After more than 3 years at eDynamic Learning, I have chosen to leave to pursue some personal projects. My family and I will be spending a year on a small island off the southern coast of Japan (see previous post) “on exchange” while I research and write a book about Kyushu’s “Asia strategy.” (I will go into more details in future posts, so please sign up for updates via RSS or the Newsletter!)
This decision has been a while in the making. Regrettably I have not been able to be very open about it, so it may come as a shock to some people. Furthermore the timing has not been great what with the pandemic and with my mother-in-law passing away a couple of weeks ago. We were lucky to leave Canada when we did considering all the travel restrictions. Right now I am still in Kyoto, and will be for the next few weeks before making the move to Ikijima (which hopefully doesn’t get further postponed due to the looming lockdown here in Japan).
Despite all the challenges I am so excited to finally pursue my long-held dream of writing a book! I will be recording that journey, as well as our experiences living on the “Lucky Island” in Japan, on this site once things get settled down in the coming weeks. Watch out for it!
That narrow corridor of water between Japan and continental Asia, the confluence of three seas — East China, Yellow, and the Sea of Japan — is called the Korea Strait. It is about 200km wide, and is bisected by the long and narrow Tsushima Island. From Tsushima, on a clear day, it is said one can see Korea across the Western Channel. In the opposite direction, across the Tsushima Strait, it is a mere 65km jaunt to Kyushu, one of the four major islands of Japan.
The Tsushima Straight bears a heavy historical significance for Japan. It is over Tsushima Strait that a metaphorical “bridge” stretched from Japan to Continental Asia through the ages. The Jōmon Peoples crossed the Straight 14,000 years ago, one of the first settler groups to the Japanese archipelago. Thousands of years later Buddhism and all sorts of Chinese culture crossed over. The straight was plied by wakō pirates for centuries, and the Mongols crossed it a couple times in their attempts to invade. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the “great unifier” of Japan struck out across the Strait on his failed attempts to invade Korea. At the turn of the 20th century, the Straight was the site of a decisive battle between Japan and Russia — the first time an Asian power defeated a Western power in the modern era.
There has been more than just pirate ships, Mongols, and gunboats floating in these waters. In legendary times there was a magical island that roamed around called Iki Island (or Ikijima). The gods decided that was inconvenient and pinned the island within eight pillars (one in the shape of a giant monkey).
In the final foray of our New Year’s trip around Japan, we headed for the “Lucky Island” of Ikijima.
In a time before time, the sibling deities Izanagi and Izanami (who were married, but that is a different tale) stood on the Floating Bridge of Heaven. They had a jewelled spear which they dipped into the ocean below. After pulling it out, the drops from the spear formed the islands we know today as Japan.
Later, Izanagi was washing his face. When he washed out his left eye he “begat” Amaterasu — the goddess of the sun. Amaterasu’s brother, the god of the wind named Susano-o was begat when Izanagi was washing his nose.
Susano-o was a bit of a bully, and did some really mean things to his older sister. Once, when Amaterasu couldn’t handle things anymore, she hid herself in a cave. This was problematic as she was the sun goddess, so the other gods got together in the dark with a plan and tricked her into coming out using a mirror. There is obviously lots more to the story, but the mirror is important: it becomes one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan.
Much later, about 2000 years ago in our history, the daughter of the emperor of Japan at the time set out to find a permanent location for the worship of the Sun Goddess. She settled on Ise, in Mie prefecture, a beautiful area with spectacular sunrises. Two millennia later Ise Grand Shrine (Ise Jingū) is the most important of Japanese Shinto holy sites, considered the “home” of Amaterasu, and houses the mirror from the myth. It is a primary pilgrimage destination for people all over Japan. Ise Jingū is actually two complexes consisting of 125 shrines to various deities.
Kyoto was a short stop during this trip. We did all of our regular traditions when visiting home: met with family for our own New Year’s, went for hatsumōde at Yasaka Jinja, visited the family grave.
One day I had a couple of hours alone time so I decided to take a little walking tour of a couple of spots that I had recently read about, but had never visited. The first stop was Otafuku, a cafe I have walked by countless times, featured in Merry White’s excellent book Coffee Life in Japan. I had a little jam-toast and a cup of coffee and live-tweeted my observations.
Once fortified with magical java juice, I walked westward down Shijo all the way to Omiya, checking out what was new (Kyoto Apple Store!) and listening to the familiar street sounds of Kyoto. While travelling and walking I never put in my headphones to listen to audiobooks or podcasts. I want the full sensory experience.
From Omiya I turned north and headed towards Nijo Castle, famous for its Nightingale Floor (mentioned in another post). This time I stopped at Shinsen-en, the oldest existing garden in Kyoto. This was the private garden of the Emperor built in 794. But that is not the reason I wanted to visit.
A couple of years ago, during New Years 2017-18, I travelled alone to Mount Kōya, one of the holiest mountains in Japan. (Unfortunately I never wrote a travel log of this amazing experience, but you can see the obligatory Koya-san photoset here). Koya-san is a sprawling temple complex of the Shingon tradition of Buddhism. It was masterminded by the tradition’s founder Kūkai in 819. Kūkai was an amazing person with many legends surrounding him. In fact, his body is still sitting in meditation on Mt Koya right now, 1185 years after his “death.” I spent a lot of time researching him before visiting Koya, and that’s when I learned about one such event in Kyoto.
Kūkai was very famous in his time, and was tipped to run Toji, a very important temple in Kyoto. In 824 there was a long drought in Kyoto, causing all sorts of fear about crop failure and famine. The emperor called on Kūkai for help. It was here, at Shinsen-en, where Kūkai performed the rain-making rite, calling upon the Dragon King who lived in this pond. The temple area of this garden is small, but there is quite a bit to see in the details since it is a curious mix of Buddhist, Shinto, and Taoist symbolism and architecture.
After leaving Shinsen-en I walked down Oike, a street I used to live on, and stopped by a very crowded “Money” shrine to pay my respects for the previous year (when I finally became debt free) and the future (who knows!). The crowd was insane, so I just gave a quick bow and word of thanks across the street from the gold torii. From there I walked to Teramachi, swung by Honno-ji to see Nobunaga’s mausoleum and this really creepy statue before heading home.
So much to see in a mere 5km jaunt! I really love Kyoto.
We spent less than a day here, getting up early on Jan 1st — known as gantan (元旦) in Japanese. A friend who I had not seen in many years picked us up from the hotel, and we all went for hatsumōde together. My friend lives mostly in Dubai where his three kids go to British school. His brother-in-law also came with us with his two kids who are schooled in Singapore. My kids obviously are educated in Canada. It was amazing to see all the bi-racial kids, educated in totally different countries, interact with one another at a shrine in the Yoyogi area of Tokyo. The became fast friends, griping about how difficult Japanese school is. 😂
While my buddy and his family were gathering over some osechi ryori [sidenote: get a nice binaural intro to osechi at the Uncanny Japan podcast] we took a quick jaunt to the New National Stadium, a 1 billion dollar multipurpose stadium built to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Walking through the streets of Tokyo in the morning, I was struck by how empty it seemed. Of course most stores were shuttered, and people would be at home having New Year’s meals with their families, or be outside of Tokyo in their hometowns. Yet “empty” Tokyo was a little spooky. That said, we still had to line up for 30 mins for the local shrine.
We took a taxi to the Olympic Village where in front of the official Olympic Museum there is a display of giant Olympic rings that people lined up to get photos with. It was pretty busy around this area. The New Year’s cheer and Olympic fever was in the air. Everyone was really helpful, politely offering to take photos for other people. We were able to get a family shot, and then quickly headed to Tokyo Station where saw the countdown clock for the 2020 Olympics before catching the bullet train to Kyoto.
The weather was amazing: clear blue skies. I was happy to be sitting on the right side of the train because we would get a clear view of Mt Fuji. However, the only clouds in the sky had gathered around that mountain obscuring the view. Alas, the only good photo I got of Fuji-san from the Shinkansen was this one.
This year I celebrated New Year’s in Tokyo for the first time. We landed at Haneda on New Year’s Eve, stayed in the airport hotel, and over the next 10 days crossed about 2200km of the country. As I summed up on Twitter:
An excellent quote from a piece on writing by Drew Magary. He writes about how he keeps a notebook of as-yet unformed thoughts so he never starts with the dreaded Blank White Page. Once you have collected all that primordial material:
Then you get to catalog it, tinker with it, and puzzle it over.
This gets to the core why I prefer writing to live debate… as the thoughts in my brain pass to my mouth, they remain incomplete (malformed?). I prefer the reorganizing, the working out of all paths, the understanding myself to make it understandable to others. Drew quotes author George Saunders:
Writing is a matter of sketching and building and arranging and fixing what is in your brain.
Even take this blog. Most of the stuff I write here is half-formed. Some might call it anodyne or callow. To me blogging has always been about sparking a conversation, a small slip of litmus paper to be dipped into public discussion — the reaction leads to refinement (or outright refutation!) which is ultimately the desired result. The Blank White Page too does not require perfection. It is merely a piece of litmus paper, waiting for your experimental thoughts.
In many Buddhist traditions monks and nuns depend on the support of the surrounding community to survive. Thai Forest Monastery monks will walk to the local village with alms bowls in which villagers will place rice and fruit — which will be all a monk will eat for that day. Furthermore, monastics are not allowed to do many mundane tasks such as drive or handle money, and thus are dependent on the laity for non-spiritual support, as the laity depends on them for spiritual support. Thus, it is amazing to see successful monasteries (like Birken here in BC) and abbeys (like Sravasti in WA) operate with the support of their local communities, even though we are in a larger social context that barely acknowledges the existent of such places. Running a traditional monastery in rural Canada has fundamental challenges when compared to Thailand or Sri Lanka.
On his podcast, Ajahn Sona (abbot of the monastery where I do my retreats) uses the symphony orchestra as an illustration of how society supports endeavours of excellence. Listen to the short clip below:
This example can be extended to other endeavours, of course. I was reminded of this on the weekend watching an interesting documentary on the construction of the Kyoto State Guest House. The craftsmen involved we not just asked to complete a task (“put up a building”) but were respectfully asked to bring all of their expertise and creativity to bear — and they themselves wanted to create something that delighted people and would leave a legacy. As in Ajahn Sona’s example, it requires many different parts of society working in symphony: the buyer respects the craftsman’s experience and is willing to pay to support; the viewing public is willing to educate themselves thereby reinforcing respect for the craftsman, and also raising the awareness of quality within society; and of course the craftsman is willing to spend decades honing his craft, and to outdo himself every chance he gets. It is the complete opposite of society whose only values are convenience and cost performance. And it isn’t just limited to craft and art… think of health and education and the climate crisis as more examples that require a symphonic society, yet we are sorely out of tune.
However some had a lasting impact. In fiction, Sadie was the most engaging as an audiobook; I loved finally getting into the lore of the wuxiaCondor Heroes; and Lincoln in the Bardo showed me that there is still new ground to break in novel-writing (tip: don’t listen to this one, read it in text it will make more sense).
I just finished Ibram X. Kendi’s excellent How to Be An Anti-Racist, which I am processing and hope to write a little review of soon.
Of the five I rated as 5-stars, only one film wasn’t a rewatch: Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story. In fact 16 of the 42 films I logged were rewatches (lots of Harry Potter and Ghibli films with my kids. I was even able to see Totoro in the theater this year! So brilliant! 😭).
I am looking for advice from online creatives. How do you organize your various projects online?
Let me give you some context. I have a couple of ongoing projects I am planning to start next year. I would like to blog/photo/video/post the progress of these projects, but I don’t think doing it on my main chadkohalyk.com domain is the right spot.
Historically I used to use different domains for various blogs and podcasts I have done, but in the past few years I have tried to consolidate all my work under one URL. The main thinking behind that was authorship: to establish that all these projects are done by the same person. Generally, I think keeping traffic in one place is desirable since it allows you to keep your focus on growing a single audience. You also get the added benefit of increasing the discoverability of other projects. That said, I want to make things easy for the audience to only look at or subscribe to the project they are interested in, without having a bunch of stuff they are not necessarily interested in crowd things out. And I want each project to have URLs that last forever… I don’t want old projects to die or move so that years on people can’t find them.
Splitting things up into distinct silos could be the best way to achieve that, but I am not really interested in forever maintaining a small network of sites. I know I will have chadkohalyk.com forever.
However, there could be some technology limitations. I currently have this domain pointing to a hosted instance of WordPress.com. I can use subdomains for projects like the Timeline of Japanese in the Okanagan. For photos right now I just put everything on Flickr, and Twitter becomes a sort of aggregator. It is super low maintenance, and it is fine for just a personal online presence. But there probably is a better strategy when you have some specific, distinct projects. In the past I tried various lifelogging and aggregation services (remember when Google+ was supposed to solve this?) but none panned out. It seems there are a few tradeoffs that need to be balanced here.
time/cost of maintaining different sites/platforms
convenience of using different tools/platforms for specific projects
siloing of audiences
challenge of aggregation
So, with those in mind, I have some questions for you:
Do you use different URLs for different projects?
Do you use subdomains?
Are you a fervent cross-poster?
Do you integrate private audiences with public audiences or keep them separate by posting “family things” in a totally different place? (I love Flickr’s permissions work… a single stream with three views: Anyone, Friends, Family. Super low maintenance.)
I would love to hear your strategy. Please comment below and feel free to post links to your “portfolio” of web projects as an example.