Category Archives: zen

KotoJazz 26: Water Basins

Short and wide water basins are for the humble, literally. Water basins of this type moves the user to bend down to the earth in humility to wash or drink the water. Most all Japanese water basins are made of stone and serve both a functional and aesthetic purpose. Like the stone basin pictured above, this Japanese tsukubai water basin can be placed in a dry pool bed of black pebbles for distinctive visual effect. Originating from Buddhist purification basins (called chozubachi), water basins were used to cleanse the temple visitor before entering a Buddhist temple. This is also true of Shinto shrines, and during preparation for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. A Japanese tea garden ladle is often used to scoop up water from the stone basin to drink or wash hands.

The kiku (chrysanthemum) granite water basin is popular among the stone basins, as it is shaped like a chrysanthemum flower. To add to the aesthetic beauty, the most common way to add the image and sound of flowing or trickling water is by adding a bamboo kakei water spout (as pictured above). Kakei in this case can mean beautiful view or flowing water system.

Here are a few pieces about flowing water and water basins:

Nagare: Stream/ Flow, by Satomi Saeki

Drawing Water From a Mountain Stream, by Elizabeth Falconer

Koto Jazz: Kuriku Iwa No Hamon (Ripples On Creek Rocks)- by Kenji (short sample)

Koto Jazz: Rain drops from Trees, by Kenji

Koto Salad, by Chin Chin

The Sound of Water, by Izumi Fujikawa

The Room: The Water Basin, by Bennett Lerner

Where Peaceful Water flow, by Chris De Burgh

Medicine Waters Flow, by Albert Tenaya

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KotoJazz 21: Moss in Japanese Gardens

In Japanese Zen gardens, “each element in the Zen garden is symbolic; stones represent mountains, sand represents water, and moss represents islands” (source: see Moss Acres link below). Each element plays a role in a miniature natural scene of great beauty.

My favorite, the fern moss, is a spitting image of larger ferns with broader frays narrowing toward pointed ends. The fern moss is ideal for shaded areas and needs minimal sunlight. The fern moss, which are relatively flat, can be complemented by other moss. The tree moss, or Hair Cap moss, has the appearance of a miniature tree. Each unit grows taller and in clumps, which more effectively represents the look of an island. Likewise, the Cushion moss, grows in distinctive rounded clumps. This gives the appearance of islands a midst the bear earth or sand, which may represent the water or sea. The moss featured in the photo above of the famous Ryoan-ji Zen Garden in Kyoto, appears to be tree moss. This particular rock has always reminded me of the famous Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Mosses in Japanese rock gardens provide a very clean design and manicured appearance. Unlike grass, most all mosses are highly resilient and adaptable, and less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions of heat or cold. They simply go dormant. The moss’ unique biological structure enables it to grow places where most plants cannot, as it prefers nutrient-poor soil. Moss is able to absorb pollutants such as nitrates and ammonia, as well as humidity and nutrients directly from the air. This is why you find mosses growing virtually anywhere and on anything!

A useful tool for our daily lives, is a simple ritual the monks of Saiho-ji (near Kyoto) established for their visitors. Reminiscent of my own childhood calligraphy lessons in Tokyo, visitors to this famous moss garden and temple sit and write or trace the characters of a Buddhist scripture (sutra) while the monks chant in worshipful trans-formative music. Looking back at my calligraphy lessons at Japanese public school, this ritual is related to the calligraphy art form, which emphasizes a spiritual connection by the calligrapher with the peaceful flow and natural order of each Kanji character.

From here, visitors walk the paths of the temple and gardens, and perhaps meditate at the most famous dry Zen garden, Ryoan-ji. “Moss is the grounding element, an island of green around many of the 15 iconic rocks edged in raked white gravel,” as elegantly described by Susan Heeger of Garden Design Magazine (see link below).

Here are a few informative websites about moss:

  • Ryoan-ji Zen Garden (rock and moss garden)
  • Moss Acres
  • Real Japanese Gardens
  • Garden Design Magazine
  • Photos: Ryoan-ji Temple moss garden
  • KotoJazz 20: Flowers of Japanese Gardens

    Ikebana
    Like bonsai, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, or Ikebana, derives from Zen aesthetics and design. Carefully placed flowers are arranged elegantly with a combination of grasses and flowers. Some of these flowers are described below.

    Japanese Irises
    Irises are a classic – like cherry blossom and chrysanthemum, you’ll often see them in Japanese crests. Irises are used in water gardens, around the edge of a pond – or in dry gardens (rock, moss or gravel symbolizing a pond). Irises planted around the edges expand on the image of a pond or dry gardens as the sea or ocean. Unlike the western bearded irises, Japanese irises are commonly smaller, thinner, more delicate, and not bearded.

