Nanakorobi yaoki

Two weeks ago…


And now…


When I was 18 I considered getting a tattoo. I didn’t, mostly because I instituted a series of stages. First, I must design the tattoo. Perhaps not a fully fleshed out design, but I had to have a solid idea. Second, I had to sketch out that design and let it sit. I’d put it in a place on my desk or somewhere else I’d see it often, so that every time I saw it I’d ask myself, “Do I want that on my body forever?” Third, temporary tattoo. You can make a temporary tattoo yourself. Just draw/print your design onto a piece of paper – in reverse. Then use a pen (or pens if it’s multi-color) to go over the design – really heavy on the ink. Wet your skin, lay the paper ink-side down and then wet the back of the paper, hold in place for a while and then peel off the paper. Fourth a final step, get the tattoo.

The rules were a good idea. The first tattoo I came up with was terrible and I would have hated it within months. And over the years, many ideas never made it past stage 1. Most ideas died in stage 2. With the drawing sitting on my desk, or my PC as a JPG, it wouldn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t like it enough to have it forever. Once or twice I got to stage 3, but within a few days I would wash it off and not put it back on.

Getting to stage 4 was going to take an idea, a design, that had great meaning. It would have to resonate through me, to ever fiber of my being. The wife and I have been working on a tattoo we would share, but it’s been a slow road going through several iterations and isn’t quite ready yet. But this one…

I first encountered “nanakorobi yaoki” in 1993. I had just transferred from Southern Tech to Kennesaw State, and in my efforts to try to find something that inspired me to learn, I signed up for Japanese 101. We immediately jumped right in to learning the katakana, hiragana and kanji. The teacher wanted to forego the basics and get right to smothering us in Japanese, so along with the traditional lessons the school required her to teach she also brought in magazines and books. And art. Seeing large paintings peppered with the picture writing was inspiring. I took two years of Japanese. I loved it. And in there, somewhere during that first class, we were given a sheet of proverbs.

Seven fall, eight rise. That’s the most literal translation. When a person is born, they literally rise the first time. They learn to walk, their family and community lift them through childhood. And when they fall, and they will fall, it levels out the rises and falls. And you get back up. Get up more times than you fall down. Or as Chumbawamba might say, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.” Or Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart you said, “Never give up, never surrender.“ Seven fall, eight rise.

I like to think that this, more than anything, describes the core of my being. Despite many failures, both internal and driven by outside forces, there is always a point where I get back up. And so, I made a design. I printed it out and had in on my PC. I made a temporary tattoo. I got a tattoo.

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