Saturday, August 16, 2008

Memories of my father– part 2

There was a legend that was passed on within my family about this mound in a shape of a small hill. The story tells that a divine sword is buried inside the mound. The divine sword is made out of metal that does not rust and it is not gold.

During my grandfather’s time, there was once a very heavy thunderstorm that lasted for three days and three nights. The river that ran through the town burst and the water flooded through out the town. Strangely, the water did not recede even after the rain had stopped. My grandfather felt odd about this and sensed something was wrong at the mound. He went to the mound to find out it was partially destroyed. His instinct was that one of his cousins had done this. He went to his cousin and pressed him for an answer. He confessed that he tried to steal the sword to sell it and make money. But when he started to dig, black clouds started to fill the sky, thunder started rumbling and heavy rain started to fall. He kept digging, but the thunder became louder every time he swung down the shovel. The timing was so exact, he became scared, decided to give up and ran away. The thunderstorm did not stop for three days after this incident. My grandfather fixed the mound, but since then, people kept going into the mountain to the mound trying to steal the sword. Every time the thunder rumbled and heavy rain fell. One day, my grandfather decided that he had to close the area by destroying the mountain trail so no one can enter the area. His cousin’s family eventually died out. My father had to move out from the town due to his business. Other relatives also ended up moving out from the town for business reasons. We no longer have any relatives living in that area. Maybe Susanoo’s anger created this fate.

My father has been to the mound when he was little. Naturally, I have never been there. Now that I think about it, I wish I had asked my father where exactly the mound is located. By now, the plants and tree has grown wild, it would be hard to find.

Another part of the legend I had heard from my father is that when there is three children in the family, and the first child is a boy, the second child a girl and the third child a boy, the third boy is called “Onikko”(an ogre child).

This is much like the Japanese mythology about the Sankishin – The Three Dear Gods. The first son was Tsukuyomi-no-kami, the moon god, the second daughter was Amaterasu-Ohomikami, the sun goddess, and the third son was Susanoo.

My grandfather had already departed before I was born. And I am the third son in the same order… As I write this, the thunder has started to rumble….

Ikashite-itadaite Arigato-gozaimasu

Thank you for letting us live

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Memories of my father -part 1

Every year around the time of Obon, I think of my father. Even in his last few years, in spite of having weak legs, he still insisted in paying a visit to our ancestral grave. Within my family, I was the only “salary man” who could take a bon-holiday. So I was always the one to take my father to the grave. Our ancestral grave was on a slope of a hill in the precincts of a temple outside of our town. Climbing the slope was not easy for an old man.

During our visit to the grave, he always told me the same story. He told me that the real grave of our ancestors is deep in the mountain. It is in a sacred ground that people are not allowed to step in. I didn’t know why our ancestral grave was in a sacred ground where people are prohibited to enter. He said it was not the usual Buddhist type of grave but a mound like a small hill.

Until my grandfather’s generation our family worked as craftsmen. They made traditional crafts of the region. They also had another job as a priest who specialized in a certain kind of work. They were not official Shinto priests but a local one. But many of our relatives have later become official Shinto priests. One of them has become the head priest of a shrine that has a history of 1500 years. My father used to live in the precincts of that shrine during his time in college. Interestingly enough, this shrine enshrines Ōmononushi-no-Ōkami as the main god and also Hakusan-Kukuri-hime and Amaterasu-Ohomikami.

The area deep in the mountain where our ancestral mound exists, use to be called “Onizuka” (Ogre Hill) in the old days. The mythology tells that long ago, Susanoo appeared on earth. When he had left this plane, he left his physical body on the ground and that body was buried in a mound. For some reason, my father’s family was in charge of looking after this mound. When the eldest son of our family died, the bones were buried in this mound. The rest of the family had another grave outside of town. This long tradition in our family ended in my grandfather’s generation.

Ikashite-itadaite Arigato-gozaimasu

Thank you for letting us live

(Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed spirits of one's ancestors. Obon or Bon festivals usually last for three days around August 15th.)
(For more details about Ōmonushi-no-Ōkami, go to: Ise Hakusan Do Dictionary)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The secret behind the Samurai Spirit

At the end of the Pacific War, the Kamikaze unit went on their mission. Some made a miraculous return home. I remember once watching their interview on TV. The front part of the plane was made the smallest in size. The American warships were firing like a heavy hail to shoot down the planes. In order to succeed in hitting the warship, the Kamikaze planes had to fly down in the exact same angle as the bullets coming from the warship, otherwise they were shot down. In other words, they had to fly straight towards the bullets. If they tried to run away from the bullets, they had more chances to be shot down before hitting the warship.

On the TV interview, the man said, “what I shouted when I was flying down straight towards the bullet and the warship, was ‘Mother~!!!.’” He said he is sure that all the Kamikaze soldiers said the same thing.

Just like, when God Susanoo went to see his mother who had gone to Yomi-no-Kuni (the Land of the Dead), cried for his mother aloud as if it would reach both heaven and earth, human has a nature to call for one’s mother when they are at the time facing death. The TV show was showing the film where the Kamikaze unit was celebrating their last sake together before getting on the plane. Their faces did not look so serious or sad, instead, they had a silent and calm smile. This was truly a face of a samurai. The soldiers and the samurais did not kill people because they wanted to. In those days, they had no choice but to surrender to the way of living the era had compelled them to do.

It is a tragedy that in this modern society, in spite of the freedom and wealth, there are more people committing suicide than the number of Kamikaze soldiers who died for their country. The power of almost insane courage a Kamikaze soldier had came purely from the desire to protect his family that he loved and appreciated. Today, I feel that the image of samurai is often misunderstood. They are not just warriors who killed people with swords toyed by fate.

My understanding of a true Samurai Spirit is about always seeing things through matter of life and death. When you see things through matter of life and death, most of the problems in modern society disappear. You will no longer have any attachment to things or other people. Instead you will be appreciative to the small things that happen in your daily life.

Ikashite-Itadaite Arigato-gozaimasu

Thank you for letting us live

Monday, August 11, 2008

Samurai Spirit

In 1853, Naval commander, Matthew Perry arrived to Japan on a black warship. He was the man who reopened Japan to the West. I was deeply moved by the words he had spoken of his impression about the Samurais in those days.

He commented as, “Japanese people are sophisticated and knows the way of things. I have never seen such people with dignity and grace, yet unpretentious.”

In this modern world, even the Japanese people have images of samurai as “warriors with sword, Hara-kiri (self-disembowelment), taking one’s own life, and chonmage (the funny hair-style), etc..” It sounds like a ludicrous clown. Is this really the truth of a Samurai? These qualities would not have given the foreign man the impression of “dignity and grace”.

Today, I sometimes happen to see the Samurai Spirit in some Japanese people. Those are the patients who are in treatment for their terminal stage of illness, and had been notified their death by their doctor. When they were notified about their death, in the beginning, they were shocked, having a sense of despair. But as the time goes by, despair turns into acceptance, and they start to feel the preciousness of the “now.” Finally they come to a point of realization that they were “led to live” which makes them pure and peaceful.

When we are alive, most of the time, we don’t think about death. One might have an illusion that he/she is going to live forever. They become obsessed with things and relationships. They start to buy and collect things. Some people might not even care about other people to get what they want. But suddenly, if you were to find out that you only have a month to live, would you still continue to buy more things? Would you fight with others to get what you want? When you forget about death, one tends to get obsessed with things and becomes delusional, forgetting that one is “led to live”.

In my opinion, Samurai Spirit is about “living the moment with no regret.” It’s about living moment to moment, having no sense of attachment, being pure and clean, and realizing that one is “led to live.” Thus having the sense of gratitude and the sense of eternity.

Ikashite-itadaite Arigato-gozaimasu

Thank you for letting us live