For Health and Longevity, Turn to the Traditional Japanese Diet

There are few fat people in Japan.  Most Japanese ride a bike and walk, rain or shine, and walk up and down many subway steps. Also the Japanese diet is one of the healthiest in the world, resulting in the lowest rates of obesity amongst men and women. People who stuck to Japanese dietary recommendations of eating mostly fish, soy, rice and vegetables and a minimal amount of dairy and fruit had a reduced risk of dying early from heart disease or stroke, according to a recently study by the British Medical Journal.

miso soup Osaka, Japan

Miso soup with green onions a great breakfast start.

During my stay in Japan I have enjoyed getting to know, eat and start cooking with many of the healthy and delicious traditional Japanese foods that lend well to our vegan/vegetarian lifestyle.

Miso, fermented soy soup and seaweed and even salad made of vitamin and fiber-packed cabbage and daikon radish covered with goma, sesame dressing, or irodori gobou made from burdock and lotus root, are what’s for breakfast rather than fattening syrup drenched waffles or cream cheese covered bagels. 

For lunch and dinner there is an inexorable array of soy products such as tofu and natto, or adzuki beans as well as noodles and vegetables cooked in dark sesame oil, mirin and soy sauce. I also drink lots of antioxidant-packed green tea, soy milk as well as amasake.

Over the past 150 years, however, the Japanese diet has become a blend of traditional Japanese with Chinese and Western foods, which gradually found their way into the Japanese diet since the Meiji Period (1868–1912) and in force after World War II. The results added a more balanced diet with oils and protein, but there is also a downside to the Western diet’s influence in Japan.

irodori gobou

Irodori gobou, made from lotus root and burdock, another health breakfast alternative.

Upon his arrival in Japan, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan General Douglas MacArthur is said to have remarked, “I came to replace the Japanese diet of rice, vegetables, fish and miso with bread, butter, milk and ham.”

Wheat products, especially in the Japanese school lunch program, was increased. Meat eating also increased, as meat eating was considered taboo.

In April of the year 675 A.D., the Emperor Tenmu prohibited the killing and the eating of meat throughout Japan, and Christian missionaries in 1549 found that the people believed that drinking milk was basically the same as drinking blood, according to Researcher Zenjiro Watanabe.  Christians influenced the reintroduction of slaughtering animals and meat eating in Japan by the Edo era between 1603 and 1868. 

Daikon radish in grocery store, Osaka, Japan

Daikon radish in grocery store, Osaka, Japan

Although Europeans and Americans have gradually come to appreciate the benefits of a rice and fish diet, unfortunately the Western diet has lead to increasing obesity rates in Japan as well as lower life expectancy rates. While Japan’s obesity rate is 3.6%, the U.S. has a stunning epidemic of obesity – 40%! 

Japan in 2015 had held for three straight years the longest life expectancy in the world. Japanese women still hold this title of the longest life expectancy in the world at 86.8 years, but in 2017, Japan men’s life expectancy slipped to fifth place with life expectancy at 80.5 years. The United States doesn’t even rank in the top 20, coming in at 50th with 78.37 years.  

Diabetes is also on the rise, especially among Japanese men, due to more sedentary lifestyle, increased fat intake and obesity. Everywhere I look there is more and more junk food filling grocery stores due to globalization, and the sweet smell of baked goods from refined flour as well as fast-food and soft drinks are many of the carbohydrate culprits invading the healthy Japanese diet these days. Too much fats from meat and dairy are other culprits, as most Asians are lactose intolerant anyways, meat is proven to cause cancer, and dairy has its own host of illness related to its consumption.

Adzuki bean salad

My original recipe of adzuki bean salad with cabbage, daikon radish, carrot, ginger, green onions and goma dressing.

I will take the Japanese diet, thank you! With our vegetarian/vegan twist. Because the Japanese diet, Watanabe wrote, which contains mostly vegetables, rice and fish, was first recognized as generally superior to Western diets by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan in 1980 based on:

1: The 2,500-calorie diet of Japan in the 1980s provided the optimum nutritional balance, while the 3,200-calorie diet of Western nations was simply too much.

2: The Westernization of the Japanese diet following World War II reduced the excess carbohydrates and eliminated the deficiency in fats to provide the optimum nutritional balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

3: While the proteins found in Western diets are primarily animal proteins, the ideal nutritional balance of the Japanese diet is maintained with proteins derived from fish and vegetables.

May you be inspired to eat more like the traditional Japanese for health and more! I will be publishing detailed accounts of some of these Japanese foods I love so much as well as my original recipes I’ve created from them in future posts! Stay tuned!

 

Art and Meaning in Everyday Life at The Japan Folk Art Museum in Osaka

Japan Folk Art Museum Osaka

Japan Folk Art Museum

I am a folk junkie. I love folktales, folk art, folk music. Folk comes from the Old English folc, common people, men, or tribe; originating from the Proto-Germaic root of fulka with its modern German word volk, people. In an era where people’s cultures, crafts and minds are getting swallowed up by the mechanized, mono-cultural isolation of the smart-phone, I believe connecting to and preserving folk arts and crafts will save civilization.  

In search of folk art that leads to a beautification of the life of people and even a renaissance in these dark times, The Japan Folk Art Museum was one of the first stops on my list living here in Osaka.

A 10-minute walk from the Namba station in Nishi-ku, the Japan Folk Art Museum was established to preserve and promote the creation of Japanese traditional handicrafts, which have been developed over centuries and used in the daily lives of ordinary Japanese.

Japan Folk Art Museum  Osaka

Front courtyard of the Japan Folk Art Museum filled with ceramics.

The Japanese folk craft, or Meingi Movement, challenges the idea of what art is. It focuses on the overlooked beauty of art and crafts made by people that are practical and used in daily life. It espouses that art does not have to be something expensive and made by famous artists but made by average people to infuse their everyday life with beauty, art and quality. The Japanese believe the deep spirit of their culture is reflected in their art and their handicrafts have become world renown.

Ceramics in the Japan Folk Art Museum Osaka

Ceramics on display first floor

Muneyoshi Yanagi is widely accepted as the founder of the Japanese craft movement, which began around 1927.

Yanagi traveled around various areas in Japan and one of the first things to capture his eye was the folk Buddha, an Edo period sculpture called Mokujiki.

He gradually began paying attention to the honest beauty which he found in ordinary people’s handicrafts made by unknown craftspeople.

Yanagi’s son Sori Yanagi espoused the philosophy “Contemplate by hand; Create by heart.” I think that’s a lovely term, as the working with one’s hands and creating crafts and objects one uses in every day life really provide meaning and satisfaction in a mechanical world in which everything is done for people.

Textiles in the Japan Folk Art Museum  Osaka

Textiles on the second floor of  the Japan Folk Art Museum

Kogei are the traditional arts and crafts of Japan, which originally were seven categories: ceramics, lacquerware, dolls, woodwork, bamboo, textiles and metalwork.

These crafts became pots, cups, folk toys, even bento boxes and more which infuse everyday life with beauty and enrichment. Many of these examples filled the museum when I visited the quiet space, and the museum offers several exhibitions a year. 

A bento box exhibition was on display in the Japan Folk Art Museum when I visited. Osaka

A laquered bento box exhibition was on display in the Japan Folk Art Museum when I visited.

These handmade crafts are a nice offset to the Ikea or Wal-mart culture of mindless mass production and meaninglessness as well as a cure for melancholy, in my opinion.

For Mingei can also be seen as a response to Japan’s rapid industrialization, as it elevates things made in large quantity by the hands of the common people, rather than in a factory. In this way, it can also be seen as a method of cultural and historical preservation.

Japanese ceramic detail.

Japanese ceramic detail.

An example is the term boro, which means “worn down or ragged,” to describe a building or clothing, or it can refer to the tattered clothes themselves. It doesn’t focus on fine silk worn by the upper classes, but the aesthetics and beauty in the cotton and hemp clothing worn by peasants, especially in the northern territories of Japan.

It started during the Edo period, in which people found innovative ways to recycle and reuse everyday objects, primarily out of necessity.

Shaman's outfit hanging on the wall of the Japan Folk Art Museum

Shaman’s outfit, and example of boro, hanging on the wall of the Japan Folk Art Museum

 

I enjoyed meandering through the old wooden building, climbing up the narrow stairs and gazing at pottery, textiles, bento boxes and I especially loved the gift shop, which was replete with ceramics and fun folk toys.

I picked up a nice fish matryoshka made from washi paper, a toy top as well as some sturdy handmade dish towels made from recycled mosquito netting.

Kogei is experiencing a renaissance in interest from around the world as well as in Japan.  The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo is taking the initiative in promoting exhibitions and expanding marketing channels with the support of the National Museum of Art.

