ヨーダの教えに窺える東洋思想 Eastern Thought Underlying Yoda’s Teachings



“And well you should not, for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock—everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.”



These famous lines are uttered by the Jedi master Yoda, and whether or not you’re a Star Wars fan, I’m sure many of you have heard this dialogue at some point. In the film, Yoda utters these words to Luke in attempt to get him to recognize the Force in all things and embrace its power. It’d be no exaggeration to say that this lesson Yoda imparts to Luke has taken on a Biblical status in Western countries today. Speaking through Yoda, this scene pretty much lays out the philosophy underlying the doctrine of the Force in Star Wars. I never really contemplated the origins of this philosophy before I came to Japan. However, as I studied the religious thought and worldview that is vividly reflected within Japanese culture and art, I came to realize the profound undertones of Eastern intellectual thought within the Force doctrine.




The main religion of ancient Japan is referred to as “Old Shinto”, a system of beliefs centered around nature worship that formed the basis of present day “Shrine-based Shinto”. The 6-7th centuries saw the introduction of Buddhism and other religions from the continent via torai-jin, the Japanese term used to refer to immigrants from mainly the Korean peninsula. Naturally the introduction of these foreign-born religions gave rise to friction with Shinto, but Japan ultimately elected the path of accommodation and fusion rather than outright rejection and exclusion. This casserole of religions that came to coexist in Japan not only included Shinto and Buddhism, but also Taoism. I believe the quote by Master Yoda at the beginning of this post reflects elements of all three of these religions. Here I will take a look at each and how they relate to the doctrine of the Force in Star Wars.



まず、日本にて一番長い歴史を持つ神道から検証します。神道には「依代・憑代 (よりしろ)」という考え方があります。それは、あらゆる物に精霊などのマナ(外来魂)が宿ると考える自然崇拝の宗教観の表れです。多くの神社の境内に見られる大きな神木がその考え方を象徴します。この神木は、榊や梛木(なぎ)のような革厚で光沢のある葉を持つ常緑の広葉樹であり、そこに神が降臨して依り憑くと信じられています。要するに、神聖かつ神秘的な力が宿るものを意味します。これはヨーダがいう自然なものに存在する(宿る)フォースのことと連想するではないかと思います。また、ジェダイ寺院の中庭に立派に聳え立つ「フォースの樹」のイメージも思い浮かべます。その名称の意味通りに、その樹にはフォースが宿り、まさに神道における依代との考え方に重ねます。

The first we have is Shinto, which is the oldest religion in Japan. One concept that is present in Shinto is the idea of yori-shiro. This concept is rooted in nature worship, and expresses the belief that supernatural power in the form of gods, spirits, or souls (collectively known as mana) can inhabit all things. The large sacred trees seen on the grounds of many shrines are a representation of this idea. Divinities are believed to descend and inhabit these trees, which are usually a type of flowering evergreen or Asian bayberry tree with thick bark and glossy leaves. That’s basically what yori-shiro is all about; the idea of a sacred and mystical power that dwells within things. This is seemingly reflected within what Master Yoda says when he describes how the Force exists (resides) within natural objects. Another image that comes to mind is the stately “Force Tree” that stood in the inner garden of the Jedi Temple. Just as the name implies, the Force was said to dwell within this tree, which coincides nicely with the Shinto concept of yori-shiro.




The vestiges of Daoism also become apparent when we apply the filter of Eastern philosophy to this famous quote of Yoda. This point is discussed to great length on a blog post that I have previously read. One thing the article points out is the striking resemblance between the notion of Ki within Daoism and the Force. Daoism supposedly emerged from the thought of Laozi, a philosopher in ancient China. However, much of Laozi’s life is enveloped by legend and mystery, and the truth is not much is known about him. Bearing that in mind, the article contains the following quote attributed to Laozi:



“The way gives rise to Ki, virtue causes it to accumulate, objects give it form, and momentum generates it. Given this, all things under Heaven cherish virtue, with none forsaking the way. The respect for the way and loftiness of virtue are not preordained. They simply exist because they are naturally occurring. This is why the way gives rise to Ki, why virtue nourishes it, causes it to grow, nurtures it, encompasses it, refines it, cultivates it, and enshrouds it. Though virtue also emanates from within us, it is not ours to possess. While it underscores our deeds, we are not to boast of them. This virtue continually matures, yet never reaches full fruition. This is what we consider to be pure virtue.”




When I read this passage to attributed to Laozi, the first thing that came to mind was the relationship between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. Serenity, one of the Force Priestesses, described the nature of the Force in the following manner to Yoda when he came to the home world of the midichlorians: “Life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and becomes one with it. One powers the other. One is renewed by the other." These words resemble what Laozi says in the passage above in describing the origins of Ki: “The way gives rise to Ki, virtue causes it to accumulate, objects give it form, and momentum generates it.” Here Laozi mentions both the way and virtue, but they are essentially referring to the same thing and can be interpreted as thus. Even more interesting is that the two kanji used to create the word “virtue” in Japanese, “道徳 (do-toku)” are the same as the characters used to refer to the way (道, do) and virtue (徳, toku). Now when we compare what Master Yoda says to a despondent Luke on Dagobah to the words of Laozi, we find a striking parallel. “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us” seemingly echoes the interrelationship to which Laozi alludes: “the way gives rise to Ki… virtue nourishes it, causes it to grow… encompasses it… cultivates it, and enshrouds it.”



