Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


What follows is an excerpt from an article on the modern Yakuza in Japan. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Former Gangster Details Yamaguchi - Gumi

Published: May 27, 2006
Filed at 4:12 p.m. ET

TOKYO (AP) -- Shinji Ishihara's story, as he tells it, starts with a murder.

It was the summer of 1970. Though the Yamaguchi-gumi was easily the biggest gangster syndicate in Japan, with tens of thousands of members, it was still trying to crack the huge Tokyo market for vice, which was tightly controlled by smaller but deeply entrenched gangs.
Ishihara was one of the first Yamaguchi-gumi bosses to try to break their monopoly. With several underlings, he rented a small apartment near a popular red-light district and started a series of scams aimed at cheating the competition out of its profits.

''We'd target other gangs,'' he recalled, ''mainly because they had money and they weren't going to run off and complain to the police.''

Often, he would deliberately arrange a violent confrontation with a local gang that would lead to a negotiated truce, and then an alliance. If that didn't work, he had an array of other options that usually had a common result -- money in his pocket.

Those were simpler times, when the most fertile racket was gambling. Nowadays the code of Japanese organized crime is wilting under the onslaught of drug trafficking, cybercrime, tougher policing and inroads by gangsters from neighboring China. Japanese crime remains as organized as it gets, but today, Ishihara says, ''It's more wild than it used to be.''

Still, even back in the supposedly more orderly 1970s, it didn't take long for Ishihara's operation to get out of hand.

One August night, Ishihara drove up to a club where he heard a rival gang -- the Kokusui-kai, or Japan Purity League -- was running a high-stakes card game. He waited with two fellow gangsters until one of the rivals came outside. Ishihara signaled for him to get in their car, but he panicked and fled. Ishihara chased him down, they fought, and Ishihara slashed his thigh with a short samurai sword. With a major vein cut clean through, the gangster quickly bled to death.

''I hadn't intended to kill him, I just wanted to shake him down,'' said Ishihara. At 32, he was sentenced to eight years for the murder. It wasn't the first time -- or the last -- that he would go to jail.

And every time he got out, the Yamaguchi-gumi was there waiting for him. And each time, it had grown bigger, stronger and richer.
Japanese gangs -- called yakuza, which refers to a bad hand in cards -- generally have a simple, pyramid-style structure.

Atop the Yamaguchi-gumi is Kenichi Shinoda, aka Shinobu Tsukasa. He assumed the helm on July 29 last year, but started serving a six-year sentence for gun possession four months later.
Ishihara had met Shinoda in prison. Shinoda, too, had just killed a man with a sword.

''I never imagined he would rise so high,'' Ishihara said. ''But there was something about him.''

Below Shinoda are 100 or so bosses who control the ''direct affiliates.'' Each of these, in turn, has its own network, often creating as many as six or seven layers. The lowliest gangs claim membership in just the dozens, if that.

Shinoda's post is largely ceremonial. Most day-to-day decisions are made by the gang's 15 or 20 strongest bosses, who have titles such as ''supreme adviser'' or ''young leader.''

The National Police Agency estimates the Yamaguchi-gumi has roughly 40,000 active members, plus thousands who are associated with it but have not taken formal vows. It's among the world's biggest criminal organizations, with annual revenues estimated at over a billion dollars.

Though still based in the western Japan city of Kobe, where it was founded by Harukichi Yamaguchi in 1915, the Yamaguchi-gumi (the ''gumi'' means gang, or group) is now a major force in Tokyo. Last year, it even swallowed up the rival gang Ishihara tried to shake down decades ago, which itself had been one of Japan's biggest.

Nearly half of all gangsters in Japan belong to the Yamaguchi-gumi, a trend police fear will continue.

Operating a small, independent gang is risky. The Yamaguchi-gumi offers protection and a nationwide network, crucial in running black-market and drug operations. Equally important, however, is the scare value of the gang's name. Just dropping the Yamaguchi-gumi name is enough to make an extortion victim pay up.

Ishihara said each gang must pay monthly dues to the next gang up -- an estimated $85,000 for each of the top 100 gangs, translating into an estimated $100 million a year or more in dues alone.

