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.

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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.
 
 
 
 
…. …. …. …. ….

What a Long strange trip it’s been…Happy New Year 2018

What a Long strange trip it’s been

あけましておめでとうございます

It is almost a new year as I start this writing. Maybe it will be the New Year, year of the Dog by the time I post this. Year of the dog, btw, is suppose to be a good year for me. I am not dog year, I am Tiger but we are compatible. Going by Chinese horoscopes. Which I have dabbled into. But that is another story time… This one is about the changes in life, paths we walk, the many lives, not just one. I am writing a book about the sailing adventure. I had not put in much background about before sailing, maybe this will go in the book…

 
I was going through some old pictures trying to clean up my iPad which is on the blink 😦 . I found this old shot from when I was in boarding school. A photo of me and my posse. We were a collective of gang members, who formed a mini “club” inside the school. More like, part of a club. We did not form it, not the founders. There were two groups/clubs. We all got along, but just had different members. I never did “get” why the two groups. Human tribal thing?? All the members where from different gangs out in the “world” ( The streets of Philly ). It was at times unpleasant being in this school of thugs. Like when the dorm header, an adult was gone for a weekend off. We the students would get called into the rec room , by the senior in charge for “boxing” which was really just a time for people to get out their grudges they had with other people.
This is were the “clubs” came in handy, making sure things were kept fair. There was a certain style of boxing one followed. I believe the reason for this was so that the school counselors could not see the marks/bruises from fighting. The style was called “creek boxing” two people would bend over, put their heads together and slug it out. supposedly no face shots, but sometimes it did not stay that way. One benefit of these clubs and the school really was that one met members from gangs all over the city. You became friends with them thereby could travel all over the city and drop names when you needed for safe passage. Within “Yin there is always Yang”
 
I am pretty sure that 90% of the guys that I hung out with there are dead or in jail now. I was not really a formal member of an outside gang perse, mostly in it by default of my area, but I knew most who were. Knowing the guys at the school was a big (hard earned) benefit for my loner travels about town.
Then there was going to sleep and waking up with my toes on fire. Everyone thought was funny watching me wakeup in terror thinking I was going to burning up, from the little fie they had set on my toes with lighter fluid, as a joke…that was really funny to all involved.
Anyway I survived, that, those and other “interesting” times and places in the city of brotherly love. Although many times I thought I would not.
 
So all this from the picture, got me to thinking, how many, “trips”, “paths” I have been on in this life…
 
I spent time in Virgina. That was perhaps my favorite part of being a kid. Living and working on the farm and properties of my grandfather. I had no fear of gangs, or people having come from the big city. Also my grandfather was well-known in the area and I was his oldest and favorite grandchild. He owned a farm, a gas station, and beer garden ( sort of like a bar). I worked on/ in all of these places when I stayed with him. I loved it. Open space, greenery, I learn to drive on a tractor and that was my “car” since I could drive on the road with no license. Sometimes it was sort of harsh , and Gramps was pretty strict, but I liked the environment much more than city life.
 
The layout of my gramp’s places. I am taking this picture standing in front of the service station, on the far side of the house is the Beer Garden, to the left of the house was the farm.
Living in both places gave me a real taste of the yin and yang of living, city vs country, and I could survive in either. Adapting to both when needed is an important lesson. Being at one with your environment is very “Cha’n”, it is how you survive in bad times. My siblings could not, most disliked the country life.
 
At that time other than playing music from time to time, I was all about fast cars, and wanted my own repair shop, which I had gotten a taste of from working at Gramp’s service station.
 
Once in LA, where I had always been drawn toward. So fairly young I moved. I worked as a mechanic until the music bug hit me again hard this time. I set out on the musical path, mostly for a time doing R&B. As I started getting more into the California hippie life style that changed over to Rock. Living in Hollywood, and being a musically hippie. Yoga, meditation, camping, skinny dipping, etc etc. I did some coffee houses soloing, trying to get discovered and get a contract. Never happen. But I had fun, I learned stuff.
 
My next turn-step when I figured out being a working singer songwriter guitar player was not going to happen for me. was to play bass. I really started playing because I wanted bass on some demo tapes I was doing and it was hard to find someone to play what I wanted. This taught me there were a lot of guitar players around but not many bass players. I started playing bass and started getting work with bands. From there went on tour a few times, got some small studio gigs, night clubs, road tours. yeah it was fun. Not much money but some.
 
The not much money part lead me to think what to do that I could make money and still get to play music. With this thought and a chance encounter with a well-known Martial Artist and TV person put me on the martial art as a teacher/ business path. I had been involved in Martial Arts since my days in high school but never thought of it as anything , but a way for me to protect myself. This person showed me the business side of things. However told teaching was not the way to make a living easy. He ran a health food store, martial art supply store and a MA school. I became involved with the business, ended up as the general manager as well as a teacher there.
This educated me into the world of health, business, herbs, healing, and Chinese Philosophy. I pretty much put aside music at this time. I was all about M.A., and the like, and training. However I still recall clearly a time playing a bass for something at the dojo, and someone saying wow, your whole face being changed when you started playing, you should get back into that…
 
After a time I was ready to move on from the Dojo, I wanted to set out on my own, I remarried and moved to Va. I became manager of a moving company, taught Kung Fu part-time, worked in a health food store, and played in a band for a very short time. I felt really, really out of place in Richmond, Va and ended up moving back to Ca. having found a job with the same moving company I was with therein Va. The main headquarters was based in Ca. The branch I was going to work for was in the S.F. Bay area.
 
I opened another Kung Fu school and took up training again with my last Sifu/Sensei. He was from the same style I had been teaching so it was a continuation of my past training. The Chinese Philosophy studies continued, with the addition of Feng Shui, and slowly music came back, with bands and schooling. Slowly becoming more dissatisfied with the business management life of a moving company, I took up graphic design training. After putting myself through college and receiving a degree in design, I became a full-time graphic designer with much struggle, and still playing music when possible.
 
The Kung Fu school slowly was dying. I was not really a good business man, a good teacher but not a businessman into promotion and the like. I finally got a good job in a large cooperation as a designer and put most of my money into maintaining the school/dojo. This went on for a while, in hindsight too long.
 
Do to the need for a place to live, I had been living in the back of the Kung Fu studio. I ended up buying a boat, and from that getting involved in the sail boat world. The economy collapsed and I lost most things including my job, condo, etc.
 
At this point getting up in years it was not easy to find a designer job in a bad economy. I became a security guard, a part-time assistant harbor master, sailing instructor and still taught a small Martial art class at a community center. We lived, now re-married again, in an apt on the beach for a while before moving on to the boat at the marina where I worked. It was the plan at this time, for the last four or five years to move/sail to Japan. The music life had pretty much stopped when after the last band I was with, for several years, the leaders moved to Hawaii. Now it was for me mostly water world, Boating, Kung Fu, Kyudo, Chan/Zen and making ready to go to Japan.
 
During the disastrous attempt at sailing to Japan, after making it down the coast of Cal., we spent a stormy Christmas in Half Moon Bay Ca.. We were lucky to just make it into the Marina.
Afterwards continuing down into Mexico. There we lived on the boat for four months. From Mexico we set sail for Hawaii. We ended up using the last of our money to fly to Japan after having to abandoning our boat during the rescue at sea. This was our was our home, and dream plans for a new business in Japan, we had to leave it at sea. Having lost steering with at sea with 6 meter waves approaching from a storm, the environment was in charge. There is a saying in Tai Chi Chuan, and the Tao Te Ching “Yield and overcome”…
 
