I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Thinking and Smiling

And maybe some singing...

This is a song I recently wrote. It doesn't have a title and I don't think it really needs one. It sings for itself. Except unfortunately it doesn't yet because I can only express my song via lyrics. Maybe this is poetry, who knows. There are other repeats and codas and whatnot, but this is the core, the oak's xylem, of the song. But I am hoping to soon figure out how to make this blog multimedia and throw up a recorded mp3 (or is it mp4 now?). But I am unusually slow with technology, if you cannot tell by the lethargic growth rate of this blog, so by soon, I mean within a year. Please bear with me. I still need recording equipment too. As of now, it is 20:57 Saturday, February 24th. Please accept the following until I can update my technology.

a rubber knife in your back,
second chance,
a hug your mother never gave you,

I don’t know how,
but I can’t wait forever,
so pick up your legs,
and teach yourself to dance!

Take a bite,
time will never forgive you,
if it’s poison, you’ll drop fast,
but it won’t hurt

your feet can’t lose,
they’ve already hit rock bottom,
and your face ain’t getting prettier.


make your breath a lighter,
please don’t stone press here,
this ain’t 1692,
but I know a trick or two,
I will make your head spin, spin, spin
like a taboo rising,
don’t hide your eyes!
or I’ll double in size!



Thursday, February 22, 2007

Revisiting Indentured Servitude

This is a disgrace to human intelligence. Could our country really just not survive without slavery? It's hardly been 40 years, do we want to return to soon?

Companies and begun realizing that they can sell themselves even shorter than they previously were, by literally selling themselves for whatever their contractor wishes them to do. If this were sex, wouldn't it be prostitution? Why is it becoming America's new fad?

  • Humansellouts.com. Doesn't the name sound so promising?

  • This asshole sold temporary tattoo-space on his forehead. Even worse, he was interviewed and encouraged for his whoredom by almost all of America.

  • Humanadspace.com. Pretty much the same here. If he truly were a whore, this guy would be fornicating with his, eyebrows?

  • Think for one minute please... Do you want to contribute to and support a country that condones this kind of behavior, yet outlaws marajuana? Do you think it's right and justified that so much money be wasted on such trivial human folly and profligacy while we have insufficient health care, social security, education, human welfare...do I need to continue?

    But I don't want to focus only on the negatives, so let's take a look at humane alternatives:

    The first two here are Plum Village and the Green Mountain Dharma Center. Both were founded by by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. He has devoted his life to trying to save the human race from its misery, something I cannot be so bold or brave to attempt. Unlike Western monotheistic religions, however, dharma does not insist or expect a bunch of crazy stories. It offers anyone, regardless of their path, relief from suffering, and encourages them to follow a self-directed life that respects and considers all other beings around them. I think this is a pretty good start, to say the least. I have read some of Thich Nhat Hanh's works before, too long ago, and now Katie and I are reading "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames." Please browse these sites and share anything you feel taken by.

  • This is Plum Village in France. Thankfully, consumerism is not the only things that has been prospering this past century.

  • Green Mountain Dharma Center. This is fairly new to America from what I've been reading.

  • This space is reserved for more positive ways to change ourselves and/or the world.

    1) This is a website I went to after it was brought to my attention that my flights to Japan created an insane amount of CO2 pollution. I calculated how much damage my flights caused (about 2.2 tons of CO2 production), and was able to invest in programs that could offset my true travel expenses. Most of its efforts are devoted to the U.K.
  • Carbon Neutral Company

  • 2) American Forests perfoms a similar service, but it focuses specifically on trees and their well-being. You can joke about "saving the trees", but I would like to point out that they keep us alive, so maybe we could return the favor.
  • American Forests

  • I'm still updating this post with hope for the future so please don't forget to return here again, and again...you get the point.

    3) Biodiesel! This article covers all of the benefits, and the very few setbacks, to biodiesel in America. There was much more here than I was expecting, including comparisons of biodiesel to oil, what cars work most efficiently with biodiesel, links to sites where you can buy biodiesel, converting restaurant fryer waste into fuel, etc. Please, if you can afford a car that runs on biodiesel, switch now! We don't have time to play the oil game anymore.
  • Co-op America's article on Biodiesel.

  • 4) Trees for the Future! More about forests, but this is a bit different. This group has been going in and restoring deforested regions throughout several dozen countries, and establishing ways for people living in the affected communities to restore their independence and productivity through maintaining their ecosystems. By working for their land, citizens of so many countries, from those industrialized to those far from it, are learning how to better provide for themselves. I believe the parable that best relates to this phenomenon is "Teaching a man to fish," a practice that I strongly support and wish more people practiced. I encourage everyone to take a look at the 8-minute video this organization produced. It was powerful enough for me to want to immediately quit my post and sign up to become a full-time volunteer for Trees for the Future.
    Here is the link, please take a look:
  • Trees for the Future
  • Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    西芳寺Saihouji (苔寺Kokedera) = Moss Temple

    Last Monday (2/12) was a national holiday, and on the day off Katie surprised me by taking us to Saihouji. The temple was originally built in the 8th century (between 729-749 during the Tempyo Era of the Nara Period) by a priest named Gyogi Bosatsu (or Gyoki––please bear with me, different sources have different spellings), and restored later in the 14th century by a Zen Buddhist monk and landscaper, Muso Kokushi (or Soseki). The gardens were not intended to have moss, but in the past couple hundred years over 120 varities of moss have claimed ownership of the temple, renaming Saihouji popularly as Kokedera (苔 =Koke= moss). Saihouji is the epitmoe of the Japanese garden, and the scarcity of people added to its enchanting nature. Unlike other temples, Saihouji only allows in a handful of guests each day, in order to protect the fragile moss gardens. When you go to Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji, or Kiyomizudera, as with most places in Japan, you are almost always in an audience––hardly the picture of serenity I would imagine. In order to preserve their haven, the caretakers of Saihouji recognized that they cannot admit masses to flood in and disturb its balance. In order to go, Katie had to write a postcard a few weeks prior, and wait for a written invitation. I am very happy she took that time to get us permission to visit. It was a wonderful experience I'm afraid I can only express via the photographs we took.

    A few other fun points about the visit...
    To begin, we participated in the mid-day prayer with the Saihouji monks. It was a little too fast for me to keep up with, even though we had a written copy of the chant before us (written in Japanese). Also, before touring the gardens we painted (is that the right verb for calligraphy writing?) wishes on wooden prayer sticks. I remember telling myself to remember the wish, so that I could convey it to others, but guess what?... I forgot! It had something to do with humans recognizing the potential of their hearts and minds. Wow, does that lack prophetical power. Oh well, maybe it will come true anyway. It seems like if you want a wish to come true you should pursue it and repeat it with the hopes of seeing it come to life. Next time I blow out the candles, I'm not keeping any secrets! Here, I'll try to repeat the magic words:
    "(The goal in life is)For all humans to realize the extent of their heart and mind's powers and live accordingly, responsibly."

    One more unique feature of Saihouko is that the garden ponds are shaped like the Chinese character 心 = kokoro/shin= heart. Unfortunately I am not tall enough to take an arial-view photo, but maybe I will be able to find one online. If so, I will include it...

    I do have included a link to information about the temple below. I am remiss to say that after researching many sites online, Wikipedia is the best I could come up with. But anything that I state on my blog is probably more accurate––I got the information directly from monks at Saihouji. I'm not trying to brag, I'm just saying...well, it's true isn't it?

  • Wikipedia's details on Saihouji/Kokudera

  • Selling your stocks never made more sense

    As my beard's begun growing and, of course subsequently, I've been wisening-up over the past few years, I've felt more and more certain that American culture and its globalizing capitlaist economy is falling faster than it is climbing. It never made sense to me that I had video games, I had friends, I watched satellite television, I wore name brand clothes, but the more I aquired the less happy and secure I felt. Even if I bought a Playstation, Playstation 2 would come out a few years later and I would need that one. How pathetic and commercial washed I had been. Of course I never needed them, but I wanted, I was hungry, and I never asked my stomach why.

    I'm writing this to show that for all of the people still not asking why, there is still a chance to get your mind back.

