Category Archives: Taoism

Asia Society -Photos of Early 20th Century Japan

http://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/40-colorized-photos-early-20th-century-japan?utm_campaign=socialmedia&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialmedia

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Koto Jazz 74: playing @ 101 Public House pub

Half time playing a piano gig at the pub in South Bend/ Raymond, the oyster capital of the world. And two Koto Jazz fans! This was so much more relaxing than a few weeks ago when I played at the Seattle Center. Ahhh, the taste of the ocean air , a couple koto jazz tunes . . .. and more oysters . …

Koto Jazz 66: Gong Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year! (belated)

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!

Koto Jazz 59: Stones & Rock Gardens

The Way of Zen and Zen values of simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizo), and refined elegance are similar values expressed in the Japanese garden, and defines Japanese rock gardens. Stones and rocks derive from the natural banks of rivers and creeks. They provide accents for distinctive garden areas, including walkways, waterfall bases, creek borders, ponds and lakes, and garden sections. Rocks and pebbles of rock gardens are raked into patterns of flowing streams, undulating waves, and accents around larger stone island or bonsai trees, and other features. Other patterns can be checkered or angled or alternating lines.

Large feature stones are grouped by themselves or they are grouped in threes with a taller boulder standing regally behind two shorter boulders, presenting balance. All three stones are generally vertical, with the taller stone in the center representing The Buddha (one who has become enlightened), and the two other stones on each side representing two Bodhisattvas (one who is “bound for enlightenment; the two stones are called sanson). They are placed next to water, a body of water or water feature, as images of water features, natural hills and/or mountain scenes.

Bodies of water are represented in the Japanese garden by a pond or lake. In the case of dry Zen rock gardens where sand and gravel represent the sea or ocean, the stones would be placed next to or in the sand/ pebble garden. The scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China, as does the garden aesthetic and spirituality of Zen Buddhism. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the seashore.

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 29: Health Science & Shinto Spirituality

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.

Koto Jazz 25: Pogodas & The 5 Elements

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:

  • Kozan No Kaze [or Alpine Wind (Storm)] (the 1st song in this medley),
    – Koto Jazz medley live at the Brass Tacks, Seattle (July 5th). Kozan no Kaze is inspired by world renowned jazz piano player, Li Pui Ming’s style of jazz which I call “chaos jazz” (my piece is also more “chaos jazz” than koto jazz). I will also feature this piece when I play at the Royal Room, Seattle in September (see events section)
  • 1) The Wind:

  • Koto Jazz 17: Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”.
  • Koto Jazz 8: The Wind and the Spirit.

  • 2) Water:

  • Koto Jazz 24: Waterfalls
  • Koto Jazz 7: Water, Water, Everywhere

  • 3) Earth (including plants):

  • Koto Jazz 21: Moss in Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 20: Flowers in Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 19: Japanese Maple Trees
  • Koto Jazz 16: Bonsai
  • Koto Jazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens

  • 4) Fire:

  • Koto Jazz 12: Japanese Lanterns (& Lighting)

  • 4) Void or Spirit:

  • Koto Jazz 13: Koto Jazz & the Shinto Source
  • Reflections on Service & Spirituality