Friday, November 26, 2010


Today I share prose composed by Po Chu-i (see his pic); he writes of a most carefree of fishermen.

Now, his light hearted story of this fisherman was written in China over1400 years ago, yet it describes me today!

by Po Chu-i (772 - 846)
composed ~ A.D. 811

"In waters still as a burnished mirror's face,
In the depths of Wei, carp and grayling swim.

Idly I come with my bamboo fishing-rod
And hang my hook by the banks of Wei stream.

A gentle wind blows on my fishing-gear
Softly shaking my ten feet of line.

Though my body sits waiting for fish to come,
My heart has wandered to the Land of Nothingness.

Long ago a white-headed man (note 1)
Also fished at the same river's side;

A hooker of men, not a hooker of fish,
At seventy years, he caught Wen Wang. (note 1)

But , when I come to cast my hook in the stream,
Have no thought either of fish or men.

Lacking the skill to capture either prey,
I can only bask in the autumn water's light.

When I tire of this, my fishing also stops;
I go to my home and drink my cup of wine.

Note 1: Reference is made to the Sage T'aiJkung who sat still till he was seventy, apparently fishing, but really waiting for a Prince who would employ him. At last Wen Wang, Prince of Chou, happened to come that way and at once made him his counsellor."

Note 2: Po Chu-i is also known as Bai Juyi

Reference: Waley, A., & Bai, J. (1919). More translations from the Chinese. New York: Knopf.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

First Snowfall

As I glance out of my window, I find that it is snowing; our first snowfall has arrived. With the light now diminishing, I begin to enjoy the quiet solitude within my home; then I read this passage from Yamato Monogatari and melancholy settles.

"In my solitude,
I sadly wonder what to do,
But the only reply
Is the rustling
Of the reeds before me."

"Hitori shite
Ika ni semashi to
Soyo tomo mae no
Ogi no kotauru."


Entering the Emporer's Domain

At a wayside Inn, while lying on a wizard's pillow, the young man (Rosei) quickly falls asleep; he begins dreaming of his future, of being summoned to the Emperor’s palace to begin reigning as the new King. Rosei describes the spectacular sight which greets him as his bejeweled carriage approaches the palace gates.

"A courtyard strewn
With golden and silver sand;
And they that at the four sides
Pass through the jeweled door are canopied
With a crown of woven light."

A pretty fresh image, wouldn't you agree?

Note: Poem included in Kantan Nō Play by Zeami.
Trans: Arthur Waley

Friday, November 19, 2010

Song of the Peach Tree Spring (with unfortunate appendix)

Song of the Peach Tree Spring
"My fishing boat sails the river. I love spring in the mountains.
Peach blossoms crowd the river on both banks as far as sight.
Sitting in the boat, I look at red trees and forget how far I’ve come.
Drifting to the green river’s end, I see no one.

Hidden paths wind into the mountain’s mouth.
Suddenly the hills open into a plain
and I see a distant mingling of trees and clouds.
Then coming near I make out houses, bamboo groves, and flowers
where woodcutters still have names from Han times
and people wear Qin dynasty clothing.
They used to live where I do, at Wuling Spring,
but now they cultivate rice and gardens beyond the real world.

Clarity of the moon brings quiet to windows under the pines.
Chickens and dogs riot when sun rises out of clouds.
Shocked to see an outsider, the crowd sticks to me,
Competing to drag me to their homes and ask about their native places.
At daybreak in the alleys they sweep flowers from their doorways.
By dusk woodcutters and fisherman return, floating in on the waves.

They came here to escape the chaotic world.
Deathless now, they have no hunger to return.
Amid these gorges, what do they know of the world?
In our illusion we see only empty clouds and mountain.
I don’t know that paradise is hard to find,
and my heart of dust still longs for home.

Leaving it all, I can’t guess how many mountains and waters lie behind me,
and am haunted by an obsession to return.
I was sure I could find my way back on the secret paths again.
How could I know the mountains and ravines would change?
I remember only going deep into the hills.
At times the green river touched cloud forests.
With spring, peach blossom water is everywhere,
but I never find that holy source again.

by Wang Wei referring to the tale of the great poet Tao Qian.
Excerpted from “The Anchor book of Chinese Poetry”.
Please read no further!!! What lies below will destroy the imagery created above.

