Buddhism Q&A: The Power of Written Odaimoku

These ‘Senbon Hata’ (One Thousand flags) are found on the trail and around Ichinoike (First Lake) of Shichimensan are offerings for ancestors, a wish for good health, etc. They used to be plentiful but have declined along with the number of pilgrims climbing holy mountains.

It is said that one of the reasons Toki Jonin went to so much trouble traveling all over Japan to collect Nichiren Shonin’s writings and letters was not only to preserve them, but preserve them from being eaten. Much like Nichiren Shonin writing the Odaimoku on the rough sea waters for safe passage on his way to exile in Sado, followers of that time revered his words of the Lotus Sutra teachings so much they believed the kanji characters had special protective and healing powers. They would cut out pieces and eat them.

You can find this today in traditional cures or with Kito blessings, some temple give packets that contain tiny slips of flat edible paper like substance with handwritten Odaimoku on it. Followers take them with tea or water as part of the healing. You can also see it in various protective amulets for people or buildings or even farmers’ fields.

The Buddhist history invoking the power of written sutras is long and varied, but the distinctive Ippen Shudai (Odaimoku Mandala) created by Nichiren Shonin has a special power and style found nowhere else. But the power is not in the object, the paper, the calligraphy, or the priest’s hand. Ultimately, it is the power of the Lotus Sutra expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha transmitted to our eyes and our minds from the heart and mind of Nichiren Shonin.

Merry Cashless Christmas 2020 Style

Nice Christmas colors…

A young co-worker tested positive for COVID yesterday so today is PCR test day for the entire office. The office pays but everybody has to find a testing place on their own. Fortunately a PCR test place opened up at Shinjuku Kabukicho yesterday and accepts all major cashless payments including Suica so I was in luck and made an online reservation.

If you go, all you do is make an online reservation, receive an email with name, number and time, then line up with everybody else. When it’s your turn to enter, show your smartphone email number and name to the staff, pay with Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc. (Rakuten Pay), take the pouch and go to to any empty partition then drool into a vial with a straw. When done, put straw in vial, cap it, stick your label on, put in plastic pouch and give it the staff.

It’s a dire but perfect setting for a cashless only operation: limited time and staff processing a constant stream of people who can’t be bothered making change. Staff and customers don’t want to risk health either, the less contact the better for all concerned. It’s also the perfect 2020 Japan cashless wrap up: a cashless only COVID PCR testing facility in a year where COVID relentlessly drove cashless use.

As they say in Japanese: やれやれ.

Have a good cashless…and a Merry COVID free Christmas.

Power and Responsibility and Cultural Respect

It took me a while to fully appreciate the issue that Twitter user Yoshimasa Niwa was describing. At first glance I and many others assumed that setting Japanese over English would solve his app library sorting issue.

Then I realized that wasn’t his point at all. The software app in the screenshot is the Yahoo Japan ‘Norikae Annai’ transit app, one of the most popular free stand alone transit apps in Japan. I use it all the time. It’s a Japanese app with a Japanese name but the basic iOS English sorting algorithm ignores this and assumes all Chinese characters used everywhere must follow modern mainland China’s Simplified Chinese rules for reading and sorting.

This is ridiculous as assuming that all Roman based character sets everywhere must follow modern Italian reading and sorting rules. I always find that westerners assume the Kanji culture flow was always one way from China which it is not, with different and unique readings, usages, and Japanese Kanji like shitsuke 躾 traveling the other way over the centuries. The same is true for other cultures that adapted the Chinese writing system for their languages.

It amounts to cultural destruction by neglect and ignorance by large western based technology companies who think things are ‘good enough’. Or are just bugs to fix in a later software update that usually never appears. Modern computer software has pretty much destroyed traditional kanji culture publishing this way, with many countries abandoning mainstream traditional vertical text layout for western style layout because ‘it’s easier’, i.e. western tech companies couldn’t be bothered getting Asian language typography right. All these years later web browsers still can’t do vertical text worth a damn.

A veteran Japanese font engineer whose entire career was devoted to preserving high end Japanese typography in the digital age recently told me, “I don’t think anybody cares anymore.” In the end it all too often comes down to this: I don’t care cultural death by I don’t care companies who have the money and power to care.

That’s bitter irony in our age that purports to champion cultural diversity.

Yumi Matsutoya Arrives on Apple Music

Talk about finally. Yumi Matsutoya, one of the biggest Japanese artists and J-Pop stars of the last 50 years, and one of the longest holdouts, landed with her complete catalog on Apple Music Japan this Friday. Her profile is listed on the Apple Music US site (Yumi Matsutouya). The catalog isn’t up yet but looks like it should be coming soon.

Japanese metadata tags are the usual Apple mess: the artist name in English instead of Japanese on iTunes downloads but proper Japanese on Apple Music downloads. The once proud iTunes Music Store is such a vestigial appendage to Apple Music, Apple clearly wants to kill it off.

Nevertheless this is great news for longtime fans. I know exactly what’s going to be playing the rest of the day.

Apple Maps Japan Update June 2018 (U)

Apple Maps Japan Data Collection
Apple’s Japanese page is poorly localized for Japan: an English title is better than nothing but should be in Japanese (fixed now).

It is nice to know that the Apple Maps team is getting serious about mapping Japanese data themselves. Most of the problems with Apple Maps Japan to date have been caused by 3rd rate 3rd party data suppliers so Apple collecting their own map data is a start towards a better map product for Japanese customers.

There are some notably omissions in the data collection startup list: only 20 of the 23 Tokyo wards are covered. Suginami-ku, Setagaya-ku and Nerima-ku are huge missing pieces along with the rest of the populous west Tokyo Chou line area (Mitaka, Tachikawa, etc.). Suginami-ku is one of the most important Tokyo districts, perhaps the most: whatever political party wins an election in Suginami wins Japan.

There are other big Apple Maps services that are missing in Japan: Indoor Maps were promised back at WWDC17 but have yet to appear, Traffic, Lane Guidance and Speed Limits are AWOL. Most of these services have been offered in Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps in Japan for years.

Even without their own data, Apple Maps Japan has made, (very) slow progress fixing some major data errors and holes. The Great Shibu Hot Spring Data Cutoff for example is finally fixed. This is how it looked 2 years ago:

This is how it looks today:

The Great Shibu Hot Spring Data Cutoff Fixed
Missing Ken-O Highway

The missing 2015 extensions to the Ken-O Expressway pointed out by blogger Train in 2017 looked like this:

Today it looks like this:

The Missing Ken-O Highway Fixed

I have not checked all of my Apple Maps Japan error inventory but I think progress is being made. Now if Apple would only dump the horrible Justin O’Beirne era cartography design that dates back to 2012 and create something new, I might even get excited again.

UPDATE
2018 didn’t bring many data improvements to Apple Maps Japan but 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for data collection.