Sunday, April 18, 2021

Sunday Papers: W. Somerset Maugham


“Irony is a gift of the gods, the most subtle of all the modes of speech. It is an armour and a weapon; it is a philosophy and a perpetual entertainment; it is food for the hungry of wit and drink to those thirsting for laughter. How much more elegant is it to slay your foe with the roses of irony than to massacre him with the axes of sarcasm or to belabour him with the bludgeons of invective.  And the adept in irony enjoys its use when he alone is aware of his meaning, and he sniggers up his sleeve to see all and sundry, chained to their obtuseness, take him seriously.  In a strenuous world it is the only safeguard of the flippant."


On the turntable:  Madness, "Nutty Sounds"

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

(untitled)



Nothing growing  
In winter paddies 
But the shadows of running boys

  

On the turntable:  Nick Cave & Warren Ellis,  "White Lunar" 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday papers: Jim Whittaker

 

"If you're not living on the edge when you're young, you're taking up too much space."

 

On the turntable: Squeeze, "Cool for Cats"


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Mitsuhide's Road to Infamy, Part IV

 

  

They reached the temple at dawn.  The clamor would have awakened Nobunaga, followed by the scent of the wood ablaze, then the inevitable knife thrust to the belly.  Mitsuhide continued to move, first to kill Nobunaga's son at Nijō, then further east to Azuchi castle, where he tried to vain to recruit other warlords to his cause.  Upon hearing that Hideyoshi's forces were bearing down on him, he decided to cut him off at his stronghold of Shōryūji Castle, and once again marched west.

I do the same, but begin my own march again at the marker for Honno-ji, on a cold but sunny February morning.  I can imagine the victorious troops marching proudly down the broad Horikawa, though not as broad as the road would eventually become during Hideyoshi's redevelopment of the city in the subsequent decade.  I too stick to the big road awhile, trying to stay in the warm sunshine.  But it proves quicker to zig-zag down the smaller lanes, which I do despite the chill.  

I settle once again on sunnier Omiya.  Two police cars have pulled over an Uber delivery driver.  I'm not sure if it is a moving violation or an accident, but the bike faces the wrong direction.  Still, the panda atop the delivery box keeps its smile.  This section of the city isn't terribly attractive, the bright sky being the only color.  Near Ryokoku University, a woman runs for a bus.  It doesn't look like she's going to make it.  I don't have the best opinion of bus drivers in this city, but this one proves to be nice and comes to a halt again, allowing her to boardI return a smile to a nearby toothpaste vending machine.

I pass three more dentists before cutting through Umekōji Park, most certainly not here in Mitsuhide's time.  Bundled up young mothers push their prams around in the sun, and a small queue is beginning to form at the railway museum.  I'm led down a diagonal path through the Kyoto Freight Station, as every few minutes a large truck rolls past, bringing cold wind in its wake.  The opposite side is lined with a long row of flats that look like the flank of a luxury liner.  At street level are the twin rows of cherry trees, a month shy of their full glory, a glory that lasts about as long as Mitsuhide's thirteen days.

 

 

I'd led beneath the rail lines through a tunnel whose water-damaged walls resemble graffiti.  The hanging vines sprout leaves that I first take to be Christmas lights.  Coming out the other side, I note that the contours of the city probably haven't changed very much, as tendrils of nagaya extend off in both directions.  The row houses here are probably of a size and alignment as they always have been.  An old man sprays chemicals from a cylindrical backpack, over an empty plot of land.  There is little wind but I stutter-step for a moment, before passing by.    

There's an immense construction project going on, taking up an entire city block.  The fence has a gap, the machines still and quiet, so I duck inside, craning my head every few seconds in anticipation of being hollered at.  I spy some historical memorials with feet bound in concrete.  They've been dug up and moved here from where they had long stood.  One marker tells me that this had been the site of the Kyoto Municipal Rakuyo Technical High School, Japan's first, which stood here from 1886 until graduating its final class in 2018.  Beside this is a time capsule, the sight of which suddenly saddens me, thinking how it had been left here accompanied by the hopes and anticipations of students looking a century into the future.  I notice that the steel compartment on the back is no longer held fast by its padlock, which lies dark and rusting to one side.  I slide back the bolt and peer inside.  Nothing remains, except perhaps the dreams of those long-dead students.      

I am funneled down a narrow lane running diagonally off the busier Kujō.  It suddenly dawns on me that I've done this walk before, years ago with Joel, as we followed the Sangoku Kaidō out to its terminus in Yamazaki.  This discovery helps me determine the remainder of my route.  Overhead a helicopter buzzes and buzzes.  I will later hear the whir of its rotors in the background about a dozen of the voice memos that I use for my notes. 

