Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #53

The season's palette
Paints an offering
At Jizo Pass

On the turntable:  Oingo Boingo, "Dead Man's Party" 
On the nighttable: Sir Ernest Satow,  "A Diplomat in Japan"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Snake Dance

Autumn is when snakes bear their young, and are simply everywhere. Saturday, a venomous mamushi struck at my foot. And today, I looked down to see an equally dangerous yamakagashi writhing between my feet. In jumping backwards, I lost my footing, and fell into an irrigation stream, scratching my face on the concrete embankment.

The autumn leaves, however, are beautiful.

On the turntable:  Dave Matthews Band, "Before these Crowded Streets"


Monday, October 29, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #52

Wizened persimmons
Turn with grateful faces
Toward the day's rain.

On the turntable:  Bob Mould, "Sugar"

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Papers: Utah Phillips

"No matter how New Age you get, old age gonna kick your ass."

On the turntable: Peter Tosh, "Honorary Citizen" 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #51

Brilliant shimmer of light
Reflected on the train window.
Migrating birds.

On the turntable:  Tracy Chapman, "Crossroads"

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #50

Welcome the new light of dawn
In mountains rife with deer.

On the turntable:  Camper Van Beethoven, Tusk"

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Off the Road?

Between tours last week, I passed five days in Kyoto, though rarely at home.

Saturday.  Drove over to Gichu-ji, and Basho's grave.  The grounds were small, but busy.  Luckily, we left as a large group was coming in.  I was surprised to see that Kiso Yoshinaka had also been buried there.  I knew had been slain in the swamps of Biwa, but didn't know that his head had been interned here.  After introducing Basho to Sora, I of course composed a verse:

The roar of leafblowers
Scatter leaves and shatter peace,
At Basho's final idyll.

Afterward, we went over to the lake and found a flower festival.  To my delight, there was also some kind of German Octoberfest going on next door.  I enjoyed brats and beer down on the sand.  Thus fortified, I showed Sora how to skim stones.  But on a beach this heavily trodden, good stones were hard to find.  So we turned our backs to the water and headed toward one of those inflatable bouncers found at most funfairs.  The kinpatsu crew in charge gave me the nod, so I led Sora inside this giant maniacal rabbit, where I bounced around with the other kids, trying not to fall atop my daughter who bounced with laughter.  

Back in Kyoto, we went to perhaps the world's smallest festival.  For polished Kyoto, it had a rough DIY feel, and most of the people running the games and food stalls looked to be locals rather than the usual chimpira set.  The following hungover morning, they'd drag a mikoshi through the street, for the first time in 52 years.

Sunday. Spent part of the morning biking around Kinugasa, trying to find a trail up to Ura Daimonji. Unlike her well-climbed counterpart across town in Higashiyama, there seems to be no way up.  I've climbed it once, after scrambling over a wall at the top of a Buddhist cemetery.  Now I can't even find that temple.  At any rate, it was a lovely morning spent biking under the trees and around the hills. 

In the afternoon, I took part in a casual discussion about the Shikoku Pilgrimage with Tom Stanley (who founded Walk Japan), and Charlie Canning, who's just written a novel inspired by his walking the pilgrimage.  A good afternoon in good company.   

Monday.  Drove out to Shiga again, to share with Miki and Sora a couple spots that I particularly enjoyed when I'd walked through back in August:   Oiso no Mori and Samegai.  We returned to that trout shop for lunch, but rather than a repeat of a quiet meal I'd had, there was a drunk old man there smoking at the counter and talking in a ridiculously loud voice.  The service too was quite poor, but the fish held its own.  

After lunch, we drove up to Mukainokura, ghost town I found here.  The drive up was along a narrow road strewn with rocks tumbled from the hillside above.  There was no guard rail to protect us from a sheer drop into the forest below.  I particularly liked this, this holdover from when Japan hadn't yet become such a nanny society.  Considering that this former charcoal-making village had been abandoned almost 30 years before, the road was in pretty good shape.  At the top were a few structures now collapsed in on themselves, with tiles and brick cooking stoves standing on squared clearings amongst the trees.  It was a quiet space, the air clean.  Down a path in the woods was an huge tree that had split into 12 trunks, and was subsequently deified.  We milled around here awhile, finding ourselves once again in a place where we felt rooted, unable to draw away due to the quiet, the peace.

Tuesday.  Riding in the rain reminded me that I actually am a resident of Kyoto.  As my work now takes me elsewhere, I usually don't need to be out in bad weather, like I used to back when I had been employed here in town. As the rain splashed my face, I felt at home.  So I braved the weather, looking forward to a slice of  Japanese film history, in order to view an installment of Tora-san on a big screen at the famous Minamiza, much like I'd seen that Godzilla flick back in the '90's.  (I deeply regret not having gone to see 'Seven Samurai' when it was screened as the final film of that beautiful old cinema on Kawaramachi that closed a number of years ago.)  At the theater, I found my seat amongst all the old timers.  As the light flickered across their faces, I wondered what was going on in their minds, in what manner were they were playing out their own version of Showa-era nostalgia.  It was interesting to see where in the narrative they'd contribute their subdued laughter.  When the film ended, we all wandered amongst the Tora-san memorabilia that had been displayed in various corners of the Minamiza.  Under one glass case was Tora-san's suitcase and hat, and in gazing at these artifacts of simpler times, tears nearly began to well up.  But as Mike Watt cautions, "It's not reality, just someone else's sentimentality."

Afterward, I continued the Showa theme and went to read "Coffee Life in Japan" at Maki, an old timey kissaten near my house.  It wasn't particularly pleasant, with the hard wooden seat and every single man there but me emitting smoke from his lungs.  Thus polluted, I fled for home.

Wednesday.  I had a kinder kissaten experience at Cattleya, on the site of an defunct Gion shrine from whose old well they draw the water for their brew.  Later, I biked over to see a couple of 1970's documentaries on old Japanese craft and culture.  The first, on Rikyu, was informative, but the second, on the paintings and woodcarvings of Shiko Munakata, was mindblowing.  Creativity literally poured out of the man, his hands moving at the speed of thought.  (No English, but you can get a sense of this guy's incredible fury and energy here.)

My feet took on a similar speed as I raced up the Kamogawa in order to pick up my daughter from school, for some brief moments of play before, like Tora-san, I'd set off bags in hand, out on the road once again...

On the turntable:  Pat Benetar, "In the Heat of the Night"
On the nighttable:  Shimazaki Toson, "Before the Dawn"

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fuji, Twice Around

(Fragments from a longer work in progress.)

I'm undertaking a walk through a new geographical area, creating a new mental map of place and story and legend: 

Shiraito-no Taki, once a powereful pilgrimage spot is now a tourist site that time forgot.  Construction has torn into the hills above the falls, making it impossible to get down to where Kakugyo did his practice.

Along the ridge above Tanuki-ko, beneath my beloved Buna trees..  This forest has a spooky nature, with the ominous and prolonged cries of deer sounding again and again.  The landscape lending itself to the images of a state of decay.  The sky is turning cold and gray.  The mind of an American begins to turn itself to Halloween, to spooks and goblins, and the ghostly nature of this type of landscape.  As I finally reach an overlook, drums begin to beat down in the valley below.

The hillsides above Tanuki-ko are completely harvested and replanted with sugi.   Absolutely no deviation.  Forest as desert.  Lining the lake sides are the ubiquitous sakura, bare symbols at this time of year, a textbook definition for mono no aware.

Walking the long twenty km stretch to Motosu-ko.  Hang gliders ride the thermals in the hills above.   Down here is an entire village of abandoned bessho, everything overgrown.  A monument to the bubble years, and a testament to the short term lifespan of excess.  That uncrossable stream in the rains of September is now completely dry.  Cars drive across as we pass over the narrow rock 'bridge.'  The brilliant green waters of the wasabi farms.

Aokigahara as life affirming, life enhancing rather than a place for suicide. Ancient caves and tubes, many collapsed upon one another, completely overgrown with trees and moss. Trees of an older type, ancient forest; the roughness of terrain prevents forestry. Mismanagement down the left side of trail, all sugi monoculture.  A strong contrast on the right side, wild and untouched. Here, there is birdsong. 

At Lake Saiko, a town on cusp of autumn.  The occasional view of people walking along the lakeside, and as the sun goes over the ridge line at 4 o'clock, they begin to appear in warmer jackets.  There's a little slice of West Virginia behind the hotel, in a little rustic cabin in a campsite out of season.  I decide to take a stroll, but it becomes chilly quickly, so come back to my room, and to tea.

A taxi ride at dawn to Sengen Jinja with a stinky cab driver reeking of cigarettes.  At this early hour, miko are doing their thing, sweeping and bowing, sweeping and bowing. I remember the trail up to the summit from where I started in the summer of 1995, lined with giants cedars.  Outside the main torii, a couple of bucks are practicing their bujutsu, locking horns in a loud clack that sounds exactly like a pair of bokken.  After days on ridges and through forest, I'm disappointed that this section of trail to Yamanaka-ko takes me along so many roads.  I'm accompanied for awhile by the sound of gunshots, and the maps begin to diverge from reality.  This is all SDF land here, and the trail has been diverted around it.  Back in a level section of forest, I meet an Iranian guy who is a journalist for Al-Jazeera, a nice fellow. I eventually get to the trailhead, but decide on a bowl of noodles first.  There is a film crew there, who are doing a tourist piece for NHK.  They order for me and buy my meal, which I eat on camera.  Thankfully, they don't ask me to say, "Oishi!" and make cum faces.  I chat with the producer awhile, and we share a half dozen friends in common.  Small place, this Japan.  I carry on uphill, over very challenging terrain.  At the top are a few hiking groups, eating lunch in the sun.  I rest awhile, then go over and over the rolling hills and those annoying wooden logs that cause grief for the knees.  I descend along a washed out section of trail, using my poles like I'm skiing, moving at great speed down to the lake.  I'm not exactly clear how to get down to Hakone, so wind up hitching and allow someone else decide.  My driver seems to dislike foreigners, railing a long while about the Chinese, and I'm not exactly sure why he gave me a lift.  My next ride is with a bus, into Yumoto, and the night brings the rain that had been threatening all day. 

