Thursday, November 14, 2013

Note From The Dear Old Moss Temple, Kyoto

Just a personal note here from Koinzan Saihoji, the Moss Temple of western Kyoto, which I had reason to visit today. Didn't know it was the site of a villa (abode? hut? cottage? retreat?) of Prince Shotoku, then lots of water under the bridges, then more gardening mumbo-jumbo until Zen priest Muso took up residence and constructed this marvelous place. But I digress.

But before I stop digressing, I should add that 120 kinds of moss thrives here, something for all of you fans of biological diversity.

I have had reason to visit it frequently, as a matter of fact, and they recognize me there. Today, the kind fellow in a distinguished cloak greeting us at the gate to check if we have the proper post card which allows us to enter or not, later found me sitting in one of the garden's many resting places. He approached me and asked, again as a matter of fact, if I knew the Swedish lyrics of jazz standard Dear Old Stockholm. Well, there I am, enjoying the 120 different kinds of moss and water-under-the-bridges-kind-of-moment in a very exclusive part of dear old Kyoto. What does one say? "Ack mossträdgård du sköna"?

I know I will be looking forward to my next visit.

Image from Kanpai Japan

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Shimakura Chiyoko RIP - Jinsei Iro Iro

A great enka singer has passed away and it was big news.

Her tunes were in movies from the 1950s, and here is her big hit, Jinsei Iro Iro.

死んでしまおうなんて 悩んだりしたわ
バラもコスモスたちも 枯れておしまいと
髪を短くしたり 強く小指をかんだり
自分ばかりを責めて 泣いてすごしたわ

ねぇおかしいでしょ 若いころ
ねぇ滑稽(こっけい)でしょ 若いころ

笑いばなしに 涙がいっぱい
涙の中に 若さがいっぱい
人生いろいろ 男もいろいろ
女だっていろいろ 咲き乱れるの

I once wanted to die and I was really in trouble.
I needed no roses nor cosmos flowers and wished they would all die away.
I often cut my hair short and bit my finger.
I thought I would be blamed alone and kept crying all day long.

Don't you think now that was youth itself?
There were things so funny when we were young.

We cried so often for every story.
And there was always a lot of youth in our tears.

There are many kinds of men and there are many kinds of women.
So we women are once in a while free to enjoy our lives.


Here is a rare live version with Mori Masako (left). Mori-san breaks down, the lyrics must be too close to her own troubles, I don't know, wow, but Shimamura Chiyoko helps her all the way.

You never see this kind of emotion on display today.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

"Japan Is So Rich"

Do watch the TED talk video, I have to share this post from Ten Thousand Things:

Alex Kerr's beautiful old/new Japanese country houses and the movement to save traditional Japan

Great talk and breathtaking photos by author and historic preservationist Alex Kerr at TEDx in Kyoto on his mission to save Japanese country houses.
Japan is so rich: the natural environment, the fantastic traditional culture, the wealth of beauty and materials and spirit of lifestyle that you find in these old places. It's there and it can be saved.
Kerr uses double-paned windows for energy conservation. If his country houses were updated for solar, renewable energy, that would be even more modernizing, given 3/11's call to shift, downsize energy usage.

The reason small towns in Japan (and elsewhere) are experiencing depopulation is because they were built around local (agricultural, fishing) economies that have been collapsing under the global food industry's drive towards ever-increasing expansion...Japan's food sufficiency is now at 39%; when Alex Kerr came to Japan as a child (1960's), the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate was around 80%.

Kerr's work to restore country houses is one facet of a larger grassroots-driven local revitalization movement that seeks to save traditional Japan's agriculturally-rooted, rural cultures.

Tragically, Tohoku, much of which was stricken by the 3/11 disasters was the bastion of Japan's sustainable, slow life, organic and heirloom food movement.  Areas in Tohoku not affected by the catastrophes (Yamagata) continue pioneering these shifts.

Elsewhere, young Japanese people are leaving urban areas to return to their rural roots to farm and open organic retreats.  Japanese singer Yae and her mother Tokiko Kato (also a renowned singer) have a farming community in Kamogawa (near Tokyo) that opened during the 1970's.  It's a model of downsizing energy use, revitalizing traditional self-sufficiency, and cultivating simplicity.

More about the country house that captured Kerr's imagination and heart as a teenager: "Bringing an 18th-Century Farmhouse Back to Life" (Liza Foreman, NYT, Dec. 27, 2012)

Chiiori: Alex Kerr's first Japanese country house. (Photo: Alex Kerr)

Take a look at The Rational Pessimist, he has some rather compelling arguments, Finding a Narrative for Climate Change:

So the narrative is:
1.       Enemy (Big Fossil Fuel, right-wing extremism) + intention (self enrichment, ideological zealotry) → harm (high energy costs and climate change) to victims (everyone, but especially our children and grandchildren, now and into the future)
2.      Hero (Non-fossil fuel energy providers) + intention (replace fossil fuel with lower cost alternatives that doesn’t harm environment) → defeat (energy oligarchy at home and abroad) and improves on former status quo (standard of living, national self-sufficiency, community and individual empowerment)
OK, true, we don’t have much time, but we do have a powerful narrative that has firm, logical, scientific foundations. And we shouldn’t be afraid to push it.

We don't have much time. Not in Japan, not in the UK, Sweden, wherever you are. Certainly not elsewhere.

And so on and so forth.

For more, check out Papersky Magazine.

And here is more about Alex Kerr and his Shikoku getaway:

For those in search of the past, here is a mountain retreat from the pages of history. Step back in time and catch a glimpse of a life once lived all over Japan and while you’re there, lend a hand to construct it again. In “Lost Japan,” I wrote of discovering a thatched roof farmhouse in Iya valley, which I bought in 1973 and named Chiiori (Cottage of the Flute).  Over the years I rethatched the house and began to learn more about the village surrounding it. I discovered that the area preserved a way of life that not only predates “modernism” but much of what we associate with traditional Japan itself. Chiiori and Iya are set amidst a world of mossy rocks, waterfalls and thatched houses that seem to grow like mushrooms on the slopes – a place close to ancient Shinto’s “age of the gods.” Over time, however, Iya has suffered as the main work of its people shifted from agriculture to construction.  Across the nation the government props up rural economies by subsidizing massive civil engineering projects – damns, river embankments, and roads – and Iya, being poorer and rockier than most, shows signs of abundant cement pouring at every turn.

In 1997, friends joined me in founding The Chiiori Project which attracts volunteers from Japan and abroad with the goal of restoring the house and helping the depopulated village around it come back to life. Visitors also come for workshops and seminars, using Chiiori as an isolated venue for both traditional and modern ideas. But in the evening, it’s always off to the outdoor baths at the local onsen. Back at Chiiori, we sip sake, watch the smoke billow up into the rafters and talk into the late wee hours.

In the summer of 2007, I began to devote much more of my time to Iya. We changed the name of the non-profit to Chiiori Trust to emphasize a focus on membership and fund-raising and we’ve done a lot of work to improve the house and surrounding fields. There are two young staff living permanently at the house, Toru Muramatsu (handling Japanese language affairs), and Paul Cato (English-language manager). Since 2007 we’ve become very active with the township, managing community activities that aim to revitalize Iya.

Alex Kerr first came to Japan in 1964, is a co-founder of the Chiiori Project and the author of “Lost Japan” (Lonely Planet, 1996) and “Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan” (Penguin, 2000).

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Protest Against New State Secrecy Law

If you wish to protest against Japan's proposed State Secrecy Law, this is your chance. NGOs are asking people to send fax or mail messages to opposition politicians who are trying to stop the bill:

Please send a message to express your concern about the new State Secrecy Law by November 7, 2013

The proposed State Secrecy Law will most likely be adopted this week by Japan’s Parliament, where the LDP can get a majority together with Komeito. However, many opposition lawmakers are trying to rally against the bill. They need your support! Please express your concern for how this new Law may violate people’s right to know. The clauses in the proposed Law are very vague on what exactly a “state secret” may be. It goes against democratic principles and at different events, answers to questions have not been properly answered.

We call for citizens and people living in Japan to send the following demands to the leaders of the oppositions parties:

1. The proposed National Security Council has many issues that remain great problems. The deliberation has been insufficient and more debate is necessary.
2. The State Secrets Act also has numerous problems which were not recognized during the deliberation process.

Please send your message to:
Ooshima Atsushi (DPJ)
FAX 03-3508-3380
Fujii Takao (SP)
FAX 03-3508-3815
Banri Kaeda (DPJ)
FAX 03-3508-3316

You can also send a message directly through the website of the Democratic Party of Japan:

Thank you!

Lawrence Repeta, "A New State Secrecy Law for Japan?," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 42, No. 1, October 21, 2013. - See more at:
Lawrence Repeta, "A New State Secrecy Law for Japan?," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 42, No. 1, October 21, 2013. - See more at:

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Kaori Kobayashi - Free

I just love this tune.

Free, now that is a word that we all need to consider more carefully.

We need to stay free, stay cool, develop our aura, find ways to master the way of forgiveness, and maybe how to forget. And maybe how to find a way to continue to give. Not just let go but also hang on to the important stuff. Anyone has a better way to define "free" in words? Maybe it cannot be done.

I am glad we have gals like Kaori Kobayashi giving it a try, musically.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Miles Davis - Time After Time

Enjoy your Culture Day evening, everyone.

First, Miles Davis, from a performance in Tokyo 1987. Some 8 minutes of pure loveliness.

(Thanks Per Bodner for the Miles Davies biography.)

Then, if you think you like jazz, finding his performances in Tokyo and Kyoto back in 1964 is a real treat. From back before everything went electric. Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. Sam Rivers on altsax. Here are the tracks (click on the mp3 files for the sound):

Tokyo, July 12, 1964:

Kyoto, July 15, 1964:

Found here.

Isn't the Internet amazing?