Category Archives: Family

Yoda: Zen Master

Yoda's Words

My 9-year old daughter is a big fan of the Star Wars series. On weekend nights we sometimes watch one of the Star Wars movies together when everyone else is asleep. She also enjoys reading the new “Jedi Academy” series of books

Because of the movies and books, she has become a big fan of Yoda the Jedi master, and she was inspired to compile a little booklet of quotes and phrases by Yoda for herself. :)

Truth is, there are a lot of things about Yoda that can be considered Buddhist. Many years ago, when I was in college, I was studying Kendo (Japanese fencing) for a year at the University of Washington,1 and one of the senior kendo teachers was a librarian at the UW as well. He had a poster of Yoda in his office, and often told me how Star Wars and Zen had much in common. I must have been 21 at the time.  After I quit Kendo,2 I never really thought about it anymore until recently when my daughter became so interested in Star Wars and Yoda.

As we watched the movies together, I started to notice it more. George Lucas was inspired by Asian spirituality so not everything about Star Wars relates to Buddhism, but the influences are certainly there. One great example is in the movie Episode III: Revenge of the Sith when Anakin Skywalker is talking about his premonitions of losing his wife:

Here Yoda is telling Anakin that the more he attaches to his wife, the more he will turn to the dark side. It’s not that he shouldn’t love his wife Padme, but he has to accept that someday she will be gone and make the most of their time together. This is very similar to what the Buddha would have taught, I think.

Another scene from the original trilogy, definitely shows influences from Zen Buddhism in particular:

Here Yoda says to Luke Skywalker that:

  • Things are only different in the mind.
  • He must unlearn what he has learned (i.e. preconceived notions), and
  • “Do or do not”… don’t get hung up on the outcome.

When my old kendo teacher talked about Yoda and Zen, I thought maybe it was just a bit of wishful thinking. But now, I’m older and have a better grasp of Buddhism and can appreciate these things more.

Anyhow, I might explore this more in future posts. Stay tuned!

1 Which is how I met my wife. ;) She had been doing kendo since middle school in Japan.

2 I only did it for a year, which was interrupted by a broken foot, then later by school obligations. I had an argument with my teacher, who felt I should tough it out more. He had a point but looking back I felt the way he said it was mean, and made me disillusioned about kendo since.  Truth is, I still miss the old kendo days sometimes but it’s much too late to go back. 

Happy New Year 2016

Hello Dear Readers,

This is my first post written in 2016 (my last post was actually written in late 2015 ;p ).  I’ve been missing the blog lately and wanted to write a little bit about the New Year’s celebration.  First we did mochi-making (お餅つき) at the same house as last year.  We were hosted by the same local artisan and mochi-making expert featured here in this newspaper article.

Mochi Making 2015

You can see me here helping my son to pound mochi rice.  Daddy did most of the work. Here my daughter decided to try too:

Mochi Making 2015

A few days later we enjoyed New Year’s Eve or Ōmisoka (大晦日) in Japanese with some friends.  Lots of good food:

IMG_2250

New Year's Eve 2015

And as usual we watched the yearly Japanese special Kohaku Uta Gassen. Little Guy seems to enjoy watching the Japanese girl idol groups.

Idol Groups and Son

This might be AKB48, but I can’t recall. Plus, there are so many similar groups: HKT48, NMB48, etc. I can’t keep track anymore. Also, I was pretty sick that night:

Sick

However, I did enjoy some delicious toshi-koshi soba (“End of Year Soba”) before going to bed:

Toshi-koshi soba

Finally, the next day, my wife had osechi-ryōri ready, which I will talk about in a later post.  We did not do hatsumode this year at the usual temple because I am a minister’s assistant now with a specific temple, so it seemed a bit strange to go visit other temples instead, plus I had to help lead the service that day.1

Anyhow, it was a nice end to a very nice year.  During 2015, I got to become a minister’s assistant with the Buddhist Churches of America, and got a new job, which I like much better than my old job with a certain company that sells things online.  Finally I took the JLPT N1 exam for the first time.  I’ve definitely gotten over the long “funk” I had for a few years, and am looking forward to another year of blogging fun with you all.

Happy New Year Everyone!

明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いいたします。

1 Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is somewhat against the practice of omamori in Japanese culture, so naturally I didn’t get one. I might pick up one or two when I visit Japan this summer though. Even though it’s kind of a superstition, I just like collecting them anyway.

Something for the Holidays

Hi Everyone,

Ive been writing this blog for seven years now and have had many readers and visitors since then. Recently I found this old, old post I wrote in 2008 that I wanted to share for the holidays:

http://jkllr.net/2008/12/13/the-maha-santa-claus-sutra/

This is a fake Buddhist sutra about Santa Claus that I wrote by mixing several real sutras and rewriting the text for Santa. It was a fun excercise in making the holidays more “Buddhist”. 

Please enjoy and happy holidays!

Big Updates!

Untitled

Hi folks,

It’s been a busy, busy month, but I have a couple updates!

First, as you can see above, I finally got certified as a minister’s assistant with the Buddhist Churches of America. This doesn’t mean I am an ordained priest, but it does mean I do get some ecclesiastical responsibilities. I can help with ceremonies, teach classes at the temple,1 and am on step closer to real ordination. :) The first level of ordination, or tokudo (得度) will be at least another 3-5 years though, so I have a long ways to go.

By the way, I am holding my son in this photo. He turned 2 years old that same day! Because the ceremony above took place that on his birthday, we decided to celebrate one day early with family, and one week later with good friends.2 Little Guy is very outgoing and social, and really enjoyed having so many friends and family over. Since he likes sports so much, he got baseballs, soccer balls, footballs, mitts, etc. He also got a nice Japanese train-set from his relatives in Japan. He was a very happy little boy.

My wife and I are also very happy to see him grow up into a sweet, young boy. He is very devoted to his older sister, and she loves and cares for him too. Someday, my wife and I won’t be around anymore, so I am glad to see that they have each other. :)

Anyhow, I am sorry I haven’t written in a while, but I simply didn’t have the time. But there are a lot of fun things to share in the coming weeks, so I hope to post again soon.

Until then, take care!

1 I have been asked to start a new class, Buddhism 101, for our temple parents in late November. I am excited to get started on this.

2 Our friends have a little boy who also turned 2, so it was a double birthday. ;)

Happy Otsukimi Moon-Viewing 2015

Hi Everyone,

Otsukimi moon viewing children's art

This weekend there are a lot of Autumn-festivals going on across places like China, Korea and Japan. I’ve talked about Korean Chuseok before, so today I wanted to post about the Japanese festival of O-tsukimi (お月見). Compared to Chuseok or Chinese Autumn Festival, Otsukimi is a little more low-key, but fun for the family.

All three holidays occur traditionally on the full moon (the 15th day) of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. In Japanese this is known as chūshū no meigetsu (中秋の名月, “harvest moon”) and people traditionally have a night of moon-viewing, eating dango snacks and drinking saké.1 It’s a nice family event. The word otsukimi literally just means “moon-viewing”.

To celebrate Otsukimi this year, I wanted to share a poem from the ancient poetry anthology, the Kokin Wakashū:

秋の月 Aki no tsuki
山辺さやかに yamabe sayaka ni
照らせるは teraseru wa
落つるもみぢの otsuru momiji no
数を見よとか kazu wo miyo to ka

Which is translated as:

The autumn moon shines
brilliantly upon the
mountain range to show
us the very number of
the fallen colored leaves.

Happy Moon-Viewing/Autumn Festival Everyone!

P.S. My son, now almost 2 years old, helped decorate this picture above. According to Japanese legend, a rabbit lived on the moon, and pounded mochi until the moon was full. Then, the rabbit would eat it, until the new moon, and repeat the cycle. Little Guy helped decorate the white “dango”. :)

P.P.S. This page has helpful schedules for Otsukimi up through 2020.

1 Apparently there is also a lesser-known tradition, unique to Japan only that is celebrated on the 13th day of the 9th month of the lunar calendar. During this day, roasted chestnuts and edamame are offered along with dango. This is variably called nochi no tsuki 後の月, jūsanya (十三夜) and/or kuri meigestu (栗名月).

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.

The Power of Family and Environment

Hi all,

Recently I was reading an article by Al-Jazeera English1 about a young man, named Adolfo Davis, who has been in prison in Illinois since he was 14. Now he is 38, one year older than me, and will spend the rest of hos life on prison.

This man had a very difficult childhood:

Davis’ father was absent and his mother was a drug addict. His grandmother, who was also caring for a bedridden husband, a son with mental disabilities and other grandkids, became his primary caregiver.

Further, Davis says:

“She took care of me and everybody else, you know. But she couldn’t keep an eye on me a lot, or pay as much attention as I needed at the time. So it led me to the streets.”

His childhood was so traumatic that:

Davis had his first brush with the law at the age of 9, when he says he was so hungry he attempted to snatch a bag of food from a little girl. His file also shows that a young Davis would bang his head against the wall until it bled, burn himself with cigarettes and wet the bed, Chicago Public Radio reported. He also suffered nightmares, severe insomnia and hallucinations

What amazes is how similar and how different me and Mr Davis are. We are both male, about the same age and both American. But our family and upbringing were so different. Further, I am white and Davis is not. In light of his challenges, Davis had almost 0 chances for success. He was doomed from birth.

It’s truly amazing how family and environment can affect a child’s life.

1 I don’t trust American news sources because they are politically-polarized and not very good quality so I like reading external sources such as the BBC, Al-Jazeera and sometimes the Asahi Shinbun (in Japanese).

Happy Children’s Day 2015

May 5th in Japan is the traditional holiday of Children’s Day or kodomo no hi (子供の日). Originally celebrated as a seasonal holiday for boys (a counterpart to Girls Day, March 3rd) it gradually expanded to include all children. However, even today, it still retains a lot of “boy traditions” such as the armor display mentioned before.

This is another tradition: koi-nobori (鯉のぼり) which are three windsocks that look like koi fish. The largest is the “daddy fish”, followed by the mommy fish and finally the child. We bought this one at the local Daiso Japanese store but oftentimes they are much larger. They’re meant to hang outside like any other windsocks.

Anyhow this is our son’s first Children’s Day celebration so we are excited for Little Guy.

Happy Childrens Day to all children everywhere!

Little Guy Goes To School

Little Guy's First Backpack

Hi all,

This is Little Guy. He is almost 19 months old, and is wearing his first backpack. :)

We gots this backpack as a welcoming gift for subscribing him to Benesse’s distance-learning series. He likes to wear it all day, and gets upset when we have to take it off.

Anyhow, Benesse is a company in Japan that specializes in distance-learning, and we decided our kids would enjoy that more than the strict, stodgy Japanese classes offered at the consulate. Older Japanese who grew up in America have warned us that the schools are difficult and not very fun.

A subscription to Benesse for a toddler costs several hundred dollars a year, but each month they send us DVDs with cartoons featuring Shimajiro and his friends. Shimajiro is a young tiger and well-known Japanese cartoon character. Each month’s shipment also includes nice quality-toys, sometimes also stuffed animals, etc. It’s actually a great deal for what we pay.

Untitled

When Princess was about 18 months old, we subscribed her as well. She has been doing her monthly schoolwork for Benesse every month since then. She would now be in the 3rd grade in the Japanese-school system, and so her monthly books (which use a character named Korasho instead of Shimajiro) teach her 3rd grade math, Japanese language (kokugo 国語), science, etc. We still have many of her toys when she was a little girl, and now Little Guy enjoys them.1 :)

I’ve seen some half-Japanese kids grow up in the West lose their Japanese cultural and language skills once they get to grade-school. Princess still reads and speaks Japanese well and enjoy Japanese TV daily, but her writing skills are starting to suffer a bit. Kanji (Chinese characters) is hard to remember if you don’t use it daily. It’s a tough challenge for Japanese parents, or any immigrant parents: how to keep interest in foreign culture into adulthood especially when materials and exposure are limited.2

However, Benesse really helped her a lot, and we have many happy memories of the monthly shipments of toys and books. Further, she is pretty far ahead in American schools because she’s already learned some of the math and science already.

So, we’re pretty excited to see Little Guy start the same journey. :)

P.S. If you notice, Little Guy’s hair is really curly. We’re not sure who’s DNA that is. My hair is wavy like Ronald Reagan, and my wife has some wavy hair too, but nothing like Little Guy.

1 Sometimes I read through the old books because I learn more Japanese. ;p

2 Seattle is a pretty good place to raise biracial Japanese kids because we have Japanese bookstores, markets, and such. Also the community is large enough to be supportive. During our time in Ireland, the community was much smaller, and the materials were very limited. When we visited London, we often bought many books and such for Princess (and for myself ;) ) because Dublin just didn’t have enough.

Rethinking the Phantom Menace

Spock: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?
–Star Trek VI

Hi all,

My daughter, “Princess” is now 8 years old, and takes after her father a lot. ;) She is nerdy and likes science-fiction, so she wanted to see the Star Wars movies. Now that they are available online, I decided to purchase the original series of movies and let her watch. She loved them. She really liked the Jedi Knights, she was happy that Darth Vader redeemed himself in the end, and she wanted to be strong like Princess Leia. She really enjoyed it.

But then she wanted to watch the prequel movies. I was nervous about this because I remember not enjoying them very much, but on the other hand, I felt she should know the back-story too, get familiar with characters like Jar-Jar, Anakin, etc. So, we watched the Phantom Menace together. You know what? She loved it too. She thought Jar-Jar was funny, Queen Amidala very pretty and Qui-Gon Jinn was a cool Jedi.1

I have to admit I enjoyed the movie a lot more this time than I did 10 or so years ago because as I parent, I can appreciate children’s movies more than I did as a college student. After the Phantom Menace came out, there were a lot of negative reviews, but now that years have passed and I watch the movie again, I think the reviews were overblown. It wasn’t perfect, and there is valid criticism,2 but I genuinely enjoyed seeing the Phantom Menace. I like the movie. I said it.

This got me thinking: maybe the prequels really weren’t meant for old Star Wars fans, but rather for a new generation of fans. There may be continuity problems with the series as a whole, but who cares? My kids love it, and it stimulates their imaginations just like it did for us, so why should I complain?

People who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy were much younger than they are now. Back then, everything about the movies was captivating and magical, and those memories are something we treasure as adults. The reality, though, is that you can never go back in life. You can only go forward, and sometimes that’s hard to do.

Anyway, the quote above from Star Trek VI (not Star Wars), is very fitting: people who grew up aren’t as young and open-minded as they used to be. Maybe our generation is getting too old and inflexible. Sure, we’ve got the money and we spend a lot of time arguing about stupid things on the Internet (meanwhile the rest of the world has real issues).

But we, the old Star Wars fans, should step aside and let the younger generation enjoy the movies on their own terms. Sure it’s not the same as the original, but it doesn’t have to be. The world doesn’t resolve around aging nerds, and it shouldn’t.

Let the kids have their fun, and don’t take things so seriously.

…and just to fuck with the adult fans…

picardforce

P.S. Speaking of Star Wars and kids, my daughter loves this book. It’s pretty different than the canonical story, but she doesn’t care. She likes it very much.

P.P.S. I thought this was a good write-up and defense of the Phantom Menace too. Also, we haven’t seen Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith yet. I might be more disappointed by those two, we’ll see.

1 I like Liam Neeson anyway, more so after the Lego Movie. :)

2 I liked RedLetterMedia’s brilliant critique of the Phantom Menace, but in spite of that, I still enjoyed the movie.