 I'm falling in love with this mountain.  I'm seeing it from all angles, ala Hokusai, noting the subtle differences in complexion, and the changes in expression.  I begin to see the mountain everywhere,  in the shape of pots, or other man-made objects.  One morning I sit before a mirror in the hotel bath, noting the slopes of the mountain reflected over my bare shoulders, and am lost awhile in how my trapezius muscles have a similar pitch.   

On my September walks, the mountain had hidden herself in cloud, offering up only small parts of herself.  But like the glimpse of the back of a woman's neck, they were tantalizing.  In the clearer days of October, she revealed all.  For an entire week, I'd been looking at a mountain that had commanded the landscape, its broad base stretching to the limits of vision.  The surrounding hills that I walked had ringed a vacuum, one created by, and now filled with, this immense volcano.

I'll be back in spring...

On the turntable:  Gary Numan:  "Living Ornaments '80"
On the nighttable:  Merry White, "Coffee Life in Japan"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fuji Circuit Haiku II

Effervescent mists
Dance like dervishes
Across Fuji's aquine reflection

After the rains,
Fuji awakens
With a clean face.

Mid-October Fuji-san:
Winter in her hair
Autumn at her feet.

 (or, more playfully)

Indecisive Fuji:
Winter hat.
Autumn shoes.

In the autumn of life,
Still angling to catch
The big one...

On the turntable:  Cowboy Junkies:  "Early 21st Century Blues"
On the nighttable:  Oliver Statler, "Japanese Inn"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Papers: M. John Fayhee

"Pretty much since I was old enough to understand the concept, I have considered nostalgia to be akin to psychic cancer. The metaphoric sitting, sighing and reminiscing while thumbing through old yearbooks and photo albums has always been, in my opinion, an indication that the mud and muck of one’s highly fictionalized and reinterpreted past is sucking around one’s ankles, making it difficult to hike lightly, brightly and enthusiastically into one’s future."

On the turntable:  Descendants, "Liveage!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Cold found the old house this morning, like a relative visiting after a long time away.  I sat with it in the early hours, as my fingers clacked themselves over keys.  In the shower a little later, my fingers ached slightly as the hot water massaged the warm blood through them.  Time to see what a cup of coffee will do...

On the turntable:  Peter Gabriel, "Real World Live"

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kipling kindling

East meets West moment:
Sitting on the swings in the park,
Listening to an interview with My Morning Jacket,
And looking up at the Kyoto night sky...

On the turntable:  My Morning Jacket, "Acoustic Citsouca Live!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #49

Zig zag paper shapes
Demarcate liminal space
Between seasons

On the turntable:  Billy Joel, "Songs in the Attic"

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #48

Higanbana tufts
Waving in the south wind,
Cheer on the rice harvest

On the turntable:  Sisters of Mercy, "First and Last and Always"
On the nighttable:  Murakami Haruki, "1Q84"


Monday, October 08, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #47

Racing a typhoon
To Ontake's sacred peak,
As the sky presses in.

On the turntable:  Beach Boys, "Endless Summer"
On the nighttable:  Donald Keene, "Chronicles of my Life"

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunday Papers: Joseph Cambell

"Marriage is not a love affair.  A love affair has to do with immediate personal satisfaction.  But marriage is an ordeal; it means yielding, time and again.  That's why it's a sacrament:  you give up your personal simplicity to participate in a relationship.  And when you're giving, you're not giving to the other person: you're giving to the relationship."

--An Open Life

On the turntable:  Stranglers, "Peaches"

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #46

Ena's weathered visage
In the clear air of autumn.
Beauty in every wrinkle.

On the turntable:  A Tribe Called Quest,  "The Low End Theory"
On the nighttable:  Nick Hornby, "How to be Good"

Friday, October 05, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #45

Nothing at all
In this blue autumn sky
Except wonder at its beauty.

On the turntable:  John Lennon, "Anthology"

Thursday, October 04, 2012

They Even Had a Bear in the Air

According to the owner of Shinchaya, the bears have been extremely active this year. Around the time he told me this, a bear was killed in the village. That night, it appeared at dinner.

Five times I've met bears in the wild, and five times I've gone home uneaten. I hope that I haven't unbalanced some ursine scales of karma.

On the turntable:  William S. Burroughs, "The Best of William Burroughs"

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #44

Crisp Autumn morning
Enshrouds Sekigahara warriors
Sleeping away 400 years

On the turntable:  Bob Dylan, "Tempest"

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #43

Breeze blown ripples,
Mock the straight lines
Of the tea house.

On the turntable:  Boogie Down Productions, "Ghetto Music"

Monday, October 01, 2012

Sky Words

If you are flying JAL this month, please keep an eye out for my feature article, "Afoot in Kyoto."