Got questions about Japan, Korea, Buddhism or anything related? I cant always guarantee the answer you are looking for, but I do my best to respond within 48 hours.

Feel free to leave a comment or question here. Your question just might be the next blog post subject!:-)

132 thoughts on “Questions?

  1. Hello, I have a question regarding N2. I understand that N2 is 105 minutes and consists of Language Knowledge and Reading Comprehension. How would you suggest I divide my time between the two. I just took the Kanzen Master Reading Comprehension mock exam and got 19/21 but I spent 75 minutes, leaving me 30 minutes to do the Language Knowledge questions. You reckon that is enough?


  2. Hi Caleb and welcome to the JLR. I can’t say for sure whether that is enough time or not. I wasn’t paying attention too well to time and I barely had time for the last two articles.

    The reading section was definitely longer than expected so I’d say really invest the time to read fast and get the gist of it on the first/second pass.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Hi, not a question but a comment. I just returned from Tokyo with my 19 year old daughter (we live in Australia) the other day; I try to go every year as I’m studying the language for my degree and have fallen in love with Japan. We love going to Shibuya; we go to Book-Off and there’s a katsu place we like there (and we avoid 109 like the plague!) but I would have loved knowing about the NHK studio with the huge Domo thingy! You go all over the place which is fantastic, which is why I love reading gaijin in Japan blogs, there’s always something interesting to visit other than the norm.
    Anyway, I’m rambling but your blog is great and very interesting reading. btw, I had Korea Town bookmarked and now I’m sorry I didn’t go! My daughter would have loved the K-Pop Hall of Fame!:) and I would have loved the Korean food.

    Sydney, Australia

  4. Hi Jennifer and welcome! Glad you found it useful, both NHK and Shin Okubo. I really enjoy putting up things online that may be useful later to someone. Never know who might need it.:-)

    All the best,

  5. Hi Doug,

    Fantastic blog, as always! I had a couple of quick questions if you don’t mind?

    1. On a post you mentioned taking the five precepts for the Buddha’s birthday, I note that Buddhist Monkks are not supposed to eat after lunchtime (although may have a weak broth) – could you elaborate on this please/

    2. I had asked you once before about language learning – I am trying to learn Arabic and have been looking to sign up for Arabicpod101 and just wondered if you found the Japanese one of value?


    3. In the initial stages of learning Japanese, how long did you spend on it each day? Did you even study it each day?

    Many thanks,


    Ps apologies if you’ve answered these questions elsewhere

  6. Hi Hussein and welcome!

    1) This site does a good job of explaining it I think:

    2) Hm, never tried Arabicpod101, but I like both JapanesePod101 and KoreanPod101 and yes they were quite helpful up to a point. Once you get into more advanced stuff, you may find less material, but by that point, you should be starting with native material anyway.

    3) Hm, I maybe spent enough time to listen to one or two JPod101 lessons on my iPod (10-15 minutes each), so maybe 30 minutes a day. What matters is long-term application rather than how much you accomplish in a day.

    Best of luck!

  7. Hi,
    Thanks for your blog. I’ve learned a lot.
    Do you happen to know if there are any Zen schools or groups here in Okinawa?
    So far, the only ones Ive found are in the mainland.
    By the way, Ive also tangled with the JLPT. I took it once and didnt pass. But I’ll be ready next December.

  8. Hi Dave and welcome to the JLR!

    I spent some time poking around this weekend and found that there are indeed Zen temples in Okinawa, both Soto (曹洞宗) and Rinzai (臨済宗), though options for foreigners appear to be somewhat limited. For example, for Rinzai Zen there is this temple near Shuri Castle as well as this place in Naha, but I there doesn’t appear to be a website, so it may be very local. For Soto Zen, I couldn’t really find anything. I guess for historical reasons, it never really had much of a presence there. Not sure.

    I hope this helps. If you know a little Japanese, look up either sect above (Japanese don’t usually call it “zen”, they call it by the particular sect), plus 沖縄. You might be able to find an address close to where you are.

    Good luck!

  9. Just out of curiousity. How come you have no interest in China? How come your a Japanophie/Koreaphile but not a Sinophile? Hahaha. I mean most of Korea and Japan has been greatly influenced by China for most of their history don’t you think? I’m just curious. Do you have anything against the Chinese? :S

  10. Hello JH and welcome to the JKLLR. It’s an interesting question. If you look around you’ll see that I have posted on Chinese related topics over the past three years and even dedicated the Buddhists’ Field Manual to a certain Taiwanese monk whom I greatly admire. I also studied Mandarin in high school and my best friend growing up was Chinese-American. So no, no grudges I hope. :-)

    But with that said, it’s true that China is not a focus of the blog. Sometimes I have wondered about it myself. Thinking back on the evolution of this blog and its previous versions I guess it’s kind of a long story. The short answer is that the original blog started on a much smaller, narrower topic and gradually expanded to include subjects immediately related to it. Hence its present form.

    But also, I think I am fascinated with how China’s neighbors absorbed Chinese culture but also giving it each their own unique spin. Hence my interest in Japan, Korea and to a lesser degree Okinawa/Ryukyu culture.

    Hope that helps.

  11. I have a piece of fabric that I collected when I was in Korea that has a poem on it. It’s from the Hangul and it would be really great to know what it says. It was given to me by a monk outside the Seoraksan Temple and I haven’t been able to get it translated. Would that be something you could do for me? If so, I will send you the photos. Or, if you’re not comfortable with that, I could post them on my blog, give you the address, and you could just feel free to comment there. Thanks a lot.

  12. Hi cyleodonnel and welcome. Please bear in mind that I have just started learning Korean so I may not be the best source. However you might ask the folks at about it. They are native speakers and highly accessible.

    Good luck and sorry I can’t be of more help.

  13. Doug:
    I’m currently learning Korean. I stumbled upon your site, and eventually ended up at the AJATT website. I read about MCD, and it looked interesting, but at the same time complex. Do you have and advice on the MCD technique. I’m wanting to start memorizing sentences, perhaps even the 10K goal, but the MCD sounds intriguing. Yet, I’m not really sure how to use it with Korean. Please share your thoughts.



  14. Hi J. Wesley and welcome,

    To be honest I don’t know much about MCD’s but having taken a look I personally will just stay with sentence-based flashcards. It’s a tried and true method and feels less contrived and something I can apply at any level.

    Plus after only doing sentences for a couple of months I can already see improvement in myself. Not enough to really reach a tipping point but enough to validate the technique.

    If you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend for other Korean language resources.

    Best of luck!

  15. Hi Vivian and welcome. To be honest, I don’t know that one. I understand what means literally:

    人生 = a person’s life
    続く = to continue

    But I don’t know if that would be used in the same way that “life goes on” does.

    If you’re looking for something to mean “life goes on”, you’re probably better off investigating “yojijukugo”, which are 4-character phrases popular in Japanese and Chinese culture. There’s a yojijukugo for just about every situation you can imagine. Good luck.

  16. I have a question about keigo. Suppose I’m talking to someone and I ask if he has ever been to a certain theme park. For this I would use sonkeigo.
    But if I want to explain to him what kind of theme park it is, would I have to use just desu? “[…] paaku desu”.

  17. Hi Silvia and welcome. As far as I understand it, keigo is like a fine spice: don’t use it too much when cooking.

    So in most cases, using ‘desu’ is more than enough.

    When talking to your boss or your friends parents that you’ve just met, a little keigo is fine though, but don’t overdo it.

    Good luck!

  18. Hi Doug,

    Really enjoying the blog as always, and the turn it seems to have taken. Great work.

    Just a couple of questions, if you have time:

    You are now learning Latin as an aside to help your daughter, do you ever find learning more than one language is quite confusing, or do you think that by learning a few they compliment each other?

    Also, do you think it’s easier to learn more than one that are the same or similar, or should they be wholly different eg Japanese and Latin.

    Finally, could or should someone learn two languages, in your opinion, from the outset, or should they be grounded in one before moving to the other, especially if they are similar, Italian and Romanian for example? A lot of people say get grounded in one before moving on, but when I think back to high school, in first year, many were thrown in to learning French and a n other at the same time. So I’m a bit confused on the issue!

    All help gratefully appreciated =)


  19. Hi AlScotlandi,

    Good to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about your questions and to be honest I tend to struggle with them too.

    So far I haven’t found studying multiple languages confusing (thanks to timeboxing and compartmentalizing my time) so much as draining. Learning a language is a long-term investment so if you study two or three, you can only invest so much time in each. It’s a little frustrating and I often thjnk i might quit one or the other.

    On the other hand I keep doing it because I feel like if I don’t, I’ll kick myself later. I saw some Mark Twain quote recently how if you try now, you’ll regret it 20 years later.

    In any case, because I studied Japanese years before I started Korean, they don’t overlap much, which is good. I don’t have to constantly learn grammar for Japsnese so I can focus on Korean grammar for example. That they are similar helps too.

    Latin is still something I only make a little progress here and there. There’s just only so much time in the day.😉

    The fact that it’s different than Japanese and Korean doesn’t help, but it is similar to English and has no conversation demands does help though.:-)

    Not thr best answer but hope it helps.

  20. Hey Doug,

    I hope you’re doing really well.

    I’m starting up a language blog of my own in regards to learning Japanese and English and I want to have one day of the week dedicated to interviews with owners of language blogs. Considering you were one of my first, it would be a real honour for me to interview you. I’d ask you some general questions about your language learning history, Japanese, Buddhism and the like. Maybe 15-20 all up.

    I look forward to hearing back from you when you have the time.


  21. Hi Jordan I followed up by email earlier today.

    I also do weddings and bar mitzvahs too. Just kidding. ;-p

  22. Hello, looks like you had put in a different email instead (ends in “studio”), so I resent my email to the right address. Thanks!

  23. Soon I will be staying in 東京, Bunkyo ku precisely. There are still many things that I don’t know, like about the place, and on the railway system in Japan, for it’s very different from my country インドネシア. I’m sure you understand it. This month I was already gone to 日本 for a vacation for a week, but I knew that was not enough, because while on vacation, mostly just to the playground, like Disney Sea, Disney Land and Universal Studios in 大阪. Actually I don’t like the tour schedule like that, it seems I was wrong to choose a schedule.:( I prefer to museums and historic places. So basically I’m still worried and confused, what about later when I lived there to learn 日本語. I hope you can explain a little bit at least to me. And, if I may know, are you a 日本人? Anyway, ご協力いただきありがとうございます。

  24. Hi エヴェリン and welcome. I am not Japanese, I am American.

    I would like to help, but do you have a specific question you want to ask? I am not sure what help you need.


  25. Thanks you’ve been trying to answer. I mean, how the city of Tokyo and everything in it, something like that. Once again, thank you.

  26. You seem to have a lot of great information about learning other languages… you have any suggestions on where to start learning Vietnamese? I’ve recently started going to a Vietnamese Temple (seems to be practicing some variant of Pure Land but I’m not 100% sure) and, well, I think my new mission for the year is to immerse myself in this and learn the language.

    Any advise would be greatly appreciated, friend. Thank you! :) And be well!

  27. I took 2 years of Vietnamese in college, and used to speak it OK (not great, but OK), plus a few months in Vietnam. But that was 11+ years ago. I’ve totally forgotten it now.

    Anyhow, I recommend you take a look at the website All Japanese All The Time by Khatzumoto. The advice there is totally pertinent to other languages.

    In short, after a small 3-month introduction to the grammar and such (quite easy since Vietnamese uses the Roman alphabet), you need to really ramp up exposure. Find something entertaining, and learn how to do it in Vietnamese if you know what i mean.

    Good luck!

  28. Hello Doug,

    Thank you for all the insight you share on the “blog”. I write “blog” in quotation marks as I am not sure what a blog is! I am old-ish. I am typing in a reply box, because I am hopeless at navigating a “blog” but want to reach out to you and encourage you in your information sharing via the internet. I have only had the time to scan your entries/articles (my apologies), but something about your site holds a great attraction to me, and may answer some long held questions about how Japanese and Americans can/cannot merge.

    I may be the person you might have been, were you born a generation earlier, or perhaps more realistically your daughter. I am amused to see your postings about settling in life into Japan with Japanese. My experience is the verso. I am female (shy of 50). My mother is Japanese (still a Japanese citizen, though lives in suburban New York). My father was a 6’4″ Anglo American. They did not meet in the war, in fact I was counseled about “that problem” – you know what I mean (does it still hold the same stigma?). My mother married late and they moved to America in the late 1950s. I was born in the early 1960s. No such thing as “multi-culturalism” in America so I was brought up as a 100% pure beef AMERICAN – sort of. This was odd as I was the only kid in my upper-income NY suburb with black hair, and who ate weird dried food sent from Japan. Moreover, I was forbidden to learn Japanese, despite the fact my mother spoke no English. I do realize that readers are thinking I made this up but it is true (hey, my grandmother was a Christian Scientist but married a surgeon – talk about a mixed marriage!). I never picked up the language despite my other only spoke Japanese the first several years of my life. She finally ferreted out some Japanese friends, and it was the ONLY language I heard from 3:300PM-7:00PM on weekdays! Amazing, don’t you think? Yet I did get the intonation part spot on.

    I am fascinated at how FUN your life of discovery seems to be, and how delightful your daughter is being raised. As you can imagine, life for my mother, and to me to a FAR lesser extent was less exuberant (my mother was born in 1931 – the math speaks volumes – anyone out there long for the ‘ol Showa days?). I am sorry I am taking up too much of your time but I am happy to see how much advancement in “mulit-culturalism ” has occurred in both Japan and the US (or has it?). I could go on and tell some weird and funny stories, and some that would break your heart, but only if requested!

    Suffice it to say that we half and halfs, will always be somewhat misunderstood. I find myself doing very Japanese things without knowing it! Likewise would be either feared or viewed as a gross aberration in Japan. I finally gained some respect (by the Japanese side of my family when I managed to win a full doctoral scholarship to Oxford, and later marry ,albeit late in life, and have two male children – sadly carrying the wrong – Anglo – last name!). I had a subtle feeling my Japanese family held high benchmarks – I wonder perhaps because of the “American” blood – is this a common trait these days in Japan? Although, it is my impression that , the Japanese are low on the scale of showing affection or praise to family members – a cultural trait – not family specific!

    I should read all of your “blogs” before I take up any more time. I will say I am astounded and really confused at the melange of Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean – not to mention American and UK – all happily residing in one forum. As you know amongst the old timers, this is beyond imagination. I am glad you have imagined it, and are living it and sharing it! Yippee!

    If anyone wants to ask me any questions about what is was like living in America in the early 60s, being the ONLY ASIAN in my town, and having decidedly odd tastes, a house with a rock garden (what the…), and having friends over for “play dates” only to be prematurely ended by the sounds of my mother playing the Koto (which sounds like killing cats to American ears), please feel free to ask! I’d hate to have the “transitional” period lost and undocumented. It was weird, and I still sometimes wonder, “was it worth it?”. Do you know I still get asked the question: “What are you?” in just those words!

    Thanks for reading!

    If someone can tell me how to post pictures I can post a few that will make you smile, and certainly seem at odds to the modern images on this “blog” of Japanese/Western hybrid culture!

  29. Hi Bonnie and thanks for your comments and encouragement. I’m not sure why I keep writing considering that the blog has never been that popular, but I think it’s because I like bridging cultural gaps. That started with Japan, and my fascination with it, but has gradually expanded to other related cultures as well. Hence the melange (nice word choice). :)

    I believe I’ve heard from other, senior Japanese and bi-racial people, and they’ve expressed similar feelings of isolation and not fitting in. Hearing such stories always makes me worry about my own daughter, so I try to give her lots of courage and confidence (and love) so she can face her teenage years more easily.

  30. Doug様、


  31. Albertoさん、ブログにようこそ。よろしくお願いします。 英語を勉強するのはやっぱり会話とか普通のテレビが役に立っていることですね。 お問い合わせはありがとうございます。しかし、本当に時間がそんなにないので、話すことがあまりできないと思います。


    これで、英語を勉強したい日本人と韓国人とSKYPEで話せました。ポルトガル語の勉強している外国人が探せると思います。 その上に、一人ではなく、たくさん外国人が会えるでしょう。


  32. Hi, Doug

    Just came across your blog today, looking for information about non-Asian Americans who “converted” (kind of a loaded term, but I can’t think of a better one) to Pure Land Buddhism – I’m specifically interested in Jodo Shinshu currently. I’m in Santa Fe, NM as a college student, and I don’t believe there’s any Pure Land presence here. To be succinct, though I plan on teaching English in Japan, and will thus eventually develop Japanese language skills and become thoroughly acquainted with Japanese culture, right now I’m having trouble as a non-Japanese becoming involved in the Jodo Shinshu community – and the geographic isolation isn’t really helping.

