Invasion in blue

I somehow feel that the California coast has entered a blue period. Like Picasso. I first noticed this trend on the beaches near Prairie Creek, far north California. Small, plastic yet organic-looking pieces of something indigo-tinged that had washed up on the sand kept distracting me as I trudged along. Finally, I squatted down to inspect and decided they looked like some kind of jelly fish. But not. Maybe some type of clam, or mussel dislodged from it’s shell, but that was wrong too. Though I have never lived directly on the ocean, the Pacific has always been a dominating factor in my life – camping trips as a child, lonely, wind-full walks as an adolescent, and always, always tide pooling. I had never seen these things before, at least not in my conscious memory, so I felt curious, and slightly worried.

Brushing it off, I focused on the walk back to the car – another four miles – and decided to research it when I finally got home. I forgot. Then, a few weeks ago, I was at Ocean Beach, in San Francisco, and I saw them again. This time I touched one. The clear plastic-like mohawk intrigued me and was hard but almost squishy at the same time. I vowed I would get to the bottom of this. I forgot, of course, as soon as I got home.

It turns out I must be living under a rock, because California social media has been ablaze with these things for weeks. They’ve turned the coastline entirely blue in some areas. Instagram, IFLScienceHuffinton Post, and even the Los Angeles Times has run amuck with what I know now to be Velella velella. They are fascinating creatures. While some news outlets seem to think they are rather disgusting, I would have to disagree.

My initial research suggested that science had decided that, not unlike coral, Velella was a collection of animal organisms in a small colony. This is what Wikipedia says, as does several of the other articles and videos I’ve watched. However, an article on BayNature written in 2014, by a naturalist Michael Ellis, says that careful research has now concluded that they are in fact individual animals, just incredibly complex. This was reiterated to me when I read another article in OneWorldOneOcean, by Sarah Bedolfe, written in 2013.

This is not the only mystery about these creatures. One scientist said they haven’t been seen in around 8 years, while another says that the bloom is just a little later than normal. Regardless, all seem to agree that while unusual, this invasion shouldn’t be alarming and is well within the bounds of nature. In addition, there isn’t much known about the little creatures themselves. While their basic life cycle is known, where and exactly how they do this lifecycle stuff is up for debate.

For example, each of the little sails either goes from left to right, or from right to left. Depending on the sail (lefties vs. righties) they are in different parts of the world. Sails angled to the right end up along the cost of California because of wind – but just the right type of wind so that they normally stay afloat in the ocean and not on our shores. Lefties, on the other hand, end up on the other side of the Pacific in Japan, Korea, etcetera. Do all Velella produce offspring that have both sails, and they are torn apart at adulthood like some terrible soap opera?  Sailboats at the mercy of the wind? Or do lefties produce lefties and righties only rights? Like a society rife with social segregation. As Ellis points out, we don’t know.

Perhaps, like Picasso’s Blue Period – those three years of anguished painting – the Velella velella will experience a newfound revival in our generation because of this mass death, and these mysteries will be solved. For now, here are just a couple pictures of these fascinating and mysterious blue creatures, and one of the ocean because I couldn’t help myself.     

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The Time is Nao.

A Tale for the Time Being

I love getting book recommendations, especially from trusted friends with similar reading habits but perhaps different bookstore browsing patterns. Quite awhile ago, a friend recommended Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which was only out in hardcover. I don’t like hardcover, so I waited patiently and finally bought it in paperback.

I read it. I read it again almost immediately after I finished it the first time. Now, I must admit, I have to stop myself from just picking it up and reading it once more. You might find that a bit odd – most people don’t read books two times in quick succession, however, it is something I do with almost all books I love. Why? Well, let’s start with this – if I had to name my one talent in this world it would be speed reading. I devour books. Whole ones for dinner. Perhaps because I grew up with no television at all, not even a device for movies, I became quite good at ingesting my one major source of entertainment: books. While my reading comprehension is just fine, because I am a speed reader I sometimes don’t get to live with the books long enough. They are over too quickly. I don’t linger for weeks with concepts like some of my friends do. So, I read it again.

A Tale for a Time Being is awfully human. Suicide, sex, quantum mechanic quandaries, coming of age, Alzheimer’s, it has it all. At first glance I thought, great, another book that tries to deal with everything, but Ruth Ozeki creates an incredibly raw, yet lyrical tale of what it’s like to be human. As Nao, a lively Japanese teenager in terrible circumstances, recounts a story to Ruth, a displaced, forgetful, and currently uninspired author on a remote Canadian isle, they both discover how to finally live. Yes, we have had these types of “many worlds” tales before, Sophie’s World comes to mind immediately, but this one really goes beyond it’s premise to deliver a thing of beauty. What the author is truly making us experience are the struggles of these two women, which naturally deals with all things human.

This might sound like a whole sale endorsement with no reservations, and to some extent it is, but I would be wary to recommend it to everyone. It deals with difficult and distressing topics, and I must admit that I sobbed, SOBBED for parts of it. I might be a sap when it comes to movies, and books often make me shed a tear, but I can’t say I have cried like this for very many books at all. However, I wasn’t depressed when I finished it – quite the opposite in fact.

Finally, the last, masterful stroke of Ruth Ozeki, is that she interweaves reality so well within her fiction that I ended up learning amazing things because of it. I have countless little earmarked pages where I researched gooseneck barnacles, the “anti-imperialist terrorist” Kanno Sugako, the Japanese literary genre I-novel, the Sliammon culture, and the list could go on. This is my favorite type of novel – the type where I learn amazing things about the world around me.

So what am I saying? If you are in need of a good book, and haven’t had time to do your own research on what to read next, read this. Or just read it in general. Because I said so. :P

Beam me down, Scotty.

So probably, like with most things mainstream, I’ve come upon this a little late, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less excited (just look at how long it took me to see Austin Powers, for instance). Just in case you’re like me, and haven’t seen ALL the things, this is one thing you should definitely check out. Yeah, it’s from 2001, but it’s still epic.

Let’s start with this. Did you know that the blue whale’s tongue weighs the same as an elephant? In fact, the blue whale is so huge, its heart is around the same size as a small car, and it is larger than any known dinosaur. I didn’t know this, until last week when I watched Blue Planet. Now the world is just that much cooler.

Yes, I’m a nature geek, it’s true. I’d rather watch nature documentaries over reality TV any day. However, not all nature shows are created equal, and this is definitely at the top. The beauty of the imagery was astonishing, and there are plenty of weird, amazing, and gorgeous creatures to keep viewers highly visually stimulated. And an extra side of cute too.

I mean, how could I not have known that more people have gone into space than into the deep ocean? Or that there are entire under-ocean seas of heavier salt brine, complete with their own shores and everything? Or, or, or… really, I could go on. But mostly I want to tell you that nature, whether you are enjoying it outside, or in the comfort of your living room/bedroom/wherever-in-the-hell-you-watch-shows, should be narrated by the voice of Sir David Attenborough. I mean, doesn’t the fact that pipe fish hatch when males literally shake the eggs off their bellies sound so much cooler when an older man’s English accent is playing in your head? I know I think so.

So watch the show, and then next time you take a walk and notice something nature-y, think of Sir David Attenborough. Everything will be so much better.

TEBORI: AWESOMENESS IN INK (Part II)

As some of you may know, I am in love with Tebori, or traditional, hand-poked, Japanese tattoos. In fact, I already did an introduction to the subject here. Well, here’s a followup, and this time it’s about the iconography and symbolism of the Japanese pictorial tattoo.

Most of the techniques and images that are still utilized today in Tebori were developed during the Edo period, around 1603-1867. The individuals getting tattooed were mostly working class citizens that were part of some type of brotherhood – for example, firefighters, carpenters, and laborers. Therefore, the style and iconography really came out of working class artwork, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints). Popular folk legends and heroes, along with religious figures, are all featured heavily in this genre and moved easily into the tattooing world. Each of these heroes, and heroines, have specific stories and attributes that went along with them. By getting a tattoo of Kintaro (the Golden Boy), for example, the tattooed individual might be aligning himself with perseverance, incredible strength, and an almost Superboy persona.

Today, Horihide, a famous and amazing tattoo master, says that his clients are still largely the same group of people that traditionally were tattooed – members of fraternal organizations like firefighters and construction workers – so it makes even more sense that the traditional iconography remains.

Though there are many characters and symbolic characteristics that go along with them in the iconography of Tebori, that doesn’t interest me as much as the meanings of the flora and fauna that you find in many tattoos. It’s also important how you combine the flora and fauna – the two elements have to make sense together as a cohesive statement about a season. Horihide expresses it eloquently thus:

Tattooists who have not been apprenticed and trained by tattoo masters do not know the reasons or meanings of the traditional designs. For example, there are four seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter) in Japan. The seasons should be expressed in tattoo art as well. Real Japanese tattoo artists express each season on the skin. However, the untrained tattooists do not know traditional thoughts on Japanese art. The untrained tattooists draw a snake and cherry blossoms, but this is a wrong way in tradition. When cherry trees begin to bloom in March in Japan, the snake still hibernates under the ground. So the snake and cherry blossom cannot be seen in the same period. In other words, it does not make any sense if the snake and cherry blossoms are drawn together.

So now we know that the images must make sense not only within a set story (what the character/hero is doing) but also within a set season. Breaking it down even farther, each element has it’s own meaning.

Here are a few examples of flora –

Cherry blossoms/sakura: the flowering cherry doesn’t last very long and only blooms for a short while. Taking this biological fact as it’s starting point, cherry blossoms symbolize the transient and evanescent nature of life. The cherry blossom is similar to a samurai warrior, in that it/he might die at any point the next day – a few days alive and then blown away by the wind. For the cherry blossom, all things are ephemeral.

Maple leaf: the maple leaf is in some ways similar to the western symbolism of the red rose. It connotes undying love, eternal fidelity, and perhaps the ability to rise above a more mundane life.

While plants/flowers might have pretty clear cut symbolism, the animals are a little harder. They don’t seem to have the strong one-to-one associations that western iconography has with animals (lion = bravery for example). However, the meanings they do have in Tebori are pretty rad.

Carp: the carp is celebrated for many qualities. It is admired for it’s strength as it climbs waterfalls for instance. However, it’s main claim to fame is that when caught, the carp lies quietly, waiting for the knife to kill it without thrashing about. Therefore, it’s symbolic attributes are something like bravery, stoicism, and steadfastness.

Dragon: the dragon is an incredibly complicated symbolic animal and even changes it’s meaning relative to it’s position (coiled vs. supine etcetera). In Japan, the dragon lives in water, so in some way the flame of a dragon within it’s water habitat represents the reconciliation of opposing forces. It also has elements of strength, true wisdom, and benevolence.

As you can see, with the vast amount of information and symbolic attributes, getting a traditional tattoo is about more than just the way it looks. I think Horikoi (a modern practitioner of Tebori) expresses it very well:

One reason I think many young Japanese are interested in Western style tattoo designs…they do not demand too much from people. There is little depth to the modern Western designs. Traditional Japanese designs demand a lot from people. They must have knowledge and respect of the complex nuances associated with the myths and stories. Most young Japanese find this too demanding and difficult. It is the responsibility of the tattooer to know all the stories. It will take time and dedication but someday I want to know as much as Horiyoshi III. It will take time.

I feel strongly attracted to this dedication to understanding a culture and desire for the knowledge of stories. I think the depth of symbolism, beauty, and physical practice involved in Tebori tattooing is rarely approached by any other practice. In our increasingly busy lives, I feel that perhaps we don’t take enough time to learn and appreciate symbolism and symbolic interactions. I would love, Love, LOVE to see a traditional Japanese tattoo in real life, and if I ever do get a tattoo (something I have to admit is unlikely), I will wait until I can somehow find a master in order to become part of this beautiful practice.

Here is a list that I compiled, and that you should check out if you would like to know more about this subject:

Dinter, Maarten Hesselt van. The World of Tattoo – An Illustrated History. Trans. S. Green. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2005.

Fellman, Sandi. The Japanese Tattoo. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers. 1986. (Though this book is as old as me, it has BEAUTIFUL photographs and some neat information).

Kitamura, Takahiro. Tattooing from Japan to the West: Horitaka Interviews Contemporary Artists. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2005.

Kitamura, Takahiro and Katie M. Kitamura. Bushido: legacies of the Japanese tattoo. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2001. (Really, really cool book).

Knight, Anthony. “Horimyo – Traditional Japanese Tebori Tattoo Artist Interview.” Tokyo Fashion, 19. July. 2012. <http://tokyofashion.com/horimyo-traditional-japanese-tebori-tattoo-artist/> (A pretty cool video interview)

McCabe, Michael. Japanese Tattooing Now. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2005.

Oguri, Kazuo. Traditional Japanese Tattooing. Trans. Mieko Yamada. Web. 12. July. 2013. <http://www.tattoos.com/tebori-oguri.html> and <http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/ancient-art-of-the-japanese-tebori-tattoo-masters-ink-in-harmony/>.  (If you like this topic at all, you should really read what Horihide as to say in his own voice!)

Richie, Donald. The Japanese Tattoo. New York: Weatherhill, INC., 1980. (A really comprehensive book, a little old, but great information – especially on symbolism.)

Ruben, Arnold. Marks of Civilization. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1988.

Sebag-Montefiore, “Clarissa. Horihide still practices the dying art of hand tattoo.” Los Angeles Times, 24. June. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/24/entertainment/la-ca-culture-japan-20120624>

I borrowed the gorgeous photos from these sites:

http://dirtyoriginals.wordpress.com/tag/tebori-tattoo-masters/

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/tattoos/images/34674312/title/tebori-photo

http://selvedgeyard.com/2010/04/20/ancient-art-of-the-japanese-tebori-tattoo-masters-ink-in-harmony/

Medusa of the Sea.

It turns out I must have a thing for Medusa lately. I mean, recently I’ve been super into jellyfish, and of course, I like them most in their adult stage. Medusa, the adult is called. Well, I love them. With some reservations, however. Not only can they hurt like hell (believe me, I know), but they are kind of taking over the oceans. It’s a real problem. Jellyfish blooms are something that occur naturally, at reproduction peaks, and then the jellyfish swarm in hordes. However, with our fishing and hunting practices, the natural enemies of the jellyfish have been declining, and the jellyfish is flourishing at an alarming rate. You can read all about it here and here. The worst part is, these extra large blooms seem to be spreading the most dangerous jellies of all.

But that’s not what I really want to tell you about. Instead, I want to tell you how badly they hurt, and why I still love them. In Hawaii, as a wee lass of 20, I was embraced by a man of war. Sound romantic? Well, this was no veteran, but instead a jellyfish, of the family Physaliidae. It snuck up on me like some pervert, and wrapped it’s tentacles around my tender calf. In horror, I lifted my leg clear out of the water (I was in around upper thigh height) and did a crazy, ninja, hurl-kick. It went flying.

Next, I went running up the beach for help. Local wisdom required treatment with urine. I’ll spare you the details of how that all went down, but I will comment – it didn’t help. Let’s just say this, even though it didn’t quite bring me to tears, it hurt a lot. A LOT. And not just for that day. I seem to be one of those lucky people who can feel their stings for months. While the red whip marks (I’d rather have whip marks from something else, personally) blistered and went away within a few weeks or so, other side effects lasted longer. It left nerve damage that lasted almost 6 months. Whenever something lightly brushed that area of my leg, I would experience shooting pain. It wasn’t awful, but definitely unsettling and, quite frankly, shocking. I got over it, and last time I went to Hawaii, I still swam, albeit cautiously.

Then, why do I like jellyfish so much? Well, anything that looks like a blob of jello, but miraculously maintains elegance and beauty is okay in my book. I mean, honestly! Also, their life cycle is fascinating. They basically act like plants, animals, all sorts of things! They also come in a huge range of sizes – tinier than a match head to upwards of 6 feet. Finally, jellyfish are so mesmerizing to look at. Just look at how occupied they kept Ernst Haekel. I really, really like them.

So, I took some pictures of them at my local California Academy of Science! Enjoy <3 If you find jellyfish as fascinating as I do, click on some of the links in this post for fabulous information. And, if for some reason you want to own your very own jellyfish friend, apparently you can.

Bondvoyage.

goldfinger

17 James Bond movies will be removed from Netflix on September 2. So, we decided to go on a gold kick and watch Goldfinger and Goldeneye. It was perfect really, because it meant we could watch one Sean Connery Bond, and one Pierce Brosnan Bond. I don’t know about you, but I have very fond memories of watching James Bond as a teenager. A sensitive young soul, the James Bond movies were the only action/spy/violent movies I enjoyed as a young adult. Since I haven’t watched them in over 10 years, I wasn’t really sure why, but this last weekend I was reminded.

About 30 seconds into the movie, I realized the first reason why I like the old James Bond movies so much – Sean Connery emerges from the water with a seagull on his head. Yes, that’s right, a seagull. Terribly amazing gadgets and disguises always litter the Bond films, and when they are ridiculous, it’s so funny I can’t even criticize them. Pretty quickly after my first fit of laughter, I remembered the second reason I like the movies – the clothing. When Bond was done with his wetsuit/black, blending-in disguise, what does he do? Strips it off to reveal an impeccable suit underneath. I mean really, who does that? But talk about romance in clothing – honestly, I secretly want to do things like that all the time. Then there are the deliciously timed, cheesy, but somehow oh-so-good one-liners. After he electrocutes a man in the bathtub when he was trying to get it on with a lady (as usual), what does he say? “Shocking, Positively shocking.” And finally, I loved James Bond as a teenager because THERE IS NO BLOOD!!!!! I’m not really squeamish, but I do have a hard time with violence in movies, especially as a teenager, and Bond delivered all the action without the “realism” of blood and guts.

The Brosnan Bond pretty much delivered on all of these too, though perhaps not as well. There was a tiny bit of blood, but not much, and the one liners were almost just as good (or just as bad, really). One of my favorites was when M quips back at a slightly complaining underling, “If I wanted sarcasm, Mr. Tanner, I’d talk to my children.” Ouch. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Goldfinger, (for example the “sex” scene with the crazy lady who likes to squeeze people and the admiral was so bad I turned into a blush puddle on the couch and had to cover my face) but it was still pretty epic. I mean, at the end, when Bond was hanging off the bottom of the tower, I really expected Alec to say, “Bond, I am your father!

An interesting side note – covering yourself with gold paint won’t make you asphyxiate, but they actually thought it would when filming the Goldfinger. They had doctors on the scene, in fact, just to be safe. However, even though most of us realize we can’t actually “breathe” through our pores (what would the swimmers and divers of the world do), it doesn’t mean covering all your pores is a good thing. In fact, one of the dangers of getting tattoos over most of your body, is that the tattooed skin can no longer sweat, and the toxins in your body aren’t efficiently expelled. This leads to liver failure and possible early death. Moral of the story, when recreating your very own Bond movie for at-home entertainment, try not leave the gold paint on yourself for several days; it might be bad for you.

So peeps, if you have Netflix, watch Bond now, or forever be relegated to simply downloading them all off the internet.

For some funny facts and trivia about Goldfinger, here are some links:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058150/trivia

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78tyO0QpGgY

http://jamesbond.wikia.com/wiki/Pussy_Galore’s_Flying_Circus

When tomb raiding isn’t an option.

Arial view of what is thought to be Queen Himiko's tomb.
Arial view of what is thought to be Queen Himiko’s tomb.

Queen Himiko. Until recently I’d never given her much thought, but now, I’m very interested. Reining in the third century over the Yamatai kingdom in Japan, Himiko has a surprising amount of drama and intrigue surrounding her. For instance, she supposedly had 1,000 women in attendance and only one man (some sources say two), and never really went into public places. She ascended to the throne because previously the men had been making a mess of things, and there had been confusion and warfare for the last 80 or so years. When she died, over a hundred men and women attendants were sacrificed and put into her grave (is it just me or are you also wondering where these male attendants came from if she supposedly only had one or two). She is often thought of as a shaman queen, and in the Records of Three Kingdoms, a third century Chinese classic text, she is said to have “occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people.” Cool.

It seems that in 2009 artifacts from a key-hole shaped burial mound, about 280 meters across, called Hashihaka, were dated from between 240-260 C.E. As Himiko is said to have died about 250 C.E., this would fit perfectly. Also, it is larger than other tombs before or during that time period, indicating its importance and further lining it up with Queen Himiko’s high status. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that it is Himiko’s tomb, others still think it is in the southwestern region of Kyushu, and only excavation can really prove it conclusively.

Alright then, let’s open her up and take a look! Well, not so fast peeps. It turns out that the Japanese Imperial Household Agency guards it’s tombs rather jealously – to the point of stopping all excavation. Why? Well, it’s an imperial tomb of course! But then, even this is debated. Japanese history during this early time period is better documented by ancient Chinese historians than by Japanese historians, and one of the reasons is that Japanese tombs are so tightly closed off. Perhaps there are more detailed records in there, but we won’t know it. Also, the Imperial Household Agency supposedly still maintains that the current imperial line has been unbroken and is directly descended from Queen Himiko (Himiko is made up of ancient Japanese characters which, by the way, mean “sun child” or “sun daughter”) and the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, and learning otherwise is not an option. Of course, sometimes it is hard to decipher what is really going on, and what is internet hearsay. Especially because I can’t read Japanese.

Is she the all powerful queen that some people ascribe her to be? Or was she more of a puppet priestess figure held hostage by the “male attendant” who relayed her “orders” to the public? Did she really occupy herself with “magic and sorcery?” Did she bring peace to Yamatai? Did she have large feet? I WANT TO KNOW!!!!!!!!

So I went to the library. My local public library? Nothing. San Francisco public library? Well, all the titles that had anything to do with Himiko were in Japanese. :( So for now, this search is on hold.

Finally, I did find one last bit of information that was pretty cool. Even though they weren’t allowed to take any samples, or do any excavation, in February of this year news said that researchers were allowed to make an on-site survey of the burial mound at Hashihaka. Perhaps this could lead to more conclusive evidence about Queen Himiko and Japanese ancient history, but so far it’s silent on that front too.

For those of you who would like to see the articles I read and used as reference during researching Queen Himiko, they are listed below. And for those who were wondering how I got interested in this subject, yes, my boyfriend is playing the latest Tomb Raider.

C., Chiara. “Archeologists Discover Tomb of Legendary Japanese Queen Himiko.” The Royal Forums: 15. June. 2009. <http://www.theroyalforums.com/8300-archeologists-discover-tomb-of-legendary-japanese-queen-himiko/>

“Could the Hashihaka burial mound in Sakurai, Nara be Queen Himiko’s?” Heritage of Japan: 28. May. 2009. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/yayoi-era-yields-up-rice/the-advent-of-agriculture-and-the-rice-revolution/who-was-queen-himiko/the-yamatai-puzzle-where-was-himikos-headquarters/could-the-hashihaka-burial-mound-in-sakurai-nara-be-queen-himikos/>

D., John. “The Mystery of Himiko.” Green Shinto: 12. Aug. 2011. <http://www.greenshinto.com/wp/2011/08/12/the-mystery-of-himiko/>

“Himiko” Kongming’s Archives. <http://kongming.net/encyclopedia/Queen-Himiko>

“Himiko.” Encyclopedia Britannica. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266115/Himiko>

“Japan Times: Dig in Nara, not Kyushu, yields palatial ruins possibly of Himiko.” Japan Times: 12. Nov. 2009. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/yayoi-era-yields-up-rice/the-advent-of-agriculture-and-the-rice-revolution/who-was-queen-himiko/the-yamatai-puzzle-where-was-himikos-headquarters/japan-times-dig-in-nara-not-kyushu-yields-palatial-ruins-possibly-of-himiko/>

“Queen Himiko and the mystery of Yamatai-koku.” The Heritage of Japan. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/yayoi-era-yields-up-rice/the-advent-of-agriculture-and-the-rice-revolution/who-was-queen-himiko/>

Ryall, Julian. “Tomb of legendary Japanese Queen Himiko found.” The Telegraph: 1. June. 2009. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/5419986/Tomb-of-legendary-Japanese-Queen-Himiko-found.html>

“Researchers Investigate Hashihaka Ancient Tomb.” Heritage of Japan: 25. Feb. 2012. <http://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/tag/hashihaka-kofun/>

Torres, Ida. “Researchers allowed first on-site survey of ancient tomb in Nara.” Japan Daily Press: 21. Feb. 2013. <http://japandailypress.com/researchers-allowed-first-on-site-survey-of-ancient-tomb-in-nara-2123788/>

Yamatosaxon. “The shaman queen of Yamatai.” The Daily Beagle: 6. March. 2013. <http://thedailybeagle.net/2013/03/06/the-shaman-queen-of-yamatai/>

Also, pictured borrowed from here: http://www.ablogabouthistory.com/tag/queen-himiko/

To the Golden Gate Bridge, Dolphins, and Beyond?

Just yesterday I had the pleasure of accompanying some visiting Swiss friends on a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, something I have (embarrassingly enough) yet to do after living in the S.F. Bay Area for 5 years. With it’s huge cables and beautiful International Orange color, the bridge has been THE image of the city since, let’s see, 1937 when it opened. Either shrouded in Bay Area fog, or standing blazingly bright in California sunshine, it’s beautiful, and I wanted to conquer it.

It was the typical San Francisco weather when we got there – sunny but some high fog waiting to settle in, and then the almost ever present SF wind. Now I think most people would prefer non-windy days, but something about the wind makes me happy. Regardless of the fact that it makes my nose runny and red, my eyes watery, and my hair a tangled mess, somehow I feel like the most beautiful version of myself in coastal winds. As though I have morphed into a windswept nymphette, starry-eyed, morose, and desirable. Like an Audrey Kawasaki painting. Yes, it’s irrational; no, I don’t care. This day really wasn’t any different. With the delicious smells of coastal plants mixed with water droplets from passing fog,  walking on the coastal trail hike up to the bridge, I was happy. In fact, my loose silk shirt was even fluttering around me ever so perfectly – how could it get better?

Walking onto the bridge I lost a little of my high. After all, the bikes, the people, they were everywhere. Combine that with the constant bridge pulsation (to prevent snapping in earthquakes etc.) and it’s rather terrifying. Especially as the rather small handrail is the only thing preventing someone, namely my clumsy self, from tumbling over. However, with the nice colors, and interesting patterns (as well as the lost child’s shoe on the edge) I was enjoying myself.

Then I noticed my Swiss friends staring down at the water. Wondering what it was, I went up to inquire. “A dolphin,” they answered. Silly Swiss, I thought, there aren’t any dolphins. Looking closely though, I did see an awesome spotted sea lion. After I informed them, no, it’s not a dolphin it’s a sea lion, all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw something. OMG they were right!!!!

Now, they were being calm pretty much the entire time, these Swiss (they don’t even have an ocean next to them, how can they be calm about DOLPHINS!!!!!!!!!!), but me – I’m freaking out. I pretty much turned all googly-eyed and ecstatic. Seriously, I jumped up and down and clapped my hands. But honestly, it’s dolphins, and I’m seeing them from atop the Golden Gate Bridge, how can I not be excited? I mean, ever since reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series (So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, anyone?) I’ve pretty much considered dolphins as intelligent as us, or more so (but I don’t extend that same courtesy to mice…). Recently India has declared them non-human persons, and lately scientists have even been able to prove that dolphins can remember their fellow dolphins’ names, or unique whistling signature, for at least 20 years without hearing it again. See? Smart. I’m lucky if I can remember the names of my classmates.

After watching for awhile it was easy to see that there were actually quite a few dolphins coming into the bay, and they were enjoying themselves. I tried to snap some photos as proof, but as we are really high up (usually over 220 feet) and my camera doesn’t have too much of a zoom, the results were a bit disappointing. You’ll see the better attempts below – look for the small, small shape cresting out of the water pretty much dead center.

So there you have it – my adventure on the Golden Gate Bridge. Pictures below, as well as more awesome links to check out great information on all things dolphins and Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy!!!

Hackman, Jason. “India declares dolphins ‘non-human persons,’ dolphin shows banned.” Daily Kos: 30. July. 2013. <http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/30/1226634/-India-Declares-Dolphins-Non-Human-Persons-Dolphin-shows-BANNED>

Huff, Ethan A. “Animal intelligence now irrefutable: Bottlenose dolphins call each other by name.” Prison Planet. 1. August. 2013. <http://www.prisonplanet.com/animal-intelligence-now-irrefutable-bottlenose-dolphins-call-each-other-by-name.html>

Rohan, Anuschka de. “Deep Thinkers.” The Guardian. 2. July. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/2003/jul/03/research.science>

Yendell, Kate. “A Dolphin Doesn’t Forget.” The Scientist. 8. August. 2013. <http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/36939/title/A-Dolphin-Doesn-t-Forget/>

A great site to look for interesting facts about the Golden Gate Bridge: <http://goldengatebridge.org/research/facts.php>

Fungal Invasion: The real zombie apocalypse.

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Like many of those in the video game world, I anxiously awaited the release of The Last of Us. After all, watching my boyfriend play the Uncharted series has still been one of the highlights of my video game viewing career (by the way, I liked Uncharted 2: Among Theives the best), and so when I heard Naughty Dog was producing a new game, I was stoked. However, zombies aren’t really my thing. In fact, I’ve never been part of the undead crowd – it just somehow doesn’t seem plausible.

Enter Ophiocordyceps, my nemesis.

I don’t remember when I first heard of this mind-controlling fungus, but it has seriously been the stuff of nightmares for me for years. I have read enough about outbreaks and super viruses to make the leap of faith to thinking about the plausibility of this fungus infecting humans. What is Ophiocordyceps, some might ask. Well, let me enlighten you.

Ophiocordyceps is a fungus, active in mostly Brazil and Thailand, that attacks insects, mainly ants, and turns them into zombies. It lodges into their brain, makes them walk to a cool, shady place, conducive for fungal growth and spread, and then kills them. In a particularly gruesome gesture, right before they die, the fungus makes the insect bite down hard on whatever surface they are standing on – making the body secure. The fungus then slowly eats the nutrients inside the body, a process that takes a few days, and then explodes out the head of the insect, releasing spores that will then spread to new hosts.

The Last of Us really capitalized on this fear, making for me, the first plausible zombie apocalypse scenario (I might be saying “plausible,” but don’t fret children, it is not very likely that Ophiocordyceps will make the jump to humanity). It utilized many of the more macabre behaviors of the fungus: the takeover of the brain resulting in uncontrollable, convulsion-like behavior, the slow consumption of the body by fungal growths, and the ultimate explosion of the fungus out of the body to spread the spores. Terrifying. In fact, I still slightly startle when hearing a specific bird outside my window that makes a repetitive clicking noise. They’ve turned!!!!! It’s a Clicker!!! Add to this a great story line, beautiful graphics, and a cute kid, and you have yourself a winner. My only criticism is that I love the beauty of the game so much, I would get sad when we got to dark places – but then how could you have all the scary zombie fights in the light?

Back to Ophiocordyceps. What is stopping this fungus from creating the situation in The Last of Us; the turning of an entire population of a species? Well, it has a related, castrating enemy fungus of course! So far, this super castrating fungus has yet to be named. Let’s call it The Cousin. So The Cousin, in effect, sees the fungus-ridden, dead ants, and thinks, yum, let’s eat. This takes care of a lot of the spores that would otherwise spread to new hosts. In addition, The Cousin also seems to make it incapable for Ophiocordyceps to spread – it is shooting blanks. Fungal castration.

This is not an angle that The Last of Us took advantage of, maybe for the very valid reason that fungal castration must be a pretty hard concept to show visually; it happens on a micro scale after all. Or maybe, because The Cousin wasn’t really found until after work started on the game. Who knows? But for those of us hoping for a sequel, perhaps The Cousin can somehow factor in. I don’t know, it’s kind of meta.

For those of you who are interested in this subject and want to read more about this crazy fungus, here are some resources:

Bhanoo, Sindya N. “Zombie-Ant Fungus Has Its Own Killer Fungus.” The New York Times: 7. May. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/science/zombie-ant-fungus-has-its-own-killer-fungus.html?_r=0>

Bryner, Jeanna. “Ant Zombie Tale: Mind-Controlling Fungus Loses to Lethal Foe.” LiveScience: 4. May. 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/20099-ant-zombie-mind-controlling-fungus.html>

Costandi, Mo. “Zombie-ant parasitic fungus castrated by hyperparasitic fungus.” The Guardian: 3. May. 2012. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2012/may/03/zombie-ant-parasitic-fungus>

Dell’Amore, Christine. “‘Zombie Ant’ Fungus Under Attack—By Another Fungus.” National Geographic News: 4. May. 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/120504-zombie-ant-fungus-science-environment-rainforest/> (The amazing photo of the ant is from this site!)

Harmon, Katherine. “Fungus that controls zombie-ants has own fungal stalker.” Nature|Scientific America: 9. November. 2012. <http://www.nature.com/news/fungus-that-controls-zombie-ants-has-own-fungal-stalker-1.11787>

Kaplan, Matt. “Zombie Fungus Rears Its Ugly Head.” National Geographic Daily News: 3. March. 2011. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/pictures/110303-zombie-ants-fungus-new-species-fungi-bugs-science-brazil>

McGuinness, Ross. “Could parasite fungus that causes ‘zombie ants’ lead to real-life The Last of Us?” Metro: 12. June. 2013. <http://metro.co.uk/2013/06/12/zombie-ants-fungus-the-last-of-us-playstation-3-3836808/>

I found the cool Clicker art from The Last of Us here: <http://thomaswievegg.deviantart.com/art/the-Last-of-Us-Clicker-355277629>

Tebori: Awesomeness in Ink

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Lately all I seem to be thinking about are Japanese traditional tattoos. Now, as someone who’s body is currently naked of all things ink, this might seem a little odd. However, like most people, I have always been fascinated by things I wouldn’t do, and getting a full body tattoo rests high on that list. Besides, who can deny the allure of a beautiful (or maybe not so beautiful) man in a suit, impeccably tailored, perfectly fit, and underneath, unseen by all, lurks a gorgeous tattoo of a samurai warrior in a deathly struggle against, well, evil of course.

When I had to choose an art form to research for my introduction to anthropological research methods course (don’t ask me why I have to take general education classes in a MFA program, it’s a rant for another time), I immediately thought of tebori (hand-poked tattoos, the traditional Japanese technique). It is awesome. Not only does all the imagery have beautiful symbolism, the history of the Japanese tattoo is complex and rather convoluted. Of course, most of us immediately think of the Yakuza whenever we hear or see Japanese tattoos, those illusive gangsters that have captured most of our imaginations, but tattoo history doesn’t always neatly line up with the story of Yakuza. Instead, during the Edo period and the Tokugawa rule, tattoos rose up from the masses in combination with ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) to become a defining feature of the working class’ opposition to those in power.

Horiyoshi III, called a “living legend of tattooing” put it this way, “Behind the development of tattoo art as a popular culture is the determination of outstanding tattooists who refuse to bow to authority and convention.” (Kitamura, Bushido).

Awesome.

Not only is it a form of cultural protest (you may try to control my every social behavior, but you sure as hell can’t control my spirit), it’s a crazy hard technique. Using needles at the end of a wooden handle (the tool is called hari) tattoo masters actually pierce the skin at an angle, by hand, to bury the ink deep into the pores. This intense process takes time and energy; a full body tattoo taking anywhere from 2 to 10 years. This technique though, creates the most beautiful shading in the world. I read that sometimes old men, who love the culture and process of the tattoo, actually get their entire full body tattoo done all over again, square inch by square inch, and that this practice creates an unparalleled patina and shine. I want to see it!!!

Here is a quote from Horihide, another preeminent tebori tattoo master (some argue that he is the best):

“Tattooing by hand, Tebori, requires special techniques. It should be done by puncturing the skin with the needles gently, adjusting the strength of the hands. Human skin is very soft and elastic. As the needles leave the skin, I can hear the sound, shakki. If I tattoo smoothly, I can hear a rhythmic sound like “sha, sha, sha.” I dip the needles in the ink, and a tattoo a line about one centimeter long. This same step is done continuously during sujibori (outlining). I keep the same speed (rhythm) to tattoo no matter what kind of designs or shapes, such as circles, squares, and lines are tattooed. I draw the outlines step by step on each part of the body, such as the shoulders, the arms and the back, and finally finish the artwork on the body. Then the full body tattoo is complete.” (Oguri).

Many masters talk about how mentally and physically they have to be in good shape in order to tattoo. In some ways the culture surrounding tattooing is similar to that of a dojo – both mental and physical training is necessary, and a culture of respect and honor is paramount. In fact, if they don’t like your attitude, or your desired design story, they won’t tattoo you! And why should they? This is art, and the client is the canvas.

From what I could find out, it seems like a lot of the people who receive tattoos do so because of this intense relationship with the master. Maybe they are like me, and feel a little adrift in life. Maybe they don’t really have a family and are lonely. Perhaps they have never been part of an “in” crowd. Somehow, getting a tattoo in such a dedicated and intense way lets them become a part of something, grounds them. They are now a part of a group, or nakama, for life. Their tattoo master will probably always be part of their life, as will other tattoo clients. They belong.

Of course the irony here is that though they now belong to this new community of the tattooed, they are marginalized in Japanese society. Tattoos are still banned from public places like bath houses, swimming pools, and gyms. Also, the traditional full, half, or quarter body tattoos seem the most feared/disliked/ostracized. Besides my general aversion to pain and inability to make up my mind, one of the main reasons I won’t get a tattoo is because I haven’t experienced the pleasures of a Japanese bath yet, and there is no way I am denying myself that wondrousness!!!

There is so much more to write about when the topic is Japanese tattoos, however, instead I’ll direct you to some other awesome websites, videos, and books. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to this theme later!

Here is a list that I compiled and that you should check out:

Dinter, Maarten Hesselt van. The World of Tattoo – An Illustrated History. Trans. S. Green. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2005.

Fellman, Sandi. The Japanese Tattoo. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers. 1986. (Though this book is as old as me, it has BEAUTIFUL photographs and some neat information).

Kitamura, Takahiro. Tattooing from Japan to the West: Horitaka Interviews Contemporary Artists. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2005.

Kitamura, Takahiro and Katie M. Kitamura. Bushido: legacies of the Japanese tattoo. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2001. (Really, really cool book).

Knight, Anthony. “Horimyo – Traditional Japanese Tebori Tattoo Artist Interview.” Tokyo Fashion, 19. July. 2012. <http://tokyofashion.com/horimyo-traditional-japanese-tebori-tattoo-artist/> (A pretty cool video interview)

McCabe, Michael. Japanese Tattooing Now. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2005.

McCurry, Justin. “Mayor of Osaka launches crusade against tattoos.” The Guardian. Tokyo, 17. May. 2012.

Oguri, Kazuo. Traditional Japanese Tattooing. Trans. Mieko Yamada. Web. 12. July. 2013. <http://www.tattoos.com/tebori-oguri.html> and <http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/ancient-art-of-the-japanese-tebori-tattoo-masters-ink-in-harmony/>.  (If you like this topic at all, you should really read what Horihide as to say in his own voice!)

Richie, Donald. The Japanese Tattoo. New York: Weatherhill, INC., 1980. (A really comprehensive book, a little old, but great information – especially on symbolism.)

Ruben, Arnold. Marks of Civilization. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1988.

Sebag-Montefiore, “Clarissa. Horihide still practices the dying art of hand tattoo.” Los Angeles Times, 24. June. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/24/entertainment/la-ca-culture-japan-20120624>

Westlake, Adam. “The view of tattoos in Japanese society.” The Japan Daily Press, 29. June. 2012.

Photo is from The World of Tattoo; it is beautiful and I had to share.