    Chrysanthemum
    Chrysanthemums, the national flower of Japan are symbolic of long life and health. The flower also symbolizes the autumn season. Native to China and Japan, chrysanthemums are hardy flowers, able to subsist in zones 5-9. Flowers include red, orange, yellow, white and lavender.

    Lotus
    Japan holds the lotus to be sacred, which comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. The lotus flower is likewise represented as sacred in Buddhism, symbolizing the progress of the mind toward Enlightenment. It grows from muddy depths through the waters of experience and “blooms in the sunshine of enlightenment,” according to Religion Facts. Lotus can be white, pink, red or blue. Some lotus can be perennials; survive cold winter months.

    Azaleas & “Rhodies”
    Part of the same evergreen family, azaleas and rhododendrons have similar leaves and blooms. However, azaleas, like the ones pictured above lining the garden stone steps, are much smaller in size. These are popular shrubs used in Japanese gardens. White flowering azaleas and rhododendron are used the most. Both of these flowering shrubs can be white, pink, red, orange and purple in color.

    “Hana ni arashi” (literally translated means “a storm over blossoms”), is a shortened version of, “Tsuki ni muragumo, hana ni arashi”. ” These popular Japanese proverbs mean “Life often brings misfortune at a time of great happiness” or “Nothing is certain in this world”. It is reminiscent of the popular phrase “shikataganai”, meaning “it can’t be helped”. This is the fatalistic nature of the Japanese people; fatalistic, maybe not from a western perspective of the meaning, but a general acceptance of the inevitability of things to come.

    Thoughts on Service & Spirituality

    The Shinto- Buddhist philosophy on life is that all sources of good, evil, and spirituality come from within. If you read between the lines it is also true of the Judeo- Christian traditions.

    … After all it is the well known Buddhist guru of the west who spoke of the way to the kingdom. ” The kingdom of heaven is within.”
    The evolution of the east and west spirituality each have their own diversions. It is worth noting them as integral parts of who we are and where we’ve come in this age of east-west harmonic convergence. And we need only see inside our self for clarification. What does our heart tell us in the midst of this age of distractions? Do we affirm we live in a time of spiritual and natural reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

    Life has its choices. In my own life, in every hour of the day, I have the choice to make good decisions for myself, and to be a positive presence in other people’s lives. I have the ability to take the right intuitive spiritual path. We have the opportunity to keep the whole of our self intact and yet take a chance on giving a part of it away; sharing a part of the soul and spirit with another person (giving and risk taking).

    While volunteering has been a lifetime service goal for me, in the 90s, I spent 3-5 days per week over a 6- year period volunteering at homeless shelters and soup lines. I had the good intention and idealism of good ol’ fashion American apple pie volunteerism. It was exhausting. Part of me was subconsciously competing with my siblings for my jesuitical dad’s approval (a Stockholm Syndrome-esque co-dependency). I had a sister who spent two years in Africa as a Peace Corp volunteer, a brother in the Air Force and now works for the Army, and another brother whose professional life is working to service Asian American communities at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). Tough competition. My error among many, was that I subconsciously saw it as competition. Service is never competition. If anything, it is antithetical to competition.

    While I may have done some practical good servicing the needs of others through my own volunteerism (I’ve been volunteering since I can remember), my belief about doing good in the small world of which I’m a part is now more centered, more spiritually focused. After all, how really good is volunteerism of any kind without imparting the long term permanence of the spiritual food we all seek and need? At the time, despite all the volunteer service I was doing, I failed to connect with people and truly give them what they may have needed the most; what all of us need the most — spiritual food.

    The physical handing out of food that I did almost robotically, had its limitations. It is the giving of food that “dies at the vine,” and unfortunately, my way of giving as I did in the 90s also died at the vine. I learned this hard spiritual lesson/experience by my own ‘re-experiencing’ the food bank in my own life as a receiver on the other side. In my own time of need, I went through food bank lines and saw the empty, blank, almost fearful stare from a number of people handing out food to people like me struggling to make ends meet. It felt dead and full of judgment. The experience of going through a soup kitchen felt dead, demeaning, humiliating. It was something I never want to do again.

    It matters how I showed up (in my case how I failed to show up) so many times at various soup kitchens, drop-in centers, food banks as a young aspiring volunteer in my 20s and 30s. This is not to say I didn’t do good. It is to say that in my current healthier spiritual state today, without the drama and the big ideals and sense of ego-boosting purpose behind my charitable volunteering in my life, my volunteerism is doing just fine. I am absolutely certain I am bringing more to the table of brother/sisterhood today in my daily life walk, than I was ever capable of during my younger idealistic years of volunteerism.

