My Wish for Japan: A Softness Touching the Earth
by Sharon Kingston, guest contributor
Japan has been on all our minds and in all our hearts. There doesn’t seem to be enough capacity in the human soul to witness nature unleash its force on man in this way. Helplessness still sits with us even after the contributing of funds to relief efforts.
The magnitude of the disaster and continuing saga has made us all feel vulnerable to the uncertainty of life. We can’t fathom how recovery can possibly follow such devastation.
Then there’s me here in my studio just painting clouds and wondering how what I do could possibly matter. And then today I happened upon this Rilke poem after I finished the painting shown above. And the words could not be more profound and with them my painting feels right again.
Threshold of Spring
Harshness gone. All at once caring spread over
the naked gray of the meadows.
Tiny rivulets sing in different voices.
A softness, as if from everywhere,
is touching the earth.
Paths appear across the land and beckon.
Surprised once again you sense
its coming in the empty tree.
—from “A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke” (translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)
Sharon Kingston is an oil painter of invented and imagined spaces infused with metaphor and poetry. Her most recent paintings, the Reading Rilke series, have been inspired by the writings and poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.
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The Economic Toll of Natural Disasters, but What about Other Manifestations?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"The estimated damage from Japan’s combined earthquake and tsunami make it the world’s most expensive natural disaster since 1965. The world’s second most costly natural disaster also took place in Japan, the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, whose losses totaled nearly 2 percent of the country’s GDP, according to this graphic compiled by The Economist."
These figures matter, but they lack personality. They don’t put a face on the psychological trauma and steel that pervades cultures for subsequent generations. How does one measure the impact and manifestations of these natural disasters on people who live through it and beyond it?
I’m sure there are data crunchers that try to account for ideas like this, and many others that often go unreported. Can somebody help point me to some of these sources?
The Celebration of Ohigan During Japan’s Time of Disaster
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Katsuo Fujihara, 73, prays at the tomb of a dead family member at a cemetery in Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture. Still reeling 10 days after Japan’s deadliest natural disaster since 1923, the Japanese people marked shunbun no hi (vernal equinox day) on Sunday by visiting the tombs of their ancestors, cleaning them, and offering prayers and ohagi, sweet rice balls covered with red bean paste. (photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)
Shinto, Buddhism, and even a combination of both are taking on new importance in mostly secular Japan amidst the ongoing tragedy. Unlike in the West, most Japanese don’t observe an exclusive division between two religions, writes John Nelson, chair of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco:
“They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations. For things connected to life-affirming events, they’ll turn to Shinto-style rituals or understandings. But in connection to tragedy or suffering, it’s Buddhism.”
Yesterday marked the beginning of a special period in Buddhism called Ohigan where Japanese visit the graves of their families and pray to their ancestor spirits for help. The Japanese translation of Ohigan means "the other shore," to distinguish the suffering felt in this world from the possibility of enlightenment.
Shinto sacred flame. (photo: Timothy Takemoto/Flickr)
During Ohigan in March 2005, Ryuei Michael McCormick describes the celebration in seasonal terms of transcendence. From his dharma talk at the San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple in March 2005:
"Ohigan is celebrated twice a year during the spring and autumn equinox, the time of year when the day and night are of equal length. The Ohigan is also a time of transition, from the short days of winter to the long days of summer and back again.
As a time of seasonal transition, it also represents the transitions of human life, from the sunny summer of life to dark winter of death. This is why the Ohigan is a time to remember those who have passed on, particularly our ancestors and loved ones. It is also a time to give thought to another kind of transition, from this shore of birth and death to the other shore of enlightenment, wherein birth and death is transcended. In fact, we recite the Odaimoku and the Lotus Sutra for the purpose of enabling those of us still living and those who are deceased for whom we dedicate merit to both arrive at the other shore of awakening.
For any kind of journey one needs to pack, or make provisions. Even an overnight trip requires that we bring a change of clothes and toiletries like shaving gear, deodorant, and so on. What kind of provisions, then, do we need to journey to the other shore of enlightenment? In this case, a spare towel or shaving kit will not suffice. We need something that is both less substantial and at the same time more real. According to Mahayana Buddhism, those of us who aspire to buddhahood will require what are called the six paramitas. Paramita is usually translated as “perfection” as in the “six perfections.” But it actually means “crossing over.” So these are the six characteristics of those who are able to cross over from this shore of suffering to the other shore of enlightenment, and who, furthermore, are able to help others to make that transition and cross as well.”
Google Helps People Find Survivor
by Susan Leem, associate producer
The Telegraph notes an important contribution to relief efforts in the Pacific: the Person Finder, in both English and Japanese. Google is tracking thousands of records to match information on missing people. Imagine the pang of relief to find your loved one on a safe list amid the chaos of downed communication lines.
Hibakusha: The Survivors of the Atomic Bomb
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
Hibakusha: a Japanese term describing survivors of atomic bombs.
Terry Tempest Williams' use of this term during her interview with Krista came about quite unexpectedly. At the time, it seemed odd. But, it made more sense once she explained that nine women in her family have had mastectomies, the cause of which Williams attributes to an open-air nuclear testing site near her home in southern Utah, which she writes about with great emotion in "The Clan of One-Breasted Women."
The Atomic Bomb Survivors program categorizes hibakusha into one of three groups:
- Persons that were present within a specific radius of the bombed area at the time of bombing (e.g., Hiroshima: August 6th, 1945 or Nagasaki: August 9th, 1945) and were directly exposed to the bomb’s radiation, and babies that were in the womb of such persons at that time.
- Persons who set foot into a specific radius of Hiroshima City or Nagasaki City within two weeks of the bombing for the purposes of helping rescue activities, offering medical services, finding relatives, etc., and babies that were in the womb of such persons at that time.
- Persons who were exposed to radiation due to activities such as disposing of many corpses, rescuing of survivors, etc. and babies that were in the womb of such persons at that time.
This classification seems rather sterile until you start reading the personal stories of hibakusha such as Hideko Tamura Snider, who was ten years old when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima. She shares the physical and emotional pain she experienced, and recounts trying to find her mother amongst the survivors:
"So I would announce my mother’s name and then say, ‘Oh, please answer me,’ and no one would answer but sort of stir … I want to see her, but I don’t want to see her in that condition. But if I can let her know that I love her and that I want to be there … so, just playing with magical things in my mind, I started to sing some songs that she taught me, that she loved hearing… So I said, ‘Please, God, carry this tune to my mother and comfort her, because I can’t find her.’ That’s when my feelings came back and I just cried and cried and cried."
About the image: Hideko Tamura Snider with her mother Kimiko Tamura. (photo courtesy of Hideko Tamura Snider)
Fake Synchronicity, or Just Good Timing? (video)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Japanese men diving from three different platforms within milliseconds of each other with near-perfect synchronicity seems too good to be true. And Fake It!, the video’s title, really makes you question what’s real and what’s crafty editing.
But, in the end, who cares? It’s incredible to watch — and I still found myself holding my breath when the divers appeared to be on the verge of pig-piling in the pool from 10 meters high.
Time-Lapse, Take Me Away!
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
(view mobile version of video)
These last few weeks have been action-packed, pressure cookers around the SOF shop. I had to step back from Final Cut Pro, ProTools, HTML/CSS, and too many meetings looking at charts — just for a few minutes — and breathe.
There’s nothing like time-lapse video from Mount Fuji and prefectures of Japan to slow me down, even as the images are sped up. Take a break and join me.
Psssst…I couldn’t resist the Calgon reference. Sorry.
Painting Shinto Shrines with Light
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Watching video like this is tantalizing, making me yearn for a high-dollar cable package in which I can become immersed in a scene. Visuals like this envelop you. Here, screen size and resolution really do matter. The pictures are more vibrant, richer in meaning. What Discovery HD Theater is producing for television looks incredible; I only wish I could see their new series Lightscapes this evening.
The first episode captures artist Akira Hasegawa digitally painting the Grand Ise Shrine, a 2000-year-old mystical Shinto site in Japan, and the Uji Bridge during Bunka no hi, Japan’s national holiday celebrating culture and the arts. Hasegawa bases his kaleidoscopic, abstract projections on “the Shinto principles of the connectedness of nature, the spiritual, the universe, and the ephemeral.” The images move slowly but are never static. The colors morph synchronously with a rhythmic beating that enchants and beguiles, calms and propels.
If you have a half hour tonight, check it out at 7:30 pm Eastern and let me know what you thought of this experiential television. And, if you’re left with only your broadband, check out these fantastic live video shots from Iceland. You won’t regret it!