Temple Chronicle: 4th February

achala 1
There is no escape from suffering for Japanese Buddhist lay practitioners. Daily life and stark reality are the anchor of life here: no time for dreams and personal ambitions. Endless conversations about how foreigners practise the teachings of Nirvana often lead to the subject of retreats. Only monastic practitioners here have that opportunity.

The wide temple halls are filled with neat kneelings, the corridors polished with slippers, and escalators well trodden by hordes of attendees who travel long distances. Mass purification is advocated by the founder, the cutting of negative karma achieved in countless ways of purification. Vigorous practice takes on many forms. There is so much to do here to let the clouds of Dharma float freely, the traces of so much massacre and ritual suicide vanish.

Today is the embarkation day for the Masters so it is marked every year at this time. They followed their hearts and their mission to act on their compassion for all beings, giving up their comfortable way of life and of fulfilling the expectations of society. They had no idea what each day would bring for themselves or their children, but they shared the journey totally, supporting each other no matter what. This is what Buddha Shakyamuni did also, in the firm belief that he could overcome anything by walking away from creature comforts, from his family. Cutting off his long hair and giving his princely robes to his servant, he set off into the unknown. There was no belief system to support him, and there were no fellow-travellers. He had only his compassion and his knowledge that suffering was a tool to reach true liberation from the stranglehold of the mind.

We can renounce every day. In your mind, you can die a little death, the death or extinguishing of human craving, human fear. Fear can die and wither away just like the body does, and with that, true nature reveals itself. Fear narrows the spirit, roping it in, forcing the poison of greed and ignorance and hatred through the veins. By letting go of everything we have ever known, standing naked, blind, deaf, decommissioned, in the great stillness and silence, our original goodness can fragrance everything. We become able to wear physical death like a veil, and human life a tunic.

Living with no system or framework to slip unconsciously into: Living full-time in our individual temples of goodness and beauty: Here and Now, truly settled in the dead centre of each second of man’s time with no thought of being anywhere or anyone else, the mists and dust clouds clear so that we embody the divine light. It shines eternally thanks to the enveloping darkness.

Especially here in Japan, the land of the collective conscience, individual and diverse lights are badly needed, and the inner beauty of each soul is bursting to emerge. The fear of not-conforming and being undutiful is a paralysis. The fear of not wearing the masks of ‘following’ or ‘accepting’ are prohibitive to the true flourishing of Buddha Nature, to catching the lightning glimpses of enlightenment which persistently suffuse in the air. The joy of actually overcoming the extreme difficulties of human birth and all hardships to follow is our contentment.

The master gently invites us to put aside duty and compulsion to conform so that our true nature can shine out.

The lotus blooms only when its roots anchor in mud.

Kamakura buddha

Advertisements

Reading the Air: a Christian in Japan

kotatsu

We sit on the hot carpet at the low table, which is so natural to me even though I have spent a lifetime being expected to sit on ill-fitting chairs with my head proudly in the air. This carpet insulates us from the freezing rocks below us of the island of Honshyu, western Japan, in mid-winter. I have never known such bone-chilling coldness as we have out here in the northern Pacific in winter.

I remember the first winter in our paper house by the Yodo river in Kyoto well. The bathroom was divided from the rest of the house by paper-clad sliding doors, but was in truth a wooden structure crammed into the tiny garden with a tin roof added. It consisted of a rough concrete floor, a sunken hip-bath in a tiny bath house, and a wash basin and washing machine both of which often had a layer of ice on them. I remember running from the sliding doors, closing them deftly behind meoutside bathroom to keep the flimsy warmth in, parting the dripping washing hanging with icicles, and then jumping in to the stainless steel tiny bath with relief.

One day, I ask you to listen to a piece of glorious church organ music: the Toccata by dazzling Widor, a nineteenth century masterpiece inspired by the glory of God. You are not touched by it at all, while my tears surface, I swallow madly, and succumb to total occupation by flocks of pimpled geese. You don’t even know what the instrument being played is, so I show you a youtube performance so you can see the complexities of the different keyboards, the stops which you think are some kind of telephone exchange, and the foot pedals which you say your legs could never reach.

I ask you to listen to it again, and to notice the splendour and joy ringing out into the massive vault of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. In an attempt to inspire you I say, ‘D’you realize that this Notre Damecathedral was built to fill with the sound of this mighty pipe organ as big as this house, exactly to glorify God?’ You politely acknowledge this fact, but clearly do not know why it is so important.