''Failing to pay isn't taken lightly,'' he said.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Japanese Language Study: Sound from the Heart

I've been learning kanji, Chinese characters. I've learned the meaning of a little over 100 characters. I may not always remember their names, but I've learned their meaning.

I see them all over the place. Actually, I see them as parts of other characters.

The martial art I study is called Yi Quan (in Chinese), and is commonly translated as "intention boxing."

The second character is quan (拳), or ken in Japanese. The lower part is the character for "hand." The upper part indicates the hand is closed, making a fist. The fist can also indicate boxing, pugilism, etc.

The first character is Yi (意) or shin in Japanese, meaning intention. The lower part is mind/heart. That's a combination of rational thought, emotion, and instinct. The upper part is sound, so intention is "Sound of the Heart."

These characters are fascinating.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The 36 Strategies: #15. Train a tiger to leave the mountains

The 36 Strategies are almost as famous as Sun 's Art of War. Where the AoW tries to lay out the landscape of strategic thought, the 36 Stategies is a pithy way of hitting the highlights by way of teaching by example. Not many of us are going to be plotting corporate takeovers, but chances are that someone is going to do something that is going to influence you, try to get you to do something, or otherwise impact you. It's important to be able to recognize strategies while they are in the making when they are directed at you.

You don't go into the fastness of a powerful opponents' territory, but induce them to come out of their stronghold.

The meaning of this strategy is to not mess with someone what he is in a position of power. You have to draw him out to where he'll be exposed and vunerable. There are many ways to do this, which includes others from the 36 Strategies. You can appeal to greed, by putting something of apparant value out in the open as bait. You can use fear, by threatening something the tiger hold dear. The key point is to get the opponent to leave safety of his own power base.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Where are the Catholic riots over the DaVinci Code?

Where are the Catholics rioting over the Da Vinci Code?

I've seen several blurbs about various people in the Catholic heirarchy complaining about the Da Vinci Code. I was trying to imagine a Catholic response in line with the Islamic one over the cartoons. No cars on fire. No attempts to burn down embassies. No death threats against the author and film makers. An Episcopalian riot would be fun to imagine: soaping windows, ringing doorbells, and decoratingt the trees with toilet paper. Well, that's Christian values for you.

Actually, there are a lot of people in the Church who see the interest in the Da Vinci Code as an opportunity to educate the public on the history of Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

The local Archdiocese has been holding a "class" in one form or another, for Catholics and non Catholics on Church history, revolving around the setting of the Da Vinci Code, ever since the book came out. From day 1, these sessions have been packed, and what I find interesting is that the majority of participants have been non Catholics.

he Da Vinci Code was inspired by another book, Holy Blood/Holy Grail, which was itself inspired by a host of others, notably by French historians trying to solve the puzzle of the missing mythical Templar treasure, associated with Rennes la Chateau.

In the earlier material, it was paintings by another artist (Nicholas Poussin, not Da Vinci; but Da Vinci is a name that's instantly recognizable) that provided the initial clues. The trouble is that the Templars who hid the treasure would have needed satellite maps, GPS, and lasers to get the required precision to make all of the geographical connections given in the "clues." Shoot, back then, most people thought the world was flat!

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a page at, which will give you plenty of links to follow to find out for yourself. Follow the cross referenced links, and you'll get all sorts of fascinating information.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sheep, Sheepdogs, and Wolves


In brief, UW math major Jill Edwards, a member of the student senate, opposed a memorial to UW grad "Pappy" Boyington. Boyington was a U.S. Marine aviator who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II. Edwards said that she didn't think it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people. She also said that a member of the Marine Corps was NOT an example of the sort of person the University of Washington wanted to produce.

Gen. Dula's letter to the University of Washington student senate leader:

To: Edwards, Jill (student, UW)
Subject: Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs

Miss Edwards, I read of your 'student activity' regarding the proposed memorial to Col Greg Boyington, USMC and a Medal of Honor winner. I suspect you will receive a bellyful of angry e-mails from conservative folks like me. You may be too young to appreciate fully the sacrifices of generations of servicemen and servicewomen on whose shoulders you and your fellow students stand. I forgive you for the untutored ways of youth and your naiveté.

