Category Archives: japanese trees & plants

Koto Jazz 41: Duality

Everything in life can have its duality.

Personally, it’s engrained in my blood and DNA. I am bi-racial, bi-cultural, once bilingual (not currently), and definitely bi-spiritual, among others.

In addition to “bi-“, there’s a duality in general, a duality of perspectives, a duality of existence. There is a duality in the political arena, a duality in social arenas too.  You walk down the street and some people are more interested in suburban convenience and others are more interested in access to the entertainment, arts and culture that the big city provides. There is a duality of east and west. There is a duality in science- one that believes in a supreme order and the other believes that all sources of life derive from chaos and chaos theory.

For me,  the great experience of life is its collision of the unknown into a synthesis of something more, which in its social form could be the defining characteristic we call “the great American experiment”. It doesn’t offer answers to the unknown, but it does offer freedom from needing to have answers. It is in the “process” of life that we achieve complete immersion in the present moment; that we achieve “understanding” which is quite different from “knowing”. Knowing has definition and finality; understanding neither seeks nor achieves either.

In gardening, the minimalist Zen garden contrasts with what we can call “maximalist” English garden. The maximalist English garden style offers a plethora of colors and floral varieties; mostly perennials. I love low maintenance, constantly flowering perennials (see the above photo)! At the same time, too much variety and color can be overwhelming.

On the other end of the gardening spectrum is the minimalist Zen garden. Again, a minimalist Japanese Zen influence can be settling with the scene of open space, simplicity and elegance. It offers room for the eye to appreciate the simple elegance of a single stone, a purple iris, or bonsai tree. It offers the opportunity for the mind to experience space, and fill the gaps with one’s own creative options conjured up in their own minds; and yes, even freedom from the need to fill in the space and find the beauty in open, uncluttered, undefined space.

In music, Koto jazz is in itself a bi-cultural duality. It proposes a piano synthesis of eastern influences sounds, melodies, and themes with western style jazz embellishments, rhythm and beat. Traditional Japanese nationals and westerners may be offended by their perceived in-authenticity of koto jazz as it takes from the purity of traditional music and modernizes it with new sounds, rhythm, and embellishments. In these cases, koto jazz music is not a fit for them. For those interested in exploring this duality in music and collision of two cultures and musical styles, koto jazz is an ideal genre for you.

Koto Jazz 40: Stream Gardens

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.

and Black Pine Bonsai

Koto Jazz 38: Japanese Maple Varieties

There are hundreds of varieties of Japanese maples. They tend to be divided into dwarf, green leaf, red leaf, and large tree varieties. The Japanese maple tree often refers to maple tree cultivars from Acer palmatum, Acer japonicum, and Acer shirasawanum. Japanese maple varieties feature feathery and weeping brightly colorful leaves that turn to even more resplendent colors in the fall.


Acer Palmatum, Higasayama Japanese Maple

The dwarf Japanese maple has predominantly yellow leaves with occasional pink pointed ends. In the fall, the Japanese maple leaves turns brilliant orange-red colors. The Higasayama dwarf maple has pink buds in the spring that spread into shades of cream, pinkish, and/or green.


Dwarf Japanese Maple

The Green Cascade Japanese maple is a mid-sized maple tree with drooping green leaves that turn to deep orange- red in the fall.

The Autumn Moon Maple and Moonlight Maple varieties show a brilliant golden color, which can turn into bright orange, pink and red in the fall.


Moonlight Maple

Hogyoku is a sturdy green leaf variety. It is also a mid-sized maple that grow to 15-feet. From a fairly pedestrian green, it can turn to glorious yellow, orange and red colors in the fall. It handles the heat better than most Japanese maples.

Beni Kawa is another Japanese green leaf maple variety, although these smaller, lighter leaves bring out a delicate, lighter green color as well. It thrives in colder weather than the Hyogoku, which is one of the few Japanese maples that withstands a hot climate.


Beni Kawa Japanese Maple

The Katsura maple is likewise a small leaved, light, pale yellow-orange when emerging. Toward the summer, leaves turn light yellow green, then yellow into orange in the fall.

The Emperor Japanese maple varieties are also mid-sized trees that are named for their deep red or purple colors.


Emperor Japanese Maple

Another popular reddish- purple variety is the lace maple, such as the Bloodgood and Burgundy lace, which feature the reddish weeping feathery leaves.


Bloodgood Japanese Maple

The tall Red Filigree lace maple retains its reddish purple color throughout the summer and turns a bright crimson in fall. Overall look is of the weeping effect of the dissectum along with fine twigs.

The Sango-kaku or Coral Bark maple has a light green throughout the spring into summer seasons, and then a bright yellow glow, even pinkish in the fall. After the leaves fall off the tree, the unique bright red coral bark is highlighted.


Sango-kaku, Coral Bark Maple

Koto Jazz 37: Zen “Inspired” Garden

Here is my first effort at creating a simple zen- “inspired” garden in a narrow side yard of our family home on the coast of Oregon. Since this is a vacation spot, it is intended to maximize simplicity in beauty without the maintenance required for most zen gardens (e.g., raking highlights around the featured rocks, watering, and pruning). More may be added later, such as a tall pogoda toward the back and a sumac to commemorate our family roots in Colorado (which grows wild in Boulder’s green belt, and light up the Flatiron’s Green and Bear Mountains with their fiery- orange and red color images in the fall.


Sumac in Fiery Red

TORII GATE:
It includes the Torii gate, where the objects of its true meaning frivolously dance and sing, “where birds dwell”. It is very common to see birds in our bird house and among tree branches in the back yard, including finches, chickadees, robins, but also hummingbirds, Stellar’s (blue) jays, and an occasional bald eagle perched on the top of one of the large fir trees. The Torii gate symbolizes the entrance to a special place of natural beauty.

As a basic requirement, this Torii gate has a kasagi, the top beam of the Torii, angled at each end. It also featured a miniature cross beam, the nuki, separate from the upper kasagi beam, but not too far below it. The hashira are the two supporting pillars which hold up the Torii. This is the simplest and most basic form of Torii gate as it lacks additional features common to most Shinto Toriis. In the middle, we intend to add a small gakuzuka support post with our Harada family crest on it. The gakuzuka will connect the kasagi and nuki at the center.

STONES:
Two large stones are featured in this zen garden, one symbolizing the crane (in the background) and the other (located in the lower front center of the above image) representing the tortoise. Though the slight bluish colors do not represent anything in zen garden traditions, they do accent the stones quite nicely. Both symbolize longevity. Various mosses are placed around the front of the two stones, including the standard sheet moss, fern mosses, and hair cap or tree moss (a bit hidden on the side as they are more sensitive to sun exposure). The gravel is basic pre-existing standard grey gravel that has been always been in our side yard to reduce yard maintenance.

Hair Cap/ Tree Moss

EARTH ELEMENTS:
The garden also includes a coral bark maple tree already beginning to change colors before the autumn season from bright yellow into fabulous orange and pinkish red colors.

Coral Bark Japanese Maple

It also includes two bamboo grass clumps on the left and a meandering white stone path from the front to the back. To the right of the stone path is a clump of naturally growing crocosmia.

Orange Crocosmia

There are a couple of wild plants which I left in this zen garden. In the background, you may see a naturally growing wild golden tansy shining resplendent yellow flowers on tall stems behind the maple tree. Also, you will find in front of the lantern, a wild broad-leafed weed with multiple stalks, which I am yet not able to identify.

Behind the Torii gate is our back yard which features a small circular nature trail highlighted by four large old growth Douglass firs. Crocosmias grow naturally throughout the back yard, which feature honeysuckle-like orange flowers at the end of tall stems (hummingbirds and bees love them!), interspersed by wild purple asters, and a range of fern varieties. There is something special about this back yard as my late father insisted this part of the yard remain in its natural state. So while this Torii is a transition from the zen garden to the wild and natural part of the yard, it is also symbolic of a spiritual transition from the physical to the spiritual worlds.

LANTERN:
I have also placed a black lantern toward the back of the garden in front of the Torii gate and to the left of the maple tree. The lantern is elevated on a small hill to make it more pronounced. It is embellished with black pebbles my mother and I picked up from the ocean shores. The pebbles have been smoothed and rounded by the hands of churning ocean waves :-).

Black Creek Pebbles

As Shinto – Buddhism are often interchangeable, I have placed this lantern to light up the pathway of this garden Shinto shrine/ zen garden, as lanterns traditionally light up the path way to a Buddhist temple.

KotoJazz 19: Japanese Maple Trees

The two English translations of the Japanese maple, or “momiji”, are “baby’s hands” and “becomes crimson leaves”. The first meaning has some Japanese cultural significance. It is believed that passing a newborn baby through the branches of a Japanese maple encourages a long, healthy and prosperous life for the child. The second meaning is best described by a popular Japanese expression, “Yama ga moeru” which means “burning mountain in autumn”. You may have the opportunity to see an entire mountainside of wild Japanese maples turn a fiery red in the autumn season.

