Archive for the ‘change’ Category

If there is a disaster, but I can still make it to the dojo, I train. If I have to go to another place, I train. If I feel lousy, but what’s getting me down isn’t viral, I train. If I have a rough day at work, I train. If some knucklehead says my taijutsu sucks, I train. If some dude says I’ve got great taijutsu, I train. If sensei is late, I respectfully bow at somebody and I train.

 I asked my friend, a nuclear physicist, would the increased levels of radiation above background in the Kanto region over a prolonged period mean that I might get relief from acne. He said, sure, a lethal dose will cure that, easy.

In the last seven days, earthquakes have rattled through Kashiwa City while I’m teaching in elementary schools. It is hard to continue with the lessons. I look to my partner teacher, and we wait for the shake to subside. And then we continue with the lessons, ready to drop what we are doing if the principal comes on the PA to announce emergency procedures.

Barring lethal dose of radiation or catastrophic damage of a major earthquake or tsunami, I train and work and carry on doing what I’m doing.

This post is a kind of prayer, a mediation on heijoshin, the every day heart you need to stay stable. It’s akin to 不動心, fudoshin.  It wasn’t always something I could do. I was not quite frozen with fear on March 11th, but I sure felt as though I were crawling, cringing, whincing.

I don’t know how much I can take, but I think my capacity has increased.  Isn’t that what it’s about, being able to survive the changes, and in turn, experience change within yourself?

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This morning, before the alarm went off, there was a 4.1 magnitude earthquake right under the northern Chiba area. I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head. The rolling motion of the quake irritated rather than scared me.

On waking and checking the news, I wasn’t feeling so safe. NHK  and ABC reported this morning that TEPCO revealed that the Fukushima reactor had melted down. Greenpeace began last week to sample water and seaweed, and concluded that there was highly contaminated seaweed tens of kilometres from Fukushima.

Meanwhile, the government is going to help TEPCO pay compensation money to people who were affected by the disaster.

On Tuesday evening, over dinner, our girlfriend Skye,who was a resident of Fukushima some years ago, went on a weekend relief trip to Sendai City. She tells us that, while volunteers swamped the area during Golden Week, there is a worry that volunteer numbers will diminish. She’s got contacts with a UNESCO team that is bringing short term volunteers to pick through the rubble. A number of us are eager to go, but G had some serious reservations. Her first question was, “How far from the water is the campsite?” She’s a survivor of the Indian Ocean tsunami. She knows first-hand the destructive power of a tsunami, having been swept out in the tsunami that struck Thailand.

While looking for UNESCO information on the disaster, I found that the US Geological Survey posted an April bulletin detailing disaster statistics. Most of the outer Boso Peninsula, Chiba Prefecture, was inundated during the tsunamis. Even some of the inner peninsula was swamped.

The massive scale of destruction of the tsunamis is still hard to imagine, even after reading and seeing Shawn Gray’s account of the relief trip to Ishinomaki. I’ve helped raise money for the Red Cross in Vancouver and I’ve given money to the relief funds here, and to Shawn and Doug Wilson to help with this trip. But after seeing the video of the destruction, I realize the recovery of the region will take years and billions of yen.

I hope that people keep Tohoku in mind, and take heart that every effort counts towards cleaning up and restoring life to people there who lost so much.

On Mother’s Day, I figured that, though I couldn’t be with my family, I could go see another mother figure, the Kannon bosatsu Rakuhoji Temple in Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture. Despite being on the seemingly solid flank of Tsukuba Mountain, the temple’s gate was damaged, as were the retaining walls of the steps leading up to it. The shrine below the temple, Amabiki Shrine, lost some monuments, too.

Nevertheless, it was very peaceful up there and gazing over Sakuragawa and Tsukuba cities, the green mountainsides showed me what nature can give. In the afternoon, the monks chanted the Heart Sutra which tells us that suffering will pass.

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Going beyond your safe zone

On Friday night, I was standing in front of Hombu talking to a visiting sempai about the disaster. My sempai asked me what I thought about the safety of people coming to train, and I outright said, “No, it’s not safe.” To my surprise, my sempai agreed with me, and went on to say that, before you come here, you have to educate yourself and be aware of the risks.

