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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

One of my favourite things about the Kindle is being able to buy long essays or short stories in the form of Kindle singles such as The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield, an American author and poet.  I have always wanted to know more about haiku and was able to satisfy my curiosity for just 99 cents.

Hirshfield uses her own poetic skills to write beautifully about the poetry, life and journeys of Matsuo Bashō, who in the seventeenth century, “substantially remade the shape of Japanese literature, by taking a verse form of almost unfathomable brevity and transforming it into a near-weightless, durable instrument for exploring a single moment’s precise perception and resinous depths.”

Bashō taught his students “that if you see for yourself, hear for yourself, and enter deeply enough this seeing and hearing, all things will speak with and through you” and used this philosophy to master image-based poems of seventeen sound units, written in lines of five, seven, and then five units each.

They combine the concepts of  sabi which is “to feel keenly one’s own sharp and particular existence amid its own impermanence” and wabi, which is to appreciate the beauty of the most ordinary circumstances and objects.

Two of my favourite haikus in the book:

spring leaving –

birds cry,

fishes’ eyes filled with tears

yukuharu ya tori naki uo no me wa namida

a hangover ?

who cares,

while there are blossoms

futsukayoi monokawa hana no aru aida

Hirshfield shows that the form has been brought bang up to date in the 21st century with more than 19,000 haiku about Spam, “Spamku”, being posted online.

She provides proof that “even the briefest form of poetry can have a wing-span of immeasurable breadth.”

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This week there have been many stories about the Japanese maintaining their civility and dignity as they struggle with the aftermath of the earthquake :

“Emergency centers, where more than 450,000 evacuees are being housed in stadiums or schools, are neatly organized, with people constructing origami boxes made of newspaper in which to nestle their shoes. This is a country where people do not wear shoes inside, and the habit extends to the little islands of blankets that each evacuated family claims in their emergency shelter” (Time’s Global Spin blog)

The stories reminded me of episode ten in the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects about a Japanese clay jomon pot, made around 5,000 BC. Presenter Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, says:

Jomon pots are used as cultural ambassadors for Japan in major exhibitions around the world. Most nations look back to imperial glories or invading armies – and I think it’s extraordinary that a technologically, economically powerful nation like Japan proudly places the very origins of its identity in the early hunter-gatherers. As an outsider, I find the meticulous attention to detail and the patterning of the surface, and the long continuity of Jomon traditions, already very Japanese.

– author Marie Mutsuki Mockett gives us an insight into modern day Japan in her wonderful piece Memories, Washed Away ;

– the Daily Mail on the courage of the Fukushima fifty workers at Japan’s stricken nuclear plan ;

– CNN on how Japan’s religions confront tragedy ;

philosopher Alain de Botton on tsunamis and Stoicism ;

– an interesting take from Larry Elkin on the Japanese emperors’ speech explaining a constitutional monarchy to Americans :

We have seen many times how monarchs can inspire their people, raise morale and even change history, all without any real political power at all. Royals are at their best when suffering is greatest and they provide whatever relief they can.

Japan’s suffering is the greatest it has seen in a very long time. I hope their emperor can help the Japanese through these trials.

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I had been upset about a work-related email since yesterday but woke up this morning to the horrific news from Japan which put things into perspective and I quickly got over myself.

– David Abraham, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations based in Tokyo, writes about the search for solid ground ;

Civility still reigned though: pedestrians waited for traffic lights to turn green before they crossed the road and no car horns blared. (New York Times)

– The London Review of Books also has an eye witness account ;

– Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically;

– In Focus has photographs of the damage  (The Atlantic)

– but things would be a lot worse without Japan’s remarkable disaster readiness (Frum Forum) ;

– one of my favourite journalists, Nicholas Kristof, covered the 1995 Kobe earthquake which killed more than 6,000 people when he was Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times and he offers some words of hope :

In an essay in the Times after the Kobe quake, I ended with a 17th century haiku from one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho:

The vicissitudes of life.
Sad, to become finally
A bamboo shoot.

I find something noble and courageous in Japan’s resilience and perseverance, and it will be on display in the coming days. This will also be a time when the tight knit of Japan’s social fabric, its toughness and resilience, shine through. So maybe we can learn just a little bit from Japan. In short, our hearts go out to Japan, and we extend our deepest sympathy for the tragic quake. But also, our deepest admiration.

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