最後は仏教の面影です。あの名シーンの邦訳は非常に興味深い言葉が用いられて、その言葉は仏教に基づいた世界観を仄めかします。その言葉はヨーダがルークにいうセリフの最後に登場します:「ここにも、お前と儂のにも、あの木にも、岩にも。どこにもある。そう、陸地とあの船のにもじゃ。 」ここに注目が惹きつけるのは「間(あいだ)」というたった一文字で成り立つ言葉です。「間(あいだ)」を英語にしますと「space」や 「space between」という意味になりますが、その意味を成す別の読み方「ま」もあります。日本の歴史・文化・思想史を長年に渡って研究してきた松岡正剛はこの「間(ま)」という言葉の意味は歴史の流れに伴って変遷してきたと指摘します。“上代および古代初期においては、「間」は最初のうちは「あいだ」を指す言葉ではなかった。もともと「ま」という言葉は「真」という字があてられていた。「真」という言葉は、真剣とか真理とか真相とかというふうに使われるように、究極的な真なるものをさしていたのです。”

Finally we come to the visages of Buddhism within Yoda’s thoughts. The Japanese translation of that scene employs a pretty profound word that evokes a world view rooted in Buddhist thought. This word comes up in the final part of what Yoda says to Luke: “Koko ni mo, omae to washi no aida () ni mo, ano ki ni mo, iwa ni mo. Doko ni mo aru. Sou, rikuchi to ano fune no aida () ni mo ja (Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock—everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship).” The Japanese word that caught my attention consists of the single character read as aida (間). The word aida can be translated into English as “space” or “the space (between)”, but that same character can also be read as ma. Seigo Matsuoka—a scholar that has devoted his entire career to the study of Japanese history, culture, and intellectual thought—points out how the meaning of ma has changed over the course of history. “In ancient times and early antiquity the word ma (間) did not imply the meaning of aida (space, space between). Instead, the kanji character originally used for ma was 真. This character implies the meaning expressed in words such as 真剣 (“shinken”, or “earnest, solemn, sincere”), 真理 (“shinri”, or “(a) truth), and 真相 (“shinso”, or “(the) truth''). In short, the word ma conveyed the idea of some ultimate truth.”



仏教においてその究極的な真なるものを挙げますと般若心経が唱える「色即是空」という真理です。つまり、この世界は「空(くう)」であるとのことです。この「空(くう)」を直訳しますと「empty」や「void」となりますが、なんかいまいちの訳になり、それで空が指す意味がなかなか訳出されないと拙僧が思います。この文脈において空が指すのは「概念」であり、その概念がないことを理解しますと見方が180度転換します。つまり、我が見るすべてが実態を持たない「概念」に過ぎず、その概念から解かれるとこの世界は常に移ろいでいることに気づきます。これはまさにヨーダがいう「You must unlearn what you have learned (今まで学んできたことを念頭から払う必要がある)」のことです。陸地とX-wingの間は「空」でもありますが、そこにフォースが常に移ろいでいて、流れています。その流れには形は無い、だからそのフォースに対して概念に囚われて見てはいけないとヨーダがルークに諭そうとしています。遂にルークがその真理に悟りますと、繰り広げる空(そら)の如くフォースの無限さを理解できて、その時まで足枷となっていた概念から解放されます。

The ultimate truth within Buddhism is expressed by the four kanji construct in the Heart Sutra: “色即是空 (shiki soku ze kuu, or “all form is emptiness”). The last character of this construct, 空 (kuu), implies that all things in this world are without form. This is a tricky character to translate into English, for a literal translation churns out words like “empty” and “void”, both of which fail to fully convey the idea of kuu. The word kuu in this context is used in reference to “concepts” or “ideas”, and the fact that we must realize they do not exist. Once we understand this, we can see the world in an entirely different light. In short, everything that we see is nothing more than “concepts” that have no substance or entity. When we break free from these concepts, we come to see that the world is transitory, in a state of constant change. This liberation from concepts is what Yoda means when he tells Luke that “you must unlearn what you have learned.” The space between the X-wing and the shore may be just that… nothing but open space. However, therein flows the Force, and it is transitory in nature. That flow has no form, which is what Yoda admonishes Luke to realize. One must not look at the Force while still held captive to concepts. Luke eventually arrives at this truth and comes to understand that much like the sky that spreads overhead, the Force is equally expansive and unbound. This realization frees him from the shackles of concepts that had previously stifled his understanding.



Admittedly, it is difficult to ascertain whether Lucas himself infused this depth of meaning within this cosmic saga that he created. That said, new discoveries await those who change their vantage point when examining Star Wars. I believe this is a testament to the universality inherent within the Star Wars saga, and what makes repeat viewings of the films all the more worthwhile.





日本限定の最後のジェダイのチラシ "The Last Jedi" Japanese Theater Pamphlet



The release date for The Last Jedi (TLJ) is fast approaching, and with it a new pamphlet to promote the film has been distributed to theaters across Japan. These kind of pamphlets, which are printed on high quality B5 paper, represent a unique approach to advertising films here in Japan. The frontside is generally the same as the posters that are displayed about the theater, while the backside bears an overview of the film or an introdution to the characters. The "Ver. 1.0" pamphlet that was distributed early this summer garnered alot of attention from fans overseas, so I decided to whip up a simple translation for those interested to see what this one has to say. The translation is posted below the photo of the pamphlet's backside.



''光か、闇か (Hikari ka, Yami ka) The Light... or the Dark". The Japanese title for the film "最後のジェダイ (Saigo no Jedi)" can be seen in the middle of the Star Wars logo.



A Mind-blowing Chapter of the Star Wars Saga Unlike Any Ever Seen Is about to Unfold


The Force Awakens (TFA) set off a global sensation when it hit theaters, shattering box office records in the US. This winter the world will once again be brimming with fervor and excitement over the release of The Last Jedi (TLJ), the latest installment in the series. Picking up where TFA left off, TLJ adds a new chapter to the rich lore of the Star Wars saga.


The Jedi… Stewards expected to bring peace to the galaxy


Fear has swept across the galaxy with the rise of the First Order. Amidst this turmoil, two young powerful Force users have emerged. There is Rey, a girl all alone on distant world whose destiny was forever changed by a chance encounter with BB-8. She joins him and the Resistance, and in doing so awakens the Force within her. Then there is Kylo Ren, born of heroes of the Resistance. Turning his back on his parents, he decides to take up the mantle of Darth Vader. A startling fate awaits these two Force wielders, with each feeling the pull of both the Light and the Dark. Luke Skywalker, the legendary Jedi, has finally come out of hiding. What impact will his return have on the galaxy?


The man behind the camera for this mind-shattering tale of the Star Wars saga is Rian Johnson, one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming bright young directors. TLJ continues to follow the exploits of Rey, Kylo, and other characters introduced in TFA. It also adds a mysterious and captivating air to the figure of Luke Skywalker, the very soul of the saga who made his appearance in the final scene of Episode VII. In addition to these now familiar faces, TLJ introduces us to a new host of characters such as the porgs, an adorable species of birdlike creatures that have already won the hearts of many fans across the globe.


The Light… or the Dark… That is the decision that must be made when immeasurable power is obtained.

言語を通してもう一つの自分と出会う Language opens the portal to your other self



Studying a language entails far more than learning the formula for switching out words. I've always felt that the process of learning a language other than your own requires you to understand the cultural backdrop underlying the words which make up that language. This backdrop is reflected within the sense of values that the language espouses, and it is something that you must accept in order to unlock the inherent potential of that language. The key within this process is the ability to adapt. When you make the language your own, you discover that another "you" exists within that language. At the same time, that realization works to broaden your own view of the world. In short, this mastery of another language is essentially the process of obtaining an entirely new identity.




I have set myself to explore every possible aspect of the language I have mastered in my quest to better know the "other me" which exists within that language. Of all the different exploratory methods I've employed in this particular endeavor, the one which I felt has helped to further polish me as an individual is the task of writing haiku. This post presents a collection of haiku I have written over the last couple of years, so I encourage anyone interested in this exploratory process to read through them.


Ever so silent
The passing of the clouds
Under the moon.

Cicadas in song
Ringing clear across the night
Early summer now

Night gives way to dawn
Meandering clouds above
Everchanging form

A rippling ring travels
Just like the moonlight
Emanating out

Evening sake
Bringing solace to the heart
The sound of rain drops

Breeze, ever so calm
This early autumn morning
Blissful tones abound

Rising loftily
Evoking Mt. Fuji's grace
Clouds up in the sky

Ever so fleeting
The world seen from Azuchi
Nothing but a dream

The last haiku here is a reference to Akechi Mitsuhide.Those interested in learning more about him should visit the Wikipedia page



家紋に込められた意味 Family Crests: More than Meets the Eye



This article originally featured in the September 2009 issue of the Japanese magazine “Pen”. The English is a translation I did a few years back. I also wrote the footnotes at the end of the article. 



One rarely notices traditional family crests in modern-day Japan. However, family crests were literally a matter of life and death during the Sengoku (Warring States) period. In this, family crests are to be appreciated for far more than their aesthetic value.




Sanada Clan Family Crest: Roku-mon sen (Six Pence)


The six mon (pence) is a reference to the six coins placed on caskets of the dead in a Buddhist context, equal to the price of passage across the Sanzu (Styx) River. This family crest symbolized the Sanada clan’s resolve, unshaken even in the face of death. I chose to have this family crest put on my kimono for our wedding ceremony.


For most people in Japan today, family crests aren’t really a part of their daily lives. The only time one may catch a glimpse of these traditional symbols is at a wedding or maybe a funeral. When one examines the history of these symbols, one discovers that family crests have been in use since the Heian period*1 (794-1185). Scholars believe that family crests were first adopted by nobles, and used on their ox carts as a way of identifying themselves (a nice analogy would be imagining a glorified business card or logo). However, with the outbreak of the Hogen revolt in 1156*2, the Heian period gave way to an age of civil war and social unrest, with the capital and much of the country transformed into a battlefield. In order to tell friend from foe, as well as provide proof of one’s exploits in battle, a “badge” to identify oneself was needed. Thus, many samurai set about to creating their own unique design and using this insignia on their own personal battle flags. This marks the beginning of family crests as we know (in Japan at least). 



A symbol of Sengoku daimyo (lord) authority and family status


Between the Nambokucho period*3 (1336-1392) and the subsequent Muromachi period (1336-1573: overlaps with the Nambokucho period because one of the Imperial regencies was merely the puppet of the reigning Ashikaga shogunate), the number of family crests literally exploded, as even the descendants of illegitimate children of the nobility adopted their own crest. As a result, a book was published in which all the prominently used family crests were massed into a single volume. This book was called the Kenbun Shokamon (literally translates to “The various family crests one comes across”), and its creation signified the need for samurai to readily distinguish the family crests of their adversaries. 




There are literally thousands of family crests, rich in variety and style. Though most designs incorporate a plant-oriented motif, other items were also used, such as animals, astronomical elements, tools and weapons, as well as buildings. There were even some incredibly original designs that probably turned more than a few heads on the battlefield, such as the backwards facing rabbit, and even a key. Entering the Sengoku period, the Imperial Court or the Shogun would often confer special family crests upon distinguished samurai families. This was called shiyo*4, and in turn resulted in many daimyo using multiple family crests. For formal occasions the family crest that was used was referred to as the joumon (literally “the specified crest”), while the other crests used were called fukumon (or “sub-crests”). 

An example of this in practice is the Mori family, who rose to prominence and ruled over the Chukoku region (western Honshu, which is the main island of the Japanese archipelago). For their joumon, they used the “ichimonji ni mitsuboshi” (three stars beneath one line), but they also used the “go-shichi kiri” (5 and 7 paulownia leaves) as their fukumon. This is the crest the Imperial Court bestowed upon their family. Family crests were also used by the Shogun and the Imperial Court to boost their own prestige and authority. 




Mori Clan Family Crest: “Ichimonji Ni Mitsuboshi” (Three Stars beneath One Line)


Up until this point, one was practically free to choose whichever family crest they desired. However, towards the end of the Sengoku period, Toyotomi Hideyoshi began to impose restrictions on family crests, specifically forbidding the use of “kiri” and “giku” (paulownia and chrysanthemum, respectively) motifs for family crests. Later, Tokugawa Ieyasu would prohibit the use of the hollyhock motif, assigning it as the official family crest for the shogunate in efforts to boost the shogunate’s authority and legitimacy.


The Tokugawa reign (1603-1867) came to be known as the Edo period (Edo being the capital, now present day Tokyo). During this time, family crests became a necessary formality, with the insignia sewn onto one’s kimono as a means of identifying both their family and indicating their social status. This time was a period of peace, leading to the rise in the number of designs and variations employed for family crests. 




Ishida Clan Family Crest: Dai-ichi Dai-man Dai-kichi (1 for 10,000, 10,000 for 1)

This crest sports a unique design composed entirely of kanji characters. It conveys the desire for one man to work for the happiness of 10,000 people, with those individuals returning the favor


In conclusion, it is readily apparent that family crests were far more than a decorative accessory implemented to accent one’s wardrobe. Upon examining the historical roots of these symbols, one discovers that family crests were an important symbol that fulfilled an important role. The family crest not only indicated one’s family identity, but also acted as a symbol on the battlefield and legitimate representation of authority.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heian_period
Please pardon me for taking the easy route and citing wiki. But rather than pester you with lengthy footnotes, I encourage you to click the links and read on if you are interested. While I cannot guarantee that wiki is accurate, it is a good place to start.

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogen_Rebellion 

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanboku-chō_period
I was a little disturbed to see that the English entry on wiki is far more detailed than its corresponding Japanese entry. Guess that goes to show where the emphasis of historical study lies.

4. 賜与 This kanji compound doubles up two verbs that both mean “to give”, though the first kanji carries a far more formal, essential regal connotation.

自然に対する日本のデュアル価値観:その両面性を受ける Japan's Dualistic View of Nature: Accepting Both Sides of the Same Coin 



Shishigami devouring the forest in search of his head (Princess Mononoke)




When I watched the news reports on the eruption of Mt. Ontake at the end of September 2014, the survivor’s harrowing accounts of how Mother Nature suddenly reared its “demonic side” reminded me of a special documentary made a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake. This documentary featured the Japanese scholar Takashi Umehara, and during the course of the program he described how long before Buddhism came to Japan, the people of these islands both revered and feared the two faces of nature through Shinto. Within Shinto, people gave offerings in an effort to appease the fearsome side of nature and transform this power into a source of bounty and blessing. Shinto essentially acknowledges that nature is both an awful tyrant and charitable mother figure. Based on this understanding, Umehara argued that Shinto does not distinguish between nature and man, but rather emphasizes a dualistic view that brings the two together.



旅順攻囲戦 (日露戦争1904-05)

Siege of Port Arthur (Russo-Japan War 1904-05)


Source: JACAR


火の輪が生み出した列島に身を寄せた民族が絞り出したこの智恵であり、それは必然な結果であろうと思います。従って、そのデュアル価値観に基づいた「自然との共存」を目指したではないかと思います。「共存」は「共に存在する」を意味とし、それは まさにデュアルの意味でもあります。梅原氏によりますと、その二面は西洋文明が忘れていました。西洋文明は人間中心主義で、それは科学技術文明を生み出しました。人間中心主義に基づいて成り立ったこの科学技術文明から見ますと、自然は人間の役に立つものとしか捉えないし、その結果この文明が生み出す「文明の利器」を利用して自然を好きのように制御しようとします。明治に開国して富国強兵(いわゆる “大日本主義”)で突っ走った日本もこの西洋文明を取り入れて、そのお土産として科学技 術文明を頂きました。確かに国がより豊にしましたが、その文明が要する資源は日本が乏しく、それを手に入れるために国外へ目を向かざるを得なかったです。結局、それは日清戦争日露戦争日韓併合満州建国への道に繋がります。


It seems to me that this approach was the source of wisdom and inevitable outcome arrived at by the peoples who came to these islands created by the Ring of Fire. That’s probably why they sought to live based on a dualistic view that stressed “living in harmony with nature”. The Japanese word kyōzon (共存, coexistence) is simply an abbreviated form of the phrase tomo ni sonzai suru (共に存在する, co-existing together), and is a perfect representation of this dualism. Umehara claims that the dualistic view stressed by Shinto is something the West has forgotten. Western culture is first and foremost human-centric, and this human-first approach is what gave rise to a culture founded upon science and technology. This kind of culture views nature only as a means for serving the needs of humanity, and as a result many of the “modern conveniences” this culture produces are designed to enable humanity to control nature as it sees fit. Japan incorporated this Western culture after it opened up to the West in the Meiji era (1868-1912) and plunged headlong into its quest to build a “rich country under a strong military” (the so-called “Big Japan” vision). In taking on elements of Western culture, it also received its corresponding culture of science and technology as an added “bonus”. This “set” of cultures did indeed help to make Japan a much wealthier country, but each required natural resources that Japan sorely lacked, causing the nation to turn its eyes outward to secure the resources it needed to pursue the Big Japan vision it had adopted. To put a long story short, this plotted the course for the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, the annexation of Korea, and finally the establishment of Manchukuo.




Crumbled stone foundation of Kumamoto Castle following the earthquakes in April 2016



現在までに早送りして、西洋文明を通して日本の神道の礎の上に植え付けたこの科学技術文明は、先で述べたように「自然を制服しようとする」という考え方を生み出します。ニュースでは「何故この噴火を予知できなかった」という問いかけや、地震予測に膨大の研究費を投資することも、やっぱり全ては「自然は制御できるべきものである」という考え方による発言(や行動)です。このように捉えてしまいますと、予知できなかったことは失敗と捉えてしまい、研究に投資した膨大な融資は無駄であったと捉えてしまいます。でも、これらを 失敗であると決めづけるは間違いと私が思っています。そもそも自然は制御できるものにあらず、古から人間の生活や社会を左右したものであります。文明の利器の発達によって西洋文明に染めた現在の文明はこの教訓を忘れていると思います。だから、梅原氏が唱える自然の両面を受け止めて、その一つずつに合わせてどのように生活できればいいかを真剣に考えなければならないです。


Fast forward to the present, and it seems that this culture of science and technology Japan received from the West and implanted upon its Shinto base “seeks to subjugate nature” as in the manner previously described. When we watch the news, we hear people say things like “why couldn’t they have predicted that eruption?” The same is true for the massive amount of money that is spent funding research on earthquake prediction, for pretty much every statement (or action) made is based on the idea that “nature is something which should (can) be controlled.” But if we always view events this way, the fact we couldn’t predict the occurrence of these disasters is perceived as a failure, and all that money pumped into research is considered to be a mere waste of funds. I think it’s wrong for us to completely write this off as a failure. We must remember that the forces of nature are beyond control, and that they have held sway over human life and society since ancient times. Contemporary society and culture, which are heavily dominated by the traditions of Western culture fostered through the advancement of its “modern conveniences”, has largely forgotten this basic lesson. Just as Umehara argues, we need to accept both faces of nature, and then seriously consider how to best adapt the way we live to each of them.

降神(オリガミ)を通して拡大する日本語のヒップホップの可能性 Origami: Broadening the potential of Japanese hip-hop


日本語を取得するまでは長い道であって、独学での試行錯誤の積み重ねで少しずつその能力を培ってきました。勉強の手段は多岐に渡りましたが、特に遣り甲斐かつ効果的であるものと感じたのは音楽鑑賞でした。当然J-Popから入って、その分かりやすい歌詞(椎名林檎は例外ですが)で語彙をだいぶ増やしましたが、その反面でその曲のほとんどは中身がもの足りないと感じてより意味深いものを求め始めました。ちょうど11年前に、日本語能力試験の2級(上級)を合格した後の2006年の春の頃、ある日に仕事の後に職場の近くにあったDisk Unionという店に入ってアンダーグラウンドのヒップホップのアーティストのアルバムが置いてあった棚を見てみることにしました。すぐに目に入ったのはその店の店長がお勧めした「降神」というグループでした。

The road to mastery of the Japanese language has been a long one of self-study, characterized by repeat trial and error through which I have built up my language skills. I have applied a number of different methods, but one that I have found particularly satisfying and effective has been listening to music. Naturally I started with J-Pop, and thanks to the straight-forward lyrics (those of Shiina Ringo aside) I was able to amass quite a bit of vocabulary. That said, I found most of the songs to be lacking in substance, and began to search out for something with more depth and meaning. About 11 years ago in the spring of 2006, shortly after I had passed the 2 kyuu (advanced level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I decided to head into the Disk Union by my office after work and check out the underground hip hop artists’ albums on the shelves. The first to catch my eye was this group called Origami (降神), which was one of the recommended picks of the store manager.




Origami circa 2003



I initially thought the group’s name was read “Kōshin”, based on the Kanji characters that formed the name. However, upon reading the introduction of the group written on the card pasted on the shelf, I learned that they actually read it as “Origami”. This interesting play on words really struck me, and so I decided to buy the album right there on the spot. The word origami generally brings to mind the paper-folding art for which Japan is renowned, but in this instance the group used the kun-yomi (Japanese reading) of the Kanji characters to convey the idea of “God descending to earth.” This image left a deep impression on me, and heightened my expectations for the group.



降神のデビューアルバム (2003)

Origami's debut album (2003)


アルバムの最初の曲はその期待を遥かに超え、あの印象は今も鮮明に覚えています。「完全にこのグループの虜にされているんだ」と思いました。その時までに聞いたことはなかった形で日本語のリリックを変幻自在に繰り広げ、その長けた表現方法が非常に斬新かつ抽象的でもありました。このアルバムと巡り会う前は日本語に於ける表現や言葉の使い分けがはっきり決まっているという思い込みを抱えていましたが、降神の歌詞がその思い込みを完全に打ち破って、日本語の自由度の高さを思い知らせてくれました。敢えて言うなら、彼らが生み出した叙情的な曲は俺が求めてきた日本語の在り様を具現していました。例えば最初の曲である「時計の針」にこういうリリックがあります:「七つ葉のクローバー グローバルに広がる日の丸 これ以上にグレーイゾーンに近づく 力尽く」。英語と日本語を絶妙に混ぜて、その二つの言語の言葉の韻を踏んで、その特徴を巧みに活かしています。また、曲の礎となるビートとトラックは意外にもウータンクランのリザーが醸し出す雰囲気に近い感じも窺えました。

I still vividly recall my initial impression of the group, with the first song on the album more than exceeding my expectations. Listening to it, I knew there that these guys had fully converted me into a fan. They spun surreal lyrics unlike any I heard in Japanese up until that time, bringing together words in a way that was incredibly fresh yet abstract. I used to think that Japanese was a language in which words and phrases had “set” uses, but with the lyrics on this album, Origami helped to shatter that preconception and show me how free-flowing the language can be. In a certain respect, the lyrical tracks they crafted embodied the style of Japanese I had sought. Take this line from the first track, Tokei no Hari (The Clock Hands): “Nanatsuba no kuroba (clover), gurobaru (global) ni hirogaru hi-no-maru… kore ijō ni gurei (gray) zōn (zone) ni chikadzuku, chikara tsuku (Seven leaf clover, Japanese flag spreading across the globe, its strength set to give out if it gets any closer to the gray zone).” This line demonstrates how deftly they mix Japanese and English, creating rhymes with both languages and expertly employing their unique characteristics. Another thing about this song that caught my attention was the beat and track, which unexpectedly evoked the atmosphere produced by the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA.




Origami was not my first introduction to Japanese hip-hop. I had previously been exposed to groups such as Kick the Can Crew, Ketsumeishi, and Rip Slyme, and while their style of hip-hop was extremely fun and finely crafted, they all came off as a little too lighthearted. In contrast, Origami took the “fun” sound of hip-hop and added a layer composed of deep lyrics that covered a broad spectrum of themes. That’s what set them apart. The world portrayed within the lyrics flowing through the tracks was far from lighthearted. Origami depicted a reality characterized by politics mired in scandal, the sense of isolation pervading everyday life in the mega-metropolis that is Tokyo, the loss of confidence following the collapse of the Bubble economy in the wake of postwar Japan’s hyper economic growth, the empty materialism that holds sway over Japanese society today. While it is not exactly uplifting, I feel the underlying theme of the album is not to turn away from this reality, but to come to grips with it and continue pushing forward.




If I had to pick one track that allows you to fully enjoy the essence of Origami’s hip-hop, the first that comes to mind is Kichiku Butōkai (Ball of Fiends). This track vividly reflects Origami’s unique flavor and style, and in a certain respect represents the climax of the album. One blog post I came across had this to say about Ball of Fiends: “This track in three-part time, chaotic as it may be, paints an excellent depiction of Japanese society’s decay.” I can’t help but agree with this sentiment as I listen to this song time and time again. In addition, the Buddhist terminology employed in the title does a nice job of further elaborating on that theme. “鬼畜 (kichiku)” is an abbreviation for the word “餓鬼畜生 (gaki-chikushō)”, which is itself a combination of the words for two of the six posthumous worlds in the Buddhist cycle of transmigration. “餓鬼 (gaki)” refers to the hungry ghost realm into which people who led a life of excessive luxury fall when they die. Those who pass through this realm are never able to satiate their hunger, no matter how much they eat. I believe this is a reference to contemporary society held in the sway of materialism. “畜生 (chikushō) refers to all animals other than human beings. In Buddhism, these are the beings who are reborn as animals because they were unhappy with what they had been given in their previous life and generally ungrateful. As animals, their souls were destined to suffer pain and be the source of suffering for their own blood relatives. I feel this can be interpreted as a reference to the side effects of materialism, which causes people to become self-centered. The meaning of the lyrics at the top of the track and the accompanying rhyme scheme seemingly create an avalanche that plunges us headlong onto a frenzied ride. To help experience this song for what it’s worth, I have pasted in the lyrics below along with the Romanized pronunciation of the Japanese and my own translation. While I’m sure the translation could be made better, I hope it allows you to peer inside the world Origami create through their music.



Click on the link below to hear the track. The cute cat pic has nothing to do with the song though.




Kichiku Butō Kai (Ball of Fiends)



降神 feat. 心 and aQz

Origami (Shibito, Nanoru Namonai) feat. Kokoro and aQz


(志人) (Shibito)

バブル崩壊 鬼畜舞踏会 猿受動態 いじくる脳内

Baburu (bubble) hokai kichiku butō kai saru judotai ijikuru nōnai

くるくる回る 胡桃割り人形 狂わせるまるで人魚

Kuru kuru mawaru kurumi-wari ningyō kuruwaseru marude ningyō

めくるめく フラッシュ! バック!

Mekuru meku furashu (flash)! Bakku (Back)!

ピンポンパン 鬼ごっこ

Ping pong pang, oni-gokko

新婚さん パトリオット ミサイル

Shinkon-san Patoriotto (Patriot) misairu (missile)


Ato nido to modorenai michi wo risaikuru (recycle) shite


Moto ni modosu saiku like Isuraeru (Israel)


Ehoba (Ehova) no shōnin no mune ni heporappu nuritaku naru betonamu (Vietnam)


Ego-rappu bakari no niizu (needs) ni taishite doraggu (drug) ni hamaru nara


Biinzu dake wo aishite goraku


Hi-izuru kuni kara ikigaeru waga kuni karakuri naraku ni otoshite kubi katto (cut) suru

フリスピースkeeping operation Asian

Furisupiisu ( ) keeping operation Asian


Namen na koko ni atete goran


Goran no chaneru (channel) wa peto-chan doku-chan kuttsuku made machiboke

緑茶を含み越えて38度線 この世の終わりATSアジトで

Ryokucha fukumi koete sanju-hachi (38) do-sen kono yo no owari ATS ajito de


shall we dance shall we dance shall we dance shall we dance

shall we dance shall we dance shall we dance shall we dance……



Bubble burst, ball of fiends, monkey passive tense messing with the mind

Spin round & round, a nutcracker, driving people mad just like a mermaid

Flipping pages in a frenzy, flash… back!

Ping pang pong! Tag, you’re it!

Yo newlyweds, a Patriot missile.

Recycle that road you’ll never come back to

A piece of craftsmanship restored to its original state like Israel

Vietnam, feel like rubbing vapor rub on the chest of a Jehovah’s Witness

If you gonna get hooked on drugs to deal with your ego-wrap needs

Then “beans”(*1) are all you’ll need so enjoy

Resurrect from the land of the Rising Sun, cut your throat as a little trick plunges our country to the very bottom

Freeze, peace (*2)… keeping operation Asian

Don’t mess with me, take a stab right here

Peto-chan and Doku-chan on the TV channel, you wait vainly for the remote buttons to stick

Even green tea goes past the 38 degree line (*3)

Witness the world’s end from the ATS (*4) hideout


Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance

Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance……


(心) (Kokoro)

犯す間違い 助からない 上限は無い 冗談じゃない

Okasu machigai tasukaranai jōgen wa nai jōdan ja nai

呆けた勘違い 救いが無い 自己中極まりない

Aketa kanchigai sukui ga nai jikochuu-kiwamari nai

汚職愛減らない 改善がない 反省がない 信念もない

Oshoku-ai heranai kaizen ga nai hansei ga nai shinnen mo nai

取り留めない 止めどが無い 腐蝕 止めてもない

Toritomenai tomedo ga nai fushoku tomete mo nai

嘘情報垂れ流すだけでマスコミ 保身官僚政治 カスかゴミ

Uso jōhō tarenagasu dake masukomi hoshin kanryō seiji kasu ka gomi

判断力低下国民 選挙できますかって確認 無自覚に

Handan ryōku teika kokumin senkyo dekimasu ka tte kakunin mujikaku ni

陥った催眠解禁 危機感管理各自断行する今狼煙上げろ

Ochiitta saimin kaikin kiki kanri kakuji dankō suru ima noroshi agerō



Mistakes made, no help for it, no limit, no joking about it

Befuddled misunderstanding, beyond salvation, an egotism that knows no bounds

No end to this love for political scandal, no reform, no remorse, no conviction

Rambling on, no sign of stopping, no stop to the corrosion

Mass media oozing nothing but fake news, government bureaucrats looking out only for themselves, be they dregs or trash

Quick check on whether judgement degraded citizens can take part in elections… unconsciously

Lift the ban on the hypnotic state that drops, everyone tackle this crisis on your own, now raise that smoke signal



えー 狂乱の時代に幕開け 拍手拍手拍手 狂気を学習

Ehh… Kyōran no jidai ni maku-ake hakushu hakushu kyōki wo gakushuu


Muga-muchuu de hakuchuu dōdō fukaku suu hito no niku to yoku no akushuu


Hitsuyō ijō no jōhō wo ashuku shite daunrōdo (download) suru kopi (copy) robotto (robot) atsumaru bōyuumei shingakujuku

行きっぱなしの通学電車の中 半裸の美少女が恍惚とした表情を見せる中刷り広告

Iki-ppanashi no shingaku densha no naka han-hadaka bishōjo ga kōkotsu to shita hyōjō wo miseru nakazuri kōkoku


Wo zurineta ni sukaato (skirt) no nakazuri tsuketa yokubō


Sukatoro purei (play) yuganda aijō no haisetsu kōi


Haite suteru hodo ni kutte nonde sutta ageku karappo no jibun wo daite neru yoru

位置 見る悪夢が持つリアリティー いまいち焦点の合わない毎日

Ichi miru akuma ga motsu riaritii (reality) ima-ichi shōten no awanai mainichi


Tanin ni kakomarete ittai ni narenai ore to anta wa yaru ka yarareru ka?


