Lynda’s Blog

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Nine Steps to Organizing 90 Days in Tokyo

Tokyo SkyTree

Organizing a 3-month private stay to study Ikebana (flower arranging) in Tokyo is not unlike other major event planning. Not nearly as onerous or involved as coordinating a Japan/Canada home stay exchange program for 25-30 adolescents (which I did for 10 years), and not quite as much grief as a wedding, but it’s up there.

Fortunately, today excellent apps and sources are readily available on the Internet making the process much less stressful than even a decade ago. After securing a place in the Sogetsu School’s International Class, over several  months I worked on the 9 following steps.

1. Finding an apartment.

  • As there are many levels of fees and conditions which apply to property rental, it’s important to do meticulous research. Both companies offering short term rentals to non-Japanese or private, unregulated home-sharing options abound.
  • I opted for a well-established company whose staff was skilled in English. I selected a fully furnished studio in a a quiet area near a park and a short walk from the school.

2. Booking flights and specifying special meals.

3. Obtaining secure Wi-Fi and a SIM card for my phone.

  • Since my rent includes secure Wi-Fi, I was saved considerable expense of renting portable Wi-Fi. In the past I used Japan Wireless and enjoyed reliable, secure access in remote areas. The convenience of safely running multiple devices on the service was definitely worth the cost.
  • Non-Japanese without a resident’s card are not eligible for mobile phone plans in Japan. However, some short term rental plans (up to 3 months) are offered to tourists and business people. These are not cheap, and plans vary considerably from one purveyor to the next. Due diligence is required.
  • Japan Travel SIM offers a convenient plan which rents SIM cards. It also lists all the phones which they have tested for compatibility with their cards. In my case, that meant buying a new phone. As a result, in addition to having full access to numerous apps and a phone number specific to Japan, I now have enough oomph in the phone’s camera to leave my digital pocket Canon behind.

4. Choosing the appropriate rail pass or prepaid travel card.

  • When traveling over considerable distances around Japan, a JR Rail Pass reduces costs considerably. HyperDia website, which lists routes, ticket prices and schedules, helps to determine whether a pass is good value for the money. Since my travel will generally be local this time, loading a Suica or Pasmo card is the way to go.

JR Rail Pass Voucher and Passes

5. Ascertaining the national holiday periods.

  • Anyone who dislikes a crush and over-priced hotels (if any are available) will plan excursions at other times. Also, many venues are closed on those days.
  • Depending on the season, holidays may also involve festivals and events worth attending. Numerous websites list what’s happening in various areas.

6. Registering at the Embassy.

7. Double checking guidelines for medications. Filling prescriptions.

  • Special advance permission is required to bring a number of prescription medications into Japan. Some are not allowed. In addition, over the counter medications or supplements common elsewhere may be disallowed or restricted. Guidelines are listed on Japan Customs and Embassy websites. A top American executive at Toyota was arrested for infractions in 2015. Take note and follow the rules.

8. Taking care of business at home and away.

  • Remember that Japan is still very much a cash culture and purchase sufficient yen. Have resources for emergencies.
  • Arrange banking, check bank-card expiry dates, double-check scheduled payments. Top up home and health insurance plans to cover the period of absence, the value of items taken along, as well as repatriation of remains.
  • Update general Estate information for your Executor and the person holding your Power of Attorney. Also provide them contact information for a Japanese speaking lawyer.

Photo Credit to AP/Nam Y. Huh, File

9. Being ruthless about what (not) to take along. (The hardest step.)

  • This step is a much greater challenge for women than men. For trips of 4-6 weeks I manage easily with one carry-on suitcase containing a business-casual wardrobe which can be dressed up or down and a tech bag.
  • I have it down to a fine art. Not counting yoga wear which doubles as lounge wear, I take only 3 bottoms, 8 tops and 2 pairs of shoes. All items coordinate with each other, are previously worn and guaranteed to be comfortable.
  • The Be More with Less challenge to limit personal wardrobes to no more than 33 pieces is a handy guideline. I have fewer than 30. No problem.
  • However, for this extended stay I need to pack flower arranging tools as well as bulkier winter footwear. Therefore, I added a 26-inch suitcase. Ironically, my airline permits two checked bags for free; however, if my one bag is overweight I will be fined $100. Ouch!
  • I can’t physically manage all the luggage the airline allows. Public transit in Japan also can’t accommodate it, and the cost of a taxi from Narita Airport into Tokyo is triple the airline’s overweight charge.  Ouch again!
  • Though I could arrange to have my bags shipped to my apartment (which is what Japanese people would do), I prefer to manage on my own. Therefore, I have been fastidious about weight reduction: no duplicates and barest necessities or must have personal brands.

