Fr Thomas Plant, Tokyo-based Anglican priest and comparative theologian

Month: November 2010

Japanese music and fine home cooking

Went to a performance of koto, shamisen and shakuhachi, featuring my mother-in-law’s koto teacher. She’s 81 years old, though you would not believe it to look at her, or to hear her play with such incredible speed and delicacy of touch.
We then went to a very tempting antique fair, but with the Yen so strong, there was nothing I could really afford this time. Perhaps when I am a wealthy minister…
This evening, my mother-in-law as usual cooked up a feast. This is the season for crab, for which Fukui is rightly renowned. We ate it in the Japanese style, with rice and vinegar. Alongside the crab, we ate Japanese vegetables stewed in sake, two different kinds of fish cooked in soy and sugar (saba and buri), daikon radish cooked in mirin and grated tororo with raw egg and soy sauce. Japanese home cooking is quite different from restaurant food, utilising soy, mirin and sake to create a subtle palette. You have to taste it to know what I mean.

Perhaps Fukui would be a good place to live for a while. The church is in need of new blood in the congregation, which is lively but depleted and aged. There is plenty going on here in the world of traditional Japanese arts. Perhaps I could stay here next summer, commuting to Kyoto once or twice a week to use the libraries at Otani and Ryukoku. It would be a great opportunity to practise Aikido at the local budokan and study shakuhachi, too.
Midnight, and we´re watching a pristine TV recording of a shakuhachi and biwa performance that is mindblowing in its intensity. I was thinking earlier, at the live performance, how the Japanese instruments are free from the constraints of Western classical scales and harmony, and this performance of ´November Steps´ – played originally at Carnegie Hall, New York – shows the depths of their chaotic potential. Where western instruments are confined by the placement of their keys, say in the case of the piano or woodwind instruments, the koto, biwa and shakuhachi are more like guitars and brass instruments in their flexible tonality. They play with Dionysian atonality and vigour, taking the listener beyond the comfort-zone of our rational and even clinical harmonics to the realm of disorder that we try so hard to contain. And so, despite being in many cases very ancient music, it feels very modern to Western ears. The Japanese were there well before Schoenberg or Bartok.
It is probably not an exaggeration to argue that their music represents the proximity to nature that they are so keen to boast, as found in their Shinto tradition; and further, given that the Shakuhachi was traditionally the preserve of Komuso or ´Nothingness monks´ of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism, it probably also represents the ultimate non-duality of nature and artifice, things as they truly are and rather than as they merely seem. The rationality that we impose on that which is beyond all understanding is never quite enough to contain it: Japanese music at its best is honest – sometimes, almost painfully so – in maintaining this point.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Autumn leaves in Fukui

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

St Stephen´s Anglican Church, Tokyo, Hatanodai: 聖三光教会

Another beautiful High Mass at this lively church. Having been to the consecration of the new church building some weeks ago, I was surprised to find myself at the 90th anniversary celebration of the church´s original foundation, for which Tom Foreman and I were invited to eat an excellent curry with the congregation.

This afternoon, we went to an intimate chamber concert in which the organist of the church, who is a professional pianist, and her husband, a cellist in the Tokyo Philharmonic, performed works ranging from Mozart through Rachmaninov to Brahms. The venue was the house of an academic whose late father was a celebrated architect. The house has a performance venue, replete with Yamaha grand piano and original modern art, where some twenty or so of us gathered for the performance. Afterwards, we were treated to wine and a buffet in the garden, which unusually for Tokyo featured a full swimming pool. All this was at the kind behest of the Kurogawas, the musicians, who invited us without charge. This is only one of many examples of Japanese kindness and interest in meeting foreign people. If only English people extended the same kindness to Asian visitors.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Autumn leaves on Mount Takao

A day trip to Mount Takao to look at the Autumn leaves.  Click to see the gallery. 

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Otani University

Friday took me to Otani University, the college of Higashi Honganji, the other large sect of Jodo Shinshu.
There I met professors Blum and Dobbins under the wing of Esho Shimazu, who has been very helpful in his advice on my studies.  I also had a good talk with a young Shinshu minister from America, Michael Conway, who has just submitted his PhD, and met a young Italian Catholic MA student interested in Catholic-Shin Shu dialogue.  It was particularly helpful to meet another young minister from a different religion, but who like me is preparing to combine academic interests with ordained ministry. 

There will be a worldwide Shin Buddhist conference in honour of Shinran´s 750th anniversary next year at Ōtani.  I very much hope to make it out there, and perhaps even present a paper. 

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Ryukoku University

Kyoto’s Ryokoku University is affiliated to the Nishi Honganji sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and has a beautiful Meiji-period campus within the grounds of the synonymous temple.
Professors Dake, Nasu and Hirota welcomed me and gave me valuable advice on my PhD studies.  I stayed at house of Michael Pye, an Anglican deacon and former professor of Buddhist studies at Marburg in Germany, who now works at Ōtani University in his so-called retirement.  He also runs the National Christian Centre for the Study of Japanese religions. 
Next year, look out for the opening of a new museum dedicated to Shinran’s life and works at Ryukoku, celebrating the 750th anniversary of his death. 

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

BBC E-mail: Convicted prisoners to get vote

Thousands of convicted UK prisoners are to get the right to vote following a European ruling that the present ban, dating from 1870, is unlawful.

So, Europe has the final say in matters of English jurisprudence.  Better still:

Lawyers have said a failure to comply could cost hundreds of millions of pounds in legal costs and compensation.

I see.  And that’d be on top of the £12-14bn we already pay, not to mention the speculative cost of the CAP to the British economy?

Our continued membership of the EU makes replacing Trident look like pocket money.  

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The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

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