Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu I

Rain begat rain begat rain.  Amazing the precipitation we'd been getting, five, six days a week worth, for the past couple of months.  Rainy season was long over, but nobody had told the rain.  

All of which made Sunday even more glorious.  And a good day for walking.  

I'd thought I was finished with the Tōkai Shizen Hōdō (TSH) when I faced its terminus at Minō falls seven years ago.  But that was before I caught Henrō-byō, which ails most of those who walked the Shikoku pilgrimage.  Rather than return to that (not-so) small island as the stricken usually did, I chose to explore some of Japan's other old paths, and had taken on work where I tried to instill in others the joys of the open road.  Two tours I led took me along multi-day segments of the TSH, and before long I found myself thinking that rather than be satisfied simply with the Kansai section, why not follow it all the way to Tokyo?  

It was in this spirit that I got off the train in Ena.  A festival was in progress, and all the lockers full.   I batted my eyelashes at a middle-aged man in the tourist information office, who let me leave my suitcase with him yet warned me that he would close at 6.  So much for my open-ended day. 

Thankfully taxis were available, so I had one take me to where the TSH diverged from where the Nakasendo carried on into Ena.  I moved quickly downhill, then played leapfrog with a pair of highways.   Before long I found myself thinking that I was walking with different eyes again, that I wouldn't have the usual visual landscape clues that help navigate me along the old feudal roads.  Thankfully the signage was good, far better than it had been a decade before. The recent hiking boom had helped with that.  But one sign worried me in giving a walking time of 70 minutes in order to cover the next 3 km.  A mountain was surely ahead.  

The road rose heading into a small hamlet, and turning my head left I looked into the mouth of the very familiar Kiso Valley, with the tell tale peaks of Mts. Ena and Kiso Komagatake defining its right shoulder. Near a golf course, a handful of cats milled about, probably abandoned.  They certainly had plenty of toys to bat around, as the higanbana spider lilies swayed across every berm.  

The more I drew away from the rail line the more rice fields appeared, their stalks mostly listless and slumped over.  Since this was the first truly sunny weekend day we'd had in weeks, I imagined that a flurry of harvesting was going on, up the length of the country.  The heat of the day was high, 30 or more, a sure sign that yet another storm was building out to sea.  In a month or so, I will surely see a newspaper article about what a disaster the crop had been this year.  Things are  undoubtedly worse in North Korea.  Any time a round of missile tests begin, news about a flood or famine follows close behind.  The US steps in with food aid to quiet things down.  And a few years later, it starts up again.   Yet Abe and his lot are traveling the world, talking up the dangers of the Pyongyang regime, in the hopes of getting assistance of their own.  They know nothing, or perhaps everything, about politics.     

The ache in my muscles took on a subtle shift, and my climb was upon me.  I was surprised that it was ishitatami, above which my shoes tried to find grip on stones slick with lichens and a week's worth of rain.  It was slow going, even more so for the fallen trees. The apparent lack of hikers had me worried that I was on the wrong track, and once I topped out, I read my maps intently, and replenished my energy with a peanut butter sandwich.  Not far on was the site of an old tea house, then the trail passed behind a cattle farm whose stench nearly asphyxiated me as I tried desperately to slow my breathing which had quickened with the climb.  

The trail was arrow straight here, along the top of Mt. Yudachi.  It had been a tough climb to be sure, but not nearly as steep as the infamous Mt. Asadachi.  I quickened my pace along this flat forestry road, trying to make up time.  If the signs were correct, I'd arrive in Iwamura twenty minutes after my intended train pulled out.  Despite the speed I was truly enjoying myself, remembering why I liked the TSH so much, which alternated between quiet forest paths and narrow lanes bisecting hamlets.  It was all far more pleasant than a forced march along overdeveloped roads, with the roar of vehicles rushing past every few seconds.      

A man in the next village turned off his weed-whacker to ask me where I was going.  Unlike a pair of women earlier, he didn't make an explosive sound of surprise at my answer, which led me to believe that I was better than halfway there.  What followed was a few lateral crossings across long flat valleys, and short climbs over stumpy hillocks between.  A stand of kosatsuba proved my suspicions that this too was an old highway, and a bit of Googling later told me that I'd walked the Daimyō Kaidō.  Apparently I'd been in good company.  Kano no Chomei had enshrined 1000 stone Buddhas out here.  Not far away was the grave of Confucian scholar Sato Issai, who probably followed this road home when the Edo period forever closed, an event upon which he had no small impact.