I know I said 9 steps, but the next two are seasonal and personal additions which bring me joy. I’ve added them as bonus points.

10. Scheduling three months of e-birthday cards for delivery on the appropriate date.

11. Preparing for Christmas and New Year’s Eve away.

Tokyo Tower at Christmas Time Photo credit

  • Since I will be in Japan over the Christmas season, I have preprinted address labels ahead of time. As always, my nearest and dearest will get a card.
  • I have copied all my favourite CDs to a flash drive in order to enjoy my vast collection of esoteric Christmas music not available on other streams. In Dulce Jubilo.
  • I plan to pick up champagne in the duty free stores.

When taken in gradual increments, the planning process is a serene undertaking and keeps a joyful, anticipatory buzz going. Well ahead of departure everything is arranged.

Currently, building up to the 2020 Olympics, Japanese National Television (NHK) is promoting Tokyo as a place for people to live out their dreams. I’m set to give it my best shot.

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Five Weeks to Lift Off for Tokyo

I shared with a friend that from time to time the idea of going to Tokyo alone for three months was daunting. That said, over the years I’m almost inured to being a jigsaw piece in the wrong box. In so many areas of my life I’ve never quite click-fit. In response she sent “Where do Mermaids Stand?” an essay by Robert Fulghum. (If you don’t know it, please click the link. It will help you make sense of this post.)

Image Credit:

I’ve wished for the opportunity to live in Japan part time for many years now though I’ve never quite been able to pull it off. My plan to study Ikebana at the Sogetsu School allows me to live wholly as an artist and designer for the first time in my life. Now my gifts and passions can take center stage rather than hanging around the props room. It’s a thrilling feeling.

Sogetsu Building By Wiiii (Own Work)

But this week with my departure 5 weeks away, the rent deposit paid and my apartment confirmed, I began to feel quite out of sorts about the prospect. Suddenly a number of familiar negative messages bubbled up from the unconscious. There I was, staring again at the same old self-defeating toxins I’ve battled all my life.

Image credit to Sogetsu Ikebana website

What’s the use of doing that? What’s it good for? What makes you think you’re an artist or a designer? If you were good enough and driven enough to be one you would have done it long ago. Who do you think you are kidding? Why would you want to put yourself in a situation that is out of your league in every respect?

Yikes! I thought I’d done with all that. Why would that nonsense start up again at this stage? Though they once did, feeble absurdities like that can’t hold me back anymore.

All my life I have sought out opportunities to create. I write, draw, sew, garden, sing, cook, design, redecorate, remodel, arrange, reorganize, assemble, build or manage something almost all the time. I’ve often done it alone, so that’s nothing new or uncomfortable either. When not creating, I put myself in arenas where I support other creatives—in concert halls, galleries, design shows, literary events, gardens, fine restaurants and the like.

Preparation of the materials

What I am undertaking is what I already started in Abbotsford, Vancouver and Victoria—the study of an art form at the beginner level. The only difference is that I’m doing it in another city. Let’s not indulge in the exoticism of Tokyo. That merely falls into the pit of Orientalism. Let’s be smarter than that.

I certainly am good enough to study, practice and learn something (anything) at the beginner level. As a bonus, by studying Ikebana at the source I get to focus on beauty and be surrounded by a culture that values it in every aspect.

Tea House

That doesn’t mean that I don’t know that the culture is deeply flawed in many respects or that I will never fit into it. I accept that as part of the package—the way you might an aloof lover whose imperfections (when all things are considered) are sometimes best overlooked. Why? Because it’s only fair. I have my own less than perfect cultural baggage.