Saturday evening, I was catching up with my sempai at the sushi shop in Kashiwa’s front street, and while we were deep in conversation, we didn’t notice the 6.0 aftershock that rocked the area. The effect was slight enough at ground level that we didn’t notice it, but earlier in the day, at Hombu, I noticed a sensation like a buzz in my feet, and looked up to see the framed pictures above the kamidana move slightly. We’ve been warned about aftershocks, and we must be vigilant as we may see quakes as big as magnitude 7.0.

Now, some people think it is exciting to experience an aftershock of the Tohoku earthquake, but each time I feel one, I realize that we are far from the epicenter where people’s lives are in danger, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant workers’ efforts may be interrupted or even set back. The big April 11th aftershock, a 7.0 magnitude quake,  killed some people near Sendai. At that time I was on a Kashiwa-bound bus, stopped at a traffic light, when the bus began to rock side to side, and then the main force of the quake struck, and the ground seemed to roll for a long time. My first thought was of the people of Sendai City who were remembering the one month anniversary of the quake and now living through this major aftershock. I nearly cried, knowing that so many people grieving were experiencing yet another violent shake.

And then there is the nuclear disaster. Yes, it is a horrible disaster, with consequences that will last for lifetimes. The 20 kilometer no-go zone has been delared around the Fukushima plant, and radioactive water was dumped in the sea. The economic and evironmental consequences of the nuclear disaster are not entirely known, but all the same, devastaing.

But I think that the reality of environmental radiation has been overblown for areas outside the Fukushima area under the conditions we experience now. You can see Tokyo’s low radiation, measured in microsieverts indicated here on the Japan Times website, and you can read about water radioactivity here. None of this stuff is threatening right now. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Fukushima reator shutdown plans will take six to nine months, and I can’t tell if those projections take into account possible major aftershocks or tsunamis. Things could change.

So, no, it isn’t safe here. Not for a while, anyway, as the aftershocks subside, the economic consequences of the disaster recovery are realized, and the nuclear issue continues.

When we wrapped up training on Saturday, Oguri Sensei turned to me and said that we human beings tend to go where it is safe, operate within known limits, and do things that we find we are comfortable with. He said that we don’t need to train things we already know; we need to train on things we don’t know well, and go places we don’t feel comfortable going. He says please practice what you are not good at, what feels uncomfortable.

Isn’t this where discovery happens, where people find answers to what they don’t know, by going into the unknown out of a need to push limits?

Keep going.

To keep up to date on the aftermath of the disaster, see Japan’s Times earthquake news updates and watch NHK World English.

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Damage and Nukes
On the approach to Narita Airport on Monday afternoon, I thought I could see large irregular shapes in the ocean off Kyujukurihama, not whitecaps, and it looks like what I saw was wreckage. This morning, CBC reports that a large quantity of debris is headed for Hawaii and the west coast.

The Japan Times quotes a Kyodo News wire story that the disaster has resulted in over 80,000 job losses, but says that’s a conservative estimate. The rebuilding process of course, may offset this situation, but must be devastating for business owners and workers (and families) in the region.

The nuclear crisis, too, is unsettling, but when viewed with an eye for scale, it is obvious that the effects are widespread but complex for the immediate region around Fukushima and for Tokyo, which partially depends on produce, goods and electricity from that region. MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering keeps a nuclear incident blog where they log the latest news and put it into context. In Vancouver, the trace radiation levels are decreasing. As a local scientist remarked, detectable does not mean dangerous. The instruments used to measure radiation levels are sensitive to trace amounts, indicating the presence of radioactive particles at a level that has no significant health effects for human beings.

The Japan Times posts a daily update on the radiation levels measured in milisieverts in eastern Japan. While I’m not thrilled to be irradiated, the level I’m exposed to in northern Chiba is negligible. To get a handle on the effects of doses of radiation measured in sieverts, have a look at xkcd’s radiation dose chart. On an intercontinental flight, you are exposed to magnitudes more radiation than you are standing on the ground within the evacuation zone in Fukushima. At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend sticking around there for long, as the dosage per hour has a cumulative effect.

So, yes, it sucks that Fukushima is exhausting waste water into the Pacific in order to make room for yet more contaminated water, and TEPCO is going to have to concrete over the nuke plants, and Fukushima, Miyagi and parts of Iwate Prefectures will only be fit for growing flowers for the next 20 or so years. The radiation won’t get us, but the economic and social fallout is going to going to tax Japanese gaman, the fortitude and endurance of the Japanese.


Then there are the aftershocks. Thursday night, I had retired to the loft. I live in a wood frame building and the loft during a quake waves like the top of a tree, pretty whippy. The first jolt woke me, and I rolled over, and then the shaking got stronger, so I climbed down the ladder and Skyped home to tell my family that the quake was dramatic but not dangerous for me. USGS says it was a 7.1 magnitude quake. Sadly, some people in Sendai were killed. My family worries about me unnecessarily because they don’t have perspective on the local conditions or the scale of the map and distances from epicenter. I’m far from the action.

Culture and Change
I thought it was just me being sensitive, but I detected a deep social change here. I thought I saw more omoiyari between strangers. Omoiyari is a sense of acceptance and respect for others that often comes out in gesture or action, and sometimes words. In the town, out shopping, talking to neighbours, I felt there was more kindness and patience extended to others. At the pub last night, some local Japanese guys said that their neighbours look out for each other more than ever before. I meet eyes with people more. Japanese people are warm-hearted.

There is ura and omote to Japanese culture, and my girlfriend Eri has noted this. So many disaster survivors show great gaman, endurance, and smile through incredible hardship. She says that western media show these hardy survivors and may give the impression to foreign audiences that things are better than they seem. Those tough people won’t crack, and hold their grief in, showing calm, composed faces to western media. Don’t mistake, she says. There is so much pain there, and people need help.

How to Help

Students' messages of encouragement for Japan

In Vancouver, where I fell back to break out funds, see family, and train with home dojos, I volunteered for 7 days at the University of British Columbia (see the university’s bulletin), my alma mater, where the Japan Society had a booth on the student union building concourse to raise awareness of the disaster, and collect funds for Red Cross. The students, many Japanese and Japanese-Canadian, were in need of comfort, and encouragement to go to classes. We had the assistance of many clubs on campus, and vendors who donated part of their sales to the disaster relief fund. Across the city, theaters, restaurants, and businesses are holding fundraising events.

Here in Kashiwa City, Fukushima survivors and their children are housed in public buildings. A handful of children have been welcomed by the schools.

There are many ways to help inside and outside Japan. See Japan Times How to Help page for a huge list of organizations and networks.

Are you holding a fundraising training seminar or is there some local activity you are involved in ? Please post in the comments.

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Am I learning something? Or am I practicing what I already learned but haven’t fully incorporated. And does it matter?

In training I was told, “Just feel it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do it.” And then a few moments later, “Well, just try it. See what happens.”

I think I’ll take that advice.

The video is called Yuki, or snow, by the Korean and Japanese artist collective AUJIK. What’s going on? Are the children playing? Is it a dance, or a game, or a form of communication? Is the robotic tree leading, or are they? Is the robotic tree simply something they stumbled across in the landscape, or is it part of their routine?

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自由な変化: Free henka

A 先輩, sempai, senior was beside me today in training. I struggled to interpret what Hatsumi Sensei was showing us, and kept looking at sempai. What could I steal from him, stealing from Hatsumi Sensei? My 相手 aite, partner, is awesome to train with – so balanced, really hard to throw, and quite strong. I felt like I sucked at the waza.

I kept looking at sempai. What possible meaning could I derive, how could I get the better of my worthy opponent?

After training, my sempai took me aside and told me something . I struggled to understand what he was saying. Sometimes it’s not my comprehension of Japanese that slows me down. It’s my comprehension of meaning.

He was telling me something about dealing with a balanced opponent. He said something about not using power. Yet he crushed me to the mat when he did the waza on me. What?! This guy has never even talked to me before…

And then I got what he was saying – that sometimes, the waza as is doesn’t work. You have to henka. Everybody, “every body”, is different and requires the freedom of a different approach.

After we bowed out, he demonstrated on me what he was saying.

