The Spirit of Yamato in the world of modern Budo

The Spirit of Yamato in the world of modern Budo
Japanese paper (washi 和紙) is one of the several symbols of Japanese culture and spirit. It is made using fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia papyrifera), or the paper mulberry. Washi comes from wa which refers to Japanese and shi meaning paper. The process is very precise and requires skills and knowledge held by a handful of families throughout Japan. However, due to the “modernization” of society and technology, the lengthy process, and declining interest/appreciation by younger generation is slowly causing the tradition to erode. It was during a discussion about this subject with my Shodo (calligraphy) teacher that I was reminded once again about the importance of Yamato Damashi and subsequently sparked the interest to write this article. Sensei mentioned that although Japanese paper can be made by a more “cost efficient ways” and may look like Japanese paper it cannot be called one. The reason for this is that the traditional way of producing paper is done with the “correct spirit”. This “spirit” cannot be achieved with technology but rather through passing knowledge from teacher to student by word of mouth. This “spirit/attitude” is connected to any action in ones daily life and is especially prevalent in the world of Budo.
Yamato-damashii 大和魂 (“the Japanese spirit”) is a historical and cultural, developed in the Heian period which set the premises of describing Japanese spirit and attitude achieved by following the ‘way’ of the people. This term is often contrasted with the knowledge and scholarship imported into Japan from China. It can be also understood as ‘The Soul of Old Japan’. ‘For this national type of moral character was invented the name Yamato-damashi
Yamato-damashii refers to “Japan or Japanese”. The characters for Yamato (大和) translates as great harmony. Wa (倭 or 和) is Japan’s oldest endonym and derives from the Han Dynasty Chinese exonym Wō 倭 “Japan, Japanese”. This character 倭, which graphically combines the 亻 “human, person” radical and a wěi 委 “bend” Japanese scribes replaced the Chinese character 倭 for Wa “Japan” with Wa 和 “harmony; peace”.
Soke has also mentioned “Tamashii”. Most commonly translated as “soul”, we may also acknowledge that in order to understand the duty of fudoumyo, we must accept fully the teachings to understand the soul of bushido
Developing the soul of budo is the aim of the true budoka. This is far more important to me than continually learning new skill sets. While training, we will inevitably learn new waza. However, if there is no soul or heart to the movement, there is ultimately nothing, only an empty shell. This is part of the reason we recite the Ninja Seishin and a special verse every class.
Damashi or Tamashi is closely related to the theme of the year, Sai no Kon Ki. In this theme Utsuwa also can imply a person of high calibre or capacity. A person may have Saino & Tamashii, 魂but must have the caliber to understand, unify, and use these together in harmony to their full potential.
This type of ‘spirit’ is of extreme importance in the world Budo and Ninpo. In essence if you do this type of Budo without this type of attitude you may not be doing Japanese Budo but rather your own interpretation of it. It’s not something that can be seen necessarily or even understood. It is more like being able to absorb it with the whole body over time. To further explain what it is that is being referred to let’s look at air. It cannot be seen, touched or felt yet everyone knows it exists and we need it to sustain life. Another analogy would be that one cannot cook any kind of ethnic food without being able to fully absorb the process, flavour, taste and customs associated. There is a story about an individual moved to Japan to study Japanese paper making and was asked about the subject after training for several years. His reply was that although I have been learning how to make paper for quite some time I have yet to achieve the required spirit associated with it and as such cannot call the paper I am making Japanese. it would probably require additional time to acquire this essence. In Ninpo, when you perform a waza without this type of spirit it in essence loses its flavour and authenticity. Many of the modern Budo and sport martial arts may seem attractive to many but are truly deviating from the source.
This is not an easy concept to understand especially for a person who was not born and educated with this type of mentality. It also easy to ignore this type of attitude as it requires in some cases an adjustment to ones perspective and conduct. The truth is not always easy to accept but as practitioners of Ninpo we strive to polish our spirit through training and follow the righteous heart. I encourage you to dig deep and discover the true essence and spirit of our Budo.

Cha Do – the art of tea.

Yesterday after class we reviewed the making of traditional Japanese Macha Tea. The history of matcha in Japan is said to commence in the 12th Century, when Zen monk Eisai [栄西] (1141-1215) brought tea seeds he had gathered on a study trip to China. In the 8-9th Century however, Buddhist Monks Saichō [最澄] (767-822) and Kūkai [空海] (774-835) had already brought tea seeds from China. But at that time tea was processed into compressed cubical bricks or cakes, and it was not until the following century that a powdered kind of tea, resembling what we nowadays perceive as matcha, became the standard.

How To Prepare

First things first, put the kettle on and grab yourself a mug or if you want more authenticity, try using a chawan, a traditional Japanese tea cup.

Once the kettle has boiled, wait for a minute or two so that the temperature of the water is approximately 80°C. If the water is too hot, your tea may become too bitter.

Add a small teaspoon of matcha powder to your cup and then fill with approximately 60ml of hot water.

Using a chasen, or matcha whisk, mix the powder in with the water so that no lumps remain in the tea. Mix for a minute until the tea has lots of small bubbles on the surface and appears slightly frothy.
Your tea is now ready so sit down, relax and enjoy your green tea, perhaps with a small Japanese sweet on the side.

Tips and Information

– If you live in an area with hard water, try using a water filter to purify the water before you boil it. This will give you a cleaner tasting tea.

– Try adjusting the amount of water and matcha used until you find the right taste for you.

– Traditional matcha green tea is much bitter than the regular green tea so you might need something sweet to balance the taste.

Japanese royal family visit to Toronto

With handshakes from one last group of dignitaries, Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko left Ottawa Wednesday afternoon, concluding their six-day visit in the capital. They boarded their official government 747 bound for Toronto, to continue their 11-day goodwill tour to celebrate the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan.

This is part of an email sent to me by one of my students which I though was an interesting observation and may be of interest to our readers.

“Good Afternoon Sensei,

I just wanted to pass something on to you that I thought may be of interest. I recently had the honour of viewing parts of the Imperial visit of the Emperor and Empress of Japan. I was able to see the Emperor and Empress on a few different occasions such as the Sick Kids Hospital, Queen’s Park, and the Japanese Cultural Center. I wanted to share my thoughts with you about the Emperor and Empress since I believe we may all learn significantly from the Royal Family in terms of their humanitarian efforts, their daily life, and the rich culture and history of Japan of which they are a living expression.

At the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, the Emperor and Empress visited many different areas. I observed them interact with some children in the library reading room of Sick Kids Hospital for about a half an hour. They spent time talking to children that were patients of the hospital. They were genuine and compassionate in their time with these children and they took time to speak to many children. I thought it was wonderful that they took time with these children; some of whom suffer from very tragic physical and mental conditions, and struggle substantially on a daily basis. I felt the Empress was moved by these kids and she sang a song for the children in the reading room. It was a nice and special time for the children and for all of us to share.

At the Japanese Cultural Centre I was able to see and learn much about the Imperial Couple. I was also early and was able to watch a video that was showing on a large screen in the same room where we held our Takai. The room was decorated nicely for the reception of the Emperor and Empress. I was able to watch a video documenting some periods in the life of the Emperor and Empress. I’ll try to break this video down into specific themes.

Based on this brief documentary, it was clear that the Emperor is a highly educated, studious and learned man. The video showed a section of the Emperor’s library housing books on Okinawan history, culture, and traditions of which there were several (roughly forty or so and I’m being conservative in my estimate). The documentary spoke of the Emperor’s desire to learn as much about Okinawa and its people. The documentary spoke of the Japanese military’s campaigns and conduct in Okinawa during WWII and the effect this had on the Okinawan people and their ‘complex’ feelings towards the Emperor. I believe the Emperor understands this very well based on his studies and contact with the people. I believe the Emperor has had a sincere desire to learn of their suffering and I think I remember the Emperor stating in the documentary that he acknowledges the suffering incurred by many people at the hands of the Japanese army in WWII and that he deplores acts of inhumanity. I don’t want to offer many opinions but I do believe the Emperor to be a sincere humanitarian and a man of deep spiritual conviction. I observed him speak openly about the past tragedies inflicted by the Japanese (such as against the Chinese and the Dutch in front of official representatives of both nations), and I believe that he does so freely of his own volition in order to acknowledge and atone for his nation’s past.

I also learned about his spiritual side. There is a time (once a year) where the Emperor performs a ceremony where he must kneel in a temple for several hours (I can’t remember the exact amount). The video stated the Emperor observes this ceremony with the utmost respect and serious consideration; for it is one in which he prays for the well-being of the Japanese people as a whole. I remember the documentary stating that the Emperor’s reverence for the gods causes him to remain completely focused during the hours of his prayer service; and that he prepares for this time throughout the year prior to the occasion.

I also observed the Royal Couple in the natural landscape of their nation. They were able to recognize many different kinds of trees, birds, and flowers by name. I would think that they make time to enjoy the natural beauty of the world and to learn as much as they can about nature. I think that the Emperor and Empress are also no stranger to manual labour, since he and the Empress have a garden in which they grow their own rice, herbs, and vegetables. I was able to see them working in the garden and preparing some of the crops.

hope I was able to pass on something enlightning about such interesting and exceptional people from a part of the world which has offered us the richness of our Art to you Sensei.

Take Care Sensei”

The prince of virtue

Prince Shotoku Taishi(聖徳太子 Shōtoku Taishi?, 573–621), also known as Prince Umayado (厩戸皇子 Umayado no ōji?),太子 = Taishi = Crown Prince or Statesman . Umayado which means “door of stable.” He was given that name because his mother, Empress Anahobeno-hashinohito, gave birth to him in front of the stable door, thus, his name. He was a regent and a politician during the Asuka period in Japan.

Prince Shotoku’s Great Uncle Umako Soga was devoted to Paekche (Kudara) Buddhism. Therefore, it is believed that Prince Umayato was influenced by his Great Uncle and started to learn about Buddhism. However, Prince Umayato was devoted to Koguryo (Koukuri) Buddhism. According to researchers, he learned about Buddhism under two Buddhist priests from Koguryo and Paekche.

Sushun, who was the Uncle of Umayato and a brother of Emperor Youmei and Suiko, took over the throne after Emperor Youmei passed away. Since he did not like Umako’s despotic behavior, he was assassinated by Umako, who was his uncle. Prince Umayato’s aunt became Empress Suiko in 592 A.D. after a competition for the throne between the Soga family and the Mononobe family was settled.

Umayato started to work as a regent and conduct the affairs of state under Empress Suiko. His Great Uncle was Umako Soga, a minister of state. Umako was also Empress Suiko’s uncle. Prince Umayato got married to Tojikono-iturame, who was the daughter of Umako. (**In this period, men tended to have more than one wife.**) She gave birth to a son whose name was Prince Yamashiro. However, in 643 A.D., Yamashiro was killed by Iruka Soga, who was a cousin of Yamashiro and a grandson of Umako. An assassination of relatives for the throne was not a rare occurrence in this period.
Prince Shotoku sent the first envoy to Sui Dynasty in China, he established an official rank and a constitution and spread Buddhism. He built two famous temples in Japan, the Shitenno-ji in 593 A.D. and Horyu-ji in 607 A.D. He achieved many things before his death from illness in 622 A.D.

(He was born of emperor Youmei and one of his wive’s, Empress Anahobe-hashinohito. He had 4 brothers and one sister. Since successive emperors could have more than one wife in ancient times, the oldest brother of Prince Umayato had a different mother. However, his younger brothers and sister had a different father, who was the oldest brother of Prince Umayato.)

The Seventeen-article constitution (十七条憲法 jūshichijō kenpō?) is, according to Nihon Shoki published in 720, a document authored by Prince Shōtoku in 602. It was adopted in the reign of Empress Suiko. The emphasis of the document is not so much on the basic laws by which the state was to be governed, such as one may expect from a modern constitution, but rather it was a highly Buddhist document that focused on the morals and virtues that were to be expected of government officials and the emperor’s subjects to ensure a smooth running of the state, where the emperor was to be regarded as the highest authority. It is one of the earliest moral dictatorial documents in history.

I. Harmony is to be valued, and an avoidance of wanton opposition to be honored. All men are influenced by class-feelings, and there are few who are intelligent. Hence there are some who disobey their lords and fathers, or who maintain feuds with the neighboring villages. But when those above are harmonious and those below are friendly, and there is concord in the discussion of business, right views of things spontaneously gain acceptance. Then what is there which cannot be accomplished!

II. Sincerely reverence the three treasures. The three treasures, Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood, are the final refuge of the four generated beings, and are the supreme objects of faith in all countries. What man in what age can fail to reverence this law? Few men are utterly bad. They may be taught to follow it. But if they do not betake them to the three treasures, how shall their crookedness be made straight ?

III. When you receive the Imperial commands, fail not to obey them scrupulously. The lord is Heaven, the vassal is Earth. Heaven overspreads, and Earth bears up. When this is so, the four seasons follow their due course, and the powers of Nature obtain their efficacy. If the Earth attempted to overspread, Heaven would simply fall in ruin. Therefore when the lord speaks, the vassal listens; when the superior acts, the inferior complies. Consequently when you receive the Imperial commands, fail not to carry them out scrupulously. Let there be a want of care in this matter and ruin is the natural consequence.

IV. The Ministers and functionaries should make decorous behavior their leading principle, for the leading principle of the government of the people consists in decorous behavior. If the superiors do not behave with decorum, the inferiors are disorderly: if inferiors are wanting in proper behavior, there must necessarily be offences. Therefore it is that when lord and vassal behave with propriety, the distinctions of rank are not confused: when the people behave with propriety, the Government of the Commonwealth proceeds of itself.

V. Ceasing from gluttony and abandoning covetous desires, deal impartially with the suits which are submitted to you. Of complaints brought by the people there are a thousand in one day. If in one day there are so many, how many will there be in a series of years? If the man who is to decide suits at law makes gain his ordinary motive, and hears causes with a view to receiving bribes, then will the suits of the rich man be like a stone flung into water while the complaints of the poor will resemble water cast upon a stone. Under these circumstances the poor man will not know where to take their complaints. Here too there is a deficiency in the duty of the Minister.

VI. Chastise that which is evil and encourage that which is good. This was the excellent rule of antiquity. Conceal not, therefore, the good qualities of others, and fail not to correct that which is wrong when you see it. Flatterers and deceivers are a sharp weapon for the overthrow of the State, and a pointed sword for the destruction of the people. Sycophants are also fond, when they meet, of dilating to their superiors on the errors of their inferiors; to their inferiors, they censure the faults of their superiors. Men of this kind are all wanting in fidelity to their lord and in benevolence towards the people. From such an origin great civil disturbances arise.

VII. Let every man have his own charge and let not the spheres of duty be confused. When wise men are entrusted with office, the sound of praise arises. If unprincipled men hold office, disasters and tumults are multiplied. In this world, few are born with knowledge: wisdom is the product of earnest meditation. In all things, whether great or small, find the right man, and they will surely be well managed. On all occasions, be they urgent or the reverse, meet but with a wise man, and they will of themselves be amenable. In this way will the State be lasting and the Temples of the Earth and of Grain will be free from danger. Therefore, did the wise sovereigns of antiquity seek the man to fill the office, and not the office for the sake of the man.

VIII. Let the Ministers and functionaries attend the Court early in the morning and retire late. The business of the state does not admit of remissness and the whole day is hardly enough for its accomplishment. If, therefore, the attendance at Court is late, emergencies cannot be met. If officials retire soon, the work cannot be completed.

IX. Good faith is the foundation of right. In everything let there be good faith, for in it there surely consists the good and the bad, success and failure. If the lord and the vassal observe good faith one with another, what is there which cannot be accomplished? If the lord and the vassal do not observe good faith towards one another, everything without exception ends in failure.

X. Let us cease from wrath and refrain from angry looks. Nor let us be resentful when others differ from us. For all men have hearts, and each heart has its own leanings. Their right is our wrong, and our right is their wrong. We are not unquestionably sages, nor are they unquestionably fools. Both of us are simply ordinary men. How can any one lay down a rule by which to distinguish right from wrong? For we are all, one with another, wise and foolish, like a ring which has no end. Therefore, although others give way to anger, let us on the contrary dread our own faults, and though we alone may be in the right, let us follow the multitude and act like them.

XI. Give clear appreciation to merit and demerit and deal out to each its sure reward or punishment. In these days, reward does not attend upon merit nor punishment upon crime. All you high functionaries who have charge of public affairs, let it be your task to make clear rewards and punishments.

XII. Let not the provincial authorities or the Kuni no Miyakko levy exactions on the people. In a country there are not two lords; the people cannot have two masters. The sovereign is the master of the people of the whole country. The officials to whom he gives charge are all his vassals. How can they, as well as the Government, presume to levy taxes on the people?

XIII. Let all persons entrusted with office attend equally to their functions. Owing to their illness or to their being sent on missions, their work may sometimes be neglected. But whenever they become able to attend to business, let them be as accommodating as if they had cognizance of it from before, and not hinder public affairs on the score of their not having had to do with them.

XIV. All you ministers and functionaries! Be not envious. For if we envy others, they in turn will envy us. The evils of envy know no limit. If others excel us in intelligence, it gives us no pleasure; if they surpass us in ability, we are envious. Therefore, it is not until after a lapse of five hundred years that we at last meet with a wise man, and even in a thousand years we hardly obtain one sage. But if we do not find wise men and sages, how shall the country be governed?

XV. To turn away from that which is private, and to set our faces towards that which is public – this is the path of a Minister. Now if a man is influenced by private motives, he will surely feel resentments, and if he is influenced by resentful feelings, he will surely fail to act harmoniously with others. If he fails to act harmoniously with others, he will surely sacrifice the public interests to his private feelings. When resentment arises, it interferes with order, and is subversive of law. Therefore, in the first clause it was said that superiors and inferiors should agree together. The purpose of that first clause is the same as this.

XVI. Let the people be employed (in forced labor) at seasonable times. This is an ancient and excellent rule. Let them be employed, therefore, in the winter months, when they are at leisure. But from Spring to Autumn, when they are engaged in agriculture or with the mulberry trees, the people should not be so employed. For if they do not attend to agriculture, what will they have to eat? If they do not attend to the mulberry trees, what will they do for clothing?

XVII. Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone. They should be discussed with many. But small matters are of less consequence. It is unnecessary to consult a number of people. It is only in the case of the discussion of weighty affairs, when there is a suspicion that they may miscarry, that one should arrange matters in concert with others, so as to arrive at the right conclusion.”