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Archive for the ‘Culture’ 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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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.

Aftershocks

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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The executives of 日本美術刀剣保存協会 The Japanese Artistic Sword Protection Society is alleged to have neglected rules regarding the registration of swords in Japan. TBS reports today

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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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礼儀 Reigi Courtesy

Courtesy, 礼儀 reigi, is ingrained in the Japanese way of doing things. The word 礼 rei, means everything from giving thanks to saluting someone. When you visit a shrine or temple, you put a little money in the offering box. It’s a symbol of giving more than a payment.
 

The second kanji, 儀 gi, means ceremony. Japanese culture is very ceremonious, and you may wonder, do Japanese people ever relax? But manners have a high value with most people in Japan. I think you will set your dojo mates at ease when you observe proper reigi in the dojo. It means that everyone is sharing a common language of gesture. If you don’t know exactly what to do, don’t worry. People here see your foreign face and they know you don’t know. Careful observation and listening reveal a lot. This is part of 空気を読めること, kuuki wo yomeru koto, or reading the atmosphere. If you can anticipate what someone needs to hear or observe to be relaxed, then you have a key to open the door of learning the budo, too.

 

When you walk into our Hombu Dojo, or any dojo for that matter, place your shoes in the genkan carefully, and point the toes to the door. This makes for a graceful exit when you leave. You can bow before you step onto the mat. You may think, why bow to empty space and to no person, but this お礼 orei, or giving thanks to all the people who have preceded you.

 

Japanese culture is all about being 綺麗, kirei which is a word that connotes cleanliness, purity and beauty. My keikogi was out in the sunshine yesterday and there is a fresh tshirt in my bag. In the hombu dojo, my Canadian training partner straightens his gi jacket and I catch the scent of the 香袋 kobukuro, a sharp, spicy incense packet that he keeps in his training bag. My gear bag, which I place on the wooden floor of the dojo, doesn’t get placed on the mats. Mats are for training on, and ought to be kept clean. You might have placed your bag on the floor of the train, or set it on the ground when your hands were full, so it’s not clean.

 

Sensei makes a gesture to indicate he wants me to be uke, demonstrating the technique. I bow my head,  “Yes, please!”. When Sensei is done demonstrating and explaining, I bow my head again. When sensei comes around to show me again because I’m not getting the point of the movement, I say thank you and bow.

 

When you do the technique the first time, I say nothing. We each take a turn. Didn’t work the first time? Don’t fret, you’re practicing. If you can help me identify some tweak, a tipping point, a dangerous 突き tsuki, I’m grateful. But my teacher is right there. If we get really stuck, I put my hand up to ask sensei, but more often than not, because he is attentive to his students, he will likely notice and come help us out.

There is an expression in Japanese, 「親しき仲にも礼儀あり」,”good manners even amongst friends.

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