Monday, July 31, 2006

Notes from Wherever

So the day has finally come where I move to the Kyo. The question is what to do with the title to this thing. Do I change it to 'Notes from the Kyo?' I'm not sure. The 'Nog is where I spent my formative Japan years, cutting my teeth on strange words and stranger customs. Everything I see in this country I see through the filter developed there. Besides, I hope to get back up to the 'Nog once a month or so, to see friends, run a yoga workshop, train in aikido, study budo bodywork with Morisaki-san and tea with Yoko sensei, hit the beach or mountains, play music. The door is still ajar.

No, the song remains the same.

On the turntable: Charlie Daniels Band, "A Decade of Hits"
On the nighttable: Mary McCarthy, "The Group"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gion and on...

(Cliche coming. Just as every J-blogger will write about the sakura of April, every resident of the Kyo will inevitably write about Gion matsuri.)

It was my second Gion experience. the last time was 11 years ago, with Gordo and C-Lo. Due to certain excesses and the passage of time, memory is hazy, but I remember staying at Hiden-in (soonafter dubbed Hiden-ism), a real, octopus-free taco stand somewhere in the backstreets of Pontocho, and bands playing in the smoke-filled Kamo river bed. My main memory is of a yukata clad girl talking on a cellphone. This was a unique sight back in '95, and no matter how hard I tried to take a photo, she kept twisting and turning like Marlo Thomas in order to escape my lens. The following day was sunny, but a sudden deluge found us huddled somewhere in Daitokuji, reading Gary Snyder poems while waiting for the onslaught to cease.

This year's weather was even worse. I met up with MatsuMiki, Maaaachin, and his friend Hideyo at Yasaka Jinja, where we looked over a sea of damp black hair to watch Kagura. The group this year was from next door in Shimane, where Kagura flourishes. I've seen the art many times, but never a group this visually amazing, swirling and jumping and swinging swords. Our vantage point was directly in front of the mikoshi, so I'm sure we wound up in lots of people's pictures. When the rain let up a little, we headed down Shijo, stopping often for food or to watch random performers. One taiko group was really cookin' in front of Minami-za, but my attention was repeatedly drawn to a nearby combini for beer, coffee, snacks, ice cream. We kept going west, saying hello to many yukata-clad friends. To escape the crush, we went into a Mexican restaurant in Kiyamachi. A lone guy in a huge black sombrero was working his way through the Spanish songbook. Amazingly, he did "Guantanamera," which I'd been humming out on the streets earlier.

The next morning, it poured. We decided to watch the parade anyway. It was a morning of umbrella spines at eye-height and pointy elbows in ribs. Somehow, we got a decent vantage point to see the yamaboko make their turn onto Shijo. (And used my yogic contortions to get decent photos.) We eventually had enough of rain and spent the rest of the day going cafe to cafe but never fully getting dry, or warm. But in true festival mood, laughs were aplenty. How to eat a banana without using your hands. A traditional art for opening doors. Essay writing, East and West.

And after the drumming ceased, both in my ears and on my head, it was time for a bath.

On the turntable: The Pogues, "The Very Best of..."
On the nighttable: Jim Thompson, "Pop. 1280"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Finger Food

The perfect treat for sharing with the Donners. They always did have the best parties.

On the turntable: Pete Seeger, "American Favorite Ballads"

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

After the Flood

Heated up from a full day of packing, I headed to the beach. It was a gorgeous day, the sky a color not seen for a week. Oki Island even put in an appearance, rare in even the clearest weather. I'd hoped to swim, but found the beach a mess, covered in debris. Trees and bamboo and a floatilla of PET bottles bobbed in the surf. LL Tim told me how a few days ago he'd buried a dead dog he found in the water. I assume most of this had washed down the nearby rivers, then washed up during the storms. A real shame. I'd purposely spent the summer in the 'Nog in the hope of daily swimming. But there'd be no swimming today, and probably none for the rest of the year.

On the turntable: Miles Davis, "At Last"

Monday, July 24, 2006

Before the Flood

Out here in western Japan, all this rain has really brought out the green. It looks a bit like mainland Asia, the rice fields and distant hills bright against the grey clouds. This ceiling is so low, the scene is as if in a letter-boxed film. The rivers are as wild as I've ever seen them. They're...well, I hate to use the word swollen, since it's such a cliche, and the amount of water flowing goes far beyond cliche. The flattened grass and debris high up in treetops is a testiment to the water's mood. Water is white where it's usually brown. Further down in Okayama-ken, there are signs of fresh landslides, long dirty scars in the places where the earth gave way two typhoon seasons ago. I can't see the villages below, but the roads in are littered with branches and leaves. The residents must be in a state of constant worry, as their TVs tell of deaths in Kyushu and Nagano, and their crops die due to lack of sunlight.

But not everyone is unhappy. The Kamo-gawa turtles are submerged most of the week. A few seem to be getting rivergrass facials. The Takano-gawa is flowing higher, and at the confluence below Demachiyanagi, it seems to fold onto the lower Kamo, rather than merge.

Saturday brings on sunshine and a brilliant idea. I hike up to Oku-no-in to find the waterfall just pounding over the ridge. I strip down and stand underneath, the force of the water bowing my head as if in supplication. These falls are sacred to Fudo-myo, a diety important to the yamabushi and thus to Takeuchi-ryu. As I have a grading later that night, I wish for strength. MatsuMiki also takes her turn, bravely baring all to escape the heat. You go girl!

On the truntable: Greg Graffin, "Cold as the Clay"
On the nighttable: Pete McCarthy, "McCarthy's Bar"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Excellent! Bogus...

Busy preparing for the move to the Kyo. To get the blood pumping, I rented the first 6 albums by Iron Maiden. In the late 70s, early 80s I loved hard rock'n'roll, before it all turned to hairspray and MTV pouts. I eventually moved on to punk. I haven't heard Maiden in over twenty years but I still remember every riff and most of the lyrics. (Can't recall much calculus though, and the periodic table looks like alphabet soup to me.) Today I've been beating my forehead bloody on cardboard boxes, washed off by a flood of tears over cutting off my long locks.

On the turntable: Wyld Stalyns, "Live in San Dimas"
On the nighttable: Irvine Welsh, "Ecstasy"

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Magic Flute

Read today that the universe vibrates in the key of B-flat. Same pitch as my shakuhachi, I do believe.

On the turntable: UA, "空の小屋"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Dr. Know

Back in December, Yukio and Amanda and I climbed up to Kyoto's 'left' Daimonjiyama. After some searching, we couldn't find a trail, so we wound up bushwhacking through the forest, out of a children's cemetery. (Always something there to remind me.)

Today's mission was to find the actual trail. With map in hand and a bicycle firmly wedged beneath me, MatsuMiki and I rode counter-clockwise along the road fronting the mountain. We found many amazing things. We found a huge swimming pool. We found a woman singing beautifully in front of a Pure Land temple. We found an artist commune high up a remote road. We found a fast, shallow stream ideal for strolling barefoot. We found (and encouraged) an old woman making her way slowly up a hill way too steep for us to bike. We found an old lodge with baths offering amazing views of the valley. We found a waterfall perfect for birthday suits. We never did find that damn trail.

The best thing we did find was an open gate and a massive garden beyond. At first we thought it was a private residence. But who could afford to own such a huge space? Politician? Movie star? Captain of Industry? Gangster? We walked a little farther in, slightly afraid, half expecting attack dogs (or carp) to be unleashed by some James Bondian villain. Who lived here?
Stepping back outside, we soon found that this was in fact a public garden, attached to an art space we'd passed earlier. Disappointed...

About nine years ago, I was having breakfast in Sapa, near the Vietnamese border with China. I was sharing a table with a middle-aged Vietnamese man who'd fled to the US 30-some years before. He was back in country for the first time and was especially excited that morning because he was going to see the woman who he'd dated as young man, not long before his emigrating. He left the table almost whistling. That night however, his face took a different hue. Over beers, he told me of his day, of his encounter with his long ago lover, how she'd aged and how the long years of war had left not a single part of her former beauty. Taking the American vernacular, he said, "Some mysteries are best left unsolved."

On the turntable: Tao, "The Martial Art of Noise"
On the nighttable: Larry Watson, "Montana 1948"

Friday, July 14, 2006

Take a cha-cha-cha chance

I think the drummer was a robot. OK, so maybe not a robot, but he had this way of playing where only his arms moved. Literally only his arms, the wrists at the end of them seemed welded on, and his upper body and shoulders barely twitched. He moved almost in the hyper-stylized way a classical Japanese performer would move. Namba ugoki for the jazz hipster set. Yet Shinnosuke Takahashi's playing was undeniably genius, and I found myself getting tired just watching him, trying to figure out how he moved like he did. Tonite he was backing Fumio Karashima, one of Japan's best pianists. MatsuMiki had brought me here, to Kyoto's Rag, after having one of G Love's oven-baked Quattro Formaggios, eaten out on the balcony, overlooking Kiyamachi's creek reflecting the parting rain clouds and the full moon coming through.

No birthday is complete without sweets. We bought some combini ice cream and walked into the quiet grounds of Kinkakuji in order to see the moon through the trees. Literally within seconds of crossing the barrier, a flashlight began bouncing toward us. We turned quickly then, hurrying toward the safety of my nearby house, me still pretty spry for 39.

On the turntable: Shuichi Hidano/Keisuke Doi, "Trust"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What are words for?

Through occasional slips of the tongue, I've come up with some pretty funny band names. The other night in conversation with LL Tim, I said something like, "..and if I can't do that, I'll do it elseway." Why not? We riffed awhile, figuring that if 'elsewhere" is OK, why not 'elsewho" or "elsewhen" or elsewhy?"
At the speed at which I speak, these linguistic fender-benders are bound to occur, the tongue missing the curve, scraping the rail, giving birth to sparks, new life. Creativity is everything. Elsehow is no way to live.

On the turntable: Barna Ghita, "Water Island"
On the nighttable, Bob Dylan, "Chronicles"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On The Beach

The heat hit. I tried the local remedy of watching spooky films in order to cool down with a good case of the shivers. Herzog's "Nosferatu" certainly inspired me and gave me the creeps, but when it was over, the pores opened up again. Beach trumps nap today.

It's July, so it's no good swimming on Kaike's east end. They've set up stalls selling franks and yakisoba and have roped off the area considered safe for bathing. I climbed along the tetrapods to check out if they'd put up shark nets, until some arubaito hollered at me through a megaphone about safety. About this Dylan would probably sing, "Don't Think Once, It's Alright." But I hate being treated like a child, even if Japan is far too dirty and dangerous to have any fun.

Tim and Zack and I ended up on the west end, which I call Ken-chan Beach. There's a shallow part just in front of the tetrapods, where the waves can't get through. The sun warms it all day until it's like a kiddy pool. Ken used to love swimming here. Zack and I wandered the 'pods, jumping off into the water. He swam out toward Russia, and I sat under the cloudy sky, watching the typhoon driven clouds farther out, beyond where the squid boats go. These clouds had been holding all this warm air over the city these past few days. I climbed back toward the shallow bit, and noticed a strange black stain. Drawing closer, I noticed that the stain was literally tens of thousands of tiny fish, each the size of a watch hand. The were keeping perfect distance from each other and from every object nearby, morphing to the exact shape of the 'pods they'd pass. When the wind stirred the water, these shapes would burst apart, then school together again to once again take the shape of the stones, or the shoreline. The three of us watched them awhile, completely in awe of the incredible numbers of them and the way'd they'd swarm and drift. Nature brings about the best satori. We eventually got in amongst them and stood very still. At first the fish avoided us, occasionally colliding with our legs or feet. Was it our heat they felt? How did every fish keep the exact same distance? Before long, they began to brush our legs or swim through them. I stood here stone still for a long, long time, feeling like the Colossus of Rhodes, mind completely unable to comprehend this precious gift, here on Ken-chan Beach, these fish doing a slow waltz with the spirit of my son.

On the turntable: Dadawa, "Sister Drum"
On the nighttable: John Stevens, "Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei"

Monday, July 10, 2006

Before Sunrise

The loss of sleep really began on Friday night. MatsuMiki had joined my yoga class and afterward, we sat on the big stone Kamogawa turtles. Triangle park was full of Kyodai students, playing djembe and lighting fireworks. This entire section of river was smoke-filled, and with the drumming, I was reminded of that surreal scene in Apocalypse Now, with the young people playing war, not yet realizing that there was nobody leading them. Through the smoke, the Imadegawa bridge looked a bit like Pont Neuf, low and lit, lovers strolling across. Being Tanabata, MatsuMiki and I floated our bamboo branches down the current, which was running fast after a day of rain. Then we sat and ate dango, sometimes laying flat across the turtle's back, our heads dangling close to the water. Below the horizon curve of sky, all was smoke and neon.

