Famous Korean Poetry on a Fan

Recently a Korean friend’s mom gave this fan to our daughter:

Korean Fan with Poem

If you look up close though, you can see a poem:

Korean Fan with Poem Close-up

This poem is really intersting to me because it shows both Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, and Chinese characters mixed in. This kind of writing was popular in Korea in the past, so I assumed it was an old, famous poem. It took a lot of research,1 but I figured out what it was. The poem was written by Yi-Jonyeon (이조년 李兆年, 1269-1343) from the Goryeo Dynasty in Korea. For Japanese readers, his name is イ・ジョニョン. According to Wikipedia Korea, which I was only able understand a little, Yi-Jonyeon was a scholar and poet who served under 5 kings (King Wonjong through King Chunghye).

From this helpful website I was able to find the text of the poem (Japanese version here):

多情歌(다정가) – Da Jeong Ga

梨花(이화)에 月白(월백)하고
I-hwa e weol baek hago

銀漢(은한)이 三更(삼경)인제
Eun-han i samgyeong inje

一枝春心(일지춘심)을 子規(자규)야 알랴 마난
Ilji chunshim eul jagyu ya alrya manan

多情(다정)도 病(병)인양 하여 잠 못 들어 하노라
Dajeong do byeong inyang hayeo jam mot deuleo hanora

Thankfully I was able to find a translation, courtesy of Ohio State University:

The moon is pallid against the blossoms of the pear;
The Milky Way is twinkling cold at midnight.
The cuckoos wouldn’t guess why I am in despair,
Perching in the boughs of trees in the dim light.
My affection, my love, is a malady I keep;
The disease of the season deprives me of peaceful sleep.

Pretty nice poem actually. It reminds me of poems from the Hyakunin Isshu as well, though the style and such are a bit different. I always enjoy researching stuff like this. :-)

Anyhow, now you know some famous Korean poetry!

1 Lots of hit-or-miss Google searches. ;)

Posted in Korea, Korean, Poetry, Travel | 5 Comments

My Visit to Utsunomiya, Japan


Although I’ve posted a few times about seeing Korea, I wanted to post some stuff about Japan too. My wife’s maternal-side of the family lives outside Utsunomiya, Japan, which is a medium-sized city in Tochigi Prefecture, 2 hours north of Tokyo by car.

If you are in the Tokyo-area, you can actually take a direct, regular train up to Utsunomiya using the Shonan-Shinjuku line. Try to get the express though as it does save some time. But even if you can’t, it’s a nice relaxing ride and much cheaper than the Shinkansen.

Anyhow, my wife’s relatives live on the west-side of Utsunomiya’s suburbs, which are somewhat rural. During the afternoon (which was more humid than Kawasaki city), I took Little Guy for a walk in his stroller (bebiikā ベビーカー in Japanese) and found some nice rice-fields nearby:

Rice Field

We had a great dinner that night with the whole family, and my daughter got to see her second-cousins (hatoko 再従兄弟/再従姉妹) again. Some of her second-cousins (children of my wife’s cousin) live in Utsunomiya, while other second-cousins came from other parts of the world such as the Middle-East. It was a rare, rare chance for them all to meet. They had a lot of fun playing together, lighting Japanese fireworks (sparklers for us Americans) and so on.

The following day we visited a nearby temple called Tage-Fudōson (多気不動尊) or just Tagesan for short. The homepage is here (map too), but it’s in Japanese only, sorry.

Tagesan is a Shingon-Buddhist temple and famous for having lots of steps:

Tagesan Fudoson Temple

I was carrying Little Guy while trying to climb these steps. It was not easy. :p

The main deity in the temple is the esoteric figure, Fudo Myoo, who is a kind of guardian figure in Shingon Buddhism. Most temples with Fudo Myoo have names like Fudōson (不動尊) or something like that, so it’s easy to recognize.

We also found a large array of “Jizo” statues like these:

Jizo Bodhisattvas with red bib

The red-bibs are commonly seen on statues of Jizo Bodhisattva. I’ve heard a couple different reasons why this is done (I’m not sure which is true):

  • They are supposed to protect children who died young (Jizo is a protector of children among other things), or
  • They are used to build up good merit for devout Buddhists as a kind of devotional offering, similar to this famous tale.

Here’s the main, central statue of Jizo Bodhisattva:

Jizo Bodhisattva, protector of children

Finally we enjoyed some Ramen:

Japanese Ramen

Utsunomiya seems to have a lot of Japanese-Chinese food, or chūka-ryōri (中華料理) including ramen and my personal favorite: gyoza (potstickers). As my wife and kids know, gyoza are my favorite food,1 so I love going to Utsunomiya and eating there. :)

Utsunomiya is a nice city to visit and I definitely recommend visiting Tochigi Prefecture if you can. I always enjoy going there.

P.S. Gyoza are especially good with Chinese chili oil from Ishigakijima. We bought some during our recent visit. :-)

1 I like them so much that my wife and daughter made them for me by hand on Father’s Day. I was very happy. :-)

Posted in Buddhism, Japan, Religion, Shingon, Travel, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My Brief Visit to Incheon Airport

On my return trip back from Japan, I transferred at South Korea’s airport, Incheon, which is just outside Seoul. It’s a large airport and quite nice to visit and was opened just in 2001, so it’s actually pretty new.

Incheon Airport was my first (and only) experience in South Korea, and I only had 3 hours to really “soak up” the culture. So, I did a lot of walking around. It’s quite large, but generally easy to navigate once you get past the first part. There are tons of shops there, so I even tried ordering Starbucks in Korean (failed miserably), but the staff all spoke pretty good English anyway, so it wasn’t necessary. Many of the signs at Incheon were also printed in four languages: Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese, so it’s pretty hard to get lost there.

One really interesting thing about Incheon Airport is that they had a lot of cultural events and activities. Korea seems very interested in promoting Korean culture to visitors, so there was a lot to see and do. One interesting example is this parade that walks through the airport regularly:1

This parade looks like a royal procession from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897, 조선, 朝鮮). I stumbled onto this parade by accident, but I recognized it right away because I watched so many episodes of the Korean Drama “Jewel in the Palace” (대장금, 大長今). I could recognize the “king” right away. He was wearing the red robes just in front of the large parasol.

This video by another traveler is probably easier to watch though. I was surprised to see the parade, so I didn’t really have time to properly record it.

They also had music performances as well. This is an example of traditional Korean music:

Some people really like this kind of traditional Asian music, some people hate it. I personally thought it was cool.

Incheon had a lot of cool stuff in general. I found some bookstores in there, and I even found a few copies of the Japanese manga Doraemon in Korean which I am using for reading practice. More on that in another post. Anyhow, as mentioned before, every store I went to, people seemed to speak pretty good English. Some of the “ajumma” (おばちゃん would be the Japanese equivalent I guess) were kind of pushy though at certain shops. One lady really wanted to sell me a huge kimchi set to take home, but I can get kimchi easily in Seattle (and I really didn’t want to carry that home), so I kind politely declined.

It was also probably my first real opportunity to use Korean for more than 2 minutes. I’ve been studying and learning Japanese for so long,2 I forgot how hard it is to communicate in another language when you are just a beginner. I did better than I expected (thanks TTMIK!), but at the same time, I also realized that I needed a lot more study and practice. A lot.

So, that’s my three hours in Korea (airport). Incheon is a pretty cool airport to visit, and definitely makes me want to visit Korea again, this time outside the airport. ;)

1 My wife noticed that the parade past walked a Louis Vuitton shop and she thought the contrast was funny. :)

2 I’m not saying I’m good at Japanese language, just familiar with it. Korean is much more new to me.

Posted in Korea, Travel | Leave a comment

Blog Update


Some readers may have noticed, but the comments section has been changing a little. In the last month, I’ve been getting tons and tons of spam comments on the blog. I spend every day cleaning out comments and removing them, because they are somehow getting past the spam-filters.

Anyhow, it’s getting to be a hassle, so I’ve tried a couple approaches over the past week. Finally, I decided to close blog comments for posts that are more than 60 days old. This won’t stop all spam comments, but it should greatly reduce them, and readers can still leave comments without a WordPress account.

Anyhow, just an FYI. Thanks!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Timely Buddhist Quote

Ferguson, Night 3, Photo 2

Something I found today here in a certain collection of quotations by the Buddha, called the Dhammapada, translation by Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

137-140. Whoever, with a rod, harasses an innocent man, unarmed, quickly falls into any of ten things: harsh pains, devastation, a broken body, grave illness, mental derangement, trouble with the government, violent slander, relatives lost, property dissolved, houses burned down. At the break-up of the body this one with no discernment, reappears in hell.

The point is: violence and anger not only hurt other people, they also hurt the person who did it too.

Timely indeed.

P.S. Tried posting this quote on Twitter earlier, but it was too long.

Posted in Buddhism, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Revisiting Ordination

While I was visiting Japan, my wife, kids and I visited old friends and neighbors a lot. We do this every year, and we enjoy keeping in touch with people. One family we keep in touch with is a nearby Jodo-Shinshu temple family in the neighborhood. My wife has grown up with their kids, and now they watch our kids grow up. :) In Japan, you see a lot of urban “parochial” or parish temples which are owned by ordained priests, but otherwise living a semi-worldly lifestyle. This is in contrast to dedicated “monastic” temples that also exist in Japan.

Anyhow, the temple family lets us walk around the inner-sanctuary of their temple, and my daughter is now old enough to understand things more. So, she asked me a lot of questions like “what’s that picture” or “who’s that buddha?” and such. I explained things in my simple Japanese, rather than English, since everyone else is listening. But at the same time, I felt a really, nice familiar feeling that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Jodo Shinshu temples have a very consistent setup you can see anywhere in the world. The temple here in Seattle has a very similar altar to what you see in Kawasaki or any temple. So, that setup is very familiar to me. Walking around the temple’s inner-sanctuary, explaining the different pictures and decoration, it really felt like coming home in a spiritual sense. Also, it was fun to explain to my daughter. The temple family seemed a little impressed too.

It reminded me years ago when I was trying to get ordained as a Jodo-Shinshu priest here in Seattle. Most readers probably don’t know about that because it was almost 5 years ago. This is a photo I took in 2010 during my second-attempt:

Me as a minister's assisstant trainee

I tried to get ordained at the local temple in 2008 or so, but this did not succeed because I hadn’t been a member of the temple long enough, and I think culturally there was some resistance too because the temple was a bit insular at the time. I hear things have changed since. Anyhow, I was bitter, but I tried again in 2010, and made good progress, but I had personal doubts about Pure Land Buddhism,1 and also was very busy raising kids. Further, on-call work at my company was so intense, I couldn’t keep up with training. So, I quit shortly after that picture was taken. I kind of regret it now, because it’s not good to quit something halfway, but oh well.

But, five years later, I kind of really miss it. Being at that temple in Japan, explaining all those things to my daughter made me realize that I truly enjoy teaching Buddhism and Buddhist culture. I don’t want to just teach meditation; that’s too narrow. I like sharing the culture to people because there’s much beauty and truth behind it. I guess that’s a big reason why I started this blog, and I guess I still love it.

So, I’ve been researching how to get ordained again. With help from my wife, I am looking at how to get ordained directly from Japan though. There are a lot of temples here in Seattle, but I think there are challenges with them. Based on limited, personal experience some temples are resistant to Asian Buddhist culture, or at least very selective about what they are interested in. Other temples focus on a particular community, so they’re either resistant or just indifferent to people outside that community. There are a couple of Japanese Buddhist temples here (including Rissho Kosei Kai, which I visited recently), so if training from Japan doesn’t work, I still have that option.

But my idea is to go directly to Japanese Buddhist institutions if possible and get ordained there, then, maybe start my own temple that will share the beauties of Asian-Buddhist culture, but to a wider audience. I have seen other temples in the US do this, though it’s rare.

Of course, this is actually a huge challenge because I am not Japanese, and I don’t live there. Based on research so far, it looks like some Buddhist seminaries in Japan require routine retreats, or some kind of lengthy time-commitment, which is sensible. But I have family and work here and can only get a tourist-visa to Japan (90 days maximum), so this probably won’t work. Still, other seminaries in Japan do seem to have distance-learning options with shorter commitments in Japan. I can definitely travel to Japan and train for a little while, but not for too long. :)

Five years ago, when I was training at the Jodo Shinshu temple, one of the Japanese ministers encouraged me to consider training through a place like Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin, which is a big Jodo Shinshu seminary. At the time though, I couldn’t really read or communicate in Japanese, so I thought it was impossible. However, now I can read fairly comfortably, and my conversation skills are a little better than before, so now it’s feasible at least. Not easy, but feasible.

Anyhow, nothing specific yet, but I definitely am researching more. I still might consider training and getting ordained through a temple in Seattle. There are still good temples here, so even if the distance-learning option doesn’t work, I’ve got options. :-)

Time will tell.

1 My attitude has gradually changed over time but it’s too long to explain here.

Posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Shingon | 7 Comments

Buddhist Suggestions for Helping in Gaza, Iraq and Ferguson


This was kind of an impromptu post (apologies for typos), but I was inspired by these twitter posts here and here. With all the humanitarian problems happening in places like the Gaza Strip, northern Iraq and Ferguson, MO, I wanted to share some ideas about how Buddhists, or anyone can help. These are not “officially Buddhist” suggestions, there are just personal ideas. Every person should be free to decide how they want to assist, so feel free to take or reject these ideas.

Having the Right Attitude

First and foremost, it’s important to have a proper attitude when approaching situations like this. The Buddha encouraged things like mutual respect, respect for the sanctity of life, peace and tolerance, such as this quote from the Dhammapada:

129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.

132. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.

133. Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.

Or from the 10th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

The abode of the Tathagata [another word for the Buddha] is a great compassionate heart for all living beings; The robe of the Tathagata is a flexible and forbearing mind; The seat of the Tathagata is the emptiness of all things.

Here “emptiness” means that all things are not separate from one another; they all depend on one another. Further, they are impermanent too.

Point being, even if you don’t like the other side, it’s important to remember that they are still human. Everyone has fears and shortcomings. This is easier said than done (believe me), but it’s a gold standard to work towards in your own life.

Helping Directly

The best way to help of course is to help directly. Helping on the ground, where possible and feasible, is a brave and noble thing to do. However, also make sure you coordinate with people on the ground to see if you are needed or not. If you do not plan this right, you could end up getting in the way, or putting people at risk. So make sure you do your homework first!

If you cannot help directly, you can still directly contribute by offering donations of food, clothing, water or whatever is needed. The amount isn’t important. What’s important is that you take the first step in giving. Showing up is half the battle! However, make sure you donate through reputable organizations as scam-artists can appear at times like this. Again, do your homework and make an informed decision.

When donating, spend time to think about what’s needed most. Better yet, ask your charity of choice. This is not a good time to “clean out your closet“. Instead, learn what’s most helpful and focus on that. Things may change too, as the situation changes.

Buddhist Prayer and Sutra recitation

In addition to the above, or if you are unable to help, you also utilize Buddhist prayer and sutra recitation as well.

For example, the Golden Light Sutra is a famous sutra for peace and prosperity in a nation. In many parts of the ancient Buddhist world, monks would routinely recite this sutra chapter by chapter, end to end as a way of encouraging peace and prosperity.

For readers at home, you don’t have to recite the entire sutra. Traditionally many people have recited only the first chapter, or maybe their favorite chapter in general (I personally like the 4th chapter a lot).

Additionally, you can also recite parts of the Lotus Sutra, or chant the namu myoho renge kyo which is a particular chant in praise of the Lotus Sutra. Either option (or any Buddhist chant) is appropriate.

When reciting any Buddhist sutra or chant, it’s helpful to first relax your mind a bit (meditation, prayer, whatever works), sit in front of a Buddhist altar if you have one.

Then, when complete, you then dedicate the merit toward peace in general, or a specific place and people. It’s up to you.

People may be skeptical about whether this works or not, but remember, we are all connected. Karma and merit are powerful things, as explained in the 5th chapter of the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra:

“Karma is tremendously powerful. It is capable of covering Mount Sumeru, is capable of plumbing the vast ocean depths and is even capable of obstructing the holy doctrines.

Spread the Word

In addition to the above, you can also help but getting information out. However, remember to maintain a spirit of goodwill and be cautious about spreading misinformation or rumors. It’s tempting to want to be the first, but slow down and keep a cool head. Sometimes good intentions can only stir up trouble if you don’t balance it with the light of wisdom.


If you cannot assist with any of the above, or still want to do more, focus your efforts more locally. Since all living beings are connected (or “empty” as stated above), you can still do a lot for humanity by helping in your neighborhood, even if you’re just carrying groceries for your elderly neighbor. No effort is wasted. Trust me, you’ll see the difference in the long-run.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo

Posted in Buddhism, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , | 4 Comments