    Looking around your blog for a bit, it looks like you identify as Jodo Shu, rather than Jodo Shinshu. I would ask why you prefer one over the other, but I can probably find the answer elsewhere on the blog. My question is, how does one, who isn’t an Asian American, learn more about and get more involved in a sect of Buddhism that’s so primarily associated with Asian Americans, rather than converts (such as Tibetan or Zen in the states)?

    Thank you for your time, and for the great reads,

  33. Hi Kyle ad welcome to the JKLLR!

    Sorry for the late reply. I usually try to reply to these within 48 hours, but this week I started a new job and have been a tad distracted.

    Also, I spent some time thinking about a reply. It’s a tough question to answer in general because communities are hard to come by in much of the US. Even in more plentiful areas, each sect might only have 1-2 possible temples to choose from and you may find that you just don’t get along with some communities. It happens.

    Anyhow, with respect to Jodo Shu, I first experienced it while visiting Japan so my experience is a bit unusual.

    Most people I know tend to start out online first. It lets you “try before you buy”. There is a good Jodo Shu group on Google Groups that I recommend.

    Definitely load up on books. My Buddhist’s Field Manual section has a bunch of recommended books. I’m biased but shop around.

    Books are good but they don’t always reflect Buddhism in real life. That’s not a bad thing; communities are dynamic and organic, books are not. So even if you meet a community in person very infrequently, do it anyway. You’ll learn a lot.

    Best of luck.

  34. P.S. Regarding the issue of converts and Asian-Americans, I think it’s a bit conflated. I think it has more to do with particular communities than sects. Some have just integrated better than others.

    Anyhow when you visit a new temple, just be a good guest, ask lots of questions, try before you buy, etc.:-)

  35. Hi – Just came across your blog, too. Very interesting! I’ve been trying to find contact info for Sojiji monastery – I’m in Canada at the moment, so email would be great if at all possible. Do you know if it’s possible for foreigners (and female ones at that) to practice there (in real life, not just Enlightenment Guaranteed)? Or do you know of other monasteries that accept foreigners for periods of residential practice? I speak a little Japanese.
    Thanks very much!

  36. Hi Tracey and welcome,

    I checked on Sojiji’s site and could find an email address, just local phone numbers. Also, it’s not clear if they have retreats for foreigners or not.

    Japan does have temples that have retreats for foreigners though scattered around the Tokyo area. A Google search for “zen monastery japan stay” revealed a number of sources.

    To be honest though, the more you can improve your Japanese, the more options you will have. Speaking from experience, the more you know the local language, the more freedom you have, and the greater sense of security and confidence. So, if you’d like to get the most out of studying in Japan, please follow’s advice, and invest maybe 6 months to a year of hardcore Japanese language education. You’ll be glad you did. 😀

    Best of luck!

  37. Hello. I have a question if you don’t mind. If ever I decide to be a Buddhist in Japan or Korea, what are the qualifications, what is the process, and also related expenses and visa processing. I live in the Philippines and I know more Korean culture than Japanese so if you have Korean Buddhism info, I’d appreciate that too.

  38. Hello and thanks for writing. Do you mean “decide to be a Buddhist monk”? or “a Buddhist disciple?”

    If you want to be a disciple, a regular follower of Buddhism, you do not need to travel to Korea or Japan for this. You can start doing so where you are now. There’s information in the Buddhists’ Field Manual above that will help provide some resources.

    But if you wish to become a monk (or nun) of Buddhism, you may want to try and find a temple in your area first. In some cases, you might have to travel further (Manila perhaps?), but if you become part of the community there, they can help arrange further training with a larger Buddhist organization.

    Or, alternatively you can look at temple-stays in Korea. Korea is quite friendly about temple-stays and have a helpful website about it:

    You should definitely try staying at a Buddhist temple first, learn how monks and nuns live, and such before you decided to invest in ordination. Also, they can explain the process more clearly anyway.

    Good luck!

  39. Thanks for that quick reply. Actually I have experienced a 1-week temple stay when I went to Korea and we did the Buddhist rituals like tea ceremony, bowing and praying to Buddha, waking up early in the morning (5:00 a.m.) and hiking, etc. I haven’t made contact yet with a local Buddhist group here in our country, but I think I’ll do it some time. As for being a Buddhist monk, I have yet to come to think about it. It’s just that sometimes I miss the great time I had during that temple stay. Anyway, thanks a lot for the info. :) By the way, I came across your blog because of my google search “Hear one, Know Ten (聞一知十)”. I’m studying beginner’s 漢文 these days so I’m taking a look at some of these Classical stuff myself. :) I find it quite interesting stuff. Although I can’t speak Chinese, I can now translate some basic 漢文.

  40. Oh wow, I’m a bit envious. I always wanted to try a temple stay.

    Anyhow, for ordination into monastic life, there is usually a trial period of some kind anyway. One takes the ten precepts of a novice and tries that for a while before becoming a real monk. This is not to be confused with lay-teacher training which is a bit different.

    So it’s probably easier to try and be a novice closer to home hence my suggestion. I don’t know much about Buddhism in the Philippines but I bet there is a good variety. Shop around, see which community you agree with, stay for a while then explore ordination.

    Best of luck.

  41. i know you showed some rosaries in your youtube video about setting up an altar – i am just having a hard time settling on which material – bead/seed mala to choose – can you post a link where i could buy one of those artificial candles? can you talk about the white scarves? i would like to see more videos about having a home service. just light and incense, a candle, offer fruit or rice, water? do you say anything when you offer these individual things? say i take refuge in the buddha/dharma/sangha? if i do not have any sutra to read, can i just chant on the rosary? what do i chant? do i chant om mani padme hum? can you wear your mala like the 108 bead necklace kind when not praying on it? does it matter what buddha you have on your altar? is the medicine buddha the only buddha that made those vows? i suffer from depression so how should i ask the buddha to help relieve my suffering from this illness? i love your videos they are an inspiration. can you talk about travel altars? thanks – carol

  42. i found some of the answers searching through your site
    like about the electric candle and such
    but still welcome any response from you

  43. Hi carol foster and welcome to the JKLLR. You posted a lot of questions, but I will try to answer them as best I can.

    Regarding your main concern, depression, that’s a tricky subject. I’m not a professional in any sense, and the advice here is purely amateur, but for what it’s worth I’ve met a number of people over the years who asked similar questions (i.e. depressed or have bipolar-disorder, seeking help through Buddhism). I think Buddhism can help, but if you haven’t already done so, please do seek out medical advice as well. I believe Buddhism and professional medical services can complement one another.

    Anyhow, there are a lot of little things you can do in a Buddhist context to help you feel more whole in life, even if they don’t necessarily cure depression. Devotional Buddhism is a good start, and I’ll get to the altar questions later. You may also want to find like-minded people and join a community. Shop-around, see what’s out there and what you like. Oftentimes, people are depressed (in a mundane sense, not clinically) because they feel somehow cut-off from others. In a crowded room, a person might feel more alone somehow. It’s not an issue of physical proximity but feeling connected with people. So, reaching out and finding others is always a good way to start. The Buddha encouraged the benefits of wholesome communities:

    Separately, one of the best ways to take advantage of the Buddhist path is to take up the Five Precepts as well. As Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes, it does help one’s own self-esteem and heal the wounds of our minds:

    This can be done as part of the Buddhist path alongside a devotional shrine. They go hand in hand in fact. :)

  44. Regarding your other questions: I see you’ve already found some of the other pages I wrote on the subject. If you haven’t already done so, please feel free to peruse the Buddhists’ Field Manual above. I wrote it for people in your case, who are inspired by the Buddhist teachings, but don’t know what to do on a practical, day-to-day level.

    Malas are something worn around the wrist, not the neck. You probably don’t need to carry it around on a daily basis anyway, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it either. Many Buddhists in Asia carry smaller “wrist” malas. I often do. As you may have noticed, the BCA Bookstore is a good resource in the US for such items.

