Friday, September 30, 2005

I know what I did last summer

Here are some bits of travel detritus which sifted thru the cracks of memory.

My English (1967-94) is a dead language. I come across a multitude of things I can't understand. The "double fine zone" roadworks signs inspire a pickup line. "Baby, this must be a construction zone 'cause you double fine!"

In Santa Fe, taking notes on zen, I miswrite, "Carrying wood and chopping water." It almost sounds like a Chinese euphemism for sex.

A hawk sits on the sign saying we are now leaving Iowa.

Across Nebraska, I see a place called Ox Yoke. Throughout the day, I am amazed at how many of the towns and rivers have names familiar from Native America history.

The "Trust Jesus" signs everywhere across the Midwest. (Thanks, but I'll keep my hands on the wheel just the same. I'm no Jedi.)

How my Jersey accent comes back when I'm on the East Coast. It also happened last fall, when I watched all five seasons of The Sopranos in a single month. At the time, any question my English students asked was no doubt answered with something like, "What am I, an asshole?"

Those wonderfully unapologetically non-PC New Englanders. It truly is the last bastion of white culture.

At EC, watching Chieko of Kodo drift across the stage, her parasol hat and long, wind-blown sleeves making her look like a jellyfish moving in slow motion.

Laying in the heat of an August day. Saying to Ben of KJ, "Sleeping in the sun is a spiritual experience."

Floating thru the insanity of Tokyo Station at rush hour with Faith No More's cover of "Easy" on the iPod.

On the ferry, throwing raisins to seagulls, which they'd drop, only to be picked out of the air by lower flying gulls.

Sharing an onsen with a half-dozen men with red and white striped arms. Fishermen at rest.

Two zelkova trees planted the same day at Kodo Village. The one that has been talked under is twice as high as the other, "watered" by syllables.

On the turntable: Natalie Merchant, "Live in Concert"

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tokyo KASA Report 2: Get your Shibuya-ya's out

Returned from Sado the following weekend, into the arms of typhoon driven rain. After a quiet, week in isolation, Mon Frere Eric and I sought out the place that would offer the greatest contrast: Shibuya. We wandered in the neon rain, he being a good sport by purposely avoiding mentioning Blade Runner cliches. It was the usual Sunday dusk madness of hipsters and freaks and fashion slaves. Without fail, every single attractive girl was with a guy. I saw a group of young men in identical purple shirts and due to recent Sadist conditioning, I thought for a second that they were Kodo apprentices, often similarly attired. An African man seemed to purposely avoid giving us a flyer, but gave it to someone else immediately behind us. I turned to find out why, and saw two B-boys reading the flyer over. Eric and I circled back to Starbucks, where we were herded in by the staff. I hadn't minded the abrupt transition back to mega-city space until that moment. It took us awhile, but we finally got our coffees and a window seat overlooking the crossing. Umbrellas filled the intersection gradually from every direction, looking like waves as they'd crash in the middle, then recede to the opposite side.

We made it back to Aoyama for a farewell dinner, French surprisingly. The next morning was filled with the usual drawn out farewells, though I was able to meet a young photographer from Mie who after a long time in the US, had recently been deported for no apparent reason. I bought a postcard in commiseration. Then set off to Shibuya again to have lunch with Colleen, dragging Gavino and Will along. We ate at a faux-Mexican place down some random side-street. After my own farewell to the US-bound boys, Colleen and I met Chika at the Loft. She was back in town for a mere four days, to close up her old life in Japan before taking a hotel job in Chicago. We doubled back, past the young women wearing orange dresses and white caps who Chika called "toothpaste girls", to the hip little cafe which was above the Mexican place we'd recently left. It was great to see Chika, an old friend from the 'Nog who I hadn't seen in over 6 years. We talked of her recent half year wandering Asia and about old times and friends. It's funny but I had hardly know Chika or Colleen when they lived up here, but have grown to count them as good friends. Life as ellipsis.
That night I had planned to do yoga with Dana at Shizen, but we blew it off to go to Inokashira park. (A growing theme, the blowing off of yoga while in town.) It was a mellow comfortable night, with young men in suits strolling with their girls, and their more colorfully-dressed counterparts banging drums or selling jewelry on blankets. Dana did yoga poses using playground equipment as props. Eli's Bounding Toddler footwork was no match for my Praying Mantis style. Zach and I drank a beer at the lake's edge pondering those things we usually ponder. (Tonite it was whether that light in the sky was Mars.) Most likely, musical references did occur. (The dude's unstumpable.) Later we grabbed some Indian takeaway, washed down with micro-beer I'd bought on Sado.

Tuesday was pretty chilled out. Hanging in the park again with Dana and Eli. Did some yoga at YogaJaya in Shibuya. Afterward, met Ron Beaubien for pizza at Tony's in Kichijoji. Ron too, I'd know for years, but only recently did I feel confident in calling him friend. A longtime martial artist and Japan resident, his stories always educate and fascinate.
Later, Cherine, who lives nearby, called and wanted to meet me for a drink. Five minutes later I showed up at Sun Road, to find her passionately playing her beautiful Egyptian drum. We set off for the Milk Bar, which had been highly recommended by Josh at Bondi Books. Out front, we saw some sort of commotion in the street. Cherine: "Is it a fight?" Me, joking: "Probably some art thing." Upon approach we saw a purse on the ground, a young woman gathering the contents strewn across the street. A young guy (boyfriend?) stood over her, not helping. Cherine knelt beside the girl and asked if she was OK. I lifted my head at the others standing around, and for the first time saw the cameras, the boom mike. I gently took Cherine by the shoulders and pulled her out of the shot. The whole film crew burst out laughing. Safely inside the bar, we seemed to enter a completely different film. It was patterned after the Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange, and the whole place was a shrine to the film, now playing on the TV above the bar. (And no doubt playing again as you read this post.) Cherine and I shifted gears to discuss creative political projects and movements we knew. We pondered whether art can save the world. I feel we're up to the challenge...Is the world?

Wednesday, I went down to Enoshima to meet a couple EC staff for lunch. I arrived about an hour early, so wandered about. Few things define loneliness better than beach towns at the end of the season. Shops like the bleached bones of fish in the sun, barer than usual, picked clean in earlier days. There were a few import shops with sarongs of bland patterns hanging at discount. Gaudy wooden carvings catch dust. Sadder still were the few men walking around in shirts and ties, sharp contrast to the bare-chested surfers riding their bicycles, boards like an outrigger. Glad to see I'm not the only one who still goes in the water in mid-September. I eventually wound up at a small cafe specializing in Chinese teas. As I was the only customer, I talked with the owner, an elderly woman whose son-in-law is Taiwanese. The woman's enthusiasm impressed me. Even at her advanced age, she is actively studying Qigong and the Chinese language. Over my oolong, we talked about chi awhile, before I had to go meet my friends.
Back in Shibuya, I met Chika and Colleen and friends for dinner at DaiButsu KoroKoro which may be one of the hippest bars in the world. It is a veritable habitrail in black, punters boozing it up in small boxes stacked upon one another. It's not a place I'd want to be caught in during a large earthquake. Though the fun of trying to find the toilet after a few Yuzu beers more than makes up for it. The art and statuary is incredible. I found out later that this was created by the same guy who did Cafe Christo in Umeda, where I'd recently been with Keith. They even had free-range chicken from our local and beloved mountain, Daisen. Check it out. Better yet, take me.

On the turntable: Gov't Mule, "The Deepest End"
On the nighttable: Ethan Coen, "Gates of Eden"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Puzzlin' Evidence

Kudos to Shell of Shell's Journal (link at left) for her write-up on Friday's Jazz Inn gig. Though she missed the gig itself, she made it for the after hours thing, where the real magic happened. There are a variety of pics taken with her cool little spy camera.

Also, forgot to mention that Adele, Mii-chan and I had our own little bash into the late hours on Sunday. Adele had dropped a table on her big toe earlier in the day, and needed the medical relief that only cheap red wine can provide. Side effects may include general happiness, especially with Tom Waits on the mic. Before long we were looking for the "heart of Saturday night," into the wee hours of Monday morn.
Safety tip! Spreading Tomato and Garlic Pringles with camembert is one of the kindest things you can do for your mouth.

On the turntable: Hugh Masekela, "Best of--On Novus"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tokyo KASA report 1

The KASA tour began on Friday night, but as everyone was jetlagged, they all turned in early. I was staying in Aoyama, the diplomatic center of town, so I met my friend Anna at a small nearby Indian place I knew. Walking back to my hotel, a curious urge took me past the Iraq embassy, very subtle and nondescript in a small converted apartment, the only symbol of it's status being a small flag out front. Surprisingly, security was non-existant.