Apart from those central government affiliates, local governments are extending support to reinvigorate the kogei art scene as well.

A fish matryoshka made of washi paper I picked up at the gift shop at the Japan Folk Art Museum in Osaka.

A fish matryoshka made of washi paper I picked up at the gift shop at the Japan Folk Art Museum in Osaka.

Address: 3 Chome-7-6 Nanbanaka, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 556-0011
Phone06-6641-6309
Open: 10:00 -17:00(The entering a building until 16:30)
Closed: Every Monday, Second Tuesday, Beginning of the year end of the year
Charge: Adult 500yen/Average(University・High school) 300yen/
Child(Junior High school・Primary school) 150yen

Japan Folk Art Museum Osaka

Nature Enthralls at Osaka’s Sakuya Konohana Kan Botanical Garden

Poster for the carnivorous plant exhibition at the Sakuya konohana Botanic Garden, Osaka, Japan Yoni

Poster for the carnivorous plant exhibition at the Sakuya konohana Botanic Garden, Osaka, Japan

Schizophrenics tend to live in cities, research shows.  Grow up in a city and you are more likely to have psychosis, and urban life can lead to depression and anxiety. Anxiety and busy being etymologically the root word of “business,” by the way.

Nepenthes ventricosa, a type of Venus fly trap endemic to the Philippines.

Nepenthes ventricosa, a type of Venus fly trap endemic to the Philippines.

No doubt, the constant stimulation of the mind, the hurry, hurry, go-go-go mentality of capitalism and its relentless economic matrix spun around personas congregating in cities never allow the mind to rest.

Ideas, information, social media that disembody us and take us to virtual realities not grounded in the here-and-now reality all can cause dis-ease. Sounds like insanity to me!

I love the city. I have loved living in Buenos Aires and now Osaka. I’m either in a city or a farm, never suburbia, which is especially soul-killing.

I remember my late sister, who was a reference librarian at the Parker, Colorado public library, told me in 2007 that the number-one book patrons checked out was Dave L. Goetz’s Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul.

The answer to soul-sucking city and suburbs? Nature. In Buenos Aires walking along the Rio de la Plata river’s lagoons and waterways lined with beautiful pampas grass in the  Costanera Sur Reserva Ecologia and other parks gave me and the kids a needed respite from this amazing, yet intense city.

Photo of man with the parasitic Rafflesia plant of South East Asia. Yoni plant

Photo of man with the parasitic Rafflesia plant of South East Asia.

And then we lived for 2 1/2 years on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands  communing with the depths of nature so much I could hear the banana trees growing.

It was great for me, until crime exploded and the island shut down because of the Hovensa Oil refinery closure, so we moved to Florida.

In Osaka I headed to Sakyuya Konohana Botanical Garden yesterday. Being here full-time for over six weeks I have missed my huge vegetable and flower garden back in Florida and the clarity it brings my mind to walk daily afternoons through it after writing all morning.

In Osaka I have purchased a few small plants and cut flowers from a local shop to decorate the house and satisfy my green thumb. Hana,花, is the word for flower in Japanese. But what really drew me to the Sakuya konohana Botanic Garden was the carnivorous plant exhibit that runs until September 9.

Barringtonia racemosa, Freshater mangrove, flowers in water.

Barringtonia racemosa, Freshwater mangrove, flowers in water.

The poster in the subway caught my eye. The graphic designer implicitly knew the plants resembled vaginas, yoni, and even had clitoris-like appendages. The posters were also in the subway cars. Now in the United States the Starbuck’s mermaid logo can’t even have a belly-button due to the ire of some Colorado Christian women who made the company take it out.

No such prudeness and fear of nature and life in Japan, where its culture is aligned with nature. Where sex is sex and bodies are bodies, roaming nude in the onsen hot springs is nothing sexual, it’s just nature. Nothing to be ashamed of or get uptight about. Marilyn Monroe got it right when she said, “Sex is part of nature, and I go along with nature.”

Phragmidpedium besseae orchid.

Phragmidpedium besseae orchid.

Nature is nature, and for whatever bizarre reason patriarchy and artificially contrived religions have intentionally obscured the original matriarchy cultures such as Greeks, Celtics and even Japanese Shinto to shame the natural world, the body and women is beyond me.

I’ve learned that Miko were originally priestesses but have been demoted over the centuries by the patriarchy, and Kabuki theatre even was originally played by women telling sexually bawdy songs and chants until men banned female performing to this day!

I’m sure it’s why we have endless war, militarism and machines doing everything. Sacred woman or nature is something to be destroyed and controlled, not to take pleasure in. Small wonder the Dionaea muscipula plant I bought at the garden has the common name of Venus flytrap – bringing up mother complex and her paradoxical mythological undertones. She’s the unresolved anxiety over sex and death. Mother Nature is the womb and the tomb. She’s not just a life-giver but also the devouring mother, a vagina with teeth. Carnivorous plants!

Enchinocactus grusonii, or Barrel cactus.

Enchinocactus grusonii, or Barrel cactus. Even called mother-in-law’s pin cushion!

But Psychologist Carl Jung said that a neurosis is just a God that is offended and hasn’t been listened to yet.

And in this case it’s the Goddess herself. Sacred woman, or sacred prostitute, an entire archetype that has been repressed in the recesses of humanity’s psyche, demonized and split off from itself and driving everyone insane.

Just read the newspaper headlines and it can’t be more clear, as North Korea fired a missile over Japan yesterday morning and Trump is more inflamed and insane than ever!

Now the plants at the carnivorous exhibit seemed very innocuous, even past their bloom this late in the show by the time I saw them. They weren’t the red-lipped plants with a gorged hood shown in the beautiful posters. There was a preserved display of a Rafflesia behind glass and some info on this parasitic plant found in SouthEast Asia that seemed to be able to devour a man looking at it in the poster. But that was about it.

Sakuya konohana Botanical Garden, Osaka, Japan

Sakuya konohana Botanical Garden, Osaka, Japan

The building itself is of gorgeous architecture, circular in design, spiraling upward through the interior gardens’ various ecosystems, from humid tropical plants and flowering trees to cacti of Australia to Arctic plants.

Exterior gardens found are a lotus pond, rock garden, English garden, Alpine as well as a useful plant garden. There’s also lovely hibiscus and frangipani, flowers I adored living in Florida and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

arnottianus

Hibiscus arnottianus

Just spending a few hours here gazing at greenery and flowers that has calming music playing suspends the mind’s ceaseless wanderings and ruminations.

The world of economics and politics, work or other mundane world activities cease, as nature divine and pitches you out into a sense of timelessness and renewal, relaxation and unity.

Even Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park reached by getting off at the Tsurumi-Tyokuchi subway exit, is a pleasure to stroll through, where there is a happy sight of dozens of moms and their preschool children picnicking beneath trees and splashing in a gorgeous fountain in the afternoon heat.  The park was the site of The International Garden and Greenery Exposition in 1990 that featured the beauty of flowers. The subway replete with mosaic tiles on the walls of butterflies and flowers, even at your feet.

Aligning with nature. It’s a good thing. Next time you think of your body’s physical health, think of your mental health too. Spend some time forest bathing or at a botanic garden near you. It will save your sanity or at least renew you to return to your urban abode refreshed, calm and relaxed.

nymphaea

Nymphaea – Water lily, named after the Greek nymphs.

Sakuya Konohana Botanical Garden

Open: 10: 00 ~ 17: 00 (Admission is until 16:30)

Closed: Mondays (next weekday in case of holiday) and New Year’s Holiday (December 28 to January 4)

Address: 2-163 Green space park Tsurumi-ku, Osaka 538-0036 in Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, Osaka, Japan. Take the Tsurumi-Tyokuchi subway exit.

Admission: 500 ¥ for adults. Free for junior high school students and below, handicapped (including one caregiver), and seniors over 65 who live in Osaka city.
Group discounts available.

Cactus flowers

Cactus flowers

Sakuya konohana

Tropical garden of the Sakuya konohana Botanic Garden, Osaka, Japan.

Detail of the parasitic Rafflesia plant of South East Asia.

Detail of the parasitic Rafflesia plant of South East Asia.

Grieving and Healing at the To-Kae Lantern Festival in Nara During Obon

Kofukuji Temple lit up with lanterns at the To-kae festival for Obon, Nara, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Kofukuji Temple lit up with lanterns at the To-kae festival for Obon, Nara, Japan.

Now I know why I was having dreams of my late sister, mother and father so much recently. It was Obon time in Japan, the Buddhist holiday equivalent of Halloween in the United States or Day of the Dead in Mexico.

It’s believed that each year during Obon, the spirits of ancestors return to this world in order to visit their relatives, who clean their graves, hold dances and pay their respects in their memory.

