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 LEARNING

Start brushing up on your kanji to prepare for the annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test, this year taking place on Sunday, December 3 throughout the country. Passing the coveted ikkyu (level one) is considered the ultimate mark of achievement for a non-native speaker, indicating a comprehensive level of fluency and a guaranteed boost on a resume. Those who want to take the test must apply in advance by September 5, and application forms can be picked up for ¥500 at many bookstores (see www.jees.or.jp for a complete list). Results will be announced mid-February.

For more information, call the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services at 03-5454-5577. NU

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By Roy Mustang

Shadow Family
by Miyuki Miyabe
(Kodansha International, ¥2,400)

Miyuki Miyabe’s first mystery to be translated into English, All She Was Worth, won the Shugoro Yamamoto prize and was well-received in a calm, bestseller sort of way—like a de-sexed Natsuo Kirino for your mom. Her second translated work, Shadow Family, tells of a murder investigation in which the dead man was living a double life on the Internet, where he pretended to have a second family. Did his lonely Internet “wife” or “daughter” kill him? Detective Takegami is on the case. That’s to say, Detective Takegami asks them. Seventy-five percent of the novel is Takegami in an interrogation room with the surrogate Internet “family” doing a good Kids in the Hall cop with his variations on, “Didja kill the guy?” But poor old Takegami doesn’t even have the intriguing lack of tension of Haruki Murakami’s recurring protagonist (“So then I drank two beers and listened to jazz records for eight hours and went to bed”); he simply has no character. The “family” themselves are grating, and several extraneous police officer characters have nothing to do with the story. Moreover, Shadow Family is written like a newspaper article, with dialogue in chunks like statements given to police. It’s as though Miyabe took her plot outline and forgot to dramatize it—the very opposite of “show, don’t tell.” Worst is the manipulation—the feeling that you’re so obviously not being told the truth about the characters, unlike in a good thriller in which you feel like you’re discovering things alongside the detectives. An Internet mystery for your mom? An Internet mystery by your mom.

 

Advanced Stick Fighting
by Masaaki Hatsumi
(Kodansha International, ¥3,500)

Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, the 34th Grand Master of Togakureryu Ninjutsu and eight other fighting disciplines, not to mention professional osteopath and popular actor, has, with Advanced Stick Fighting, penned the definitive book on the art of bojutsu, and lo it is something to behold.

Hatsumi is not scared of sharing his opinions. On previous bushido writers: “They did not reach the highest level in martial arts, and their experiences and writings are mere illusion.” On his firm belief that you, the reader, are weak: “Those who fail to understand the meaning of [the] six laws will never prosper.” And his own “six ages of human history”: Myth, Pathos, Elegant Simplicity, Stylishness and Chic, Vanity and (presumably the modern age) Blatancy. Some of Hatsumi’s more startling claims (“Beavers gather sticks to build their dams… In this we can see the inception of bojutsu.”) and the book’s questionable typesetting (“doesn’t” is hyphenated for a line break after the ‘s’!) are more endearing than distracting. What comes across clearly is his wise argument for living a plain, dignified life, free from the vain search for martial arts’ supposed “illusional world” of medieval chivalry, the warrior code and the wealth that accompanies power. He wouldn’t like gangsta. He does, however, go to New Jersey to explore “international terrorism, global warming and environmental destruction.” (Come on, it’s not that bad.)

As well as a lifestyle guide, though, the book is a step-by-step instruction manual on using the bo, or big long stick, to kick ass. The photos are especially detailed and useful, including some amazing ones of fighters upside down in mid-air wielding sharp pieces of metal. Hatsumi’s life’s work has been bojutsu, and he argues for mastering the killer instinct that he says is at the root of humanity’s survival, but which must be controlled to “change the world from one of war and massacre into a true and great world of peace.” Some might say this book is a little over the top. I say: Dude. Be the ultra-conscious tiger.



Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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