Final Fantasy XIII-2: the novel

Hi guys,

Final Fantasy novel cover

As fans might recall, I am a big fan of the game Final Fantasy XIII1, and lately I’ve been playing the sequels XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. I’ve enjoyed these games, and the story, so much that decided to purchase the novel. Actually there are a few novels available, but all of them are in Japanese-language only:

I bought all three, but only the last two are in stock,2 so I’ve begun reading Fragments Before.

Final Fantasy novel

The reading-level is a stretch, for me, but not nearly as difficult as trying to read Dune in Japanese. That was much harder. Already, I’ve enjoyed the book quite a bit and have finished one of the ministories. I don’t read fast, but I can read at a decent pace. Also, I sometimes have to go back a few pages and re-read because I understand the words, but have trouble grasping the overall meaning the first time. This happens with manga too sometimes, but novels are harder than manga. It doesn’t really bother me though, because I really want to know what goes on, and want to know the details of the characters and the world they live in, so I don’t re-read because I have to, but because want to.

It turns out that if you want to read in a foreign-language, you have to find something you’re genuinely interested in. I have English-language novels that I don’t finish because they’re not very interesting, and this is even more true in Japanese. I just can’t finish books that don’t interest me. Or if I finish them, I don’t remember much. So, now that I found something I really like and want to finish, suddenly I find it takes less effort to read. ;)

A good tip for language students out there: find something in your target language you really like and just focus on that. The rest will fall into place.

1 Actually I love the Final Fantasy series in general, but the XIII trilogy is one of my favorites.

2 Once Episode 0 is in stock, they’ll ship it out, of course. I can wait. I can’t read that fast. ;)

Posted in Japanese, Language | Tagged | Leave a comment

Self-Hate

Lately, I’ve been reading an old Buddhist book that I found in a used bookstore from the 1970’s by Professor Edward Conze, titled Buddhist Thought in India. The book is dense and not for the light-hearted, but also has some pretty interesting insights. This is one quote I wanted to share:

People often hate themselves, and much of their hatred for others is a mere deflection of projection or self-hate. They may love, and even hug, their hates, and not at all wish to be rid of them. They may wish to die, because life is so disappointing, or because their destructive impulses are excessively strong, or because some kind of ‘death instinct’ is at work in them. They may not dare to want happiness, because they suffer from a sense of guilt, and feel that they have not deserved to be happy, but that, on the contrary, punishment is due for what they did or thought in the past. If a neurotic is a person who is both discontented with himself and unable to have satisfactory relations with others, then he can be made to live at peace with others only by first learning to endure himself. We must therefore agree with Aristotle when he said that only the wise man can love himself, and he alone, just because he is wise. ‘Such friendship for oneself can only exist only in the good man; for in him alone all parts of the soul, being in no way at variance, are well disposed towards one another. The bad man, on the other hand, being ever at strife with himself, can never be his own friend.’ And here we come to our first paradox: Self-love can be maintained only by becoming less intense and exclusive, more detached and impartial, a mere acceptance of contents of one’s own self. For, the more possessive, the more ambivalent it will also be, the more charged with latent hate. (pg 83)

Definitely makes sense to me. If one is preoccupied with oneself, the more turmoil and unease they have, and the more discontent they become, then they learn to hate themselves and then others. Or so I understand.

Anyhow, something to think about. :)

Posted in Buddhism | Tagged | 1 Comment

Going To School In Japan

Daughter in School in JapanHello,

My wife and kids have been in Japan for the past few weeks visiting relatives, and we decided to enroll our daughter (a.k.a. “Princess”) into the local elementary school for a week. We were unsure whether she would fit in because she’s never been to school in Japan, and although she’s fluent in Japanese, her reading/writing skills are a little bit behind. Thanks to distance-learning courses though, she has kept up with the Japanese education system well enough and she has had a great time in school so far.

Some half-Japanese kids living overseas might not have many opportunities to learn Japanese, so the school interviewed her a couple weeks early to determine her language skills, and we were relieved to see that she was fine. She wouldn’t need a translator or anything. Plus, she already had her own Randoseru (ランドセル) backpack her grandparents gave her a couple years ago.1

Elementary schools in Japan don’t have a cafeteria. Instead, children have meals provided in the class called kyūshoku (給食), which are usually nice quality meals. No tater-tots or pizza-bread. ;) Parents have to pay for these meals, of course. Since she’s only in school a week, we paid a week’s worth. Also, unlike older kids, elementary school kids do not have strict uniforms, but do wear things like yellow-hats or something to help identify them as a student at that school. In this photo my daughter isn’t wearing her hat though.

Also, we were worried that because she is different she might have problems interacting with other kids at school, but we are relieved that she made friends right away. The original photo here shows my daughter with two other little girls. They like to play afterschool and such. It makes us so happy to see this.

At one point, we had plans to live and work in Japan someday, but we were worried about keeping our kids in public Japanese schools.2 Although we abandoned these plans for a few reasons (space, cost of living, etc), it’s nice to know that it’s still an option. Now, kids like my daughter may have issues over the long-term though, such as this young lady, but at least we know it’s possible. Next year, we might let her attend school longer.

More importantly, we’re just happy to see our daughter having this special opportunity and making new friends in the process. :)

P.S. In case you’re wondering, Japanese schools start in April and ends in March or so. While there are seasonal breaks, there is no two month-long summer break like in the US. So, her school in the US is on summer break, but her school in Japan is not. Thanks to reader Tokyo5 for the clarification here. :)

1 She’s used it in American schools, but one problem is that American papers use the US Letter size (8½ x 11″) standard, while Japan uses A4 standard (8.27 × 11.7″). In practical terms, this means that her American papers and binders are a bit too wide for her backpack and get bent. So, we finally switched to an American backpack instead. We liked the Randoseru a lot, but we had no choice. :-/

Also, the color, as you can see, is light purple. Originally randoseru backpacks were red and black only, but lately there is more variety for kids to choose from. :)

2 International school students in Japan seem to be isolated and don’t always learn enough Japanese language and manners to successfully thrive as an adult. Plus they’re super-expensive.

Posted in Family, Japan | 7 Comments

The Home Stretch

Hi guys,

I haven’t given much of an update about myself lately, but I wanted to share some news: I will get certified as a “minister’s assistant” in October. This is essentially like a deacon in the Christian churches. It does not mean I am ordained, but it allows me to participate in some clerical tasks. Minister’s assistants are increasingly common in the Buddhist Churches of America, though I don’t know if there is an equivalent in Japanese Buddhist temples. Tokudo (得度) ordination, the true first level of ordination, is a couple years away, but it will be nice to finally participate and help lead services.

Further, I’ve been asked to give my first sermon (hōwa 法話) or “Dharma Talk” August 30th!

I’ve always wanted to give public sermons, but now that I am finally assigned to do one, it’s kind of scary and exciting at the same time. I have a pretty good idea what I want to talk about, but haven’t worked out the details. What will I talk about? That’s my secret. ;)

Hopefully I might be able to get someone to take a video so I can put on Youtube, but no promises. Also, if my Dharma Talk goes poorly then it might not be worth it. We’ll see.

Anyhow, wish me luck. :)

P.S. It turns out that the art of giving sermons is harder than one thinks. Making YouTube videos is easy because you don’t have to worry about your audience. They can view whenever they want. But when doing a public sermon, you have to be sensitive to the mood of the crowd, the message and of course time limits. For example, giving a sermon during a funeral is pretty different than one during a regular “service”.

Posted in Buddhism, Religion | 11 Comments

Lafcadio Hearn’s “Kaidan” in 3 Minutes

Hello,

Obon season is coming again in Japan, and this is a good time for ghost stories. Unlike the US, where Halloween and October are a popular time for ghost-stories, such stories are popular around late summer In Japan because Obon is a time when people pay respects to dead ancestors, etc.

In the past, I’ve told ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn, the famous Greco-Irish author who lived in Japan 120 years ago. Many, though not all, are from Hearn’s novel “Kwaidan”, which in modern Japanese is spelled as “Kaidan” (怪談). However, this year I am doing a bit of a twist. The YouTube videos below are stories from Kaidan, told in 3 minutes or less, by the Japan Internet comedy show Eagle Talon (鷹の爪).

These videos are only in Japanese, sorry, but they’re hilarious to watch. I’ve linked the original English-versions of the story too.

The first story is Rokuro-kubi, which I posted here. You can also click on the video here.

And here’s another story, Earless Hoichi, which I posted here. You can click on the video:

Enjoy!

Posted in Japan, Literature | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Women’s World Cup and “Ugly Americans”

Earlier this evening, I was watching the Women’s World Cup finals, and was both proud and disappointed with the game. Proud because the Americans won the finals for the first time since 1999 (good for them!), disappointed because I also happened to like Nadeshiko Japan (なでしこジャパン) a lot too. It was a bitter-sweet victory, but a game is a game and life goes on.

Then I was upset when I noticed this article on the Huffington Post Japan. As it became clear that Japan was losing, Twitter users started trending the hashtag #PearlHarbor as a joke for avenging Japan.1 This example of schadenfreude was a pretty shameful way to celebrate victory, and makes me embarrassed as an American. This just reinforces the stereo-type of the “ugly American“:

ConstantinoAriasUglyAmerican

Brilliant, guys, just brilliant.

picard clapping

What I really found amusing is that many of these people are young, college-students and self-professed Christians. Perhaps they didn’t read the Bible:2

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Anyhow, here’s snapshots of some of the offensive posts people made:

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This guy, a self-professed Christian, apparently can’t tell the difference between Chinese food and Japanese food, among other failings.

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FYI, we already dropped the atomic by surprise on Japan. On a civilian population no less.

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Roughly 80,000 people died from each atomic bomb, some from long, slow agonizing deaths. I’m glad you find it all very amusing.

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You know, because we hadn’t settled our differences long ago, and because soccer is such a brilliant military strategy anyway. By the way, brilliant job obscuring your name.

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You too, Einstein.
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I feel bad for the Japanese guy who commented “Congratulations” here. That took humility and graciousness, unlike the original poster.

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Glad you’re keeping an eye out for us. Oh wait, Article 9 of the Japanese constitution renounced war, and they’ve faithfully upheld that for 70 fucking years even with China and North Korea on their borders.
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Sigh, so much facepalm. These people deserve a double-facepalm:

StarTrekDoubleFacePalm

Great job, guys. Great job. :-/

1 Because, you know, an atomic bomb dropped on civilians didn’t already do that. Oh wait, we dropped two of them.

2 Or the Buddhist version, from the Maha-Mangala Sutta:

Respect, humility,
contentment, gratitude,
hearing the Dhamma on timely occasions:
This is the highest protection.

Posted in Japan, Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

A Look At Rennyo: The Great Restorer

Hi guys,

As part of my process toward ordination, I’ve been learning a lot about liturgy in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, which I’ve posted about here and here. However, I’ve also come to realize that a lot of the liturgy and the teachings I’ve learned actually were articulated by Rennyo, not Shinran the founder. So, I spent a lot of time this past week researching the life and teachings of Rennyo in particular.1

Rennyo was the 8th “guardian” (monshu 門主) of the Honganji temple and its lineage, and he was a direct descendant of Shinran. Rennyo lived a difficult life, he was separate from his mother at an early age, he was nearly killed a few times during the warfare of Onin War and subsequent collapse of Japanese society. Further, he had five wives and 20+ children, but lost many of them to warfare, disease, famine, etc.

The teachings of Shinran had spread to the countryside over the centuries, but remained a kind of back-water “peasant movement” with different sects and organizations. Early communities usually ran out of people’s homes or small dōjō (道場, “practice halls”).

Rennyo, Shinran’s descendant, had a gift for articulating Shinran’s teachings in a way that was easier to grasp for regular lay-people. His letters to followers, called the gobunshō (ご文章) or ofumi (御文) are still used in Jodo Shinshu liturgy, including the famous Letter on White Ashes. Rennyo’s letters were revered because they could be easily read aloud in remote congregations, and were effective at distilling Shinshu teachings. Shinran is the founder of Jodo Shinshu, but if you read his writings, they’re kind of obtuse. He originally wrote in classical Chinese, and his magnum ops the Kyogyoshinsho, is long and difficult to read. I managed to read it once, but can’t remember what I read.

For example, in one of Rennyo’s more famous letters, he explained Shinran’s teachings like so:

We rejoice in knowing that our birth in the Pure Land is assured and our salvation established from the moment we rely [on the Buddha] with even a single nembutsu (ichinen), and that whenever we utter the Buddha’s name thereafter it is an expression of gratitude and indebtedness to him.

The notion of gratitude was further emphasized by Rennyo than Shinran, while Rennyo was more open to other religious practices common in Japan.

Rennyo also restored the Honganji temple (now divided into Nishi and Higashi Honganji temples) from its minor position as a backwater sect, bullied by other Shinshu sects and warrior monks from other more powerful Buddhist sects into the most widespread and influential Buddhist sect in Japan even to this day.

Surprisingly though, Rennyo is often overshadowed by Shinran, especially those new to Shinshu. After being at the temple for years, I admit I knew almost nothing about him. But having researched him a little bit using Professor Dobbins excellent book, I have a renewed appreciation for his contributions. :)

1 …and then I had another one of my Wikipedia “rampages”, where I go and update lots of articles. I rewrote quite a bit of the Rennyo article, among others. ;)

Posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu | 3 Comments