    Throughout college, as the wrinkles started to grow, I started dropping old habits for more worthwhile and self-improving methods. I began to read again. As I child I loved the sport, but something about adolescenece just tricked me into believing that fiction on a page was too boring, and that only seizure-striking images on TV were interesting enough. I began listening to different, again returning to some favorites I heard as a child: classical, jazz, and blues and other of my father's favorites that I heard around the house. I tuned out the droning popular radio stations that choose top ten hits for you with their hypnotic repeating of the songs they want you to like––back to good old NPR!

  • Here's a link to an "Infinite Mind" report on just this subject: "Satisfaction"

  • This broadcast talks about how human cognitive processes are being changed by contemporary business. Our minds and hearts are being spoiled by an excess of junk. We didn't know what the internet was thirty years ago and we funcitoned just smashingly. Now we become petulant and pout like a child if we cannot have a Cable or DSL connection. What improvement is this? Kids are not happy with simply having shoes, they want the one's endorsed by the latest basketball star. How does this help our children, not to mention ourselves, mature and grow into adults? Even worse, we are now reliant on our toys and upgrades, so that if we, for whatever unheard of reason, were forced to downgrade, we could not compete or keep up with the trends. This is the aim of today's businesses: to make you believe, on an emotional and physical level (ever heard or TV or alcohol or cigarette withdrawals?) that you cannot live without the newest fad. It takes very little to manipulate the human mind in the way, as I have learned from my psychology courses, and corporations today even have psychologists working in their marketing departments. These are walking leeches that you wouldn't recognize because they look just as normal as anyone with a cell phone (literally) tied to their ear. These people are paid to maximize your misery so that you run to their company for the next fix. I have an idea, try heroine! You're only one step away, and at least it's honest about the fact that it hates you and wants to make you depressed. That and you could remove the irony of being mind-raped by another human capable of compassion, but who instead chooses to make you into his or her veal dinner (whether knowingly or because leeches are just as brainwashed as their hosts). This is true terrorism.

    As I mentioned, I learned much of these things in my psychology courses. Part of what frustrates me is that the people who best understand and see through the facades of modern American culture are least often listened to. I've read many articles that have come to the following conclusions.
    1) A capitalist society, especially those with large poverty gaps (America), tend to aim more for individualism, increasing affluency, and have little social welfare.
  • Take a look at this recent New York Review of three different books, all analyzing America's inevitable failure to keep true on its promises of creating a stable international community.

  • 2) More money does not make people more happy. Big suprise. But while Americans are driving themselves nuts trying to work harder to make money, they don't realize a few things. How can they enjoy their money if they're always working? There's always someone who can always do the same work at a lower price--that's the essential element of capitalism. Maximum product with minimum input. So what we've established is a company that will take any shortcut for a profit. They close their eyes to environmental, human, and animal devestation every day, and we let them because we want our cheap products.

    Think again about some very basic parables. The man who built his house upon sand. The Emporer's new clothes. How can we expect to create a stable country, sustain homeostasis within environment, and maintain bonds with each other as human beings if we are willing to sell ourselves and each other short? Why would you cheat on a test? For a good grade, obviously, but when did the primary aim of education become the numerical result rather than what the child learns?

    Outside of psychology there are thousands of other pure voices attempting to get the same message across. Listen to some old Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles or other excellent protest music of the 60s and 70s. Support organic farming. Watch a film by Jean-Luc Godard. Read Plato. Read Shakespeare and about chivalry. I recently read the "Bushido" by Inazo Nitobe, which describes the samurai code of Japan. We need to remember how to respect each other and our earth again.

    Sunday, February 18, 2007


    February 3rd,

    The last day of spring, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and what is more natural than throwing out last season's garbage. So all over Japan people gather at neighborhood temples. "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi ({鬼は外、福は内} Out with the demons, In with fortune)," people chant and chase their devil-masked family members, friends, and monks––anyone up for a good pelting––with good luck beans. The Chinese, and now Japanese as well, have long believed that evil creatures haunt the cusps between different seasons ("Setsu" = season + "bun" = division), and in order to cleanse their homes for the upcoming year they participate in "Mamemaki" (roasted soybean-throwing). They even eat the beans afterward for good health and luck (although I don't see how throwing food on the ground and then eating it is supposed to purify the body, it seems to work in spirit). If you are up for stench, you can also decorate your home with sardines, a smell even demons despise. And don't forget the holly bough––if the smell and the bean smattering hasn't driven those spirits back to hell yet, there's also some old-fashioned poison to do the trick.

    Despite the comical tone, the Setsubun experience was quite amazing. Later in the same day that Katie, Winston, and I went to Iga-Ueno, we took a train to Nara where a special event was taking place. Once in Nara we took a long stroll up above the city to a shrine called Kasuga Taisha (春日大社). The path was lined with around 3000 paper and stone lanterns. A low golden moon hung just over the top of the mountain, peaking through the trees as we walked uphill to the shrines, and casting shadows ahead of us as we descended back down. I tried to takes pictures of our experience, but given the lighting it was a bit difficult. Maybe I can draw of picture of it and add it to my Nara picture collection. The place is so inspiring! The parks and temples are endless, the deer are abundant (hence, why I am learning archery), and there is one of the world's largest Buddhas at Todaiji (東大寺). If you ever go to Japan, Nara. For a nature, history, culture lover, you could spend years in Nara and learn something new every hour of being there. Tokyo is a meth lab with enough toxic fumes and chemicals to melt your retinas and leave your tongue bleeding. Nara is a smooth palm and a glass of water.

    February 4th,

    We celebrated Setsubun in a modern setting today. The Kusatsu International Friendship Association (KIFA = 国際交流協会) invited Katie, Winston, and I to join them and play a few songs at their spring welcoming party. I'm not much a party-goer, but I really enjoyed getting together with many people I knew through KIFA and Kusats, and meeting new people. Plus my Japanese teacher, Fujiwara Sensei, came and took many pictures! Thank you! Without her I would not be able to share these photos from the event. Not to mention speak Japanese, that's pretty helpful too.

    This is Winston, Katie, and I doing "mochi-tsuki", or mochi making. Mochi is sticky rice used to make semi-sweet cakes, and they are really big here in Japan, especially in Shiga. (If you want a better explanation ask Katie or Winston; they love mochi. Unfortunately I don't care for the taste, it's a little too doughy, and the sweet-bean fillings aren't exactly what I look for in a dessert.) If you've never seen "mochi-tsuki" before, you can watch some awesome videos on You Tube taken in !NARA! of some pros at work. You have to pound rice with the giant mallets we're holding in the pictures, and the realy guys are fast! Search for "mochi-tsuki" in Nara (or Japan).

    Fujiwara Sensei! She lives in a nearby city, Yasu, and I visit her once a week with a lot of questions. She always tries to help me, and has been invaluable to helping me feel more comfortable speaking Japanese with other people. THANK YOU!

    Sunday, February 04, 2007

    伊賀上野、三重県 (Iga-Ueno, Mie Prefecture)

    Ueno-jo (上野城)

    With my cousin Winston in town to visit, we natrually decided to take him far away from Kusatsu in order to give him a pleasant taste of the country. The monkeys, the snow-shuddedring Suzuka (鈴鹿) mountains, and the 1 liter vending machine purchasable cans of beers are just too vital to the Japan experience––we couldn't let him leave empty handed!
    In sooth we headed out to the city appelled of Ueno in a northern valley of Mie to visit the "home of ninja." Winston has long pursued an interest in ninja history, culture, and lifestyle, and Katie and I were also intrigued to learn more about the mysterious stealth and secrecy behind the Iga Ninja clans.

    We seem innocent, but wow, are you in for trouble. Katie has all of China's nuclear weapons, the ghost of Saddam Huessein, and about 50 suidice bombers under her hat.

    Here is the ninja mentality. When the Samurai and fuedal lords began using their authority irresponsibly, many families decided to separate from mainstream society and develop an independent form of self-governence in rural and mountainous areas. Nijustsu arose as a means of defending themselves and their communities from governing classes who wanted to claim taxes and assert power over all within reach. Their guerilla tactics arose out of necessity, driven by the needs of self-defense and survival. At the same time, many ninjas also rented their knowledge of disguise and stealth and became assassins to abet warring samurai lords. Many a ninja were hired for mercenary duties that the proud samurai would not deign to perform due to their strict ethical code.

    Sorcery and subterfuge!!!!

    The Iga ninjas were finally destroyed in a series of attacks by a daimyo (fuedal lord) named Oda Nobunaga. His initial army of 4,000 warriors died and failed to conquer the Iga ninja and allies. However, a second wave of approximately 40,000 soldiers did the job, and almost entirely destroyed the surrounding villages. Some families who knew the secret of the ninja escaped and continued to practice their ways in nearby mountains.
    This is by no means an entire history of ninja, only a very brief and non-expert look that I got from a few hours in Iga. But two interesting questions I thought of are;

    1) What is it in human beings that makes them believe they need to rule over others? Why did the landowners during fuedal times need to control entire valleys and ranges? Why have humans always tried to take and enslave each other? Why does one man's power (in the example of this story, the samurai) derive from the number of people he can kill?

    A samurai warriors helmet. I can see how this thing could literally ignite one's sense of self-righteousness. I'll bet decapitating someone while wearing this crown of Prometheus would feel pretty empowering.

    Maybe we should call Freud back for this one. Or Jenna Jameson...

    2) Why did the ninjas, who left the samurai realms to begin a simpler and more peaceful life, allow themselves to become tools for the samurai and very people they despised? If the ninja families truly wished to remove themselves from land struggles and warring egos, why did they reenter that society and attack it?

    I know that those staunchly destructive samurai and the meddlesome ninja who did these things were not the sole representatives of their populations. But these questions should be more often attempted and pondered because these are the types of personalities who have been warring and causing the overwhelming majority of manmade casualities throughout history. The ultimate question that this leads to, one that most people hopefully do not have an automatic answer, is what ideals are worth killing for? Who, if anyone, deserves to have authority?

    I elect these two strapping chaps! They sure appear trustworthy and as common as flies on a mule's ass, or rabies in a junkyard rat. I vote for Captain Pringles and his sidekicks, the 1 liter beers (with the Winston-Salem team as their understudies).

    As always, I would love to hear some responses to these querries; either personally or on the blog here. Thanks for listening.

    The remaining photographs are taken in and around Ueno Castle (上野城). This was actually one of the most decorated of any Japanese castle I've visited so far, as the photos reveal. Unfortunately I do not yet know the proper names for many of these object––the helmets, the human carrier, etc.––but as soon as I learn I will update those portions.


    This is a hybrid of classical Japanese symbolism: the red rising sun eclipsed with a rane in mid-flight.

    High tech S&M equipment. I do NOT want to play anymore!

    Another Taiko (太鼓) bass drum

    This was used to transport the Daimyo and other fuedal lords. The cramped space, unfortunately difficult to capture on camera, gives a good perception of human evolution over merely the past 4-500 years. I know I have a different point of reference, but this device looks more like a torture device that a vehicle of transportation. On another note, I think it's a shame that luxury kills a person's motivation to use his own body.

    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Another reason to become a vegetarian

    This is too rich. I found this article when I was trying to discover who the single largest responsible human for greenhouse gases is. It turns out the person so despicable to smog-up our glass snow-dome is more inhuman that I had imagined...

    It's the cow.

    I'm not funning.

    Here's a link to the article I read:

  • Cow farts burning up the atmosphere

  • In short, the United Nations realized that the methane produced by our earth's 1.5 billion and increasing bovines (that's a gaggle), coupled with the energy expense to raise and maintain them, make the world's cattle supply our most sublime threat. Methane apparently impacts global warming at 20 times the rate of carbon dioxide. The study didn't say, but I wonder how much methane do you think 6 billion plus humans create?––don't hold your breath, hold your ass-cheeks together! Clear-cutting for grazing ranges, meat production and transportation, and fertilizer for vainly upkeeping greenspace also all add to a grave danger.

    Tough shit, Brahma. We need to start killing some cows. At least in the short run, maybe my title is wrong...perhaps for the moment we should devour the remaining livestock and their fat, steaky, luscious, hormone-implanted herds. Of course in doing this we may accidently move on to a certain group Americans who resemble cow––their laziness, tendency to attract flies, excessive gas-productivity, failure to act with any concept of autonomy––and hence cannibalize more than half of the population. But that means half the Range Rovers, Lexii, Fords, Dodges, and Hummers--OH MY! I think I'm liking this idea even more. EAT ONWARD!

    Between cows and fish, I would again reccomend tofu. It's blandtastic!