It is at that moment that I realize that my history as a European is swathed in such traditions and sentiments that I cannot explain to you, and know that you can probably never relate to it. This invisible force which has filled my unconscious life, and that of my ancestors reaching back to the time of the original teachings of Jesus Christ and beyond, surfaces from time to time in a harrowing but ecstatic way. I have no control over it, and there is no way to explain it as I experience it. I marvel at the flowering of genius in Christian Europe and its counterpart in the Muslim world, the passion and aspirations to ascend to heaven, to go back to God, their sacred origin, that my ancestors lived out.torii

Your passion is quieter, more realistic some would say. Your ancestors were not related to the imperial family who practiced the Buddhist faith imported from China, and so religious sentiment did not develop in the same way here. Shinto, the religion of the people, has instilled you with a sense of the 84,000 shinto priestgods or Kami-sama of existence. Your ancestors were mountain practitioners subsisting in the rugged crags, connected with the mystical through forest gongens (local emanations of Buddha) and Earthly and Heavenly deities.

The visible world. Huge stone blocks and steeples raised up towards the heavens. The intricacies of music and art dedicated to God impressively manifest in the pipe organ which was designed to fill huge stone vessels of Cathedrals and citadels with glorious sound. The precious metals and gems encrusting images of the saints, the Madonna, the risen Christ ascending into the heavenly realm. The determination of Christian champions, risking their lives to keep the teachings of Christ safe at the Crusades. The passion to earn the right to go back to God and not plummet down to the devil’s realm. The strong almost defiant energy to merge visible and invisible realms.

The invisible world. Shrines, jinja, built into mountain-sides. Red Torii gates placed carefully for the returning spirits to pass through. The purifying with water and thermal energy bubbling up from the massive kamifault-lines below the islands of Japan, and the will to survive massive earthquakes and rebuild. The focus on the 5 elements and keeping them balanced. The earth and the Heavens, with humans connecting the two. The evil deities of fox and snake, and the placation of destiny with kegs of sake and white silk kimonos. The guarded minimal expression of inner feelings, and the sense of duty to see one’s life through to the end despite great suffering and abject loneliness, which drove many to suicide by gruesome incisions. The quiet psychic acceptance of the unity of visible and invisible. The hushed tones and quirky songs accompanied by drums and strings, and the masked dancing imitating the animal kingdom.

onsenYou are quietly reading the newspaper as these feelings and thoughts surge through me almost too rapidly to capture on paper. I look up to see what you are reading, and there I see large adverts for female underwear and prostitutes, for public baths and spas, and I smile. You are so open where we are closed, and you closed where we are open, and I feel a kind of glorious amalgamation in our existence together.

Here there are few physical taboos – public nakedness and appearing in flimsy robes is a normal state in the heat, money is the main feature of most conversations, and tears flow freely for others suffering. There is no segregation of the sexes, except that the male, the maker of money, is unashamedly considered to be a King by his family, worshipped as a god, and may have female valets if wealthy.

After all, this is the land of the 84,000 gods, made from brine dripped from the end of a jewelled spear belonging to Izanagi and Izanami, the first beings. They innocently compared their bodies to find that female Izanami had a part that had not yet grown, and that male Izanagi had an excess growth. He proposed that he place his excess part in her empty part so that they could produce more land! Innocence and sincerity, a kind of naivety and simplicity, has survived here. It produces hope for the world largely filled with excess passions and obsessions, with hide-and-seek, lust and covetousness, and the immaculate conception.

christian martyrs in japan

 

Reading the Air: Homage to Japanese Writers of English

 

international writersThe shinkansen of this year-long writing course has finally pulled into the terminus, all grades are submitted and all drafts polished into their final versions. It’s a satisfying feeling to have taken my wonderful young women writers in Japan by the hand on this writing journey. It has needed courage and hard work to make it to the end, but that is exactly what writing is all about.

As writers, we have to believe above all else that the sentences and paragraphs we formulate within the accepted conventions of writing are worthy of the attention of our readers. Of course, there is a kind of Glass Ceiling for foreign writers of English to break through, as well as that still to be found in sectors of education, commerce and government. The foreign writer’s glass ceiling is made thick and opaque by the perfections of grammatical structures, forests of punctuation symbols, topics, introductions and conclusions, all compacted like arctic-ice. At times, you may have wondered how you could ever break through its denseness.

But I have found it to be true that non-verbal ‘courage’ and ‘self-belief’ will always burn throughglass ceiling such barriers. They go beyond culture and mother-tongue, beyond class and gender, because we are all part of the human family. The challenge of magically transforming ideas, notions, views and perspectives, into ‘running ants’ on a page created with ink, is enormous, especially when they are a species of ant you are not familiar with. You may wonder why I refer to words as ‘running ants.’ As you may imagine, and as usual,  I have a story to tell about this.

20 years ago, I had the great good fortune to be a world traveller for two years. I packed a ruck sack with my essential belongings, sold or stored everything else, and set off for the adventure of my life! Of course, many things happened to me: some wonderful, some shocking, some which would change my life entirely. One such life-changing episode happened deep in the south Australian desert where I was given the opportunity to participate in a Rotary Club project. Our mission was to help a tribe of aboriginals move back into traditional life deep in their precious aboriginal lands, which white fella cannot easily survive in because it is so hot. In fact, it is the hottest place on earth!

Marlu

So, after flying over desert ditches for 13 hours, being thrown around in a land-cruiser and almost choking on red desert dust, we arrived at the settlement, and were greeted by the female leader of the tribe, Ninija. People said that she was around 120 years old, and as soon as I met her, I knew my life was going to change.

She was tiny, black-skinned, ginger-haired, and so powerful spiritually. We became very close, and in fact she immediately regarded me as her assistant and her scribe. Eventually, through broken English and an interpreter, we were able to communicate very meaningfully and I realized that Ninija had more wisdom than anyone I had ever met. She set about teaching me so many things about desert life, healing and bush medicines, and much much more.

Then one day, as we set off deeper into the Lands without roads or communication of any kind, Ninija and her people virtually naked and barefoot, she called me to her and told me that she had a story she wanted to tell ‘white-fella,’ the name she had for all white civilized people, and that I must write it down so they could read it. In the cool of hand-built shade shelters built by the women of the tribe, as we rested in the middle of the day because it was too hot to walk, she would tell me her messages imagefor white-fella and I would write them down in a notebook with pen and ink.

She laughed so hard when I first wrote on the thin flat white page, screaming out ‘running ants, running ants,’ as I scribbled. Ninija and her people do not know how to write or read the way we do, and they have no need to. All their stories and songs are handed down from one generation to another and perfectly memorized!

So, stories and songs are so important to Ninija and her people, and indeed to all indigenous peoples. They are filled with wisdom, which leaves our civilized modern wisdom way behind. Ninija could not understand how my people could get her message through ‘running ant’ marks on a page, but she trusted me to make it possible. And so I did. One day, I hope you can read her story in my Australian novel, ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy,’ and maybe her messages will go running into your imagination and give you courage and determination to break through all ceilings which may appear from time to time in your life. I very much hope so.

I feel so proud of your achievements during this year. Please go on writing forever, and realize that the written word has the power to reach people in a way that nothing else can.

international writers 1

Reading the Air: the gravitational pull of rooms and lips

reading the air 2

There’s nothing more to say, and nothing much has been said. Quantities of talk are measured carefully like rice and tea, and so we revert to our mother culture in such times of impasse. You immerse yourself in sucking up countable buckwheat noodles and exactly one-measure of scorching green tea with your full pink-beige lips, while I spread butter thoroughly on crisp home-made bread and silently sip endless cups of expresso with my thin pale red.

lips

When we can no longer communicate, we busily occupy our lips in contrasting ways, modes which are alien to each of us: Sucking is frowned upon in Christian countries. We silently receive the body and the blood of Christ, and our lips are thin so sensitive to high temperatures, somehow better designed for ice and cold winds. Hard and crisp foods are usually avoided in Japan, soft creamy and jellied textures are delighted in, dry foods and vegetable/fruit skins believed to be impossible to digest and awkward to pick up with chop sticks. Therefore, these lips are supremely suited to sucking and humidity.