Thanks to a sensitive friend, I will worry even less about fitting into any number of constricting cultural slots. I know who I am and where I fit. As a mermaid I’ll take my rightful place beside the King of the Sea.

Stand your ground, it’s sacred. (Attribution unknown).

Lotus in Shinobazu Pond, Ueno

As for my long-held wish to live in Japan, I’ll find out soon enough if it measures up to expectations. Dreams don’t always. Fortunately they often surpass the limits of the imagination.

Image credit to Tokyo Skytree Website.

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New Mug Shots

It’s been a year and a bit now of sloughing off the skin of the past and undertaking the new on many fronts. On account of getting new eye glasses, into that mix was an update of my business head shots.

As a fundraiser, Goward House a local senior’s center, annually offers professional photo shoots on their gorgeous grounds by photographers who donate their time. (Contact them and they’ll put you on the list for next year and let you know when they are scheduling.)

I first learned of it in The Times Colonist’s GO section. As a newcomer to the city I read every inch of it every Thursday for anything that’s coming up across the city and surrounding areas in the next week. As a result I’ve lucked into all sorts of splendid things.

The deal was simple. Put $10 down to make an appointment, arrive at the set time, do the shoot, and come back about 10-14 days later to view more than a dozen best shots selected by the photographer.  Then, if you like what you see cough up $40 and you’ll take home a DVD (or your own USB drive if you prefer) with the photos on it.

That sure beats the hundreds it costs elsewhere. If you don’t like the results you’ve donated ten non-refundable dollars to a good cause and enjoyed an interlude in a charming heritage home and grounds. If you wish, you can stop for lunch or tea as well.

Normally I’m uncomfortable in front of the lens; however, photographer Peter Bruce quickly put me at ease. Surprise! I had fun.

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AdrenaLINE (aka High-speed Forest Bathing)

It’s way faster than it looks…

When we were kids (without Internet, iPhone, video games and able to get only two, grainy black and white TV channels accessed via rabbit ears or a huge antenna on the roof), one of my classmates with the help of an uncle built a swing among three giant fir trees standing in a convenient triangle in the back yard.

He strung a rope about 15-20 feet up between two of the trees to which he attached a rope with knot under a short board at the bottom.  To the third tree he nailed a number other short boards to create a ladder. You climbed to the top of that ladder with the makeshift swing, stepped on the board and let go.

And no, you didn’t hit the ladder tree on the swing back. That much had been calculated and tested; however, any other ideas regarding safety or restraints were not even in the lexicon. What did we know about safety? In those pre-seatbelt days, if your baby was asleep you tucked the tyke on the shelf between back seat and the windshield while driving in the family car. A careless disregard was normal.

The first time, leaping away from the tree took some nerve. On your way down you had about 10 feet of free-fall before the rope caught and flung you back and forth. After the first time, you couldn’t wait for the next rush.

But that was 50 years ago and quite a different experience from an afternoon at AdrenaLINE Ziplines in Sooke, a small town about 40 minutes west of Victoria, B.C.

Stepping away from a platform 150 feet in the air and hurtling down hundreds of feet of cable in the forest canopy brought back a bit of that old feeling—minus the free-fall element. The limbic/reptilian brain (designed to ensure survival at all cost) screamed: Are you nuts? What are you thinking? No, no, NO!  Once in flight, every other dopamine receptor shrieked: Yes, yes, YES!

During my AdrenaLINE experience the attention paid to safety was meticulous and constant. From the moment I boarded the company shuttle service from the Clipper terminal in Victoria, every detail of what the ten of us on board were to expect was explained.

On arrival at Guest Services we were registered, helmeted, harnessed, and instructed on procedures before taking a first run on a training cable. Then we made our way to the top of the course in an ex-military all-terrain vehicle.  Every step of the way individual safety was top priority as one by one we soared down 8 ziplines and crossed over 2 suspension bridges. The longest line was about 305 meters (1000 feet) and the fastest hurled us down at 60 kilometers per hour (almost 40 mph).

