Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Concrete on the beach

Man will never turn back. All the world's problems have been caused by him, and these in turn are thought to be solvable by new intervention or technology. Like sweeping a dusty floor, the dust only rises, then settles in a different place.

On the turntable: Leo Kottke, "Anthology"
On the nighttable: James Crumley, "Mexican Tree Duck"

Monday, May 30, 2005

Look at all them steamin' weenies

Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
(This quote would read differently to a liberal or a conservative.)

Americans love "freedom," but the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to think for yourself. This seems to intimidate most Americans. Much easier to be guided by the government, or TV.

But then what do I know. To quote Maxine Hong Kingston: "A liberal arts education is good for knowing to look at anything from an inquisitive viewpoint, to have thoughts while shovelling shit."

Happy Memorial Day. Reflect on those who died for our liberty and our freedom, when those things used to be more than mere campaign slogans.

On the turntable: Bruce Springsteen, "Tracks"

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ocean doesn't want me

It was a beautiful day in the 'Nog so decided to hit the beach for the first time this year. But my friends, who fancy themselves indiginous amatuer oceanographers persuaded me that it'd be too cold. So we headed to the mountains, where the water is even colder. Fuzzy logic. I walked barefoot up a stream bed, letting out little yelps as I stepped into deeper patches. Sat awhile on the bank with Michael, French tam-tam player extraordinaire, dipping our feet and chatting about la vie simple. After a half hour or so, I realized that I'd long forgotten the water's coldness. The body is amazing in its coping skills. Or perhaps it was the trees, brillant yellow against the flawless blue sky. There's not a single piece of art in any museum in the world which can compare. Maybe an art historian can tell me why the color of spring trees is more vivid than in the fall.

Down the hill at Aloe Cafe for a cuppa. Out back, the usual pugs were running about. A steady stream of other pug owners seemed to come from nowhere, as if bringing their charges to a family reunion. The combined ugliness of the dogs was art in itself. Some guy brought a mini dachshund and it was immediately harassed. Welcome to my world, dawg.

On the way home, I stopped to buy some spag for tonight's Writerpalooza. I caught a 40ish woman smirking at the strange English on my T-shirt, but then I noticed her own, with F*** written in huge letters like it were a college or something. (Today I refuse to write the F-word since it's Sunday and my dear Nana may be reading.)

(As I write this, Nicole shows up with a new stash of CDs in hand, O thru ? this time. So I suppose I'm livebloggin'. And she'll get to read this here at its place of origin.)

On the turntable: The Who, "The Who Sell Out"
On the nighttable: E.F.C. Ludowyke, "The Footprint of the Buddha"

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Linkin' freed the slaves (of ignorance)

Today's post can be found over On Gaien Higashi Dori
I've been following Tom's words for awhile, and he always has interesting things to say about hiking, Japan, politics, and of course Liverpool footie. (I hope this message reaches him in his current state of elation.) While you're over there, poke around a bit...

Thanks Tom!

(Hilarious line from Stonedogs: "Those who believe in telekinesis, raise my right hand."

On the turntable: "Weekend in Tokyo"

Friday, May 27, 2005

Force fed

A few months ago, while checking the international release dates for Episode III, I noticed that every country in the world would see the film on May 19th. In Japan: July 9th. The Empire has one again struck back. Now it'll be impossible to go almost two months in avoiding the hype. Somewhere, I would accidently see a spoiler.

Today it happened. I found out that Darth Vader is Luke's father. Damn! I knew it.

On the turntable: Youssou N'Dour, "Guide"
On the nighttable: Craig Marriner, "Stonedogs"

Thursday, May 26, 2005

At play with the gods...

On a warm, beautiful, early spring day (which turned out to be a weathercock tease), Local Legends Tim & Zack, a platypus-free Corinne, and I climbed up Kinkazan. It's not a tough hike, about 15 minutes from rice fields to the little shrine built on a lava plateau near the top. This porous rock has long shallow grooves and craters, which seem form-fitted to a body lounging in the sun. We spent a couple hours up here, waiting for the Mothership to pass by and drop Pop-Tarts. (Though our inability to decide on a flavor nearly caused an intergallactic incident.) When she didn't show, we sang mountain ranges (ala Gary Snyder), which segued into a 20 minute symphony of animal sounds that echoed down the valley. Our own giggles served as applause.

Later, I was telling my friend Paaco about our day, and she mentioned that she lives nearby. The shrine's kami are the protectors of her village. She told me that during the war, her grandfather's ship had gone down after an American attack. Of the hundreds of men who went into the water, only a handful came out. Her grandfather floated for days, surviving only on visions of the shrine and on prayers to its gods, who he was sure would look out for him and bring him home.

It's stumbling across these kinds of places and hearing these kinds of stories which keeps me interested in Japan after all these years. Respect.

On the turntable: Fat Boy Slim, "Palookaville"
On the nighttable: Shaun Ryder, "Hallelujah!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Quoth the Twain, "Shall we lunch?"

Monday saw the opening of my new studio, "Paideia Yoga." Paideia is a Greek word meaning "to cultivate perfection, through disciplined training of intellect, body, and heart, in order to produce a higher form of man governed by divine wisdom." Using a mix of both Greek and Sanskrit in my studio's name is an apt reflection of my life, raised in the West, yet being quite informed by the East, having lived here over a decade. A daily struggle for existential balance.

On the turntable: "Verve//Remixed2"

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My neighbor is missing!

I've mentioned during my last trip to Kyoto that I took part in an open mic night at Tadg's. Up here in the 'Nog, I feel frustrated at the lack of available outlets to channel creative energy. Occasionally in a drunken pub conversation, someone will talk about starting a writer's circle. Sunday, we finally got it rolling.

Shell talks about some of what went on, about the wine, words, and wraps. She mentions our team-written poems, started with a single line written about the Bevinda CD playing it's mellow, almost operatic fugue. From there, the paper was passed left, a new line written as a "first thought best thought" Beat reaction to seeing only the previous line. Each line is a new writer. Keep in mind none of us saw the complete work until the end. Results are as follows.

The sound makes me sad and sleepy.
I've been sleepy about an hour.
And an hour just kicked my barren brass ass.
I've been stomped and pushed and pulled through the madness of my mind.
But there's no running from myself.
For some people, life is a treadmill.
A hamster -play toy,-but...what can you do!
You can jump off! We must find a movement aligned with our own rhythm and dance it to our own trance.

Cellos used to make me cry.
Silly, sauntering, sandling standards sang silhouettes.
Sounding like cradles of stillness, the cadence of lost souls sang out to us all.
Voices that start at a whisper and build to a thunder between the ears.
It's the difference between the sound of a plane from on the ground and when you're actually in it.
The feeling is almost stifling. I could have eaten a seat, or a neighbor. But instead, I saw sun shrugging.
I fell into the signs of familiarity in order to escape the suffocating stomach-wrenching recycled air.
The constrictions like relief, when I think about the hyper-breath of new life experiences.

Stringed gals ate still chocolate.
The chocolate gave them the sense that they could escape into another life.
Like Charlie and the Golden Ticket, they talk themselves into a sugary universe.
Would that be the Milky Way candy bar?
"Yeah! But, there are only two candy bars left..."
, he said, laughing as a man with too many secrets.
His giggle is a quiet invitation to find the right puzzle pieces.
Laughter is an enigma.

Open arias always remind me of "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
It's a bittersweet snapshot of a man desparate to be someone else.
He could be the "Piano Man" of England.
He definitely had the spin for it.
Kicking and laughing, he sprung forward to something he'd never seen before.
Wide-open spaces spread out before him like an old canvas, white-washed after many years.
The temporal becomes the physical.
And the physically string bean becomes the temporarily the temporal intemperability. (?)

Ok, so they don't have the polish of Burroughsian cut-ups, but alliteration was had by all.

On the turntable: Nouvelle Vague, "Nouvelle Vague"

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sign of the Times

For days, I've watched a beautiful blue-tailed lizard hike around my garden. Today, a plain, gray, ugly bird swooped down from the pine, carrying the lizard away in its beak. The lizard's bright, near-neon tail was left writhing amongst the dead leaves.

On the turntable: Natalie MacMaster, "Blueprint"

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Mind/body/spirit date night

Saturday seemed like it was going to be like any other day...

