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Kyoto Journal #73 – Fall 2009

Cover by Sarah Brayer

How long ago did our hunter/gatherer ancestors begin to utilize materials from their natural environment to braid rope, craft baskets, weave the first textiles, or produce richly-hued dyes from plants and insects? Could anyone in those far distant days have imagined the splendor of Cambodian ikat, the sumptuous intricacy of Nishijin silks?

Who discovered the power of drumming? And when did the rhythm of language turn into songs of devotion, or reflective poems? When did we start telling stories about the other creatures whose world we share, or begin to depict them in decorative arts? At what stage did we render plant fibers into paper; record observations worth saving for the future? Who was inspired to make those earliest flutes of bamboo or swan's bone, and the first stringed instruments? When did we start to conceive the seasonal aesthetics of gardens and devise other means, public and private rituals, to re-envisage our interconnectedness with the natural world?

How long have we known how to read the signs of impending disasters?

Ages ago we learned that to preserve nature and nature-based crafts is to safeguard the source of our richness; to destroy nature is to take an axe to our own roots. So when and how did we begin to forget this? And what can we do to remember?

This issue of Kyoto Journal explores our present relationship with the natural world. Among eight interviews and profiles are several featuring Japanese artists with deep commitment to working creatively with local communities abroad.

Free full digital sample issue, on ISSUU, here


OnoPROFILE: Ono Yotaro: “"Listen to the Wind, Observe the Mountains" – Ted Taylor and Matsumoto Miki

"Eyes need to have a commanding view of things in order to develop the attitude necessary to design a garden. By this I mean eyes that can look at a garden closely, but perceive it as if watching from a great distance. It has an attitude of recognizing the echo of heaven and earth in a confined space."

Mirka: Nishijin Harmonies –– Rebecca Otowa
"The colors of the Nishijin silk are so awe-inspiring on every level. They're subtle and yet brilliant, and finely shaded in many gradations of color. I feel color is very healing and a very powerful conduit to human consciousness. I create with color in such a way as to inspire, elevate, heal and enrich, and these silks are a perfect vehicle for that."

POETRY: Hands –– Ishigaki Rin

ItoPROFILE: Ito Akira: The Creative Spirit in Cultural Preservation –– Andy Couturier
"It is the eyes that do the work of perceiving, of seeing, and the hands that do the work of holding things and of expressing things. Because to live is to suffer, and all living things suffer, I decided that as much as possible I wanted to give to others, to lessen their suffering, and I knew that my purpose in life was to use my eyes and my hands to work for that purpose. Even in writing poems or essays, you are working with your eyes and hands to express that compassion and kindness in words."
Extract: "To Learn From the Forest" – Ito Akira
From the forthcoming book Another Kind of Luxury (Stone Bridge Press)

AsaoEXPAT PROFILE: Finding Shimura Asao: The Paper Master of Po –– Genevieve Wood
Weavers trained by Asao using knowledge from his paper travels around Japan demonstrate this 300-year-old process that originated in Kyoto, spinning and weaving paper thread into cloth. Asao has brought them a Gandhi handloom to use for this process and they skillfully cut, rub, join, twist, tighten and finally boil the pineapple into the resilient thread used to weave the soft and supple shifu cloth of Asao's homeland. Pineapple fibre rises to the occasion —– it has the delicate sheen of ganpi as paper and the resilient strength of kozo as thread.

morimotoEXPAT PROFILE: Morimoto Kikuo: Resurrecting a Cultural Ecology –– Molly Harbarger
Declaring "year zero" the Khmer Rouge willfully tried to strip the nation of its rich culture and heritage. Today, in concert with efforts to rebuild shattered lives, some projects aim to restore arts such as music, dance and architecture. The casualty that Japanese expatriate Morimoto Kikuo is trying his hardest to save is Cambodia's traditional art of silk weaving and dyeing. At its heart, Morimoto's is an eco-cultural enterprise bringing back lost skills as well as the vanished raw materials they require, once plentifully provided by the land.
Nature is Beautiful –– Ezaki Mitsuru
"Creation is an affirmation of the connection of my own being with the subject at the Source. As children, we all have the power to talk with the insects or the flowers or the stars. We have the ability to reestablish that universal friendship."

