Traditional Chinese melodic patterns by cellist Tina Luo merged with Peter Kater on the keyboard makes for a powerful fusion combination –
Traditional Chinese melodic patterns by cellist Tina Luo merged with Peter Kater on the keyboard makes for a powerful fusion combination –
Yom Kippur sends a powerful message of forgiveness, service and charity that I hope some day will be the touchstone of our nation, at least as much as other holidays. It is a time of relevance- when “the stone the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone.” It is a time of making relevant what should be relevant – the visit to the Seattle area of China President Xi Jinping; the visit of the first Jesuit Pope to the states. All of this is relevant to today’s modern puzzle. I’ve seen mockeries of the contrast between the two – the Chinese President’s message of business and trade versus the Popes message of love? People calling it a joke at the expense of the Chinese President? Do not forget he comes from a regime that helped take hundreds of millions of people (pushing 600 million people) out of poverty in China. It’s not perfect. Do you know of any political or non-political regime in human history to have done so much? Does it have to be a comparison between the two?
It’s historic they are both here to bring world attention to important matters. That said, I would take away their visits in exchange for a nation who celebrates the Jewish New Year every year, sets down its work on the sacred day of rest on Yom Kippur (this last Tuesday-Wednesday) and contemplates and prays for the power of atonement in our lives. I know I need it desperately in my life. Most Americans don’t know what Yom Kippur means. Don’t forget – this Christian nation – your church’s founder, the good Jew from Nazareth? He not only celebrated Yom Kippur, he lived it.
Come join a celebration at the end of the Chinese New Year on March 6th, 6-8pm, Friday, Dragonfly Holistic Healing across from the Fremont bridge is having a “Chinese New Year” celebration open house, featuring koto jazz piano by Chris Kenji at Dragonfly Holistic Healing, 760 N. 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103; Fremont neighborhood. Website: DragonflyHolisticHealing.com. Come join us for a Free Admission party. Gang Xi Fat Cai!
In my last performance at the Royal Room November 30th, I told the stories about how each of the Koto jazz songs I played came to be. The following I hope serve as a glimpse into the koto jazz process as I reflect on a particular part of the natural world and seek to bring out its natural majesty and beauty in a musical tune. Tide Pools l & The Wind, for example, I wrote a few weeks ago.
Shiyodamari To Nami (Tide Pools & Waves) – This smooth jazz song was inspired by viewing tide pools on the Oregon and Washington coasts, feeling the motions of wind dashing upon tide pools and waves; their undulating patterns; their graceful dance on sandy shores. When we leave our world whatever it is and enter the world of the majestic wind, we see that the Wind breathes the Spirit of life onto our world and we can be left with nothing but awe and inspiration.
Koto Jazz tunes, though more definitively classical koto in style and sound, may be associated with Japanese American jazz. According to the “Music in Asian America” blog, Asian American jazz is a genre of jazz that arose in the late 20th century in the United States. Asian American jazz is often referred to as a hybrid of African American jazz with Asian influences (see Music In Asian America). It is music played by Japanese/Asian musicians, or jazz music that is in some way connected to Japan, Japanese or Asian culture. Japan has the largest jazz fan base in the world, according to some sources. The diverse styles and genres of these musicians demonstrates the individual unique expressions of Asian American jazz.
The following are summaries of leading Japanese American jazz performers (click on the artists names for music samples):
Hiroshima may be the most well known Asian American fusion jazz/smooth jazz rock band. The group was formed in 1974 by Dan Kuramoto (wind instruments and band leader), Peter Hata (guitar), June Kuramoto (koto), Johnny Mori (percussion and taiko), Dave Iwataki (keyboards) and Danny Yamamoto (drums). Named for the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the band is best known for the fusing of Japanese music and other forms of world music into its playing. Among the band’s many accomplishments– their popularity in the Asian and African American communities for R&B Funk sound, opening act for Miles Davis 1990 world tour, and their 1989 original score “The Moon is a Window to Heaven” used in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.
Ryo Kawasaki (born February 25, 1947) chose a career as a jazz fusion guitarist after spending some years studying as a scientist. During the 60s he played with various Japanese jazz groups and also formed his own bands. In the early 70s he came to New York. Kawasaki is able to switch between hard bop and jazz-rock, and continues to play jazz guitar with an edgy rock influence.