So now, here we are in Japan, that part really did happen, but not without help ( some of which from people I have never met ) , sacrifices and a lot of effort. What a long strange trip for a little colored boy who grew up in the gang streets of Philly and the farmlands of Virgina to be in Japan, a Chinese Zen Buddhist priest, musician, sailboat instructor, gardener, martial artist, and Komuso.
Life is change. Life itself is interesting and what we want to make of it. Some of my dreams are gone, some are just dormant, some are just out of reach, some have yet to speak. It took a while to have dreams again…now even small dreams are good. They are seeds for life and growth.
Now 2018 is here. I recall thinking when I was a teen how old I would be when the numbers changed to 2000. Now 18 years into it. Back then I did not see me where I am now, in no dream…
All in all though what a long strange trip it’s been. Still the road continues and the river of life flows. One can not control the wind, you can only adjust your sails.
Next …the New Year Kyudo 108 arrow – 2018

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Winter…

Winter is coming…

 
Technically winter is here, but in Osaka I do not think of it until really January. Then we have two months of, ugly, for me cold. It has started a bit early this year with some yukky days. 
So on other fronts, the breath of winter is here, I am now laid off from both of my jobs, until business is better. The boat yard is fairly dead, at least for me. My wife is still working which is lucky because we would be in a world of hurt otherwise. For me zip, nada there, other than the lost of income, I am fine with not working there. My spirit for being there is still damage from the owner sending me out in the Typhoon, almost getting killed, and not so much as thank you, from someone who is suppose to be a friend! So much for that my respect is zero.
I got a call the other day my work for the silver center is done for the season. Until maybe late spring or summer. Although I was just asked to work Christmas day. After that it will be dry. So cuts backs are in order. Mostly food, which is ok since I am, not working I do not need to eat as much, also it cuts into my travel and other stuff, oh well. Oh well. The strong survive. “Trump” happens. Yeah I am not a fan of Trump. Mostly because he lies and has zero feelings for the non-rich. But I am not going into that, it is just my view. I have friends who love him, blindly. There is more than enough of that political talk else where. Sickeningly so. So I will not go there.
 
Yeah so with no work and less money my activities will be reduced. I had a session the other night with a possible new forming bad, from the owner of the Red House club. It was a fun session. A small trio, we drink ate chatted and played. I hope we can do it again with a plan.
Either way I am continuing my quest for a solo career. I applied for a spot in the Sakai Blues Festival in the spring. There is no money involved but it maybe good advertising for me, getting my name out.
 
So as I was saying with limited funds, it is time for me to go inward. Winter training. My Kung Fu, needs work, a lot I have been really slacking with that without the external motivation of having students. I need to get back on it for myself, just like doing meditation, just because I can. Music wise, I get some piano practice in everyday, so more time and songs are part of my training agenda. Oh musically I had a Major bummer the other day. My shakuhachi developed a Major crack. It was heartbreaking to see. The weather change , plus a combination of heating my studio, then getting way cold when I am not there, whatever. Big time crack it will cost I was told by Sensei about 2-300.00 dollars to repair. ouch!! This takes away half of my saved money for a new Shakuhachi. Sigh.
On a better note someone in my long shakuhachi group said they could make me one for a reasonable cost. However the problem is I do not know if he can make the type I need, with a “western” tuning. The maker does not speak English and the person, who will translate the conversation is not sure how to explain, nor am I. So this maybe a dead end. With half of my funds going to repair my crack one and the other left over is enough to pay this maker, but, can he do it? A lot is up on the air on this, maybe I do not even need it, as the “band” playing idea for this type of music is not happening, and someone else says I can do it with my current Shakuhachi, but my sensei says no. So it is all up in the air right now.
 
Kyudo, training I can step up with not working, but it will need to be at home with the Makiwara. Hmmm, I guess I can make some difference in my form with mostly home practice, but it is difficult to judge until I can actually shoot at 28 meters, if I am making a difference. I believe the finer points I need to work on, form wise will to be as big a factor as hitting at this point. But hard to tell, oh well, just shoot, because I can, like Zazen sitting, just because I can.
 
Yeah, winter activtiy, is all about training. Music, Budo, Cha’n. 2018 is suppose ot be a good year for a Tiger living in the year of the Dog. Good I can use a break!

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…