Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Nippon Extremities: Okinawa VII

March 1, 2003

Up a little early, I wandered over to Sōgen-ji temple ruins, a single wall with three arches, the middle one leading up stone steps to a grassy knoll where the Hondo had once stood.  Now there was a magnificent tree, twisted and gnarled, a tropical manifestation of Indra's net.  I moved on toward Rainbow Tree Cafe, where I met up with a local English teacher who had been teaching here about four months, fresh off a few years on the road.  He and I shared many ideas, bouncing the conversation ball around for a couple of hours.  Keiko arrived around 2 pm.

We had a quick lunch at A&W, finding yet again that my affinity for eating greasy American fast food garbage is only in my head, as my body violently opposes every time.  Heavy heavy rain, huge drops visible in the air, rivers flowing down the windshield. 

 When we arrived at Nakagusuku, it stopped, leaving us unmolested as we walked the grounds.  It was built up on four levels, and due to its state of ruin, it was one of the more interesting castles I'd seen.  Cracks were in all the corners, with the roots of trees finding their inspiration in besiegers centuries dead.  The tops of the walls too were battered and uneven.  Below, a group of nuru prayed to a spot beyond the broken walls.  I asked Keiko to what specifically were they praying, and she said that it is the individual's particular sense that guides them to a spot where the kami dwell.  She pointed at the ruins of a hotel standing on adjacent grounds.  After raising the public ire at a Japanese company for attempting to build on this sacred land, the company went under before the hotel had even been completed.  As always, the gods get the last word. 

We wandered around awhile, stopping at a half dozen utaki along the way.  One was for Kudaka, for the people who couldn't actually make it to the island itself.  Keiko was happy to find places she'd never seen since, again seeming glad to have met me.  As we walked past the hotel, I had a revelation about Japan.  During the Meiji period, with the rise of state Shinto, the gods had fled.  Early successes against Russia and China were fueled by the remaining energy. The war years and the blind run toward materialism were acts of a godless people.  The current economic decline was proof that the gods are back, leading the wise to seek new (old) ways of living.  After eight years in Japan, it took a  trip to Okinawa to discover this.     

Next, we went to Nakamura-ke, an old house in a traditional style.  Keiko narrated things to me based on her own experience growing up in a similar (though poorer) place.  I like the idea of living on Okinawa, but walking through the house I felt sad that there weren't more like it.  Most buildings I'd seen were new, Japan having down little to preserve local tradition.  Mountains and beaches aside, I found the towns and cities to be visually unappealing.  But perhaps I've been looking with Japanese eyes.

Back in Naha, I went over to Earthnik, a shop that was part of a project focused on simple and natural living.  Over a local curry, I again chatted with a beautiful older woman.  What's was going on with me this week?

Then to Chakra yet again, sitting toward the back with family and friends.  I was sitting with two older women,who tried to get me drunk on awamori, but I resisted as much as possible.  Unlike a couple of nights before, Shokichi had once again found his mojo, and the band was grooving with a different energy, really pumping.  "Haisai" brought the Saturday night crowd to its feet, and seemed extended. The drummer in particular was on fire.  Tonight's crowd seemed different too, more tourists, plus a few business types looking uptight during Shokichi's monologues.

Keiko played a solo set next, and the two old women and I got up to dance.  One of them, a dance teacher, taught me simple hand movements to the kacharsee.  Back at our table, we were joined by Shokichi's best friend.  He was drunk, but had some amazing English.  Being old friends, they thoroughly ribbed each other, one of the old women saying that this guy Y-san was a burden on Shokichi.  I quickly replied that being burdened was a measure of true friendship, and they all quietly agreed.  

We moved upstairs for some live jazz, a piano and bass duo were joined occasionally by a buxom singer.  I sat in one drums on one song, extremely self-conscious about where to put the fills.  Despite this, I got a solo (more like a half-solo), nodding back to the pianist when I finished. The whole thing was pretty embarassing, an amateur playing with pros in front of other pros.  

Later, Keiko taught me samba dancing on a couple of songs.  The evening came to an abrupt close when  Y-san drank too much of T-san's sake, and they got in a fight, which Keiko said happened every time.  Shokichi came out, and they went back to a private room.  Shokichi, ever the peacemaker.  It was amazing to see the subset of casualty figures that surround celebrity.

As a last stop, Keiko and I went to a small bar next door to my hotel, run by a John Lennon fan.  A Clapton DVD was on the television, so we watched, talking quietly about drugs and music, occasionally singing a handful of lyrics here and there though both of us sober.  But Keiko kept singing when 'Beautiful Tonight' came on, both us looking into one another's eyes.  It was an incredibly romantic moment, getting a personal serenade from a beautiful singer of some fame.  And I could feel myself getting drawn in, my reserve beginning to waver.  I wasn't even completely sure that Keiko was interested in me that way, but the way this entire week had been constructed felt like a kind of courtship.  I wanted to kiss her.  Everything in me wanted that.  But I couldn't bring myself to, it wasn't right.  It was only a few months before that my life had dropped out from under me.  My marriage was in free-fall.  A tryst with Keiko wasn't going to stop that.  I had to return to my wife and brace myself for the inevitable impact. 

As Clapton bowed out of his second encore, I walked alone back to my hotel.  

On the turntable:  Shirley Bassey, "Old Friends and Lovers"


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