Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's funny, but emails can be a lot like haiku. There is a deliberate sparsity of language, yet the meaning can be inferred in multiple ways. Ironically, this sparsity leads toward experiential truth in the case of haiku, and toward perceived (and ofttimes misperceived) meaning in the case of mail.

On the turntable: Johnny Winter with Muddy Waters, "Live at the Tower Theater, 1977"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Following Art

I am currently reading John Nichols New Mexico trilogy, which begins with The Milagro Beanfield War. I have read them before, during my first autumn in Japan, in an attempt to capture a little of that NM fall magic that I love so much.

I remember calling my folks back then and asking them to send the novels over. As they affixed the stamps to the package, it was like the release of water from an acequia, followed by a flood of books to follow over the next 15 years.

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "1972 - 04 -14"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bleeped Kyoto

Deep Kyoto's Micheal Lambe wrote a piece about the proposed and controversial Kyoto Aquarium. Originally published in the Kyoto Visitor's Guide, it was pulled after a phone call from city hall. While part of me wants to thank the city government for helping justify my move from their fair city, a deeper voice insists I speak out (yet again) against such shortsighted nonsense. So here is Micheal's piece. Read it, and decide for yourself.

Personally, I prefer to see my fish in the alleys of Nishiki...

Umekoji Park and the Kyoto Aquarium

Umekoji Park, a short walk north of Kyoto station, is an important patch of green in Kyoto city. Green spaces like this perform an important environmental function in a city: cleaning the air, and regulating the temperature. They are also beneficial for people’s physical and mental health. The park at Umekoji is very popular with the local community and is often used by sports enthusiasts and sports clubs from neighboring schools and universities. Others just come for a jog or to walk the dog. Families come here and children play. As I work nearby, I often go there myself, to throw a frisbee about, or take a stroll, or just to lie on the grass and breathe the fresh air. The grass, the trees, and the flowers here are very pleasant on the eye, and provide a rich habitat for birds and insects. You see a lot of smiling faces in this park...

I was shocked when I heard that Mayor Kadokawa had given Orix, a private company, permission to build a massive aquarium on a large chunk of this precious public land. Apparently, local officials believe it will bring in more tourists and revitalize the local economy. It’s hard to believe though that an aquarium can succeed in Kyoto; an inland city with no maritime associations! People visit Kyoto for its cultural and historical associations – not to see a large concrete box-like facility full of fish and deeply depressed dolphins! Surely it would make more sense to encourage businesses that take advantage of Kyoto’s existing assets; to restore machiya, improve existing museums and educate people about Japan’s traditional arts.

Incredibly, Orix Corporation claims that the aquarium will be an educational facility; teaching children about marine ecology. Here in this highly artificial environment, children will watch dolphins jump through hoops and be taught that wild animals are playthings to be kept in unnatural conditions for our own amusement. If you want to teach children about marine ecology, take them to the sea! Here in Kyoto we should be teaching them about the environment that is around them; the rivers, woods, and mountains and their indigenous species. This aquarium on completion will release 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide per year into Kyoto’s atmosphere. It is pure sophistry to claim it is an environmental facility.

Despite strong public protest however, the project is going ahead. Construction began in July and the aquarium is due to open early next year. I think it’s time that foreign residents and visitors to Kyoto threw their weight behind the local campaign to stop this terrible plan. Let’s tell Orix and Mayor Kadokawa that this isn’t what visitors to Kyoto want. If you agree with me please visit and sign the petition to “Stop the Kyoto Aquarium”!

On the turntable: Phish, "Rift"

Saturday, November 06, 2010

'Round Shikoku Day 14

I again didn't sleep well, due to the rooster crowing about four hours before dawn. I opened the blinds to the view of Kōchi city below, glittering under a flawless blue sky.


Temple 33 was quiet and free of people but for a lone man setting up a veggie stand off to the side. Suddenly there was a gentle cling-cling of those fairy bells, and withing minutes, three groups of car pilgrims showed up. In front of the Hondo, they all chanted in their own particular timing, as if doing it in rounds.

We moved away from the sea into farmland spreading out toward, and between, the hills. Passing one greenhouse, I distinctly heard what I thought was a Hank Williams song. We followed a small canal to Temple 34, whose courtyard contained a Kannon statue with a face of unbelievable softness and compassion.

It was a hot day so we took time for ice cream, and then again for cold tea in front of a cafe. We'd been pretty close to burn out, but rather than take a day off, we chose to instead do a couple of consecutive half days, less than 15 km each, taking our time. Nearing Tosa city, we met Rte 56, and crossed the long bridge over the Niyodo-gawa into town. I'd been craving a milkshake for a week, so was thrilled to see those familiar golden arches. But I'd chosen the only Mac in the world that doesn't have a milkshake machine. Those few minutes inside caused a bizarre reaction in me. All the parents scolding their children for no apparent reason, created almost a panic reaction in me, and I desperately needed to flee. I guess I wasn't ready for the real world yet.

We found solace in a quiet cafe closer to the town center. We needed food, but they only did two things: tea or coffee. We hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally settled onto brown velvet cushions rarely seen except for on retro film sets. There was only one other customer, but he left early, returning a few minutes later with some yōkan, kindly worried about our stomachs. The cafe owner herself also gave us some cake she'd gotten from another customer, then left us alone for a couple of hours. We relaxed and eased into peace.

Around 3:30, we made for Temple 35. A paraglider had launched himself off the peak at the perimeter of town, and was now spiraling above the fields across which we zig-zagged. The final approach to the temple was up the same steep mountain. Through the gate, guarded by eye-less Nio, we reached our refuge for the night. There was a tsuyado there, a lovely 6 mat room below the Kannon hall. After 5pm, the crowds left, and we had the grounds to ourselves. The buildings themselves were of great age, and to protect them was a fire truck perpetually parked in the corner of the parking lot. There was strange pagoda which you entered down a set of descending steps, leading you to an alter, small and candle-lit, then descending again to the exit, from above. I couldn't grasp the physics of it, and decider to leave it to Escher, expert on such things.

We were intrigued by the sign for the 'forbidden forest,' but left it alone, to instead sit at the edge of the hill and watch the full moon rise over Tosa. After dark, we alternated reading in the tsuyado, or taking walks, solitary but for the resident cat. As I lay down to sleep, my eyes returned again and again to the tall figure out the window. Amida, silhouetted against the moonlit sky.

On the turntable: Pearl Jam, "Lost Dogs"