Monday, July 08, 2013


NHK: Tomorrow Japan 3/11

I've just returned from Japan, thanks to the generosity of the Japan US Friendship Commission and the NEA. While there, I was very flattered to be asked to participate in the documentary series Tomorrow Japan. The series runs on NHK, Japan's national broadcasting system. Tomorrow Japan features journalists and artists who each examine some aspect of the 3/11 disaster, which we now know is the most costly natural disaster to date. Past participants have included Cindy Lauper, Jane Birkin and David Suzuki.

My own personal connection to 3/11 has been documented elsewhere, and you can read about it here and here. I was approached by a producer and asked if perhaps I might like to examine some of the spiritual aspects of Japan and how it is coping with the massive death and destruction. The show will run on NHK International, and also nationally. Here are a few photos that give you some sense of what I was able to do, thanks to NHK and the wonderful producer, Shigero Endo, and his crew.

Here, I am with a group of Japanese priests of different sects, participating in sutra reading. Different Buddhist sects (and also non-Buddhist sects) use different prayers to quell the dead. At this spot in Sendai, it's said that numerous people died, and that a great many ghosts have been sighted. Priests travel here to help quell these spirits.

A taxi driver I met later on in my travels told me it can take 30 years for spirits to be settled.

I'm sitting here with a group of tsunami survivors from the town of Ishinomaki, which was badly hit by the tsunami. These people all live in temporary housing. And each person has his or her own story.

The remarkable Buddhist priest Kaneta Taiou (who is a Zen priest--same sect as my family), spends several days each week going from shelter to shelter. He brings coffee and cake and plays Thelonius Monk. A man after my own heart, considering that we are all big jazz fans in my house!

He will listen to people talk, and has a way of getting them to express the very heart of what is troubling them very quickly. He's very tall and people trust his kind but authoritative--and honest--manner implicitly. It's common for women to burst into tears just by seeing his face.

Among the unorthodox techniques he uses to help survivors, is the use of clay to make little Jizo, which are a kind of Buddha. That's what we are all doing in this photo. Some women have lost a family member in the tsunami, and they will write the name of the lost person on the Jizo's back. All the figures will later be blessed, and fired, and returned to their creators.

The temporary housing units are very, very small. So any addition to the home must also be small, in order to fit into the small space.

Here I am with Kaneta-san, and his crew. Many of these people are volunteers who, like me, volunteered for the first time. Kaneta-san welcomes all people of faith to help him out--one needn't be Buddhist. His strength and his kindness impressed me greatly.

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