Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

縄 Let Loose

Bujinden nawa

On Tuesday night, Hatsumi Sensei talked about the concept of 縄の空間, nawa no kuukan, or the rope space. He alluded to the ritual use of rope in Shinto practice, and said that an alternate reading of the kanji 神, kami is nawa, homophonous with the Japanese word for rope. He said we bind ourselves to the kami with the nawa. Some months ago, he told us about 縄の関節, the joints of a rope, something which Shawn talked about on his Shlog

The concepts that Soke leaves hanging in space are opportunities and provide lines of research, and this nawa/kami idea got me looking. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be any verification by either the people knowledgeable about Shinto or any dictionary. That doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. I just can’t confirm it. Whatever the case, he got me onto a line (pun intended) of research about the meaning of nawa.

Starting at the beginning, 古事記, Kojiki, the ancient record of Japan’s mythic past and the early imperial line, opens with the generation of gods from which Japan descended. Among the first gods is 神結びの神, kami musubi no kami. The verb 結ぶ musubi means both bind and produce, and in this context, the deity is a “Divine producing deity”, a procreative force. The logic of this is apparent – bind two creatures together and you get a third one.

At Ise, there are two rocks, called 夫婦石, Meoto-ga-seki, The Spouses, which are bound by a massive 注連縄, shimenawa, a rice straw rope of the kind usually used in Shinto to mark the boundaries of sacred space or living things like trees and sumo wrestlers. From the beach, you can watch the sun rise between the stones.

Sensei reminded us the other day about the fact that things are not as seperated as they seem. There is not one, and yet not two. Musubi is at once the binding of two things and the outcome of that binding.

Read Full Post »

What an old lady knows about looking like and being:

My German-speaking great grandmother was not impressed by post-war fashion worn by the young ladies of a house she worked in. They were impeccably dressed but their rooms were filthy, which outraged my usually reserved Oma so much, she remarked, “Oben hoi, und unten foi.” The nuance of this expression is hard to translate, but it means that the outside looks hoi, classy, but the underside is foi, lacking redeeming qualities.

When you hold a rank in our art, in principle you  should have sufficient skill, and when you don’t, to admonish yourself for not hitting the mark. You need to know when you’re hoi or foi.  

I’m working on my kihon these days so as to be not foi. How about we start there?

And now, a haiku:

The waza slips out

Of my hands this time but I

Know spring comes again

On to some art:

Lyssa, budoka and artist, has now got her prints, often inspired by her trips here to Japan for martial training, at Okami Press on Etsy. You can see her remarkable rendition of Fudomyo, the immoveable wisdom king.

Read Full Post »

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…

Read Full Post »