Can’t stop the music

 

 

The beat goes on …

 

Last week or so, I had a showcase event with a new band, “Sakai Sieki”. I have played at this club, The Red House, a couple of times. The owner had made suggestions about us playing together. After our first meeting I had said I was looking for a band to join, he said he was looking for someone with my skill set. Nothing else was said for a while. Then again after I did a small spot there as a solo we spoke again briefly. After few days afterward I was asked if I wanted to join a jam session with a friend of his. Sure I said let’s do it. It went ok. It was easy and fun, we played, ate, and drank. It was a pleasant evening.

A few days afterward I am asked if I wanted to do a show with them at the club. It was not a paid gig, but a showcase. We were to be the opening act for a couple of known groups. A test run as it were. I was asked about getting together for a practice session the day of the show. I said it was better to have a couple of practice sessions more so since it was our first time together. He agreed. The practice went well. I learned of their weak points, we all have them, so I adjusted the songs I wanted to do, to their skill set. Again overall it went well. The day of the show we again met and rehearsed. We were set. After rehearsal The drummer and I went to get something to eat. He is also a quasi Vegetarian, so we went to a place that I had gotten soy burgers from before. I was not really looking forward to going to eat with the drummer. He is a nice guy, likes to talk, but does not speak any English. That means I have to deal with only Japanese and figuring out what he is saying. Work!! We went to the restaurant, called “Mos burger”. Bummer bummer! They changed their Menu, no more soy burgers. Crap! I took a fish sandwich instead, as did the drummer. We spoke some, about Kung fu, a blues club nearer to my house, music, etc. it went ok. I did not get somethings, but I got enough to communicate. I am always surprised when I can do that. We ate, and went back to the club to wait.

 

We had several hours to kill before show time. The other two bands showed up, and did their practice. I knew a couple of the players in one of the other bands, and one player in another. The one band where I knew two players, is a smoking hot band. I think for what I have seen the best Blues Band here in Osaka. It is good to be an opening act for them and not to follow them. They would be hard to follow, they are a tight sounding band!

Show-time came, we were up. We did 6 songs. The one song I have been really wanting to do good, did not turn out so well, as least parts of it. The drummer forgot about the breaks I wanted, and I messed up badly once. Some parts were ok. With some more practice it could be a good song. We only really practiced it a couple of times. The other songs, went better, not perfect, but still ok. They were simple blues type songs. We played through the errors and just rolled with it. When it was done, we got a fair share of approvals.

I figured out how to set my smart phone timer camera to record video on a start stop, start timer. That was cool and helpful, as well as painful to hear the mistakes. A good training aid. I did some editing and put together a sample vid, which can be seen here.

 

A few days later after things settled and such, it was suggested we keep the band together, we could be good with some more time together. So officially I am with a new band now. One thing I have noticed about bands and players in Japan, players often belong to several bands and no one cares. It is normal, in the states, usually one is with just one band. A player can do more than one, but unless they are just floaters usually just one band is the focus. Another thing I notice is more people here just play to play for the music, not to become stars or get a gig. A gig is a Paying job, not a freebie showcase or something of that sort. Work is the goal not just playing to have a good time, that is what jam sessions are for, in the States.

So this new band could be good, it may give me some possibilities of different expressions in sound. It is not a “Blues” band per-se. The term I heard was Neo-soul. Good, I like being able to do other songs other than just blues. I do hope we can get one other member, a pianist would be sweet, but a good horn or guitarist would also be nice. So this is something to look forward to for the upcoming year. I still will pursue my own solo path as well, but the band with give me a different musical outlet. I will still play with the Doc’s band when asked, but is a minor priority as he does not want to put in the work and time to be more than a “fun” time playing. I want to do more than play some little dive live house bar. I may never make it past that, but…one needs goals to be more than you are now…ones spirit, at least mine needs to grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

弓道 – 108 ya – 2018 yr – Scent of the Dog


108 ya – 2018

 
As I have been doing for the last several years, I shoot 108 arrows for the new year, same as the Buddhist ringing a bell/gong 108 times…cerimony. A friend started it I have taken on the training. 
I was set this as in the past to do my shots here at the Bamboo Mantis Hidden Makiwara Kyudojo. 
Out of nowhere a sensei, who I am friends with and have played music with, he asks if I wanted to come to his dojo to join a New Year shooting. It took me a while to get all the details correct and figured out. 
Sempai’s (the sensei) dojo is the one kyudojo that I tried to join when first in this area. They said no, after telling me yes, and me showing up, changing and ready to shoot. Then they dropped the no bomb. I was told that the club owner said no new members. I am thinking hmmm yeah right…but let it go. Still I was bummed out!
 
I was told I could go to Kishiwada, which I did and I am pleased that that it worked. Trusting the force to provide for my best. As it turns out several of the Senseis and a Sempai that help me at Kishiwada are from this other dojo. I have heard on other times that the story is indeed true and not a “me” issue. Ok, onward, so this Kyudojo is connected to a Shinto Temple. So this turns out to be a local New Year event. The dojo opens, we shoot, there is a ceremony of some sort, then the windows of the dojo are opened so that the locals that come to tthe shrine to pray for the new year can also watch us do Kyudo. I was told this was to be an all night thing basiclly. Someone give me a ride home. There were a couple of other people from Kishiwada going as well. Cool I thought. After I got all the infor sorted out, I was all in.
 
Now there were some things I still did not know, but i would just go with it and see. I knew the basics, I show up, I can shoot, dress really warm, there will be something hot served, there is a cerimony, do not worry about the train home. I was set.
 
I planned for a full day, a long full day. I figured to do my 108 at home since I had no idea how much I could shoot or how long it would take taking turns, getting the ya, etc. Where they also doing some version of the 108? Hmmm. Ok, i figured, whatever this is a training day a, purifying day. First off some Zazen, and then breakfast. Next out for some physical Chan, and some tea. I am ready to start now. I figured to cruise through this, I the full day to do this, so I would pace myself. I did a four sets of 5 before taking a tea break. This then back at it. This time going just a point past halfway. Break time.
 
I took a lunch, some tea, FB’d a bit. I notice now, my tenouchi hand is hurting. I had been griping wrong, to tight maybe, it is right where, just below a callous from work is located. It is like a little pebble in your shoe…
So yeah, now it is hurting, there is a new little bluster, and torn open on my palm. Warrior training spirit says ” there is no stopping until finished, deal with it”. After some thinking, I had a pair of gloves I was going to use for komuso playing when it was cold. The finger tips are cut off. I dug these out and tried on the left glove. Perfect, white cotton, l with just enough cushion. I tried it out it worked so. i went back to practice.
 
I shoot for about 5 min before it started to rain. Wow, I am thinking, the force is testing my resolve. It was not raining hard. I continued, since my yumi is fiberglass and bamboo. Weather is not and issue. Great I was able to have the blessing of two Yumi, bamboo and hybrid-glass. It rain little on and off through my next set of shots. During my next tea break, the weather app said the rain would be fully done about now.
 
Yes after my break the rain was no more. I continued, shoulder and chest starting to feel the strain now, still, I pushed. I tried to stay focused , a mindful practice, attention to each detail of each shot, not just shooting for the numbers. Kishi sensei says don’t just play your shakuhachi to make sounds , notes, make the note have the best quality. As I neared the end of my 108, I had another break pre-planned , bit decided to press on and just do it. I stopped when I had completed 106 shots. I figured no matter how many people there was at the dojo tonight, or the order of things, I would have time to have at least two or three sets of shoots. I would wear the glove, I would try to anyway. It was plain white, this was not a class, so it should be ok, I thought. I will removed it if I have too. Another reason to do most of my shooting at the makiwara, no one tells me how to dress.
 
So for the most part I was finished my 108. I got things organized for the evening. A shower, some food, a bit of sake, then practiced some “Suizen”. It was a great day so far. In the back of mind I was thinking about what to expect tonight at the dojo. Really the main concern was how cold would it be? I was dressed for some what I thought would be fairly serious, at least for me, I am a cold weather wimp. I had on maybe for or five layers of tops, silk, and cold weather poly things, plus leg’ns . My main concern would be for my head, with no hair. I had a silk kimono, and coat, we were going to be inside, so that part should be ok.
 
I arrived early to the shrine, way early. I walked around, did few New Years prayers, took pictures…facebk’d, killed time.
 
Finally someone arrived. I did not know him, he asked if i was from Kishiwada. Shocked I thought everyone knew that. Maybe just checking. He made a small joke about me being early. I did know him so I continue to wait outside while he opened up the dojo. Short while later my dojomates showed up. I went in with them. Slowly others arrived, we all settled in as they lite the heaters, and setup the bean soup, made ready the yumi and ya, everything set to shoot.
 
Little by little they started, there was nothing official happening everyone just went up and shot. All was very relaxed, many sat by the heaters chatting and staying warm. Little by little things got more organized and more started shooting.
 
Near 11:30 we were instructed to go to the next building, to where the ceremony would take place. We all went into the main temple, the Shinto priest where all ready. We all had a seat on small folding stools, no kneeling. That was a relief, my knees could not have taken it. Ok, i wanted to take some photos but I thought that would be not cool. I resisted! There was a little bit of chanting, incense, bowing, usual stuff. However short and fairly simple. The priest blessed the group everyone bowed and it was done. Everyone went back to the Dojo. I got a few photos outside.
 
Once back in the dojo, the sweet bean soup was ready. Mochi was added a short wait and it was ready. Bowls were handed out. It was not to have something warm and sweet, perhaps a little too sweet, but it was still welcome and good! I had a second, but small helping.
 
Now people really started shooting in earnest , it was almost 12:00 now. I heard someone start the happy New year phase when it was midnight. Everyone said it to the group and continued to shoot. It was not a 108 shooting, just a New Year’s shoot. 
 
I made my final shots earlier and surprising hit, my last (108) and the first shot (109) of the year . Really surprised because i could not tell where my first arrow of the night went. Where I was off. My ya are black, it was dark, dim light by the mato, and my growing old man eyes issue. So I was focused on my position and alignment more than “seeing”. Those were the only hits for the night, I think I shot 5 times, three I needed for my count. My last shot for the night came just after midnight. I had thought earlier that I would change my string for the New Year. I had taken it off to adjust the tension, and it looked shabby in a couple of spots. Then I got lazy let it slide. I forgot about doing it
Just after finishing my home shots, when took some time to do SuiZen after the 106 shots. Anyway, yeah, the string broke, i had a spare, but since it was so late i just stopped. I was under the impression that something opened at 1:30 am. But what it was , the Dojo was closing at 1:30 am. So my string bit the dust at 12:40. I was done for the night. All worked out. Good I did most of my shooting at home for my counting goal. I couple of people asked about my glove, did I hurt myself, or what. i explained, they said ohh. My Sensei asked, when I told him I was screwing up my tenouchi in my practice. He laughed as did I .
 
My sempai came to me as everyone was packing, and said he would take me home. Argatou. It was a good experience. I am pretty sure the first Gaijing involved and attending.
 
So onward into the New Year. I am feeling this is the year I will go to the next level of understanding. I can feel some improvement when I shoot. I still have much to do, but I am finally feeling some progress. Year of The Dog will be successful for my Kyudo endeavors. 
 

弓道 – Kyudo World


Kyudo world
It has been a while since I have written, mostly because nothing has really changed.

There have been a couple of Rae-kai and Tai-kais. They have been fun and I have gotten some great pictures. I have taken my serious camera a couple of times and got some cool shots, cooler shots than I had been getting with my yumi. I have been doing ok there, not really good, but getting at least a few hits out of a couple of rounds of shooting. Nothing to write home about or blog.As for my practice, still at it. Although much less intensely. I have taken that pressure off myself as there is no reason for me to have it. There is a saying in Zen, “before enlightenment one chops wood and carries water, after enlightenment one chops wood and carries water.” The Kyudo version : before Shinza one trains and practices, after Shinza one trains and practices ! One’s life does not change with or without a new rank. Unless maybe it is getting Hanshi-Dan ! Even then it only matters in the small world of Kyudo.I practice a few times a week, sometime twice or more sometimes once. It puts the fun back in Kyudo for me not to be focused on the Shinza but the moment of shooting.

I have changed my training days and due to finances most times these days I go to the dojo once a week and shoot makiwara at home on the other days. I am pretty flawless on my tai hai. There is the kimono tai hai practice on Tues. it is rare that I get a correction, and then it is something small. My big challenge is hitting, or to narrow it down my shooting form. Daisan to Hanare is my problem area.

At a recent practice session with the main sensei He was having some problems with his shoulder, some pain. I did some accupressure on him. It helped. At the following Tai Kai he came to me and asked for help again. I have noticed a change in the amount of attention he gives me when I am there at the dojo during his teaching time.

Finally the other day I felt like I was making some progress. Usually when that happens it is gone the next time I shoot. However this time over the last few times I have noticed improvement. Not so much at first with my hitting , but with my grouping and arrow placement. I have narrowed it down to my right elbow. I was pulling it far back in order to keep my arrow flight straight. I was told no, that is too much. I need to raise my elbow more in daisan and not pull it out of line with my back in Kai , but keep everything in line with the mato.

The other day I was shooting with my favorite sensei I there. He is now Nanadan. He is the one introduced to me by Nagomi Sensei, before he passed away. Every time he is there with me, I get some helpful adjustment, tip, suggestion. He explains well even though not in English, I get it! So I am shooting and surprisenly to me I am hitting well. He comments his aprroval and then gives me a tip for the day. Having to do with tightening my triceps at release and closing my left fist. He says I am going too limp upon release. Something new to add to my practice.

I have changed my attention on my tracking my shots. Instead of how many I hit, I watch how many I hit in a row. The other day was my best. I got six in a row! Now that I consider real progress. Now the question for me, the test is can I do it again, or even close to that. A consistent three in a row would be nice. Consistent being the key word. Maintaining that would be a real indication I am nearing Shinza time. My casual goal is not spring but the Summer session. Spring session will be at a dojo I dislike due to stepping in is done with the right foot and leaving with the left foot and it is not through a doorway but just lines on the floor. I think the summer session will be once again back at my first dojo. I would feel extra good passing there. However it is too early to tell where it will be. Maybe by late Febuary I will feel confident enough to go to the spring Shinza…maybe.

Meanwhile it is just steady training, and keeping a mental mindset of shooting because I can shoot. Not to get a reward. Like doing mediation not to gain enlightenment, but because I can do meditation. My ego feels some redemption in the fact that others who I have tested with in the past are also still trying to make it off that San-Dan plateau.

尺八 – The Myoanji Pilgramage


 
I had never been to the Zen temple Myoanji in Kyoto. It was on my list of places to visit as a shakuhachi player and a Zen follower. It is considered the main home of the Komuso these days, well at least in Osaka Kansai area. I was told by a Komuso that the kokokuji temple in Wakayama is not really a headquaters per say for the Komuso, even though there are some there and are of the same branch. I was told the kokokuji temple was originally the first place of using the Shakuhachi as part of their practice of Zen but not as Komuso.
 
 
There was to be a shakuhachi concert at the Myoanji temple. I thought it was some type of Komuso meeting concert in full dress but no. Anyway hearing about the event I made plans to attend. There were members of the Shakuhachi group I have recently started playing with going to be performing. So now I had several reasons to attend. To see the temple, to hear the concert, see a bunch of Kuomusos, support my group. 
 
Another early day start, I was up at 5:00. I dislike getting up at five, I dislike getting up at 4:00 even more, so i looked at it as at least it is not 4:00. As a musician I am geared to just going to bed at 3:00 or 4:00 after winding down. Clubs in the US close at 1 or 2. Not so in Japan. The trains stop running at 12:00 so unless you have a car or a place to stay you are screwed! But that is another story.
 
I was up and out early for the event. I got on the road early as there was some issue with the trains in my location. However that did not affect my travel, I was still late and missed the opening ceremonies, but not from missing the train. I made my way to the temple, as I was near I stopped at a local police station to get , confirm directions. They were very helpful and got me going correctly as I was. As I neared the temple I was still not quite sure which, where I it located. I was very close but was not sure, 100% sure. I asked a crossing guard , he was not sure either but pointed sort of the direction or told me to check with another guard on the other side of the street, I was not sure which. I walked to where he pointed which was a parking lot, also another guard. I heard shakuhachi music and followed the sound to the temple. Once there I found the music was coming from a speaker outside, but I went inside the courtyard and say the famous stone sign for blowing meditation so I knew I had arrived.
 
The place was much much smaller than I thought it would be, so this kind of threw me off, but I went inside and say I had made it. I was offered a flyer, i said no, I had one and entered. It was even smaller than I thought. More or less one room, mostly with people waiting to play with only a very few people sitting on the floor to listen. I stood next to the doorway for a while, then went back to ask if this was the place to sit. Yes, I was told so I grabbed a cushion and a floor spot. I had missed the opening but not by much. One of my group members was playing and he was one of the first 3 players. 
 
I checked out the room and listened. After a bit I spotted Oota-san from my group. He had made and given me the 2.5 shakuhachi I had. A short while later I spotted a couple of others from my group and they saw me. 
 
I sat and listened. A couple of the players in my mind where not that pleasing to my ear. However I wrote it off to their style not their skill. One player seemed to have more breath sound that notes coming from his flute. Not pleasing to me. None of the players had the komuso dress, many in Kimonos and kesas. A few wore suits with kesas and few wore samues. I took all this in and sat and listened. There were about four gaijin also playing and I heard them speak to their Sensei in English. So I was not the only gaijin in attendance, but for sure as common the only one of color. No one seem to care as usual.
 
I was able to take some pictures no one seems to care and others did so as well. However I was discreet about it and had my smartphone set to quiet mode for pictures. I had serious camera the Nikon with me, but did not use it until near the end and a small bit outside.
 
It was not a life changing experience, by sound or vision, but it was interesting. The temple itself was basically the size of a small house. About the size of my Sensei’s house as he told me at my next class. Anyway it was a good day to be out.
 
I went out for a Lunch break to a local Indian shop I passed on the way. I wanted something small but tasty. I order tomato soup and samosas. The samosa were small, the soup was so so. I asked of they had some traditional sauce instead of catsup for the samosa. No they said. disappointing. I am finding it is hard to find that in Japan. Only one place I have been to had the real deal. That place is near my home but not easy to get there and a lot of walking. I have only been once. Anyway. I finished my lunch as was leaving, the guys asked me if I was from India! Ehh? I said no California and went back to the temple.
 
There were about 50 or more players throughout the day, so it was still going on when I got back. Another member of my group was player #48, the last of people I knew. I sat I waited, I listened, I nodded off as did others. One guy was even snoring. I was able to move off the floor on to one of the seats vacated by people who left. That was nice beside my legs being tired it was also a spot in the sun, it was chilly in the temple so that was nice in the sun. Finally it was a wrap for me and I slipped out to head home.
 
The ride home was uneventful, other than at one location a large group of very young school kids with the handlers got on the very crowded car. One poor thing was so tired she was falling asleep standing, the handlers kept trying to hold her up. It was cute, poor thing. I find out later the reason the line was so crowded was there was a bomb scare earlier and all the trians were stopped for most of the day. Missed out on that part by being at the temple. Lucky me coming and going!
 
My Shakuhachi class was the next day. I showed my Sensei the printed program for the concert. He knew most of the people and gave me some info on the temple and groups.
 
I had also asked him earlier about how to become a real Komuso and what could be done? His student had said joining Kokokuji was costly. Sensei said he would check into it. He had some info for me by that time. Another friend of his was a komuso director at Myoanji. It was not that complex a task for there. He could make the needed introductions to this person and arrangemnts could be done. I was also told by my group member it could be arranged. He translated some information that had been checked on by other members. So now armed with a clear info and a path from two directions I should be official by the spring as I had hoped. Yatta!
 

Shakuhachi roots pilgrimage-Nara

Pilgramage – Nara

 
I was planning to go do Komuso training last week in Nara. However, the Universe over rode my plans saying, do what you want , but I am sending a big Typhoon your way that day. Hmmmm, ok I thought, maybe I should change my plan, to stay in Harmony with the Tao. I cancelled.
I told this to my Sempai he said, on Thursday I will be hosting Ramos sensei and his pilgrimage group. Not those words, but that was the jest of it. I thought cool, I am off that day, I will go to meet Alcvin Sensei and his group. This was something he does every year. Travel from end to end of Japan checking out Shakuhachi related places, people, things. It was set.
 