INTERVIEW: On Musical Chakras, Chilla and Uncharted Epiphanies: — An interview with Indian Percussion Legend, Zakir Hussain –– W. David Kubiak
...when a master tabla player is going on stage, you say, "Good luck, maestro, have a good show." And he will say, “"Well, let's see what the instrument wants to say today."” It's a very interesting statement because a master believes an instrument has its own spirit;— it's not just you who is going to do the talking on the stage today, the instrument's spirit will speak, too.

HarrisonINTERVIEW: Rendering the Lightning –– Roy Hamric interviews poet Jim Harrison
"When I was studying the Haida Indians I noted that their liturgy was obviously pre-Buddhist Chinese. I've often wondered at the fact that so many of our western natives came over the Aleutian land bridge and that this liturgy has become part of the land. This is a spooky and not-really-rational idea, but then even Karl Jung believed that our dreams emerge from the landscape."

ENCOUNTERS: The Tatami Edge –– Joanne G. Yoshida
"Lately I've become interested in the diamond pattern on the edge fabric of tatami mats, called heri in Japanese. Little by little, these mats made of rice straw are becoming things of the past. To me, those diamonds are starting to feel like the soul of Japan..."

monkeyThe Sea Monkey Child –– Gail Gutradt, illustrated by Amane Kaneko
The Balinese lunar New Year, Nyepi, is observed with a day of silent introspection and fasting. All fires are extinguished, no airplanes take off or land. There are no cars on the roads, no lights in the houses. This is taken seriously, in cities and villages alike. Even tourists are confined to their hotels, and the gates are barricaded.
     But the days before Nyepi are something else entirely. In villages and cities, Balinese engage in a vast, island-wide ritual of purification. And finally, on the last night of the old year, comes the torchlight procession of giant monsters, the Ogoh-Ogoh.

INTERVIEW: Through the Lens of Visual Anthropologist Omori Yasuhiro –– Christal Whelan
"For Japanese, documentary film is often political.  But ethnographic films are not forced to make political statements.  Instead, we are required to shoot daily life.  That daily life explains the culture.  Most documentary filmmakers don’t think about that.  They are always so busy trying to film some specific happening."


A Swarm of Japanese Flies –– Aurelio Asiain
Given the importance of silence in traditional Japanese culture and the attention paid to the voices of insects, I am hardly surprised that in modern Japanese the word urusai—– noisy, annoying, bothersome”– is written with three characters whose literal meaning is “mayfly.

The Persian Psalms of Iqbal – Trans. by Rasoul SorkhabiIqbal
Iqbal lived the rest of his life mostly in Lahore, where he practiced law and taught at the Government College from which he himself had graduated. He widely read the works of Nietzsche, Henri Bergson and Goethe, but embraced Rumi, the Sufi poet, as his spiritual and intellectual guide. Rumi's influence is easily seen in Iqbal’s poetry both in Urdu and Persian.

A Tale of the Evening Sea, by Awa Naoko, Trans. by Toshiya Kamei

Once in a small seaside village, there was a girl who was skilled at needlework. Her name was Sae, but no one knew where she came from nor how old she was. One summer evening, many years ago, as the setting sun sparkled upon the sea as if golden-scaled fish were swarming, the girl came to the house of an old woman named Ito...


Finding Compassion:

Photographer David Shrever and Zen priest Takafumi Kawakami talk about their relationship to Tibet.

POETRY: Aung San Syuu Kyi – Peter Ludwin

Tibet Poem –– Diana Woodcock

FICTION: My Tsunami –– Ron SavageTsunami
Be aware, that's her rule. Everything has a sign; the world will warn you if you let it. Healy understood how a tsunami works. She had read the articles and watched the documentaries. Don't talk yourself out of what you feel, what you see. Too many people do that. Oh, it's nothing, they say. Don't worry, they say. Healy knows not to expect a big drama, either, not at first. At first she may have to get very quiet to feel anything at all.

FICTION: A Sort of Deadline –– Kelly Luce
Friday, of course, was the final day of Obon, when the spirits returned home, the day of the riverside festival when candle-lit paper lanterns crowded the water. Once, as a child, she had seen one of the floating lanterns catch fire. The paper was so thin that the entire lantern seemed to disappear in a single flash. Her father had called it a bad omen. Secretly, though, she had found the boldness pleasing, surrounded as it was by such uniformity.

