Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nakasendo Waypoints #75

Sky called down to earth,
Greeting it with a caress,
Then a white embrace.

On the turntable:  The Police, "Synchronicity"

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nakasendo Waypoints #74

In the grass withering,
The voice of a semi
Long out of season.

On the turntable:  The Who,  My Generation" 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nakasendo Waypoints #73

The road leads ever on.
Autumn on the wane;
Winter birthed in snow.

On the turntable:  My Morning Jacket, "At Dawn"

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Papers: Gil Scot-Heron

"Words are important for the mind, but the notes are for the soul."

On the turntable:  バルナギータ, "つなぎあわされた虹の輪を"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Papers: Patrick Sherriff

Nukes will not save us, leadership will. 

On the turntable:  Pearl Jam, "10"

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ueno in the Rain

It started with an Akamon curry in the rain.  Or out of the rain is more honest, sitting at a counter, my back to the brick wall that once served as a support for the eponymous red gate under which tens of thousands of students aspire to walk.  

I had walked past this gate, and the university it led to, a few weeks before, as the Nakasendo led me past Tokyo University in frighteningly similar weather.  The rain this time too is typhoon driven, and I walk through it away from my nearby ryokan, for my aforementioned curry, then further on toward the pond that serves as the heart of the school, with kiai shouts coming from the kyūdō dōjō above.  The steps down are slippery with wet.  

Beyond the campus, I walk around yet another body of water, nearly choked with lotus plants.  I stop at one point at the tall apartment building that stands as a monument to the fact that Donald Richie is no longer there.   

In one corner I stop at the Shitamachi museum that honors the period that Richie knew best.  The exhibits bring life to the post-war years.  On the first floor is a reproduction of an alley lined with houses, opened up like doll houses. Hanging from the windows of one are dried orange peels strung to keep the mozzies away.  Upstairs, a ground of octogenarians merrily play with the toys of their childhood.  And on a screen behind them, Ueno rises from the ashes of war.

The narrow corridors of Ameyoko-cho was one of the first things to rise, and it could be argued that it was the entrepreneurs of this one-time black market that birthed the eventual Economic Miracle and subsequent Bubble Years.  Today it is somewhat tarted up to resemble more a marketplace of any claustrophobic Asian city, complete with touts of a dozen ethnicities.

Passing through Ueno Station, I notice that there's an exhibition of feudal period Kyoto art, but I don't feel the need to go any further back in time.  Instead, I go gaze awhile at Saigo Takamori and his enormous dog.  Nearby, a half dozen homeless men are sitting beneath the overhanging lip of the public toilets, keeping out of the drizzle.  I'm amused to see that they're all reading books.  

In a similar fashion, Binzuru sits under the eves of the great temple here, keeping dry.  His red wooden belly has been rubbed white from the passing hands of those ailing.  A reminder of the high prevalence of stomach cancer here?  Or perhaps just the anxieties of living in our age, which knot my own stomach on occasion, disturbing sleep.   

Despite the light rain, the buskers hold their usual formation along the promenade.  A Peruvian pipe band, Lon Cheney's Phantom on stilts.  The music stays with me until the Toshogu shrine, then fades as I continue down the hill.  

Passing the galleries and bookstores, I find music again within the walls of an old-timey kissaten, and warm myself with a cup.  The shop has a Showa feel, and a French name, Ronault.  As a I sip, as I listen, the typhoon brings with it a premature darkness.

On the turntable:  The Avett Brothers, "Live, Volume 3" 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nakasendo Waypoints #73

 At this early hour
Only the water is rushing,
Moving toward empty fields.

On the turntable:  REM, "Reckoning"
On the nighttable:  Shogo Oketani, " J-boys"

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Changed Only for a Sight of Sound

It was my fourth visit to Kenrokuen this year, and to my delight I found that I was being guided by my ears. My eyes thus released, the sounds of the park began to dictate the pace of my footfalls, which themselves became an instrument in the symphony. The cry of a heron, the wind sweeping through the reeds, the clack of bamboo, the scratch of branches on stone. All the cry of an autumn newborn.

So I lay back in a quiet corner of the park, the maples above silhouetted against a clear blue sky, each leaf small and delicate and perfect, like a baby's hand. Then with eyes closed, I let one of Japan's most beautiful gardens wash over me...

On the turntable:  Yes, "Close to the Edge"
On the nighttable:  Harold S. Williams, "Tales of the Foreign Settlements in Japan"

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Further on Basho's Narrow Road... (Narrow Road Signs II)

Rain soaked willows
Hang limp from weeping
Second-hand tears.

 Swirling swirling.
For three days the winds,
This morning the birds.

 Children deserve
Better than war;
I can offer only chestnuts.

Its lifts now silent,
The ski hill's only echo
Is the schussing of

Where the Shogun found wealth
I find far more value
In the gold in the trees.

 On the turntable:  John Coltrane, "The Complete Impulse Studio Sessions"

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sunday Papers: Robert Macfarlane

"To reach a summit is very palpably to have triumphed over adversity: to have conquered something, albeit something utterly useless.  It is the imagined significance of the summit -- which is after all, nothing but a patch of rock or snow raised higher than any other by the contingencies of geology; a set of co-ordinates in space; a figment of geography; a point without a point -- which has largely given rise of the industry of ascent."

On the turntable:  Thelonious Monk:  Live at the It Club"
On the nighttable:  Robert Macfarlane, "Mountains of the Mind"

Friday, November 01, 2013

Background Artists

I recently heard my buddy Deep Mikey L. get interviewed for a podcast on Notebook on Cities and Culture (the name of which never fails to remind me of the second Talking Heads album, though it really should remind me of Wim Wenders).  In the interview, Michael mentioned that the majority of his friends in Kyoto were Japanese.  This saddened me a bit.

I too once had my fair share of Japanese friends.  This was the usual state of affairs in the 'Nog, where amidst a population of over 100,000, a mere twenty or so were westerners.  And even most of that small number revolved in and out every summer.   I felt like I shared equal time on stage with my Japanese friends, as I lived out the performance that was my life there.  

I met my current wife a few months prior to my moving down to Kyoto in 2006.  Upon her return to Japan from a year spent in Canada, she had had the good sense to choose native English speakers as flatmates, in order to keep her language abilities up.  So it was that when I moved here, I joined a pre-made, foreigner heavy friendship base.  

Most of the Japanese people I know are students or teachers from the yoga world, or from my Takeuchi dojo, and I don't really know any of them very well.  We get along fine, and frequently share laughter, but I know next to nothing about them.

A part of this could be the conservative aloofness of the Kyoto native, a status bestowed only after a number of generations here. (Kyoto is the only place I've ever been where a person on a quiet street won't return a friendly greeting.)

And with some profound regret I feel that I am no longer sharing my experiences in this country with the people of this country, and that the Japanese I see rushing around me every day have taken on the part of mere extras.

On the turntable:  Thievery Corporation,  "Lebanese Blonde"
On the nighttable:  Charles R. Scott, "Rising Son"