It was a national holiday and many people took off more time to travel and be with family.

Considering my father passed this June 24 and I have also lost my youngest sister and mother in addition to other loved ones, it was special to participate in the To-Kae lantern festival in Nara during Obon.

The festival ran for 10 consecutive nights August 5-10 around Nara Park, helping visitors to heal and feel warm. From walking among ancient stone lanterns or new paper lanterns by the thousands with tiny lights piercing the velvet black sky, it was one of the loveliest events I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was also a profound way to grieve and transform to healing by participating in the beautiful rituals among nature, community and historic monuments.

Women in kimonos among lanterns in Nara Park for Obon at the To-Kae festival, Nara, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Women in kimonos among lanterns in Nara Park for Obon at the To-Kae festival, Nara, Japan.

Obon is observed from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year, which is July according to the solar calendar. However, since the 7th month of the year roughly coincides with August rather than July according to the formerly used lunar calendar, Obon is still observed in mid August in many regions of Japan, while it is observed in mid July in other regions. That’s about when the dreams of my late family began happening!

Festival goers pass through a torii gate at Nara Park for Obon at the To-Kae festival, Nara, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Festival goers pass through a torii gate at Nara Park for Obon at the To-Kae festival, Nara, Japan.

It took us less than an hour on the JR rapid train service to get from Osaka to Nara Monday night. Emerging from Nara station, we then strolled among the throngs of crowds dressed in gorgeous kimonos, men, women and children alike, as the wooden sound of their geta shoes trotted across the stone pathways around Nara Park to enjoy the lights.

Chochin at Nara Park, Nara, Japan.

Chochin at Nara Park, Nara, Japan.

It’s uniquely dark in Nara, not light-polluted like a lot of cities, so the feeling is sacred and profound as we walked among approximately 20,000 candles that were lit up by participants and volunteers.

At the To-kae festival it’s the season of fire, and not just because of the intense summer heat. Guests are invited to participate via ikyaku ittou – one person, one light.

Guests light their own lantern, place it on the festival grounds and cast a wish upon that lantern. People lit their own candle or lantern they received for a donation of 500 ¥ that is used to pay for next year’s candles.

Ritual is important to connect us to help us escape ordinary time into sacred time and be connected to the cosmos and renewal. Many ritual ceremonies with the use of candle flames and fire date back to ancient times, with ancient people believing that they could look deeply into their hearts through fire and pray to the deities. Today the spirit in flame represents a wish for world peace and well-being. Over 900,000 people join in the event every year.

Feels like Halloween night walking among the stone lantern-lined walkways of Nara Park leading up to the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine during To-Kae as part of Obon. Photo by Sydney Solis

Feels like Halloween night walking among the stone lantern-lined walkways of Nara Park leading up to the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine during To-Kae as part of Obon.

The word, toka in Tokae means “light flower” (to – light or candle, ka – flower) because the shape of the hollow around the burning wick and a candle’s melted remains are said to resemble a flower. The more that hollow and candle’s remains resemble a flower the luckier the lantern is and the more likely the lighter’s wish is to be granted. The word é means a meeting or a gathering. The Tokae, a gathering of fire flowers, could be seen as of the same spirit as the gatherings of families and friends at Obon to celebrate and appreciate the holiday and their history.

People at a chozubachi, water-filled basin, with wooden dippers for purification rite known as temizu. Nara, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

People at a chozubachi, water-filled basin, with wooden dippers for purification rite known as temizu.

Nara Park is one of my favorite places in Japan, with the gentle ubiquitous deer that used to be perceived as divine.

But it’s also surrounded by magnificent nature, primeval forest and World Heritage sites that were lit up, such as Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Taisha Shrine. A truly sacred place.

About 3,000 lanterns in the precinct of Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine have been offered over the centuries by a variety of worshippers, including aristocrats, samurai warriors and the general public, which include stone lanterns along the path to the shrines and hanging lanterns along the inner corridors with vermillion-lacquered columns.

Guests purchasing omadori, charms, at the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine during To-Kae, Nara, Japan. Photo By Sydney Solis

Guests purchasing omadori, charms, at the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine during To-Kae, Nara, Japan.

Lanterns are believed to guide souls back to their families, and indeed, walking among them I felt the presence of my loved ones who have passed on, including my grandfather, who died a POW in Japan during World War II. I believe in the retroactive healing of the ancestors, and the process of ritual such as these to grieve and remember are part of that healing for ourselves and them. That is the way to peace inner and outer. For unresolved grief can lead to anger and violence. Something our world really needs today to heal! 

Priest preparing and giving out chochin hana, flower lanterns, at the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine during To-Kae, Nara, Japan.  Photo By Sydney Solis

Priest preparing and giving out chochin hana, flower lanterns, at the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine during To-Kae, Nara, Japan.

When we approached the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine, priests and miko,shrine maidens, were giving out candle-lit paper lanterns, chochin, for a 500 ¥ donation to light the dark pathways. People purified themselves with water at a deer guarded chozubachi, water-filled basin, with wooden dippers for purification rite known as temizu, or wrote their wishes on omamori for good luck or prayers. All participatory consciousness for grieving, healing and renewal.

Miko, shrine maidens, at Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine, Nara, Japan.

Miko, shrine maidens, at Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine, Nara, Japan.

Chochin hana,” I heard the man behind me say as I stood in line to get a lantern. And I was so excited that I understood what he said! Heard it clear as a bell – lantern flower! My Japanese lessons are working! And what a beautiful word!

Strolling back we roamed in among people who had people paused joyfully to eat at one of the food stalls brimming with scents of curry and fresh bread, or dozens of other food scents, including choco-bananas, chocolate covered bananas, or sphere-shaped wata-gashi, wata-ame or candy floss, cotton candy to eat.

Japanese child with a choco-banana.

Japanese child with a choco-banana.

Returning home on the train back to Osaka exhausted, we had to stand up on the crowded train back, but it was worth it, because world was new again, my ancestors honored, and I had the pleasure of being with their spirits and memories one more time.

Which gave me great comfort in this world that can be so harsh at times.

My mind, heart, body and soul were much happier and healthier all because of this beautiful mindful event in Japan.

 

 

 

Passing through a torii gate in Nara Park during To-Kae.

Passing through a torii gate in Nara Park during To-Kae.

In Japan, Swastikas Are Symbols of Good Luck and Health, Not Hatred and Nazis

Buddhist Shrine with swastika lanterns in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Buddhist Shrine with swastika lanterns in Osaka, Japan.

In Japan the swastika is called the manji (卍). It is an ancient symbol of good luck and well-being.

The symbol was on maps in Japan to denote Shinto and Buddhist shrines and temples. I remember seeing it on Google maps the first time I visited Japan in November, 2016 and marveled at the impression this symbol made on my psyche.

And it had nothing to do with Nazis, but the power of activating the powerful seeds of healing and auspiciousness within me and my psyche. 

Shinto Shrine with swastikas in Kyoto, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Shinto Shrine with swastikas in Kyoto, Japan.

Japan, however, decided to change the swastika to pagodas or torii gates in preparation for the for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The changes will not apply to Japanese-language maps, and there is no suggestion that the temples themselves should remove manji from their premises.

But it just doesn’t have the same effect, and we are all losing something within ourselves as a result, such as access to our inner lives via the mythic dimension that our psyches (psyche means soul in Greek) need and crave in these troubled times.

Swastikas on Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Swastikas on Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

I love finding shrines with the swastika around Japan. I stumbled across one just the other day. Here are a few photos.  For more photos and information on the power of this symbol and how we can reclaim it to heal ourselves and the planet, visit my Mythic Yoga blog about the swastika.

Shinto Shrine with swastika near Nishikujo Station in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Shinto Shrine with swastika near Nishikujo Station in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

 

Buddhist Shrine with swastika near Dontonburi in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Buddhist Shrine with swastika near Dontonburi in Osaka, Japan.

Buddhist Shrine with swastika lanterns in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Buddhist Shrine with swastika lanterns in Osaka, Japan.

Shinto Shrine with swastika near Nishikujo Station in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Shinto Shrine with swastika near Nishikujo Station in Osaka, Japan.

We Are Learning Japanese, We Really Think So!

Japanese language orientation at Berlitz Namba location in Osaka, Japan with Tomoe.

Japanese language orientation at Berlitz Namba location in Osaka, Japan with Tomoe.

I love language. Having been denied fluency in the Dutch language from my late Dutch father, who spoke only English to us kids growing up, I was envious of my European cousins who spoke several languages and perfect English.

Determined to be a polyglot, I took four years of French in high school and received a minor in Spanish along with my journalism B.A. in college.

I worked in Ecuador and Mexico in journalism and was hired on the spot as a correspondent for the Bakersfield Californian as well as an English as a Second Language Tutor in Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado because of my language abilities.

I tried to learn another language in my mid forties, such as Czech, the language of my mother’s ancestors, but looking at that foreign alphabet I thought, “Forget it! I will stick with Romance languages!” Besides, they always say the best time to learn a language is when a person is young, which has great benefits.

Week two learning Japanese at Berlitz, Namba, Japan.

Week two learning Japanese at Berlitz, Namba, Japan.

Babies who grow up bilingual have brain functions that are superior to those of monolingual children, because they have better “cognitive control,” said Dr Mariano Sigman, neuroscientist and author of The Secret Life of the Mind in an article with The World Economic Forum. Cognitive control has many aspects, he said, such as the ability to pay attention, the ability to plan and the ability to switch easily between tasks.

“One of the things most studied about bilingualism is this task-switching, and bilingual children consistently (outperform) monolingual children in this regard,” he said.

But age be damned! Steve is 58 and I’m 50. We feel like kids all over again, and our brains are better for it! We are remarkably actually learning Japanese! Even if it’s by taking baby steps. 

Writing some Japanese with Berlitz language courses in Namba, Osaka, Japan.

Writing some Japanese with Berlitz language materials and courses in Namba, Osaka, Japan.

Steve and I take lessons together at the Berlitz Namba location in Osaka, receiving 100 hours or lessons from his work. We had an orientation with Tomoe, whose name means a 12th Century Japanese female warrior, I learned from reading Michael Hoffman’s excellent book, In the Land of the Kami: A Journey Into the Hearts of Japan.

Tomoe suggested we take lessons twice a week to bolster the language, but we were good to start with two, 40-minute lessons back to back once a week, since Steve is a salaryman now, working 7 to 7 every day. Plus, it can be overload, as fun as it has been these past three weeks of our instruction.

Despite the challenges of learning Japanese, we are excited to know that adults who know another language can offset dementia, according to a study at the University of Edinburgh. “Early research indicated that the symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders often appeared 4-5 years later than individuals who only spoke one language.”

Now we just have to memorize all of this, and more! Berlitz language instruction book, Berlitz Namba, Osaka, Japan.

Now we just have to memorize all of this, and more! Berlitz language instruction book, Berlitz Namba, Osaka, Japan.

Another study by York University in Toronto found that bilingual people’s brains function better and for longer even after developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that those who were bilingual had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about four years later, on average, than those who spoke just one language. And the bilingual people reported their symptoms had begun about five years later than those who spoke only one language, research showed.

So we are happy to know our midlife brains will be better for all this, even though the first lesson with our teacher was overwhelming with the immersion technique. But we hung in there, learning some words for nationalities and professions, and getting two big books and a CD to practice with at home, which we supplement with some apps.

I learned to count to 10 from a friend in high school who was half Japanese, but that was it. From my first two trips to Japan this year, I had learned to say in Japanese, “Good morning, good afternoon, and goodnight. Yes, no.” Little things like that.

At first it was overwhelming because of the culture shock, and I couldn’t even figure many words out until the third trip or apply it, my brain got so mixed up. My brother gave me one of his Japanese language books, and I picked out a few vocabulary words and grammar to try and memorize, and did. But there is nothing like immersion behind here in Japan. You can’t help but learn!

Broken egg and bird

Picture on the cover of the Berlitz Japanese language instruction book, Namba branch, Osaka, Japan. We feel like we are being reborn learning Japanese! The universe has amazing opportunities for us! Never imagined!

At the grocery store checkout line recently I distinctly heard the word, “Sumimasen,” and looked behind me to see two little kids who were excusing themselves so that they could talk to their mother, the cashier.

I understood! Another grocery worker smiled and said, “Genke desu ka?” Which I knew was, “How are you?” And I smiled, as in “yes!.” While trying to pay the water bill at the local Lawson’s store, the man shook his head, said something and also said the word, “ginko.” which I learned from class as “bank.” So I realized I couldn’t pay the bill there, I had to go to a bank because it was late or something.

I had also gone to some festivals, including the Tenjin Matsuri, which means festival of the gods. Watching Japanese TV can be a handy to learn, so watching a show on TV about festivals, I picked out the word, “matsuri” and later other words I’ve learned. Or when I hear the sound “ka” it means a question is being asked.

BerlitzI made friends with a housekeeper at the hotel we stayed at early on and have been hanging out with her. She taught me a few words, as has going to the Japanese chiropractor every Friday I try out new words on him from the classes or learn using Google translate during the session.  Exciting and fun! I can just feel those brain cells bursting with fresh connections!

Now originally we elected to learn Romaji only, the phonetic sounds with Roman letters of Japanese language, which consists of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Tomoe said it’s actually harder to then learn the Japanese symbols if you start this way rather than dive in.

But we thought let’s take those baby steps. In many ways Japanese is easier than Romance language, as there is no gender like Romance, which always messed me up. Also the vowels and consonants in Japanese are sounded the same every time. Although it can be difficult too with the sheer number of symbols, vowels and consonants, and the complex system of verb forms and vocabulary that indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned, as well as different sets of words for different uses of numbers. BRAIN BUSTING!

But that’s what’s fun about it. Some people do crossword puzzles, we are learning Japanese! As we did elect to learn some Hiragana the second class, and it felt like being in kindergarten all over again, writing out and pronouncing vowels a, i, u, e, o, or consonants ka, key, ku, kay, ko, putting them together to make words. I make up silly sentences via mnemonics to learn! But we just practice and try words and conversations out on people in the elevator – just communicating, which is a great joy.

It’s good to know too that even Japanese people can’t read the old Japanese languages that are on some of the shrines around Osaka. And luckily a lot of foods are printed with English and Google translate is a godsend. Of course good old fashioned sign language and body language can do wonders to communicate.

Our latest class today really busted our brains and tongues starting out, but with the immersion we started to think and understand. We are here for at least three years it seems with Steve’s work. So we have plenty of time. And every day as I venture out and connect to the Japanese world, it’s wonderful language and culture just sinks in via Japan’s rich customs, festivals, food and never ending amazing people.

Kampai! We are reborn! 

 

Paprika Shokudo Vegan Restaurant in Shinmachi, Osaka City

Paprika Shokudo Vegan Restaurant in Shinmachi, Osaka CityWe discovered the Happy Cow app. And how happy we are! It’s a lifesaver to find vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants in Osaka.

Where at first we found it difficult to find any, the app provided quite nicely, helping us to discover Paprika Shokudo Vegan Restaurant conveniently just 100 meters from our apartment in the Shinmachi neighborhood! Good karma must have brought us there!

We have been there twice so far. It’s a quaint place decorated country style, indoor outdoor seating, plenty of greenery and very friendly staff who can speak some English rather well. From the sign outside it reads food made without salt, sugar, GMOS, meat, fish, milk, eggs or chemicals. Sounded good to us! Pretty insane anybody eats any of that stuff to begin with!

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Not that I don’t eat ANY dairy. My father is Dutch, and we grew up eating lost of cheese!  But I can feel dairy’s effects on me, showing up in my skin, extra mucus and general feeling clogged. Dairy and meat eating has also been related to depression, allergies and even bipolar disorder. So I do what I can and consider myself “Mostly Vegan.” Plus it’s good for the planet! Considering meat eating is destroying it!  I just can’t participate in that sort of destruction!

Cannabia pilsner beerStarting out we’ve had Sun Sun organic blonde ale beer by Yo-Ho Brewing Company in Nagano, or even organic Cannabia pilsner beer made by Kronenbrauerei Rudolf Wahl KG in Germany.

Considering  for the Shinto-Religion, Cannabis Sativa L. is the holiest plant to harmonize one with nature, makes sense! Of course you won’t find much harmonizing with nature or Cannabia beer in the United States! Freedom is the biggest myth over there!

The Cannabia beer tastes just like hemp! Tasty, but a bit pricy at 850 ¥ a bottle. We figure we are supporting a good cause – vegan restaurant! There is a large selection of vegan food, including pizzas and pastas.

Vegan deep fried oysters

Vegan deep fried oysters with organic salad, soup and brown rice.

We’ve had some of the Dinner set meals, which come with soup, organic salad and organic brown rice. We tried and loved the deep fried oysters made from mushrooms and tofu, at 1780 ¥.

It came with a nice fresh side of lemon juice and it tasted just like real oysters! No overfishing needed!

Considering the fact that Japan is calling for emergency restrictions on Pacific tuna catches due to overfishing, GEE! Maybe it’s time to stop!

