Sunday, 29 June 2008

知恵の三つ Three Wisdoms

image from Wikipedia

I went a second time to the guided 坐禅 Zen Meditation into the temple in 鶴見 Tsurumi near Yokohama. I have been there before and please refer to my previous post, for information how and when to get there.

The second time now was just as nice, but this time I was able to understand the lecture on zen philosophy that follows the meditation quite well. In this lecture one of the head monks of the monastery would tell us three fundamental wisdoms about human life, which I'd like to share with you.

(1) Good And Evil

He asked us to consider that in fact there is no good and evil, right and wrong in this world and that it is no one but ourselves that make/judge things good/evil or right/wrong.
He gave us some examples to illustrate this proposition. During history things that were believed to be right changed and are now regarded wrong. But what is right or wrong also differs from the view point and circumstances. For example: The Japanese 上士 upper class samurai who beheads a peasant for not showing the right manners, acts according to his construct of right and wrong and thinks he has done the right thing, while of course the peasant and his friends and family morally despise the samurai's deed. The man who steals food from the super market acts evil at a first glance, but regarding the circumstances that his sister is starving and needs food direly, which means he took the burden of becoming a thief upon him for the sake of his sister, suddenly makes the man good.
Because of this truth the monk advised us to be very careful judging a deed or person wrong,evil or right,good. If we keep the fundamental fact in our head that there is no such thing as universal evil/good wrong/right, we are less likely to hastily judge someone and maybe hurting the person.
Now the Buddhist ideal goes farther and tries to get rid of any judging and concepts of good and evil and tries to see things, deeds and persons for just what they are without imposing moral judgment unto them. This consequently leads to the principle of Zen who tells to get rid of all this mental burdens and clear your mind for the transcendent.

(2) Money And Death

He then continued his lecture by asking some people in the audience, what they expect from life and what they would need to be happy. The answers were what he expected and he said that the majority of the Japanese people have the same expectations, which is money first, a good and secure job, a nice house and car and a nice family with children inside.
He then asked if people thus would like to be rich or even envy people a bit who have a lot of money, and again the broad answer was yes.
He finished his introduction by letting the people approve of the thesis: "In today's world you can buy anything with money".
After the introduction he asked a contrary rhetoric questions, if the rich people could buy life? Well they might be able to prolong it a few days or weeks by good medicine and food, but they will die just like anyone else. And they can bear children just like anyone else. There is actually no difference between them and you. So wanting to be in their situation is quite silly, since you already are.
Understanding this truth, we can go further and find that we can be just as happy as they are, or as someone with money, house, car and family is. Because we simply can select what makes us happy. We can select a far away goal like the house and family, but we can also select a nice warm meal or an evening with good friends or a good talk. If we are able to look through this truth, we can be happy whenever we want and with whatever we have and by that, indeed, we will be even more fortunate than the rich people.
Now going further into Buddhist ideals we come to the point where we need nothing to be happy (expect maybe air, food, water and love/friendship). We get rid of anything we don't really need and by this actually free ourselves to accept the whole world.

(3) The Meaning Of Life

The last part of his lecture was about the meaning of life and he promised right on the beginning to answer the question eventually. So I was quite interested and excited to hear it.
First he asked into the audience, who had thought about the question, why she/he was born, why she/he would be in this world before. Surprisingly for me very few people raised there hand (I often thought about this question, and my best answer I could come up with so far, is that we can choose the meaning ourselves and find a meaning that fills us and makes us happy).
Eventually he really gave an answer:

the meaning of why we are born is to live

It sounds pretty simple, but then the best answers are usually the simplest ones. Also if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. And at least concerning me, that is the best answer I got so far (I am excluding the obvious biological meaning here "to reproduce" here, since we are looking for a deeper meaning than that).

That's it for now, I hope I gave you some thoughts to think about.


Saturday, 28 June 2008

レビュー: 暴走族 Review: Speed Tribes

Today I want to introduce to you another wonderful book, which allows you detailed, interesting and fascinating insights into Japanese culture. But not the culture you hear about in the news and commercials, no this book talks about Japan's crime scene, Japan's porn industry and all the grey areas in between.

