Thursday, July 09, 2020


On a train at dusk,
Ride through a snowy landscape;
various hues of grey and white.


Her lips redder than my wine,
And much more sweet.


Dry Farfalle;
Like butterflies 
In a child's collection.


At the ancient shrine,
Waiting in line to draw sacred water;
A beautiful girl texts on her cell.


Yellow flowers burst from hillsides
Like remnants of 
Ancient splashes of lava. 

On the turntable:  Micheal Hedges, "The Best of Micheal Hedges"

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Stuff from an Old Notebook #13

 -Moving rocks around or raking the forest;  what in the west is Dante’s hell or Sisyphean toil is simply called shugyō (training) in Zen.

-A child playing in the snow will not realize he's cold or hungry or tired. Unless called home, he’ll play forever.  Adults use the intellect to feel discomfort.

-Goth Obasan: fishnets, leopard skin sleeveless T-shirt, shades, David Sylvain hair, safety pins

-Moody melodic music which serves as BGM for the film playing before our eyes

-Old Portuguese/Japanese dictionary has “shizen” as “spontaneously” or “without external agency”

-I hate flying as a rule, and those long trans-Pacific marathons fray my nerves for the duration.  That said, it was a very smooth crossing, uneventful except for the fact that I survived.

-A certain regatta look to an apartment block covered with drying clothes.  Unshakable optimism on such a lousy grey day.

-Had a good laugh on the way to Osaka.  And you need laughs if you have to go to Osaka. 

 -Mist on the rivers, mists between hills. A slow train loads up, ready to finish the day late, far off in Tokyo. In village after village, houses stand dark. Despite the beginnings of dusk, there’s not a light to be seen.  Where are all the people?
-On the way to her hometown of Hiroshima, I listen to my (ex-)wife’s accent get broader and thicker.

On the turntable:  John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis, "The Hot Spot"

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Sunday Papers: Jean-Luc Godard

"The United States imagines no other war besides a civil war.  In each war it is always fighting against itself and against those faults of its own that the enemy nation embodies.  It calls war a moral crisis. When it was English, it fought against the English; as soon as they became American,  Americans fought among themselves; as soon as it became sufficiently Germanized in its mores and culture, it tilted at the Germans."                           

On the turntable:  Stan Getz and Lionel Hampton,  "Jazz Roads"

Thursday, July 02, 2020


A cheating duck 
Sits on a  stone
Beneath the river.

On the turntable:  Voodoo Child, "Baby Monkey"

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Stuff from an Old Notebook #12

On a return to Yonago, 2007

The eyes are funny things.  On the ride up to Yonago for the first time in 15 months.  Passing through a landscape that you once found enchanting.  But as is also the case with a lover, the enchantment becomes contentment, then mundane.  Those lines and curves that once held you are replaced by blemishes...

..but today the magic was back.  Enthralled by it all once again, finding again those once cherished sweet spots.  Delighting in the new. 

Or maybe it was simply the fine weather.  

On the turntable:  Mutabaruka, "The Ultimate Collection"

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Papers: Renae Lucas-Hall

"Japan seems a lot like what America would be like if Rock 'n' Roll had never happened."

On the turntable:  Mike Oldfield, "Tubular Bells"

Friday, June 26, 2020

Tracking the Kamo III

I left a little later than I'd hoped, close to 8 am.  It was a summer's day, but had the cool of hours earlier. I regretted not getting an quicker start, so that I could see the old-timers going through their funny exercises.  There were still a few around, but mainly it was people biking or walking to work. Sadly I didn't see any of the colony of nutria which used to live around here.  While admittedly a foreign species to Japan, their antics always brought people to a standstill, to watch their antics.  I presume they've been captured, as I hadn't seen them in a few years.

I crossed the stone turtles at Demachiyanagi, and returned to the Kamogawa's western edge.  The water still flowed quickly over some of the more deeply sunk flagstones of the riverbed, despite no rain since I left off two days before.   Atop the flattened reeds here stood a grey heron, which looked as always like it could really use a massage for its hunched shoulders.  A small pair of underpants lay limply on the stone steps.  A child must've enjoyed the water's coolness over the weekend.

 The fast flow of the water had done a number on the concrete stonework that brought definition to the falls.  After the big storm of 2013, many of these stones had been pushed out of place.  They'd been repaired, and again after another strong storm a few years later.  But as strong storms are getting more and more frequent from year to year, I'm not sure the city even made an effort anymore.  So the stone work continued to look like a mouthful of bad teeth. 

I passed by University Hospital.  People were sitting out on the benches in the wide patch of grass there, obvious patients due to their gowns.  I was always amused to see the ones who smoked.  This little patch of ground never failed to remind me of Mizoguchi Kenji, for a documentary on the director used this exact location during the closing scenes, as it was here that he finished his life.   

On the opposite bank was the ultimate picnic spot.  There were benches and wide patches of grass, and toilets nearby at the home center store across the road above.  Not to mention the shops of Demachiyanagi were just a few minutes north, with ample places to resupply.  Sakura trees lined both banks, creating in spring a ribbon of pink.  It made for a lovely bicycle ride, party people reveling everywhere.  

I saw an older man on one of the wooden decks going through what looks to be yoga poses.  It might have been the guy I saw tanning up north a couple of days ago. Another old man used his deck as an exercise bench, and had even brought his own dumbbells. 

Ahead on the path, I spied a turtle moving as fast as I'd ever seen a turtle move.   It begins to make its way down the embankment, but losing balance, begins to tumble.   Tucking its head and limbs into its shell, the turtle literally cartwheeled down the stone slope.  It must have been both terrifying and a little exhilarating.  

I've always liked the building at the southwest corner of Marutamachi bridge (and the little observation platforms jutting from the bridge's center).  Where the attractive brick building now stood was once the site of Nyokōba, a school for girls founded in 1872, upon the grounds of the former Kawaramachi villa of the Kujō family.   The school specialized in English and handicrafts, whose purpose was a means of reforming geisha and prostitutes, trapped into these roles during the stringent social dictates of the out-going feudal period.  Most students came from the lowest ranks of Japanese society, and those unable to afford their schooling were allowed to sell the wares that they had learned to make there. While the school was long gone, I appreciated that the current building there kept the look of the period.  

But traces of the impovershed remained. Beneath a pair of willow trees, a homeless man had set up house, his structure defined by tarps and overlapping umbrellas. There used to be a lot more homeless under the bridges here, living in quite elaborate DIY structures, soundly assembled from found bits of plywood.  They always looked clean and were unobtrusive, unlike the socially abandoned casualties seen in Western cities. These underbridge structures disappeared, around the time of the floods of 2013.   As a dramatic counterpoint, there were a number of riverfront luxury flats near here, as well as a five-star international hotel.  A stream ran in front of the latter, lined with bushes and hydrangea plants.   This was one of the best places in the city to see fireflies, but this late into June they were gone.   

I always hated riding my bicycle over the uneven cobblestones here.  We had reached the first of the yuka restaurants, that straddled the stream from here all the way to Gojo-dōri.  From May to September, al fresco dining could be had over the waters flowing below, taking the edge of the heavy heat of a Kyoto summer. I was always amazed at the effort that must go into putting these things up.  If visiting the city during the summer, there was nowhere else better to eat. 

Locals too obvious agreed, for centuries-old painting showed that this had always been a popular amusement spot in summer.  And not only in summer.  The area around Sanjo-bridge was the western terminus of both the Tokaidō and Nakasendō post roads, and as such it would have been a place to relax or supply, depending on your direction. (Here we can still see the stone statues of Yaji-san & Kita-san, the antiheroes of the periods best known 'road novel,' Hizakurige, translated into English as On Shank's Mare.)   The area still had a similar flavor, densely packed with lodging, shopping, and food.  (Scratch deeper to find varying degrees of gambling and prostitution.). As such, it made for an easy place to hide, especially for the various political samurai groups during the final days of the Shogunate.  Sanjō Bridge itself bears the scars of one battle, sword marks cut into one post along the south rail after the famous Ikedaya Incident of 1864.

I passed below the Pontochô Kaburenjô, founded in 1872 to host the Kamogawa Odori geisha dances held each May.  Friends and couples line the banks from here to Shijo, usually from sunset until well into he night.  Bands set up on weekends, making it one of the more lively spots for the large number of students from Kyoto's 43 universities.     

Shijō Bridge.  Across the water was the Minamiza kabuki theater, built across from the statue of that art's founder, Izumo no Okuni.  One of seven kabuki theaters allowed to perform during the repressive Edo period, Minamiza was most active during December's kaomise, when some of the top kabuki performers assembled for dozens of performances.  Thirty meters north was another, less ornate building bearing the characters for Kita-za, once another centerpiece for kabuki until it stopped hosting performances in 1893.  Today it was host to an number of restaurants and bars.      

The small canal that cooled the riverfront yuka flowed into the river proper at Gojō bridge.  Here too ended my walking path.  Cafe Kano was here, a rarity in that it both opens early and does a good (but basic) Western breakfast set.  The owner isn't particularly warm, but it was a cozy, sunny place to meet friends early.   This part of the river was popular too with fishermen, who stood out in the water with their waders and ridiculously long poles.

I crossed over to the east side, and continued along that bank for a while. The city seemed to receded some, as the walls grew higher and hid what stood above.  The next bridge along was called Shomen-bashi.  Nintendo's original headquarters was just a few buildings to the west.  I always used to find it puzzling that Kyoto's Rokujō-dōri was conspicuously absent, until I later learned that the riverbed there had served as the city's execution grounds during the feudal period, which explained the massive cemetery along the mountainside above.  Modern Kyoto downplays this history, but there still stood a commemorative stone to the 52 Christians martyred here. 

I returned to the west bank at Shichijō, crossing the grand Shichijō Bridge, not terribly old but one of the river's more attractive.  Things grew industrial for awhile, not least of which were the trio of bridges which ushered the three rail lines out of town.    It grew steadily worse from there, and it wasn't too long before the motorways came in, criss-crossing and criss-crossing and criss-crossing again.  There weren't too many people down this way, except for the occasional unwise jogger.  But at least there was a good bicycle path.  

The heat was beginning to come up. I decided to walk the parallel track on the berm above me, for at least there were some patches of cooling shade, with things below to look at, albeit scenes of small industry.  But up here was where all the people were.  One pair of old-timers walked along the far bank, one of them sensibly wearing a conical hat. 

The concrete finally left me alone, at least underfoot.  I moved along grass and earth, through an area that appeared popular with local teens, obvious from the fire pits and remnants of parties. Perhaps this was connected with the skate park that lay unseen just above me, which I'd passed on a previous walk.  Above, the highways still criss-crossed, but at least they brought shade.  

At the other end of the demographic was a gateball park here, and even on a warm day, there were at least three-dozen people out playing.  A closer look revealed it to be a temporary installation, to judge from a few grass-cutters leaning against the slope.  

In my rubberneacking, I hadn't noticed that I'd walked myself out onto a peninsula.  It would be a long backtrack to a bridge, but a look ahead showed that the river was narrow and running quiet.  A pair of cranes stood high above the water, inferring it wasn't particularly deep.  I pushed through the weeds, in the process scaring off both cranes and a heron.  Shoes and all, it was only takes five steps to cross.  The water was cooling, but I didn't like the smell.     

The track on this side continued to be dirt, but there was definitely a 'wrong side of the tracks' feel to it all.  On the opposite bank was a nice, well-tended walking path, no doubt to the enjoyment of the suburban houses beyond.  They had colonized an area once cultural rich, with Jonangu Shrine, the site of the old Toba Palace, and the place where the first shots were fired to begin the brief Boshin War that brought down the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The suburbs eventually claimed all, and I found myself walking along a track that looked more or less unused.  This too was a peninsula, which grew wilder and wilder the further I went.  It eventually gave way completely to a patch of low vegetation.  It wasn't too dense and I could push my way through.  I knew from the map that there was a road up to my right, but it ran through a construction site and I wasn't sure if I would be allowed passage.  Better to keep off the radar.  

Across the river to the east I saw three large monoliths.  These long rectangular stones were known as the Toba Ishi, brought upstream as part of repairwork on Nijō-jo, which had been damaged during the Omi-Wakasa Earthquake of 1662.  Somehow the stones went overboard here,where they remained until found centuries later during dredging of the river.

I finally came to the end of the peninsula, a world of rocks and mud.  Pronged footprints showed the presence of water fowl, who dined on the nutrients in the sediment.  All this would be underwater during the rains.  But the water today was relatively low, so I crossed again.  It was broader here, and running fast, forcing me to concentrate on my footing as I go.  The water grasped at my ankles, untying the laces of my shoes.  

There was a man parked down here. the lens on his camera probably more expensive than his car.  Below me, this final peninsula opened out wide enough to hold a number of rugby and soccer pitches. I was now walking equidistant to the Kamo and Katsura rivers. A markerstone noted that I would have to walk six more kilometers to reach the end of the latter.  I'd walked that far bank before, all the way to Osaka, mimicking the boat journey taken by Kyoto's old aristocrats as they made their way toward the Kumano shrines.  Like them, I had begun my own pilgrimage there from Kyoto proper.   Then as now, I was impressed with the large vegetable gardens along the banks, bursting with cabbage and beans, corn and onions.  I wondered how the farmers got the right to farm here.  In the past, I marvelled too at the sturdy-looking homeless camps, but didn't see any today.   

My maps had shown a park at the confluence, but I was unable to reach it, as the weeds grew too dense, and I could proceed to more.  But I could see from the GPS that I was mere meters away.  Here the Kamogawa changed its name, once married to the Katsuragawa.  It would continue to flow to meet the Uji river, then again changing its identity to the grand Yodogawa, which ultimately would pass through Osaka and meet the sea.   The Taoists, and many other philosophers after them, give ample reason why water is one of the most powerful forces there is.  Yet I had one power that water does not have.  That was the ability to turn and head back upstream.

On the turntable:  Mark Knopfler, "The Ragpicker's Dream'