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Jidai Festival, Kyoto

Gion Festival & other Kyoto goodies

Archive for March, 2011

The Majesty of Japan

March 29th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General

Kamogawa River

As some of you know, I often travel to Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan and an unlimited source of cultural treasure. 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites are located in Kyoto and I have been to all of them several times. These include Kamogamo, Shimogamo, and Ujigami Shrines, To-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Enryaku-ji, Daigo-ji, Ninna-ji, Byodo-in, Kozan-ji, Koke-dera, Tenryu-ji, Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Ryoan-ji, and Hongwan-ji Temples, and Nijo-jo Castle. Nijo-jo is right down the street from the Gold’s gym where I work out in Kyoto.

Yesterday I jogged along Philosopher’s Walk to the entrance to Ginkaku-ji Temple and then turned west to one of my favorite shrines in Japan, Shimogamo-jinja. Returning, I ran along Kamogawa River on a marvelously sunny day and saw artists painting and many people getting an early start on ohanami, Cherry Blossom viewing parties, although with the current cold weather the blossoms are a little shy.

Kamogawa River is a center of life in Kyoto, beloved as is La Seine in Paris or Lake Michigan in Chicago. It flows beside Kyoto University and the Gion antique and geisha district on a north-south axis: to the north is Kurama Temple, also among my favorites, and to the south Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, with its hundreds of Torii gates. You may recall that this shrine was a featured scene in “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

On this trip, I took a lot of pictures and composed haiku to accompany some of them, shown below. Enjoying the incredible beauty of Kyoto, moved by the tragic events of March 11, and feeling the gentility and nobility of Japanese people, the haiku reflect my mood, a mix of reverence, melancholy, optimism. I am very fortunate to live in Japan and motivated more than ever to contribute as I can to help develop the young leaders who will rebuild Japan, making it an even stronger and greater country. The Japanese people, with their incredible hard work and dignity, will make that happen. Count on it.

Entrance to Chion-in Temple

No quake can break us
we are a community
our hearts do not melt

Overlooking Kyoto

Messengers of spring
cherries crack the night’s stillness
promethean kiss

Night Scene along Shinbashi St.

Weeping cherry trees
heron cries out in the night
mourning for lost ones

On the road to Kyomizu-dera

Shhh…..geisha resting
maiko in reverie
shamisen tuned for dance

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Winter air lingers
cherries comfort their offspring
dawn of new age

Near Sanjo St.

Riverside abode
upstream philosopher’s walk
awaiting Hegelian dialectic

Torii @ Heian-jinja

Vermillion splendor
hallowed ground Heian way
halcyon days

In the Gion

Ordinary people
extraordinary circumstances
heroic deeds

Teahouse @ Maruyama Park

Uphill the teahouse
willows weep with reverence
in a bitter wind

On Sannenzaka Road

A hearty sunburst
heroism to inspire
dignity to admire

Yasaka Shrine

Quiescent waves
tender heart murmuring
communion of souls

Quince Flowers Ikebana

Just as quince flowers
so our spirit flourishes
nourished by love

Entrance to Shoren-in Temple

Cicadas noisy tonight
news from across the mountain
a call for alms

Kodaiji Temple

In night’s embrace
cherry blossoms quicken the pace
hope and renewal

In front of Shoren-in Temple

Mutual support
quintessential spring harvest
carrying us through

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Japan’s most valuable export

March 20th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

The noble spirit

a hearty sunburst

heroism to inspire

dignity to admire

With the immediate horror of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami 10 days past, more and more stories are surfacing about the incredible heroism and dignity of Japanese people.

There is the story of the so-called Fukushima 50, volunteers working 24/7 in darkness to restart the cooling system at the damaged nuclear plant. 15 minutes in, 45 minutes out, these heroes know they are exposed to potentially fatal doses of radiation, yet endure. “Please continue to live well,” one volunteer told his wife. “I can’t be home for some time.”

There is the story of a 71 year-old man who had been caring for his 69 year-old wife of 40 years crippled with a joint disease, unable to walk on her own. Within seconds tsunami waters reached his chest. He supported his wife who had clung to a table for 15 hours, suffering through the night’s freezing cold, and finding superhuman strength to save the woman he loved. When the sun rose and the waters had receded he was able to leave his house and scream for help to neighbors.

There is the story of a 16-year old grandson trapped with his 80-year old grandmother 9 days inside their kitchen in Miyagi Prefecture, until finally he could climb out of the debris and call for rescue workers. By that time, his body temperature had fallen to 28 degrees centigrade yet he kept on fighting with an indomitable Japanese spirit.

162 Chinese interns were working at seafood processing companies in Miyagi Prefecture on March 11. All of them are safe and are returning to their home country. When the tsunami struck, Sato Mitsuro, commissioner of the Sato Fisheries Corporation, led 20 of the Chinese interns training in his company to safety on higher grounds. He then returned to search for his wife and daughter and was swept away by the tsunami rage.

Sato-san’s self-sacrifice validates an entire life span. It answers the oft-raised question: Why are we here? What is our purpose? His nobleness and that of others during this crisis distinguishes the human condition.

Japan has suffered a devastation unprecedented since the war, a ravaging 9.0 magnitude killer striking across most of eastern Japan, and estimated to be  1,000 times more powerful than the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji  Earthquake that killed 6,500 people in Kobe.

As in Kobe, the Japanese people have come together to support one another with incredible dignity and calm. There has been no looting. There is great unity of spirit, solidarity, an all-for-one, one-for-all caring attitude.

The smart cars, the dazzling electronics, the delectable sushi restaurants in virtually every city around the world—these are all showcase Japanese exports.

But Japan’s greatest export is what we are now witnessing:  The nobleness of the Japanese spirit.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Watch Japan’s Resiliency

March 13th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General

Meguro Sanctuary during the Quake

People have been talking about the big one for years, the quake to rival others in Japan, including the Kanto earthquake of 1923, which set off fires that burned down 381,000 homes, or the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, which took 6,000 lives in Kobe.

By any measure, the quake that struck northern Japan on March 11 is among the world’s most horrific, 9.0 in magnitude on the Richter scale, with a tsunami force 23 feet high and the speed of a jet plane. ­

But of course this is not a competition anyone wants to win. It is a tragedy on a human scale beyond comprehension.

I was getting a haircut when the initial shock hit Tokyo. I felt as if suddenly I was part of a bizarre concrete mixer. Of course I had no idea that the situation was so much worse in the Sendai area. I only knew that in many years of living in Japan, and in other earthquake countries like Chile, or in the vulnerable Seattle area, this shock was the most violent.

In inimitable Japanese politeness, my hair stylist apologized for the disturbance, the floor of the shop still rolling. Nervously I laughed and replied that perhaps we should be apologizing to the kami (gods).

Scurrying back to my office nearby, I found that the Japanese staff had things well under control and seemed calmer than I. We agreed to leave the office and get into an open space, away from buildings. A good spot was right across the street, near the entrance of Meguro’s nature park. Streams of office workers, many wearing helmets, were walking by from offices as far away as the adjoining neighborhood, Ebisu.

We stayed there for about an hour, giving thanks for our safety and praying silently for those less fortunate. The aftershocks were continuous.

People gradually began to return to their offices. The trains were not running so my staff could not return home. We walked to my condo where they spent the night.

As we learned more about the quake and its aftermath, what stood out about this monster was its impact over such a wide area of Japan. There were multiple quakes. It was if the top part of the country were breaking apart.

My wife comments on the now so-called East Japan Big Earthquake in a metaphysical way, remarking that the people of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki Prefectures, the hardest hit regions, made a sacrifice for Tokyo. Had the epicenter of the earthquake been in Tokyo, the potential devastation would have been unimaginable. She will join a relief organization on-site as soon as possible, together with the thousands of volunteers from Japan and from all over the world offering a helping hand.

Adversity can result in benefit, a silver lining. The politicians in Japan have put aside their bickering in this time of need and resolved to provide unified support. Some of my clients have spoken of their experiences—of both failed and successful leadership during this crisis.

New technologies will be created to make Japan stronger, less vulnerable to the havoc that this quake brought. In times like these, people are reminded of what is truly important, and embrace their core, noble values. The strength of close community is ever more manifest.

Japanese people have shown great resiliency in recovering from national setbacks in the past, and they will do so again. Of this I am certain.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Feeling passionate about what you do

March 9th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Culture

Eagles 2011 Tour

Twenty-eight songs, 3 hours of nearly non-stop music —including the Hotel California, Desperado, and Lyin’ Eyes— the Eagles electrified their Tokyo audience on Sunday, the last day of their concert tour in Japan. My wife and I were lucky to participate in this whirlwind songfest, perhaps the last tour the Eagles will be making. Who knows?

Inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, their first year of eligibility, and the best-selling band in US history, the Eagles have been playing music for 40 years, ever since  two founding members, Don Henley (a Texan) and Glen Frey (from Detroit, Michigan) were roommates in Hollywood and formed the band in 1971. Joe Walsh (born in Kansas, grew up  in New Jersey) joined in 1976, Timothy B. Schmidt (from Sacramento, California) a year later.

Factors distinguishing the Eagles are the uniform high vocal quality of all four musicians, and the lyrical talent of the band’s principal songwriters, Don Henley and Glen Frey, which gives the group its ability to entertain across a wide-range of music, from acoustic ballads to soft- rock and a country & western accent.

The amazing thing about these artists is that they are all in their 60’s, yet, like Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, whom I saw in concert last year, entertain tirelessly for hours as if they were in their youth. To see Mick Jagger perform is to watch a perpetual motion machine. It is amazing that Jagger weighs as much as he does.

Some critics suggest that the Eagles just came along in the right space in the 70’s to appeal to the baby-boomer generation, and that their music is bland, formulistic.

I strongly disagree. Yeah, given their ages they are grand-fatherly (indeed they were seen on the Shinkansen platform in Osaka with their grandchildren last week). But the Eagles still rock. Their music will retain its rightful high place in the history of rock n’ roll.

Alan Watts, arguably the Western philosopher most an expert on Zen and other Asian religions, said it best:

“The real secret of life is to be completely engaged with what you are doing. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” The Eagles work incredibly hard. Yet it is obvious that they feel passionately about their music and it is their “play.” Few people their age could entertain for 3 hours a day in 5 concerts in Japan (Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo) and then hop on a plane to give concert tours in Shanghai and Beijing the next week. Unless they felt passionate about what they do.

How about you?

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Taking a break in nature

March 2nd, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Culture

The Nature Park (Institute for Nature Study) is one of my favorite havens in Tokyo, 20 hectares of lush forest in the middle of the metropolis. Once the site for the home of a feudal lord, the park has 600 years of history and is the perfect oasis to find a quiet moment for the twins (meditation and relaxation) amidst the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The Nature Park affords me a convenient break from daily work. It inspired me to pen a haiku:

Mesmerizing mauve accent/nascent song of bush warblers/in timeless rhythm

Spring is coming and the Nature Park will be resplendent with cherry blossoms!

Although totally different, I like this park in Minato Ward as much as the Tokugawa-sponsored Koishikawa Korakuen Garden in Bunkyo Ward, where I once resided. At the far end of the Nature Park, the skyscrapers of Ebisu can be seen, including the building where Morgan Stanley investment bankers and traders hang out in Yebisu Garden Place. Other than that cityscape, the Nature Park provides a complete respite.

And the best news is that the forest is fewer than 5 minutes from my office in Shinagawa Ward.

Whether or not you are pursuing MBA studies, it’s important to take breaks from work, in order to manage stress. You don’t have to be a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health to know that stress is a causal factor in physical disease or that overwork can lead to and often results in burnout, even death.

For most of us work is the focus of our daily existence. Add up the hours spent at work, the hours spent preparing for it, and the hours spent thinking about it or unwinding from it, and you have totaled most of the hours in a day that we are not sleeping. But all work (and no play) make Jack a dull boy, as the hackneyed proverb goes. It is counter-productive. These are challenging times in which people are working harder and harder, but doing nothing but working day in and day out is self-defeating.

Admissions officers suggest that the most attractive candidates demonstrate work-life balance.

You may comment that the work just piles up without an end in sight, so that you have to stay at the office in night after night of “all-nighters.” If this  is your situation, ask yourself seriously whether all of the work you are doing is really such urgent priority.

Leadership comes in many forms and shapes. You can exercise personal leadership in your organization to analyze the work flow and propose ways to streamline the process, eliminating redundant or unnecessary work. Several of my clients have taken this lead. Their initiative contributed to their organization, and freed them up for more time spent with their families and in leisure activities.

If you are working 24/7 continuously and feel stressed out, take a moment to assess your time management. I have written an earlier blog article addressing this subject and suggesting ways to improve time management: .

In future articles I will write about ways to become involved in your community, defined not simply as your neighborhood but rather to include the constellation of groups outside of your work organization, or simply put, society at large.

In the meantime, please be my guest. Come take a 30-minute stroll through the Nature Forest. When you exit it, you will feel as if you made a day trip outside of Tokyo.

Institute for Nature Study

5-21-5, Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0071

500 meters approx. from the East Exit of Meguro Station, JR Yamanote Line

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier