The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shabu Shabu


Tonight's adventure was shabu shabu. I like it about 10,000 times better than sushi.

We had the usual endless meetings all day. In the canteen, I ran into the CEO of my company and was introduced to him. More endless meetings.

At the end of the day, one of the people I work with led a small group of us to a restaurant which serves shabu shabu. I liked it a lot. That and the beer. The green tea ice cream for dessert really hit the spot.

Nothing much more to report. Tomorrow night a few of us are supposed to go out to the bars. Saturday I leave for home.

By the way, I had a chance at dinner to tell the group I had flow in from Detroit on Monday, and boy, were my arms tired. They got a kick out of that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday Night in Tokyo


I just got back from a company dinner at a "traditional" Japanese restaurant in a high rise. I ate many things I could not identify, but didn't kill me. I thought a nice garnish was a small crab, complete with shell and claws in my appetizer.

I’ve noticed the Japanese are very stingy about two things: napkins and trash containers. One napkin is basically all you’re going to get for a meal. In any room, it’s a real hunt to find a trash container.

I went to the Tokyo office this morning for some meetings. Before the meetings we visited the office where most of our contacts work.

It was a big room with a lot of desks crammed into it. You’d have maybe three or four desks sitting side by side; touching actually. Facing them and touching would be another 3 or 4 desks to form a unit. As though crossing a ‘T’, the supervisor’s desk is at the end of the row, looking down the length of the unit. I certainly wouldn’t want to work that way now. Cubicles are certainly an improvement. I remember working in engineering at Chrysler nearly 20 years ago, and the engineering area was a huge space filled with desks. No privacy, but at least they weren’t touching.

Downtown Tokyo is like a teeming anthill. Many people are commuting in from a train ride which is an hour or an hour and a half long (or more!). The train rides are grueling, as the “pushers” make certain that every available cubic centimeter of space on the passenger cars is filled. It is my understanding that 1/3 of the population of Japan lives in the Tokyo metropolitan area. They tend to arrive at the office around 9, but may stay as late as 9 at night. Not that it’s all productive; they spend a lot of time here. Consequently, they take their time off very seriously. Weekends and holidays are off limits for the most part. I certainly can’t blame them.

The building is lightly air conditioned; just enough to take the edge off. Everyone has an old fashioned folding fan with which to cool themselves.

This has been a very interesting trip.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hello from Tokyo!


It's just past midnight here. It's just past 11 am at home. I just got into my hotel room and am almost settled down for the night.

I don't sleep well when I travel, and last night was no exception.

I met some of the people who are here for meetings for breakfast. The breakfast buffet had surprisingly western options. I took the opportunity to have a hearty breakfast, and lots of coffee.

The landscaping at the office we went to was very Japanese looking. The interior lobby was very Japanese. It looked like an old inn with the sliding doors, the old polished wood, etc.

The conference rooms were conference rooms. I guess they are the same the world over. For lunch they brought in unsatisifying finger sandwiches. I couldn't identify what was on them, but they didn't kill me either.

Our flight from Osaka to Tokyo was at 7pm. The efficiency of the whole airport operation was very impressive. I have never been through check in, security, boarding, unboarding, and baggage claim as easily, as quickly, or without the hint of a hassle as at the airport.

The next step was to board a train to take us to downtown Tokyo.The ride was about 30 minutes. I got to experience a little of what Japanese commuters endure everyday. That is, the ungodly way everyone is packed on the train. Yes, I experienced "the pushers" who are quasi security men whose job is to stuff people into the train cars until you are packed like sardines. Some Japanese commute everyday under those conditions for well over an hour each way. Luckily, we only had to endure it for about 20 minutes.

We got to the station downtown, and were supposed to board another train that would get us closer to the office and hotel which is right across the street. While waiting for the train to leave the station, a co worker from Japan whom one of my companions recognised happened to be walking by. It turned out that the reason the train wasn't leaving was that there was an accident somewhere along the line, and we were going to have to wait at least an hour before we'd be able to leave. Probably longer.

