Wednesday, December 05, 2012


Seasons don't always creep in gradually.  They can also come on in stages, stages marked by profound weather.  A heavy storm will usher in a cold that signifies the death of summer.  And a sequel to that storm will turn the fiery glories of autumn into soggy clumps beneath your feet. 

Such a storm came to Yufuin.  From the shelter of my futon, I heard the gusts making music with the electrical wires, and the accompanying  percussion of rain.  

By the time I left my inn, the symphony had opted more a lesser mezzopiano dynamic.  It was a blustery blustery day.  The surrounding peaks were lost in a layer of cloud.  All that was visible of Yufu-dake was its attractive bare shoulder, grass-covered like the volcanic plugs of northern New Mexico or south Colorado.  This area seemed destined for the low population densities those states, if the old abandoned inns and B&B's were any indication.   

An old woman stood in front of her home picking up petals beneath a bush quickly losing its flowers.  But the wind and the storm didn't look like they'd yet finished for the day.  I frowned slightly, thinking what a futile waste of energy and time this was.  But what of me, walking for the sake of walking?   I had no agenda other than to follow the line of hills that ring the town, hoping that the rain would hold off for awhile. 

Tucked into one corner of the valley was Unakihime Shrine, whose ancient, 90 meter tall trees had been brought down by a violent typhoon a couple of decades ago.  Their decapitated forms stood off to one side of the shrine grounds, the severed roots like multiple amputee cephalopods.  In place of these five fallen giants were dozens of newer trees planted by the shrine faithful, the names of donors hanging on neat white plaques.   My visit here today was similarly commemorated in memory as the place where I spent my first New Year's Eve in Japan.   

My girlfriend and I had warmed ourselves at a large bonfire here, after a near futile attempt to find something to eat.  Knowing little about the customs of our host country, we had passed door after darkened door, wondering how the Japanese celebrated the holiday, unaware that most were at home watching the annual "battle of the bands" on NHK.  Spying light coming from the between the shutters of one izakaya, we had been allowed to sit if we could possibly be satisfied by a little simple rice and miso soup.  We could.  And were thus further satisfied by the copious amounts of sake shared by a couple of ranbunctious old men down the counter.  Afterward, as the shrine's bonfire did for our outsides what the soup and alcohol had done for the inner, the clock struck twelve, and only then had a steady stream of people begun to enter, and fill, and overfill the shrine, like a population of cinema townspeople appearing en masse after the bad gunslinger proves to be the slower draw.  

Other than the scene above, I have no other memory of my previous visit here (though the notebooks upstairs could perhaps change that).  I was absolutely sure that I hadn't visited the Showa museum, done up like an actual film set, with its single narrow city lane lined by an array of little rooms made to look like the different shops of the era.  Posters of film and music stars hung from every wall, and I noted that without exception, they were all from after the war years.  People are obviously not too keen on being reminded of the first, less pleasant half of that emperor's reign. To those who passed the actual Showa period in an office or a kitchen, I imagine that this museum must offer warm comfort, in this current climate of economic and nuclear uncertainty.  As a fan of Japanese post-war cinema, I too found this place as a wonder, and I smiled yet again at the oddity of feeling nostalgia for a place and time in which I have never lived.  

On the turntable:  Fishbone, "Truth and Soul"  


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