Toshihiko Akiyoshi: Though born in Liaoyang, Manchuria of Japanese emigrants, Toshihiko Akiyoshi began her musical career in Japan. Akiyoshi and Tabackin (her husband) formed a 16-piece big band in 1973 composed of studio musicians a year after moving to Los Angeles. Akiyoshi’s music is distinctive for its textures and for its Japanese influence. Akiyoshi was inspired by her own Japanese musical heritage and composed with Japanese themes, Japanese harmonies, and even Japanese instruments (e.g. kotsuzumi, kakko, utai, tsugaru shamisen, etc.), all the while remaining rooted in jazz.
Gerald Oshita (1942–1992) was an American musician of Japanese ancestry who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and specialized in wind instruments, particularly those rare ones of low register. He performed and recorded with saxophones, contrabass sarrusophone, and Conn-o-sax, and also made shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flutes). Oshita’s music drew on elements of jazz as well as contemporary classical music.
Glenn Horiuchi (February 27, 1955 – June 3, 2000) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and shamisen player. He was a central figure in the development of the Asian American jazz movement, according to Wikipedia. Glenn Horiuchi was a West Coast pianist who worked to combine jazz with Asian and Western classical music. He released albums on the 80s and 90s such as Soul Note and Asian Improv.
Anthony Brown, the son of a Choctaw and African-American father and Japanese mother, is an American jazz percussionist, drummer, composer, and bandleader. He specialized in American and Asian instruments and styles in his compositions and arrangements. Brown lead a cross-cultural ensemble, the Asian American Orchestra, whose interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite was nominated for a 2000 Grammy Award. He also performed with Asian American jazz artists Jon Jang and Mark Izu.
A particular japanese cedar tree, sugi, is the national tree of Japan. Cryptomeria, also known as Japanese Cedar, was originally more function than form, but certain varieties have come to attract gardeners for its ornamental beauty. Though not related to cedars, it is in fact a bald cypress, they had been similarly exploited as a timber / lumber tree in Japan. However, their true lasting value may be in that they possess a wide variety of sizes, shapes, habitats, and textures. There are over 100 varieties, ranging from 6-80 feet in height.
As a timber source, the wood is a stunning pinkish to red in color, is a hard wood and is particularly resistant to decay. It is also used in bonsai as well as standard Japanese gardens for its draping, almost cascading needle branches, accenting a nicely designed garden (see image below).
The famous Jomon Sugi located on Yaku shima Island, Japan, is one of the world’s oldest living plants. It is estimated to be nearly 2,200 to 7,000 years old.
Reverse of many things Japanese, it is believed due to the age and varieties and other sources, that the Japanese cedar does in fact originate from Japan, though there are many species of the Japanese cedar populated across China and other parts of Asia.
Ike (池), or garden pond, has been accepted as an assumed part of the Japanese gardens, symbolizing a larger body of water, such as the sea or ocean. There are no restriction as to the size a pond can be; it really depends upon space availability. The pond or still body of water in a garden originates from China, where it is thought to represent feminine elements in the natural world, or the “yin” of yin-yang. Adding koi to the pond may presents a dramatic natural feel to wataer garden.
The spiritual pond or body of water, or kami-ike (divine ponds), represents the Japanese Shinto spiritual belief that the pond in Japanese gardens are sacred. It has been a special place of prayer and meditation. As mentioned in KotoJazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens, the scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the image of a seashore and/or mountains. If an island or stone island is placed in the pond, it represents a special divine place from where the kami came hahaguni (妣国).
The pond is the centerpiece of numerous other Japanese garden features, including the following:]
As mentioned in my last blog, Kotojazz 42: Shapes in Design & Music, I visited a number of Chinese gardens which featured rounded garden entry gates outside of Shanghai and Shenzhen.
These pedestrian passage ways, often entry gates to the garden, are known as Moon Gates. There are a number of spiritual meanings behind each part of the Moon Gate, such as the symbolic image of the moon in Chinese culture. Just as the moon rises out of the sky, the Moon Gate rises out of the earth. The harmonious shape of the moon creates an inviting spiritual, Zen-like feel to your garden entrance.
