This issue of our newsletter takes another look at Japan. This time, with the world suffering from unprecedented stress, we thought it might be useful to look at Japan from the standpoint of it's culture, especially that uniquely Japanese tranquility embodied in Zen. So relax and for a while let's immerse ourselves in the beautiful and peaceful world of traditional Japan.
In his introduction to this beautiful collection of photos, Shawna Scherbarth says:
"I wanted my photos to be more than just the usual boring snapshots. Unfortunately, I didn't know one end of the camera from the other".
Well he certainly learned fast! The photos are not only breathtaking, they really capture the essence of old Japan and its unique tranquility.
Make yourself comfortable, pour yourself a cup of Sake and browse through this lovely series of pictures. You can find Shawna's pictures on:
"After a week of sampling the modern Japanese passions of shopping malls and karaoke, the prospect of peace and enlightenment had a definite appeal" says Emma King as she visits the Buddhist temple of Ryoan-ji, which claims to have the oldest Zen garden in the world.
This short article with its single, simple photo sums up the essence of Zen and the Japanese garden. As Emma points out, modern Japan is far removed from this elegant and peaceful simplicity, but it is still possible to recapture what has been lost. Take a look at:
This excellent site contains a great deal of useful information and includes an excellent section on Japanese culture. In many ways (but not all) showing respect for others and making them comfortable is the hallmark of Japanese traditional culture. There are many rules of conduct embodying this principle which are quite different from western customs.
As the author of the site says "For the Japanese, respect, sensitivity, and harmony are sometimes more important than the truth" and "The Japanese are not direct, open, or frank. Often they are criticized for being too vague, but their real intentions might be to respect and develop a relationship." So it is important to understand how all this works. You can find all this, and almost anything else you need to know about Japanese behaviour on:
One of the joys of a good Japanese restaurant is when the kimono-clad waitress brings a basket of different sake cups from which you choose, depending on your mood, the atmosphere, your companion and everything else that makes the occasion. I love that feeling as the mind settles on one particular cup and you savour its shape and feel. It had never occured to me that the shape of the cup might affect the taste of the sake, but this article explains just how it does that.
At the very least, after reading this article by Hiroshi Kawabata you will appreciate your next cup of sake much more. But you may end up collecting these beautiful sake cups and relishing and evening at home with the right cup and maybe a game of GO. Decide for yourself on:
Here is a nice little article on Dazaifu in Northern Kyushu. It gives you a flavour of the place and I have included it here because the outer garden of the Komyo Zen-ji temple is pure Zen. As it says "A place where things stir but never threaten or compromise the composed setting". In the temple itself "You have to look twice, surprising yourself with a small camphor statue, Korean bowl or earth-colored tea-cup, objects that have been sitting for centuries in the shadows, largely unattended". When I remember London's Oxford Street in the rush hour and the haste of New York I can't help feeling we need more Zen gardens. Take a moment out at:
Of all the mysteries of Japan and Zen, the Tea Ceremony is probably the biggest challenge for the western mind. Here you have one of the best short explanations I have found, with some nice illustrations and some thought-provoking excerpts from the Tao Te Ching. There is an excellent piece taken from Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching which makes beautifully clear the meaning of that truly oriental concept of "non-being". But don't let me give the impression this is some difficult philosophical piece - it is a crystal clear explanation of what the Tea Ceremony is all about. As the Zen master Joshu said, "Have a cup of tea":
Of the many books on the traditional culture of Japan, I would recommend thoroughly these two which are available from Amazon Books:
Hotel accommodation in Japan can be expensive unless you use a reputable agent who can secure you substantial discounts. Agoda can usually find you a good deal and you can check their availability here:
Back issues of this newsletter are available. You can find them on:
The countries covered in other issues are:
Far East Air Fare deals from ConnectedGlobe
There are some excellent prices to be found on flights to Japan. For flights originating anywhere in the world use the ConnectedGlobe fare finder page.
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