Japan Times: Japan’s rural temples target mass foreign and luxury tourism

Japan Times (by Junko Fujita):

Deep in a forest in Japan‘s Fukui Prefecture, a 13th century Buddhist temple where Steve Jobs once dreamed of becoming a Zen monk has teamed up with a Tokyo skyscraper builder to seek the commercial enlightenment of foreign tourist dollars.

As a weak yen fuels record tourism, Eiheiji Temple, local authorities and Mori Building Co. — the construction company behind some of Tokyo’s glitziest retail palaces — plan to redevelop the site, including placing a ¥1.3 billion hotel nearby. From there, a new path will be built leading visitors to the spartan site that intrigued the Apple Inc. guru.

Japan’s temples have long been business and tech-savvy, offering lucrative services like funerals while courting domestic tourists — a recent Eiheiji exhibition featured video from a drone operated by a monk. But compared to other parts of the world, religious sites outside centers like Kyoto have been slow to target mass foreign tourism.

What has changed is a shrinking population using temples less, crimping revenue just as annual overseas tourist numbers surge toward Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of 20 million well ahead of a target date of 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Japan’s farther-flung regions, long suffering a rural exodus, now want a piece of an influx led by visitors from China, South Korea and Taiwan that is bolstering big-city economies.

Eiheiji is a monastery that has been isolated from the rest of the world,” said the Rev. Shodo Kobayashi, a deputy administrator at the temple. “But we cannot be divorced from our community forever. We need to respond to the needs of local governments to increase tourists.”

Eiheiji needs money to support monks in the kind of intensive Zen retreat training that once appealed to Steve Jobs. But visitor numbers have skidded to less than half a million a year, nearly two-thirds below a late-1980s peak when group tours organized by Japanese companies and neighborhood associations were at the height of their popularity.

For the temple and local authorities, a new bullet train line that connects Tokyo with neighboring Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, offers a lifeline. The picturesque castle town just over 50 miles away is seeing a surge in foreign tourists whisked from Tokyo in just over 2½ hours.

The temple aims to spend ¥1.3 billion to build a two-story hotel offering modern comforts — including alcohol — to 80 guests in the adjacent town of Eiheiji, while the surrounding Fukui Prefecture’s authorities will redevelop the path leading to the temple in a project to be completed by 2020.

With a place to stay the night, tourists will spend more time and money,” said Shouji Kawakami, an Eiheiji town official. Local officials hope to double the number of visitors to the temple by 2025.

For Yasuo Sasaki, head of the promotions department at Fukui Prefecture, the stakes go beyond tourism itself. “We need to strengthen our brand power to attract more tourists,” Sasaki said, “then we could revive our economy and people in Fukui will regain pride and confidence.”

It is an ambition shared by many of Japan’s less-traveled cities and towns, largely left behind while the Tokyo metropolis continues to grow in economic power.

But while these places invest in new facilities, for Kosuke Motani, chief senior economist at Japan Research Institute, it will remain difficult for locations that have fallen out of favor with domestic tourists to see a return.

In order for them to attract foreign tourists, they need to have something very unique,” said Motani. “It is very challenging for places that were deserted by Japanese people to attract foreign tourists.”

Still, some say foreign tourists can, and will come.

At Chusonji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Iwate Prefecture that traces its roots back nearly 1,200 years, promotions aimed at attracting visitors from Taiwan and Thailand are paying off, and will be stepped up, said senior temple priest Kaisyun Chiba. A broad central government push to encourage visitors to Japan is also helping, he said.

We have been making efforts to attract tourists but we haven’t done enough,” said Chiba. “How hard we try to attract them would be a key for the future.”

Back at Eiheiji, shaven-headed monks in black robes will continue to go about centuries-old rituals. But those interested in joining their austere training regime may be discouraged by Steve Jobs’ conclusion after consulting his spiritual advisor, an Eiheiji-trained monk who also performed his marriage service.

He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct,” the former Apple leader told writer Walter Isaacson in his authorized biography. “I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.”

Takashi Murakami unveils two new exhibitions for Tokyo and Yokohama

Legendary Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, has revealed that two new exhibitions of work will be shown in his homeland within the next twelve months. The 500 Arhats, a response to the 2011 Japan Earthquake, is to be exhibited at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo from October 31, 2015 to March 6, 2016 and Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection Soga Shohaku and Kitaoji Rosanjin to Anselm Kiefer is to show for the first time at the Yokohama Museum of Art from January 30 to April 3 2016. Murakami, who recently collaborated on a collection with Vans, is also set to feature at Art Basel where Galerie Perrotin will present a solo show by the artist.