At the Katsura River, uniformed boys play baseball on purpose-built fields.  Old-timers play gateball on an adjacent field. Tennis courts stand netless and empty.   Kindergardeners chase their teacher around, and at the water's edge, Himukai Jizo faces east.  Near the bridge, a long white guardrail sways like a drunk, the soil beneath repeatedly besotted by the now annual floods of increasingly stronger storms.  

I'm angling to get to Muko's Spice Arcade by lunch.  As I'm a little bit early, I decide to sit awhile beside the river, reading from a book of short essays by Hemingway.  A cormorant pops up close to my feet, and startled, takes wing far away.  It's a reminder to move.  I climb the embankment, beside a man with a trowel, who works a plot no bigger than 2 1/2 tatami.  

My lunch stop rests my legs for the slight and steady climb toward Nagaoka.  There are quite a number of Jizo clusters, for this road had once been the main pilgrimage path toward Atago.  This final hour is a treat, along a nicely preserved fuedal road, with ample informative signs and lined with numerous old buildings and temples. A Showa period candy shop remains, quiet for the moment but sure to fill once the locals school lets out.  

I come to the edge of the arcade, beneath an wrought iron arch emblazoned with the calligraphy Kotari, a now common Japanese name which once had the esoteric meaning of unimpeded function of the body.  This holds true in the case of my feet, feeling no fatigue despite the thirteen kilometers trod.  A few blocks to the left is Shōryūji Castle.  Only five months since my previous visit, there is no need to visit again.  The Saikoku Kaido leads off diagonally to my right, but I've walked this already, at least as far as Yamazaki.  Part of me is tempted to carry on from there, all the way to Osaka, where it meets the Sanyō-dō. But another part of me thinks it a bad idea, with the potential for unnecessary hardship.  Though not as bad an idea as assassinating my boss...


To follow Mitsuhide as he flees Hideyoshi's troops, click here

To follow me as I continue westward toward Kobe, click here.

 

On the turntable: Neu, "Neu!"


Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sunday Papers: Woody Guthrie

 

"Find out who is causing the Trouble here in this old World—remove the Power from their hands--place it in the hands of those who ain't Greedy--and you can roll over and go to sleep."

 

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "1967-07-23  Straight Theater, Haight Street " 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Mitsuhide's Road to Infamy, Part III

 

 

Not far beyond Kami-Katsura station is Goryo-Jinja.  There are a number of these shrines around Japan, usually dedicated to appeasing restless spirits.  The most famous of course is in the north of Kyoto, where the Onin War broke out.  There is no telling if Mitsuhide stopped here to pray to his ancestors for guidance, as he was now only about 90 minutes away from his target.  And perhaps his spirit too has now been added to the pantheon of those who died in misery in this world.  

This little spur of road was lined with old houses dating back to the Edō Period, low and squat and with the tell-tale false second floor.  I hit Gōjō Boulevard at an angle, which outside the city takes another form as the Sanin-dō, stretching along the Sea of Japan to the grand Izumo Shrine, and beyond. 

Before long I cross the Katsura river.  There had probably been a bridge here in Mitsuhide's day, for ferry crossings would have very time consuming, if not impossible in the pre-dawn hour. The river now is a shadow of what it must've once been.  Dozens of old farmers have staked out grids on which to grow vegetables, at the moment winter grow: Chinese cabbage, daikon.  The snowy head of Mt. Atago promises a steady supply of water.     

My own passage across is accompanied by the consistant hiss of traffic. One landmark Mitsuhide certainly didn't have was the rail line, which allowed me to cut diagonally across the city on a small lane that shadowed it.  That begs the question:  How did Nobunaga's guard not notice an army marching into the city?  These troops had been ordered to assist Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the siege of Takamatsu, but Mitsuhide's men were marching the wrong direction.  Did they enter in dribs and drabs so as to avoid suspicion? Knowing the mindset of the day, they probably came in as a single body, with all the accompanying pomp and circumstance.  This would have been spurred on by Mitsuhide's pronouncement while crossing the Katsura, "The enemy awaits at Honnō-ji!"

 

(TO BE CONTINUED) 

 

On the turntable:  Ahmad Jamal, "The Best of Ahmad Jamal"


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday Papers: Richard Holmes


"What's it all about then?  Is man merely what he appears to be to the astronomer, a puny piece of impure carbon and water, an impotent insect inhabiting an insignificant planet?  Or is he what he appears to be to Hamlet: noble in reason, infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals?  Or is he both? Is there really a way of life that is noble and another that is vile, or are all ways of living merely futile?  And must what is good also be eternal in order to be considered worthwhile, or is it worth striving for even if the universe is expanding inexorably towards its own extinction?"


On the turntable:  Miles Davis, " Theater Street St. Denis 1983-07-07"