Thursday, October 25, 2012

Off the Road?

Between tours last week, I passed five days in Kyoto, though rarely at home.

Saturday.  Drove over to Gichu-ji, and Basho's grave.  The grounds were small, but busy.  Luckily, we left as a large group was coming in.  I was surprised to see that Kiso Yoshinaka had also been buried there.  I knew had been slain in the swamps of Biwa, but didn't know that his head had been interned here.  After introducing Basho to Sora, I of course composed a verse:

The roar of leafblowers
Scatter leaves and shatter peace,
At Basho's final idyll.

Afterward, we went over to the lake and found a flower festival.  To my delight, there was also some kind of German Octoberfest going on next door.  I enjoyed brats and beer down on the sand.  Thus fortified, I showed Sora how to skim stones.  But on a beach this heavily trodden, good stones were hard to find.  So we turned our backs to the water and headed toward one of those inflatable bouncers found at most funfairs.  The kinpatsu crew in charge gave me the nod, so I led Sora inside this giant maniacal rabbit, where I bounced around with the other kids, trying not to fall atop my daughter who bounced with laughter.  

Back in Kyoto, we went to perhaps the world's smallest festival.  For polished Kyoto, it had a rough DIY feel, and most of the people running the games and food stalls looked to be locals rather than the usual chimpira set.  The following hungover morning, they'd drag a mikoshi through the street, for the first time in 52 years.

Sunday. Spent part of the morning biking around Kinugasa, trying to find a trail up to Ura Daimonji. Unlike her well-climbed counterpart across town in Higashiyama, there seems to be no way up.  I've climbed it once, after scrambling over a wall at the top of a Buddhist cemetery.  Now I can't even find that temple.  At any rate, it was a lovely morning spent biking under the trees and around the hills. 

In the afternoon, I took part in a casual discussion about the Shikoku Pilgrimage with Tom Stanley (who founded Walk Japan), and Charlie Canning, who's just written a novel inspired by his walking the pilgrimage.  A good afternoon in good company.   

Monday.  Drove out to Shiga again, to share with Miki and Sora a couple spots that I particularly enjoyed when I'd walked through back in August:   Oiso no Mori and Samegai.  We returned to that trout shop for lunch, but rather than a repeat of a quiet meal I'd had, there was a drunk old man there smoking at the counter and talking in a ridiculously loud voice.  The service too was quite poor, but the fish held its own.  

After lunch, we drove up to Mukainokura, ghost town I found here.  The drive up was along a narrow road strewn with rocks tumbled from the hillside above.  There was no guard rail to protect us from a sheer drop into the forest below.  I particularly liked this, this holdover from when Japan hadn't yet become such a nanny society.  Considering that this former charcoal-making village had been abandoned almost 30 years before, the road was in pretty good shape.  At the top were a few structures now collapsed in on themselves, with tiles and brick cooking stoves standing on squared clearings amongst the trees.  It was a quiet space, the air clean.  Down a path in the woods was an huge tree that had split into 12 trunks, and was subsequently deified.  We milled around here awhile, finding ourselves once again in a place where we felt rooted, unable to draw away due to the quiet, the peace.

Tuesday.  Riding in the rain reminded me that I actually am a resident of Kyoto.  As my work now takes me elsewhere, I usually don't need to be out in bad weather, like I used to back when I had been employed here in town. As the rain splashed my face, I felt at home.  So I braved the weather, looking forward to a slice of  Japanese film history, in order to view an installment of Tora-san on a big screen at the famous Minamiza, much like I'd seen that Godzilla flick back in the '90's.  (I deeply regret not having gone to see 'Seven Samurai' when it was screened as the final film of that beautiful old cinema on Kawaramachi that closed a number of years ago.)  At the theater, I found my seat amongst all the old timers.  As the light flickered across their faces, I wondered what was going on in their minds, in what manner were they were playing out their own version of Showa-era nostalgia.  It was interesting to see where in the narrative they'd contribute their subdued laughter.  When the film ended, we all wandered amongst the Tora-san memorabilia that had been displayed in various corners of the Minamiza.  Under one glass case was Tora-san's suitcase and hat, and in gazing at these artifacts of simpler times, tears nearly began to well up.  But as Mike Watt cautions, "It's not reality, just someone else's sentimentality."

Afterward, I continued the Showa theme and went to read "Coffee Life in Japan" at Maki, an old timey kissaten near my house.  It wasn't particularly pleasant, with the hard wooden seat and every single man there but me emitting smoke from his lungs.  Thus polluted, I fled for home.

Wednesday.  I had a kinder kissaten experience at Cattleya, on the site of an defunct Gion shrine from whose old well they draw the water for their brew.  Later, I biked over to see a couple of 1970's documentaries on old Japanese craft and culture.  The first, on Rikyu, was informative, but the second, on the paintings and woodcarvings of Shiko Munakata, was mindblowing.  Creativity literally poured out of the man, his hands moving at the speed of thought.  (No English, but you can get a sense of this guy's incredible fury and energy here.)

My feet took on a similar speed as I raced up the Kamogawa in order to pick up my daughter from school, for some brief moments of play before, like Tora-san, I'd set off bags in hand, out on the road once again...

On the turntable:  Pat Benetar, "In the Heat of the Night"
On the nighttable:  Shimazaki Toson, "Before the Dawn"

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