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 ~

Friday, December 29, 2006

Puppy Mills in Japan

Below is an excerpt from an article in the NY Times regarding puppy mils in Japan. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. There is a slide show that goes along with the story.

Japan, Home of the Cute and Inbred Dog

TOKYO, Dec. 27 — Care for a Chihuahua with a blue hue?

Or how about a teacup poodle so tiny it will fit into a purse — the canine equivalent of a bonsai?

The Japanese sure do.

Rare dogs are highly prized here, and can set buyers back more than $10,000. But the real problem is what often arrives in the same litter: genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose.

There have been dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies. Many carry hidden diseases that crop up years later, veterinarians and breeders say.

Kiyomi Miyauchi was heartbroken to discover this after one of two Boston terriers she bought years ago suddenly collapsed last year into spasms on the living room floor and died. In March, one of its puppies died the same way; another went blind.

Ms. Miyauchi stumbled across a widespread problem here that is only starting to get attention. Rampant inbreeding has given Japanese dogs some of the highest rates of genetic defects in the world, sometimes four times higher than in the United States and Europe.

These illnesses are the tragic consequences of the national penchant in Japan for turning things cute and cuddly into social status symbols. But they also reflect the fondness for piling onto fads in Japan, a nation that always seems caught in the grip of some trend or other.

“Japanese are maniacs for booms,” said Toshiaki Kageyama, a professor of veterinary medicine specializing in genetic defects at Azabu University in Sagamihara. “But people forget here that dogs aren’t just status symbols. They are living things.”

Dogs are just one current rage. Less consequential is the big boom in the color pink: pink digital cameras, pink portable game consoles and, yes, pink laptop computers have become must-haves for young women. Last year, it was “bug king,” a computer game with battling beetles.

A number of the booms in Japan, including Tamagotchi — basically a virtual pet that grew on a computer screen — and the fanciful cartoon characters of Pokémon, have made their way across the Pacific and swept up American children, too.

The affection for fads in Japan reflects its group-oriented culture, a product of the conformity taught in its grueling education system. But booms also take off because they are fueled by big business. Companies like Sony and Nintendo are constantly looking to create the next adorable hit, churning out cute new characters and devices. Booms help sustain an entire industrial complex, from software makers to marketers and distributors, that thrives off the pack mentality of consumers in Japan.

The same thing is happening in Japan’s fast-growing pet industry, estimated at more than $10 billion a year. Chihuahuas are the current hot breed, after one starred in the television ads of a finance company. In the early 1990s, a TV drama featuring a Siberian husky helped send annual sales rocketing from just a few hundred dogs to 60,000; sales fell when the fad cooled, according to the Japan Kennel Club. The breed took off despite being inappropriately large for cramped homes in Japan.

The United States also experiences surges in sales of certain breeds, and some states have confronted “puppy mills” that churn out popular breeds by enacting “puppy lemon laws” that prevent breeders from selling diseased animals.

But in Japan, the sales spikes are far more extreme, statistics show. The kennel club says unethical breeders try to cash in on the booms, churning out large volumes of puppies from a small number of parents. While many breeders have stuck to healthy mating practices, the lure of profits has attracted less scrupulous breeders and led to proliferation of puppy mills.

Some veterinarians and other experts cite another, less obvious factor behind widespread risky inbreeding in Japan’s dog industry — the nation’s declining birthrate.

As the number of childless women and couples in Japan has increased, so has the number of dogs, which are being coddled and doted upon in place of children, experts say. In the last decade, the number of pet dogs in Japan has doubled to 13 million last year — outnumbering children under 12 — according to Takashi Harada, president of Yaseisha, a publisher of pet industry magazines.

“Households with few or no children are turning to dogs to fill the void,” he said. “For a dog to be part of the family, it has to be unique and have character, like a person.”

Thursday, December 28, 2006

China's Hidden Treasures

Below is an excerpt from an article at the NY Times. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. At the NY Times site, there is also a slide show. Enjoy.