Endo-san ran the aikido class last night, as he's wont to do when Sensei can't come. Usually I don't enjoy it. He seems to cobble techniques together from an external source like a book or video, and doesn't really demonstrate well, often changing something midstream. The techniques are usually complicated and somewhat dangerous, so I always refer to his stuff as "Endo-san's flying circus." Last night was good fun, the techniques more familiar and with lots of falls. I was in good spirits, really enjoying being thwacked on the mat, and camping it up when thrown by the kids. After this year's incredibly long winter, it feels good to sweat again.

Last night I also started Chinese lessons again. I've been away about 15 months, since Dr. Wang (isn't that a great Kung Fu villian name?) went back to Beijing. I turned out to be the only student in a group lesson, which gave me time to get to know my new teacher. I asked the same kinds of questions as when I get a prospective student, so that was kinda weird. I momentarily forgot which side of the table I was sitting. I must be insane to start new lessons now, this week when my yoga studio finally opens.

Afterward, I went over to Michael's birthday party. In attendance were the usual suspects. I arrived 3 hours late, so everyone was well lubricated. The presenting of the cake ritual called an end to the BBQ festivities. Inside the house, the magic began. Our choice of weapons being two guitars, a slide guitar (with Corona bottle), bass, small djembe, and a child's toy piano (Baby baby grand. Red. With hearts.) Plus Cian's vocal yawps. On each song we'd exchange instruments like we were Phish or something. (Man, great fun can be had with the words "Phish" and "Japan.") As the moon gradually poked it's head over the house to see what was going on, and the wine bottles became lighter, the playing got looser, unravelling into more private self-indugent noodling. People began to disappear to their neutral sleeping corners. I pedalled home, cutting the warm wind with my face, nose ever pointed toward bed...

Oh! I saw it! I figured out that the Michael Caine/Mini film is called The Italian Job. Brilliant! Cheesy Quincy Jones score, car stunts, rampant sexist dialogue, film credit for "Mr. Caine's suits" , and Benny Hill. Yakkity Sax was sadly absent. I realize also that this is my second Caine post in a week but I feel fairly confident that the name won't appear again.

Fun Fact!
Did you know that if you stacked all the film cans of all the movies that Caine ever made, it would stretch from here to Venus? (After all, that's where John Grey says women are from. Oh, behave!)

On the turntable: John Fahey, "Anthology"

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cultural Indifferences

I would need Kannon's fingers to count how many times a party conversation has started with a question about the edibility of uncooked foodstuffs and whether the balance of two perpendicular sticks of equal length as a means to eat the aforementioned foodstuffs requires any real dexterity at all.

On the turntable: Thievery Corporation, "The Cosmic Game"
On the nighttable: J. Maarten Troost, "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" (Look, it's fiction, OK? Hilarious fiction at that)

Friday, May 20, 2005

West Virginia flow

Lately, Local Legend Tim has been reminding me how to loosen my tight grasp on free time. It's ironic, but on days when I don't have much to do (the weekly average being around seven), I tend to fill my time with arbitrary tasks, like which book needs finishing, which 4.5 people need emails, which trees need pruning, and how many grams of navel lint need harvesting. But, with the recent spate of warm weather, Tim and I have been hanging out more, spending the day flowing from activity to activity with no regard for the clock.

On Sunday, he, Zack, and I had an Indian lunch of chocolate samosas, drove up to Daisen to see Yanagihara san's woodwork exhibit in the middle of a pear grove, had a second lunch of pizza and G beer, waded up a mountain stream, played with old weapons and instuments in an antique shop, popped into Aloe Cafe. (With all the commas and no conjunction (junction), can you feel the flow, man?)

Tuesday was even crazier. Zack had to do his part for the man, so Tim and I hit Kurayoshi. Isako, one of the aforementioned Aya's main componants, was exhibiting her indigo-dyed work in her beautiful old studio, GuruGuru. We sat around drinking coffee, planning gigs, and listening to Nami-san's (Minami Masato) first album, circa '73. From there lunch with Arama, at a crappy little joint with average food. Tim and Arama had aum rice with shrimp the size of bananas. Tim punned on how in Japan, everything is small but the shrimp. It was fun but challenging to talk to Arama since his Japanese is remedial, his English non-existant, and my French is a decade out of use. Plus I was distracted by the couple at the next table. A woman, reed thin, was watching her husband work his way through a gargantuan bowl of something, noodles perhaps. I mean the thing's rim had the diameter of a hubcap, and is most likely what Sumotori eat Chanko nabe from. (The size of both Sumotori and the bowl in fact ruins Tim's theorem. Sorry guy.) Anyway, this waif, who'd been refused a straw since she didn't have proper floatation equipment, just sat and watched him, not eating a thing. And this couple didn't exchange a single word. She had a mouth, but was it a functioning model? I'll never know...

...because we then proceeded to hit some of the local recycle shops around town. Tim and Arama looked at guitars while I tried to find a cheap T-shirt with Engrish on it. Ironically, I bought one with strange Japanese instead. (For 680 yen, I'm officially a subjugater of bootlegs.) We were all surprised to see Erika working in one shop. She is the primary dancer for Aya. It's always bizarre to see a familiar hipster or alternachick doing their thing in the straight world. Major paradigm shift.

After shoppingu, I stubbornly insisted that I needed some coconut juice, so we went over to Encho-en in Togo, where the omiyage shop sold said item. I love this stuff. When I travelled China, this was the only drink I'd trust, outside safely boiled tea and canned beer. It used to come in a narrow black can, but now it has the picture of some guy and Tzu Chi, the former Taiwan AV model lately making straight films with Jackie Chan, et al.

Mii-chan joined us after his carpentry job, and we headed for the hills. My friend Shogen-san is a Zen Priest who has built a tea shop in his temple. He used to have a shop in town but when his father passed away at an early age, he, being eldest son yet a mere 21, had to take over the Buddha biz. His temple location has been going a few years and he whips up a mean clotted cream. Tea, western style, is his dharma, and he commutes monthly to Yokohama to train with his sensei. Once a year, the whole group goes to Sri Lanka for a refresher, and the photos are always excellent. Shogen's teas (served with doily and pope's hat) have those wonderful Sri Lankan names such as Uva. (I forget the other names, they're all like 17 syllables long.) From him, I also learned that James Taylor (no relation) is more than the guy who crooned thousands of women into bed back in the day. This knowledge helped me on my own trip to Sri Lanka last year. I digress.

Anyway, Shogen wasn't there. At the moment, he was in the 'Nog, a mere block from my house. So we headed further into the mountains to Ojikakei, a narrow valley with fast-moving water and prehistoric boulders. I kicked off the sandals and climbed and jumped down river like a monkey, looking for good swimming holes for late summer when the sea is full of jellies and unswimmable. On my return, Arama was singing at the top of his voice in his Susu dialect. Mii-chan, Tim, and I picked up large sticks and began beating rocks and logs, kicking off a massive jam. Arama was incredible. No lie, the guy is in fact a griot, the position handed down the male line of his family. The passion in his voice dwarfed the roar of the rushing river below. The insects showed their appreciation by lining our legs and arms with welts.

It was growing dark, so we headed back to town. On the way, we taught Arama to say "Aight," ala Ali G. It was hilarious the way he repeated it about 79 times over the next 2 minutes. But thinking more about it, as a griot, that's probably how he memorizes things, repeating it until it's ingrained. By contrast, he taught us both French and Susu, all of it already forgotten within the hour.

Tim and I headed back to the 'Nog. On the outskirts of town, near Walmart, er Jusco, there is a new Asian recycle shop. Tim knew the owner, who let us poke around a day before official opening. As we drove off, we watched an old woman taking swipes at a bat with her broom. We had dinner at Hao Chi, a beautiful cafe of multiple teak levels. To cap off the day, we sat out on the back deck, talking Joyce, Maugham, and Murakami, while drunk salarymen, hearing disembodied English floating down from above, nearly fell over from all the neck craning.

(Sorry for how this post seems to go on and on, but that best exemplifies the way my days are going lately...)

On the turntable: Willie and Lobo, "Music of Puerto Vallarta Squeeze"

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Polyester and Pizza Sauce

A week ago today I mentioned being conned by Japanese super-marketing double-speak. Taking those lemons and making lemonade (so to speak), I doused my sauce-less bread sticks with olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese and baked up a pretty fine lunch. In my usual lunch time ritual, I sat down to watch a movie taped off of SkaPa. We get a program guide, but due to indirect film title translation, I never really know what I'm getting until the credits roll. In the guide, they also mention release year, director, and main lead, so I can guess-timate. I recently taped what I had hoped was a film that Pete Viquera had recommended featuring Michael Caine and a bunch of Minis. Instead I got "Get Carter," one of Caine's 4536 other films. In it, he was terrific. I love 70's suspense thrillers. In those days they knew how to tell a story, the only pyrotechnics being the spark between the characters, and all the crisp, rapid fire dialogue. In fact, as a rule, I only record films made before 1980, the year when studios stopped looking at film as art and began to see them as little more than celluloid wrapping paper for some of America's bigger products. Here ya go E.T., have another R****'s P****s.

On the turntable: Manteca, "Bailando Con Cabras"

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Tatemae and honne

Old woman bending over in the middle of the road, as if sick. Pulling closer I see that she is bowing to a friend, hidden by a pole...

On the turntable: Zap Mama, "Ancestry in Progress"

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Asahi on a cloudy day

Attended a wedding Sunday at a golf club. I don't particularly like golf courses, finding them a misuse of land and water. Here in Japan the situation is especially insidious, like they've found the most beautiful spots in the country and purposely scarred them with courses. I could riff on this cosmetic surgery as being a natural extension of the mindset which created zen gardens. Instead I'll just say that I believe the Japanese have long lost their stereo-hyped affinity with nature. "Nature's Wisdom" my Aichi.

Anyway, I wasn't brought here today to talk about golf. I want to talk about the building. It was this huge sprawling expanse of right angles broken only by a few arches and turrets. All made of massive grey blocks, like a Lego rendition of a 19th century German castle. Complete with a ten foot tall coat of arms over the front gate. A real mad scientist fixer upper. Scattered about the grounds were dozens of angry looking stone eagles, just a dash of 1930's Germany for flavor. Inside it gets even weirder. Everything was on a simply gargantuan scale. The doors and ceilings, halls and stairways, sofas and tables were immense. (Aw shoot, I'm running out of synonyms.) Towering marble columns broke up the space. I put my hand on one, looking forward to the usual coolness, but instead found plastic. A hollow knock knock. There was nothing here built to human scale. Being lost in this expanse was enough to give one claustrophobia. Or perhaps agoraphobia. The little figures darting about looked hilarious, like extras on a Busby Berkeley musical set. To mex my mitaphors even more, I have to say that what it most reminded me of was the hotel in "The Shining". When the wedding began, I thought to myself, if the ring girls suddenly link hands and say "Redrum," I'm outta here.

On the turntable: Shakti, "Remember Shakti"
On the nighttable: Dan Millman, "The Warrior Athlete"

Monday, May 16, 2005

Saturday night's alright for djembe

My friend Isako is an artist over in Kurayoshi. A few years back she and some friends formed a band called Aya, made up of young Japanese drummers and dancers who create a rich layer of African polyrhythms. Their live shows are simply fierce. I dare you to attend one and try to keep your ass from shaking. Once a month or so, they bring Youl and Mina in from Tokyo (I think) to give a workshop on Guinian drumming and dancing.

The other night I joined the drum workshop for the first time. I saw a few old friends there, including many members of Aya, some who joined the lesson, others who played counterbeats on the bigger drums at the back of the room. My friend Arama was also there, accompanying us on DunDun, laying down a wicked booming base that spread across the floor and shot up your legs. When Youl would teach us a new beat, Arama, would slink down in his chair and looked bored. He was wearing large black shades under his wild dreads, and wore a red/black/green tank top over camouflage pants. His bored expression looked more like a scowl, the face of someone in a newspaper photo holding an AK47 while standing in the back of a pickup truck driven by Charles Taylor. In real life Arama, is an unbelievable sweet guy, who talks to you in this soft French accent, smiling broadly and touching your shoulder. Near him sat a small woman who seemed to play drums with her whole body. I don't mean that she lost herself in the music. It was more like she was concentrating so hard on playing well that her whole body became stiff, moving in tandem with her arms and hands as they flailed against the goat skin.

It was a great night, and I left with my heart racing but with absolutely no blood circulation in my fingers.

On the turntable: Mali Music, "Mali Music"

Sunday, May 15, 2005

James and the Giant Lizard

The other day in my post about Kisagi Temple, I made a reference to an old Star Trek episode where Kirk fights a large lizard on a rocky planet. Thinking about it, I'm amazed at how many times that image comes to me.

I enjoy Star Trek, but by no means do I consider myself a Trekkie. (there are plenty of sites out there for that.) I think I first saw the episode with my Uncle John back in the '70s. Later, when living in California, I remember finding the actual set, not far from where one of Christo's giant umbrellas killed a tourist in '93 or so. In the mountains of Santa Barbara, there was a place littered with huge boulders, where friends would go to shroom and play "Star Trek."

The lizard's legacy lives on...

On the turntable: Madredeus, "Un Amor Infinito"

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Prophet Sharing

I was sitting on a borrowed bicycle in Kyoto, waiting for the light to change, when a strange man came up to me. Without word, he handed me a slip of paper and walked away. The paper was the size of a fortune cookie fortune. I opened it to reveal the message, "Most Japanese resist Logos." Beneath the word 'logos" he'd written, 人生 , or life.
I didn't think much about it, until I found this seemingly indestructable piece of paper in my pant's pocket, AFTER I'd washed them... Whoa!

On the turntable: Garden State Soundtrack

Friday, May 13, 2005

GW3: Kyoto

Wednesday and Thursday saw kobudo events at Shimogamo Jinja and Shiramine Jinja respectively. A few familiar faces were in attendance, including Ron Beaubien down from Tokyo, Serge Mol in from Europe, and Conrad Buscis demo'ing Tendo ryu. Many of the koryu groups were at both events and it was a nice way to spend a couple sunny spring afternoons.

My friend Neil was exhibiting some photos from his Cuba trip. I especially liked his use of colors. I tried to tell him what draws me most to a picture is a photographer's use of lines. Midway through, we both started to crack up.

From there we set off to Tadg's for open mic night. Eric and Harry showed up late, guitars in hand. Earlier, I had bought a new drum at my favorite drum shop in town, down Teramachi way, and offered to play with them. We did an original rendition of a Tom Waits classic, then I backed up Harry on a blues solo/medley/jammy kind of thing. About four pints later, and after some coercion, I got up to read some completely average garbage from my journal (having a massive choice of three whole pages) and a few old haiku I fished from my grey matter. The night was fantastic. I met quite a few other writers and musicians, plus the Tagd's staff. I was impressed how Eric, Neil, and Anna, knew a lot of the folks there. Besides the obvious gaijin studying traditional arts, Kyoto also seems to have a flourishing artistic community of a more Western bent. In contrast, Yonago is so bland, with months between events, then three things happening on the same night, all coordinated by friends who never bothered to communicate with one another. I love living up here, fully immersed in the J-side, but I miss having an artistic community around. Let's repeat the decade old mantra: I wanna move to Kyoto.

May 5th is Children's Day in Japan, but we decided instead to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at a good cheap Mexican place, El Latino. Last year I'd seen a live band there, but on this holiday, nada. The food was great as usual, the owner somewhat loco, and I was able to choke down a Bohemia, despite my hangover. That night we weren't the only one's celebrating. At the river, we passed a wedding party being serenaded by a line of jazz horns while the drumer banged away alone across the room. Bicycle and foot traffic had stopped on the bridge, looking in thru the ballroom's tall arched windows. Many reasons to party tonight.

On the turntable: Tears for Fears, "The Hurting"
On the nighttable: Best American Short Stories, 1991

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Immaculate Deception

Japan is notorious for presenting foods that turn out to be completely different from what you expected. I remember back in my illiterate days when I bought clams which miraculously transformed into chicken during cooking. (Think of the research involved. I mean we're talking about a completely different genus.) Newbies still don't believe me when I reminisce of Oreos without cream. (What would that be called-- simply, Oos?) Yesterday I bought dipping bread. On the package was a photo of well-manicured fingers dipping the sticks into cheese. Happily, I assumed it would be like Crazy Bread. Nope, no sauce whatsoever. Foiled again.

On the turntable: Little Feat, "Waiting for Columbus

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

GW2 : Mountaintop Boogaloo

On Monday I headed up to Kyoto, joining the commuter drones unfortunate enough to have to work in the middle of what should be 6 consecutive days off. Due to the holidays, security seemed to be hightened. On the platform, I noticed I was being eyeballed by a policeman. I must've looked suspicious, being guilty of course of Waiting While White (WWW). Tearing a page from Sun Tzu, I walked up to him and asked him some random question about boarding. As he flummoxed, I said, "Oh right, you don't work for JR. Sorry."

Two hours or so later, I detrained in Tanabe, immediately catching a bus to Hongu Taisha. The two hour ride was fantastic, criss-crossing a trail I hope to hike, giving me a reasonable idea about where food and water will be waiting. It was a mild nail-biter of a ride, zigzagging along high mountain ridge roads best travelled by two wheels or less. Hongu Taisha was busy on this non-holiday day. I had been here for my first Golden week, 10years back. Once again, I went up the long steep steps to pay my respects to the appropriate dieties. After downing an ice cream, I hoisted my pack and set off up the road. It was nearly an hour along a busy highway before the trailhead. There was a box of sticks waiting, plus a map highlighting all the ups and downs. A few steps up the trail, I passed a hiker coming the other way. He'd be the only one I'd see on the trail.

The trail, now an UNESCO world heritage site, was unbelievably clean and wide enough for a kei car to drive on. I've hiked this area four times now, and was happy to see new signs marking the path at frequent intervals. It's a far cry from the bushwhacking and head-scratching of trips past. It made for a good day of hiking, along stone-laded paths giving rare views of mountainscapes not punctuated by power lines. The only disconcerning part was that despite UNESCO protection, there was still a large amount of tree felling going on. I thought at first they may have been trees downed in last year's horrific typhoon season, but fresh white saw dust was a dead give away. These trees came down in the last few days. Unfortunately, this scene would be repeated a dozen more times over 15 km. A few spots will no doubt see benches and tables and a shelter for picnicking. In one place, there was even a sign announcing it as a "Whistling Spot." (?) I was happy to find a man-made spring to refill my canteen, so I suppose human intervention isn't all bad.
Not far from the spring, something quite large moved down the hill off the trail. From the sound, it was at best a large boar, at worst, a bear. I'd rather not meet either. It was near 6 pm and the shadows were lengthening across the trail. I knew the last kilo was through a village, and I hoped to reach it by dark. Moments later, I saw someone had pitched a tent in the middle of the trail. Damn. The campsite's going to be pricey.

Thousand yen. Ouch. But it was full dark now. So I paid up and set up. The cabin here had beds and an onsen. I'd been told it was full, but strangely, was alone in the tepid bath. Dined solo in my tent, reading from Gary Snyder. Good stuff for a hike.

The next morning, after a night sleeping on the cold ground, I could hardly walk. Last night, on the final descent, my left hip had begun to ache. Now, the joint was incredibly stiff. I wondered if it was because I'd been using a hiking staff (which I never use) and favoring my right side. Today's hike would be higher and longer than yesterday, with more up and down, climbing to 900m. I decided it could wait. At 7am , I jumped a bus to Shingu where I stored my pack, then caught another bus to Nachi Taisha. The 1000 year old stone trail bisected some huge cedars. At the bottom was a small shop renting traditional pilgrim outfits for the final ascent to the shrine. For me, it was two hours down to the sea, through bamboo groves and rice villages. One small shrine was surrounded by high volcanic stone walls like I'd seen in Okinawa or Korea. Some of these same stones had also been used to line many fields. A man tended to his vegetable plot which lay just below a graveyard. Another farmer was spraying chemicals over his rice field, while a man in an adjacent field lower down looked somewhat forlorn at his inevitable "gift."
From Nachi station, it was five hours to Shingu. This was still the Kumano Kodo, but it wasn't as well cared for as higher up. Here the signs were shoddy and less frequent, the "trail" a busy highway with no real shoulder, or bland suburban streets. The few wooded spots were a delight, and the last hour into Shingu was along a black sand beach. Twenty-five km and without pack, my hip didn't even whimper. I thanked the gods at Hayatama Taisha, the last of Kumano's big three shrines, grabbed a take-away pizza then hopped the train north. I had to change in Osaka, and the Kyoto bound was packed, even at 10 pm. I squeezed on with my bag, drawing a few dirty looks. It was too crowded to read, so I looked over the driver's shoulder and up the track. Moving along at express train speeds, it was slightly unnerving due to last week's Amagasaki crash. But I arrived unscathed, climbing the last few subway stairs on quaking legs.

