Spreading My Wings ~ My Writing in 2014

December 29, 2014
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2014 was the year I woke up to the fact that the best way to get yourself published, is simply to try. Oddly enough as soon as I had resolved to do that, writing opportunities (and some of them paid) seemed to start falling into my lap! Thus began a flurry of articles in the latter part of the year, most of which I am very pleased with, not least because of the wide variety of subject matter.

Earlier this year I had already written two pieces for Guide Advisor on Matcha Tea and Machiya Houses. Many thanks to Ted Taylor who got me the opportunity to write those.


In October, however, my writing career began in earnest when I was commissioned to write a piece on Kyoto for the British lifestyle magazine The Simple Things. To my surprise they wanted to use my pictures too! Read more here: My City: Kyoto.

inside kyotoThat month I also wrote a piece for Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto site on the new Heisei Chishinkan wing of the National Museum: A New Home for Ancient Treasures. All being well, I should be writing regularly for Inside Kyoto in the coming year.

In November my article on the Manga Faculty at Seika University appeared in Korean Airlines’ inflight magazine Morning Calm. It’s not a long piece but a lot of work went into it. Read more here: Cradle of Creativity.cradle

And Japan Today were kind enough to post my piece on marriage equality in Japan: New NPO brings same-sex marriage equality into Japanese public debate. I was very proud to add my name to this worthy cause.jtoday

kojikiIn December I wrote a guest post for John Dougill’s Green Shinto blog on the Kojiki exhibition in Nara. That was actually one of my favorite pieces to research and write, as I find all that ancient mythology fascinating…

And my review of Christine Flint Sato’s Sumi Workbook is in the latest issue of Kyoto Journal: The Unexpected Delights of Brushed Black Ink.kj

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalOf course in May, I also published an ebook: Deep Kyoto: Walks.

It’s been a good year, but it’s just a beginning. Next year I plan to spread my wings still further. I have one regular writing gig decided, and would obviously like more. I would also like to continue to diversify, by getting articles into more publications and on a wider variety of subject matter. And finally Ted Taylor and I will crowdfund an updated print version of Deep Kyoto:Walks next year with extra features, artwork and contributors. Here’s to 2015 and all the writing challenges and opportunities it may bring!


December 26, 2014
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I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage “to swim against the tide”. And also have the courage to be happy.
— Pope Francis (from his address to the volunteers of the 28th World Youth Day)

Of course this is somewhat taken out of context, but even so… There’s no denying, this current Pope, he’s a bit odd, isn’t he?

Star in the Night (1945)

December 24, 2014
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Riding through the night, three cowboys are led by a flashing star to Nick Catapoli’s Star Auto Court…

Don Siegel’s debut feature, this short film won an Academy Award in 1946 for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel). High on Christmas sentiment, it is a retelling of the nativity story with Mary and Joseph reimagined as Mexican migrants Maria and José Santos. On a cold Christmas Eve they take shelter at desert motel in the Southwestern US, run by Nick Catapoli, a man disillusioned by the selfish behaviour of the people he encounters day in and day out. For him the whole idea of Christmas spirit is a meaningless hypocrisy, with people only smiling because they want something… Well, the arrival of the two migrants and Maria’s sudden labour brings out the good in people as his guests rally round to help the young couple in any way they can and Nick’s belief in the goodness of human nature is restored. It’s a short but sweet retelling of the Christmas tale, with obvious influences from A Christmas Carol, and it works. It certainly jerked the tears out of me tonight. Merry Christmas everyone, and enjoy this one.

News from Ireland…

December 15, 2014
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news from Ireland:
this year from the apple trees
plentiful haiku

I wrote this haiku for David O Riordan, an artist and poet who posts on Twitter under the moniker: @Batuphonos. David writes haiku in English and Irish, using the traditional 5-7-5 syllable structure. I find his poems crisp and evocative and I always enjoy them.


Snow Lion

November 26, 2014
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through white mountain squalls
glimpse the turquoise mane he shakes:
Snow Lion dancing

prancing snow lion

By chance I came upon a song today,  that I thought was very beautiful. The song is by Tenzin Choegyal and it is called Snow Lion. How is it that an air sung in a language so far beyond my ken, can make me feel: an inexpressible yearning, a deep separation, an intrinsic emptiness deep in the belly of my soul?

Following Tenzin Choegyal’s brief description, and encouraged by his smile, I imagined the snow lion and its elegant steps over snow topped peaks. What would it be like to be deep in those mountains and hear that Śūnyatā roar, that thunderclap cry, that silent yet deafening call to awakening? Would you cover your ears as dragons topple from the sky?

