The New Moon of August 2017: reflecting on Beijing

Beijing's ancient observatory is right in the middle of the city. Click the pic to go to link.
Beijing's ancient observatory is right in the middle of the city. Click the pic to go to link.


There is a new moon on 21st/22nd of August 2017 at 29 degrees of Leo. Much has been made of the full solar eclipse happening on the same day, a rare event which has been dubbed The Great American Eclipse  as the path of eclipse is at it's fullest as it crosses the mainland states, or has already crossed as I write this.



What is more interesting is the focus that this new moon/eclipse brings to Beijing.  Beijing is one of the oldest inhabited regions on earth. The city has be built, destroyed, or let to ruin and rebuilt many times. The current city is a vast metropolis, most of which has be built in the last 25 years. Even so, many ancient sites remain and the ancient geomantic layout is still visible.


I spent 6 weeks in Beijing in 1987. I was on my way from Tianjin to Europe and had thought I would only need a few days to look around before boarding the Trans-Manchurian train across the USSR. There were ticket and visa problems, and they took a month to sort out. I hired a bicycle and visited every tourist site listed in my guidebook, right down to the bottom of the list which ended with the Marco Polo bridge.


The Marco Polo bridge was at that time located in a village outside city limits. I had a pleasant ride through green fields, by this time off the edges of the tourist map, until I came to a new multi-lane, highway without traffic. I turned right on it which luckily turned out to be correct and continued until I could wave down another cyclist; the "traffic" consisting of a few well-spaced cyclists and the occasional horse drawn cart, From her I got directions and continued to the turn off, swinging left down a hill and through a small, leafy hamlet.  I arrived at the impressive gate where there were a few tour groups and souvenir stalls, the bridge being on the other side. Unfortunately, given the heat of July, the river bed was dry and dusty; the river under the bridge having been diverted for engineering works further back upstream. Nevermind, the bridge itself was interesting enough.


All this is now well inside in suburban Beijing; the basic concrete shoebox hotel I stayed in having long gone and the route I took difficult to make out. I think I was staying somewhere near the southern railway station.


So the city grows and grows and its importance grows with it in the 21st century. Robert Coon, the mystic whose book Earth Chakras examines planetary energies from whole different point of view than most  people are familiar with, assigns a great deal of importance to this August new moon and its relationship to Beijing. Beijing has an increasingly influential role to play in world affairs and this growth is visibly in progress between the years 2008-2027.  On any August new moon, Coon suggests incorporating Beijing into one's meditations or other vibration lifting activities; "If you don't have a photo, try to imagine, or visualise, the area of the world you are concentrating on. Above all, try to enjoy what you are doing during these "link-up" times." Coon's list of lunar events can be found here.



Haiku - using 17 syllables in English




Screech! The blade cannot

cut the tap root, so never mind

dearest dandelion.


Here are 17 syllables arranged 5-7-5. A simple enough poem, but far too wordy, or syllable-ly for good haiku in English. Many of the formal elements of Japanese haiku are suspended in foreign language haiku  in order to take into account the different phonetic structure and vocabulary of other languages.


Seventeen syllables in Japanese is never going to sound this cluttered. Japanese is an open syllabic language C-V C-V, without the consonant clusters and diphthongs that make English much more phonologically dense. "Screech" transliterated into Japanese syllabary becomes su-ku-rii-chi; already 4 syllables in itself, but only one in English!


One thing to bear in mind if writing haiku in English is that the syllable count can be changed completely so long as the feel of haiku is preserved. Three lines is the convention to maintain rather than 5-7-5.  By 'feel' I mean the open, freer sound of a syllabic language as well as succinct imagery or association. Having said this, one mistake I sometimes see in haiku in English is going to the other extreme and writing almost nothing in an effort to maintain brevity or mu . For example, changing the above poem to something like:


weed root

the blade 

can't cut it


You get a basic image but no sense of it's impact on the writer.


A good way to get the feel of haiku is to find translations with the original in transliteration.

David G. Lanoue's Kobayashi Issa Archive has 10,000 such haiku, for example;


1798 Kobayashi Issa






uekomi ni

kinou no mama no 

hotaru kana


in the thick weeds

same as yesterday...



Or: "firefly."  


Uekomi can mean shrubbery or a thick growth of plants."