The day started out a bit chilly, but the forecast was good. I was up a 5:00am in order to get there on time. As it turned out they arrived in Nara at 6:45am. No way I could make that, so I went to Sempai’s house. I had a bit of a hassle with the trains. The pass my wife got did not work on JR train line, so I had to pay when I switched lines. Ok, no biggie, I made it to Nara. I got on the bus for the final leg, but did not check the number, just jumped on the bus at the platform I was told. Hmmm, i thought is this the right one? I wanted to ask the driver but the bus suddenly got packed with school kids. So I waited. A bit later some left, but many stayed. I excused myself through the crowd and asked the driver. Is this the right bus to blah blah. Eh? He says. I say it again. He looks at the name, and asks where am I going? He sees the name, and asks me again, he repeats the name and points in another direction, this went on for several rounds. I am getting the idea I am on the wrong bus. Then he says ohh blah blah blah, which is what I said in the beginning and showed him. Ok, a little further he says finally. Sigh! Ok I make it to the stop, I get off and nothing looks like I am expecting, no temple as a marker! Hmmmm. I walk around a bit. I stop at a police station, a cop gives me directions. I am where I need to be, just walk a little. Ok, I walk down the street make the turn and I hear Shakuhachi sounds. I follow, and Success, I make it! Fairly on time. There is one other person still coming , so I am not the last. Introductions are made all the way around. There are people there from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and the States. We chat have tea, and cakes and get organized to leave on our journey for the day.
 
As we gather outside the other person shows up and we are all together and set off. The plan is to hike through the woods, over the hills on an old trial to somewhat abandon forest temple, then into Nara. The day is good for walking, not hot, not cold, bit comfortable. I encounter a spirit guide on the way.
We walk about half way to the temple and find the road is blocked by a landslide from the Typhoon. We turn back and take another trail.
We make it to our first stop, the temple. Many of us who dressed warm un-layered the extra clothes.
A bit of a chat and we are off through the bamboo forest, over the hill and into Nara. Our group is about 10 strong. Everyone is chit chatting and enjoying the hike. Talking about Japan history, Zen, shakuhachi, this and that, that and this.
 
We make it to our next stop, another temple. This one is fully functional and open, one has to pay to enter. Not much about $4.50. Clean well-kept, nice toilets, clean grounds. We, some of us spend some time inside one of the temple doing Zazen.
Afterward we take a break outside and everyone has lunch. We can see over the city from this spot on the mountainside. It is pleasant under the trees overlooking Nara and the surrounding area.
 
We set off again, to another area. Up stairs, down stairs, etc etc and arrived in another couple of temples. At this time the crowds are starting to picking up. We did a little bit of playing shakuhachi along the way, but not much. We do this along the way making our way through the varied shrines and temples. Chatting , taking pictures, enjoying the day. 
 
Around 2:00 pm we stop at Sempai’s wife’s work place. There the group does some shopping for kitchen knives. We have tea, fresh-baked cakes, ice cream. Some go outside and play shakuhachi for the passersby. Even collecting a few donations. I stayed inside and played guard over all the equipment left.
For some reason, I took the responsibility of keeping track of everyone and their stuff during the journey. Watching the stuff in the shop, keeping track of everyone not getting separated during the walk. My nature I guess, I noticed I was doing it, a lot at one point on the trip.
 
We walked more, took pictures, visited the great Buddha and just in general did the tourist thing.
It was a good day. I did not wear my basket much, I hand-held it and my arm got sooo tired! That was the hardest part. But that in a way is part of the training to endure.
 
About 4:00 the group was ready for dinner, and I was ready to catch my train back to Osaka. They went off to an “Izakaya” . Which is kind of like a bar that server food. Rather than go and get home late. I said my farewells. I headed first to a local pickle shop to pickup a few bags of fermented pickles to take home, then caught my train. This time I took the one that the travel pass worked on, so that was good. I am still hand carrying my newly acquired “Tengai” which is the basket hat worn by Komuso. I did not wear my kimono that day, but a casual Samue, traditional Zen monk work clothes. No one really paid me any real attention. Except one group of older ladies who saw me enter the train car and I hear “a Komuso”.
 

 

 

Sound steps


Sound steps in MusicWorld,

 
It has been a busy couple of weeks. I was in a concert last week at the community center in the next township. I did a solo well mostly solo, I wrote about this already right?
I was just invited to perform at another show in Dec at the marina where I work sometimes. I am not sure if I should try to put a small band together or just go solo with the percussionist. Hmmmm, I have some time to think…some time.
 
I finished my latest song with Shakuhachi. A tune called Tamoko. It was somewhat difficult, at least parts of it were. I am fairly comfortable playing it now. It is my favorite now. So I have two full Honkyoko songs now under my belt from my Sensei after 2.5 yrs of study. I also have the song from the other group, a Komuso tune. So that is really three Honkyoko songs. Honkyoku songs are traditional Shakuhachi songs. It is good timing on cutting back now to one class a month. I have the basics. I can develop details now as I go along and practice. Also with the other group, the 2.5 flutes I will still be learning so really it is still lessons twice a month when I am able to attend there is not pressure. 
 
I had my second Shakuhachi recital yesterday at the community center again in the next township. It was a fairly good turnout considering the limited interest in Shakuhachi music. There was koto and guitar accompaniment for some of the players. I only had me. I did ok, no mistakes so yeah, that was a cool thing, sensei was pleased. After the recital we the student and sensei went to dinner. Sensei and I did a quick stop at a music shop before dinner. That was interesting. The shop does repairs to shamisens. Nice to know, i have wanted to get a replacement shamisen for the one lost with the boat, but the cost has been the hurdle. I have seen ones that are broken, the skin, going for cheap. However I had no idea where to have the cover replaced, now I know. They use real animal skin to replace 😦 . Cat and something else. Cat cost the most. That made me sad , not the cost but the use of the Cat skin still. 
 
From there we went to dinner. I was somewhat concerned that I would not have much to eat, bummer for my 50.00 payment. However it worked out ok. I had indian curry for lunch because I did not know what to expect. However it was all good, I had some sashimi, salmon pot pie, veggie tempura, miso soup. There was to be as much as you can drink , drinks, but, my chuhai was weak, mostly sweet, got zero buzz. Sigh. Anyway. The whole thing with me going was to talk with my Shakuhachi Sempai. He is on staff at the Kokokuji temple, a priest and leader of some type for the Komuso. He gave me some background on the kokokuji temple and shakuhachi. He said a license is needed for Komuso, unless I am with an already licensed player. He also said , yearly dues are not bad , but the two Kimonos required are expensive. He said he did not recommend my joining, which was not difficult. However because of the kimono cost I would/maybe better off just going around with my friend. The komuso gear for the Kyoto temple and the wakayama temple are different. He said there is a call and answer tune Komuso play when they encounter another, this tells if they are real or not. So the small chat was interesting and helpful. I will see how things develop with the group I am with now in Osaka, if it falls a part or gets too weird I can join the Kokokuji group now that I have a connection.
 
I have been invited to do a couple of shows as a bass player for some visiting harp players from out-of-town. One show is next month, the other in January. This is the club I went to a few weeks ago with the Doctor. The one where he asks me to play with him in a talent show, then has me do the singing on songs he picked at the last moment. He did one and messed up! Yeah, so it was good I went anyway, I got this connection with the club owner from that trip. I had told the owner I was looking for a band, if he knew of any looking for my skills. He came through. Hopefully this will lead to other things. So far my group playing has been a disappointment. So I have three music projects on going. 1. blues Band, 2. Solo act, 3. Shakuhachi. The shakuhachi project is a mixed bag, Buddhist and traditional songs so far. I want to at some point bring the shakuhachi into the blues field, but I need a “modern” tuned Shakuhachi for that. I have not gotten that as yet. Finding one I can afford may take some time. Sensei did not like the one I purchased from NY. So my quest continues. I may not consult sensei on the next one, if my Sempai from the local Shakuhachi group can make one for me, reasonable.
.
 

Rain Falls, Kaze Blows

 Typhoon 24

The rain had started, as promised, the Typhoon is here. It has been raining steady all day. Not the little wimpy rain that you can not hear. This has been serious rainfall. I have enjoyed it. The rain, I always find calming when I am inside dry and warm. I have to add that since I have been out in Typhoons, on the water, soaked to the bone!, NO NO NO fun!

I digress…

The rain has been steady all day. I have been inside, lazy in some ways. Listening, remembering other places and times. Mostly playing my Shakuhachis, watching Zato-ichi and listening to the rain. I has been nice. The storm will be past in time for me to go to work tomorrow, Good, we need the money… sad, because I do not like the work. I do not hate it, but I do not like it. I am grateful for it though without question. Things are very slow at the boatyard, I am totally only on call for work. Having the silver center job is a blessing. That will be ending for the winter soon, then it will be ready tight. I am already making cut back on my travel and expensives. The unpleasant part of riding the life waves, with no money.

Things are tight, but we live simple and can live simpler when need to. Things would even more challenging if we were in the States. I think about that sometimes, sometimes too much. All that was lost to get here, and the real life that is here not the facebook one. 4.5 yrs into this, I still feel it is good (better) to be in Japan. Even mission-less. Yet, being the mission is to find the mission, or understand the mission. I am not mission-less, I am being empty, receptive, but not a void. Perhaps the Kyudo term of “Tsumeai” – Uniting the firming points of the body, is a better analogy…or wu wei…or just tripp’n.

Anyway just rainy day thoughts between the notes and the drops…

尺八 – Komuso and the Shakuhachi-Do

The way of Chan and the 尺八 Tao

Since becoming a Chan “priest” I have been on a search for meaning a purpose for it, for me. Not the standard idea, actions, path. But how to express the label, the responsiblity, the vows, the “weight” in a way that gives meaning to my spirit. Some purposeful outlet for the title, the mantel, honor the linage. My Martial path under different circumstances would be ideal. IF I was in the States or even maybe Mexico or Canada, I could establish myself, my expression of the Chan Dharma, fairly easy…so to speak. Here is Japan, no. The ground is not fertile, over planted. There are many many Tai Chi “clubs’ who’s teachers speak Japanese. Kung Fu, well, that is not a real interest in the land of Karate, even less so here in the countryside, and “burbs”. The few that have expressed interest fade after a few classes, for what ever reason. Let’s just say they do not have the spirit for the effort involved.

When speaking of Meditation (Zazen here), that gives rise to the wall staring hardcore Japanese version of Zen. People have that fixed idea about it. So having a more low-key yet more encompassing holistic approach to Zazen is not understood. Education takes time.


I expressed to a recent new friend, who speaks English, that I wanted to become a Komuso and why. Historically from what is written, the komuso, did little in the way of actual Buddhist practice. Perhaps a few, however what most stands out about them is they just wandered around earning food by playing shakuhachi and the shakuhachi was their tool for enlightenment. Their practice was really all about themselves. Few were actual Buddhist priest. The “aura” that is around Komuso these days is romantic history. 
Komuso these days are more organized, but still from what feedback I am getting it is still just about the playing and themselves. The playing as a social gathering club, or for some as a meditation tool, some for just the music. Then there is my Komuso Sempai in Nara. He is all about being a true “Buddhist Priest” Komuso. It has been educational and interesting going out to do Takuhatsu with him. I can see me doing this in my area. With Takuhatsu No real language issues, no space to rent issues, advertising issues, no identity other than a Komuso. Brings several things together and serves multi-causes. The problem, license, certification, affiliation.

In speaking with my friend about my desire to be a Komuso and why. He said you do not need to be a Komuso to do that. Japan is a Buddhist country if they see you as a Buddhist Priest your color will not matter. You can wear whatever and do not need to be under a Tengai. It is considered fortunate to encounter a Buddhist Priest/Monk especially by the elders. It maybe more to your advantage being who you are, than you think. That got me to thinking…Hmmm. maybe…in all Black robe…

.
Yet there is still the issue of License to do Takuhatsu
( beg) in Japan or perhaps a street performer license. Although that would put it as entertainment not as a serious Buddhist practice. Something to think on…
I have a Shakuhachi recital up coming in two weeks. I will met a shakuhachi Sempai who is a former Policeman and now a Komuso. I was told by my Sensei he does not look at Shakuhachi as a Musical instrument, but only as a Zen Tool. This way of thought, I find interesting. I planned on asking him about license, begging the law, Buddhist Dharma and Shakuhachi. This could give me the final answers I need or a door to where I need to go.
Shakuhachi Club
 
Once a month there is a meeting of the Classical Shakuhachi group. This group plays the long Shakuhachi. I am new to this group having just met some of the members over the last couple of months. This is the group my new Friend, who is from Germany belongs to. As it turns out these members are all Komuso or mostly all, belonging to the Myôan-ji in some form. A general statement. The point is that they are affiliated in some fashion with the Myôan-ji in Kyoto. I made my way to the meeting on my own this time. I was able to located it ok, with a little effort.
There were six of us attending. Once started, there was a little scale drill as a warmup. Then playing two versions of Cho Shi. I finally figured out one of these version I already had learned, the writing style was a little different. Although I needed some playing adjustments, I knew it. Afterward, there was some chatting, then everyone went through the study piece everyone is working on taught to them by their former sensei. Next up everyone played the song they are performing for any upcoming concert. In this case the big show in Kyoto at the Myôan temple next month.
It is at this time period where I play a song. I did Cho Shi even though I am now finished with “Tamuki”. I am more comfortable with Cho Shi, I can play without reading. I was listened to and asked to play again with no breath vibrato. I tend to do this from playing Harp and flute. Afterward it was said it was much better, more like Shakuhachi. There were a couple of corrections I needed and was told about also a point about my breathing. There was some other talk and I heard we’ll teach you. Ok, Cool. I am getting some real lessons from this. Perfect since I need to cut back on my formal classes with my Sensei. I had originally looked for a Shakuhachi group to learn from, but It seemed at the time it was only for people who already could play. Now I am one of them. I can make musical notes, and read, poorly but…still, I can. I have made some progress. Though it does not seem like it to me. I guess this is a real milestone marker to be accepted into the group. ( Thanks Dean for the intro).
So after almost 2.5 yrs of study, I am where I wanted to be when I started…well sort of. I wish it were so with my Kyudo, but that is another story.That evening I receive an eMail from my friend aka “Big O” in the group. He says he spoke with the group about what wanted to do. basically it was said no problem I can join and get set up through them. Wow, great news! Fairly simple, smooth and cheap! I had heard that doing this official Komuso via the Temple was costly! I had an alt plan of speaking with a Kinko Sempai about joining the Kokoku-ji group in Wakayama. I was expecting even there, pay a monthly fee to a sensei plus the extras…
The Myôan-ji seems to be more active and the new Abbot is rumored to be more interested in raising the meditation aspects of the Komuso group.

I do have a sense my Sempai is of the more hard-core Shuizen mind. Which could be perfect for what I want to learn. Wakayama is much much closer. I am going to continue to flow with the force and let the Tao work. I am hopeful with the Sakura in the spring a new Komuso will bud in Osaka.

 

弓道 in the Shinto Temple’s shadow


弓道
I dislike getting up at 5:00 am. More so when I do not have to go to work, hmmm maybe that’s not right, more, like, when I have to go to work…perhaps. Either way I dislike it. It was at least holding the gift of not being cold. So there I was up and off to the train station.
I was heading over to my first Japanese Kyudo training Seminar. I was told someone there would speak Japanese…maybe. I had my concerns about that. I figured I would just float, listen and keep my eyes open.
 
