where the writers are
Cheers to Coincidence

I’m not good at remembering people’s name.  But lately, my memory has been improving.  I think I owe it to a chain of coincidences.

            First, I meet a woman in my beginning Arabic language class, and I can remember her name right away.  Why?  Her given name is similar to my daughter’s.  Second is the name of my intermediate jazz dance teacher.  Her given name is the same as my mother’s name and even the kanji.  Third is my new friend.  She is a young woman, and her last name is the same as my mother’s maiden name. 

              I think coincidence helps in many ways.  It prevents or slows down the process of Alzheimer, helps make more great friends, and deepens my curiosity about people and this universe. 


I probably talk about coincidence often.  That’s because my mother valued it.  I talk about my mother a lot.  That’s not a coincidence.  She used to look so happy when she described about her great coincidence.

              Talking about great coincidence, I’ve learned that anta in Arabic is the same as in Japanese.  It means you.  So, I tell my Arabic language teacher if Japanese anta came from Arabic.  She makes a grin on her face and says if I can prove that, it will be a huge discovery.  I don’t know if I ever make a great discovery, but I can make many small discoveries.

              My Arabic language teacher is Japanese, and her Arabic name is Mona.  She has encouraged us students to choose our Arabic name.  On page 55 of our text book, we look at the list of male and female names.  Top of the female names is Laila followed by Mona.  I choose Laila because I like the sound of it.   

              The last week was our third class.  One of the students had decided her Arabic name.  She chose Yasmin. 


“Jasmines and lemons are popular in the Arab world,” the teacher says.


“Oh, I wonder if lemons came from Arab,” I say. 


I open my digital dictionary and enter “lemon”.  I see the entry describing Arabic origin “limun.”  Ha!  Mun sounds moon.  They are both round.


“I wonder if “mon” of lemon is connected to Moon.”


“I don’t know, but Moon in Arabic is Hamal,” the teacher says.


I better shut up.  This is a language class, not a coincidence class.  But my brain can’t help but continue thinking about hamal.  Mal of hamal sounds close to maru in Japanese because we do not use R sounds.  We tend to pronounce like L for R.  By the way, hamaru in Japanese means “be hooked on.”  Hamal and hamaru sound similar to my ear.  I’m hooked on Arabic.  This is another coincidence. 

Next day, I try to find out how to write hamal in Arabic.  I page through to the end of my textbook to see the list of words, but they aren’t there.  Instead, I happen to open section 19 and right in the middle, the word “coincidence” appears in Japanese.  A corresponding Arabic sentence is on right hand side.  I examine the Arabic letters and spot the word, coincidence.  It sounds like sdufa.  I could be wrong, but it must be close.   Wait a minute.  It connects me to the end of the Prajna-paramita-sutra which I recently happened to read.  

“The last part of the Prajna-paramita-sutra does not have a clear, logical translation,” Hiro Sachiya, the author, wrote in his book.  In Japanese, we say sowaka, but in Sanskrit, it is svaha.  I know it’s idiosyncratic.  The sutra was translated into ancient Chinese from the ancient Sanskrit, and the ancient Japanese translated the Chinese translation into Japanese.  So, the last part was forced the ancient Chinese pronunciations into the Japanese text, and I doubt that the Chinese translators understood the exact meaning of this last part.  Anyway, in my head, sdufa connects to svaha.  Compared to other comparisons, these two words sound closer than others in sound. 

“Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.”

This is the last part of the sutra and recited again and again wishing the people best who are trying to get to the other side (nirvana.)  Svaha means something like “bring happiness.”  Coincidence can certainly bring happiness. 


Before I started my beginner Arabic language class, I read a little bit about Quran and other Islam related books.  It is also a coincidence that I found out Ookawa Shumei whom I’ve mentioned in my past blog, and who was a WWII war criminal and sentenced as a mentally ill.  I think I mentioned that he wasn’t crazy.  Anyway, I was reading “Do you know about Quran?” by Atouda Takashi.  I love his books.  He and his books are not intimidating. 

In the Atouda's book, I found out that Ookawa Shumei was the first translator of Quran into Japanese, and he translated Quran in the prison!  I was very surprised to read this information.  I wonder what motivated him to do it right then and during the famous prison sentence after WWII.  I want to know more about that.

Because of all these coincidences, I have tremendous, renewed curiosity to unknown men and women of the world.   They lure me to read the ancient sutras which I used to think only monks would read.  Coincidence is like a magic carpet.    


17 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Wow!  I'm fascinated by your

Wow!  I'm fascinated by your blog, Keiko :-)  How interesting that you are taking up Arabic as a language.  And how much more interesting that you find all these little coincidences and connections to keep your interest and to keep your brain active :-)  Alzheimers will have difficulty penetrating you if you keep up this good crossword puzzle work in your brain active! 


Comment Bubble Tip

Wow!  I'm fascinated by your

Wow!  I'm fascinated by your blog, Keiko :-)  How interesting that you are taking up Arabic as a language.  And how much more interesting that you find all these little coincidences and connections to keep your interest and to keep your brain active :-)  Alzheimers will have difficulty penetrating you if you keep up this good crossword puzzle work in your brain active! 


Comment Bubble Tip

Arabic calligraphy


Right now, the lobby of the school I go to is showing Arabic calligraphy.  They are beautiful.  There is some connection  I feel because of Kana Shodo.  And I'm excited when I can figure out what is written in an Arabic text.  You know Arabic does not have be verbs, and only have 28 letters.  Of course, it isn't easy to learn, but isn't that interesting?  And the direction to write is opposite.  I love this new experience.  Talking of learning different perspectives, I believe learning a totally different language is the best way although I probably can manage only the beginning course.  We have only a few Arabic courses, and I was lucky to join.  

Comment Bubble Tip


Gate gate...........' when some one achieve beyond the highest achievement or when nothing more to be learned or observed. When one become a 'knowledge' itself. 'Swaha' means 'it happens' or 'it be' or 'I offer'. In ritual 'Agni-hom' of Hindu vadic kriya, we offer wood, fat,oil, sismee seeds, coconut etc and each time while putting it in to the fire chant 'om swaha'... its a sacrifice or an offering too. You are a genius student of culture Keiko, I am proud of you.

Comment Bubble Tip

My Sanskrit Teacher, Jitu!


After your explanation, swaha makes sense to me now as the source of sowaka.  Thank you for interpretation.  It somehow became "sowaka" in Japanese after several language translations.  We hardly use consonant by itself (the only one is m or n), so in Japanese, "S" has to become Sa, Si, Su, Se, or So.  So, the Japanese translators chose "so."  And I just learned in Arabic that it has "ha" and "kha" and they are similar to out ear.  I think Sanskrit, Hindu, or Arabic and many other languages have similar subtle pronunciation like that.  We don't.  So, kha or ha can either be ka or ha in Japanese, so I guess the Japanese translators chose ka.  Therefore, swaha ended up sowaka in Japan.  This is great, Jitu!  Thank you!!! 

The temple near me creates fire on eighth, eighteenth, and twenty-eighth days.  I think the temples that create fire belong to Mitsu-kyo.  Mitsu-kyo means secret teachings in Japanese, so I used to feel something dark and mysterious coming from that name. It isn't a friendly name.  It rather makes a distance from ordinary people, I think.  Also Buddhists call that fire, "goma-o-taku."  I thought until now it meant "cooking sesame seeds."  Sesame seeds mean goma in Japanese.  What a misinterpretation!   I just opened up my dictionary and found out goma is homa.  I have no idea what is homa, but I guess my understanding was completely wrong.  Buddhism was all very mysterious and hard to learn, but it shouldn't be that way.  In recent years, many Buddhists are speaking up and reaching out to people.  And there are many Japanese books and classes are available. I'm lucky to be able to learn and also converse my excitement through blogs and top of that, I get responses from the person like you from India!





Comment Bubble Tip


Oh, Keiko, you never cease to amaze me with your interests broader than those of anyone else I know.

More power to you.

Comment Bubble Tip



I think most Japanese are interested in other countries and cultures, and most Japanese have more than a few hobbies including some kind of arts and so on.  So, I'm not so special, but I'm glad you think so.  And I like that "More power to you."  That sends me more power to me.  Thank you.

Comment Bubble Tip


 I'm not so special, but I'm glad you think so. 

Keiko, I'm not the only one who thinks so. You are a woman set apart from almost all the women I know. 

Keep doing what your doing.   :D

Comment Bubble Tip

Thank you, Dolores.

Thank you, Dolores.

Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Keiko: One more thing to

Hi Keiko:

One more thing to discover...and Arabic! I do not know the language but absolutely love the calligraphy. And Laila is a beautiful name - it also resonate with the chant of La-Illah. 

Coming to coincidences, language is often best connected with them. If you sift through cultures you will see that there is a chain linking most languages. As you pointed out, there are certain sounds. Many of these can be related to imageries and even feelings. 

It is a fascinating subject and a never-ending process, as we have so often discovered in some of our interactions on the subject before. 

Since the Japanese have a problem with 'R', at least the most handy word in Arabic - Habibi (beloved) - won't bother you! 

Enjoy these moments...


Comment Bubble Tip

The chant


I don't know the chant you talk about, but one of Simon and Garfunkle music has the chorus like the chant.  I like that chorus, so I name myself Laila.  Thank you for habibi.  It's easy to pronouce, for sure.  How about Laila Habibi?  Gee, it sounds great.  At least, I can remember my name easily.  

And, yes, languages are endlessly fascinating.  I'm glad I can express my excitement here and reach out to you and the rest of the world.

Comment Bubble Tip

Coincidence in writing

Coincidence can be useful to writers, but it can be a trap if overused. A good story can tolerate one important coincidence. More than that, coincidence becomes a smokescreen for a poorly-constructed narrative.

Comment Bubble Tip


Hello Harlan,

Yes, I agree.  I think overused anything is ineffective in writing or even in our conversation.  But across cultures, the degree of our appreciation or tolerance for it is different.  I hope I captured such moment and showed it in a scene with dialogues in my memoir which I'm still working on.

Thank you for stopping by.





Comment Bubble Tip

License and truth

Keiko. You are a kindred spirit. I would love someday to sit down and talk with you about writing. Since that is not  likely, I hope you don't mind  my jumping in here occasionally with comments and questions. I have written a novella, titled Sakura, based on my screenplay of the same title. A couple of American friends who have lived in Japan for decades read the manuscript and told me that the Japanese girl in the love story is out of character, that she is too western, that I have let license obscure reality. But I explain that she was educated in a French-Canadian convent in Japan and worked in an English-speaking environment and indeed had absorbed some western ways, some notably from her lover who is a young American naval officer. They said that she nevertheless would not be a believable character for any reader who is familiar with Japanese culture of the 1950s. I would be most interested in your comment.


Comment Bubble Tip

Your question


Did a French-Canadian convent exist in Japan?  If it didn't, that would be a challenge for you to make it believable.  I don't know anything about convent.  Also, very few Japanese women worked in an English-speaking environment in Japan during 50s, so, that must be tough to research and make it believable.  The wife of a former ambassador Reischauer spoke English, but I'm sure she didn't act like an American even in the U.S. 

Comment Bubble Tip

French-Canadian convent


There was indeed at least one French-Canadian convent in Japan, located since the 1930s at Fukushima. The Congregation of Notre Dame had and has (I think) a rather wide presence in Japan: http://www.cnd-m.com/Archive/english/Global-japan.htm.  Actually, tens of thousands of Japanese worked in U.S. military and naval facilities in Japan during the 1950s. Many spoke quite good English since few Americans took the trouble to learn Japanese. I knew a young Japanese woman who was educated at a French-Canadian convent in Japan. Since she was from Yokosuka, it was likely the one at Fukushima. I was stupidly naive at the time and lacked the curiosity to ask.