The translation is given in 11 syllables and that is enough to convey the thought and feel of the original. This is a summer poem. Thick weeds and fireflies are the occupants of summer in the countryside. The humid, long days seem to repeat over and over without variation. Kigo or 'season words' are likewise often discarded in non-Japanese haiku. Whether to use kigo or not is really a matter of preference. Kigo dictionaries/thesaura in Japanese make things easier for the writer of Japanese haiku, and should you be a stickler for the season word, Gabi Greve's World Kigo Database may be of help.


So taking my own advice, how would I improve the opening haiku?  I wanted to get closer to the image of the weed being undamaged, or maintained rather than eradicated by the cutter. The fast regrowth of grass keeps gardeners busy in summer. It' impossible to get rid of them all, management is the only practical solution, so the idea of time needed to be present. I freed up the syllable structure completely but kept 3 lines:


The weed cutter misses the root

You'll be back, dandelion



By dispensing with a strict 5-7-5 structure, I was able to exploit the non-fixed word stress and rhythm of English and make a more satisfying haiku.



Basic Kanji for Tokyo Station Names

Navigating the trains, both underground and overground, in Tokyo can seem overwhelming at first, but some familiarity with the system before visiting can make it less stressful. There are basically three providers; JR , the two subway operators Tokyo Metro and Toei , and private lines such as Tobu and Seibu.


JR (Japan Rail) operates the overground lines like the Yamanote line, Chuo line, Keihin-Tohoku line etc. Tokyo Metro/Toei operate the subway system. It used to be divided into two separate operations, Eidan and Toei and in some smaller stations, you may still see two different kinds of ticketing machines. The ticketing systems were unified several years ago, so any ticket machine is OK now. Frequent travellers make use of combined transport passes such as Suica and Pasmo, but single ride tickets are not so expensive. You will see people spending a *long* time looking at the transport maps above the banks of ticketing machines; there are often several ways to get from one place to another so decisions, decisions...


There are 14 Metro/Toei lines including the Yurikamome, which is a rubber-wheeled elevated 'railway' taking you across the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba.


In this post I want to outline 5 frequently seen kanji for Tokyo stations. If you are new to the language and city, it may all seem too much, but there are patterns to look for which will not only speed up your navigation, but also clue you in a little about the city.


1. 橋 = はし -hashi , ばし -bashi = bridge


When Tokyo was a new town back in the day, it was built up on terraced fields reclaimed from the Tama estuary, the Musashino. Several rivers run through Tokyo, so not surprisingly there are many bridges. Such stations incorporating hashi/bashi include:


日本橋   にほんばし          Nihombashi          G11/T10/A13

橋     しんばし         Shimbashi              A10/G08/U01 

飯田    いいだばし    Iidabashi                     E06/T06/Y13/N10

橋     あけぼのばし     Akebonobashi          S03

江戸川橋   えどがわばし  Edogawabashi            Y12

浅草橋    あかすかばし   Asakusabashi            A16


2. 川 = かわ, がわ = -kawa-/-gawa- = river


Where there are bridges there are rivers. There are few stations with this kanji, but it's worth look.


Above we saw


江戸橋   えどがわばし  Edogawabashi Y12


And we can see:

川      せんかわ    Senkawa                      Y07/F07

台     ひかわだい   Hikawadai                      Y05/F05

川      きくかわ     Kikukawa                     S12

       しながわ     Shinagawa               Yamanote line




3. 門 = もん = mon = gate


After the Shogun moved his base of operations to Edo in 1603, he imposed a residential requirement on his Daimyo or feudal landowners to live there 6 months of the year or 1 out of every 2 years. The Edo based Daimyo built large compounds, the superb gardens of which still exist here and there. The way in or out of the compounds, and thus through the different areas of Edo was through a gate. You can see the kanji for gate 門 mon, all through central Tokyo.


半蔵門    はんぞうもん    Hanzomon           Z05

桜田    さくらだもん    Sakuradamon       Y17

虎ノ門     とらのもん     Toranomon   G07

門      だいもん      Daimon     A09/G08

御成     おなりもん     Onarimon           I06



4. 町 = -ちょう -まち = -cho / -machi = town


As the small hamlets and enclaves of Edo/Tokyo grew and spread, they became towns. There are two ways to say 町。 It is pronounced as cho  or machi. You will see this kanji repeatedly on the Metro map.


