Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Nitobe Garden and Civilisation Exclusivity

Our class took an optional field-trip to the Nitobe Garden at UBC, a memorial garden for Dr. Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) who was a Japanese scholar, eductaor, and diplomat. For me, it was an experience that disproves the civilisation exclusivity argument because of the garden's innate multiculturalism, as a hybrid of the cultural aesthetics of both BC and Japan. It was designed by a professor from a university in Japan in honour of Dr. Nitobe, but it is set in BC. It has trees and plants native to BC, but is pruned and arranged in the Japanese style “to accentuate the delicate structures of trunks and branches.” Acknowledging these various aspects, let me describe some of the Japanese concepts that I identified while enjoying the gardens in my own backyard (so-to-speak). Please visit the garden's website for the source of the quotations used in this posting, as well as maps, pictures, and other information regarding Dr. Nitobe.

“The garden realizes Dr. Nitobe’s dream of ‘becoming a bridge across the Pacific’ to foster intercultural understanding.”

The whole garden exhibits the Japanese aesthetic shichi go san, which is the interrelated concept representing formal, informal, and semiformal or true, moving, and grasslike styles of design. Its geometric shapes, and neatly trimmed foliage and trees also evoke wabi-sabi with their simplicity and distinctiveness.

All lanterns or pagodas in the garden represent ten shi jin, or heaven, earth, and man: they reach up to the sky, or heaven; they are objects created by man and stand up-right like man; and they are made out of stone from the earth and rise up from the earth.

This image (left) is the 7 storey pagoda, which is also an example of shichi go san, or 3,5,7 because it has seven levels in the middle and 5 aspects of the whole (base, bottom stone, middle, upper stone, and top).

This image (left) is the Nitobe Father Lantern - the first lantern you see when you walk into the garden. There is also

a maiden lantern, a marriage lantern, and a Nitobe family crest lantern.

In the Nitobe Garden, there is also a waterfall surrounded by seven stepping stones. Waterfalls are a common example of jo ha kyu, an aesthetic that describes gathering, break, and urgent action (the water gathers, the top is the break, and the result is the ugent action of the water falling). The Nitobe garden's website explains the waterfall in another way:

“Illustrating the male and female traits of nature in the Shinto religion, the strength and masculinity of the waterfall contrasts with the calm, feminine energy”

The waterfall is thus another hybrid in the garden that fuses together two different energies, just as the garden as a whole fuses together Japanese and Canadian natures.

Overall, I consider our field-trip to the Nitobe Gardens a personal experience engaging our civilisation exclusivity question. While I felt the Japanese aesthetics, I was also aware that we were still at UBC and that the trees and greens are native to BC and not Japan. I looked at the waterfall and thought of fountains in many Western-style gardens... I looked at the lanterns and thought of statues or modern sculptures. I don't wish to trivialise this experience or even make parallels to these Western designs, but to explain how the gardens made me reflect upon my own culture in contrast to or in combination with others.


Sushi for a New Generation

As a follow-up to my tea ceremony post, I would like to share my experience participating in a sushi family dinner at my friend Stephanie’s house. As I mentioned previously, Stephanie’s family is of a Japanese-Canadian background, and her family gets together a few times a year for a “traditional” sushi dinner. This day was special, as Stephanie was trained in the art of sushi making by her Aunt June, the family sushi-specialist. June explained to me that her mother-in-law was the one who carried on the sushi-tradition in her family, but she took over for her when she passed away. In this way, Stephanie is the most recent inductee into the tradition, and she will be able to carry forward for the newest generation of this family.

Stephanie, June, Stephanie’s mother and boyfriend Curtis, started prepping and making the meal early in the morning, for a 6:00 dinner. There were ten guests in total, and we all left with a hefty leftover bag. The final spread included tuna tataki, oshinko maki, tuna and salmon nigiri, sashimi, two recipes for California rolls (there was some debate over which type of vinegar was best), teriyaki chicken, futomaki, sunomono, a noodle dish, and bean curd rice dumplings. Dessert consisted of… apple-cranberry pie and ice cream! I think that this dessert brings up a crucial aspect of this dinner: this was very much a Canadian version of a traditional Japanese meal. As is the case for most Canadians, as the generations pass on traditions from another time and place, they are reappropriated, reinvented and renewed to create an entirely new tradition. This was also apparent in Stephanie’s contribution to the menu: tuna tataki based on a Wolfgang Puck recipe.

This distancing from Japan was also emphasized by a story from Uncle Dan Amano. Although both of his parents emigrated from Japan, Dan was born and raised in Canada. He mentioned to me that when he went to Japan, the Japanese did not know what to make of him. He looks Japanese, but is very Canadian in his demeanor, and does not speak Japanese. In this way, he is between cultures in Japan—he has an old Japanese lineage (his Grandfather was given land and a samurai sword by the Shogun of the day), but is very much a product of Canadian culture.

