Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Papers: Tom Bissell

"They say the mountains call your name, and you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out which one called you."

On the turntable: Dinosaur Jr., "Dinosaur" 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #15

Nothing Sacred, by Angela Carter
Kin'oni SSS Pale Ale, Onidensetsu Brewery

On the turntable: Duke Ellington, "Ellington at Newport"

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #14

A Walk in Kumamoto, by Yoji Hasekawa
Enigma IPA, TDM 1874 Brewery

On the turntable:  David Bowie,  "Ziggy Stardust"

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Walk through History

My latest travel piece for the Singapore Straits Times, on walking Nara's Yagyu Kaido.

On the turntable:  Deep Forest, "Pacifique"

Monday, May 15, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #100

Far from the madding crowd,
Between steadfast peaks and resolute water,
Into the future I go.

On the turntable:  Dizzy Gillespie, "The Cool World"

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #13

The Last Shogun,  by Ryotaro Shiba
Punk IPA, Brew Dog Brewery

On the turntable: Del McCoury, "Celebrating 50 Years"

Monday, May 08, 2017


Golden Week.
And it was that last day
That shined the brightest.

On the turntable:  Doyle Lawson, "Bluegrass Gospel"

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #99

High to low.
Defying natural wisdom
As summer dawns.

On the turntable:  Dead Kennedys, "A Skateboard Party"

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #98

Maples uncurl
Their tiny fists
To catch the fluttering petals.

On the turntable:  Dead Can Dance, "Unreleased Tracks 1"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Papers: Robert Twigger

"Adventure is the form art takes when it cannot find expression."

On the turntable:  Dr. John, "N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda"

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #97

Across the Mino plain;
The liminality of seasons,
As expressed in color.

On the turntable:  Dale Watson, "Carryin' On"

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #96

Winds off Ibuki
Caress the face of water,
Before the planting is done.

On the turntable: Devo, "Pioneers who got Scalped"  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Papers: Tom Bissell

"Environmentalism suddenly struck me as the most obvious philosophy imaginable: Let us not ruin forever where we live and work and breathe and eat. Earth’s future inhabitants will no doubt look upon our current environmental practices — maintained despite all manner of evidence that doing so will result in planetary ruin — roughly the way we look upon eighteenth-century surgery. And that is if we, and they, are very lucky."

On the turntable: "For the Masses -Tribute to Depeche Mode"

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Imbibing Bibliophile #12

London Orbital by Iain Sinclair
London Pride  Fuller's Brewery

On the turntable:  Danny Elfman, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Above the forest floor,
Bluebells hang their pretty heads
In contemplation.

On the turntable: DJ Shadow, "Bombay the Hard Way"

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Imbibing Bibliophile #11

Stanboul Train by Graham Greene
Harvey’s Brewery, Sussex Best Bitter 

On the turntable:  Descendants:  "Two Things at Once"

Saturday, April 01, 2017


April is the cruelest month,
If the land's only color is
A lingering grey.

On the turntable:  Descendants:  "Somery"

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wakasa Kaidō II

I board a bus on the shores of Lake Biwa, which climbs back into winter. Above the Self Defense Force driving course stands lone deciduous tree, its branches bare and splayed to look like a fossil.   

I disembark in the village of Tōchū, where I left the Wakasa Kaidō six months ago.  Whereas that day had been a late summer day tinged with the chill of autumn, today was a spring walk heavily wrapped in a shroud of bitter cold.  

The road sign shows 2º C.  The outermost of my many layers is a bright orange hardshell.  This color is mainly used for winter gear and is completely psychological, as it symbolizes warmth.  But I had chosen it for its practical purpose:  to be completely visible to traffic as I move through the series of upcoming dreaded S-curves with shoulders hardly wider than my own .  I've probably researched this section more than any walk I've ever done, trying to find a way to avoid them.  As I ascend, I scan the roadsides looking for anything resembling trail, but aside from one track that appears to lead into the wilderness, there is nothing. I do get a quick break in cutting across a forested section of one curve, and just beyond this I receive a little help by a surprising source: The Ministry of Construction.  One of their newest follies is to reinforce the hillside by cutting away all the trees and laying the bare  ground with string netting.  I get in touch with my inner Spiderman and begin to climb, up a pitch that increased rapidly to beyond 45º, forcing me to crawl along on all fours like some bizarre humpbacked orange beast.   This leads me to believe that this is the actual Wakasa kaidō, as the climb is too steep for people to climb straight up, they'd have naturally created switchbacks.  Later on, the modern Route 367 would have been laid atop it.   

I take a long rest at the top, taking a thick stick and trying to unblock a drain of a winter's worth of debris.  There is a certain satisfaction to watch it begin to break apart and rush down the hillside.  Not far above this I come to the old road which avoids the long tunnel and winds up and over the pass.  The road surprises in having been recently resurfaced, which makes sense when I come to the cryptomeria plantation, the bellies of most trees wrapped in a veneer blue haramaki.  I'd gambled in my choice of footwear, taking my chances in the risk of lingering snow in wearing my light trail runners rather than a sturdier winter boot.  This proves to be the right choice as there are only a handful of patches here and there, including one surrounding the rusting hulk of a Suzuki Samurai, victim of a duel decades ago.  Mostly I move across carpets of fallen cedar branches, a welcome relief from 26 km over hardened tar.

I move down the far side of Hanaori Pass, so named for the pilgrims who would pick flowers there to leave as offering at Myōō-in Temple a couple of hours further on.  But to paraphrase the Japanese proverb, hana yori yuki, rather than flowers, snowThe old road parallels the river, and here I find long interrupted stretches of white a meter deep. Still, it beats to busy road above and its tunnels.  I try to follow a single set of footsteps a week or so old, over crusty snow that gives under me.  The footprints have packed the snow pretty well, but my shoe size is greater, and my weight certainly heavier, so again and again I posthole up to mid-thigh.  Now and again the footprints cease completely, my predecessor having chosen another route somewhere.  I try an old martial arts trick where I put all my mental attention on my belly and slide rather than step across.  This works surprisingly well as there is no dramatic weight shift, though the moment I think about how well I'm doing, I crash through the surface.  Weird ninja magic.  

Luckily, and bizarrely, the snow patches are only in sections that curve toward the south.  All are sections are clear.  My feet are thoroughly soaked as I move along beneath the entrance to Ushi no Hana tunnel. (There are a number of passes throughout Japan with the same name, so called because they were so steep that they would have to coax the pack animals up by pulling the rope attached to the ring through their nose.)  In the end I should have been a better a Buddhist and chosen the middle way and worn light hikers.  But before long I've wound beyond the tunnels and come to the broad valley of Katsuragawa.  I have fond memories of a summer day here, of a dozen bottles of Kirin beer cooling in a stream running fast before a ryokan.   

A fresh memory I suppose is upon reaching the place, the sun finally appears.  I sit on a log by the roadside and eat a rice ball, finding some feeling again in my feet.  The sun is feeding an array of newly laid solar panels, which explains all the freshly cut timber I passed a kilometer before.   Here the powers that be have decimated a section of healthy forest so as not to interfere with the panels with their shade.  It reminds me of the time I was caught in a sudden squal with a friend who is very active in the Japanese antinuclear movement. Post Fukushima, Japan is now one of the greatest importers of fossil fuels in the world, and the offset of carbon emissions is creating the exact kind of weather patterns that had forced us to run for cover. More solar power is a preferred alternative, but at the expense of the forests?  I begin to think that there are no simple issues to anything.    

I carry on.  There is a new petrol station I've never seen, called "Smile Oil."  You'd smile too if you monopoloized by being the only service station along most of Route 367.  I receive a true smile from a woman in a passing kei-truck, who asks if I'm going to Miyata-san's B&B a kilometer of so further on.  I tell her what I'm up to, but that I'll drop by for a rest.  Upon arriving, I find her and a friend having lunch in the sun out front of an old farmhouse.  They are bith artists, and mention that this entire area is like a big museum, due to all the creative people living here.  The woman in the truck, Makiko, mentions that she'd appeared in a Papersky article, photographed on one of her horses, which she rides along Kaidō from time to time.  Her friend Keiko and I found some common ground in our connection with Kōdō, with whom she'd been closely affiliated until retiring out here.  We could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon in conversation, but I had ground to cover.  The B&B is only an hour or so from my home by car, and I promise to return. 

My GPS shows a parallel path on the other side of the river.  I'm not sure whether it is the old path, but I've many time traveled Route 367 by car, and it looks a pleasant alternative.  As I cross the river, I somehow find myself in the middle of a large tribe of monkeys, who scatter in the three directions at my approach.  There are bear warning signs on the far bank, and despite the winter feel of the day, I am reminded that mother nature is rousing herself.  She is all I have to accompany me, as there aren;t many houses or hamlets.  I am convinced that this couldn't be the Wakasa, until I find the ruins of three teahouses, their wells obvious upon the forest floor.  There is also a broad open spring which looks more at home in a high Alpen meadow.  A sign tells me that the spring has been here since the Kamakura period.   Perhaps I'm on the road after all.       

The sky spits at me a few times, but mercifully isn't too serious about it.  I cross the river again and move into my last hamlet, a mere cluster of log homes that are probably used by vacationers.  Beside one is a long unused stand-up paddle board, and on the other, a handful of children's bicycles.  How profound the death of hobbies when children appear.  But even the kids have moved on, the rusty swings in the wind as quiet witnesses.  I come to a cluster of small eateries, one advertising duck, another boar stew.  I catch a whiff of hamburger for some reason, then see some men having a barbeque beside the river.  Beyond them across the water,  I see what might be an old overgrown trail, which would link the section with the teahouses with the road on the same bank further up.  As I cross over yet again, from a closer vantage point atop the bridge I decide that it has been wishful thinking, and that my eyes have simply followed natural lines in the terrain. 

Back on the west bank, I gradually enter the village of Kutsuki.  High to the east is snowy Jyatani-dake, which nearly killed me four years ago.  The fields below are wide and open and bare.  But the day has warmed to promise spring and new beginnings, as I too have come full circle to where I departed in 2009, and my own walk upon this old road comes to a close.  

On the turntable:  Cowboy Junkies,  "Black Eyed Man"
On the nighttable:  Peter Frankopan, "The Silk Roads"

Friday, March 24, 2017

And Also the Trees...

There is some discrepancy about what defines the Nikkō Kaidō.  Some mark it from Nihonbashi in Tokyo, and consider it to include the first half of the Ōshū Kaidō.  Others, like myself, think of it as just the 37 kilometer appendage that branches off the Ōshū to lead pilgrims to Tōshō-gū.  That seemed like a reasonable, if not challenging, amount to tackle in a single day, so I set off early from Tokyo to Utsunomiya.

Even straight forward journeys aren't necessarily that straight.  This was proven by the circuitous route taken by a taxi driver who wasn't terribly familiar with his own city.  The bends were straightened out by my voice raised in crescendo to correct him, a voice strained by fatigue and perhaps a minor cold. Luckily the crescendo ceased well before reaching the fortississimo of complete exasperation.  

The initial hour through the outer city of Usunomiya wasn't terribly interesting, but I suppose I could expect that of a city destroyed both in the Bōshin War and the American bombings eighty years later.  I moved along one of those dull bypass roads growing tired of the scenery immediately, having walked a similarly urbanized section of the Tokaidō just the day before.  But sections of that road had had a little more charm.  These regional cities all tend to look alike, as I've written here many times before, and I recognized that I could have been just about anywhere.  The only things that captured my interest were the beautiful spring day, the unique kura storehouses made of porous stone, and the high peaks of Nikkō far to the northwest.

The city seemed to drop away abruptly, and the road narrowed to fit between twin rows of what was initially sakura, then eventually grew into the grand giants of cryptomeria.  I didn't know it at the time, but I'd stay mainly within these rows for the rest of the day.  I knew well these namiki, which in the Edo period had lined all the non-urban sections of Japan's old highways.  These arboreal tunnels brought shade in the summer, and offered some reprieve from rain and snow.  I've come across short segments on all of my walks, but never did I image that a section such as this one still existed, one that continued nearly uninterrupted for thirty whole kilometers.  It gave one a sense of what the roads had looked like back in their heyday. 

The initial hour or so was spent moving along a berm a few meters above the cars moving past to my left and the houses to the right.  It took me a minute to figure out why this section was raised, until I recognized that beneath me were all the roots.  It was a pleasant stroll, above the traffic, but every time there was a driveway or a crossroad, the path would dip down, only to rise again on the other side, like a roller coaster.   It was very difficult for the feet to find rhythm, and it certainly woke up the hamstrings.  

Spring was flirting with me.  I could feel the warmth of her caress on my arm, could catch her scent on the windAs the temps were triple the chilly five degrees of yesterday,  I took off my jacket as early as 9 a.m., and walked in comfort for the rest of the day.  There were occasional gaps in the namiki, but even here the landscape was rural farms and pleasing to the eye.  A few sections had even been closed off to vehicular traffic, perhaps in areas where the flow was too great to fit between and rather than widen the road, a new one had been built to run parallel.  These were by far the most pleasant parts of the day, where I could really feel the slipping away of time.  Plus I could get a little reprieve for the feet by walking across the carpet of strewn cedar needles.     The last section of namiki is the most famous, leading north from Kami-Imaichi, the path beneath an earthen floor packed firm by centuries of feet. The last few kilos into Nikkō were the least pleasant, as I once again shared the road with the rushing cars, with little shoulder to stand on.  My feet were in agony by this point, but more worrying was the throb in my left instep.  Little surprise after coming off a long lazy winter to take on 38 km over two days.   

I kicked them up in front of Nikkō Station.  Worse still was what was happening at the other end of my body.  As I had moved through the day, infected by the charm and grandeur of the cryptomeria, I had unintentionally chosen a day in March, and was thus infected a great deal more by their pollen. My head and sinuses swarmed with these invasive spores, as they jockyied for position with the headcold that had alreay taken hold.  I let them fight it out as I sipped coffee in a nice patch of sun, seeing no need to do anything else. 

Most specifically, I saw no need to visit the shrines, as I'd been here a half dozen times already.  In fact I don't really like them very much, in the same way that I don't really like Las Vegas.  To me, Alan Booth had the last word on Nikkō, so I'll give him the last word here:  
"Japanese guidebooks and brochures intended for foreigners rarely fail to quote the famous saying about Nikko:  Nikko o mizushite 'kekko' to iunakare, which these publications invariably translate as 'Never say "splendid" until you've seen Nikko', but which might equally accurately be rendered, 'See Nikko and say you've had enough!'"

On the turntable:  Chet Baker, "The Complete Pacific Jazz Live Recordings Of The Chet Baker Quartet With Russ Freeman"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tomohiro Hata and the Complexities of Nature

The architecture series soldiers on after all.  This time I profile Kobe-based architect, Tomohiro Hata...

On the turntable:  Caetano Veloso, "Araca Azul"

Monday, March 20, 2017

On the Great Eastern Road

This is one walk that I hadn't intended to do just yet, this Tokaidō.  I still have a number of these old roads to explore, but I feel the need to do them in their entirety, over a series of days, in order to slip into the rhythm of the long-distance walker.  (Only you won't see me doing it in straw sandals.)  Yet I find myself in Tokyo with a number of days to kill, as I await a visa for a largish adventure next month. And a walk from Tokyo to Yokohama appeals.  

I'm not sure what is making me feel more ill, the taxi driver's toxic halitosis, or that second bottle of wine I'd had with my friend Kit the night before.  Still, I had it far easier than most of those who'd made the trip to Nihonbashi, though the wind that washes over me as I step out of the vehicle nearly turns me back to the warmth of inside.  I press on, grateful that that wind is at my back.  It shoves me down the Ginza, her gold tarnished somewhat by the dull dark of cloud above.  Hours before the shops open, there are few people about.  Workers in dull suits begin to appear in dribs and drabs around Kyōbashi, and as the clock moves toward 8 am, their number eventually becomes a torrent.  I find myself going both with and against the flow depending on the block, the current shifting with every subway entrance.  There's a certain exhilaration in this, but my smile is the only one to be seen. 

I come to Shinagawa minutes before 9, and the speed of the flow increases dramatically, then begins slow.  It is around this point that the Tokaidō begins to angle to the southwest, parallel to what had once been the coastline.  Today it is still very much part of the city, though an older part, and bisects a shopping arcade that is a half century away from the glitz of the inner Yamanote.  These places always strike me as being the bed-towns of the retirement set, where the vortices of life spiral them back toward an identity as 'villager.'  This city has often been called a series of villages, and here it is easy to see why.  I had left Tokyo, and had arrived in Edo.

For some reason, this street has an unusually high density of Thai massage places.  In front of one, a sole ginkgo leaf sticks to the pavement, and on this March morning I marvel at its longevity.  Not so the next section of the city, as the old shopping arcade eventually peters out and I am funneled onto a bland modern road that parallels a rail line.  The orderliness of central Tokyo is gone, and here I find suburban monoculture, though one gray and urbanized. The apartment blocks towering above seem less like homes and more like places to bide time between trips to the office.  I've never seen much appeal in the suburban 'life,' and even a short time spent passing through such places tends to induce boredom.  'Short' is a relative term however, and after more than an hour passing through this landscape, it is a tossup which will go numb first:  my feet or my brain.  

The Tama river no longer serves as such a distinct boundary anymore, as the scenery remains built up, though the Kawasaki side is more pleasant, a proper city with tidy tree-lined streets and attractive shops and eateries.  There is order too in the vast homeless village in the river's reclaimed bed.  Sturdy wooden shelters have been hammered together, around which are simple open kitchens and a few vegetable plots.  As spied from the bridge above, it is the most lived-in community that I've seen all day.         

Bars begin to appear near the station area, and beyond this there's a small but definitive Chinatown.  In front of one restaurant, a Chinese uncle is trying to lure people in to eat.  A few blocks on is a large stone upon which is carved a cryptic message: "Happiness can be found here."  I am not sure where happiness can be found on this planet, it must be far far from here.  I continue on through suburb for the rest of the day.  

Tedium and fatigue are beginning to creep in.  I even miss the stone marking the Namamugi Incident, now buried beneath a massive new flyover for the motorway.  In fact the marker itself has been moved one hundred yards up the road from where the brash young Englishman Lennox lost his life.  I knew the story and had long wanted to see this place, but like all too many things in Japan, the current physical environment is incongruous with how it had looked in the imagination.  And imagined landscapes are inevitably superlative.   I'm tempted to temper my disappointment with a visit to the Kirin Brewery nearby, but choose instead to stride on.

On walks like this one, I begin to lose enthusiasm after kilometer twenty, and after twenty-five, the body too begins to rebel.  There is little here to distract from the pain in the hips and feet, so perhaps in my pain I am closer to the spirit of Lennox than I thought.  I certainly share with him a stubbornness, one that drives me onward for an additional hour until I arrive at Yokohama Station, and journey's end.        

I'm not sure when I will pick up the next section of the Tokaidō, a two day stretch from Yokohama to Hakone Yumoto, from where I have walked previously while guiding. What is more certain is that a pair of fellow imbibing bibliophiles live at about the midway point, and so it is in their good company that I will come to take my rest.

On the turntable:  Charlie Parker, "Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve"

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Papers: Apsley Cherry-Garrard

"Exploration is the physical expression of the Intellectual Passion."

On the turntable:  Curtis Mayfield, "Roots"

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Papers: Hickman Powell

"Today is savoury, flavoured with a million yesterdays.  We taste today, nor gulp it hurriedly to grasp the minted ashes of tomorrow."

On the turntable:  Clarence Gatemouth Brown, "One More Mile"

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Imbibing Bibliophile #10

The Last Paradise by Hickson Powell
Archipelago Brewery, Irish Ale 

On the turntable:  Camper Van Beethoven, "Telephone Free Landslide Victory"

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Papers: Alfred Russel Wallace

"During the last century, and especially in the last thirty years (1869), our intellectual and material advancement has been too quickly achieved for us to reap the full benefit of it. Our mastery over the forces of nature has led to a rapid growth of population, and a vast accumulation of wealth; but these have brought with them such an amount of poverty and crime, and have fostered the growth of so much sordid feeling and so many fierce passions, that it may well be questioned, whether the mental and moral status of our population has not on the average been lowered, and whether the evil has not overbalanced the good.

Compared with our wondrous progress in physical science and its practical applications, our system of government, of administering justice, of national education, and our whole social and moral organization, remains in a state of barbarism. And if we continue to devote our chief energies to the utilizing of our knowledge of the laws of nature with the view of still further extending our commerce and our wealth, the evils which necessarily accompany these when too eagerly pursued, may increase to such gigantic dimensions as to be beyond our power to alleviate.

We should now clearly recognize the fact, that the wealth and knowledge and culture of the few do not constitute civilization, and do not of themselves advance us towards the "perfect social state." Our vast manufacturing system, our gigantic commerce, our crowded towns and cities, support and continually renew a mass of human misery and crime absolutely greater than has ever existed before. They create and maintain in life-long labour an ever-increasing army, whose lot is the more hard to bear by contrast with the pleasures, the comforts, and the luxury which they see everywhere around them, but which they can never hope to enjoy; and who, in this respect, are worse off than the savage in the midst of his tribe.

 This is not a result to boast of, or to be satisfied with; and, until there is a more general recognition of this failure of our civilization--resulting mainly from our neglect to train and develop more thoroughly the sympathetic feelings and moral faculties of our nature, and to allow them a larger share of influence in our legislation, our commerce, and our whole social organization--we shall never, as regards the whole community, attain to any real or important superiority over the better class of savages."

On the turntable:  Catherine Wheel, "Ferment"

On the nighttable:  Hickman Powell, "The Last Paradise"

Friday, March 03, 2017

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu II

I pick up the trail where I'd left it.  Reading back over my previous post, I appeared to have had the same weather, though this time I had been blessed with good weather for the duration of my week-long tour.  The waning days of February had jumped ahead to mid-March temps, which had made for easy walking, though the hard crust beneath my snowshoes had turned to soup by lunchtime.  

But here at lower elevations I know that snow is behind me. My jacket is tucked into my backpack as I step off the train in the company of a bunch of elderly women, a surprising number for a weekday.  On the train I'd notice a tourist pamphlet that one of them held, and decide that this little town of Iwamura had enough going for it to explore.  I have little distance to cover today, but as daylight is an issue, I allow myself only hour to cover the three km up and back through town.  

It is worth the detour, along the straight arrow lane bisecting the old post town.  At some point, someone decided to preserve the place, and even the banks and post office wear an Edo period visage.  I can see the appeal for the aunties as well, since every single structure, be it business or house, has a display of dolls in their front windows for the upcoming Girl's Day. 

Many of these buildings have placards above announcing castella, which could also be serving as honey for the auntie hive-mind.  Of more interest to me is the Iwamura Sake Brewery, whose most famous output "Lady of the Castle" is a tribute to the area's famed former leader, "Onna Joshu."  (Which explains the popularity of the dolls.)  Inside the brewery they have prepared a tasting section, set up on a little narrow-gauge rail system that runs from the back of brewery.  I fortify myself with a few samples of the Lady's liquid courage, all of which are on the sweet side.    

I backtrack through town and pick up the TSH on the other side of the train station.  It follows a small stream, then is lost in the site of a new apartment building.  I cross the train line and cut through a field to find the path again.  It wends up between rice fields, then begins to climb.  

I huff and puff my way into a cloud of smoke which stretches toward me from a rubbish bonfire beside a new carpark at the top of the hill.  The carpark is massive and new and unbefitting its size.  The same can be said for the temple it serves, a sprawling mess of concrete and gravel.  I'm not sure how long the temple has stood here, but everything in it appears new, and rather than a sense of peace that these country temples tend to bring, all I get is the feeling that somebody around here needs to reread the precepts.  

On the way out I notice a tall Jizo, at the base of which are dozens of food and toy offerings for the deceased children the deity protects.  I buy a sweet drink and leave it at the statue's feet, an offering for Shimazaki Toson's three daughters who all passed away in a single year.  I had been reading about them just the day before in Naff's biography, in a harrowing passage that emphasized their illness and suffering, a passage that had conjured up tears.  As an aspiring writer, I know how difficult it is to balance work and family and creative endeavors. But in no way can I understand sacrificing all for one's art.  Toson lost the plot, lost all sense of priority, and in my eyes he's a far lesser man for it.  

I choke my way up another hill topped with a pig abattoir, eyes awatering.  The feet are suffering as much as the nose, as I'm wearing heavy winter boots and have seen very little but tarmac.  Luckily there is very little traffic, mainly the odd granny driving very very slow. After close to an hour of this, the path begins to angle out amongst fields again. A school girl walking alone calls a greeting across the paddies.  She appears to live in a single house at the end of the valley.  I wonder what sort of life this is for her, isolated from friends, though she has proven cheerful.

Just beyond the house, I enter the mountains, on forested paths for the first time all day.  I am losing the light, so decide to shoot for the earlier of the two trains I've chosen as my goal for the day.  Once I reach a low pass, I begin a quick, gravity-aided descent down the other side.  I am nearly running, and am thankful that the snakes are asleep (though I did see fresh bear tracks a few days before).  

I allow myself the only rest of the day at the temple in the next valley.  It is open and sunny, but the chill is coming up along with four o'clock.  As I nibble a Clif Bar (a gift from Wes on our last hike, which at the time hadn't been for sale in Japan, but now goes for 2000 yen online!), I note that I have thirty minutes until my train, and 35 minutes of hike left.  Local guide books tend to be quite conservative with hiking times, but the new book I am using is pretty accurate, despite my usual quick pace. Luckily it is downhill to town, and I steeplechase hop a couple of electric boar fences on the way.  The final section cuts across town beside a small river, and somewhere in my haste I lose the trail itself.  No matter, it is near the station; not too far to backtrack next time.  Most importantly, I have a few minutes to spare to buy a canned coffee which I sip on the ride back, wondering why each and every time I walk I end up running for a train at the end.

On the turntable:  Coldplay, "X&Y Live 2005"


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #95

Takanami. (武並)
Rows of steadfast warriors
Replaced by cedars.

On the turntable:  Calexico, "Algiers"
On the nighttable:  William Wayne Farris, "Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History"

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #94

New tracks in old snow.
There is no better way,
To close out February.

On the turntable:  Chet Baker, "Lullaby of the Leaves" 
On the nighttable: William E. Naff, "The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson" 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Imbibing Bibliophile #9

The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson by  William E. Naff 

Matsumoto Brewery, Awesome Pale Ale 

On the turntable:  Cal Tjader, "Latino"

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Papers: Alessandro W. Mavilio

"Time is a traveler who never returns."

On the turntable: Cowboy Junkies, "Live in Europe 1990"
On the nighttable: Fridtjof Nansen, "Farthest North"

Friday, February 24, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #93

Pieces of winter
Found strewn along
The valley floor.
On the turntable:  Charlie Parker, "Complete Savoy Live"
On the nighttable: Sumie Okada, "Edmund Blunden and Japan: The History of a Relationship"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nakasendo Waypoints #92

Footsteps on the path
Echo resoundingly behind.
Back to work I go...

On the turntable:  Cornelius, "Point"
On the nighttable:  Knut Hamsun, "Wayfarers"

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Papers: Apsley Cherry-Garrard

"The road to Hell might be paved with good intentions: the road to Heaven is paved with lost opportunities."

On the turntable:  Arsenio Rodriquez, "Sabroso Y Caliente"

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Malaysian Sketches

From the air, Malaysia appears as a carpet of palms...
...immigration queues seem separated by types of clothing:  Malaysians in Muslim attire; Chinese in business suits; tourists in shorts and T-shirts... 
...the pesky little issue with Customs.  Bringing gifts of sake to Japanophile friends, forgetting completely that Malaysia is a Muslim country.   

...Riding in from the airport:  A burnt-out truck in a rest area.  Billboards still welcoming those attending the 2015 ASEAN Summit.  Women on billboards, each a beauty, each in hajib.  Billboards of children, each studious, each bespectacled...

  ...All Asia is beginning to look the same.  You determine your whereabouts by the calendar rather than landscape.  If it's Tuesday, it must be Bentong...

...walking the 3D cityscape of KL, a children's pop-up book of papercuts backed by jungly hills, and the low rise of old town dwarfed by a third layer of massive glass spires beyond.  In comparison, the cities of Japan are flat, a jumble of multi-level structures.  KL has no middle-ground, with deep gaps in the strata...
...early mornings sitting quietly on the veranda of a friend's flat in Damansara, listening to the birdsong until their voices are lost to the sound of cars.  Then the call to prayer.  There's a beauty in its cutting through the thin morning air, filling the valley with syllables that rise and fall as if the fickleties of faith. This is far more pleasant than what follows: the incessant and steady clang clang clang of the bell of the Hindu temple, jarring the gods awake.   One morning, I see a plume of smoke rising from the structure beside the mosque, a serpentine ribbon of smoke, charmed by an unheard flute. I turn away for awhile and as I turn back I see that the same smoke now coats the entire valley, the entire city, the entire view. I realize then that it's rain, rain that has come in sudden and hard. It's interesting being in a new place in the rain, to see how the locals react, how dramatically affected they are to what is certainly a common experience here in the tropics. It helps me notice for the first time that the entrances to all the shops lined shoulder-to-shoulder have overhanging balconies, no doubt for this very reason. Pedestrians and motorcycles begin to thin.  On a street or two over, a car horn begins to sound. Then the obligatory sirens...

...the tourist hordes at Malacca have carried away piecemeal any charm the town may have once had.  And on this day too, it is overrun.  The streets in its World Heritage Chinatown have never ending traffic, making walking very unpleasant.  The museums and tourist sites themselves aren't terribly interesting, and look decades old.  More attention goes into the obnoxious tri-rickshaws that shriek as they go past.  Tourism reduced to its least common denominator, the Disneyfication of everywhere.  It bloody well is a small world after all.  Too fucking small.  But the food redeems...    

...on the way to Cameron Highlands, at nearly every bend in the road are Orang Asli huts, their laundry strung along like pinafores...  

...seen from afar, the strawberry greenhouses of the Highlands are streamers of confetti littering the ridge line... 

... recreating Jim Thompson's final walk, through a stretch of jungle, mind ever conscious of tigers.  Thompson's villa itself is off-limits, owned by a businessman with no apparent sense of history.  Granted he owns the property, but the abuse of the surrounding jungle is criminal, in the felling of centuries-old Scottish pine, and the illegal drainage system.  Thompson's estate in Bangkok has made numerous offers to turn the site into a museum, but the owner refuses to budge.  Ironically, I lose my earring on the walk, not far from where Thompson himself disappeared in 1967...
...a quiet afternoon spent on the veranda, enshrouded by teak and rattan.  It was nice playing at being British for a day, having strawberry scones for tea, watching the limbs of the proud Scottish pines brush away the final winds of the waning monsoon.... 
...I am personally disappointed with the Highlands, long a place of mystery to me, due to the Thompson myth.  How much better to leave such places to the realm of imagination.  There is far too much building going on, large concrete hotels scratched out of former jungle. I come across a book that tells me that the government is attempting to "Restore the Highlands to its former glory," as if they themselves admit how unattractive it has become.  I'm not sure what the methods of restoration are, but in this case, subtraction seems better than addition...

...the great mosque at Ipoh dimpled like the lunar base in some 70s sci-fi TV show. Still a beauty, in a beautiful town.  Worth an overnight next time...

...wending westward through the hills, crossing the Sungai Perak river and into the forests of rubber... 

...Taiping massacred, a living museum in its own right, almost the polar opposite of Malaccca in that no care at all has gone into any upkeep. Walking past monuments to former colonial glory has some charm, though perhaps not in the heat of midday.  Few tourists seem to come here, nor do they really need to I suppose.  LYL and I have a quick lunch in some nondescript little corner shop, ordering things hanging behind scratched glass. (I think that it must be tough to be a chicken in a country like this.  The Hindus avoid beef, the Muslims avoid pork, but chicken is fair game to all.) A young fellow nearby seems taken with me and my foreignness, though it may simply be his tall bottle of Guinness.  He repeatedly tries to talk to me, to find a common language.  LYL with her four Chinese dialects stays quiet, letting me have this moment.  I am able to figure out that he is a Burmese refugee, hard-up it seems.  He tells me that he is a Christian.  Am I a Christian?  When I tell him that if I am anything, it is Buddhist, he shifts into Hokkien and calls me a fucking cunt.  It's a small mind after all...     

...where Malacca got it so wrong, Penang got it perfectly right.  In fact it is one of the best preserved of Asia's many historical capitals.  The recent street art isn't really necessary, being nothing more than a flourish, but doesn't detract in the least. As it is, the art is somewhat hidden, something you stumble upon, though these days you simply look for the usual mob armed with selfie sticks.  Georgetown's true art of course is its architecture, made more beautiful due to its utility. The beauty lies exactly in the fact that they are still being used. (The sole exception being the Pinang Peranakan mansion, which looks more like a dumping ground for antiques.  The house in Malacca is far better, though the staff there is uptight and unpleasant.) Most houses have been allowed to reflect their historical importance, like that of Sun Yat-sen, made all the more atmospheric for the clack of majong tiles coming from the house next door.  Some structures have been converted into bars and restaurants; others are abandoned, but look like they can be resuscitated rather easily.  Strolling the streets is a feast for the eye. As for the mouth, well the food in town can hold its own with any in the world.  Malaysia is sadly underrated as a food culture...

...  the aging queen, the E & O Hotel.  Our suite is spacious and harkens back to a time when travel was glamorous, without any self-conscious attempt to do so. Granted the staff is dressed in old period garb, but it feels like they have always done so.  History hangs heavy in the air like ghosts.  But they welcome, rather than haunt.  Much the same can be said about the Old Protestant Cemetery nearby.  A person can learn everything they need to know about Penang by simply reading the headstones.  So many lives lost young here, the price to be paid in order to build a colony.  I find the headstone for Thomas Leonowens, husband to Anna, of The King and I fame.  Incredible to think that in dying young, Thomas had set into motion the education of a future king, who would lead Siam progressively into the future...

 ...avoiding the crowds to go up Penang Hill.  We stroll the old abandoned cottages here.  I wanted to see the Bellevue Hotel since I had heard that they once had venomous snakes in the trellises above the dining tables of the garden terrace.  The hotel looks like it has declined in more recent years, and I assumed that the snakes, and the dining area itself, were long gone. (However a bit of searching online confirmed that they are still in residence there.)   We do find snakes at the Snake Temple further south, as promised.  The couple of dozen that we see are extremely listless, yet we tread very carefully.  I am very afraid of snakes, and it takes a fair bit of courage to wander about the place.  I am repeatedly startled while looking at a photo of something, then to suddenly notice a snake just overhead...

...the climactic sunset of the final night, seen from the beach of Langkawi, as if the sky is set aflame due to sparks thrown upward by the collision of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand.  Then the return flight through that same sky, a fortnight's worth of destinations far below, tell-tale traces laid bare for  eyes made experienced at their acquaintance.  

On the turntable:  Coleman Hawkins, "Imagination"