Tag Archives: inspiration

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
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    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”.

    KotoJazz 13: Koto Jazz & The Shinto Source

    This week, I visited North America’s first sanctioned Japanese Shinto Shrine, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). I was lead back to the Shinto spiritual nature — immersion into the beauty within the leaf of a delicate red lace maple tree, luminescent light green moss dripping down from tree branches in the world’s largest temperate rain forest ecoregion (as defined by World Wildlife Fund). This region is well known for its high amounts of rainfall (as much as 120 inches/year or 300 cm). Temperatures almost never reach below 50°F (10°C) or above 80°F (27°C), according to Wikipedia and the WWF. Today, this region’s temperature quite frequently exceeds both the higher and lower ranges.

    The Shrine sits alongside a crystal clear glacier water flowing river. There were numerous stone lanterns throughout the Shrine estate, one showing the 12 Japanese zodiac signs carved around the octagonal stone (also originating from China) at the entrance. There is a path that leads into the temperate rain forest with babbling brooks feeding into the river below and glowing moss patches accenting the path. There you will find a place of peace where only the regenerative qualities of negative ions such as the sound of the rolling river and the silent, dense forest are present. Verandas, stone lanterns, and elaborate gates, influenced by Buddhism, were present in the Tsubaki Grand Shrine.

    The grounds are sacred. It is surrounded by a fence made of wood called “tamagaki”. It had a main entrance called “sandō”, featuring a gate way flanked by posts of a gate called “torii”.

    The physical significance of the shrine is a “honden”, which houses one or more “kami” (or god). However, this place is not intended to be a place of worship. It is used for storing sacred objects. The intention of a shrine is to dedicate a natural place of spiritual inspiration and worship.

    I noticed something off about the Tsubaki Grand Shrine as I was reflecting on the visit. It came to me that most of the shrines I had visited in Japan were located on Buddhist temple grounds. My image of shrines are of the Japanese “jingū-ji”, or shinto temple. Imagine a Christian chapel inside the grounds of a Jewish Synagogue (or vice versa)! During the Nara Period (710-794), according to Wikipedia, it was believed that the temple could help guide the local kami to salvation. Japanese believe the kami, like people, also needed the salvation that only Buddhism could provide. Buddhist sūtras are recited to help guide the kami to satori (awakening, understanding).

    While the spiritual learning of my Buddhist- Shinto ancestors continues, I see more and more clearly my own purpose and the vision or path the laid before me; a spiritual path of healthy, balanced living and healthy integration of self with the world around. Just as Shintoism enshrines the local natural deity, koto itself seeks to reflect the spirit of the natural deity in its music.

    Here is a list of Shrines in the U.S. (Buddhist, Shinto, or both)

    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.

    KOTOJAZZ 3: KOTO JAZZ DEFINED VS. JAZZ KOTO ARTISTS

    Koto jazz is variations of popular traditional Japanese koto music and melodies synthesized with western jazz and rhythm. These include Sakura, Tori No Yo Ni, Haru No Umi, Rokudan, Midare, and a score of others. Kenji takes these musical pieces and plays them on the piano, varies the sound and tone with western influences of rhythm and beat. He has also created his own Koto jazz pieces Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower), Aki no Ho (Toward The Autumn Season), Shiodamari To Kaze (Tide Pools & The Wind), and Wandering Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle).

    Koto Jazz is not to be confused with Jazz Koto, which integrates the koto instrument and sound into western jazz tunes. In addition to the famous rock musicians such as David Bowie and the Rolling Stones who occasionally used the Koto instrument in their songs, Jazz Koto became popular in the 70s and 80s by such notable western musicians as

  • June Kuramoto (also see June Kuramoto’s website),
  • Dorothy Ashby,
  • Reiko Obata and East-West Jazz,
  • the fusion jazz band Hiroshima,
  • Eugene Yamamoto,
  • Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto (also see her as a member of the Murasaki Ensemble).
  • Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, and
  • Masako Naito.
  • Koto jazz is the opposite. It is its image, as a reflection on still waters.