Friday, December 31, 2010

Bhagavad-Gida and Kana Shodo

My Taiwanese friend was the first to say to me, “Happy New Year!” In Taiwan, they are celebrating their 100th year. Happy 100th year, Taiwan! Happy New Year to Japanese, Indian, and other friends. And Happy New Year in advance to the rest.

A few days ago, I found another great bargain. A used book like new. An English translation of Bhagavad-Gita was only 50 cents at San Dimas Library. I own a Japanese version. But, if I could own an English version for only 50 cents, how could I pass this opportunity?

The book is thick. It always amazes me to see English translation books. They tend to be huge. My Japanese version is a thin, small book with a larger Japanese font. It includes some explanation and references. I page through my new purchase here and there.

The page in the second photo above appeared before me. I thought it a scribble at first. After all, it is a used book. I know I can’t compare it with Kana Shodo because western signatures are not Kana Shodo. But because of the cultural differences, I needed time to adjust. Soon enough, I realized it was the author’s signature, and later on, I appreciated the seemingly very complicated but free flowing signature. How wonderful the difference is! It’s always a challenge to my hidden prejudice.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kyrgyzstan and Umut

I copied this Facebook exchange below with Umut’s permission.
Thank you, Umut! 

Keiko Amano December 28 at 7:14am


I'm the mother of Mikki Sulan. She told me your name means hope. That's great. In Japan, a novelist named Tusihima Yuuko talks passionately about your culture. I'm interested in it also. I haven't read it, but Tsushima has been studying and writing about Manus (SP maybe wrong), poetry. I guess Manus is your ancient hero.

Umut Kakeeva December 28 at 10:19am Report

Hi Keiko nice to hear from you! In my culture almost all names have meanings. My dad really hoped have a girl for the first child. This is why my names is Umut. I always tell my Peace Corps volunteers through learning the meaning of names they can build their Kyrgyz vocabulary. However I have noticed Americans are not interested in name meanings as we do:) Probably Mikki remembers my names meaning cuz she has Asian background and I know in Asia it is acceptable. Yes, Manas is our ancient hero and the longest epic in the world. What is unique of Manas is Kyrgyz people saved it by orally because they didn't know to write. A person who tells Manas called Manaschi mean Manas teller. In the past when Kyrgyz people didn't know how to write Manaschis told among crowd of people as telling poetry for a long time. Some Manaschi could tell for all the night without stopping. Nowadays Manaschis don't tell such long because we have Manas books now and people can read:) Also, Manas epic describes Kyrgyz culture. Even Kyrgyz people didn't leave about their history and culture in written form but it kept with Manas.

I am very interested in Japanese culture. Just yesterday watched about Kyto (SP might be wrong) on TV. I heard Japanese people are so hard-working. accurate and punctual. One of my American friend's mom told the she impressed the public transportation in Japan comes on time than in the States. I really respect the Japan people are so modern and at the same time follow their traditions. BTW, I loved Japanese cuisine. Recently Peaco Corps training officer invited us to the dinner his home. His wife is Japanese. We felt like we were in Japan cuz they showed real Japanese dinner and culture. I think we ate 11 kinds of food and tried some Sake:) Food was so delicious and healthy! Unfortunately, I forget their names except sushi. Also, we had fun using chopsticks. OK, I guessed I talked a lot. If you are interested in to know about our culture I can tell you more. Just let me know. Also, you have a great daughter! She is my best American friend!

Keiko Amano December 28 at 2:50pm


Thank you for your response. This is great. And I'm glad to hear that my daugher is your best American friend. I'm also glad to know that Mikki paid attention to the meaning of your name. You probably taught her your language more than you think. Making friends is the best way to learn target languages.

So, Manas epic is the longest in the world, and it used to be an oral tradition. If it was oral, there must be many versions. I hope some young people keep such unique tradition going. I'd like to know more about Kyrgyz culture and language. Mikki was lucky to have had the opportunity to learn the language.

About punctuality in Japan, longer ago, we were more punctual. Lately, we have more small accidents on rails, and passengers often must wait. I think one of the reasons is that younger people push emergency buttons more easily than older folks.

Below are my blogs about my name.

Umut, can I copy this exchange to my blog spot? I want to introduce you and your culture to my fellow bloggers. It will be very meaningful. Please let me know.



Keiko Amano's Blog: Names and Preference

Vincent is fine by me. Now we must find a name for you. How about an Italian suffix?"To indicate smallness or express affection or endearment, add the common suffixes such as -ino/a/i/e, -etto/a/i/e, -ello/a/i/e, and -uccio, -uccia, -ucci, -ucce."Keikina? Keikella? Keikuccia? (the ending in a signif


Umut Kakeeva December 28 at 6:45pm Report

Yes, of course I don't mind at all. Thanks for your blog link.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

ZACL and Ashok in Kana Shodo

Last April, I wrote a blog titled “Hiragana in Ballpoint Pen.”
To my surprise, I had good feedbacks.  That was the reason I decided to take up a Kana Shodo class. 

This morning I was inspired.  So, I got my calligraphy utensils out and wrote two more names in kana, ZACL and Ashok.  To draw ZACL was a challenge because it isn’t like Mary or Elizabeth. 

In Kana Shodo, we write in kana, but we include some kanji which is called chowatai (the balanced form.)  So, for ZACL, I picked (otu) in kanji for Z.  甲乙means primary and secondary.  So, means secondary.  But, when we say, “It’s 乙(おつだねぇ、or おつですね), it means “It’s subtle, but good” or “It’s surprisingly good.”  The meaning has depth in aesthetic or goodness, and the proportion to kanji vs hiragana depends on the calligrapher’s sensibility.

I also chose and .  is pronounced “a” of “a chair.”  is pronounced similar to “n” or “m.”  According to Sanskrit, is the beginning and is the end.  And I thought looks like alphabet L dancing.  あうん means “Ohm,” and it came from Sanskrit. 

For C, I let it remain as alphabet, but I made it like a wind.  When I see ZACL’s photos, I sense a wind and the sea in the background even if the photos are taken indoors.  So, I depicted a wind and the sea by drawing; the last two letters.

ZACL, if you don't like it, I can always come up with other design.  So, please let me know.

For Ashok, I simply used hiragana only. Ashok isあしょっく!
I always think of Ashok, “A Shock!”

So, it sounds somewhat logical but also idiosyncratic, right?  But I think a number of ancient Japanese scholars went through this kind of process over and over and reached the stability in the Japanese written language.  Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) set 50 kana based on Sanskrit.  He and Ueda Akinari fought on the concept.  This is very interesting.  I hope to read more about it later.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Kana

む (mu)

The origin of  a hiragana む is 武.   武者(musha) and 武士(bushi) mean samurai, but the meaning wasn't so important when developing Japanese letters from Chinese characters.   無 is also む which means nothing.   In one of Nishida Kitaro's books, he wrote that 無 is love when he compared with the western concept.  I agree.  
無 holds everyting else.  

Talking of love, I fell in love with the letter Iida Kazuko Sensei wrote for one of Basho poems.  I asked her to draw that particular む in the same way.  She brushstroke in red ink right then and there a few times and gave me that as you see above photo.  It is just a む.  But it has characters.  Don't you think?  They are, in fact, two kanji characters,  and the character, in other sense,  is nothingness but in a samurai way.   We call this kind of arts, playful.  Yes!  Playing is the key.  You can interpret your own way, and choose your own brushstrokes.   I've uploaded kana shodo blog spots again because my past "Kana Shodo" blog spot is the most popular so far.   Thank you for appreciating our traditional art!  

Below is my Japanese blog, and the second photo shows the old pond and a frog poem by Basho in which that same む appeared. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kana Shodo Part 2

I've uploaded the models that were written by my teacher in my other blog, Books and Talks.
  Her name is Iida Kazuko Sensei.   But in this blog, I'll show you my effort in copying her design.   They are not quite there, but I'm excited.  In her design, she chooses different letters to gain overall balance and uses less ink to achieve a rustic feeling.  I just love her む、mu.

This is my Kana Dictionary.  There are more む than you see in this page.  Also, you can create your own if you want to.  I love Iida sensei's む so much.  So I asked her to write only that.   She did.  I'll show it to you in my next post.

I'm pretty peased with this piece, especially む (mu).

old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fat and Old and Ugly

Some of you have already read this story in one of my Red Room blog spots. But, it is now translated into Romanian and Spanish with the title of "Fat and Old and Ugly" in Contemporary Literary Horizon magazine. Here is the site.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Market Scene in Yokohama

Samma was three pieces for only 100 yen!

Growing up, I used to see this type of local markets everywhere in Yokohama and
Tokyo, but not anymore. I hope this market won't disappear.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ian Hideo Levy

I’ve been reading his books one after another since last week. Ribi Hideo (リービ英雄) is his Japanese name. He is an American author and a scholar on Japanese literature. He had translated Manyoushu, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry. He has been writing in Japanese for a long time. But like me, he doesn’t seem to translate his own works. I’m similar that way with a few exceptions. I hope to write my comments about his books later on.

Meantime, you can take a look at his sites below. I would say that he is remarkable in being patient with the Japanese society and people. In the past, I’ve never known any westerners who could speak as well as write Japanese well. I’m sure there are many westerners who love Japanese literature, but probably most of them were discouraged by the difficulty in blending into the Japanese society. I highly recommend his YouTube video. I think it’s excellent even for general audience. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I wanted to show you a funny picture, but I couldn't find it. I was seven in the picture. I wore a new kimono and made a funny face. Probably I can show it some other time. Instead, I uploaded this photo. My mother and me at my aunt's American-style house in Tokyo.

