Tuesday, May 10, 2005

GW 1

Last week was Golden Week. In years past, my fun quotient would be better described as gilded, but this year was definitely gold. The week had three distinct parts, so I've decided to address them over three days, so as not to go on and on and bore both of us.

Last Saturday, slouched toward Kyoto. Read Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller on the train. It was the first time in like 15 years that I'd read him, and I remembered why I've always liked his stuff. Just after finishing university I saw the film Henry and June, and it started me on a craze, reading about a dozen of his novels over the next year. This book, a travellogue about pre-war Greece, is a bit different that the others (namely, there's no sex) but it's solid just the same. I truly enjoyed a few hours on the train with this grumpy old man from Brooklyn.

It took four trains and five hours to the campsite in south Kyoto-fu. I changed trains in Okayama, standing on the crowded platform in front of a large family, the high school-aged daughter wearing a T-shirt with "Fuck You, You Fucking Fucker" written on it. (Was this to fend off chikan-ery?) Hours later, I sat for a half hour on an empty platform in the sticks, enjoying the warm wind in my face, and the sound of frogs having a riot in the newly flooded rice patties out there in the dark. I finally arrived in Kisagi, where Keith met me with a gift of an ice cream cone dripping streams down his hand. Later, around the fire, we had more substantial treats of the barley persuasion. The firewood ran out before the beer so I was able to sleep relatively sober.

The next morning, walking into town for a canned coffee, I realized I'd been here before. Two years ago, I hiked away from this station and over a ridge into Yagyu Village, home to a family of famous swordsmen and their beautiful dojo. From there, another trail led me five hours thru mountain and rice field into Nara deer park. Today, Neil and I wandered up to the mountain-top temple. We passed the house where on my previous trip I'd seen monkeys stealing laundry hung drying on a line. (No doubt to be sold in vending machines in Tokyo.) We took a trail closed due to a landslide, yet could see no real damage. As we climbed, we heard the sounds of jazz being massacred. Upon further investigation, we realized that we'd walked into band camp. For the next half-hour, nearly every sentence began with, "One time, in band camp..." Higher up (speaking in terms of both geography and maturity) we reached the temple complex. It was spread across the mountain top, the subtemples interspersed with huge boulders. It looked much like where Kirk fought the giant lizard. (Well, minus the temple of course. Does a lizard have Buddha nature?) Most of these rocks were bigger than the buildings themselves, and on many of them were carvings of Buddhist figures and sanskrit characters. The latter led me to believe that this is a tantric sect and no doubt we were hiking a mandala. The stones were also great for climbing and offered amazing views down the valley. Terraced rice fields climbed the mountain across from us, looking more "Asia" than modern Japan usually does. From our vantage point, we could also see that other friends had arrived at our camp site, so we began to head down. On the way we noticed a small temple hall that had a cat's picture on the altar. Further on, an old man was draining and cleaning his koi pond, just as a light rain began to fall.

In camp, we saw that the BBQ was ready. As I ate, I pondered how strange the camp site was. We were literally sitting and sleeping atop river stones. Plus, it was bordered on three sides by a busy road, a rail line, and a huge bridge. Across the river, not far from the castle-shaped love hotel, was a neon sign advising us to take care of rising river levels. It seemed to be rain activated. In this drizzle, I figured it was still safe enough for a river swim. I barely made it knee-deep before officially understanding that snowmelt is just as cold as snow, but it's a devilish snow which tries to push you face first into its icyness. Instead, we headed up to the town's onsen. As we sat in the rotemburo, the skies opened up, and we decided to head home.

On the turntable: The Blues Project, "Anthology"

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