The next night saw a farewell party of sorts. It was my second sayonara party, and like my previous one nine years ago, I wasn't actually leaving. (Although, last time, I hadn't yet known that.) It was a small gathering of a dozen close friends, with pizza and wine and lots of World Cup talk, P-chan's hands gesturing wildly, still pissed at England's early exit. Later, we joined up with Jenn's gang for her own farewell bash, moving bar to bar into the night. Each place grew more surreal than the last, from the cowboy-less neon-lit loft of Nashville Rooms to Guinness-fuelled karaoke in a surf bar to the final night of Missile, where the 'Nog's freak scene was well represented. Time seemed to stand as still as the air on this hot, windless summer night. While in conversation with a friend, I suddenly noticed the hands of her wristwatch indicating 4:45, and I walked out seconds later, leaving her in mid-sentence. The sky outside was an innocent-looking blue, indicating a new day of possibility. I pedaled home smiling at the metaphor, pleased that I'd partied 'til dawn on this, my last big night out in the 'Nog.

Sunday was of course a wash, stewing in my house on what was the year's first real summerlike day, yet too exhausted to get to the beach. Instead, hooked up with Local Legends Tim and Zack for a Dylan DVD over tempeh and brown rice. Purge, purge the demons of last night! Saw the sun set over Nakaumi, then rise again while watching the World Cup final with Cian and Gray and a handful of hopeful Frenchmen, Michael yelling out "Ah! Patente!"with greater and greater emotion as the match dragged on. The sun's slow ascent over the paper factory created a race with the events happening in Germany, where full light would make it impossible to see the projected image of the match on the wall. After a quick set up in another room, we caught Zidane's already famous head-butt, his subsequent walk past the Cup trophy, under a sun already setting on Germany and the hopes of the French team.

On the turntable: Soul Flower Union, "Ghost Hits 93-96"

Friday, July 07, 2006

On the Chuo, late spring

Thinking a train is coming,
I look to see a woman
Dragging her wheeled suitcase

Face deep in my book;
Look up after Shinjuku
To see a new set of faces

A cute girl picks her nose
As she texts

On the turntable: まーちゃんバンド, "南ぬ風人"
On the nightable: Alfred Hitchcock, "Stories to Stay Awake By"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Overheard in the Buddhasphere

"I just read the most amazing book! On Mindfulness, by that guy, John Cavett Zen, or whatever."

On the turntable: John Kaizan Neptune w/ Take Dake, "Asian Roots"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Free Yo' Mind, and Yo' Ass Will Follow

Over my many years in the 'Nog, I've seen many things disappear. Great ethnic restaurants. Cafes serving fantastic chai and cappucino. Funky bars and shops. Dozens of amazing friends. And far too many rice fields and old buildings. Yet when I noticed that the vending machine in the bus station no longer has my favorite pineapple juice, I knew that my tether had reached the limits of it's elasticity.

August 1st, I'm outta here...

On the turntable: Tatopani, "Forbidden Fruit"
On the nighttable: John O'Brien, "Leaving Las Vegas"

Monday, July 03, 2006

On the Way Back...

Ajisai burst like popcorn
From steep paddy banks

Bamboo brushed mountains
Reflect in rice fields

On the turntable: The Kleptones, "A Night at the Hip-Hopera"

Sunday, July 02, 2006

On the Way Down...

Yasutomi P.A. Renku

Shriner at the rest stop;
Which little kei truck
Belongs to you?

Composing a poem,
Almost board the wrong bus

On the turntable: Nina Simone, "In Concert"
On the nighttable: Paul Cronin (ed.): "Herzog on Herzog"

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Number One Fan

Due to the fact that my room in the Kyo was an oven at 5:30 this morning, I decided I needed a fan. A quick check with David, who is in his last month in my future abode, said that he had one I could use, a nice oscillating floor model, which looks like a lollipop growing from a block of chocolate. So throwing it over my shoulder, I biked with it across town, a twenty minute ride. I definitely drew looks, which was fun since Kyoto residents are long jaded by the presence of foreigners in their midst and rarely rubberneck. The stares were thickest at traffic lights. There I'd rest the fan on my knee, with the blades facing my head. When a light breeze set the blades in motion, I'd close my eyes and tilt my head back, as if I were using it to beat the muggy heat of rainy season.

Another way to beat the heat is with beer, of course. A couple bottles of the Thai variety were had with Marcin last night. He continues to post on last week's Taiko adventure. A short click away...

On the turntable: Nenes, "Okinawa Memorial"
On the nighttable: Bruce Chatwin, "The Viceroy of Ouidah"