Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

It’s Okay to Slow Down

It’s already been a very long week, and my brain is tired, so I was commissioning ideas from my various writing peoples, and the Word Ninja over at Full Coverage Writers suggested I write about why a quill and ink is better than pen and paper.

And then someone else, who goes by the name Kami (which I have new appreciation for, after being in Japan), said she misread that as “quails and inks” and had momentarily gotten very offended on behalf of the quails.

To which the Word Ninja replied that quails could write too, if they really wanted to.

But I did ask him why a quill and ink was better, because I couldn’t think of a single reason why it would be. Writing with a quill, or a brush, is extremely frustrating, in my opinion. The ink spreads unevenly. It gets all over everything (invariably your hands, and then everything you touch forever because the ink also does not come off). It can smear before it dries.

And he said that it forces you to slow down and think about what you’re doing.

You know what? He’s right. I mean, I don’t think you need to resort to a quill and ink, but even switching to handwriting is a much slower process.

(Also, it is really hard to find a decent quill. Just throwing that out there.)

It seems like so much of writing these days is output. How many words you can crank out in a month. How many books you can write a year. And everyone gets bogged down on this, and if their output is slower, people get depressed. Feel like they’re not a real writer because they can’t keep up.

But you know what? I’ve found that a lot of the most prolific people don’t ever truly finish anything. They’re great at writing, but they don’t edit. They look at what they’ve written, declare it a mess, and move on to the next thing.

There is something to having a little bit of a plan, to paying attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going and making sure that it makes some semblance of sense. Makes for less work later. And as many smart people over the years have said, there is always joy in the journey as well.

When we were in Japan, we had the opportunity to go to Saiho-ji, which is a temple on the outskirts of Kyoto. It’s known as the Moss Temple because it has what is probably the best moss garden in the world. To protect the moss, they closed it to the public. To get in to see the gardens, you have to mail a postcard at least a month in advance asking for entrance on a specific day. Then, assuming there’s room (as they only accept a certain number of people each day), when you arrive you need to copy some Buddhism sutras (using a brush and ink, so same concept) and participate in some Buddhism prayers with the monks. And THEN you can go see the garden.

My Japanese calligraphy and/or skill with using a brush are both terrible, apparently. It took me about an hour and a half to copy my sutras. My husband and I were literally the last people done.

But you know what? It was kind of fun. And we got the gardens to ourselves because everyone else had already left.

(And the gardens were totally worth the complication of admission.)

So don’t forget that it’s okay to take things slow, to enjoy the process and the journey. We write because we want to, because we need to. And it’s all right to do that in whatever way works best.

Interesting Notes on Japanese Religion

Here we go, as promised.

So, as I mentioned on Tuesday, the Japanese people tend to be both Buddhist and Shinto(ist?). Shinto is the native Japanese religion, founded 2000+ years ago, and is a ritualistic system that believes in a series of nature spirits, or kami. (There is also some aspect of ancestor worship involved, but I am less clear on that.) Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century AD and, as the Japanese were already polytheistic, they pretty much just incorporated Buddhism in without really worrying about it.

It’s really very interesting, to see the two religions (or ways of life, because as one of our guides explained, most Japanese don’t see themselves as religious) next to each other. Almost every temple has a Shinto shrine on temple grounds or immediately next door, so the kami can guard the temple.

Oh, Buddhism has temples and Shinto has shrines. Shrines can be to one kami or several, or may also be to important people of the past or ancestors. Aside from the guarding shrine, Buddhist temples also use a lot of Shinto protection imagery, such as rope and strips of paper in lightning shapes.

Shinto has a number of different kami, including some that are considered “main” ones, such as Amaterasu and Inari. Some kami have specific messengers that apply to them. Inari is in charge of the harvest, and business prosperity (and seemingly anything you want to pray to him/her for), and it has foxes (or kitsune) for messengers, though they are special white foxes. Major kami also have main temples, or taisha. We had the opportunity to visit Inari’s just south of Kyoto, called Fushimi Inari Taisha. There are over 10,000 toriis (sacred gates) there, mostly donated by businesses hoping Inari will bless them.

The pure white animals tend to be a trend in Japanese mythology, often associated with different deities or spirits. In Nara, myth says that a Shinto deity arrived on the back of a white deer to protect the (then) capital. To this day, deer are considered sacred in the city and allowed mostly free reign as long as they stay in a massive park in the middle of town. (The deer are also known for eating anything they can manage.)

It really was very fascinating. We visited a ton of temples and shrines throughout our wanderings, and passed quite a few more–shrines, especially, seem to be everywhere, alongside roads and trails, both small and large. We stayed in a Buddhist monastery our last night, and they had a tiny shrine in their garden.

And both were very welcoming. As long as you were polite and respectful, no one seemed to mind your presence. And everyone encouraged us to take part in the rituals (or a Buddhist ceremony we got to attend) or try out different fortunes or charms. So that was nice as well, not only to see them in action but get to experience them as well.

The Land of the Rising Sun

Well, Squiders, I am back from two weeks in Japan! If all went well you got regular updates and didn’t notice anything weird (aside from the posts being on time).

Japan was very nice and not as much of a culture shock as I thought it might be. (There was a bit. We went to a maid cafe. That was…not honestly something I needed to experience, in retrospect.) And most signs in airports and train stations (and even street names) are labeled in English, so it was pretty easy to get around.

We did kind of a whirlwind tour of the main island of Honshu, hitting Tokyo, Matsumoto, Tsumago/Magome (and the Nakasendo), Kyoto, Kanazawa, Osaka, and Koyasan. I don’t really recommend stuffing all that into 13 days, but we got a little overambitious. We also averaged 8 miles a day walking, with our easiest day having only five and a half miles and our longest day being almost 12 miles. By the end of the trip, I was looking forward to sitting on a plane for twelve hours.

(But then it was only nine and a half hours back. And we flew on dreamliners both ways which are lovely planes and I would like to fly them all the time. And they came with amazing built-in entertainment options so I didn’t really need the video games or movies I’d prepared.)

(I also don’t really recommend Kanazawa. The ninja temple–or Myoryu-ji, as it’s really called–was pretty cool, but not exactly worth the trip out of the way.)

The Japanese have a very interesting mix of Buddhism and Shintoism, which I shall talk about on Thursday–some very interesting mythology there. I find Shintoism especially fascinating. More on that later.

Also, it is surprisingly hard to find sushi. But if I ever have to eat soba noodles again, I may hit someone. Soooo many noodles. Noodles all the time! Noooodles.

*clears throat*

We saw a lot of temples and shrines, and poked our heads into a handful of castles. It’s very interesting because very few of the buildings are the original buildings–the Japanese build everything out of wood, so it apparently used to burn down all the time. Matsumoto Castle is one of–of not the–oldest castle in Japan, and it was only built in 1597 or something like that. Osaka Castle, for example, was rebuilt in the 1930s. And Kanazawa Castle is in the process of being rebuilt as we speak. Same with the temples.

If there’s interest, I could probably do a series of posts about various aspects of the trip. Let me know. Otherwise I shall probably do the mythology on Thursday and call it good.