Love Rocks!! Match-Making, Love & Romance in Kyoto, Japan


“Where there is love there is life.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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If you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, perhaps it’s time you visited the Jishu Shrine of love and match-making in Kyoto, Japan.  Kyoto is known as the most visited place in Japan.  I’ve even heard an urban legend that it’s the most visited place on the planet…outside of Mecca.  While I doubt the latter claim, the former certainly holds true.  As Japanese’s ancient capital and cultural and religious center spared the destructive bombings of WWII (see my blog about how the city was saved here), its extensive collection of historically important castles, temples and shrines all provide a draw for tourist and pilgrims alike.

The Complex's Deva Gate

The Complex’s Deva Gate

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love and match-makingJishu is found within the Kiyomizu-dera temple complex, already the city’s leading tourist spot that draws massive throngs.  However, finding ourselves already in Kyoto during low winter season, we decided to further reduce the risk of swarming sightseers by visiting during a random weekday…at sunrise!  Actually, since it was on a hillside, I thought what a better place to view the dawn of a new day; unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that the Kiyomizu-dera provides only a westerly view….  Between the cold of winter and early time of day, we were assured a nearly private visit!

Kiyomizu-dera's Main Hall and Veranda

Kiyomizu-dera’s Main Hall and Veranda

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), painted dragon adorns a temple's ceilingKiyomizu-dera (清水寺, “clean” or “pure waters”), a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines in the hillsides of eastern Kyoto.  Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 798, but the present buildings date to 1633.  The massive wooden main hall features a large veranda supported by a tall and dense latticework of pillars that juts out dramatically over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city.  Most amazingly, there is not a single nail used in the entire structure.

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Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, shrine's cleansing watersThe Jishu Shrine is dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and “good matches.”  Jishu Shrine gets high marks for its foreigner user-friendliness.  English-language explanations of most everything are extensively provided, and proclamations of inclusivity abound:  “There is only one human race even though there are many nationalities.”  And perhaps most importantly, the shrine’s Ema good-luck charms are clearly explained in English, a relatively uncommon find visiting Japan’s religious sites.

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While Jishu is small and an easily missed off-shoot from the main pathway through Kiyomizu-dera, it’s packed with interesting wives’ tales and superstitions about love, marriage, curses, and match-making (enmusubi).  Some of the highlights for Jody and I are described below.

Jody's Love on the Rocks

Jody’s Love on the Rocks

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, Jody blindly walks from love rock to love rock 2img_0292Love Rocks!  Love may be blind, but if you believe hard enough, you can still stumble upon it….  The primary love lure of the shrine are two rocks.  Yep, rocks.  Love rocks.  They stand about 6 meters (20 feet) apart, and according to legend, if one walks between the two stones with their eyes closed (no cheating!), then they are assured luck in love.  However, should someone help along the way, one will only find love through the interloping of another.  The challenge is a popular one, with the love-sick attempting to thread their way through the throngs with eyes shut and arms outstretched.  While I needed a bit of guidance, Jody made the walk rather easily.  Good thing she’s already mine!

An anime adaptation of Cupid....

An anime adaptation of Cupid….

Japan’s Cupid.  Ōkuninushi, a Japanese “god of love.”  The Jishu is one of the most famed and popular match-making shrines in Japan, and is dedicated to this god.  Anyone looking for romance or marriage probably has plans to visit here, and not surprisingly, the shrine is most often full of young giggling Japanese girls.  Ōkuninushi is associated with love, romance and match-making.  As the spiritual hose of the annual meeting of all of Japan’s kami (Shinto spirits) in November of every year, Ōkuninushi brings the kami together, fostering relationships in the spiritual world.  Therefore, by extension, he became the kami of connections in all worldly matters of love as well.  However, instead of a bow and arrow, Ōkuninushi uses a…rabbit?

Japan's Cupid and his Hare

Japan’s Cupid and his Hare

 

Yes, the anime version of the "Hare of Inaba"

Yes, the anime version of the “Hare of Inaba”

What’s up Doc?  Well, lovers bred like rabbits, so doesn’t it make sense for Ōkuninushi to have a hare (rabbit) as a sidekick?  Not quite.  The legend of the Hare of Inaba has Ōkuninushi taking pity helping cure the hare who had been skinned alive as a punishment for deception.  However, in a mythical twist of fortune, it turned out the hare was in reality a fellow god, and in return for Ōkuninushi’s help in restoring its skin, the hare became Ōkuninushi’s devoted ally and advised him how to obtain the love of a princess he was seeking to marry.  Since then, the pair has been inseparable.  Already have love; what about good fortunes?

Inaba's Fur Restored

Inaba’s Fur Restored

Fortune Favors…those with 5 Yen to spend.  Omikuji, literally “sacred lot,” are nothing more than random fortunes written on small slips of paper.  Divination has always been a central aspect of ancient Shinto practice, one that continues to this day in the popular form of these fortune slips.  At the Jishu Shrine, however, the fortunes mostly focus on love and romance.  Those receiving good fates might fold and keep the Omikuji to make sure they come true.  Those not so lucky in love will tie them up on a pine tree using strings provided, based on a pun of the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb “’to wait” (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.  What a sap (get it, pun intended)!!  Okay, so now you have love and good fortune.  But what about the benjamins??

Magic Money

Magic Money

Money Can’t Buy You Love.  Carrying a treasure sack on his back, holding a “magic money mallet,” and standing or seated on bales of rice, a rather healthy and jolly Daikoku, one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune associated with Buddhism, can be found throughout the Jishu shrine.  Originating in India as the Hindu deity Shiva, he became intertwined with the Shinto god Ōkuninushi as the characters for “Okuni” can also be read as Daikoku.  Thus, as one deity traversed three countries and three religions, it became conflated in cultural and practice with another, cementing the Shinto-Buddhist syncretism.  What’s more convenient in a shrine than to have access to wishes for love and wealth!!  Well, one also needs a way to wash away their sins.

Hitogata, 人形, vaudou japonais

Healing Waters.  Found within the shrine are a couple of tables with hitogata paper dolls destined to wash away your problems.  The simple design, resembling a human figure, represents you the worshiper after you write your name and age over it.  Once offered to the shrine’s waters in a divine purification service, it is said that your ills and evils shall be washed away.  Sure beats confession.

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, love Ema muah XXOOXX

chichibu_shrine_anime_ema_4732Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, love knots and ties that bindLike a Prayer.  Less Madonna’s annoying tune.  Ema (Shinto prayer plaques) sell at a brisk pace, and can be found just about anywhere around the shrine.  Some portray Ōkuninushi’s and his hare on one side, while others depict classic icons of love.  On the blank back-side, however, is where heartfelt requests for a love-match or marriage are written.  One of the most entertaining aspects of visiting the shrine is examining just how creative some of the pleas of the love-sick actually are.  Now, if only we could read Japanese….

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Cursed Sacred Cedar Trunk

Cursed Sacred Cedar Trunk

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, Okage-Myojin sacred cedar tree trunkVoodoo, Japanese style.  Finally, all is fair in love as the saying goes.  There is always a darker side, and that is no less true than here at Jishu.  Okage Myojin, a kami-guardian of women, is thought to answer a woman’s any prayer.  Such kami were called upon for “ushi no toki mairi,” a prescribed method of laying a curse traditional to Japan, so-called because it is conducted during the hours of the Ox, with the proper witching hour of 2:00AM.  Typically a scorned woman, dressed in white and crowned with an iron ring set with three lit candles, drives a nail through a straw effigy of the victim, impaling it into a sacred tree.  The ritual must be repeated seven days running, after which the curse is believed to succeed, but being witnessed in the act is thought to nullify the spell…and probably cause quite a bit of embarrassment!  The sacred tree at Jishu is a cedar, and although dead (ironically probably killed by metal poisoning), the trunk remains standing where marks of many nails can still be found.  It’s very interesting to note the similarities to placing a voodoo curse in the West.

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Jishu Shrine is a very small area and can be easily missed while traversing the massively broader Temple complex as it is buried deep within.  But don’t let its size – or the crowds fool you – it’s most certainly worth the visit!  Whether you’re taken already or not, everyone could use a little more Luck in Love.  Have a visit, and enrich your life!

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, collage

Sanbai Gaeshi (三倍返し): Tripling the Return on White Day


“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love.” ~ Maya Angelou

I should've opted for the Donut/Jewelry set!!

I should’ve opted for the Donut/Jewelry set!!

Okinawa White Day 2014, Jody's puzzle-piece cardOkinawa White Day 2014, flowers for Jody“White Day” (ホワイトデー Howaito Dē) is a day for Asian men to show their affections for the special females in their lives, celebrated in Japan and some other Asian countries (South Korea, China and Taiwan) one month after Valentine’s Day on March 14th. White Day has clearly become a very popular day in Japan; more than half of Japan’s annual chocolate sales happen between late February and mid-March when “White Day” occurs. White Day was created in Japan (unsurprisingly by their National Confectionery Industry Association) around 1980 to, uhm, help “soften the guilt” of males who received VD chocolates from one or more ladies. Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, men who were lucky enough to receive sugar-infused foodstuffs are given the chance to return the favor, and then some. In a sexist twist that seems to have not been lost in translation between West and East, the expectation for these return gifts is to be of higher value than those purchased by women!

It appears that 43% if Japanese females are social loners....

It appears that 43% if Japanese females are social loners….

Valentine’s Day in Japan takes an interesting turn away from that of the West: women traditionally do all the giving on February 14th (see my blog here for our Valentine’s Day this year in Japan). When chocolate companies originally started pushing the Western idea of VD in Japan, they focused on women as sole givers. At the time, Japanese women were quite conservative in voicing affections, so the rather novel idea of surrogate chocolates was immediately and widely embraced.

One way to tell the women in your life to "eat me"....

One way to tell the women in your life to “eat me”….

So, here on Okinawa, Valentine’s Day is typically observed by girls and women presenting chocolate gifts to boys or men as an expression of love, courtesy, or sometimes social or workplace obligation. On White Day, the reverse happens: men who received a honmei-choco (本命チョコ, “chocolate of love”) or giri-choco (義理チョコ, “courtesy chocolate”) on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favor by giving gifts on March 14th.

Okinawa White Day 2014, gifts for my Desi D (desideratum)

Okinawa White Day 2014, Fuji candies for mountainous JOkinawa White Day 2014, sizeable gifts for Ride'em JTraditionally, popular White Day gifts include specialized cookies, white chocolate, and chocolates, as well as objects of sentimental value, such as jewelry or white lingerie. However, in very Western custom, men are held to a different standard, literally, sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, “triple the return”). In other words, a man’s return gift to a female should be two to three times the worth of the original Valentine’s gift!

White Day clothing campaign; shown in almost actual size!!

White Day clothing campaign; shown in almost actual size!!

Japan by average bra size.

Japan by average bra size.

Japan does offer my size, however....

Japan does offer my size, however….

I’m never one to skimp on spending, especially when lingerie is involved. Much to my chagrin, there just aren’t the lingerie sizes available in Japan to fit a very healthy curvaceous triple-D shaped woman like my Jody. Believe me, I have looked and searched, and while the Japanese can come close (see a fellow blogger’s related trials and tribulations here), bras simply aren’t like hand grenades and horseshoes, and “close” isn’t good enough. Jody will just have to settle for a form-fitting wetsuit instead, an Okinawan-equivalent of lingerie for diehard scuba divers.

Jody's heartfelt wetsuit, an Okinawan version of diver lingerie

Jody’s heartfelt wetsuit, an Okinawan version of diver lingerie

Okinawa White Day 2014, beautiful Japanese chocolates!Okinawa White Day 2014, beautiful Japanese chocolates!!Taking a few trips to the main department stores on Okinawa (Jusco and San A), I found a wide array of gifts devoted to White Day. In fact, there was so much floor space devoted to such gifting, that I soon found myself overwhelmed, and ended up spending quite a bit of time culling down my selections so that I didn’t appear to go too over the top (although spoiling Jody is part of my agenda). The chocolate sets that the Japanese offer are works of art unto themselves, while some of the themes are quite relevant, like Mount Fuji candies where we will climb next year and a candy-filled JR train reminiscent of our Kyoto adventures this past January. The best thing about shopping for these sets is that the stores all have a display area where shoppers can examine the sets’ contents. While this helps negate the thorny issues of translation (what exactly is that candy and what is it made from?), there is still a healthy amount of adventuresome guesswork in ultimate selections. And an equal amount sometimes in trying the items brought home! Oh, and don’t forget about the on-site customized gift-wrapping services which any Christmas-time Macy’s back home would be envious of.

Jody enjoys her tripled returns!!

Jody enjoys her tripled returns!!

Okinawa White Day 2014, space trip rocket to love!Okinawa White Day 2014, Jody's gift table for White DayIn my opinion, having two different days dedicated to male-female gift-giving seems to make a lot more sense. Yes yes, if you’re overly cynical, the split is really just all about sales, money and big business. However, being a little more familiar with the Japanese psyche, I do believe that men did in essence “need” their own gift-giving day; the Japanese are much more socially endeared in ways that most Western societies may not be. I for one enjoyed having a day for Jody to spoil me, and I certainly enjoyed my time planning, shopping, and spoiling her back, at triple the return!

Okinawa Mar 2014, White Day, gifts for my Love

Oh, and the smiles included and incited by White Day? All free and given freely…to the one I Love.

Okinawa White Day 2014, Jody models her Japanese white day chocolates

And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World….


Jody and I back in September 2010 when I had a Great, Big Secret

Jody and I back in September 2010 when I had a Great, Big Secret

“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”  ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Where there is love there is life.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

“Do all things with love.”  ~ Og Mandino

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see’em bloom, for me and for you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I friend of mine recently “liked” a comment on Face Book, not an unusual action in the days of over-indulgent social media.  However, what is unusual about the comment on her page, a response from me to a posting of hers, was from early October…of 2010.  Do you realize how hard it is to move that far backwards through your wall?!?

I will Marry Her

Jody knew it too, hence the coy wink

Jody knew it too, hence the coy wink

As you can see, in it I divulged my growing devotion and desire to be with Jody.  Permanently.  Of course this “liking” comes on the heels of Valentine’s Day (VD), a quite romantic if unlikely notion.  But what makes this so very abnormally doubtful is I have no idea what possessed A to reach so far back into her FB postings to see or find this particular entry…if she was, indeed, even looking.