Speed Tribes
by Karl Taro Greenfeld

Karl Taro Greenfeld, born in Kobe, has a Japanese mother and an American father. Therefore the book can be enjoyed both in English and Japanese, both written by him. One day he realized how boring normal corporate life is and decided to delve into Japan's underground. He had stories about this underground, stories about やくざ Yakuza or 暴走族 Bousouzoku (Motorcycle Gangs) but he knew as good as nothing about them.

In his book he will take a closer look at most of such scenes and modern phenomenon by following the footsteps of one of its representative members for a while. This makes the reading even more enjoyable, since every chapter introduces a new actually living character, who's story is henceforth told in vivid and living stories as well as shared feelings and anxieties. Also since the scenes are not all without interrelations it is interesting to learn about a scene mentioned earlier in the story of another character. Like that the reader's knowledge and mental image about Japan's underground is gradually built up puzzle piece by puzzle piece.

International Oppinions

In place of the kimonoed ladies and the men in grey flannel suits who form so much of our sense of Japan, Greenfeld pulls back the curtain on a much more colorful and disaffected group: gangsters, good-time girls, gold-toothed bikers and punks... As young, hip and plugged in as his subjects, Greenfeld provides a racy, knowing portrait of the people who are usually cropped out of the country's official portrait of itself.
Pico Iyer - Time

Greenfeld accesses contemporary Japanese culture at levels of resolution unavailable elsewhere. I know of no better or more enjoyable work in the subject. Writers of diction will be ripping Greenfeld off for decades to come.
William Gibson

I added the second one, not only because I like Gibson and his Cyberpunk novels very much, but also because by reading Speed Tribes, Gibson's images of a computer/machine human coexistence world, where not everything is pretty came alive. And not as a dark future depiction, but as the Tokyo and Japan of now.


Greenfeld talks about 12 different scenes down at the Japanese underground, all of which are interesting and fascinating to read. Here are some examples:

Tats: The Speed Tribes

Follow Tats who has his own chapter of a Bosouzoku Motorcycle Gang and waits for second chance of a big run, he experienced when he was still fresh on his saddle. A big run where lots of motorcycle gangs confronted the police at a beach and gave them a hell of a trouble and many injuries.

Choco Bon-Bon And Emi: The Perfect Tuna

Choco Bon-Bon refers to male testicles and is the nick name of a famous porn star of the 90s and perfect tuna is porn industry slang for a new 18, 19 year old girl, who is completely new to the porn industry and literally cached from the street with the promise of much money. In this chapter you follow both of these characters and by their eyes and dreams explore the porn industry of Japan, one of the biggest in the world...

Kazu And Hiroko: The Map Maker

The laws concerning drugs are very strict on Japan, but strangely enough they focus in equal parts on consumer and dealer, meaning the dealer's sentence will be about the same of the one time consumer. This makes the Japanese Drug Market very attractive for dealers.
However the drug market is pretty knew and the Yakuza know not how to get the stuff yet, so what they need is Map Makers, someone to organize the deals with foreigners who bring in the stuff.

Ozaki: The True Believer

右翼 Uyoku or in English the Right Wing. Nationalists, anti-foreigner groups and deniers of the World War 2 massacres. Sounds just like the Nazi scene in Germany and indeed it is quite similar. With one difference: the ideology might be really important for the 右翼 Uyoku, but most are in for the money to make. Interrelated with the similar minded Yakuza, the Uyoku with their black vans and speakers, figured out where to get money from. But yes of course the utopic goal is to give Japan back his World War II power and conquer Asia once more.

Snix: The Otaku

In an education system where all that counts is information procession and storage, it is not surprisingly for someone like the お宅 Otaku to show up. A person who is focused on a specific field, person, manga, weapon category, vehicle, etc. and henceforth wants to know everything about it. Every little fact there is to know, like which childhood diseases his idol had or the velocity of the armor-piercing ammunition of the German Pzk Mark IV.
However all Snix learned because of his interest in idols was where to get information from by hacking into corporate networks and accessing information not meant for the masses. Know that he has grown old, he found himself in need of money to make a living. With this incentive he found out that the information he accesses with his deck in this networks are worth quite a lot to certain companies focused on advertising and looking for target customers.


This should be enough to arouse your interested. The other chapters are not less interesting or fascinating and talk about: protection money, motorcycle thieves, clubbing and sex, the infamous Tokyo Toudai 東大 University (the Harvard of Japan), the idol music industry, hostesses, and problem kids (homestay).

The book is a must read for everyone interested in Japanese culture, to get a wider more in depth look at parts of the society usually behind a curtain for foreigners. For others it will be a fascinating exciting journey through the underground of a society who boasts of being the safest in the world.


Saturday, 21 June 2008

宿無し Homeless

After visiting the SquareEnix Show Case, on my way back to Shinjuku station I choose to go underground. With this decision I crossed one of the biggest homeless communities in Tokyo.

Homeless Underground City

Tokyo has incredible areas underground, you can basically walk to your destination above or underground. Big parts of this underground are never closed and thus offer shelter and some warmth for thousands of homeless people in Tokyo. Under the surface they built their own homes using umbrellas, cartons, sheets and other things. They developed their own little community and culture down there.

I crossed such settlements many times, but this time I wanted to know more about them. So I decided to talk a little to them. Having in mind later writing here about it, I decided to make some pictures on the way. Of course I politely asked, whether it was ok to take pictures. Surprisingly more than half of the people asked me please not to take pictures of them. After asking why, they answered, they don't want to be items being displayed to other peoples like "Oh look how those people life". Some people didn't mind me taking pictures of them and having the intention to bring those people close to you and make you understand them, rather than seeing them as curiosity or even looking down on them, I will share the pictures with you.

So I started talking to some of them and asked some questions that were bothering me.

mika: "I am curious, from where do you get money for food? I never saw a single homeless person begging in this city."

homeless: "Well what do you think? We are working to afford some food. It is not enough for a home, but enough to survive. Well about half the people in here are working and they will share the food with those currently unemployed."

mika: "Wow this is really interesting! So if you excuse the question, why are those currently unemployed not begging for money. I am from Germany and even in smaller towns, you see many people doing that."

homeless: "You might look down on us, I don't know, but we have our pride and honor. We are Japanese and we don't beg to others for food or money, even if our situation is dire. We might have not much left, but we still have our pride, honor and self respect."

mika: "And that is more many rich people will ever have, believe me!"

After having learned that I am from Germany, someone started to talk about World War II, where his father fought in a fighter plane and was shot down. Then they talked about Germany and Japan having had a similar fate and still being different. And then they started talking about Japan and their life:

homeless: "I think Japan is a great country, I think it is the best country in the world. If you compare it to other Asian countries, you can easily see that with our hard labor we left them far behind. Before and during the Bubble time it was us, the people in here, who made Japan what it is today. With these hands we made Japan the great country it is today and we are proud of it"

Remark: During the Bubble Economy in Japan in the 1980s the economy, stock prices and land had an enormous growth. At its peak the real estate of Tokyo was more worth than that of the entire United States Of America. Many people got incredibly rich at this time; however now it is common knowledge that the blue collar workers at the bottom never had any gain from this boost. The growth was carried on their backs and eventually broke them, but nobody ever looked down. And now here they are, the heroes of modern Japan, who have made Japan a economic super powers who is able to compete in equal states with the USA and Europe, homeless in underground shelters hidden from the eyes of the people who do not want to see them.

After talking to some group, even though having heard what they said, I wanted to give them some money. However they refused and thanked me for talking to them, for seeing them for realizing they exist.
Even more another man even gave me a new looking jacket of his as a present for talking to him. Yes I went to the homeless people and they gave ME a present. What amazing people.

he gave me the jacket he is holding as a present

Even more. There is so much potential in those people. Most of them know really useful crafting, repairing, construction skills or other, and they have proven to have quite some organizational skills maintaining their underground cities and food/job sharing. If someone would give them perspective, awaken some old dreams in them and treat them as the heroes they are, I am sure those people are able to achieve incredible things.

you can also find some smaller communities on the surface under bridges

Later that day I talked to my dear friend Eliza about them, and she is thinking about doing something with those people in her summer break. I hope it works out and I am curious about the results.

mika voice of the voiceless

SquareEnix Show Case

Today I was invited to a Summer Solstice party in the evening, but before that, I decided to browse a bit through things I have not seen yet in Tokyo.

My target was the legendary SquareEnix Show Case hidden in 新宿 Shinjuku between the huge 東京都庁 Tokyo Metropolitan Office and the at least as huge Opera City Tower.

SquareEnix Show Case

You can probably notice the store already from afar by the people standing in front or around it. In the inside you will find even more of them, most Final Fantasy Fans, sometimes even wearing Cosplay.

The interior is not big, but there are quite some cool items displayed. In the entrance hall you can find plush figures of all kinds of Final Fantasy Monsters, little collectible figures and the newest Games and Soundtracks.

In the rear is a small corridor where you can find pretty cool T-Shirts which are priced around 7000 Yen.

The main eye catching attraction is a special somewhat higher room in the rear, completely clad in black. Inside you can find the outfit of Final Fantasy characters made for Real Life wearing.

Looks pretty awesome, huh?
(sorry for the flash)

There is also a real life sized Sephiroth puppet buried in a coffin lying in the ground.

Apart from that, you can find all kinds of awesome but expensive jewelry and figures in here.

That's it, not much to see, but definitely worth a visit, since it is free and since there is quite a bit to see. Also the collectible figures I mentioned at the beginning are only between 300 and 500 Yen and thus affordable and a nice Omiyage (Present for friends) or for yourself ^_^.


Friday, 20 June 2008

初夢 Hatsuyume

初夢 Hatsuyume

Are you dreaming? Do you remember your dreams?
Well you should try to remember at least one dream, the first dream you have in the year.

Lucky Dream

According to Japanese legend, this dream will foretell your luck for the coming year. However it is common not to sleep at all in the night between 12/31 and 01/01, that is why in the old Japanese calender January 2nd is marked as 初夢Hatsuyume, as most people will have their first dream in the night between the first and second of January. But don't worry, if you happen not have dreamed this night, it does not mean your chance is over. You can also have your Hatsuyume on the third, fourth and so on.


Now how to read this dream?
In Japan there are a couple of elements in a Hatsuyume which traditionally foretell good luck. Best known are the first three, ordered like this:

一富士、二鷹、三茄子 - 1. Fuji, 2. Hawk, 3. Eggplant

Mount Fuji is almost holy for Japanese, but in this case it might foretell good luck, being the highest "mountain" in Japan brining the highest luck. The hawk was regarded as the strongest bird and most clever bird, giving the dreamer similar attributes. Finally the eggplant, Jap. nasu, is more disputed. Earlier it was a really expensive vegetable only rich people could afford, so dreaming of it could signify earning enough money to eat nasu. Another theory states that since the most famous shogun of Japanese history 徳側家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu loved nasu, dreaming of nasu could foretell getting Tokugawa's good attributes or status and power.

The list continues with:

四扇、五煙草、六座頭 - 4. Fan, 5. Tobacco, 6. Blind Musician

A fan is a symbol for Japan's aristocracy and samurai and Tobacco was an imported luxury. But why number six is a blind musician, nobody could tell me. Maybe it signifies focusing on one strength and being successful with it, instead of wanting everything at once. It could also mean gaining in one area but loosing in another, but I am wildly guessing here.


In earlier times the Japanese were so convinced of the power of the Hatsuyume, that would try really hard dreaming of any of the above. For example it was already known that it is very likely that the things you have seen during the day might appear in your dream. So many people would travel to Mount Fuji, or at least look at paintings of it, try to get an eggplant or watch the sky for hawks. Then when the night would clad Japan in black, they would think of these three things when lying on their 布団 Futon hoping that the images would continue in their dreams.

