Friday, November 30, 2012


A group of Europeans were exploring a mountainous part of South America. They noticed that the local porters and guides they’d hired would sit and take breaks at random intervals. After a few days, the Europeans asked them why they were doing this. One of the locals replied, “We are waiting for our souls to catch up.”

After a busy tour season, it's good to sit here at home, waiting for the soul to arrive...

On the turntable:  Tabla Beat Science, "Tala Matrix"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Papers: John Cage

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas.  I'm frightened of the old ones."

On the turntable:  Ten Years After, "The Anthology"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nakasendo solo XIII

Two cups of espresso did their best against the two pints of stout the night before.  Takasaki's streets were reasonably quiet at 7 a.m., and up the road, I found a sign saying 'Tokyo 100km,' with an arrow pointing left.  I turned in that direction, and began walking.

Takasaki is a city clinging to its Nakasendo past, but in a kitschy Route 66 fashion, with its nicknack antique shops and funky little nostalgic eateries.  The scent of kerosene and diesel hangs thick in the air, taking my reveries from the Mother Road and over to Asia.  A commuter train temporarily cuts the morning sun from my eyes, revealing its carriages painted to resemble bricks. 

At some point in the morning, I enter Saitama.  The Nakasendo signs in Gunma annoyed in that they were most often placed along straightaways where you already knew where you were going, and not at the turns where you needed them.  But at least they had signs.  Saitama had none at all.  Outside Honjo, laid into the brick sidewalks were tile reproductions of Hiroshige's post town woodcuts.  Why would someone go to the bother of installing these, yet not going the obvious step further and putting up trail markers? I suppose that I needed to ask one of the politicians represented on the election posters that literally covered every structure.   One of the posters was of a politician with a bad bar-code combover, signifying vanity coupled with an overt willingness to deceive.

I am on the busy roads all day.  I get a brief reprieve as I cross a broad river along an older bridge that is pedestrian only, yet has signs warning me of cars.  Then I am fed onto a bicycle path atop a river bank berm, above the usual gateball players, and other old-timers walking a slow slalom back and forth across a soccer field like a cadre of zombies.  I need to pee and so utilize the shelter of an underpass, but I'm still in mid-stream when an old woman bikes past, smiling.

Suburbs and more suburbs.  Walking Route 17 made it difficult to appreciate Okabe's many kura and old brick beauties.  Instead, my body is rebelling from the monotony, and for the first time on the whole Nakasendo I get blisters.   I hobble along this final stretch, eyeing the row of temples and shrines lined up neatly only one road over.  If I weren't such a damn purist...

And on into Fukuya.  There is a little character left here, in a handful of older Meiji buildings and ancient shops whose appeal is limited to those of an advanced age.  One old sake brewery stands proudly on a street corner.  The train station is a beautiful vision in Victorian brick, and I wonder at the fuss currently being made of Tokyo's Marunouchi Station, when this building before me has a similar, yet less vain appeal.  I am thankful for the train it hosts, as it whisks me away from the automobiles and from the asphalt.

Seventy kilometers remain to Nihonbashi.  Two hard, or three easy days.  I'll probably choose the latter, but in any case, they can wait until spring. 

On the turntable:  "Radio India:  The Eternal Dream of Sound"
On the nighttable:  William E. Griffis, "The Mikado's Empire"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Papers: Emma Goldman

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

On the turntable:  The Cars, "Just What I Needed"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nakasendo solo, XII

The low grey ceiling didn't make ugly Saitama look any better.  But the uniform drab of these suburbs stretching away from Tokyo eased the eyes somewhat, after a weekend spent amongst the crowds and
gaudy temples of Nikko. 

I had to change trains in Takasaki, and took the opportunity to refill the tank with another cuppa.  Gunma is a small prefecture with few attractions, so the usual JR ads promoting trips out to local sights seemed a little desperate.  They may as well have read, "Gunma:  We don't have much, but what we don't have, we have a lot of."

I got off the train in Yokokawa, which is where we finish our crossing of Usui pass, the final mountain section of our Nakasendo tours.  The last five kilometers down to the station are along an old rail line long decommissioned and now paved for walkers, a section that is not the true Nakasendo.  To find that, I'd need to taxi back up to the base of the pass, and come back through Sakamoto town.  But there were no cabs waiting at the station.  I quickly found a phone number and reserved a car, and shortly thereafter, three arrived and loaded up with other waiting passengers, leaving me standing in the parking lot.  I called the company again to be told that one of the cabs had taken the wrong people.  So I stood there annoyed a further 20 minutes until my car pulled up. 

I walked through a small stretch of forest and through the town, past a large Hachiman shrine with reversed komainu, a pair of beautiful dosojin and an architectural style that made it look like a 19th Century San Francisco fire station. 

Out of town then, and fed onto a busy road, the first of many that I'd follow through the day.  Aside from that first hundred meters off the pass, I was only off road one other time.  The copious trail markers had already diverged wildly, and here they diverged again,  where an older faded sign pointed off into the forest.  I dropped down into open farmland, the rice fields clipped and neat.  I had no idea which route to follow, but an old man smoking out on front of his fields pointed me along a inconspicuous stretch of dirt track that he said was the old Nakasendo.  So I made my way along it in the footprints of countless others, feeling suddenly wistful about history.

The next posttown of Matsuida didn't have the informative signage of Sakamoto, but the buildings had a more traditional look.  One of them housed a restaurant that did a nice 500yen lunch.  It looked to be a private residence, with only a pair of tables, no apparent menus, and a handwritten sign at the entrance.  As part of the set, I was given a heaping pile of shaved ice, the first I'd ever had in Japan, but didn't have the usual desired effect despite it being an unseasonably warm mid-November day.

Further along the roads. The mountains of Nagano lay out to the west, with the familiar features of the Nakasendo occasionally looming up.   I found a small shrine with some curious Shichifukujin, and a large cement frog beside the entrance.   Not far beyond, a senior citizen home stood in the shadow of a love hotel, perhaps in an attempt to harness the latter's frenetic frottage of energy.

Despite all that, I could have been walking along any busy highway anywhere in the country.  But I was in Annaka, a town whose name could perhaps be translated as "Relaxed Back."  And relaxation and comfort indeed they sought, with their plentiful kura storehouses, and locals who didn't answer polite greetings, two sure signs of a place where people are seeking security, and are uncomfortable with the unknown.  Ah, yes, a reminder that I was entering the suburbs. 

And out again, briefly.  A new bridge stood beside the ruins of an old bridge at Usuigawa, along which those traveling the Nakasendo may once have crossed.  And then into Takasaki, a small city of lovely brick buildings and architectural reminders of 'simpler times.'  I was only able to see what I was walking beside, and sensed many more delights just beyond the dark.  I dislike walking at night, and cursed the goddam taxi company, wanting my thirty minutes of daylight back.  Leading toward the station was a street of funky little eateries and shops, but up here on the Nakasendo were an assortment of yatai restaurants, whose plastic curtains and hot food protected against the chill of the oncoming autumn night.  These little alleys in which they stood reminded me of the locations of many an Ozu film, where the protagonists nurse their drinks in those domains where they are still king, away from unmarried daughters, fussy wives, and reminders that theirs is a disappearing time. 

I quickly checked into my hotel and wandered back toward that cosmopolitan looking street I'd seen earlier.   After 30-kilometer day, my feet hurt, and I didn't relish walking much more.  Luckily I found some help from the English, in the form of the Red Lion pub, a 'public house.'  Inside, two older British expats huddled over their pints, paying little attention to the soccer game on the TV hanging in the corner, and little attention to me, for that matter.   The words 'happy' and 'hour' took their respective places to form my favorite conjunction, and I tucked into my pints with some fish and chips.  Mouth taken care of, my eyes found their attention alternating between the "Tale of Genji" and the soccer game above.  Over the sound system came some cheesy radio show of the usual mediocre playlist and mundane humor.  The latter surprised as the DJ was Nik Kershaw, an artist I had once respected back in the '80s when he was the spinnee rather than the spinner.  I tried to ignore the asinine patter, but I did happen to catch the final score of the exact match that I was half-watching.  A moment later that winning second goal was indeed scored, and I wandered off to my bed, feet stinging as I went.

