Gardening, Rain, SuiZen


Gardening Zen and the rain
My Shifu from Dharma Mtn says everyday life is Zen/Chan, in Kung fu we say everything is training. Gardening as practice is certainly not a new concept, so I am not going there, this is just one moment in time…thoughts, clarity
Growing one’s food no matter on the scale, gives a sense of connection to the world, life cycle without the blood of hunting. It is sort of satisfying the God complex, like ceramics because you are creating something from dirt, but in this case you can eat it, instead of eat with it.
We have had a storm for the last couple of days and will continue at least one more. I am loving it! Off from work, just enjoying the rain and wind from a safe spot. Doing some gardening when the conditions are mild. Like the wind taking a breath. Doing some misc trimming, repotting, feeding, rearranging or simplify admiring the garden, savoring the feeling of the elements, the storm, the earth, growth, warm air, being in Japan, the wind, life, gratitude. With the world so nuts, it Is good to view everything with a sense of gratitude and feel the joy of the retirement moment in gratitude and wonder. Five years in to retirement and still surviving. Not without help, grateful for that. It is a simple life but pleasant. Warm int he winter, cool in the summer, dry all year when sleeping and our belly are full. This is a blessing under normal conditions, to have it be so in a new country and life is a major blessing …Amitoufou
I spent most of the last couple of days, practicing Shakuhachi and working in the “backforty”. This year I really feel the blessing of having this space and see the results of my efforts in the landscaping. Both in the front Zen garden and the Back Forty. Same purpose of growth, different missions. Sort of Yin and Yang, eye and body pleasures. Whatever. The front theme Is the bamboo, a couple of small water ponds, some fragrant plants, a couple of herbs. Gives a sense of peace and simple beauty. I still have the image of how it looked when we first moved in. so different now.
The Backforty is about growing food and herbs. The front was tried a bit for some things, because of the sun, but the bugs overran the things. They seem to be less on the Backforty. Not sure why. More other plants around in front, dirt, ??
I have finally figured out after 5 years what grows well, in what spot, and how much to grow since my use is measured and my yield is small. The main stay is lettus, kale, tomatoes, basil, peppers and few misc herbs. This year has been the most productive. I will try potatoes next year or later this one. It maybe too late, for this year, Unknown… some research needed.
Some grown things really add to the table, something are just treats. It is all worth the effort, the sense of “gangster” for growing your own, the flavor!! The spiritual sense of connection to your food.
During the storm I sheltered myself indoors and watch and listen to the storm. I would practice my Shakuhachi during these times. I was told by my Komuso sensei about connecting to the environment was an important part of playing. Today and yesterday I sat at the window, feeling as if I sat on an enclosed patio and played. The storm blew, I blew, we blew. On one song the storm and my energies blended and as I played, the storm followed , or I followed the storm, we ended at the same moment, like matched lovers.
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Kyudo , rainy day musing


Musings on a rainy day

 
I am off today, due to the rain, nice my back needs some more down time. There was a big earthquake this morning, so not a run of the mill start. My plan was and still is to settle down in my studio with tea and catch up on some writings…
Yesterday I went to Kyudo practice. I had planned on doing some Komuso practice afterwards, but that did not work out. Which I wrote about on the Komuso blog. As for Kyudo, I have been working more t home with the Makiwara to cement things into my “bones” . I had a revelation last week at the Kimono class about my shooting. Actually my stance not my shooting, if I was to knit pick. Posture, jumongi. I was noticing I was not turning fully perpendicular to the mato, with my upper body. I did not have a chance to fully test the thought, but I did have a chance yesterday. 
 
I had originally planned for a two-hour practice, then go out for my Buddhist Komuso practice, but I cut it down to an hour o as not to tart too late. Which tuned out to be pointless. So yeah, I got in some practice , it did make a difference. I got on the first shot, and just missed on the second. 
I still need some adjustment and other work , because I missed a lot after that. I think I slacked off on other points. Because towards the end when I really focus on every detail I improved. The Kaicho gave me a quick check over on his way out , on my last shot. It hit he said I need to keep my head back more and raise my chest. Other wise good. 
 
The week before at Kimono practice. I was corrected on some Tai Hai points. Not lifting heels off the floor when walking backward to Honza from Shai, placing my Yumi on the outside on my knee cap not the inside, leaning the yumi slightly outward when turning out of the Kimono disrobe part. “Hadanugi “. Plus some other small points, nothing to do with shooting but having to do with proper form. So still getting bit by bit instructions. Taking them in, logging, implementing, the process continues. 
 
When starting back to for the summer, I should be able to return to going to the dojo twice a week now, without hearing static from the minister of finance. I am pretty certain I will attend the next Shinsa in September at my home dojo. Feeling ready or not, taking it as part of practice. Like one is supposed to approach doing meditation, the goal is doing it, not the result.

Komuso; a step on the path


Small steps are still steps… the path

 
I went Shakuhachi class tonight. It is now monthly, Not bi-weekly. Cutting back on expenses…
I took along a couple of the Komuso items I have recieved from the Myoanji Temple. One was my Begging permit. The other was a prayer/poem, charm sort of thing. my wife did not know what it was. My Komuso sempai said it was the SuiZen “vows” An “oath”…of sorts is a better word.
 
I showed it to my Sensei. He said, well… to me, as I am not a Buddhist, or at least a full Buddhist, I am half, to me it is just decoration. However to someone who is Buddhist, and like you as a Komuso it has meaning to the core of being a Komuso.
He then went through and explained everything in struggling English. The main “text” is this: 
 
One blow to remove evil
One blow to bring the good
One blow for all to come together in Buddhism 
 
 
There are variations on interpretations of this, but the same sort of meaning.
It came down to mostly this…hearing his talk.
 
“A Komuso does not play for himself, he plays for others first, himself last”. 
 
That was the thing that stuck with me out of all that he tried to explain, on the philosophy and code of the Komuso from the writing. One can think of the playing as a healing, a prayer, an offering. Sensei often speaks of sound offering, meditation, purity of the note and peacefulness of spirit. He said tonight when speaking of some players that if they can not blow the Shakuhachi and make a pure sound, a real note, not just mostly wind noise, this person should not being playing Shakuhachi, their spirit is not calm, they should just sit ZaZen. Give up Shakuhachi, just sit Zazen. What is funny hearing him speak of these things, he will say, or add that he is not a Buddhist, or Komuso, but blah blah blah.
 
He told me it is more important to play than to receive donations. Also hear that from my wife. Playing as a Komuso is not about taking, or receiving, but giving. He also told me I could play another song beside, “Cho Shi”. But a modern songs, NO no no! The Honkyoku I am currently working on, San Ya, is ok, he said. In Japanese songs such as this it is not about playing the whole song, for it to be a whole song. I could play the number of Lines I had learned and it could be used as a Komuso. He then showed me an example of how to play it. It is really feeling and interpretation of any part, yet each part is still part of the whole and still the whole. Like as drop of the ocean is still ocean water, an ocean, just smaller. As we as it is Ch’an are just a small part of all that is …
My friend and Kung Fu Sihing, liken this to the golden spiral of life. Wherever you cut this spiral it is the same angle, small as it’s larger or smaller piece. He based a workout stick/wand, on this idea.
Hmmm maybe I digress or something there… oh well, it is my blog, of sorts. It is my story for sure
! …or is it?
 
Sensei had said he was or held a membership at a temple in Fukuoka, but he had not done begging. But understood it. He knows a lot of stuff around Shakuhachi, even if he does not follow, the stuff. He as he has a lot of respect for those past masters who thought ( and those now) of the Shakuhachi as not a Musical instrument, but a Zen tool. Even though he does not follow that philosophy.
 
I hope to learning some interesting things as a Komuso if I keep my eyes and ears open. Learning Japanese would help a lot, but I will make do for now as I “take another step”.
IMG_20180403_163801
 
Another thing he said , from reading my card is I am number 2,380 (an about number) Komuso registered with the Myoanji HQ. I thought, Wow! There will be a new blog coming, dealing with just my life and times as a Komuso. “THe Komuso Khronicles”. This blog is getting full, and will just get the summary.

尺八 – Kard Karrying Komuso


A Card Carrying Komuso
It took some doing, and time, but it finally happened. I got my membership to the Myoanji temple and entrance into the ranks of the Komuso. Nice to have made a goal. it has been a while since that has happened. It is not really a big deal, yet it sort of is.
The Komuso order is not really an official Buddhist thing or is it? Still working on figuring that out. I was sent the Vow of Suizen with my membership papers. Maybe the 3 together now are the 3 treasures given to the new members to the ranks of the “Priests of Nothiness” back in the day. For sure only in Japan are there official Komuso Buddhist, I guess…
The Komuso are perhaps more Buddhist now…than back in the day. Back then most public records say they had little if any Buddhist practice. But there must have been something organized, formal. Of course they were just living, there was no need to record everything, like now. There was no Facebook back then! Other than the spies, they were mostly out for themselves, food, shelter, enlightenment. Ex-warriors, Samurai, ronin. Some did in fact work in some temples, admin sort of thing. The Buddhist part just gave them some freedom, some breathing space, a tax exempt status so to speak, and the “ok” to travel hassless as a “monk”. The Komuso would beg for alms by playing a honkyoku outside of a home or place of business. However, some practiced something near to extortion in order to receive alms by intimidating people and loitering. Komuso were also the subject of mysticism or superstitions.
I came across/heard something about it being lucky for a pregnant woman to see a Komuso. Some believed that the Komuso were surrounded by the dead and brought evil spirits or bad luck. Conversely, some believed that a Komuso could have a positive affect over such invisible forces. In many ways some Komuso could have been described as spiritual minstrels or priests.
Otherwise, zip.
On the other hand …there is still not much being done/heard of/by them. That I know of so far. Maybe at a Zen temple such as Kokokuji or Myoanji, there are Priest/Monks doing their Zen thing who happen to be part of a smaller/zen group that plays Shakuhachi, for whatever reason. Like there is a “warrior sub-sect” to the Shaolin Zen Temple. Martial Monks of Chan. The Komuso being something like that still today. Busy doing everyday Buddhist stuff at the temple, but part of their practice is playing Shakuhachi not chanting/or with chanting, does not have to be with or without, right…
“At present, Komuso practice with the shakuhachi exists only in a ceremonial way, although the Fukeshu remains as a Zen sect and has retained its traditional base in Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple.”… Kouzan (Website)

Anyway moving on… Also they are not poor now, that is a for-sure thing. The outfits can be quite costly. Mine is not but it is also simple and from 2nd hand goods. Recycled, doing my part for the earth and humanity’s future.
Anyway, the full blown off the shelf Komuso-wear, can be costly! Which is one reason I ended up joining the Myoanji temple, not the Kokokuji temple in Wakayama. At Kokokuji, the Komuso are required to have a white and a black K-wear to be with that temple group. Also their Komuso-wear is special styled to/for them from what I understood.
The Kokokuji temple, from also what I understood, is not the first “Komuso” temple but the first to have the shakuhachi as part of their meditation or something like that. Yet this above says started wearing the basket. Maybe started here, but labeled elsewhere. Hard to tell. Myoanji is a much newer temple and “custody” holder of the Fuke Zen Komuso sect. Hmm is there still such a thing or is the”komuso” the only image memory of a somewhat colorful past.
Anyway, I digress, Myoanji is not so strict about their dress. Yet, it is ( Myoanji ) also supposed to be the “spiritual center” for the “SuiZen” practice.
 