    So I guess the message here, to circle back to the Buddhist- Shinto message (not a “lesson”, but a “message”), is that we must be wary of where the thinking resides when “we do charitable deeds”. Do we “do our charitable deeds before others to be seen by them?” Do we do our volunteerism to self- congratulate, or to self- nurture (huge difference)? It all does have its own built-in rewards. But when we do our good, do them in secret (meaning free and independent of our ego states and self-congratulating), and the good “Lord who sees in secret, will reward us openly”. The bottom line is, can we simply give and love in our own, simple day to day lives? That has to be enough for the Lord within.

    I can only only speak for and represent myself (nothing like a statement of the obvious, but it’s amazing how so many of us today try to speak for/ represent others), I must first and foremost seek the spiritual place of centered Love within, this kingdom of the Creator, and if I do so sincerely, “all things will be added” to me – the physical, emotional, the spiritual food that sustains life.

    KotoJazz 18: Japanese Garden Bridges

    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:

  • Origins of The Japanese Garden
  • Hoi An Bridge, VietNam(a famous Japanese garden bridge)
  • Elements of the Japanese Garden Bridge, Bowdoin College
  • Yuugiri Japanese Garden Bridge
  • Monet’s famous images of Japanese Garden Bridge Painting
  • How to Build a Miniature Japanese Garden
  • Where To Buy Garden Bridges, GardenBridges.com
  • Where to Buy Garden Bridges, Hay Needle
  • Koto Jazz 17: Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”

    Although I have added a few new music samples to the Koto Jazz blog, see “Sample Sounds” and “Buy My Music” pages of this web site, here I take another brief break from the Koto Jazz theme to honor an artistic genius in the film medium.

    Here are some Koto jazz and related music about flying and the wind:

  • KotoJazz 8: “The Wind and The Spirit”
  • Koto Samples (“lightness of flying butterflies”)
  • “Matsukaze” (”wind in the pines”), by Taiga Yamaki III (also known as Yamaki Kengyō), and Matsukaze
  • Koto House Flying Sword Music
  • Tori No Yo Ni (‘Flying’ Like A Bird, by Sawai Koto Ensemble
  • Breeze, by Mitsuki Dazai
  • Tori No Yo Ni (Like a Bird on piano), Kotojazz by Kenji

  • Also, have a listen to my newly posted short sample tracks while reading on about my take on “The Wind Rises” by Hiyao Miyazaki:

  • Pachelbel’s Canon in D Minor, George Winston style
  • Springtime in the Dead of Winter
  • Black Pine Bonsai, and
  • Wandering Kabutomushi

  • I had the opportunity to watch Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie (admittedly, I may be the final Miyazaki fan to actually see his final film), “The Wind Rises” (for sound track, see The Wind Rises by Kaze Tachinu and other items about “The Wind Rises”). Despite the apparent limitations of the anime platform, Miyazaki proves again the seeming unlimited capacity for creativity and beauty. His presentations offered magically colorful and stunning scenery. Miyazaki’s art team presents a realistic natural world, and adds a bit of Shinto magic, with the actors revering, honoring, praying to Nature throughout the movie.

    The movie speaks of love and innocence in the midst of the global turmoil surrounding the world wars. Miyazaki deliberately steers the movie away from the darkness of the day into a dreamland of gorgeous flower laid meadows, and shimmering streams. Poignant was the time Naoko prayed to the forest pond for Jiro to appear. As Yoda would say, “appear he did.”

    Even Jiro’s ongoing dreams about flying and building planes showed reverence to the nature of the wind’s powerful energy, and his building planes pays honor to the wind. We join as active participants in Jiro’s flying dreams. In the film, Jiro’s dreams feel as real as real life. Jiro is the main character in the movie, based loosely on aerospace engineer, Jiro Horikoshi. Miyazaki again nails it with his unique ability to interweave near realistic dreams into the surreal reality of the characters’ life experiences– more realistically than any director (I would argue), and again, more realistic to the real life experience.

    It definitely hits a chord with the integral role dreams play in our lives (see Carl Jung’s work on the “Interpretation of Dreams.” While his colleague Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams focused more on the “retrospective”, Carl Jung’s dream approach is and I quote the above link, “‘prospective’– it treats dreams like a map of the dreamer’s future psychological evolution towards a more balanced relationship between his ego and the Self.” This approach is very apparent in Miyazaki’s film.