Mikata wo kaereba yarasete owaru teki ka mikata no dijitaru (digital) genrishugi genjitsu ni


Nagarekomu mōsō no seki wo kiru

咳が出る今席を立つ常識 狂った好奇心

Seki ga deru ima seki wo tatsu jōshiki kurutta kōkishin


Shiritagari wa shinitagari happō fusagari


Dakara ippo sagari mite mireba kanashiku mo kokkei na kono sekai utsukushii mono kamo shiremasen ne



Alright… Round of applause for the age of madness upon us

Feverishly breathe in the stench of human flesh and greed in broad daylight

A well-known cram school where copy-cat robots who download more information than they need congregate

Scantily-cad teenage girls in a trance staring back at you from ads on that train headed to school

Selling eroticism, desire tucked away inside their skirts

Scatological play, the twisted act of love that is defecation

Vomit up then eat, drink, smoke more than you can throw away, after which you hug your empty self and say good night

Location… The reality in the nightmare you see, everyday focus that doesn’t quite align

Surrounded by strangers, never face-to-face, kill or be killed, it’s you and me

Change perspective and bring it to an end

Cut the dam to this river of delusion of this digitally fundamentalist reality of friend vs. foe

A cough slips, common sense stands up from its seat, a twisted curiosity

Take a step back from this trap where in which to seek knowledge is to seek death

And take a look at this sad & hilarious world that just may be beautiful after all


(ナノルナモナイ) (Nanoru Namonai)

ファ クルッ パ 風が舞って

Faux creux pas, kaze ga matte

Un deux trois ワルツのリズムでダンス

Un deux trois warutsu (waltz) no rizumu (rhythm) de dansu (dance)

鬼畜舞踏会 踊り出すカンフーガール案ずるが如く狂う歯車

Kichiku butō kai odoridasu kanfu (kung fu) gaaru (girl) anzuru ga gotoku kuruu haguruma

三途の川 直行坂道転がる乳母車

Sansu no kawa chokkō sakamichi korogaru ubaguruma

くるくる回る胡桃割り人形 狂わせるまるで人魚 めくるめく フラッシュ バック

Kuru kuru mawaru kurumi-wari ningyō kuruwaseru marude ningyō mekuru meku furashu (flash) baku (back)

精神病棟から抜け出して踊り出す 誰もがダンス

Seishinbyōtō kara nukedashite odoridasu wo daremo ga dansu (dance)

ドン金正日 ロンドンから日本全土にテポドン

Don Kim Jon Il Rondon (London) kara Nippon zendo ni Te Po Dong (Taepodong)


(Nanoru Namonai)

Faux creux pas (*5) the wind dances

Un deux trois dance to that waltz rhythm

Ball of fiends, Kung Fu girl breaking out into dance with a fearful look betraying screws gone loose

River Hades, with a baby carriage hurtling straight there on a downward slope

Spin round & round, a nutcracker, driving people mad just like a mermaid

Flipping pages in a frenzy, flash… back!

Break out of the mental asylum and start dancing, anyone can dance

Taepodong to London and all across Japan, compliments Kim Jong Il, El Don


Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance

Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance Shall we dance……



Source: Album leaflet


(*1) I’m not exactly sure what “beans” refers to here. Could not find any reference online. Perhaps some form of pill.

(*2) Phonetically this is what it sounds like he is saying, but could not verify.

(*3) Reference to the ideal temperature for green tea (38℃) and the border between North and South Korea (38th parallel)

(*4) ATS is Origami's record label

(*5) Phonetically this is what it sounds like he is saying in French, but could not verify.

終戦の日に思いを寄せて Thoughts on August 15, the End of the War Day


This year will mark 14 years since I came to Japan, and with each passing year that I spend in my second homeland, the more I dwell upon this day each time it comes around.




Citizens listening to the Emperor's radio broadcast of Japan's surrender.


I was a strange child, I must admit, and read pretty much nothing but books about history since the time I was in elementary school. History fascinated me, and that fascination led me to major in World History when I entered university. I have a habit of always contemplating on how the annals of history connect to the present. That habit has only gotten worse since I've come to Japan (sorry!). This has led me to conduct my own research in an effort to understand the lingering afterglow this war has left since it reached it's conclusion 72 years ago.



After mastering the basics of Japanese, I read a lot of material on the Japanese experience of WW2. Taking what I have learned from these studies, I am always trying to see the bigger picture from both sides and get a better understanding of this conflict. Language is truly a curious medium in that when we understand another language, it becomes much easier for us to identify with "the other" and recognize their human qualities. Their own personal struggles also become much more apparent.



Japanese and American soldiers were pitted against each other in a gruesome struggle of life death on the horrific fields of war. Yet, it seems that their enemy was not each other, but "war" itself. Perhaps that is the case with any war, but one fact is for certain. War is hell. August 15th this year marks the 72nd anniversary to the end of this conflict, and with each passing year the number of Japanese and Americans who lived through it is growing ever smaller.


Citizens burned by incendiary bombs during the Great Tokyo Bomb Raid. Photo: Koyo Ishikawa

At times it can be difficult to face the past, but no matter horrific it may be, we still need to come to grips with it. I don't intend to justify what was done in the past or beautify anything with the words I pen in this post. Even now, I can't really say that I understand this war. For now, I would like take a moment to quiet my mind, watch this scene, and reflect back on that time.