I made it to the practice hall without any problem. As I got off the exit, so did a couple of other people going to the seminar. Nice! I figured I would spot some people down at the location. This was a plus this early. As it turned out, it was a short walk to the Kyudojo. As we got nearer, I became awed by the grounds. I was not sure just what kind, but it was a temple, of some type. Just not sure what. There seemed to be some type of what I thought was a flea market being setup. But no, I find out later. It was not. This was also the weekend Matsuri festival may have something to do with that. I was told later by a friend.
 
I was the first to arrive. Although I did not think so at first. There were others there, they all spoke and bowed. Kids, well high school age. People were coming and their was a van which seemed to unloading. I figured out this was the place. I did not know what was going on. Someone announced to the kids, to give the speaker the yumis. Then they started to load them into a van, I watched… no one paid me much attention…I paid attention to everyone.
Then one guy, a grownup asked me a couple of questions, in sort of
both Japanese and rough English. He tells me the kids are going to another Shrine to shoot. Hmm ok, he then took me where to changed into my Dogi. Oh, this was part of the “oops” thing. I did not bring my Kimono, I was not sure what was going on, but I did not think about a Kimono was needed as I test now in Kimono…duh! So I asked this guy and he spoke with another both figured, well you can just make do , should be ok. Ok, I was relaxing more now. I was treading water, and not floating away. I changed into my gi. Another woman shows up, someone bows to her, she looks like she has some knowledge, another sensei, she is in a Kimono. I question her. At first she looks at me and says go upstairs. Ehh I say! Ok I need to get my Yumi and stuff. Then she says, ohh, you are doing Kyudo, yes you are correct here. Then point into the room I was in from the start.
 
We chat a bit, I get more of a low down in what is happening. At least for me not messing up. This was taking some effort, she spoke no English. Anyway, I get signed in, numbered and setup. Slowly others started to arrive. I saw a few people I have met now from other dojos. Not a lot but a few. One of these friends speaks English. We were sort of in the same group. But did not train together, as I hoped for. I figured she could translate if it was important. We only spoke during the event briefly on a break or something. As it turns out, the men trained mostly with the men and women with women, with the Sensei of the same gender leading each. Unlike in the states. However at the end we were all just shooting and walking together not being in a lecture type groups. Although the Nindan’s Senseis just dealt with that group. Oh, oops, wait, I will explain, there were two main groups, nidans and sandans. Then that was split into men and women. So, two groups of women two of men.
 
So I am in my group. Then we are split, sort of into Resha and Kisha, (standing or kneeling). I am asked if I speak Japanese. I think I was asked in Japanese, he did ask some thing basic in very broken English. We figured out I could sort of follow, with 6 yrs experience. I could just copy the movements for wearing the Kimono. They said in the opening statements what was being covered and done in the seminar. That was pretty much, well mostly over my head. Other than hearing Kihontai, the rest was lost. No matter, I was rolling with it. It was working so far.
 
We went through the routine of putting the Kimono on and off, kiza, foot placement, hand placement in bowing and standing, how much juban should be showing under the Kimono, turning with the Yumi, toriyumi, that kind of basic stuff. It was a good review.
We took a lunch break. The sensei I saw from Kishiwada, my dojo went out and got his lunch then came and sat down with me. I had brief moment of panic as my peaceful non-thinking lunch break was over. I had to now small talk in Japanese sigh. I like this sensei though so not a big deal. We hung together before at the Tai Kai in Kyoto. We chatted a very little bit and ate. Still it is a struggle for me to make chit chat in English much less Japanese. After a short while another lady from another school I had met a couple of times and knew sensei. She joined us. We chatted more, and I met another couple of people who stopped by to briefly speak to sensei. Including the Sensei I first encountered when trying to check in. The main thing is I pulled off the encounters. yatta! yeah baby!
After lunch we walked, and walked, turned, walked forward , backward. Finally did some shooting. I was able to shoot four arrows, two each turn. Not really much correction there. Elbow a little more back, a little more tilt in diesan. I missed all for times. I pretty much of expected that. I was using my “at home” Mikiwara yumi. So my sighting was off. I did not see my where my second set hit. However the first two were in the target area but just both too high. Yet next to each other. I will take that as a win.
 
After that the lineup and bow out. Everyone went to change or just left. When I came out of the dressing room most everyone was gone. So I did not get a chance to speak with the Sensei for my group. Oh well.
 
I went over to the temple grounds next to explore. Big big grounds and a lot of buildings. It was also just before closing so I did not get much chance to look around, as I was walking in one area my friend and her posse run up behind me, and breathlessly explain to me about one of the shrine alters. You look through a bunch of stones inside a fenced area, if you find three with certain marking, you get good luck. My friend helped my find what I needed and gave them to me. Cool I thought.
We said our “mata ne” and they took off, I as well just behind them, as the guard was urging us to move. It was a good day, over all. I did not get the level of corrections, instruction as I had thought, but I was checked over and received no big No no’s for my shooting forms. So winner! Yeah. 
I made a mental note to return to the Temple ground the next day to explore at my leisure. That I did and got some really nice shots, with my camera. Since I am running low on disk space I am cutting back on my picture posts. A link to Flickr if interested.
Anyway I was going to say. I found out from another source he saw the temple photos and said, I got my Kyudo Nindan from a priest there. Ehhhh? I said. So it turns out there is another Kyudo group that is within the Shinto temples, but not part of the All Japan Federation. Wow, that was a bit of a surprise. I will research more on this, just for my own edification
…to be con’t