Category: Champagne Thoughts

Dragons feeding monkeys

Imagine dragons feeding monkeys.

Addicted dragons will do anything for smoke. Drawn by the author.

I have never read Game of Thrones, but two weeks ago on the show, those two captive dragons fully scarfed down a flaming dude. They peeled him back like pepperoni, and I was so shocked that I started crunching numbers. If you had three teenage dragons that were flying amok and toasting shepherd children, how would you bring them to heel?

The answer, sad and cruel though it may be, is clearly the only way to leverage the power of these airborne death lizards: dragon crack.

So far in the show we’ve seen napalm (“wildfire”) and opiates (“milk of the poppy”). Are medieval stimulants really such a stretch? Some bent maester could emerge from his lab holding aloft the product of his marathon toil. He’d hasten to an impromptu audience with Daenerys Targaryen, whose eyes would narrow as she listened.

I envision the pipe as a permanent military facility set into the top of a large hill and run by a squad of 50, “The Devil’s Bellows.” They bring the dragon crack up through tunnels from the scullery deep below and stoke an undying fire in shifts like oarsmen.

When the winged fiends alight, having duly roasted a rival army, a cry goes up and all hands man stations. The chamber is filled with bundles of long blue-hued crystal and the flame unfurls huge curtains of smoke.

Weary and gaunt, the dragons know the drill. They twitch and cough until the first column of smoke is hoovered up. Then they wheeze with delight and take off, haphazardly zagging their way to a distant eyre to play dragon word games and count their digits until the lever of addiction drives them once again to war.

Dark, I know, but I’m open to other ideas.


The realest TV

A true story recollected.

I used to live beside the Sanagawa River in Aichi Prefecture. I remember getting home one day and feeling the urge to watch TV.

On one show a crew was embedded with a family whose little boy of 5 or so was afflicted with a rare disease of the heart. He was an enthusiastic little monster with a raucous voice that belied his size, and came across in edited intervals a reveller in bombastic noise.

A doctor gave grim details I couldn’t follow and my girlfriend explained that it was his heart. They didn’t fully understand the problem but knew it was getting worse. The boy was in for many tests and learned patience in the company of large hospital apparatus.

Le loup


And then: the family was relaxing at home when the boy clicked. This was not reality TV but a documentary, and he’d turned off.

Others appeared on camera. I think they knew this could happen because a doctor and a nurse appeared and began working on him, checking his responses and trying to revive him as his mother reacted with a voice like a need rubbed raw.

I must have been frozen with a spoon or a drink midair; I don’t remember how long they tried to get him back. When it was clear he was dead there was a long draw like the pull of a bellows out of which the mother darted bearing silver scissors with that timing that fits between moments.

A fear of something rash drove everyone who could move in the shock to hold her fast, but grief’s abandon twisted her free of the man with the boom mic and past the doctor to the boy’s side where she cut a lock of his hair, and clutching it she gave way to a sound that animals know, a retching wailing breath of loss of love.

The scene dissolved and cut to a full year after. The boy’s younger sister, I think it was, and his mother and father were walking in a kind of procession with people from their town. They smiled, and it was meant to show levity and the fruit of time’s dressing. But for me it fell on a numb heart, and we turned the TV off and sat quietly.


©Tyler Rothmar

Last week I reviewed a new book, The Book of Five Rings: A Graphic Novel, for The Tokyo Reporter website, which you can read here. Two days ago, the fellow who adapted Miyamoto Musashi’s original into graphic novel form, Sean Michael Wilson, gave my review a bad review (scroll down to “The Book of Five Rings – out now!”), and I’ve rebutted it below.

Wilson called my review “badly written and thought out,” in addition to leveling claims of prejudice, inaccuracy and sloppiness, even going so far as to question whether I read the book. In fact I read it twice and compared it carefully to the original translation by William Scott Wilson on which it is based; I weighed my words and I stand by them.

I’ll reiterate my chief concern: I take issue not with the minor adjustments to the excerpts that were used (for purposes of fitting speech balloons), but with the material that was omitted.

Take this small example from the water chapter:

The original reads: “You should deeply consider what is written in this book, word by word, character by character. If you think about it indifferently, you are likely to diverge from the way.” (Emphasis mine)

This is not a book that abides abridging. In the above example, the omission is small but important. Musashi wrote deliberately and with economy; he intended for each and every word to be carefully considered, yet the reduction from 100 or so pages of text means a significant loss of material to which I can’t help but feel the author would object. We’re left with a kind of CliffsNotes version of a text I think is better read in full.

Finally, we have this from Sean Michael Wilson:

William Scott Wilson’s The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi is indeed where some of the info came that gave us the material with which to construct the more narrative aspects. This review makes it seem like WSW was unaware of this.

This claim, I think, is purely imagined. I noted in my review that William Scott Wilson wrote the afterword to this adaptation and I guess his permission was necessary from the early stages. I was guessing as to where the source material for the anecdotal sections came from, and making the point that such sections were not part of Musashi’s original book (and indeed that they displaced some of the original content). I can’t see how anyone could interpret my review as insinuating that WSW was unaware of the use of sections from his biography of the swordsman, nor can anyone I’ve shown it to thus far. At any rate, it was never my intention to pretend to any knowledge of what WSW was or was not aware of.

I wrote my review honestly as someone who has done kendo for 13 years and has practiced with people who use the Nito Ryu that developed from the koryu Musashi originated. I don’t think the Book of Five Rings benefits from an adaptation that shortens it, and I said as much. This is only one opinion. Another reviewer at Comics Bulletin had different things to say about it, and that is very well.

Sean Michael Wilson ended his bad review of my review with his intention to pray for the souls of bad reviewers. I wonder if he meant negative reviews, or poorly executed reviews, or both, and whether he too may have benefitted somewhat from those kindly offered prayers.

©Tyler Rothmar

The FCCJ gets inked up

who's on first?

detail of work

On May 22 the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan held a “sub-culture night” centered around the Japanese traditional method of tattooing, featuring master artist Horiyoshi III, his son, and two of his students. A big square futon wrapped in clean white sheet lay on tatami mats in front of the head table.

The night began with an introduction of two of the master’s admirers from Europe: Horikitsune (Alex Reinke) and Senju Horimatsu (Matti Sedholm), both serious tattoo artists in their own right. Horiyoshi III, wearing a light blue suit, joined them on stage and embarked on a history of tattooing in Japan.

their own ink well hidden

Senju Horimatsu (Matti Sedholm), Horiyoshi III and Horikitsune (Alex Reinke)

It seems tattooing, called irezumi or horimono (body-suit tattoo) in Japanese, has enjoyed a long history that has seen its popularity crest and crash several times. Horiyoshi detailed the story, which dates back to ancient times. Citing two dusty and stained tomes he brought with him, he spoke about the various reasons people tattooed themselves in the past. Apparently it’s written somewhere that 500 Buddhist monks got tattoos at one point, a fact the artist has his doubts about, due to the proscription of cosmetic alterations to the body under Confucian doctrine.

Horiyoshi also noted the often-quoted fact that at times prisoners were forcibly tattooed, sometimes on their face. Still more interesting was the fact that, besides yakuza (organized criminals), tattoos have enjoyed popularity among the common people at several periods in Japanese history, always ending with an official edict from the shogun that marked a period of decline. Despite a total of four prohibitions of tattooing over time, both tattoo artists and the people who sport their designs have managed to survive and thrive up to the present day.

Next the two European artists spoke about their own involvement with tattooing. Mr. Reinke, a student of Horiyoshi III, talked about his early interests in Buddhism and his decision to travel to Japan to meet the master. Mr. Sedholm spent nearly ten years as a tattoo artist in the Western tradition, drawing what he called “robots and monsters, easy images with very little meaning.” Once he was exposed to the work of Horiyoshi III, he sensed the deeper cultural reverberations in the folk images and the stories they told. Both artists testified to the growing celebrity of Horiyoshi III abroad, calling him “Japan’s No. 1 ambassador of tattooing to the world.”

Next came the tattoo fashion show, featuring six models proudly wearing Horiyoshi III’s art.

Body of Work

After the fashion show Horiyoshi gave a live demonstration for about eight minutes. FCCJ video cameras projected detail of the work on screens at either side of the room as the master’s right arm worked smoothly back and forth, embedding red ink into the outline of a flower on the shoulder of a female model. Later he showed a collection of implements – older, unhygienic bamboo needles, early bauxite prototypes of his own design, and finally, the sterile tools that he uses today.

Horiyoshi III – Live Demo

It was a fantastic night—a chance to hear a master artist not only speak about his work but perform it, and a chance to see finished products as well as works-in-progress. At one point near the beginning of the fashion show, one of the models who spoke English said that until four years ago, he’d been a high school teacher. He’d had no piercings or tattoos of any kind, but after seeing Horiyoshi’s work, he decided to get a full body-suit. It took two years to complete. “I’m a bit jet lagged,” he said, having just returned to Japan that day from an international competition that he’d won. He presented Horiyoshi III with the trophy.

Despite the connection between yakuza and traditional tattooing in Japan, it seems there is yet another surge of average people who have fallen in love with the art. The models were a reminder—their nervousness was evident from the start, especially the two women, who exposed goodly sections of their posteriors to exhibit Horiyoshi’s work. After the modeling section of the evening was done, the models left the room, but returned at the end in regular clothes to take a bow. The massive applause they received from an appreciative crowd of journalists and aficionados unravelled their tension into huge smiles. It was somehow the most gratifying part of the evening.


work in progress

Earlier on, Horiyoshi III spoke of the bond that grows between artist and patron that exceeds a simple business relationship. Over long months and years the artist inserts his work slowly into a living canvas through thousands of small wounds. The models’ pride in the process and connection to the art was every bit as on-display as the work itself. They were not unlike a family, joined by ink and the choice to wear ancient stories, myths and legends, all animated by Horiyoshi III, the paterfamilias.

©Tyler Rothmar


inscribing inscription

Spring in a Small Town in Tokyo

he's full of the bluster of spring

©Sugar Cube Works

All his fat life he was a spectator and something about his steadfast silence and brazen size inured people to his vigils. Pale cigarettes could last ten minutes in his clutch. One day he stood smoking among a herd of standing bikes, his other hand to a bag of groceries. The neighborhood ambled longly before him, busses moved through the square and it might have been any day ten years prior, save the lightening that was about to strike.

An unknown woman walked by with her legs and a love like he’d never known hit him just as grapefruit piques a thirst. For a man so thoroughly accustomed, he felt himself a stranger in season.

©Tyler Rothmar