So what are Modern Komuso? For the most part, a club/fraternity type group, carrying on a Japanese tradition. Maybe not a real “Zen” order, or rather, sub-order. I do not know if the “Fuke” are still considered a sect even though the ban was lifted. Although, who says what is a real Zen order. Although there are real ordained Priests in the group, not all are Zen. They, Komuso show up at events, and festivals. Still not doing much Buddhist type stuff…or maybe just “being” and playing there is Komuso ( Fuke) Buddhist stuff. There are just a few that still go out and beg, carrying on that tradition. I see a few in documentaries around Tokyo. I know of two in Nara, and they are active not just event Komuso. There are ” others ” within Japan that dress the dress but are, let’s say in training, or getting the experience. Like what I did.
I am still learning what Modern Komuso are and do. Now, I know two, no maybe three active ones. One has the philosophy Shakuhachi is not a Musical instrument but a Zen tool! Sadly no English, he is from the Kokokuji. By active I mean out playing in public not just gong to events. I think an interview is in order. An older veteran, My Sponser and a somewhat new guy, my Nara Sempai. That would be interesting, neh!? Yeah, I will have to put that on my “To Do ” List.
Make a pilgrimage to my Komuso Sponser’s temple. I have not done my official pilgrimage yet. That would be a great 3 year Shakuhachi anniversary pilgrimage. Also take along Sempai from Nara. I was going to go to Kyoto to take in my application, but we were told I could mail it. That was cheaper and simpler. So no anniversary pilgrimage yet.
 
For me…the newbie Komuso…hmmm, not sure… I will get out there. It is a good venue for me to develop a practice. I need my wife to make me a “Gebako”. Since my Kung Fu path here in Japan is pretty much nothing other than my own training health practice, not a way of spreading any dharma. Perhaps this mixture of Buddhism and Music will work for me, I can style, develop it pretty much as I please. My Sempai from the large size Shakuhachi group showed me a list of rules as a Komuso member. I will have to get a hold of the list and have it translated. Perhaps the temple will send it to me once all my paperwork gets settled in. I was surprised how fast my cards came. One week turn around from when I sent in the application, I was expecting just to get a membership invoice, but they sent the cards. For Japan, it was a shock to happen so fast.
 
So anyway, now I can officially start my own Zen Komuso Practice in my area. I am clear as a Komuso and a Renzai priest and not worry about the police hassling me over a begging license, or such as I am officially with a recognized temple, goal done, I am legit in Japan! Yatta ! I have not had a goal success in a while! What my practice will be is unknown. I will just let it happen. I figure even just going out and getting a few donations to pass on to charities is doing something, being engaged. Maybe that will be enough for me, with my other projects, expressions of the Dao in operation already. A sempai said being “engaged” is an everyday thing, yes, but other than that, this is a bit more specific purposeful. I do not want to be only an “Event Komuso”.
 
Anyway, maybe a new blog is in order, this one is getting full, hmmm, “tales from the tengai”, “the Rakan 羅漢 Komuso”, ohhh “Shorin Komuso” , or “Kamakiri Komuso”. Maybe not or maybe, just another chapter, e.g.: Kyudo, KungFu, Shakuhachi, Band…, boating seems to have pretty much died…how sad. Still who knows what plans the Tao has in store for me. As it is I never thought I would be a Chan Buddhist Priest in Japan as a Komuso when sailing away from the States,… besides losing the boat…did not plan or think of that either…but that is another story…now A Komuso is born.
Ametofu _/|\_
 
 

尺八 – Exposure

A step into public exposure
 
A while back I sent up this energy flow to join the modern Komuso group here in Osaka. This started coming into a form resently. My Sensei spoke to someone he knew, that lead to get a meeting with his friend an active Komuso, and on the board at the Myoanji Temple that’s basically Osaka HQ for the organization. There was to be a concert /event of some sort. I could come and watch, we would meet there and he would give me Komuso details about joining the temple group. Ok, cool I thought finally. But, wait…I was then invited to play not just watch. Oei Vey!! I had a choice play with my Sensei or play solo. We both felt it was better for me to play on my own. Better presentation…
I thought, ok I will suck it up, breathe and do this.
 
I had a pretty descent grasp on a traditional song called “Tamuke”. The is how a Komuso at the same event played it. This is what one plays as a offering or a prayer for a departed spirit or the like…I started paying more attention to the song, breathing, phrases. Kishi-Sensei had listened to it at the last class a few days before the concert. I thought I only played so so at that time. He gave me a couples of points to be aware of. Otherwise it was ok.
 
I spent the last week, in battle with a virus. I had developed a cold. However with the heavy flu going around I needed to not let this becoming the flu kind of sick. I took care and added some natural body boosters I also slept, a lot! There was some comfortable moments, but I made it through. I practiced my song during this. My concern was having to cough whilst playing. That would have sucked!
 
The day before the event I was feeling fairly like normal. I could mostly relax about the cold thing! Done. Other being concerned about how cold it was going to be that day and not make myself re-sick. We were inside, but I had to get there, and in my travel/day wear. I wore several layers all under my “Samue”. I did not want to wear a Kimono, it felt too much, over kill for my maiden voyage. I needed to vibe “modest”. A western suit, like my Sensei was wearing, nope. Not my style. The Samue was the third opinion and my style. I had heard though one does not wear an overcoat or jacket on top of a Samue. So layers, a lot, were called for! It was a good plan. When I was outside, there was enough with me moving and I could still move. Once inside I ended up taking off a couple of layers. However I always say, “better too many, than too few” !
I found the balance point and it was all good… until I had to dress to leave.
 
However before that….
I arrive after finding my way up in there through the maze. I did not know what to expect the place to be like. Although I was thinking small and old. The place was huge. I walked up looking confused, the guard asked Shakuhachi?. Hai Arigatou, my reply. The guard one of two gave me directions. I was off again, a followed the turn, walk, turn walk and turn, and turn. I found the place, went in scoped out everything and got in line. The lady seemed to be expecting me …. weird I thought for a second. She found my name and I went in. More walk , turn , walk turn and I went into the common area , staging’ room, tea, practice, hall. Shortly after making my spot selection. A man walks up and introduces himself it is Matsutani-san. He seems like a nice man was my first impression. We do the Japanese intro thing and he turns to speaks to some other men. I hear my name, he telling them my name. I bow and return to getting organized.
 
I hear an announcement, not sure what, so I watch, and make note of the time I heard it. Shortly afterward people started making an exit. It was as I earlier thought, the “we will start soon” call. I followed the movement. Once outside I asked the woman from the beginning, which way? I was heading correctly she said just keep straight, then turn. I went down a hall up steps and over a bridge to another building, like a prayer hall. Hmmm, yay, let’s go with a large hall with an alter. Prayer hall. People had taken spots on the floor and or grab a small stool on which to sit. I followed the wave, and picked a spot, my spot.
 
In a short while my sensei arrives, After he heads my way, I wave him down. He takes a spot next to me. I am late but on time he says! We chuckle. Then Matsutani-sensei, starts the event with an announcement. I had no idea what was going on. Afterward a man goes on the floor, I figure out that everyone is going to play Cho Shi. A very simple version. I could follow easy. Next up,… there is some motion. Matsutani-sensei is playing next, then sensei tells I am to play after Matsutani-sensei. Ehhhhhhh!!
I am to be #2 ! I am shown by Kishi-sensei, where to sit and wait. Oh jheez I am thinking. I really need to make a “Loo” run. Really… I have a mini internal battle, should I make a run for relief….or can I hold it. I have no idea how long this song is going….maybe I should try it… no no, Better not, upset the flow, I a miss time it… Too much lost of “face “…just hold , breathe…finally it is my turn.
 
I asked if I can Sit Zazen style, because of my knees. I was given a stool, and a music stand. Ok cool, breath…I get adjusted, bow, breathe and start. I figured once I get that first note, I can adjust or deal with whatever comes after that. The important thing was to inhale, expand, and release, but not too much. Just be the wind Kishiwada-sensei told me a while back, maybe last year. It one was of those things that stick.
 
Ahhh yeah and speaking of last year. In one week it will be my three year anniversary of taking formal lessons with Kishiwada-sensei. Sort of cosmic timing that this first public showing is now, my coming out show. Yeah, sort like a coming out. A public exposure, this will be my first official playing for public, besides play to a bunch of high level players. As well as being the ONLY Gaijin in attendance, maybe the first EVER Gaijin of color to do this. If I do not blow this, It will leave a good impression, give face to Kishi-Senseino …no pressure, right…!
I centered and let out the breath, like the release of an arrow. I got the sound I wanted and it was full enough, not weak, but soft. I continued it went well, even up into the high notes. I had a short feeling of being anxious. A deeper breath and focused. I kept moving thinking but not thinking. I was half way done,… one part was weaker than I wanted but it was only a small foot note, I let it go. Finally the end. I was ok with the offering. Not my best, but far far from my worst. I did not embarrass myself or Sensei. I hear some things being said with my name, I had no idea. I was on the move away from center stage, that was my focus. I found my seat next to Kishi-sensei. He said I did well. He said that Matsutani-had said he was impressed in the announcement. Also that I would be joining the Komuso group, he was sponsoring me.
 
There is no clapping after anyone, ever. These songs are suppose be more a display of respect, an offerings to the “Buddhas”. Not entertainment. especially in this setting. So I could not judge what people thought. Anyway it was done, Kishi-Sensei thought I did well and Matsutani-sensei thought I did well. Ok, my work is done. I can now relax. Ahhhhhhh. It was intense for a half a second finding out when I started , but now , sweet! I do not have to think about it anymore. Yosh!
 
I spent the rest of the day, listening, until lunch break. Sensei and I went back to the lunchroom together. He asked me what I thought about the performances. Some where good I said, he agreed. We talk a bit about, the need to actually make a sound , not just the suggestion of one with mostly air. Sound was important. We were supposed to meet with matsutani -sensei. However we understood he was busy busy. Kishi-sensei started chatting with a couple of other guys. I went out to explore and take pictures. I saw some cool stuff, I was maybe not suppose to be in but area, but I did it Ninja like and then left. I returned to break room, many people went back, I stayed I wanted more pictures. Then Matsutani-sensei entered. He gave me his card and said a few things. I stopped him to ask to look over the application paperwork for the temple. I had prepared since another Sempai with the long 2.5 Flutes group had given me. He at the time said he would sponsor me if I needed. I thanked him at the time and add Matsutani-san would do that, The sempai says , that would be better as Mastutani-sensei is more famous.
So I had everything on the application done I thought , with the help of Kishi Sensei and his daughter. However I did not have it. It must be in the other room. We agreed to connect later perhaps at the drinking dinner. He left. I did a couple of things At the table and moved my clothing I had shed earlier. Bammm, there was my clipboard with the application. I went over to Matsutani-sensei and excused myself into his space. Matsutani-san looked over the application and pointed to the spots needed to sign. He agreed and spoke to the lady that had signed me in to the event. She dug out a pen and he asked about his “mon” stamp. She dig more. Ohhh I said this is your wife!? Yes, we all smiled… Another nice person I find out.
Signed, stamped the application was handed back to me. Sensei says , ” please do well, and ganbatte as a Komuso “.
I was not expecting this part to be done today. But it was. All I need now is a couple of photos and take my application fee into Myoanji. I will be official. A new chapter will start.
Amitoufu
 

Progress in small steps

Even small steps forward, is still progress, it is not the size of the step, it is the direction.

I am starting to feel like I am making some progress on several endeavors. Since I just came in from Kyudo practice I will start with that.

There was a Rei Kai today. It took me a while to figure out it is Rei Kai, not Dae Kai, not that it really matters, it is just a label. The event is important, not what I called it.
The ReiKai today was small as most of inner dojo events are. It was cold, I continue to be grateful we are inside dojo. I would have really suffered had it been outside. Still during break many were standing around our one little space heater, or had on their outside coats.

The day went smooth, it was a relaxed day. My shooting was not great, I was able to hit one out of the first two sets , then as I made adjustments I hit two out of the last set of four. After that time one of my Sempai Sensei said something to me, as him another Sensei who often helps me had been watching my shooting and discussing it. The second Sensei, the senior seem very reluctant to say anything, but the other spoke up. My balance when shooting was off. I guess I was leaning into the shot too much. My pushing toward the mato was turning into a lean toward the mato. I made a note of it.