It may be that you are, simply, a sheep. There's no dishonor in being a sheep - - as long as you know and accept what you are. Please take a couple of minutes to read the following. And be grateful for the thousands - - millions - - of American sheepdogs who permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.

Brett Dula
Sheepdog, retired

By LTC(RET) Dave Grossman, RANGER,
Ph.D., author of "On Killing."

Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains:
What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for? - William J. Bennett - in a lecture to the United States Naval
Academy November 24, 1997

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me:
"Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident." This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.

Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million
Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.

Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation:
We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me, it is like the pretty, blue robin's egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell.

Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

"Then there are the wolves," the old war veteran said, "and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy." Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it.
There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds.
The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep.
There is no safety in denial.

"Then there are sheepdogs," he went on, "and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf."

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf.

But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed

Let me expand on this old soldier's excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools.

But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep's only response to the possibility of violence is denial.
The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports, in camouflage fatigues, holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa." Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed, right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.

There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: Slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.

Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I'm proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs.

Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, "Let's roll," which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers - athletes, business people and parents. -- from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men. - Edmund Burke

Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are
wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a
human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious,
moral decision.

If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.

For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.

I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, "I will never be caught without my gun in church." I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in
1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy's body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"

Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for "heads to roll" if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids' school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.

Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones were attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?"

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear, helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less, his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: "...denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling."

Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level. And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.

If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be "on" 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself..."Baa."

This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior.
Few people exist completely on one end or the other.

Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in
America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #16 A Farmhouse on the Wei River

The Tang Dynasty was a golden age of culture in China. Poetry was especially esteemed. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of a famous anthology of poems from this period, the 300 Tang Dynasty Poems.

Wang Wei

In the slant of the sun on the country-side,
Cattle and sheep trail home along the lane;
And a rugged old man in a thatch door
Leans on a staff and thinks of his son, the herdboy.
There are whirring pheasants full wheat-ears,
Silk-worms asleep, pared mulberry-leaves.
And the farmers, returning with hoes on their shoulders,
Hail one another familiarly.
...No wonder I long for the simple life
And am sighing the old song, Oh, to go Back Again!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who needs fiction: Reality TV

There has been talk for some time now that MTV will do a season of "Real World" in one of the suburbs of Detroit. There's been a lot of talk, but MTV apparantly isn't moving very quickly on this. Understandably, as the Detroit area isn't one of the "coolest" places in the US.

I was watching the Discovery Channel with one of my daughters the other evening. We were watching "The Most Dangerous Catch." It was a documentary about crab boats, which go out into the Bering Sea to fish for crab. It's extremely dangerous and gruelling to be a crab fisherman. Besides all of the other opportunites to get injured, the weather can be so wild that crewmen can be blown right off the decks.

So I was thinking - how about taking a fresh group of young adults, and instead of putting them into some palatial vacation spot, where they can demonstrate just how spoiled and decadent they can be; put them on a crab boat for a season, and see how they survive?

What's the other show? "Road Rules?" Stick them on another boat, and let the competition begin!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

No such thing as American Zen

This is an excerpt from an interesting essay by Norman Fishcer, a former co-abbot at the Zen Center of San Francisco. To read it in it's entirety, click on the title of this post, and you'll be directed there.

As it turns out, the idea of American Zen is irrelevant to me. I don’t even think about Zen. I have no use for experiments. I am just trying to get through the day. Whatever ideas I may have had about American or Japanese or Martian Zen are abstractions to me now, luxuries I cannot afford. I’m simply trying to keep on practicing in ways that are possible and realistic within the limitations of the life that I, and the students I am working with, are living. Certainly I have had to change some things: my robes are simpler (because I travel so much and can’t carry elaborate robes), my talks are more direct (because I am speaking to a variety of audiences, I can’t rely on traditional terminology that sometimes works against plain speaking), and their subject matter more varied. I find myself talking about child rearing, money, work, sexuality, traffic, politics, relationships – not because I think this is “American Zen,” but because these are the concerns I face on a day to day basis, in my own life, and in the lives of those around me. I don’t theorize about Zen: I am too busy figuring out how to do it on the ground, with very little institutional support.

I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as American Zen, just as there isn’t and never was any such thing as Japanese Zen, Korean or Vietnamese Zen or Tibetan, Thai, or Burmese Buddhism. Japanese or American or Tibetan or Korean Buddhism only appear to exist from the outside. From the inside there is only the effort to practice as honestly and as effectively as we can, given our conditions. This is what practitioners have always done throughout the centuries. The Chinese never tried to make Chinese Buddhism: they were just trying to practice. The Tibetans never tried to make Tibetan Buddhism: they just wanted to find happiness and liberation. I see now how much is involved in practicing, and in going on practicing. I see how one thing leads to another and institutions and establishments are set up. This is something inevitable and useful. It is what happens when people want to practice and continue practicing “suffering and the end of suffering,” which is neither Japanese nor Indonesian nor Irish.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


One of my Japanese collegues at work is dan ranked in Kyudo, the Way of the Bow. Kyudo is on of the most pure expressions of modern budo. Below is an exerpt from the Wikipedia article on Kyudo. Please click on the title of this post to be directed to the original article, and get more information of this beautiful art.

Kyudo (弓道) (The "Way of the Bow") is the Japanese art of archery. It is a modern Japanese martial art (a gendai budo). It is estimated that there are approximately half a million practitioners of kyudo today. In Japan, by most accounts, the number of female kyudo practitioners is at least equal to and probably greater than the number of male practitioners.

Purpose of Kyudo

In its most pure form, kyudo is practiced as an art and as a means of moral and spiritual development. Many archers practice kyudo as a sport, with marksmanship being paramount.

However, the highest ideal of kyudo is "seisha seichu", "correct shooting is correct hitting". In kyudo the unique action of expansion (nobiai) that results in a natural release, is strived for.

When the spirit and balance of the shooting is correct the result will be for the arrow to arrive in the target. To give oneself completely to the shooting is the spiritual goal. In this respect, many kyudo practitioners believe that competition, examination, and any opportunity that places the archer in this uncompromising situation is important, while other practitioners will avoid competitions or examinations of any kind.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dao De Jing: Chapter 13

Along with being one of the foundational texts of Daoism, the Dao De Jing is one of the world's classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version.

13. Self
Both praise and blame cause concern,
For they bring people hope and fear.
The object of hope and fear is the self -
For, without self, to whom may fortune and disaster occur?

Who distinguishes himself from the world may be given the world,
But who regards himself as the world may accept the world.

Friday, May 05, 2006


The Meigetsu-in (literally Full Moon Temple) is a famous site in Japan. The following is an excerpt, extracted from a tourist article on the temple. The place is around 700 years old. Notice how the steps are worn. The temple is also known as the Hydrangea Temple, for the beautiful flowers that grow there. Please visit the link by clicking on the title of this post, learn more about the temple, and enjoy the additional pictures.

Historical Overview

According to the Temple's records, its origin dates back to 1159 when a warrior living near here was killed at a battle between the Minamoto and the Taira Clans. His son built a small temple here to console the souls of the departed father as well as other war-dead, dedicating a statue of
Nyoirin {nyo-e-rin} Kan'non (Cintamani-cakra in Skt.) to it.

In 1256, Fifth Regent Tokiyori Hojo {toh-key-yoh-re hoh-joe} (1227-1263), who also lived in this neighborhood, stepped down from the Regency at the age of 29, and entered priesthood under the leadership of Doryu Rankei {doh-ryu ran-kay} (1213-1278), a Chinese Zen priest whom Tokiyori invited to Kamakura and nominated as the founding priest of Kenchoji. At the same time, Tokiyori built a small prayer hall and named it Saimyoji {sigh-myo-gee}. This hall was, however, abolished after he died several years later.

It was Tokimune {toh-key-moo-neh hoh-joe} Hojo (1251-1284), Tokiyori's son and the Eighth Hojo Regent, who erected a full-fledged temple in 1268 near his father's prayer-hall to hold religious services. (Tokimune is also known as the founder of Engakuji.) The new temple was called Zenkoji {zen-koh-gee}. Records narrates that at the memorial service held in 1323 at Engakuji for Sadatoki {sah-dah-toh-key hoh-joe} Hojo (1271-1311), the Ninth Hojo Regent, Zenkoji dispatched as many as 90 priests.

The structures of Zenkoji was expanded in 1383, and included among the sub-temples was Meigetsu-in built by Norikata Uesugi (1335-1394), then Vice Governor of Kamakura. He appointed Shugon Misshitsu (?-1390) to be the founding priest. He was a six-generation down disciple of Priest Rankei. Meigetsu-in was named after Norikata's posthumous name and became the family temple of the Uesugis in Yamanouchi district of Kamakura. (Meigetsu denotes a full moon). Zenkoji continued to thrive until the late 16th century getting patronage from the rulers then in power. However, it did not necessarily flourish thereafter with no specific supporters, and finally was on the verge of abolishment in the face of the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. Making Shinto the state religion, the new government clamped down on Buddhist temples. Only sub-temple Meigetsu-in managed to survive, and that is what we see today.


The flower that makes the Temple famous is Ajisai {ah-gee-sigh} or hydrangea, and the namesake of "Ajisai-dera" or Hydrangea Temple. Counting approximately 2,000, these Hydrangea grow in the temple grounds and line the pathways. But, those Ajisai were planted after World War II, and it was only in the 1970s that people began to flock in the Temple to see them. During the rainy season from mid-June to late July, when nearly 20,000 flowers, mostly blue, are in full bloom, the Temple is awfully crowded on weekends with visitors as many as the number of flowers. Had better avoid this season if you seek quiet atmospheres. Other flowers planted in the temple grounds are:

Early January to mid February: Suisen {sooy-sen} or narcissus
Mid January to late February: Rohbai {roh-bye} or winter sweet
Mid March: Hakumokuren {hak-mok-ren} or yulan
Late March to early April: Momo or peach
Late March to early April: Rengyo or weeping forsythia
Late March to mid April: Shokassai {sho-kas'-sigh} or Orychophragmus violaceus

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hanzis Matter

Hanzismatter is a blog dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters (hanzi, aka kanji in Japanese). Usually, this takes the form of a tatoo that is either gibbish (if you're lucky), or something entirely different that what was intended.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to Hanzis Matter. There is a very nice crop of very bad tattoos, etc. My favorite is "Rice covered balls."


Monday, May 01, 2006

Three Wise Monkeys

This is a Wikipedia article. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article, which has more links, and other information.

I read somewhere that the 3 wise monkeys adorn the tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the real life model for the character of Toranaga in Shogun.

three wise monkeys

The three wise monkeys (in Japanese 三猿, sanzaru, or 三匹 の猿, sanbiki no saru, lit. "three monkeys") are a pictorial maxim. Together they embody the proverbial principle "to see no evil, hear no evil, and to speak no evil". The three monkeys are Mizaru (見猿), covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru (聞か猿), covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru (言わ猿), covering his mouth, who speaks no evil.

The source that popularized this pictorial maxim is a 17th century carving over a door of the famous Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan. The maxim, however, probably originally came to Japan with a Tendai-Buddhist legend possibly from India via China in the 8th century (Yamato Period). Though the teaching most probably had nothing to do with monkeys, the concept of the three monkeys originated from a word play on the fact that zaru in Japanese, which denotes the negative form of a verb, sounds like saru, monkey (actually it is one reading of 猿, the Chinese character for monkey). The saying in Japanese is "見ざる、聞かざる、言わざる" (mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru), literally "don't see, don't hear, don't speak".

They have also been a motif in pictures, e.g. ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock printings, by Kesai Eisen. Today they are known throughout Asia and in the Western world, but in the West generally the monkeys are See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil.

The idea behind the proverb was part of the teaching of god Vadjra, that if we do not hear, see or talk evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil. This is similarly reflected in the English proverb "Talk of the devil - and the devil appears."

Sometimes there is a fourth monkey depicted with the three others, the last one Shizaru (し猿), covers his abdomen or crotch and symbolizes the principle of "do no evil".