Saturday, February 18, 2006

Oddball and I

Sitting here in the 'Nog, listening to large clumps of last night's snow slide down the roof and crash onto the lower eaves with Tchaikovskian subtlety. (Brady over at "Pure Land Mountain" wrote about the same phenomenon, but with greater detail and talent. Check out his February 7th post.)
Meanwhile, back in the Kyo, I finally got my bed. The delivery men hemmed and hawed awhile as they looked at my narrow doorway. "Impossible, impossible," one of them kept repeating over and over, while making absolutely no attempt. I kept going, "C'mon guys, it'll fit," but they'd shake their collective heads, young one showing me his tape measure, old one chanting his mantra. After about a half hour of this, I actually started to chant back in English, "Positive thinking, man! Positive thinking, man!", while waving my hands in the air like I was doing vertical push-ups against an invisible wall. My foreign lingo mojo must've worked for we got the bed in, diagonally, through the window. Physics trumps mathematics every time. Smiles all around as I signed the usual paperwork and watched them drive off into the collective sunset. All the while reminded of the film "Kelly's Heroes", where Donald Sutherland repeats painfully to Captain Stubing, "Always with the negative waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves!"

(While you're checking out Brady's aforementioned post, stop over at the camp of "Circus Freaks in Training" (at left) where Nico does a fine review of Thursday night. My world would be a far simpler place if I had people to review my life everyday...)

On the turntable: "All about Lily Chou-chou (soundtrack)"

Friday, February 17, 2006

What would Gulliver drive?

Mini Coopers don't look so mini in Japan.

On the turntable: Hal Willner, "Amarcord Nino Rota"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Uncharted journey continues...

My usual rhythm has me in the Kyo from Thursday to Saturday, and in the 'Nog the rest of the week. Last Saturday was a holiday, therefore no aikido, therefore no reason to come back here. So six full days in the Kyo this time, doing little more than loafing. And if you got time to lean, you got time to glean.
Here's what I picked up this time:

Met with a new student for lunch at Sarasa downtown. Find out that I'm the first person she's met socially in 8 months. And it's her birthday. So I ask her to tag along with me as I run errands downtown. And it's her 40th birthday. So I buy her pints and dinner at Hill of Tara. As my cab pulls away, I spy the merry bounce in her gait as she heads home. No one should be alone when they turn 40.

Same night, Friday, have Chijimi at Daruma near (secret). The crowd tonite includes a professional jazz singer. The night gets late and a guitar comes out. Luckily, I have a new Indian drum which I bought a couple hours before. Tap away gently to her homegrown J-folk. Am then prompted to sing "Stand by Me" and "Don't Let Me Down," to a full house. Of ten.

Begin Tai Chi lessons once again. Watch my new teacher drop twenty years as she goes through the form.

Find the Japanese translations of two of Sherman Alexie's books in Sarasa Nishijin. Find out that the manager I befriended three years ago, with whom I talked about Osho and Krishnamurti and the Dalai Lama, is still in charge. It doesn't take a guru to see many heady nights in my future.

Beautiful warm Monday in the sun with a book, coffee, and two cats.

Caught Hiros live in Kobe, playing along with Kul Bhushan Bhargava on tablas and Umezu Kazutoki on Bass Clarinet. Small crowd at some sort of art space. A woman bobs and weaves in time as the three men create sounds of the harbor: seagulls, tugboats, steel.

After four months on probation, finally become the 313th member of Chofukan dojo. And I hung up my shingle to prove it.

On the turntable: Shigeru Umebayashi, "House of the Flying Daggers"
On the nighttable: "Granta 48: Africa"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I want a partner with whom I can walk hand in hand toward no fixed destination,
instead seeking the joys that everyday life hides,
and watching these treasures reflect in my lover's eyes.

On the turntable: John Coltrane, "The Ultimate Blue Trane"
On the nighttable: Monique Wittig: "The Guerillieres"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

At the Ancient Shrine

Waiting in line to draw sacred water,
A pretty girl texts on her cell phone

On the turntable: Hassan Hakmoun and Zahar,"Trance"

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Remember the Main

One of the files in my email account is for amusing cyber nudges and winks sent by good friends. I call the file, "Classics." My London-based mate Cath has a knack for writing emails which instantly become permanent residents there. Her latest:

Walking through london
thinking...when will Ted be here, playing his bongos at street corners
howling at moon-like street lights? Ahh....London with bongos...

On the turntable: Bill Laswell, "Jazzonia"

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Home is where the Hard Drive is

I first got into blogs big time about a year ago (though it took a few more months for the water to break on this one). I'd started by reading a martial arts blog, "Give Your Meat" a long while, and by following link to link, I was off and running barefoot thru the minds of my fellow expats. I was attracted to anything that was funny and/or well written.
But my interest is on the wane. I've been trying to spend less time online, missing the feel of dead trees between the fingers, the ring of laughter in real time. So, I've been slowly cutting down on my blog reading. It's been like saying goodbye to friends. This process has in fact been parallel to the whole expatriate experience. Broken promises to those who weren't here long, finding in time that you didn't have as much in common as you thought, aside from shared geography. And those inevitable friends you lose to parenthood, whose sentences inevitably contain the personal pronoun of their offspring. (Hey, I can understand, having been a parent myself.) Those connections that thrive are the ones that, while based in Japan, rarely dwell on that fact. They blog about the things they'd be doing and thinking no matter where they were living. This is I think the key point about friendship between long term expats: you never mention it, forgetting sometimes that you're in Japan at all.

On the turntable: The Coral, "Invisible Invasion"
On the nighttable: Neeli Cherkovski, "Bukowski: A Life"

Monday, February 06, 2006

Worth a Hill of Beans

Early Friday, I hooked up with Anna and her friend Sheffield Dave, currently on two-week holiday. We headed south to Nara, arriving at Gankou-ji a bit early, so we spent a couple hours just hanging out on the grounds. Kancho had redone the garden here, and for nearly the whole time I was engrossed in staring at the jizos. Four evenly spaced rows of shark's teeth. The perfect morning light cast their shadows on the moss. The Hondo was home to multiple figures of Fudo-Myo-O. His form and incredible presence, backlit by fire, makes me long for a life of dedication and austerity. These thoughts resonated awhile in the vacuous silence of the temple. And I wouldn't have been the first to think them, here in the oldest extant temple in the country.

After a quick shojin ryori lunch, a group of monks in mustard robes began chanting. they eventually settling on the Heart Sutra, repeating it for close to 45 minutes, over and over like children. Ah--beginner's mind. Things moved quickly after that, with a yamabushi procession and Takeuchi demos. (Kancho later explained to me the Takeuchi-Shugendo connection. I was thrilled to see two of my paths converge.) To the continuous sound of chanting and blowing conches, the yamabushi fired arrows into the bundle of sasaki piled high in the courtyard. After lighting the branches, they threw prayer sticks into the flames. As the sasaki had burned off, the yamabushi pulled apart the flaming wooden frame, lining up the logs for us to walk across, symbollizing entry into the fires of Fudo. This, plus generous amounts of sake, helped warm us all. As the afternoon wore on, the sun slowly went into hiding, and the wind developed teeth.

Being Setsubun (try Google or Wikipedia), the bean throwing was next. The usual chant heard throughout Japan is, "Demons out, Good Fortune In." But at Gankou-ji, the demons are also welcome. Just inside the main gate, a small table had been set up to sell multi-sized ceramic demons, painted by the mentally handicapped. One of them stood just outside the gate, yelling at the streams of people coming for the Mamemaki bean toss. Having not yet seen the table, more than a few people looked confused at the guy's ambiguous cries of, "Big ones, 800 yen! Small ones 500!" On a raised platform in the courtyard was a large platform from where a handful of local celebrities would throw bags of beans to the crowd. They threw the bags in all directions, and it was a bit scary to jump up to catch them, knowing that children and the elderly were scrambling in the dirt around my feet for those bags that got through. One old timer scratched me behind the ear with a mistimed leap. Being tall, it didn't take long to snag three bags, plus a soft rubber ball. I'd made eye contact with one of the tossers, an attractive woman whose large hair and slightly fading beauty suggested newscaster. She'd literally guided the ball right into my raised hand. Satisfied at my loot, I backed away slowly, ducking and dodging flying bags and hands. It must've looked like I was Salaam-ing.

Back in the Kyo, I'd promised to meet E-Ma Eric at Hill of Tara. I left my house on bike, the blinding snow and confusing streets causing me to head due west, rather than the desired direction of southeast. I arrived 30 minutes late to find a slightly peeved friend. But, happily the wounds were superficial, easily tended with a couple pints of Kilkenny. Our conversation drifted to house buying, translation, and the trials of grad work in a foreign tongue. As we talked, three people began to play some trad Irish music incredibly well. It was only on the way out that I noticed they were Japanese.

I biked through the still-falling snow to Yoshida Shrine. Arriving at exactly 11, I was just in time to see the lighting of another sasaki bonfire, this one as large as a house. Fireman in gray Darth Vader suits kept things under control with their large phalluses. Literally minutes after the fire was lit, most of the locals cleared out, leaving a group of about a hundred foreigners to drink around the warmth. I spied quite a few familiar faces (at first hard to recognize in the flickering light), and made some new friends. I'd long looked forward to moving to the Kyo and enjoying the anonymity I've long ago lost in the small confines of the 'Nog. Yet quite a few people here had already heard of me. Shit. I guess I'd been warned...

Feeling that my season had been satisfactorily split (look up the kanji, willya?), I set off, and thirty minutes of cold uphill pedalling brought me home. Getting into bed, I thought back on the those twin pillars of Japanese festivals. Fire and booze. With the occasional beans...

On the turntable: Sacred System, "Nagual Site"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

This Morning...

Woke up and followed little clouds of breath downstairs. Snow piled high in the garden and the house is cold. But no kerosene. Few things are more unpleasant than heading into the wet cold straight from a warm bed...

On the turntable: Death in Vegas, "Milk It"

Saturday, February 04, 2006

No One Likes To Be Let Down

On the bus to the Kyo, sitting behind two Germans. Judging by the fact that one of them has a pair of souvenir chopsticks, they must be tourists. During their limited time in country, with what eyes do they see?

Do they notice the mompe-clad gateball players? Or do they notice the nearby river's concrete banks?

Do they notice the mountain rising from the sea to punctuate the landscape? Or do they notice the paper-factory in the foreground, its high smokestack a raised middle finger?

Do they notice the quaint little farmhouses which line the valley? Or do they see the pork-built bridge high above, throwing midday shadows across their fields?

At what point in time does the eye change? And why does it cease to admire the pale, soft beauty, being drawn instead to the blemishes and scars?

On the turntable: Madness, "One Stop Beyond"
On the nighttable: "Not So Funny When It Happened" (Tim Cahill, ed.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Going Down the Silk Road Feelin' Bad

Reading about Alexander the Pretty Friggin' Swell, I note that during his marriage to Roxane, the new couple used a sword to cut bread, the symbol of carnal union. This Macedonian tradition is still used in modern weddings in Japan. Amazing, the meeting point of cultures. And Japan, a country with a long tradition of bizarre porn, can do some pretty horrible things to baked goods.

On the turntable, "Festival in the Desert"

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ego Rappin'

At high altitudes,
Thin fir trees
Too proud to bow,
Decapitated by snow.

On the turntable: Habib Koite, "Maya"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Balcony acrobats

Rare sunny day
Housewife spanks her futon:
Out! Out damn spot!

On the turntable: Jack Johnson, "J.O.A.T."