Historically, the Moon Gate had been relegated to the gardens of the wealthy, as an entry to a special place. The circle is a symbol of perfection in Chinese culture. The Moon Festival celebrates the moon at its fullest and brightest illumination. Today, the Moon Gate is available to everyone. 🙂
Songs about the Moon and the shape of the full moon:
The “winding stream garden”, otherwise known in Japan as yarimizu– is a key part of Chinese and Japanese gardens. The stream represents in Taoism the permanence of impermanence, ever flowing water that still remains the same. It has also been part of the other creative arts, such as poetry and painting in China and Japan. An important element of the stream garden are the creek rocks on the creek beds and aligning the shore lines, as well as stones and occasional bonsai- shaped pine trees and bushes, as shown in the photo above. This is an excavated and revived archaeological site of the Kyuseki stream garden in Nara, Japan. A natural stream or one recycled by a pump naturally leads into a pond, the image of a larger body of water such a lake or the sea.
The Kyuseki stream and pond garden near the Imperial palace in Nara (Japan’s original capital), dates back to the 8th Century, according to the Bowdoin University website (see Bowdoin’s Japanese garden website. This suggests the origins of “a stream banquet” (kyokusui no en) during which guests attempted to come up with an original poem before cups of wine, set floating from a point upstream, and arriving at their position along the riverbank”, according to the Bowdoin University Japanese garden website.
The Japanese garden is also derived from Buddhist divination principles, with the intention of carrying away evil while attracting good. To do this, the original Japanese garden design publication, Sakuteiki (Records of Garden Making), says the stream should cross the garden from East to West.
In college at Sophia University, I remember reading Genji-monogatori (源氏物語 The Tale of Genji), about the Heian period festival which featured the kyokusui-no-en, the Feast of the Winding Stream. It is an annual springtime event even today at Mōtsū-ji Temple, Hiraizumi.
More often than not, the Japanese garden stream is not a raging force, but a soft and gentle water flow for the contemplative nature of this type of stroll garden. Again, this offers a more meditative environment for reflection and connection to nature.
Here is sample song I wrote with the same intention called Kuriku Iwa No Hamon.
Hanakotoba literally translated means “word flower”, and is the Japanese “language of flowers”. In this practice, plants are given codes and passwords that evoke the emotion inspired by the physiological characteristics and colors of the flowers, according to Wikipedia.
There is a clear relationship between the color of flowers, the most distinctive and resplendent expression of color in the natural world, and its meaning to each individual’s and/or cultural experiences of the color. This can be deeply personal. Artists have long associated moods, feelings and emotions with certain colors. Blue for example, is associated with feeling calm and cozy, while in western culture it represents masculine competence and quality. Blues and purples can also evoke feelings of apathy. Yellow is associated with anxiety. For others, the color yellow can mean warmth, as is the case with orange and red. The color white symbolizes purity and innocence in the west, while it can represent mourning in some eastern traditions.
Though the scientific research behind it is limited, colors may impact a person’s stress level, blood pressure, metabolism, and eye stress, according to Kendra Cherry in About.com’s “Color Psychology”.
The Chinese advanced the practice of chromotherapy for healing (source: Kendra Cherry, About.com’s Color Psychology), and here are sample associations between colors and their healing properties:
Scientific Name– Japanese Name– Romaji– English Meaning–
アマリリス Amaririsu Amaryllis Shy Amarylis Flower
アネモネ Anemone Anemone Sincere Anenome Flower
紫苑 Shion Aster tataricus Remembrance
躑躅 Tsutsuji Azalea Patient/Modest Pink Azalea
ブルーベル Burūberu Bluebell Grateful
椿 Tsubaki Camellia (Red) In Love, Perishing with grace Camellia Japonica
Camellia Japonica Nobilissima
椿 Tsubaki Camellia (White) Waiting
カーネーション Kānēshon Carnation Fascination, Distinction, and Love
桜 Sakura Cherry Blossom Kind/Gentle Cherry Blossom
黄菊 Kigiku Chrysanthemum (Yellow) Imperial
白菊 Shiragiku Chrysanthemum (White) Truth Chrysanthemum
Four Leaf Clover
(四つ葉の) クローバー (Yotsuba no) kurōbā Four-leaf clover Lucky
水仙 Suisen Daffodil Respect
天竺牡丹 Tenjikubotan Dahlia Good taste Dahlia
雛菊 Hinagiku Daisy Faith
勿忘草 Wasurenagusa Forget-me-not True love Forget-Me-Not
フリージア Furījia Freesia Childish/Immature
梔子 Kuchinashi Gardenia Secret love
鷺草 Sagiso Habenaria radiata My thoughts will follow you into your dreams
ハイビースカス Haibīsukasu Hibiscus Gentle
忍冬 Suikazura Honeysuckle Generous Honeysuckle
紫陽花 Ajisai Hydrangea Pride
アイリス, 菖蒲 Ayame Iris Good News/Glad tidings/loyalty Japanese Purple Iris
ラベンダー Rabendā Lavender Faithful
白百合 Shirayuri Lily (White) Purity/Chastity
鬼百合 Oniyuri Tiger Lily Wealth Tiger Lily
朝顔 Asagao Morning Glory Willful promises Morning Glory
水仙 Suisen Narcissus Self-Esteem
パンジー Panjī Pansy Thoughtful/Caring Orange Peony
雛芥子 Hinageshi Poppy (Red) Fun-Loving
紅薔薇 Benibara Rose (Red) Love/In love
薔薇 Bara Rose (White) Innocence/Silence/Devotion White Rose
The most common instrument played alongside the koto instrument is the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). The shakuhachi made its presence in Japan from China during the Edo period as a form of Zen Buddhist meditation called suizen (blowing meditation). As described by Wikipedia, the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks is known as komusō, or priests of “nothingness” or “emptiness”. The shakuhachi is most commonly made of bamboo, its original form. The term itself is an ancient unit of measurement. The instrument is extremely versatile and seemingly limitless in range. But the most distinctive part of the shakuhachi sound is its depth and richness of tone.
