Saturday, March 31, 2007

Super Size This

Went to see the film, "Tokyo Loop" at Minamikaikan this week. It was billed as a collection of short films done to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of animation. Like most short film collections, it was a mixed bag. I'd been expecting a lot more, being a tribute, but it seemed more like the hip in-jokes of a group of colleagues. Half the films were brilliant, wry criticism of the dehumanizing effects of megalopolis living. The rest were of the annoyingly pretentious, "Look how weird I am!" school of film making. Personally, I like realism, and prefer my reality, well, more real.
But the highlight of the day for me was the Minamikaikan itself. I'd last been here 11 years ago, to see Hal Hartley's "Amateur." God, I miss art house cinemas. In these dire days of the multiplex, it's refreshing to hear the nostalgic "Rriiiiip!" as the soles of your shoes peel off a floor sticky with rancid butter.

On the turntable: "All Virgos are Mad"
On the turntable: Chris Stewart , "Driving over Lemons"

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mucho Friggin Grande

The Osaka sumo tournament finished up last weekend, so I suppose it was no real surprise to see a huge, well-coifed rikishi at the Qanat Starbucks, having a cuppa with his tres petite amie. I finally get now why Starbucks has those ridiculous sizes.

On the turntable: "Best of Turntables on the Hudson"
On the nighttable: Jack Kerouac, "Lonesome Traveller"

Thursday, March 29, 2007


...Open for business

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tale of Two Weekends

Kara's mom would be leaving soon, so a few of us decided to introduce her to the karaoke ritual. It was Friday afternoon, still light, and none of us felt up to drinking yet. So we chose to intoxicate ourselves instead on bad 80's pop tunes. After dusk, we doubled our numbers for dinner at Bangkok Garden, a recent and timely Thai restaurant discovery. (My local Thai place, a big favorite of Marcin and I, went under while I was in India. [I know, man!]) I ordered the spiciest stuff on the menu, to blast away the pollen colonizing my sinuses. Our numbers increased again at NegaPosi. I like this club, especially since the kanji for its name is the clever, "yin-yang." Tonite was the second Kyoto gig of Seiichi's Rustic Pans, the amazing steel drum band that I raved about last fall. From the opening strains of that jazz classic, "Caravan," I knew I was back in heaven. The front line of Sei-chan, ever-smiling Giant, and that Al Pacino lookalike kept cracking me up with their physical stage antics. I went through my usual catalog of dance moves, which is more jumping than any real dancing. When Sei-chan yelled out, "Jump! Up! Ska!" I nearly bashed my head on the overhead vents. Japan is far too low a country in which to pogo. My crouching, choo-choo train shuffle was a big hit. Going home later, I found that it is impossible to bicycle with legs of jello.

Saturday happened to be St Pats, and we chose to celebrate with Tagh at his new place, McLoughlins. Had a pint of Guinness, which was the first time in ten weeks I'd drunk an entire beer myself. So I had another, figuring that the two hour yoga class that morning at Village had entitled me to a caloric splurge. Ran into a few friends there, as expected, though we left early, before the real crowds would turn up. But how to choose, since the Kyo's three Irish pubs are all within the same square mile.
It was a cold night, but we braved it, and the crowds, at the annual Higashiyama light-up. A couple koto players played below the massive trees of Shoren-in. In front of Chion-in a fox was wed, accompanied by dozens of handlers. We followed into Maruyama Park, done up with fantastic sculptures of light. Large elaborate flower arrangements were placed near the bigger temples, and even the towering Yamaboko of Gion was well lit. A small group of people were looking into the grounds of Gesshin-in at, well, nothing at all. Miki and I fished in a greater crowd by exclaiming, "Incredible!" and "Unreal!" as we walked away. The lanes began to narrow, but the crowds didn't, so rather than carry on to Kiyomizu, we turned and went back to our bikes. We'd celebrate this cold night with ice cream instead.

Sunday night, Kara had a potluck at her machiya. It was a theme thing, so I put on my kimono, happy for a chance to wear it outside New Year's. There were a nice group of artistes huddled around the tables, warming themselves up on jokes and wine. I spent most of my night talking about India with M., who had been studying Kathakali dance. After the tables were cleared, a vast arrangement of desserts arrived. Everyone made fun of the way I piled up a plate with one of everything, then hid it behind some jackets like a dog would. Later, Brigit performed a traditional dance, moving unbelievable slowly, legs bent so low they were in near buckle. At the end, she fell back on her ass, a tribute to her butoh influences. Later still, Kara broke out a collection of multi-colored flourescent bracelets which we all put on to created a funky flashy light show. Before going home, Kara sold me the painting that I'd admired at her exhibition a week ago. Hailing a taxi out in the cold, in our dressy attire and a large painting under my arm, felt a little like being in New York...

And the following weekend? There was nothing, a mere passage of time between meals.


