Mascots in Japan

Hi Folks,

I’ve noticed that mascots are very popular in Japanese culture. You can see mascots for all kinds of things: TV shows, companies, even apartment-complexes.

It’s a huge industry too. Some people will make a career out of it by being “private” mascots for events and such. I once watched a fascinating tv documentary about one man who was trying to get famous as a mascot. He made his own costume, organized his own website, Youtube videos, and worked hard to get jobs and visibility. It seems like a pretty competitive field too.

One of the most famous mascots though is an adorable character named Funasshii (ふなっしー), shown above with the American mascot for the Miami Marlins, Billy. Funasshii is an unofficial mascot for the city of Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture, and is famous for his/her high-energy, positive attitude, and for saying “nasshii” (なっしー) at the end of sentences.

Funasshi is supposed to be a pear (nashi 梨). Funasshi’s Twitter account, which I follow, can be found here.

Also, Funasshi makes a lot of appearances in Japanese TV shows. Here, Funasshi appears in an episode of Kimura Ken’s “Bakatono” sketch (バカ殿), which is a famous character that is supposed to be a childish, stupid, effeminate nobleman. Normally I don’t like Kimura’s show because it’s crude and sexist, but this sketch is really fun to watch:

Anyhow, mascots are something you will see a lot in Japan. As I learned from the documentary, mascots work very hard. It is a physically demanding job, and success is not guaranteed, but they deserve a lot of credit for their enthusiasm and making kids (and adults) smile. :)

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Welcome Spring!

Another waka poem I found in the Kokinshu that I wanted to share:

梅の花 Ume no hana
それとも見えず Sore to mo miezu
久方の Hisakata no
天霧る雪の Amagiru yuki no
なべて降れれば Nabete furereba

Which translates as:

The plum blossoms now
are indistinguishable —
for snow mists the broad
heavens and masks all below
In a whirling world of white.

The plum blossom (umé 梅) blooms in late January to February and is associated with the end of Winter and the coming of Spring.

Have a great weekend!

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The Amazing Adventures of Xuanzang

Hi Folks,

Lately, my life has been slowing down a little bit, and I have time to read books again. So, this week I’ve been reading a fascinating book titled The Silk Road Journey With Xuanzang, which tells the story of a famous Chinese monk named Xuan-zang (玄奘, 602 – 664), pronounced like “Shuan Tsang”. Xuanzang was a young monk who decided to journey to India to see land of the Buddha. To do this, he had to:

Technically Xuanzang wasn’t the first Chinese monk to accomplish this. Another monk named Faxian (法顯, 337 – 422) was the first of several. His name is pronounced like “Fa Shien”. Anyhow, Faxian stayed only in the northern part of India, then took a ship back to China. Xuanzang journeyed all over India, studied at the famous Nalanda University and then walked all the way back too. The trip took a total of 11 years.

When Faxian came to India, Buddhism was a prosperous religion, but when Xuanzang visited centuries later, it was clearly declining in some areas, and slowly being replaced with Hinduism which we know today. Some Buddhist monasteries he encountered still maintained certain practices but no longer understood why. Other monasteries were still great centers of learning. Some monasteries were completely deserted.

Xuanzang’s adventure became the inspiration for a 16th-century Chinese novel called “Journey to the West” (西遊記). This Chinese novel was hugely popular, and you can often see movies and dramas about it both in China and Japan. In Japan, it’s called saiyūki. I enjoyed watching the 2006 drama with SMAP’s Kattori Shingo as the lead actor.

I’ve only finished about half the book so far, but it’s been a great read. Many of the places in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, and India that Xuanzang saw and wrote about are very different now. Some of these places are familiar now because of conflicts, wars, etc, but in Xuanzang’s time they were completely different. It’s amazing how much the world has changed.

Also, it’s amazing how difficult the journey was. Xuanzang doesn’t write about himself much, but the Silk Road between China and India had some very dangerous and difficult terrain, and yet he somehow survived all these challenges and reached India, and back!

Xuanzang is such a cool guy I made up a song about it1 based on the original Spiderman theme song ( original lyrics):

♫ Xuanzang-man, Xuanzang-man.
Does whatever a Buddhist can
Goes around, anywhere,
Catches sutras just like flies.
Look out! Here comes the Xuanzang-man.

Is he tough? Listen bud—
He walked the entire Silk Road.
Can he cross a desert?
Take a look over there.
Hey bro! There goes the Xuanzang-man.

In the chill of the night,
At the Roof of the World,
Like a streak of light,
He crosses a chain bridge!

Xuanzang-man, Xuanzang-man,
Friendly neighborhood Xuanzang-man.
Wealth and fame, he’s ignored—
Wisdom is his reward.
To him, Life is a great illusion—
Wherever there’s a stupa,
You’ll find the Xuanzang-man!♫

I’ll write more once I finish book. Stay tuned!

1 It just popped into my head after I wrote title. Strange how that works. :-)

Posted in Buddhism, China, Hosso, India, Travel | 1 Comment

Setsubun Death Mask 2015!

Hi guys,

Today (US time zone) is Setsubun (節分). In the traditional Japanese calendar (旧暦, kyūreki) which is based off the Chinese calendar, the 3rd day of the 2nd month would mark the end of Winter and the start of Spring. In the solar calendar, this is February 3rd.

Every year, we do a tradition where I put on an oni mask (oni are like ogres) and Princess throws roasted soybeans or roasted peanuts at me. People will then recite: oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi which means “out demon, in luck!”

I was so busy in 2014 because of Little Guy, I didn’t blog about it. In fact, we were too tired to celebrate.

In 2013, I made an Oni mask:

Setsubun mask

However, in 2014, Princess wanted to make a mask for me. This is the result:

My daughter made this Setsubun Mask for me...

It is supposed to be cute, but actually looks scary like Jason from Friday the 13th. I call it the “Setsubun Death Mask”.

Little Guy will celebrate his first Setsubun this evening, but we tested the mask last night to see if he would be scared or not. He just smiled and laughed. :) So, we should be ok.

So, anyhow happy Setsubun everyone and please don’t get any nightmares from the Setsubun Death Mask! ;)

P.S. I am proud of my daughter for making the mask. She put a lot of good detail in it. I am just joking about the “death mask” part. :)

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You Win Some, You Lose Some

驕れる者も久しからず、唯春の夜の夢の如し。 猛き者も遂には滅びぬ、偏に風の前の塵に同じ。
The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.

Tales of the Heike (平家の物語)

Hi all,

Seattle has been excited lately for another chance to win the Super Bowl. We won last year, the first (American) football championship for Seattle, and the first championship since 1979 when our basketball team won.1 During the week before the Super Bowl, my daughter’s school had fun activities for the kids, including a parade around the school. Grocery stores were full of people buying food and snacks before Sunday. We watched the game at a friend’s house, and everyone was dressed in Seahawks shirts.

Unfortunately, although we came very close to winning, we failed.

We were all pretty upset. My daughter, who is 8 years old, even cried a little bit. No fireworks tonight, either. Seattle was very quiet.

Of course, we all felt bitter. But then I thought about it: sooner or later, this would happen. We might win the next 5 Super Bowls, but then we’d lose sooner or later.

The Seahawks can’t win all the time. Sure, we wan’t them to win, but it’s just not possible.

Sooner or later, the proud will fall. Sometimes they fade away, sometimes they fall hard (like they did tonight). But that’s just the way life goes.

But the good news is that life goes on. It won’t be the way you wan’t it to be, but it goes on and it’s not all bad.

So, here’s to the Seahawks, and to the 2015 season, and many seasons thereafter. :)

1 Go Supersonics!

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The Shirakawa River in Kyoto


For Friday, I wanted to share a nice photo I found on Twitter recently:

This is the Shirakawa River (白川) that runs through Kyoto. It flows into another famous river, the Kamo River (鴨川).


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Getting Kicked In The Groin

December 2014 was a rough month for us. December started well after we got some extra money from our mortgage and a bonus from work. We were excited to put that money into savings, and maybe buy a new computer. But then two days later, I took our car to the dealership for a routine 90,000 mile-service. It was then we found out that the car needed a lot of repairs: it was leaking water, the brakes were almost gone, and the altenator (the thing that charges the battery) was failing, etc.

The repair costs were very expensive. We had to use the extra money from work and the mortgage. Fortunately, the car runs much better now (the brakes were getting weak), but it was frustrating to lose all that money just to fix the car.

Then, later in the month we had a leak in our roof during a bad rainstorm. We moved into this house 5 years ago after we came back from Ireland, and never had this problem before.

That night, as we worried about the leaky roof,1 my wife and I felt really frustrated. Just when we had some good fortune, bad fortuned happened and took it away. My wife was having her final Yakudoshi year (atoyaku 後厄), and we thought maybe it was a curse or something.

I thought about the First Noble Truth (仏教の四諦, bukkyō no shitai) of Buddhism: Life is marked with suffering.

In layman’s terms, this means that life sometimes kicks you in the groin for no good reason:

Life is not always bad. Sometimes it is very nice. But sooner or later, this kind of thing will happen.

But then I read some good articles about bad luck and supersition. Both articles talk about how two people might experience the same bad luck, but interpret it differently. One person will stay positive and not give up, while another person will moan and complain about their bad luck. One is optimistic, the other is fatalistic.

The lesson, I think, is that one has to take responsibility when bad things happen. My wife and I talked about the problems in December, and we realized that we were lucky to have the extra money at that time. If not, we would we would be in trouble. It also reminded us that we have to be more careful about our budget and savings. This means, being prepared for the next time life kicks us in the groin. ;)

So, when bad things happen in life, one should be prepared, but also one shouldn’t blame bad luck and such. There’s always something a person can do to be ready for next time.

P.S. More on superstition and changes in fortune.

1 The problem was that there was too much debris from the neighbor’s tree on our roof, and the water built and leaked through. Once we removed the debris, we had no more leaks.

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