You're still reading? What follows is a really cheesy story about me, a kayak, a river marsh, and discovery.

The Unfortunate Appendix
OK, switch gears, we are back in the 21st century, that was Wang, this is me: even I have a story to tell :-). It is impossible, and probably in some countries illegal, to follow his masterpiece with my pitiful true story, but I invested some time here, so here is my Song of the River Reeds:

Song of the River Reeds
Once, six or seven years ago on a hot summer day, I was driving along a stretch of Conneticut shoreline when unexpectedly, an expansive marsh came into view. In the trunk of my rental car was an inflatable kayak, the same one I had packed for my cross country flight to the East Coast (on business of course). It was Saturday and I was looking for some adventure.

The marsh was pretty large - part of a muddy river delta containing a dense thicket of reeds, a reed forest really; the reeds must have been at least 12 feet high spanning 30 acres of black, stagnent river water. But it was more than just an impenetrable bunch of reeds, the forest had a maze of narrow water channels running thoughout. On the far side of the reed forest was a small island.

This was perfect! I pulled-over into a small parking lot near an old boat launch and within 15 minutes I was paddling my kayak into the reeds.

It was so peaceful in the reed maze. Even so, I felt as though anything could be hidden just around the next blind corner. The anticipation of discovering some hidden alcove was, was quietly exciting.

Then it happened - as I steered into the reed tunnel to my left, a family of swans crossed in front of me, they were not more than 20 feet away!

The story continues but I'll spare you. At least there was a river and something undiscovered (the swans).

Trust me when I say I deleted this twice before pasting it back in.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Path to Learning Japanese Culture (Pure and Simple)

Hello Tadoku Festival visitors!

My name is Paul. I live in America near Seattle, Washington. I am a Chemical Engineer and I work for a large company.

I love to learn traditional Japanese language and culture!

So you might ask me: "Paul, how did you become interested in Japanese language and culture?". is my story.

I AM an Engineer, but I also am a musician, mountain climber, and I write English language engineering books for workers.

I have played American guitar for many years. I play "Blues" style music. I learned the music made by old masters who lived in the 1920s. Music of the old masters was pure and simple. This is the best music to learn.

In January 2008 I came to Japan for 1 year to work for my company. I worked in Yokosuka and on weekends I traveled to Yokohama, Tokyo, Hakone, and many other places.

While still in Japan I wanted to learn to play a traditional Japanese musical instrument. I found koto teacher Hiroko Kodama in Yokohama and she began to teach me lessons for Ikuta-ryu koto music. I found shamisen teacher Makoto Nishimura in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo and she began to teach me lessons for Nagauta shamisen music. This music is pure and simple and the best music to learn (for me).

Next, I wanted to speak to my Japanese music teachers so I needed to learn Japanese language - this was very difficult for me. I began taking Kumon Japanese language writing lessons in a classroom with little children; this was a good beginning. I also bought many "Learn Japanese Language" books. Lessons in these books were very difficult and tedious. I also tried to read Japanese language Manga, watch anime, and watch old Japanese movies (Toshiro Mifune). Of course the old Mifune-san movies are the best!

Still, there were so many words to learn and it seemed not enjoyable.

Then I asked myself, "What is simple, pure, taught by old masters, and is written in Japanese language?".

Haiku! Only 17 hiragana characters. Waka! Only 31 hiragana characters.

The haiku and waka poetry are beautiful and are a pleasure to learn. The Japanese poetry always includes seasons of nature and it sometimes reminds me of the mountains I climb.

I tried to translate the haiku and waka from Japanese into English. I read many translations written by famous scholars. I began to read classical Japanese literature like Genji Monogatari (in English) since it has poems. Since these are ancient poems, I began to learn about Heian period art and culture.

Then I visited a Japanese museum in Seattle and discovered haiga. The haiga was wonderful! Haiga combined three beautiful arts: poetry, painting, and calligraphy.

Today the Japanese language is still very difficult for me to read. But....learning simple, beautiful Japanese music, art, and poetry has made my Path to learning the Japanese language rewarding and enjoyable!

Thank you for allowing me to participate in this Tadoku festival from so far away in America. Special thanks to my friend Mrs. Malone for inviting me to the festival.



PS, I invite you to visit my blogs and to visit me on Facebook; here are the links: