Thursday, 21 May 2015

守破離 (Shu Ha Ri)

A blog such as this, inevitably must deal with the topic of 守破離 Shu Ha Ri because it is a very important concept which is deeply rooted in the Japanese society and the martial arts. In this post, I would like to share with you my views on this sometimes controversial subject.

 (Shu Ha Ri written by the Author, 2014)
Let's begin by taking a look at each of the kanji in the aims of accurately describing the phases or stages in the process of  growth known as "Shu Ha Ri."
Alternate Readings of the Kanji and Interpretations  
Shu (守るMamoru) refers to 'protecting' the way as it has been passed down through the generations. We do this by doing what we are told regardless of whether we are able to recognize if it is right or wrong, at this stage we must simply following orders.
Ha (破るYaburu) refers to the stage where one can begin to think on their own. It is possible, at this stage, to begin to develop personal interpretations of the traditions and in so doing 'break away from' the tradition and begin developing one's own way of doing things.
Ri  (離れるHanareru) refers to 'distancing' oneself from the traditional way. At this stage one begins to do things their "own way."

This concept of growth was first presented by Fuhaku Kawakami Sensei and later became an important concept in the philosophy of Aikido. The following is a definition of the process given by Endo Seishiro. Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan stated:
"It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws."[1]
 (Quote taken from Wikipedia)
Shu Ha Ri as a Healthy Process of Growth
I feel that the best illustration of this process of growth can be seen in the family unit, although it can also be found in many other facets of our lives. This process can be related to growing from childhood to adulthood in the following ways: It is common knowledge that a new born baby is totally dependant on their parents or care givers. Every child begins their life dependent on the care and guidance of their family. As they grow they begin to develop their own ideas and beliefs, some may even rebel, challenge authority and disagree with rules based on values different than their own, but it is the values, ideals, philosophies, and actions of their parents and other family members early in their lives that deeply affect and help to form their beliefs. This is described in Bronfenbrenner's Eco systemic Approaches to Child Development (1979, 1989) where the "closest level to the child, socialisation within the micro-system is influenced by those who are emotionally and practically closest to the individual" including parents, care givers, and immediate family members. Eventually the child, after growing to adulthood, must move out and live their lives according to the beliefs that they value which have formed over many years as they grew within the family unit. In short they adapt these beliefs to make them their own. Finally, they create their own family and base the values that they will pass on to their children from those they have learnt and adapted along the way.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 3)

(Our New Home in Kikuyo Town, Japan, 2015)
And now that the house is built and we are ready to make our move, we find out that there are a number of superstitions regarding moving in Japan. Some of these are related to 風水 Fu-sui, Feng-shui; "a philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment."

Apart from any mystical implications, Feng Shui may be simply understood as a traditional test of architectural goodness using a collection of metaphors. The test may be static or a simulation. Simulations may involve moving an imaginary person or organic creature, such as a dragon of a certain size and flexibility, through a floor plan to uncover awkward turns and cramped spaces before actual construction. This is entirely analogous to imagining how a wheelchair might pass through a building, and is a plausible exercise for architects, who are expected to have exceptional spatial visualization talents. A static test might try to measure comfort in architecture through a ‘hills and valleys’ metaphor. The big hill at your back is a metaphor for security, the open valley and stream represents air and light, and the circle of low hills in front represents both invitation to visitors and your control of your immediate environment. The various Feng Shui tenets represent a set of metaphors that suggest architectural qualities that the average human finds comfortable. (Wikipedia, 2015) 

Traditional Japanese Calendar 
other superstitions are related to the Japanese calendar which includes lucky and unlucky days to perform such things as moving into a new house or apartment and getting married. Below is an outline of the Japanese calendar adapted from wikipedia
English - Common Japanese - Traditional Japanese
January - 1月 Ichigatsu -  睦月Mutuski, Month of Affection
February - 2月 Nigatsu -  衣更着 Kinusaragi, Changing Clothes
March - 3月 Sangatsu -  弥生 Yayoi, New Life
April - 4月 Shigatsu -  卯月 Uzuki, the Month of the Utsugi flower
May - 5月 Gogatsu - 早苗月 Sanaetsuki, the Month of early rice planting
June - 6月 Rokugatsu - 水無月 Minazuki, the Month of Water
July - 7月 Shichigatsu - 文月 Fumizuki, the Month of Literature
August - 8月 Hachigatsu - 葉月 Hazuki, the Month of Leaves
September - 9月 Kugatsu - 長月 Nagatsuki, the Long Month
October - 10月 Jugatsu - 神無月 Kaminazuki, the Month of the gods
November - 11月 Juichigatsu - 霜月 Shimotsuki, the Month of Frost
December - 12月 Junigatsu - 師走 Shiwasu, Running Priests
As we can see from the traditional Japanese names for the Months of the Year, there was a very strong tie to nature and the shinto religion. Within the Japanese calendar, which is based on the Chinese calendar, there are series of lucky and unlucky days known as 六曜 Rokuyo or 六輝 Rokki because they are calculated in a series of six days. It is said that they can predict good and bad fortune according to these days and even today people plan their weddings and funerals around the Rokuyo.
(Calendar showing the Rokuyo written in black below the date)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 2)

棟上げ Muneage

'Raising the ridgepole' (of a roof, which completes the framework of a new house). The term equally refers to the accompanying ritual, performed by the carpenters and the owners of the house. Small monetary gifts may be given to the carpenters on this occasion. A gohei inscribed with the owner's name and the date, with an o-fuda from an appropriate shrine attached to the bottom and an o-tafuku at the top, is placed behind the rafters for protection. Offerings and symbols of purification including items such as fruit, rice and salt are made, and those present clap their hands twice and bow in the manner of devotees at a shrine. Sand from the precincts of a shrine is scattered on the ground and sake poured in the unlucky north-east (kimon; demon-gate) corner of the house. The ceremony is also known as jotosai. It is performed in addition to the jichinsai or ground-purification ceremony carried out at the start of construction which is more likely to involve a Shinto priest.
Once the foundation is set and has hardened, as seen in the photo below, a date is set for the muneage ceremony. We were actually told to choose 3 dates due to our busy schedule and high probability of rain. We confirmed February 20th as the date for the ceremony and as you can see in the following photos, the weather was kind to us that day. You can also see in the photo below the kanji 安全第一 Anzen Daiichi, this translates to 'Safety First'. There is a high level of importance placed on the safety of the workers and those visiting the site during construction and yet the over all feeling during the whole building process was very relaxed and natural.

(The foundation and sign which lists the construction company, our names and date of completion)
After the date was set, we had to prepare a few things one of the most important things was a special bottle of 酒 Sake, Japanese rice wine. We had brought bottles of sake  to the Ji Chin Sai and were told that we could use that bottle for the Muneage ceremony as well. We also had to arrange for 弁当 Bentou, Japanese boxed lunches for all of those who would be present that day including the owners of the contracting and building companies. I also had to prepare a speech to be given before we ate lunch together.
(Muneage Group Photo, Kikuyo, Japan Feb. 20, 2015)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 1)

I apologize for the length of time between posts. These last few weeks have been busy to say the least. School is getting back into full swing with the beginning of the new school year and I am getting ready to move into my new home in Kikuyo Town. This will mark another major life experience and a new stage of growth in my life here in Japan.

I never thought that I would be a land owner in a foreign country when I started this journey, but here I am with 116 坪 Tsubo (383.5 square meters or 458.6 square yards) in Japan. I know that this may seem a little off topic for this blog, but I would like to share with you the stages of building and try to explain some of the interesting customs involved with building a house in Kumamoto, Japan. We will make our move into our new home in June and therefore, I titled this post "Homeward Bound."
(The Land as it looked at the beginning of building, 2014)

The process of building a house turned out to be a very long one which began with trying to find land. The photo above is the land we decided on. It is located about 20 to 30 minutes from down town with great access in an area that is really building up and developing now. There is a train station about a 10 minute walk, with elementary and junior high schools within walking distance as well and very close to the airport.
I know this is not a very large property by North American standards, but by Japanese standards it is about 2 properties worth of land. I will not bore you by writing about all of the paper work and the countless stamping of 印鑑 Inkan that has been involved. I will start by introducing the first of three ceremonies that has taken place since building began.

地鎮祭 Ji Chin Sai