The Mountains Of Japan


I found this interesting post in Twitter today.

This is a famous volcano named Sakura-Jima (桜島) which is down in Kagoshima Prefecture. Unlike Mount Fuji, it is a very active volcano.

Speaking of Mount Fuji, I wanted to share this photo a friend in Japan sent me:

This was taken by my friend during Spring Break at Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi Prefecture. Great photo. :-)

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

P.S. I hit “submit” on this post too early, and had to fix later.  :-p

Posted in Japan, Travel | 1 Comment

The Onin War

Shinnyodō engi, vol.3 (part)


While re-reading a book about the failed Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政), I learned a lot about the Onin War, or ōnin no ran (応仁の乱) that I wanted to share.

The Onin War is something most Westerners would not be familiar with, but it had a devastating impact to Japan that can still be felt today in Kyoto. The war spanned 10 years, and was almost entirely fought within the old capitol of Kyoto, but by the end the city was destroyed and almost all of its culture was lost.

The war began after the Shogun of Japan, adopted this younger brother to be his heir. Yoshimasa had no male heirs, and so this was a common practice. Unfortunately, his wife had a son soon after, which put Yoshimasa in a very awkward spot.

Two of the most powerful samurai families supporting Yoshimasa were divided about which person to support: Yoshimasa’s younger brother, or his infant son. The Hosokawa (細川) and Yamana (山名) clans were already feuding with one another, but this gave them another reason. The two main generals under Yoshimasa were:

  • Hosokawa Katsumoto (細川勝元) – He supported Yoshimasa’s younger brother’s claim to be the heir.
  • Yamana Sōzen (山名宗全) – He supported Yoshimasa’s infant son, intentionally to further oppose the Hosokawa.

Eventually, both sides secretly built up armies within the city of Kyoto to attack the other. Neither side had a clear advantage, and neither side could score a decisive victory. The Hosokawa had the support of the Shogunate, but the Yamana clan had 6 out of 7 gates to the city. Each side had 100,000+ soldiers in the city. Even after they brought in more allies and reinforcements, they fought over and over again in the neighborhoods of Kyoto, destroying homes, temples, etc. Battles were fought street-by-street, neighborhood by neighborhood. They even fought at Buddhist temples just to gain some advantage over their opponent.

But after 10 years, both sides were exhausted, weakened and finally gave up.

Old Kyoto was completely destroyed.

According to Professor Donald Keene, the famous Zen master Ikkyū Sōjun (一休宗純) described the destruction in a poem titled “On the Warfare of the Bunmei Era”:1

One burst of flame and the capital—gilt palaces and how many mansions—
Turns before one’s eyes into a wasteland.
The ruins, more desolate by the day, are autumnal.
Spring breezes, peach and plum blossoms, soon become dark.

Part of the reason for such destruction was that old Kyoto was a city made almost entirely out of wood. Further, houses were very close to one another. Even the Yamana and Hosokawa compounds were within walking distance from one another.

During this time, the Shogun (将軍), the generalissimo of Japan and so-called “general of generals”, did nothing.

Yoshimasa lacked any real authority or force of personality to compel both sides to stop fighting, and although he came from a warrior family, he was much more inclined toward the arts. He did not take sides, and did not lead troops into combat during the 10 years of fighting, though some of his relatives briefly did. Finally, Yoshimasa tried to approach the war from the perspective of an aristocrat: remain aloof even in times of conflict.

Thus, Yoshimasa held lavish drinking parties and poetry contests even while fighting raged in the city and Kyoto was burning.

However, one redeeming things about Yoshimasa was that after the War, when he retired as a Shogun, he devoted all his time, money and efforts to culture and arts, and this helped start a new culture in Kyoto: the Higashiyama culture (東山文化). The Higashiyama Culture was short-lived, and war resumed in Japan soon after, but many of the traditional arts that exist in Japan today were from this small period of time, and promoted and elevated by Yoshimasa.

Togudo at Gingakuji

The Onin War was a terrible disaster on a human-scale, and “Old Kyoto” was wiped out as a city and a culture. But out of the ashes arose a new Kyoto culture, that helped define Japanese culture we know and love today.

P.S. More on Yoshimasa’s contributions to art and architecture.

