Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Voyage of Basho



And from the "I totally forgot about this" file: 


"The Voyage of Basho" is a 2018 release by the renowned Swiss director Richard Dindo. Shot throughout Japan over the course of a year, Roger Walch's photography is a visual feast. I am happy to have played a small role in the production, as "landscape counselor."

 Watch here.


On the turntable:  Quincy Jones, "In the Heat of the Night"


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday Papers: Kenneth Rexroth


“Religion is not something you believe, it’s something you do.”


On the turntable:  David Crosby: "If I Could Only Remember My Name" 

Thursday, January 13, 2022




I snuck in one last hike in the waning days of the year, a large loop around the hills above Uji.  I've mentioned before that I don't usually write much about my hikes unless something particularly interesting occurs, but at one point "writer's voice" kicked in to internally narrate a series of thoughts and impressions.   

Heading toward the start of my hike I passed the Tale of Genji museum, which I had been wanting to visit awhile.  For four consecutive autumns I read one translation of the great tome, so felt I needed to pop in.  Exhibits were few but the layout was tastefully done and it was obvious that they'd spent a great deal of money on the place. But I am always baffled at why the Japanese choose to represent some of the older and dearest parts of their culture with neon and animation.  As I had my eyes on the mountains, I moved through quickly, a metered visit of about 100 yen/minute. 

The prow of my face cold as it cut through the winter air.  This would change later, as the day grew to be a warm one, and the inevitable internal combustion during the steeper ascents.  The first of these was a zig-zag path up a hillside that had all the feel of a city park.  There were two different kindergarten groups doing the same climb, joyfully and effortlessly in the way of little kids.  Their handlers had differing ideas about how to present the experience, evident in the shapeshifting amoebic freedom of the yellow hats vs the dour straight lines of the blue hats.   

A group of old men sat individually enjoying the view over Byodo-in and the west, and I soon left them to find a pleasant ridgeline leading off into the hills.  Before long I came to the peak of Asahiyama, where a pair of old timers chatted beside a fire that burned in a rusted out iron barrel.  I asked them the date of the Kannon statue within a little hall nearby that serves as Kosho-ji's oku-no-in.  They didn't know, and I quickly realized that they probably never felt the need to.  I recognized then the disadvantage of living in the center of the city.  One can't simply walk out the door and make climbing the local peak part of the daily constitution. 

There tends to be an interesting culture in mountains that are near cities, appreciation show in the flourishes of the hands of men.  Along the path, I found stone cairns built up, or strange little dolls and figures left symbolically behind. Informational signs along the way were simply laminated Wikipedia pages stuck to wooden boards.   I'd done close to 100 hikes during these work-free days of Covid, mostly deeper into the countryside.  Winter now presented a great opportunity to explore closer to home, see how the locals relate, co-exist.   

And the further I moved into the hills, the nicer the trails grew, surprising me in being natural growth, and not the ubiquitous coniferous borderlands of Kansai communities.  The best hikes are often those where you expect nothing.  They delight you with their beauty or challenge you with some rough terrain.  And this hike was simply me following a line I'd seen which led to a peak with an intriguing name.  Not part of any guidebook, or on anyone's top 100 list.   And at the end of the day I was left feeling that it was one of the nicer hikes in the region.  

Even the ugly bits had charm.  I came to a massive quarry, its pit cut into terraced sections like something Escher would have done had he a cubist period.  Diggers and dump trucks worked on the various levels, their scales diminishing into miniatures down at the valley bottom. All was as dusty and noisy as Mordor.  Not far away I followed a wrong turn, out amongst the footfalls of the parading giants of utility towers which leveled the forest to provide good views.

Later there would be a criss-crossing scramble over a deep sinuous creek, lunch taken overlooking a quiet reservoir, and a detour to an old cave, followed by a off-trail scramble up to my final peak.  A small park marked the end of the trail, with a group of workmen buzzing noisily with their grass cutters.  One of their trucks was parked in front of a directional sign, causing me to again take a wrong turn (a rookie mistake that I'm usually careful about), but I was rewarded with great views overlooking the Amagase Dam.  I passed over the great concrete monolith, keeping to the center as is my acrophobic want.  

In a lousy bit of timing, a guardman happened to notice me at the far end, and prevented me from crossing the bridge below that I needed to complete my loop.  The detour would take me along a busy road and miles out of my way, but partway along I noticed that I could descend a steep ridge to get me back to river level and to the next bridge downriver.  Mere seconds into my scramble I noted that this was far steeper than I thought, forcing me to literally inch along on my bum, grasping at whatever I could to defy gravity's power. It was slow going, switch-backing rather than in a straight line, sitting for a minute at a time to plan then next move.  Aside from a few scrapes to my hands I got down safely, but spent most of the pleasant riverside stroll back to the station chastising myself for the risks I continue to take, despite knowing better.  A resolution for the New Year perhaps?

On the turntable:   George Shearing, "Personal Collection"

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Sunday Papers: Craig Mod


"[...]Japan, where formalities and walls built through language often conspire to keep a sense of friendship at bay for months or years. Certainly when alcohol isn’t involved. And when alcohol is involved, that itself becomes its own artifice and makes parsing the real from the affected an impossible task."


On the turntable: Lenny Bruce, "Carnegie Hall"

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Friday, December 31, 2021

A year in reads: 2021



On the turntable:  The Police,  "Reggatta de Blanc"


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Stuff from an Old Notebook #19


Random thoughts and ideas from the last year. 


 -I wonder how much of beauty is taught to us by our parents.  In hiking today, I came to what I would consider a gorgeous little stretch of stream with a waterfall and small pool at one end.  I nearly did this hike with my daughter, and I’m sure had we come to this point, I would have unconsciously said,"How beautiful."  And hearing such things repeated through childhood, does one then learn to appreciate the same beauty (second hand beauty?) as their parents. 


-Did the Beats teach us freedom, or self-indulgent narcissism?  The longing to not only live a life well lived, but also to chronicle it.

-The lobotomizing effect of pop culture.


-English lesson as if inspired by Cage’s 4:33.

-Happo-shu string budget


-Celebration of the Mundane

-Story idea about a guy who’s been in Japan a long time and is starting to spend more time abroad.  Little by little he’s become like a bell curve, moving out of touch with what’s going on here. His reactions and responses no longer quite matching up.  It’s a lot like his early days when he didn’t understand Japanese.  But now he can understand nearly everything, which reflects the disjunct of his situation. 

-You Asaay

-Americans are like puppies, trying to jump up and lick everybody’s face.  The English on the other hand are more like cats;  they’ll occasionally climb up on your lap and let you pet them, but if you try to clutch them too tightly, they’ll become taciturn and (run off.)


-A rotation of Lucinda Williams and Tom Petty waltzing across my iPod.   

-Cognitive Dissidents

-(X), the greatest mass murderer since Noah.  The ark, a metaphor for climate change, some sort of climactic disaster.  Bible fond of incest; Cain and Abel, Noah’s family. 

-Ambiance Chasers

-What the trees give, the ground receives. 

-Yama-Maester Wes 

-Incongruity of Dream

-Typhoon announcements coming, their words lost to the blustery winds. 

-Even God has given up hope.  

-To quote Laurens van der Post:  “I’ve always divided humanity roughly into two main streams, those who work by expansion and those who work by contraction.  The Japanese have a genius for contraction.”  And while perhaps that have once been true,  during the bubble years they were misled to believe that expansion was the preferable new order, and have been expanding ever since, even after the parameters of the bubble burst.     

-In Dream:  Going to Yonago to find the old house in the process of being razed.  From the depths of me emits an inhuman howl of grief.  It’s like the final bits of Ken are definitively gone.  



On the turntable:  Dev Mason, "Live at Perkins Palace"