On the turntable: Beck, "The Information"
On the nighttable: Isabella L. Bird, "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan"

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Take Care

I see movement high in a tree on the hill above my house. "Monkey!" I excitedly shout, until I notice a large hawk fly out of the tree and drift over the hill. Soon it returns, then immediately sets off again. Over the next ten minutes, this scene repeats a dozen times. It must be feeding its young. On one approach, I notice the long body of a snake in its beak, wriggling to escape along earth that's no longer there. Nature's warning for me to watch my feet while hiking from now on.

On the turntable: えま& 慧奏, "天地の歌”
On the nighttable: Haruki Murakami, "after the quake"

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday Papers: Abbie Hoffman

"There are no teachers, we are all each other's teachings"

On the turntable: Brozman/Bhattacharya: "Mahima"
On the nighttable: Yuko Tsushima, "The Shooting Gallery"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Getting in Tune

Spending a slow afternoon in the backstreets of Osaka proved a change from where I usually pass my slow afternoons, in the foothills of Kyoto. I couldn't help but think of energy and how it moves. On the surface, the natural world seems to move so slowly, yet the energy is so fertile, so ready to burst. Cities by contrast appear to really move, yet the energy lies stagnant, dying a quick death amidst all the tar and concrete.

On the turntable: Red House Painters, "Old Ramon"

Friday, March 23, 2007

He Gone, Me So Gone

Wednesday was the Vernal Equinox, O-Higan in Japan, a day when people traditionally go visit the family grave. But Miki and I choose to look instead to the future and make us some miso. We went deep into Osaka to the home of Yayoi and Seiichi, she being a leather artist (not what you're thinking), he being one of Kansai's best percussionists and the leader of Rustic Pans. (They played in Kyoto last weekend, much to the delight of my happy feet. Where were you?) Their home is an interesting mix of their stylistic interests, Santa Fe adobe punctuated by driftwood collected on the beaches of Kochi. There were a few others present, creative-types. After the preliminary toast with sake, we set down to business. Making miso is relatively simple. We first had to steam soybeans down to a certain softness, which Yayoi seemed to know almost by sight. Then one of us would crush the beans in a large stone pestle with a huge wooden mallet. These are the same impliments used in making mochi, but rather than a carnivel strongman swing from the shoulder, hands are placed on both ends to do the crushing. After a few minutes, someone else would follow with the spatula-like shamoji, to scrape the smashed beans toward the middle. Inevitably, a dance would ensue where the scraper would follow the crusher around the stone bowl, mocking the dances of summertime Obon. This action would eventually create a paste, which would be mixed by hand with shiokirikoji (salt and some kind of mold) then thrown into large clay jars, their varied sizes creating some interesting pitches and tones. Miki had the best technique, literally slamming these fistsful of miso down like an endzone football spike, hair and arms flailing wildly. The whole process takes about ten minutes, compared to the thirty minutes of sitting around waiting for the beans to steam. Even with three propane burners going, it still took about 10 hours. This of course leaves much time for drinking. As is typical for this country, there was a natural division by gender, the women chatting in the kitchen and making lunch, the men out front, talking less and drinking more. Awamori from Okinawa eventually made an appearance, but I begged off, still nursing a mental hangover of four years ago on Miyako. ( I think everyone has their most memorable hangover. Whew!) It was a beautiful day and almost a shame to be inside, but the house had sliding front doors which opened onto a wooden deck like in the Old West. On this day of equal dark and light, we made the most of this indoor-outdoor effect, sitting in the narrow street in our low camp chairs, adjusting our position occasionally in order to stay in the constantly shifting sun. Late in the day, Miki and I took a walk along a dirty river lined by a low concrete wall decorated with children's art. Large planes, making their final approach to Itami, opened their landing gear directly over us. The sun eventually followed them west, filling the street with shadow. But by now the work was done, our miso made. Now all we have to do is set it in a cool dark place for a year(!) while it rots, er, ferments. A nice reminder of how time used to move...

On the turntable: Maryam Mursal, "The Journey"
On the nighttable: Ryokan, "Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf"

Thursday, March 22, 2007


On the nighttable:
Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth,
Shinto: the Way Home,
A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine

Waiting for the gods of spring to return...

On the turntable: Phish, "E. Centre, 11.02.98"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Over the Border

Near Ginkaku-ji ,
The scent of magnolias
Beside Gyoja-bashi,
Uguisu chants a sutra

On the turntable: Ry Cooder, "Music by Ry Cooder"
On the nighttable: Cometbus, "Double Duce"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On the border

Large wet flakes
From an empty blue sky

On the turntable: Bahia Black, "Ritual Beating System"
On the nighttable: Joanne Kyger, "Strange Big Moon"

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Papers: Francois Truffaut

"The weakness of the self-taught is their need to convince others."
--L'Invite du dimanche, Oct. 26, 1969

On the turntable: "Northern Exposure" (Sdtk)

Saturday, March 17, 2007


There were many fine poets from Limerick
With their clever and quite naughty shtick
Like their descendants in Rap
Said "Feck Off!" to claptrap
About their odes to boobies and prick

On the turntable: "Walker" (Sdtk)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two Quick Impressions on Returning to Kyoto After 6 Weeks in India

"Why is this taxi driver going so damned slow?"


"What's with the big condom on Kyoto Tower?"

On the turntable: Easy Stars All-Stars, "Radiodread"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Breathe Easy

I'm a junkie.

Yes, I admit it, I'm addicted to deep abdominal respiration. It's become something of a habit due to years of yoga, zen, and martial arts. In fact, I'm so used to it that it's almost impossible for me to chest breathe consciously.

Which is why this year's hay fever is killing me.

It's my first spring in the Kyo, which means this invisible enemy is being launched from vegetation to which my lungs haven't yet had the priviledge of meeting. The 'Nog was far kinder, being swept by gentle (and not so gentle) sea breezes. But this city is in a bowl, which places me in a tupperware of pollen.

It's ironic, in a way, since what I do for a living is teach breathing. And I'm always amazed at the effects a slight difference in technique can have on me. Years ago, while in the dojo preparing for my third-dan iaido grading, I suddenly noticed how unsettled I felt. It dawned on me that this feeling was being caused by upper chest breathing due to stress about the test. These days, besides that same unsettled feeling, I feel tired all the time, my shallow breath leading to shallow sleep and lack of good REM. Plus I'm really agitated, getting flustered at simple things like red lights. (But who wouldn't really? The whole traffic system in this country seems to be designed like a 1960s board game. "Oh, I afraid you can't advance until you roll double-sixes.")

Next Tuesday, I teach my monthly yogic breathing class. What a poor role model I've become...

On the turntable: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, "Love Their Country"
On the nighttable: Aaron Cometbus, "I Wish There was Something I Could Quit"

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Stuck Inside Samsara with the Winter Blues Again


Sun Clouds Snow
Clouds Snow Sun
Snow Sun Clouds

Wanted to Hike
But Just Boddhi-sat Around

On the turntable: Manu Chow, "Radio Bemba Sound System"
On the nighttable: Daryl Davis, "Klan-destine Relationships"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday papers: Penn Gillette

"Luck is probability, taken personally."

--Theme Time Radio Hour #38

On the turntable: Ichiko Hashimoto, "Ub-X"
On the nighttable: "Dersu the Tracker"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

On Red Dragon Street

Lunar New Year in Kobe
wandering the four square block juji of Chinatown
making like pachinko balls
as we bounce from one yatai to another.
Pilgrimage by stomach.
On the turntable: "Straight to Hell Returns"
On the nighttable: Ben Snakepit, "The Snakepit Book"

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hiking Neural Pathways

And now back in the Kyo I try to sort everything out. How does all I went through at the Ashram fit into the world I once comfortably lived in? The whole tree has been shaken, the leaves have fallen. Like a fortune teller reading tea, I try to find meaning in the patterns.

So it is with open eyes that I walk through my days. In fact, the metaphor can be followed up into the Higashiyama hills, where I spend my weekends following the main path, yet am confused by the constant criss-crossing of other trails: trails that tempt me, trails I've walked before, yet lead me in directions I am not planning to go.

One day, Miki and I follow one, way up Mikage toward Hiei. Along the way, we find a long set of steps, leading to a Shrine whose main diety is a mythological white snake. (Shades of the Indian Naga cult?) Beyond its waterfalls is a cabin, with a tree house beyond. A man stands in front, cutting wood. He invites us in to warm ourselves by the fireplace, have some tea. It turns out that he's an artist and environmentalist. He spends a good part of the year in Africa, but happens to be here today. He points out back, to a large clearing beside the stream. We often have events here, he tells us. It dawns on me that Mandala and a couple other groups played a gig here last fall, but I didn't go since it had rained. We talk awhile, telling him that we are trying to find the main 36 peak trail, and how last month, we were led by a kitsune to that weird slice of West Virginia nearby. He warns us to be careful around here, since this place is called Mamushi-dani, or Valley of the Vipers. Ah, those Naga again...

Later there are parties, meals, gallery openings. Yet despite being around people, even those I really love, I'm still distant, unable to full verbalize what I myself don't understand.
They ask, "How was India."
"It was good, " I say. "..."

Even after a month, I don't yet have the ability to translate the subtle shifts of the spirit.
I will write about the Ashram.


On the turntable: Apples in Stereo, "New Magnetic Wonder"
On the nighttable: Haruki Murakami, "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman"

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sunday papers: Richard Ford

"The amount of precious time you'll squander on someone else's calamities and fuck-ups [is] friendship's greatest measure."

--The Sportswriter

On the turntable: Jimmy Reed, "The Very Best of..."
On the nighttable: "Beyond Duality"