Rare Glimpses of China’s Long-Hidden Treasures

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Dec. 27 — After four years of renovations that closed two-thirds of the building, the museum housing the world’s most famous collection of Chinese art is reopening this winter and holding a three-month exhibition of its rarest works.

The National Palace Museum, home to the best of the 1,000-year-old art collection of China’s emperors, is often compared to leading Western institutions like the Louvre, the Prado and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But while this museum’s holdings are magnificent, the institution has been known for being a highly politicized place where priceless porcelain sat in poorly lit display cases and where invaluable paintings were kept in a damp manmade cave for fear of Communist attack from mainland China.

That has now changed. Heroic statues of Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan’s former leader, and of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China, have been banished. New lighting, air-conditioning, climate-controlled storage vaults and other features rival the newest museums in the West. Even the wall labels attached to the artwork are now written in clear and specific Chinese, English and Japanese.

And after many years of hiding its most valuable and most fragile artworks — those from the Northern and Southern Sung dynasties that ruled China from 960 to 1279 — the museum has brought them out for a “Grand View” exhibition that opened on Christmas. Four of the best known Northern Sung dynasty paintings — one of them on loan from the Metropolitan Museum in New York — are being shown together for the first time, along with other rare paintings, scrolls and some of the world’s earliest printed books.

The four paintings are magnificent landscapes that tower over visitors but still have the exquisite detail of miniatures. The Chinese characters of the name of one artist are so subtly hidden in the trees of one painting that they went unnoticed until this century. A deputy director of the museum is credited with discovering them, although rumor says that a janitor was really the first to find them, said Ho Chuan-hsing, a museum specialist in early paintings and calligraphy.

Many of the pieces are so fragile that they are never lent to museums elsewhere. Some will only be on display here for half the exhibition: either from Christmas to Feb. 7 or from Feb. 8 to March 25. Museum policy allows these works to be shown only for 40 days, after which they are loosely rolled and placed in a vault to rest for at least three years; the exhibition here will not go on tour.

Art scholars describe the “Grand View” as unique.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


With tomorrow being the first day of winter, our thoughts naturally turn to ...gardens. What follows is an excerpt from a newspaper article. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Visiting Asia Without Crossing the Pacific in Portland, Ore.
IT’S a chilly Sunday in late autumn and a steady shower is falling on the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. Rain silvers the pebble mosaic in the Court of Tranquillity and dimples the surface of Zither Lake. Budding camellias shine, bamboo shoots nod and recover, the huge leaves of banana trees, already shredded by previous storms, tap out a few faint spattered notes.

“Too bad it’s not raining harder,” our smiling guide, Frances Chin, murmurs as we watch droplets slide off the roof tiles of the Hall of Brocaded Clouds near the garden entrance. “In a real downpour, rain streams off the roof and forms a curtain in front of the pavilion like strings of pearls.”

Everyone told me to come back in the rain when I first visited the Chinese Garden two days earlier during a rare burst of November sun, and they were right. All of the Portland gardens I saw in the course of a long weekend — Tanner Springs Park and Jamison Square, the new pocket parks in the trendy downtown Pearl District; the International Rose Test Garden perched high above the city in Washington Park; the display gardens of local specialty nurseries — looked lovely under low dripping skies. But the Chinese and Japanese gardens, the crown jewels of the City of Roses, were loveliest of all. Different as they are, these two Asian gardens both rely on pattern, structure and metaphor instead of the floral can-can of typical American gardens. Rain, especially the mild intermittent rain of the Pacific Northwest winter, is their varnish.

Usually I prefer to avoid the tours and wander around gardens on my own, but I’m glad I had a guide on both my visits to the Chinese Garden. Just one acre on a single city block in the midst of Portland’s funky Old Town Chinatown, this is a garden layered with hidden meaning.

On first glance, I see more architecture than garden: nine ornate pavilions clustered around a large, irregularly shaped shallow pond and linked by bridges and covered walkways; walled courtyards paved with patterned stones and studded with pale upright rocks that look like petrified chunks of Swiss cheese; columns, wooden panels and portals set with signs in Chinese characters. Yes, there are plants — lovely willows that weep into the pond, pines clipped into bristling asymmetrical pincushions, a persimmon with globes of big orange fruit — but they seem to decorate the hardscape rather than the other way around.

Gloria Lee Luebke, the executive director, explains that the garden, like the traditional Ming Dynasty scholar’s gardens in the ancient city of Suzhou on which it is patterned, incorporates five essential elements — poetry, rock, water, architecture and plants — with no one element taking pride of place. A Chinese scholar’s garden was not meant to be a distilled mountain landscape in the Japanese manner or a clipped green theater like Italy’s Renaissance gardens, but rather an intricate urban salon where a retired scholar gathered with friends to write poetry, sip wine, observe the water rippling in the moonlight and listen to the music of the rain.

“These gardens were designed to frame a view in each direction,” Ms. Luebke says as we duck through an unadorned rectangular aperture into the Fragrance Courtyard, the first of two courtyards leading to the scholar’s study. “Though the garden is small, people do get lost here.”

For a minute we just stand and let the elements compose themselves. Crisp, lush specimens of jasmine, gardenia and mock orange stand out in sharp relief against the blank canvas of the white wall — a study in dormant fragrance. In just a few weeks, the waxy yellow blossoms of the wintersweet — now a humble-looking mound of bare sticks — will spice up the entire courtyard with the first intoxicating fragrance of the new year.

A moon gate at the far end inscribes a circle around the trees and shrubs of the next courtyard, a view that I now realize is as carefully arranged as a scroll painting. Ms. Luebke translates the Chinese inscriptions over the gate: “Read the landscape,” it says on one side; “Listen to the fragrance,” on the other. For me, this is the “ah-ha” moment when I stop trying to impose my own tastes and assumptions and just let the garden speak to me.

Two days later, in the rain, its speech is even more eloquent. I’m inside the elegant scholar’s study, the heart of the place, admiring the penjing (or potted landscape, the Chinese version of bonsai) set on the delicate rosewood tables. The yellow leaves of a dwarf ginkgo tree lie scattered on the lacquered desktop beside three blue-and-white Ming-style vases. Rain beads the bamboo culms outside. A midnight blue Steller’s jay flashes by the window. Pure visual poetry just crying out for the light touch of a wise calligrapher.

AFTER the tight urban block of the Chinese Garden, Portland’s Japanese Garden is like a clearing in the forest, a glade that has been touched lightly and deftly by the hand of an artist. It’s not raining at the moment, but there is something indescribably fresh and damp and uplifting about this garden set several hundred feet above the city in the woods of 5,000-acre Forest Park.

“This is my favorite time of year,” says the veteran guide Sue Stegmiller as we stand listening to water trickling into the stone basin of the tsu-bai (hand-washing fountain) just inside the front gate. “As our former head gardener Mike Miller puts it: ‘In spring the garden shows its charisma, but in winter it shows its essence.’ ” The moss curling over the stone lanterns and fountains is as glossy as seaweed; the contorted black pines just inside the entry gate gleam as if made of glass. Every vista has a curtain hung at its end, a scrim of enormous Douglas fir and Western red cedar, the signature trees of the Pacific Northwest forest.

Even aficionados from Japan agree that this is the most authentic Japanese garden outside their country, except for that curtain of Northwest conifers. “These firs and cedars are too big,” says Ms. Stegmiller. “To Japanese they look overwhelming.” But they are also indispensable to the almost spiritual allure of the place.

Though it’s hard to imagine monkey cages and concession stands here, this was the site of the old Portland zoo before it was moved in 1959. The landscape architect Takuma Tono, brought over from Japan, magically transformed the forlorn 5.5 acres into five discreet gardens linked by paths and steps: a Strolling Pond Garden surrounding two small lakes, a Tea Garden, a Natural Garden of pruned trees and pools, a Zen-style Sand and Stone Garden, and a Flat Garden landscaped around a bed of raked sand. Part of Mr. Tono’s artistry is the way one garden flows subtly into the next, so that the scene shifts without ever breaking the spell.

