Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ghosts on the Road

The weather gods bestowed on us a perfect day of 19°C, so Miki and I put on our best shoes and set off for the San-in do. It starts from the old pleasure quarter of Shimabara, where a small gate poked a hole through Hideyoshi's protective Odoi wall. We followed Shichijo-dori west through Katsura and beyond. It was a long 14km slog along busy roads and the only time our feet left concrete was when we'd duck into a shrine, those rest areas of the gods. The worst part was over a pass into Kameoka, walking on Route 9, with it's busy Sunday traffic. We moved quickly and nervously along a shoulder so narrow that it hardly deserves the name, my own being far broader. Walking into a rapidly setting sun, which blinded drivers who'd barely see us as centrifugal force pulled them toward us on curves. Atop the pass, we sat at a shrine and ate dried coconut, our nerves shot. Besides the shrine, there was nothing around but a dead decaying village, a few moldy love hotels, and two new cemeteries, most likely filled with people foolish enough to have attempted this same walk.

But I'm not here today to tell you about that. On the far western outskirts of Katsura, where the city meets the hills, we saw a mentally handicapped teenager driving a train. In his mind anyway. He had the hand gestures down and was creating his own sound effects. It was right out of Do'des'ka'den. Seeing me, he came to chat about the trees, forecasting the buds soon to come. He followed us, but Miki and I, fearful of him being in traffic, sped up a bit. We soon came up to a sign telling us that 150 years back, three rebellious Choshu samurai had been overtaken and killed on this spot. We moved into the forest to where their graves quietly lay. There were no flowers, but the stain of candle wax on the stones told of how the villagers, whose ancestors had killed these same men, had since adopted them. And as we pondered this, and the large black crow lurking about, our friend rode up in his train. He kept saying, "O-Samurai-san," his hands taking the hilt of a sword that only he could see. As Miki and I looked at some of the other ancient stones on this small hill, he began to clean the graves, and this was where we left him.

On the turntable: Krishna Das, "Breath of the Heart"
On the reel table: "The Darjeeling Limited" (Anderson, 2007)

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