Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Far east from the Far East

Off to Vermont today to figure out what the deal is with the curry...

On the turntable: Duke Ellington, "Money Jungle"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday papers: Rumi

"People say that human beings are microcosms and this outer universe a macrocosm, but for us the outer is a tiny wholeness and the inner life the vast reality."

On the turntable: Bonobo, "Days to Come"
On the nighttable: Satish Kumar, "You Are, Therefore I Am"

Friday, May 25, 2007

Life Imitates...

In these waning months of my 30s, I've begun to watch DVDs from the show thirtysomething. Back in my university days, I loved the show's crisp writing. My roommate Chris on the other hand found the characters shrill, and used to call it eightysomething. This time around, I began to feel he was right, yet after a few episodes I found it frighteningly... pertinent.

On the turntable: Johnny Griffin, "Birds & Ballads"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Where's Your Moses Now?

Yesterday, I went to Shokokuji to see their Jakuchu exhibition. These painting were last displayed 120 years ago, and I think that every single person born since that time was also there. On a Thursday.

The top third of the paintings were wonderful...

On the turntable: The Pogues, "Peace and Love"
On the nighttable: J. Wood, "Living Lost"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday papers: Dalai Lama

"Learn to deal with your inner issues in private. Don't burden society with them; it is burdened enough. Transform your own energy first, then use your gifts to bring healing to society."

On the turntable: "Complete Woodstock Bootleg"
On the nighttable: "Ramakrishna" (bio)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Protecting One's Own

This morning, I happily read that UNESCO has denied World Heritage status to Shimane prefecture's Iwami Ginzan. A few years ago, I assisted in that proposal by doing some transcription and basic translating . It's the first time I ever did a moral gut-check regarding a job, working on a project to which I was strongly opposed. Iwami's campaign had at its center the economic crusade of a single businessman. Most of the residents were against the move. They felt the protection of this gorgeous place was best left in the hands of the farmers and artists who live there. I agree.

When the Kumano Kodo got World Heritage status three years ago, I immediately headed down there. This is my favorite part of the country, an area I've frequently hiked. So I thought it best to walk the areas adjacent to the protected section, before the roads were widened, leading to all the hotels, gift shops, restaurants, and bus parking lots. It was still beautiful then.

But all this is apparently moot to the citizens of Kyongju, Korea. It seems 90 percent of them favor building a nuclear waste dump nearby this World Heritage site. Kyongju is essentially the Korean equivalent of Nara, and easily the best place in the country. I spent a few days there in 1997, hiking amidst the Buddhist temples and Confucian mounds. The occupants of these tombs are no doubt doing a lot of rolling these days.

On the turntable: "Blue Note: The Ultimate Jazz Collection"
On the nighttable: Ellen J. Langer, "Mindfulness"
On the nighttable: Ellen J. Langer, "Mindfulness"

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday papers: Charles Mingus

"Anger is an emotion that has some hope in it."

On the turntable: "Chinese Punk show, KALX"
On the nighttable: "Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader"

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sunday papers: Aldous Huxley

"Which is more real: you as you see yourself, or as others see you? You in your intentions and motives, or you in the product of your intentions? You in your actions, or you in the results of your actions?"

On the turntable: Moby, "Go"
On the nighttable: Awa Kenzo, "Zen Bow, Zen Arrow"

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spring Cleaning

April is the pinkest month. Or reddest, if you are factoring complexions. I am always pleased to see these shades, as they replace the oppressive white and dismal gray of the preceding winter months. So revel I did, awalk in the Higashiyama hills, or at a variety of events throughout the city. On one incredible weekend, I joined a farewell potluck for Yuka, heading to a new life in Kanto. We sat beside the Kamogawa, eating and playing music. I ran into Rick and Douglas for the first time in a long while. Before the party, I realized that I didn't have enough tempura to share, so I decided to eat it all myself. As I sat alone, gazing at the movement of water, I felt what I at first thought was a bicyclist hitting my arm. It turned out to be a huge hawk, which had flown out of my blind spot to steal my food. Karma from above. Looking at the remains of my lunch, I decided to feed the group of about twelve hawks which had by now come out of nowhere. I'd throw a piece into the air, which they grab with their talons (never missing!) and flip into their beaks.
Come evening, I went uptown to Roger's housewarming party, with it's varied food and personalities. Then, with the clock flipping over into Sunday, I went home to greet Hide and Sawako, over from Osaka and staying the night.
The next day Hide gave a talk on totem poles at Honen-in. Afterward, I bid farewell and biked across town to Kara's own sayonara thing. As usual, the food and performances were fantastic. I've grown to love her theme parties, and will miss them as much as I'll miss her. She even gave me a didgeridoo, as if to commemorate our (admittedly short) friendship.

A few weeks later, Ben-chan (in town for two months!) and I were given free tickets to Miyako-odori. A few years ago, this kind of event would have thrilled me. And while enjoyable, it really brought attention to the shift into a new phase of my life here in Japan. While in the 'Nog, I'd always considered a life in the Kyo to be the pinnacle to one's stay, but now that I'm actually here, I'm hardly doing anything "cultural" at all. I suppose this reveals a sense of settling, being comfortable in whatever clothes you have on. Anyway, as the drumming called the first round of Maiko onto the stage, I couldn't help notice that they all looked computer animated. (The perils of formalized art.) The backdrops, representing the seasons, were beautiful, and through their bright hues I realized how much more colorful the world must have been, in those days before concrete and exhaust. The summer backdrop revealed a Kitayama mountainscape made familiar from long bike rides home. The effects overall were incredible, especially the fireflies which were basically long wires with small flashing lights at the end. (I like the thought that there were low ranking maiko at the other end of these wires, waving from above.) The music was lovely, though unmoving, which is my bias, not appreciating 'canned' music, even when it's live. I need spirit and more personal interpretation. Besides taiko and shakuhachi, most Japanese trad music leaves me cold. During the performance, I suddenly remembered that a year ago to the week I'd seen the shitty Hollywood interpretation of , "Memoirs of a Geisha" based on that even shittier book. (Essentially "Showgirls" in kimono, with a "8-Mile" interpretation on this very event which I was watching.)

A few days later, I went over to Ei-U-In to sit awhile with Satish Kumar, who was holding court before the beautiful garden. It was a very casual afternoon, with just a dozen people or so hanging out, talking freely about nature and spirit and whatever. I'm still amazed at Satish's eyes, so bright and alive. He wielded an incredible amount of energy, considering he was there all day. I at first was nervous to meet him, having reviewed his last book for KJ, but he enjoyed the review and actually thanked me. I thanked him too; it isn't often one meets a hero.

And April saw other things too--my own live Taiko performance; a Takeuchi hanami party; a trip to Tokyo for budo beers with Ben, Zack, Steve, Ron, and Brian; tough yoga with Gabriella. But I'm heading north for Golden Week and am out of words anyway...

On the turntable: "Festival in the Desert"
On the nighttable: E. Taylor Atkins, Blue Nippon"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kennel #5

There are a lot of things in this country that leave me scratching my head. A couple years ago, we started to see a rise in metrosexuals here, brought out of the closet by big marketing pushes. And this season, we see the ultimate accessory--small dogs whose sizes seem regulated by FAA carry-on restrictions.

A merger was inevitable. I hereby announce my search for financial backing for Dog Cosmetics. Though be comforted in the fact that as I bask in my wealth off this idea, I will retain my high moral standards. All products will be free of Human Testing, rest assured...

On the turntable: Ali Farka Toure, "Niafunke"
On the nighttable: George MacDonald Frasier, "Flashman"

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Buddy Dharma

Late April, Kyoto was visited by Dzigar Kongtrul Rimpoche. He has set up a small Sangha here, superimposed on the local Shambala community, many members being former Boulder residents and old students of Trungpa Rimpoche. It was through their introduction that I attended the talks, held in a beautiful machiya at the foot of Hiei-zan.

The whole thing brought me back to the ashram again, spending long days cross-legged, trying to ignore the pain in your knees and back and focus instead on your breath or on the teacher's words. The latter was a challenge in itself. Not being a student of Vajrayana, it was hard to follow at times. I felt as if I'd stepped into a theater where a film is already in progress and in a different dialect. One interesting part of this split was a simultaneous Japanese translation of Rimpoche reading a sutra in Tibetan, and us reading along in English. The overlap of time was also in play, as he chanted an ancient text from his Mac. As we chanted along to our English translation, I once again wondered why English speakers tend to chant in an approximation of the original Asian language, devoid of beauty and decaying into a monotonal, Borg-like drone. Like a paint-by-numbers version of a masterpiece.

The talks themselves were great. I wrinkled my nose at the stuff I didn't get, bobbed my head to those pieces that mirror the Japanese mikkyo folded into my brain. Then I heard this:

"Just as all the buddhas of the past
Embraced the awakened attitude of mind,
And in the precepts of the bodhisattvas
Step by step abode and trained,

Just so, and for the benefit of beings,
I will also have this attitude of mind,
And in those precepts, step by step,
I will abide and train myself."

And suddenly I'm taken back a decade to out in front of a used bookstore on a quiet Wellington, NZ street. A friend had asked about the Boddhisattva vow, and I'd explained that if a person glimpses satori, recognizing the interconnectedness of us all, that person would naturally try to bring it all into the fold much the way that Humpty Dumpty would grab at all the shattered pieces of himself. But I'd been wrong.
My view had been ego-driven. The wish for enlightenment is much more altruistic. You want to bring everyone over. It's not a means of gathering all the pieces of the puzzle as much as recognizing that the puzzle's completion requires the proper placement of that first piece, to which all the other's relate. And it starts where you sit. With those painful knees.

On the turntable: Operation Ivy, "Energy"
On the nighttable: Takei & Keane, "Sakuteiki"