RIP Spock

Spock and the Vulcan Salute in Star Trek IV

Today, I was surprised and saddened to hear the news that actor Leonard Nimoy has died. His character, Spock, was a role model for an impressionable teenage boy who didn’t have many role models. He taught the value of helping others, using logic and reason, not superstition, and the virtues of self-discipline.

But, as Spock would say:1

Change is the essential process of all existence.

Live Long And Prosper, Spock, wherever you are now.

1 Similar quotes here and here.

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Better Late Than Never: Girl’s Day 2015


This year has been hectic but I finally put together for the Japanese holiday of hinamatsuri (ひな祭り) or Girls’ Day. Girls’ Day is on March 3rd.

According to tradition, the best time to assemble the doll set is after Setsubun, which was 3 weeks ago. Similarly, you should take down the doll set soon after Girls’ Day to ensure your daughter will soon find a husband and a happy marriage.1

We are looking forward to Girls’ Day. My wife always cooks great food, I get to eat sakuramochi and we can celebrate our wonderful daughter’s life and look forward to a happy future.

I remember when she was just a little baby with funky hair that wouldn’t lay down. Now she’s 8, tall, beautiful but also nerdy like her father. It’s amazing how much she’s grown. Someday, she will get go to college and get married. *sigh*

Anyhow, I sound like oyabaka (親バカ), a silly dottering parent. I’m looking forward to Girls’ Day and I hope you are too.

1 Subconsciously, maybe I don’t want my daughter to get married, perhaps. ;-)

Posted in Family, Japan | Tagged | Leave a comment

How To Make a Japanese-Style Haiku

Recently my wife and I were talking with our daughter, “Princess”, about haiku poetry. Princess learns both Japanese and English so she is aware of haikus but didn’t really know how to make one. So we talked about the rules behind haiku.

A haiku (俳句) is a kind of short poem that started out as the opening lines of “linked-verse” poems called renga (連歌). However by the 16th century they became poems of their own, and were popularized by Matsuō Basho and Kobayashi Issa.

Normally when Westerners think of haiku, they think of poems with 5-7-5 syllables. This is true, but haikus also have traditional styles, techniques and rules to follow. You could ignore the rules, but your poem might have less impact. There are good English-language resources on haiku, but I felt like researching in Japanese for language-practice and “getting to the source”.

I found one particularly good webpage, written for young adults (easier for me to read ;-p ) that provided very helpful explanations. Here’s what I learned.

Haiku have a few things to note:

  • Syllables – As mentioned above, the syllables are usually 5-7-5. Sometimes you can have poems that are one syllable too many, or too few. These are called jiamari (字余り) and jitarazu (字足らず) respectively.
  • Seasonal words – Haiku almost always allude to a particular season using certain words. For example, plum blossoms can be mean early spring or end of winter, cherry blossoms for late spring, plover birds for winter, and so on. These seasonal words are called kigo (季語). Nowadays, it’s not strictly necessary to have them, but it’s still the most popular form. For Westerners, you can probably use seasonal words that match your culture instead like lemonade for summer, Christmas trees for winter, etc.
  • Hanging ending – Many haiku have a kind of “hanging” ending for extra effect. You’re leaving it open to the reader, in other words. Japanese haiku use kireji (切れ字) or certain punctuation words to do this, but they usually don’t exist in English. But you can still make the same effect in English though without them. You just have to be more creative.

Also, as for composing haiku, the website had some great advice. Imagine a story like so:

Yesterday, I went to the park with my friends. It was a very sunny day. I saw lots of people in the park playing with their dog, cooking barbecue, and throwing frisbees. We stayed until sunset and then went home.

Now here’s another version:

It was a sunny day, when the man went to the park with the sounds of people playing with their dogs and throwing frisbees. The smell of barbecue wafted in the breeze. By sunset it was time to go home.

And finally:

Wafting in the breeze,
Warm charcoal and barbecue;
A mid-summer’s day.

The first version is something you might read in a journal or blog. The second version is more like a novel, and the last version of the same story is poetic. I wrote these in a hurry, so they’re terrible, but it shows how to express the same story in different ways.

This is a good exercise for writing haiku too, I think. I’ve been trying it lately. :)

So anyhow, that’s some tips on writing haiku in a more Japanese-style. Good luck and happy writing!

Posted in Japan, Poetry | 2 Comments

Setsubun 2015 Fail


I wanted to post a funny video my wife took for this year’s Setsubun holiday. As readers might remember, there is a tradition called mamemaki (豆まき) which kids often do. Someone wears a mask to look like an oni ( 鬼, “ogre”) and kids will throw roasted soybeans at them. Kids will recite “oni wa soto!” meaning “oni go out!” followed by “fuku wa uchi” or “luck come in!”.

I always dress up as the oni every year. This is the video from 2 years ago:

…and here’s this year’s video:

If you listen carefully you can hear me hit my head at 00:19. You can’t see it from the video, but our barbecue grill is there, and while pretending to die, I hit my head on the edge of the handle. It really hurt.

Also, Princess is now 8 years old, and she throws those beans pretty hard. ;)

So that’s Setsubun 2015 at our house. How was your Setsubun? :P

Posted in Family, Japan

The 48-hour Superman Challenege

Hi Folks,

Lately, my wife and some of her friends (Korean and Japanese) have been avidly watching a Korean TV show called “Return of Superman”, which is available on Youtube by KBS World. In Korean, it is called syupeomaen i dulawadda (슈퍼맨이 돌아왔다) which means “Superman came back”. In Japanese it has a similar title: スーパーマンが帰ってきた (sūpāman ga kaettekita, “Superman came home”).

This adorable show is about celebrity dads who take care of their children for 48 hours. The show films their life and their efforts to raise their children without the mother, while doing some kind of challenge. All the episodes have English subtitles, so Westerners can still follow along:1

Japanese readers can also find the Japanese-subtitle version here (日本語の字幕).

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a “Superman Challenge” for myself: take care of my children for 2 days by myself. My wife works hard all day raising our kids, and she doesn’t get much sleep because Little Guy is still a baby. I want to help, and I’ve taken care of my two kids (Princess and Little Guy) alone for maybe 6 hours, so it’s possible. Not easy, but possible.

On the other hand, Little Guy is still really young (16 months as of writing), so I might have to wait a little bit. But someday, I do want to try it. If I do, I hope to write about it here.

What about fathers reading this blog: do you think you could do the Superman Challenge?

1 I highly recommend this show for Korean-langauge students because the kids speak basic Korean often, so it’s easier to pick up. I don’t watch the show regularly, but I have picked up more Korean than before. My wife doesn’t know Korean, but she can read English fluently, so she can follow the show.

Posted in Family, Korea, Korean, Language | 2 Comments

Nirvana Day 2015 and Misadventures in Arizona

“Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!” –The last words1 of Shakyamuni Buddha

“David: You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.” –Merritt Butrick in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


Normally I try to post something “Buddhist” before a Buddhist holiday, but this year I was late, and I have a good excuse (I hope).

February 15th, according to the Solar calendar, is Nirvana Day the death (入滅, nyūmetsu in Japanese) of the historical Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition, having achieved total enlightenment and having exhausted all residual karma, he was completely unbound (Nirvana, 涅槃).2

However, this past week, I spent a few days in Phoenix, Arizona again on a business trip. I always enjoy going because the timezone is similar, the weather is sunny and hot:


…and the food is different than Seattle (more Mexican, less Asian):


One evening my co-workers and I went to a nice chicken-wings and hamburger restaurant. The food was excellent, and I ordered a hamburger that was “medium”. It was a pretty pink in the middle, but it was delicious so I ate the whole thing.

The next evening, I started to get sick. Not just sick, but violently ill. I was working late that night, but I finished my work and came back to the hotel around 2am and I stayed up throughout the night. I lost a lot of fluid, and still wasn’t feeling better. I was getting worried, dizzy and exhausted, so I packed my bag to go to a nearby hospital. Fortunately, the medicine I took earlier started to work, my body started to recover and I finally got some sleep around 6am.

After returning home to Seattle though, I was still ill. After losing so much fluid, my stomach was weak, and my toe swelled up with gout (痛風, tsūfū). Days later, my toe still really hurts and it’s hard to walk.

There was a big lesson to all this: one day I was working hard and having a good time, the next day I was tremendously ill and almost had to go to the hospital.

I’m in my late 30’s, so I’m not old, but these past few years I started having medical problems from a lifetime of high-blood pressure, bad diet, stress and not enough exercise. My bad habits are catching up to me. I also believe that the problems I have in my late 30’s are a warning of much bigger problems I will have later in life.

The Buddha’s final words above are a reminder to his monks to be diligent and not slack off until it’s too late. But they apply to all of us: don’t squander your life on stupid stuff.

If we pretend to ignore mortality, then mortality will come back and bite us really hard someday.

In 15th century Japan, a famous Buddhist monk, Rennyo (蓮如), wrote in a letter (the Letter on White Ashes, 白骨の章 hakkotsu no shō):


Thus our bodies may be radiant with health in the morning, but by evening they may be white ashes.

So reflecting on the Buddha’s words, I realized that the lesson of life is that, ironically, a life of self-discipline will set you free, while a life of self-indulgence becomes a prison.

P.S. The Letter on White Ashes can be found here (日本語).

1 The Pali-Canon Maha-parinibbana Sutta is called the daihatsu nehan-gyō (大般涅槃経) in Japanese, and the last words quoted above are often translated as:


2 More on the what the Buddha describes as being “unbound” through Nirvana can be read here.

Posted in Buddhism, Travel

A Life of Regret

In addition to the Xuanzang book I mentioned before, I’ve been re-reading a book about Ashikaga Yoshimasa, probably the worst Shogun in Japanese history, but a genius with art.

In the book, Professor Donald Keene talks about Yoshimasa’s years in peaceful retirement at the Silver Pavilion (ginkakuji 銀閣寺). which I visited years ago. Now that Yoshimasa is retired and no longer the Shogun, he ruminates about his former life in waka poetry:

くやしくぞ Kuyashiku zo
過ぎしうき世を sugoshi uki yo wo
今日ぞ思ふ kyou zo omou
心くまなき kokoro kumanaki
月をながめて tsuki wo nagamete

Which professor Donald Keene translates as:

Today I recall
The sad world I lived
With bitter regret —
My mind serene as I gaze
At a moon free of shadows

Ashikaga Yoshimasa was never a serious student of Buddhism (though he was nominally ordained as a Rinzai Zen monk) but it’s interesting to hear him regret his life of luxury and power. It reminds me of Miyazawa Kenji’s famous poem Unbeaten By Rain (雨にも負けず).

When I read something like this, it reminds me that a life of honesty poverty is probably better than wealthy lifestyle full of discord.

Posted in Buddhism, Japan, Zen | Leave a comment