One Saturday night, there was a release party for the latest issue of Kyoto Journal, one that highlights some residents of that city. Among these is a Zen monk from Myoshinji's subtemple of Taizo-in, where the party was held. All of the interviewers and interviewees were invited to connect and re-connect over beer and vegetarian fare. Miki's friend Aki played the Ainu instrument, mukurri. She in turn was followed by a kamishibai performance. Later, everyone was invited out to the garden. The lighting created an entirely different visual subtext than a zen garden seen in full daylight. Some areas were hidden, others revealed. Long shadows were thrown in a way that closely and uniquely paralleled the contours of the viewer's mind. Swells of shakuhachi phrases came out of some of these shadows. The light behind revealed multi-colored patterns of kimono...
The next day, Miki and I had intended to continue on our walk of the old roads, but an insistent rain limited us to a medium-sized stroll over Kurodani past Honen's hut of purple clouds, then on down to Heian Shrine for Veggie Festa. We ran into quite a few of our friends there, so many that it took us over a hour to actually leave. Cafe Millet's Juri and Kuma-pan were selling vegan sweets and coffee, and not far away, Iain D. and Chie were explaining how the magic behind their biofuelled truck. A couple of Hare Krishna were spooking people with their literature, most of all, JesusChris, who felt stalked. I was surprised and happy to run into the Sikh who runs the Kundalini Center down on Mt. Ikoma. We continued a conversation we had back in the spring. He has renovated the retreat space and hopes to do more events there. Very intriguing. On the stage nearby, a very talented band was playing a unique, jazz-world music hybrid. We walked past, happy and recharged as we made our way home.
Bodhi over at Iori invited me to take part in a series of workshops and events held as part of the Origin Arts Program. Founded by Alex Kerr, Origin offers the opportunity for people to come to Kyoto and experience a variety of traditions under a master instructor. Due to work commitments I could only attend the Noh portion, but this was the area that most interested me. As a long term student of aikido and kyudo, I had long been curious to see if there is any connection with the footwork of Noh. (My previous study of the Omotesenke tea ceremony found similarities in the movement of the hips.) The workshop was run by the son of a famous Noh actor. He led us through an enjoyable afternoon, the movements of the Japanese guests done in the utmost concentration; those of the foreigners a study in self-consciousness (myself included). This was followed by a philosophical and spiritual lecture on Noh masks. It was incredible how these masks took on a life of their own when worn. It literally became a living face. As he talked, his real face became a mask, that of a performer and a teacher. It was only when speaking of his personal life that this "mask" cracked to reveal the typical face of a 27-year old. During the performance later that night, while performing as part of the chorus, his face became ethereal, almost demonic. This otherworldly nature of the performance was enhanced by his father, dancing and stomping less than a meter in front of me. In his mask, flowing robes, and furious glare, he acted the shaman, connecting us simultaneously with all ancient cultures and all ancient places. The only human part of him was his hands, which looked massive. Time too flirted with stopping completely and becoming all times, but for the lone shime drummer keeping human time marching on, sticks brandished stiffly with flourishes that revealed some of the roots of kumi daiko. When the beat stopped, we, the audience, were silent. When and how does a person applaud a transcendental experience?
Afterward, we all went over to the Yoshikawa Ryokan for a formal sit-down dinner. The night was still warm but the garden surrounding us was moving toward the colors of autumn. Alex was a fantastic interpreter and host, tying themes not only between the arts of Japan, but also amongst other Asian traditions. For example, he mentioned that Gagaku is basically 6th Century Turkish dance, sped up. When he spoke of this cultural game of telephone, I had to smile when he said that these arts "came to Japan and never got lost." This coming from a man who wrote a book entitled, "Lost Japan." As we ate and talked, a handful of geisha and maiko moved about to keep us company and see that our glasses were full. I was surprised to see that one of the maiko was a familiar face, having been part of our filming, "Tengu" last spring. I especially enjoyed talking with Teruko, an aging geiko still going strong in her 70s. She was particularly interesting in that she'd spent a month in Hollywood as part of the cast of Marlon Brando's "Autumn of the Teahouse Moon." Yet to me, the best part of these parties is how, in a room filled with people of various "social standing, " the geisha are magnanimous in treating us all exactly the same. It was a wonderful night, one that won't come again. It served as a explicit reminder of how non-Japanese my life has become. The life I've been leading lately could be had anywhere, despite achieving my decades long dream of living in the ancient capitol.
The second day, I arrived late, yet in time for the Kyogen performance. In it, I could see in the exaggerated yelling and gestures the roots of today's TV talento. Similarly, the use of onomonopeia seemed a precursor to the sound effects of manga. The lead actor was surprisingly a Czech, who bore an uncanny (yet beardless) resemblance to Richard Chamberlain in his role as "Anjin-san." While performing, his face took on the characteristics of a Japanese, yet later in English conversation, he was all European. A very friendly, humble, and talented man.
This event too was followed by a party, where Alex and a calligraphy master wrote out a variety of kanji characters in differing styles. As the wine went down, the strokes became more gorgeous, and we too became more bold in shouting out the names of kanji whose beauty we hoped to see created on paper, words referring to those beautiful qualities we hoped to instill in our own lives.
Another Saturday, I took part in a haiku hike up Arashiyama's Mt. Ogura. It was a combined literary tour and mountain clean-up, led by local poet Stephen Gill. It was another beautiful autumn day, and even the color of the rusty homes near the train station could be a kigo for koyo. We went up through the narrow bamboo lined paths at the base of Ogura, surrounded by groups of Chinese and Korean tourists. The forest beyond the neatly-kept bamboo fence were wild tangles of roots and fallen trees. Holes in the fence showed where inoshishi had brought some of that wild through. We stopped occasionally to hear a poem, moving steadily up through Saga, the color of moss on kaya roofs mimicking the forest beyond. At a bend in the road we found a group of Ritsumeikan students hard at work cleaning appliances and other large trash off the hillside. (I love how this is part of a college course on "Volunteerism," yet is considered a mandatory requirement.) We made our way down, staying close to a series of ropes which had been criss-crossed in order to create a hold for balance. The slope was close to 45 degrees, with a false surface that was about two or three meters of garbage reclaimed by soil. As you bent your head close to the ground to pick things up, you were in constant danger of being beaned by rocks carelessly dislodged by the feet of those on the ropes above you. The feet had no real place to plant themselves, making for a bizarre type of ankle yoga. This sense of working at zero gravity was probably not unlike doing a space walk or working underwater. If you slipped, after a series of uncomfortable bounces you'd wind up in the Hozu River. We worked a couple of hours, then had lunch at the top of Ogura, with Kyoto splayed out below us to the south. Another short walk brought us to an fenced in area of land which belongs to Ristumeikan. Within was a large clearing of indigenous (autumn) wildflowers and small fir trees. This was real landscape, far more lovely than the obsequious sugi monoculture of the higher mountains now at the reaches of our vision. Whereas the damage on the hillside that we had cleared had been the work of individual polluters, what we now saw before us was systematic pollution as a matter of national policy. Navigating that bureaucracy will take nimbler footwork than any we'd demonstrated today.
(Tokai Shizen Hoedown VII)
That same weekend, Tim was in the Kansai to play a gig with Nara musician, Roman Rhodes. Miki and I did a hike nearby, following the TSH along the Kizu River. We got off the train at Tsuki-ga-Seiguchi, stepping onto a platform built excessively long due to the old SL trains that once travelled this valley. The first bit of our walk was along a moderately trafficked road, going past dams and a nuclear power plant. Beyond this we entered the forest, below Buddhas and Jizo carved into stone. The mountains down here feel particularly ancient. Near one bend in the river we heard the voice of what I thought may have been a bear cub, my heart stopping immediately. We didn't see anything, but it was probably some just kind of waterfowl. The trail took us up to a nice little village, where an old woman made her way gingerly and deliberately to pull weeds at the side of her garden. Atop the hill was yet another shrine connected to Amaterasu. The river became narrow and wild here, its length easily traversed by hopping large boulders all the way down. The last couple km were right next to the iron rails we'd ridden on that morning. At the far end we came to Kusagi, where the rafters finish their runs of the white water. On the table beside the sand were a dozen tea bottles, clustered around a 3D model of the river's course. The stone banks further down were covered by the tents of those enjoying the long weekend. A festival had just finished up in the village itself, dozens of kids now running around a mikoshi laid on its side, its carriers downing yet another sake round for their labor. Miki went home, but I met up with Tim and Roman, for our own parade of the Kyo's many Irish pubs.
There were also many smaller things, like my taiko lecture at a local college, or Miki doing a talk at Green E on Holistic living (with another to follow soon) or our teaming up to do a pair yoga/pair shiatsu workshop (this one at Cafe Millet, followed by an incredible lunch). October 14th was the 6th anniversary of Ken's death. Tempting fate, I boarded a plane bound for the States...
On the turntable: "Rogue's Gallery"
On the nighttable: Werner Herzog, "Of Walking in Ice"
On the reel table: "Two for the Road" (Donen, 1967)