    As for which Buddha or Bodhisattva, that depends on you. Everyone comes to Buddhism with different backgrounds and inclinations and some figures will inspire you more than others. So, if you find a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva inspiring, feel free to setup a shrine for them and recite whatever is appropriate. You can even change later if you like. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas exist to teach, lead and inspire all beings by any means necessary, so I don’t think they would mind which one you choose to follow. 😉

    What should you recite? Again, whatever seems inspiring. Reciting the sutras is an ancient practice from the beginning of the Buddhist community (that’s how they passed on the Buddha’s teachings to the next generation), so if you find a sutra, or even a few verses of a sutra, inspiring, recite those. You can recite in English or in an appropriate liturgical language. In time, that sutra or sutra passage will sort of “internalize” within you and you may feel you want to recite something else. That’s perfectly fine.

    The Medicine Buddha’s vows are explicitly geared toward day to day, contemporary issues, so often times people pray to the Medicine Buddha in particular, but you’re also welcome to pray to any other Buddha instead. On a certain level, all Buddhas are the same, and praying to one is just as good as praying to another. The fact that you are even recalling a Buddha at all is a kind of positive reinforcement, positive imagery. It’s a nice thought to hold in your mind during the daily grind of life, I find.

    Remember, people are not static entities. Everything you say, do, or think helps “invest” back into yourself. So, with a little patience and faith, you can change the course of your life and take a different route, but the Buddhist teachings are a useful signpost pointing you in a more wholesome direction. By this I don’t mean, wealthier, more successful and such, but amidst the daily grind of life, when everyone around you is miserable, you find things to smile about still.

    My sincere wishes,

  45. thanks for your responses it gives me a lot to think about.
    i do actually seek medical help for my depression and am actually clinically depressed and realize you are not trying to give any advice like a medical professional. i have been searching info on the medicine buddha and feel drawn to that form or image – maybe because of my depression. i just ordered a statue of a medicine buddha. i currently have an image of the laughing buddha on my altar (just a picture) as a sort of encouragement to try to be more happy and joyful. i did find the page of a basic service i can have at my home shrine and i really like that and i am going to try to incorporate it into my daily life. thanks for your site it is very helpful. sincerely – carol

  46. Hi Carol,

    That’s good news to hear. It sounds like you are in good hands, and I sincerely wish you the best in overcoming this challenge. :) Feel free to come back again if you have additional questions.

    P.S. Sorry for the lengthy disclaimer earlier. I don’t want to imply any qualifications which I lack. There are plenty of charlatans on the Internet as you know. :)

  47. no problem about the disclaimer i completely understand and yes there are many unethical people out there. you concern is much appreciated. thanks for the link. – carol

  48. well i ordered the altar LED candle today – can’t wait to get it – thanks for the link for it
    can people post any altar photos here? can you explain more about the white scarf, that one gives – can it be used on an altar as well? thanks – carol

  49. Hi carol, feel free to post to whatever you like. I usually only block comments that are tasteless, flagrantly off-topic, etc.

    Regarding white scarves, I’ve best heard of those. Can you please elaborate?

  50. the scarves that people give to lets say the dalai lama i think they might be called khatas but i am uncertain of the spelling

  51. Yeah, that seems to be limited to Tibetan Buddhism perhaps. I have almost 0 experience with Tibetan Buddhism (my experience is Japanese Buddhism, which doesn’t use scarves of any sort).

  52. I have a question that is at best only loosely connected to the purposes of your blog, but I thought I’d throw it out to you anyway.

    I’m at the initial stages of researching manga that include Jesus Christ as a character. I’m familiar with Hikaru Nakamura’s Seinto Oniisan, Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s Jesus, Noboru Yamaguchi’s Managa Life of Jesus, Suu Minazuki’s Judas, and Osamu Tezuka’s Stories from the Old Testament vol. 3, though that one barely counts. I was wondering if you might be familiar with any others.

    If your brow is furrowed and your head shaking, I’ll understand.

  53. hi thanks for this useful blog

    just wanted to know about your post on training in a rinzai zen temple
    i would like to train as novice monk in a rinzai temple.can i train without really learning japanese in detail or should i master the language before taking the training ? i suppose i should have some basics for sanzen at least.

    also howmuch time it takes to be ordained as a monk and what season is best for hardcore zazen training ? i don’t want to go there for cleaning and just zazen in the evening.
    i suppose i will need good guidance as foreigner . finally could you tell me howmuch will i have to pay for my overall training.

    thanks a lot

    david from belgium

  54. Just my two cents while we wait for Doug to come around — there is Dharma in even the mundane act of cleaning. I wouldn’t discount it as part of the practice too quickly, friend.:)

    Be well!

  55. Hi David,

    Sorry for the late reply. Hickersonia already answered and I think he’s right.

    A Buddhist monastery is a community, which means everyone has to contribute. There are no monasteries where people just go and meditate only. People have to work as a group to care for the temple, and each other, otherwise, the community will fail. As Hickersonia stated. all of that hard work is part of the Buddhist training though (really, anything is).

    Regarding Japanese language skills, I would say this: you don’t have to learn Japanese because there are Zen temples in the EU and the West, but if you want to live in Japan, you will need to be fluent in Japanese.

    But also, being fluent in Japanese opens a lot of opportunities for Buddhism that you can’t find in the West, so it’s a good investment. If you follow the advice at (AJATT) you should have no trouble becoming fluent from your home country.

    But Rinzai and Japanese language both take serious commitment. There are no shortcuts. You may want to try a Rinzai temple in the EU first, then see if you would like to train further in Japan. The priest there can help arrange further training in Japan once your language skills are ready.

    Best wishes and good luck.

  56. May sound weird or stalker-ish but i’ld like to chat outside of your blog. We have a lot of common interests and I think it’d be fun to send each other stuff & chat on more of a daily basis. Not sure how to hit u up, but if you got my email, feel free to hit me up whenever.

  57. Doug,
    I am looking for the lyrics to “ogi no mato” (The folding fan as a target.) Thus far, I have turned up nothing. On Google sites that say that they have the lyrics, upon going to them either simply say “sorry, no lyrics” or are asking someone to contribute the lyrics. So, after perhaps going to fifteen sites or more, I have given up Google as a source.

    Is it possible that you could be Super Google, and say, “Oh sure, right here……” or maybe you or your wife know the lyrics. They are old enough to be part of tradition, I believe….though, that said, I would not want to be quizzed on the details of my own tradition too closely.

    Any help would be appreciated. Even a “No,” which might mean that I am barking up a tree that does not exist…….ah, yet again.

  58. Hi Jack,

    I’ve not heard of that song before and searching in Japanese I couldn’t find much either. There is a song called Oogi no mato 「扇の的」(おおぎのまと) but that’s related to the Tales of the Heike so I doubt most Japanese would know it.

    Sorry I can’t help more.

  59. Hey Doug. I found my way over here from your Youtube channel. I have a question that is totally unrelated but I think you may be able to help me. I have a tapestry/scroll that has a Buddhist holding a Dorje and a mala and it surrounded by what I’ve been told are stamps from the various Buddhist temples in the area at that time. I was told that it was Japanese and from the 1950’s but as I don’t speak or read Japanese, I have no way of verifying that. If I were to send you a picture of the scroll and maybe a closeup of one of the stamps, could you maybe at lease help me figure out if it is indeed Japanese and if I’m anywhere close to what I think it is? Like I said, I was originally told that it was Japanese, but the monk is wearing burgundy robes, which leads me to believe that it may be Tibetan or Chinese. Thanks in advance!

  60. Hello,

    I’ll try to respond by email shortly. To be honest, the way you describe it definitely sounds like it’s not Japanese.

  61. Hi Doug — Would you please consider adding to your website’s resources? With the JLPT coming up, we’re trying to help as many learners of Japanese prepare as well as possible and make sure they know of us as a tool that can help. We offer free accounts and provide a challenging system for sharpening skills. Would love to know what you think of the system as well!

  62. Hello,

    Most of it came from Wikipedia to be honest. I can read Japanese somewhat so I was able to look stuff up on Japanese Wikipedia too.

  63. Hi Doug

    As a language learner (Arabic) I’ve reached a stage where although I can learn vocab I crumble when anyone speaks to me. My mind goes blank and it’s pretty awful. People say ‘just speak to people’ but when that’s the difficulty, what can you do?

    Have you ever experienced this? Any tips you can share or any advice you may have to get passed this wall?

  64. Hi Hussein al Ansari and welcome.

    Apologies for the delay (new baby and all), but I highly recommend a website called (All Japanese All The Time). Despite the name, the website is devoted to his very problem in language learning: getting over the wall.

    Essentially what it boils down to is that you should focus a lot more on exposure, using media and such you’re genuinely interested in. Arabic TV shows, dramas or something else that would keep your interest anyway, and just keep watching/listening to it.

    THere’s a lot of unspoken rules in a language that grammar books can’t easily cover. So you once you get hundreds or thousands of hours of exposure you’ll intuitively know this stuff.

    But don’t take my word for it, check out AJATT.

    Good luck. :)

  65. Hi!
    I just got back from Japan fews weeks ago. i fell in love immediately when i arrive there. Japan is really really really beautiful. i visit a couple of temples and bought some Omamori, however i couldn’t remember what is each of it represent?

    can i email you with the photos of the Omamori i bought and enlighten me further?

    thank you!

  66. Hi Doug! I’ve been reading a lot of your entries on Buddhism.
    Buddhism has always interested me but I never really looked into it until now. I just turned 20 and I was searching for some healthy compassionate guidance in my life when I started looking into Buddhism in greater detail. I am deeply in love with Japanese culture (I am thinking of living in Japan) and I want to become a practitioner of Japanese Buddhism. However I understand there are a lot of different sects and of course there are rituals etc. To someone who is just peeking into the world of Buddhism this can be very overwhelming. I’d like to design my own little altar to start and just do some basic meditations. (Since I’m not sure what chants to incite etc.)

    Any basic advice on where I could begin to understand the different sects further so I can choose what path I want to follow would be awesome. This is all very new to me but it is all very interesting and I am pretty excited to get started. I really enjoy learning about the religion as a whole.:)

    Thank you!

  67. Johnathan,
    Hope Doug doesn’t mind me fielding this one, but I’ve kind of been through the same thing lately.
    A lot of times, what form of Buddhism you stick with is usually just as much what’s convenient & available as much as what you agree with doctrinally. All forms of Buddhism, especially Japanese Buddhism, have the same goal, they just take different steps to get there, so just keep that in mind when you read the superficial introductions to each school.

    For the first part (what’s available), you have some questions to ask:
    Are you going to wait to visit Japan to focus on a single school?
    Are you going to take a trip to Japan with the idea of studying with a specific school?
    Are there any temples or other groups (sangha) local in your immediate area?
    Are you a super independent person who prefers practicing alone, or are you like most of the rest of us and function better in a group?
    Can you not only learn online but establish a regular practice routine as well?
    The way you answer these questions will help you evaluate whether or not you can actually study what you want, or if you’re better suited to maybe another school you hadn’t thought of.

    For the second part, again there are questions you may want to ask:
    What about Buddhism attracts you?
    Is it the super-rationalist, scientific “philosophy”?
    Is it the idea of becoming a better, more compassionate person?
    Do you mind a bit of the metaphysical & metaphorical?
    How do you feel about chanting & ritual?
    Going back to an earlier question, how are you at relying on other(s)?
    How do you feel about following a specific teacher as a disciple?
    The way you answer these questions will help you determine what teachings you should gear yourself towards.

    Japan has options for all major turnings of the wheel of Dharma (sravakayana, bodhisattvayana/mahayana, vajrayana), in fact there are opportunities in the country to practice just about any type of Buddhism. There are plenty of good books out there to pick up Japanese Buddhist history. For Buddhism in general, I’d probably suggest Peter Harvey’s “An Introduction to Buddhism” book, though if you’re interested in the Mahayana traditions, Paul Williams’ “Mahayana Buddhism” might be a better choice. If you want a very quick & dirty start (that also happens to be pretty good), wiki is your friend. For a quick breakdown of Japanese Buddhism, check:
    Every major school in Japan & elsewhere is pretty well covered on wiki.

    If you want to post your answers to any of the above questions here, or in private, feel free and we can help you navigate your current situation. I will say that it seems to be a lot harder to “go it alone” than it does to practice a tradition that wasn’t maybe your first pick that has a solid group locally. If you have questions about a specific sect, feel free to ask those as well; sometimes the superficial introduction to a school really doesn’t describe it accurately or even paint an unbiased picture.

    Sorry if I haven’t given you the answers you were looking for, but hopefully I can help you ask the right questions…

  68. Hi John and welcome!

    I made a series of videos to address these kinds of questions on YouTube called the Beginner Buddhism series. They’re also linked from the Buddhists’ Field Manual above. Feel free to go through the first 5-10 videos if you like (or more if they’re helpful).

    As for which branch of Japanese Buddhism, I’d recommend instead you find available temples in your area. Your ability to thrive in a particular Buddhist sect will depend a lot more on available resources than affinity. :)

    P.S. Thanks for chiming in, Pork Chop. :)

  69. Hi from Costa Rica!

    In the sutras, Pure Land is described as literal west of our world. It is described as a Budda-Land, like our Saha, which is the Buddha-Land of Shakyamuni, but “purer” or better. So, at the end, if one takes that literally, it may seem that Abhirati or Sukhavati are like planets or a galaxy far, far away, perhaps they are neighbor of Yoda!😀

    So then, is Pure Land a distant galaxy or planet in this same physical universe, or is something subtle or “spiritual”, something invisible to our human eyes?

  70. Hi Michael,
    Did you ask this question on DharmaWheel a while back? I go through bouts of not wanting to post over there, so sorry if you didn’t receive a satisfactory answer.

    In India (and other parts of asia), the western direction meant something figurative. In the Pali tradition, the western direction was the “Deathless Oxcart continent” or the direction of spouses & family. It’s the direction of the sunset and the future. In East Asian Mahayana Buddhism, west is typically the direction of movement towards Enlightenment or Buddhahood (Journey To The West, etc).

    This is not to say that the Pure Land is not a real place and that you can’t experience it. It just means that trying to find the Pure Land on a map of space isn’t going to happen, even finding a “west” in space is impossible. It’s transcendent and yet not out of reach of the common person, which is why it is “towards the west” and not “heaven above”.

    These sutras are an attempt at explaining that which can not really be described and have to be read as such. As Joseph Campbell was fond of saying “if you try to read [these sutras] like a newspaper, you’ll completely miss the point.”

  71. Hi Erick,

    Yes, I’m from DharmaWheel:)

    You said that Pure Land is a real place but is not possible to find it in a map. that is good, for me would be akward to find a planet where Amida is preaching, also because Sukhavati is far older than our universe lol. When you said “transcendent and yet not out of reach of the common person”, is that Pure Land is not visible to us by any means, but we can reach it through nembutsu?

  72. Hello,

    There have been many interpretations of the Pure Land over time, some people see it as a literal place, others see it as a reflection of their own minds.

    It’s too big a subject for this blog page, so you might want to see how different Buddhist teachers of the past interpreted it.

    There’s no “right” answer here. If one practices Pure Land Buddhism (or any Buddhism) long enough, it will make sense anyway.

  73. zamotcr,

    What Doug says is correct, there are many, many interpretations – too many to cover here. What I listed was an interpretation that I got from a Jodo Shu dvd I’ve been watching that sounded somewhat consistent with other views including that of the Shin Shu school, the Mind Only Pure Land school (as all experiences are created by mind), and a more general Mahayana outlook. Your statement that it’s not visible, but we can get there by nembutsu is pretty accurate.

    -pork chop

  74. Eric, Doug, if we accept Pure Land as a Reward Land, that would make sense for the reason why we will never find it with our physical eyes, only advanced Bodhisattvas can see Reward Bodies/Reward Lands, correct?

  75. Eric, Doug, look what I found:
    T’an-Iuan said about Pure Land:
    “Its existence is ‘subtle’ (wei), it exists extra-phenomenally” T. 40.830a20

  76. Hi Doug! How do you see Akshobya Pure Land (Abhirati)? It is said that Akshobya will enter paranirvana in his Land, and beings there will fail to listen the Dharma. How can beings who does not want to hear the dharma, will reborn in a Pure Land? Seems like a Nirmanakaya Land like us. This is the fragment from the Sutra:

    “Sariputra, after the extinction of the true Dharma, there will be a great light illuminating all the worlds in the ten directions, and all the earths will quake, making a great sound. However, [you should know that] the true Dharma cannot be destroyed by the celestial demons, nor will the Tathagata and his disciples pass into oblivion of their own accord. It is because people of that time will lack interest in learning the Dharma that those who can expound the Dharma will go away form them. Hearing little of the true Dharma, the people will become more incredulous, and as a result, they will not strive to practice the Dharma. Seeing the indifference of the people, monks well-versed in the Dharma will naturally withdraw into seclusion and preach the Dharma no more. In this way, the subtle, profound teaching of the Buddha will gradually disappear.”