7395685800_1894eb976f_bIt is, as I like to say, another example of how the universe unfolds pretty much how it should.  From my wedding vows, said to Jody more than 13 months after I proclaimed to A that I would indeed marry Jody:

“We are all children of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
and have a right to be standing here, in absolute love.
And whether or not it is clear to those here today,
no doubt for us, Jody, the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Vows at our Alter of Naval Aviation

Vows at our Alter of Naval Aviation

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A sentiment NOT associated with Jody, but my earlier mistaken marriage.

Jody and I have decided to adopt the Japanese approach to VD, and trust me, it does not involve the double-barrel shots of penicillin to the buttocks – been there, done that, “butt” (pun intended) the t-shirt had to be burned for infection control.  Rather, Jody is (hopefully) going to get me chocolates, we’ll walk down the block for a local and wine-infused dinner, and then stumble home to continue our celebrations.  In March, I get to return the favor, and then some, during “White Day.”

valentine

Here VD in Japan takes an interesting turn away from the West:  women traditionally do all the giving.  When chocolate companies originally started pushing the Western idea of VD in Japan, they focused on women as sole givers.  At the time, Japanese women were quite conservative in voicing affections, so the rather novel idea of surrogate chocolates was immediately and widely embraced.

I see skies of blue, clouds of white
Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

However, as a new tradition not yet ingrained in culture, customs surrounding Valentine’s Day in Japan have shifted.  In more modern times, women do give chocolates as a gesture of love.  But before you get too overly excited about receiving chocolates from a Japanese woman, realize that they also give chocolates to work colleagues and male friends – called giri-choco, literally “obligation chocolate” – as a gesture of thanks or friendship.  The concept of giri is very Asian; it is a mutual obligation that the Japanese follow when, if someone does you a favor, then you feel obligated to do something in return.  In this sense, it is not unusual for a woman to buy 20 to 30 boxes of chocolate at several hundred yen each (several dollars) for distribution around the office and to other male friends.

There's a Hooters in Japan??

There’s a Hooters in Japan??

The colors of a rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’, “I love you.”

Conversely, for that special man in her life, a Japanese lover can choose from various types of honmei-choco (“sweetheart” or “true love chocolate”) of much higher quality (and cost) than the obligation sweets.  And, even more recently, home-made treats have become even more popular, along with gyaku-choco (“reverse chocolates,” men giving women chocolates), and tomo-choco (“friendship chocolates,” very popular between young girlfriends).

Another New Trend:  Heart-Shaped Pizza!

Another New Trend: Heart-Shaped Pizza!

It’s clearly become a very popular day in Japan; more than half of Japan’s annual chocolate sales happen during February and March, when “White Day” occurs.  “White Day” was created in Japan in 1980 to help soften the guilt of males who received VD chocolates.  Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, men who were lucky enough to receive sugar-infused gifts are given the chance to return the favor.  But, in a sexist twist that seems to have not been lost in translation, the expectation for these return gifts is to be of higher value than those purchased by women!

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more, than I’ll never know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
Selfie at the Alter

Selfie at the Alter

6211305178_bb5798e566_bNo matter how you elect to treat your own VD, please strive to root your life in compassion and love.  It is a utopian ideal, but one worthy of our attentive focus and best effort.  To Jody, I rededicate my life to the You and the Me in Our Us, and finish this Valentine’s Day with the closing stanza of my wedding vows when I did indeed marry you, not so secretly:

“In the face of the sham, drudgery, and broken dreams of the past,
You have made the world – my world – a beautiful place.
Be we cheerful this day as we always strive to be happy.
I love you Jody, my Desideratum, my desired thing
Wife from this day forward.”
Yes! I DID marry that girl!!

Yes! I DID marry that girl!!

 

Yes I think to myself …….what a wonderful world.

~~~ Happy Valentine’s Day~~~

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Tattoo You? Round Two.


“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.” ~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

“She said, ‘a tattoo is a badge of validation’.  But the truth of the matter is far more revealing.  It’s a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”  ~Jimmy Buffett, Beach House on the Moon

“Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix” ~Christina Baldwin quotes

The Japanese Phoenix:  Hou-ou

The Japanese Phoenix: Hou-ou

dragon-and-phoenixThe Arabian-Western phoenix we are all familiar with has a close analogy in Asia.  Dating in China from the 11th Century BC, the Chinese Far East Phoenix is known as Fèng Huáng or Feng Huang (鳳凰), and in Japan, the creature is referred to as the Hō-ō (鳳凰) or Hou-ou.  The Kanji for “Phoenix” is made up of Feng 鳳 representing the male phoenix, yang and the sun, alongside Huang 凰 representing the female phoenix, yin, and the moon.  In Asia, the (female) Phoenix is often portrayed with a (male) dragon, either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers, the duality of roles adopted by couples at varying points in their relationships.  Adopted as the symbol of the imperial household, particularly the empress, this mythical bird represents, in general, fire, sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity.

Chinese Fèng Huáng in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

Chinese Fèng Huáng in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

KairoPanel_Hou-ou_8150clipAccording to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example.  In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears (nesting) only in peaceful and prosperous times, and hides itself when there is trouble.  As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō descends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to wait the start of the next, new time.

I am inked, and inked with a Far East Phoenix.  My original tat is of origins and impregnation while stationed previously in Okinawa (Japan), with a genesis that took years to finally coalesce (read about it here:  Tattoo You?  Absolutely).  Although my ink is positioned to avoid daily public exposure and consumption (generally speaking), it is also positioned so that I, for often long periods of time, forget about it…as odd as that sounds)…until…someone asks me about it.  Or my wife has to scratch that certain spot of my back which happens to coincide with the Phoenix’s tail, which can result in Nirvana (I think everyone should have an itch and spot like this)!  Only then is its presence reaffirmed in my psyche, and more often than not, I’m only too happy to share my story (usually abridged, depending on the audience).  That’s the whole point of a tattoo, isn’t it?  To graphically tell a personal story?

A temporary tat I got in 1999 to freak my mother out!  It worked....

A temporary tat I got in 1999 to freak my mother out! It worked….

EhafHWhich brings me to an interesting tangent.  How many of you out there know someone who has a rather generic or dare I say “mundane” tattoo?  You know the kind I’m talking about:  the dolphin on the ankle, or the rose on the shoulder-blade, or worse, some form of Asian kanji writing anywhere on the body….  I bet if you stop and really take stock and inventory, you can come up with at least two or three people, given the popularity of tattooing today.  This can be a fascinating insight to these particular people:  if one is not going to take great care and great pains on placing permanent art on one’s most personal and irreplaceable canvas, what other areas of life come (and go) so easily?

I considered Bettie Page for a long time.  What a silly story that would've made!

I considered Bettie Page for a long time. What a silly story that would’ve made!

Worse, think about those people you may know that have a tattoo, maybe an ornate design or some really intricate ambiguous layout where meaning is hard to grasp and any story remains hidden.  To me, these make the best kinds of ink, the kind that make people wonder, contemplate, and finally, inquire.  But what if that (ink’d) person refuses to tell their story?  Why graphically display such symbology if only to keep it locked away inside.  I know someone like this – not well and have never asked – but I don’t hesitate to conclude that there isn’t really a story there, at least one with any deeper meaning, and this, in my opinion, is why these types of people with ink hide behind their “art.”

soup tatoo

By the way, a word of caution here:  after having lived in Japan for my 6th year, and having seen how badly and hilariously English and Japanese can be translated back and forth, please take a moment or three decades to reconsider that kanji character you have so badly been wanting (see here). Or, to make this much more plain, look at how silly pedestrian English words would appear as tattoos on Asians….  ‘Nough said.

if-the-japanese-tattooed-english-words-on-themselves

But back to MY story surround MY ink.  As you may recall from my previous blog on the subject, I was able to successfully translate conflicted and dark feelings into permanent art to adorn my body, initially back in 2005.  The biohazard design I ended up selecting symbolized such feelings succinctly, yet in a way that translated directly onto my skin.

The biohazard motif I had settled firmly on held the central idea of man being his own worst enemy, but also could so easily be extended to include those wars, conflicts and smaller upheavals we all find omnipresent in our daily lives.  However, what started as a personal yet metaphysical conflict mostly within myself quickly morphed into a wider outside battle at the time my ink started to dry, philosophically speaking, as my marriage was liquefying down the drain.  Thus, my original tat became, somewhat on purpose but mostly a result of collateral damage, tied excessively to the pain and suffering of a disintegrating 16 year marriage and 18 year relationship.

DVNCb

And although that original tat did serve as a visible mode of attaining a form and depth of corporeal catharsis, I reached a point in my life where I no longer wanted to forever and always associate the pain of ink with a past marriage which had, in totality, become toxic.  Although these memories remain with me today, they certainly all have, at worst, faded, but at best, they have in many cases surrendered to exactly what most feelings are:  a contemporary reflection of only a temporal phase of life.  So, sometime after divorce in 2006 my consciousness started to almost immediately drift.  And finally, in roughly 2010, it had traveled far enough away from my initial viewpoint for me to again seek a change (for the better)…and new transformative ink, on top of the old.

Bad Transformation; I'm not sure which one is worst!

Bad Transformation; I’m not sure which one is worst!

I started to re-research a refreshed approach to morphing my art to something which would better match my now-current story.  And that story is a much different story than that told by my ink back in 2005.

I have recovered from emotional devastation of the destruction of a previous marriage, and the bitter betrayal of someone who once was loved and cherished.  I have recovered from the financial disaster of divorce and the irresponsible deficit spending that followed; only just this month (January 2014), can I claim once again that I am debt-free, the first time since 2005…although the witch continues to get a portion of my military retirement.  I have accepted the tragic loss of my status, influence and proximity as a father to my children during their adolescent years.  And, most importantly, I have found the love of my wife, a woman who is truly my equal (except for blogging – WINK!), and who loves me easily and unconditionally the way we all deserve to be loved and equally cherished in life.

Phoenix

So, again, the central question of inking:  graphic design!  My life has always revolved around flying, literally as long as I can remember.  I am a pilot, flew in the military, and continue to skydive today.  I also am enamored with myth and legend, particularly when it comes to their symbols and symbolism.  I almost immediately thought of integrating a Rising Phoenix into my biohazard symbol to show rebirth, resolution, resolve, and recovery.

untitledimagesIn Greek mythology, a phoenix (Ancient Greek φοίνιξ phóinīx) is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn.  Associated with the sun and most likely of Egyptian origin, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.  As part of our collective myth and legend in the Western world, the phoenix symbolizes renewal and resurrection.  It’s interesting to note that many cultures have formed independent analogues of the Greek/Egyptian phoenix, including those of Persia, India (Hinduism), Russia, Turkey, Tibet, China and Japan.

I am NOT a graphics artist....

Rough Ideas: I am NOT a graphics artist….

After toying around with various designs and layouts for about a year, and researching the myth as well as how others had translated such ideas into art, I began my graphics design in earnest.  I decided to avoid the more ornate and flowery, colorful phoenix portrays, and instead pursed a more minimalistic tribal style.  Finally, when I had narrowed my choices down, and after finding a tattoo artist (and service) I was confident and comfortable with, I was able to finalize the new blueprint.  The tattoo artist here was indispensable; knowing both the medium and media, he was able to make some fine tweaks and additional recommendations on transforming my “permanent reminder” to match yet another temporary feeling….

Finalized & Stylized Design

Finalized & Stylized Design

Thus, my artistic upgrade was completed in two phases:  the bird itself fencing in the original biohazard tattoo, followed by the flames and biohazard re-treatment which together give rebirth to the creature (and my new lease on life), while subsuming the biohazard symbol itself…along with a tainted past.  My new era ensues.

Phoenix Risen, Phase 1

Phoenix Risen, Phase 1

We all need a harbingers to help announce and illuminate new eras throughout our lives, when the old have become stale and cumbersome.  Change is the only constant in life, and if you let it, affirmative change can serve as the egg for your very own phoenix.  Together, you both can rise from the ashes, no matter how bad you think the destruction may be.

Phoenix Risen, Phase 2

Phoenix Risen, Phase 2

Thankfully for me, my harbinger resides with me, mostly out of sight, but always there in spirit (and the mirror if I really look).  And while this permanent tattoo certainly serves my current temporal views and feelings more appropriately today, you may note that the tattoo is offset and asymmetrical, a reflection of the nature of life itself….  BUT, in a more pragmatic sense, because I’m leaving room for an old Far Eastern-influenced tattoo idea that continues to congeal the more time I spend in Asia….

Stay tuned for that development.

(...but here's a hint!)

(…but here’s a hint!)

O Christmas Half-of-a-Tree!!


“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”  ~Burton Hillis

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.”  ~Larry Wilde quotes

“Remember, if Christmas isn’t found in your heart, you won’t find it under the tree”  ~Charlotte Carpenter quotes

(See Christmas is…for Lovers…in Japan for even more fun Japanese Christmas music)

Everyone seems to almost instinctively know what a Christmas tree is, and that is now no different here in Okinawa than say, in Duluth, Minnesota.  Such icons universally consist of a decorated tree (usually an evergreen), real or artificial.  But how many of us really know or understand the roots (pun intended!) of The Christmas Tree?

Nothing says Christmas Tree like a Bonsai Bush!

Nothing says Christmas Tree like a Bonsai Bush!

Christmas trees have long been traditionally decorated with foods widely available, such as apples and nuts, but today can consist almost of anything with strong emotional or sentimental value, but often include garland, tinsel, and candy canes.  In the 18th century candles were often added, which then morphed to modern lighting with the wide introduction of electricity.  An angel or star often tops the tree, usually in representation of the Star of Bethlehem (from Jesus’ story).

An Origami Overture to Christmas and its Tree

An Origami Overture to Christmas and its Tree

Our current cultural and religious custom of the Christmas tree comes from 15th and 16th century devout Christians (including the reformist Martin Luther) who resided in the area of Europe now associated with modern Germany.  However, what most of us may find rather surprising is that the Christmas tree didn’t acquire popularity beyond this area until the second half of the 19th century, or well into the mid-to-late 1800s!  The Christmas tree has also been known as the “Yule-tree” (or Tree of Life), especially in discussions of its folkloristic origins.

Original Sin.  It's her fault.  Are modern ornaments still symbolic of forbidden fruit?

Original Sin. It’s her fault. Are modern ornaments still symbolic of forbidden fruit?

tumblr_mxnxjvkXQ61qdg05vo1_500While the origins of the modern Christmas tree are clear and undebated, there are a number of speculative theories of such custom and tradition prior to the 1400s.  Such icons are frequently traced to the symbolism of evergreen trees in pre-Christian winter pagan rites and rituals.  Such use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands has long been utilized to symbolize eternal life by widely diverse cultures, including ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews.  Thus, a type of “tree worship” became common in ancient times and thus was common among the pagan Europeans when Christianity started to sweep the continent.   And, luckily for us, the rite and ritual survived the pagans’ conversion to Christianity (mostly through its continued use as the “Tree of Paradise” stage prop in the popular Paradise Plays of the 11th century), and became decorations for the house and barn alike (sometimes as wintry homes for song birds at Christmastime), and were sometimes used at the New Year to scare evil.

Now that's a tree, Japan!!

Now that’s a tree, Japan!!

I hope she doesn't celebrate ANY other holiday....

I hope she doesn’t celebrate ANY other holiday….

Given this backdrop, and having no tangible ties to any particular strong religious tradition (I think of Christmas and all its trappings, including the trees, as more symbolic of a generalized spirit of love and giving), we decided to leave all our more conventional holiday decorations at home during our move to Japan.  Sure, we brought a Santa hat and our stockings (we both still have our Mother-made stockings from our childhood!), but not much else, including our tree.  We decided to let the spirit of Okinawa and our living space dictate a new holiday rite for me and Jody.

When space is an issue....

When space is an issue….

First thing we had to do was find a tree.  Not a real one – those are hard to come by in Okinawa, a relatively remote sub-tropical island in the Pacific Ocean, but an artificial one.  But, we had to contend with our relatively low condo ceilings, along with a want for space.  On top of this, we find out that the initial artificial tree shipment to the base exchanges sold out in mere days…and, of course, we missed what only could’ve been a mad rush for trees.  Lucky for us we meandered one afternoon into the base craft shop looking for extraordinary ornaments for our as of yet unsourced tree, and behold:  a room full of artificial, pre-light, small-ish Christmas trees!  Expensive ones, but we were in luck.

Whole or Half:  You Decide

Whole or Half: You Decide

11491260433_bd0d618afe_bWe actually found (and purchased) a “half-tree.”  And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like:  a half of an artificial tree, with a stand that will support its lopsidedness, but which also has an anchor point/hook high up on the trunk in case you have to deal with, say, an unruly cat who may decide to climb the tree when no one’s looking….

Charlie Brown's Tree, the Japanese interpretation

Charlie Brown’s Tree, the Japanese interpretation

11491247796_7593c905da_bThe tree works perfectly in our place!  It is maybe 6.5 feet in height, and since it’s only half a tree, we were able to push it back into a corner to conserve space while allowing us to fill in the visibly accessible part of the tree that much more.

For once all our decorations fit into ONE normally-sized box!

For once all our decorations fit into ONE normally sized box!

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11491176634_19e24c83fc_bFor decorations we went with our initial Asian, Japanese, and Okinawan-inspiration.  So, our ornaments consisted mainly of origami art (cranes, butterflies, and angels), paper crafted shapes, wooden dolls, miniature obis, and other flirtations with the Far East.  These, combined with the minimalistic white lighting of the tree, results in a quite unconventional appearance by most western standards.  We love it!

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11491244823_1861dafb41_bBut, to top off our tree, we wanted truly spectacular and of local custom and tradition.  What we found was perfect for the occasion:  a Hanagasa.  The Hanagasa is a brilliantly colored, flowered-adorned hat worn in many areas of Japan, but here the Okinawans have developed their own particular tradition regarding this type of headdress.  Worn by Okinawan women performing a dance called Yotsudake (“four bamboo,” referring to the bamboo castanets played by the dancers), the large and unique silk hat features a gold-trimmed design of a stylized lotus flower and ocean waves, set against a backdrop of blue skies.  It’s mesmerizing to watch one dancer on her own with her slow, graceful movements; it is breathtaking to see five or six woman so adorned move as one.

...Cleo waits patiently....

…Cleo waits patiently….

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11491181675_17fb20f702_bWe found a smaller version of the Hanagasa designed for display on dolls, and it worked perfectly to complete our tree.  Like the symbolism that a topping star may hold for others, our Hanagasa makes for an unforgettable sight, and its harmonious flowers seem to sway in time to the carols we often play in the background, things which should remind us all of the beauty, resilience and connectedness that we all share, with each other, and with every other living thing, during this spiritual time of love and giving.

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11615344235_28dcdd1a5c_bMerry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and Happy Holidays.  Whatever YOU prefer to say, please don’t forget to pause your daily grind, express your thanks to those that deserve it, be giving to those that need it, and let Love and Hope win for just a few fleeting moments as you gaze upon your own tree, or other perhaps more appropriate symbolic icon of the season.

coexist-holiday

How are you celebrating Christmas this year??

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Easy Chair


“The discontented man finds no easy chair.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.” ~May Sarton

“One who sits between two chairs may easily fall down.” ~Proverb quotes

Easy chair.  If you're 3.  Or apparently Japanese.

Easy chair. If you’re 3. Or apparently Japanese.

We should be about 10 days away from finally receiving our household goods from the States (knock on wood; see Castaway).  But that doesn’t do us any good right now.  Although I started out this move quite firm in the belief that things are just things, and stuff is just stuff and is wholly replaceable, that isn’t exactly true.

Not entirely.

The first – and only things I’ve written about missing so far has been our Love Jug.  And the second, and quite possibly only other thing worth mentioning is, quite honestly, our Easy Chair.  Well, it’s actually a chair and a half.

Our beloved Chair 1.5 in the center background

Our beloved Chair 1.5 in the center background

phenomenon-movieThere’s a scene and symbolism in the movie Phenomenon (1996) that concerns the importance of chairs to life.  In it, George appears to be magically and mysteriously transformed, suddenly endowed with strange powers.  The transformation, however, was short-lived and due to a brain tumor, which George ultimately passes from.  As George is approaching his terminal end, there’s a discussion in the local bar about it all:

Banes: [speaking to Doc about George’s transformation] “He never really changed at all.  Isn’t that right Doc?  I mean he never really got any smarter.  [after a long pause without a response] Doc?”

Doc:  “Banes… how’s your lady-love?”

Banes:  “We… um… we broke up.”

Doc:  “Really?  That’s too bad, yeah.  Now George has a love at his side and she is sticking with him.  You know why?  Because he bought her chairs.  That’s pretty smart to me.  You ever buy Lisa’s chairs?”

Banes:  [discounting the whole notion because he can’t comprehend the symbolism] “Doc’s real drunk tonight.”

Doc:  “Every woman has her chair, something she needs to put herself into, Banes.  You ever figure out what Lisa’s chairs were and buy ’em?

[Everyone pauses in silence]

Doc:  “Nope.  But, you’re right about one thing, George never changed.”

Our Chair - everyone should have one

Our Chair – everyone should have one

No, it's not a stripper chair....

No, it’s not a stripper chair….

Jody and I cemented our relationship in this chair; in it we poured and put ourselves, together.  It is one of our first co-purchases, a major item that already hinted at the longevity and closeness of what was to turn quickly into a marriage.  It is the centerpiece of not just our living room, but of our time together.  It fits us, and more importantly, it fits us together.

Cat Refuge.

Cat Refuge.

It nurtures us as a couple, and reminds each of us to nurture the other.  I cannot tell you how many nights I’ve spent laying across Jody’s lap watching a favorite show.

Alex sleeping with me on Otto

Alex sleeping with me on Otto

I cannot count the number of times Alex our cat (Cleo’s brother, who went missing quite a while ago back in the states) would hold Jody down in this chair and force her to nap.

The cats, while financially supported and raised by me, really belong to her....

The cats, while financially supported and raised by me, really belong to her…. Alex likes Otto.

It has hosted Christmas gifts, been kind to our party guests, and served as a refuge for our animals.  It is, in physical form, symbolic of our relationship.

A fabulous Christmas host.  And Jody's not bad, either.

A fabulous Christmas host. And Jody’s not bad, either.

And Otto, well let’s just say Otto serves naughty purposes rather well (he says “Hal-lo” with a wink and a Dutch accent).

Naughty things have been known to happen.  It's Otto's fault.

Naughty things have been known to happen. It’s Otto’s fault.

This was imagined, right?!?!?!

The stories our Chair could tell….

Currently we are on a sterile, BLUE, American folk-art inspired, government purchased and supplied sofa that not just exfoliates our skin, but provides the physical equivalent of a chemical peel.  The cat will have NOTHING to do with it.  But in an ironic twist, it manages to highlight every single piece of cat hair within a 10 meter radius.  Let’s just say we are dang tired of just managing with our temporary seating provided by the lowest bidder….

Yuck.

Yuck.  And soulless.

It’s true that this place is no home.  Not yet.  It remains soulless, without our one…and a half…warm, comfy, chair, where neither of us has to attempt to sit between two sofa cushions to be one.  Ten days, and we will once again be content.