I was three with my mother and her sister's family at Meiji Jingu. The boy is my cousin. A Chauffer drove him to Yokohama International School daily. They were rich, and we were poor although I didn't know. Mother made my kimono out of her old kimono. It was beautiful deep purple with white cherry blossoms and a golden obi sash. I love that outfit so much. Even today, I want to wear that exact designed kimono and obi.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trees and Bushes (Part 6)

It’s tough to be clear among Japanese. Going back to the trees and bushes, I asked the gardener for his estimate. Next day, he quoted 110,000 yen. After he has done the great job, I paid 113,000 yen. 3,000 yen was the difference he had to pay for dumping trash. The cost of dumping is expensive here although I don’t know how much. He gave me a receipt and an itemized list of his work done. I would recommend him to anyone for his services.

And here is another person I want to recommend to readers if you want to take a look at Japanese life. His name is Iida Kazuhiko. He is a blogger. I made a few comments on his blog and a little while ago, I asked him a difficult question. My question wasn’t focused, I’m afraid, but he responded. I have translated our exchanges as below.

I wrote: There must be many problems sandwiching the public constructions and the environments. If there are kind ways of executing public works from an engineer point of view, would you please let me know? I’d like to translate it and show it to the people in the world through my blog.

Iida-san replied: Engineers are in the position to solve known problems in technical ways. Some issues come up after some problem has occurred. Those situations are not rare. We handle known environmental issues. But what is kind to the environment is not easy to judge. Even solar panels, if we cover some large percentage of the earth, it might cause problems. Ultimately, human existence is not kind to the earth. The increase in human population is like the cancer to the nature. Please see the following site for general information on civil engineering and public works in Japan.

I’ve gone to the above site and found many interesting essays by engineers and scholars. One in particular blew my mind. I hope to write about it in future. Iida-san is a retired civil engineer. He spent two years in Paraguay for teaching about concrete. His blog site is

Although it wasn’t written in Iida-san’s blogs, I found out that he was a graduate of Tokyo Institute of Technology. I could tell because it was the same college as my grandfather graduated. My grandfather’s large anniversary plate by Noritake has been displayed in my family room in the U.S. It is too large. I had no place to store it. So, it ended up on the window shelf, and it is still there. The design on the plate is a river and a factory-looking structure with smoke billowing from a chimney. I guess that was their campus then. In the back of the plate, “The Taisho-Seventh-Year (1918) graduate” was written on it. Next time, I’m in the U.S., I’ll take a photo of the plate, and show you and Iida-san through a blog. I grew to like the plate.

Trees and Bushes (Part 5)

I took these photos on the way to a train station. It's close to my home.

For a while, I thought of moving back to Japan entirely. One of the reasons was Japan’s national healthcare. My son was in college. He could take care of the house. He would drive my car willingly! And my daughter was in high school and living with her dad. Through a former colleague of mine in Los Angeles, I landed on a technical manager position in Tokyo for an American software company. The company made systems monitor software and other innovative products.

The work was not easy but very interesting because of cultural differences. I learned a lot from all the employees and my boss. At the same time, I was going through many vague and unpleasant problems coming from after the death of Mother. She was larger than life to me and many people. It was a prior to year 2000, and systems programmers had choices. Y2K projects needed people like me. It would be easy for me to get a contract job in the U.S. I was lonesome, too. I had old friends, but no one really to talk to. So, whatever the problem feelings I had remained the same and that included the tree problem.

The tree problem continued because trees and bushes never stop growing. Then, a few weeks ago, Electro started to make a lot of noises about worms. I didn’t see worms, but as soon as I heard him talking about worms to a neighbor, I made sure not to look for them. I hate worms. Just thinking about them gave me shivers. So, I called my gardener.

“Worms will disappear once the weather cools down,” the gardener said.

Good. That seemed a good attitude and also a great solution. We just need to wait for colder weather. But my neighbor kept making noises about worms.

“Can you come as soon as possible? I’d like you to wipe out the bamboo bushes and trim all the trees. Please!”

“I can’t go right now. I’ll be there next week.”

Next day, someone knocked my door. Lately, some strangers knock my doors quite often if I remained in the apartment. And they don’t identify their name for some reason. Once, a stranger tried to open the door, and when I asked who that was, that person went away. In other time, I answered to a knock, and a woman replied to me as, “I’m a volunteer from the XXX Fourth town.” I live in the XXX Third town. I waited for more information such as what kind of volunteer work she was doing, and for what purpose she came over to me, and why she came four bus stops away to do her volunteer work. I was curious. She went away without further response. Something spooky has been going on here lately. The neighborhood used to be very safe, but not anymore.

Next day after I called the gardener, he called back and said,

“I got some free time tomorrow afternoon. I can’t do too much, but I will stop by.”

“Great! If you can clean out a part of the bamboo bush, I’ll be happy. That would stop the neighbor from bad mouthing the situation.”

So, the gardener came over. Electro and one of female neighbors were standing close to the gardener, staring at his work. I greeted and said to the gardener,

“Thank you for coming in such a short notice. If you could wipe right here, you can return for the rest next week,” I said. I pointed the bamboo bush near my door.

“Come over,” Electro said to me as though we were very close friends. “Come over. Come over here.”

“What is it?” I said. The gardener knelt down and kept cutting bamboos. Electro eyed him behind the gardener as though he wanted to avoid him in his secret talk with me. I felt respectful to the gardener even more. I didn’t want to talk behind his back. Besides, I have nothing to hide, and I have never been close to Electro.

“I say, come over here,” Electro insisted. “The worms were all over! You should have seen them.” He lifted a glass jar and extended his arm toward me. The jar looked like filled with some dirt. “Here, I kept worms for you to see.”

“I don’t want to see that.” I made a funny face and widened my nostrils. What was he thinking? If the worms were his problems, why he wanted to collect them into the jar and to show other people to feel worse?

He looked surprised that I didn’t want to see it. Then he said,
“I took care of your bamboo while you were gone and…”

He used to park his van for years in front of my apartment. He has no garden. He built his house up to the edge of his property. Once, he asked me after parking his car along the wall of my apartment,

“Do you want me not to park here?” he said to me.

“Well, I don’t own the lane,” I said.

“Tell me if you want me to park on my side,” he said.

“Oh, if you say so, okay, why don’t you park your car on your side since that’s your side? Because of a concrete block fence and a bamboo bush, people throw trash into it. When you park your van, it makes it even more hidden.”

He made an I-can’t-believe-what-you-are-saying look.

“Thank you for asking. That’s a good idea. Please don’t park here anymore.”

That was three years ago or so. Almost all the new houses being built are without a garden. I’m lucky to have it. Kids in the neighborhood gather at the corner of the lane and play ball. In summer, they collect cicadas from my trees. I enjoy listening to children play and bird and insect’s songs. Children can capture all the cicadas. I want to live next to this kind of natural environment, not walled by all concrete. But in the cities, owning trees and bushes comes with much responsibility and sometimes with unpleasantness.

A young friend of mine sent me an email. She knows what’s going on with my trees and bushes. I wrote that once the gardener finished their job, then Electro would finally be quiet. In reply, she wrote to me, “I don’t think he would stop.”

I imagined about Electro a year from now. Wow, I thought the young friend was quite observant. She must be right. Sometimes, nothing works for some people. And they remain the same. As I do! I guess that’s only fair.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trees and Bushes (Part 4)

I called a local friend of mine--I name her Bean--to get an introduction to a reliable gardener who does not charge too much. Bean was going to introduce me to her friend. I name him Lesser Panda. Red beans and pandas are my favorite. He was retired from a nursery, he said. Good enough. The cost was on my mind. If he would kill the tree out of his inexperience in tree cares, let it be, I thought. Mother had told me in the past that such large trees should not be planted in the first place in private homes in the cities. I agreed with her. She was stuck with it, but enjoyed it also. I was sure she also had some headache for its upkeep. Before I met Panda, I asked Bean how much he would charge. She was vague in reply. So I asked her again.

“How much does he really charge? I asked him, but he doesn’t reply.”

“I’m not sure. Give him what you can afford,” she said.

“Can you give me a ball park?” I said. “If you were in my situation, how much would you pay?”

“Some people pay one million yen,” she said.

“We are not talking about an important cultural property. It’s my old house.”

“Do you have a pine tree?” she said. “Trimming pine trees are expensive.”

“No, no pine trees. How much?” I said.

“It’s quite expensive.”

“How much?”

“Someone said she paid 150,000 yen recently,” she said.

“How many trees does she have? Does she have a pine tree?”

“I haven’t seen her garden. Just go by common sense. Just pay a reasonable fee.”

“That’s what I’ve been asking. What’s the reasonable fee? What is your common sense?”

Common sense to anything needs further global studies. So, I decided to ask Lesser Panda face to face. If he didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t be able to pay him. He began working on the largest persimmon tree.

“Please let me know your estimate,” I said.

“Ah,” he said and kept trimming the tree.

We had tea and sweets. I asked him again.

“I’ve asked Bean, but she wouldn’t come with an answer. But I need your estimate.”

“It’s up to you,” he said.

“That’s difficult. If you don’t tell me, I can’t let you do the work.”

He smiled and kept working. So, I called a restaurant nearby and ordered our lunch.

“Please let me know how much.” I said.

“It’s up to you,” he said.

When I was growing up, Mother took care of all the problems. It seemed the Japanese daily life seemed not as easy as it looked. I didn’t know how she handled each problem.

To sum up, they all ncver ever came up with the estimate. I didn’t know the common sense price. I didn’t want to insult anyone with unnecessarily cheap reward. But I certainly didn’t want to overpay. And if I had a lot of money, I would have gone to a professional.

Lesser Panda wasn’t a professional tree care person, and he had no helper. On the last day he was cleaning up, I put 100,000 yen in an envelope and handed to him. It was still too expensive compared to the price in the U.S. But I figured this was Japan, and the cost of services could be higher.

The job was done. The garden looked clean. But there were holes in the ground of the lane here and there. Nearby, new buildings were built, and those constructions made the land depressed in some spots. I wasn’t the owner of the lane, but I went to a local construction company and had them fill the holes with gravels. In the meantime, Bean came over and said,

“How much have you paid him?”

“100,000 yen.”

She made a sound. She looked surprised and disappointed.

“It’s more than I ever paid.”

“You should have paid at least 150,000 yen!” she said. “Other people pay much more.”

Her words seemed to confirm my price was right.

After the trees were trimmed, I happened to meet three older neighborhood ladies near the bridge. They all wore black. They were on the way to a funeral. The leader of the group said to me,

“Why did you cut the cherry tree? We are all angry, don’t you know?”

I pursed my lips and looked at her.

“All the people in the neighborhood enjoy the tree year after year. Even some people came to see the tree from far away,” she said holding a black tote bag.

The other two women cast their eyes over to me.

“I’m so sorry,” I said with emphasis. “But if I didn’t do it, there would be more problems later.”

They looked at me with a faint smile on their faces and walked on.

They were old enough. I meant the ladies, not the trees. They probably knew the consequences if they thought more about it. That was my estimate. But I wouldn’t know what they really thought for sure.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trees and Bushes (Part 3)

This is a photo of the photo. It was the last beautiful bloom in 1997. It lasted a week or so. It was gorgeous, but I had to turn on light even daytime.

Mother was still in the hospital. She was under morphine. Another man came and recommended me to replace a panel upstairs of the apartment. The apartment is old and not a pretty site. (But I appreciate it so that I can still remain in Japan and write and research and enjoy the things I cannot in the U.S.) So, I asked around for advice.

“Your place is old. You can’t help, but to fix it,” my cousin said. She was right about it.

“But, what about the price, 100,000 yen! Isn’t that too expensive?” I said.

“I don’t know. If you have to pay, you have to pay,” she said.

I guessed so. I asked my sister in law for the same advice. It was worse. I probably shouldn’t have asked her for advice, but I couldn’t help it.

“Anything costs much nowadays. It’s probably okay to pay it,” she said.

So, I paid it. Again, I had no reason to doubt this man either. After Mother’s funeral, the man made a visit to me at night.

“Your place is old. You have a lot to fix. I can help you,” the man said. His face was very red. He was probably drinking. I was a bit frightened, but if I yelled hard, my next door neighbor probably could hear me.

By this time, I looked at the work he had done, and it looked to me the panel was painted over it. I used to think he replaced it and painted over it. Now, I think he just only painted it. And I wondered what kind of business he had to go upstairs of the apartment in the first place. He had none. Only a postman and other delivery people would go upstairs. My post box is upstairs because solicitors keep throwing ads into my tiny post box and make the area trashy.

“I don’t need your help anymore,” I said.

“But, but, your brother bowed to me at the funeral and his wife said, ‘Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.’”

“Anyone would say that for greetings,” I said. “I don’t think they meant anything by it.”

He repeated what my sister in law said.

“Please. Please do not come to this house anymore. Tell your wife not to tie her cat to the gate or come into the garden,” I said in a firm voice.

Mother had complained to me before the cat woman came into the garden often. Mother said, “Once, I was taking a nap with the window open. When I awoke, my eyes met her eyes.”

I stared into his eyes.

“I thought your family needed my help. I was only trying to help,” he said.

“No, we don’t. It’s late. Please go home,” I said.

I’m like Mother, but in some way, I’m like my father. Once, my junior high school teacher made a visit to my house and kept drinking sake and didn’t leave. My father lifted him and pushed him to the door to say goodbye. Next morning, Mother said,

“What a bad thing to do! Your father lifted the teacher out of the house!”

I was probably in my room studying or listening to the Beatles the night before. A few weeks later, the teacher called Mother at night and asked her if he could borrow 20,000 yen. That was probably the average salary of a college graduate then. Father and I didn’t know about it until much later. She said she handed him 10,000 yen and apologized that that was all she could afford. Gee. Father was a public servant, and she was a house wife. She taught ocha, but all her tuition money went to buy more tea utensils and kimono.

The following year after Mother died, I got the house. The land is rented. I’m not the land owner. And my older brother received her savings. Then, I invited some of my friends and Mother’s students for tea and to watch cherry blossoms. From the glass door, the sky was pink. Flowers cascaded like a giant umbrella not only onto the roofs and the garden but onto the lane. It almost reached the roof of Electro’s house. I felt alarmed.

To be continued.

ITO-san's Smile

What a smile!

Ito-san makes sushi at the 6th floor of Cial which is at the west exit of the Yokohama Station. I was on the way to my Kana Shodo class, and I stopped by to have some sushi. While I was eating, an announcement started. It said the building would be gone next March, and they appreciate our patronage. I was upset.

"Why good and reasonably-priced restaurants in convenient locations disappear on me?!"

He was still smiling. I asked him about it. It sounded perhaps it would be rebuild with the Tokyu Hotel next door. He has worked at this place for eight years. The restaurant opened ten years ago. The name of the restaurant is Miura-Misaki-Ko.

A dish of live octopus.

The price of samma went down because it was no longer at the peak of the season. People would eat it broiled in November.

