Archive for the ‘Japanophilia’ Category

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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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:






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:






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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A martial artist is called a 武芸者 bugeisha in Japanese. Yes, the  last two kanji and the pronunciation of them are the very same as geisha, and the three kanji together mean “martial art person”.

The geisha and the bugeisha have a lot in common. In order to become profficient, both practice long years at both form and art. The geisha spends years practicing dance, music, voice, kimono, makeup and conversation, and the idiom of being geisha. A bugeisha must practice learning the waza, fine control, building composure and learning to take care of all the gear used in training.

A maiko is a junior geisha, and her charm and growing repertoire of skills make her alluring even though she is not as accomplished as her senior geisha. A naive attempt at some difficult dance or an innocent response to a customer may reveal stunning genius unencumbered by preconceptions of the right way to do things. Likewise, the junior budoka free from preconceptions about how some movement should happen is able to be free and sometimes do remarkable, natural movement.

Either discipline leads to greater skill, freedom and self expression. It’s not just about skill but about drawing something out of yourself, a reserve of power that each person has. Hatsumi Sensei has told us that we expand our 器 ki, or capacity, and in turn we push our 才能, sainou or talents.

Today, I’ll put in about four hours of training. 頑張っています。 I keep going.

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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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Sensei talked a lot about harmony, how to find peace, how not to fight, how to end struggle on Tuesday night.

This brilliant short film by Kosai Sekine beautifully expresses the idea that all of us, no matter our quirks, hangups, weirdneses can find a place where we’re in harmony…

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On October 12th, Hatsumi Senei will present an 演武会 embukai, a martial demonstration, in celebration with 東海時 Tokaiji Temple and 布施弁天 Fuse Benten. This year marks the 1200th anniversary of the founding of the temple in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture.

At this temple, Benten, the Japanese version of the Indian deity Saraswati, is enshrined. In either guise, she is a goddess of poetry, music, art and learning. She is often depicted holding a biwa, protected by a dragon, as she is at Enoshima Island, or white snakes, which are said to live at Fuse Benten, and near water as, in her native India, she is a river. Of the 七福神 Shichifukujin, Seven Gods of Good Fortune revered in Japan, she is the only female deity.

Whenever I go to Fuse Benten, I always intend to give, as the name of the temple suggests, and I always think of 不滅の布施 fumetsu no fuse, or endless offerings, the first line of the 悟宝 the Goshou, the five treasures that Hatsumi Sensei so often alludes to:

不滅の不施    Everlasting giving

真道の持戒  Vow of the true way

自然の忍にく   Natural resolve

自然の超越     Transcendance of nature

光明の悟り  Illumination of the awakening

Each time I go, I make my offering of a prayer and a bit of coin, maybe buy an amulet, or bring a friend. The balance in the giving is receiving, and every time I go, I am given something. A few years ago, on an early spring day, I was invited in for tea and to see devotional paintings in the rectory.  Other times, Benten has yielded beautiful spring flowers and fall leaves, little glimpses of local history and Buddhist lore, and always some image in the temple’s decoration emerges, something that illuminates an idea encountered in budo.

On a visit this summer, my friend M and I rode 20 minutes by bicycle from central Kashiwa to Fuse Benten. When we got there, we saw a big basket of eggs set in front of the altar. The eggs were wrapped in paper on which blessings were written. While we were admiring the altar and the statue of Benten, a little grandma came in, knelt on the tatami in front of the goddess image and talked to her like you would an old friend, “Honorable Benten, thank you for everything. Might I take one of these eggs as your blessing? There’s a dear.” Benten is well-loved by the local people.

When M and I asked for our fortunes, the priest also handed us each an uchiwa fan with the details of the October 12th celebration in honour of the temple’s 1200th year. On the back, we saw the Togakure Ryu name on the bill. We explained to the priest that we are members of the Bujinkan, and we would do our best in the presentation, and he gave us a few of the blessed eggs. Every time we give something, energy, time, good will, something comes back.

What offering can you bring to the embukai? If you are in the embukai, your offering is your art, your budo, and your ability to create suspension of disbelief in the audience. Benten in return inspires us with art, craft, flow and beauty. If you are watching, you bring your wonder and support for those in the embukai, and respect for Japanese culture. On the day, besides the budo demonstration, there will also be taiko drum and dance performances.

Some things to bear in mind when you visit – Tokaiji and Fuse Benten are places of worship. You should wash your hands at the basin.  This is a way to show you are purified in body and mind before you approach the temple and shrine complex. Ring one of the bells with vigour. This is how you let the gods know you are petitioning. A good coin to throw in the offertory box is 五円 go en, which is a homonym for 御縁 good relationship. As a sign of respect, bow in front of the altar. The usual Shinto formula is two bows and a clap, say your prayer, and bow when you take your leave. 

To get to Fuse Benten, follow George Ohashi’s directions.

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Lyssa is an amazing woman. She can knit, sew, design costumes, dissasemble, paint, reassemble and ride a bicycle, grow plants, cook great food and be help desk diva to others. And she’s also a Bujinkan student. Lately, she’s been applying her artistic talents to the production of Ninja Gears, an online shop featuring her designs for budoka. The design that appeals to me most is the 眠り猫, nemuri neko or sleeping cat.  The original cat, a wooden sculpture by a left-handed artist, is to be found at Nikko‘s Toshogu Shrine, and is said to both represent the spirit of Nikko itself (a shrine complex designed to honour Tokugawa Ieyasu) and the healing Buddha. Sleep is a great medicine, sensei reminds me, and says that, when you’re injured or sick, lie down and rest yourself as long as you need to.

Lyssa’s graphic of the sleeping cat captures the shape of the sculpture beautifully. Hidari Jingoro, the artist who created the original, was fascinated by cats. Cats, like any animal that hunts, have natural 無心, mushin, or no mind. They are completely aware and ready to react. The famous tale, 猫の妙術, neko no myojutsu or the Uncanny Skills of the Cat, tells us about a feline who has mastered the ability to react out of no mind, and totally unnerve his opponent.  Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese folk tale, recalling the theme of Neko no Myojutsu, about a boy obsessed with cat illustrations in The Boy who Drew Cats, brings to mind this uncanny quality of the cat.

Lyssa is a girl who draws cats…

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In his new book, Unarmed Techniques of the Samurai, Hatsumi Sensei included some of his calligraphy on 色紙, shikishi, the coloured boards, often with gold edges, that are so often used for keepsake Japanese writing such as calligraphy or haiku. One of them featured in the book is 忍友, ninyu. I suppose one of the meanings could be keeping company with fellow learners, helping each other to persevere. Sensei has also used the word 武友, buyu, or martial friends to encourage us to learn together.

Two people I consider 先輩, seniors, are writing insightful blogs. Doug Wilson’s Henka and the Paul Masse’s Goshinjutsu pick up themes from our budo, the authors’ life experiences and study of 文武両道, bunbu ryodo, or book and martial learning. Paul’s artistry comes out in his photography, too.

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