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KotoJazz 84: Low Budget Area Garden Design

A work- in- progress of my Japanese garden in the front yard, including a dry creek rock garden, featured stones, lantern, bamboo borders, Japanese lace maple, yellow, black and red grass, various ground covers and mosses, irises and crocosmias, succulents, smoke tree, salvia, asters, rhodedendrums, 3 types of helleborus, 4 types of heucheras, painted ferns, razer and licourish ferns, and the featured "dragon" weeping blue spruce pine.
A work- in- progress of my Japanese garden in the front yard, including a dry creek rock garden, featured stones, lantern, bamboo borders, Japanese lace maple, yellow, black and red grass, various ground covers and mosses, irises and crocosmias, elderberry, succulents, a smoke tree, salvia, asters, rhodedendrums, 3 types of helleborus, 4 types of heucheras, painted ferns, razer and licorice ferns, and the featured weeping “dragon” blue spruce pine.


60-80% of a garden’s beauty can be made from resources already available around your home or among friends. Remember, nature offers its own beauty that may only need minor enhancements. I personally don’t care for regularly maintaining a yard, especially constantly mowing lawns. It just brings out the sneezing in me. Lawn mowing is among the world’s biggest wastes of water and consumes unnecessary time in my lazy, stubborn opinion. Frankly, it offers no creativity or inspiration of natural beauty.

AREA GARDENS:

We start with creating a garden image in your head. Imagine an idyllic beautiful scene in your head. Then, dig a space of dirt, any shape you want it to be. Apply that idyllic scene to this bare space. First, simply turn over the grass and put it upside down, occasionally scraping off the loose dirt to further expose the grass roots, so the grass is certain to die. Then, take cedar droppings from underneath cedar trees in the back yard and spread it throughout the dug out space. Cedar is highly acidic and will largely reduce if not eliminate the need for weeding the area garden space. Not much of anything can grow under cedars; maybe a few rhodies (rhododendrons) which thrive in acidic soil.

In the case of the above pictured garden, I dug out the entire side of the front yard off of the concrete path. I left a few “accents” of grass to provide lining for the area garden’s borders. These can be easily held at bay with an occasional weed whacking. If you want you can raise the garden, which I did for the area garden beyond the concrete path toward the top of the above photo. You can raise it as much as you like by simply adding more soil to the area and more mulch. I moved the rhody from another part of this house where it was hidden away, and is now featured in the raised garden. A general rule when creating your own garden is to place the larger items –  bushes, trees, or stones – toward the back, while shorter smaller flowers and plants should be placed toward the front. As a taller, larger bush, the rhody serves as an attractive back drop to this area garden.

BORDERS & HIGHLIGHTS:

Here is a dry creek pond around the tree, beginning a dry creek meandering along round stone steps which continue along the side of the house to the back yard. We have a fucia in full bloom and a japanese maple in blue pots in the foreground, a reddening sumac to the left, three hydrangeas (white, pink and blue), a Japanese anenome next to the sumac, a light evergreen bush next to the featured stone creating the affect of an island, a white drooping Japanese pine to the right along the mound, sword fern, and five different types and colors of heucheras.
Here is a dry creek pond around the tree, beginning a dry creek meandering along round stone steps which continue along the side of the house to the back yard. We have a fucia in full bloom and a japanese maple in blue pots in the foreground, a reddening sumac to the left, three hydrangeas (white, pink and blue), a Japanese anenome next to the sumac, a light evergreen bush next to the featured stone creating the affect of an island, a white drooping Japanese pine to the right along the mound, sword fern, and five different types and colors of heucheras.

