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Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Notes from the Nineties: Training the Mountain Warrior

March 13, 2016
MThomas

This is the second preview of my upcoming collection of short stories and poems, Notes from the Nineties. In the first part, I explained the background behind the first story and poem pair, Cois Fharriage and Ag an gCrosaire.

EnnogyojyaFrom first to last: the final story in the collection, “Training the Mountain Warrior,” is based on two specific events that happened to me shortly after moving to Japan in 1999. The date thus places the story barely in the Nineties; the paired-poem (“Asian Dreams”) was written hastily—scrawled, really—in an old yellow lined notepad the night before I left the US (permanently, as it turned out). I still have the notepad, well used and abused.

The short story describes my attempted nighttime climb of Mt. Fuji (which ended short of the summit due to high winds) and my trek through the ancient mountains of the Kinai peninsula, whose hiking trails later became a World Heritage Site. There were a lot of details that I deliberately left out, and of course the dialogue is completely fictional. But I did, actually, dangle my friend over a cliff.

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New Year’s at the Dojo

January 30, 2016
MThomas

This past Sunday, my fellow Shorinji Kempo kenshi and I held our dojo’s “New Spring Law Meeting” (terrible translation of shinshun hokai; basically, “New Year’s Ceremony”). We usually hold it on the second Sunday of January, but delayed it this year due to everyone’s busy work schedules. The ceremony took place after a special three-hour intensive practice for higher level practitioners (we use the term “kenshi,” similar to those who do judo, who use the term “judoka,” or karate, “karate-ka”). No central heat in Japan, below zero temperatures…no problem. Body heat was more than enough.

As with most new year ceremonies in Japan, our ceremony includes one person (this year, the woman in the picture above) reading out a carefully prepared speech on a long horizontal paper folded many times, the contents of which summarize the events of the previous year and then end with a promise to work hard for the upcoming year. This is followed by an exhortation from the shisho (master) for us to do our best and work together to achieve our goals. The ceremony was longer this year because it was the 50th anniversary of the dojo foundation. Only top-level kenshi attend, which is a little disappointing; out of 80 members, only a handful can attend. Continue Reading

Christmas in Japan

December 26, 2015
MThomas

It’s been a long fall. Lots of work the past two months, with intermittent bouts of family sickness, but somehow we managed to pull through in time for the holidays.

Of course Christmas is not a national holiday where I live (central Japan). It’s mostly treated as an excuse for couples to enjoy a romantic evening at an overpriced restaurant. Except for us, where it’s an excuse for moms and dads to have their kids wreck the house while the parents have a few drinks.

Fortunately. the food is good. Very good. No Christmas turkey or ham here (the main fare is typically KFC actually, since some KFC chief in a brilliant PR stroke managed to convince the entire country that Americans eat fried chicken at Christmas). But there are plenty of parents nearby who are really good at cooking.

And of course there’s always cake:

 So Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, and other non-denominational festivities to you and your kin!

And no, I don’t want to talk about the 2015 World Series. I’m too busy using the NL Champions shot glass set to be depressed…

The bells of silence

October 3, 2015
MThomas

It’s been a while since I wrote here for (again) work and family-related reasons. For starters, like most Mets fans I got caught up in the division-drive with its ebbs and flows and occasional near-cardiac-arrest-inducing turns. It wouldn’t be the Mets without some sort of chance of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

It was, in fact, during the last week of mind-numbing play that lead to the clinching game against the Reds that I started to notice a turn for the worse…in my health. My daughter Erina had had a fever approaching 40C (104-105F), and I had a lost at least a couple nights of sleep, running over to her room as she woke up every two hours or so. Fortunately, she recovered, but proceeded to pass whatever bug she had on to me. I endured — what else could I do, really? — and last Friday morning, woke up just in time to watch the final pitch from Familia that sealed the deal.

Problem was, I could barely hear the crowd.

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My life as a tree

July 26, 2015
MThomas

  

Kyoto, where I work, is chock full of temples and shrines. Every day I walk to campus, I walk through a Rinzai Zen temple along the way. While the temple itself is not as famous or as old as others nearby, it is popular among tourists for its gardens, open public lectures, and guest houses. There’s a nursery school within the temple grounds, and TV crews occasionally can be seen filming for various end-of-year specials. Because it’s located in a residential neighborhood near several high schools, students and office workers alike travel through it daily. After a long, crowded train ride during the morning rush hour, walking through a zen temple is an incredibly relaxing experience. I’ve walked through the temple grounds every day for three years now; I have to remind myself how lucky I am.

Last week, after a typhoon crossed over Japan just south of us, I was heading home through the temple when I saw an older man squatting down in front of a small pine tree. He had taken off his hat, with a small white towel draped over his shoulders to prevent sunburn, and was silently contemplating the tree. I watched as he took a drink from a water bottle, then poured the rest of the bottle around the base of the tree.

I don’t know what he was thinking, of course, but I like to imagine: how long would it take for the sapling to equal the other pine trees in the temple precinct in size? He might no longer be alive then. How long ago had the older trees been planted, as saplings? Perhaps he had not even been born yet. 

Pine trees (matsu) have long been associated with zen Buddhism and zen temples. Zazen (sitting meditation) is practiced by Rinzai Zen monks, and visitors to this temple are encouraged to join the morning zazen when they stay at the guest house. But really all you need is a tree, and your imagination, to understand how short life is. How mysterious. How tenacious. How precious.

A sobering reminder on the way to and from work.

  

High school baseball here costs how much??

March 3, 2015
MThomas

Big news from my university’s affiliated high school this year: the high school baseball team was chosen to enter the national Spring Invitational Tournament. This is the first time in five years, and the fifth time since the university bought the failing school two decades ago and turned it into a regional powerhouse for international studies.

All they need is 40,000,000 yen. Continue Reading

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