Satoshi Kon’s final words

Satoshi Kon died on Wednesday, August 25th, but not before writing this incredibly moving, sad, and detailed blog post. He describes the moment he received his diagnosis in May — less than half a year to live due to a metastasized cancer — and then goes on to talk about the things he worried most about as he approached death: paperwork, his guilt for leaving his wife and the staff of his unfinished movie Dream Machine, saying good bye to everyone. The original post is in Japanese, of course, and I encourage you to read it if you have any knowledge of the language. If not, there is an English translation here.

The part that struck me the most is when his parents come down from his native Hokkaido to see him one last time. His mother, at his bedside, says to Kon: “I’m sorry I didn’t give you a stronger body.”

He finishes the blog post with the simple words: “Osaki ni.”
A polite way of leaving the room early.

Sayonara — Satoshi Kon’s blog Kon Stone

Maiko Itai, Miss Universe contestant from Oita prefecture

Picture 1

The Miss Universe pageant took place tonight, and Mexico won. Japan sent this woman, Maiko Itai, to compete in the beauty contest. Itai is a 25-year old from Oita Prefecture, which is my dad’s home town. Apparently, before she became a pageant contestant, she worked at the municipal government office in Oita and was known for being very understated.

Giant Baba, a great man and wrestler

I went over to my friends Ben and Nina’s house today, and Ben was wearing a shirt he’d bought at Uniqlo with an illustration of Giant Baba on it. Giant Baba was a Japanese baseball player-turned-wrestler who was famous for being a really tall, prolific wrestlerfrom the 60s through his death in 1999. In his lifetime, he wrestled in over 5700 matches and was battling it out on the ring just nine days before his passing. What’s more, he was known throughout society as a kind, gentle person.

The amazing video footage above is from a public funeral held several months after his death, in which famous wrestlers from around the world came to pay their respects. I love the moment when his wife comes on the ring and puts his wrestling shoes down. Here’s another video of Giant Baba and Andre the Giant in a match against The Land of Giants circa 1990.

On a side note, I love how Uniqlo makes t-shirts commemorating nostalgic figures from my childhood. I just bought a Dr. Slump tee at Narita on my way back from Tokyo this past winter.

How Beat Takeshi beat his family’s rebirth cycle

NET510_b60_b Peter Payne over at J-list has an interesting story about the Buddhist concept of rin-ne (cycle of birth and rebirth) and how it applies to Beat Takeshi:

His father was Kikujiro, a poor house painter who drank all the time, and it was expected that Takeshi would follow in his father’s footsteps. Takeshi’s mother Saki, however, was adamant that her son would break away from their family’s cycle of poverty, so she did part-time jobs secretly to save money to buy study books so her son could attend university one day. I’d say it worked out pretty well.

Kanae Doi rebuts the image of human rights activists

In this video from a recent Tedx Tokyo event, Human Rights Watch’s Kanae Doi talks about the negative image of “scary” human rights activists and explains what she actually does — i.e. making sure people aren’t tortured — and how her interest in issues took her to Eritrea. I think she’s great; one of my local heroes.

Tomio Tada, immunologist and playwright, is dead

03tada_CA0Dr. Tomio Tada, a famous immunologist who later became a Noh playwright, died at the age of 76 on Apri 21. From the NYT:

Dr. Tada rose to prominence in the 1970s for a series of experiments that pointed to the existence of specialized white blood cells capable of selectively disarming the immune system.

When functioning properly, his theory went, these cells would prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s own organs or harmless substances, like pollen. Malfunctions could lead to allergies and autoimmune diseases, Dr. Tada believed.

His findings spurred a race among the world’s top immunologists to discover the cells, dubbed suppressor T cells. Efforts to detect them failed in the early 1980s, and the concept was largely discredited.

Dr. Tada became a leading advocate for the unpopular view that the suppressor cell would be found in time. In a 1988 letter in an immunology journal, Dr. Tada responded to critics with an Italian phrase, “Chi vivrà, vedrà,” or “Who will live, will see.”

Roughly a decade later, his basic ideas about immune suppression were more or less validated when another Japanese scientist, Dr. Shimon Sakaguchi of Kyoto University, identified regulatory T cells. They lack some of the predicted characteristics of Dr. Tada’s suppressor T cells but behave like them nonetheless.

Later in life, he became one of the few people who wrote new Noh plays (most performances featured scripts written 400+ years ago).

Nujabes dead at 36

Inter Sad news — the amazing musician Nujabes (real name Jun Seba) is confirmed dead today. He was in a car accident late at night on February 26 when getting off the Shuto Expressway. He was only 36 and ridiculously talented. I first discovered his music at a tiny wine bar in Golden-Gai, and have been a huge fan ever since. He will be missed.

Related stories:
Nujabes, Tokyo’s underground hip hop king
Video: Funny people running in slo-mo to Nujabes song
Brian’s cell phone orgy video

Apolo Anton Ohno, half-Japanese celebrated speed skater

Apolo Anton Ohno is an American speed skater. I’m sure you’ve seen him on TV — he’s very famous, tied for first for the most winter Olympic medals one by an American, and he was also on Dancing with the Stars in 2007.

Interestingly, Ohno was raised by his dad, a first-generation Japanese. Since the dad had to work a lot when Apolo was young, he enrolled his kid in after-school sports. That included roller skating and speed skating. You can see his dad in this Father’s Day promo video for the Vancouver Olympics. He’s doing really well this year and determined to win more medals, even if it means making some controversial moves, so keep an eye on him.

Scott Fujita, a white NFL player who feels culturally Japanese

Sf20100206a1aDid you know that one of the tallest linebackers in the NFL is named Scott Fujita? He’s a white guy who was adopted by a Japanese-American father (who, by the way, was born in an internment camp). He’s never been to Japan, but he celebrates Oshogatsu and Children’s Day, eats with chopsticks, and has Japanese grandparents in California who grow bonsai trees. I just think it’s interesting and probably pretty unusual story.

More info via The Japan Times and Wikipedia.

Yasuko Namba, once the oldest woman to climb Everest

Image.axd While I was in Nepal, I read an incredible book by climber/journalist Jon Krakauer called Into Thin Air. It chronicles the events of an infamous Everest expedition in 1996 that left half a dozen people dead shortly after reaching the summit. Super sad, super amazing adventure story. One of the climbers who died was a 47-year old petite Japanese woman named Yasuko Namba. She was a graduate of Waseda University and worked on the business side of FedEx in Japan, but her real passion was climbing. That spring, she left her husband behind and took off to climb Everest on the same expedition with Krakauer, led by a famous guide who also died on the mountain.

Did you know that the first two women in the world to successfully climb the Seven Summits were both Japanese? The first was Junko Tabei, who climbed Everest with an all-female expedition sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun and Nihon Television. She passed out unconscious for several minutes before arriving at the top of Everest in 1975. Tabei is still alive today; she doesn’t climb as much as she used to, but she’s the head of the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan.

Namba was the second woman to complete this feat, but she didn’t make it back alive. In fact, she died lost and alone in a freezing cold blizzard. Her death is written about in a lot of detail in Into Thin Air. She obviously had an amazing spirit and an incredible amount of guts. I’m sure everyone who ascends Everest does so knowing that they may not make it down alive. Still, I finished the book wishing someone had made a better effort to save her.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

New documentary about wacky inventor Dr. NakaMats

Dr. NakaMats, the kooky inventor whom I wrote about in my io9 column, MangoBot, in Jan 08, is the subject of a new documentary. It’s an in-depth look into the life of a guy who claims to have more patents than Edison, a recipe for Super Viagra, a lifespan of 144 years, and who has run for political office several times.

Related stories:
Japan’s wackiest inventor saves the world with super viagra
I met Dr. NakaMats in Shibuya
Dr. NakaMats’ male model debut
Crazy inventor running for mayor

Crayon Shin-chan author dead from a cliff fall

The body of Yoshito Usui, the author of the hugely popular comedic manga and anime called Crayon Shin-chan, was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Gunma Prefecture on Saturday. It appeared to have been an accident — his backpack full of hiking gear was found about 50 yards away, and it was near a hiking trail with no rails. His camera, found with his belongings, had a photo that looked like it was taken right by the cliff. He was 51. According to his wife, he left the house on the morning of September 11th and never returned.

Crayon Shin-chan was a hit among all age groups; he’s an adorable little goofy boy whose dialogue and obsession with pretty girls are reminiscent of a dirty old man. It started as a manga in 1990 and became an anime in 1992. I didn’t know this, but Usui had still bee creating new segments every month. Here’s a short clip from an episode in which Shin-chan’s dad loses his keys.

Rest in peace, Mr. Usui.


Otamatone, Maywa Denki’s new instrument, looks like a tadpole

In this video, inventor Novmichi Tosa of Maywa Denki demos his new instrument, the Otamatone, which looks like a tadpole (otamajyakushi) and sounds like a theremin. I met Tosa about a year ago to interview him for an upcoming story in Make Magazine — he’s a super awesome, fun guy, and I encourage you to check out his work online or to try to go to one of his nonsense toy workshops at his studio in Tokyo.

Maywa Denki main page

Nori-P arrested for drug possession

NorikosakaiFor those of you who have been following celebrity news in Japan, the biggest fiasco this week was the disappearance of actress Noriko Sakai, aka Nori-P, whose surfer dude husband had been arrested last Sunday for possession of drugs. Not sure exactly what kind. Sakai, aka Nori-P, is now 38 has been popular in Japan and all over Asia for two decades. After this drug accusation Toyota pulled ads featuring the actress off of their web site. The actress turned herself in yesterday after leaving her 10-year old son with a friend.

It’s always a huge media frenzy when a Japanese celebrity is caught with recreational drugs. I don’t think it should be &mdash there are bigger things the country can and should be worried about.