Category Archives: Scaffolding

Entering the Fray

Monday morning, I am poised on the cusp of entering the fray. I imagine that my ancestors would have felt something similar in anticipation of the hunt. What will it bring?

We are at war with perceptions: customers that can never be satisfied, advertisers that seek to disrupt our tranquility to take away our money, Pokemon fantasies that hook into ancient warrior instincts to vy for our attention. The latter are as intrusive or meaningless as pornography, a super normal stimulus that hijacks our instincts. Intrusive when it is a picture of a beautiful woman, meaningless when you see it as a piece of paper.

We are seeking the completion and fulfillment of desire. Breathe and feel safe. Modern battles are waged in a largely abstracted environment, along battlefields that we can largely select. 

Once, I was enamoured of retirement, decided to try it for a year, and quit my job. I soon got so bored that I started training martial arts every day, something that I reveled in, but had not planned. Did I really believe that I could retire from the din of the world?

A bone without stress grow porous and brittle. An unworked muscle withers. An unused bicycle goes to rust.

So then I found myself on the roofs and sides of buildings in Tokyo, erecting and dismantling scaffolding, learning to be in harmony with danger – danger that sharpens the senses. Life happens fast. Pay attention. “Yang!” I would hear, and look to catch a bracket thrown my way. Every afternoon at three the supervisor would yell 「一服!」 (breather!) which we would transmit by shouting to the next man along the wall, and more than once from where I stood, I breathed and looked out over rooftops, and thought – “I am building this city,” before climbing down to have a coffee.

What is the purpose of a break than to become stronger?

A mentor once taught me a story: a young man walked up the mountain to seek out an ascetic. He found the old man carrying firewood on his back. 

The young man asked:”Teacher, please tell me about enlightenment.” 

The ascetic placed the bundle of firewood down, stood straight, and stretched. “This,” he said, “is enlightenment.”

Excited, the young man asked. “What comes next?”

Whereupon, the ascetic took up the bundle of firewood again, and continued on his way.

My mentor’s point was to teach me to ask “What comes next?” so as to keep from becoming fixated on a goal.

I have been looking for the source of this story on the internet, but cannot find it. Instead, there is a similar attested teaching of Zen that the path to enlightenment is「運水搬柴」, literally “to carry water and bring firewood,” which in ancient times were the main chores of the day, which is to say that the path to enlightenment is doing ordinary things.

There are meditations that take us out of the world, and there are meditations that take us into the world, and the goal of becoming human is to be able to wake up not just in the dojo, the dance floor, or the yoga studio, but in the course of the mundane – while we are engaged in our Work.

What comes next after enlightenment? Picking up the firewood again. After the weekend? Going back to Work. After a sabbatical year? Going back to Work. Our souls may stretch to a higher plane, but we are physical beings, and after a time we find ourselves standing where we are, finding the laundry must be done, the furniture dusted, the floor swept.

My biggest spiritual challenge now is to learn better to harmonize with difficulty. I recall several times when I have been in a meeting where someone was being rude, and saw another respond with firmly with respect, and after some back and forth, the rude person volunteered help. The strong harmonizer is my model. Life would be less interesting without rude people.
Harmonizing, not fighting, is the right feeling. Difficulty and danger are ingredients, not waste products. The danger, adrenaline, and exertion of being on the scaffolding let me sleep better, let me better taste my food, and gave me morning wood like I hadn’t hadron with high school. While my white-collar friends paid for gym memberships and cross-fit classes to resurrect atrophied muscle and correct bad posture, buying fitness watches to feel more motivated to walk or climb stairs, I was getting paid to do full body resistance and coordination training, more intense than martial arts boot camps  I have attended, and more spirited in team work. My enthusiasm at the time is well-captured in this Craigslist posting. The posting got us a new teammate for a few weeks, of whom the team leader said 「あいつは日本語が下手過ぎて、面白かった。」 “that guy’s Japanese sucked so bad, it was hilarious” – again, smiling and harmonizing with danger. Laughing, crying, and looking out for each other.

By and by, after a year and a half away, I returned to desk work, but I am nostalgic for scaffolding. In the three and a half years since, I have lost muscle, and my posture is not as good. Can I have both an exercised mind and exercised body?
I began this post this morning on a bus to work. I am ending it this evening over a beer at home. One of my teachers touched off this train of thought because she just left for a month-long trip away from Taiwan to reconnect with people and to reflect, so I dedicate this to her.

Enlightenment is setting down our burden. What comes next is also enlightenment. Can I hold on to this clarity? Probably not. But next time, when faced with a difficult situation or person, maybe I can smile a little inside, and say “That’s interesting. What comes next?”







確かに、気持ちはまだ青年かもしれないけど、鏡を見ると私はもう10年前の青い新卒じゃない。老けることも一つ感謝しないといけない。ふけることで時間の限りを感じて、ここにいる奇跡をより身近に感じられる。ニューヨーク協奏楽団の元指揮者Leonard Bernstein が言った「すばらしいことを成し遂げるには二つのことが必要。計画、そしてそれを実行するのにちょっと足りないこと。」気持ちが若くても、経験がたまってくるのと同時に見た目が老けてくることで周りに期待される。合気道でまだ分からないことが多いけれど、港区合気会の先生に黒帯を締めさせていることでちゃんと後輩の面倒を見なければいけないだろう。やんちゃなな動きをしてもよかった青年だった私にも次の成長が待っているでしょう。











Reflexive Responsiveness

The other day, I was taking the train, on my way to see a friend. At one of the stations, a man looking about 35 got on the train with his girlfriend. He was wearing grey sweatpants with a matching hooded sweatjacket, which was zipped down to reveal a red shirt. He had walked on the train with a bit of a saunter, and he looked at his girlfriend as she typed on her phone with a certain contemplative admiration. He gave me the impression of being a scaffolder.

The train arrived at Shinagawa, and we all got off. Stairs led up from the platform to the mezzanine level. The man, close to the door, started up the stairs before me. Climbing the stairs with us were a group of high-school girls in uniform, all with the same blue-and-white vinyl bags. One of them dropped something, and as it hit the stairs and bounced, the man tapped one of the girls on the shoulder. The object bounced down the stairs, reaching the bottom just as I was about to start to climb, and I picked it up – it was two woolen gloves rolled into one another. The girl looked to the man who had tapped her on the shoulder, who nodded toward me, as we were all climbing up the stairs. I held up the gloves to show her, and she shook her head “no”. I looked toward the man with a raised eyebrow. He looked ahead, and tapped another girl on the shoulder. When she looked, he nodded toward me. She had a look of recognition, and stopped as I climbed up the stairs to where she was. I nodded toward the man, and he nodded back, never stopping as he climbed the stairs. As I passed her, I passed the girl the gloves, and she said “Arigato” in thanks.

Reaching the top of the stairs, I turned an saw the man as he was heading toward the ticket gates. He was alone – the one who I thought was was his girlfriend was not his girlfriend – I had only thought that she was because of the way he’d observed her.

I thought about the wordless way we had been able to return the high-schooler her gloves, and how similar it was to the way scaffolders work on a construction site – aware of one’s surroundings, seeing the developing environment and wordlessly moving to do what is helpful.

Now Hiring

Team Inazuma is looking for an athletic and mentally sharp person to work in the exciting job of a scaffolder (足場鳶 – あしばとび). Work days are flexible, starting at one day a week, up to six days a week. The applicant will preferably have experience in team sports or martial arts. Work hours are typically from 8am to 6pm, with a 20-minute break at 10am and 3pm, and an hour for lunch at noon. Japanese JLPT 4 or equivalent is required, and will be determined by interview. We regret we cannot serve as a visa sponsor.

Team Inazuma raises and lowers temporary structures for the purpose of renovating or constructing buildings. Over the course of your work, you will be dispatched to sites within the metropolitan Tokyo region, giving you the chance to explore new neighborhoods. No previous scaffolding experience required – you will receive training with the more experienced members of the team.

The part time nature of the job allows people time for other pursuits – our team includes two world-class Taiko drummers, a local film actor, and a multilingual Aikido black belt, all enjoying the flexible work hours, the supplementary income, and the opportunity to train physically on a team in a job with roots extending over 1000 years back to the Asuka period in Japan. There being no more samurai, we believe that in the spirit of this job that we are the inheritors and preservers of the Old Spirit of Japan – the Yamatodamashii.

Join us for an exciting dive into heart of Japan.

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The Same Team

I like Atsushi because he keeps up a good pace, but in a measured and safe way. Back when I started a year ago, whenever I tried to hurry, I would get sloppy, and when carrying four-meter steel pipes weighing 15kg each, would lose my sense of where the ends were, and hit things. I had been working for less than ten days when I had to carry such pipes from the truck through a succession of narrow areas into the garden where we were erecting scaffolding. There was a guy Terui, younger than me but more experience – he rushed me. Atsushi told him “Don’t rush him. He’ll hit things.” I liked this – it was a simple statement of fact. He wasn’t defending me to the other guy, nor was he reprimanding me for my lack of skill. It was a simple assessment of where I was at, how much he could safely squeeze from me, and that we were all part of the same team.