The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

One of the most iconic art prints from Japan, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is an excellent example of old woodblock craftsmanship and elegant composition.

My Download from the LACMA website. Would love to see it in person along with the actual wood block.
My Download from the LACMA website. Would love to see it in person along with the actual wood block.

Having been to Kanagawa myself, Hokusai’s print reminds me that while Japan stands firm like Mount Fuji, it’s people will always have respect for the ocean, because they are always at the mercy of mother nature.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa-Oki Nami-Ura?, lit. “Under a Wave off Kanagawa“), also known as The Great Wave or simply The Wave, is a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai. An example of ukiyo-e art, it was published sometime between 1830 and 1833[1] (during the Edo Period) as the first in Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei (富嶽三十六景?)), and is his most famous work. This particular woodblock is one of the most recognized works of Japanese art in the world. It depicts an enormous wave threatening boats near the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa. While sometimes assumed to be a tsunami, the wave is, as the picture’s title notes, more likely to be a large okinami – literally “wave of the open sea.” As in all the prints in the series, it depicts the area around Mount Fuji under particular conditions, and the mountain itself appears in the background.

Copies of the print are in many Western collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, and in Claude Monet’s house in Giverny,France. There is also a copy in the Asian Gallery of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.” – Wikipedia

For me, this print is about the beauty and respect that is found through nature; in the sea.

Because this print is so iconic, artists continue to adapted or modify it to their tastes.

A modern interpretation...
A modern interpretation…
Another modern adaptation
Another modern adaptation (my fav)

I found a couple videos about this master craftsman and his famous master work.

I remember, from my art history days, that Japanese woodblocks helped inspire modern comic book art. It’s impossible not to see the relation. I guess it is true. We should all learn about what’s been done (our history) to help inspire our future.

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Hikikomori: Adolescence without END

Here it is. This is what started it all…

Hikikomori: Adolescence without END
My copy of Hikikomori: Adolescence without END!

This is the first English translation of the Japanese best-seller by author/ psychologist Saito Tamaki, first published back in 1998.

Tamaki is the first person to coin the name, “Hikikomori.”

Saito Tamaki (?)
Saito Tamaki (?)

Our film, American Hikikomori, is about a Japanese teenager who comes to America and becomes a hikikomori because he has problems assimilating to American culture. Most of my research for our story was done through talking to Japanese friends who have experience this phenomenon or known of some one who has, in addition to what I could dig up on my own.

When I discovered Tamaki’s book (a year and a half ago), I quickly found myself frustrated because there were no English translations available.

Thanks to my better half, who found it in a book local store, I have some reading to do.

Get yours here.

Amazon Description:

This is the first English translation of a controversial Japanese best seller that made the public aware of the social problem ofhikikomori, or “withdrawal”—a phenomenon estimated by the author to involve as many as one million Japanese adolescents and young adults who have withdrawn from society, retreating to their rooms for months or years and severing almost all ties to the outside world. Saitō Tamaki’s work of popular psychology provoked a national debate about the causes and extent of the condition.

Since Hikikomori was published in Japan in 1998, the problem of social withdrawal has increasingly been recognized as an international one, and this translation promises to bring much-needed attention to the issue in the English-speaking world. According to the New York Times, “As a hikikomori ages, the odds that he’ll re-enter the world decline. Indeed, some experts predict that most hikikomori who are withdrawn for a year or more may never fully recover. That means that even if they emerge from their rooms, they either won’t get a full-time job or won’t be involved in a long-term relationship. And some will never leave home. In many cases, their parents are now approaching retirement, and once they die, the fate of the shut-ins—whose social and work skills, if they ever existed, will have atrophied—is an open question.”

Drawing on his own clinical experience with hikikomori patients, Saitō creates a working definition of social withdrawal and explains its development. He argues that hikikomori sufferers manifest a specific, interconnected series of symptoms that do not fit neatly with any single, easily identifiable mental condition, such as depression.

Rejecting the tendency to moralize or pathologize, Saitō sensitively describes how families and caregivers can support individuals in withdrawal and help them take steps toward recovery. At the same time, his perspective sparked contention over the contributions of cultural characteristics—including family structure, the education system, and gender relations—to the problem of social withdrawal in Japan and abroad.

Some reviews:

The book is very interesting, and at some points it reads more like a critique of the Japanese society than a psychological research. It would be interesting to see some later books about the topic, and how it’s showing in the “western” societies, as it seems that it’s a phenomenon that’s not culturally restricted to Japan. – Vasil Kolev

Though well know in Japan this particular cultural bound illness is virtually unheard of in the US. This is an excellent introduction. A copy is being ordered for the library. – Dr. Paul A. Rhoads

Saito Tamaki really wrote this book well. It is written in a way that anyone could pick it up and just do casual reading on this topic, albeit that it is a strange topic to just do “casual reading” on but it is still good regardless. – Nicholas Lee

I’ve never been this excited for non-fiction reading before… maybe I am growing up.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Maybe Amazon and Tamaki should hire me to do their PR…

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Japanese Tea Ceremony: The Way of Tea

If you are putting sugar or honey or anything else in your Japanese Green Tea you are doing it wrong. Note that I’m saying Japanese green tea. There is an abundance of green teas from around the world and many ways to consume them but in Japan, you put tea and water. Nothing else.

