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Birth of Japan: Kojiki, Japanese myth

A creation of Japan is supported by myths.  Among many historical scriptures, Kojiki, edited in the early 7th century, is regarded as the sources of all the myth.

The beginning of Kojiki reads…
“After the formation of the heaven and the earth, seven generations of the age of gods emerged. At the end of the age, Izanagi and Izanami were born. *snip*  When Izanagi came back from Yomi-no-kuni, a land of dead, he washed his body in the river for the rite of purification.  When he washed his body parts with water, 3 deities came into beings; Amaterasu-ohmikami from his left eye, Tsukuyomi-no-mikoto from his right eye, and Susano-no-mikoto from his nose.”
It tells us that Japan was created in the water.  Here you can see the origin of why Japan is referred as a “land of water”.

Water is not only for quenching one’s thirst, but it means more to Japanese people.  It is to purify and strengthen one’s body, and it is something to respect and worship. 
The myth clearly shows how the water came to play an important role in Japanese culture and legend.

For those reasons, the water is essential for various religious rituals even nowadays, as well as for people’s culture which has been passed on to generation to generation. Water is the essence of Japanese people and culture.

Now, I would like to focus on the theme of “water and I.”


If one is Japanese…

Nuclear power plants were damaged by the last tsunami, and air and water is kept contaminated by radioactivity every day.  I do not think, however, that the tsunami is the only reason for that.

Japan is the only nation to have been subjected to nuclear weapon, and have swore to itself and to the world that we will never repeat the same mistake again.  If that is a unique experience to this country, shouldn’t we keep a hard stance not to use nuclear for anything; even other nations rely on their power to nuclear generation?  This is indeed regrettable.

The anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are coming ahead this year as well.  How can we apologize to the people who died and suffered from the bombings?  Nuclear weapons and power generations are two different things; however, it is expected to suffer from the same kind of symptoms if we exposed to it.

I believe now is the great opportunity to think again what “Japaneseness” meant to Japan and Japanese people.  In order to compensate 3.11 victims for their losses and sacrifices, I am acutely conscious of the importance of our commitment.  That is, we, the survivors, have to determine the direction and act for our future.

Japanese should start do things being the model for the rest of the world, and I want to send out the message from Japan.
Firstly, Japanese have to be conscious that Japan is “a country of water”.
Then move to action to like the water and use it mindfully.
After that, we can talk about how each of us communicated with water today.  We can even share the idea with family and friends.

At the age of 70 years old, I am determined to dedicate the final years of my life to this project. My exhibition is scheduled at Louvre Museum in December 2011.  I will express ‘the prayers of water’ through my artwork, and talk about ‘gratitude for the water’ at the lecture meeting.


The season’s 6th typhoon came to the islands

This season’s 6th typhoon was slow moving and brought lots of rain to the Japanese islands.  It caused damages as well.  However, we are so get used to have typhoons in this season of the year that few of us thought of damages to one’s neighbors.  Do we even call them “unexpected” when it actually happened?

This time, I asked a big favor of the typhoon not to even get closer to Tohoku area, where they had big damages from the past earthquakes.  “At least, you can approach to Kanto area, but then please go and disappear on the Pacific Ocean”; that was my prayer for the typhoon.  It seemed that my prayer was accepted, and the typhoon veer off to the east and disappeared without hitting the country.  I was happy that my prayer got answered. 

Every time it rains, I thank for it because they give lives to the earth.  Raining is the only means to acquire the water.  Water is a blessing from the sky.

When I reflect on that, we have to deal better with typhoons and heavy rains.  Rather to hate them, we can welcome them and even asking like “it is enough for now to this area, and you can go to other places where water is needed.” 

The water which exists at present is the same water from 3.5 billion years ago.  Jesus’ tears, Buddha’s sweat, Prince Shotoku’s running nose, for example, do exist somewhere on the earth at this very moment.  I may have drunk the water somewhere in the past.

Water is believed that it is an organ of communication in the natural world.  So, our prayers may get answered in the water world.  I do believe in that, and I ask favors of the water when I create a new artwork in the river.  I say it out loud; “Please let me capture a good figure of you.”  Sometimes, I feel that the water actually hears my prayer. 


Land of water: Japan

I received a comment asking why I am writing about “water” in this blog and what I would like to tell through it.

This is why…
I wonder if we, Japanese, are asked following questions, how much we can explain ourselves to others.
“What is Japan like as a country?” or “What kind of people are Japanese people?”

According to a national survey last year in Bhutan, 93% of people answered that Bhutan is a country of happiness.  This is amazing.  People realize the true “affluence” of the country.  I would love to visit a country like that.  The true national power, I think, lies in people’s mind like the Bhutanese case.

That reminded me of Japan 40-50 years ago when we had something we could proud of to the rest of the world.  One is security, and the other is pure water where people can drink the tap water even for free.  What happened to them now?

Although it was a tertiary accident, water and air was contaminated by radioactive materials due to the resent earthquake disaster.  I am full of pathetic and shameful feeling.  I feel that I have to do something as a way of atonement.  I have to start in the vanguard of all the human beings.  I have a keen desire to deliver messages from Japan with self-reproach in them.

Before that, I realized that it is important that Japanese people reaffirm the following:
“Japan is a land of water”, and Japan has been so blessed with water.
People’s awareness is the most important, like Bhutanese case.

There are many people in the past who have created wonderful impressions to regain Japan as a land of water.
I want to recreate Japan which we proudly present our country to the rest of the world saying “Welcome to Japan: the land of water, where people treat water so mindfully that they regard it as if it is a part of their family.”

This is what I would like to do, and only I can do after having conversation with water for last 30 years.

Photo:Yu Nozaki


Japanese water sings

When I became a 1st grader, “Haruno Ogawa” was the first song which I learned at my elementary school.  After I graduated from high school, I moved to Tokyo.  I often sung to myself “Haruno Ogawa”, The Small Stream in the Spring, and “Furusato”, My Old Country Home.

I never forget the lyrics of these songs.  When I sing the songs, I can clearly picture the scenery of my home, and gives me a feeling of affection. 

For long years, I believe “Haruno Ogawa” has profoundly influenced on cultivating aesthetic sentiment of Japanese people.  You can hear the sweet and beautiful harmony of water and human relationship throughout the song.

Spring has come and the small stream flows babbling between its banks.
The small stream goes whispering between the violets and milk vetches,
Wishing them grace, color and beauty, all blossoming on the stream banks.

Spring has come and the small stream flows babbling between its banks.
The small stream goes whispering to the shrimp, to the schools of minnows.
Swim merrily all day in the sun, merrily in the water may you go.

Translated by YAMAGISHI, Katsuei
It develops our sense of beauty by singing like “flows babbling” where as if we can hear the river makes musical notes and “whispers” as if they carry the feeling while it flows down.

When I follow each wards of the song, I cannot help thinking about the affection which Japanese people have for the water.


Everything is in water

When we usually look at objects, such as woods, rocks, plants, winds, and earth, we do not pay attention to the water within them.

Yet, they contain water for sure.  For that reason, they can keep their shapes.

If they are dehydrated using high-speed centrifugal machine, a rock becomes sand.

Every single object on the earth is submerged in the water.

When the water inside changed, the object is transformed into a different thing accordingly.  For example, it cracks, sprits up, dies, decays, or breaks due to the water within.

In Buddhism teaching, the concept or condition that all the objects is constantly changing is called Mujo, or impermanence.  The everlasting change, I think, is the flux of time itself.

Flux of time comes with the change of water.  Therefore, this earth is constantly changing without resting even for a moment.  When the water ceases changing and transforming, then, the time stops.  That means a death.  The water never stays the same even for a moment.

In that way, the water gives lives to everything.  At the same time, the water shows its fleeting which lies at the other end of the spectrum of “time”.


Learn from SANSUIKEI

Among Dogen Zenji's Shōbōgenzō (正法眼蔵), Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, there is a chapter called "SANSUIKEI".  While I was looking for some expert on the recondite subject, I was introduced to Mr.  Kosen Sasagawa, a head priest of Busshoji temple and Tenryu temple in Fukui. 

He is popular among young people since he opens his Zen Dojyo to the public.  They affectionately call him Sasakawa Roshi.

He advised me not to be bothered with meaning and letters of the book, but focus on the feeling and impression when it is read out loud.

By my understanding, I can translate the advice like this: do not look at mountains and waters through their shapes, but be mountains and waters themselves when observe.

I wonder how it happens. 