The subject of Murakami’s new art is one of the most famous motifs in Zen painting, the circle ensō that symbolizes emptiness, unity and infinity in Zen Buddhism. The 500 Arhats, a masterpiece stretching 100 meters by 3 meters in height represents the 500 wise followers who attained enlightenment, in Zen tradition. Keep an eye on Galerie Perrotin’s website for more details.

How a trip to India helped Steve Jobs revolutionize Apple

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Next Shark:

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said in the past that he was jealous of Steve Jobs’ “good taste.” Jobs has always been known for his eye for design and, whether you want to give him credit for it or not, helping to create some of the most revolutionary and user-friendly products in the world.

How did Jobs acquire such an eye? According to him, it was through Zen meditation, which he encountered at 19 during an extended trip to India after dropping out of college. In an interview with Walter Isaacson for his biography, Jobs said:

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”

Zen has been around for thousands of years and those who practice it have to commit to courageousness, resoluteness, austerity and rigorous simplicity. Jobs’ commitment to simplicity transferred over into the products he helped create at Apple.

But Zen didn’t just help inform Jobs’ classy, simple aesthetic, it also helped him understand his customers better — numerous studies have shown that meditation increases empathy. Isaacson writes in his book:

“Instead of relying on market research, [Jobs] honed his version of empathy — an intimate intuition about the desires of his customers.”

Here’s how Zen meditation changed Steve Jobs’ life and sparked a design revolution

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RocketNews 24/Business Insider:

When Steve Jobs showed up at the San Francisco airport at the age of 19, his parents didn’t recognize him.

Jobs, a Reed College dropout, had just spent a few months in India.

He had gone to meet the region’s contemplative traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism — and the Indian sun had darkened his skin a few shades.

The trip changed him in less obvious ways, too.

Although you couldn’t predict it then, his travels would end up changing the business world.

Back in the Bay Area, Jobs continued to cultivate his meditation practice. He was in the right place at the right time; 1970s San Francisco was where Zen Buddhism first began to flourish on American soil. He met Shunryu Suzuki, author of the groundbreaking “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” and sought the teaching of one of Suzuki’s students, Kobun Otogawa.

Jobs met with Otogawa almost every day, Walter Isaacson reported in his biography of Jobs. Every few months, they’d go on a meditation retreat together.

Zen Buddhism, and the practice of meditation it encouraged, were shaping Jobs’ understanding of his own mental processes.

If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” Jobs told Isaacson. “If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”

Jobs felt such resonance with Zen that he considered moving to Japan to deepen his practice. But Otogawa told him he had work to do in California.

Evidently, Otogawa was a pretty insightful guy.

When you look back at Jobs’ career, it’s easy to spot the influence of Zen. For 1300 years, Zen has instilled in its practitioners a commitment to courage, resoluteness, and austerity — as well as rigorous simplicity.

Or, to put it into Apple argot, insane simplicity.

Zen is everywhere in the company’s design.

Take, for instance, the evolution of the signature mouse:

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It’s the industrial design equivalent of the ensoor hand-drawn circle, the most fundamental form of Zen visual art.

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But Zen didn’t just inform the aesthetic that Jobs had an intense commitment to, it shaped the way he understood his customers. He famously said that his task wasn’t to give people what they said they wanted; it was to give them what they didn’t know they needed.

Instead of relying on market research, [Jobs] honed his version of empathy — an intimate intuition about the desires of his customers,” Isaacson said.

What’s the quickest way to train your empathy muscles? As centuries of practitioners and an increasingly tall stack of studies suggest, it’s meditation.

When you take that into account, it’s easy to see that for Jobs, growing his business and cultivating his awareness weren’t opposing endeavors.

When he died, the New York Times ran a stirring quote about what he did for society: “You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”

We can thank that time in India and on the meditation cushion for that beautiful, rigorous simplicity — one that sparked a design revolution.

Personal Zen, an App that helps to reduce stress with the use of a simple repetitive game

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Laughing Squid:

 

Personal Zen is an app that helps to reduce stress through the use of a simple repetitive game that allows users to retrain thought patterns and heighten positive focus.