My forced march had brought me to the station a half an hour before my train.  The station was small, with a short platform, and as is rapidly becoming the case with these out-of-the-way stations, the waiting room had been turned into a display of rail days of yore.  Bizarrely, one part of this was housed a small butchery operation, which as well as slinging meat also served take out coffee.  A pair of middle-aged motorcyclists nursed small mugs of beer, which looked too good to resist.  I took mine outside and sat on the platform on an old wooden bench, washing down a potato croquette and enjoying the silence.  But the peace wasn't to last.  Before long, a gaggle of noisy old women showed up, bringing the day to an end with a clamor as profound as the brakes of the train as it shrieked to a stop. 

On the turntable:  The Beatles, "The River Rhine Tapes"
On the nighttable:  George Orwell, "The Clergyman's Daughter"

Monday, September 26, 2016


Revisiting old friends,
Beneath autumn skies
Clad in herringbone.

On the turntable:  Blues Traveler, "Travelers and Thieves"
On the nighttable:  Gray Snyder, "The Great Clod"

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Papers: Wendell Berry

"I’m not putting my faith in the people, I’m putting my faith in some of the people."

On the turntable:  Boredoms, "Super Roots 6"

Friday, September 23, 2016


Counting syllables
Will certainly cause you to
Leave a haiku un...

On the turntable:  Brian Wilson, "Orange Crate Art" 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pillow Talk

Recently I've been finding it more and more difficult to love, even like, this country that I've called home for 22 years. This feeling has caused me all kinds of undue stress. More and more time spent abroad, not to mention intense disgust at the abusive power structure current in play, has forced me to take a deeper look at Japan, shaking me from the somnambulic bubble that life here tends to induce. 

On the turntable:  Broadcast, "The Noise Made by People"
On the nighttable:  Peter Vernezze and Carl J. Porter, "Bob Dylan and Philosophy"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Papers: Anthony Lane

"Like the One Ring, the Force can be wielded for both good and evil ends, but then so can a set of screwdrivers."

On the turntable:  The Beach Boys, "Pet Sounds"

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Haze of summer clears
And new colors arise:
Ine, Cosmos, Higanbana.

On the turntable:  Bruce Springsteen, "Tracks"

Friday, September 16, 2016

Original Face

A trip to Okinawa, three months after Ken died. Drunk on awamori and exhausted by the late hour, I catch a glimpse of my late son's face in my own.

A few days ago, the light catches the gray at my temples, and I see myself in ten years.

Everything exists in an instant...

On the turntable:   Beck, Bogart, and Appice, "Beck, Bogart, and Appice"

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kazuyo Sejima and The Structure of Relationship

My latest piece for ZenVita is all about the works of Kazuyo Sejima.  Link here.

On the turntable:  Bjork, "Volta"

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday Papers: Pete Kofod

"The only uniquely defining characteristic of a bureaucracy is the ability to reflexively impede human progress."

On the turntable:  Bauhaus, "1979-1983" 

Friday, September 09, 2016


The north's broad expanse
Tested by
Endless wind and rain.

On the turntable: "Treme"  (Sdtk)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Circle of Lights, Fjords, and Solitude

Very pleased to announce my first piece for the Singapore Straits Times, on a midwinter's journey to the Arctic Circle.
(See also my sidebar piece on Oslo.)

On the turntable:  Bill Evans, "Portrait in Jazz"

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Sunday Papers: Mamoun Hassan

"Plot is about what happens next; narrative is about why it's happening."

On the turntable:  Bill Laswell, Baselines"

Friday, September 02, 2016


Along beaten tracks.
Is a bell a bird?
Is a bird a bell?

On the turntable:  Black Sabbath, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" 
On the nighttable: Chisato O. Dubreuil, "From the Playground of the Gods"

Thursday, September 01, 2016


Cigarette in his lips
Old man pees into his rice field
Before the harvest.

On the turntable:  Black Grape, "It's Great When You're Straight"