Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I'm not sure if the picture really translates, but my heart certainly felt how special the blossoms, be them cherry or plum, really are in Japan. These are the first I've seen this year, or even ever in Japan. First they remind me how much of a northwest boy I am. That means many wonderful things, but certainly not accustomed to the kind of winters that usually frequent the Sea of Japan side of Japan. Seeing these instead of dreary grey days and feet upon feet of snow for the first time since October (except three weeks in a Summery New Zealand:)) is something that can legitimize any sort of grievance in a way rarely experienced. Also, I can't help but relate it to Jolene's arrival in Japan. Since January 1st, I've certainly had a great time in Japan, but it has been lacking in many warm and beautiful ways, something only the girlfriend I love and cherry blossoms can satiate. And to pay homage to Japanese tradition, these blossoms represent the fleeting nature of life. Shogyoumujou for any of those who have read my earlier posts.
Anyway, this is the Tori, gateway, to one of the most famous Shinto shrines in Japan called the Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) in honor of the emperor at the time of the Meiji Reformatin (beginning in 1868) which was Japan's transition to opening up to and adopting Western "ideas". Shrines are very much ubiquitous in Japan, but this one at the Meiji Shrine is one of the biggest I have seen.
Here is a picture of one of the main structures of the shrine. It truly is difficult to capture its beauty in a picture, at least with my camera and ability.While it was just another day at the Meiji Shrine concerning tourists, briefly viewing and snatching pictures, a procession suddenly passed through the center of it all, with the greatest gravity and silence so wonderfully executed by Japanese tradition. As you can see, it looked like a party of three Shinto priests at the front, a bride and groom in traditional garb, a few more priests, and then possibly parents and best men-ish bride groom-y friends. Among the buzz of the tourists a procession like this was quite a scene.
However, if I can keep it to a couple sentences, I would like to speak to something here. Three years ago when I studied in Tokyo during three weeks in the summer at Sophia University, I visited this shrine with a group of other students, and we attended a lecture by a priest about the significance of the shrine, and then experienced a Shinto ceremony with dances and Gagaku, traditional Japanese music specific to this occasion. It was certainly a privelaged occasion, and I am forever grateful to it. At a moment when giant bells were rang by the priests in the middle of a procession, I felt the deepest and greatest feelings one could call "religious" I have ever felt. Tears and an ocean worth of admiration for what was happening welled up inside of me, and again, I will never forget that moment.
And after that, I turned to fellow students who seemed not to see what I saw, and said things that I wasn't thinking of saying, and we left the Meiji Shrine to Harajuku, a district of Tokyo famous for its outlandish fashion which lies in an incomprehensible proximity to the shrine. That was culture shock.
Now back to this trip, of course I couldn't help but think of my past experience, and only look this time with slight ... disappointment? No ... but something not as cool as what I felt before. I think it really magnifies something in Japanese traditional religion / thought. That something can be so special and religious, so sacred, and yet, so easily stepped over and forgotten. Fragile as a cherry blossom.But enough of that, this time was special enough for its own reasons.
For a small fee, one can go up the main observatory, which is 150 meters high, and for another small fee but a really long wait, you can go up to the special observatory at 250 meters. This time as well as once three years ago, I only went up to the main observatory. Maybe one day I'll go all the way up, but the view from the main observatory was impressive enough. It is quite jaw dropping to look 360 degrees around and see city forever which is Tokyo. In every direction there may be one two or three groups of sky scrapers comprable to the downtown of Seattle ... in every direction. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen.
And here I will leave you with this fuzzy picture from the tower. Let it be representative of our foggy subjective views of the world.
We had an amazing time in Tokyo, and spent the better part of 12 hours running around the city. At first I attempted to follow the philosophy of a relaxed tour, seeing only what we can at a comfortable pace in order to fully enjoy our experience. But it was soon overrun by the temptation to see as much as possible. We were left exhausted from running between trains and drinking large amounts of coffee, but content with our time. Next time maybe we'll relax.
