Announcement of a New (Translated) Book

Late last year I was involved in a Japanese-to-English translation project for a new book. I am happy to announce that it’s finally being released this month!

The English version of “Ninja: Secrets of the Unsurpassable Heart” (left) will be available this September. The Japanese version, “Ninja “Makenai Kokoro no Himitsu”” (right), came out in July of 2017. Works by Teruhisa Komori.

 

Entitled “Ninja: Secrets of the Unsurpassable Heart”, it’s written by Teruhisa Komori, a professor of Mie University who specializes in psychiatric studies. To give some background information, this book explores more than just a historical perspective of the origins, activities, and techniques of the ninja, but incorporates Mr. Komori’s research on their physical, mental and spiritual fortitude and how they were able to succeed in their missions. The studies conducted give many hints on how these traits of the ninja can also benefit people in today’s technologically & socially-driven societies in terms of dealing with stress and issues that arise through it.

This is a Japanese-to-English translation of his original book “Ninja “Makenai Kokoro no Himitsu”” (忍者「負けない心の秘密」). As the sole translator chosen for this project, I was fortunate in being able to correspond directly with Mr. Komori to ensure that his writing was transcribed accurately as possible in English.

Unveiling of the book.

 

This book will be available through your typical retail bookstores and online retail businesses. For those looking for a more analytical and detailed look into what made the ninja who they were and the methods they used to do so, pick it up and give it a good read!

Click here to see its page on Amazon.com

June Updates

June has been a busy month for me, with new projects that are being put into motion. My articles covering Japanese-related topics are still in the works, but have been placed on the backburner until at least early July. Here’s some projects that have had my full attention throughout June.

  1. Translation Page: On top of the page (or under the Menu tab if viewing on a smartphone) you’ll notice there is a new tab, “Translations”. This has been in the works for some time now. The tricky part was how to implement it on my blog. This section will feature some of my translation works I have done in the past, as well as future works currently being worked on. Some of these have already been posted on my blog as a topic. Translation works will have a wide range of topics, for there may be something that everyone will find interesting.
  2. Facebook: In the “Links and Resources” menu at the right hand side of the screen is a link to the Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group Facebook page. It’s been there for several months, and was slowly being developed in terms of direction of contents. Other than posting the monthly training schedule and announcements of new blog posts, it is used as another means to share Japanese culture-related topics, as well as inform of other sites and establishments in NYC of similar interests.
  3. Monthly Events: A few days ago my group hosted a small event in Manhattan. It was our first local event, as I try to bring more attention to my group for those who would be interested in studying Japanese martial arts (and possibly Japanese language). There are more monthly events in the works; with June’s event being on kamae and distancing, July’s event is subject to focus on bōjutsu. These events will be mentioned periodically on the FB page.
  4. Books: Late last year, I was setting aside certain old Japanese documents that I would one day translate into English and have published. Although that has been a slow undertaking, this month I began working nonstop on 2 of them, as I’m hoping to have them done by the ending of the year. These manuscripts are “Kinetsushu” and “Tsuki no Shō”. Both have some connections to a traditional kenjutsu school called Shinkage ryū Hyōhō. So far, progression on these have been positive, and I am greatly looking forward to the end product. More news regarding these 2 works should be on the way, so I will post updates as the time comes.
Guess this post is more of an “update” of what’s on my plate, as well as what to expect. These new projects by no means replace my normal postings, as I enjoy writing on my blog and have plenty of topics lined up. Stay tuned, for regularly scheduled articles should be coming out next week.

Japan moves toward “Reiwa”

On April 1st, the new gengo (元号), known as era or period in English, has been announced in Japan. It is “Reiwa” (令和), and will mark the shift of imperial decree to the crown prince Naruhito. This is also momentous, as this is the 1st time that the gengo is named using Japanese literature; for the previous eras the naming convention was determined following centuries-old tradition of using Chinese literature.

Pics from the official announcement of the new gengo, or era, that will mark the arrival of the new Emperor this year. To the left is Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga making the annoucement , and to the right is a clearer image of the writing of Reiwa in kanji. These pics were taken as my family and I watched the announcement live.

Gengo is significant within Japan’s culture, as it is tied to the emperor, and acts as a decree of his imperial reign. A few years ago, the current Emperor Akihito announced his retirement, and will officially step down on April 30th. Thus, a new Gengo signifies the shift of imperial power to the new emperor, while the previous gengo is retired.

The current gengo Heisei (平成) lasts for about only 30 years, from January 1st, 1989 to early 2019. Heisei is the 247th in Japan’s history. The new gengo, Reiwa, will become the 248th starting May 1st.

The word Reiwa is taken from a line in the Manyōshū (万葉集), which is one of the oldest existing documentation of Japanese poetry. While the character “wa” (和) has been used many times in previous gengo, the character “rei” (令) makes its 1st time appearance, marking this naming convention very Japanese-like. The original line goes as follow:

初春の月にして 気淑く風
梅は鏡前の粉を披き 蘭は珮後の香を薫らす

(しょしゅんのれいげつにして きよくかぜやわら
うめはきょうぜんのこをひらき らんははいごのこうをかおらす)

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Prime Minister Abe explaining the decision behind using Reiwa as the new gengo.

The characters rei and wa are highlighted in red, and their place within the poem is significant. Prime Minister Abe explained during the announcement how this poem inspires the new gengo. This meaning is pretty deep, both culturally and symbolically. Although it would be a feat to give a thorough interpretation from Japanese to English, I will try to give a simpler explanation:

  1. Reiwa’s meaning is tied to the season of Spring and how it symbolizes the new beginnings after enduring the harsh times of the previous cold season, Winter.
  2. The timing of Spring is auspicious, and said to be a pleasant one, too.
  3. The poem follows a much older Japanese calendar system called inreki (陰暦), or Lunar calendar, when February was the month designated as the start of Spring alongside the beginning of the new year. This is indicated by the mentioning of the Japanese plum flower called ume (梅); associated with the month of February, it is described as going into full bloom after enduring the cold Winter.

Based on Prime Minister Abe’s description, the overall meaning of Reiwa is pretty unique. The character “rei” features its meaning from how it’s used in the poem from above, veering towards new growth (for both humans and culture), while the character “wa” indicate pleasant times of peace amongst people and throughout society.

The crown prince Naruhito is scheduled to officially take his place as Emperor on May 1st 2019. The period of Reiwa will also go into effect at the same time.

Closing of 2018…

Happy New Years! (明けましておめでとうございます!)

We have come to the end of another year. Hope 2018 was good for everyone. For me, this has been a prosperous year in many different ways. Besides continuing to provide content for my blog and start a new business venture or two, I’ve been able to make contact with people both online and offline in my area of expertist: martial arts and Japanese translation. Both were by chance and have had positive outcomes. I hope to keep good relations like this, and more,

For 2019, expect a variety of topics regarding Japanese culure, traditions, and historical figures (a little less on the Kuki clan this time….). A couple of more posts regarding my own personal martial arts training experiences (both past and present) are in the works as well. There are also plans to expand on what my blog (as well as my training group) can offer; one part of that will be unveiled early this January. We’ll see how that fairs out.

Once again, I thank all those who continue to supportmy efforts through “Light in the Clouds” blog, as well as all those who follow & read my contents. Looking forward to another fun & prosperous year in 2019!

Kuki Archives: Hidari Mitsudomoe ~ Part 1

Previously, I had spoken about the Kuki clan and the 2 kamon¹, or family emblems, they are known by. I spoke extensively about the 1st family crest, Shichiyō (七曜), many months back here. The 2nd family crest, Hidari Mitsudomoe (左三つ巴), will finally be highlighted, as it is the most recognized out of the two. Since the roots of the Hidari Mitsudomoe are ancient and have a significantly long history, much of the discussion will focus soley on these as a whole. Dividing this topic into two parts, part one will cover much of these roots, from the various meanings, their influence on theoretical views, how they’ve cemented important roles within Japanese culture, as well as the variations in design. Through this, we can transition smoother into discussing solely on the Hidari Mitsudomoe and its history with the Kuki clan in a 2nd separate post.

ARCHERY

The Hidari Mitsudomoe is better understood as a spiraling design most frequently called a “tomoe” in Japanese². The word tomoe is believed to have been derived from archery. There are records that point to its roots being that of an armguard worn on the left hand used during archery in ancient times. This special armguard was called a “tomo” (Japanese linguistics), and the written kanji for it is “鞆”. Another thought is that the tomo was a circular design on this type of armgurad. When referring to this based on visual representation, one would say “tomo-e” (鞆絵), with the 2nd kanji meaning drawing or picture. Eventually the word tomoe became its own word, and its kanji was simplified to “巴”. This is what is used today. We can look at this as being the basis of its conception.

In the series of illustration scrolls collectively known as “Nenchu Gyoji Emaki” (年中行事絵巻), there is a drawing of 2 archers, both wearing a tomo around their left wrist. The 1st pic is a section from that particular scroll (includes a drum with the actual tomoe mark). 2nd pic is the enlarged section of the archers. The 3rd pic is a colored version, from Wikipedia.

CHINA

The symbol of tomoe is said to have strong roots from China’s ancient times, where its original source stems from. There are numerous ideas on how the tomoe came about from surviving records from China’s past, but no way to prove which explains the beginnings of its use. One theory about this circling pattern is that it represents a whirlpool, while another states that it represents the coiling of a snake. Usually indicating 2 or more intertwining forces, this image inspired different forms and usages throughout Asia.

There is the theory about the tomoe which is based around the kanji “巴”. It is said to have been a hieroglyphic character that represented a person whose stomach doubled in size. Whether this is a symbolic meaning of “overeating”, or something different, is difficult to distinguish. The magatama (勾玉), a curved “comma-shaped” jewel first prominent in China, also represents this kanji, and has its own theories for its conception.

Above is a tomoe emblem well recognized in Daoism. Next to it, a depiction of eternal rivalry between the tiger and dragon from Eastern culture. Generally both creatures represent a philosophy dirctly opposite of each other. While seen as a conflict, in reality both are needed to be complete, such as expressed in ying yang theory.

A general universal use of the tomoe as a pattern is where it consists of two parts, being made up of 2 commas. These commas entwine endlessly in a circle, with the head (larger section) of one comma chasing after the tail (the slimmer part) of the other. The head of the commas can refer to the intertwining of 2 individuals; this can be a figurative, or even literal, conflict between these individuals in the form of rivals. In China, this theoretical imagery has a strong connection with Daoism, such that the concept of the everlasting battle between the tiger and dragon found in many folktales and cultural-related activities represent this theory very well.

JAPAN

When the concept of the tomoe came to Japan, it too spread and evolved in different ways. For example, when the comma-shaped jewels called magatama made their way to Japan, they were acquired by certain wealthy families. These jewels were symbolic of divine spirits, and even played an important role within Japan’s story of creation³. Worn as a necklace consisting of many of these commas, these magatama are said to have been used in ritualistic practices to ward off evil and misfortune. They are said to have connections with the tomoe emblem as well.

2 pictures of Iwashimizu Hachimangu located in Yawata City, Kyoto Prefecture. One of many shrines dedicated to the deity Hachiman around Japan, this features the Hidari Mitsudomoe emblem, such as those on the banners in the 1st pic, as well as along the edge of the roof and golden lanterns in the 2nd pic. Pics were taken by Hideki and Genji, respectively, on Pixta. Used with permission.

After such families disappeared, these magatama became hard-to-find relics, but their religious like tones persisted. In time, the tomoe was widely incorporated in religious practices. As an example, beginning from the late 700s onward during the Heian period, many shrines and temples, as well as homes, placed the tomoe as an emblem near their rooftops and doorways as a talisman to ward off misfortune and disaster, such as fire. Along with that, it was utilized as a shinmon (神文, emblem of a deity) by shinto shrines that worshipped a god named Hachiman⁴, who represents the god of war. Elite families, such as the Seiwa Genji (清和源氏) and Kanmu Heishi (桓武平氏), were large supporters of the deity Hachiman. Due to its symbol of strength in battle, these families spread the practice of the worship of Hachiman to many military families, as many adopted this for the sake of praying for victory in battle⁵. Through this, some other families also made the tomoe a family emblem, or added it as an addition to the one they have.

DESIGN AND VARIATIONS

While one of the most familiar design of the tomoe is of the symbol of Daoism (made up of 2 commas), it is not certain if this was the original design in conception. However, it is safe to say that there are numerous designs in history. Later, different variants were created; while their uses varied depending on the person and lifestyle, many of these patterns were used as kamon (家紋, family crests), shinmon (神文, deity crests) and jimon (寺紋, temple crests).

Examples of common tomoe emblems. Click on each for a brief description. From Wikipedia.

There are designs that range from using just one comma, to up to four commas. Then there are a those composing of small differences such as size, while others possess elaborately complex designs, such as the “kuyou⁵” type. A tomoe is further identified by the direction of its spin; the head of the comma can curve clockwise or curve counter-clockwise. This type of spin was traditionally used to indicate which side it is placed on in certain situations, such as clothing, which then identifies what type of tomoe it becomes. For example, if placed on the left side of the body, then the one with the clockwise spin is used, and is labeled a hidari (left) tomoe. Reasoning behind this is if you place the tomoe on the back of the left hand, the head of the comma has to be turning towards the left thumb. The rule is opposite for the right side of the body; the tomoe turning counter-clockwise is used and is labeled as a migi (right) tomoe.

In a case where the number of comma and direction of spin played an important role is seen through wa-taiko (和太鼓), or Japanese drums. During the Heian period, within the main building of a Shinto shrine were various drums used for specific purposes. They needed to be placed in a particular fashion. To distinguish these, drums that were placed on the right side would bear a tomoe mark on top which had 2 commas with a counter-clockwise (right) spin, while the drums on the left would have a tomoe mark which had 3 commas with a -clockwise (left) spin. Take note that this was not always consistent, as these rules may have changed with each generation. There are other meanings behind this which are related to in-yo (ying yang), but the visual differences are what stick out the most.

As a whole, there are over 100 designs in Asia alone. Japan has its own designs that are unique, with a good number of them being family crests. Note that some of these designs are variants of others, which could mean that these variations are merely cosmetic.

CONCLUSION

Here ends the first part regarding the Hidari Mitsudomoe. More of an overview of its roots from a historical and cultural perspective both in and outside of Japan, we get an understanding of how it is generally conceived and its purpose in use. Please check back in a few days for part 2, which will go much further in discussion both on the Hidari Mitsudomoe and how the Kuki clan not only acquired this as a family crest, but how it is deeply connected to their family and religious practices.


1) 家紋

2) Take note that “domoe” is the same as “tomoe”, only difference is in pronunciation. In cases where tomoe is attached to another word, it will change to domoe. However, this is not always the case, such as the topic at hand. While generally called “Hidari Mitsudomoe”, there are cases where it is instead pronounced as “Hidari Mitsu Tomoe”. Factors for this are very lenient, so both cases are correct.

3) Within old stories such as Kojiki (古事記, Records of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (日本書記, The Chronicles of Japan), the magatama was portrayed as “Yasakani no Magatama” (八尺瓊勾玉, Long [approx. 8 ft] string of Curved Jewels), which was one of three sacred treasures of the gods. The concept is symbolic, as replicas of these treasures are currently kept by the imperial family in Japan.

4) 八幡. Generally referred to as the deity Hachiman (八幡神, Hachiman shin), also known by the (older) name “Yahata no kami”, as well as several other titles such as “Hondawake no Mikoto” (誉田別命).

5) While often recognized as the “god of war” (武神, bushin), he was specifically called a “god that brings fortune in battle”, or “bu-un no kami” (武運の神) .

6) 九曜.