The main shooting was over now was the time everyone shot again but instead of 4 arrow, it was one, per round. If you made the shot you continued, if not bye bye. I applied a correction to what I had been told. Instead of just pushing, I lifted my head and stretched my spine upward, like when doing Tai Chi, or sitting Zazen. Also then push toward the mato and away from it with the opposite hand. So as I had been told before or read, that it was more of a circular expansion not just vertical. To the Heaven and earth, and to the sides. So I guess not really round, but all around. I also did the tightening of the triceps as Yamashita Sensei had told me, upon release. The other thing was to place myself “in between the bow and the string. Aonther thing I had heard or read about, but I finally figured out the feeling. When I do it the ya goes straight, like an arrow :-). It is sort of leaning into the bow to place yourself in the middle. Technically I am not between the bow and the string, but it feels that way. I am not supporting the pull with my arms, and chest, but “body”, Bam , a hit, I thought I was done for a while. But I was called up again, Bam! hit, and a another time. I was in the finals. I missed my last rotation shot, maybe everyone else did as well. However, wow I was doing good. I am finally starting to understand, things are starting to click. Usually when I think like that, I find I am wrong, but so far this time it has held up. I still have a way to go, but I am making progress and have found the spot to aim from on my Yumi. Now more and more practice and I should be ready for the Shinsa this summer. Sato Sensei asked me was I going to the shinsa in March I said no, more practice yet. But I believe with continued practice Summer will be it. If not there is Autumn, and Winter. Also next year, if God be wiling and the creek don’t rise. Maybe these days it should be If God be willing and hte bombs don’t fall! Either way I am feeling good about this being the year of Yondan. The “Dog” is with me!

The day before I had my monthly meeting with the Shakuhachi group. A cold and rainy day, once agin we met at Oota- Sensei shop. This from what I understand maybe becoming out regular meeting spot. It is a bit rustic, but comfortable and no hassle to be there and no conflicts with other groups wanting to use the space.

We went through the usual drills. I was able to play along on a couple of piece that I had not done before. For me that was a personal victory. Then everyone played the individual pieces they are doing. Finally it was my turn, I was not really excited about, but I did Choshi. The Yamamoto, version. I received some corrections and tips on playing. Then asked to do it again so I could practice. It was better, still needing work but better. I could hear a Sempai grunt an approval of parts I did correct. Afterwards he says, I do the last phrase well, I did need to work on the small adjustments. Another Sempai showed me how to correct one part. Later I was told I have good potential my tone is good. That was good to hear…yatta!

I also decided on the Shakuhachi I wanted Oota-Sensei to make for me. I heard a couple of different sizes being played and my ear was most pleased with the 2.0. It was told to me later by another Senpai about having six hole instead of 5. I had not thought of that, but upon hearing it said and explained why, it is a good idea for my experimental flute. It will take some time before it all comes together. Oota-Sensei will have me select the Bamboo I want as the next step, now that I have chosen the size.

I was given the application for joining the Myoanji temple. This was helpful. I can fill out the form before meetinG with Matsutani-San next month. The Sempai who gave me the application, told me later that he would be my sponsor if needed. I thanked him told him that Matsutani-San a friend of my Sensei said he Would sponsor me. The Sempai said, ohhhh, yes, you should go with him as a sponsor he is very well known…Yatta, Another plus for me!

After the practice meeting, as is the custom we went out for food and drinks. I have never done that in the States, hanging out with the guys at a bar drinking and chatting. Even with my Kung fu family. We did that at the Dojo with Shifu after our closed door classes. My brother and I when we went out it was to eat Chinese food. It was not that often like a ritual as it is with the Japanese. It is a normal custom in Japan, at lest with companies. It was fun, even with my limited Japanese we had a good time. One Sempai is heading to Hawaii soon and wanted to practice some English. They made sure I had what I could eat and we had a good time talking misc stuff including, Shakuhachi technique playing compared to feeling playing,

So process is being made. The new band is feeling positive, Kyudo is feeling positive, Shakuhachi world is also feeling positive. I need to crack down on my Japanese study next. still…The year of the Dog is off to a good start…Yosh!

 

Cracks, Bamboo and Blues

Well travel time is over for a while, sort of, a couple of small trips still on the horizon, but nothing to write home or blog about.

On the Music scene …thankfully my Shakuhachi has been repaired. My Sensei took it to his friend, who he says is one the of the number top Shakuhachi makers in Japan. This makers usually does not do repairs on other makers instruments, but as a friend he is doing/did it. The maker did and outstanding job also much much cheaper than the original repair person I took it to. That guy was really more into selling me a new one than repairing mine.

So now I have a nice whole flute again. He not only fixed the crack but the joint as well. I like the wrapping he did. It gives the flute “character “ and that cool old school Shakuhachi look. Sensei and the maker said even though my shakuhachi is not a professional level model it is still a good flute. Especially says Sensei for playing Honkyoku songs. He says it is rare to find this type of flute these days as most makers are making “modern” sounding flutes. Tuned to western pitch and louder playing. So I am pleased to have it back. I have also learned to take better care of it when it is resting.

Now I can really crack down on my practice for the up coming event I am scheduled for in March. I will be doing my first public performance in front of serious players at a Buddhist temple event. This a big deal for me and it sort of coincides with my 3 years of lessons anniversary.

At this event I will meet a Komuso who is to be my sponsor for joining in the Miyonji Temple as a “real” Komuso. Again something that really only matters to me and in the large picture of life means nothing. Isn’t that the same with most of our individual ego trips, adventures. Gives a little boast to our own self-image.

On the other hand, who knows what help, lift  it will give someone when out as a Komuso to someone who hears the music.

Lastly, I will be placing my order for a new Shakuhachi this weekend. I have settled on what I want. I will order it from one of the members of the classical Shakuhachi Society I play with once a month. This is the member who gave me the large Shakuhachi which I enjoy. I have decided on one in between the 2.5 and the 1.8 cm I like the deeper tone of the larger flute over the smaller. The larger one though is more difficult to play, more so I think with “modern” songs I want to play. If I am wrong I will just make due with it and adjust to the song. At least that is the plan. Man makes plans, God laughs is a saying.

On the band scene, we have had our second rehearsal with the new band. A keyboard player has joined us. It really helps round out the sound.

 

Another plus with him is he also sings so we can work on some vocal harmonies that really adds to the band sound. I heard from the blues  “Doctor” that the band has been selected to play again this year at the big city Blues Festival, however we will be once again in the small club. Reason being our vocals are weak. Quite understandable. Really we have none. The “Doc” is a weak singer and we never practice on vocals, well on anything really. I have on a couple of songs tried to “hear” a harmony with him but he is difficult to harmonize with, not really an expressive voice, he plays better than sings. Which is ok, for the blues, but limits the band appeal.

I am still waiting to see if I have been selected to do a solo act at the festival. The choices are selected and posted on Sat.

Vietnam – prt 1


Vietnam

Part 1
 
When I was a teen all I knew of Vietnam was the war. I was in college when it was happening. I missed having to go fight by only a few numbers a blessing of the Universe. The draft had changed to a lottery system, no more deferments because one was in college or something other than medical. If your number was up you went. I even went down and had my physical. The Force was with me my number was not up. So I missed out. I knew people who went.
 
Other than that I knew nothing of Vietnam except from some Vietnamese I meet later in life and some food. My Kung Fu teacher was there in the Army he taught rangers fighting. This is where he meet the grandmaster of the Tai Chi Mantis system, Chi Chuk Kai and studied under him. The Grandmaster had fled China to Vietnam. There he worked and also taught the Vietnam Emperor’s guards Tai Chi Praying Mantis Kung Fu. Later I had a student from Vietnam and met a woman who studied Feng Shui with me who was from Vietnam. This was the extent of my exposure to Vietnam. 
 
LZ loved Vietnamese food. For me it was good but not high on my list of favorite eats. Anyway so what you ask. Well LZ arranged a trip to Vietnam, she came across a good deal and took it. Oh Yeah, my Sister-in-law and her husband had to move to Vietnam for 4 years just before we moved to Japan. She did not want to go at first, but once there they did not want to come back to Japan. They had a good life. The husband was sent there to work, so they had no choice in the move. So yeah they enjoyed it once there and settled in. My sister-in -law also developed a large following for her custom-made jewelry there. Ahh one more thing the owner of Aoki Yachts was having his boats built there and went somewhat often to Vietnam. Ok so this is my Vietnam knowledge, I had no real desire to visit. Unlike China, Taiwan, Thailand. Funny how one is drawn to some places. Others not so much.
  
So LZ got this trip arranged. We were to spend a week there. However at the last-minute I found out I, as an US passport holder needed a visa to enter. So I had to delay my leaving for a day whilst arrangements were made. lZ left a day before me. 
 
It was fairly simple to get a visa, I had to pay for fast service, but the arrangements were made and I was on the plane the next day after my wife. I was not all that into going, this was more of a trip for her. She was really looking forward to one of the hotels we were booked at to stay.
 
The flight took about 5 hours, it was smooth. Anything you wanted to eat or drink you had to buy separate, as it was a cheap flight. I landed without any problem and found my way to the immigration counter to get my visa stamp. That went pretty smooth. The people were not overly friendly but not rude, the uniforms were kind of really different from my view, well at least the colors. Very Communist through my eyes sort of unsettling. Western programing I guess.
 
Ok so I am past all the stuff to enter and now the next thing is to get to the hotel. My wife had said only take this or that taxi, the others can not be trusted. That was also a warning from a travel site about taking the pirate taxis. I am walking around outside the airport looking for a taxi, a guy comes up and asks “you looking for a taxi?” I said it is ok, I am fine. I walk more, the cab I am looking for is not around. Another guy or maybe the same guy comes to me again a bit later. I say I am looking only for this name cab. He does something with his smart phone and shows me the text “there is no cab from that company today”! ( a lie!! I find out later) Ehh I think, ok what about this name? He says something like no worry I can get you a taxi, it will cost you this much to go to the hotel. I do not have small change for that, he shows me where to get change. I do that, then he has me follow him to the parking lot across the street. There is a car waiting, it is a plain car, not a taxi. I say no! I want this company name or this one. He says it is ok, this car can take you. I say no! I am from the states and know a hussle when I see one and walk away. I go to the taxi stand there is a taxi there the other company. I tell the driver I want to go to the hotel. There is a bit of talk between him and the guy. The driver says I can go with this other guy. The guy shows me a text again saying “we are not trying to trick you”. Another cab pulls up from the same company. I am told I can not take this cab it is called for someone. Now I am getting pissed. I say ok I will go inside and find someone to call me a taxi and I leave. 
 
Once inside I call my wife on the cell phone. She says no do not go with them, the taxi you want is hard to find, just a short walk and across the street in the parking lot is where they are. Hmmmm. I am on the second floor of the airport building I walk around so I can see the area across the street and spot the cabs I want! But I see no drivers. My wife says they are all on a bench sitting there. Ok, I start walking again this time I can see where I need to go. I make my way there without a problem and arrive. A driver asks me if I need a cab and I get in. We get to the hotel without any problem. It cost about $4.00 in Vietnamese money. I am not used to it. After fiddling with it for a bit the driver, helps me an takes what he needs. Ok he asks, I say ok thanks. I have arrived finally. I can now relax and breathe.
 
After a while we head out to find a pizza place that was recommended, by sister. It is only a very short walk. We head there. There streets are fairly beat up, like Mexico but worse. So many motor scooters, like Taiwan but more. They are parked everywhere on the sidewalks and street. Everyone in cars are blowing their horns. I guess it is a warning to the bikers they are coming or turning or something. It was wild, glad we were walking. We make it to the Pizza place. It has a Japanese owner. The staff is very helpful and attentive. Very Japanese style customer service. The food was good!
 
While there is a lot of people watching a soccer game across the street. From time to time something would happen and a lot of people would run over there to see the TV. Many were very excited. I thought it was some local game and the city team was doing good.
 
We finish eating and leave to head back to the hotel. Once in the room, shortly after there is a lot of noise, horns blowing, people yelling. We can hear the din of noise even on the 15 th floor. I look out the window the streets a full of cars and bikes, full! I guess the team had won. This went on for about 30 min. I go downstairs to check on things. The noise is huge! I step outside the hotel there are flags and people on motorbikes covering the sidewalk and streets, it is mayhem!

I find out the Vietnam team had won the semi-final match in China against Pakistan, the people were going nuts!
 
We were suppose to go to get a massage across the street in an hour. I figured it would calm down by then. Wrong. It was still going strong an hour later, we slowly made our way through the crowded street and then across. We got our massage and returned and hour later. The streets were still packed , flag, bikes, men women, kids! Slowly slowly we made it back.
 
We rest a bit then headed up to the rooftop lounge. It is now 4-5 hours later the crowds are still at it. We can see and hear from the roof top. It was wild!

The next morning all was normal again. Wow!
 
Ok the next day, there is light rain but not bad. We were going to change hotels that day, but my wife wanted to see a couple of things before we checked out. I wanted to get a vegetarian meal at one of the nearby restaurants. I also wanted to visit a temple I could see the roof of one from the hotel. She headed out to do her thing. I set out walking. I did a little research before-hand on the temple and had general idea where to go. The walking was interesting, this was into the real city of Vietnam to local section. I got to where I thought the temple should be , but I ran into a block. The street ended and I had to go right or left on the crossing street. I turned on my Zen sense and walk left. After a very short bit I thought I would ask just to be sure. There was one man working in his open shop. I made a few hand motions and looked around. He figured out what I wanted and said I was going the right direction, just turn at the next corner. I was good. I bowed in thanks and took off. I walked and came across the temple, and several others. none had the roof line I could see from my hotel, this was not it, but it was a big temple and I thought it was part of what I was looking for. It was not I found out later. Anyway, I past one guy on the street, just at the temple. He said something I did not get I bowed and kept walking up to the temple. The guy comes over to me as I am standing looking through the gate. He says something to me, I did not get again. I ask, signal can I go inside the temple ground? As the main gates was closed, but the side gate was open, then I see someone go inside. He does not understand me. He puts out his hand for me to give him money. This I understand. I say no and walk inside the temple grounds.
 
Inside I look around and go up to the main building. A monk and some others are sitting outside. I am told , by sign language I can go in. I start up the steps,. But am told I need to take off my shoes outside on the steps. I do so and go up to the main door and look in. I signal to the monk asking of I can enter, yes I am told, so I do so. I look around, a pay respects to the spirit figures. After a bit I take out my Shakuhachi and just play a lone note as an offering. I did not know if it was cool or not so I keep low-key. A short while later another monk or maybe the one from outside come into the hall. He does a small ceremony and chanting. I stand and bow with him and the gong as he prostrates himself. I thought this was a good thing, I could offer a prayer for My wife’s “Auntie” of sort, who just passed away the day of her leaving Japan.
 
When it was over the monk left as did I. I next went into the yard ground walked around. I was going to spend a little time at the two outside shrines. As I was about to settle in and take some pictures the same guy comes inside the grounds now and over to me again with his hand out. This person did not look like he was suffering or homeless, just begging. Again I said now, and signaled go away. He continued. So I changed my plans and left…irked!
As I am walking back to the hotel I passed the temple I was first looking for. I could tell by the roof line. I went in here as well. I Said a few prayers took a few pictures. This temple was closed. It looked like some work was being done as there was piles of sand and bricks and stuff around. The temple itself was closed, but the grounds were open, there was someone else also there praying. After I finished again I headed for the hotel.
 
Once I got back to the hotel I got oriented with directions and set off to find the vegetarian restaurant. It took some effort and I walked past it at first. The map I had sucked. There was no internet service in the street so I just had to look. I was about to give up and was heading back and going to find another which was nearby, when I spotted it. I went in and nothing was written in English, I walked up to the counter and a woman shows me the menu that says there are veggie dishes and take me to a seat. I spend some time trying to figure out what was what . They woman comes back and helps me, she speaks some English. As time is running out before we need to check out of our hotel and change to another, I order something simple, fried rice. While I am waiting I am sitting with some locals. I watch they do, I see they take out the utensils on the table and wipe them with a napkin before using. When my food arrives, I do the same. The food is good, I add some spice to give it a little kick! I rush through eating since it took me longer to find the place than I planned. I finished eating quickly and made my dash back to the hotel to meet up with my wife to pack and check out. 
 
When I arrive she has everything packed and ready to go. She was on her way out of the room going to carry one bag at a time down to the lobby. I grab my stuff and we check out and grab a cab that is at the curbside. This is the same taxi company that we arrived in, they hang ouyt there at check out time. So we knew we were in good hands. So we are now finished with the business hotel and on the way to the resort hotel for the next two days. This was something that LZ was looking forward to. We left the downtown local area and headed to the upscale location next to the ocean.

to be continued…

 

古典尺八研究会 Koten-Shakuhachi-Kenkyuu-Kai

 

古典尺八研究会

 
This is the name of the Shakuhachi group with whom I hang -out and play. More hang with than play, my skills are still weak on the 2.5 shakuhachi. We had our monthly meeting the other day, and make shift New Year’s drinking party.
 
Our practice is usually at a community center but this time it was full so we had it at the “header’s” workshop. There was suppose to also be a joint meeting that day with some group that had something to do with Komuso. That was postponed for whatever reason. I am glad I have the hookup with my Sensei for the Komuso entrance, so I do not feel a set back from the meeting cancelling.
 
I uad a map and direction to get to the meeting location, even still, I had some difficulty finding the place. Japanese can be very helpful just out of the blue. A woman leaving her home to go somewhere, saw me looking looking lost with a large case on my shoulder. She asks, am I looking shakuhachi gathering, shop, sensei, something. I say yes, she takes me to the shop just around the corner. Not where I would have looked, at least right away. 
 
I enter and see a bunch of shakuhachis on the floor, I am thinking they are just things Oota Sensei is working on. There are a lot of song books on the table. Most of the meeting time was spent on these items. I was told several times about checking out the Shakuhachi on the floor, at least what I thought. This is what I understood. Once another sempai showed up I got more details. The former sensei, or his master this was his stuff, the flutes, the books, the music. The books had ink drawings with kanji, of which I had no idea. The pictures looked interesting, Sumi style ink drawings! Made by the master or friends on his who wrote in his books?
I took a bunch of pics of the art and sent them to my sensei to translate the writing. I also had my wife look at them first. She said no way she could understand this old writing style! However my sensei can read the old style, it is his hobby. I will find out tonight what they say from him at class. Maybe some cool Zen things. There is one drawing of a flute player riding an OX. This is part of a Zen series of drawings. I think it is called Ox herding
 
At the meeting that day, most of it was spent looking over this wealth of info, only a little time spent actually playing. Then it was only the one song, which I think is one the group is playing for and anniversary party for one of the members. From what I was told, Oota sensei is making everyone new 2.5 shakuhachis to play for this event in Oct., that would be cool!
 
As time moved on, so we also made ready to do so. We packed up and head to an izakaya(bar n grill) for drinks, food and chatting ! Snacks, sake, shochu flowed freely. Not being a hard drinker, I almost had too much. On the way home and once at home I was on the edge of the too much tilt! Laying down and a nap helped when I arrived home. It was a fun and different for me as I do not usually go out drinking and hanging with the guys. As my Japanese improves, it will become more interesting. With all of us sharing the bill. It was reasonable at 2,500 yen ea for as much as we ate and drank. LZ was surprised at the cost she was expecting about 5,000 yen. I can not do the eat drink thing all the time, even at the low price since not working. However sometimes it is good, and it comes out to about the same as taking two classes a month, which the minister of finance says is ok to do. Since I have cut back to once a month on my class, it comes out to about the same…about. On the other hand it is still part of the Shakuhachi study and learning Japanese culture. Maybe I will have a book one day, my life and retirement times in Japan. I do not think any old farts like me have done such a thing as I am doing with Shakuhachi, Kyudo, Komuso, sailing and modern bands.

 

 

4/4 New Year 2018

 

Four days…4 Temples

Temple (shrine) 1: Kakuta- Hachiman.
I had not planned on doing this, it just happened. The best adventures can be had doing that. Even if not outstanding, good is good. The better ones leave your spirit buzzed…like this one. 
Dec 31 evening was spent at the Kakuto-Hachiman shrine, there was the New Year event, praying and shooting of which I posted. Been there did that. FYI : Shrines are Shinto, Temples are Buddhist, I am calling them the same here…deal with it!
Temple 2: Myikojo/Shikoji
 
The next day LZ and I went off to see her Ookasan. On the way there she says to me, there is a temple right next door to Ookasan, can we stop? It is supposed to be famous, historic Buddhist. We can pray there, I do not usually do it, but… Ok, we stop by. It is larger than I thought, but still small. The yard is well done, I like the ponds. We looked around a bit, prayed and then moved on to see Ookasan. The temple yard impressed me. There were a couple of spots one could sit, meditate. I am envisioning this as my staging area when I start Komuso in this area. Go there first sit, meditate, play, then, do the walking practice from the temple gate. Down the street and back, then expand as I get my nerve. Hahaha.
 
Temple 3 – Chokei-ji
 
The next day was to be a mostly home day. The weather was great, cold but not unpleasant. I had an appointment to see my Shakuhachi sensei, after my morning. practice. He was concerned about my not having a flute and the repair, replacement on mine. He offered to go with me to see the person, who suggested I buy a new one’s wares. If I choose to go that route and did not have the money to spend on a basic one from his friend a major Master Shakuhachi maker. This person’s beginners flute started at $1500.00. Wayyy out of my league with no income.
He also checked with this person about repairing mine. He was going to see The Master Maker this week to make a pickup of an order of his. He would take my shakuhachi along for him to check. Ok, I go along as he is my sensei. We met after a mixup of going to his house not his studiohouse.
 
Sensei and I connected and he served tea, we spoke about the shakuhachi. I put a limit on how much I would spend after, It was clear what was happening. This Master Maker maybe doing this, or will do this as a favor for sensei, from the way he spoke they are more than just customer/ client, more friends. I am going with the flow on this.
 
But back to the temples, I digress.
 
After visiting sensei I told LZ to my favorite temple in the area. She had never been there or even know of it. Not really her thing old historic temples. However with the NY on us she was into praying. This temple is about 10-15 bike ride from our house. It is really more of an actual pilgrimage feels like, because we have to really make some physical effort to get there to say a prayer. So it felt kind of cool, without planning it to be that.
 
When we arrived LZ was blown away and was taking pictures like a tourist to show her sister. She was amazed at the size and scope of the grounds. She is not and old temple person. Topping that off with how close it was to home. There. Were a lot of people, but it was not crowded. It was the second day of the New Year, i am sure it was crowded the first day. Still there were ceremonies going on. I heard drums and horns from the main temple. We went around to most of the smaller temples, paid respects and ended up at the big bell. LZ wanted to ring it, another surprise like a tourist. So we both did. Ringing in the new year is the saying. There maybe some Buddhist meaning of releasing, illusions, sins…
 
Temple (shrine) 4
 
The next day, I again was up and going to get into my morning Motion Chan. The last few days I have been in the parking lot, which is comfy. However I thought I would like the shrine vibe for practice since it was the Near New Year. Perhaps it was finished with the crowd there by now, an I can get my practice spot in the back.
 
It was starting to rain a bit as I set out, I thought the trees at the shrine maybe enough, the rain was light. I arrived there were a number a people and a few of them looks rather busy doing something in the yard. I started not to go in, but thought I would anyway since it is my local Shrine. I would not practice but I would pay respects. The caretaker and I spoke and bowed for the NY,. I kept it short at the Temple and bowed and left. Activity was in motion there on the sidelines. I went of off to the lot and practiced. It dawned on me as a was walking , I had done four temples over the last four days. I found out later it is an old Japanese custom to celebrate the first three days of the NY.
I fell into that easy enough, with my own flavor. This maybe my new, New Years Tradition, added to the 108… hmmm maybe as komuso training/ offering at the temples.
 
 
 
 
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