Friday, February 02, 2007

Pictures on Shutterfly

Several friends recommended Shutterfly to us for posting baby pictures. So instead of using this site, I have set up a Shutterfly account and will use it from now on to post new pictures. I have tried to send the announcement to everyone I could think of, but since I can hardly think straight at the moment, I'm sure I've missed some folks. So if you want the link to the photo album (I'm already updating it with new photos), just send me an email and I'll share it with you. You can use my hotmail email address: jwilson403 at

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Baby update

We are home! Kristen has improved dramatically and they released us from the hospital this evening, just in time to hit the rush hour traffic. She is able to walk around (slowly, cautiously) and we think her milk is coming in. Although she is no longer in any danger, it will be a couple of months before she is healed, and in the meantime she is less mobile, more depleted, and more fragile than we counted on going in to all of this. However, that's not a big deal compared to the alternative. Meanwhile, Tai is still doing well. He isn't the best at nursing, especially because he is so strong that he can squirm away whenever he is brought to nurse. But, he's learning. He cries now when he is upset, but not very loud and not for too long. Overall he has a very quiet and sweet disposition.

Here is a picture from yesterday (Wednesday) of me holding Tai.

Here is a picture from yesterday of Tai sleeping in the post-partum room that we shared. The puppy was a gift from Kristen's long-time friend Jesse, who just moved to West Hollywood from Minnesota. Good move! The bunny was a gift from Kristen's uncle Jon in London.

Here is a non-baby picture, but I liked it. The flowers came from my mom and from our friend Alicia, but I mainly wanted to show the little Buddha and little Jizo that accompanied us in the labor and delivery room and the post-partum room (Jizo also hung out with Kristen in the ICU). I got the Jizo at Yatadera, a tiny temple inside an indoor shopping arcade in Kyoto last year. He is the protector of children and mothers.

Here is another sleeping picture of Tai. I just wanted to show the Happy Birthday balloon that Jesse brought with the puppy. We were really touched.

And here's a close-up of the baby as he lies in his bassinet at the hospital, wondering how in the world he got into this mess.

Kristen's mom Laura has been with us since last Wednesday and was present through the entire ordeal. She's been so helpful and has made this expereince somewhere between a thousand and a million times better than it would've been otherwise. She's great with the baby and great with helping new mom Kristen adjust to all these unfamiliar responsibilites.

And finally, here's my aunt Christy, the first person from my side of the family who got to hold Tai. She came by this afternoon, it was great to see her. Although he's making a grumpy face the baby liked her.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tai Emerson Wilson

Announcing Tai Emerson Wilson! Tai was born at 8:37pm on Monday, January 29, in the Santa Monica hospital. He is 8 lbs, 3.7 ounces, and 20 inches long. Kristen had a very long, hard labor, and there was significant bleeding afterward. But Kristen was eventually patched up and is recovering well in the intensive care unit. In the meantime, here are some pictures!

Tai, about two minutes post-birth:

Tai being weighed, 8 lbs 3.7 ounces:

Tai, a few minutes old, swaddled and being held by Jeff:

Tai was immediately alert, looking everywhere at once:

Kristen on Tuesday in the ICU, spirits are up, with a picture of Tai:

Tai and Daddy on Tuesday in the nursery:

Tai hanging out in Jeff's arms:

Close-up of Tai through the glass of his crib:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Koyasan Revels

Yesterday was Sunday, so, of course, it was time for yet another whirlwind tour with Tatsuguchi Sensei. We were quite ambitious: we went to Koyasan, the huge tantric Buddhist headquarters more than two hours West of Kyoto. The trip necessitated three trains, the Osaka subway, and a cable-car up the side of the mountain. That meant we had to get off early, and unfortunately, I couldn't sleep the night before. But no matter—the thought of seeing Koyasan was too exciting for me to get sleepy during the day, though Tatsuguchi Sensei fell asleep on the train coming back.

We started off by going to Osaka. Even though Osaka is not very far from Kyoto and is one of Japan's largest and most important cities, I rarely go there and have spent no time exploring. What can I say? I like Kyoto. But Osaka has plenty to recommend it if you have the time. We didn't, so I only snapped a few pictures while we changed trains. Because we have a pretty librarian amongst our readers, I offer this shot of the Osaka Library, on an island between two of Osaka's many rivers.

Getting to Koyasan was only part of the trouble. Once there, it takes a good amount of time to ride up the mountain, first on a small train and then in the cable-car. It amazes me to think that this was a major pilgrimage site in pre-modern days (and still is today), since it must have taken at least a full day, maybe more, just to reach the complex from the base of the mountains. And it gets worse the higher you go: the cable-car goes up the side of mountain at an angle of about 50 degrees.

The temperature on top of Koyasan was noticeably cooler than I've experienced in Kyoto. Tatsuguchi Sensei wore long sleeves and eventually put on a sweater, but I had on a short-sleeve shirt and loved it. The cool air felt invigorating and is probably part of why I never got tired. It just felt so comfortable to me. My apologies to Kristen, who dreads that I might move us somewhere cold: that cool autumn air felt like coming home, which is surely a dangerous omen of sorts.

Koyasan is actually a collection of more than 100 temples and a gigantic graveyard, the largest in Japan. Naturally, I spent the bulk of the time in the cemetery. This may seem odd, even morbid, to people who haven't spent a lot of time in Japan. But Japanese religion most especially centers around the cemetery, specifically, around the dead, and their continuing relationship with the living. Cemeteries are the site of family reunions and have neither the spirit nor the connotation of sadness, futility, or spookiness associated with them in America. In fact, it is in the graveyard that you can best see Japanese religion reveal itself. In the temple, there is a certain standard and orthodoxy that is maintained. But in the cemetery, the influence of lay religion and folk belief is often stronger, and hidden details of how the Japanese understand this world and the next are brought to light.

One interesting aspect of Koyasan's cemetery is that many Japanese companies have their grave sites here. In Japan, a company is rather like a family in many ways, and when employees die they often are interred at the company grave site. Here are some of the more interesting examples at Koyasan. First, an air and space company's grave site:

Next, a tomb erected for the spirits of termites killed by an extermination company.

And here is the company grave site for Kirin Beer, complete with a statue of the iconic kirin:

The cemetery meanders all over the place, including a long stretch through an ancient part of the forest, with many graves that are themselves extremely old (the temple complex was founded in the early ninth century). You see a great variety of stones, Jizos, Buddhas, stupas, and other images all the path. I thought this Jizo was particularly cute.

Kristen, Mom, and Dad might find this tomb familiar looking. It is a chedi, like what we saw in Thailand and Cambodia. It is closely related—this is the Burmese style. This is the grave site for Japanese soldiers who perished in Burma during the Pacific War. Inside is a white Burmese Buddha. Included in this picture, though perhaps too small for people to pick out, is a much smaller stupa for the horses of the Japanese who died in Burma. However, there is a conspicuous constituency that is left out here: all the Burmese who died under Japanese occupation.

The Japanese aren't always so ethnocentric, however. Not too far away is another grave site, for those who died in Borneo. It is specifically dedicated to the spirits of the Japanese, Australians, and Bornians who died during the conflict, and flies the flags of all three nations.

Mizuko kuyo is ubiquitous throughout the cemetery, which is what drew me there in the first place. So prevalent is it that one can find a wide range of motifs, some of which are novel to Koyasan. One such is this makeshift stupa-mound created entirely out of mizuko jizos:

Again, one shouldn't think of the cemetery as a ghastly site in Japanese religion. Often, one finds surprising humor in the graveyard. Take this broken Jizo, for instance, who has lost an important part of himself at some point:

You can just hear him singing the old song, "I ain’t got nobody. . ."

Back at the actual temples, there is an area for mizukake: throwing water on statues as an offering. There are about a dozen large statues set up with a constant line of devotees hurling water onto the figures of Jizo, Kannon, and Buddha.

The path leads finally up to a very special temple. The lanterns inside this temple have been burning continuously for about 1200 years, and in the back is a hut where Kukai, the founder of Koyasan, is said to be deep in continual meditation. He has been meditating back there since 835 CE without dying, so they say, and no one is allowed to see him lest they disturb his meditation.

One of the most unique mizuko statues I saw at Koyasan, indeed one of the most unusual I have seen in Japan, is a set of three Jizos. Each holds a mani (wish-fulfilling) jewel in their left-hand, which is the basic motif of Jizo. But the jewels of these three hold fetuses inside, like wombs! Very unusual, I have only see this motif one other time.

Despite the feminine face and shawl of this image, it is Jizo, not Kannon.

At another temple on Koyasan, we encountered two fierce guardians. The first is a typical angry guardian god, warning evil spirits not to bother the monks inside.

His partner seems to be more aloof. He can't even be bothered to snarl at pitiful evildoers who try to get in. They can just "talk to the hand."

Yet another temple was dedicated, surprisingly, to Shinran, Honen, and one of Honen's major disciples. None of these men where tantric monks—indeed, all specifically said that tantric Buddhism is not effective. Nonetheless, they have all been given grave sites at Koyasan and even a joint temple in their honor. I'm not sure how honored Shinran would be: both his grave and the temple that enshrines him are sites for all sorts of magical practices that he decried as superstitious and exploitative. Perhaps mercifully, he receives the least attention of the three figures at this temple. Honen's disciple, who was an aggressive warrior before Honen converted him, is the top dog. This makes sense, since that warrior mentality is well suited for tantric Buddhism. You can rub his helmet (presumably a replica) in the temple worship hall, it cures headaches.

Kongobuji is the main temple at Koyasan, the head temple of the entire Shingon sect with its 3600 temples in Japan (and a few abroad, such as one in Los Angeles that Kristen and I have visited). It includes beautiful screen walls and a nice sand garden, and you can go into the old kitchen, something you rarely see at other temples.

After a long day, we left and made our way back to familiar territory. In Osaka we stopped for some sushi, and I snapped a photo to continue the theme for Dad of KFC in Japan. Here, Colonel Sanders is helping to celebrate a festival with a spray of ginko leaves and a sign advertising how good his fried chicken smells.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Surf's Up

Yesterday found me back in the Teramachi shopping arcade. There are so many temples tucked away in here that it has taken me several afternoons to uncover all of them. Fortunately, I also uncover other useful and interesting things as I do so. One of the newest finds is Fujiyama Café.

This is one of the new-style internet cafes, going well beyond what we in America think of as an internet café. The old-style in Japan is known as a manga kissa: a comic café, where one pays by the fifteen-minute period to sit around and surf the internet or read from a large collection of comic books, all while imbibing free drinks. The new-style is more of an internet hotel/spa than a café, really. These are much larger operations that provide many services, of which internet access is merely the most basic. The sign indicates some of the pleasures available within.

It is open 24-7, provides free (non-alcoholic) drinks, and zillions of comic books. Rather than sitting in an open room with lots of computers, you have your own (tiny) cubicle with privacy, where you surf and play computer games. But you also get a television, so you can watch videos or DVDs, and a Sony Playstayion game console. You can order from a large menu, everything from French fries to full fried-chicken or Japanese-style meals. You can take a shower, get an in-room massage while doing email, send faxes and print documents, go in the other room to play slot machines, or order a pillow and blanket and take a nap for a couple of hours. Not only that, but you have a wide assortment of room types to choose from, so many that a printed map is required.

You can have a standard room with a chair and a desk, a room with a lazy boy, a room with a couch, a room with tatami, and more. Once you make your choice, you follow the map to your room (there are about 100), passing the endless rows of comic books.

The main room is dark and full of low cubicles, with a giant paper lantern and an honest-to-god Japanese sand garden under glass for a floor.

Vaguely New Age music cycles nonstop at a low volume. I always opt for the regular room.

Nothing fancy, and again, tiny as can be. Sometimes you can hear people in other cubicles struggling desperately to get out, wedged between the chair, desk, TV, and their bag. If you get hungry, just lift the phone receiver and food will be delivered to you. If you want to stretch your legs, go out in the hall and get a drink. You can serve yourself a decent variety of sodas (no, there is no Diet Coke) and Japanese drinks, tea, or somewhat less common fair, like this automatic corn chowder dispensing machine.

There are other interesting sites in the shopping arcade, of course. Here is a picture for my father, who really wanted to eat some Kentucky Fried Chicken while in Japan, just for the bragging rights. It is a dream unfulfilled, so I guess he will have to return once again in the future. In the meantime, here is a KFC with Colonel Sanders decked out in samurai garb.

I am here to see temples. One of the more interesting is Takoyakushido. The entrance is right between two stores, as usual.

This is not a large temple, though they tend to be somewhat deceptive, receding back much further than one realizes unless you go behind the main altar. Often there is an entire cemetery back there. The Japanese do not consider it odd to do their shopping in a mall filled with graveyards and holy buildings. Anyway, there are various small shrines in here. The that attracted me, of course, is a mizuko Jizo one to the right of the main altar.

But the distinctive aspect of this temple is indicated by its name. Takoyakushido translates as Hall of the Octopus Buddha of Medicine. Yes, that is not a typo. Here is some proof:

Rub this wooden octopus and you will be healed. You can also buy ema (wooden plaques) painted with octopi and write your wishes on them. There are a number of versions of the story behind the founding of the temple. Basically, a young monk went to the market to get some food for his ailing mother. He bought a live octopus and carried it home to nourish her. On the way, he was reviled by some bystanders for intending to kill a living being (this is against the Buddhist precepts). But the monk had a vision of the Medicine Buddha, who told him that because his action was motivated by compassion it was not faulty. In fact, the tale implies that the octopus was actually the Buddha taking on a form to help out. To commemorate the vision and the healing of the mother via the octopus, the temple was established.

Things have not changed all that much since that story took place many centuries ago. Here is a small restaurant in the Teramachi shopping arcade. Notice the huge number of dishes available. Each is a different kind of seafood.

This is a take-out restaurant. People who get food here typically go right home and eat it. Why? Well, think of the story, and if you still need a clue, here is a close-up of part of the sign.

Another famous temple in this area is Seiganji, a Pure Land temple included in the list of the six Amida Buddha temples in Kyoto pilgrimage (I have been to all six at this point). The large Buddha is easily seen from the street. I hate to be sacrilegious, but really, despite the impressive altar set-up, there is something just a little spooky about his eyes.

You can buy just about anything in the world in this mall, from traditional Chinese herbs to designer handbags. As Halloween is coming up, some stores are selling masks. This one offers traditional scary figures, such as Frankenstein, Terminator, and Buddha.

It also offers rude t-shirts and, as you can see on the right, a Japanese item that really has no ability to cross the cultural gap. It is called Transformation Cute and involves Adolf Hitler dressed as a schoolgirl. I won't try to explain, some efforts are truly futile.

Temples are not the only holy sites in the mall. It also houses what is surely the world's smallest Christian church.

In fact, only the top part is a church, the bottom is a café. The cross glows neon red at night.

Finally, here is one more mizuko picture. This comes from a small temple around back of the mall that specializes in mizuko. The little old priest was so surprised to find a Japanese-speaking gaijin in his temple that I had to repeat everything twice to get an answer. I would say "What sect is this temple?" and his eyebrows would rise all the way off his forehead and hover in the air while he murmured in utter astonishment "A gaijin said What sect is this temple." Then I would say exactly the same thing and his eyebrows would return to his face and he would provide the answer. Next, I would say something like "Is this a statue of Kannon?" and again the eyebrows would levitate while he muttered in awe "A gaijin said Is this a statute of Kannon." I would say it one more time and get the information I wanted. And so on and on. Anyway, here is a picture of the main statue with offerings. It is Mizuko Kannon, the compassionate bodhisattva who saves aborted fetuses and treats them as a mother, surrounded by Grover, Snoopy, and Disney characters.