大手   おおてまち   Otemachi            I09/C11/T09/M18/Z08

小川町   おがわまち   Ogawamachi        C12/S07/M19  (includes

神保   じんぼうちょう  Jimbocho        S06/I10/Z07

永田町   ながたちょう   Nagatacho      N07/Z04/Y16

有楽   ゆうらくちょう   Yurakucho    Y18

人形   にんぎょうちょう Ningyocho    A14/H13


5. 前 = まえ = mae = in front of


During the 20th century, as the public transport network was being expanded, it made sense to locate stations in front of popular and important places.


三越   みつこしまえ       Mitsukoshimae     G12/Z09

in front of the Mitsukoshi department store

水天宮  すいてんぐうまえ    Suitengumae       Z10

in front of the Suitengu shrine

明治神宮  めいじじんぐうまえ Meiji-jingumae   C03/F15

in front of the Meiji-jingu shrine

東大前      とうだいまえ     Todaimae           N12

in front of 'Todai' or Tokyo University

新宿御苑   しじゅくぎょえんまえ  Shinjukugyoenmae   M10

in front of Shinjuku Gyoen park


All stations are signed in 3 scripts; kanji, hiragana and romaji. Several years ago the Tokyo subway system added an alpha-numeric system too. It makes it easy to count the stations to your stop, though it crowds the map with even more information. But who reads maps anymore? "Smaho appu"; smart-phone apps, and online maps are the new normal. On the Yamanote line, screens placed above the doors will show you the next several stops and how many minutes between each. In-train announcements for the next stop, including which side of the train to get off from, are now routinely made in community languages like English, Chinese and Korean.  Many visitors to Japan initially freak out at the sight of kanji, but learning the first 50 to 100 by usage is not hard  as you see them all the time. Should you decide to  move beyond the basics, certainly reading with kanji is a whole lot quicker and easier than reading long strings of hiragana. On the trains however, don't forget the following:


 きた     kita   =  north

 みなみ    minami  = south

 ひがし    higashi = east

西 にし         nishi = west


入口    いりぐち    iriguchi = entrance

出口   でぐち       deguchi = exit


QUESTION: What does this say?   東出口


I bet you got that right, so fire up that flash card app and get learning. A little goes a long way.


Updated 2017. First posted on DukaDuka 7/26/09

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Spiral Independent Creators Festival 15, Tokyo, May 2014

Took time out on the weekend to visit Tokyo and see the Spiral Independent Creators Festival #15 at the Spiral building in Omotesando. I saw the A Group on both Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, when I introduced the event to Melbourne artist Peter Burke who has recently started a residency at Youkobo art space.


SICF is an annual event across 4 days where 50 exhibitors have a booth in the Spiral hall for two days each. It is held across the Golden Week long weekend. It is a curated event, and while there are no restrictions, age-wise or medium-wise on applicants, most of the exhibitors were contemporary artists in their 20's. There were some excellent installations and wonderful exhibitions of work in a huge range of media from oil on canvas, wood carving, silk screen fabric, through to digital media, mixed media and paintings made from make-up. The standard of works and their presentation were high. In keeping with events Japanese, the presence of the exhibitors was required full-time. They could be identified by the booth number on a tag around their neck. About half were fluent in English. On the afternoon of the second day, I asked a few how they were feeling. Much rubbing of legs and wincing, one exhibitor told me he had been on his feet 12 hours straight the day before. The circulation space is narrow and the booths are predictably small (1.65m x 1.65m and 2.4m tall). There is no room for anyone to sit down unless your performative installation cleverly involves people sitting down as one booth did. There are a generous number of tables and chairs and a small bar in the foyer however.


What I liked about the SICF was the opportunity to see a well curated group exhibition (there were very few weak spots) in a smaller venue that is easy to access. (Omotesando B1 exit) The very idea of schlepping down to Odaiba for the bigger and better known Design Festas leaves me feeling exhausted. There were other exhibitions well worth looking at in the building as well, including the graduate exhibition of Finnish sound designers. Speaking to the artists, they were happy with the level of exposure the SICF was providing with many curators and gallerists attending and making contact. As for myself, though nothing would be so much fun as to festoon a booth with knitting or haiku or to hang a small installation of paintings, I very much doubt, as a suddenly greying GenXer, that my feet could do the yakka of standing all day, and standing all day while talking and engaging and chatting and etc. etc. etc. The net has made me soft!


Anyway, should the idea of standing all weekend in Omotesando not freak you out, the applications for SICF 16 should open in November. Check the Spiral site.