When we get anxious or stressed, we pay too much attention to the negatives and have less ability to see the positives in life. These habits of attention reduce our ability to cope effectively with stress and can create a vicious cycle of anxiety. Personal Zen helps to short-circuit these habits and frees you up to develop a more flexible and positive focus.

 

Personal Zen is available for free on the App Store

 

Trace the Trail

Genies Zen Master

 

 

 

Japan’s Top 3 Rock “Power Spots”

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RocketNews 24:

 

The Japanese have long had a fascination with rocks. In fact, rock worship is an integral part of Shinto, Japan’s original religion. Iwakura (sacred rocks) can be found all over Japan. Rocks can be found in any Japanese garden, whether as stepping stones or objects of admiration themselves in dry landscape gardens or Zen rock gardens. One thing is for sure: Rocks are an integral part of the Japanese psyche.

So it’s no wonder that sacred rocks are popular among the Japanese as power spots. By harnessing the energy of these rocks, the Japanese are rediscovering their roots and the power of nature. But before we tell you about the three top rock power spots in Japan, we investigate how these monoliths and boulders gained their rock star status. Our rockin’ reporter uncovers the history and folklore of iwakura in Japan and gives suggestions on how to access the power of these rocks!

Rocks have always had a place in the everyday lives of the Japanese. Look around anywhere in Japan and you’ll see:

Stone steps leading up to shrines,

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stone lanterns,

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and stone deities,

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many of which are hundreds of years old.

 

The Seto Inland Sea area is known for its rock, both natural and mined. Where I live, on Shiraishi Island, the name shiraishi means “white rock,” and refers to its huge granite reserves, some of which manifests itself  in some pretty frightening ways:

 

▼Below this rock is, believe it or not, a road.

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As a result of the ubiquitous outcroppings, and perhaps as a way to tame it, rock mining has been a part of the fabric of this small Seto Inland Sea community for over 100 years.

You can find many relics of Japan’s past here:

 

▼A grinding stone for grinding buckwheat to make soba noodles.

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▼Every house on the island still has a mochi-pounding rice vessel, called an usu, for hammering out rice cakes

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People continue to use many rock implements even today.

 

▼These rocks were used as weights for fishing nets

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▼They’re still used to hold things down.

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▼That old grinding wheel is used these days to coax bonsai to grow in favored directions.

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And mined rock is still used for more modern applications. Polished rock surfaces, for example, make great maintenance-free signs–as long as you never want to move them.

 

▼This one says Seto Inland Sea National Park, Shiraishi Island Beach

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 ▼They also make great tablets for displaying tanka poems

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Monoliths fit the Japanese vertical writing system perfectly.

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Large rocks make impressive weather-proof information boards for national heritage sites. This one explains the Shiraishi Bon Dance, a national intangible cultural property.

 

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But why stop there?

 

▼Granite picnic tables have been installed along the hiking course on the island

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This is what happens when you live among stone masons!

 

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While wood has traditionally been used for Japanese housing, stone has been the material of choice for more permanent structures such as ports and some modern shrines.

 

▼Kompira Shrine for fishermen

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The original Shiraishi Port was constructed with rock in the Edo Period (1603 -1868) and is over 400 years old. But this newer pier was built in the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912).

 

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▼The stone still looks new

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▼The fishermen tied up their boats to the pier and climbed up these stone stairs.

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▼They even used rock bollards to tie their boats up to.

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Rock has always been important in the lives of the communities living in the Seto Inland Sea. Before they started mining the natural resource, they used it for worship. Such evidence can be found everywhere on the island.

 

▼In the lower left area of this rock is an 800-year-old magaibutsu stone carving of the deity Fudo-myo-o which is believed to protect the port.

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▼ The okuno-in of Kairyuji Temple is located under a huge overhanging rock.

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If you don’t know how to get to the temple, no problem. Ancient stone markers will show you the way from the port all the way up to the temple.

 

▼A hand with an index finger pointing in the proper direction to the temple.

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Shiraishi Island is full of large boulders. And everywhere there is a rock, there is sure to be a stone deity to worship nearby…

 

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either underneath the rock…

 

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…or sometimes on top of it.

 

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No rock is left unworshipped.

 

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Most major rocks have names. Rocks that are exposed to the rays of both the rising and setting sun are said to hold a special spiritual energy. Their power can last forever, as long as the area is well preserved and clean.

 

▼This boulder is named “Bikuni”

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▼The boulder sticking up out of the top of the small island to the right is “Mei-ishi.” But it only gets the rays of the setting sun.

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Having such a close relationship with nature, it’s not surprising that the Japanese people felt rocks were sacred.

Originally, people offered prayers to the rock which acted as a vehicle of communication between the people and the kami (gods). These days, however, Shrine buildings have been erected to designate Shinto shrines. In his book, “The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart,” Motohisa Yamakage says the purpose of a shrine is “to create a pervasive sense of reverence and awe and so enable us to access the spiritual dimension.”

 

▼This shrine wouldn’t have been built here had it not been for the presence of these sacred rocks.

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And surely this well would not have been considered sacred had it not been located under a large rock:

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▼The Meotoiwa rocks, connected by a shimenawa rope, celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman. The male rock is on the left.

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Shinto priests are especially adept at telling if a kami is present in a rock. You can make a judgement yourself by touching a rock to see if you can feel its energy. You will find there are some rocks where almost everyone can feel its energy, and others where only some people can feel it. Women are said to be especially sensitive to feeling the power of rocks. Rock on ladies!

I wondered what the top rock power spots in Japan were. To find out, I interviewed Shinto expert John Dougill, who lives in Kyoto, a veritable kingdom of power spots. He writes a blog called Green Shinto and has written several books on Japan. John also traveled the length of Japan visiting sacred sites from Okinawa to Hokkaido to write his book “Japan’s World Heritage Sites.”

I asked if John would share with RocketNews24 readers what he considers the top three rock power spots in Japan. It didn’t take him long to come up with this list! 

 

1) Kamikura Shrine at Shingu, Wakayama

Kamikura Jinja is part of Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine in Shingu (Wakayama Prefecture), a World Heritage Site. People come here to worship the Kamikura rock as a god. As you can see, this shrine is located under a large boulder onto which the kamiare believed to have descended from Heaven.

The shrine now guards and protects the town of Shingu below it. 

 

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The best way to feel the energy of this rock is to enter it.

 

▼A power spot practitioner meditates and plays a flute inside the Kamikura rock
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2) Seifa Utaki, Okinawan Nature Shrine (World Heritage Site)

 

▼The rock altar at Seifa Utaki

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▼This sacred rock opening leads into the most holy area of Seifa Utaki. Offerings are prepared here.

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▼This triangular opening leads to the place where prayers are made.

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 3) Koshikiiwa Shrine in Nishinomiya (Hyogo Prefecture)

 

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▼ This megalith is 10 meters tall with a circumference of 40 meters.

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The Koshikiiwa rock promotes pregnancy and protects childbirth, so many couples visit the rock to pray to it and feel its energy. The tradition is to walk around the rock in a clockwise direction.

So now you have all the tools you need to go out and start harnessing the power of sacred rocks. You’ll be in good company too, as the Japanese power-spot craze has taken the country by storm. 

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Medicom Toy’s Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Store 2nd Anniversary 400% Gold-Plated Daruma Bearbrick

 

Image of Medicom Toy Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Store 2nd Anniversary 400% Gold-Plated Daruma Bearbrick

Japanese toy giant Medicom Toy celebrates the two-year anniversary of its Skytree Town Solamachi store in Tokyo with the release of a commemorative gold-plated Bearbrick.

Measuring in at the 400% size, the gold-plated ursine figure features a classic Daruma motif as a nod to Zen Buddhism. Part of the store’s “Welcome the people who have ‘二’ in your name” campaign, the limited edition Bearbrick will be available in-store, free of charge, to those that meet the requirement beginning May 7.

 

Check out this link:

Medicom Toy’s Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Store 2nd Anniversary 400% Gold-Plated Daruma Bearbrick

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Photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto: “The Infinite Beauty of Classic Japanese Architecture”

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Developed by photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto, this amazing series of black and white photographs naturally blends centuries-old architecture with contemporary abstract art. In the project, Ishimoto approaches the Katsura Imperial Villa with a rare perspective that explores not only the completed construction, but also the details of the materials, textures, and spaces found throughout the interior and exterior.

Katsura Imperial Villa was constructed in Kyoto in the sixteenth century and took more than fifty years to complete. Very few are allowed to enter the property, but Ishimoto was granted access and photographed the clean lines of the classic Japanese architecture. By presenting the Villa without color, Ishimoto breaks standard expectations of typical architecture photography and transforms the structure into geometric arrangements and patterns, defining the space through the intense contrast between lines, shapes, and angles.

Check out this link:

Photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto: “The Infinite Beauty of Classic Japanese Architecture”

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