Oni, Tengu, ghosts, foxes and more

In “Japanese Tales” by Royall Tyler, we embark on a captivating journey through Japan’s rich cultural heritage, delving into a world where mythical creatures roam, samurais seek honor, and supernatural forces intertwine with everyday life. Tyler’s meticulous selection and translation of these tales offer a window into the depths of Japanese folklore and storytelling tradition.

At the heart of “Japanese Tales” lie various sources that Tyler draws from to weave his narrative tapestry. One key source is the “Konjaku Monogatari,” a collection of tales from the late Heian period (794–1185). This compilation, meaning “Tales of Times Now Past,” showcases a blend of Buddhist teachings, indigenous beliefs, and Chinese influences, reflecting the diverse cultural landscape of medieval Japan.

Another prominent source is the “Uji Shūi Monogatari,” a compilation of stories from the late Heian and early Kamakura periods (late 12th to early 13th century). These tales, originating from courtly circles, provide insights into the lives, customs, and values of aristocrats during this era, offering a glimpse into the aristocratic pastimes and societal norms of feudal Japan.

Tyler also draws from the “Otogi-zōshi,” a collection of short stories from the Muromachi period (1336–1573), which catered to a wider audience beyond the aristocracy. These tales, often featuring themes of romance, adventure, and the supernatural, resonate with the tastes and interests of the common people, reflecting the evolving literary landscape of medieval Japan.

Through his translation of these diverse sources, Tyler invites readers to explore the multifaceted dimensions of Japanese culture, from the elegant courtly traditions to the rustic charm of folk tales. Each story serves as a window into a bygone era, offering not only entertainment but also valuable insights into the beliefs, values, and imagination of the Japanese people throughout history.


Why comfort will ruin your life

In Bill Eckstrom’s thought-provoking TED Talk, he challenges the notion that comfort is synonymous with success and fulfillment, arguing instead that excessive comfort can lead to stagnation, complacency, and missed opportunities for growth. With compelling insights and real-world examples, Eckstrom explores the perils of staying within the confines of one’s comfort zone and encourages individuals to embrace discomfort as a catalyst for personal and professional development.

At the core of Eckstrom’s presentation is the recognition that true growth and innovation occur when individuals confront challenges, confront adversity, and push beyond their perceived limits. Drawing upon his own experiences as an entrepreneur, athlete, and leadership coach, Eckstrom shares candid anecdotes and valuable lessons learned from stepping outside his own comfort zone and embracing the discomfort of uncertainty and failure.

Throughout his TED Talk, Eckstrom challenges audiences to reevaluate their relationship with comfort and to recognize its potential to breed complacency and mediocrity. He emphasizes the importance of seeking out discomfort as a means of expanding one’s horizons, building resilience, and unlocking hidden potential that lies dormant within each individual.

Moreover, Eckstrom explores the psychological and physiological benefits of embracing discomfort, citing research that suggests that moments of stress and adversity can serve as catalysts for growth, creativity, and innovation. By reframing discomfort as a necessary component of the learning process, Eckstrom empowers audiences to embrace challenges with confidence and resilience, knowing that they have the capacity to thrive in the face of adversity.

As Eckstrom concludes his TED Talk, he leaves audiences inspired to adopt a mindset of continuous growth and exploration, recognizing that the path to success and fulfillment often lies outside the bounds of comfort. With his compelling narrative and practical wisdom, Eckstrom challenges us to embrace discomfort as a powerful tool for personal and professional transformation, reminding us that the greatest rewards often await those brave enough to venture into the unknown.


Inferno - Chapter 1

An extract from my book ‘INFERNO’, a tribute to both tattooing and my own cultural heritage:

‘The first canto sets the scene for Dante’s journey; his use of symbolic landscape and real-life characters enabling him to convey a sense of historical realism that will both serve as the base for the Divina Commedia while defining the overall narrative. Presenting himself as a 35-year-old, an age he feels is the halfway point in his life – with the average lifespan at the time being 70 – we first come across Dante in a dark forest; a land made up of familiar archetypes: light vs. dark, virtue vs sin, and good vs. evil. Here, the dark wood represents the wickedness and unconscious wrongdoing of those who have strayed from the path of reason and divine inspiration.

The literary version of Dante is not sure how he came to be in the forest, only remembering falling asleep and drifting away from the path of righteousness. So he keeps walking, making his way to the bottom of a valley. And though this place has filled his heart with so much fear, he nevertheless reaches the bottom of the hill and looks up at the rising sun in a sign of hope.

This part of the poem is crucial as it reflects the condition of the lost soul that, after focusing on unimportant earthly matters, is able to raise its gaze towards higher truths. In addition, the three elements that build the scene (the dark wood, the hill, and the sun) represent the three realms Dante is about to explore: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.

And so, with renewed hope, Dante starts his ascent on the other side of the hill – until a panther-like creature with spotted skin (an animal that Dante calls a lonza, his idea of a cross between a lynx and a panther) blocks his path. Tempted to turn around but still motivated by the sun shining upon him earlier he soldiers on, hoping he can prevail over the wild beast. However, not a moment later, a lion and a she-wolf also enter the scene, thereby crushing Dante’s plan.

These three creatures represent the sins that prevent people from achieving self-realization: the lonza, lust, the lion, pride and the she-wolf, the most crippling of vices – avarice. For Dante, avarice is what enabled the corrupt and decadent lifestyles of Italy’s ecclesiastical and political powers in 1300.

Now frightened and lost of all hope, Dante is gradually forced back to his starting point, to “where the sun is silent.”

However, on his way back through the wood, a shadowy figure appears; a character who will play a key role in Dante’s journey across Hell and Purgatory: Virgil. Revealing himself as an ally, the Ancient Roman poet – who represents the power of reason and ancient moral values – tells Dante that he owns the beautiful writing that earned him notoriety in life as a poet, thus earning him the right to be helped in his current situation.

Indeed, upon hearing Dante cry for help, Virgil states “Thee it behoves to take another road” and in that line, offers up one of the most famous and obscure prophecies of the Divina Commedia. That Dante, who wants to reattempt the short path up the hill, must instead take a longer path shaped by the knowledge of sin (Hell) and conscious atonement (Purgatory).

While offering Dante advice on what to do, Virgil mentions a “greyhound,” a heavenly figure whose divine mission is to re-establish the world order, possibly in the form of a new emperor or pope. The greyhound also personifies the divine qualities of wisdom, love and virtue and shows us that to overcome the hill and the she-wolf (avarice) – that is, to achieve self-realization – takes more than intellect and goodness.

The central theme of Divina Commedia, after all, is that salvation can only be achieved by way of divine grace, with the role of the individual being to accept this. This is both the wonderful gift and frightening curse that characterizes the human condition and its many traits. Armed with this information Dante asks Virgil to lead him on his journey and together, they set out.’


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