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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

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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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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photomeijigateA few times week, I walk the grounds of 明治神宮 Meiji Jingu, the grand shrine in central Tokyo dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

The emperial couple were famous poets who composed about 130,000 poems in the classical Japanese form, waka.

Emperor Meiji was born mere months before Commodore Perry’s ships arrived in Japan. He represents the modernization of Japan, taking the recently unified states of the Japanese islands form a closed feudal society, to a modern country capable of economic power in a global economy. Here is Emperor Meiji:

さしのぼる

あさひのごとく

さわやかに

もたまほしきは

こころなりけり

As clear and refereshing

as the rising sun –

Thus might it always be

With the human heart!

Empress Shoken was a powerful, forward looking woman. She championed social welfare organizations like the Red Cross. She was a child prodigy who had mastered Japanese and Chinese literature at an early age. She introduced a court edict which required the wearing of western attire, since, she believed, Japanese traditional garb was outmoded. She wrote:

むらぎもの

こころにといて

はじざらば

よのひとごとは

いかにありとも

If you consult your inmost heart

And still need feel no shame,

then let the people of the world

Talk on as they please.

At the 内苑 naien gate, for 100 yen, you can get a fortune paper with a waka poem on it written by these two prolific and wise poets.

I often look in at Shiseikan, the martial hall on the grounds of the shrine. Shiseikan has a school of Aikido and battojutsu. In the reception hall, a massive screen has kanji characters as tall as I am reading 武神, bushin, or warrior gods. I asked a senior Aikido practioner, why is there a budojo on the grounds of the shrine? She told me that the shrine authority wishes to preserve important traditions of Japan, and that the Aikido and battojutsu practiced there are protected by the gods. 

Meiji Jingu is about looking back, to respect tradition, and looking forward to imagine what will be. Budo and the sprit from which it came has its roots and protection at this shrine. The shrine preserves these traditions for the future.

Meiji Jingu celebrates Japanese traditions in October and November, showcasing budo, mounted archery and other arts. The big day for budo is November 3rd, 文化の日 bunka no hi, or Culture Day, which was Emperor Meiji’s birthday.

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As far as I can tell from what Hatsumi Sensei does, it is not a method, but an approach. A method is a prescribed way of doing things. His budo is an approach – chaotic, free, thoughtful, problematic, steeped in history and myth, and based on a shared 基本 kihon of the 9 schools collected together under the Bujinkan banner. He gives you room to do what you’re going to do, either adopting or adapting what he does, or completely ignoring his message. He doesn’t prescribe. He shows.

These days, I put in about 6-8 hours a week into training – with Hatsumi Sensei, my sempais and friends – and practice – on my own, or practicing with people. My budo, if you watch me, isn’t that remarkable. I’ve only been training in Japan for seven years.

But the insights I gain about the process of learning and teaching, of acquisition of language, meaning, efficiency of movement, space and timing are precious and are part of my everyday life. When something really resonates with me, I  integrate it into my work or personal life.

Budo, for me, is also a tool to learn about knowing. What is real and what is merely an artifact of individual or collective anxiety?

For me, it’s a message about patience, too. So often, I want to take my partner down right away, anxious to get “there”, but if I take my time, breathe, and have some patience with the waza, and my own ability to comprehend,  I learn a more efficient way to get there alive. It brings to mind  the Japanese proverb 「急がば回れ」, isogebamaware,  The fastest way home is the long way around.

It’s a long trip. I like it.

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