Back in the states we regularly ate Gardein’s Crabless Cakes by the boatload. Super tasty just like crab cakes and guilt-free! OK we broke down and ate some tuna at a Sushi automat out of desperation a couple of times. But we know better now! Cause it makes Steve sick. And for the B vitamins, extra care is needed, like adding some nutritional yeast, which gives me a headache so I can’t eat it.

Sitting out on the patio when it's cool in the evening, enjoying some great Vegan food!

Sitting out on the patio when it’s cool in the evening, on these hot summer Osaka nights!  Enjoying some great Vegan food at Paprika Shokudo Vegan Restaurant in Shinmachi, Osaka City, Osaka.

But you have to do what works for you. I mean, survival means eat whatever you really think you need! I think eating clean, humanely raised and slaughtered meat or dairy and fish if you must works fine too.

I had twice the Today’s set meal at 1690 ¥, which included a vegetable and gluten dish covered with melted soy cheese. On another night, the set was Japanese curry, topped with crispy french fry like things. My favorite and not spicy, even though I lov spicy.

Again, delicious, clean food that gives you a clear feeling in the body to eat. It’s pricey, but not really, considering it’s Osaka and this is serious good food! Well worth it!

 

vegan food Shinmachi Osaka

Soy meat yakiniku donburi (rice bowl with stir fried soy meat with yakiniku sauce.)

On another occasion we also tried the soy meat yakiniku donburi (rice bowl with stir fried soy meat with yakiniku sauce.) at 1190 ¥. Tasty! And everything so lovely presented.

Of course there are tons of vegan desserts, like soy baked cheesecake and soy milk soft ice cream.

Vegan Vibes is a sub-business featured out of the restaurant, that sells T-shirts and other things.

The restaurant also offers a pile of magazines to peruse too, including the Japanese Veggy magazine.

And the great thing is that there is a vegan/vegetarian party the third Saturday of the month, featuring a buffet for 3000 ¥ and a drink for 400 ¥. Opening at 6:30 pm, starting at 7 until 10 pm. We have been taking Japanese lessons, so it will be a great opportunity to try our skills out sometime!

Japanese Veggy magazine

Japanese Veggy magazine

Paprika Shokudo Vegan Restaurant in Shinmachi, Osaka City

Address: 1F Alivio Shinmachi BLDG. 1-9-9 Shinmachi
Nishi-ku, Osaka City, Osaka

Phone: 06-6599-9788

Hours: 11:30AM – 2:00PM, 5:30PM – 10:00PM

@Papurika.vegan

Facebook: 

Paprika Shokudo Vegan Restaurant Osaka, Japan

Today’s set of Japanese curry. My favorite and very delicious! Not too spicy, even though I love spicy, just at my age spicy doesn’t like me!

Don’t Go to a Western Doctor! Go to Japanese Chiropractic Reflex in Shinmachi, Osaka for Real Healing!

Japanese chiropractor

Yoshiyasu Ueda of Reflex Chiropractic in Shinmachi, Nishi-Ku, Osaka-Shi, Osaka, Japan

The first time I went to a chiropractor in the United States was in 1996. I had a slipped disk in my low back, the X-Ray at the Bakersfield, California clinic showed. The chiropractor proceeded with the session, putting me on all sorts of machines that seemed to do what yoga did. Then on the table “crack!’ the sudden snapping the chiropractor administered me scared and shocked me so much I cried out loud in tears. I never went back.

I cried again when I decided to try out the Japanese chiropractor on my street here in Osaka. I cried back at my apartment not in fear, but in joy and gratitude, for finally someone understood what was wrong with me and begin to heal me when no other Western doctor could.

Let me tell you my story. Yoshiyasu Ueda runs Reflex Chiropractic on my block in Shinmachi, Nishi-ku, Osaka-Shi. What I experienced was so different than any therapy I’ve ever had. Walking around Osaka, I have noticed these small chiropractic clinics around, and many locals stopping in for a session. My sacroiliac joint was out on my left side and bothering me with low back pain, so I thought, let’s give this a try!  IMG_0304

I am trained in yoga therapy, and practicing hatha yoga has done me a lot of good for everything from herniated disks to car accidents and post-traumatic stress, but I’ve been teaching kids yoga for 14 years, so apparently I know nothing!

I had a couple of sessions of acupuncture in 2005 by Western practitioners, but it didn’t do what Ueda at Reflex did for me!

And as for the Western doctors, even with so called “great insurance” I get via my husband’s work, that insane nightmare will take an entire blog post to tell you what happened, even recently trying to get help!

In all fairness, my son went to Palmer Chiropractic Clinic in Port Orange, Florida four years ago to get a school physical, and the school offered low-cost adjustments for kids. I had sent him to an Outward Bound program and he came back with a hurt back. I thought, “Oh, my god! I sent him out to be a man, and he came back an old man!” The chiropractor there did their snapping and cracking and removed the pain, he said. I just was too terrified to do that snap, crackle, pop again!

So at Reflex in Osaka, I used Google translate on my I-Phone to fill out his intake sheet best I could. Relating that I have had a lot of stress and been having headaches and more from many things – my father died the day I moved to Japan. Then I had to go back to the U.S. a week later, then back to Japan. There’s stress of moving to a new country, not knowing the language, being isolated, and then there’s Osaka’s summer heat! SWELTERING!

I changed my outside shoes at the door for the white indoor slippers and then into the provided T-shirt and loose slacks in the changing area. Ueda doesn’t speak much English, but enough to function well and say basics of movements to turn up or down on the chiropractic table, which looks like a massage table. I knew to use some isometric holding and resistance to his movements when he said, “Hold, please,” so that was helpful beforehand to know what to do.

Japanese chiropractor

I was shown different pages of his book with the English word.

Some nice aromatherapy misted in the background, as did some new-age sounding Japanese music that was soothing and relaxing.  During the first session, not knowing anything about his work, it felt like a cross between some Thai massage, Chinese medicine and acupressure, and even some rolfing, structural integration, which I’d had a complete series twice in my life, considering it originated in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. I have a high threshold for physical pain as he broke up some very tense muscles in my left leg, which some people may not be able to handle, but he can use other techniques if you can’t.

Then he flipped through a big bilingual reference book to show me the English words for what was up. “Tight, adductor” on my left thigh. “Tight hamstrings,” something I’ve had my whole life no matter how much yoga I did. My sacroiliac joint and walking around Osaka a lot likely contributed to that.

He didn’t use electric appliances at all. All the treatment was done by his incredibly strong hands alone, which is not how things are in the United States. He worked up from my feet, legs, having me flip over occasionally, “Up, please. Down, please,” No cracking! No snapping! No sudden movements that would freak me out! It was relaxing. He then worked on my head, throat and neck, where it felt good to relax as he worked.

What he did next amazed me. He sprang up and flipped through his book, “Large intestine.” Next page flipping, “Small Intestine.” Flipping through more pages, “Valve syndrome.” In a flash I remembered a problem that started about a year after my first husband died 14 years ago. It hasn’t been bothering me lately, and I didn’t even imagine a chiropractor could treat it so didn’t mention it as I had forgotten about it. How did he even know?!?!

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Very motivated to learn Japanese!

Thirteen years ago I had gone to a Western Doctor who didn’t even look me in the eye when he spent the 15 minutes with me and ordered an ultrasound in the appendix and liver area where I was having this inflammation pain. An assistant of his called me a week later with the results saying, “You have kidney stones. “Drink more water.”

I took that to heart in the dry Colorado environment I spent my whole life in, going on cleanses, drinking parsley tea and tons and tons and TONS OF WATER! Still the pain persisted, and considering how impersonal the whole thing was, I swore to go to alternative medicine, like an Ayurvedic doctor from then on. She helped me enormously in many ways, especially adult acne I always suffered from and changing my diet and lifestyle. She knew my liver was congested, and my body’s vitality was low. I also did blood tests with a regular doctor in Buenos Aires, Argentina when I lived there in 2010 who confirmed a congested liver.  My nurse midwife who I had always gone back to for my annual exams until she retired, gave me to closest clue what was going on. That it was my ascending colon and that there was a kink or something which food was getting stuck, she said. Plus adrenal overload from all my stress.

Japanese Chiropractor Reflex, Shinmachi, OsakaSo I was astonished that Ueda in Japan knew what was going on internally, just by feeling my head, glands, pulse, etc! A lot like Ayurvedic doctors can tell from your pulse. He also pointed out, “Lungs – metal, Kidney – water.”  I thanked him profusely after my first session, and booked another for next Friday, same time!

I went home to research it all. The ileocecal valve is often overlooked by doctors. It can be caused by a great deal of emotional stress, such as I have had. It is a sphincter muscle situated at the junction of the ileum, (last portion of your small intestine) and the colon (first portion of your large intestine.) Its function is to allow digested food materials to pass from the small intestine into your large intestine It can cause a whole host of problems if it’s not functioning correctly. Like all of mine! Like overloading the liver and more.

We communicated via Facebook too, as easier to write and have it instantly translated via computer. Also Google Translate on the I-phone is amazing tech. Ueda started studying chiropractic 17 years ago and in practice for nearly 12, he explained. He majored in chiropractic applied kinesiology and in 2015 acquired qualifications for acupuncture and moxibustion treatment.

He outlined his procedures and what he thought was going on with my body. He mentioned my adrenal glands and fatigue were likely contributing to my hot flashes (and I thought it was menopause, among other things going on with me. Menopause symptoms caused by stress in which adrenal glands can’t function any more and allow ovaries to produce estrogen, I researched online. There’s no such word in Japanese for “hot flash!” These things are not normal parts of menopause! It’s a stress nightmare out there! Relax everybody!

The second session I booked for two hours, and the first thing he did was show me a skeletal form of the foot, and had prepared in English beforehand that my left foot had some kind of sprain or trauma in past. Once again, in a flash I remembered something I had forgotten about. Something I hadn’t thought about in 45 years was when I was 4-years old I sprained my ankle stepping out of a shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico when we lived in Albuquerque. Obviously it didn’t heal right or my mother didn’t follow up with the doctor. She was that type of mother. Same thing with my orthodontics. She stopped them, but I have some TMJ that has caused a lot of facial pain over the years, and more! So it’s been amazing. No one else has ever pointed this out to me. They just threw prescription drugs at me! Which I take none of. Things are related! One part of the body affects the others. Or your nervous system, adrenal glands, ankles – you name it! Holistic approaches work! 

He also manipulated the area of the small and large intestinal valve, and my naval area. Again, I had forgotten that I had a herniated belly button, likely related. I never realized a chiropractor could do so much! I thought it was for the spine and bones, but it’s all related! I had told a Western doctor a few months back about the herniated belly button and she said, “So, it’s a herniated belly button.” I ditched her and went to another doctor. Guy didn’t even address it!

After my second session with Ueda at Reflex  I woke up the next day without a migraine, my face and neck feeling good. My back feels great and things feeling overall balanced. I still have healing work to do, and am back to restorative yoga. But here I watched from Japan the insane nightmare of the Health Care debate in the U.S. Poor Americans! If only they could benefit from the great Universal Health Care in Japan and other parts of the world the U.S. encourages!  My insurance via my husband says, chiropractor covered 100% and I can go to anybody I want, but if I go to the U.S. and need a doctor, have to go to their “In Network” doctors. So much for freedom! SICK!

According to an article in The Atlantic, “Dating back to the Marshall Plan in post-WWII Europe, General Douglas MacArthur’s 1945-1949 occupation of Japan, and then the Korean War, it has been a matter of U.S. foreign policy to invest in the creation of universal health systems. More recently, the Marshall Plan was cited by AFRICOM in support of a Department of Defense engagement in health systems construction across Africa. This year, South Africa was the number one recipient of health aid from the United States, totaling nearly $470 million, much of which is supporting the country’s 14-year program to build universal health coverage.”

Of course, you must make up your own mind about which health care doctor to visit, as everybody has individual needs. But If you are an expat or Japanese or ANYBODY who wants high-quality health care at an affordable price that gives you relieve without all the gobbledygook mess of  “in network” doctors who just want to pump you full of pharmaceuticals and are just in it for the money, visit Reflex! Ueda Yoshiyasu is truly concerned about healing you! I can’t wait for this Friday’s session!

Of which I must say, to update this, he did do a “thrust” as the Google translate called it, for my mid thorasic area where a yoga teacher had pointed out to me before where I as “Stuck.” But Ueda asked permission first to prepare me, and it was completely different, using his whole body behind mine on the table. So there is some popping, just not scary as I experienced it in the West!

Reflex Chiropractic

Osaka City Nishi-ku Nishi-ku Nishimachi 1 – chome 21-3 Kobayashi Building 1 – E

Phone: 06-6536-1418

Business hours: Monday from 11 am to 21:30 Tuesday 11: 21: 30 Wednesday from 11 to 21: 30 Closed on Thursday Friday from 11 o’clock to 21:30 Saturday from 11 to 21: 30 Sunday from 11 to 21: 30

Osaka Tenjin Matsuri Festival: Opportunity to Participate In The Cosmos


I felt the world reenchanted and a reconnection to sacred time when I was transported out of mundane time by participating in the Tenjin Matsuri Festival in Osaka July 24-25. A festival that is considered one of the top three festivals in Japan and has been held at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine for over 1,000 years, it allows young and old to cut through the one-dimensional rationality that dominates our consumer society and momentarily restore the sacred connection to the cosmos.

Children carrying portable shrine at the Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Children carrying a mikoshi, a portable shrine, at the Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan

In Japan, there is still a living mythology that sustains its people, even though the Japanese are losing interest in Buddhism, and recently 60 traditional festivals were cancelled due to population decreases. An official at the Chiba Prefectural Government said that rural communities are struggling to find people to inherit the traditions as their population grays and declines. That’s me! There’s open immigration to Japan in all categories! Wanna join me?

Dancer at Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka Japan by Sydney Solis

Karuga dancer at Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka Japan

Because as capitalism and consumerism dominate culture, and depression and suicide increase worldwide, indeed this loss of soul connection to the cosmos seems to be directly contributing to the decline of the world and the spirit of Japan’s folk-life and the Japanese people, as Japan now has a record low-birth rate, and needs foreign workers just to fill jobs and keep consuming to fight its chronic deflation. Literally, this death of ritual and culture and the need for ecstasy and to participate in the mysteries of the universe in favor of politics and economics and consuming our experience and world rather than participating in it is contributing to human extinction. How did this happen?

A man receives a blessing from the Shinshi, lion, during Tenjin Matsuri Festival at Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

A man receives a blessing from the Shishi, lion, during Tenjin Matsuri Festival at Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

During the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th Century era of the Enlightenment, scientific consciousness separated mind from body. Myths that guided society were seen as false, and the relationship that for 99 percent of recorded history people had to the world was no longer “enchanted” or animated with spirit. People no longer had a participatory consciousness to the world with a belief in the sacredness or meaningfulness in the cosmos, but rather an alienated consciousness as an isolated observer of nature, Science Historian Morris Berman says in his book, The Re-Enchantment of the World.

Miko, or shrine maidens, are like priestesses at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine Tenji Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Miko, or shrine maidens, are like priestesses at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine Tenji Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan

Morris’s book was highly influential for me when I read it years ago, seeking to participate more fully in my world rather than just consume it.  Baptized Catholic, growing up I didn’t feel much connection to the mysterium tremendum by its way of guilt, sin, suppressed sexuality (nuts!) and threats of hell, for a myth is supposed to sustain your life to cope with its crises of birth, adolescence, disease and death, according to Religious Scholar Charles H. Long in his book, Alpha, The Myths of Creation

I’ve marveled at the religious processions to Mother Mary in Latin America I’ve seen, but the only thing in the United States I experienced was as a correspondent for the Bakersfield Californian, covering a small Our Lady of Guadalupe procession. Then there’s Mardi Gras I participated in 1987, but that was about getting drunk, not a religious experience! And after Vatican II took away a lot of the mystery by ending mass in Latin and facing parishioners, the ritual lost its ability to pitch people out of ordinary consciousness into the sacred. But it’s making a comeback!

The Lion Dance, or Shinshi-mai at Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenji Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

The Lion Dance, or Shinshi-mai at Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenji Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan

Since it was my first mythology, I did take Jesus’ stories of teaching little kids, healing the sick, loving your enemies, healing the poor and kicking out banksters to heart though! And yoga provided me with ritual via the body practicing asana, as well as connection to the cosmos that as a confirmed Buddhist, daily meditating peeled away the separating ego mind to allow me to sink into the ocean’s depths of everything and be in union with it. For the purpose of myth, according to Mythologist Joseph Campbell, is to put the mind in harmony with the body and the body in harmony with the environment. That’s when the boons come. 

Miko in main shrine at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Miko seated in main shrine at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan.

So heading down to the festival in the intense heat and humidity of Osaka at midsummer with fans flapping furiously everywhere, I indeed felt enchanted, connected to something wonderful, just by participating in it. Tenjin Matsuri literally means “festival of the gods” in which the kami ,  or gods, are transported by Shinto followers in mikoshi 神輿, a divine palanquin paraded through the streets.

