Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tony the Tiger Says...

Reading a book about the exploits of Alexander of Macedon. Defeating King Darius of Persia, establishing contact with India. The guy did so much, starting from such a young age. He was so... I don't know. I just can't find the proper superlative.

On the turntable: Bill Laswell, "Dreams of Freedom"
On the nighttable: "Alexander the Great: The Heroic Ideal" (Thames & Hudson)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Big in Japan

It was Saturday afternoon and I was wandering the side streets of Kurayoshi in a daze. I'd had a late night at DNA in Tottori, checking out Tokyo's DJ Munoz on Viva Steva's recommendation. I'd missed the last train by hours, so checked into Super Hotel, half expecting to see a cape waving from the roof. No cape, but there were bunk beds. I'd had a restless sleep, due in part to all the Guinness, in part to nightmares about a job as an underwater welder. So, the next morning I staved off sleep in an aimless meander.
I came across a large street, and directly in front of me was a shop. Big American Shop. Being a big American, I entered, bumping my head on the doorframe. No, wait a sec. Grammatically, it could be the Shop that was Big, not me, in which case, the doorframe would've been tall. Right. So, I was standing inside the shop (or Shop), surveying the merchandise with binoculars. I made my way toward the sweaters. Arriving eventually, my eye was drawn to one sweater in particular. I held it up to my chest. Nope. Too small.
I must be the biggest American in Japan.

On the turntable: Bill Laswell, "Deconstruction"

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Simply Existing

Spent my Sunday in hibernation. It was my pre-determined, monthly day of siesta where I don't leave the house, holding at bay all that which troubles me. I spent part of that time watching "Baraka," engulfed for ninety-some minutes. It is by far the most beautiful film I've ever seen. The images are incredible in how they draw upon our emotions, yet it is the use of music and sound which gives the film it's power. A 96 minute meditation on "aware" in the Japanese sense, which I'd translate loosely as pathos. The sheer scale of humanity and of the landscape and of time, leaves the viewer feeling insignificant. Yet the ability to think this way makes you the most significant one of all.

On the turntable: John Coltrane, "The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings"
On the nighttable: Jonathon Coe, "The House of Sleep"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kyo wishlist

Things to do:

1) Attend the piano concert of Yukio, soon to depart home to Switzerland. Be dazzled by his own compositions and by his improvisation.

2) Dine and drink until late with new roomies

3) Play scrabble and have conversation over reheated enchiladas

4) Finally hook up with the Kyoto Tibetan Dharma group. Give care to spirit, mind, and body with meditation, dharma talk and random conversation, a great meal.

5)Saturday night in with Guinness and NY Times crosswords

6) Further tickle the mind at a Kyoto Journal meeting. With sweets.

Put a check before each of these, and that'd be last weekend...

On the turntable: Ry Cooder, "Chavez Ravine"
On the nighttable: Michael Palin, "Himalaya"

Friday, January 20, 2006

Wa! What is it Good For?

There's a line in Robert Whiting's book, "You Gotta Have Wa," that says that sports are a modern replacement for war. Yet as war indeed continues, isn't it ironic the parallel between the breakdown of good sportsmanlike behavior both on and off the field (in the form of tauntings, showboating, hooliganism, and bleacher brawls), and the rise and acceptance of torture and collateral damage by the military.

On the turntable: Brian Wilson, "Smile"

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Seisho-in, January

Maple leaves curled into tight cold fists
Winter came so suddenly,
They didn't have time to fall.

On the turntable: Mogwai, "Come On, Die Young"
On the nighttable: Tristan Hawkins, "The Anarchist"

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Subtle cultural niceties

Amanda and I were racing around the Loft in office chairs on wheels. Rather than scold us, a shop worker merely came over and wordlessly removed a breakable item from a desk.

In an Indian restaurant with Keith. A waiter handed me a tray with the bill, then waited until I paid. Lunchtime's over, I guess.

I'm looking at a natty looking sweater in a small shop. The clerk tells me it's 34000 yen. I wince, saying, I'm sorry but I don't think you'll have my size.

On the turntable: "Samba Bossa Nova"

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kobe earthquake poems

Small but violent temblor last night. Reminds me of eleven years ago today...

Giant hands
Once again shake me awake
From the peace of dreams.

A toothless rice seller
Squats beside the temple wall
Laughing at the rain.

Full moon rises unseen.
Not even Kannon's thousand arms
Can hug all who grieve tonight.

On the turntable: Ryan Adams, "29"
On the nighttable: Nanao Sakaki, "Inch by Inch: 45 Haiku by Issa"

Monday, January 16, 2006

Leggo my Edo

After leaving the Kyo, I took a brief detour to Tokyo for the Nippon Budokan's Kagami Biraki. I'd been to the Budokan years before, representing Tottori prefecture in a Shorinji Kempo tournament. That day, my fellow competitors probably had thoughts of glory, but all I could think was, "Holy Shit! John Lennon sang here, man!"
I'd hope to see Old School Koryu, but today's event seemed to focus only on modern martial arts demos, with the usual packs of noisy, rambunctious kids. So I decided to stay just for the first half hour, to see the process of weekend warriors in their armor. Two groups came out to a song reminiscent of the Death Star theme, and the two "leaders" ran through mellowdramatic speechs that were straight outta some Vegas show, as choreographed by NHK. Then they got down to the business at hand, cutting through a large pile of rice cakes with a sword, and smashing open a large barrel of sake with a mallet. Yet before the procession, I noticed a group of men rolling out the items in question. As you can see, the mochi's already been cut, the barrel broken. Prepackaging for the samurai set.
The rest of this warm day I spent drifting from restaurant to cafe to pub. Mahi mahi at Bubba Gump's in Gorakuen, chijimi in some Shibuya Korean joint, a couple pints in Dubliners. A restless night in an Ikebukuro hotel, where from the next room came sounds of passion, her climaxes punctuated by horror movie screams. The next morning, after spending less than 24 hours in town, I headed back toward the 'Nog.

On the turntable: Death Cab for Cutie, "Transatlanticism"

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Gulf War

During my frequent walks in the Kyo with Keith or Amanda, talk turned frequently to the nature of the sexes or sex or love. The latter is somewhat of an obsession for me of late, as I sift thru the ashes of a dying relationship, using words and ideas from classic films or books as a means to measure my own experience and history.

With Amanda, I pondered whether women might be more inclined to bisexuality than men. Males it seems, in most societies are conditioned against such love. Women, on the other hand, being the target of advertising on the beauty myth, might go beyond the outward representation of trying to emulate that beauty, to a longing for the beauty itself, personified by the model's sexuality.

Keith and I went further back, wondering whether or not some disagreable behavior on the part of the opposite sex might be genetic. For example, is a man's philandering ways, simply a biological urge to further propagate the species? A man is never fully sure that a child is his, so perhaps he's working the odds somewhat. Maybe a woman's fickleness is based on her innate drive to find the best mate. If she grew dissatisfied with her current beau, would she not move on to a better choice? And a woman being hung-up on sex could also be tied into this. These sexual mores could be genetic and not Victorian. If she were to throw up roadblocks at a potential suitor's advances, she could be checking his dedication over time. Males who are only out for casual sex will quickly retire. A man who has a stronger will to be with that woman long term will continue the pursuit. The woman then will have found the most suitable provider for her offspring.

A mere difference in chromosomes can create some amusing havoc. I recently heard a story where a guy and a girl were on a first date. Leaving a restaurant, they passed a love hotel. The man tried to convince the girl inside, but she insisted that she never slept with a guy on the first date. Deciding they were still a little hungry, they ate at another restaurant. Once finished, he said that that's two meals, which equals two dates. The girl smiled, shrugged, and went off with him.

On the turntable: Wilco, "Summerteeth"

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Back to the Garden

Spent the later half of the New Year's holiday wandering the Kyo. It was an exercise in rediscovering a skill I used to excell at: passing a day rather than building one. Instead of rushing forward toward the next thing, I merely strolled thought the now. A slightly snow-covered now.

Spent most of my time with Amanda, engaged in conversation and caffeine. We no doubt hit most of the coffee shops around Teramachi. Topics flowed at varying speeds, probably one of my favorites being about getting a university degree in comedy. Imagine the courses. "Existentialism in Knock-knock Jokes: Who IS there?"

On the riverbank, two children build a snowman. Moments later a little dog pisses on it. The next day, most of the snow is gone, but the snowman remains. Then yet another little dog pisses on it. Is this some bizarre Kamo-gawa snowman ghat, with dogs taking the place of vultures? Well, it is their year...

One day, still thinking I'm going to the States, I change an absurd amount of yen into travellers checks. The bank's highest denomination is 100s. So I go to a nearby Starbucks, and sitting at a window-front table, I whip out my roll and begin signing. I get the attention of people both inside and out, feeling like quite the little gangster.

In the alleys of Ponto-cho, a photography club huddles and ducks, trying not to get each other in the shot. I wonder about stereotypes. Did a Meiji-era foreigner once stumble across such a club, inadvertantly giving rise to the Japanese as Shutterbug thing? I ponder this as I play a Taiko video game, pounding along to children's songs which boom along a surprisingly quiet Kawaramachi Street.

Off Ponto-cho is the Piranha Bar. I imagine a whole, roasted cow being placed between tables. The customers eat the thing from their respective sides. If the finish the entire cow in under 60 seconds, it's free. Plus they get their photo (courtesy of the photography club, of course) in the window.

In nearby Kahula coffee shop, playing a magnetic fishing game as the speakers expell that classic Hawaiian song, the one that anybody who's ever been to Waikiki has heard dozens of times. Yet like me, couldn't tell you the group or the title.

Speaking of music. Get a chance to see the group Mandala play twice. At the group's center is a young couple, Eric and Rie, who spend the year in a handful of countries. In each place, they've surrounded themselves with a revolving group of musicians, who play live shows with them when they're in town. While maintaining a certain sound, each night has different instrumentation and styles, therefore ensuring that every gig is different. Though they always rip. At the end of both gigs, I happily join in for a jam. Flute and darbuka on Friday (at El Latino, whose chorizo is the best in Japan, hands down). Djembe on Sunday (at Falafel Garden, near Demachiyanagi). I really love this type of scene they've created, and hope to play with them more regularly when they get back to Kyoto in the summer.

Sunday morning, walking from Keage up to a large shrine, through its cave, then over the ridge toward Nanzenji. Along the way, snow drops from trees in large clumps, and it gives the effect that Nature itself is collapsing. The bamboo on the opposite hill seem to shiver in the cold. Beside a small waterfall, I find a statue of Fudo-myo. With my refound convictions, I pray to this deity of the immovable spirit. "Help keep me on the path." A short time later, ducking into Seisho-in to see the famous, anonymous poem (who DID write it?), Amanda smacks her head on the doorway. In the material world, concrete is more immovable than spirit.

On the turntable: "Sahara Lounge"

Friday, January 13, 2006

Gathering moss

I type these words from a keyboard resting about a meter above the volcanic, shifting earth of the Japanese archipelago. That is to say, I blew off my somewhat redundant USA trip at the eleventh hour. I blame the seismic temporal collision of the insane pace of late ought-five with the idleness of a freshly-born new year. That latter toddler reminded me of my mellower days, where meditation and the printed word (be it on paper or celluloid) took precendence over bars and late nights, every third one being spent in a different bed in a different city.

So I've hung up my dancing shoes for now. I'll blow the dust off my mind, turning it over and over as I sit on my zabuton, still.

On the turntable: Taj Mahal, "Recycling the Blues"
On the nighttable: Bruce Chatwin, "What Am I Doing Here"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gidget, pass the popcorn

I mentioned a week ago that Bossa Nova is a sure way to fend off winter blahs. But as the snow continues to return like a bad guest, I needed to take further steps. I have found reprieve in surf films. I recently bought the six disc set of Bruce Brown's early films, all made late 50's, before "Endless Summer." Hours spent watching warm water waves, set to a cool jazz soundtrack.

On the turntable: "Music From the Coffee Lands II"
On the nighttable: Kate Walbert, "The Gardens of Kyoto"

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Too long alone (Random Things)

...aliens have colonized my long forgotten potatoes, building towering white cities...

.. .the Tibetans believe that the white light we head toward at death is our inherent self...

... at birth we cry while everyone around us is happy. At death everyone else cries, but we feel at peace...

...to travel and then write about it is like an Aboriginal Australian making his songlines...

...visiting friends is like reading a history of one's life...

...you can't turn a page back on a computer...

...I'm living a kid's life with a wage...

On the turntable: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
On the nighttable: Robert Whiting, "You Gotta Have Wa"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How to spend 3 weekends in Tokyo. In Verse.

(Rather than the usual rushed shopping list...)

Centuries old pain played out in today's traumas;
The channeler reads my scars
like a map to my future

Neon-blind in Kabuki-cho--
Thai fire and yellow beer
fuels aggressive karaoke

Old friends amongst old weapons;
Another Meiji afternoon under November sun

Strolling narrow Shimokitazawa lanes
searching for drums,
found friendship

Pizza and Ebisu and Red;
Must be Friday
In Kichijoji

and Yoga
and Yoga again

Inokashira color--
Perfect antidote to
too much curry

Saitama paved countryside;
Here concrete rivers
are considered nature

Have I mentioned beer?
Hundreds of options
in smoky Shinjuku basements

Shibuya on Sunday in heavy rain;
Won umbrella slalom gold medal

Zach and I perfect our kata:
eating and beering and jawin'
(with musical interludes)

Dancing to Brazilian magic:
the perfect way to burn off
excess Wolfgang Puck

Lunch in Akasaka amid high security--
suits try to ignore all the guns


Music lesson in Ogikubo.
tap bongos and sing
to a cat sleeping on a speaker

Overcrowded Hokusai exhibit-
Still life in lines

On the way to monja-yaki,
Lead Taiwanese tourists
To a kaiseki joint

Paid daytime gig
keeping time
for three gorgeous singers;
retarded man kisses my hand
between songs.
How'd he know I'm a righty?

Strange gospel gig,
Bigfoot on vocals &
Jackie Chan on bass.
Ridiculous lighting,
retarded audience,
unnecessary banter

Confused middle-aged man
working at "Freshness Burger"

Yet another Sunday
at Inokashira Park

Latin percussion lesson
From famous gay couple


Leza's Friday night class:
Restorative yoga/Thai massage--
Body as butter

Other end of spectrum:
Lance's yoga boot camp--
My limits are behind me

Saturday night Aoyama gig:
Southwestern diva,
Stand up bass with flute,
and us, psycho-bossa nova.

On the turntable: Animal Collective: "Feels"

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

In Between Days

Temporarily left my bardo of repose for the samsara of Asahimachi. Usually this floating world is populated by salarymen, though tonite it's a young crowd, making a life elsewhere but now home for the holidays. Even normally quiet places like Jealousy have bodies down the bar. Tonight, I'm in search of wine and song, and I work my way thru the whole Clash catalogue. It's fun to be surrounded by happy young unfamiliar faces. I quite enjoy these holiday times, where most of the 'Nog's slight foreign crew are scarce, no doubt creating scenes like this in their own climes.

On the turntable: M.I.A., "Arular"
On the nighttable: Diane Ackerman, "A Natural History of Love"

Monday, January 02, 2006

In Shades

Blue truck crawls down the street in low gear. A loudspeaker emits that familiar nighttime winter sing-song recorded voice, "Yaki Imo!" A dog trots alongside, moving faster than the truck itself. In the distance, Daisen looms. All day, its base had matched the color of the sky, merely teasing with a glimpse of the snowy peak, hanging supernaturally above the city. As the evening sky went through its usual array of hues, the mountain's blue shape once again exhibited its timeless solidity.

On the turntable: Albert Ayler, Ghosts"
On the nighttable: Michael Raposa, "Meditation and the Martial Arts"

Sunday, January 01, 2006

All is Quiet...

The new year brings the first blue sky I've seen in the 'Nog in a month. Seems that all the prayers from last night pushed away the clouds which hovered thoughout December.

The sound of a moped outside means that the first of the New Year's cards have arrived. Time to dust off those kanji-reading skills...

On the turntable: Ron Carter, "Blues Farm"