Monday, July 25, 2016
The problem with walking westward in the early morning is that your calves tend to get sunburned. It had happened yesterday, and I could feel it again now, and from behind, it must look like my legs have brake lights.
But I was all go, having woken just after the sun. A new guide book had a walk that picked up the May 2009 walk that I'd finished at Kumagawa, so it was to that old post town that I duly returned, pulling into the Michi-no-eki carpark close to 7 am. There was little life here due to the hour, but for a couple of dogwalkers, and an old woman or two pottering in the garden. The barrier gate was gone but my passage was still watched over by cats. The flow of water escorted me down the broad street flanked by low two story houses, all in keeping with that period look. The town wasn't as well kept as some of the others that I'd seen along the Nakasendo or Tokaido, but those routes had been far greater trafficked and were better known. But it still beat the look of 90 percent of the towns in Japan.
It was funny to reread my earlier 2009 post (prior to writing this) since in it I mentioned that this Wakasa-kaido was separate route from the Saba-kaido, even though they sometimes share the latter name. It was a fact I'd completely forgotten. A few months ago, my friend Nils asked me about the Wakasa route (questions I couldn't answer), and since then I have been curious. It appeared on maps as Route 367, and didn't look too appealing to the walker. The drive up at the early hour had allowed me to visually scan the route, and to follow all the divergent small roads which ran parallel, lolling in and out of the hamlets hidden just off the busier route. It looked more appealing than I thought, and although I had recently sworn off walking the more minor of the old roads, being so close to home it could make for a pleasant couple of days.
At the far end of Kumagawa a sign pointed to an Inari shrine out of sight up the hill. The path extending in that direction was overgrown and straddled by some small torii that looked on the verge of collapse. I usually enjoy exploring these kinds of things, but some inner voice told me to hold back. So my steps continued as they had, on up the road.
It was an enjoyable morning, my route thankfully keeping me off the busier highway, and through a valley along which a number of villages were strung. None of them were as maintained as Kumagawa, but they weren't terribly built up either. There was the occasional shrine, or an old hold out structure from the Edo. There were also a few non-survivors, including an abandoned love hotel, which reminded me of another friend whose own journeys are taken with such decay.
And there were things too of a far greater age. The Wakasa-kaido here passed a series of Kofun burial mounds, one of which was said to have been constructed with technology from the Asian mainland. It was interesting to think of the town of Obama as being an international port, especially back in the mid-6th Century. That of course marks the time when Buddhism first came in, being another form of Asian technology. We think of early mainland contact occurring in Kyushu, or around Izumo, but any parties landing here would simply have had to follow a single straight line due south through the latter day capitals of Kyoto and Nara, directly into the heart of the imperial court of Asuka.
Their journey would have been far longer than my own. I reached my goal after only a few hours, at the point where the trail intersected with the Saba-kaido. There was no need for me to continue to Obama on foot from here, as I already had seven years ago. I had a reward of sorts in mind, so I hitched back to my parked car, and drove the remainder of the Saba-kaido to the sea which gave it a reason to exist. I threw myself into its waters then floated awhile, watching the clouds of summer rise upward into the blue. No need to go any further than this today.
On the turntable: Ben Sidran, "Life's A Lesson"
On the nighttable: Eleanor Clark, "Rome and a Villa"
Sunday, July 24, 2016
"No history textbook in the world has ever been anything but a propaganda pamphlet in the service of governments."
On the turntable: The Continental Op, "Stitch Music"
On the nighttable: Alistair Horne, "Seven Ages of Paris"
Friday, July 22, 2016
It was the type of journey that I like, out to the edge, to the furthest reaches of a geographical something. There must be a word for this, a word like 'liminal,' to expresses psychological geography. It took some time to get up here, to this narrow shoulder of land at the dead center of Toyama Bay, where the Hokuriku-dō is no longer called that, despite the road continuing its journey north, paralleling the Sea of Japan and now known as the Hōkkoku Kaidō. Ironically what is the first section is for me the last, having walked the Hokuriku-do incrementally for seven years, following its length not only south to Kyoto, but also the twin routes that trace both shores of Lake Biwa.
I stayed the night in Kanazawa, visiting with an American friend from my Yonago days, who is back in country for the summer in order to do a language program. I hadn't slept well, due to the beers and the excitement of catching up. But I still roused myself to catch the first train of the morning, unfortunately a pricey Shinkansen but nothing else would get me on the trail before 8 am. Nearly everyone else on board was cool-biz uniformed salarymen, who were expected in Tokyo by nine. Poor fellows. I debarked in Toyama, then took its light -rail out to its furthest end, as a few high-schoolers bobbed and dozed.
It was dark and breezy, which was better than expected, if the rain continued to hold off. It was a good start, through a post town proud of its history. The road was wide and free of overhead clutter, and I shared it only with a dog-walker. It eventually fed a series of busier roads that were bumper to bumper, again a far preferable situation than the speed racers who often rushed late to work at this hour. These too fell away, and before long I was out in the villages.
Tall electrical pylons marched toward the far hills, paying little heed to the broad expanses of rice paddy through which they trespassed. Rusting clanking hulks of small industry seemed to watch them as they passed. I'd been spending a fair bit of time overseas these days, which was having a detrimental affect on my point-of-view and upon my tolerance for this kind of thing. To be based abroad is the preferred option, where upon repeated visits to Japan you see little of, or easily accept, the visual blight, and the annoyances of day-to-day life. Can't see the blemishes for the beauty. But to live here, and to spend lots of time away, brings about the mind of comparison, a situation in which this country generally doesn't fare well.
Perhaps this is a reflection on how I feel about things politically. How disappointed and saddened I am at the extent to which people go not to see the unpleasant. Better to ignore and carry on as if everything is fine. But sadly, things begin to erode slowly away and the decay sets in.
Its similar I suppose to the epiphany I had a dozen years ago when I decided to teach yoga. That had happened on a train, looking out at farmer spraying chemicals into his fields, against a backdrop of hills manipulated and torqued by concrete. I thought about how when a person is depressed or afraid, they often neglect themselves physically, be it with alcohol, drugs, or just poor diet in general. So it is with societies and nations. The most abused landscapes can be found in places where the citizenry is struggling. Happy people tend to live in beautiful places. It's a chicken-and-egg thing naturally, but it seems to be symbiotic somehow.
There is an internet meme going around, about only spending time with people who enrich your life, and avoiding those who have the opposite effect. This is probably all a reaction to the current horror show of contemporary politics, be it on the British, American, or Japanese model. So perhaps in that lies the answer, to only visit places that fill you with life, and to concentrate on those with great beauty, doing your best to avoid those ugly and mundane.
Not long after these thoughts, I came across the hollowed out carcass of a turtle. Its innards had been completely removed, probably pulled through its shattered shell by crows. But its head and front legs were still extended from its shell, as if under the illusion that it were still protected. For whatever reason, the sight of this, and the calm expression on its face, brought me near tears.
The signs of decay continued. At an intersection not far on, it was so complete that it looked set dressed: scratched and rusting signs, peeling paint, faded posters, and ivy-covered walls. Even the traffic signal looked frail. At the center of this was a snack bar called, of all things, 'Haven.' It too, of course, was shuttered.
The day remained cool. Thunderclouds kept a lid on it all, the breeze blowing in from the sea. At some point the sun began to poke through, very gently, as if slowly opening the eye of morning. How beautiful its rays looked upon the fresh green of rice paddies, a refreshing contrast to the flat grey above.
Rice fields. Rice fields. Rice fields. A village came up eventually, with a surprising amount of Jizo statues along its length. There was also a house doubling as an izakaya, a poster for Orion Beer on each of its side panels. In the nearby schoolyard was a white marble statue of what I at first took to be Balzac, as if I were still in The Rodin Museum of Paris. His hair was perfect. I went along like this, spacing out, in a liminal state of my own, when suddenly a pheasant raced across the road ahead of me, to get to the other side.
Here in the rice belt, it was only natural that there would be a large amount of channels to irrigate them. I made a series of crossings, and along one ditch, all the grass had been recently shorn like a crew-cut. I walked across it awhile, relishing this all too brief respite for sore hips. With all the walking I do I rarely blister anymore, the soles of my feet are smooth and firm like the soles of my shoes. But I do feel it in my hip flexors, usually after 20km or so. I would finish with 26 today, and was moving fast in order to beat the full heat of midday.
The clock struck high noon as I reached the outskirts of Takaoka. I was rushing, as ever, to catch one of the few trains back to bigger places. This seemed a theme, as if a buildup of momentum were necessary to vault me from these rural scenes of mid-20th Century Japan, back to my place in the 21st. But relish this time spent in the past, even if a day like today had been less than invigorating, scenery wise. But there were other roads ahead to provide that, as this one, the Hokuriku-do, was for me, walked.
On the turntable: Ben Harper, "Live at the Hollywood Bowl"
On the nighttable: "Rome and A Villa"
Thursday, July 21, 2016
A tall Daibutsu stood at the center of the town of Takaoka. I found myself skirting it, zigzagging in a way that kept me away from all the covered arcades. Instead I was treated to a surprising number of old brick buildings. Pasted to the wall of one were old beer posters from the 1970s. That decade remained in mind as I spied a shop with taxidermied fish, and another selling Nehru suits. It’s as if the bubble years of the 1980s never hit here. Despite that fact, our perhaps due entirely to it, the town had an attractive uniform look, anchored in a decade 100 years before the bubble. Unlike a place like Kyoto where the old shops have been converted into cafes and galleries, here were actual old cafes and galleries. Between them were the true survivors of those earlier days: the beauty salons and the obligatory wristwatch-and-eyeglass shops, the latter always paired. These can be found all over the country and tend to look like they are hanging on from another era. As if to prove my point I spied a Seiko ad with an actor from a Kinoshita film from the early '60s that I had recently seen. This time capsule Takaoka is one of Japan’s hidden secrets.
The sky turned dark and went to rain. Central Takaoka petered out to become a posttown, on whose broad street I saw a stone stele marking where the Meiji emperor had stopped for a brief rest. I’ve passed hundreds of similar stones on my travels, but today I felt a closer affinity with the man, having just finished Donald Keene’s encyclopedic biography, written in such detail that it could have been His Majesty’s Twitter feed.
I passed a long row of temples, many of them of the Jōdō sect. Rennyō hadn’t really gone much further than Kanazawa on his journeys, but certainly his followers had. Above the temples, blue streaks were coming into the sky, and I blessed my good fortune with the weather, until I noted the black wall coming in from the west, nearly hidden by grey tiled roofs. My pace quickened.
The weather held until the next village. One field at its front edge had been only 2/3rds planted. I wondered if they had misjudged the amount of rice they needed. The town itself, as scented with a curious mix of mosquito coil and rain.
Further on was a large cluster of new homes built on what must have been rice paddies a few years ago. Nothing here had any age to speak of, all bright and shiny. My steps carried on, matched in time by the hammering together of yet another structure.
And the rains never came. But the next village did. And another. And yet another. A forest of windmills on the hills to my right cleared the clouds from the sky, or at least had held them at bay. The rains of earlier had kept the fields flooded, and the streams that flowed between them smelled of the sea. As with all of my walks along Hokuriku’s shoulder, I never saw their waters, not even from the train that led me home.
On the turntable: Boards of Canada, "Music has the Right to Children"
On the nighttable: Alberto Moravia, "The Woman of Rome"
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
A few weeks into my time at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, I was sitting in my room, listening to The Beatles on my iPod. The song "Revolution #9" came on, and my attention was immediately riveted. I'd heard the song dozens of times over the previous 30 years or so, but for the first time I really got it, or at least got it in a way understandable to a mind currently undergoing a crash course in awareness and meditation. The swirling elliptical loop of sounds and voices is of course 'monkey mind,' leaping here and there and everywhere. The refrain, "Number 9, Number 9,' is the return to the breath, the attempt to cut through the nonsense of mental clutter.
Though the song has been for many an audio representation of the psychedelic experience (which of course is also true), it really is a meditation in itself.
Revolution 9 from Eduardo Correia Pinto on Vimeo.
On the turntable: Bill Laswell, "Final Oscillations"