Friday, June 29, 2012

And this is for when you feel...Lucky

In the morning I take my coffee and doughnuts and sit out on the grassy lawn of the Jimpukaku.  James is with me again.  I remember that he had told me that he used to eat his Sunday breakfasts there, having the whole place to himself and therefore contriving himself one of the genteel.  I pass a happy morning here with my book and the sunshine.

Later, I take advantage of the good weather and take a bus out to Uradome seashore, recently dubbed a 'Geo-Park.'  The bus ride ushers in the return of the ghost of that old affair again, in the form of a row of love hotels.  We stayed in one of these on the night when her cat died.  Hoping to create some eternal connection with her pet, she proposed we dissolve some of the recently cremated bones in Coca Cola and drink it.  Which we then proceeded to do.  (Ah, the lengths we go to win love.)  And today I smile when I see that the hotel bears the name, Santa Fe.

Just off the bus,  I find the Chugoku Shizen Hodō, which leads me up a steep trail toward a small shrine up top.  Below it is a grassy patch of grass just big enough for a tent.  A path leads in one direction toward the eateries of this sleepy town, and in the other direction is a set of stairs heading down toward a small cove.  I sit in this future campsite, looking out at the sun glisten off the waters.   Ken is close again, watching with me this body of water that was once his summer playground.  I'm starting that backward slide into darkness again, but the beauty of the scenery helps me recover, and I soon make my way up the trail.

It is a glorious day and I'm happy.  The trail runs over a series of small hills, each offering as a reward a gorgeous swimming spot with perfectly clear water.  This is truly one of the most beautiful places in an archipelago filled with beautiful places.  After a while I eventually arrive at a small fishing port, then round a bend to a long stretch of beach.  I realize at once that I've been here before, and am joined immediately by the ghost of another lost love.  My son's mother and I came here once, and climbed on these rocks above the sea, back in the early days, completely unaware then of what lay before us, of a marriage eventually made, then later still, lost due to the inability to survive the density of grief.  I remember taking pictures here, photos that have a faded 1960's quality in my mind.  Above the rocks there's a shrine that I don't remember, and I climb the steps in order to pray.  There's a middle-aged women there in prayer, her hair long and unkept, her clothes disheveled.  She is long in prayer, her lips moving to syllables that only she can make out.  I wander around the back of the shrine waiting for her to finish, but when I return a few minutes later, she is still at it.  I don't want to intrude, and head back down.   I take off my shoes and walk out onto the cool sand.  I sit and look out at the water again.  At some point the praying woman comes past, walking with steady purpose toward the water.  She stands there at the edge, looking out for a very long time.  And I too watch, watching her.  She too seems haunted.  I wonder who she has lost out there.

I turn my back to her and the sea.  I think about hitching and make a half-hearted attempt.  Along the way, I pass a Kumano Shrine and a small Shingon temple, reminders of the more recent past.  These serve as confirmations that I would prefer to be alone and not in conversation with a stranger.  So it goes that I walk a few kilometers to the train and settle in for the short ride back to town.  After a few minutes an American walks up and asks me if I know the area.   He sits down and begins to talk, a conversation that lasts until the trains pulls into the terminus.  It's the typical lonely guy on the road thing, a role I recognize quickly because ofttimes, the role is mine.   We keep up the conversation to the door of a pub where I had planned to have a quiet dinner.  It would be impolite to break away with out any real excuse, so I invite him to join me.  But I'd truly prefer to dine with my ghosts.

Another day and I'm walking the Sand Dunes.  They are far more touristed than I remember.  The Japanese have a word I love, aware, for which I personally define as a feeling similar to the loneliness of a beach town out of season.  There is this same pathos here today, despite it being the week of the summer solstice.  I've been to these dunes many times before, swimming with friends in the seas beneath them.  Today I walk inland, in search of the location where they filmed "Woman in the Dunes" nearly fifty years ago.  This will be a sequel of sorts to a trip I took 20 years ago to Nipomo Dunes in California, in the hopes of finding the film set of Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments." 

So I wander the dunes, moving out toward whatever feature draws me at that particular moment.  It is nice to hike barefoot, past the occasional detritus of previous times:  old pop-top tabs, ancient pens.  As one afraid of snakes, I have a tendency to look down as I hike, and soon I become mesmerized by the patterns of the wind in the sand.  The sound carries out here, voices penetrating from far off.  Closer in, I'm constantly accompanied by birdsong, but from where?  It seems to be coming from up there, in that empty sky.