I showed my sensei my creative phrase after Lao-Zi"無為自然. It was 有為不自然, and my name in Chinese is Qi-Zi. In response,she wrote my work in red as a model for me to follow. 無為自然 means naturalness without any craftiness. So, I wrote 有為不自然. It means unnaturalness with craftiness. I showed my word to one of my Chinese teacher. He said it made sense. Great! Sometimes, when Japanese create a Chinese sentence, we are often wrong. I was right, and I was excited!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trees and Bushes (Part 2)

Yes, we can kill trees. And I’ve been trying to kill a tree. I am a murderer of the weeping cherry tree. I’ve been trying to kill the tree in slow death. I’ve contracted out the killing in three occasions during 12 years because that tree kept showing new growth. Wait. The tree hasn’t died yet completely. You can see a bit of its life still. See the bottom photo. On top right, you can see a part of a good branch.

So, the mystery to this story I’m writing is not who the murderer is. That’s the mystery. It all started when Mother was lying on her death bed in the hospital.

A man came to me. I was staying at her house where I was born and reared for nineteen years. I name the man, Electro, after Electra of a Greek tragedy. There is no meaning to the naming except for convenience in writing this story. After we exchanged a brief greeting, Electro said,

“I came over because of your cherry tree problem.”

“What problem?” I said.

“The city paid the other half…,” he said. He had a smile on his face with the eye lids drooping down.

“Half of what? What is it?”

“This is the bill for your mother’s portion,” he said. He handed me a bill.

I looked at it. It was about 20,000 yen.

“The problem is the tree disturbs the electricity line. I volunteered to fix it. Your mother knows about it.”

“I see,” I said. “She is still in hospital.”

I probably should have asked Mother before I paid him if she authorized him the job, but she was in the hospital. I didn’t want to bother her with such problem. Besides, she had tendency to pay such costs without asking questions. So, I paid it from her money. Electro went on talking about how the tree had been causing problems, and he had to do this or that for Mother. She was 76, but her mind was quite sharp. She wouldn’t ask people’s help without returning her favors. She was quite generous. Sometimes, too generous.

I thought the amount too expensive, but I was unsure. I couldn’t compare the costs fairly because I had been living in the U.S. for the past 26 years. Besides, I had no idea about what he did to fix and for what problem exactly. I didn’t see any document from the city approving or paying him the same amount. But I didn’t have any reason to doubt him. The tree was large after all.

The weeping cherry tree was Mother’s joy. Her friends and students and everyone who had seen it wanted to see it bloom every spring. Just to see the tree, many people made their visit to her house. But I hadn’t seen the flowers because I went back every Thanksgiving week. For the four years prior to her death, I went back twice a year, but I guessed I missed the flowering periods. I only saw the flowers in her photos.

This is the current view from my window.

To be continued to Part 3. Don't miss it!

Trees and Bushes (Part 1)

In Yokohama, I’ve rented my old house and been living in a two room apartment next to it. My apartment is behind this bamboo bushes.

The largest persimmon tree and parking spaces. The car belonged to a guest of the renter. The renter is a master of making a Japanese fishing poles. He has many students. The house behind the car belongs to a neighbor, my childhood friend.

The left tree being cut is the weeping cherry. The trunk is quite large.

My grandfather on my mother’s side loved gardening. He planted the weeping cherry tree right after I went to the U.S. in 1970. And the weeping cherry tree was a great attraction for this neighborhood while my mother was alive. She had ocha parties under the tree.

But mother built her tiny tea room before the cherry tree matured. So, she named it “The Persimmon-Tree Hut.” We used to have four persimmon trees. They were probably planted before I was born by the grandfather of my father side. Of those four, there were three varieties. Today, only two varieties remain. One gives small fruits and the other, large.

Trees on earth give us joy. But they also cause us troubles. Trees are just like humans. They change as humans do. We never remain the same. Trees have own situation and local and world histories just like humans. Yes, they have their own languages, but we can’t speak them. Some live long life. Others die young. Trees can kill us if we let them, and we can kill trees.

Continues to Part 2.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Taiwa with Yang Yi and Shirin Nezammafi

A childhood friend of mine loves Anne Tyler’s books. The friend has been reading literary books since her childhood, and she is one of well read persons I know. I don’t remember what I’ve read, but I did read some of Anne Tyler’s short pieces. But I was a bit surprised to hear of the friend’s new preference because she used to like Ooe Kenzaburo’s books and similar books in that genre. Well, we all have different preferences, and we change, too. I used to read Asada Jiro’s books long ago. Now, I don’t have time to read his books, and my interest has shifted. And the friend who likes Anne Tyler considers Asada Jiro as sort of Japanese Stephen King. Talking of Stephen King, the other Japanese friend of mine who is also well read loves Stephen King. She reads King’s hard cover books in English. I admire her reading in English. This past sweltering August in Japan, she sent me email saying, “I’ve read so far 315 pages of King’s book.” It must be very hard for her to read the English book. She is the person whom I depend on when I have questions on anything about what I missed knowing about Japan. I mentioned about her before, so I would stop here.