Annual Event

Whether the dream has real power or not, interpreting dreams is always fun and interesting, especially with friends. Also most people celebrate Silvester or New Year with family and/or friends, so why not add one more event to your new year schedule and meet the 2nd or 3rd of January and talk about the Hatsuyume you had this year?

Unfortunately I forgot my Hatsuyume for this year already...

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

厚木見物第六: スーパー Atsugi City Tour Part 6: Super Markets

Good Day Ladies and Sirs,

today I will give you some overview of where to get your groceries in Atsugi. The prices between supermarkets vary really much, and it is advisable to pick a cheap one, that satisfies your needs and offers enough quality. Let's see what we have in this town. I will order them by average prize from cheapest to most expensive.

1. 100 Yen Grocery Super Market

Going westwards from the north exit of the station following the rail tracks, you can get to a 100 Yen store specializing in groceries. It is the cheapest you can find, but the selection is quite limited and the quality is not really the best. Anyway it offers a lot other supermarket offer too to much cheaper prices.

My advice is to start a grocery shopping spree here and then get what you are still missing at another supermarket nearby.

I recommend buying spices here

they also have some cleaning utensils

2. 100 Yen Miscellaneous Stuff Store

Another very useful store can be found in イトーヨーカドー (Itouyoukadou). Like the previous store it is a 100 Yen store, but it focuses on every day life articles, instead of food. That means here you can get all kinds of pen & paper articles, tape, wrapping paper, tools, pots, cutlery, cups, glasses and all kinds of cooking utensils. But also rain coats, bike repair stuff, and outdoor equipment. It is really useful stuff and you are going to save a lot of money buying it here.





pen & paper articles

lunch boxes

3. イトーヨーカドー Itouyoukadou

In the Basement of イトーヨーカドー Itouyoukadou you can find another super market. It offers a good selection and the cheapest prices after the 100 Yen Super Market. The Quality is also ok.

4. Saty

In the Basement of Saty you can find the super market in Atusgi with the broadest selection and best quality. However the prices are higher than in イトーヨーカドー Itouyoukadou and a shopping spree here can cost you a lot. Still it was my most frequently visited super market, since I was able to find almost anything I needed here.

real pasta and tomato sauce

good selection of Japanese tea

I always bought my rice here: 1 kg, 2kg or even 5 kg

lots of fresh vegetables and fruits

however concerning fruits Bananas are the only affordable fruit in Japan

sauces for Yakisoba or Okonomiyaki (see my recipies category)

paste for Miso soup

Yaki Soba

cheap non genetically engineered Tofu

and Nato

5. Kimisawa

This super market's selection is worse than the previous two and the prices are the highest in Atusgi. However it lies conveniently close to the Youth Heim, Asahi Kasei interns are stationed in. Therefore it's your best choice, when living in 岡田 Okada and needing something very quickly or being to lazy to go all the way to the city center.

6. My Lord Food Market

In the basement of My Lord (right below Hon Atsugi Station) you can find a lot of stores. But two of the stick out and are worth mentioning, because the offer imported goods from all parts of the world. For example you can find real müsli (muesli) and cheese there. Apart from that my shopping list there contained: herbal tea, olives (other super markets have them, but here they a big jar is only 200Yen), mustard, and sweets from other countries.


a good selection of sweets

and imported goods like Sauerkraut or Pickles

I always bought my muesli here


has affordable olives

a good selection of jam

and a lot of tea (also fair trade organic tea!)

7. 晴れ屋 The Sunshine Store

Mentioned before in the first part of the Atsugi City Tour, the fair trade store close to Saty and Parco also offers a nice variety of food. The prices are a little higher than those at Saty or Itouyoukadou, but the quality is of course the best (organic food), you are buying fair trade (the people planting and harvesting the food get your money) and you can even find a lot of Items, you will not find elsewhere (e.g. vegetable soup stock, vegetable curry, ...)

apples are actually cheaper than in Saty

地図 Map

I prepared a Google Map, to show you the locations of the super markets. You can find it here.

Feel free to edit it and add your own recommendations, also be sure to add them here in the comments! :)

Good Shopping, Good Cooking, Good Eating