AdrenaLINE route map

Throughout, our guides kept up a humorous banter, pointed out landmarks, and demonstrated various “tricks” we might try on the line. When done, they collected our gear and we returned to the city via the shuttle.

The world looks quite different from an eagle’s vantage point, swaying in the wind high in the canopy and flying down the cable. After many weeks without rain the forest floor is warm and the air redolent with dry grasses, pitch and sea, a characteristic West Coast summer fragrance that never fails to pinch hard in my heart. Like the ride–Zip! Spin! Fly! Land!—summer’s moment is too brief. Sigh. At the end of the ride, I want to have it all over again.

AdrenaLINE website

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Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing) in Mt. Douglas Park

In addition to practicing pick-up lines for potential nameless encounters during my next visit to Japan, I have begun a walking regimen. I won’t be able to hop in the car to get where I’m going during my three-month stay. Instead, there will be many treks to and from railway stations and subway lines all of which have numerous stairs to navigate. Yes, there are escalators, but not always.

I’m just a little older than I was in 2007 when I decided (after too many winters camping on the couch beside the fireplace) to climb to the pinnacle of Fushimi Inari and could barely walk afterwards without liberal applications of Nihonshu  (or sake as we call it here). That memory has made me wiser; therefore I’ve begun a systematic program to build some strength and endurance.

Mt. Douglas Roadway

Fortunately for me, I now live a short stroll away from Mt. Douglas Park (also revered as Pkols by Indigenous peoples of the area). Mornings the road up the hill is closed to vehicular traffic and the walk to the top (1500m to 225 m above sea level) is a quiet avenue under a canopy of trees. There are trails of varying difficulty, too.  However, (story of my life) I go for the wide gate and the broad way.

Forest trail Mt. Douglas Park

Mt. Douglas or Pkols is perfect environment for shinrin-yoku, the Japanese habit of forest bathing which is said to have proven health benefits. I don’t doubt it, though I also don’t doubt there are dubious claims attributed to the practice. However, trees produce oxygen, and being under them is likely the closest approximation of a hyperbaric chamber you can find.

Walking has many known benefits as does any mindfulness practice. It’s a wonderful interlude attending to the smells, sights and sounds of the forest as well as glimpses of the sea through the trees and wider views from the summit. The beach and easy trails at the mountain’s base are another option.

View to the east from Mt. Douglas

Today a pileated woodpecker thrummed his Morse code through the canopy. I’m certain that had I known the cypher, the dots and dashes held a comprehensible message.

Photo credit to

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Happy Thoughts on Father’s Day

For decades I faithfully created a special and memorable celebration for Father’s Day. Now six years after his death, it’s an empty spot on the calendar—like a tooth you’ve lost. It doesn’t ache as it did in the beginning; still, you keep running your tongue over it.

Grief is an odd duck. You’re never prepared for when or in what form it’s going to slam you. On a recent visit to Foggy Mountain Forge in Sooke I came upon a madly grinning skeleton riding a rusting bulldozer.

Instantly memories of Dad on his beloved cat filled my mind and wrenched my heart. Clearing brush. Clearing snow. Pushing. Pulling. Leveling. Logging. Winching. Fixing–constantly fixing–the old thing.

Dad and my brothers on the cat

What a jolt of joy to imagine him in bulldozer heaven having a grand old time, and the occasional street of gold with cat tracks.

Alvin Philippsen 1929-2011


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Learning to Speak Japanese: Frustration 101

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One of the things we know is that a positive attitude toward a subject we wish to learn contributes greatly to our success in that endeavor. Successful language acquisition depends on two main factors: the motivation of the student and the opportunity to use the language in in a real situation.

However, nothing kills motivation faster than boredom, frustration or other negative emotional states such as fear and anxiety when it comes to language acquisition. Those interfere with a student’s receptivity to input, the ability to process that input and perform successfully when output is required. Whether on a test or in conversation, when in a negative emotional state students often freeze or go blank.

I find myself in that state many times now as I prepare for my upcoming  3-month stay in Tokyo. The four and one half month interval before my departure will pass quickly. Certainly more quickly than my capacity to acquire proficient Japanese.

Image credit to Tokyo Skytree Website.

I’m seriously motivated to improve my limited Japanese language skills. However, to endlessly repeat phrases aloud is too tedious to endure no matter how often I remind myself that the average person requires 50 repetitions of a thing to acquire it.

Worse, to blank out over something that I know I know aggravates me to no end. Finding no reward for my effort I enter a debilitating cycle. I avoid the practice which guarantees even less success.

Unable to find much reward, at least I can find fault. A highly underrated pleasure and delightful compensation, that.

How long have people been teaching Japanese? Why isn’t there a logical program for Japanese conversation that teaches people what they might need to say as well as what they might hear in response in various day-to-day situations they might encounter? Seems only logical doesn’t it? However, it also seems that it doesn’t exist.

For example, in the first CD program I acquired, I had not been taught to state my name, say hello or pleased to meet you before I learned to say Would you like to have a drink at my place? What kind of trouble do Japanese language programs wish to start?

Since I’d paid $300 for the program I completed it and managed to patch a bit of useful stuff together. However, it was nothing that would rescue a woman who might invite a nameless stranger for drinks. Thanks for that.

Though I have made considerable progress with some of the niceties since, the source I am presently using isn’t much better. It’s teaching me to ask: What is your favorite Japanese word?  Or say Sugar is not as cheap as salt in Japan. Neither is a sentence that is remotely useful to a beginner who is still looking for material to fill the first 10 minutes after Pleased to meet you. What could I say after that to a newly introduced person? Let me guess: Would you like to have a drink at my place?

Image source:














By now I’m sure some of you are thinking that I ought to hire a private tutor. I did. Several hundred dollars later that also proved fruitless. My sensei seemed on board with my desire to  learn practical phrases I could memorize for such situations I might encounter as I traveled through Japan.

However, after an hour it was clear that my sensei was not comfortable without a text book or set lesson plans. Before the end of the second hour we were into her agenda, conjugating way more verbs than I needed to know at the time.

At my sensei’s urging and because she assured me it was practical, I bought Japanese for Busy People: Volume I. Lesson One plunged me into an office with a lawyer, engineer, student and secretary from the USA, Germany and China. Though that lesson, too, failed to move beyond Pleased to meet you. On the bright side, if I had been tempted to drinks with the lawyer or engineer, at least I knew their names.

Lesson Two yanked me out of the office and threw me into a drawer containing keys, a cell phone, a book, an umbrella, a newspaper and a wrist watch with this is and that is exercises. Somewhat useful, I’ll admit, but not what I asked for. I got more disappointment out of that venture than my money’s worth.

Because the book cost me a few bucks I persisted with the accompanying CD and the written exercises (but not the sensei) before calling it quits 50 pages in. Not a lot of it stuck. I can recognize the fill-in-the-blanks words when I reread them, but there’s no quick recall necessary for conversation. That said, I may have given up too soon. I certainly didn’t give it the 50 repetitions an average person requires to learn something.

Lately I’ve been cherry-picking through short YouTube videos and other online materials. Some are quite helpful but often so mind-numbing that I can’t stay interested. Alas, brevity fails to make tedium more palatable. Nor does the absence of any logical progression in a sequence of thought which a conversation might require. Even so, I have persevered in spite of it.

The latest series I’ve stumbled upon has the social niceties (after introductions and names) in this order: May I call you? Do you like it here? I love you. Will I see you again? Are you married? Oops. Now that’s an amusing hiccough in sequence. Still, you have to concede that it’s a step up from drinks at my place after a still nameless encounter.

Recently I learned the phrase Nanika otetsudai shimasho ka. (Can I help you with something?) Oh yes, please! Do help me find a rewarding way to learn useful Japanese. And, oh yes! Pour me that drink. I’m more than content to drink alone.

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PWAC BC Regional Volunteer Award 2016-17

From mid-April last year much of my life revolved around my mother’s hospitalization, death, memorial, selling her condo, settling her estate, selling my home and moving from Abbotsford to Victoria within a period of five months. After that I focused on physical, mental and emotional recovery, adjusted to my new home and began to build a new life. What a whirl.

One of the wisest decisions I made when Mother first went into crisis was that apart from keeping up with my responsibilities as Past President of the Fraser Valley chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), I gave myself a sabbatical from freelancing. After some consideration I made an exception for this blog as my website is my main marketing platform.

I thought it important to keep a hand in, but am not sure how long I will continue. I haven’t ascertained yet whether it’s the blog that’s not motivating me anymore or whether my lack of zest is due to the nature of grief and its aftermath. Although I’m still not sure how anything will unfold going forward, I’m not putting any pressure on myself to embrace or abandon anything.

Therefore, because of my year-long hiatus it came as some surprise to hear my name called when Stephanie Lasuik, the BC Regional Director, announced the BC Regional Volunteer Award for 2016/17  at the PWAC National AGM.

Fraser Valley PWAC

In her remarks to the delegates and attendees Stephanie said:

Lynda has consistently gone above and beyond in her service to the Fraser Valley chapter.  During her two terms as chapter President and now as past-president, our chapter has benefited greatly from her keen organizational abilities, creative spirit as well as her dedication and thoughtfulness in ensuring that PWAC is represented within the community.

From attending events on behalf of our chapter, suggesting and organizing chapter business cards for members to hand out, assisting to coordinate co-sponsored events and ensuring that the local papers received news of our meetings – Lynda has been a dedicated volunteer and an excellent representative of PWAC at large.

In addition, Lynda has spearheaded two important chapter traditions; our annual strategic planning session which has allowed us to maintain focus on member needs through providing a diversity of learning and sharing opportunities, and a monthly “public frogging” wherein members are recognized for their accomplishments or contributions through being presented with Fraser the Frog – a whimsical muse and chapter mascot.

Michelle (R) gives Lynda a “public frogging.”  Alex, Lisa and Kathleen look on.

Although I didn’t seek or expect the distinction, it’s most gratifying to have my work for the Fraser Valley chapter acknowledged in this way. It was a joy to  use my administrative gifts to lead and create. Though its beginnings were somewhat like herding cats, I’m especially proud to have laid the foundation for a cohesive and forward-thinking chapter executive which functions as a respectful and supportive team.  The success of the chapter does not depend on a single individual (a factor which is often the death knell of organizations) but relies on a group of amazing, gifted and compassionate people who creatively move the group forward.

In addition to other initiatives I set in motion, I’m particularly pleased with the Executive Guidelines which I wrote and the Executive edited and ratified together. That document describes our best practices as a chapter and executive. When both the President and Vice-president were new to their roles in 2016 and I rather suddenly moved to another city, it proved an excellent resource.

Many thanks to the person who nominated me, and to Stephanie for taking the time to speak on my behalf as none of the other Regional Directors highlighted their recipients’ contributions. I was touched and delighted. I celebrated with a half bottle of bubbly and am looking forward to the arrival of the swag!

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The People: Kishin Shinoyama Exhibit in Kanazawa

I manage to catch the last day that photographer Kishin Shinoyama’s photographic exhibition The People is showing at Kanazawa’s stunning 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. (Do take a peek at the building here as it is beyond words.) After following a long white hallway I enter a small door in the wall and walk into a room draped in black. A darkroom. When I emerge the first larger than life-sized photo I see is of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Opposite is the word GOD.

Instantly I am reminded of John Lennon’s wry observation that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. However, in this instance the word denotes the first section of five sub-themes for the exhibit: GOD, the deceased; STAR, various celebrities; SPECTACLE, other-worldly and dream dimensions; BODY, beauty, eroticism and struggle as expressed by the nude body; and ACCIDENTS, portraits of the 03/11/11 Great East Japan Earthquake and Disaster victims.

As is often the case with many other exhibits throughout Japan, there is no English translation. No texts on the walls. No audio tape. According to Kishin Shinoyama these selected works are people everyone knows. But besides Lennon and Ono I recognize but cannot name two faces. That’s all.

In spite of my frustrating ignorance, the photos speak for themselves. Powerful and luminous like the monstrous statuary often found in temples, they tower above me or spread before me in super-sized splendor.

However, I’m not satisfied with a face-value viewing. I must understand more fully what I see. Notebook in hand, I wait in front of many of the most compelling images until someone who looks approachable steps up beside me. In sotto voce Japanese I ask, “Excuse me. Who is that, please?” People are eager to tell me. I write down the names, and if they can identify them by their roles in English, a brief note.

Afterwards I Google them all. They are iconic personalities. Among them centenarian twin sisters Kin-San and Gin-San, actors, writers, opera stars, popular singers, models, baseball players, a pop-idol girl group, a geisha.

Whether captured in theatrical grandeur or humble reflection, the range of emotion expressed in each image leaves me more than raw. As a whole they are shattering. In composition, gesture, body language and micro-expressions they reflect the shared human condition. I see their majesty, power and prestige. Their anguish, despair, and guile. Their indifference, resignation and terror. Their innocence, menace or defeat. In theirs I recognize my own.

I leave overwhelmed by what I have seen. At the same time, I am baffled. I failed to see joy or delight or elation. Why not? I leave with that disturbing question which sometimes haunts me still.

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Silence: Musings on Scorsese’s Film

I agree with Matt Zoller Seitz the editor in chief at who states that Martin Scorsese’s Silence is a film you experience and then live with. That’s true in spite of its flaws.

Image credit to

Originally a 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō, Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests who have illegally entered seventeenth century Japan which at that time was closed to foreigners except for strictly limited trade in carefully controlled port cities.  The men are searching for a third priest, their mentor who has reportedly recanted his Christian faith and lives with a wife in the style of the Japanese.

I won’t belabor the story line as it is recounted in great detail in almost every review available for anyone wishing to know. However, given the beauty of the cinematography, and the landscapes, as well as the excruciating dilemmas the characters face, the film should have been more enthralling—even heartbreaking—than it was.

Why didn’t it move me?   Probably because the story was told from a distancing point of view. In spite of its obvious craft and visual beauty, the film felt almost like a textbook recounting the details of a time that no one cares about now.

Also, the characterization was weak, at times more like caricature and stereotype. The costuming intensified that effect. Though the Jesuit priests and the hidden Japanese Christians struggle with philosophical, religious and moral questions while living under constant threat of torture, I never suffered along with the protagonists.

Perhaps, like Scorsese, a lapsed Catholic would have found their specific struggle more compelling; however, due to the detachment established by the point of view, they seemed rather tedious and predictable people. I could pity them for the accident of their birth in such a difficult time and place, but otherwise, I wasn’t touched. I wanted to be.

In addition, the motives of the antagonists aren’t made clear. Without some knowledge of Japanese history and the political foundation of the story’s events, much is lost. It helps to know that the determined extermination of the Christians at that time was rooted in a rebellion by mostly Roman Catholic Japanese. Like most uprisings, the events could be attributed to  famine, over-taxation, and a large population of peasants with little to lose other than very miserable lives. The local government believed the rebellion was assisted by the seditious teachings of the Europeans.

Now that’s an over-simplification; however, without understanding that much, the ruthless response of the Tokugawa Shogunate against the Jesuits and Japanese Christians doesn’t make as much sense. Especially in a country in which Buddhism and Shintoism already co-existed. Otherwise, why single out Christianity for exclusion?

It also helps to remember that European colonizers in their dealings with indigenous peoples were as cruel as any of the Japanese depicted in the film. There are no black or white hats in this context.  Given internal and external conflict this rich, it shouldn’t have felt flat, and 161 minutes shouldn’t have felt long.

As for the ending, I saw it coming. I hate when that happens.

Even so, in spite of everything the film resonates and is timely. In an interview with Time Out Tokyo, actor Shinya Tsukamoto answers Mari Hiratsuka’s question, “What message does Silence have for us in the present?

“Personally, I’m struck by the absurdity of why, at any given point in history someone is always using violence to suppress what others believe. Silence asks a powerful question about that absurdity.”

Reviewer Peter Debruge maintains, “Scorsese…has created a taxing film that will not only hold up to multiple viewings, but practically demands them.” That’s also true in spite of its flaws.

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