Come join me at what promises to be an enjoyable event that offers you a visual introduction to all things Japanese. This includes a colorful fashion show to original Japanese performance by famous Kokyu performer Daikuke Kiba and my own variations on 1,000 year old Japanese koto music played on the keyboard. These include Haru no Umi, Tori no Yo Ni, and Kojo no Tsuki. I will also play my originals including recent art show selections Windy Wheat Fields and Snow Blossoms, and hyper fast Snow Flurry.
The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, Colorado showcases a stellar presentation, professional art exhibit “Representing The West”. My music was selected among 550 artists as part of the digital media section:
Another stroke of luck. In January – March 2017 two of my original Kotojazz tunes are recognized as “Representing the West” at the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center annual exhibit. These are pure new age Americana folk songs. “Snow Blossoms” was inspired by the blue violets peeking through melting snow on a sunny winter day along Boulder Creek trail in Boulder, Colorado. “Windy Kansas Wheat Fields” was inspired by strong wind blowing over fields of grass and wheat creating a steady undulating flow like ocean waves. You can see the wind blowing through wheat fields in eastern Colorado and Kansas. Both feed our souls, in their simplicity and stillness (snow blossoms) and their awesome enduring power (windy Kansas wheat fields).
I am reminded that the “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it; you know neither from where it comes nor to where it goes, and so it is with the Spirit.”
David Wilborn likes to jazz it up with some upbeat, almost ragtime rhythmic tunes. His music is mostly improvisation and this is one of those. As a gifted creator of sound into melodic rhythm, it’s been a pleasure and privilege to have Dave as a friend for over 20 years, and as a music partner for the past year.
Sometime the smaller venues are more fun and interactive and relaxing for us both, and we find that C&P Coffee Company which hosts music performers like us every week, is just such the place to make you feel at home. It is located right on the main drag in West Seattle at 5621 California Street, just south of the West Seattle “Junction”. Stop by sometime and you just might find us rockin’ up this classic coffee house, or someone else like us. The coffee and service there is fabolicious!
This new CD mostly live production was crazy, experimental fun – anchored by a few George Winston covers, a touch of Narada/ Silver Wave- style new age, a koto jazz tune, and some “off the beaten path”, eclectic wacko improvisations . . . and you have a metamorphosis of the senses –
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because “Amazon employees need connection to nature” (geekwire quote). Yes. We all need connection to nature; it connects us to ourselves. Hopefully, parts of it will be accessible to the general public –
The most recent news as of July 26 by the Seattle Times is that there will only be opportunities for public visits. Specifics are not yet available. Generally, the space is closed to the public, though much can be viewed from the street.
The Way of Zen and Zen values of simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizo), and refined elegance are similar values expressed in the Japanese garden, and defines Japanese rock gardens. Stones and rocks derive from the natural banks of rivers and creeks. They provide accents for distinctive garden areas, including walkways, waterfall bases, creek borders, ponds and lakes, and garden sections. Rocks and pebbles of rock gardens are raked into patterns of flowing streams, undulating waves, and accents around larger stone island or bonsai trees, and other features. Other patterns can be checkered or angled or alternating lines.
Large feature stones are grouped by themselves or they are grouped in threes with a taller boulder standing regally behind two shorter boulders, presenting balance. All three stones are generally vertical, with the taller stone in the center representing The Buddha (one who has become enlightened), and the two other stones on each side representing two Bodhisattvas (one who is “bound for enlightenment; the two stones are called sanson). They are placed next to water, a body of water or water feature, as images of water features, natural hills and/or mountain scenes.
Bodies of water are represented in the Japanese garden by a pond or lake. In the case of dry Zen rock gardens where sand and gravel represent the sea or ocean, the stones would be placed next to or in the sand/ pebble garden. The scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China, as does the garden aesthetic and spirituality of Zen Buddhism. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the seashore.
In my last performance at the Royal Room November 30th, I told the stories about how each of the Koto jazz songs I played came to be. The following I hope serve as a glimpse into the koto jazz process as I reflect on a particular part of the natural world and seek to bring out its natural majesty and beauty in a musical tune. Tide Pools l & The Wind, for example, I wrote a few weeks ago.
Shiyodamari To Nami (Tide Pools & Waves) – This smooth jazz song was inspired by viewing tide pools on the Oregon and Washington coasts, feeling the motions of wind dashing upon tide pools and waves; their undulating patterns; their graceful dance on sandy shores. When we leave our world whatever it is and enter the world of the majestic wind, we see that the Wind breathes the Spirit of life onto our world and we can be left with nothing but awe and inspiration.
The anime story about “The Charcoal Feather Federation” (Haibane Renmei) sends a deep spiritual message. The setting of the story resides in the idea of a purgatory type of state for lack of a better term (although this does not necessarily reflect the intent of the author nor is it wholly representative of the true translation).
This state is more psycho-social spiritual than an actual physical place or state that are often associated with western ideas of purgatory. The mindset of the main characters are all about relationship, giving and receiving, and letting go of the thinking that holds us back from attaining a place of spiritual freedom- freedom from the trappings of our mind’s thinking, such as self blame and guilt, and lack of self- forgiveness.
This is what makes the Haibane Renmei a must see. Every one of us has a place or part of our life- story and life- thinking that we struggle to come to terms with; we struggle to forgive. It comes in a form we may have long buried and forgotten. If we find ourselves being dismissive when reading this, we most absolutely have something we imperatively must find, face, and forgive.
The first step is to find it and face it. Haibane Renmei emphasizes the important messages we may gather from our dreams and memories. Then, having found and faced it, can we muster the courage to forgive?
This is the ultimate aim of a spiritual life, and I argue each of our lives. If we have not forgiven our self, we are not able to forgive the same in others. Thus, that part of us is projected out; becomes a cancerous toxic presence in our own life, and therefore among our circle of friends and family. The creator of Haibane Renmei, Yoshitoshi Abe, has a gifted way of bringing the spiritual life, including the progression into the next life, as interwoven with the life of here and now, a notion very appropriate for the Shinto tradition. However, it presents the current life we lead and the progression through spirituality into the next life, in terms foreign to western concepts of life and death. These are Shinto- Buddhist concepts, though Abe-san handles it masterfully.
Once we have forgiven the self, we free our self from our own mental trap and become empowered with the capacity to forgive. Often the “forgive process” comes from someone else, as was the case with Reki in the Haibane Renmei story, the girl who could not remember her dream, nor forgive her self. The story suggests a need for a loving catalyst, a loving person in one’s life who reaches and makes the “forgiveness connection”. I’ve needed more than one person to help me make my “forgiveness connections”.
That is the means by which we obtain freedom to reach a higher spiritual presence in this life and the next.
The “winding stream garden”, otherwise known in Japan as yarimizu– is a key part of Chinese and Japanese gardens. The stream represents in Taoism the permanence of impermanence, ever flowing water that still remains the same. It has also been part of the other creative arts, such as poetry and painting in China and Japan. An important element of the stream garden are the creek rocks on the creek beds and aligning the shore lines, as well as stones and occasional bonsai- shaped pine trees and bushes, as shown in the photo above. This is an excavated and revived archaeological site of the Kyuseki stream garden in Nara, Japan. A natural stream or one recycled by a pump naturally leads into a pond, the image of a larger body of water such a lake or the sea.
The Kyuseki stream and pond garden near the Imperial palace in Nara (Japan’s original capital), dates back to the 8th Century, according to the Bowdoin University website (see Bowdoin’s Japanese garden website. This suggests the origins of “a stream banquet” (kyokusui no en) during which guests attempted to come up with an original poem before cups of wine, set floating from a point upstream, and arriving at their position along the riverbank”, according to the Bowdoin University Japanese garden website.
The Japanese garden is also derived from Buddhist divination principles, with the intention of carrying away evil while attracting good. To do this, the original Japanese garden design publication, Sakuteiki (Records of Garden Making), says the stream should cross the garden from East to West.
In college at Sophia University, I remember reading Genji-monogatori (源氏物語 The Tale of Genji), about the Heian period festival which featured the kyokusui-no-en, the Feast of the Winding Stream. It is an annual springtime event even today at Mōtsū-ji Temple, Hiraizumi.
More often than not, the Japanese garden stream is not a raging force, but a soft and gentle water flow for the contemplative nature of this type of stroll garden. Again, this offers a more meditative environment for reflection and connection to nature.
Here is 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Music is able to transform the human mind and spirit in similar ways as natural places of beauty. This is accomplished in part by the sound of music imitating nature by rhythmic beat and flow, its movement in and out of patterns, its simple resonation, coloration, depth of sound, and most importantly, its moments of intermittent silence.
Perhaps, my favorite musical pieces, especially those with koto jazz tunes and themes are those that are able to most effectively bring out the melodious expressions of beauty in nature. While I try to do this in all my music, here are a few feature samples of my music where I believe I come close to accomplishing this (I will be featuring these songs when I play at Seattle’s Royal Room on September 8th):
Certain harmony even dissonance, can induce the same euphoric state as inspiration from the natural world. From a health science perspective, it releases chemicals in the brain but also establishes an ionic, possibly magnetic balance in the brain to build upon higher spirituality and higher levels of intuition (again, referring back to James Redfield’s “intuition” in Celestine Prophecy).
After all, music is made by the passing of energy through strings and other instruments. These “instruments of energy” pass on their energy and nurture our spirits. They often connect us with our subconscious emotions and life experiences, or to the contrary, may help us escape from them. It can also lead our spirits to an enlightened spiritual plain. When a musical masterpiece is played in your presence, do you not feel uplifted and recognize the performer taking you to a higher spiritual plain? I think this is what Ludwig Von Beethoven meant when he said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”
This also explains the use of sound in some sects of Buddhism, and the use of the flute in the aforementioned Zen sect (see “suizen” or blowing meditation in Koto Jazz 34: Shakuhachi Flute).
When we connect with people enjoying the same music, we feel a heightened euphoria and spiritual connection with them, as if we’ve learned something spiritual and profound about them without the need for communication of words. So in that sense, it is a powerful form of human spiritual communication, and communication with a Higher Power.