1 I tried finding this in Japanese, but I couldn’t. It was translated from a 1966 book called 五山文学集/江戸漢詩集 apparently.

Posted in Japan | Tagged ,

How to Play Trek on BSD

Klingons from Star Trek III

Note: This was an old post I wrote about 2 years ago that was lost. I was finally able to recover it and have decided to post it here. Today will be a double-post. Expect another one soon.

Since I got a virtual instance of NetBSD working on my Mac at home with Virtualbox, I’ve been playing with certain classic games. One of these games is the original text-based game trek, which comes by default in NetBSD (and other BSD flavors presumably).

Trek is a tough game, make no mistake. It’s an homage to the original series, and was written when graphical interfaces were not very feasible. However, the original designer managed to make it a game that is both engaging and challenging.

The only trouble is that it’s hard to figure out how to play it now because the documentation is kind of scarce and hard to read. In the case of NetBSD, it comes with instructions in the form of a .me file, but I haven’t yet figured out how to read that file apart from seeing the raw formatting with less.

So this page is a tribute to this classic game, and also helps share some of the basics on how to play. Because the game has been ported multiple times, there are slightly different versions out there, each with their own style of control. So, this post is focused on the BSD port of Trek. Since I am still new at the game, there are plenty of newb mistakes, but I’m trying to write things down as I learn them. Please be patient. :)

Starting the Game

The game begins with a humble screen like so:

Trek title NetBSD

According to the docs, the rule of thumb is that shorter games are harder, while longer games are somewhat easier. This is because you’re given a fixed period of time to destroy all the Klingon ships, and with a shorter window of time, this is pretty hard.

Next you can choose the difficulty level. Hitting ‘?’ here will give you several obvious choices.

Finally you’re taken to the main screen for Trek. The E is you, the Enterprise. The * are stars, and present obstacles. If a photon torpedo hits a star, you will cause the star to explode (go nova). The @ symbol is a planet which you can land on if required (after abandoning ship, for example). You’re also expected to defend them from Klingon (K) attacks, and if they are invaded or destroyed, you lose points, so take it seriously.

Finally, the Starbases, usually 3 per game, are represented by a # (hash). Here, you can dock if you are next to a starbase, and get fully repaired, refueled and so on. Don’t forget to undock though when done. You are expected to defend these just as you defend planets.


This was the hardest part for me to figure out, and where the directions diverged most from other ports, I believe. The BSD port uses a 360-degree angle system:

  • 0 degrees is up (north).
  • 90 degrees is right (east).
  • 180 degrees is down (south).
  • 270 degrees is left (west).

Also, Federation Space is divided into sectors (a 7×7 grid) which are divided further into quadrants. One screen, like the one shown above, is a single sector, and contains a 10 rows and 10 columns of quadrants. Thus, if you want to move, everything has to be done in decimal units. If you go 0.1, that means you move one “dot” on the screen (one-tenth of a sector), while moving “1” means you’re moving one sector over. Keep that in mind as you navigate within a single sector.

Thus if you want to move 3 “dots” over, you move 0.3 sectors.

You can either move (i.e. use warp drive) or use impulse. Warp is faster but drains your ship’s energy faster. You can also specify which warp factor using the warp command. Higher warp is yet more faster, but uses that much more energy.

Here’s an example:

Navigating in BSD trek

I decided to do a long-range scan, or lrscan which shows 1 Klingon vessel in the sector to the right, and one below. I decide to attack the one on the right. I had already set warp factor to 5 earlier, so I just issue a move command, go 90 degrees (right) and .4 sectors which will put me just over into the next sector.


Combat in Trek isn’t easy, but very fun. Like the original Enterprise, you have two options:

  • Phasers (phasers) – use lots of energy, and shields must be down, but very accurate.
  • Photon torpedoes (torpedo) – use less energy, and shields can stay up, but less accurate, limited supply.

Speaking from limited experience, phasers are easier because you can use automatic targetting. Unfortunately, even with that, Klingons still manage to slip away into the next sector. If you do hit a Klingon vessel, it seems that 250-energy or so will usually work. However, if they slip away, some of that will be wasted.

BSD Trek phasers

Torpedoes are great because you can fire a “spread”, with a maximum of 10°, which likely hit your target, but waste torpedoes because only 1 is required to kill a Klingon vessel. If you’re at a right-angle to a Klingon ship, there’s a good chance you can hit it, but at odd angles, it gets more difficult. You can either move to a better angle, or try your luck with a torpedo spread. However, don’t hit stars! Spock gets annoyed.

BSD Trek photon torpedos

Lastly, there is a cloak option which lets you hide from Klingons vessels. This is a great way to sneak up on them too, but it burns through energy pretty quick, so you may want to use it to slip into a sector, maneuver to the right spot, and de-cloak. Federation regulations prevent you from firing weapons while cloaked. But surprising your enemies by de-cloaking close by and firing torpedoes at them is pretty satisfying. :)

Final Bits of Advice

Like many classic games (think nethack), it has a pretty steep learning curve. No tutorials, just what you see is what you get. So, expect to fail many times until you get the hang of it. Once you do, you can then move onto tougher and tougher scenarios until you’re the next Capt. James T. Kirk.

Good luck! Qap’la!

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Cherry Blossoms at the University of Washington

As mentioned in my last post, the family and I went to see the cherry-blossoms (桜 sakura) at the University of Washington. The UW has a large courtyard called the “Quad”, which contains many trees donated from Japan almost 100 years ago. The trees are pretty large now, and very popular. Many Japanese people and non-Japanese people in Seattle like to visit the UW for ohanami (お花見) which is the annual viewing of cherry-blossoms.

I graduated from the UW, and enjoyed the Quad ever since I was a student. I still have an old photo of my wife when were still dating near those cherry trees, and another photo years later when she was pregnant with our first child. We have had many pleasant memories at that place.

Last year, Little Guy was too young for ohanami, so this year was his first. We were not 100% sure when the blossoms would appear, so we took a chance and visited last weekend (the 6th of March). The weather was fantastic, but not all the trees had bloomed yet. The view was great though:






Here is a photo of the blossoms, close-up:


Many people were gathered around the trees, taking photos. We also took a few photos, then sat on the lawn for a long time. Little Guy, who is now 17 months old, really enjoyed the warm, soft grass. He crawled around, and even walked a little bit. Here is Little Guy climbing on Daddy:1


and here he is rolling in the grass with his older sister (now 8 years old):


Anyhow, it was a great time. I hope you can see cherry blossoms wherever you live too. :)

1 He thinks it is funny to slap Daddy’s tummy. ;p

Posted in Japan, Photography, Seattle | Tagged | 2 Comments

Spring Ohigan 2015: Facing Life, Facing Death


It’s the Spring Ohigan once again in Japan. Ohigan is a holiday that happens twice a year in Japan, and coincides with the spring and autumnal equinoxes. It is a time for people in Japan to return home, visit relatives, pay respects to the dead, and has a Buddhist-theme to it too.

The word, ohigan (お彼岸) means the “other shore”. From the earliest Buddhist texts, a popular Buddhist metaphor is “crossing over” from this shore of frustration, disatisfaction, contention, etc. to the “other shore” of liberation, peace, enlightenment.1 In Mahayana Buddhism in particular (Buddhism from Tibet to Japan), there is a formula of things to “perfect” that one must achieve to cross over. These are called the six “perfections” or roku haramitsu (六波羅蜜). If you want to know more on the subject, you might enjoy reading this old post.

For this Ohigan though, I wanted to share an interesting quote from the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In this scene, Kirk is talking with his son, David, about the death of Spock (link to video here):

The quote is:

David: Lieutenant Saavik was right: You never have faced death.
Kirk: No, not like this. I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and — patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing . . .
David: You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.

Regardless of who you are, or what you beliefs are, these are good words to consider.

The Buddha frequented taught his monks to consider death, even going as far as meditating in a charnel ground where bodies were decomposing. The Buddha did not intend to be morbid. He wanted to make very clear that our time is limited, and it’s important that we face this in an emotionally-mature, healthy manner, instead of running away from it, or squandering away our life.

As the Buddha taught in this famous sutra, life is short, and should not be wasted. Instead, it’s important to make good use of your time to train the mind, do good for others, etc.

That’s what Ohigan is all about: make good use of this time to focus your life and cross over to the “other shore”.

P.S. The Letter on White Ashes is a good read, too.

1 Crossing over takes on an even deeper aspect within the Pure Land teachings of Buddhism. The Pure Land (浄土 jōdo) is often synonymous with Enlightenment, crossing over, and vice-versa.

Posted in Buddhism, Japan | Tagged | Leave a comment

Romans, Cherry Blossoms and Irish Sushi

Hi all,

Lots of fun things to talk about this week. As readers know, I’ve been busy lately because of my transition to my new job. I’ve been spending a lot of time at night studying new technologies used at the new company, but also practicing Buddhist chanting. In particular, the Shoshinge hymn, Gyofu style. This has left me with less time for blogging.1

First, we went to see cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) at the University of Washington last weekend. Some of the trees had no fully bloomed yet, but the weather was very nice, and we had a great time. I’ll post pictures about separately, but for now, enjoy this photo. :)


Later that week, we went to see an exhibit about the famous Roman city of Pompeii at the Pacific Science Center. As readers probably know, the city of Pompeii (ポンペイ for Japanese readers) was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, and was preserved for thousands of years. So, it’s a fascinating look at Roman life at that time.

Also, as readers might recall, I am interested in Roman culture and language. I was pretty excited to go.

The exhibit was great, but Little Guy didn’t like the heat and the crowds. Within 5-10 minutes, he was crying and very fussy. I picked him up, and took him outside. I only saw the exhibit very briefly, but it was very interesting. It’s hard to imagine a city frozen in time like Pompeii, with people who were just like us but now preserved in ash and stone. I probably plan to go back again, without Little Guy.2 ;)

Finally, we celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day at home. My wife has been interested in Irish Cooking ever since we lived there, and will cook things like brown-bread (Irish soda bread), corned-beef and other things. She made a really great dinner last night:

Irish Corned Beef

She used freshly-chopped parsely, and nice mustard. It was really great. We had leftovers, so she them to make a bento-lunch for my daughter the following morning:

Japanese Bento with Irish Corned Beef

Also, she made “Irish” sushi as well. It has the colors of the Irish flag: green, white and orange. ;)

So it was a fun week of Roman relics, cherry blossoms and “irish” sushi. I hope you had a great week too. :)

1 I’ve been debating about adding more technical blog posts here, as I am learning a lot of good things, but this might not interest all readers. Then again, it will help people searching for things. If I did this, it would not mean a decrease in Japan-Buddhist posts though. :)

2 My wife bought me a cool “Roman” coffee cup at the gift-shop though. I was happy about that. Ironically, it’s made in China. ;)

Posted in Family, Food, Ireland, Japan, Latin | Leave a comment

Anyone Can Change


This is something I wanted to share for a while. It is a quote from a Buddhist text called the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings (無量義経, muryōgikyō), which is a sutra often found with the more famous Lotus Sutra. It is considered a kind of “prologue” to the Lotus Sutra.

Anyhow, this is from Chapter Three, translation by Bunno Kato:

The Buddha said: “Good sons! First, this sutra makes the unawakened bodhisattva aspire to buddhahood,
makes a merciless one raise the mind of mercy,
makes a homicidal one raise the mind of great compassion,
makes a jealous one raise the mind of joy,
makes an attached one raise the mind of detachment,
makes a miserly one raise the mind of donation,
makes an arrogant one raise the mind of keeping the commandments,
makes an irascible one raise the mind of perseverance,
makes an indolent one raise the mind of assuiduity,
makes a distracted one raise the mind of meditation,
makes an ignorant one raise the mind of wisdom,
makes one who lacks concern for saving others raise the mind of saving others,
makes the one who commits the ten evils raise the mind of the ten virtues,

What I like about this quote is that it shows that under the right conditions, anyone can change for the better. They just need the right inspiration, and the right conditions. :)

The famous Indian-Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna (龍樹, Ryūju), once famously said: “For whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.”

What this means is that because everything is “empty” (lacking a static, permanent self), everything is possible. Anger can turn to goodwill, craving can turn into forbearance, etc. An alcoholic can turn into a saint when the conditions are right. If not in this life, then perhaps in another life.

Namu myoho renge kyo

Posted in Buddhism | Tagged | 3 Comments