Worshipers pray at the main shrine of Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Worshipers pray at the main shrine of Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan

Kami are the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in Shinto religion. Kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, good and evil characteristics. They are manifestations of musubi 結び, the interconnecting energy of the universe, and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards. Kami are believed to be “hidden” from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own, shinkai 神界 “the world of the kami.” To be in harmony with the awe-inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi (随神の道 or 惟神の道, “the way of the kami.

Shinshi, lion, mask at Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Shishi-garisha, lion, mask at Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan.

Now I don’t need to appropriate this religion, but I can appreciate it and make it part of my Mythic Yoga Journey of individuation and personal mythology to find meaning in my own life in these modern times. Just being in a shrine compound with its rich details, rituals and symbolism is an experience to pass from profane time to sacred time, as one passes through a Torii gate, just as one passes through a Catholic cathedral’s mandorla shaped doors, or participating in a purification ritual by washing at a temizuya 手水舎, water ablution pavilion for ceremonial purification, many times protected by a dragon.

Sydney Solis blessed by the Shimshi, lion, at the Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

Sydney Solis blessed by the Shishi, lion, at the Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

Shinto has ritual of clapping and bowing when praying, as well as participatory activities of talismans; buying plaques, called ema 絵馬, and writing wishes on them before tying them to ema stand and making offerings. Again, it’s not that it’s about belief in superstition, but a conscious effort at making something real, the purpose of ritual, which in Latin means repetio materi descendi, repeatedly descending into matter. Because the psyche doesn’t know the difference between real or imagined, so what you believe can be powerful! That’s why they call it make believe! Create your world! And I believe in living in accord with nature, for nature in Latin literally means birth. So the destruction of nature by the West is a mere suicide cult in my opinion! 

, lion masks used in Lion Dance at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri. Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Shishi-gashira, lion masks used in Lion Dance at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri. Osaka, Japan.

I paid 1000 Yen for a towel (you need it during humid Osaka summers!) and to be blessed by the lion, Shishi, 獅子 which included the wooden, lacquered shishi-gashira, lion’s head putting its mouth over my head for good luck, as I have been having lion dreams for a while, so I honor my personal mythology and here a lion shows up! They have been showing up in powerful, synchronistic ways for a while! And when synchronicities appear in your life, that means you are on the right path!

Drumming during dancing at Tenjin Matsuri Festival at Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis.

Drumming during dancing at Tenjin Matsuri Festival at Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

I had no idea before I investigated this festival that a lion would appear! I received a O-fuda 御 talisman as well from the blessing, and an elderly man handed me an official fan from the shrine, maybe because he thought this Gaijin, western woman, had the courage to go up and do it! And was interested enough in participating in this wonderful ritual that I can find my own courage, luck and power from the experience.

Umbrella dancer at Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Umbrella dancer at Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan

Flutes, drums, umbrella dancers and gamelan sounding music and dance were everywhere, as were endless parade of different mikoshi carried by children or adults.  I marveled at the beautiful parade of Miko 巫女, shrine maidens, who used to play a more important part in the religious ceremony of its original matriarchal culture, acting as priests, soothsayers, magicians, prophets and shamans in the folk religion, and they were the chief performers in organized Shintoism, according to William P. Fairchild’s book, Shamanism in Japan. I’m sure I am a reincarnated priestess of some sort…..

Children are a big part of the Tenjin Matsuri festival. This little boy was chosen to wear the shishi-gashira, Lion's Mask, at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Children are a big part of the Tenjin Matsuri festival. This little boy was chosen to wear the shishi-gashira, Lion’s Mask at the Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

After 1867 the Meiji government’s desire to create a form of state Shinto headed by the emperor—the shaman-in-chief of the nation—meant that Shinto needed to be segregated from both Buddhism and folk-religious beliefs. As a result, official discourse increasingly repeated negative views of Miko and their institutions, according to Gerald Geomer in his book, “Female Shamans in Eastern Japan during the Edo Period.”

The Shishi-mai, or lion dance, was extremely interesting to watch, the protective powers of the animal. I watched several lion dances, which is a form of Kagura 神楽, かぐら, “god-entertainment,” traditional dancing at Shinto Shrines, and found out the main Lion dance wasn’t until 3:30. But by noon it was getting REALLY HOT and my left foot started cramping after two hours there, and these activities go on and on and on morning, noon and night, and it was only the 24th! 

Shrine

Massive crowds along the river in Osaka for Tenjin Matsuri evening of fireworks and boat parade on the 25th of July.

More activities happen on the main day of the 25th, which my hubby, Steve, and I wandered over to along the river and experienced the intense crowds and activity of festival goers to see fireworks and the boat parade. We were exhausted and the crowds overwhelming, but I got a good experience of this festival and will be back next year more informed and more prepared.

A Shishi, lion, blessing businesses at the Tenjinbashisuji local shopping area in Osaka, Japan during Tenjin Matsuri Festival. Photo by Sydney Solis

A Shishi, lion, blessing businesses at the Tenjinbashisuji local shopping area in Osaka, Japan during Tenjin Matsuri Festival.

Going home on the afternoon of July 24th, I walked through a shopping district and more Lion’s dances were going on as the performers would enter businesses and shops to bless them. What a nice tradition! One doesn’t have to literally believe in it, but it brings something magical and other-worldly suspension of time and space to our psyches, a respite from the flat, mundane world paved over by “progress.” For religious historian Mircea Eliade in his book, The Myth of the Eternal Return, says that suspension of time and space via ecstatic ritual is a form of spiritual renewal. Something our society doesn’t get much these days. Unless you practice yoga!

Mask seller at the street fair lining the river in Osaka during Tenjin Matsuri Festival in Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Mask seller at the street fair lining the river in Osaka during Tenjin Matsuri Festival in Japan.

Psyche means soul in Greek, so our psyches stuck in only the intellectual function are dying, literally, without ecstatic experience in a mechanized world, hence all the addiction problems, and even karoshi 過労死 death by overwork.  I can’t help but wonder if modern people can incorporate some ritual, from whatever religion or tradition or from their dreams, to ease the malaise in their lives and society these days and find renewal to help them cope with life’s challenges.

Women in kimonos out enjoying the evening during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan.

Women in kimonos out enjoying the evening during Tenjin Matsuri Festival on July 25, Osaka, Japan.

In his review of Berman’s The Reenchantment of the World, Essayist George Scialabba says, “Drawing on Marcuse, Laing, and many others, Berman persuasively and soberingly depicts the modern landscape as a scene of “mass administration and blatant violence,” widespread anxiety, depression, alienation, and despair. The metastasis of drugs, television, tranquilizers, therapy, consumerism–all are symptoms of a contemporary sickness of the soul, which only a new world view can heal.

Chochins, lanterns, mean celebration. Lanterns during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis

Chochins, lanterns, mean celebration. Lanterns during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan.

Arguing that the holistic world view must be revived in some credible form before we destroy our society and our environment, he explores the possibilities for a consciousness appropriate to the modern era. Ecological rather than animistic, this new world view would be grounded in the real and intimate connection between man and nature.

Child looking at lion on portable shrine at Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis.

Child looking at lion on portable shrine at Temmangu Shinto Shrine during Tenjin Matsuri Festival, Osaka, Japan.

Only by recovering those aspects of the prescientific worldview that enabled premodern men and women to live in union with their surroundings and in harmony with their unconscious, can we survive. Science and capitalism have broken that harmony and disenchanted the world. Somehow, we must reenchant it.”

Family fun at the Tenjin Matsuri street festival, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis.

Family fun at the Tenjin Matsuri street festival, Osaka, Japan.

Reenchant it we must! Connect to something in your life deep within beyond the outer world of consuming every holiday dominated by buying and selling these days. Visiting a Shinto shrine, cathedral or participating in a festival, taking a walk in nature and connecting to animals, or participating with mindful, personal meaning in the rituals of the religion of your choice that helps you cope with life, (religio in Latin means re-link) not just consuming a lot of commercialized merchandize and food at a western festival, may be just the prescription needed for what ails you and the world!

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” – Joseph Campbell

Child being blessed by Lion, Shishi, during Tenjin Matsuri Festival at Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan. Photo by Sydney Solis.

Child being blessed by Lion, Shishi, during Tenjin Matsuri Festival at Temmangu Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

This Domestic Goddess is Really Hot This Osaka Summer

Sydney Solis in Osaka on her Mythic Yoga Journey. Turning Japanese with a great new haircut!

Turning Japanese begins with a great haircut! Especially something short and manageable for the Osaka heat! Walked across the street from my apartment to the Capelli Malena Salon for this cut!

They warned me that it gets hot in Osaka during the July and August months. They were not kidding.

It is hot, HOT, HOT and humid, and we have figured out why the Ocean Day Holiday ritual yesterday took place at 4:30 a.m.! Because that’s when you go out, or in the evening, avoiding the pounding rays and intense humidity and heat of the city.

Now I love heat, having escaped 38 years of winter of my life in Colorado. I will take heat over cold any day! I lived in the heat of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands for two years. The heat cranked up at the end of August and seared through September, finally relenting by late October. I got used to it, mostly, the kids complaining so they piled into my room and we slept with the air conditioning on.

I acclimated easier it seemed, especially since it cost a small fortune to run AC in the USVI. I remember having a Halloween party for my daughter’s Sixth Grade class during Hurricane Sandy, which was pounding New York then, sucking up all the air and leaving it completely still  and suffocating on the island. All my Goddess Kali costume make-up just slid off, and one becomes immobile from the heat. So when we moved to Florida, it was not hot to me, and I left the AC off a lot, something Americans just don’t know how to do, turn off the AC. It sure saves your skin!

Sydney Solis in Osaka on her Mythic Yoga Journey.

Avoiding the heat of the day, it’s nice in the evenings. That top left light is our place!

Ditto in Buenos Aires where we lived for five months before moving to the USVI or Florida where I met my husband. By December it was a heat wave, the city feeling like a microwave heating your guts from the inside out, and my son even got heat stroke, even though I begged him to drink lots of water (those kids.) Deal with that when you’re a single mom in a foreign country! Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love book has nothing on me! She had no problems.  We left Buenos Aires just in time by the time January hit, as do all the city dwellers to the beaches. But it was not humid like here. So Osaka is the HOTTEST I’ve ever experienced

Women in Osaka wear visors and hats with UV protection and lots of umbrellas are seen on the street to shade their lovely skin and just cut down on the sheer intensity of the sun’s rays on the asphalt and cement. The weather predicted rain all weekend and more, but it has yet to transpire.  Reuters reported how Asia will really suffer under climate change,  If we don’t all die first from the Fukushima nuclear plant water being dumped into the sea. I’m more likely to die from sleeplessness and crankiness from the hot flashes I still get from menopause.

A plethora of fans in Tokyu Hands, Shinsaibahi, Osaka. Fans are essential in Osaka in the summer! Now I know why they exist!

A plethora of Japanese fans in Tokyu Hands, Shinsaibahi, Osaka. Fans are essential in Osaka in the summer! Now I know why they exist!

But I live in the moment. I’m not worried about that nor earthquakes nor North Korea. I lived through too much on my Mythic Yoga Journey™ to ever worry about death or going broke or anything again. Staring into the abyss is liberation. There are millions of ways to die, and since I believe in reincarnation and deathlessness anyways, I just don’t worry and chant mantra should fears arise (and sometimes they still do in the middle of the night. I had been a single mom doing everything myself and sleeping alone mostly for 14 long years.) That’s how Mythic Yoga got started anyways; it was a matter of survival.

Women with umbrellas to protect from heat and sun are a common sight in the neighborhood. Shinmachi, Osaka, Japan

Women with umbrellas to protect from heat and sun are a common sight in the neighborhood and Osaka, Japan during the summer months. 

We spent the long weekend attempting to walk around in the heat and get to know our neighborhood, soaking up the fine architecture or aromas that range from caramelized sugar to fish to curry to cigarette smoke. I started feeling heat prostration, bloated and exhausted, so I’m laying low now, writing and just doing errands at night, being a domestic goddess as I continue familiarizing myself with Osaka and adjusting to life in Japan while hubby is a salary man now, working hard and long hours.

Gonna cook up some food tonight with all the amazing tofu selections at Life Grocery store a block from the apartment. Domestic Goddess and Householder Yogini that I am! 

Gonna cook up some food tonight with all the amazing tofu selections at Life Grocery store a block from the apartment. Domestic Goddess and Householder Yogini that I am!

And I love being a domestic goddess. I’m the original Householder Yogini. I gave up the perceived rewards of capitalism that have gripped yoga in the United States so that I could indulge in being a mindful homemaker and take care of my kids, who are now awesome and rocking and independent and smart because I did. Because economy in Greek means household thrift, and me and my husband’s values are to live in harmony with nature, not against it. And Japan has those values of living in harmony with nature – pure nirvana! 

What an adorable little cat bed, Tokyu Hands, Shinsaibabshi, Osaka, Japan. I know my cats used to love boxes and drawers. The Japanese ingenuity is always amazing. Need to import these to the US!

What an adorable little cat bed, Tokyu Hands, Shinsaibabshi, Osaka, Japan. I know my cats used to love boxes and drawers. The Japanese ingenuity is always amazing. Need to import these to the US!

Besides the heat, I have been adjusting nicely, checking out with hubby the gigantic Don Quijote discount store in Dontonburi to look for household items as well as the Tokyu Hands in the Shinsaibashi neighborhood adjacent to hours. We are just looking for now, as these mega-stores can be overwhelming too. Beautiful goods everywhere, a sensory overload of choice and escalators going up, up, up vertically seven or more floors in these mega shopping centers. But the frugal, non-consumer me always planning for a while before a purchase and thinking of what I can do without or maybe still ship from the U.S.

Tokyu Hands, Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan jpg

Tokyu Hands, Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan 

This weekend we found more great vegetarian and vegan restaurants close to home we will patronize when I’m not indulging in my make-from-scratch talents, and I will write about them individually in separate blog posts. (My 19-year-old son back in DeLand, Florida is baking gourmet pizzas from scratch!) Glad to see people are getting healthier in the world, such as in Germany, citizens eschewing pork for health reasons, unlike obese Americans sucking on dead pig carcasses more than ever. (You are what you eat…..)

Docono phone store Namba, Osaka, Japan.

Getting a phone at the Docono phone store Namba, Osaka, Japan.

I sincerely love our Shinmachi neighborhood, quaint little shops with plants and objects galore left out that nobody would even think of stealing. I got a hair cut at Capelli Malena salon across the street from our apartment. They didn’t speak any English and our Japanese lessons don’t start till next week, but I managed to communicate anyways and get a great cut!

We may live on the 35th floor but we are just like everybody else. We bought a clothes line and dry outside to reduce our carbon footprint.

We may live on the 35th floor but we are just like everybody else. We bought a clothes line and dry outside to reduce our carbon footprint.

Nancy from ReLo Japan has been helping with the language and set the initial appointment and introduced me to other places, like the Hot Yoga studio on the corner. I can walk a block to the Life Grocery store where there is only a bicycle parking lot, not car parking lot, and no fat people either! No need for a car! Taxis are ubiquitous and subways stops too. (Although Steve says some cars can be sweltering during rush hours.)

Parking lot not for cars, but for bikes! No fat people either! Walked to Life Grocery store in Shinmachi, Osaka, Japan from our apartment one block away!

Parking lot not for cars, but for bikes! No fat people either! Walked to Life Grocery store in Shinmachi, Osaka, Japan from our apartment one block away!

Nancy also took me to get a phone. I usually take my kids’ hand-me downs, but broke down to get an I-phone 7 because the SIM card couldn’t be transferred and I do need internet, Google maps and translate and more! It’s a fresh start too, cause the Luddite I am can barely understand anything technical without massive frustrations (BREATHE) and help from the hubby. (My son is SOOOOOO glad I met Steve!) And my old phone and computer are OLD, and a mess. So. REBIRTH!

Lots of quaint little shops and things to see in our neighborhood in Shinmachi, Osaka, Japan. Tiny streets alive with people and few cars. This little Komainu, or dog-lion, sits outside a restaurant in the neighborhood.

Lots of quaint little shops and things to see in our neighborhood in Shinmachi, Osaka, Japan. Tiny streets alive with people and few cars. This little Komainu, or dog-lion, sits outside a restaurant in the neighborhood.

I’m going out later to pick up some fresh bread from the local bakery to the left of the apartment (You can actually have a small business in Japan still, unlike in the U.S.A.) and try to find some vinegar to use with newspapers to clean mirrors and glass with and do a little housekeeping here. We did buy a clothes line to dry our clothes with. We may live on the 35th floor, but we are just like everybody else. We care about our environment and our ego is not wrapped up in what we have nor do we waste time desiring it to keep up with the conformists in society. 

So my day is cut out for me today, after I do my morning writing work. I have started my online Mythic Yoga classes with clientele from India and the U.S, and working on finishing my book, and writing this blog and more sharing the mindful life in Japan as well as all the amazing Shinto and Buddhist shrines that dot the city, a serene respite from the mundane world. I am working on getting  a part-time work visa too and then I will be looking to do some live kids Storytime Yoga® English as a Second Language classes.

The Tenjin Matsuri festival, largest in Osaka, is next week. Love all the ritual and festivals that sustain people’s lives with a living mythology. Will blog about that too!

Till next time!

Sydney, In Osaka.