Tokyo is great, but a bit of a monster. I was happy to get back to small town Kurobe.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Also, I was surprised by the amount of signing involved in graduation. Everyone, and by everyone I mean everyone in the gym was singing except me, unlike the US where you may have a few enthusiasts, but maybe the majority I feel just mouth it wondering why they have to be doing this. Did my high school in the states even have a school song?
You could easily end up talking to Ichigo or Toshi one day because they are awesome at English and will surely be fluent after a few years at university.
They weren't the best English students, but they're definatley twins.
I swear I was heading back to the office to do something important, but one last picture seemed OK. How could I say no?And how could I leave without a bro pic.
After graduation in the morning, the students are off from school, but all the teachers have to back to the office for work. At first I thought this was a bit anti-climactic, and really boring ... but little did I know it was only the calm before the storm. The teachers had their own dinner party at the fanciest hotel in town, where a room was rented out and various delicious foods and nomihodai (all you can drink) commenced. We had school the next day, so I assumed it would be a casual dinner, and an early night to return home ... but that was silly. After my Aikido party adventure (check past posts) I think I would have learned ... but I honestly thought that dinner would be it.
Unfortunately no pictures were taken, and for all the teachers sake, fortunately their were no pictures taken. I guess it promotes the point of such parties. During 90% of the time, teachers are working at least 10 hours a day with many other responsibilities at school besides class and putting up with all different kinds of shite from all directions, but when they party, they party without inhibition, and was quite a sight for me. Everyone got a lot cooler, quirkier, and more drunk than I had seen them before, and a lot lot lot of singing took place. Also, it seemed the dinner at the hotel was a precursor to about three other bars to be visited.
Japanese graduation. Different, but the same.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
On another note, yesterday I spent a good five hours trying to figure out how to pay my taxes from here in Japan, and I was not relaxed. I had been giving a packet outlining every document I needed and every step needed to complete the process, and yet I spent the whole time sighing with great exhaustion and cringing my fingers and toes. Given, very few can happily do their taxes, but I can honestly say that taxes and such paperwork are the bane of my existence, and the simplest of paperwork can make my brain scream for a swift end. Now, looking back at the process, (though it's not finished yet) I could have done the same amount of work in about one hour instead of five, and without a huge headache if I had just relaxed, and taken it one step at a time. I honestly felt like I was going to explode afterward if I had not escaped to an empty classroom to go through the Tai Chi Chuan form, which may be a testament to its ability to diffuse stress.
Why do I hate doing paperwork and taxes so much? Why do I start my weapons practice completely locked up?
I don't know, but I know that relaxing is good. It makes for better technique in your Aikido, and also makes you less likely to have an ulcer while doing things you don't like.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
These are the words of wise, Osensei, the founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei. When reading this I am reminded of a great teacher who would mention the differences between martial arts that seemed to be beautiful and harmounious like the internal arts of Tai Chi Chuan and Bagua Zhang, and others meant for overtly violent forms one may see in K1 or UFC. It seemed there was in fact a clear difference between the two, but how could you define it? I've read in some places that through techniques that work practically, art and creation will manifest itself naturally from its successful application. But I've also read that physical domination and inflicting pain upon someone doesn't necessarily make a martial art art.
To me, this quote is most telling on the subject. Perhaps we can get away from just what we call physical pain, or what we call beautiful, and look at what is behind "it" ... what is the reason for an altercation where martial arts are applied? What is the reason to even study martial arts? Philosophically, by giving a reason, one must focus on and address it ... one must contend with it; agree with it, disagree with it, call it conditional. Maybe that contention is where we run into problems. We must solve the problem, classify it with our logic, label it, control it.
When studying martial arts, I believe its inevitable to ask yourself questions like, "when would I consider using my martial art?", "which martial art is the best one to learn?", "how come not everyone like me wants to learn martial arts?" Well, when you finally find an answer that satiates you, can you be content with your answers and move on to the next one? Surely answering these questions to yourself is vital, even asking yourself over and over again to reevaluate, but what about not having an answer?
Is that OK?
Here is one more quote from Ueshiba Sensei that may not be apparently relevant, but it seems to fit.
"You cannot imitate what I do. Each and every technique is a unique, once-and-for-all experience. My techniques emerge, freely, spewing forth like a fountain. Rather than try to copy what I do, listen to what I say. That is where the essence of the technique lies. Someday you will understand."
Saturday, March 6, 2010
I imagine there are some days when the rice fields are filled with brilliant green strands of life shining in warm golden sunlight ... but that day was not today.
Today I saw a Kurobe that most gaijin don't. Certainly there is great evidence in every town and city to allow Japan the title of being the tidiest country around, but they do an equally good of a job sweeping their trash into the closet where mom can't see. When you do come across these piles of waste in Japan, it often first terrifies me, then I laugh, and it looks beautiful. What do you think.
Actually just last night I was out and talking with another JET (fellow gaijin English teacher) who had decided not to recontract. He has been here for a year, and having a good time, but also really sick of his life here. I love my situation here right now, but like Japan, its program for gaijin can have two very different sides. One specific thing that came up was the boredom at work. The job and its workload varies drastically throughout the year, and often from day to day , and depends entirely on where you work, and who you work with. The seniors graduated earlier this week and finals are finished, and now the rest of the school has another two weeks of class until Spring break comes and a new year begins. As a side note, students get about 10 days off while teachers still come to school. Now, it is during this particular time that there is absolutley nothing to do at work, but you still need to show up for your eight hours. I study Japanese and sneak into an English room to practice Aikido, but I guess it drives some others crazy. My friend said its driving him crazy and he just wants something to do. I understand completely, but I'll be on the opposite where if you give me some boring worthless job, I'm just going to sneak off and do what I want. My friends' other gripe was the region. You can certainly find an electronics store beyond your imagination as well as visit some interesting Japanese temples here in Kurobe , but it is by no means a Tokyo or Kyoto. In fact, I'm pretty sure every gaijin that comes here looks around in disbelief, as this is a Japan you've never seen a picture of (well until now). Actually , when I found out I was coming to Kurobe I immediately began researching the location, and all I found out was its next to the biggest mountains in Japan and one picture of a rice field with nothing reaching higher than the roof of a house. I had no idea how the place could be both, but it is, and with a rural working class to inhabit it. To my friend, he called it the podunk of Japan, and seemed less than happy to be here for the last year. Maybe he should have studied more Japanese, joined an Aikido class, or got on his bike by himself a little more. We all have our ways in life, but I think I kind of like this podunk Japan.
Friday, March 5, 2010
"Moby Dick". Chapter 35, "The Mast-Head". Page 169.
The three mastheads are kept manned from sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their regular turns (as at the helm), and relieving each other every two hours. In the serene weather of the tripics it is exceedingly pleasant-the mast -head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. THere you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were , swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rols ; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner-for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.
In one of those southern whaleman, on a long three or four years' voyage, as often happens, the sum of the various hours you spend at the mast-head would amount to several entire months. And it is much to be deplored that the place to which you devote a considerable a portion of the whole term of your natural life, should be so sadly destitute of anything approaching to a cosy inhabitiveness, or adapted to breed a comfortable localness of feeling, such as pertains to a bed, a hammock , a hearse, a sentry box, a pulpit, a coach, or any other of those small and snug contrivances in which men temporarily isolate themselves. ...
... Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept but sorry guard. With the problem of the universe revolving in me, how could I-being left completely to myself at such a thought-engendering altitude, -how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all whale-ships' standing orders, "Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time."
And let me in this place movingly admonish you, ye ship-owners of Nantucket! Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness; and who offers to ship with the Phaedon instead of Baowditch in his head. Beware of such an one, I say: your whales must be seen before they can be killed; and this sunken-eyed young Plantonist will tow you ten wakes round the world, and never make you one pint of sperm the richer. Nor are these monitions at all unneeded. For nowadays, the whale-fishery furnishes an asylum for many romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded young men, disgusted with the carking cares of earth, and seeking sentiment in tar and blubber. Childe Harold not unfrequently perches himself upon the mast-head of some luckless disappointed whale-ship, and in moody phrase ejaculates: --
"Roll on, though deep and dark blue ocean, roll!