Another thing that this dinner got me thinking about was how much the West connects sushi with Japan, and how accurate this association is. The texts that we have dealt with have often included descriptions of food in them, but they do not often include descriptions of sushi or other formal foods. Angry White Pajamas for instance mentions “living off boil-in-the-bag curry rice” (11), and Pocari Sweat as means for sustenance. Norwegian Wood has a good description of Japanese food in the following passage:

“Midori’s cooking was far better than I had imagined it would be, and amazing assortment of fried, pickled, boiled, and roasted dishes using eggs, mackerel, fresh greens, eggplant, mushrooms, radishes, and sesame seeds, all done in the delicate Kyoto style.” (67)

Here, we have a description of a casual Japanese meal that is a far cry from the junk-food eaten by Robert Twigger, but that has no mention of maki or nigiri of any kind. In fact, it is a meal with ingredients and cooking techniques that could be found in any refridgerator in the West. This makes me wonder whether sushi as a traditional meal is of less cultural significance to the contemporary Japanese, or we are experiencing the culinary preferences of these characters specifically through these texts. Perhaps sushi maintains its role with Western immigrants from Japan, while it falls out of fashion with new generations of Japanese youth.

This dinner was a fantastic experience, not only due to the amazing food, but also because it provided me with an insight into how Japanese traditions evolve in a Canadian context. While this celebration undoubtedly shared many aspects with its Japanese counterpart, the Canadian-ness of this family allows for the creation of a completely new tradition.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Remains of the Day cover analysis

Here are the cover pages and commentary for five editions of the novel that I found online. They are all simply designed, with only one image and monochromatic tones (or nearly so). I found more covers for The Remains of the Day, but they were either really small and obscure files, or their legitimacy was questionable. I think this is an interesting and useful exercise to see how publishers market the novel based on their impressions or the impressions they think an audience would have. I may not want to judge a book by its cover, but who says that I shouldn’t consider the cover as part of the novel’s overall aesthetic?

1. Black cover: “York Notes Advanced”

Small picture at the top, cropped really awkwardly so that we are not focussed on the person (presumably, Stevens) but on what he is doing or looking at. This emphasis, similar to a traditional understanding of English stoicism, highlights the occupation and environment as opposed to the person.

Audience for students because of publication series labeled on the front.

2. Class cover: “Vintage International”

Large, sepia image, also blurry and contrasty so we don’t see the details as much as the mood or atmosphere. There are no people, so again, focus is on the occupation and environment instead of the individual.

This is the edition our class has, but with a sepia-toned award seal that reads, “Winner of the Booker Prize.” The seal, vintage publishing, and focus on the author’s name (in bold at the top) cater to a literary audience or Ishiguro fans.

3. Clock cover: “Faber and Faber 1989”

More of a traditional appeal with the old-fashioned English pocket watch. It’s a Western ideal of symbolism because there is no relevant watch in the book, so the purpose is to evoke a feeling or a time. The font is also traditional, as well as the red dash which is like an award ribbon in the corner.

The Booker Prize is displayed for those who like traditional and reviewed novels about old Britain.

4. Dandelion cover: “Faber and Faber 1999”

The close-up image of the Dandelion seeds blowing in the wind evoke the calmness of the country and a sense of movement. Since it’s not stagnant, it represents change and the passage of time.

It has a quotation on the bottom to offer a good review and target the audience in Britain.

5. Geometric man cover: “Key Porter Books”

Just like the others, this cover has similar warm-tones, but the calmness of these tones is counteracted by the rigidity of the image. While it depicts a person (probably Stevens), it is a caricature of him – not a realistic but an artistic interpretation similar to Picasso’s style (also relevant because of Picasso’s popularity during that time).

It not only mentions the Booker Prize, but also the “Major Motion Picture” and a quotation by another reputable author as selling-features of the novel’s worthiness and/or popularity.

Conclusions? That these images are as minimal as possible and mainly focus on occupation, place, or time instead of a character portrayal. It might just be the publisher's preference for symbolism... what do you think?


Friday, November 28, 2008

Japanese Tea Ceremony: Canadian Casual Style!

Part Two: Tea Ceremony Procedure 

As you can see in the image above, we made substitutions for some tools (e.g. metal whisk instead of Chasen, teaspoon instead of Chashaku, Stephanie’s winter-style Japanese teacups instead of Chaire), but we tried to stay true to the traditional function of each tool. This next section will act as a photographic timeline of our tea ceremony.



Guests are seated seiza style on the tatami in order of prestige.


If no meal is served, the host will proceed directly to the serving of a small sweet or sweets.

Each utensil--including the tea bowl (chawan), whisk (chasen), and tea scoop (chashaku)-- is then ritually cleaned in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in a precise arrangement according to the ritual being performed.


When the ritual cleaning and preparation of the utensils is complete, the host will place a measured amount of green tea powder in the bowl and add the appropriate amount of hot water, then whisk the tea using precise, prescribed movements.

Conversation is kept to a minimum throughout. Guests relax and enjoy the atmosphere created by the sounds of the water and fire, the smell of the incense and tea, and the beauty and simplicity of the tea house and its seasonally appropriate decorations.

The bowl is then served to the guest of honour ("shokyaku" 初客, literally the "first guest"), either by the host or an assistant. Bows are exchanged between the host and guest of honour.


The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, murmurs the prescribed phrase, and then takes two or three more sips before wiping the rim, rotating the bowl to its original position, and passing it to the next guest with a bow.


After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine the utensils, and each guest in turn examines and admires each item, including the water scoop, the tea caddy, the tea scoop, the tea whisk, and, most importantly, the tea bowl. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they are frequently priceless, irreplaceable handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.

The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. A tea ceremony can last between one hour and four to five hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, and the types of meal and tea served.


Procedure adapted from the steps found at 

Please watch this video to see the inspiration for our ceremony. 

Wabi-sabi  and the Tea Ceremony:

“In short, wabi-sabi as an aesthetic of the tea ceremony, represents a beauty of appreciation in the mind.” – Davies & Ikeno, The Japanese Mind

The best way to understand the tea ceremony may be through the concept of wabi-sabi, and perhaps, vice versa. For the Western student, it is a difficult concept to grapple with yet alone articulate, but I will try to synthesize the idea in order to relate it to the tea ceremony. Wabi-sabi  is an aesthetic idea that refers to a metaphysic of change: all things are transient and imperfect, and yet are beautiful. As a state of mind, it is an acceptance of the inevitability of change, and the necessity of transience. Wabi-sabi revolves around the simplicity of nature, where beauty is fleeting, and can be coaxed out of ugliness. (Ogden, English 392 Lecture, 09/22/08).

The wabi-sabi  aesthetic is noticeable in several aspects of the tea ceremony. These include the process’ harmony and simplicity, which lead to a sense of tranquility and beauty. In the article "Japanese Aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi, and the Tea Ceremony", it is stated that “[t]he tea ceremony is the serving of tea, ritualized over time and rooted in Zen Buddhism. It symbolizes aesthetic simplicity and represents the fundamental Zen principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.” (3) The connection between this concept and the tea ceremony is summed up beautifully by Tadeo Ando. He states that “[i]n learning tea, we're constantly reminded that every meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to enjoy good company, beautiful art, and a cup of tea. We never know what might happen tomorrow, or even later today. Stopping whatever it is that's so important (dishes, bill paying, work deadlines) to share conversation and a cup of tea with someone you love-or might love-is an easy opportunity to promote peace. It is from this place of peace, harmony, and fellowship that the true wabi-sabi spirit emerges.”


I really enjoyed this experience, and recommend hosting a tea ceremony to anyone who is inspired by this post. In fact, I would encourage hosting multiple tea ceremonies. I say this because one thing that I now recognize is that my tea ceremony was by no means perfect, and while I would like to attribute this to wabi-sabi, I think it is more likely due to my lack of experience. I am not sure that the tranquility or harmony of the process was truly experienced by either myself or my guest due to our limited understanding of the ceremony’s steps, but I do believe that we followed Ando’s advice, and promoted peace, harmony and fellowship by taking time to enjoy the beauty of the present.

Whether it is the civilization exclusivity issue, or my own relative ineptitude that has lead me to feel that I did not truly understand this process in the ways that I have read about, I am not sure. While I can understand how this tradition could lead to feelings of harmony, purity and tranquility, and on a theoretical level why they would occur, I did not really feel them myself. In fact, the setting and dynamic made me want to socialize and catch up rather than be silent and contemplative. Perhaps, this is due to my experience with the Western equivalent of the tea ceremony – gossiping over a latte at a conveniently noisy corner coffee shop.

For Further Discussion:

In order to stimulate further discussion on this post and its relates ideas, I would like to pose the following question: Do you see the wabi-sabi  aesthetic at work in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day? If so, in which passage(s)? 

Happy Brewing!




  • Anderson, Jennifer L. "Japanese Tea Ritual: Religion in Practice". Man, New Series,  22.3 (1987), 475-498.
  • Roger J., Ed.; Ikeno, Osamu, Ed., The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, 2002.
  • Ogden, Stephen. English 392:Studies in World Literatures in English. Simon Fraser U, Burnaby, BC. 22 Sept. 2008. 
  • Rowland Mori, Barbera Lynne. “The Tea Ceremony: A Transformed Japanese Ritual”. Gender and Society 5.1 (1991), 86-97.

Web Links: