my life

wrathful deities and anger

Tried again for Ise today....didn't realize the train I wanted from Namba only runs once an hour, and would have gotten out there too late. So went out to Nara instead. Detoured to see Yakushi-ji - bit of a disappointment, crammed with school tours, the statues were nice but not that exciting. There was a nice little temple to Fudo-Myoo off in one corner, though.

I definitely prefer Shin-Yakushi-ji for your Medicine Buddha needs. Went back there today, got some omiyage for Barbra-san, for the Well, and more for me.

Those wrathful generals, and Fudo-myo (bought a little statue of him in Nara today)...got me thinking about anger. Pete Seeger wrote

If you're gonna have great love, you're gonna have great anger
...
When I see innocent folks shot down
Should I just turn my head and frown?
...
But if you want to hit the target square, you'd better not have blind anger
...
Or else it'll be just one more time
The correction creates another crime

three weeks left

Nasty rainy day yesterday...had planned on going out for karate in Nishinomiya, but my obi was not to be found! Hopefully I left it in Sakai on Wednesday, else, damn.

Instead spent all day working on the day job, about 10 hours, then couldn't sleep and got up for another hour or so of hacking. Slept poorly, woke up feeling slightly nauseated; had been thinking about going out to Ise today but am not up for the trip, decided to go out to Mino-o instead, closer, a little hike up to the waterfall should be nice.

Just over three weeks left! Three months seemed like such a long time to be here, now as I enter the home stretch I wonder about what I won't be able to fit in. Still, significant writing done toward the book; some education on Shinto and Japanese Buddhism accomplished; music played; karate taught; a few words of Nihongo learned; diverse and interesting things seen. Not a bad way to pass the time.

Fudo Myo-o; the 'bird" of paradise

So despite my cracking, growling, allergy-damaged voice, my mini-gig Thursday went over pretty well. I had done some singing at Liz's party, borrowing a guitar for a few songs, and thought I might be ok; but when I got in to my first song "She Belongs To Me" my voice started to crack like I was 13 again. I went into a more gravelly mode and finished, then explained in my pidgin Nihongo, "Sumimasen, my voice....chotto byouki deshita. Allergy, araji. Demo...ganbatte!"

Ganbatte. That's the big one. Give it your all and they will love you here. I made my way through two more songs (my own "Floating World", and "I Know You Rider"), and they actually demanded one more from me (I did "In the Pines").

The fellow who runs the folk night asked me (with the bar owner acting as translator) when I was leaving, when I'd be back in Japan. When I told him I might be back for a karate tournament in November, and mentioned Seido Juku, he went wild. Turns out he used to train in Seido. Had nothing but praise for Kaicho Nakamura, such a "good and upright" man.

So that went well.

Yesterday, went out to Takatsuki to catch the second half of a two-day jazz festival. Eric was playing with a salsa group early in the afternoon, then we hung around watching other bands all evening. Saw wild fusion with a guy playing shamisen, as well as more standard jazz trio and small bands, at halls and at cafes. Another bit of the whole international thing, jazz in the suburbs of Kansai (Takatsuki is between Kyoto and Osaka, Columbia to their Baltimore and Washington perhaps.)

Today I did some day-job work, and did some reading around Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra". When I went for lunch in Nara with Kaz, the topic of sacred mountains came up, and I tried to explain the line from that poem, about how "all true paths lead through mountains." It occurred to me that it might be a nifty thing to include in the book a "commentary" on the Sutra - if he had the balls to write a "Sutra" on Smokey, I'll take the idea and run with it. Maybe do one on Camden Benares's "Enlightenment of a Seeker" story, too.

religion and politics

Heading out now to Liz's birthday lunch in Kyoto...lovely day for it. Tonight I play a few songs at The Cellar in the Folk Jamboree thing.

Tuesday I went down to the Osaka Peace Center in Osakajo-koen. Very sobering exhibits about the air raids on Osaka in WWII and about the Japanese invasions and atrocities in Manchuria, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia. Also small exhibits on the atomic bombings and on the Auschwitz camp. They also have more exhibits on nuclear disarmament, the ecological crisis, and the work of Unicef (though this was one was all in Nihongo so I didn't really get it).

Kaz talked a little bit about how Shinto was misused leading up to the war. The whole "Emperor as a living kami who must be obeyed" thing was a creation of the Meiji restoration (which, ironically, pretty much occurred at the demand of the United States), later used in the early 20th century to ramp up nationalist fervor. Shinto shrines were built in occupied territories in Asia and the conquered people made to pay homage at them.

Zen, too, was abused, the bushido ideal twisted to the point of Zen priests cheering on kamikaze attacks.

The dangers of mixing religion and politics. There's a bumper sticker slogan, "The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake", but it's much worse than that. Despite legends of "The Burning Times", not all that many people were murdered in witch-hunts, while mixing religion with politics in Japan gave us millions dead in the Pacific theater of Word War II.

And yet...as ethical teachers, religious leaders have always had to become involved in the politics of the day. Buddha tried to get local kings to be nicer (and was almost assassinated for his trouble). Jesus might have talked about rendering on to Caesar, but once he became a threat to the power structure, bam!, crucify him. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were great spiritual leaders who led political movements - using a tactic of civil disobedience put forth by that Transcendentalist proto-pagan Thoreau.

Look for me at Starwood 2007

Hey friends. Just got the word that the folks at Starwood have put me on the program again. (You'd think they'd have seen through my line of BS by now...) Don't know yet which workshop proposals they accepted, but look for me there in July!

(What?! You don't know Starwood!? http://www.rosencomet.com/starwood/2007)

Also, while I've been here in Japan I've learned and been asked to teach a simple Shinto ritual of gratitude. I'm thinking of doing an informal, off-the-record workshop/ritual where we'll walk the grounds of Brushwood and say howdy to the local kami.

so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell?

At Tin's Hall..open mic night. Played two of my songs, "Floating World" and "Even Wise Men Get The Blues" which went over ok; also tried the spoken word piece "A Bizarre Act of Kindness", which the mostly Nihonjin audience didn't get much of...

Guy playing "Wish you Were Here"..which is a good excuse to incorporate something I wrote up recently:


So You Think You Can Tell Heaven From Hell?

Mahayana Buddhism never met an idea, a myth or a metaphor, that it didn't like. While the original teachings of Sakyamuni used the Hindu concept of re-incarnation as a teaching tool, he didn't have much to say about the afterlife. It wasn't relevant to his primary mission, relieving human suffering; and notions of a afterlife don't mesh all that well with the ideas of anatman and sunyatta, no-self and emptyness.

Poets and paganism

Feeling a little byoki...wonder if allergies are kicking in? Anyway, Friday night, gotta go out (especially since I've got to be good tomorrow night, to make it out to Nara in good shape in the early afternoon to observe Kaz's Shinto class. Went for dinner at Slices, where I ran into Liz, with two of her English students, mother and son, about 10 years old I'd guess. Hung out with them a bit, got dinner free for playing assistant Eigo sensei. Went with them to Babylon, the body mod/goth bar (yes, took the the kid) was interesting to see their reaction - actually interested, they talked to the owner (who's is heavily tattooed, pieced, and implanted) and looked at photo albums of tattoos and even a suspension. Then over the Chopstick Tattoo to see Ben, who talked with them some more (all in Nihongo) and gave the fifty cent tour.

I stopped over at the Cellar, caught the last few songs from the band playing tonight - classic rock, "Pinball Wizard" and "Tommy" and "Long Live Rock" being sung phonetically. Now down to Cinquecento.

Anyway. Finished reading the Bukowski collection I packed. He could have done ok in the bars over here I think.

I've also been reading some Whitman and Emerson, catching up on the Transcendentalists. They, and the Romantics who proceeded them, are I think a big and overlooked part of the history of this whole pagan thing. (The connection with the British Romantics was brought to my attention by Ronald Hutton's book The Triumph of the Moon; much of the information that follows comes from that tome.)

some Shinto notes

On the way back from Nara now. Today I met up with Kashiwagi Kazuhito, Kaz, the Shinto priest I met a few weeks ago.

I recorded much of our conversation, but the battery of my recorder gave out before our talk did. (Hoping that the recording came out intelligible). A few notes of things that stand out as I ride along...:

  • You have to empty your self of ego to be filled with spiritual power.
  • Shinto starts with harai (cleansing, realignment, correction), ends with harai.
  • Kagami - the mirror shows us ourselves, need a true image of ourself to make progress. "Ga" is ego. Remove it, and you become "kami". There is a ritual in which you treat your reflection as a kami.

sex (or the lack thereof) and the single gaijin

Back out to Kyoto today, on the Hankyu train now...

So Friday, after I got back home from Kyoto I decided to bike down to Shinsaibashi and go out for the evening (it being Friday night and all). Ended up at Cinquecento. Randomly met another one of Eric's co-workers - on Wednesday a new guy from Australia, Rob, had turned up at the dojo, he's a teacher at KIS, now Friday I met Kendel, another KIS teacher, from New Zealand.

A Japanese girl a few stools down decided to introduce herself. Introduce herself rather vigorously, one might say. She was nice to talk to, seemed an outsider in her own country, a hardcore punk rock fan, lonely, and I was happy to talk to her (even as, I must admit, I was eying other women). But I just wasn't interested in taking her home, as she quite clearly suggested. (Two warning signs that, IMHO, one should be very careful about getting involved with someone are the name or logo of a band tattooed on their body, and cutting scars. While neither of these are absolute deal-killers - people do change, after all, and get left with regrettable tattoos and scars after the fact - the presence of both warrants extreme caution.)

"Do you like Japanese girls?" she asked.

"Sure. I like all kinds of girls - Japanese girls, American girls, whatever." In my life I've gone from a hamburger-lover to a vegan, from a Catholic to a Zen Pagan, but I had it figured out real early that I liked girls. It was certainly never a matter of "choice", as some homophobes would have it - I was born heterosexual and seem stuck that way, even if logic suggests we'd all be better off bi (and thus maximize our chances of a date).

Nanzen-ji again; the place of Zen in Japan

So after hanging out at the Amemura Folk Jam last night, with a little help from the owner as translator I booked a slot to play the next time, May 3rd. (The guy who runs it has about as much English as I have Japanese.) The amazing thing is that they're all booked up though June! Not bad for what we'd call an open-mic night back home. But since I'm gone long before then he managed to squeeze me in.


Today, back out to Kyoto, Nanzen-ji again. Saw the gardens at the side temples, nice; went up into the Senmon, tall, good, view. There was some sort of rehearsal for a ritual or event going on in the main temple, which was really cool to see. It seemed to be about or for the benefit of a family of lay practitioners. I stood there for about fifteen minutes watching a priestess(?) teach a little girl how to walk gracefully, while two other priestesses worked out a bow-and-turn routine. A couple of Zen monks goofed off, one stoking another's shaved head and making some sort of joke. They work out their "marks" based off a piece of tape on the carpet. It was as ordinary as a wedding rehearsal back home.

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