Saturday, February 25, 2012


The flow of water. Trees towering from rock. Smoothly planed tree trunks shoring up the walls. It took little more than this for a certain peace to sink in, for shoulders to lower themselves from the altitude of ears.

I was sipping an iced coffee at Ishii Coffee shop, Miki and Sora at my side. We'd driven up into the hills so as to allow Miki some driving practice before she chances roads driven on the other side. And here I was in the Japanese mountains again, after an absence of 2 years.

There were mountains closer to where we were staying down in town. A few of the high, wild looking peaks that flank the Seto Naikai were a short walk away. Mt. Misen and some of her entourage rose just across the water, filling up most of my bedroom window. The sea that lapped her toes was a few blocks over. But between them and I were rows and rows of identical gray industrial storage facilities. And while they were an assault on the eyes, the ears too were similarly besieged, here in this house wedged between a train line and the busy Route 2.

Thus our drive up though Saiki-cho was such a delight, winding along narrow roads lined with beauty. Miki and I had just passed the better part of week looking for the ideal place to live, and here, a mere half hour from her mom's place, we found it, though we had by then already committed to a return to Kyoto.

And it wasn't even the first time I'd been in the countryside, having returned to Japan two weeks earlier. There had been a couple days spent down in Kunisaki Peninsula, where I'd hammered out the details of my new employment with Walk Japan. And there was that lunch at Cafe Millet, where we popped in to surprise friends, and were in turn rewarded by a nice lunch, and the promise to resume our workshops up there. But at that time I'd been too preoccupied to sink into the peace, too burdened by the enormous task of resuscitating a former life.

House hunting had been the biggest. While still in America, we were determined to settle on some land in the countryside somewhere. I'd chosen the Kibi region of Okayama, centrally located and within a two hour trip to Yonago, Kyoto, and Miki's family in Hiroshima. Kibi had always resonated with me spiritually, as a powerful place dotted with ancient wonders. I looked forward to wandering her hills, and to exploring the hundreds of islands of the Inland Sea. But reality thwarted us, finding that a century of hyper-modernization had scarred all but the most sacred ground. The houses we looked at were uninspiring, the villages overbuilt and unappealing. In the midst of this, we received word that a couple of Kyoto acquaintances were leaving, their houses coming free. So we drove that way, still stubbornly determined not to live there again. But a few phone calls, a few meetings, and we began to be seduced again by our community. A friend mentioned an available house up in Kumogahata, a possible best of both worlds scenario: a country life lived a half hour from town. The house was beautiful, the rent cheap. But it also needed work, a less than ideal proposition from a renter's perspective. It seemed the final hint toward a gradual realization, that to create an comfy country life is an all or nothing proposition. You must buy, not rent. A dance of two steps, one requiring time and patience. Eventually, we'll find it, but we needed digs soon. Then the real estate guy mentioned that he had another house to show, and it will become our new home, that restored machiya near Daitokuji.

And so it goes...

On the turntable: The Stone Roses, "The Complete Stone Roses"
On the nighttable: William Least-Heat Moon, "River Horse"

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