Unlike a Chinese garden, which to Western eyes is so crusted with architecture, pavement and poetry as to hardly resemble a garden at all, Japanese gardens are familiar to the point of cliché with their lanterns, arched bridges, koi ponds and cherry trees. Or so I think until I take Ms. Stegmiller’s tour. She points out a hillside of azaleas that, come early spring, will cover itself in a snow of pure white blossoms that melts, figuratively, into the jade-green pond below. I learn that the pared-down style of the Tea Garden, with its moss-fringed stepping stones and simple evergreen shrubs, reflects the desire for refuge during the civil wars of the 16th century. The star magnolia near the entrance to the Natural Garden has had its crown pruned flat and low so the flowers appear to rest on a shelf of branches.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Goddess of Mercy ... and Cameras?

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an article about the history of the Canon company.

The founder based the name Canon on Kannon, or Kwanon, which is Guan Yin in Chinese... The Goddess of Mercy.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Death of a goddess

Below is an except from an article in The Independant, regarding the Chinese White Fin Dolphin becoming extinct. The dolphin was regarded as a goddess. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

After surviving 20 million years, China's goddess of the river is driven to extinction
By Clifford Coonan in Beijing

Published: 18 December 2006

For 20 million years, the white-fin dolphin, or baiji, swam China's longest river, the Yangtze. But a few years of breakneck development, overfishing and a massive increase in shipping have reduced sightings of this shy, graceful creature to zero.

A recent expedition failed to spot a single Lipotes vexillifer, and now conservationists fear the almost-blind, long-beaked animal is gone for good, the first big aquatic mammal to become extinct due to human activity.

"We have to accept the fact that the baiji is extinct. It is a tragedy, a loss not only for China, but for the entire world," said the joint leader of the expedition, August Pfluger, an economist who runs the Swiss-based, an environmental group dedicated to saving the dolphins.
Scientists say the search for the dolphin will continue, even though the 30-strong team which has plied the length of the Yangtze for the past six weeks failed to sight the cetacean.

Measuring up to 8ft 2in (2.5 metres) in length, the baiji is a relative of other freshwater dolphins in the Mekong, Indus, Ganges and Amazon rivers.

It used to be worshipped as a goddess by the Chinese. According to legend, the baiji is the reincarnation of a princess who refused to marry a man she did not love and was drowned by her father for shaming the family.

When it was listed as one of the most endangered species in the world in 1986, there were still 400 white-fin dolphins alive, but the population dropped alarmingly to fewer than 150 over the past decade. A survey in 1997 listed just 13 sightings, with the last confirmed sighting in 2004.

The final baiji in captivity, Qi Qi, died in 2002.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Three Gorges Dam

In 1993, China undertook construction of the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, spanning the scenic Three Gorges region of China. It is a highly controversial project and not expected to be completed until 2009.

1.9 million people were displaced. Many archeological and cultural sites were lost. The effects on the evnironment will not be fully known for years.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the page at for the Three Gorges Dam.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dao De Jing: Chapter 19

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's classics, it is one of the foundational texts of philosophical Daoism. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version.

19. Simplify

If we could abolish knowledge and wisdom
Then people would profit a hundredfold;

If we could abolish duty and justice
Then harmonious relationships would form;

If we could abolish artifice and profit
Then waste and theft would disappear.

Yet such remedies treat only symptoms
And so they are inadequate.

People need personal remedies:
Reveal your naked self and embrace your original nature;

Bind your self-interest and control your ambition;
Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Japan's Falling Population a Case for Freakonomics?

Japan's birthrate is 1.25, while a birthrate of 2.1 babies per woman is needed to maintain the population. Japan's population is both aging and shrinking. One would expect the future to be bleak for Japan. ... or maybe not.

Below is an excerpt from an article about this phenomenon. For the full article, please click on the title of this post, and you'll be directed to the original page at

Japan's Population Fall a Case for Freakonomics?: William Pesek
By William Pesek

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- It's a worthy question for the ``Freakonomics'' guys: is a shrinking population, contrary to conventional wisdom, actually good for an economy?

Last year, Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, and writer Stephen Dubner made a splash with a book turning traditional economics upside down by puzzling out everyday conundrums. The world's demographic quirks would seem a perfect candidate for their attention.

Most economists will roll their eyes at the question itself. Well of course, they will argue, dwindling ranks will lead to less growth. Shrinking populations reduce labor forces, crimp productivity, hurt tax receipts and boost debt levels.

At least in the case of Japan, Sharmila Whelan of CLSA Asia- Pacific Markets begs to differ. In a September report, the Hong Kong-based economist committed demographic heresy by arguing that fewer people will brighten Japan's outlook.

The plot has thickened since Whelan's report began making the rounds. Last month, the government said that in 2005, the population shrank for the first time -- excluding a dip during World War II -- since Japan began compiling data in 1899. The birthrate fell to a record 1.25 babies per woman, well below the 2.1 needed to maintain today's population of 127 million.

Complicating things, a rapidly-aging population means Japan's demographics are becoming ever more lopsided. A recent government report said Japan's workforce will shrink by as much as a third by 2050 if more women and elderly workers aren't hired.

Demographic Riddle

An aversion to immigration doesn't help. While estimates vary too widely to bother mentioning here, Japan may need to import millions of workers in the years ahead to fill gaps in the labor pool. Never mind that those of us living in ultra-crowded Japan wonder where we will fit several million more bodies -- the economy needs the manpower.

Some observers are finding silver linings. In a new book, ``The Japanese Money Tree,'' economist Andrew Shipley takes an intriguing look at the bright side of a graying Japan.

``Investors are ignoring an arguably much more important demographic shift,'' Shipley wrote.

``A younger generation of politicians, executives and policy makers is poised to take charge.''

CLSA's Whelan says fewer people will do for Japan what former and current prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe have been unable to: catalyze an innovation boom that makes Japan more productive.

``High population growth alone never delivered high economic growth,'' Whelan report. ``If it did, this report would be about Africa, not Japan.''

Innovation is Key

It's a good point. When you ask executives why they're investing in China, two words come up immediately: cheap labor. Yet if economic potential were only about cheap labor, money would be rushing to Sudan and Myanmar. In the same way, if population growth were all that mattered, then Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia would be thriving.

Whelan's optimism is based in part on history. Growth, she argued, tends to be driven by ``specialization, innovation and trade.'' Investment, like labor, tends to go where returns are highest. As Japan moves more toward a knowledge-based economy driven by increased research and development, its citizens will prosper.

Similar demographic trends didn't hold back Venice's economy in the 11th century, Whelan said. Nor did they imperil the Dutch Republic in the 14th century. Likewise, Whelan said, ``in the coming decade, Japan's shrinking population is the least of her problems as far as growth goes.''

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Waiting Pinetree

Further adventures in the study of Japanese.

Previously, I've mentioned that my Japanese collegues pronounce my last name, Matz, as Ma-tsu. Matsu means "Pinetree" (松). It turns out that Matsu also is the verb, "to wait" (待つ).

Matsu matte imasu. (松 待って います。) means "The waiting pinetree."

Matte, matsu ...
Waiting, the pinetree...

Feels like dancin'

Over at the Martial Development blog, there is a new post talking about qualities of dancing and taiji. The post features a couple of video clips that are truly a delight to watch, as well as links to another couple of video clips that are terrific as well.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to that article; or you can click on the link over at the right to visit Martial Development as well. Please pay a visit, and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Karate and Taikiken

The founder of Japanese Taikiken, Kenichi Sawai, was not only a student of Chinese YiQuan, but he was a very good friend of the founder of one of the toughest styles of karate, Mas Oyama of the Kyokushin. Oyama had some of his top fighters train in the standing practice with Sawai.

At the blog, Taiki Shisei Kenpo, there is a short article and a long video clip of one of the top fighters of the Kyokushin, Hajime Kazumi. Kazumi never finished lower than 2nd in any of the many full contact (and bare knuckled) tournaments he entered.

If you click on the title of this post, of on "Taiki Shisei Kenpo" over on the right, you'll be directed to that site. Please pay a visit.