So, we all are different, and our preference is a personal matter. And I’m interested in the perspectives of foreign writers who write in Japanese. First, they are rare. So, when my eyes caught a photo of two non-Japanese women on one of literary magazines, “Bungakukai,” of course, I read it with much interest. The article was an interview/discussion form, and this is very popular format in Japanese newspapers and magazines, and even in books. In the Japanese language, we call it “Taiwa (対話) or Taidan (対談).” Daniel of CHMagazine has asked me if Taiwa came from Taiwan. No, Daniel! He is funny. Taiwan is 台湾.

Taiwa, not Taiwan, is more than the one-on-one interview format. In this taiwa, a moderator did exist, but almost invisible. Only a few lines by the nameless moderator showed up at the beginning of each section. Why is the Taiwa format so popular in Japan? I have a theory, but I’ll talk about it, maybe, some other time.

The stars of this Taiwa are Yang Yi and Shirin Nezammafi. Yang Yi was born in the northeast of China in 1964. She came to Tokyo on scholarship and majored in geography. She was working as a Chinese language instructor before launching her writer’s career. Shirin Nezammafi was born in Iran in 1979. She studied engineering in Kobe and became a system engineer. They both live in Japan.

I enjoyed reading every paragraph of the taiwa, and they covered such as Chinese and Persian tradition in poems and about languages and so on. I’m interested in languages. But I would focus on one thing and summarize (not one on one translation) the ending interaction as follows.

From the November 2009 issue of Bungakukai.
Yang said something like this: Humans probably cannot know their true nature unless we actually go through a revolution or war. When I look at the generations of those Japanese who didn’t have such experiences, I wonder why they can’t come up with a bit better thoughts. Because of our old system, we Chinese didn’t have freedom, and we couldn’t even decide on our own matters. We had no choice but to live according to the social flow. So I tend not to think of my own rights, but to think only in the life given to me. I have no desire more than that.

Shirin said: Doesn’t that depend largely on your character? I’m sure there are people who break such barrier.

Yang: Some people do, but I don’t.

Shirin: I would probably fight it. But, for example, your main character Wan-chan (Yang wrote a novel, “Wan-chan.) seems the kind of person who accepts what has been handed. So, in that sense, what you described manifested in the novel, “Wan-chan.” Wan-chan cries a lot.

Yang: Yes, being unable to challenge the hurdle is the key point. Bur, rather than inability to overcome, it’s more toward no such thought ever occurring. I also don’t prefer such way of thinking (referring to the challenge to hurdles.)

Shirin: Is it because you don’t want to bother with it?

Yang: Rather, I’m content. It’s like “know what it lacks.” I am the I-don’t- desire-more-that-this type. 無為自然。Muishzen. No craftiness and stay natural. It’s the idea of Lao-Tse. But, humans cannot avoid but keep living according to our fate and environments. That’s our true nature. I think I’m interested in looking at true beauty and ugliness and strengths and weaknesses which only come after we truly accept the way it is.


In my opinion about 無為自然(Muishizen), mui is not idleness or inactivity or waste one’s life as the dictionary tells us. Mui has no crafty quality, no assumption, and no lie or untruth. It simply means true natural state.

We often refer to Lao-Tse and Chaung-Tse in blogs. The root of Taoism goes back more than 2000 years, and it interacted and competed with Buddhism and the Confucius teachings. So, even though most of Japanese are not religious, it is there in our lives, and I see the similar quality in Yang’s statement. I think Yang said it well. I think these words are more thought provoking and educational than buying and reading “Taoism for Dummy” although I don’t know if such book exists. And to the words of Shirin about fighting back, I also thought of it coming from her tradition. I hope she’ll get the Akutagawa-award, and keep writing and delve into what is really behind that tradition.

In my opinion, both writers are fighters, obviously. Writing a novel itself cannot be done without being a fighter. On top of it, they are writing in Japanese. How I admire and appreciate them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Reading Event

They are all narrators and actors. You'll see more photos as below.
Last Sunday, two women from this group had their own reading event. Their readings were like Japanese folktales. The stories put me into an old Japanese world. They can both use their voices to their advantage. One can speak the northeast dialect and use her voice like a musical instrument. The other woman has the kind of voice that can transport me into that fictional world and let me remain there. In these events, I'm grateful to have own language. Of course, we all have our own language. But it reminds us to appreciate it.

These people used to help me develop my play called "Yesterday." It's about a young girl who go to the Beatles' concert. We had six or so reading events a few years ago. And right now, I'm thinking about revisiting my play. I found a young woman who could possibly play the heroine. I wrote it in both English and Japanese, but they are not the same.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shodo, Paraguay, Spanish

My most popular blog is “Kana Shodo,” and the second is “Hiragana in Ballpoint Pen.” I’m glad and surprised about that. This week, I returned to my shodo class, and showed Iida sensei and classmates those blogs. I told them some people around the world have been looking at their graceful brushstrokes. They stared at the screen. Then, Iida sensei said that her husband has also been blogging. She wrote in red brushstrokes, “Letters from Paraguay.” I told her I was interested in Spanish and would take a look at it.

Next day, I happened to see a new and wonderful book displayed in the library: “Spanish Language in South and North America.” It is written by Miyoshi Junnosuke. I am fascinated to read the history of the Spanish Language and its development. I’ve been always curious about it.

I didn’t know one hundred or so native languages existed not too long ago in America, probably before 1400 or so, and sixty or so are still spoken today. I’m excited to find out that the word “chocolate” originated from Nahuatl Language of Mexica tribe. Thank you! And I stared at the page about Paraguay. Guarani language not only survived, but has prospered along with Spanish. I’m surprised to know that 90% of the people in Paraguay speak Guarani. Only 10% in the cities speak Spanish, and 5%, outside the cities. I wonder if Guarani has some similarity to Japanese.

And I found the word “Jaguar” originated from Guarani. I’m interested in the sounds of ja and gu of jaguar, and Gu of Guarani. Right now, I’m writing a story relating to b, d, and g sounds in Japanese. In the ancient Chinese, there was a distinction between pure and murky sound elements in the language. In the past, I blogged on the pure and impure (murky) sounds. We call them, seion and dakuon. I don’t know when it changed, but today, Chinese language contains only seion. So, even we see b, d, and g in pin yin, they are pronounced softly, unlike Japanese.

Throughout the book, “Spanish Language in South and North America,” the author mentions that there is a tendency in the sounds of b, d, and g weakening such as cansado becoming cansao. D dropped. It sounds like the ancient Chinese, I thought. I don’t know what it is, but there must be some psychological reasons behind that tendency. Some people might say it laziness, but others, aesthetic reason.

Lately, my interest in Spanish has gone up. Daniel Dragomirescu of CHMagazine sent me the following Spanish site.
And Hipatia Argüero Mendoza (Mexico) has edited my short stories and translated into Spanish. She explained to me about the usage of usted and tu. I read her messages with much interest because of their social and psychological and perhaps political elements.

As an ending paragraph of this post, I’ll paste the blog site I mentioned above. It used to be “Letters from Paraguay,” but now, it is “日々是好日,” everyday is a good day.
The author of the blog is Iida Kazuhiko. I think he is a retired civil engineer who had lived in Paraguay for two years to teach about concrete processing and building. I think you’ll enjoy his beautiful photos mainly of Japan, and I think, the photos are self-explanatory. Please click each item on the left column. The top of the center column contains advertisements. I think he has travelled to Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentine, and Chile as well as other countries which I found out at the bottom of the right column.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

More Photos Part 3

At last, I found my shoes, so I went outside. I strolled the main garden pathway and again I met the woman who mistakenly took my shoes. She bowed and apologized again. I bowed back smiling. Then I came to the place as above photo. I went left.

Yes, later I met her again here. She bowed to me again apologetically. I felt bad as if I popped up wherever she went to make her bow more?! But I really wanted to see this Osencha party. Sencha cups are made of using tea leaves, not powder.

His name is Ootake Kakucho. He is a master of osencha. He talked about the difference between the schools of powder tea and tea leaves. He pointed out that osencha way has less rules and regulation. He was a great spokesperson like a comedian. I believe good Tea masters must be humorous to relax people. He kept making us laugh. Usually, photo shooting is prohibited, but he said okay to me. So, I liked him even more. I hope you appreciate his openess.

It was a great cup of tea. The master said, "In Osencha, we drink a cup before we eat a sweet. Then we cut a sweet into three and eat. And we drink another cup of tea. Usually we drink three times, but today, twice." The biggest treat is to be able to see the valuable tea utensils up close and touch. I drank twice, but I could look at three different cups and saucers. They were all beautiful. Again, I enjoyed those handmade utensils and appreciated the unknow artists behind them.

Once, I treated a young American woman a sweet bean cake with a bowl of tea. She made a disgusted face. So, good things are cultural, and much of it, we acquire the taste in childhood. So, you don't need to like it.

The above omanju (sweet bean cake) was so good.

More Photos Part 2

This was the place most of tea schools had their own room. I had a mishap here. I lost my shoes temporarily. But because of it, I went around the place even behind the scenes, and different wings and so on. After my one hour search, a lady passed me by. She carried the paper bag that our lunch was originally served in it. I went after her and asked her if she had my shoes. She was the first person I asked because I didn't really want to ask anyone if they were carrying my shoes. But I had to. Otherwise, I couldn't go anywhere. To our surprise, the shoes she was carrying was my shoes!

This was our lunch. I started to eat my own and realized that I haven't taken a photo, so I asked one of women if I could take a photo of her lunch. She said yes right away. All the people maybe look serious at tea party at first, but tea practitioners are very friendly and helpful.

The Sankeien three storied pagoda.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grand Tea Parties

Last Sunday, seven chanoyu schools held their gatherings at Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. I spotted this young beauty wearing an exquisite kimono. Most women refuse to be taken photos, but she agreed. I liked her and her kimono. She is a Urasenke Chanoyu student.

I had a ticket to attend each, but I just visited only two. I hope to show you more photos later on when I get enough time.

In olden days or today, it has never been two roads.