Iga City battling Fake News

Here’s an interesting topic I figured I’d write about, while the story is still hot. Lately, there has been various posts on social media (i.e. Facebook) and news-related media sites about Japan was in need of hiring people to become ninja due to a ninja shortage. The basis of these posts stem from an interview Iga City Mayor Sakae Okamoto had with one of the hosts from National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” podcast, which was aired July 16th, 2018. Some information, such as a need to use tourism to attact visitors, as well as improving Iga City’s economy by providing more jobs, with one of those jobs being a ninja performer, was mentioned.

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News article dated 7/24 on Yahoo News (Japanes version). It reports about the recent internet buzz about Iga City’s shortage of ninja and how there is a need to hire more people to fill the role. Iga City Mayor Sakae Okamoto deems it “Fake News”. This is what I read this morning. Link to this article is here.

Here’s some background info related to the topic. Iga City is located in Iga-Ueno, Mie Prefecture, which is one of Japan’s famous areas where the legendary image of ninja and ninjutsu was born. Over the years, through the efforts of Mayor Okamoto and the Iga-Ueno Tourism Association, there has been a push to increase tourism in Iga-Ueno. Using this area’s ninja history as a basis, strategies to attract tourists is done by such means stemming from experiencing ninja culture through the “Ninja Museum of Iga ryu”, celebrating the annual “Ninja Day” on February 22, down to holding a ninja festival during Golden week in Japan. Those who have been to Iga City and have visited the Ninja Museum and/or have seen these ninja-related events should know that most, if not all, those individuals who are dressed in the typical ninja costume are just performers, and usually are not associated to those few martial schools in Japan that may teach ninjutsu in their curriculum.

Back to the main topic, the contents of the interview spread around online through different outlets in many countries to the point where it became slightly different from the original source. The latest posts have headlines that give the impression that Iga City, or Japan as a whole, is looking to hire potential candidates to become ninja…but leave the “performer” part out. Some of these posts also try to attract readers that a maximum salary of over 85K can be made by qualifying candidates.

In the Yahoo News article mentioned in the picture above, it was disclosed that for the last couple of days over a 100 inquiries from many countries (including the United States) in the form of emails and phone calls have been made to Iga City’s City Hall, as well as to Iga-Ueno Tourism Association. Seeing as there is a potential issue, Iga City Mayor Okamoto has made a public announcement online. This can be seen here on Iga City’s official website:

http://www.city.iga.lg.jp/0000005820.html

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Mayor Sakae Okamoto’s public announcement in opposition to “Fake News”. From the Iga City’s official website.

The main point stated in regards to those posts online regarding Iga City’s shortage of ninja, as well as salary that a ninja can make, is that their source of information did not come from Iga City. On top of that, Iga City is not, and has not, publicly put up job openings looking for those who want to work as a ninja. While this announcement is in Japanese, it is said that it will also be available in different languages, including English.

It should be understood that Iga City is not out to recreate its ninja history by hiring (recruiting) people to become ninja. Purely economic and an effort to improve Iga City’s population, Mayor Okamoto is working to utilize Iga-Ueno’s ninja heritage to promote interest in ninja, which not only includes having more tourists (from throughout Japan as well as around the world) to visit, but to have (most likely) Japanese citizens live in Iga City who would be interested in working as a ninja performer.

Another big step through a new Venture

Martial arts and language have been a passion of mine since I was little. Through both I have been fortunate to meet many people who shared a similar passion, and build memorable relationships. I am hoping to continue to do so through a new venture.

cMCG_front

Front page of my new site…powered by WordPress!

Today, I officially announce a new establishment of mine, “Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group”. Through this, I strive to give a place where those who want to learn the finer points of traditional Japanese martial arts, based on my years of experience. On top of this, I am also offering lessons in learning the Japanese language and culture. This will complement the martial arts training, and work hand-in-hand in providing a balanced experience. Another big step for me, in sharing my knowledge and talents in a broader field.

For those who live in the NYC area and are interested, please feel free to visit my new website through the link below. There will also be a permalink at the bottom-right side of the screen.

www.chikushin-arts.com