I fail to find any trace of the film set, but the scenery itself is cinematic.  Sand blows across the face of the dunes.  A couple walks along the tops of the dunes in a long take.  A model airplane bobs and weaves.  At the far end of the dunes, the sound of the wind in the pines is like the sound of waves.  The sea itself is strangely silent.  And as I walk back in the direction I came, my footprints disappear in the wind.  

The bus is pointed toward Kyoto.  We travel the new highway, which takes us below a fake castle that stands atop a low, steep hill.  While in my lost years, I'd longed to burn it down, representing as it does the town whose negligence caused my son to lose his life.  I'm glad I didn't.  I found the trail on which he died in a hiking guide book, and I recently noticed that the current edition no longer has that trail in it.  That negation is enough. 

The darkness of a tunnel, then another, and then more, washes over me, and it is here that I leave Tottori behind.  The depth of feeling I still carry for the place surprises me.  But it shouldn't.  After a certain period of time, a return somewhere causes you to dwell not on the history of the place itself as much as to dwell on your own history in that place, on your own relationship with it.

On the turntable:  World Party, "Goodbye Jumbo"
On the nighttable:  前川うかさ、”大東京 ビンボー生活マニュアル"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And this is for the tears that won't dry...

The word that would best describe this feeling would be haunted.  For this is the city of the dead, a city filled with ghosts.   I move warily along its streets simultaneously longing for, and dreading a glimpse of, someone I loved back when.   I've been sent up here to Tottori City for work related matters, and to my surprise I found that I've been booked into the hotel where we'd passed many nights hiding our courtship from her parents who'd disagree with my foreign blood.  Thankfully, I'm not in the room with the mythic bunk beds. 

As I walk beneath the covered streets, I'm joined by another ghost.  I try to figure out which was the street on which James lived, up until his sudden death of cancer just shy of age 30.  I'd often make the trip over from Yonago, simply for a night of drinks and laughs.  In one of this city's small bars he told me his tale of 'borrowing' a taxi that he found idling out front one night, joy riding around the corner and leaving it in the identical spot one street over.  I'll never forget the horror on his face when I reminded him that all of us foreigners had our fingerprints on record somewhere.  Another night, where we made drunken snow angels out front of a temple somewhere.   I remember feeing a little sad that he never got to see the films made from his beloved Tolkien books.  His death exactly a decade ago hit me hard.  I remember a ceremony held at his high school where we planted a eucalyptus tree in his memory.  I filled a film canister with earth there, with the hope of mixing it with the earth of his grave down in Sydney.  It was a gesture that I hoped to share with his parents.  But little did I know then that I'd bury my own son before the year was out.

I try to elude the ghosts with a coffee in a small jazz kissaten called New Orleans.  The owner doesn't have much to say other than that he is a jazz fan but isn't a musician himself.    He isn't too adept at the improvisation of conversation, and I smile at the thought that in his suit and bow tie he has all the bearing of a mortician.  I pay and move on.  The sidewalks run beneath cheap tin roofs that betray the heavy snowfall here.  The shop windows display goods that would entice no one but members of a heavily geriatric population base.  It is still very much the '70s here.  A computer shop on one street corner has a more recent touch, that of a sign announcing the arrival of the innovative Windows 95. 

The high street abuts the government offices, and not far away is the museum.  Beyond the taxidermied mammals and amphibians in formaldehyde is the folklore display, and here I am linger for quite awhile, pondering how this all defines the living present, how story is eternal.  These thoughts continue to reverberate as I move through the castle ruins and up the forest trail toward the top of Kyushozan.  Midway up I find a small shrine and in front of it are two men taking a smoke break.  Due to the day's rain, I hadn't expected anyone on the trail today.  I talk with them a while, finding comfort that they aren't so interested in my non-Japaneseness and prefer to have a real conversation.  One of them asks me quite directly if I find the people of this city to be reserved.  I laugh and say yes, thinking how the hotel wouldn't allow me to check in less than 20 minutes early.  I share with the men my feeling that people living in what were former castle towns are often less friendly, more wary of strangers who represent a break with routine.  By contrast, Yonago developed as a merchant town, and are by nature friendlier and more convivial.  

