Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen, and the West

Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen, and the West


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226947655
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/30/2011
Series: Buddhism and Modernity Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Shoji Yamada is associate professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. Earl Hartman is a professional translator and technical writer based in California.

Read an Excerpt

Shots in the Dark

Japan, Zen, and the West
By Shoji Yamada

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2009 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-94764-8

Chapter One

Between the Real and the Fake


In researching Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery, I discovered that this book has exerted an influence in unexpected directions. There are a large number of books with titles like Zen in/and the Art of ... that seem to be playing on the title of Herrigel's original book. Before going into the actual contents of Zen in the Art of Archery, I would like to discuss this baffling social phenomenon.

The most famous book of this kind is probably Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (1928–). This book is an autobiographical account written by a former university professor who lost his memory as a result of electric shock therapy. It is one of the best-selling New Age books, so I am sure most people have heard of it. Pirsig does not discuss Japanese Zen Buddhism, but his book had a big influence on the so-called Zen boom in Europe and the United States.

Regarding the question of what connection there is between Zen and motorcycle maintenance, Pirsig says the following:

Zen Buddhists talk about "just sitting," a meditative practice in which the idea of a duality of self and object does not dominate one's consciousness. What I'm talking about here in motorcycle maintenance is "just fixing," in which the idea of a duality of self and object doesn't dominate one's consciousness.

Riding with his young son on the back of his motorcycle as he slowly regains his memory, the hero of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ponders his personal philosophy of "quality," which transcends the duality of subject and object. Regardless of whether this is Zen or not, there is no doubt that many people in the West felt a great spiritual connection to this book.

In Zen training, people do work such as cutting grass and cleaning toilets. Sometimes they experience enlightenment as they concentrate single-mindedly on this manual labor. Therefore, one cannot say that it is impossible to experience enlightenment while fixing a motorcycle. The idea that the practice of manual labor can illuminate profound philosophical questions is similar to the theory of applied art expounded by Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889–1961).

However, there are probably many Japanese who have doubts about how real the Zen in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is. Why is this, exactly? Looking at the title, it is obvious that Pirsig was conscious of Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. Pirsig's book was born out of Zen in the Art of Archery. However, Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was such a bestseller that many of the books that followed got their inspiration not from Herrigel, but rather from Pirsig. One can say that books with title beginning Zen in the Art of.... take after Herrigel, and books with title Zen and the Art of ... take after Pirsig. Having said that, though, since Pirsig himself was almost certainly influenced by Herrigel, one can probably consider all books with the title Zen in/and ... published after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to be Herrigel's grandchildren, so to speak.

One such book is called Zen in the Art of Writing (1989). It is a collection of essays for aspiring writers written by the science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury (1920–), who is famous as the author of Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury has this to say:

Now—are you surprised?—seriously I must suggest that you read ZEN IN THE ART OF ARCHERY, a book by Eugen Herrigel. Here the words, or words like them, WORK, RELAXATION, and DON'T THINK appear in different aspects and different settings. I knew nothing of Zen until a few weeks ago. What little I know now, since you must be curious as to the reason for my title, is that here again, in the art of archery, long years must pass where one learns simply the act of drawing the bow and fitting the arrow. Then the process, sometimes tedious and nerve-wracking, of preparing to allow the string, the arrow, to release itself. The arrow must fly on its way to a target that must never be considered.

Since Bradbury put "Zen" in the title of his book, it appears that he felt that writing a novel is quite similar to what Herrigel was talking about in Zen in the Art of Archery. Leaving aside the question of whether he is right or not, however, the word "Zen" was removed from the title of the Japanese version of Zen in the Art of Writing. In Japan the book is called Buraddoberi ga yatte kuru (Bradbury this way comes).

There is another book where the word "Zen" disappeared from the Japanese title. This book is Shoshinsha no tame no intanetto (The Internet for beginners) by Brendan P. Kehoe (1970–). The original title is Zen and the Art of the Internet: A Beginner's Guide (1992). While it has a provocative title, it is just an explanation of Internet technology for beginners, written in a decidedly conservative style. Among the large number of similar books available, it seems to have sold well. Kehoe is a hacker who works at the well-known IT company Cygnus Solutions. He does not appear to be particularly enamored of Zen, and there is not a single mention of Zen anywhere in the book. The Japanese title appears to be an attempt to convey the meaning of the book's contents.

The question is: why was the word "Zen" omitted from the Japanese title of both Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing and Kehoe's Zen and the Art of the Internet? Was it because the publishers thought that Japanese readers would get a strange impression? Or was it perhaps more likely that the translators and the editors felt that there was a gap between the image that Bradbury and Kehoe have of Zen and what Japanese people would understand by the term "Zen"? They probably thought that including "Zen" in the title would make the books appear a bit disreputable in the eyes of Japanese readers, and that there was a danger that they would think that the books were written by foreigners who had weird ideas about Zen.

In a field related to Zen in the Art of Writing, there is a book called Zen and the Art of Screenwriting: Insights and Interviews (1996). The author is a professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles and is the creator of UCLA's movie and television scriptwriting program. The book discusses the vital points in writing screenplays for film and television and has interviews with ten well-known scriptwriters. The contents have nothing to do with Zen.

Let me give one more example from the field of art and literature: the mystery novel Zen and the Art of Murder (1998). The hero of the book is a tough female private detective who is still hooked on cigarettes even after surviving lung cancer. The author names her Zen Moses. This book was nominated for the Seamus Prize for Best Debut Novel in 1999. The author, Elizabeth M. Cosin, also published Zen and the City of Angels in 1999.

In the field of books about living, there is a book called Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design (1993). At more than six hundred pages long, this tome is full of Zen wisdom and studded with iconic Zen sayings. Its aim is to teach self-realization through success in business, but wouldn't a Japanese think, rather, that the pursuit of material gain has nothing to do with Zen?

Zen fits well with the world of sports. Under the general rubric of "mental training," in recent years top athletes have taken to practicing Zen-like methods for concentration and relaxation. Although I do not play golf myself, when I watch golf on television it looks as though the states of mind of the players are similar to those of Zen practitioners, and according to the author of Zen in the Art of Golf (1991), "all these things are one thing." In the field of exercise and recreation books, there are titles like Zen in the Art of Mountain Climbing (1992) and Zen in the Art of Street Fighting (1996). Books like Zen in the Art of Stickfighting (2000), written by a person claiming to be a Grand Master with a tenth-degree black belt, are also amusing.

In English, there is a saying that "travel broadens the mind." According to Zen and the Art of Travel (2000), the "Zen" mind can enrich the experience of travel and if you travel you will come to better understand "Zen." A beautiful pocket book with full color plates of scenes from around the world accompanying the text, Zen and the Art of Travel explains that travel preparations, destinations, food and lodgings, precautions, and homecomings are all connected to "Zen" wisdom. The same publishing company has also published a series of books with titles like Zen and the Art of Gardening (2000), Zen and the Art of Cooking (2001), and Zen and the Art of Well-Being (2001). For Japanese, the word Zen is imbued with an aura of stoicism, but for Westerners, pleasure is apparently also "Zen."

Roulette, craps, baccarat, blackjack, slot machines, video poker: according to Zen and the Art of Casino Gaming (1995), casino gaming involves complex player psychology and strategies for winning. The author, who is a professional gambler, claims to transmit the know-how needed to be successful at gambling. There is also another gambling and Zen book called Zen and the Art of Poker (1999). On the subject of game centers, there is an interesting book called Zen and the Art of Foosball (2002), which explains the secret to winning foosball, a table soccer game where players spin numerous handles mounted in a table to kick the ball towards a goal.

Not only gambling, but comedy is "Zen" too. According to Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy (1998), "Zen" is defined as "your guess is as good as mine." It talks about how "Zen" accepts that which is unpredictable and lives life just as it is in the present moment. If that is true, is not stand-up comedy nothing other than "Zen"? English-language stand-up comedy is usually delivered in an incredibly rapid-fire style and so I have great difficulty understanding it. However, is there really "Zen" there of which Japanese people are unaware? The same author has also written a book in the same category called Zen and the Art of the Monologue (2000).

I would also like to mention two books that, simply from the unexpectedness of the juxtapositions in the titles, are really amusing. Zen in the Art of Close Encounters (1995) is a critical anthology concerning things like UFOs and crop circles. According to the book, these phenomena can be understood if you expand your concept of reality. Just like in "Zen." There is also Zen and the Art of Changing Diapers (1991). This book was self-published by the author, a female journalist and poet. It is a book of poems expressing love for a child written from the point of view of the father. While I stand in a certain kind of flabbergasted awe at her ability to bring Zen into a discussion of diaper changing, as a parent who has raised children there is something strangely convincing in the author's statement that "a baby, too, is a kind of koan." On the subject of raising children, there are also titles like Zen in the Art of Child Maintenance (1993) and Zen and the Art of Fatherhood (1997).

There are many, many more books like this. Some intriguing titles are Zen in the Art of Rhetoric (1996), Zen and the Art of Anything (1999), Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy (2000), Zen and the Art of Knitting (2002), Zen and the Art of Diabetes Maintenance (2002), Zen and the Art of Falling in Love (2003), Zen in the Art of the SAT (2005), Zen and the Art of Happiness (2006), Zen and the Art of Dodgeball (2006), Zen and the Art of Faking It (2007), and Zen and the Art of Housekeeping (2008). Even this list with all of these titles does not include all of the Zen in/and the Art of ... books that have been published.

Zen in/and the Art of ... can be found not only in the world of literature, but also in articles in serious professional journals. The contents of these articles are highly specialized, so I will just list the titles and the names of the journals in which they appeared. Of course, this does not exhaust all of the Zen in/and the Art of ... articles that exist:

"Zen and the Psychology of Education," The Journal of Psychology (1971)

"Zen and the Art of Management," Harvard Business Review (1978)

"Zen and the Art of Supervision," The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families (1998)

"Zen and the Art of Higher Education Maintenance," Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management (1999)

"Zen and the Art of Policy Analysis," The Journal of Politics (2001)

"Zen and the Art of Medical Image Registration," NeuroImage (2003)

What do Japanese people think about this phenomenon of "Zen" being used in such a seemingly indiscriminate manner? I would like to emphasize that I am not ridiculing these books and articles. Most of these authors are quite serious and you can sense the enthusiasm they have for their subject matter. However, the majority of these books and articles do not say a single thing about Zen even though they use "Zen" in their titles. Apparently in English, "Zen" does not just refer to a sect of Buddhism; it also appears to be used to refer to introductory or basic knowledge. I have also heard that in the West the word "Zen" is used to mean "cool."

At the risk of repeating myself, I want to state again that most of these books are serious books. Then why, when I line up the titles, do they seem kitschy to me? Is it perhaps because Japanese have a self-image of what they want to be—in this case it is the Japanese image of "Zen"—and these books do not reflect the image Japanese have of themselves? Let us consider this point in depth. Japanese have a reputation for being especially sensitive to, and appreciative of, the opinions of foreigners. This kitschy world of Zen in/and the Art of ... must also be an "image of Japan as seen through the eyes of foreigners." Why then do the Japanese ignore the world of Zen in/and the Art of ... and brush it off as phony "Zen"?

It seems as though there is a hidden mechanism concerning the creation of Japanese culture in this particular area. Japanese people do not simply swallow whole foreign images of Japan just as they receive them. Rather, from among myriad possibilities for Japanese culture presented by foreigners, the Japanese select specific things as they fashion their self-image.


In addition to the Zen in/and the Art of.... books, there are other things that make one think about the dividing line between the real and the fake when it comes to Zen. I would like to consider Ryoanji-style rock gardens in foreign countries as an example of this.

On the northern edge of Wall Street, New York City's famous center of finance, one can find the Chase Manhattan Bank building. Below street level, as seen looking down from the plaza in front of the building, there is a modern garden patterned after the rock garden at Ryoanji. This circular garden, which was designed to be seen from above, has stones from the Uji River in Kyoto arranged amidst a design made from stone tiles placed so as to imitate a pattern of flowing water created by raking sand with a bamboo rake. In the summer, water flows into the garden so that the stones float like islands, and in the winter the garden is dry. A wall of glass surrounds the garden, which is on the first underground level of the building, and it can be viewed from the adjacent aisle. The garden creates a weird spatial distortion in the inorganic landscape of Manhattan. It is one of the famous works of the avant-garde artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) and was created in 1964.

I wonder what Japanese people think when they see this garden. It is easy to imagine reactions like "A rock garden in New York! How interesting! And to have been created by a mixed-race Japanese!" or "I guess it is an example of how Japanese traditions have influenced modern art." Looking at it from the opposite perspective, there are probably few people who get from this garden a sense of "genuine Japanese culture" or the "Zen thought" contained within it.

Having said that, however, I have no confidence that I can say for sure that Noguchi's rock garden is a fake dressed up as Japanese culture. After all, it is a well-known work by a famous artist who was active all over the world. In the sense that it is a work by Noguchi, it is the genuine article. However, everyone would probably agree that it is not representative of traditional Japanese culture. It seems that Noguchi's garden may hold a key for finding our self-image as it relates to Japanese culture. I will discuss Noguchi in detail later, so let us leave him for the moment.

In the 1960s when Noguchi created the rock garden at the Chase Manhattan Bank, copies of Ryoanji were being made in other parts of the United States as well. At the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., for example, there is a scaled-down copy of the rock garden at Ryoanji. The Japanese ambassador at the time, Asagai Koichiro (1906–1995), and a member of the lower house of the Japanese Diet, Takasaki Tatsunosuke (1885–1964), proposed the idea for this garden to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the friendship between Japan and the United States, and it was constructed in 1960 with the support of the Japanese financial community. The rock garden is located in front of a teahouse called Ippakutei, which is built in the style of the Katsura Detached Villa in Kyoto.

A pamphlet printed by the Japanese Embassy describes the garden as follows:

One element recalls the sand garden and masonry wall of the Ryoanji [sic] in Kyoto. The very austerity of the garden, barren of all vegetation and constructed entirely of fine gravel and stone, is calculated to induce meditation. It is not meant to evoke a particular image, though the impression most often imparted is one of solitude—a desert, perhaps, or bleak islands in a vast sea.

In the year this garden was made, the head priest of Ryoanji at the time, Matsukura Shoei (1908–1983) visited the Japanese Embassy. In an article published in the journal Zen bunka (Zen culture), he divulged his feelings as follows: "The garden itself is exquisite, but I was disappointed that the surrounding atmosphere did not match it, even though I know that it could not be helped."


Excerpted from Shots in the Dark by Shoji Yamada Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the American Edition


1. Between the Real and the Fake

            The Kitschy World of “Zen in/and the Art of . . .”

            The Rock Garden in New York

            The Moving Borderline

2. The Mystery of Zen in the Art of Archery

            The Beginning of the Story

            Spiritual Archery and Herrigel’s Meeting with Its Teacher

            Becoming a Disciple


            The Release

            Purposefulness and Purposelessness

            The Target in the Dark

            The Riddle of “It”

3. Dissecting the Myth

            The Spread of Zen in the Art of Archery

            The Moment the Myth Was Born

            What is Japanese Archery?

            The Great Doctrine of the Way of Shooting

            What Herrigel Studied

4. The Erased History

            The Blank Slate

            Herrigel’s Early Years

            The Japanese in Heidelberg

            Homecoming and the Nazis

            From the End of the War to Retirement

5. Are Rock Gardens Really Pretty?

            From the “Tiger Cubs Crossing the River” to the “Higher Self”

            The Neglected Rock Garden

            The Rock Garden in Textbooks

            Unsightly Stones and a Weeping Cherry Tree

            Shiga Naoya and Muro Saisei

            Are Rock Gardens Pretty?

            Popularization and the Expression of Zen

            Proof of Beauty

6. Looking at the Mirror’s Reflection

            Another Japan Experience

            Bruno Taut and Ryoanji

            The People Who Introduced Zen and Ryoanji to the West

            Isamu Noguchi

            How Zen in the Art of Archery and Ryoanji Were Received

            Does Zen Stink?

            Kyudo, Zen, and the Olympics

            I Knew It! It’s Zen!


Translator’s Afterword

Appendix: Herrigel’s “Defense”

Kanji for Personal Names

Kanji for Japanese Terms



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