    Does not seem like a Reward Land likes Amitabha. What do you think?

  77. Hi Michael,

    Honestly, I’ve never even heard of this. What sutra is this from?

    Anyhow, I don’t know really how to interpret it without knowing more information, but even then, I’m not too sure.

  78. It seems that it is the Akshobya Sutra, I took it from “A Treasury of Mahāyāna Sūtras: Selections from the Mahāratnakūta Sūtra” page 332

  79. Hi Doug,

    After reading your blog I feel like we have a lot in common. My wife is Japanese also and we try to visit her family in the Tokyo area every year. My employer allows me to work remotely and last year we stayed for 4 weeks. Every time I visit I wish we could stay longer. We even lived in Seattle for some time but we got tired of the gray winters and now we live in the Denver area.

    My Japanese is pretty basic but my son being born in October and a recent opportunity at work has really inspired me to start studying seriously. I was off to a great start, studying pretty much every day for the first month. Now I’m struggling to keep going and have gone 2 weeks with little study time. Maybe I should stop reading blogs about Japan and hit the books.:)

    Have you and your wife ever considered moving to Japan? I know my wife and I discuss this frequently although I think I want to move there more than she does. With your JLPT2 cert I would think finding a job wouldn’t be impossible. It sounds like IT is not a great field to work in Japan though. I’ve heard that salaries are low compared to the states but I’m not sure how true that is.

  80. Hello and welcome. It’s interesting to read people in similar situations.

    Regarding your question we did seriously consider moving to Japan at one point, but you’re right: the IT market there really isn’t very good. I interviewed with a certain company there (starts with an “R”) but it didn’t go very well and looking back I didn’t really like the company anyway. My heart wasn’t in the interview.

    Also, the JLPT N2 isn’t nearly as helpful as i thought it wuold be. For all the effort I put into it, I don’t think it really did me much good. I probably would’ve stopped at the N3 because after that, the exam is so focused on literacy, that it diverges significantly from conversational Japanese/communication.

    Further, we’ve heard some bad stories about half-Japanese kids fitting into Japanese schools and that kind of scared us off. International schools are expensive, questionable quality, and kids there often don’t fit in well into Japanese society anyway, so those are out.

    So, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re better off here, and I’ve not only learned to accept that, but I realized it was the right decision in the long-run.

    Nice to meet you and hope you find this blog a good read. :)

  81. We eventually ended up at the same conclusion, that we’re better off here in the states. I also work in IT and did a lot of research on the job market in japan. It doesn’t sound like moving to Japan and trying to land a job in IT would end up being a good career move.

    So, we try to do the once a year trip and we normally go in the spring or fall when airline prices come down a bit. Although lately I’m wondering how I’m going to afford to travel to Japan at all anymore with the prices the way they are. It seems like LA is the only place you can still get tickets under $1000.

    We miss the nonstop flights from Seattle though. Its the shortest nonstop from the mainland US at 10.5 hours. Denver has a nonstop now but it averages around $1800 a ticket which I refuse to pay that much. Other things I miss in Seattle are Uwajimaya, Central Market and Taylor Shellfish Farms. Our favorite sushi place was Izumi in Kirkland.

    Izumi is probably the best sushi I’ve eaten in the US and even tops some places I’ve been in Japan. I love it because its a small hole in the wall, family run place. If you’re ever in the area give it a try. Make sure to sit at the sushi bar and talk to the chef/owner for some interesting conversation. He always has an awesome selection of Salmon including white king salmon. He always has some local caught stuff as well. Some of the best tako I’ve ever eaten I had there. It was giant pacific octopus caught in the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

  82. Ha! We shop at Central all the time. Small world indeed. I’ve not tried Izumi, but I think the overall sushi landscape has changed a bit over time, so I don’t know if it still would be considered the best. Lately, a kind of small renaissance of Japanese food has bene happening around here. :)

    Anyhow, yes, I agree that overall the prospects of working in Japan, especially IT, really just aren’t that good. If you’re single and willing to settle down there and possibly work a thankless job for a while (possibly long while), it might pan out.

    As for airfare, we usually have to fly in July/August because of kids and it’s always expensive. The only way we can manage it yearly is careful managing of finances plus slowly building up miles.

  83. We have a renaissance of “Japanese” food here in Denver as well. Mainly Chinese and Koreans opening Japanese restaurants everywhere serving up american style sushi rolls. We seriously miss the food in Seattle. Central market was one of the best grocery stores and there’s not any even close to that in Denver. With Central Market’s awesome Japanese section, we rarely had to go to Uwajimaya. Uwajimaya typically had better prices on the seafood and their takeout sushi was better.

  84. H-Mart’s good too. I do’nt know if they have one in Denver, but we love Korean food a lot, and H-Mart has 85-90% of the Japanese food we’d be looking for, better prices and without the shady neighborhood, so we often go there. Uwaji had Kinokuniya bookstore, but we don’t go that often anymore becuase it’s too far and we don’t like the neighborhood.

  85. We have an H-mart here in Denver, but its not in the greatest neighborhood either. The store is really old and in poor condition also. I wont buy seafood there because the seafood dept stinks and it’s really dirty. They don’t do a good job of handling and storing the fish unfortunately.

    Now the H-mart in Lynnwood is another story. That one was nice and new, clean, and has a beard papa’s:) The only Japanese owned grocery in Denver is Pacific Mercantile and we normally get most of our stuff there. Its TINY compared the uwajimaya but we’ll take what we can get.

    We really miss Seattle a lot but Denver has been good to us. I was able to move to Denver and scored a 20% increase in salary. I was an Exchange Engineer when I was in Seattle and did OK but it seems like salaries are better in Denver for Microsoft admins. Probably because there’s a gazillion Microsoft admins in Seattle. Of course now I’m working in storage and don’t do Exchange anymore at all so who knows maybe we’ll move back there some day if right job came up. We sure do like the weather in Denver though!

  86. Hey Doug, Love your Buddhism Basics videos! I actually went to my first meditation session at a local centre. I was curious if you had any knowledge of Dorjechang Kadampa Buddhist Centre (Abbotsford, BC Canada)? Shoot me an email so we can chat more about this if you have time.

  87. Hello,

    Apologies for the delay in replying. Somehow, I missed this one. Anyhow, no, I’ve never heard of the temple you mentioned, but in general I have very little experience with Tibetan Buddhism. Sorry I can’t help more.

  88. ダグさん


    ビデオのとき – 3:25min




  89. ブライアンさん、



  90. I just found your YouTube channel and love it. I’ve been learning more about Buddhism by reading many books . Are there any podcast you would recommend? I’ve listened to Audio Dharma and Buddhist Geeks . Are the any other good resources like that you would recommend?

  91. Hi Joshua and welcome. There is an article under the “Buddhist Field Manual” above about that, but also I have a Season 2 video on that subject too. :)

  92. Hi Sir!!
    I need to clear JLPT N3 in December this year. In July this year, I want to go for N4/N5. Which one should i go for in July? What do you recommend? Which one is more advisable/easier option?

  93. Hello, do you have previous experience woth Japanese or are you just starting?

    If you are new to Japanese, the N3 is probably too difficult to learn in 6 months.

    Have you tried the practice tests on the JLPT website? These will give you a good idea where your skill level is.

    Good luck.

  94. Hi Sir once again! Konnichiwa!
    I have just started learning Japanese only 2 weeks back, hence very little experience.
    I have to clear N3 by December this year at any cost. So I have 1 year’s time to have a shot at N3.
    However my main question is which one should I go for in July, N4 or N5? Can N4 be cleared successfully with 5-6 months of perparation??
    Waiting for your reply.
    Arigato Gozaimas!!

  95. I dont know if it can be done. It takes a long time to learn a language, it is not like math or history. You cannot just memorize it.

    You might be able to pass the N5 in 6 months, maybe the N4, but the N3 is much harder.

    Also, even if you pass the test your Japanese converstional skills still need a lot more practice, and thats what you need most.

  96. Sorry in advance, but this is going to contain some links.

    If you’re absolutely dead set on N3 in December, the place to go is:
    The folks there are are really experienced with cramming for the test and can give a lot of help.
    I used a lot of their tips back in 2008 when I took the old 3kyu.

    According to this thread:
    You would need to study more than 2 hours a day, possibly as many as 6.
    You would need to be able to pass N5 mock tests in 2 months (100 kanji, 700 words).
    You would need to be able to pass N4 by July (300 kanji, 1500 words).
    You would need to have 600 kanji and 3000 words by December.
    You would need to be learning 2 new kanji everyday from now until December.
    You would need to be learning over 300 words a month (10+ words a day) from now till December.
    There’s a website called “erin” that you can use for listening:
    Start with lesson 1 and work up at least to lesson 10:
    You should probably spend at least an hour on there everyday.

    Of course I haven’t even touched on textbooks & practice tests, but that forum can help you out.

  97. I would like to respectfully disagree with the idea that the Mahayana sutras are not historical or less historical than the Pali sutras. Both of them are based on earlier oral tradition, and archeology, as far as I know, hasn’t shown which oral tradition was older. Please forgive me if I’m wrong.

  98. Hi Matthew and welcome! I apologize for the late reply. I am not managing the blog as closely as I used to, so the replies aren’t as quick as they ought to be.

    The question of the historicity of the Mahayana sutras is a tricky one. Truth is, none of the sutras from any tradition were written down any earlier than 100BC, which is 400+ years after the Buddha. So, there’s no easy way to be sure what came from what.

    Personally, I’m not opposed to the idea that the Mahayana sutras came from the original Buddhist teachings, but the question is: which ones?

    Some sutras are definitely composed later, often times in China. Others are definitely from India, but their language and more “narrative style” reflect a different time and place than the agama/nikaya sutras, so either they’ve been re-edited, embellished, or were simply composed later.

    That said, I personally believe the Mahayana Sutras, even if they’re products of a later generation, are effective at summarizing or encapsulating Buddhist truths that were scattered in earlier sutras. A good example is the Immeasurable Life Sutra (particular the second half), or Heart Sutra. Others provide innovations not found in the earlier Buddhist teachings, but innovation isn’t a bad things either.

    Anyhow, that’s my thoughts on the subject. Thanks again for writing.

  99. Hello Doug,
    Im currently in the process of becoming a buddhist. For the past months i have been reading books and watching your videos and they have been of great help to me. At the moment i am working on a shrine, it should been done by mid september. After that I Will take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha in front of my shrine. Now to come to my question(I posted this on youtube but not sure if you saw it since i know how busy you are):

    I live on a small Island that has no buddhist temples. I like the Mahayana tradition but im not really sure which school/sect to follow. I would like to follow one which a teacher or attending a temple is not required. Do you know of any schools/sects like these?

    Thanks for your time. Really enjoying the blogs!( I like the Confucianism section too. I read a book on it about 2 months ago, and really liked it. I find most interesting the teachings of Confucius and Mencius).

  100. Hello,

    If you don’t mind my asking: what island is that? It’s ok if you prefer not to answer.:-)

    If you are looking for something easier in your situation, Pure Land Buddhism or Nichiren Buddhism are both viable options. Both do not require a strict teacher/disciple relationship and both are pretty straightforward to start and follow.

  101. Hello Doug,
    Sure i can tell you.:) I live in Malta.

    Thank you for the suggestions ill read some books about both of them. I am close to completing my Buddhist shrine. Been making some space for the shrine this week. Waiting for the last item to arrive and its ready. I can post a picture of it if you would like to see it when its completed:) Although i have no idea were to send it.

    Thanks for the reply! Have a great day.

  102. Hi, Doug. Just letting you know about a new Jodo Shinshu Fellowship forming in Anchorage AK. Myoko- in temple in Anchorage closed when our priests moved out of state several years ago. With the assistance of the BCA, just beginning the formation of this lay sangha. You can follow the formation of our community on our blog “Along the Road to Hitachi” (

  103. Thanks very much for sharing. I wasn’t aware that the old temple was gone. I think I know the old temple you’re talking about, and it’s a shame it’s not around anymore, but I’m also glad to hear that a new temple has been started with BCA assistance. That will help keep the community plugged into the rest of the Shinshu community in the US. I wonder if you guys are in contact with BCC (Canada) temples too? Though they’re in different countries, I bet they have good resources, and are probably close to AK as well. :)

    P.S. I edited your comment slightly to fix the web link. The old link did not work.

  104. Question: Could you point me in the right direction? I am a newcomer in understanding the developments of Japanese culture throughout their history and I am trying to understand the worldview shift from shinto to buddhism (and then to zen?). I realize this is probably a pretty basic thing to understand and I’ve probably even muddled the question, so I apologize.

    Purpose: I’m trying to find a way to write visual translations of ancient/lost works in the form of modern stories – where the concepts speak for themselves through character worldview, plot, etc. think of the way an acoustic artist will recreate a rap song, or a movie will adapt shakespeare (oh brother where art thou). I’m sure that’s enthralling to read. sorry.

    P.S. probably should have left that second paragraph out, but maybe you’ve written or read something along the lines of the basic question of understanding the shift (historiographically speaking) from shinto to buddhism to zen. At least, what would that basic progression be? Is that correct or no? what came before shinto? real zen? (i’m kidding:)

    I found your article on the 4 types of buddhism very interesting and helpful in terms of categories to pursue for getting a good grip on the development. I’m wondering if those types fit into a cultural or historical pattern for you? Like which leads to which? (logically and/or historically)

    Thanks for your time!

  105. Hello,

    This is a tough question to answer, to be honest, but allow me clarify a couple points:

    • Zen is but one school of many within Buddhism, particularly within Mahayana Buddhism (e.g. East Asian Buddhism). Zen is the Japanese branch of a larger meditation-based tradition that thrived in China and spread to Korea, Japan and Vietnam as well. The reason why I mention this is that Zen is not distinct from Buddhism, it is just one way of practicing it.
    • Shinto is the native religion of Japan, and so its origins are obscure. Buddhism is a foreign religion imported from India, via China and Korea to Japan. The two religions have learned to co-exist, so Buddhism did not replace Shinto, the two religions simply learned to co-exist. This is hard for Westerners to grasp because we’re used to being affiliated with one religion and to have clear “borders”, but this is not so much the case in places like China or Japan.

    If you’re looking for a book on Shinto (good books are hard to find), I recommend Ian Reader’s book “Shinto – Simple Guides”. It’s a shorter book, but has a lot of accurate, concise information without the New Age sentimentalism.

    Hope that helps, and good luck with your project!

  106. I’m new to your blog and love it so far, but I have a question. Please help!
    I saw your post on “Getting from Narita Airport via Narita Express”.
    Does N’EX actually make a stop in Musashi Kosugi? Also, on the way back to Narita international airport, can you buy the N’EX ticket from Musashi Kosugi as well? Or do I have to buy everything from Narita in advance?

    I know more than enough Japanese to survive, however trains, after 3 years, are still my biggest weakness. My JLD boyfriend of 3 years lives in Kawasaki City and to make things easier on me via train when I travel to Japan, I always airport hop internationally and then locally to arrive in Haneda Domestic Airport. After that, we just ride the train to Keikyu Kawasaki station (only 4 stops) because its easy and quick. However, after 4 vacations, my mileage points have diminished, so I’ll have to start paying in cash. Forking over $1,600 – $2,000 to airport hop is not an option for me anymore. To save on the expense I’ll be using Narita International Airport for the first time (used it in transit never arrival only) which will cost me only $300 – $500. Huge difference in cost.

    When my BF travels to see me, he uses Narita airport, but he doesn’t use N’EX. He has never used it. Instead, because its cheaper for him, he uses 4, sometimes 6, local lines just to save on cost. And because he’s busy with work, its a hassle if he takes that type of route just to pick me up at Narita, and long (2.5 hrs), which is why I go to Haneda and he meets me there, or he picks me up at Keikyu Kawasaki station. Haneda was the quickest solution we could come up with since my flights were somewhat free because I was just redeeming points.

    So I’ve been looking for an easier way to get to Kawasaki by myself without using Haneda.

    Sorry, I’m rambling. I felt that if I didn’t share my story you wouldn’t understand where I was coming from, because a lot of people are confident that I can handle changing 5 stations and 3 to 6 lines when I’m dead tired. But I’ve missed stops before and ended up in the middle of nowhere on days when I’m alone. I’m trying not to be so inept with trains; especially after getting lost on multiple occasions. Its scary…but I’m trying.

    If you can give me any information or tips please do, I’ll take it willingly.

  107. Hello, yes the NEX stops at Musashi Kosugi and you can buy tickets there, I think. You can also buy them at Narita as well.

    In truth, NEX is pretty expensive, but then again it’s very convenient and reliable. You can navigate indirect routes and such, but it’s a tradeoff: complexity vs cost. However, taking that many lines also adds up surprisingly fast, so you may not be saving as much as you’d think taking indirect routes.

    Hope that helps,

  108. Hi, Doug. I’m in the Seattle area myself (Renton, to be exact). I’ve been reading about Buddhism for years but only recently decided to get serious about it as a personal spiritual path. I tried once before, but it didn’t work out so well. This time I’ve been exploring beyond Theravada and Zen, and a whole new world has been opened up to me. I visited Seattle Betsuin a few weeks ago for Sunday service (and sat in meditation afterward with a few people you probably know!), but I’ve also visited with the Nichiren Buddhists in town — Kanjin Cederman’s group, not the old temple. What’s really grabbed my interest, though, is Shingon Buddhism, and that’s actually how I found your site — by doing a Google search for some information on Shingon.

    I was wondering if I could pick your brain about what you might know — either here or by e-mail. Either is fine. I’ve been to the Shingon temple in Seattle a few times, and I had someone guide me through the service the first time I was there, but general information just isn’t as plentiful on Shingon as for other Buddhist sects, it seems. I know a little about Kobo Daishi and the Jusanbutsu, but I feel like I’m only scratching the surface.

    Another question, if I may. Is there much difference that you know of between Pure Land from the Chinese tradition and Jodo Shinshu? I’ve spoken with a few practitioners from the Chinese tradition, and the general sense I’m getting is that there’s much more emphasis in the Chinese tradition on saying the nembustu at the time of death, where in Jodo Shinshu the nembutsu is said more in a way of offering gratitude, as an ongoing life practice.

    Thanks for your time, and the blog. It’s a great source of information. Maybe I’ll see you at Seattle Betsuin sometime.


  109. Hi Adrian,

    My sincere apologies for the slow reply. I must’ve missed you in the meditation group that week (I usually attend the parents’ dharma exchange instead). Chances are you probably saw me up in the main altar area though during service. ;-p

    Anyhow, feel free to post questions here since they probably would be useful to others. Truth is, my experience with Shingon is pretty limited. I’ve attend probably no more than 5-10 services total, and had good conversations with the main reverend there at the nearby temple (I know which temple you’re referring to). BTW, there is another temple in the Redmond area you may check out if you’re looking for another perspective. I know one of the priests there and he’s a great guy and happy to answer questions. In any case, let me try to explain Shingon as much as I can.

    Shingon is one particular transmission of esoteric Buddhism that is unique to Japan. The transmission (which predates similar esoteric Buddhism in Tibet by a few centuries) died out in China a long time ago, but due to Japan’s remoteness, was preserved there. The basic premise behind Shingon Buddhism is to focus on awakening through direct experience, so all the rituals and mantras are designed to prime the mind just right, so when the experience comes it really hits you in a non-verbal way. Zen meditation is not all that different actually, though instead of relying on esoteric rituals, they rely on meditation to do the same thing: stilling the chatter of the mind so you can see things directly, beyond words. But Shingon Buddhism, like Zen or any esoteric school, requires close supervision and guidance under a good teacher, otherwise you can quickly go off the tracks.

    Being a parent of two kids, I simply can’t devote enough time to either one. I needed something more family friendly and that’s what led to me Betsuin, plus I do have a bit of an affinity to Pure Land Buddhism, in all its forms.

    Regarding your second question: there is a difference, but not so much as you might think. All Pure Land Buddhist schools throughout Asia are devoted to Amitabha Buddha, recite his name in some form or another, and aspire to be reborn there. The Pure Land of the Buddha is not a heaven in the sense you and I are familiar with, but rather is more like a refuge for all beings, so they can progress along the Buddhist path much faster. The Buddha Amitabha created such a refuge so that all beings could find a way out of the daily grind that holds them back from progressing along the Buddhist path. One only need be reborn there by reciting Amitabha’s name, even if one is otherwise not a good Buddhist.

    Now, that’s what they all have in common. What differs between Jodo Shinshu and Chinese Buddhism is mostly abstract stuff: the nature of the Pure Land, the nature of Amitabha, etc. Chinese Buddhism in general tends to be more eclectic, so you’ll see things blend more, but Japanese Buddhism tends to be more singular: Zen Buddhists only meditate, Pure Land Buddhists only recite the Buddha’s name, and Shingon Buddhists only do esoteric stuff. For practical reasons, though, Chinese and Japanese Pure Land are nearly the same. The main differences are mostly theological, and of little concern to the average person.

    Anyhow, hope that helps. Keep spiritual shopping, find a Buddhist community that resonates with you, do your homework and have fun.

  110. Doug,

    I just now saw this response! I left a comment earlier today on another topic and saw in my old e-mails you’d replied here. Thank you for the insights.

    Since I posted my question, I’ve more or less settled in at the Seattle Koyasan temple. Shingon, I’ve discovered, is very complex and holds a lot of secrets. I understand what you mean about not having the time to devote to it with two children. I find it hard just with one! But my daughter likes coming to the services once in a while, especially the monthly Goma fire ritual, so that helps.

    I almost gave up on it for a while, as I was having difficulty setting up a time to speak with the priest. I was beginning to take it personally, with all kinds of thoughts running through my head about how some Japanese-majority temples aren’t welcoming of outsiders. But a few of the members encouraged me otherwise, and when I finally did get a few minutes of the priest’s time, he said it was one of his goals to create an “international” temple and emphasized that all are welcome there.

    I have a lot to learn, but already Shingon feels as if it’s illuminating the dharma for me in a way other sects quite haven’t done. My Buddhist studies began years ago with Tibetan Buddhism, so in a way I feel I’ve come full circle — back to esoteric Vajrayana Buddhism, only without the lamas.:) The temple members have been quite welcoming, too. It’s nice to have a spiritual place to call home. Even Amida Buddha is there, one of the 13 buddhas of Shingon — so I feel as if a little piece of my time with the Pure Land sect has come along with me!

    Thanks again. I really enjoy keeping up with your blog.


  111. Hello, Doug.

    Your site and Youtube videos have been an invaluable resource to me. I’ve considered myself a Buddhist for at least 5 years now but I still find that I have a lot to learn. I have one question: do you have any resources on the Tendai school? The Internet provides a lot of academic articles on various commentaries on it’s minutiae and history but I can’t find much on teachings and practices. The descriptions I’ve read about it being an approach to a “universalist Buddhism” are very appealing to me as I’m not comfortable saying I’m a practitioner of any one sect.

  112. Hi JWE and welcome! Thanks very much for the feedback.

    Tendai is a tough to crack because it does not have much resources outside of Japan and so there’s very few temples and material.

    This is a great site from what I’ve seen:

    Best of luck. Feel free to send updates too as others might benefit.

  113. Hi Adrian, thanks for the update. I have been to that temple a lot in my younger years and I likes it quite a bit. Hope you have lots of fun there.:-)

  114. Doug, I hope you don’t mind if I offer something for JWE in regard to Tendai. I, too, was looking for information on Tendai, having come across it as I was researching Shingon Buddhism. This book was written by a professor at my alma mater. It focuses on some of the challenges Buddhism faces in contemporary Japan, but in the process he talks quite a bit about the Tendai tradition.

    I, too, like its universalist approach, but Tendai’s presence in North America seems to be almost nonexistent, save for a tiny handful of temples and retreats scattered about. The only center I know of that we had out here on the West Coast closed when its abbot died.

    Best I’ve been able to piece together is that Tendai practice looks something like what you’d expect if you mixed together Shingon (for the fire ritual and esoteric practices), Zen (for the meditation), Pure Land (for the nembutsu), and Nichiren (for the emphasis on the Lotus Sutra). To what extent each one is practiced in a Tendai service, however, is a total mystery to me.

    I’ve similarly been trying to find some more information on Hua-yen Buddhism, or Kegon, as it’s called in Japan. The philosophy, based on the concept of interconnectedness as symbolized in Indra’s Net, really resonates with me. I’m happy enough with Shingon, but I really wish we had more resources in the West for some of these lesser-known sects!

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