Why did he bother sharing with me? He’s got a generous heart. And he didn’t worry about my lack of comprehension of his message. He just kept going. He didn’t agonize over whether I’d get the message or not. He didn’t assume whether I had heard this before or not. He just understood that I needed to hear it in that moment.  

Right on, sempai. And thank you.

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was a slogan on a t-shirt I saw once. What a provocative idea, to honour everything you encounter as sacred. Everything.

If only the rabble believed that our budo, communications and relationships were sacred, we wouldn’t have the storm of craziness on the Internet, with speculation, suspicion and disinformation.

Soke, in the first few weeks of training, announced that in the next 3-4 years, that we would be going to a new Hombu Dojo because the railway right of way will, within approximately the same period, require us to leave the land the current Hombu sits on. He told us the new Hombu Dojo would be a repository for the treasures he had amassed, and a central focus for our budo.

Soke said that  he intends for our new hombu dojo to become officially a 宗教法人, shukyouhojin, a type of non-profit organization under Japanese law which covers such religio-cutural institutions such as temples and shrines. I wondered why the new hombu would not become a public non-profit organization, a 公益法人 koeki hojin rather than a religious one. So I did some investigation about the implications of becoming a non-profit organization under Japanese law. And what a wealth of information I found.

To my surprise, becoming a public non-profit organization is neither easy nor cheap. The Nonprofit Japan Web Site indicates that the NPO designation was only approved by the National Diet in the 1980s. Only in 1999 did the first non-profit organizations receive the benefits of this designation. And this designation comes with some downsides, too, as indicated by Nonprofit Japan.  In order to receive the designation of 公益法人 koueki houjin it takes years of  preparation and the foundation must put up ¥100 million.  Koueki houjin organizations are overseen by particular government agencies that often place government old boys on the boards. That could be a real turn-off, having outsiders in your organization, and ones that don’t necessarily share your vision or have the best interests of your members in mind.

I clearly heard sensei say the new Hombu would be  宗教法人法, shukyouhojin. Later, I confirmed with two sempais (senior Japanese and local foreigner) that yes, the new hombu would be designated shukyouhoujin, largely because of the advantages for us, and that no, it would not mean we are a religious organization, but the hombu dojo, like other budo organizations, would incorporate a Shinto shrine on the grounds. After some reading about shukyouhoujin I realized that this was the more expedient, economical option of the two which would allow the hombu dojo more autonomy than a public corporation.

On his Henka blog, Doug Wilson provided information that explains why it is important for the Bujinkan to secure a non-profit structure. He explained, and I have gleaned from other sources, that death taxes are immediately levied, somewhere between 30% and 70%, no matter that the person to whom the estate belonged had earned or inherited those assets, and no matter that the person had paid income tax in life. As we know, Hatsumi Sensei has no children whom he could name in his estate. This means that in the future, the Japan tax man would liquidate the estate. 

 Doug says the estate tax rate is around 70%, and I read that deductions could reduce the burden to 30%, still a large chunk.  This JapanInc article from 2006 mentions the public response to MacDonald’s Japan founder Den Fujita’s estate  that was subject to a huge tax bill. It also gives advice on how to plan for inheritance tax.

What does 宗教 shukyou mean, anyway? Well, the first kanji means sect, and the word shukyou is used broadly in the sense of religion. It also happens to be the first kanji in the word  宗家 soke, and the second one in the word for ancestors of the Japanese emperor’s family, 皇宗 kousou. The attitude in Japan towards all things shukyou is really hard to compare with the west, but bears some resemblance. Just like the Judeo-Christian culture of the west, anything shukyou is inextricably intertwined with high and low culture, history, social customs and conventions. However, there is no dogma or doctrine associated with indigenous Japanese shukyou, namely Shinto. There are no holy books, but there are legends and ancient accounts of the 神 kami, the spiritual forbears of the Japanese people and culture. There are no punishments meted out for those who fail to honour Shinto.  For the most part, Shinto is a ritualistic tradition of honouring seasonal festivals, the spirits of people, places and natural objects, and brings communities and families together to remember traditions.

The great treasures of Japan, 神橋 shinkyo, 金閣寺 kinkakuji, 高野山 Mount Koya, are all places steeped in history, culture, esthetic and relgious meaning. They are all shukyou sites preserved for the Japanese and the world. Hatsumi Sensei is planning to add our hombu to this fund of heritage for our buyu, Japanese people in the local and greater community and the world. Sacred.

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My Mum shot some video of me training in Vancouver some years ago. It was a treat to bring her to dojo and have everybody show her what we do. The photos and video were quite clear and I was pleased with myself. Ooh, look at me!

Last week, I watched some recent video of training and I was caught on camera in the background. I hated watching myself, as every flaw, all the weird kukan and timing I displayed was so clear to me. The difference between Mum’s video and photos and this video is a few years. I don’t even want to look at that old video. The horror!

So I told Sensei, oh, I look awful! And he said don’t sweat it, we all feel like that when we see our own movement. And what a useful tool video is for finding your flaws and good points.  頑張ってください, gambatte kudasai, do your best, or as so many Bujinkan people translate, keep going. 頑張りましょう!If I can stomach it, I’d like to shoot some video of myself. I’m my own best (or worst?) critic.

We’re preparing for an embukai this October 12th at Kashiwa City’s Fuse Benten Temple, and video will help me hone the movement, tighten up timing and kukan. Closer to October I’ll post information about Fuse Benten where and when. For now, keep your eye out for information on George Ohashi’s Bujinkan Dojo website.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying every minute of my time on the mat, whether it is “play training”, as Shiraishi Sensei calls it, or working on waza, or playing up the drama in the embukai practice. Embukai preparation is a good chance to look from the other side, imagining how others will see us. Now for a musical interlude – Nouvelle Vague‘s cover of Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol.

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Hiwatari at Takao-sanThe view from Takao, the highest spot within Tokyo, takes in a magnificent forest stretching away across the mountain ridges to the north and the south and the towers of Shinjuku. I really feel like I’m flying above the city when I’m up there.

Kotengu at YakuoinAt one of the taikais, a yamabushi’s costume was displayed in the tea room of the Tokyo Budokan. At Takao, yamabushi, practioners of  修験道, shugendo, have been doing ascetic rites for over 1000 years. Enshrined in Yakuoin Temple at the top of Takao is Izuna Gongen, a fierce-looking, beaked man wearing the shugensha’s costume and bearing a sword. His cult originated at Togakushi.

So many expressions of Japanese religiousity and esoteric practices are deeply syncretic; the mountain asceticism combines old Shinto practice, Shingon Buddhism, and Taoism. At Yakuoin Temple, if you have the time to take in the tapestry of symbolism and sacred words decorating the statuary, temple buildings and the mountain itself, there are so many messages from these traditions.

In the Shinto vein, the Shugendo practioners honor the natural cycle, and in the Buddhist practice of letting go of things that hinder you on the path, they mark the early spring with a ritual to burn away attachments and evil in the form of 火渡り, fire walking.

The ritual, attended by thousands of people, priests, monks and nuns, weekend shugensha in white ritual  garb, young people, old ladies, lasted a few hours. The chanting of the Heart Sutra (I like Alan Ginsberg’s translation of the Japanese version) and various mantra, including the Fudomyo mantra, continued as the fire burned, and the monks crossed on the glowing embers barefoot, followed by the throng. When we took our turn, the monks and nuns were chanting as fervently as at the beginning, and the ashes were still warm. Guided and protected by the monks, we stood in salt before and after the crossing, and then knelt to be invested with fire from the head priest.

So many symbols and meanings came to me as we were participating. Salt is used to ritually purify in many cultures, but especially in Japan, it’s used to negate bad luck that might follow after a death or funeral, and little piles of salt are placed at the doors of businesses and houses to keep evil out. To my mind, we died a bit there, crossing the fire. I think some of the baggage got sloughed off. I feel lighter now. And I felt really cared for by the monks. They are present for each person as they emerge from that Fudo-fire.

I’ve been looking for an explanation of the meaning of the Fudomyo mantra, “Noomakusaa mandabaa zaradansen damaka roshada sowataya untara takanman,” for some time, but as yet have not found an English translation of the orginal Sanskrit. So for now, I’m satisfied to chant it and as I do so, think about all that Fudomyo embodies.

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