Empty Orchestra


When I lived in Japan I occasionally got dragged into a Karaoke bar usually drunk. It’s the Japanese equivalent of the English after-work drinking culture and going for a curry after a few beers. Recently, when I was walking around Shinjuku late at night,  I spotted a few karaoke places from recognising the kanji. It brought back some nice memories…

Having lived in Japan for 9 years before moving to Spain I became quite familiar with Japanese culture and lifestyle.  I developed a good working knowledge of reading Japanese Kanji. I still write out my points in Japanese on my notes to keep it going. 

It is effortless in Japan to pick up Kanji as they are everywhere. I read them as pictures as I learnt them by breaking down the meaning and inventing mnemonics to remember them. These days the mnemonics are gone but  “image “remains. 

As an English person learning to read Kanji, it was very revealing to begin to understand the way that they are put together to make meanings. Because I studied Eastern medicine in English initially,  a lot of what I previously understood from reading English translations took on a different meaning. I found that understanding Chinese animated the subject to a much more realistic level. That said, it’s not important to read Chinese to study it as a medicine at all. It’s just a matter of interpretation as well as the desire for refinement. In that sense, you get OUT what you put INTO your practice. 

Empty Orchestra

I believe Karaoke was invented in the ’70s** and was initially a tape machine with a microphone and cassette player. I think the name, especially the use of the kara is very philosophical and carries with it a unique undercurrent of the stuff you dont really “see”  when you live in Japan. Let me explain a little. The first two characters, 空 (kara), represent “empty,” and the following characters オケ (oke) are an abbreviated form of オケストラ (okesutora), which means “orchestra.”  So the literal translation of karaoke sounds great in English. I dont believe that many people know this. It could make a good conversation icebreaker or simply you could…remain silent and read the air…!!

Reading the “space” between people:

Another use of kara 空 is in the  cultural concept in Japan known as Kuuki yome” (空気読む) translates to “reading the air” or “sensing the atmosphere.” The kanji for air here is 気 which is energy, or non-physical energy animating the physical.

Kuuki yome is closely related to understanding nonverbal cues and the overall mood or atmosphere in any situation for maintaining harmony ( ). It’s not easy and requires a decent level of sensitivity. If you are skilled at kuuki yome then you know when it’s appropriate to speak, remain silent, adjust your behaviour and maintain harmony. 

A very similar concept to kuki yome is sontaku (忖度) which refers to the act of guessing or anticipating someone’s wishes or expectations and taking actions accordingly without explicit communication. I think this is also another way of expressing servitude. 

Unfortunately, 忖度 has its downsides as there can be a lot of misunderstandings that may not align with reality. I’m guilty of this myself. Basically, as a foreigner who hasn’t lived in Japan all their life, it’s folly to think I have it. I dont – but I have an aspect of it.

quality above quantity

One aspect is the desire for quality in experience. Getting the best out of something, even if it’s bad, everything has potential. .  it’s probably why I practice acupuncture. It’s based exactly on this: the meridian system plus ki energy all have the potential to bring out the best of the physical real world we live in. Let us call it “ living a healthy harmonious lifestyle “! We could also call it “the pursuit of a joyous life”!

I  have recently changed the name of my clinic to ShinSei.  It is composed of two characters truth and sincerity . The character Sei can also be read as Makoto ( sincerity ) which is the image of a piece of wood being whittled away ( through repetition )  on the right with the connotation of words being refined on the left. Refinement is developed by taking away the stuff you dont need. To do it well you have to be both sincere and true to yourself. The more refined you become with your art, the less maintenance it needs. It’s similar to health-generating practices such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong and of course Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Massage and Chinese Herbs. To get the best from it, you need to refine it and that requires repetition of some sort as well as the belief in quality experiences.

Have a great day!


**Karaoke was first developed in the early 1970s in Japan. The story goes that Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese musician, invented the first karaoke machine in 1971. Inoue’s machine allowed people to sing along to popular songs by playing the instrumental versions on a tape recorder. The popularity of karaoke quickly spread throughout Japan and later to other parts of the world.

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