A few nights ago, while trying to search for the lyrics to a certain Arashi song online,1 I stumbled upon this website and its Buddhism Quiz. The quiz is part of a promotional campaign about the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, and is geared for younger audiences in Japan. I thought it was great idea, so I decided to try it myself. First you have to choose which search engine them you want (the two images of the Buddha). I picked the right one myself. I thought it was great, and I frequently use Goo for its online Japanese dictionary anyway.2
Once you return to that page, you can take the quiz. I wanted to test my Japanese reading ability, and knowledge of Buddhism, so I gave it a try. The quiz had 5 questions, based on a manga about the life of the Buddha. The questions were hard for me to read, I had to use my dictionary a few times, but I was able to score 4 out of 5 questions right. From there, I was supposed to register my name/address and such, but this was clearly intended for kids in Japan, so I just closed my browser instead. Let someone else get the prize.
This is a challenge too for Buddhists in the West, both converts and Asian immigrants: how do you pass on Buddhism to the next generation? I know some converts, traumatized by their own religious upbringing, don’t want to teach religion to their kids (“let them find their own path”), but I think this is a bit reckless. There’s no structure or sense of values for kids, and parenting experts everywhere agree that kids grow up best when they have structure and routine. They might change that routine as an adult, when they raise their kids, but at least they have something to draw upon. One shouldn’t criticize existing traditions unless they’ve thoroughly explored them first.
Namu Shaka Nyorai
1 The song was 感謝カンゲキ雨嵐. I was trying to figure out the rap lyrics in the beginning and in the middle. It was part of my plan to impress my wife at karaoke, but then I got too embarrassed to actually do it. No one wants to hear a nerdy white guy rap in a foreign language over karaoke. ;p
2 A bit of a rant, but it took me a long time to realize that the online Japanese-English dictionaries for Westerners had some flaws and provided only “best-effort” definitions. The words 涼しい (suzushii) and 格好いい (kakkō ii) both mean “cool”, but if the dictionary doesn’t explain the context, you can easily misunderstand how to use them. The first word means cool as in temperature, the second means cool as in hip, handsome or trendy. I remember in a recent issue of 宇宙兄弟, a manga I read, they showed a well-meaning foreigner who made this very mistake on a T-shirt he made while trying impress a Japanese friend.
Personally, I made so many similar mistakes over the years because I relied on such dictionaries and not enough on observing how these words were used in real-life. Reading a Japanese 国語 (kokugo, “national language”) dictionary is hard at first, but you get much better quality, native explanations and often better, more easy to understand examples of usage. My wife even has a young adult’s 国語 dictionary for our daughter at home, but encourages me to use it too. It’s nice to have such things around.