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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Japanese Swastika

I took the photo above in 1993 on a road trip with my fiancé Noboko (Oops! Spoiler!).

I was a junior high school assistant English teacher living and working in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan. I was 28-years-old.

Kikuchi Noboko (surname first) was a junior high school teacher at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi. She was 27-years-old and lived with her parents in Kuroiso to the north at the foot of the Nasu Mountains. She hated me when we first met, thinking I was some slick hustler because I dressing in silk shirts, raw silk pants and a silk jacket and tie to go along with my chiseled beard and pony-tail wrapped with a hairband that always matched my shirt color.

Hell, I even wrote the most awesome love haiku for her  - but she just thought it was nice and handed it back to me - and grudgingly accepted it after I said, "No... it's for you." You can read about that HERE.

If it wasn't for the students talking about how nice a guy I was, she would never have gone out with me.
We'd been going out for about a month now.

She and I drove in her tiny little car up to the nearby mountains - the Nasu Mountains - about 10 kilometers away.

On this trip where we climbed a mountain and got lost and nearly died when we found ourselves without a trail, with vents of volcanic steam blowing at us, when a thick fog rolled in, we stopped hours earlier about one-tenth of the way up the mountain to pray at a temple.

Want to know what happened to us on that mountain after that? Keep reading this blog... I'll eventually get to it!
Noboko praying I won't jump her. Her prayers weren't answered, but mine were.

Anyhow... inside this dark temple, just like in all of the dark temples I saw in Japan where Noboko and I made a prayer to the Buddha (I'm not sure what she prayed for, but I know what I was praying for - twice!), I spied the swastika on a taiko drum! That symbol of Nazi Germany! The hakenkreuz! The broken cross! The... hey... waitaminute... the swastika in these temples is backwards...   but not this one. This one is a full-blown swastika that looked like it was plucked from WWII.

Hmmm... the Japanese were allies with the Germans then... part of the Axis (of Evil). The Italians were part of that - but kept changing to the winning side every few months.

The word 'swastika' comes from the Sanskrit svastika - 'su = 'good'; 'asti' = 'to be'; 'ka' as a suffix. It means 'to be good'. The Nazis really perverted that meaning.

Anyhow... here's what I found out about the Chinese and Japanese swastika.

The swastika is a representation of the number 10,000 - an important number in both cultures, as it means "the whole of creation" or "Eternity". It was also used in a phrase to to Emperors - may you live 10,000 years, meaning may you live for eternity. Cool.

Known as a manji in Japanese, the swastika is an ancient symbol corrupted by the Nazis for its own Aryan use. The earliest example of one was seen in a 10,000 BC carving of a late paleolithic figurine of mammoth ivory. Geez... it's like I am writing about my novella HERE (presented daily one chapter at a time).

Apparently in Japan, a couple of families, notably the Tsugaru and Hachisuka clans plus about 60 more under the Tokugawa clan have been using the swaskita as their coat-of-arms since the 1600s. 

Anyhow... the swastika in the photo above, is a 'right-facing' swastika known as a gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. "reverse manji")... while on every single map I have ever seen of Japan, a 'left-facing' swastika is used to represent where a Buddhist temple is located.

Way before Buddhism made its way to Japan from China and before that from India, when the Gautama Buddha died, his monks stamped a 'right-faced' swastika onto his chest. This was known as the Heart's Seal. The Gautama Buddha was the man upon whom his teachings founded Buddhism.

Wow... I was just looking for a short filler piece. I really must learn to stop writing so much... but dammit! There's so much to learn! And to stop learning is to die. At least that's how I feel.

Andrew Joseph


  1. I never even noticed that there were swastikas facing different directions! Shows how observant I am. Anyway, did you ever make your way up around Mt. Nasu to Kita Onsen? That was one of my favorite onsens in Tochigi.

    1. Yes.. I did get up to Kita Onsen with about 40 other JET folks. The over night was apparently spoiled by someone snoring like a jet plane with asthma. If I had heard it, I would have put a stop to it. Unfortunately, I was fast asleep at the time.