It’s always nice to have borders for the area garden so as to define its space. Borders can be stone, bricks, slate, wood, bamboo pieces, even plants. In this case, I used stones found in the ground when digging out the garden area. As for the larger boulders highlighted around the rock creek, I was fortunate to find a friend who was excavating a part of his property and was trying to get rid of these beautiful blue-hued boulders (with more to come in later phases).  These boulders give the impression of a mountainous terrain with a valley carved  out by a rolling creek. Reinforcing this mini- mountain  scene is the meandering  creek. I place various types of sheet moss, tree moss, and fern moss on the north, more shaded side of the garden area. Eventually, all dirt areas you see in the garden will display a plant, fern, moss, or ground cover of some type to add personality.

DRY CREEK:

The dry creek appears to naturally flow between the larger boulders. Each boulder enforces a bend in the creek, as it does in natural creeks. Large creek rocks are generally placed toward the outer borders of the creek, while smaller rocks are toward the center, again mimicking these natural occurrences in nature. The creek narrows and appears to flow into a small lake in the foreground toward the street. I recommend using black creek rocks if available; otherwise, the varied colored rocks will do. To make the dry creek, I dug out the space and put in a thin layer of cedar mulch, then a thick layer of sand to prevent weeds from growing in the creek rock. Soon to come will be a natural stone recycling water feature at the beginning of the dry creek.

aviary-photo_131187409183508298

FLOWERING PLANTS & THINGS:

As for the flowering plants and things in this area garden, I looked for anything that might complement the “bones” of these area mounds. Fortunately in the Pacific Northwest, there are lots of plant life growing everywhere, some considered weeds in some circles. For example, ferns, wild white flowering heuchera, crocosmia, and wild blue bells grow like weeds in this region, but one can never get enough of their natural beauty.  I placed the wild heuchera on the north side and underneath the rhody where it thrives in shady areas. I scatter the wild crocosmias, blue hyacinths, and blue bells unevenly throughout the area gardens to reinforce the natural look. The blue bells and hyacinths  will flower in the spring while the crocosmias flower in late summer into autumn. I also have a relative of the ‘lamb’s ear’ ground cover which grows wild here and flowers a gorgeous deep magenta flower at the ends of each antler-like stem. I also have another ground cover that emerges a bouquet of hundreds of tiny white bulbous flowers during the summer and autumn seasons. I plan to add various types of ornamental grasses in addition to the Japanese red grass and the yellow bamboo grass clumps around the garden areas.

I have shoots of Japanese red grass planted to the side of the weeping blue cedar, tulips and other bulbous flowers not yet blooming scattered around the area gardens as well. I was gifted a rosemary to add a year round pungent aroma and a gorgeous orange rose bush.

A work- in- progress of my Japanese garden in the front yard, the garden includes two dry creek rock gardens (one in the foreground of the featured image and the other in the background as a minimalist Zen garden), featured stones, lantern, bamboo borders, a Japanese lace maple, a coral bark maple, yellow, black and red grass, various ground covers and mosses, irises and crocosmias, an elderberry, succulents, a smoke tree, salvia, purple asters, rhododendrons, anenome flowers, echinacea, 3 types of hellebores, 4 types of heucheras, painted ferns, shark tale, razor and licorice ferns, and the featured weeping “dragon” blue spruce pine in the foreground.

kenji-win_20160928_114305

PURCHASED HIGHLIGHTED ITEMS:

The low budget provided for a few highlighted features, such as the Japanese lantern, Japanese coral bark maple, the weeping blue “dragon” cedar, Chinese purple lantern flowers, two red dogwood bushes, and a few ground covers such as English daisies, heucheras, and grasses. Outside of sweat equity, the total budget was a remarkable mere $141! For the future, I plan to add another raised garden across the walkway in the front, mock bamboo, a Japanese purple lace maple, ornamental grasses, and maybe a rare plant such as an aromatic variegated pink daphne, a cone flowering hydrangea, Asian tiger lilies, or a few exotic pink or magenta Japanese anemone flowers. The blue pots can feature beautiful maples such as local vine maples, or anything that requires a controlled environment such as bamboo.

 

Japanese style rock creek garden
Japanese style rock creek garden in the making.
The "Before" photo - What the garden looked like before moving into the house.
The “Before” photo – What the garden looked like before moving into the house.
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KotoJazz 80: Mini Garden Simplicity

Here is a mini garden I started below a pink flowering dogwood that blooms fabulously in the spring (see picture below). In the tradition of Japanese gardens, the intent is to create patterns of paradise scenes often seen in the natural world. I spent a total of $7-8. Much of the splendor of this garden will not be fully seen until next year or the following year when the plants have fully grounded into their new homes [also, the strawberries on the right (photo above) will need to be replaced by moss or ground cover].

Pat'sDogwood

This mini garden features a simple rock creek flowing down from the a tall stone representing a mountain. The “mountain” stone is surrounded by large rocks or rounded mountains/ front range hills leading up to the cathedral- like mountain. Flowing from the “mountain” stones is the dry creek rock bed, with the visual effect of a true flowing mountain stream of water. Note that at each turn there are larger stones which is common in creeks. These help re-direct or guide the creek in another direction, reinforcing the natural occurrences seen in nature. The dry creek spreads wide at its base, suggesting it has reached more level ground, or perhaps a lake.

The white lantern is placed on the side of the hill surrounding by sheet moss I found in shaded areas of the yard. In the spring, I plan to add a stunning gorgeous version of moss toward the background area called the hair cap moss. There are two transplanted ferns, one in front of the lantern, and one behind the stone mountain. Though hardly noticeable today, these ferns will show a full display of leaves next spring into summer. The fern in the foreground is a common tassel fern which will experience minimal growth in size, while the sword fern I planted behind the mountain stone will grow to a size potentially twice the height and size of the mountain stone.

Other plants include a few strawberry plants in the foreground (not recommended; these were pre-existing plants placed there by the owner) and a spider flower to the left which flowers a resplendent deep purple in the late spring to early summer, and is now passed its prime and going dormant for the fall season. Also to the left showing simple iris-like leaves is the common orange crocosmia, which grows naturally throughout the Pacific Northwest. Finally, for effect, I planted the Acorus cascading yellow grass. The acorus next year will be a bright yellow cascade that will contrast nicely with this shaded area. There are two in the foreground. These are off shoots, so will not show their true cascading splendor until next summer.

Koto Jazz 73: Kubota Gardens

Spring into Summer has sprung and it’s time to visit your favorite outdoor places! The Kubota family created a stunning beautiful Japanese garden with mountainous waterfall landscapes, serene koi ponds, and a Zen garden in South Seattle. It is a gardens where many of my musical pieces were first inspired (Kubota Birds Water Dance and Raindrops Fall from Trees, for example). To me, the legacy leaves us much more. Fujitaro and family, including Tak and Tom, were interned at the Minidoka camp in Idaho during World War II, and came home to Seattle to say “I forgive” by presenting the City of Seattle with one of the premiere Japanese gardens in the Northwest. It is the former home of the Kubota family and their landscape business. Kubota Gardens may be the largest Japanese garden in North America and offers 22 acres of rolling hills, natural springs, and hiking/ walking trails, and of course, beautiful landscaped gardens. More information is available at http://www.kubotagarden.org/.

KotoJazz 70: Water Features in Mini Garden

There are two water features in this mini garden my brother designed which bring his garden to life — a natural looking wood plug-in mini waterfall and the black pebble dry creek and pond.

With the water feature in the background and the black pebble pond in the foreground, he’s created a paradise in his small back yard with three Japanese maples – one purple lace maple to the right, a taller green Japanese maple providing shade to shade plants and flowers below such as hostas and Japanese irises, and a feathery lighter lace maple behind the water feature in the back corner of his space.

The garden also uses a wide variety of ground covers, including one flowering mound of pink in the foreground next to the deck along with blue flowering groundcovers, giving rise to natural imagery. This Japanese mini garden works in this small space because all the plants chosen complement each other, and everything is proportionately sized correctly, including white mini lantern on the side.

Koto Jazz 68: Mini Garden

Simplicity is my theme here in this basic mini- garden in Boulder, Colorado. A total of only $10 was spent on this serene mini scene. While space is not as much a premium in the vast expand of this globally trend-setting Rocky Mountain city, I still brought my creative miniaturization impulses with me from the Pacific Northwest city life. This mini garden replaced a common area lawn that had completely died away.

I seek to capture the surrounding area using local assets such a variation of rock and stones, elegant spacing, mini flowering bulbs such as dwarf tulips and mini- daffodils, along with naturally growing ground covers such as violets and forget-me-nots. Being in this semi-arid region that boasts 320-plus days of sunshine a year, it also helps to add a few desertous (new word) plants as accents to the mini garden image. These include a bonsai-style and shaped juniper in the background, and an ornamental grass off to the left.

I used pinkish- white marble rocks to outline the plants and stones in this mini-garden. I also created a mini dry creek that meanders from one end of the mini-garden to the other to give it a natural flow. Finally, I made a pretty rough but natural lantern out of local stones and a brick. The beauty of mini-gardens is that they fit into spaces of just about any size. 🙂

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.

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
  • 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)

    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 12: Japanese Lanterns

    While Japanese lanterns are best known for their regal presence in Japanese gardens, their significance goes well beyond that.

    Another tradition that hails from China is the Obon or Bon Festival. This is a popular holiday in Japan in which families return to their ancestral home and visit their ancestor’s graves. It is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honors the spirits of our ancestors. During this holiday ritual, the spirits of our ancestors are believed to revisit us. It is a time for honoring and appreciated their sacrifices during their lifetimes here on earth. The 3-day festival ends with Toro Nagashi, the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are lit up with candles and then floated down streams and water ways to signify the departure of our ancestral spirits. More recent ceremonies have added fireworks to the celebration, creating festive images at a solemn moment. Click here for more information about Bon Festivals in the U.S. (California, Seattle and other Bon events).

    Bon has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and includes a traditional music genre called Ondo folk music and dance, known as Bon-Odori.

    I found the following Japanese koto and Japanese music about lanterns:

  • Dance Suite: Shuttlecock, Lantern Parade, Ainu Children’s Dance, by Shinichi Yuize;
  • Japanese Stone Lantern: DC Cherry Blossom Festival, by DC Walkabout
  • Red Lantern, by Antonio Arena, Silvio Piersanti;
  • Japanese Lantern, by Idyll Swords
  • Lanterns in the Wind, by Rosalind Richards;
  • Related Vocal Songs:

  • The Lantern, by Beats Antique;
  • Lanterns, by Birds of Tokyo;
  • Habakkuk’s Song, by Broken Lantern Project
  • Red Lanterns, by Jasmon;
  • The Stone Lantern:
    In Japan the stone lantern (toro) was originally only used in Buddhist temples. Lanterns were lit as an offering to Buddha where they illuminated the path to the temple.

    The stone lantern represents the five elements of Buddhism, – the earth (chi), water (sui), fire (ka), air (fu), and void or spirit (ku). The two latter elements, the cap of the lantern, point toward the sky where we return to our original elemental form after our passing.

    Asia is not the only region that recognizes the power of the lantern symbol. The significance of the lantern in the west and Judeo-Christian tradition may be symbolic of the light: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Psalms: 119: 115 (there are many inspiring songs written in these words, not to mention Amy Grant’s “Thy Word”).

    “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do we light a lamp and put it under a bushel.” – Matthew 5:14-16

    My purposes for sharing these quotes and links of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the hope that we not be threatened by spirituality in any tradition. Both Judeo-Christian and Shinto- Buddhist- Hindu traditions have positively touched lives for thousands of years. Similarly, the integration of koto and jazz music aims to do the same. If our lives are touched by the lamp and the light of any tradition or music, does it really matter from where it comes? Maybe some day we will be able to visit Christian websites and learn about Buddhist spirituality! 🙂