Here are koto music about trees, leaves, and related themes:

  • Japanese Garden
  • Through The Leaves
  • Hidden Inside The Leaves
  • Red Koto
  • Sounds for the Soul: Koto & Nature
  • Japanese & Chinese Koto Harp & Shakuhachi Flute
  • My Sakura, Koto Jazz by Kenji
  • Raindrops from Trees (Ki Kara no Ame no Shizuku), Koto Jazz by Kenji
  • Black Pine Bonsai, Koto Jazz by Kenji

    The most popular of Japanese maples are the red and green variations, but there are countless (over 1,000) variations of colors, sizes and shapes of both the leaves and trees. The Japanese red maple has been cultivated for over 300 years. The Iroha- momiji, or green leaf Japanese maple is native to the Korean Peninsula, China, and Japan. The wild Japanese maple has green leaves in the spring and summer that turn yellow, orange, bright red, pink, or purple in the fall. Younger trees take on the shape of a large challis or bowl, while more mature trees are layered and have a dome-shaped image. Somewhat unique to the Japanese maple is that a parent Japanese maple tree may produce seedlings that have completely different shapes, colors, sizes and structures than its parent (a message here for our own parenthood?).

    The flowers come in spherical clusters and have five purple or red sepals and five white petals. They give the bare branches an attractive red glow in early spring.

    It is customary for Japanese people to take an annual autumn trek to the mountains of Japan, known as momiji-gari (“Maple tree hunting/ viewing”). This is similar to Canadians and Americans who take annual treks to the mountains for viewing the yellowing of aspen in the western Rocky Mountains; or the east- and midwesterners viewing the coloring of maple trees. However, momiji-gari has a spiritual significance. For most Japanese, this annual trek is also a Shinto spiritual trip to commune with the spirits who dwell in the trees, the mountains, and elsewhere in the Natural world.

  • KotoJazz 10: Cherry Blossom Season

    Cherry blossom season has arrived. Consider the cherry blossoms today. Sakura, which means cherry blossom in Japanese, is a symbol of patience as it is the first of flowers to bloom in the spring after a long winter. When cherry blossoms bloom even before leaves are formed on trees, it represents the end of winter.

    Whether you are in Washington DC, the Midwest, at the Seattle Arboretum or the Bay area Japanese Tea Garden, cherry blossoms are blooming everywhere. March 27 commemorates our National Cherry Blossom Festival. It would do us well as is done in all parts of Japan, to take a break from your daily toiling and spinning, to sit underneath a cherry blossom over sake or your non-alcohol beverage of choice, and see if a cherry blossom flower petal falls in your glass. If we established a policy for the people in DC or people everywhere to sit among the cherry blossoms in this special season of life and renewal with friends and foes alike, it would transform us where ever we gather.

    So consider the cherry blossoms today and the lilies of the field which neither toil nor spin, yet kings and queens, politicians and billionaires in their best attire are not arrayed like these. Let us consider these.

    There is no shortage of songs about flowers or cherry blossom images in Japanese koto music. Today, with the celebration of cherry blossoms and spring flowers, I begin with the most famous of these Japanese koto pieces, Sakura, and found a few others worth noting:

  • My Sakura, Koto Jazz version by Kenji
  • Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka(ra) Hana (e tobu), Koto jazz by Kenji
  • Hanami Odori
  • Japanese Flower Dance Folk melodies.
  • Tribute to Japanese Painter Higashiyama Kayiyi: I Winter Ice Flower, by Eileen Huang.
  • The Flower of Hsing-Jang, Oriental Flute Ensemble.
  • Saika “Accented Flower”, by Satomi Saeki;
  • Cherry Blossom, by Keiko Matsui.
  • Yamato (Japan): I. Ka (Flowers), by Aiko Hasegawa (koto music).
  • Lotus Flower, by Shakuhachi Sakano (shakuhachi flute).
  • Keshi no Hana (Puppy Flowers), by Ayako Hotta-Lister.
  • Hanamomiji – Maple Leaf Flowers, by Yoshinori Fumon.
  • Cherry Blossom Song, by Janine Cooper Ayres.
  • Japanese Flower songs
  • Over The Cherry Blossoms and Flower Road, by Naomi Koizumi, Flower of Sounds.
  • Japanese Lotus Flower
  • Symbol of the Flower:

    The vast array of flowers blooming outside of our door today, represent transformation, renewal, rebirth of ourselves — our thoughts, attitudes, perspectives, feelings, sensations. We may choose to take in their beauty as reflections of who we are. Every part of our lives we are in the presence of an efflorescent moment, and we choose to bring it out in our selves. We choose to seek out and summon the goodness and beauty in others. What better way to start every moment of our life with the flowers of spring front and center in our mind?

    At the Haiku society, you can find haiku poems about flowers here. It seems Robert Frost had something to say about the flowers in spring time too. For my taste, I’ll stick with the cherry blossom color of red in “A Red Flower” by Claude McKay.