Here is a basic introduction of the bamboo flute, or shakuhachi, and koto music played in harmony together. The following are some I have in my collection:
For decades, nearly all credible sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), continue to place Japan as the #1 healthiest country in the world, consistently recording the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates, among many other statistical categories. Scientists and health experts have asserted this is due to their diet — consumption of omega- 3 seafoods and seaweed. Perhaps, this is part of the picture. In Koto Jazz 24- Waterfalls and Koto Jazz 28- Beyond Prophecy, I explored the spirituality of waterfalls and the connection of spirituality to nature and energy, a crude attempt to describe the relationship between science and spirituality. This journey continues here.
I would suggest that the top contributor to Japan’s world health status is more due to its healthy Shinto spirituality (despite their ongoing depletion of natural beauty in their own country in the interest of development), and the sheer luck of their geography (abundance of waterfalls, oceans, and mountainous country that cannot be developed). Spiritually, scientifically, Japan is a Shinto- spirit filled country that takes seriously the “inter-connectedness” of our body– our body’s spiritual and physiological health– with the Natural world. It is also a country with a highly developed infusion of “Eastern medicine”; a medical community and insurance industry that supports Eastern medicine.
I have explored the health benefits of how electric ions we may receive in the presence of ocean waves, waterfalls, or old growth forests supports our pH balance. If we have a low concentration of electrons in our bloodstream, medically referred to as Acidosis (high acidic pH) (see Acidosis on Wikipedia), being present in these natural environments may increase negative electric ions in our body. An abundance of these negative ions can improve the body’s immune system. In addition to waterfalls and old growth forests (which we have successfully depleted worldwide), alkaline foods such as vegetables and some fruits can contribute to our body’s pH balance, according to Oriental Detox (see link below). Metabolism, the process which provides nutrients to our body and cells, is reinforced by negative ions, while positive ions in our bloodstream weaken our cell’s metabolism and immune system, according to Oriental Detox. High acidity, positive electric ions in the body not only harms our immune system, our body’s ability to protect ourselves from illness, but it also substantially accelerates the aging process.
To circle back to the Shinto worshipful reverence to Nature, it is only in our own personal, individual best interest to heed the call of our own inner, natural attraction to waterfalls, oceans waves, and old growth forests to replenish our bodies with the spiritual, physiological food we need to sustain our lives. Unlike the western approach to being “saved”, we can actually take action in our day to day decision making and choose to care for “the Temple of the Spirit” by giving it the spiritual, physiological food our bodies need.
In a following blog entry, I will propose how the presence of audio music and sounds can provide similar spiritual/ therapeutic/ scientific and physiological health benefits in our lives.
Every true traditional Japanese garden has a pogoda. The pogoda is distinguished from the lantern by its multiple layers of roofs. The temple pogoda, like the famous Nara Temple or the temple at San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden (pictured above), is a thin tower with 5-13 floors, each of which has its own roof. Usually made of granite or basalt, it originates from Buddhist Asia, and can be found in Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and Nepal, according to My Oriental Garden. Unique in the Japanese garden, the pogoda is the primary ornamental focal point of the garden that is recognizably made in the image of man versus God; man-made. Perhaps, this symbolizes its religious origins, Buddhism and Taoism, as the enlightened person being in harmony with the natural world.
Functionally, the pogoda and lantern are clearly distinguishable in a Japanese garden. The lantern originates from Buddhist temples to light the pathway to the temple (see more information at Koto Jazz 12: Japanese Lanterns. The pogoda on the other hand, symbolizes the temple itself.
When a pogoda features five roofs and floors, it reflects back to the five elements of Buddhism, or “godai” (“gogy” in Chinese), also referenced to describe lanterns (see above link) – Wind (kaze), Water (sui or mizu), Earth (chi or tsuchi), Fire (ho, ka or hi) and Void or Spirit (ku). Sometimes a sixth element is included, Consciousness (shiki).
Note the (Confucian) “yin” and “yang” type of qualities of the five elements. The Wind (kaze) represents inward breathing and open mindedness. In Buddhist philosophy it can also mean evasiveness on the one hand, or compassion and wisdom on the other. Water (sui or mizu) adapts to the environment and changes with the seasons. It can also be associated with defensiveness on the one hand, and adaptability and flexibility on the other. The Earth (chi) (including plants), stable and solid as a stone and confident (ideals particularly in western cultures), can also mean stubbornness and resistance to change. Fire (ka) represents human drive and passion (ideals particularly in western cultures), but also unrestrained desire. Void or Spirit (ku) represents creative energy, spontaneity, and inventiveness.
I recently wrote a piece called Alpine Wind Storm representing the complete opposite and not at all consistent with Buddhist meaning of Wind ;-/, which is featured live here; other koto songs below are more symbolic of the Buddhist intended symbolism of the Wind and the other four elements:
1) The Wind:
Japanese garden design is strongly connected to spirituality. Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism are often the source in the creation of different garden styles. They are intended to be places of peace for meditation and spiritual contemplation and prayer.
While bridges have become path ways linking garden visitors from one part of the garden to another, bridges do have spiritual meaning in Japanese gardens. Some bridges symbolize the path to paradise and immortality. The famous Kyoto garden bridge, Byōdō-in, connects the Phoenix pavilion with a small island of stones, representing the Mount Penglai or Mount Horai, the island home of the Eight Immortals of Daoist teaching.
Other special islands in the Zen Buddhist tradition, such as the crane and tortoise islands, are sacred and not accessible by bridge. If one sees a bridge to an island in this type of garden pond, these are ordinary islands called nakajima (since they are accessible to the public). See KotoJazz 9: Island of Japanese Gardens for more information.
Bridges can also simply serve as functional links between different eco-regions or sections of the Japanese garden. Stone bridges are called ishibashi. Wooden bridges are dobashi. Arched bridges are known as soribashi and flat bridges are hirabashi. While most bridges are not colored, the red painted temple bridges come from China.
Here are some interesting links to information about Japanese garden and bridges:
As a child, I always believed the work of “bonsai” to be the art of imitating natural mountain scenes above timberline. My images were of wind-blown pines standing tall alongside alpine lakes. Growing up partly in Colorado, I spent many days and nights 10k or above traversing the Continental Divide, contemplating the wonder of the crystal clarity in glacial lakes, rushing streams and falls suspended below jagged cliffs. Here are stunning, iridescent meadows interrupted only by the howling wind, or the sweet melody of mountain birds and squeak of pica. The pine trees are shaped and formed into a perfect flowing angle of branches tilted forward to bend but not break, by the powerful, magical hand of the wind. While I’d love to say this is true, it’s not true.
I never imagined it to be an art form which has swept across the Pacific into the creative hands of artists and gardeners across America. As so much of Japanese culture, the art of bonsai can be sourced from China, specifically “penjing”, the art of Chinese landscape. I had the opportunity to see this first hand during many visits to various parts of China. There were featured “penjing” gardens in the areas I visited, of which there seems to be a greater emphasis in the coupling of “penzai” (Chinese bonsai) with uniquely shaped pumice-like stones. The word bonsai does in fact come from the word penzai, both of which are translated to mean tray or pot (bon) and plantings (sai). China doesn’t appear to be as set on miniaturization as does Japan, and it reminds me how so much of Japan’s early ingenuity stems from their unique skills in miniaturizing most all things.
It is likely that “penzai” made its way to the Island of Japan from China somewhere between 600-800 A.D. when Japan initiated a number of Imperial missions to mainland China. However, bonsai first appeared in Japanese paintings in the medieval period (1100-1200, according to Wikipedia).
Here are some nice explorations of bonsai koto jazz style music: