Morning Salutation

Hi Friends,

Each morning here finds me at some point out in front of the trailer doing my morning workout. I used to do this in the small street that passes by. Residential streets in Japan really are small. In order for two small cars to pass, one has to pull over and come to a complete stop. My little street is used by some people as a short cut and therefore receives more traffic than would be normally generated by the neighbourhood.

The result of the above was that my tai chi and bagua forms would be interrupted at various times by an approaching car. I would notice the impending occurrence and maintaining my state as best I could step to the side of the street. Then, as the cars would pass, I would make a small bow to the drivers. Some would be surprised the first time this happened, however, almost all would bow back. If it was a repeat performance, their bow would be a genuine greeting. This would also occur with people out for a stroll with their dogs or kids going to school.

There is a lot of bowing in Japan. In the supermarket, the cashier will make a formal bow after giving you your change. There is the temptation by foreigners to write off such bows as just form and no substance. What I have found in such situations is that when I return the bow with sincerity, then, the substance of the bow is in existence and we both feel it. A bow can be a very beautiful gesture.

There is a child and mother who wait at the t-junction just close by each weekday morning for a brightly coloured kindergarten school bus. The bus has a woman driving and another woman who attends to the children. The attendant gets off the bus and approaching the mother and child, greets them and escorts the child back onto the bus. As they drive by me the driver gives a little bow and the attendant waves while encouraging the children to wave as well. What a big smile stretches my face as I wave back.

A few weeks ago, I cleared a section of the area that my trailer shares. It’s is full of large gravel set down to hold car parking. I began to practice my forms without the interruptions. It is such a pleasure to be able to move smoothly through my forms. Yet, I do miss the morning ritual of making way. I still get to wave to the kindergarten crew and say hello to the occasional person and dog who pass by. As a part of my exercise, I take a walk up the nearby street past houses where I encounter other walkers and sometimes someone out in his or her garden. I have even had short conversations at times. (Very short due to my limited vocabulary.)

Then, there have been a few mornings when I am walking along and see a person approaching slowly. The person’s head is down, there is a slight hunch of the shoulders and almost a shuffle in the walk. When I get close, I say my ‘good morning’ and suddenly a face pops up surprised and a shining smile appears immediately followed by an enthusiastic ‘good morning’. Yeh, what a good morning.

Ohayo Gozaimusu, Kundan

Remembering the Kanji

I have recently added a new approach in my very slow ascent of the Japanese Language Mountain. After buckling down and learning all of the fifty-two characters in the two phonetic alphabets, I decided to get stuck into the kanji. That’s the characters imported from China. I was working away slowly when I began using a method called ‘Remember the Kanji’ developed by James Heisig. I bought the book and it clicked for me. There is now a website and I have purchased the great little app for my iPod Touch. The kanji are presented in an order that enables one to take their pieces and create stories for one of their meanings. It is amazing how empowering it is to take this first step and then learn the Japanese words associated with the kanji later. On the website, one is able to see some of the more popular stories that people other than the author use. If you like one, you can ‘star’ it. Here is an example of one that I like. The kanji with the meaning “leaf” is made up of parts representing ‘flower’, ‘generation’ and ‘tree’. Here is the story that I chose from suggestions on the website. “The flower generation spent far too much time up trees trying to smoke leaves.”

Changes

My life has been one of many changes. They continue.

We need to step back a bit to get a better perspective of what has led to my present choices.

A current influence has been my ever increasing obsession with myshakuhachi. For four years now, I have been pursuing that state where there is no difference between Kundan and his shakuhachi. At times, recently, I have felt something that might be this illusory state whispering by like a passing feather on the edge of my aura.

The external manifestation of this experience has been a series of continuing jumps in the quality of my playing on these beautifully crafted lengths of bamboo. It has been a snowballing effect that, at times, finds me striding around my rooms exclaiming in difficult to believe joy.

These experiences resulted in my decision, not so long ago, to set aside my Great European Cycling Adventure to better focus on my shakuhachi evolution.  A difficult decision but one that felt right for me. My new plan was announced as the “Pacific Solution”. It involved two visits to Japan for study and travel with a visit to California in the middle. Such a plan led me to a renewed inculcating of the Japanese language into this predominately monolingual brain.

I finally took the bull by the horns and truly learned the two 52 character syllabic alphabets. Having accomplished that task successfully, I was so chuffed that I ventured on into expanding my few readings of the Chinese ideograms that were adopted and adapted by our Japanese ancestors. I am pleased to say that I have made some progress with my present regular recognition of approximately 125 Kanji. Just a few days ago, I added another dozen to the study list in my flash card app.
Concurrent with the advancement of two streams of study, I commenced with the logistical side of my new venture. There was the calculation of travel dates based on seasonal variations and the availability of accommodation in Chichibu as well as my teacher’s presence in his hometown. I found myself with four weeks in the late spring to travel by thumb and couch through western Japan. This was something that I had been promising myself for some years. It was a further stimulus to my language studies.

A departure date of 23 March was set and tickets purchased well in advance. (My good friend Anagara’s 60th Birthday Party was influential on the settling of this date.) I began accumulating equipment and supplies. Lists and gifts and ideas. I visited all my various health care practitioners . Excitement rose as preparations advanced apace. I found a buyer for my car with incredible easy. The time drew nigh. Five weeks shakuhachi intensive in Chichibu here I come. I had postponed a trip earlier in the year and I could hardly wait.

All was in Harmony in Heaven and on Earth.

Then, one evening, I had the urge to tune into the ABC news channel earlier than usual. The helicopters were just beginning the live broadcast of the tsunami as it swept through Sendai. I watched stunned and unaware of how much this would impact my life.

As the tragedy in Northeastern Japan unfolded, my concern was for those affected directly and indirectly grew. My own travel plans were not in doubt. I grew up in LA where earthquakes were a normal part of life. When I lived in Tokyo in the late ’70’s, I would be woken in the night by strong tremblers. I would roll over and go back to sleep. I am a fatalist in relation to earthquakes.

However, as the days passed other factors began to disturb me. The most obvious being the developing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Still, my concern focused on the stress being experienced by the people and infrastructure of the Sendai and Tokyo regions. I was scheduled to fly into Tokyo in a weeks time. No one could say what would happen in that time. I was hoping for the best but I decided that I did not feel right to add to the strain being experienced in the Tokyo region. I made plans instead to go to Kyoto to wait until I felt it was right to be travel to Chichibu. I would still be in Japan and I had planned to to visit Kyoto and Nara during this visit. I would just change my schedule in this way and wait there as things resolved.

On Thursday, I visited a close friend and told him of my change of plans. My friend  replied, “I understand how difficult it is for you to change you plans to visit Japan. However, all of the people of Japan are going through a time of trauma, grieving and incredible uncertainty. They need to sort this out themselves. You would be intruding if you went there now. It wouldn’t be  right for you to go to Japan now.”

The truth of  my friend’s words struck home. When I left his house, I went directly to my travel agent and began arrangements to cancel my existing ticket and book a flight direct from Australia to California. When I got home, I rang my teacher, Kaoru, and told him of my decision. I felt unable to adequately explain myself. I was in emotional turmoil. I did not feel any sense of relief that I have avoided any possible danger. I feel a deep sadness for the situation of the people of Japan that has caused me to reach my decision. I let go as the sadness poured through me. I came to peace with it.

The possibility of spending time with my family in California is very welcome. My thoughts and heart are constantly with Japan as I continue on my journey.

Let the light shine from our hearts to all parts of this world.

Love, Kundan

The Itinerary

Here’s my itinerary so far:

I will be leaving the fair shores of Oz on 23 March en route to Japan. For five weeks, I will be enjoying another shakuhachi intensive in Chichibu. I will then sling a pack on my back to hitch-hike for a further four weeks. I intend at that time to visit Kyoto, Hiroshima and Kyushu. I will be experiencing the Couch Surfing network along the way. Much unknown involved.

The first of June will find me once again boarding Singapore Air for a flight to California. Visiting family and doing short trips on the west coast for the summer. It looks as if my sister Mary and I will be heading up into the Northwest together as she had already planned such a trip toward the end of June. My birthplace of Billings, Montana may be graced by my presence once again.

31st of August finds me leaving LAX to return to Japan. Right now, it looks like a couple weeks of more travelling around Japan by thumb. Heading north this time. Then, six weeks of shakuhachi before returning to the land down under.

There is enough space in my plans for a good deal of unexpected adventure!

Japanese Learning Apps for my Ipod Touch

I have some applications for my Macbook and some apps for my iPod Touch that I use for studying Japanese. In this post, I’ll tell you about the apps that I use on my Touch.

The first that pops to mind is called Kanji Fuda. It has sixteen tiles and when you touch a tile it flips to reveal a kanji (chinese based characters) or the meaning in English and Kana. If two match, they stay up. Otherwise, they turn back over and you have to search. It’s a great game. Helping me to refresh my memory and learn some new kanji. Right now the number of kanji is limited but the creator is going to post more.

Next is sticky study. A flashcard app for studying hiragana and katakana. The two phonetic alphabets used in conjunction with the kanji. My hiragana is pretty good, but, my katakana has a ways to go.

For a more full on study, I use an app called Japanese Flip. It is a flash card program with the Kanji arranged in four levels. You can have the kanji show by itself or with kana below it. I have it set for both. You then tap to show the answer. You tap to indicate if you were correct in your answer. It keeps track of your answers to present you with the ones that you missed more often.