they understand the cultural relativism and having understood it, they go on to make an argument about cultural practices. The problem, however, is that these people are not anthropologists or ethnologists. They do not literally go into the said culture and live for years to understand the cultural presuppositions and implications. The way they get their ‘emic’ perspectives is through imagining themselves as positioned in the said culture and from there draw an inference. In the case of the Japanese public’s response to ISIS, the group of enlightened cultural relativists once again interpreted the memes, and immediately concluded that the Japanese public must be attacking and mocking ISIS, rather than the hostages. Their emic perspective would tell them that if they had been positioned in the Japanese society and made these memes, they would most certainly be mocking ISIS, hence there must be some coherent meanings even to this apparently insensitive response to ISIS. Now that they are arguing from the Japanese perspective on the situation, they do not imagine themselves as ignorant individuals but attribute to themselves intelligence and agency. Supposing that there is intelligence and “common sense”, they argue, the Japanese people must be making a rational argument. The argument they come up with that the Japanese are responding to the fear with laughter. What an exotic means of responding to a terrorizing organization! This is such a sophisticated argument the Japanese have contrived! Creating the memes, collaging with game characters? This is truly Japanese! ‘This must be it,’ the enlightened cultural relativists would say, ‘this is the Japanese response.’ We have decoded the cultural mystery! Whoever says the otherwise is ignorant and does not care to understand the cultural perspective, for we know what we are talking about.

Sadly, this seems to be the general attitude from the foreign media, as the French radio program also rejoiced in the sentiment, “En ce sens, les Japanais aussi sont Charlie.”[18] While the dialogue of the enlightened cultural relativists walked on its own, the Japanese public cared not at all about whatever the foreign media was reporting. Many Japanese Twitters in fact commented and wondered why the foreign media are praising the Japanese for the memes, which come from the website equivalent of Reddit in the North America. This is why no Japanese media are taking up on the issue, and why in fact, the Japanese commentators and analysts are criticizing, as I am, the level of insensitivity displayed by the Japanese public.[19] It is only the foreign media like France Inter in France, Global Mail in UK and NBC News in America that seem to interpret the absence of intent in Japanese public’s mind as the meaningful, well-contrived strategy against the terrorist organizations.

[1] http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/japanese-social-media-users-are-protesting-isis-with-memes#.fsY162xmJ, accessed on February 12th, 2015. See the comment by Jeannie Cerda.

[2] A conversation had on my Facebook. Accessed January 24th, 2015.

[3] http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/japanese-social-media-users-are-protesting-isis-with-memes#.lq9jXMN0r, accessed on February 12th, 2015. Italics mine. See the comment by Sarah Stuchbery.

[4] http://time.com/3680492/japan-isis-hostages/ accessed February 15th, 2015.

[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/01/20/japan-and-hostages-a-nagging-feeling-that-its-their-fault/ accessed February 15th, 2015.

[6] http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/japanese-social-media-users-are-protesting-isis-with-memes#.morm0rG8D, accessed February 15th, 2015. See the comment by Sarah Stuchbery.

[7] http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/japanese-twitter-users-mock-isis-internet-meme-n291591, accessed February 15th, 2015.

[8] http://time.com/3680492/japan-isis-hostages/ accessed February 15th, 2015.

[9] Adam Taylor, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/01/20/japan-and-hostages-a-nagging-feeling-that-its-their-fault/, accessed on February 15th, 2015.

[10] Ibid.

[11] NBCnews. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4843265/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/freed-japanese-hostages-billed/#.VOKDPznvzdQ, accessed on February 16th, 2015.

[12] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/01/20/japan-and-hostages-a-nagging-feeling-that-its-their-fault/, accessed on February 15th, 2015.

[13] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4843265/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/freed-japanese-hostages-billed/#.VOKDPznvzdQ, accessed on February 16th, 2015.

[14] Kirk Spitzer, “Why Japan Lacks Sympathy for the Hostages Held by ISIS” in http://time.com/3680492/japan-isis-hostages/, accessed on February 15th.

[15] http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/isis-crappy-collage-grand-prix, accessed on February 15th, 2015.

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XECVIcKp0Fs

[17] France Inter, http://www.franceinter.fr/blog-net-plus-ultra-photoshop-contre-les-djihadistes, accessed on February 16th, 2015.

[18] France Inter, http://www.franceinter.fr/blog-net-plus-ultra-photoshop-contre-les-djihadistes, accessed on February 16th, 2015. “In this point, the Japanese are also Charlie,” referring to the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France.

[19] http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2142303045830159601, accessed on February 16th, 2015.