In my mind’s eye, as I listened to the song, I saw a foolish traveler, lost, and snow blind, stumbling through a blizzard on a snow covered plateau. His hands are raised over his face against the flakes that fly into his eyes, when he glimpses, hears, perceives, a snorted breath of steam. There amidst the endless white and through the swirling flurries, a hint of turquoise mane. The great white weight of it turns about: wonder made manifest. The snow lion tosses his mane and stomps. The snow lion is dancing

The white snowlion, with its turquoise mane (seng dkar g.yu ral can), is the famous Tibetan emblem representing the snowy ranges and glaciers of Tibet. It symbolises power and strength and has served as a unifying national symbol for Tibetans during the modern era… Many Tibetan folk songs and proverbs mention the snowlion as inhabiting the highest mountains since he is the “king of beasts” (ri dwags rgyal po), towering over less powerful animals…Two of the most famous Tibetan culture heroes, Mi la ras pa and Ge sar, are said to have been raised by a white snowlioness, the queen of beasts, who also brings prosperity…
~ Mona Schrempf: “The Earth-ox and the Snow Lion

The Snow Lion resides in the East and represents unconditional cheerfulness, a mind free of doubt, clear and precise. It has a beauty and dignity resulting from a body and mind that are synchronized. The Snow Lion has a youthful, vibrant energy of goodness and a natural sense of delight.
~ Rudy Harderwijk: “The Four Dignities

The lion’s roaming free over the mountain peaks show that the yogin has gained the realm of absolute freedom.
~ Robert Beer: The Handbook of Tibetan Symbols

Snow Lion sung by Tenzin Choegyal:

Following the expulsion of all Chinese nationals from Tibet after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the Dalai Lama felt a need to create a new flag that represented his country’s aspirations for the future… The single snow lion was replaced by a pair of snow lions in front of a triangular white mountain. They hold aloft three blazing jewels representing the Buddha, his teachings, and the Buddhist monastic order. Below them is the swirling jewel of perfection. The rising golden sun symbolizes Tibet’s bright future, and the six rays of light radiating from it refer to the six tribes that originally constituted the people of Tibet. These splay across a blue sky that stands for the equality of everyone under heaven.
~ John Powers, David Templeman: Historical Dictionary of Tibet.


We live in a surprising universe

November 7, 2014
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My impatience has been rewarded.

buddhOn the assumption that we had just come from elsewhere into our universe, who looking at the yolk of a pheasant’s egg would predict pheasant feathers? Who looking at an eight-legged, bald, green cabbage caterpillar would predict a white butterfly? Who looking at an anthropod’s jawbone would predict an acoustic bone that enables us to hear Handel’s ‘Largo’? Who looking at the nebula out of which our solar system condensed would predict a honeybee collecting pollen from a harebell or the Mandukya Upanishad?

We live in an evolving universe, in a surprising universe, and it would be stupid not to predispose ourselves accordingly.

…Reconfiguration whether anatomical or mental or both simultaneously isn’t outlandish to life. Indeed, the entire universe might one day spin a cocoon for itself and who, looking at it now, can say what it will metamorphose into?

From Night Journey to Buddh Gaia by John Moriarty, a wonderful and massive doorstep of profundity which arrived at my own doorstep earlier today.

The Wolf of Vacancy

November 5, 2014
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Click for legend

From Wikipedia: “Wolves were once an integral part of the Irish countryside and culture…

…Wolves feature prominently in Irish mythology…

…The last reliable observation of a wolf in Ireland comes from County Carlow when a wolf was hunted down and killed near Mount Leinster for killing sheep in 1786.”

Excerpt from Wolf-Time:

“Why is it that Irish historians will not talk at this level about Irish history? Why will they not ask the big questions?

Here, for example, is a big question: the shot that rang out one night in Maam Valley in Connemara? What, compared to it, is the sailing away of the Irish chieftains from Ireland?

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea and the destructive sword are portions of eternity to great for the eye of man.

There it is: one night in the Maam Valley we killed a portion of eternity.

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

…Megalithic language, or languages we silenced; Bear language we silenced; Boar language we silenced; Wolf language we silenced.

Our history if the history of our success in making ourselves and our world unreal.

Mostly, it is from unreality that we suffer. From that and from the wrong kind of man-made reality.

…Sadly, we haven’t yet seen that prospering man-made unreality is, if anything, more dangerous to us than prospering, primal reality was.

Better Céol Cúaine(1) than the ever-hungering, ever unhappy, ever-unsatisfied, inaudibly howling vacancy we have replaced it with.

…Better any day our chances with a real wolf than with the Wolf of Vacancy.

In Nordic myth this Wolf of Vacancy is called Fenris Wolf or, as commonly, Fenrir. In order for our world to be at all possible, so the story goes, Tyr, a great and mighty god, had to bind him, had to lay him up in chains in an underworld. But everyone, including Tyr himself, knows full well that Fenrir will one day slip his chains, he will emerge and run free. Opening his mouth, he will advance his lower jaw under the earth and his upper jaw over the sun. Sun and earth and all in between he will swallow, and for Fenrir that is just a mouthful.

Ever since we first set foot in Ireland we have been creating our own Fenrir, our own Wolf of Vacancy, our own Apocalyptic Wolf of Apocalyptic Vacancy.

What we would see if we lifted our eyes from our ledgers is that at this stage there is no binding him, no laying him up in chains, out of sight, in an underworld.

So here it is, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn(2):

Lights gone out in Ireland’s last wolf are lights coming on
in a not inconsiderably larger wolf,
are lights coming on
The Wolf of Vacancy”

invokingFrom Invoking Ireland: Ailiu Iath n-hErend by John Moriarty, the best book I read last year. Indeed the best book I have read in many years. What is it? It’s a book about landscape, history and myth, but also a book about the hunger we all feel for something more than the shabby world we have created. It is a re-awakening of the world’s soul. Hungering still for more soul-sustenance, I recently ordered this book: Night Journey to Buddh GaiaAnd I am impatiently waiting its arrival.

1. Céol Cúaine = The music of wolves
2. Foras Feasa ar Éirinn = History of Ireland

Your Most Important Task

November 1, 2014
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happiness“In our daily life, we breathe, but we forget we’re breathing. The foundation of all mindfulness practice is to bring our attention to our in-breath and out-breath. This is called mindfulness of breathing, or conscious breathing. It’s very simple, but the effect can be very great. In our daily life, although our body is in one place, our mind is often in another. Paying attention to our in-breath and out-breath brings our mind back to our body. And suddenly we are there, fully present in the here and now…

…I’d like to offer you a practice poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling:

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

As my in-breath grows deep,
My out-breath grows slow.

Breathing in, I calm my body,
Breathing out, I feel at ease.

Breathing in, I smile,
Breathing out, I release.

Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

You can shorten this to the words below, one word or phrase per breath:

In, Out.
Deep, Slow.
Calm, Ease.
Smile, Release.
Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.

The present moment is the only moment that is real. Your most important task is to be here and now and enjoy the present moment.”

From Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thích Nhất Hạnh, a comprehensive guide to living your daily life with full awareness, whether working, walking, eating, talking, simply sitting or brushing your teeth!


October 30, 2014
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IMG_7246 (Medium)

Hotei is an Asian folkloric figure originating in China where he is called Budai. His name 布袋 basically means cloth bag, and refers to the sack he always carries with him. In Japan he is one of the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神) and one tradition is that rubbing his belly will bring you good luck.

Traditionally, Hotei is depicted as fat, bald, wearing a simple robe and carrying a cloth bag. He is poor, carrying his few possessions in his sack, but always happy and content. When he meets Zen practioners he immediately demands of them a coin, but all the money he gains he uses to buy candies for children.

Kōan: Hotei would wander through the marketplace handing out candies to children. Once Hotei was confronted on the street by a Zen scholar who challenged him with the question: “What is the meaning of Zen?”
Hotei’s reply was to stop in his tracks, throw down his sack and remain motionless.
Dissatisfied with this response the scholar questioned him further: “What is the expression of Zen?”
Hotei immediately picked up his sack and carried on his way, laughing and handing out candies to the children that swarmed about him.

The Hotei sculpture above is part of an extensive collection belonging to Randy Channell and can be found at his cafe, Ran Hotei.

Oddly enough on the day that I visited the Ran Hotei cafe a large party of costumed children came in trick or treating for Halloween, and there in the midst of them all was Randy, for all the world just like Hotei, with a big smile on his face, handing out his candies.

A First Moment of Mindfulness

October 30, 2014
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moments-of-mindfulnessThe mind can go
in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path,
I walk in peace.
With each step,
a gentle wind blows.
With each step,
a flower blooms.

– Thích Nhất Hạnh

This is the first meditation in a book of 52 daily inspirations entitled Moments of Mindfulness by Thích Nhất Hạnh. “This book is designed so you can focus on one meditation as your practice for the week. You can carry this meditation with you throughout the whole week… The saying can help you to remain more mindful, aware, and happy even under difficult circumstances. You can read this meditation each morning right after waking up and again before you go to sleep. There are fifty-two meditations, so you can begin at any point in the year and continue with a different meditation each week for a full year.”