At a bamboo shrine in Kamakura. (One of my wife's favorite places) My bitter green (Matcha) tea and a small sweet candy. You consume both simultaneously to balance the flavor on your taste buds.
At a bamboo shrine in Kamakura. (One of my wife’s favorite places near her home town) My bitter green (Matcha) tea and a small sweet candy. You consume both simultaneously to balance the flavor on your taste buds while you sit quietly amongst the bamboo.

One of the best scenes from American Cinema (in my opinion) is from The Karate Kid part II. I saw this film when I was seven years old and didn’t know much about anything let alone Asian / Japanese culture. Still, it stuck with me because I felt (now in retrospect) that it was so pure for showcasing this ceremony but also capturing both characters emotions with little to no dialogue. It is a true piece of cinema.

Watch it:

Mr. Russo did what a typical American would do. I know because I’ve also tried to be charming at inappropriate moments. If you’ve never seen this film watch part one then part two to completely understand what’s going on. Keep in mind it’s also a classic 1980’s Americana movie. You couldn’t make the movie today and be taken seriously. Also keep in mind these films are made by Americans and are coming from the American perspective of Japanese Karate. They may have taken some liberties on cultural facts and details.

But I digress.

The whole reason I brought this up was because of the green tea ceremony.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

“The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea.” – Wikipedia

The first documented evidence of tea in Japan dates to the 9th century, when it was taken by the Buddhist monk Eichū (永忠) on his return from China.
“The first documented evidence of tea in Japan dates to the 9th century, when it was taken by the Buddhist monk Eichū (永忠) on his return from China.” – Wikipedia

“The Japanese tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice”, and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of “sabis” and “wabis” principles. “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry” and “emphasizes simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” “Sabi,” on the other hand, represents the outer, or material side of life. Originally, it meant “worn,” “weathered,” or “decayed.” Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honoured as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are – the first step to “satori” or enlightenment.

Murata Jukō is known in chanoyu history as an early developer of tea ceremony as a spiritual practice. He studied Zen under the monk Ikkyū, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, and this is considered to have influenced his concept of chanoyu.

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyū and his work Southern Record, perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master Takeno Jōō’s concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in architecture and gardens, art, and the full development of “the “way of tea”. The principles he set forward—harmony (和 wa), respect (敬 kei), purity (清 sei), and tranquility (寂jaku)—are still central to tea ceremony.” – Wikipedia

For a more in depth look, follow these links to these informative videos.

BEGIN Japanology: Tea Ceremony (love this series, by the way)

BEGIN Japanology: Tea Room Architecture part I

BEGIN Japanology: Tea Room Architecture part II

I would’ve embedded them but WordPress is being difficult with their embed settings.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 5.47.39 PM

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Underground Parking… For Bikes? Yes, Please!

We should always applaud people and cultures who reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and practise healthy modes of transportation like the bicycle but what about parking?

Parking Lot for Bikes
Parking Lot for Bikes

Every city has storage problems but Tokyo never ceases to amaze me with their technology and forward thinking. If you’ve been to Amsterdam or most Japanese towns/cities you’ve seen this:

Another bike parking lot
Another bike parking lot

Or this:

...and yet another parking lot.
…and yet another parking lot.

Enter the Underground Bike Parking Storage system.

The future is now...
The future is now…

Here’s how they work.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 7.29.23 PM

The only thing cooler than these are the ones they have for cars. Yes, cars! I take a picture of one when ever we go to Japan, no matter how many times I’ve seen them. (Google them, it’s pretty rad’.)

Outside of the “cool” factor, I don’t don’t know why American cities have not adopted this amazing technology (for cars and bikes) into our own highly over crowded cities (New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco I’m looking at you!)

C'mon, Look at how much space this saves!
C’mon, Look at how much space this saves!

If you need a better idea of these futuristic and practical storage facilities, check out this video from “Tokyo Storm Trooper” also known as Danny Choo.

Maybe the Dutch could use some pointers from the Japanese…

Amsterdam has more bicycles than people, and although it has thousands of bike racks, demand for them still outstrips supply.
Amsterdam has more bicycles than people, and although it has thousands of bike racks, demand for them still outstrips supply.

What do you think? Cool? Or am I just a lonely geek?

Could be both, I’m not offended.

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