Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book of Wind

As I leave Yonago Station, I see Vanilla Man. The Japanese call him Waito Ojisan, or White Uncle. He is a man in his fifties, who wears all white and takes great delight in flirting with schoolgirls. He appears to be completely nuts, but has a brilliant mind and speaks near perfect English. He also has fantastic control over his body, and can often be seen doing tough yoga poses or high kung fu kicks to impress the girls. Seeing this bizarre character somehow brings closure to my Yonago visit.

I follow the coast toward Tottori, where I'll hang a right and move south toward the Inaba Kaido, a portion of which I hope to hike today. On the way, Daisen reveals some late snow on her northern face. Over the Miho Bay, three planes are moving in unison toward the airport. A fighter jet and a big troop carrier escort a passenger plane carrying some VIP. This explains all the cops around the station earlier.

It's late morning now as I get off the train at Ohara. I follow a stretch of road here that is lined with Edo period buildings, including the obligatory sake seller. (No irony in that these shops always seem to have been cherished and protected.) The road gives way to fields, which lead to a large concrete structure that wears what looks like those old hats by the Shogun's police force. The place is an eyesore, this giant pile of grey amidst the beauty of the hills and rice. It is the Musashi Budokan, dedicated to a man most certainly anti-establishment, who would have scoffed at such cops, these hollow men with no real strength but what was delegated them. Yet again, this country's rebels are brought into the fold by those who write history. Heading toward the Budokan, I pass under a new road that will bring in more tourists to this village, the birthplace of Miyamoto Musashi and his clan. I don't remember any of this concrete on my last visit here in 1996. Any character that this place had has been bludgeoned to death by the tourist industry. As if on cue, I hear what I think is a temple bell, but it is merely a worker dropping a wrench on a sheet of metal.

I come to the village of Mimasaka proper now. At least this part is as I remember it, except for the signs that I might have found useful back in those days when I didn't read kanji. I go into the museum building. The lobby is filled with photos and memorabilia for the 2003 NHK drama that is mostly responsible for this tourism. The museum used to be a small humble building in the shade of the large trees of the shrine across the road. Now it has had a park built around it. (I think someone should build a restaurant here and call it the "Gorin Shokudo.") A narrow road takes me to Musashi's birthplace, closed, with the unmistakable kanji stating that a death has occurred recently and they are in mourning. I notice a middle-aged man building a roof to shade the benches beside the road. I ask him about the Budokan, and want to ask what the locals think about having such a massive structure in their midst, but he launches into a long tale about all the kendo groups who come through here. He even knows a few local foreign martial artists that I happen to know. I ask him if he does kendo as well, and he says 'just a little.' Obviously the modesty of a high ranking practitioner.

I move farther up the road to the shaded hill where Musashi is buried. I sit in the shade of the shrine and have lunch, as a huge black crow rests near the grave of his father. I remember that the previous headmaster of the sword style Musashi started died a few years back, but can't remember his name. The names on the few newer graves don't resonate. I move up toward the trees and here beside a spring, the road becomes trail. It is quiet and pleasant. At the pass, a farm house lies in ruin, beside a cage large enough to hold, what? Bear, boars, a few dogs? It is lonely up here, and I try to image what life must've been like. I'm startled from my revery by the song of frogs which, in chorus, sound like the panting of a large dog.

The trail brings me to pavement once again. The highway I'd passed earlier pops out of the forest to run above a small village. I feel sad for the residents here, their landscape suddenly altered after unchanged centuries. Not only will the road bring a constant hum, but many of the homes now abut high concrete walls where forest once stood. Again, I want to talk to the locals, but the only person I see is a woman out walking in her rice field, moving through the water with the high steps of a heron.

It's a lovely day for walking and I'm in no hurry. I figure I have a good couple hours until I reach a train station again, so decide to try my chances with my thumb, hoping for a opportunity to talk to someone. There are very few cars passing by, and none seem to want to stop. This is strange, since it is in the countryside that rides come easily. Again, I'm in no hurry and am enjoying the day. I 'm finally given a ride much much later, and only for the last couple of km. I finish my walk down another single road bisecting Edo period buildings, sitting beneath the ruins of a mountaintop castle. At the town's far end is a shaded area where six jizo stand. I wonder if they watched Musashi kill his first man here, at the age of 13.

The train pulls up just as I do. I'm the only passenger, so I sit up front and talk with the conductor as he pilots this single car south. The busier Sanyo line is next, and once moving at greater speed toward Kyoto, I get a clue as to why I had had trouble with rides. At least eighty percent of the passengers on this train wear masks. While I was out of news-shot, swine flu hit Kansai hard. But I still don't know this yet, and feel like an extra in a bizarre sci-fi film. The train moves me faster and faster away from the ghosts of my past, and toward a future uncertain...

On the turntable: Howling Wolf, "The London Howling Wolf Sessions"

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