Category: Tales of Zenji


Zenji|Yawara Master

English: From Suikoden of Japanese Heroes (Yei...

Image via Wikipedia

Zenji, Yawara Master

(Photo credit: From the Suikoden of Japanese Heroes)

Ninja on steroids…

pretty much sums up the Yawara.  Nearly everyone knows what a ninja is, but nobody knows the Yawara.  My father-in-law, Zenji, was one of three living Yawara masters still on the planet when I met him in 1979.

While we dated, my husband told me many things about his father, things which left me slack jawed with awe.  When my husband was six years old, he was playing around the neighbor’s trash.  He knocked it over and a bottle broke.  He fell on the glass shards, wrist first.  He told me “Blood was shooting from my vein like a fountain.  The neighbor was a doctor and he came rushing out from my screams.  He couldn’t stop it so I yelled ‘get my father’!  His wife ran to get my father.”  He continued “Zenji came and knelt down beside me. He took some slow, deep breaths and closed his eyes.  He swept his hands over my wrists and as his hands passed, I watched my skin knitting back together right in front of my eyes.  I still have a scar there, but the wound just suddenly stopped bleeding and it closed up.  That’s all I can tell you about that.”

This next story that my husband told is  my favorite of all, simply because it is more impossible than any of the impossible things he did on a daily basis.  “One day, my father taped two loops made of rice paper to the ceiling.  You know how delicate rice paper is, right?  Then he took a rod of green bamboo (one of the strongest materials on earth….virtually impossible to break) and slid it through the rice paper loops.  He then picked up another bamboo rod,  brought it to the center of his forehead, inhaled several times with a rhythmic breathing, closed his eyes and swung at the hanging bamboo.  The suspended bamboo snapped clean in two and both ends fell to the ground.  The rice paper loops were still taped to the ceiling. They had not ripped in any way.”  Shit.  That’s really not possible.

When Zenji was thirteen, his father brought him to a mountain where an old monk lived.  The monk taught him Yawara along with a handful of other disciples.  The training was as rugged and merciless as anything any soldier of Sparta would have had to endure.   Peak physicality was achieved, combat technique was perfected, reflexes were perfectly honed; the perfect warrior. But this was not all.  He became a master of Qi, and in this small realm, it would make him invincible.  It was because of these things that he was requested by his government to travel to China on a special mission.  The stories from this sojourn, he told me himself.  Zenji was sent to China by the government of Japan on a covert mission.  Zenji was sent to spy…

To be continued….

Iwanuma Station

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Iwanuma

It was a grueling eighteen hour flight to Japan in cramped seating in April of 1979; the China Airlines discount flight from LA to Narita.  We were so exhausted from the flight and dragging our nine bags of luggage around that we decided to stay one night in Tokyo.  We had no idea when we would finally arrive in Iwanuma.  The next day, we were just about ready to leave the hotel room.  “Why don’t you call your dad and tell him we are coming”.   He ignored me and gathered up some bags and we left for the train station.  The ride to Iwanuma was just about two hours long.

As we approached our stop, my husband told me “Iwanuma is a small stop, so we only have 30 seconds to get everything off the train”.  We stacked the nine bags at the train door and when it stopped,  my husband jumped off first and I rapidly tossed him bags. I barely cleared the train when it began to pull away.  I straightened out my jacket and then looked up and saw a horrifying sight…..a massive, steep staircase that seemed to go up forever, a bridge over the tracks, and another huge stairway going down, and the exit doors beyond that.  “Oh no!”, I groaned, “why didn’t you call your dad when you had the chance? How are we going to get all these bags across?”  Just then, the doors across the tracks pushed open.  “There he is”, my husband said with some indignation in his voice.  “No need to call him. He has his own telephone”, pointing to his temple.

When Zenji arrived over to our side of the track he told my husband that he had, indeed, just arrived and added that he had simply suddenly gotten the feeling that it was time.  I pondered that in silence during the ride to the house while my husband and father in law chattered away.  The stories were real.  He was the real thing.   He was.

We were there at least a week before my mother in law shared a Zenji experience with me.  Here is what she said:

“Zenji and I had just married.  He asked for tea, so I went into the kitchen to prepare it for him.  When I came back to the room with his tea, he wasn’t there.”  ( To be factual, she had said that she couldn’t see him).  “I was confused because I called out to him and he answered me and his voice was coming from the spot where he had been sitting, but I couldn’t see him.”   Zenji was with us when she told me the story and he was smiling and laughing. “Yes”, he added.  I was teasing her! She couldn’t see me!”.  He took a sip of his sake and leaned in toward me becoming suddenly serious.  He reached across the table, took hold of a water glass and set it on the table in front of me saying  “If I have an object even as small as this, I can hide from you.  I am there, but I can interfere with your mind’s ability to see me.”  It was time for him to show me his scrolls.

My husband’s sister brought over a wooden box and she opened it with that amazing Japanese ceremonial flair and carefully unrolled one of the scrolls.  My father in law pointed to the red ink and explained “That is my blood.  We had to write our oaths in our own blood.  I had to promise to never abuse my powers and to defend the weak and the helpless, to obey all the high principles.  These promises had to be given with my blood”.

To be continued

Tsunami-March 11, 2011

Ofunato, Japan

Ofunato Flag

It is not possible to know what entered the mind of Takeshi Hirata one day in 2008 as he surveyed his town where he was a city council member.  We only know that he became inconsolably alarmed by the spot where the town’s elementary school was located.  “This area is in great danger and it takes too long to evacuate the school”, he complained.  The town’s elementary school was a three story building and he had a visceral concern for the length of time it took to get the children down from the second and third floors.

He gave the problem considerable thought and approached the council and then the town itself.  Donations were gathered to construct his solution….long ramps from the top two stories straight to the road that led to a mountain.  Remember, the year was 2008.  The ramps were built and it was those ramps that saved the lives of the town’s youngest inhabitants, even as their parents and their homes perished in the enormous wall of water that swallowed everything in its path.  In some areas, the wall of water reached one hundred feet in height.  Nothing in its path could survive.

As fate would have it, Mr. Hirata’s five year old grand daughter was one of the survivors.  She was two years old when her grandfather was gripped by his persistent thought that he had to do something, something important, and do it soon.  On March 11, 2011, in the aftermath of the tsunami, the teachers and children of that school would have liked to thank Mr. Hirata for his vision, his heroic persistence, and his ramps.  But as fate would also have it, he had died nine days earlier on March 2nd of natural causes, age 65.

This is a true story. If it touched something in you, please pass it along to others.  There is something greater than ourselves out there.  Stories such as this one help to prove that.

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