Learning Things The Hard Way

Sometimes you just learn things the hard way.  This video I made recently was kind of off-script, but I wanted to talk about some recent experiences I had with Zen.  My experiences so far have been fairly positive (besides the sore knee), but it’s also a matter of finding what’s right for you.

I’ve taken a break from Zen practice,¹ and have kind of dabbled in Jodo-Shu practices lately for various reasons outlined in the video.  I haven’t really quit anything, or committed to anything, but just seemed like the right thing to do for now.

Who knows where I’ll be next year, or even next week.  :p

P.S.  The photo above is one I took at Chion-in temple in Kyoto, Japan. The status is a young Honen, before he took tonsure.

¹ Which is kind of a shame since I had kept it up almost daily for 7 weeks.  Better than being a three-day monk.  ;p

Girls’ Day 2017 Wrap-Up

Hey Folks,

Just wanted to post a few pictures from our Girls’ Day celebration at home.  This is another doll set that Little Guy made in his Japanese preschool:

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Here is the sakura-mochi we had.  Lately, it’s been harder to find it around here, even at Asian-food markets, so we were happy to find this one.  It was delicious as usual.  I enjoy sakura-mochi once a year, but like the Thanksgiving turkey, or Christmas treats, it’s worth the wait.

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My wife also made a nice clam soup.  I can’t recall what kind of clams these are, but usually we get Manilla clams.  The small colored balls are fu, which are dried wheat balls (naturally colored) that expand in water.  The soup itself is made from shira-dashi, which is like a clarified fish broth (dashi).

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Finally the piece-de-resistance: a large plate of chirashi.  Chirashi is basically sushi rice garnished with sashimi and such.  This is mostly maguro tuna, egg, shrimp, and some boiled spinach on the side.  The rice itself is mixed with shiitake mushrooms and such.

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We played lots of karuta games with my daughter.  The particular game we played was a karuta game based on famous Japanese yojijukugo phrases.  Since neither my daughter nor I am that familiar with them, my wife read the cards for us, while we found the right cards to match.  My daughter won most games, though not without some serious competition.  😉

All in all, it was a great Girls’ Day and looking forward to Easter and Children’s Day next.

Happy Girl’s Day 2017

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It’s that time of year again!  March 3rd is “Girl’s Day” or hinamatsuri (ひな祭り) in Japanese.  Time to enjoy excellent sakura-mochi and chirashi, and spend quality time with the kids, especially my daughter “Princess”. My son made this in one of his activity books for the family by drawing in the faces (Mommy obviously did the rest). We are very proud of him.

To all the ladies out there, young and old, happy Girls’ Day!

P.S.  Past Girls’ Day posts for 2015, 2014, among others.

Setsubun 2017 Wrap-Up

February 3rd is a Japanese holiday called Setsubun (節分), which according to the old calendar marks the turning point when winter gives way to Spring (also called “risshun” 立春).

There’s a lot of traditions for Setsubun. One tradition is that people make special sushi rolls called ehōmaki (恵方巻き). The tradition is to eat the whole roll facing a specific direction, which changes yearly according to geomancy, without saying a word. If you successfully do this, you will have good luck. This year (2017) the auspicious direction was NNW. Here’s me stuffing my face in the process:

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Different areas of Japan have different ways of making ehōmaki. For example, people in Miyazaki Prefecture use lettuce with shrimp and mayonaise, while people in Yamagata Prefecture use roasted-chestnut paste.

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My wife made this one with seven ingredients to match the Seven Luck Gods (shichifukujin 七福神):

  1. cucumber
  2. carrot
  3. kanpyō (stewed Calabash Squash)
  4. shiitake mushrooms
  5. egg
  6. unagi eel
  7. takuwan (pickled Daikom radish)

Further, it’s fun to dress up as an orge (oni 鬼) so kids can throw roasted soy beans at you. This is called mamemaki (豆まき). The idea is to drive out bad luck and bring in the good luck.

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The mask I am wearing was made by my daughter when she was 6, so it isn’t very fancy but I liked it so much I use it every year instead of buying one. This year, my son made one too and got in on the act.  It was a daddy-son Oni combination!

Happy (belated) Setsubun to everyone!

A Primer on Japanese Hiragana

My son is now three years old and is starting to learn to read. For various reasons we are focusing on speaking and reading Japanese first and that includes the Japanese kana writing system.

The kana system is actually two writing systems:

  • Hiragana (平仮名) – the core writing system in Japanese. 
  • Katakana (片仮名) – used for foreign words, sound-effect words and/or very young readers. 

Right now, my son is learning to read hiragana because that’s the most fundamental thing to learn when reading Japanese. Also, in comparison to English, it is much easier for a three year old to pick up.

Hiragana is not an alphabet, despite all appearances. It is a syllabary. What this means is that each character represents a unique syllable, and does not change sound. So, for example, the character か always represents the sound “ka”. The character も always presents “mo” and so on. The entire set of hiragana characters represent all the sounds in Japanese language.

Children learn Hiragana using a chart like so:

    w r y m h n t s k  
a
n
i      
chi

shi
u    
tsu
e      
o  

With a few exceptions, you can see that all of them arrange themselves in a nice grid. The character ん (n) will only appear at the end of a word, never at the beginning.1 Also a few others are pronounced slightly different than one would expect, but otherwise function the same.

There is a little more to the hiragana than this. For example some hiragana do change sounds a bit such as ふ (hu) ぶ (bu) and ぷ (pu) if they have a little mark attached to them. Also, sounds like shō (しょう) and shū (しゅう) require a few hiragana characters put together. But even so, it is still nice and predictable.

Typically, kids in Japan will recite them from the upper-left, あ (ah), vertically, then the next column か (ka) and so on.

My son only knows a few hiragana so far, but he’s very happy when he sees them in books. Since one character is one sound, it’s easy for him to pick out the characters he knows, and he knows how to say them right away. Sometimes he’ll shout “wani no wa!” while reading which means “wa (わ) as in wani (alligator)” which is very cute. 

My daughter, when she was at that age, had a little chart in her room, and slowly learned each hiragana character until she could read them all by age 4 or so.

Speaking from experience, the only way to really learn Hiragana is to simply memorize them and then practice reading enough until it becomes second nature. You only have to learn it once though, and from then on you can read anytime. 

Good luck to all you Japanese students out there. 🙂

P.S. Katakana, mentioned above, is basically an identical system; it’s just that the characters look different.

1 This is an important thing to bear in mind if you ever play a certain word-game called “shiritori” which is popular in Japan.

Happy Thanksgiving 2016


Dear Readers,

Hope you have a great day, wherever you are, surrounded by loved ones. 

This year, I am thankful to have a new job I enjoy, two lovely children and the Buddhist path. Overall it’s been a good year even with some roadbumps. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. My kids made the artwork above in school. Princess made the “tree” on the left. Little Guy made the turkey on thr right.