Sunday, May 27, 2007

Return to art school

I have been reminded this past week that not everyone knows that I’m planning to return to Nepal to continue my art studies. I’ve been letting friends and acquaintances know as I meet or write to them, but I’m now starting to lose track of whom I've informed.

I’ve let all my universities know that I’ll be away for the fall semester, and the radio station is now looking for a replacement. I’ll finish up this semester at the end of July, after which Mutsumi, her family, and I will be traveling to the US to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We have rented a house on the beach at Hilton Head and will be spending a week there largely laying about and eating. We’ll then spend another week in Atlanta before returning to Fukuoka, after which I’ll be boarding a plane for Kathmandu, probably in early September.

The plan is to stay through March of 2008 to finish the first year (of six) of the art program. During that time, Mutsumi is planning to visit. If anyone would like to join her, perhaps you can negotiate a group discount on tickets and hotels. Just let us know when you’d like to go. Any and all visitors are most welcome.

As usual, we’ll keep you updated through this blog on how this plan develops.



Three weeks ago I got an email from Rui with the very happy news that she had accepted a job as a writer from the Asahi newspaper group. Here she is practicing her interviewing skills.

Rui is a former student. She studied in the UK and while there did a small internship with BBC radio. Two weeks ago we went out to dinner to celebrate her new job, which will take her in the fall to Tokyo for training. Here we are after a filling meal at Higuchi, one of the city's better French restaurants.

While searching for a journalism job, Rui has been supporting herself working for Softbank, one of Japan's largest telecommunication providers and the owner of Fukuoka's professional baseball team. Through her job Rui came into a few choice tickets to a game that she couldn't attend, so she passed them on to us, and yesterday we had a relaxing afternoon at the Dome in our box seats.

Joining us were Greg Bevan, a fellow teacher at a couple of the universities where I teach, and his finance, Hiromi, a registered nurse and in her free time a dancer of salsa (though not yet, as I understand, with Greg). The happy couple is getting married this summer.

One of the unique traditions of Japanese baseball is the 7th inning balloon release. Mutsumi remarks on the size of Greg's inflation.

Everyone readies ...

... and releases.

The Fukuoka Hawks lost the game (to the Hiroshima Carp), but sill, we had a great time. As you can see in these pictures.

Thank you for a great day, Rui, Greg, Hiromi, and Mutsumi.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

Book Review: Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away: Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering; Ajahn Chah, 2005

Ajahn Chah was not a writer. He was born in a fishing village in northeast Thailand in 1918 and spent many years there speaking to farmers and fishermen. Many of these talks were recorded, transcribed and later translated and compiled by one of his western students, Paul Breiter.

Ajahn Chah spoke simply for a simple audience. To illustrate his points, he spoke of fields, ponds, rivers, fish, frogs, dogs, plowing, planting, and harvesting. He used folk tales and parables. Here he speaks of how we are responsible for our own suffering:

"Really, someone who suffers when living alone is foolish. Someone who suffers when living with others is foolish. It's like chicken turds: if you carry them around by yourself, they stink. If you keep them when you're among others, they stink. You carry the rotten things with you."

On the futility of becoming overly preoccupied in affairs of the world, he reminds his audience of the beetle, scratching in the earth:

"It can scratch up a pile that's a lot bigger than itself, but it's still only a pile of dirt. If it works hard, it makes a deep hole in the ground, but it's only a hole in dirt. If a buffalo drops a load of dung there, it will be bigger than the beetle's pile of earth, but it still isn't anything that reaches to the sky. It's all dirt. Worldly accomplishments are like this. No matter how hard the beetles work, they're just involved in dirt, making holes and piles"

Translating the colloquialisms must have been challenging, but, as you can see from the above, Paul Breiter has done a magnificent job capturing Ajahn Chah's voice, making "Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away" a wonderful volume for even those who may have been practicing the dharma for many years.

For those new to Buddhism, this would be an amusing and enlightening introduction, not only because of the colorful language but also for the way in which Ajahn Chah reduces the message of Buddhism to a few easy-to-grasp concepts. He seemed to like reminding his audience that Buddhism was not all that difficult to understand, and he did this through the message of impermanence. As he remarks in a teaching on meditation:

"The way I practice medication is not very complicated - just this. This is what it all comes down to: `It's uncertain'. Everything meets at this point."


Friday, May 4, 2007

Golden Week 2007

This past week was Golden Week here in Japan, so called because of a string of national holidays, including Showa Day, Constitution Day, and Children’s Day. As we usually do at this time of year, we visited with Mutusmi’s family in Kobe, though this year seemed a bit more hectic, if only because Mutsumi’s sister Narumi is now married and living on her own, which adds an extra day to our round of visits.

Jeff, Mutusmi, Narumi, Mitsuhiro

The week turned out – partly by design, partly by accident - to be associated with Shingon, one of Japan’s schools of esoteric Buddhism, founded by one of the country’s most famous monks, a fellow born as Kukai and who later went by the name Kobo Daishi.

Kukai, aka Kobo Daishi

We had been planning to visit Koya-san, a mountain retreat founded in the 9th century by Kobo Daishi in the forests of Wakayama, but we spent an unscheduled afternoon at Suma Temple, located not far from Mutusmi’s parents’ home, which turned out to also be a Shingon Temple.

Suma Temple

The next morning we were up before 6:00am to take bus to Kobe, then a train to Osaka, a subway to another railway line, a train to the foot of Koya-san, a cable car up the mountain, and finally a bus to the town of Koya, a three-hour journey to one of Japan’s most beautiful towns.

There are no hotels in Koya (nor any super markets, neon lights, or other signs of modern commercial convenience). Accomodation is provided by temples, and we stayed at Shojoshin-in, a place I had noticed on a previous visit to Koya. The temples also provide board, tasty traditional Buddhist vegetarian meals.

Breakfast at Shojoshin-in

And what account of travels in Japan would be complete without a picture of funny English, this one above the hotel sink .

The problem here is Japanese has separate words for cold and hot water. What the temple wants to inform its guests is that there is no hot water available at this sink.