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Technobuddhism

Many years ago, out of curiosity, I got up early to attend the morning prayers at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It wasn’t much fun, to be honest. The monotone chanting seemed to go on forever, and sitting in seiza the whole time rapidly became excruciating. When it was finally over, I felt like I’d been stuck there for hours although the whole thing probably lasted no more than 30 minutes. But there’s a temple in Fukui city where things are done slightly differently. Twice a year, the Sho-on-ji (照恩寺) temple puts on a prayer service with techno music and flashing lights… According to a BBC news item, these performances are the creation of Gyosen Asakura (朝倉行宣), a DJ-turned-priest who hopes to get more young people interested in Buddhism. I’d definitely go along if I happened to be in the area. I’d probably bring something to sit on, though. Click through to Asakura’s YouTube channel to see the videos of these events, with sound.

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False fingers for ex-Yakuza

Yubi-tsume (指詰め) — the practice of chopping off a little finger as an act of penitence — has been going on in the Japanese underworld for many years. Recent anti-gang laws have persuaded many of Japan’s Yakuza that life would be easier on the straight and narrow. However, it can be difficult for them to find an honest job. Their trademark tattoos (irezumi; 入れ墨) are widely frowned upon, and many establishments will refuse to serve — let alone employ — anyone bearing them. But at least tattoos are easy to cover up. Missing fingers are more of a problem. This has resulted in a flourishing prosthetics business. Here’s another news item on the same subject by the Australian ABC. You’ll have to click through for the video as they don’t allow off-site embedding. But here’s a nice screenshot:

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Kim Jong-Il’s sushi chef

Kenji Fujimoto (藤本 健二) spent eleven years living in North Korea, eventually becoming Kim Jong-Il’s personal sushi chef and confidant. GQ magazine recently interviewed him back in Japan. Here’s his extraordinary story. At a lavish Wonsan guesthouse, Fujimoto prepared sushi for a group of executives who would be arriving on a yacht. Executive is Fujimoto’s euphemism for generals, party officials, or high-level bureaucrats. In other words, Kim Jong-il’s personal entourage. And guesthouse is code for a series of palaces decorated with cold marble, silver-braided bedspreads, ice purple paintings of kimilsungia blossoms, and ceilings airbrushed with the cran-apple mist of sunset, as if Liberace’s jet had crashed into Lenin’s tomb. At two in the morning, the boat finally docked. Fujimoto began serving sushi for men who obviously had been through a long party already. He would come to realize these parties tended to be stacked one atop another, sometimes four in a row, spreading out over days. All the men wore military uniforms except for one imperious fellow in a casual sports tracksuit. This man was curious about the fish. He [More…]

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Two years later

About 160,000 people were evacuated from the region surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the meltdown two years ago. There is still no clear indication of when it might be safe for them to move back home, and elderly evacuees are now having to face the possibility that they may never get the chance. Meanwhile, it seems like the Japanese government will soon have to bow to economic necessity and restart the reactors that were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Engineers now have a much clearer idea of how to prepare for the next major earthquake. Hopefully this time they will get it right. This TV news report from inside the Fukushima exclusion zone is interesting, but in some places it tends towards blatant scaremongering rather than balanced journalism. In other news, The Atlantic has published a series of photos showing how Japanese towns and cities have recovered since the tsunami two years ago. It’s clear that there’s still an awful lot of rebuilding still to be done.

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Header image: The sacred bridge (神橋) across the Daiya river at Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社) in Nikkō. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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