Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trees and Bushes (Part 2)

Yes, we can kill trees. And I’ve been trying to kill a tree. I am a murderer of the weeping cherry tree. I’ve been trying to kill the tree in slow death. I’ve contracted out the killing in three occasions during 12 years because that tree kept showing new growth. Wait. The tree hasn’t died yet completely. You can see a bit of its life still. See the bottom photo. On top right, you can see a part of a good branch.

So, the mystery to this story I’m writing is not who the murderer is. That’s the mystery. It all started when Mother was lying on her death bed in the hospital.

A man came to me. I was staying at her house where I was born and reared for nineteen years. I name the man, Electro, after Electra of a Greek tragedy. There is no meaning to the naming except for convenience in writing this story. After we exchanged a brief greeting, Electro said,

“I came over because of your cherry tree problem.”

“What problem?” I said.

“The city paid the other half…,” he said. He had a smile on his face with the eye lids drooping down.

“Half of what? What is it?”

“This is the bill for your mother’s portion,” he said. He handed me a bill.

I looked at it. It was about 20,000 yen.

“The problem is the tree disturbs the electricity line. I volunteered to fix it. Your mother knows about it.”

“I see,” I said. “She is still in hospital.”

I probably should have asked Mother before I paid him if she authorized him the job, but she was in the hospital. I didn’t want to bother her with such problem. Besides, she had tendency to pay such costs without asking questions. So, I paid it from her money. Electro went on talking about how the tree had been causing problems, and he had to do this or that for Mother. She was 76, but her mind was quite sharp. She wouldn’t ask people’s help without returning her favors. She was quite generous. Sometimes, too generous.

I thought the amount too expensive, but I was unsure. I couldn’t compare the costs fairly because I had been living in the U.S. for the past 26 years. Besides, I had no idea about what he did to fix and for what problem exactly. I didn’t see any document from the city approving or paying him the same amount. But I didn’t have any reason to doubt him. The tree was large after all.

The weeping cherry tree was Mother’s joy. Her friends and students and everyone who had seen it wanted to see it bloom every spring. Just to see the tree, many people made their visit to her house. But I hadn’t seen the flowers because I went back every Thanksgiving week. For the four years prior to her death, I went back twice a year, but I guessed I missed the flowering periods. I only saw the flowers in her photos.

This is the current view from my window.

To be continued to Part 3. Don't miss it!

Trees and Bushes (Part 1)

In Yokohama, I’ve rented my old house and been living in a two room apartment next to it. My apartment is behind this bamboo bushes.

The largest persimmon tree and parking spaces. The car belonged to a guest of the renter. The renter is a master of making a Japanese fishing poles. He has many students. The house behind the car belongs to a neighbor, my childhood friend.

The left tree being cut is the weeping cherry. The trunk is quite large.

My grandfather on my mother’s side loved gardening. He planted the weeping cherry tree right after I went to the U.S. in 1970. And the weeping cherry tree was a great attraction for this neighborhood while my mother was alive. She had ocha parties under the tree.

But mother built her tiny tea room before the cherry tree matured. So, she named it “The Persimmon-Tree Hut.” We used to have four persimmon trees. They were probably planted before I was born by the grandfather of my father side. Of those four, there were three varieties. Today, only two varieties remain. One gives small fruits and the other, large.

Trees on earth give us joy. But they also cause us troubles. Trees are just like humans. They change as humans do. We never remain the same. Trees have own situation and local and world histories just like humans. Yes, they have their own languages, but we can’t speak them. Some live long life. Others die young. Trees can kill us if we let them, and we can kill trees.

Continues to Part 2.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Taiwa with Yang Yi and Shirin Nezammafi

A childhood friend of mine loves Anne Tyler’s books. The friend has been reading literary books since her childhood, and she is one of well read persons I know. I don’t remember what I’ve read, but I did read some of Anne Tyler’s short pieces. But I was a bit surprised to hear of the friend’s new preference because she used to like Ooe Kenzaburo’s books and similar books in that genre. Well, we all have different preferences, and we change, too. I used to read Asada Jiro’s books long ago. Now, I don’t have time to read his books, and my interest has shifted. And the friend who likes Anne Tyler considers Asada Jiro as sort of Japanese Stephen King. Talking of Stephen King, the other Japanese friend of mine who is also well read loves Stephen King. She reads King’s hard cover books in English. I admire her reading in English. This past sweltering August in Japan, she sent me email saying, “I’ve read so far 315 pages of King’s book.” It must be very hard for her to read the English book. She is the person whom I depend on when I have questions on anything about what I missed knowing about Japan. I mentioned about her before, so I would stop here.

So, we all are different, and our preference is a personal matter. And I’m interested in the perspectives of foreign writers who write in Japanese. First, they are rare. So, when my eyes caught a photo of two non-Japanese women on one of literary magazines, “Bungakukai,” of course, I read it with much interest. The article was an interview/discussion form, and this is very popular format in Japanese newspapers and magazines, and even in books. In the Japanese language, we call it “Taiwa (対話) or Taidan (対談).” Daniel of CHMagazine has asked me if Taiwa came from Taiwan. No, Daniel! He is funny. Taiwan is 台湾.

Taiwa, not Taiwan, is more than the one-on-one interview format. In this taiwa, a moderator did exist, but almost invisible. Only a few lines by the nameless moderator showed up at the beginning of each section. Why is the Taiwa format so popular in Japan? I have a theory, but I’ll talk about it, maybe, some other time.

The stars of this Taiwa are Yang Yi and Shirin Nezammafi. Yang Yi was born in the northeast of China in 1964. She came to Tokyo on scholarship and majored in geography. She was working as a Chinese language instructor before launching her writer’s career. Shirin Nezammafi was born in Iran in 1979. She studied engineering in Kobe and became a system engineer. They both live in Japan.

I enjoyed reading every paragraph of the taiwa, and they covered such as Chinese and Persian tradition in poems and about languages and so on. I’m interested in languages. But I would focus on one thing and summarize (not one on one translation) the ending interaction as follows.

From the November 2009 issue of Bungakukai.
Yang said something like this: Humans probably cannot know their true nature unless we actually go through a revolution or war. When I look at the generations of those Japanese who didn’t have such experiences, I wonder why they can’t come up with a bit better thoughts. Because of our old system, we Chinese didn’t have freedom, and we couldn’t even decide on our own matters. We had no choice but to live according to the social flow. So I tend not to think of my own rights, but to think only in the life given to me. I have no desire more than that.

Shirin said: Doesn’t that depend largely on your character? I’m sure there are people who break such barrier.

Yang: Some people do, but I don’t.

Shirin: I would probably fight it. But, for example, your main character Wan-chan (Yang wrote a novel, “Wan-chan.) seems the kind of person who accepts what has been handed. So, in that sense, what you described manifested in the novel, “Wan-chan.” Wan-chan cries a lot.

Yang: Yes, being unable to challenge the hurdle is the key point. Bur, rather than inability to overcome, it’s more toward no such thought ever occurring. I also don’t prefer such way of thinking (referring to the challenge to hurdles.)

Shirin: Is it because you don’t want to bother with it?

Yang: Rather, I’m content. It’s like “know what it lacks.” I am the I-don’t- desire-more-that-this type. 無為自然。Muishzen. No craftiness and stay natural. It’s the idea of Lao-Tse. But, humans cannot avoid but keep living according to our fate and environments. That’s our true nature. I think I’m interested in looking at true beauty and ugliness and strengths and weaknesses which only come after we truly accept the way it is.


In my opinion about 無為自然(Muishizen), mui is not idleness or inactivity or waste one’s life as the dictionary tells us. Mui has no crafty quality, no assumption, and no lie or untruth. It simply means true natural state.

We often refer to Lao-Tse and Chaung-Tse in blogs. The root of Taoism goes back more than 2000 years, and it interacted and competed with Buddhism and the Confucius teachings. So, even though most of Japanese are not religious, it is there in our lives, and I see the similar quality in Yang’s statement. I think Yang said it well. I think these words are more thought provoking and educational than buying and reading “Taoism for Dummy” although I don’t know if such book exists. And to the words of Shirin about fighting back, I also thought of it coming from her tradition. I hope she’ll get the Akutagawa-award, and keep writing and delve into what is really behind that tradition.

In my opinion, both writers are fighters, obviously. Writing a novel itself cannot be done without being a fighter. On top of it, they are writing in Japanese. How I admire and appreciate them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Reading Event

They are all narrators and actors. You'll see more photos as below.
Last Sunday, two women from this group had their own reading event. Their readings were like Japanese folktales. The stories put me into an old Japanese world. They can both use their voices to their advantage. One can speak the northeast dialect and use her voice like a musical instrument. The other woman has the kind of voice that can transport me into that fictional world and let me remain there. In these events, I'm grateful to have own language. Of course, we all have our own language. But it reminds us to appreciate it.

These people used to help me develop my play called "Yesterday." It's about a young girl who go to the Beatles' concert. We had six or so reading events a few years ago. And right now, I'm thinking about revisiting my play. I found a young woman who could possibly play the heroine. I wrote it in both English and Japanese, but they are not the same.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shodo, Paraguay, Spanish

My most popular blog is “Kana Shodo,” and the second is “Hiragana in Ballpoint Pen.” I’m glad and surprised about that. This week, I returned to my shodo class, and showed Iida sensei and classmates those blogs. I told them some people around the world have been looking at their graceful brushstrokes. They stared at the screen. Then, Iida sensei said that her husband has also been blogging. She wrote in red brushstrokes, “Letters from Paraguay.” I told her I was interested in Spanish and would take a look at it.

Next day, I happened to see a new and wonderful book displayed in the library: “Spanish Language in South and North America.” It is written by Miyoshi Junnosuke. I am fascinated to read the history of the Spanish Language and its development. I’ve been always curious about it.

I didn’t know one hundred or so native languages existed not too long ago in America, probably before 1400 or so, and sixty or so are still spoken today. I’m excited to find out that the word “chocolate” originated from Nahuatl Language of Mexica tribe. Thank you! And I stared at the page about Paraguay. Guarani language not only survived, but has prospered along with Spanish. I’m surprised to know that 90% of the people in Paraguay speak Guarani. Only 10% in the cities speak Spanish, and 5%, outside the cities. I wonder if Guarani has some similarity to Japanese.

And I found the word “Jaguar” originated from Guarani. I’m interested in the sounds of ja and gu of jaguar, and Gu of Guarani. Right now, I’m writing a story relating to b, d, and g sounds in Japanese. In the ancient Chinese, there was a distinction between pure and murky sound elements in the language. In the past, I blogged on the pure and impure (murky) sounds. We call them, seion and dakuon. I don’t know when it changed, but today, Chinese language contains only seion. So, even we see b, d, and g in pin yin, they are pronounced softly, unlike Japanese.

Throughout the book, “Spanish Language in South and North America,” the author mentions that there is a tendency in the sounds of b, d, and g weakening such as cansado becoming cansao. D dropped. It sounds like the ancient Chinese, I thought. I don’t know what it is, but there must be some psychological reasons behind that tendency. Some people might say it laziness, but others, aesthetic reason.

Lately, my interest in Spanish has gone up. Daniel Dragomirescu of CHMagazine sent me the following Spanish site.
And Hipatia Argüero Mendoza (Mexico) has edited my short stories and translated into Spanish. She explained to me about the usage of usted and tu. I read her messages with much interest because of their social and psychological and perhaps political elements.

As an ending paragraph of this post, I’ll paste the blog site I mentioned above. It used to be “Letters from Paraguay,” but now, it is “日々是好日,” everyday is a good day.
The author of the blog is Iida Kazuhiko. I think he is a retired civil engineer who had lived in Paraguay for two years to teach about concrete processing and building. I think you’ll enjoy his beautiful photos mainly of Japan, and I think, the photos are self-explanatory. Please click each item on the left column. The top of the center column contains advertisements. I think he has travelled to Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentine, and Chile as well as other countries which I found out at the bottom of the right column.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

More Photos Part 3

At last, I found my shoes, so I went outside. I strolled the main garden pathway and again I met the woman who mistakenly took my shoes. She bowed and apologized again. I bowed back smiling. Then I came to the place as above photo. I went left.

Yes, later I met her again here. She bowed to me again apologetically. I felt bad as if I popped up wherever she went to make her bow more?! But I really wanted to see this Osencha party. Sencha cups are made of using tea leaves, not powder.

His name is Ootake Kakucho. He is a master of osencha. He talked about the difference between the schools of powder tea and tea leaves. He pointed out that osencha way has less rules and regulation. He was a great spokesperson like a comedian. I believe good Tea masters must be humorous to relax people. He kept making us laugh. Usually, photo shooting is prohibited, but he said okay to me. So, I liked him even more. I hope you appreciate his openess.

It was a great cup of tea. The master said, "In Osencha, we drink a cup before we eat a sweet. Then we cut a sweet into three and eat. And we drink another cup of tea. Usually we drink three times, but today, twice." The biggest treat is to be able to see the valuable tea utensils up close and touch. I drank twice, but I could look at three different cups and saucers. They were all beautiful. Again, I enjoyed those handmade utensils and appreciated the unknow artists behind them.

Once, I treated a young American woman a sweet bean cake with a bowl of tea. She made a disgusted face. So, good things are cultural, and much of it, we acquire the taste in childhood. So, you don't need to like it.

The above omanju (sweet bean cake) was so good.

More Photos Part 2

This was the place most of tea schools had their own room. I had a mishap here. I lost my shoes temporarily. But because of it, I went around the place even behind the scenes, and different wings and so on. After my one hour search, a lady passed me by. She carried the paper bag that our lunch was originally served in it. I went after her and asked her if she had my shoes. She was the first person I asked because I didn't really want to ask anyone if they were carrying my shoes. But I had to. Otherwise, I couldn't go anywhere. To our surprise, the shoes she was carrying was my shoes!

This was our lunch. I started to eat my own and realized that I haven't taken a photo, so I asked one of women if I could take a photo of her lunch. She said yes right away. All the people maybe look serious at tea party at first, but tea practitioners are very friendly and helpful.

The Sankeien three storied pagoda.