I leave the men to their cigarettes and made my way upward, wary of the steps made slippery with rain.  At the top I find a flat grassy plot where the keep once stood.  From here I enjoy a 360 degree view.  The sun has just come out for the first time today, and all begins to steam as the sodden ground begins to heat up.  Near the sea is the brown patch of Tottori Sand Dunes.  But my eyes are pulled to the Southwest.  Somewhere out in those mountains is where Ken fell and died.  I feel the tears well up, and those old crushing thoughts beginning again.  Often while alone I give them their rightful place and relinguish control, allowing grief to take me where it will.  I sit quietly awhile, my eyes looking from there to the west, to where he lived his short happy life.  Ken had been close by all morning, but now he is fully with me, where he will stay for the rest of the weekend.

I'm pulled from the dark by one of the smokers, who has now arrived up top.  He points down the hillside and says that people often find tiles from the castle down there.  It is seriously overgrown, so I say that there probably a lot of snakes in it.  I tell him I don't like snakes, and he quips, "Who does?"  I mention then the sign I saw near the start of the trail, warning of bears.  Are there bears here?  Of course not, he laughs.  But when I'm halfway down the mountain I'm startled from my concentration on slippery footholds to something large moving through the brush.  I notice a shade darker than the rest of the forest, but I can't make out anything distinct.  I'm bent at the waist, leaning toward whatever is there 20 meters away when a thought comes:  It could be three things, and two of them aren't good for my health.  With that, I move on, but unfortunately the trail passes directly below whatever it is, then turns sharply downhill.  I don't like the fact that I've got my back turned to the source of the noise.  Then the trail runs diagonally for awhile, and the thing is moving parallel to me now, just above.  It seems to be curious as to what I am as well.  I pick up the speed, but slip and fall on my back.  I'm laughing as I get up.  Why is Tottori trying to kill me?  Safe once again at the wide grassy ruins of the castle.  From the corner of the stone base of what had once been a watchtower, a group of school boys sings a serenade out over the city.


On the turntable:  Tori Amos,  "The Beekeeper"
On the nighttable:  Nanao Sakaki, "Let's Eat Stars"

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ancient Capital

This weekend I began to re-read Robert Pirsig's "Lila" for the second time.  (Though I can't really use "re-read," as my first exposure was as a book on tape with which I passed the time on a long 36 hour ferry ride from Kyushu to Tokyo back in 1995.)  Any one who knows the book knows that it a treatise on categorization.

Thus it is that I find myself looking at my life, and the subtle shifts that are defining this return to Japan.  I find that Kyoto v2.0 is about history overriding aesthetics.  I feel that my 20s and 30s were about the latter, pursuing beauty as a means of getting at truth. I am tempted also to look at this as the intellect superseding the physical, which though reasonably close to history and aesthetics, is slightly off.   In a few weeks I turn 45, therefore placing me firmly in my own Middle Ages.  So it seems natural that to move away from the body as it slows down.  But in my case as an incredibly active person, it is more about a change in emphasis rather than a question of waning abilities.

Previously in Kyoto, I had been interested in hiking and walking as an aesthetic activity, of exploring the beauty in a place.  Now the history of this place is far more fascinating to me. I'm enthralled by the villages and culture which developed out of some ancient's choice to become part of this landscape.   These days I photograph explanatory signs far more than I do the scenery.  My work as a walking guide of course bears some responsibility, though the opposite may be equally true.  Also, my connection to my Kyoto community has taken on renewed importance, to be a part of what this place is at this point in history.   

In my current phase of yoga teaching, I am happier teaching workshops and teacher trainings than I am doing regular classes.  With the former, there is more room for an intellectual understanding of the mysteries and mechanics of the body, rather than simply putting the mechanism itself through its paces.  In my martial arts training, this too applies.  While younger, I was looking more to explore what my body could do, to affix it as firmly as possible to a relationship with the ever-revolving world around.  Later this summer, I intend to return to my Takenouchi training, though here my initial motivation in training had always been less for the opportunity to develop skills to keep me safe on the street, and more for the chance to connect with something whose roots go back nearly 500 years.

I would argue that Kyoto's patina has some miles on it, and even if this weren't true, Pirsig himself would be the first to mention that 'beauty' itself is subjective.  (Which will make more sense if you've read the book.)  Though it is obvious that history too can be viewed subjectively, written by the victors, as the oft-quoted cliche goes. Yet what is most intriguing to me about Kyoto is how it is continuing to develop, in ways that the tourist board itself hasn't a clue.  And at this time in my life there is no greater beauty than to be a living part of this history, to be present and engaged in its unfolding.       

On the turntable:  Duran Duran, "Rio"
On the nighttable:  Robert M. Pirsig, "Lila"

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Papers: Richard Louv

"The woods were my Ritalin.  Nature calmed me, focused me, yet excited my senses."

On the turntable:  Dali's Car, "The Waking Hour"

Friday, June 22, 2012

Elephant in the Room

Thrilled to get a piece published in elephant journal. Probably my biggest publication yet. 

On the turntable:  Sam Bush, "Ohio River Folk Festival"

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Drifting into Umeda by train, bluegrass in my ears, the rhythm of the picking moving us forward.  The banjo player on this old classic, 'Lonesome John,' picks as if playing a bodhrán, and is thus the engine of the piece, navigating along a line that extends back to the old country.  And the train is thus propelled into Hankyu Station, above a shrine squat and angular against all that towering glass.  A block away is the Toaster building, with its thin squinty windows.  

Out on the city streets, I have a Ferris Bueller moment when The Smiths enter my ears.  "Good times for a change."  I'm not alone in finding refuge behind the music.  One girl is singing as she strolls up the street.  Here is another difference I've noted upon my return.  Two years ago, young women were criticized for putting on makeup on the train, the current generation's means of blurring the lines between public and private, lines that give definition to this particular culture.  These days, already dolled up like their favorite pop stars, they've taken to singing their songs in front of everyone, the "i" in iPod threatening the wa

I too feel a desire to perform, to whip my furled umbrella out like a sword, using some of my finest iaido moves to knock the cigarettes from the mouths of those smokers who walk past.  And the lines again undergo a further blurring, as iai (居合) means literally to, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, "fit in" to your surroundings. 

On the turntable:  Brendan Perry, "Eye of the Hunter"
On the nighttable:  "Forty Stories of Japan"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Papers: Kenneth Rexroth

"All that we can do is to so act as individuals that we, within the tiny limits of our individual power, keep the moral issues alive and constantly before the eyes of those to whom the power of decision has been delegated."

On the turntable:  Toots and the Maytalls, "Toots Live"

Saturday, June 16, 2012


The mountains surprise me
With yet another shade of green. 
Plum rains of June.

On the turntable:  The Smiths, "The Smiths" 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New South Wales?

Remember the old picante sauce commercial, the one where the cowboys find that their sauce is made in New Jersey?  

I bought a box of Old El Paso taco kit that is distributed to Japan from...


Get a rope.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Earache My Eye

I think the size of my earlobes are changing.  (Is this common with age?)  For a long time I've used those in-ear rubber earbuds, but lately, when I take the earbuds out, the rubber piece stays in the ear.

Last week as the subway pulled into Shijo Station, the cord snagged on a piece of clothing and again pulled the earbud out of my ear.  As I reached up to remove it, I found that the rubber bit had entered the ear canal completely.  I didn't want to miss my connecting train, so I walked up to a couple of workers manning the Hankyu wickets.  Asking them to help me remove it, they merely looked at me with horror, one of them going so far as to say,  "いやだ、いやだ!" a couple of times.  So I asked them for the pliers lying on the desk, after a few tries, pulled it out myself, careful not to get my elbow knocked by the steady flow of people walking behind me. 

Made the train, and didn't miss a note!

On the turntable:  Elysian Fields, "Queen of the Meadow"
On the nighttable:  Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gambarō indeed

Every few days, I seem to remember an additional Nakasendo story.

My group and I had just finished a nice soba lunch in picturesque Narai.  They had the rest of the day off to wander about town, so I decided to see if I could find the ruins of the house of the former daimyo from this area.  I followed an overgrown trail up above the town's even roof line, wary of snakes which had repeatedly revealed that their hibernation was now over.  The trail ended at a single paved road running between vegetable fields.  (In the Kiso valley, there is little rice grown, due to the steep slopes such as the one I'd just climbed.)  I wandered around awhile, unable to find the ruins.  I called out to a farmer in one of the fields, who offered to walk with me.  His first question was asking me where I was from. 

"America, " I answered.

"Ah.  In the old days, we were taught that all Americans were barbarians or demons," he said, smiling.

"In America they said they same things about this country."  I looked at him closely and asked, "Excuse me Uncle, but how old are you?"


I nodded.  Too young to have been a soldier, but old enough to remember the hardship of those days.    

"War is absolute hell,"  he said.  "And things aren't so good now either, especially after last year.  I guess I'm pretty lucky since I'll die soon."

"But Uncle,  I have a ten month-old daughter at home.  We have to keep on building a good future for her."

 "That's true.  We have to carry on working hard for the kids."  

On the turntable:  Todd Rundgren, "Utopia"

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Papers: Brian Eno

"There are many futures and only one status quo. This is why conservatives mostly agree and radicals always argue." 

On the turntable:  Loose Fur, "Loose Fur"


Saturday, June 09, 2012


About a decade or so ago I was walking through the San Francisco night.  I caught a glimpse of a figure standing alone in a dark doorway talking to himself.   Thinking it a homeless person,  a few steps on I realized it was someone talking on their cell phone.  Mental maps were redrawn, and soon this scene became ubiquitous.

Today, I saw a homeless person propped up beside a bridge, texting on a cellphone.  After a few more revolutions of my pedals, I noticed that he was merely passed out, hands clasped in his lap.

Now where did I leave that mental eraser?

On the turntable:  Roxy Music, "Heart still Beating'

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Flame

My tale as told at "The Flame" spoken word event last week in Kyoto.  

On the turntable:  Jethro Tull, "M.U."

Monday, June 04, 2012

Overlooked Serpents

And before I leave the Nakasendo for the season, I need to mention the snakes.  My group and I were atop Torii Pass, at the beautiful and mysterious Ontake shrine up there.  As I always do, I fall under the spell of the statues that flank both sides of the shrine.  They are protective deities mostly, or tall stones marked with the name of the storm gods.  To me the most interesting statues are the ones on the west side of the structure: the one that looks Chinese, the one that looks Indian, and the one that is almost a Korean haniwa, which makes no sense as I can't imagine anyone from that kingdom to have wandered this far into the Kiso Valley. 

So as I was gazing into their faces and puzzling out their secrets, I hear a shriek from the shrine's far side, where the clients are.  I run over to find that the group had come upon a snake that was nearly two meters long.  As they were circling it to take photos, one woman had almost trod upon a companion snake of equal size.  Hence the shriek.  What was bizarre is how un-snakelike the snakes were acting.  They were obviously aware of the presence of a dozen humans, yet rather than scurry into the brush as a snake might normally do, they continued to stay close to the statues.  They never stopped moving, slithering in figure eights, and doubling back upon theirselves, yet they never ceased making contact with the stones.  It was as if the snakes too were here to protect the shrine.  And it worked, as we moved warily away, heading down the mountain and back to more human realms. 

On the turntable:  Jimmy Cliff, "The Harder they Come"

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sunday Papers: Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about something we care about. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

On the turntable:  Roxy Music, "Viva!"

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Nakasendo, (Taylor, Cozy, DK)

On the first day of my third Nakasendo tour, I found myself with the classic "King of the Road" playing in my head.  As the train moved toward Hikone, I came up with a verse and posted it on Facebook.   Mr. Cozy posted his own adjoining verse, and DK came up with a coda.  I followed up, in a bizarre Facebook call-and-response jam session.  Below is an updated version.

My verse:

Shogun, a message he sent,
Social unrest, can not ferment.
Tie up the zori, I got to go,
Walk Nakasendo to Edo.
Ah, but all this constant up and back,
Means extra koku in the coffers I lack.
A Daimyo of means by no means,

Third carriage, express train
Old worn out backpack, hiking shoes,
A few SoyJoys, a can of Qoo.
Chain smoking old fogies all around,
Never fails to make me frown.
I'm a man of means by no means, 

Cozy's verse:

I know every combini in every town
All their o-nigiri, all of their beer,
Every yaki-tori stand, every ramen stall,
every manga kissa
and all night Dotour.

My verse: 
Taylor's gotta pay the rent,
Relocated, savings spent.
New babe, new car, new debts
I ain't got no real regrets
Ah, but, two weeks conjugatin' verbs
Rents an eight mat room out in the 'burbs
I'm a man of means by no means

Deep's coda:

Ted Taylor's told his ode
Of the old Nakasendo
Tours and weddings pay his bills
And he's got some yoga skills!
Ah but - the two years he was away,
We missed his silly dajare
King of gags! Glad to have him -
Back in Kyoto!

On the turntable:  Jody Miller, "Queen of the House"

Friday, June 01, 2012

Spring along the Nakasendo

For my job for Walk Japan,  I guide clients along the Nakasendo, walking 150 of her total 437 kilometers.  In two months, I walked the route 4 times, for a modest sum of 600 km.  In repeating the journey,  faces and places become familiar.  Most fascinating was walking away from winter and into spring, a newborn season tiptoeing forward incrementally.  I've never had the opportunity to do so, to dwell so completely in the coming of new life.   

What follows are varied scenes along the road, those not previously covered in haiku form. 

Old farm woman bent at the waist in the newly flooded paddy, staring down at a face reflected back from between young rice stalks.  The face changes, but they stay that same fresh color of green.  How many of these has she mothered over the years?

Outside Okute, an old man chips away at a block of ice resting in the back of his truck. 

An old woman makes her way down the steep stone walk of Magome, steady on three points of sandal and cane.

Nothing in the coffee shop but gaijin and dogs.

"...waves of wisteria like purple clouds, bright in the west."

All that flowing water, as the snows relinquish their hold on the higher peaks.

That bizarre spring typhoon seen from the safety of Iwaya Onsen.  From my window, I watch the white clouds roll down the street and then engulf us in hail and wind.  Later, I sit in the rotemburo on the roof,  the clouds above me dashing faster than smoke.  I sit here until the lightning chases me inside.  The next morning, I'm again in the bath, red cheeks stroked by the gentle caress of snow. 

The squat houses of Kaida Kogen, in stout sumo stances against the snow.

Late April, weaving along the sakura front, seeing the blossoms in their various incarnations as we dip and climb in altitude. From hesitant buds to mankai to fubuki and back again.   I see them for the last time up on Kaida Kogen, blossoming anachronistically with the carp banners, and snow-covered Ontake, beyond.

The quiet cluster of Jizo outside the village of Nishino.   Final resting place of pilgrims who took the ultimate journey.

The old ticket taker at Narai station, the way his hands seem to operate apart from him, going through motions honed by time and muscle memory.  I leave him to go sit in the park beside the old bridge, on a morning so quiet and beautiful that I nearly cry I'm so overcome by happiness.  

The ruler-straight fringe of the girls of Matsumoto.

The train out to Bessho Onsen is suddenly boarded by a conductor dressed in white and holding a harmonica.  He suddenly hands me a song sheet, and I find myself joining him and a couple dozen old-timers in some sentimental pre-war ballad.  We sing another before I lead my own charges off the train.  God I love Japan and its sudden bursts of the surreal.

A rubber cobra hangs beneath the eaves off a house, to frighten off any swallows so bold as to declare squatters rights. 

On the platform at Ueda, striking up in conversation a man dressed in European Alpine wear circa 1927.  Right down to the ice axe.  He is off to scale Mt. Asama, whose pate is still covered in snow.  A formidable task this, but he is a man who climbs the higher, deadlier peaks of the Himalaya every other year. 
Japan's tiny toy landscape as seen from the Shinkansen.

Seeing the SkyTree from way out in Omiya. 

Love the lilting chill guitar work of Ernest Ranglin, in this case as we cruise above Tokyo's city streets. 

Coming out of the dull brown of winter, the sakura following their ume sempai into greater degrees of color.  Then nature really broadens her palette, the hillscape exploding into an array of hues that sadly elude the use of any other adjective but 'Disneyesque.'  (Think rapeseed and iris.)  And the hillsides too filling out in that new green that rivals the almost self-conscious show that the maples will put on six months hence.  All this new growth erases the view of higher peaks that had been with me on earlier tours.  The foliage is back, man, and they won't let you forget it.

And the animals too make the scene.  They'd been scarce in March, but for a wild boar blending into the dull gray-brown of the forest.  By May, the mountains are alive with birdsong.  In the rice paddies, the frogs hold an all night rave. Various types of snake look to bust up the party, including a viper crossing a mountain road below Nenotoge.  On a solo walk, I scare up a deer at dawn above Sekigahara.  The white of its buttocks almost seductive as it flees up the hillside.  Around the nearby fish ponds, I'm warned of a bear that I won't see.  (At least until two weeks hence, but that'll be on Kyushōzan in Tottori.)  Dropping into Gunma, our party literally collides with a party of monkeys, their twenty or so doubling our own number. The males confidently patrol the perimeter.  The females turn to shield their babies with their bodies under the shade of trees.  Our simian cousins too may see us as a harbinger of spring, thinking, "Look out, the snows are gone and the Sapians are back." 

On the turntable:  Dinosaur Jr., "On the Farm"
On the nighttable:  Basho, "On the Narrow Road to the Far North"