It is winter, so you retire to your tatami kingdom, comforted by the smell of dried-reed flooring and its springiness, kneeling at a low table in front of the butsudan laden with offerings for bringing good fortune in the New Year. You glue your eyes to News and Discussion programmes on a wide slim TV screen with the sound turned down as low as possible. The latticed shoji screens close out the detail of the thin segment of sky above the apartments opposite, but not the light. Meanwhile, I stay suspended on a tall summer stool at the kitchen island of Swedish design next door, in a long room surrounded by windows within view of the balcony filled with yellow winter pansies and cardinal phlox. I must never lose eye-contact with the same sliver of sky. I can hear you sucking your sormen behind the closed double sliding doors, but you are unable to hear my butter-spreading and crunching, the gooseberry jam pot lid clicking shut, the growling of the expresso machine as it forces hot water through coffee grounds.

shoji in tatami room

With darkness, the low sun dropped like a coin from a pocket behind the conifer-clad hills, you invite me to your ritual bath time –o furo hairimasu? Do you want to enter the bath tub? The craving for hot steam and moisture never ceases, even in foreign places where such things are difficult to find. Your lack of body-fat and addiction to scrubbing yourself, to the sluicing away of all impurities in the Sacred Way of the Gods (kami-sama) style, compel you to bathe every evening for long periods of time. I hear the swish of the home-made noren as they part, the metallic closing of the tub-room door, the clanking of the low pink plastic stool you sit on and the splash of the water scoop you take water from the bath with to douse yourself. Once the sluicing and scrubbing has subsided, you will lower your perfectly clean body into the sacred water and become still.

o furo

Earlier in the day, I, with my layers of body-fat and my impurities lingering, showered standing in a tiny space at the side of the small but deep tub. It is usually filled to the top and keenly covered with three lids that fit together to maintain the temperature of the water. I have to move into the corner as much as possible to avoid shower water accumulating on the tub-covers, because this soaking water, devoid of any soap or body debris, will be re-heated to use several times more, and eventually fed into the washing machine. I scrub briefly, rinse thoroughly, and leave. I rarely use the tub because is it too small to fold my long legs into.

But different cultures and languages, and our mother’s models of living efficiently in daily life for our respective physical types and environment, and what we naturally gravitate to if there is a choice, have nothing to do with this particular impasse. What we eat, how we clean ourselves, what we like to cast our eyes on from our dwelling, is a diversity which creates interest and intrigue, not domination and control. Our lips, our quantities of body fat, our preferences to stand or sit when we wash, are no grounds for separatism. Surely it is our willingness to express our appreciation of and compassion for each other that count most. Expressing, demonstrating, making how we feel crystal clear, outwardly displaying like rare birds or fish is what matters most. Demonstrating our depth of understanding and acceptance first of ourselves, exactly as we are, and then of each other, exactly as we are, in the environment we have chosen to position ourselves or to remain in, is precisely what being human is.

Can we ensure that we know ourselves sincerely now, here, inside our grand diversity? If we do, without blaming the infinite differences between us, we can bring our virtue into full view. The international harmony we long for between us can never be more than a flambe or an accident, unless we first know and accept ourselves. Then virtue can shine out, synchronizing and tuning our lip shapes and our voices to create true resonance.

gods of the earth

 

 

notes:

In Japan, most people live in small apartments, sleeping on futon on the floor often as a whole family which they fold away in cupboards to make space during the say, and storing their possessions in tall built-in cupboards fitted out with sets of plastic drawers to classify and collect items of a kind. Rooms are wonderfully adaptable to cold and hot weather, privacy and publicy, light and dark, due to light sliding doors which run in wooden tracks without metal fittings or springs with a distinctive hushed sound. Instead of curtains at the windows, they often have sliding latticed shoji like movable windows backed with paper, which can be removed entirely to let in daylight if necessary.

The entrance to bathrooms areas and kitchens are often adorned with noren, 2 jaunty short curtains on a simple wooden stick held up by hooks, and when we enter we must part the curtains and announce Konichiwa, Good Day. The entrance hall or genkan is also important with its rows of well-positioned shoes, various-sized shoe horns, and extensive cupboards to house the wide range of footwear.

Butsudan is the Buddhist home altar built as a free-standing tall cupboard, filled with ancestral death plaques and photographs, ritual instruments and offerings.

Flambe is a dramatic cooking method which ignites alcohol with a flame to singe and caramelise food.

Kami-sama are the spirits or phenomena worshipped in the religion of Shinto. They are elements in nature, animals, creationary forces in the universe, as well as spirits of the revered deceased. 

