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Buddhist statues in Nara; the "shyness" of Japanese girls

Last night, went to see Eric play at an improv fusion music thing at Club Zerro - way cool. Today, went up to Nara again, planned to see an exhibit on Buddhist and Shinto art - only to find that it doesn't start until Sunday. Which is ok, I took 2 or 3 hours to view their permanent collection, mostly of Buddhist art. They did a fair job of explaining the images of the historical, Amida, Minoku/Maitreya, and Dainichi/Mahavairocana Buddhas, something I don't know much about (it gets into the esoteric Buddhism thing, big in Japan but I'm more of a simple, smack-upside-the-head, kill-the-Buddha sort of guy).

One particular statue that struck me was "Sakyamuni Coming Out of the Mountains." For those who don't the story, early in his career as a seeker, while fasting to extremes, the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama, known (among other titles) as Sakyamuni, "sage of the Sakya clan", almost starved himself to death. He was rescued by a passing farmgirl who fed him (overcoming her initial fear that this creature of skin and bones was some sort of demon). This statue portrays an emaciated man, ribs protruding under his robe (which, according to the story, was a stolen burial shroud), learning on a stick, emerging from his ordeal with the vital knowledge that suffering will not end suffering.

Suffering will not end suffering! As I write that it seems a noteworthy revelation, or at least a noteworthy expression of one.

shakuhachi in Osakajo-koen

Tuesday, went to Osakajo-koen just to get outside a little bit. Slightly chilly but great cherry blossoms, all sorts of picnickers out drinking under the trees. I took my shakuhachi and found a quiter spot to sit a play for a while. Some odd looks from passers-by, but not too many or too strong.

There was some sort of bonsai exhibition and sale right by Morinomiya Station - some really big and expensive (like up to about $3,000) pieces, right down to a little twisted 500 Yen pine seedling that I bought (though I don't know if there's enough sunlight in my apartment to keep it alive.)

We've replaced this subject's regular life with three months in Japan. Let's see what happens...

Experiment progress report, subject TMS0512:

After one month out of its accustomed environment,the organism seems to have adapted well to new surroundings. Through exploration and experimentation it has located new foods and food sources, some familiar, some radically different. It has established a small nest, in which it generally resides comfortably, though occasionally apparently missing the spaciousness of its former abode.

Physically, the organism has benefited from increased activity (bicycling and walking much more due to the absence of a car) and a decrease in availability of familiar "junk" foods (though consumption of french fries, or "furaido poteto", during bar sessions may be a cause for some concern). While a scale is not available it is anticipated that a few pounds of fat have been lost.

Emotionally, the subject organism oscillates between desire to return to its home and desire for further study and new experiences in the current environment; it is observed at some times to state that is prepared to return, and then at others that it wishes to remain longer.

This "double bind" may have significant implications in the future. However, for the moment we are satisfied to call the experiment a qualified success in terms of results-to-date.

"To follow knowledge like a sinking star..."

Well, didn't rain. Was a lovely day, in fact when I went for my run I would have appreciated a pair of shorts.

Got my laptop audio set up so I can use it as an "IP phone" - make very cheap calls, like 2 cents a minute, back to the US. Sound quality ain't great, but workable. Called home to talk Rachel though computer set-up, the DSL line was back up but for reasons unknown we needed some config work to get her PC back on line.

Last night I was doing some reading on-line about Red Thread Zen. Turns out that crazy wonderful lusty Zen master Ikkyu was abbot of Daitokuji, the Zen temple I went to last week, in his later years. Now I must go back.

karate in Sakai; old farmhouses in Osaka

Last night I had the pleasure of training at Senpai Kuwa's Kansai Seido Karate dojo in Sakai City. I am very grateful for the warm reception I received.

I can even now say that I've taught karate in Japan (bringing coal to Newcastle and selling iceboxes to Inuit are next on my list), as Kuwa Senpai handed me the reins for the second class. A few language difficulties, but Kuwa Senpai's English is excellent and he was able to translate for me. (It is interesting though that for some things I've learned a different Japanese, instead of "kiai-do!" as the instruction to do the next techniques with kiai, the famous martial arts shout, they used some te-form verb I didn't quite catch, "kiai-mumble-te kudasai" - probably more polite and grammatically correct.) Senpai and his family were kind enough to take me out for dinner afterward, and even scour the menu for something vegetarian for me. Much fun and I look forward to next week's keiko. (Though today, returning to training after a few weeks off, I can definitely feel it! But it's a "good pain".)

Today, slept in after staying up late trying to deal with an internet outage at home (complicated by not being there plus being about 13 hours ahead timewise). Beautiful day and I knew I had to do something outside, so I went to the Open Air Museum of Old Farmhouses, in Ryokuchi-koen.

Sakura blossoms in Kyoto rain

Today, Kyoto again, Nanzen-ji.

     Sakura blossoms in Kyoto rain
     I think of my grandfather

(maybe I'll try to make that into a proper Nihongo haiku...someday)

Nanzen-ji, big Zen temple complex. Great big old central temple, a painting of a dragon on the ceiling - you can only see it from outside. Apparently there's some thing about sticking your hands through the bars and clapping to make an echo. I follow along. (I bought a poster of the dragon painting.) Lovely lovely gardens, a great painting of Bodhidharma on one wall in the abbot's quarters. Had real o-cha in their tea room looking out at a waterfall and garden, very nice.

But then. Go up the hill behind. First a small old Buddhist temple, Saisho-in; not so much a touristy place as an active, day-to-day, actively used community temple - the kind I love to find. As I stand there for a moment of meditation, a woman parks her car just outside the grounds, walks up quickly, bows to the shrine, and hurries back out. Just stopped by to say "Hi" or "Thanks", I guess.

A beautiful small cemetery behind it, stand and watch the rain fall, see an offering of sake left on a grave, think the young man in the inner city pouring out a 40 for a fallen homie, consider that the Buddha was a prohibitionist, contemplate the adaptability of the dharma.

Umbrellas, Dali, Daruma


I don't have a good history with them. They tend to be ripped away by the wind, or left behind, within a few days of my purchasing one. So I usually go with a hat to keep my head dry, and a reasonably rain-repellent jacket.

But, I don't live in a mass-transit culture; when it's raining, I just don't spend much time outdoors.

Here, when it rains, umbrellas come out. Everyone has one. There are boxes or stands for wet umbrellas outside every shop.

Tramping around in the rain, getting damp, surrounded by umbrellas, getting weird looks for being an idiot who's gtting rained on, I gave in an bought one at a convenience store in Shinsaibashi. We'll see how long it lasts.

Earlier today, went to the Dali exhibit with Liz and company. Quite crowded; everyone very quiet, moving in orderly queues.

On sacrificing one's liver for culture

On sacrificing one's liver for culture:

So part of the thing is trying to get out and talk to people. But where do you go to meet new people in a strange town?

Bars, of course.

Which means a fair bit of drinking.

The results have been interesting, though...

work in progress: "i am feeling american"

This occurred to me as I was walking back to the subway Tuesday night. I
have been catching up on my Transcendentalists, Emerson and Whitman, while
I'm here.


look out nihon
i am feeling american
i have been reading whitman

i will take the love of your women
yes, and that of your men too
i will take it not as theft but as tribute
it is freely given. i cannot refuse it

i am feeling american, more american than in a long while
reconnected as i read whitman
beware japan
i will take the steps two at a time in your train stations
i will but gesture in your taverns, and glasses will shatter

karaoke, Japanese style

Word trivia for the day: "karaoke" means "empty orchestra", and is
written with the same kanji "kara" as "karate", "empty hand".

Going out on the town in Japan means making a decision: to head back
early, or to miss the last train (which runs around 11:30pm) and either
walk, take an expensive cab, or stay out until the trains start up again
about 5:30am (many places stay open all night to take your money while
you're waiting).

Last night I decided to stay for the end of Eric's gig, which meant
missing last train. I thought I might shell out for a cab, but somehow I
got talking with a few local musicians who were going out for karaoke, and
got invited to tag along.


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