Ten thousand blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain. "
Thursday, March 4, 2010
OK, these are quite trivial instances, as who gives a &*$% about what someone like that would think, but I think these examples are a testament to the two disciplines of language and martial arts.
I believe that language study and martial arts are at the pinnacle of “learning“, as they require such a solid internalization, that one truly must become their language or martial art in order to be proficient. In order for proficiency, one must be able to execute their language or martial art effortlessly and without thought.
First let’s take a look at the Tai Chi Chuan long form as it applies to this theory. There are many styles of Tai Chi Chuan, with various forms, but as far as I know, just about every style has a “long form” that is practiced at a slow speed and may take on average between 10 to 40 minutes to complete. I will speak from my experience in the Yang Style. One peculiarity to Tai Chi Chuan is that it’s long form is really long! Today while practicing I began realizing one particular theory for this. In the Tai Chi Chuan form, there are a multitude of stances, techniques, and applications to remember. These are the important details and manifestations of the art, yet, there is something deeper than the techniques. Underlying all of these techniques are the base foundational qualities of Tai Chi Chuan that should be present in all of those individual movements be they, center alignment, constant motion, relaxation, maintaining a bridge in your arms, etc. Though we are practicing those individual techniques, what I believe is really being learned is that which is subconsciously executed. I may be practicing single whip and focusing on the movement of the arms, but that is on top of relaxation, center alignment, balance, etc. This internalization takes a long time to become sufficient and natural, but once it is, it is truly learned I think.
I believe this concept relates to any language, but for my specific circumstances, we’ll deal with Japanese as that is my realm of experience. One of the aspects of my study comes from a textbook. Each chapter focuses on one or two new grammar points, and at the beginning, about 10 to 20 example sentences are given with the new grammar. Now, you can simply read them, but that doesn’t give yourself much of an opportunity for internalization. You can read about a certain martial art, but that doesn’t mean you can perform it accurately. You could write your own sentences using the new grammar which is a great way to practice analytical thinking and creativity, but they may not be correct, and in the form of some strange indiscernible gaijin dialect of Japanese (a necessary but frustrating and at this point regular way of learning for me). Just because you came up with some new super awesome technique, doesn’t mean it will work in the real world. BUT, what I have been doing lately, and actually benefiting the most from, is simply memorizing the sentences given until I can repeat them on my own from memory sufficiently. By sufficiently I mean, remembering all of the words without unnecessary pauses, and I use the appropriate rhythm and intonation that a native speaker would use. After I have repeated the sentence(s) effectively, I forget them and move on the next with an empty cup. This way, the desired Japanese will be internalized to some effect.
Now, the real interesting and relative part of this method of learning is that although it is the new grammar part of the sentence I struggle to memorize the most, it is all the other parts of the sentence that I am really learning. By reiterating over and over again the sentence structure, word order, verb form, and appropriate particles I have learned before, I am effectively assimilating them into a “state of normalcy”, which is the ideal for language ability.
Because proficiency in foreign language and martial arts require such a high (or deep) level of internalization, I believe they require true learning ability. I’m already thinking of a few others, but I challenge all of you readers to present other examples of disciplines that may require something akin to the true learning I have proposed in this article. Also, helpful ideas on effective internalization are greatly appreciated.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Perfection in something lacking.
Perfection in something lacking.
Perfection in our suffering to make ends meet.
Our struggle may be that perfection.
Where there is a perfectly swept stairway, there are crumbling panels on the roof above our diligent heads.
Where there is complete devotion, there is a fool.
Where there is happiness there is a weakness.
Loss only means certain success.
How could we possibly dwell in perfection?
How could it really make sense?
What it is is what it is.
What it could be dwells somewhere else.
If it is not here how could it be anywhere else?
How can anything be but its opposite?
Our imminent death reveals this clearly.
And yet we're fools to accept our mortality.
We are fools that are all right.
All of us are right.
All of us are fools.
All of us are doomed.
There is nought but suffering.
There is nought but enlightenment.
Perfection is our struggle.
Happiness is this realization.