Reading the Air: Haniwa soul pots

 

IMG_0254

We don’t walk very often. Your weak leg injured in a serious traffic accident almost 20 years ago, doesn’t allow you to enjoy walking. You say it’s not that it’s painful, but simply that it’s extremely tiring to limp, even a little. So, when we do walk, it is a sacred act.  The walking place needs to be conveniently placed, with parking, so that as little effort as possible is expended. How fortunate then that the most magical and convenient place to walk is nearby.

I have always marvelled at the surprising arrangement of the land around this area called Abu-Yama, Abu mountain. There is no longer a mountain, but among the neat housing developments built in stark white mediterranean style instead of the usual concrete beige, there are islets of land fenced off and always tightly planted with bamboo trees. Around them a ring of water is deliberate, almost architectural.

The easy walking place is a huge island with a wide and deep moat all around it. The island is veiled by bamboo clumps, their straightness is like green pencils issued to represent the wild.  We walk around the island and its moat on a wide grassy pathway lined with tall clay pots; they drive us on round and round without a starting or ending point. Always the island is over our shoulder as we stroll and breathe. Few words are needed or desired because the atmosphere is solemn, and the serried pots somehow hush us.

I could be intellectually curious, desperate for an explanation of this place, but my mind is silent, cordoned off by chains and dust. I refuse to ‘know’ this place, categorise it, to rank it and file it away, because I am certain that it was not meant to be a fragment tossed into my collection of similar shards picked up on the beaches of experience.

We walk on under the shade of chestnuts, you with difficulty and me out of the dream of knowledge. The sentinel pots, not different from my own lobes of flesh, are whistling as the afternoon breeze plays over their various holes: large openings, small openings like pig’s nostrils, soldier’s buttonholes, the chimney of a house. The spirits passing in and out of these smooth ports, blend with ours. They are protected and conveyed by terra cotta within the island domain into which we are not allowed.

I feel this royal island is very important in my skin as it bubbles and behind my eyes as I Intuit. I have heard that Emperors are divine but I know nothing of them, unlike Kings and Queens. But I feel them this walking day, buried in deep tombs on islands in the suburbs, flanked by their soul pots.

I do not experience them, rendering them dead and incarcerated, and I certainly do not know them using the grinding tool of thought to erode. Instead, I become them, and still do when I want to. I am emperor and clay soul pot, so experience and thought are redundant, just cheap tricks.

My bright awareness of your emperors and their tombs walks effortlessly by your side this day. We do not talk, just whistle and pass through the soul holes of the pots and nobility of these archipelagos. Our heels go newly down into the earth with each step, our souls roll with novelty towards the toes of the heavens. We will not make fossils of this sacred place with our petty acquisitive minds.

Hokkaido

Nearby where I live in Kansai, in the west of the main island Honshu, Japan, there are many preserved Emperors tombs. During the 4th to 7th centuries, when Nara was the capital city of all Japan, and the seat of the imperial family, there were many emperors reigning in this area. Thus there are many collections of Haniwa, unglazed terra cotta cylinders and hollow sculptures that decorated the surface of the great mounded tombs (kofun). Haniwa sculptures could be as tall as 1.5 metres tall, and were made in a variety of forms: houses, human figures, animals, and a variety of military, ceremonial and household objects. But the basic common shape was the simple cylinder, averaging 40-50 centimetres in diameter and 1 metre high. The word Haniwa means clay ring. They were used to surround the tomb, standing in long lines, and each one had several holes made in their structure to allow the spirits to move through them. 

Reading the Air: Mama- san

image Some of my best friends and acquaintances in Japan are Mama-san. This sounds very exotic, conjuring up pictures of large-breasted  hostesses who provide wonderful food and drinks for needy and weary visitors. Of, course, large beasts are not usually part of the image here, but we can find the izakaiya, or informal bar, on most street corners. They are indicated by colorful red and white lanterns hanging outside, and inside are usually fairly small windowless cafes with a counter and beer pumps, food display cases, etc. and tables andimage chairs to sit at.

We do not need a reservation unlike for formal restaurants here, so we can go spontaneously and always be sure to be able to get tasty cold beer or sake (rice wine) or sho-chu (barley or potato vodka) and freshly cooked varied food. I live in the mountains of western Japan outside Osaka, so my local izakaiya which is called Yamaizakaiya chan or ‘Mama Mountain’ down a long flight of stone steps from my front door, is so convenient. Apart from that, it is highly gourmet, and being passionate about cooking myself, I have got to know the Mama-sans – there are two of them so we’re very blessed – and we exchange dishes. They are always keen to try to make their extensive menu more cosmopolitan.

Going there is always a great yet inexpensive treat. We open the door and are greeted loudly by three or sometimes four warm, apron-clad young women. In Japan, vendors and restaurant owners always shout loudly when customers enter their establishment to show their gratitude to the gods!izakaiya 1

Immediately, we are provided with iced water and oshibori (warm/chilled wet scented towel to refresh our hands), and the handwritten menus hanging above the counter, are swung around in front of us so we can place our order. There’s so much to choose from, but while we choose, we order freshly poured delicious malty beer in large glass mugs. In the hot summer here, almost everyone enjoys Japanese beer’s effervescence, which temporarily takes your breath away.

Japanese weather 5Sitting at the counter on high chairs is desirable because we can see all the cooking going on. The space behind the counter to westerners is incredibly small, but all the equipment and attractive serving dishes are fitted into their special niches, and the staff know the layout intimately.  Food is ordered, the fresh ingredients are displayed, and the cooking using all manner of equipment from frying pan to steamer to Bunsen burner to rice cooker, begins. The fragrances and site of the food being transformed into dishes is fascinating, so I love watching.

takoyaki

One of the most fascinating processes is native to Kansai in general and Osaka in particular, and involves octopus, a great delicacy here. It is called takoyaki and is available everywhere here, but our Mama-san’s version is highly gourmet. This is what it consists of.

okazuA thick batter is made using flour and soya and so on – the ingredients of this batter  are usually a closely guarded secret, so I cannot say more. Then small pieces of tendarised octopus are added to it. The cooking involves a large pan set on gas heat with between 15 and 25 round indentations about 3 or 4 diameters across. This special pan is greased with vegetable oil and heated until smoking, and then the batter is poured to fill each receptacle. Almost immediately the cook, using two long-handled turners, works rapidly to turn the crisping spheres so that they can brown evenly. This is a real skill, especially at speed.okazu 1

The smell is gorgeous while cooking, and eventually these crispy tasty spheres are turned out into an attractive dish, sprinkled with bonito shavings and eaten with a little mayonnaise if desired. This is a delicious light snack, and especially gourmet when made by our Mama san, who smiles and chats away while she’s performing this feat.

While we are drinking gorgeous chilled beer, it is our Mama-san’s habit to serve some tasty okazu, various snacks involving bamboo and lotus root, exotic cuts of fish and meat, sushi okazu 2with fresh salmon or gyoza, small steamed pastries filled with ginkgo nuts, cabbage and minced beef, and so on. Then the other dishes arrive, one after the other, freshly cooked, steaming hot and garnished with lemon, grated white radish, and unusual vegetables like chrysanthemum leaves and mountain potatoes.

We invited our Mamas to come for European lunch which I will describe in the next post. It was a very exotic lunch indeed. We must remember that Japan is a monoculture, so international exchanges re unusual for the majority of the nation. Some Japanese people have never ever been close to a foreigner. It is a privilege to be in Japan at this time as it opens up to the influences of the world.

social equality in Japan

Reading the Air: Eternal Zero

eternal zero

The story of this novel by Naoki Hyakuta (2012) is riveting and revealing. The topic is the Pacific War and the kamikaze or suicide pilots Japan is so famous for, a topic that the older generation nowadays in Japan do not care to discuss. Kami means ‘divine’ or ‘of the gods,’ kaze ‘spirit wind.’ This warrior’s sacred intention carried out in a mechanical age is a raucous echo of the medieval Samurai honour code known as seppuku or abdomen-cutting, executed at the warrior’s own hand rather than fall kamikaze imageinto enemy hands. Both the modern and the ancient version of the realization of this death-wish would seem to come from a highly emotional state induced either by a surfeit of pride, of nationalistic zeal, or the intolerable fear of torture in enemy hands. In other circumstances, such a drastic act or sacrifice of precious life, may issue from a religious or sacrificial source, and although both Samurai and kamikaze pilots tended to be spiritual rather than religious, their setting for such an act secular rather than religious, it is eternal zero 1seriously sacrifical for the greater good.

The story of ‘Eternal Zero’ starts with a funeral ceremony, the family assembled clad in back in the traditional way, the furnace doors closing away a human life, which the loved ones were not able to revive with their wailing and entreating. The chief mourner falls to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably, which surprises the gathering. Step-grandfather has never shown such emotion, so what does it symbolize? This breaking down is a symbol of a secret that must come to light, and it is the grandchildren who take the reigns of their legacy and become eternal zero 2determined to understand what has been kept from them for so long.

Their search takes them across Japan to interview fighter pilots who survived the Pacific War, in an attempt to unearth the story of their biological grandfather whose existence has been buried until now at the death of his then-wife.

Young smooth-faced men are caught up in the war games of their blustering elders, uncertain of their true motivation for risking their lives and destroying others, but forbidden to question orders. Cheering each other on, they are constantly on standby to launch their fighter planes  from the aircraft-carrier, then delighted by the hazardous landings back on deck, their flimsy wheels halted by taught wires. Their task is to disable the American aircraft-carriers at all costs, if not by bomb-drop then by deliberately flying their plane into the target, the most effective way of causing the greatest damage.

Miyabe, their blood grandfather, is painted in many lights by the survivors of his squadron. Hero. Murderer. Varyingly attached to or detached from human life. While on leave to see his wife and new baby, when the moment comes for him to go back to eternal zero 3 enemy lines, his wife begs him not to go, and he says he will come back even if he dies serving his Emperor and country. He swears he will always protect his family from the spiritual or physical worlds. He speaks out when a senior officer rails the squadron members for the loss of one of their precious planes, suggesting simply that the human life lost is surely more precious than the plane. This is met with a vicious assault around the head and eyes, but with marvelous respect from the squadron members. His skill as a pilot is unsurpassed, the envy of all his comrades, one of whom tries to shoot him down to shift the limelight to eternal zero 4himself.

Young step-grandfather becomes a good friend of Miyabe, who visits him in the hospital when he is wounded, and gives him his own warm trench-coat to wear for his convalescence back in freezing and ruined Japan. They each promise to let their families know if they fail to return from a mission, Miyabe entrusting him with his cherished snapshot of his wife and baby daughter, grandmother and mother. And as Japan’s position becomes weaker and weaker, their arsenals depleted, US forces creeping ever closer to invading mainland Japan, Miyabe is required to offer himself up as special-kamikaze attacker, delivering as much of their munitions as possible on a direct hit. He sacrifices himself in the certainty that he is going on the way of the kamikaze 3gods, smiling widely from the cockpit during the vertical descent.

Miyabe suffers badly at the loss of members of his squadron who volunteered to sacrifice themselves. It’s clear from the shrines he makes for each of them, displaying their photographs, lighting candles and incense, that he values life for living more than for sacrifice, more than for duty. He has watched them explode around him silently from his cockpit, no radio warnings or may-days possible.

The war is lost, Japan ravaged, America invades. Wives and children are left bereft, without any means, by dead husbands and fathers. Step-grandfather goes to find Miyabe’s wife and daughter from the salvaged photograph as promised. He knocks on the cardboard-covered door, which eternal zero 5slides aside swiftly to reveal his wife with a broom held ready to attack foreign intruders. At first, she thinks the shadowy soldier is Miyabe, but then realises that there is official news to be conveyed. There is such hostility, fear, not-knowing and gross shock, which turn her too into a merciless warrior. She does not want the young soldier’s money or pity; her bitterness all utilized to keep her and her infant daughter in some way warm.

But the young solider stays close by. He has promised his sacrificial friend to take care of his family. He tries to gain the trust of the little girl, offering her a coin, candy, most of which are given back by irate mother. Then eventually, the bitterness subsides, smiles emerge, the young child bonds with her father’s replacement easily. The young soldier has found his reason to live, way of the godslosing site completely of his reason to die.

They marry, have more children, and vow not to ever talk about Miyabe though he will always be their foundation, and spiritual protection, their bridge to the invisible world. And so, life goes on, the war is forgotten, the ‘Way of the Gods’ is buried as Japan pledges never to enter another war.

The secret is out, and the grandchildren rejoice in their heroic Miyabe, and the incredible strength and fearlessness of their ancestors. Finally, Miyabe’s zero-sen fighter cruises past his tear-consumed grandson on a city bridge, and the divine way of the gods is passed on with wing-tip and propeller, gasoline fumes and leather helmet.

This story displays beautifully the refusal of the Japanese spirit to sell out entirely to high-tech and super-power. The way of the gods, of no-mind, remains strong even today.

irreligious Japanese