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    CNN tells all ((座禅の挿話))

    I cannot make this scene. I turned on CNN while putting my jacket and bag away, naturally figuring American Morning would be featuring Bill Hemmer here in Tokyo. I mean, what better place to broadcast in the morning than from the Land of the Rising Sun itself!

    And what’s the first thing out of his mouth? “Zen Buddhism is synonymous with Asia and its traditional beliefs.” Sufferin’ Soseki. If no one minds terribly, I’m going to break my bottle of Perrier here off at the neck and slit my throat with it. Message to Bill’s TelePrompTer writer-people: One hates to be a one-note sourpuss, but Asia is a large continent. It contains multitudes. No really–it keeps going west (no, the other…left, people, left! the hand that looks like an L when you hold it out in front of you!) after China for a while. There’s India, there’s Pakistan…gosh, all kinds of places in which Zen is useless for understanding the fabled Traditional Beliefs. Of course, they don’t make Toyotas and Sony equipment or have Harajuku street erks in those places, so really, why should we care?

    Besides, Bill Hemmer, stereotype-shattering man that he is (HOLY F**KING SH*T, they DID NOT just lead back in from the commercial break with synthesized koto music followed by a gong. They COULD NOT have. What is this, the commercial for SPAM Oriental from 1978?), apparently spent 20 minutes this morning going to a REAL JAPANESE TEMPLE and learning meditation! That’ll teach me to be all making like a know-it-all.

    It’s the interview of Ambassador Howard Baker right now. He’s just resigned, BTW–nothing embarrassing happened, mind you, he’s just old and ready to retire. Naturally, he’s talking like a diplomat, meaning he’s saying nothing much but saying it very personably. Nice performance. Is it my imagination, though, or is he wearing a rust-colored tie and a pale lilac shirt? Never saw that seasonal combination for late autumn before. Maybe they’re resignation colors. Or maybe they’re a protest against that theme music.

    Of course, it could be worse. They could have no one in an Exotic Locale, which would free up more time to interview various combinations of Peterson jurors in somber tones about why, exactly, they thought he should fry. (And I don’t mean Amber, baby!)

    How much do you want to bet that, even though it’s December, cherry blossoms will make their way into this pageant before it’s over?

    Okay, enough of this.

    Added at 23:19: Everyone giving those frantic “Hi, Mom!” waves from behind Bill’s affably blocky frat-boyish head while he demonstrates the AMAZING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT of Japanese cell phones? You look just as idiotic as you would back home.

    I told you there’d be bile.

    8 Responses to “CNN tells all ((座禅の挿話))”

    1. John says:

      You are reminding me why I constantly avoid CNN, even CNN International.
      Did Bill happen to mention if this was one of the family-owned temples that are passed from generation to generation as money-making ventures?
      While I met a few Zen-oriented Japanese, I’ve not seen a culture less religiously oriented (including the secular religions such as Marxism, Postmodernism, and whatever you call the current PC crap in the US) than Japan. I think it’s the mark of a very pragmatic people. That’s why you can swim in a sea of neon, turn the corner, and be in the courtyard of a quiet temple literally a few meters from a busy thoroughfare.

    2. That statement is false. I’m on the other side of the Pacific from Japan, but even I know that the traditional religion of Japan is what we Westerners call Shinto, from “Shen-Tao”, the Chinese translation of Kami-no-michi, The Way Of The Gods. (Why a Chinese name for the Japanese religion? I have a lot of questions like that. “China” is the Western name for that last, after the Chin dynasty. But the Chinese themselves call themselves the “Han Min” or People of Han. That’s what my Dad told me anyway. He was a historian.)

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Interesting. Steven, for once, you’re the one who has a valid technical point, but the opposing side is closer to the spirit of the thing. The Japanese don’t really use the word shinto to describe the collection of native deities and purification rituals, except when they need something to call it for Westerners. The shrines (as opposed to Buddhist temples) are just…you know, shrines. It’s not that there’s no identifiable Japanese tradition with respect to the supernatural and the workings of life; it’s just that calling it some kind of -ism isn’t an indigenous practice.
      Therefore, whether Japan has a religion depends on your definition of the word. In the dictionary sense, yes, it’s accurate to say that Shinto is the Japanese religion. But if you look at religion as an English word and concept that connotes the transcendence we tend to associate with it, then you can say that Japan really doesn’t have a religion. The Japanese love the sublime and adore ceremony, but they aren’t big on transcendence.
      If only I could put these things as eloquently as CNN’s TelePrompTer muffins!

    4. John says:

      Chinese people do not normally call themselves “Han” in colloquial speech unless they are striving to piss off other Chinese ethnicities. “Middle Kingdom Person (Zhong Guo Ren)” is generally how most Chinese refer to themselves. “Min” means “people” (it is the “min” in Guo Min Dang), but usually the Han are referred to as “han zu”. I have never heard “han min”, though granted I generally associate with Nationalists and Taiwanese, and it may be a Mainland term.
      The likely origin (specialists differ) of the English word China is not the last Ching dynasty, but the first, Chin Dynasty, which unified much of China around 220 BC. Han also refers to a Dynasty that reigned immediately after the Chin from about 200 BC to the mid 180s AD.
      As for a Chinese name for Shinto, the Chinese pronunciation of Sino-Japanese characters is seen as more educated and refined: in formal situations it’s a general, but not rigid, rule that characters in Japanese will be read with some form of Chinese pronunciation as opposed to Japanese readings. This is similar to the phenomenon of more educated people in the West using much more Latin and Greek derived vocabulary than uneducated people.

    5. Toren says:

      At least the title cards weren’t in that “chop-socky” “asian” typeface…you know the one….

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh, you mean the one in which each stroke looks like a fingernail clipping? Yeah, grateful for small blessings, I guess.

    7. Squidley says:

      Sino-Japanese words are not from modern Mandarin. Not their pronunciation, not their meaning. Huge chunks of vocabulary were borrowed from Chinese, mainly in two big historical waves hundreds of years ago. Both Chinese (particularly Mandarin) and Japanese have changed since then. Claiming modern Sino-Japanese is from Mandarin is like claiming Norman invasion-era loans from French into English are from modern French.
      Sino-Japanese pronunciations are not “more refined.” Some words are Sino-Japanese, some are native, some are from other languages. When they have similar meanings, they have different usages. Sino-Japanese words comprise more than half of the words found in dictionaries, just like Latinate words in English make up most of its vocabulary. However, in the daily speech of both English and Japanese, native forms are overwhelmingly in the majority.
      Having said that, peppering one’s speech with learned forms conveys a certain image, but the use of Sino-Japanese words is not, in and of itself, more “educated.” For example, the native Japanese word for ‘meat,’ shishi, is obsolete, and only the Sino-Japanese form, niku, is used. Further, using certain archaic native Japanese forms will convey erudition in a way that Sino-Japanese forms do not.

    8. Sean Kinsell says:

      You’re right that it’s not possible to generalize in a way that’s true in all cases, Squidley, but I do think it’s fair to say that, in the main, using a kango to get across something you could also use a wago for is usually plummier and more formal. There are exceptions, certainly, but they tend to involve native Japanese words that simply aren’t used now in day-to-day conversation (such as ―由 to mean “because”).