Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kyushu expedition III

My luck with the weather apparently had a shelf life.  Looking from my hotel window, I didn't see the rain, but I saw the umbrellas. The windshield wipers of taxis waved back in forth in the way that the Japanese themselves wave their hands before their faces, body language that tells you that something is not possible.  

What looked impossible was an ascent of Yahazu-dake, a mountain down at the furthest reaches of Kyushu.  The advice of a colleague told me that neighboring Kaiman-dake was a better choice in this type of weather, which appealed more as it too was Hyakumeizan.  I decided to head south, and have a look at things. 

I needed to go to Chiran anyway, so hopped a bus, the foggy windows preventing any sort of view.  So I allowed Jeff Buckley to give me his take on things, as the bus rolled though the semi-tropical hills.  An hour or so later I got out in Chiran, pleased that the weather had cleared some.  I strolled the old samurai quarter, between low stone walls more reminiscent of Okinawa, or Cheju Island in Korea, a solid construction that withstands typhoons.  The tropical feel permeated here, with the humidity, and the scent of the plants, and the lazy shape of the languid trees.  The gardens of these old Satsuma samurai too favored stone, the design of many anchored by a tall flat stone that looked like a waterwall, or perhaps a simple outline of Fudo-myo, in either case a representation of the esoteric Buddhism that is the true heart of the old time martial ethics, not the Zen as falsely sold to the West.  Misty mountains and dozing cats completed the scene.

I walked out into, and through town, up a hill lined with stone lanterns, each bearing the figure of a kamikaze pilot, whose features were unmistakably that of Jizo.  The kamikaze, nay, the peace museum is on the grounds of the old airfield, converted now to a park where young men of this particular era play baseball.  Amidst the hilly slopes of the park were a few sakura trees, one bearing the first buds of the new spring.  How ironic that the planes of the kamikaze pilots themselves were known as sakura, and how ironic the see-saw in the children's park shaped like a propeller. 

There were more sakura near the museum, a handful of them shading one of the eponymous planes.  I walked over to the shrine and bowed my head, then again next door to the temple.  Upon approach, I saw a man doing some strange hand gestures in front of the main altar as he chanted the heart sutra.  Based on his build and the gestures themselves I assumed that he was some sort of right-wing karate man, paying his respects here.  I paid my own, which is about the time that he noticed me.  The man had a familiar look to him, and as he bagn to spoke, one of the first words that he passionately emoted was "Stallone," and it was there that the resemblance was effixed.  He had the same hair, the same build, even the same slightly drooping eyes of the young Rocky era superstar.  The words poured out of him, telling me of how when Universal Studios first opened, he went to Osaka in order to meet his hero, to give him a message, which went undelivered as Stallone never appeared at the opening.  But here, in a bewildering moment of fortuitous timing, I was instead the recipient of a message delivered so passionately that it could only be told with eyes closed, and in the position of a prostrate bow. It began with how Admiral Yamamoto felt that the Soviets were a better target than the Americans, who were far too strong. Yamamoto's caution about the futility of such an action went unheeded, yet he went on to devise the Pearl Harbor attack plans anyway, which led to the inevitable, and the great spirit of Nihon was irrevocably lost.  In pontificting on this spirit he slipped in his birthday and that of Stallone (apparently), as well as a recitation of the heart sutra at high speed.  The emotion was wrenched out of him for a good five minutes, which ended only with with a near tearful apology, his head slipping closer and closer to earth.   He next prompted me to tell him my own birth date.  Upon hearing it, he gave me a broad smile and took my hand with his bandaged own.  It was then I got it.  The bandage, and the strength of forearm and shoulder which gave power to the strength in his grip, revealed to me the boxer that this man was, and his bizarre demeanor was easily explained as a few too many punches delivered to his poor sweet head.    

I made my eventual escape, through the former barracks and to the museum, itself housing an array of planes and parts of planes, letters and photographs of boys who died for the wrong cause at an age too young.  There were others in the museum, including groups of high school students. I watched the boys in particular, as they wandered about in their usual frivolous schoolboy ways, joking and carrying on, and thought sadly that in a different age, it would be their photographs on the walls.  

I knew that there would be tears, and it was one photograph that brought them, of a four year old girl whose father had lovingly sent her drawings of life on the base, up until the day when he had forfeited his own.  I had to quickly move outside then, past all the twisted metal and the kids straight-jacketed into uniforms of their own, unable to recognize themselves as the beneficiaries of the sacrifice of their grandfathers.

The weather which had been bearing its teeth all day arrived finally with full snarl.  I tried to work out a way to take public transport down toward the mountains, but nothing would get me there in time to get a hike in before dark.  Nor was hitching an option in this weather.  So it was that I made a return to Kagoshima, saving me from an outer and inner weather most turbulent...

On the turntable:  The Waterboys, "Windmill Lane Sessions"
On the nighttable:  Scott Berry, "A Stranger in Tibet"

No comments: