Thursday, January 12, 2012

TRAFFIC by Alma Reyes

TRAFFIC by Alma Reyes

“Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea…
His head was bent in sorrow; green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. Oh!”
- Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow


Best Wishes for the Dragon Year 2012!
Here comes the fierce, fiery, and probably, the most powerful sign of the Chinese Zodiac calendar! Beware! (Ha-ha) Well, in ancient China, the dragon was an auspicious symbol of the Emperor’s power, but these days, it is more associated with success and happiness. Dragons are people who were born in 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 and this year 2012. They are noted to be passionate, ambitious, and are filled with abundant energy. They may be conceited, quick-tempered, self-assuring and highly confident, but are generous in helping others, which keeps them close to many friends. As they are extremely temperamental, they may be prone to sicknesses related to emotional outbursts and stress. Like the animal itself, they prefer outdoors and value their sense of freedom. They also like to spend money, and are shrewd in financial dealings.

Recognized as one of the most significant animal creatures in history, dragons appear in many ancient tales and legends. One of these is the famous legend about St. George and the Dragon. Here, the dragon was known to be evil that ravaged the country, and St. George came to the people’s rescue by slaying the dragon. We also see the dragon in the tale of Beowulf, the Greek myth of The Dragon of Boeotia, even in biblical stories, such as St. Michael’s feud with the dragon, and more. Generally, it is regarded as an evil monster that destroys humans and villages. On the lighter side, it is also a protector of kings and emperors. Manga comics often use dragon characters in their stories: Dragon Quest, Dragon Ball, Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, etc. No wonder, the dragon is a favorite motif for tattoos, too!

Japanese myth has an abundant list of dragons with different names and physical appearances, that so many temples and shrines are devoted to this auspicious creature. You probably have Japanese friends with the characters 龍、竜、辰 (tatsu or ryu) in their names, which signify the dragon.

So, are you a destroyer dragon or a protector dragon?


Speaking of dragons and tattoos, recently, I worked on a translation job for an interview with a great tattoo master in Japan, and I learned many interesting things about tattoo art in Japan. You may notice many youngsters in the streets with flashing tattoos on their bodies: on their buttocks, arms, stomachs, ankles, back of the necks, on the forehead? It seems to me that every rock musician has a tattoo on some part of his body. Some of us find these tattoos unsanitary or offensive, but in fact, tattooing has been around since the Stone Age! In Japan, tattooing or irezumi (meaning insertion of ink) began from as far as the Edo period. In those days, Japanese craftsmen made their own blades and knives, and made tattoo art an exclusive handmade craft. What fascinated me was discovering that tattoo masters in Japan all carry a name that begins with “Hori,” which means to carve: Horiyoshi, Horihide, Horikazu, Horitaka, Horiken, and more, and are called Sensei. The tattoo art world is very much like the world of Kabuki, Calligraphy, Rakugo, or Tea Ceremony, wherein masters in these guilds work under a “godfather” figure, and carry on his tradition by adopting his name. Therefore, horishi (tattoo sensei) train their sons, and their sons’ sons, and so forth, giving them names, such as Horiyoshi I, Horiyoshi II, Horiyoshi III, until the end of the line! Parang King din diba? That is how sophisticated the tattoo world is in Japan.

In Kabuki, the actors also train under Kabuki “families,” such as Nakamura, Ichikawa, Onoe, Kataoka, Bando, etc., and so, you would find many Kabuki actors who have the same adopted family names. Similarly, you also have the families of Hayashiya, Sanyutei, Yanagiya, Katsura, and others in Rakugo, who carry these names from generation to generation.

Japanese traditional art and craftsmanship makes it almost impossible for an “ordinary” person to join the “family” of such prominent artists, unless you yourself have a tie with any of the family members, for traditional art in Japan has always been an exclusive world only mastered by its family generations. When I was still studying in Kyoto, I remember my professor telling me that it would be almost a miracle if Japanese culture can change this oligarchic system, and be able to open its traditional art to the “ordinary” art enthusiasts. Surely, today, there are many contemporary artists who practice such art and craft, and have been successful in their own ways, but they are not easily “accepted” as part of the traditional art families. I remember my professor telling me this sadly; even expressing how Japanese traditional art is inevitably dying.

During the Japanese O-shogatsu (New Year), Japanese take special time to create a “traditional” mood, such as preparing traditional o-sechi ryori (traditional Japanese New Year cuisine), eating o-mochi, playing hanafuda (Japanese old playing cards), takoage (kite flying), koma (top), visiting temples, and even dressing up in indoor kimono. It’s good to think of old Japanese tradition once in a while amidst the times of ultra-modernity, chaos and uncertainty.

Have a Blessed 2012 to all!

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