    The story may have glossed over the pain and suffering of his dying lover (Naoko), dying communities during wartime, and the insane violence surrounding war, but this was intended and done so elegantly as the story was not about death and war. In fact, it provided the back drop necessary to evoke the story of a champion of perseverance and Zen-like focus in a world where, at times, there appeared to be none. It brought out the true authentic, peace-loving nature and Shinto spirituality of the Japanese people. In real life, war deceptively shrouded this fact by the blind powers of Japan’s relatively small military industrial complex (small at least compared to America’s own still lingering military industry). There is a message for each of us again, to look inward rather than outward for reflection and resolution.

    Given Miyazaki’s place of prominence with this final movie, it is appropriate to comment on this masterpiece and the majesty of his life’s work.

    KotoJazz 14: The Serendipity in “Order Out of Chaos”

    I know I’m not alone in this. I know that many people, artists, designers, engineers, express their deeper, at times darker, life experiences through their art or trade of choice. My big lesson while playing the piano, is facing and overcoming fear. The first step is to know how fear is present in my life. It helps me face them. I find it is often tied to something that happened so long ago that I have unconsciously carried it with me unresolved over years, decades. So much of it stems from childhood trauma.

    So often I sit in fear of imperfection, fear of sweet imperfection; not playing this or that tune or melody just right. I at times become paralyzed, as if it is better to not play at all if it can’t be played perfectly. My piano playing experiences are a microcosm of life’s lessons.

    There will always be imperfection, and through that imperfect journey, that stumbling, prodding, and wandering into the unknown and uncertain, I have the opportunity to learn its innate perfection. It is the imperfection of the journey that makes it perfect; at minimum, it brings out perfection. The imperfection carries with it uncertainty and chaos. Out of the uncertainty, unclarity and chaos, inevitably comes the impeccably clear Mastery of Serendipity (discovery by accident).

    It reminds me of “chaos theory”. Just like 1977 Nobel Prize Winner Ilia Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers’ book titled, “Order Out of Chaos” states, “the two great themes of classic science, order and chaos”, which coexisted in near conflict since science began, scientifically and mathematically coalesce into a “new and unexpected synthesis”. As Edward Lorenz puts it in his definition of “chaos theory”, chaos occurs “when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”

    More reading about creativity and chaos theory is available here at Creative Chaos. If you dare to venture into a story line about “chaos communities”, how about a book on the Burning Man event?

    Out of Spontaneous Serendipity comes the rare and unique, the innovative and delightfully unknown perfect masterpiece. When music lets go of the predictable, releases, or liberates itself from certainty of pattern or predictable stroke, only then does it venture into the unknown; only then may the genius of Serendipity coalesce into the uncharted territory of the perfect Masterpiece.

    When we consider the great masters and creators of jazz, rock, or classical music, for example, we see that the great musicians follow the “chaos theory” in music quite profoundly. And when they have taken a slightly divergent course as proposed by “chaos theory”, only then did they reach a place that transcends what JFK called “the stale, dank atmosphere of normalcy”. Only then did they re-direct and advance the currents of our time. When that happens, profound spiritual, social, and cultural changes occur.

    We live in a time of rapid, often chaotic change. Perhaps, we live in a time where science and art, where the technical and creative, where the image, the design and the real, where “The Head and the Heart”, truly converge into an harmonious co-existence of “order out of chaos”.

    East-West Nation & The Next American Revolution, Part II

    A continuation of the last “East-West Nation” blog, equally alarming is how much even some of the more progressive elements of our society choose to ignore Asia in the global discussion. For one example, so much is talked about health care in other countries, now at the highest level due to recent health care reforms. But the statistically healthiest country in the world is completely absent from the discussion.

    So much is talked about the health care systems of Canada, the UK, France, but not an ounce of discussion about Japan or China, even though Japan maintains a more technologically advanced and advancing medical industry and health insurance system similar to that of the U.S. (in comparison to the aforementioned countries). I wrote in my book published by the National Conference of State Legislatures on Japan’s health care system. The WTO’s designated healthiest country in the world, Japan, has the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality, but was never part of the health care conversation! Not much more you can say about that . . . . wow!

    Take for example, Jon Stewart’s humorous but astute observations about CNN’s coverage of the Malaysian Airlines crash. CNN has effectively turned it into America’s favorite pastime of “CIS”-ification of finding “possible” airplane parts in the ocean.

    And yet we have a twisted way of creating paranoia around the rising power of Asian countries; first, Japan in the 80s, and now China and India. We speak of them stealing our livelihood as if they are responsible for decisions U.S. and international businesses are making to use their know- how and hard work. This seems to be the only way we can give credence to the Asia Pacific region.

    The problem lies in the fact that even the parties intellectually attuned to Asia, find little incentive politically or otherwise to recognize or acknowledge Japan, China, India, Korea or other Asian influence. The United States establishment is too deeply entrenched in a Euro-centric world such that most international relations and comparative analysis occurs only in relation to our European partners and/or conflicts in the Middle East. The oddity and insanity of it is that all of Europe is more focused on Asia! The result is we keep banging up against the same boring ideas, theories, solutions, and angles. The extremism in the west bangs up against the extremism of the Middle East. But notice that when we turn east to Asia, there’s no more banging!

    The banging up of egos become tempered by cooperation and conciliation, and it’s deeply rooted in eastern mysticism and spirituality. Even the Muslim conflicts with the west which are filtered through the conflicts in the Middle East are suddenly sifted through the more rational, less extremist and more conciliatory nature of Asian Pacific Island countries and people (e.g., Indonesia, India and Malaysia; Indonesia being the world’s largest Muslim country).

    I’m not so sure there’s a point to banging my own head on this subject, but someday it will not matter, even though in today’s environment, there is a critical need to shed light on the subject. What I’ve learned from my amazing, physically tiny but spiritually giant Japanese mother is, “Dai jobu dai yo. Shimpai shinai de; shi ka ta ga nai” (it’s ok, just let it go. Don’t worry; it can’t be helped”). Time to get back to piano playing. I just posted my version of the famous “Kodomo No Hi” (Children’s Day) theme song, “Koi Nobori”. I also have a few koto jazz gigs coming up this summer at a venue near you. Keep coming back if it works for you. 🙂

    East-West Nation & The Next American Revolution:

    This blog entry departs from talking about music for a moment of reflection I wrote about back in the 90s at a boutique publication, “The Asia Pacific Economic Review“. For a nation so attuned to new frontiers since its revolutionary founding, few people here really see the next revolution transforming our country in our everyday lives. In many ways, it is more an evolution since so many influences have been taking place over a number of decades.

    It is sometimes subtle, sometimes “in your face” blatantly obvious. It’s in our food, media images, our tv virtual reality shows, our music, our children’s comic strips, toys & tv shows, our very way of life.

    When was the last time you and your family went to dinner for sushi, kalbi, dim sum, or teriyaki? Or stunned to see your very American as apple pie next door neighbor design a beautifully polished Japanese garden in their back yard? Or to find out your former U.S. Marines buddy is deeply immersed in daily Buddhist meditation?

    When was the last time you found your children couched like potatoes in front of a popular Japanese anime tv show or Japanese video game? Or your child begging for the latest Transformer, Pokemon or Hello Kitty toy? When tv surfing for the next tv show, did you land on a virtual reality show; more specifically did you stop to watch Iron Chef or the next American Idol? All of these things have one thing in common. They all originate from Japan, China, and other parts of East Asia. The original virtual reality shows were on televisions in Japan long before they washed onto the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean.

    We might have been threatened by it in the 80s when the Japanese corporate “invasion” of buying up landmark American properties was in full swing. Or the popular conversations about new business management approaches, such as those of UCLA scholar William Ouchi’s “Theory Z”. It was a threat then to America’s political, business, intellectual, and media establishment, but less so to the masses on the street. To put it bluntly, it threatened the American intellect, but not the heart of America.

    In the 70s and 80’s, we saw the long term and permanent impact of martial arts and eastern health care, yoga, eastern meditation, naturo-pathic medicine, physical therapy, eastern spirituality (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Asian Islam, Confusionism) take its place alongside western culture. Even before this time, Japanese anime began to influence the American psyche as early as the 50s. Then, we saw the longstanding Asian influences in modern architecture and landscaping take hold, beyond Frank Lloyd Wright in the 20s, then I.M. Pei, and an ongoing toying with the influence of Zen-like, minimalist thinking to modern architecture, landscaping, art, and culture.

    The Next American Revolution is more psychological and spiritual than physically tangible. Remarkable is how much our western cultural origins cloud our vision to be almost completely oblivious to this next American revolution. If it is brought up in general to the mainstream media and leaders, even those known to be the more progressive leaders, completely trivialize or only quietly acknowledge its impact.

    A good majority of our media and American consciousness simply ignore it, but it’s turning American culture upside down, or should I say it has already turned American culture upside down. For that matter it has transformed all of western society. It is equally pervasive in European countries, even parts of South America. Talk to the American media, including Hollywood, and they might give you a blank stare. But talk to them about all the things that make up our modern society today and you will find a high awareness of all things Asian as long as the west can claim it as their own. It leaves a deep streak and indelible mark at the core of our society. Things of Asian origin and the Asian influence has become so much a part of American life that it’s Asian origin is almost indistinguishable from it’s American-‘ness’. It pervades our entire society and our entire way of life. It goes well beyond our children’s obsession with Pokemon, Mario, and Hello Kitty. It leaves a permanent imprint far broader than our teenagers’ obsession with anime tv shows or video games. The song “I think I’m turning Japanese; I really think so” is no longer a joking mockery; it is an omnipresent, all pervasive occurrence from the main streets of our rural towns to the high rises of our largest metropolitan cities.

    So what is behind this oversight and what lies within these insights?

    This week I plan to visit North America’s first sanctioned Japanese Shinto Shrine, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). I hope to be lead back to the Shinto spiritual nature- immersion into the beauty within the leaf of a red maple tree, blooming cherry blossoms, the flow of crystal clear glacier water, a stone lantern reflected upon still waters embellished with garden flowers, and possibly the serene sound of koto music in the background summoning the mind, heart and spirit to let it all go. 🙂

    KotoJazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens

    When you grow up in a town like Boulder as I did, which sits at the front range of the Rocky Mountains, it’s not possible to miss out on the majestic boulders towering over the city. These “flatiron”- shaped boulders jut a thousand or more feet into the air like tectonic plates forced up to meet the sky by two converging continents. They stand tall as guards to the doorway of the Colorado Rockies.
    Whether a Flatiron rock laying against the Rocky Mountains or a stone strategically placed as the Buddha in a Japanese garden, there is a spiritual element to the stones we live among. Boulder residents, Silver Wave Records and Grammy award nominees Peter Kater, Carlos Nakai, and Steve Haun were undoubtedly inspired by the cathedral rocks of Boulder. I searched for both western instrumental and Koto music influenced by stone(s) and what it symbolizes, the island, and came up with the following collection:

    • Poem of Tree and Stone – by Masao Matsumoto (1956);
    • The Spirit of the Island – by Taiko Legends, Traditional Melodies of Japan;
    Towards the Vietnam Land (Hong Vi Dat Viet) – by Tran Quang Hai;
    Wind, Rock, Sea & Flame – by Peter Kater;
    Sacred Stones – by Asian Meditation Music;
    The Hour – A White Stone – by Lee McDerment;
    Stones, Baby Sleep Music – by New Age Music Academy;

    Other:

    Island Music of Hawa’ii – by Cyril Pahinui (no relation to koto, but . …) Hawaiian Ki Ho’alu Slack Key Guitar Master;
    Emerald – by Wind Machine, Wind Machine album;
    The Island – by Christopher Ryan, Lost: Music from the Island for Solo Piano;
    Gentle Flowing Brook Over Stones with Flowing Stream – by Green Escape, Nature Sound Series;
    Stone Tower Temple (Legend of Zelda) – by Monsalve – Majora’s Mask;
    Sacred Stones – by Oriental Music for Relaxation, Meditation, Massage Therapy, Healing, Zen Meditation, and Yoga; and
    Box of Stones – by Gavin Mikhail, Skinny Love.

    Stone – The Island in Japanese Gardens:
    The stone is a common element in the Japanese garden. The Way of Zen and Zen values of simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizo), and refined elegance are similarly values expressed in the Japanese garden. Stones and rocks are as simple as they get. Normally stones are grouped by themselves or they are grouped in threes with a taller boulder standing regally behind two shorter boulders. This is believed to create 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 and/or mountains.

    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.

    Japan is an island country surrounded by large bodies of water; the Japan Sea to the west, the North Pacific Ocean to the east, the Korean strait to the west, the South China Sea to the southwest, and the Philippine Sea to the south. Wikipedia says Japan has over 6,000 islands in total, with four main islands (Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Shikoku).

    Unique to Japan:
    Perhaps unique to Japanese gardens is the impact of Japan’s insularity; island mentality and sense of space. One can achieve the simplicity, elegance and Zen spirituality of a Japanese garden in a small space.

    The Japanese garden itself is a symbol of longevity, as it requires long term care over many years to reach its true potential beauty. There are two types of island stones that symbolize the longevity of the crane and tortoise (often shaped like them; these symbols also originate from China). These special islands are sacred and not accessible by bridge. If one sees a bridge to an island in a Japanese garden, these are ordinary islands called nakajima.

    The bonsai images of shaped evergreens in the Japanese garden symbolize happiness and longevity. Black and red pines represent positive (omatsu) and negative (mematsu) forces in the world.

    “The visual entities which may appear as a design in the Western sense of forms, textures, and colors are less important than the invisible philosophical, religious, and symbolic elements,” according to garden designer and architect Dr. Koichi Kawana. The Japanese garden represents a utopia or sacred refuge from the distractions of daily life.

    KotoJazz 8: The Wind and the Spirit

    While originally secularly founded by Yatsuhashi Kengyo in the early 17th century, Koto, “the music of Japan”, flourished in the 1800s. Koto composer Nakanoshima Kengyo (1838-1894) created and dedicated “Matsukaze”, “the wind in the pines”, imitating the sounds of Gagaku, Japanese court music (see http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~rgarfias/sound-recordings/japan.html). It is a composition in continuous gentle, fluid motion, sometimes wandering yet never searching. It is as confident and steady as the wind in the pines, bending but never breaking; as subtle yet serene as a cool ocean breeze (though I believe the vocals does this piece a disservice). 🙂

    A few additional koto and other instrumental tunes worth noting about the wind and the Spirit are:

  • Kozan No Kaze [or Alpine Wind (Storm)] (the 1st song in this medley, more “chaos jazz” than koto jazz),
    – 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”. I will also feature this piece at the Royal Room, Seattle in September (see events section)
  • Kaze no uta (Song of the Wind), by Sawai Tadao, from Spell of Spring: Selected Works of Sawai Tadao (Volume I).
  • Whisper of the Wind, Bali Spa- Kecapi Meets Koto, Volume 6.
  • Song of the Wind with Shakuhachi and Tea Ceremony, The Satsuki Odamura Koto Ensemble.
  • Matsukaze, “The wind in the pines”, Taiga Yamaki III (also known as Yamaki Kengyō) performed by Namino Torii and Minoyu Otaka, with assistance from Steven Otto and Hiromi Sakata.
  • Yamato (Japan): III. Fu (Wind), by Aiko Hasegawa, Relaxing Sounds of Japan
  • Ballades for Koto Solo – Summer – Under the White Wind, by Miki Minoru
  • Temple Spirits, by Ameritz Sound Effects, Music of Japan
  • Kitaro’s Spiritual Garden album;
  • Dream Wind, by Taka Koto Ensemble
  • East Winds Ensemble, by Youmi Kimura / Yumi Kimura and Joe Hisaishi (theme music of Hayao Miyazaki Anime)
  • Breeze at Night, by Circus Band, Sound of the Orient
  • White Winds – by Andreas Vollenweider
  • The Wind and the Wolf – by Keiko Matsui
  • Nanbu Wind Chimes – by Victor, The Sounds of Japan
  • Kaze No Oshaberi – by Ayaha, The Sounds of Kyoto: Maboroshi
  • The Spirit – by Peter Kater
  • Aerial Boundaries – by Michael Hedges
  • Wind Machine and Voices In the Wind – by Wind Machine

  • New to “Sample Sounds” is a brief excerpt of a beautifully performed melodious composition by a very, very special, gifted person. While I attempted to give insight into the basic western chordal structure and show how many songs are based on them, this unique musical talent composed a piece called “Wind-chimes”. Wind-chimes graces with delicate simplicity and inspires with its spontaneous peace and joy. Though you can discern smooth, flowing patterns up and down the scale, the melody captures a gentle breeze tapping the tunes of flower pedal-like wind-chimes. The second “windchime” sample called “Rain Drops from Trees” evokes images of a cool breeze releasing rain drops from branches of a tree, or a tributary trickling downstream in a fresh green mountain meadow and gurgling over creek pebbles. It is a “must hear”.

    John Denver spoke of the wind as “the symbol of all that is free,” in his masterfully sung spiritual ballad, Windsong. Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) suggests that we “listen to the wind of the soul” in his spiritual journey called “The Wind”. To introduce a hint of the trans-formative nature of the wind, I reflect on the western tradition. Probably the most telling story-lines passed on through perhaps hundreds of generations is the story about Jesus who spoke of the One who is to follow. He said we may speak wrongly about himself and the Father and it will be forgiven us, but we may never speak wrongly about the Spirit. There is only one description in the good book I know of where Jesus explicitly defines the Spirit in human terms and that is, “The wind blows where it wishes and we hear the sound of it. We know neither from where it comes nor to where it goes, and so it is with those of the Spirit.”

    The wind is the breath of this small and fragile home we call earth and is not to be tampered with nor taken for granted. If we feel the wind and the Spirit in our own lives, we live in unison with who we are intended to be, what we are intended to do. Then and only then, regardless of where we are or who we are, we are part of the living Spirit through whom we truly “breathe, we move, and we have our being.”

    Let us dare to care for the wind, take heed of each moment it pays us a visit as if it were the One who is to follow, and in JD’s words ” welcome the wind and the wisdom she offers. Follow her summons when she calls again. In your heart and your spirit let the breezes surround you. Lift up your voice then and sing with the wind.” (Windsong)

    KotoJazz 7: Water, Water Everywhere

    “Water water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner). Famous poets the world over find inspiration from the simple element we call water (see Famous Poets and Poems or Haiku poems about water. So much poetry and music is written about water and the movement of water. What it is about water that inspires so much creativity?

    Water is not a new moving subject of our inspiration [see Smetana’s The Moldau or Kiyoko Miyagi’s Haru No Umi (The Sea in Springtime); for MP3 download, see a version by Fumie Hihara]. Water images and music about water are nearly boundless. To name a few, there’s:

  • Ameritz Sound Effects , Slow Boat on the Yangtze, Music of Japan;
  • Ayaha’s Kaze No Oshaberi, Sounds of Kyoto: Maboroshi;
  • Yuka Honda’s haunting Cycle of Water, Water on Mars or Hydrosphere;
  • Geoffrey Castle’s enchanting Waterfall, Float Downstream or Mist on the Mountains,
  • Riley Lee’s soul searching Spring Rain,
  • George Winston’s celebratory dancing Sea or Spring Creek,
  • Wind Machine’s steady rythm of Distant Shores, and
  • Davol’s meditative Mystic Waters or Cascade.

  • My most recent koto jazz piece, Ripples on Stones (short excerpt), borrows a few common koto chords combined with the ebb and flow of ripples on creek rocks. With Ripples, I depart from my koto and western jazz and rhythm and seek to follow the more free form of new age styles. Each musical work possesses in common the peaceful, free flowing meditative qualities of water.

    Japanese and Chinese gardens feature water – still water and more often than not, moving water. Whether a trickle from bamboo water feature onto a stone basin or a cascading waterfall from cathedral rock cliffs, water is a powerful, enchanting spiritual theme. It is a key energy source that sustains us physically, emotionally & spiritually.

    The serenity of the moment lies in the stillness of water, reflecting every part of who we are- reflecting the sun, the moon, the stars and the world around us. It is able to settle & calm every part of our mind and body if we are present to it. It may inspire emotions but is free of all emotions and through its stillness or its movement, it can lead our souls to that same place of freedom from thought, give us a reprieve from the chaos of our day and nourish our souls. Meditation in the presence of water, still or moving, connects us with the cycle of life of which we are a part.

    Again, it requires one thing — our presence . … not just physical, but our awareness and connection to the life it offers.

    KotoJazz 6: The Creativity of Music

    The creativity of music happens when a performer hits upon a series of sounds that elicit inspiration in a musical tune. It is always a form of channeling energy, and music has a way of communicating that energy like no other medium. It expresses emotions and/or sensations that cannot be put into words.

    It can be a direct channeling of energy from that inspiration or it can be an emotion, positive or negative. We create to express all the range of emotions, or even to free ourselves from an emotion(s). If other people are moved by that creative expression and their images, they will listen. We create to express joy. We create to express deep despair. It is not intended to gloss over our deeper, perhaps darker emotions. Like everyone, we have suffered deep pain and torment at different times in our lives. At times, at our own doing; at times not. We may cause extreme pain and suffering to a person we love the most; such as a direct family member or a close friend. When we do that, we can choose to express it in our music. We search for grace in the moment of that realization. The more sincere and honest we are about our emotions, about a new found awareness, the more effectively they are expressed in our music, and the more likely people will be inspired by it.

    It is a searching for the point of touching our feelings, or connecting with our emotions. We data mine music that had been played before and see if we can play it too. We play it again to try and bring back those feelings. We data mine from anything that inspires us in everyday life. We data mine the natural world. In all the ways to data mine creativity, we always data mine our feelings and emotions around our life experiences, no matter how simple or complex. It is not so important what it is we play about, but how deeply that subject moves us when we play. While music is not always inspired from mundane sources, there are no boundaries for where we can find inspiration.

    KOTOJAZZ 1: KOTO JAZZ DEFINED – SPIRITUAL ORIGINS

    Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle) are musical tunes that attempt to capture the energy or images of the natural object; in this case, a hummingbird and a rhinoceros beetle. I believe staying true to the spiritual origins of Koto is paramount.

    Spiritually, Koto jazz seeks to bring out the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist spiritual nourishment derived from connection and reverence to nature as well as ancestral worship. The western influences of jazz, in part, have their origins in western Judeo-Christian ideals and institutions. It is my opinion we need to bring these two together into an harmonious whole of “yin and yang”, bringing out the best in both traditions which lifts us to broader spiritual growth and learning.

    The best written description/ representation of this that I’ve read to date is the a #1 New York Times Bestselling book by James Redfield called The “Celestine Prophecy“, and our evolution toward a global non-religious spiritual awakening.