On the turntable: Moby, "Play-The B Sides"
On the Nighttable: "Drinking the Mountain Stream: New Songs of Milarepa"

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

GW 1

Last week was Golden Week. In years past, my fun quotient would be better described as gilded, but this year was definitely gold. The week had three distinct parts, so I've decided to address them over three days, so as not to go on and on and bore both of us.

Last Saturday, slouched toward Kyoto. Read Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller on the train. It was the first time in like 15 years that I'd read him, and I remembered why I've always liked his stuff. Just after finishing university I saw the film Henry and June, and it started me on a craze, reading about a dozen of his novels over the next year. This book, a travellogue about pre-war Greece, is a bit different that the others (namely, there's no sex) but it's solid just the same. I truly enjoyed a few hours on the train with this grumpy old man from Brooklyn.

It took four trains and five hours to the campsite in south Kyoto-fu. I changed trains in Okayama, standing on the crowded platform in front of a large family, the high school-aged daughter wearing a T-shirt with "Fuck You, You Fucking Fucker" written on it. (Was this to fend off chikan-ery?) Hours later, I sat for a half hour on an empty platform in the sticks, enjoying the warm wind in my face, and the sound of frogs having a riot in the newly flooded rice patties out there in the dark. I finally arrived in Kisagi, where Keith met me with a gift of an ice cream cone dripping streams down his hand. Later, around the fire, we had more substantial treats of the barley persuasion. The firewood ran out before the beer so I was able to sleep relatively sober.

The next morning, walking into town for a canned coffee, I realized I'd been here before. Two years ago, I hiked away from this station and over a ridge into Yagyu Village, home to a family of famous swordsmen and their beautiful dojo. From there, another trail led me five hours thru mountain and rice field into Nara deer park. Today, Neil and I wandered up to the mountain-top temple. We passed the house where on my previous trip I'd seen monkeys stealing laundry hung drying on a line. (No doubt to be sold in vending machines in Tokyo.) We took a trail closed due to a landslide, yet could see no real damage. As we climbed, we heard the sounds of jazz being massacred. Upon further investigation, we realized that we'd walked into band camp. For the next half-hour, nearly every sentence began with, "One time, in band camp..." Higher up (speaking in terms of both geography and maturity) we reached the temple complex. It was spread across the mountain top, the subtemples interspersed with huge boulders. It looked much like where Kirk fought the giant lizard. (Well, minus the temple of course. Does a lizard have Buddha nature?) Most of these rocks were bigger than the buildings themselves, and on many of them were carvings of Buddhist figures and sanskrit characters. The latter led me to believe that this is a tantric sect and no doubt we were hiking a mandala. The stones were also great for climbing and offered amazing views down the valley. Terraced rice fields climbed the mountain across from us, looking more "Asia" than modern Japan usually does. From our vantage point, we could also see that other friends had arrived at our camp site, so we began to head down. On the way we noticed a small temple hall that had a cat's picture on the altar. Further on, an old man was draining and cleaning his koi pond, just as a light rain began to fall.

In camp, we saw that the BBQ was ready. As I ate, I pondered how strange the camp site was. We were literally sitting and sleeping atop river stones. Plus, it was bordered on three sides by a busy road, a rail line, and a huge bridge. Across the river, not far from the castle-shaped love hotel, was a neon sign advising us to take care of rising river levels. It seemed to be rain activated. In this drizzle, I figured it was still safe enough for a river swim. I barely made it knee-deep before officially understanding that snowmelt is just as cold as snow, but it's a devilish snow which tries to push you face first into its icyness. Instead, we headed up to the town's onsen. As we sat in the rotemburo, the skies opened up, and we decided to head home.

On the turntable: The Blues Project, "Anthology"

Monday, May 09, 2005


I am pleased to announce the birth of a healthy happy bouncing blog. Now, I'm a guy who can appreciate tradition, and in many cultures (Buddhist or Jewish for example), something is generally not given a name until 8 days after creation. This is done out of concern that the thing will not live past the first week. However, here in Japan, all newborns are registered soon after birth. Hence the title above. The blog seems to be doing fine, eating up bandwidth as we speak...

On the turntable: David Gray, "White Ladder"
On the nighttable: Shusaku Endo, "Deep River"