I have played with water in the river last 30 years.  If they allow me to overcount myself that I understand the wonder of the water even a part,  I would say that I see everything is in the water.

Even the hot weather like today, 35's open air, it still contains 57% of humidity. When looking at every objects around us, we can not see without water.  When we look at rocks, for example, we also see water in the rocks.  Then, the rocks look so different.

In the same way, mountains and water exist in the present containing everlasting past.  Therefore, mountains follow mountains' truth, and water follows water's truth.  Dogen, as well as our ancestors, shows us the way to face the nature like this.

Now, I start reading "SANSUIKEI".

*Dogen Zenji = Japanese Zen monk who lived 1200-1253, and founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan.

Mr.  Kosen Sasagawa     Photo:Yu Nozaki


Water is in tears

All the rain fell on Japanese islands will be utilized without wasting even a drop.
Mountains absorb the water, and help farming and other industries as it run down as rivers.  When it reaches to the ocean, it provide nutrients to the sea creatures which the water has acquired while it run down the land.

The ocean around  the Japanese island is repository of resources which is so rich in nutrients. 

I feel so enriched by imagining that Japanese islands receive all the blessings from the nature, isn't ? That is to say Japan as "the land of water".  This water give all the creatures a power to live.  Even typhoons and rainy season are the blessing from the nature, and we have to get along with them for their benefits. 

Half of the earth's surface is always covered with crowds.  The water vapor has circulated between earth and sky about 7 to 10 days, and the phenomenon has not been changed last 35 billion years.  Contaminated water does not just go away to welcome fresh water from somewhere else.  The water flows, circulate, and cleans itself.  That is how we can use clean water.

However, the water is contaminated by the material which the water dislikes the most.  The material which cannot be purify itself; chemical substances, especially radioactive materials.  Unfortunately, it is happening every day.  I hear the water is crying.  It is in tears.


Playing with water and ablution

When I was a child, we test each other's courage while playing with water.  An old man told us that the water would be purified if it flowed down a yard in a river.  The play went like this; a friend of mine pees in upper stream.  Then, we drink the water a yard down.  It takes a courage to drink, because we could see bubbles in the stream once in a while.  Children can make it as a play for such a small things.

This purifying character is the essential quality of water, and it is why water is referred as a life force.

Japanese mainland has the mountain range like a spine, and rainfalls flows down according to the deep and steep valley.  As the water flows down, they can purify themselves.  That is why Japanese water is soft and clean.

Japanese have abluted their body and mind using the clean and fresh water in order to restart, start from the beginning, and reborn.  Those rituals have nourished the toughness of people for many years.

I always feel admiration for our predecessors who already found the purifying ability in the water.

I will talk about the purifying ability in details later.


Water as a part of a family member

Water as a part of a family member:

Long time ago, every Japanese household owned a big water jar in a house.  In the morning, everyone gather around the jar to blush teeth, to wash faces, or to make breakfast.

Someone in the family brought the water to pour into the jar.  Everyone knew that is a fiddly work to bring the water, so we used the water carefully and thankfully.  We even reused the water if it was still clean, after pouring in to different jar for watering plants or garden.  We would go to the jar 7 to 8 times per day.  The jar was the center of our daily life.

When we took bath, we tried to keep the tub water clean.  Before soaking into the hot water, we cleaned our body outside of the tub.  By doing so, we could use the same water for a few days.  Everyone in the family soaked into the same water.  In that context, the water is treated equal as a member of the family.  In western world, water in the tub gets dirty.  It is for a personal use.  The attitude of the mind toward water is different.

For Japanese, water was not a mere material, but felt somewhat related to the family.


July rain and Japanese people

Somewhere on this earth at this moment, it is raining.  The rainy season brought heavy rains in Kyushu area this year.

Rain around this time of the year is very important to grow rice, which Japanese love to eat.

Rice plants are sway in the wind, while they are put in tidily in the paddy field with water.

This is the unspoilt scenery for every Japanese from ancient ancestors.  If you look down the Japanese islands from the sky, you can see the whole country is patched with water of paddy field, and green breeze blow across it.  When imagined in that way, you can see Japan as a land of water.

Since there always has been a plenty of water available in the country, it is hard to feel the worth of it for Japanese; however, water has influenced people's life in many ways which you can see the evidences in history as well.  I would like to start talking about those stories.