The next day we all hung out together, going for lunch in Asakusa, then heading to a large taiko store nearby. I wasn't much interested in spending ridiculous amounts of money, so I went to check out the drum museum on the 4th floor. Amazing. There were various membranophones from basically every country on earth. I was happy to see a few drums which I'd bought on my travels, but didn't know what to call. It was like Xmas for me since you could play just about everything. For the next hour or so I did my own personal version of around the world. Finally coming out of my trance, I realized that everyone else from KASA had gone ( about 45 minutes before, I later found out). I met up with Chie downstairs. She's from the 'Nog, but since she now lives in NYC, we don't get much chance too hang out anymore. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Sensoji, bobbing to the Buddhas, and popping in and out of the shops carrying their magical array of art and antiques. I'd been around here before , but just off the night train, it had been far too early in the morning. All I remembered were an Ultraman statue, lots of porn posters, and shops which sold plastic food models. Here at midday, shitamachi was raging. Across the crowd, Chie recognized a friend who she knew in the States and hadn't seen for years. Quite the sight, two Japanese women in their thirties clutching hands, jumping up and down and squealing like sorority girls. Amida rolls his eyes.

That night we went to the National Theatre to watch various taiko and dance performances. The first half was a young taiko group from Osaka called Dadadadon. Their playing was technically very good, but they lacked power somewhat. Not once did I feel the drums resonate thru my chest like I do when I hear Yoshikazu (from Kodo) or Hayashi Eitetsu. Their show was spectacular but almost too much so. I felt like I was watching the boy band of taiko.
The second half started slow. A group of men of various ages entered the stage so slowly and lethargically I felt I was watching a scene from the film "Awakenings." They all wore blue pajamas and had cheesy paper cocks on their heads. (The birds, I mean.) The young men took their places in a smaller inner circle around a large drum, which they'd jump at and strike while making Bruce Lee sounds. The old men stood in the back in a half circle, moaning a dirge along to a single shrill somber flute. I caught a couple of the men off to the side looking around somewhat bored. God, I'm glad I wasn't watching this while jet-lagged.
Next up was Awa Odori, which I quite enjoy. The women came out in their usual white yukata and pitched hats, entering so gracefully that it was like they were moving across ice. (Actually, mere days after Katrina, New Orleans was very much in mind. I thought that the dancers looked like white water moving below the roof-shaped hats, their arms flailing like debris floating by.) At a certain point in the dance they fanned out and moved forward in a line, the near-identical faces somewhat scary. The men 's dance was more erratic, shuffling around like crustaceans. Even scarier. Safer to look at the women and their cloned beauty. I enjoyed this so much that I hope to go to Tokushima next year to see the real thing.
Last was the Neputa group from Aomori. They were wild, both in costume and movement. It was like watching a Native American mosh pit. I have to re-emphasize the costumes. They had sloppity tied yukata and wore big pinatas on their heads. But their energy was incredible. I suppose you need to dance exuberantly in order to stay warm up there. When their time was up, they all came off stage and danced up the aisles. When we the audience went outside, the group was still going, swirling and bouncing in the street out front. It was contagious, their Neputism.

Sunday, I had intended to take Leza's morning yoga class at Sun and Moon, but, rare for me, I overslept. Instead I walked with Mon Frere Eric and a couple others thru Aoyama Cemetary, down Omotesando, and into Yoyogi Park. In the cemetary, a huge crow on a headstead marked the past. But Yoyogi was all future, or at least post-modern. I was thrilled to find a huge hiphop event going on. The bands on stage were weak, parapara like metronome, lulling me into a bored daze. There was more life in the flea market tents and in the breakdance event under the overpass. Two groups would come to the center and "serve" each other, which in Japan seems to consist of flipping each other off and stealing each other's baseball caps, no simple feat considering that the brims are turned every which way. Most were clones but a few stood out. The one in the straw Huck Finn hat. The one with the fro and denim suit, looking like Matsuda Yusaku. There was one guy who was so bendy that I'm sure he must do yoga. Extremely well. Overall, all these guys had incredible moves. I wonder how many injuries they suffer before nailing down these dramatic acrobatic moves over concrete.
As I'd never been here on a Sunday before, I wandered around awhile. On the tree-lined walk toward Shibuya, the clone bands and wanna-be talento had their tables set up. Most clone bands had a few clone "fans" standing by and swaying slightly. The more gorgeous talento were surrounded by pervy old guys taking way too many pictures. A group of college students had some sort of comedy quiz going, where the loser would be blugeoned by a rubber mallet. (Takeshi meets Gallagher. Been there, done that.) There was one wild butoh dancer in shredded jeans who was the most interesting because she was the only one who wasn't formulaic. Behind her, across a parking lot, a kissing couple became brief entertainment for some b-boys sitting nearby. They got the biggest applause of the day.
I wandered some more. Bought a taco from a VW microbus. Walked into NHK studio to find a children's show in mid-taping, similar to the ones Ken-chan used to watch. Back near Harajuku station, hospital lolita goths sat splayed on the ground. A Chinese woman walked by muttering, "Sick, sick, sick," but I don't know if she was talking about the goths or the J-lesbians strolling by hand in hand. (Intolerance knows no borders.) A non-descript Hare Krisha gaijin (with hair) started a conversation with me, which I enjoyed and continued. This same thing happened to me almost exactly a year ago in Chicago. It's obviously the mala (juzu) on my wrist acts as Hare Krishna magnet. I could develop quite the book collection.

Sunday night, I met up with Tom from On Gaien Higashi Dori. (Link at left, as usual.) It's ironic since I was actually staying in a hotel on Gaien Higashi-dori. After a failed attempt at finding an open Irish pub, we settled for an izakaya. We regaled each other with our summer adventures, most of which we already knew since we're fans of each other's blogs. One thing I did learn was to never trust an Irishman when he says he wants a quiet night out. That usually means four pints. (Remind me never to drink with Tom on a Saturday.) It made me think of English Lee who'd complain that if an American said he wanted to go out for a beer, he would literally have one, then go home. (Come to think of it, last time I drank with Lee, I was the one who had four pints of Guinness. I'm a credit to my ancestors.) When Tom and I had satisfied our varying degrees of Irishness, our Catholic God anointed us with a biblical rain.

On the turntable: Peace Orchestra
On the nighttable: KM Sen, "Hinduism"

Monday, September 26, 2005

The music never stopped...

Nami-san finished his tour of the area with a free gig Sunday evening in Kurayoshi. During the afternoon, Aya held a small festival to coincide with the event, offering music and cheap international eats. I was thrilled to be able to eat Mexican, Indian, and Brazilian food in the same afternoon, surrounded by friends whose music skills are overshadowed only by their sense of fun. Aya played a stripped down set with half their usual members, though Erika's dancing was as ecstatic as usual, not at all hinting that she'd had a mere hour of sleep the night before. Alama showed up later, and a free jam broke out, musicians rotating in and out, with the man himself keeping it steady for three hours or so. He is genki drink personified. I was hesitant to jump in, knowing that his songs usually build and expand and cause seriously sore shoulders in those who dare to keep up. This day, it was my lower back which screamed out, as I sat on a stool, reaching down through my legs to beat on a grooved log balanced on my upturned feet. At dusk, the main event began. It was held in a beautiful old house at the foot of the hill where the castle once stood. Kono and Mii-chan and I played a short opening set, a couple mellow jazz songs culminating in "Autumn Leaves," fine choice for this post-equinox weekend. Nami-san came on and played a mostly solo acoustic set of pretty mellow songs. Later a bunch of us eventually joined in, en masse rather than one by one, which seemed to prevent the usual gradual jam building. After playing tambourine from the shadows for awhile, the pace slowed again so I went out to the genkan. I sat alone, listening to the last two pieces, quiet and thoughtful, as a light wind caressed my face. This was it, the final waning moments of a summer which was as long as it was exciting and turbulent. Pure magic, this life. Thank you.

On the turntable: Zero 7, "When It Falls"

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Your parking space awaits

Friday night I had perhaps the greatest rock star moment in my life. Nami-san returned to Yonago. Before his set, Motoi's group played. I hadn't seen him live in like 10 years, he having gone to LA for awhile to get improve his guitar skills. Wow. Even 10 years ago I thought that he may have been the best guitarist I've ever seen live, and that includes a lot of giants like Stevie Ray Vaughan. (Slow typing here due to mind having been blown.) Nami was in rare form too, burning thru a wicked bilingual version of "Me and Bobby McGee," the Kris Kristofferson version. The night built into an uberjam, with guitarists from all of the night's 4 bands on stage together, blowing up "Jailhouse Rock" into something that even the bloated Elvis couldn't digest. Leaning on the bar, I whipped maracas around, my legs twitching of their own accord.

But my rock and roll moment came late, at the after party. The musicians all sat around eating fiery curry and downing Asahi of the perfect temp. People would get on stage a few at a time to jam. I'd already provided backup on djembe to Michael as he crooned his French tunes. I'd later sung a Marley medley, ad-libbing lyrics in Japanese when I forgot the real ones, despite having heard them hundreds of times. But the aforementioned moment happened when I sat behind a stripped down drum kit, no cymbols, no snare, just a mere bass drum and pair of toms. Which I played with chopsticks.

Yet rock star moments are ofttimes accompanied by rock and roll lifestyle choices. I thought about this as I sipped chu-hi til 4 a.m. My body clock is part rooster, so a mere five hours later I awoke. Still drunk. Oops! Looks like no aikido today...

On the turntable: Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sado Me

I wrote previously about the impossibility of chronicling something when you're fully immersed. Yet again, this applies to a trip to Sado. I was on the KASA/MIX tour, a group of 25 North American taiko players from various locales who'd gathered to train for a week with Kodo. We spent a few days both before and after Sado in Tokyo, but I'll attend to that later.

After arriving on Sado, we met Atsushi and Shin-chan, who took us up to Ogi-no-yu Onsen. It had a nice outdoor bath with terrific views of the harbor and Shiroyama. Off to the right I could see the volcanic reef that Jacob and I had snorkelled a couple weeks ago. Once cleaned up, we headed up to our ryokan, which was was a bizarre layout of small bungaloes layed out in a crescent around a patch of overgrown grass. There were hedges beyond, cut down to reveal the face of a huge Jizo looking toward the sea. I was surprised. I'd stopped to pray to the statue three years ago when I'd hitched around the island. Later that night, a few of us went in search of a ghost that French Eric (weekly evolution from roommate to friend to mon frere) had seen. (Though he claims not to believe in ghosts.) It's no wonder he sensed something. Behind the Jizo was a small building housing mizuko jizo, or the guardian of dead and aborted children. We sat out front, telling ghost stories until jetlag overcame everyone.

The next morning I strolled the rainy hiking paths awhile, then boarded the bus to Kodo Village. We all got a brief tour of the place, including the rehearsal hall where most of the group was having practice. Outside was a box filled with randomly sized bamboo tubes, each with a musical note (A thru G) written on them. Look for a Balinese tune coming to a Kodo gig near you. After the visit, we drove an hour along winding roads up to the Apprentice Center. The whole way, I got into a somewhat heated discussion about Soka Gakkai with a member of that cult, er, sect. I claimed that I have trouble with any religious group with that much political power. I am further distrustful of an evangelical Buddhist group, since that seems to run against the very tenets the religion is based on. This woman was quite convincing, somewhat swaying me by explaining things in mainstream Buddhist language. Yet the sheer discipline she showed in trying to make me change my mind, plus the fact that she actually gave me some SG literature, brings me right back to square one.

The Apprentice Center is a former school, complete with gym (now practice hall) and athletic fields. Each room retains the plaque indicating what had been formerly taught there. I'd spent a week here in 2002 for Eiichi-chan's Kodo Juku. Good times. Our arrival began a week of communal living with the first and second year apprentices. The day began at six, for exercise (radio taiso!) and jogging, a mere 2 km rather than the promised 6. Next was breakfast, with cleaning to follow. Then we had six hours of training, broken up by a couple hours for lunch and free time. Dinner and free time rounded out the night. But that "free" time filled up quickly. We'd often stay late in the gym jamming. We'd been watching and talking taiko for three days before we actually held sticks, and the pent up longing to play was almost like blue balls. From that time, I drummed furiously. I reopened old blisters and completely ripped a callous from the palm of my hand, making me look like I had a stigmata. Drumming with Eiichi took up only two of the days. Another day we learned traditional dance with Chieko. I completely sucked. Despite years of learning various martial arts, I just couldn't follow the steps. Voice with Yoko was better. I loved every minute. I'd long ago been sold on the fact that there is a spiritual power in drumming, but I now think that perhaps the voice cuts deeper. (I want to examine this further in another post.)

Besides drums, I also fell in love again with shakuhachi. Everyday after lunch, I listened to the sounds of my bamboo-filtered breath ricochet off the high pitched ceiling of the gym. I find that I tend to play differently according to my surroundings, but I'd never heard sounds like this come out of me before. A couple times I was joined on shinobue by Akiko, a junior member of Kodo who once specialized in singing sutras. Our flutes unfortunately were differently pitched making harmony difficult. We promised to practice hard and try again at EC next year.

Friday was definitely the highlight for me. Besides the voice training, I was honored to run a short yoga class for a few Kodo members. After completely falling asleep in savasana, Yoko told me that although she'd merely dozed a few minutes, it felt like hours. More energy to burn at the farewell party, where the music never stopped. The apprentices were fantastic. Thru the week, we watched them run through Kodo pieces. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. Even if they don't make the group, what a unique and incredible experience to live fully in their bodies for two years. There was plenty of time to talk with them socially, over dinner or at the few small parties we had. When we left, there were plenty of tears, mostly on the part of the Americans. But not for Eric nor I, which the two of us talked about once back in Tokyo. In my case, perhaps it's because it's the nature of an expat to regularly say goodbye to departing friends. Or maybe it's because I figure that if I want to meet someone again, I will, a fact I've proven repeatedly on my "couch tours. " (I'll see them at future ECs.) Or perhaps its because the real, permanent loss of my son makes all temporary goodbyes seem ridiculous. Or perhaps it had to do with the fact that I could communicate in Japanese, making a more intellectual connection with the apprentices. Non-Japanese speakers had to make do with gestures or finding some other way to express themselves. This is much purer, of course, coming from the heart. It's no wonder we feel such a bond with babies or pets.

After leaving the Apprentice Center, we once again stayed at the ryokan, stopping briefly at the onsen again. I found time to get a massage from a blind man, him tapping and batting my pressure points in the traditional style, getting my blood going. Afterward the sauna felt amazing.

On the turntable: Los Lobos, "The Ride"

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

(I didn't go to London. It was half serious & half joke, as the equinox is simultaneously day & night, summer & fall. I did honestly think about going for maybe five minutes or so, then gave up to write poems.)

Cicadas cry
the dying of the light

While making a stew,
I fog glass cabinet doors.
Fall has arrived!

Thought best in autumn,
what will become of reading
in this computer age?

On the turntable: Neil Finn, "Try Whistling This"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Body in Motion...

So I'm back in town, what, two days? I decide to call my friend Cath in London. I visited her back in January and we spent days wandering the city. When I called her, she was sitting with Julie Fucker (nee Farquhar, but think of the Japanese pronunciation) on the steps of the British Museum where Julie works. Ah, British irony. Anyway, Cath graduated film school yesterday. She told me that now would be the perfect time for me to visit, since she's not working yet.

And my brain starting working. I love London. I could handle a week braving its streets and the Tube in the late summer heat, building up a thirst not quite quenchable due to the serving temperature of pints.
Plus I haven't officially re-opened the studio yet...

Damn you Newton and your First Law!

On the turntable: Bela Fleck, "Outbound"
On the nighttable: Donna Tartt, "The Little Friend"

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thoughts from the bus

Recently I've been spending so much money on transportation in this country that I will take full credit for any economic upturns to come.

Eerie to hear Fats Domino"s "Walking to New Orleans" on my Creative Zen. Didn't even know it was in there.

On the clean lines
of freshly cut paddies,
crows as musical notes

A mere hour into the trip,
Not a single straight head
On the bus

At Kozuki parking area,
black cat struts from ladies room,
crippled girl sweeps trash

On the turntable: Peter Gabriel, "Plays Live"
On the nighttable: Chris Rock, "Rock This"

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Went to a party last night where I overheard a group of Japanese twentysomethings discussing the recent election and politics in general. As I type this, I feel a cold breeze blowing from the direction of Hades.

On Thursday, coming home from Tokyo, I journalled my own somewhat-political rant:

"Sleepy drifting by train across the countryside. Byrds' fuzz tone guitar blowing clouds out of the autumn sky. Guy next to me looks at the nude pics which frame every issue of Friday magazine. Young Marine aross the aisle reads a pocket-sized bible, slowly pulling a telephone card down the page. A strangely symbiotic pair. The American fighting for the freedom which allows this young salaryman to look at tits in public.
Democracy ya
Democracy ya
Democracy ya."

(I plan to write up my Sado/Tokyo saga of the last two weeks, but I need to get a quick Kyoto trip out of the way first...Back Monday.)

On the turntable: Wes Montgomery, "Finest Hour"
On the nighttable: James Welch, "Fools Crow"

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Space Between

(I can't quite believe it, but I'm headed back to Sado for the next ten days. I won't post here during that time, but if you listen really carefully, from far across the water, you may hear the beating of Taiko messages in morse code...)

I'd thought that I'd spend my single week back in the 'Nog in my monastic quarters, hibernating away. While did have ample time to catch up on my shows and my blogs, I also spent much of my week with drink in hand, jaw aflapping.

It started with Steve's B-day party at Giardino. A few of the new JETs came out to share in a slight misadventure with a new waitron. As we're wont to do, we headed to Shidax for karaoke next, to be joined by the vast majority of the remaining newbies. I had the complete inverse of my usual initial meeting. Rather than feel a good connection with one or two, this time I was strongly repelled by a couple folks who, let's say, are a bit character deficient. One woman seemed to be doing a fantastic Patsy of Ab Fab imitation, whether she knew it or not. As for the other one, Miki actually asked me if he was retarded. ("Well socially, perhaps," I said.) I turned this into a game with returning JETs who asked me about the newbies. I told them Miki's reaction but didn't mention this guy's name and told them to try to figure out who it might be. I eagerly anticipate their mistakes.

Saturday I met most of the Tottori city group. We had a Buddhist experience event at Mitoku-san, where we'd climb the mountain, return for a vegan temple meal, then arise at dawn for meditation. After two months away, I looked forward to a bit of spiritual training. But I wasn't told about the night's entertainment, village woman doing traditional dance, their men emulating their movements while in drag. Nor was I told that I'd still have a beer in my hand past 1 a.m. It required every ounce of strength to get up for zazen at 6. Despite this, the morning found me genki, but it wore off slowly thru the day. I usually have a fantastic sense of direction, but driving back to the 'Nog with Catherine, I somehow wound up in Okayama-ken. We just shrugged and meandered the overabundant back roads, bobbing our heads to a mix CD of Tarantino soundtrack tunes. Once in town, I had a quick lunch with a visiting Katherine and the English School boys, then headed to the Kaike International (We Pay For) Friendship Assoc. BBQ. I usually like that event. Meeting new folk and seeing returnees after vacation always makes it feel like fraternity rush week or something. I'd forgotten that we are also expected to chat with the locals. In English. (Ben and I used to call them Star Fuckers.) They'd move slowly out of the crowd, sidling up slowly like a zombie, to consume your time and eat a bit of your soul. (I still love "Shaun of the Dead!") I was fatigued and not really in the mood, so I responded to everything in Japanese until they gave up. I'm a dick.

The weekend over, things went a little slower, but I still seemed to spend part of the day with somebody. Tuesday was the highlight. I was taken out to Miho Jinja, near the eastern edge of the Shimane Peninsula. We met with the main priest, who along with his team, gave us a demo of traditional Shinto music. After each piece, he'd give an explanation. As a (hopefully) future ethnomusicologist, this was heaven to me. I must get my hands on a ryuteki, that shrill flute that punctuates most Kurosawa films. As I sat in seiza, watching the miko turning as slowly as a 16 rpm LP, tears began to well up. I'm leaving this next year. Though I plan to return to Japan someday, in Kyoto I'll be one of thousands of gaijin, no longer the big fish I am here. In the 'Nog I seem to stumble upon these sorts of scenes almost weekly. I'll really miss it.

Miki's in the 'Nam again, so on my last night in town, I had a TV-light dinner with my mother-in-law. I always try to have my first Japanese meal at her house. As we ate, we watched the news. The election campaign is in full swing, but there wasn't a single story on it, the candidates, or their platform. Instead, we got three stories about Yon-sama and the thousands of middle aged women using him as an elixer to turn back menopause. But there was one LDP commercial featuring Koizumi. In it, I saw the PM sipping a pina colada at Trader Vic's. His hair was perfect.

On the turntable: Gomez, "Out West"
On the nighttable: Bruce Chatwin, "On the Black Hill"