POETRY: Kanazawa –– Kenrokuen Gardens, by Elaine Starkman

After the Crash: Architecture in Post-Bubble Japan, by Thomas Daniell – Susan Pavloska Machiya Revival in Kyoto, Kyoto Center for Community Collaboration, Kyoto – John Einarsen
Art Space Tokyo: An Intimate Guide to the Tokyo Art World
, Ashley Rawlings – John Einarsen Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found Them All, Perry Garfinkel – Rasoul Sorkhabi
Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple, Kaoru Nonomura – John Einarsen
Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, Leza Lowitz – Ted Taylor
Francis Haar: A Lifetime of Images, Ed Tom Haar – Joseph Cronin
Householders: The Reizei Family in Japanese History, Steven D. Carter – William J. Higginson Steles, Victor Segalen, trans Timothy Billings & Christopher Bush – David Cozy
Facing the Bridge, Tawada Yoko, trans Margaret Mitsutani – Derick Mattern
Bayon Moon, Morimoto Kikuo – Wai Yee
The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity, Amartya Sen – Rasoul Sorkhabi
Passage Through India: An Illustrated Edition, Gary Snyder – John Brandi

POETRY: Jakarta –– Kebi Kebi

RAMBLE: Chair –– Robert Brady

It was a chair made to last beyond a life, like a poem or a song, the craft of it to be remembered, another form of the name of the maker, of himself and the grace of his hands to be passed on and spoken of, sung of in wood, taken good comfort in, and I realized I had in all my years on earth never been so well understood by a chair; no chair had ever told me of these things.

Online Special Features, #73

KJ Dispatches

Photographs courtesy Bhanuwat Jittivuthikorn, www.bhanuwatstudio.com 

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) held its 20th Anniversary Conference near Chiang Mai, Thailand, in mid November 2009. Over 300 delegates attended the conference representing most South, South East and East Asian countries, as well as Australia, South Africa, the United States, Holland, Belgium and the United Kingdom.


KJ Online Special – Short Fiction

by Kelly Luce

That night at the cheap sushi place in Osaka, Yumiko was complaining about her boyfriend with impressive fluency. As her English teacher, I had noticed that she spoke best when upset—it took her mind off making mistakes.

The trouble with the boyfriend was that Yumiko didn’t really love him. He was boring; he didn’t kiss hard enough. She’d just convincingly used the word “ambivalent,” in fact, when a purple running shoe rounded the bend behind a tub of wasabi. I blinked and it was still there, unhurriedly cruising the conveyor belt.

“…but love is not everything and I am getting old.” She bit her glossy lower lip. “You understand, Natalie?”

Maguro, shrimp, melon slice, wasabi, shoe.

Yumiko saw it too. The running shoe crept by, its frayed laces dangling over the edge of the counter, brushing the hot water taps.


KJ Online Special – Fiction

fictionYellow Elephant
By O Thiam Chin


When the wife stepped into the flat after a long day at the office where she worked as a paralegal, she saw the yellow elephant in the living room.The small two-room flat, located in a rapidly-aging housing estate, had been paid for in monthly installments for the past five years, mostly out of her income and savings; her husband refused to chip in after the second year of their marriage. He needed the money to pay for a new BMW 3-series, swanky work-clothes and nights out with his colleagues. She didn’t want to argue — they’d been having too many fights recently –- so she left him alone. They hadn’t talked for almost a month.

What caught her attention was the elephant’s intense color. It was bright yellow. In fact, it was brighter and richer than anything she had ever seen before. The yellow seemed like bright rays of sunlight, illuminating every corner of the small living room. Every part of the elephant was yellow, from its big toes to long trunk to its huge belly.

The beast didn’t notice the woman’s presence as it went on chewing the leather upholstery of the black sofa, ripping it into small pieces with its powerful trunk before putting the pieces into the pink gap of its mouth. Its movements were slow, controlled and purposeful. As it chewed, it carried on the work of tearing up the sofa as though it was a defeated, fallen prey.


Another fine video from Kai Keane...


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