Remembering through facsimile

This weekend I finally sat down to watch Shinkai Makoto’s breakout anime hit of 2016 「君の名は。」Your name.. It was an entertaining story with some nice twists, great voice acting, and some cute scenes.

In preparation for this film I watched two other Shinkai films in order to get more familiar with his work. First was his homemade work Voices of a Distant Star which was pretty trippy. Then I watched 5 Centimeters per Second, which, even though it is ten years old, feels like a predecessor to Your name. All three of these films deal with unrequited teenage love, mobile phones, and lense flares.

Setting that aside, what I really want to comment on is Shinkai’s depictions of Japan in his films, especially 5cm and Your name. (Voices was handmade by Shinkai on his Power Mac G4 in 2002, so the quality of visual is not as tight as the other two films). These two films are visually amazing… art imitates life with extremely detailed illustrations of the objects daily life. His camera work makes normal things seem foreign, since he can place the point-of-view in spots that only the sharpest animator’s pen can fit. It is beautiful.

Yet, it is cold. The lines are surgical. I get a very different feeling about Japan when I watch these films compared to when I watch Ghibli films. Pretty much every film Miyazaki and his crew produce makes my eyes fill up with the tears of nostalgia. I can’t put my finger on it… they are so gentle. Even Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle — which aren’t even set in Japan!

Does the lack of fidelity in Miyazaki’s work leave room for my own idealized notions of Japan to creep in? Whereas Shinkai’s photo-realistic facsimile keep any and all emotion at bay?

Or maybe it has to do with relationships. It could be because I didn’t grow up in Japan as a lovesick 15 year old. Pubescent relationships are central to the three Shinkai films. Ghibli films on the other hand tend to focus more on inter-generational stories — on families. Maybe that is why I identify more with them?

Either way, I find it interesting that I don’t have the same natsukashii (懐かしい) feeling watching Shinkai’s hyper-realistic Japan, even though it is much closer to my own experience of that place. I sure hope I am not falling for some sort of idyllic Ghibli Japan. It has already changed so much in the seven years since I left and if ever I move back to Japan, I would hate to be disappointed by my own remembrances.

Timeline of Japanese in the Okanagan

May is Asian Heritage month in Canada. Here in the Okanagan our local Asian Heritage Month committee has been working for months to ensure that there are a number of events and activities to raise awareness of Asian-Canadian contributions to our communities, and empower immigrants. It all kicks off next week. Asian history month opening gala poster This year, the Japanese community will be hosting the opening gala on Saturday May 6th. I will be there helping out, and I am going to other events such as Family Sundays and getting a tour of the Kelowna Buddhist Temple. The Chinese, Filipino, Korean and Indian communities are all going to be doing different things so check it out.

In preparation for this year’s celebrations I did a little research into the experience of Japanese who began settling in this valley at the turn of the last century. I put together a simple timeline slideshow, to place some of the more important historical people, organizations, and events into the wider context of Japanese-Canadian history. Take a browse by clicking below, and I hope to see you at one of the AHM events this year!

Japanese in the Okanagan timeline

Best of 2016

2016 has been a tumultuous year, for both the entire world and for me personally. I have categorized some of the best hits and big changes below into three categories: Life, Posts and Media.

Life

Death and rebirth

This year we had a cancer scare in my family which made me put community activity on hold for a few months while we waited for test results (maybe I should write a post about how we were totally failed by the Canadian medical system, and had to get this sorted out in Japan?). I had to leave ORCA, which was sad because I think they do important work. I stopped playing D&D. There were many serious talks.

However, two good things came out of this: first, it doesn’t look to be cancer. Second, it made me rethink my life. What they say about near-death experiences is true.

New job

After 4 years in startupland, 3 of which dealing with adtech, I finally moved on to a new, more stable (and less morally hazardous) work environment. My new company is in a massive growth phase, so I get to use a lot of my startup skills. The nice thing is they have lots of customers and resources and experienced executives, making it a much easier to execute.

Vegetarianism

On December 28th 2015, I decided to stop eating meat. A year has passed and I am still not eating it, and am pretty happy about the decision. I wrote about why at the 6 months mark →

Travel

I had the opportunity to visit Texas for the first time, and learned a bit about that state’s history, and of America’s as a whole. My wife and I also took a getaway to the Sunshine Coast, where we could delve a little into BC’s aboriginal history.

This year we took two trips to Japan (I am still on one as I write this). Since we stay in Kyoto, the city of temples, I took both opportunities to explore Japanese Buddhism. Here are a couple of posts exploring the issue:

Public appearances

Early this year I did a couple of radio interviews: one on downsizing and one on Syrian refugees. I was on a public panel about transportation. Lastly, and totally randomly, I was on local TV news.

Posts

blog-posts-by-year-2009-2016

This year was a good one for blogging. I have 54 posts (including this one) for 2016, which is an uptick over recent years. Starting a newsletter to help people who do not use Twitter or RSS to help keep up gave me some more motivation to write, holding me accountable to a schedule. Also, I hit 500 posts this year since starting in early 2009. Lots of introspection about how my thinking has changed over the years here.

Standout posts for the year include:

Media

53 films

The Force Awakens (second viewing) was my first film of 2016. Rogue One (first viewing) was my last. Well, the first 45 mins of it anyways, since my (not quite) 5 year old got a little too scared and we had to leave. I am sure I will get another opportunity to see it.

In February and March I went on a tear and watched a bunch of Oscar-related films which was just about the deepest, non-Marvel non-superhero, non kids watching I did. Standout films include:

62 books

This year I set out to discover new podcasts and Great courses, so I originally set my Goodreads challenge low, to like 30 books. I was still reading a lot, so I kept having to up the challenge. But now when I look back, 20 of those 62 books were graphic novels (including the 8 volume series on the Buddha reviewed here), which means I actually didn’t hit my final goal of 45 books. Also, only 10 of those 42 books were in text form, making my audiobook ratio 76%, which is pretty high, even for me.

I read a lot on Syria, about Marxism and leftist politics, and a lot about Buddhism this year. It is a reflection of the ever-changing perspectives and interests of someone trying to live the examined life (or write the examined blog at least).

My standout books this year are as follows:

Mental Flexibility: My first Zen experience

In 1335, a few years after he abdicated the throne, the 95th emperor of Japan Hanazono (1297-1348) decided to become a Buddhist monk. He entered the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and donated one of his palaces, turning it into a temple complex. Almost 700 years later, the Myoshin-ji (妙心寺) complex houses almost 50 sub-temples, and lays just up the road from the JR Hanazono train station in northeast Kyoto, a station I used to frequent often when I was a student here in 1999.

Last Saturday, on a crisp morning with a cloudless blue sky, I wandered about the temple complex in search of Shunkō-in (春光院). A few times a month, the Reverend Taka Kawakami gives an introductory zazen (seated meditation) lesson in English. Having only done guided mediation on my own, listening to podcasts or books, I was really looking forward to trying zazen, especially under the guidance of a teacher.
Continue reading “Mental Flexibility: My first Zen experience”

Citizen Energy

On Sunday (18 Sep) we had a special guest give a talk about how citizens installed solar panels on public institutions in Ikoma City, Japan. Kusunoki Tadashi is a boardmember of Citizen Energy Ikoma (市民エネルギー生駒), a citizens group who took the fight against climate change into their own hands by leveraging public space to produce electricity locally. They put solar panels on the rooves of public buildings decreasing the local carbon footprint, and used the profits of the excess electricity sold back to the utility into other public projects. Mr Kusunoki spoke for about 30 minutes telling us about the groups story, its objectives and business model, and the status of the three projects that they have completed so far.

ikoma map

Ikoma, a 200,000 person bedroom town between Osaka and Nara City, has a particularly eco-friendly history. It is aiming to be the most most energy efficient municipality in Japan. Citizen Energy Ikoma (CEI) was founded in 2013 and was the first in Nara Prefecture to execute such an energy initiative. They set out on this program with a few things in mind: First, they wanted the initiative to be citizen-funded. There was to be no money from government agencies or banks, and no corporate interests at play. They collected a lot of small contributions (in about $1000 increments) from private citizens. More than 70% of the contributions were from Ikoma locals. A second point was to involve retirees, to use “Silver Human Resources” (シルバー人材) as Mr Kusunoki put it. They wanted to empower retirees and show how they could give back to younger generations.

CEI worked with the city and secured space on the roof of a building at a local water treatment plant. They installed 273 solar panels at the cost of 17M yen (about $220K CAD). The installation was completed in March of 2014 and produces about 50kW of electricity.

The business plan was developed to extend over a 20 year period. The original citizen donors are able to get a small return (better than bank interest says Mr Kusunoki) on their $1000 investment. Profits from selling electricity back to the electricity utility go into new projects or programs. So far they have paid for signage at the children’s facility, power conditioners for the seniors home, and sponsored a number of environmental education initiatives including workshops for kids to learn how to make solar-powered cars and trains.

The success of the first installation lead to the development of two more facilities. In 2015 a new children’s facility (南こども園) was being built, and CEI was able to install 297 panels on the roof.

CEI also installed 224 panels on an open bank behind a senior’s facility. Both of these installations can produce about 50kW each, bring the combined total of all three facilities to 150kW. This removes about 55,000 kilograms of CO2 out of the air, and saves on about 40,000 barrels of oil per year.

The children’s facility was of particular interest to the CEI. It is an official Emergency Muster Point, meaning in the case of a disaster like an earthquake, it is deemed a safe place for people to retreat to. Having a ready-made energy supply at such a muster point is pragmatic strategy.

Mr. Kusunoki said that the future is bright for the children of Ikoma. They are trying to make Ikoma a model and promote it as the best place to live in the Kansai region. Their goal is to show how empowered citizens can create safe, local energy and contribute to a more resilient distributed energy supply chain in the case of a natural disaster. In the future the CEI is looking at how these initiatives can turn into second careers for retired people. Furthermore, they are exploring more ways having for citizens become local energy producers.

It was a pleasure to have Mr Kusunoki speak to us. It definitely encouraged me to think more about what we could do in our own communities (see my next post Thoughts on Citizen Energy). You can read more about what the CEI is doing in Ikoma here:

Danshari — thinking about “stuff”

When people find out about our efforts at minimalist living, bearing in mind our Japanese background, many ask us about Marie Kondo and her “life-changing magic of tidying up.” The KonMari Method is the latest in decluttering techniques. It seems pretty effective for many people, but we have not read any of her books.

We don’t subscribe to any one methodology. Our homebrew system is a mix of learnings, mostly informed by the Socratic method, based on the discussion of various principles. A key term of discussion is danshari. Continue reading “Danshari — thinking about “stuff””

Shinran and the Buddhist Evangelical movement of Japan

A fifth of Japanese — about 25 million people — identify as practitioners of Jōdo Shinshū, the largest denomination of Buddhism in Japan. My family in Japan are all Jōdo Shinshū, also known as “Shin” Buddhism. I am currently here in Japan, and this weekend we will be performing the 13th memorial service for my wife’s grandmother’s death. This ceremony will be conducted by a Shin officiant, of course. I have participated in the funeral as well the memorials for the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th anniversaries. This will be the last one. Thus, I took this opportunity to explore the history of the sect, the life of its founder, and visited some of the important historical places in Kyoto linked to his life. Continue reading “Shinran and the Buddhist Evangelical movement of Japan”

Are we a “hapa” family?

Family Portrait
Family portrait by MAUD.

In One Big Hapa Family Jeff Chiba Stearns investigates why there is such a high rate of interracial marriage (95%+) amongst Canadians of Japanese ethnic heritage (otherwise known as Nikkei). Through interviews with his family and other Nikkei in British Columbia, Chiba Stearns explores the historical experience of the Nikkei in Canada and issues surrounding multiethnic identity.

The DVD of this film was given to my wife and I at Christmas by a family friend who, with a slight grin on her face, commented simply: “You guys should watch this.”

She was right.

Sitting down to watch this, my wife and I laughed when we saw it was about growing up as a multiethnic kid in Kelowna! This is a constant topic of discussion in our household as we watch our multiethnic kids grow up here in Kelowna. My wife and I don’t identify as Hapa, but I am sure our kids will. Does this make us a Hapa family? Sorta? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Continue reading “Are we a “hapa” family?”

Our Japanese mansion

In 2008, in preparation for our first child, we moved to the biggest apartment we ever lived in in Japan. It had the glorious name Chunichi Mansion Chiyoda. And it certainly was a “mansion” as far as we were concerned. We had a living room/dining room, a bedroom, a room for the baby and I even had an office! In Japan this is known as a 3LDK (3 room, living room, dining room, kitchen). Below is a short video walkthrough on the day we left it (hence why there is no furniture). This will give you a sense of the size.

The layout is slightly different, but here is a comparable floor map (just swap the tatami mat room on the western side with the “Western” room on the right):

chunichi_mansion_alt

Now, what is the actual size of this mansion? It was about 57m² which is roughly 613ft². What an efficient use of space! We felt like we had tons of room. I barely used my office (it turned into basically a storage room), and we hosted parties and guests stayed over often.

Currently in Canada we live in a 2 bedroom house that is more than 1000ft². We already don’t use the living room, which takes up a quarter of the house. We could easily move into a 600ft² space again — if there were any that were built with such space efficiency as in Japan. I wish I could transplant my Japanese mansion here.