So we left the train station in search of a cab. The problem was that half of Tokyo was in the same situation.

The line at the taxi stand was probably half a mile long by the time we got there, and there were no cabs in sight. They were probably picking up fares upstream somewhere and just weren't making it our way.

It was about 10 pm by that time, so we decided to get something to eat.

In the Trade Center building, there is an area called the food street. We tried several restaurants, but what we were running into was either the kitchens were shutting down or they couldn't seat four of us. After four or five restaurants, we finally found one who could seat us.

The menu, of course, was in Japanese. The wait staff spoke no English, and my Japanese was not up to deciphering the menu. By pointing and gesturing we managed to order some food, but more importantly, by that time of the night, we got some beer.

I'm not sure what it is we ate, but it hit the spot. The only trouble was that the restaurant couldn't manage to accept any of our credit cards. The credit cards in Japan are smart cards, which have a microcomputer embedded in them. Many places can accept an American card, but not everywhere. So we split the bill four ways and paid cash.

By the time we were ready to leave the restaurant, the line at the taxi stand was gone, and there were plenty of cabs.

We finally got to the hotel at nearly midnight.

The place is pretty high class. The room is again very small, but very well appointed. I am sitting by my window on the 34th floor, looking out over Tokyo at night, which stretches all the way over the horizon.

35 million people live here. It encompasses an area, if transplanted to Michigan, would stretch from Detroit to Ann Arbor in the west, and all the way up the Thumb area of lower Michigan.

Well, I'm exhausted. I need to get some sleep. I have meetings in the morning.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hello from Osaka!


It's interesting that when I went to www.blogger.com to log in, I found myself on the Japanese language page.

Well, I'm here. I left Detroit about 4pm on Sunday, and arrived in Osaka at 5:30 pm Monday night. It was a very long flight. They ran four movies! I got a lot of reading done, as well as a lot of Japanese language review. I also ran through many crosswords. I didn't sleep at all though.

Just before we landed, there was a thunderstorm which helps with the humidity. It was still very humid, but without the storm, it would have been much worse.

After getting off the plane, through baggage check and customs, I then had an hour long train ride ahead of me to get to the station nearest the hotel; then a couple of block walk.

The hotel is nice enough. The rooms are very small by American standards, but very clean and well maintained.

Well, I've seen the airport, a bus station and my hotel. Early tomorrow, I have to head into the office for a full day of meetings then go directly back to the airport to fly to Tokyo for more meetings.

Interesting that the little bit of Japanese I know helps smooth things a bit.

I'll post again from Tokyo.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting in the Way


Below is an excerpt from a martial arts blog entitled Bujutsu Blogger on how our ego gets in the way of our achieving excellence in our training. One of the ways our ego manifests itself is that we want to see the world the way we want to it to be, not accepting how it actually is.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full post. Please pay a visit.


The only way forward is “muga” (無我), no ego, and "mushin" (無心), no-mind. Snaggy likes to talk about that a lot, and I am starting to see why. As he puts it, ego gets in the way of living in the moment, in the now. Without muga mushin, there can be no refinement because things like rushing will always get in the way. This is not abstract Zen philosophy, this is the difference between going through the motions and training to fight.

Speaking of accepting the world how it is, the remarkable Randy Pausch died today. He was the author of the best selling The Last Lecture, which was based on a Youtube video with the same title. He made a real contribution.

For myself, my next post will be from Japan. I am leaving in a couple of days. Besides taking a lot of Japanese language material with me, articles I've printed out that I've been meaning to read, and I have the newest issues of National Geographic and the Smithsonian. I also brought a couple of books. One is Shogun by James Clavell, and the other is The Nobility of Failure, by Ivan Morris.

I'll be working on my presentation material on the plane (a 13 hour flight!) until my battery dies. I'm thinking of opening my presentation with:

"Detroit kara tobimashita, shoshite ude wa tsukaremashita yo!"

"I flew in from Detroit and boy are my arms tired!"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Great Pictures: Lumpen Orientalism


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a blog entitled "Lumpen Orientalism," where can be found some truly great pictures. Please pay a visit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Paris



It's summertime, and we spend a lot of time outdoors. How better to spend that time, but in a beautiful garden. This article appears in the NY Times. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article, which includes a slide show.


Hidden Gardens of Paris



NEXT to the Palais de la Découverte, just off the Champs-Élysées, is a flight-of-fancy sculpture of the 19th-century poet Alfred de Musset daydreaming about his former lovers. As art goes, the expanse of white marble is pretty mediocre, and its sculptor, Alphonse de Moncel, little-remembered. For me, however, it is a crucial marker. To its right is a path with broken stone steps that lead down into one of my favorite places in Paris, a tiny stage-set called Jardin de la Vallée Suisse.


Part of the Champs-Élysées’ gardens, this “Swiss Valley” was built from scratch in the late 19th century by the park designer Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand. It is a lovely illusion, where nothing is quite what it appears at first sight. The rocks that form the pond and waterfall are sculptured from cement; so is the “wooden” footbridge. But the space — 1.7 acres of semitamed wilderness in one of the most urban swaths of Paris — has lured me, over and over again. My only companions are the occasional dog walker and the police woman making her rounds.


On a park bench there, I am enveloped by evergreens, maples, bamboo, lilacs and ivy. There are lemon trees; a Mexican orange; a bush called a wavyleaf silktassel, with drooping flowers, that belongs in an Art Nouveau painting; and another whose leaves smell of caramel in the fall. A 100-year-old weeping beech shades a pond whose waterfall pushes away the noise of the streets above. The pond, fed by the Seine, can turn murky, but the slow-moving carp don’t seem to mind, nor does the otter that surfaces from time to time.


The Swiss Valley is one of the most unusual of Paris’s more than 400 gardens and parks, woods and squares. Much grander showcases include wooded spaces like the Bois de Vincennes on the east of the city and the Bois de Boulogne on the west, and celebrations of symmetry in the heart of Paris like the Tuileries and the Luxembourg.


But I prefer the squares and parks in quiet corners and out-of-the-way neighborhoods. Many are the legacy of former President Jacques Chirac. In the 18 years he served as mayor of Paris, he put his personal stamp on his city by painting its hidden corners green.


“He took some of the pathetic, shabby squares and gardens and transformed and adorned them,” said Claude Bureau, one of the city’s great garden historians who was chief gardener of the Jardin des Plantes for more than two decades. “He appreciated beauty — of women, of nature.”


Paris’s current mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, has taken over the task. In his seven years in the job, he has created 79 acres of what City Hall calls “new green spaces.” Just this month, he transformed the open space in front of City Hall into an “ephemeral garden,” a nearly 31,000-square-foot temporary installation of 6,000 plants and trees, and even a mini-lake.


Intimate, lightly trafficked and often quirky, the small gardens of Paris can be ideal places to rest and to read. The trick is to find them. You can consult “Paris: 100 Jardins Insolites” (“Paris: 100 Unusual Gardens”), a guide by Martine Dumond whose color photos make discovery for the non-French speaker a pleasure, or explore various Web sites like www.paris-walking-tours.com/parisgardens.html. Or you can simply wander on foot, confident that around the next corner there will be something new.


You’ll find spaces for listening to a concert or watching a puppet show (like the Parc de Bagatelle in the 16th Arrondissement); church gardens (like the one enclosing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Seventh Arrondissement); gardens with vegetable patches (like the Jardin Catherine-Labouré in the Seventh Arrondissement); oriental gardens (like the one at Unesco headquarters in the Seventh Arrondissement that was a gift of the Japanese government). There are gardens with beehives, bird preserves, out-of-fashion roses, chessboards, playgrounds, menageries, panoramic views, even a rain forest and a farm. Green spaces adjoin cemeteries, embassies, movie theaters and hotels.


Even hospitals.


I doubt that most visitors to Notre-Dame Cathedral know that inside the nearby Hôtel-Dieu complex, which is still a working hospital, is a formal garden-courtyard with sculptured 30-year-old boxwoods. The hospital’s gardener replants much of the space every May — with fuchsias, sage, impatiens and Indian roses.


From the top of the flight of steps that cuts across the garden, you can find yourself all alone, looking out through the hospital’s windows to the tourist hordes outside. Every few months, the hospital’s interns choose a different costume for the male statue at the back — at the moment, he is Snow White.


(It was Mr. Bureau who told me that some of the most peaceful gardens belong to hospitals. Gardens help cure patients more quickly, he said).


The Square René Viviani on the Left Bank across from Notre-Dame is another spot that is easy to miss. But this tranquil square features what is said to be the oldest tree in Paris — a false acacia brought to France from Virginia in 1601, and now shored up with concrete posts. Sitting on a park bench in one corner yields one of the best views in Paris — Notre-Dame on the right and St.-Julien-le-Pauvre, a tiny church built in the same era on the left.


And then there are the gardens that are the back or front yards of museums. For instance, at the cafe-garden of the Petit-Palais— with its palm and banana trees and sculptures and mosaic floors lit from below — a half dozen marble tables and metal chairs offer the ideal setting to watch the museum’s stone walls change from buff to tawny yellow as the sun moves.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who Needs Fiction: Do You Measure Up?



Click on the title of this post to read the whole article.


Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions



AMAGASAKI, Japan — Japan, a country not known for its overweight people, has undertaken one of the most ambitious campaigns ever by a nation to slim down its citizenry.


Summoned by the city of Amagasaki one recent morning, Minoru Nogiri, 45, a flower shop owner, found himself lining up to have his waistline measured. With no visible paunch, he seemed to run little risk of being classified as overweight, or metabo, the preferred word in Japan these days.


But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches, he had anxiously measured himself at home a couple of days earlier. “I’m on the border,” he said.


Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population.


Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which are identical to thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation as an easy guideline for identifying health risks — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.


To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.


The ministry also says that curbing widening waistlines will rein in a rapidly aging society’s ballooning health care costs, one of the most serious and politically delicate problems facing Japan today. Most Japanese are covered under public health care or through their work. Anger over a plan that would make those 75 and older pay more for health care brought a parliamentary censure motion Wednesday against Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the first against a prime minister in the country’s postwar history.


But critics say that the government guidelines — especially the one about male waistlines — are simply too strict and that more than half of all men will be considered overweight. The effect, they say, will be to encourage overmedication and ultimately raise health care costs.


Yoichi Ogushi, a professor at Tokai University’s School of Medicine near Tokyo and an expert on public health, said that there was “no need at all” for the Japanese to lose weight.


“I don’t think the campaign will have any positive effect. Now if you did this in the United States, there would be benefits, since there are many Americans who weigh more than 100 kilograms,” or about 220 pounds, Mr. Ogushi said. “But the Japanese are so slender that they can’t afford to lose weight.”


Mr. Ogushi was actually a little harder on Americans than they deserved. A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the average waist size for Caucasian American men was 39 inches, a full inch lower than the 40-inch threshold established by the International Diabetes Federation. American women did not fare as well, with an average waist size of 36.5 inches, about two inches above their threshold of 34.6 inches. The differences in thresholds reflected variations in height and body type from Japanese men and women.


Comparable figures for the Japanese are sketchy since waistlines have not been measured officially in the past. But private research on thousands of Japanese indicates that the average male waistline falls just below the new government limit.


That fact, widely reported in the media, has heightened the anxiety in the nation’s health clinics.


In Amagasaki, a city in western Japan, officials have moved aggressively to measure waistlines in what the government calls special checkups. The city had to measure at least 65 percent of the 40- to 74-year-olds covered by public health insurance, an “extremely difficult” goal, acknowledged Midori Noguchi, a city official.


When his turn came, Mr. Nogiri, the flower shop owner, entered a booth where he bared his midriff, exposing a flat stomach with barely discernible love handles. A nurse wrapped a tape measure around his waist across his belly button: 33.6 inches, or 0.1 inch over the limit.


“Strikeout,” he said, defeat spreading across his face.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Last Days of Old Beijing


Speaking of books, a friend sent me this. To read the whole review, click on the title of this post. This one is certainly on my wish list.

An American in China

Skip to next paragraph

THE LAST DAYS OF OLD BEIJING

Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed.

By Michael Meyer.

Illustrated. 355 pp. Walker & Company. $25.99.

This summer, widespread Beijing fatigue is an inevitability. But it’s high-flying Olympic Beijing that may become overfamiliar, a city that’s appeared before our very eyes as in a scene from “The Matrix.” This is not Michael Meyer’s town. The Beijing he has called home is being systematically eradicated, and this book is his testament.

On Aug. 8, 2005, three years to the day before the Olympics’ start date — and exactly 68 years after the Japanese marched in to occupy the city — Meyer moved into a traditional courtyard home on Red Bayberry and Bamboo Slanted Street in the hutong, the “vanishing backstreets” of his subtitle. His neighborhood, Dazhalan, is six centuries old and was once known as the entertainment district, full of artisans, acrobats, antiques and brothels. Meyer assumes the role of the lone Westerner among Dazhalan’s 57,000-odd residents, which provides entertainment of a distinctly early-21st-century sort: the authentic cultural immersion experience.

A travel writer who hails from Minneapolis, Meyer is no dilettante. His motives certainly don’t seem touristic or cynical. He didn’t move to Beijing to write a book about it (or if he did, he isn’t saying). “Beijing was simply love at first sight,” he writes. The hutong beckons after a former resident gives Meyer a tearful tour of his half-demolished house. (“It wasn’t just a building,” the man says. “It was me. It was my family.”) Meyer also acts on a perceived challenge from Le Corbusier, champion of urban renewal: to inhabit the picturesque slums whose razing both historians and tourists sentimentally deplore. And whose razing — from 7,000 hutong in 1949 to 1,300 in 2005, with 1.25 million residents evicted between 1990 and 2007 — he proceeds to record.

After cutting through a mile of red tape, Meyer becomes a volunteer teacher at Coal Lane Elementary and acquires, for $100 a month, two unheated rooms lighted by bare bulbs, with straw-and-mud walls, on a five-room courtyard shared with six others. The latrine is a few minutes’ walk away, as is the Big Power Bathhouse. Since using a refrigerator blows the entire courtyard’s fuses, Meyer keeps his unplugged, storing underwear in it instead. In a singular feat of extreme travel, he lives like this for two years.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Journey to the Far East


The powers that be have decided in their wisdom that it is for the common good that I leave the country for the time being and visit my company headquarters in Japan. I’ll be leaving in a couple of weeks for a one week duration. I’ll be there just long enough for adjust to sleeping in a timezone 180 degrees out of phase with my normal body rhythms.

I’ve never been there before, in spite of having a long interest in the history and culture of Japan. Being a business trip, I really don’t expect to see much of the country aside from airports, train stations, hotels, office buildings, and restaurants.

Since my mother passed away and my kids are grown, I am less anxious about travel. I don’t have to worry about them any more. From that regard, I am quite looking forward to it. Here is a chance to test my fledging Japanese language skills. Here is a chance to see what it’s like over there.

One thing I am NOT looking forward to is the flight. I don’t mind flying. Not at all. I can’t stand travelling by air though. I don’t like airports, checking in, security, waiting at the gate, finding my luggage; you name it. It seems like the whole processs has been explicityly designed solely to antagonize the traveler. Then there is the length of the flight to consider. It’ll be about 13 hours each way.

So, I’ll probably see a couple of movies. I’ll do some crossword puzzles. I’ll probably work on some Japanese language related stuff, hopefully take a few naps, and get some reading done.

I’ll have a lot of time to do some reading. I’m only going to have so much space to lug around books, so something thick and densely printed. I don’t think I’m going to want to think too hard, so something entertaining rather than something to be studied.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Being a Teacher



No, not me! I'm not a teacher and I don't play one on tv. This is a guest article by Jennifer at the Bushido Code Club.

There is also a link over at the right. Please pay a visit.


Being a teacher

Being a teacher means more than just teaching others things you already know.

Being a teacher actually means showing someone his own ability to learn, reminding him of what he might forgot already. Reminding him his own power.

Teaching someone especially when it comes to spiritual teaching and in the end everything is spiritual is all about showing someone his own strengths, I even like to think about it sometimes as the art of showing someone else he is a master too but has forgotten about it.

When you show someone else his divinity he would stop at nothing, no training would be too hard and no other person would be able to stop him from growing. In a sense a good teacher functions like a channel, a clear one, a channel between the personality of a person and the way he thinks of himself and his eternal self. Being the master is just being able to show people who they really are.

They are masters too and if the master is true to himself and his calling all is needed in many cases is the presence of the student for the miracle to happen.

It is more than inspiration it is the ability to look at the master and see yourself as you can be as you once have been and when you see yourself in the master you'll never think of yourself as week, powerless or unworthy again.

Written by Jenifer from the Bushido Code Club blog at www.bushidocodeclub.com/blogs

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Gong Fu of Tea


A friend sent me this. It's from the monthly newsletter of Teance, an up and coming tea company. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. I've excerpted a portion below.

The term gong fu applies not only to martial arts, but to any activity where a skill developed over time. Wu Wei is a Daoist term which can be loosely translated as "without effort."

What do these two things have to do with tea? Read below, or better yet, click on the title of this post.


The term 'Gong Fu' may be more familiar than it sounds - generally it is associated with martial arts; it is more commonly spelled as 'Kung Fu'. Translating from Chinese as 'great skill and effort,' Gong Fu is required in both martial arts and tea - the practice of one reflected in the other - and is embraced as one of the founding principles here at Teance.

Though the practice of martial arts is fast and furious, in the beginning, minute attention is paid to practicing correct form. The art and the practitioner become inseparable, and every action is then executed effortlessly and expertly. The practitioner can now freely respond to circumstance and spontaneously express his intentions.

Like martial arts, the Gong Fu of tea also requires much practice, skill, and effort - and some very good tea leaves, ideally. But to truly achieve Gong Fu tea, the Taoist idea of 'Wu Wei' must also be applied: doing without doing. With Wu Wei, one is so good that the action seems completely effortless; others should not notice all the meticulous attention that took place to make that perfect cup.

Why is the Taoist idea of Wu Wei necessary in Gong Fu tea? Here we break from martial arts: The spiritual practice of mindfulness, concentration, and deliberate intention through tea is ultimately used in the service of others. The guest should be moved by his experience without imposition; the generosity and spirit of sharing one's best effort should be felt without display. The guest should experience, wordlessly, the years of artful practice that brought to life the leaf as intended by the tea masters' equally skillful crafting, somewhere far away in the mountains of Asia.

To achieve Wu Wei, Gong Fu is required of our staff at Teance and is applied in every aspect of their training. They begin by learning the height and speed of the pour, how to turn the wrist for efficiency, and how to arrange the tasting cups. They learn all of the formal presentation steps designed not for show, but to produce the best cup of tea possible. They learn to recognize the temperature of the water by feel, to observe the passage of time intuitively, to know the portioning and steeping specifics of each tea.