On the turntable:  Kitchens of Distinction, "Strange Free World"

Friday, November 16, 2012

Going home...

Unlike the deliberate movements of the ancient ticket seller in Narai Station, the hands of the young guy in Tokyo Station move like a spider on a hot skillet...

...the woman sitting next to me on the Shinkansen is incidentally tapping her foot in rhythm to the Furry Lewis song on my iPod...

...guy next to me on the Kyoto subway, tracing a universe with his hands. He's either practicing sign language, or he's a ninja, working through the 'Kuji-in' in an attempt to become invisible, public invisibility being a common goal for the Japanese commuter...

On the turntable:  "Princess Nicotine: Folk And Pop Sounds Of Myanmar (Burma) Vol. 1"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hiroshima Echoes

This past week I took a couple of clients to Hiroshima, namely, the peace park.  As it is my wife's hometown, I've passed through a number of times, but it was the first time in ten years that I've played tourist.  

I made sure to approach the A-bomb Dome on foot from the city center, as that always surprises.   You're walking through a modern, bustling city, the suddenly the Dome looms up and stops all conversation.  At the very moment that we were walking slowly beneath the big trees that shade the grass and rubble at the Dome's base, word came across my client's iPhone that Obama had been re-elected.  Truly a bizarre moment in my own personally history.  

The irony was compounded not long afterward in the Peace Museum.  I hadn't been inside since I visited the park the day before the 50th anniversary of the bombing, (which I've written about here).  The museum has been renovated since 1995, but I find that many of my impressions from that visit still hold.  But there are few differences. Previously I claimed that the English and Japanese explanations differed, but I felt that they were now pretty well balanced, though that could be because my Japanese has improved dramatically since that time. One notable addition was the harsher tone against the government of the day, talking of their military aggression, and of the Chinese and Koreans conscripted for labor.    The exhibits themselves have been toned down somewhat, but the lack of subtlety remains.  Nearly every display refers to children killed by the bomb.  While the death of a single child never fails to move us, when those numbers are compounded we begin to get overwhelmed and, in the soul's attempt to protect itself, inevitably lose the feeling of tragedy.  The memory of those children deserves better.

But I referred earlier to personal history.  As I was standing before the first known photo of the aftermath, I noticed a couple of cameramen jockeying to photograph a short Middle-Eastern man standing beside me.  He was surrounded by what was pretty obviously a security team.   I walked over to a well-dressed Japanese who appeared to be with them and asked the short man's identity.  The Mayor of Kabul, I was told.

Yet history has a means of calling on you on its own terms.  Approaching the garlands of folded cranes that hang from the Sasaki Sadako memorial, I was suddenly and violently overwhelmed by tears.  I had to turn away from my clients and walk away, as a group of schoolchildren made their offering and began to sing a mournful song.  My last visit here, ten years before, had been with my son, just a few months before his death.  Some friends were visiting from America, and as they made their way through the museum, my son and I chased each other around the concrete pillars that support the structure.  Later I shot a photo of him, one of my favorites, of him reflected in a small block of marble.  That autumn, he'd get his own garland of cranes, presented at his funeral by his classmates.

While the death of a child never fails to move us...

On the turntable:  Neil Young, "Achives"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Papers: Alan Booth

Guidebook pages and brochures devoted to [Nikko] rarely fail to quote the famous saying, Nikko o mizushite "kekko" to iunakare, which the authors of these brochures always translate into English as, "Never say 'splendid' until you have seen Nikko," but which could just as accurately be translated as "See Nikko and say, 'enough.'"

On the turntable:  Manfred Mann, "Somewhere in Africa"

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Nippon Extremities: Fuji-san

Recently I have been going through some of my old notebooks, dating back some twenty years Before Blog.  Naive and poorly written as they are, some pieces deserve to be seen by more than my own single pair of eyes.  So it is, the birth of the Archives Series...

August 1995

In Kokura, my taxi driver was an idiot.  He couldn't find the ferry terminal, then later tried to take me to the Osaka-bound, then Kobe-bound boats, not convinced by my argument that I could read the damn kanji.  Thus flustered, I staked out a place on board my ship, then went outside to watch the loading of cars, and the huge earth crawlers pushing logs around the harbor area.  As we pulled out, flying fish played in the wake of our bow, and dolphins sounded nearby, their bodies glistening a funky brown and white.

Two mornings later, I rose before the sun and disembarked from my ship as it arrived in Tokyo.  It is the nature of ferries of course, to spawn automobiles in great numbers, so I stood a short ways down from the harbor and quickly caught a ride from a guy going to Yokohama for camping.  As the sun came up, the rain came down, and shortly after we crossed the Rainbow Bridge, it started to pour.  The early morning streets were mostly devoid of traffic, but there was a single jack-knifed tractor-trailor which dangled precariously from the bridge, its tires spinning in blue smoke as the driver pumped the accelerator, a puzzled expression on his face.

I quickly stowed my pack at Shinagawa, then headed up to Shinjuku to climb aboard a train jammed with hikers. I sat on my daypack amidst a forest of legs and read from Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain.  Later, I rode a smaller train filled with genki high school girls rebelliously wearing make-up.  We threaded our way through villages laid beneath mountains, their peaks obscured by clouds.     

At Fuji Yoshida, I hopped out and went to the nearest market to load up on food.  I walked up a steep hill through the town to a grove of trees and sat on the roots of one to eat my breakfast, all the while brushing away ants the size of raisins.  I passed through the forest to Sengen Jinja, the main shrine dedicated to Konohanasakuya Hime, the goddess of the mountain, a deity so jealous that in older times women were only allowed to climb the mountain once every 80 years.  Now, a bit more relaxed, the goddess listened to my prayers for a painless climb.  At ten a.m.,  I set off.

A sign said that I had 17 kilometers to the top, and I wanted to pace myself, hoping not to arrive too early, then have to wait through the frigid night for sunrise.  So I strolled along through the quiet forests until a highway pulled up on my left, escorting me up up up, past a gang of roaring motorcycles and a procession of beginner drivers on a learning excursion.  I whistled and I sang, my only concern being the corpses of snakes littering the road.  The goddess appears to hate them more than women these days.   

After an hour or so, a greater fear took hold of me, that this road I'd been moving along as not the correct route.  It's a common feeling in Japan, a place devoid of street names, location signs, or the ability to give good directions. But then a hut bore an arrow telling me that I was still on the right track.  The trail here cut sharply and for the first time in days, I was able to sample my nature without the throb of some type of engine.  The woods were quiet, devoid of visible wildlife besides mosquitos, but I relished the silence and the lack of automobile exhaust.  Here and there I'd pass other hikers, pondering the quality of their day with a "Konnichiwa?"  Eventually the trail ceased meandering and cut straight uphill through a gorge seemingly cut deep by water or lava.   I finally realized that what had done the carving was centuries of feet.  The earth at the bottom was darker than on the sides was devoid of all vegetation.  Rocks lay scattered here and there, and although none were bigger than my head, each was ample enough for sitting upon.  

Occasionally, the trail would level off and the ruins of an old shrine would appear from amidst the shrubs.  I was surprised to see these, for usually shrines are as cared for as they are revered.  But the familiar orange color was long gone, and the grey boards were about to be lost to the encroaching vines and weeds.  The kami of the forest were reclaiming what was theirs.       

Eventually, I climbed around a small bend and came upon the Fifth Station, or at least a building announcing it as such.  A young boy and girl sat cuddling off to one side and I felt somewhat obtrusive as I stood observing the valley out of which I'd just climbed.  I scrambled up a steep embankment, then followed a road to a parking lot, next to which was a small mountain hut.  This, the true Fifth Station, was the halfway point up Fuji.  Most climbers take a bus and start their climb from here, but I had wanted to climb in the true spirit of pilgrimage by following the ancient route from Sengen Jinja.  Besides, to me, climbing half a mountain is like watching half a movie.  

Sitting around a table was a gang of young guys with walkie-talkies.   The hut itself was really shabby and appeared moreso because it was set against the drab greys of the earth and sky.  The only color came from the clothes of the people criss-crossing the mountain's face on switchbacks high above.  The drabness of the landscape seemed post-apocalyptic and brought the memory of Scott Fitzgerald's Long Island landscape watched over by a pair of great eyes. From the darkness of the hut hobbled an old woman straight from Kobo Abe's Woman of the Dunes, bringing the literary references back to Asia.  I asked her if she'd refill my water bottle, and she agreed, and upon her return asked for 500 yen.  At first, I'd thought that she was joking, but then I reluctantly paid up, victim to an altitude sickness brought on by a pricing system that rose with the mountain.

Most people seemed to prefer a long system of switchbacks to my right, but on the opposite side of the hut was a narrow trail that followed the slope by going straight.  I scrambled up amidst the last vegetation I'd see on the mountain.  This eventually dropped me onto the wider switchback system, already filled with dozens of people.  The climb began to get somewhat routine, a laborious trudge over loose volvanic rock alongside hiking parties ranging between two and fifty.  Often the trail would shoot straight up over craggy rock, which was surprisingly fast and a refreshing change for the legs in using different muscles.  Every half kilometer or so was a mountain hut, each with dozens of people getting their walking sticks stamped or paying for food set at six times the usual value.  I was incredulous at the number of smokers at this altitude, but worse still was the bog of eternal stench that was the port-a-johns.  

The climb was very tedious and devoid of any flora and fauna to distract me from the screaming in my legs.  I was well inside the cloud layer now, with the temperature dropping dramatically.  In the forest below, I had hiked shirtless, yet despite the humidity, wasn't glazed with sweat.  But now, high up the mountain, my legs were beginning to cramp from the cold, and a sweater had joined the T-shirt on my torso.

At some point, I met up with some young American college students, who helped to break the monotony.  One guy was wearing a "Jesus Lizard" shirt, so I assumed these supposed neo-bohemes could fill me in on what I'd been missing on the homefront, musically speaking.  But sadly, their knowledge of music, books, and films, extended little past my own, so I suppose I'm not as out of touch as I'd thought.

During the next hour that we talked, I had slackened my pace a bit, so I decided to say farewell and speed up.  It was starting to get really cold, forcing a stop in order to zip on my pant legs.  Stepping back on the trail, I was feeling really fatigued.  I'd been going nearly six hours now -- all uphill.  The final Eighth Stage, the Hashimoto Hotel, loomed above, but each subsequent switchback seemed to take me no closer.  I was dragging myself uphill, and finally hit a steep rocky part that rose to the hotel's front.  For a minute, I considered pushing on for the final hour to the top, then descending to the mountain's base before sunset, in order to meet my friend Jordan (who'd climbed the day before) at his hostel in Numazu.  But the proper way to climb Fuji is to be at the summit for sunrise, so I wearily checked-in and sat by the fire pit.  They offered my dinner, but my tired brain didn't register that they were going to serve me at that moment, and the last thing that I wanted was to eat hot curry.  I must have picked slowly through my meal because the young woman next to me asked if I didn't like the taste.  We chatted awhile, and when I told her that I lived in Tottori prefecture, the young guy across from his said that he did too.  

The curry's spiciness triggered some reaction down below, so I excused myself and half stumbled outside to the toilet.  This outhouse was a mere hole cut through the floor and as I've already mentioned, the smell, a sweet mixture of feces and bleach, was toxic.  Between the agony of squatting on rubbery legs, the altitude, and the stench, I had to put my hands on the opposite walls to keep from pitching over.  

Once finished, I was led upstairs to the sleeping area, a long room containing only two bunk beds.  Each of the four bunks extended the length of the hut, and could sleep maybe 30 or 40 people.  There were heavy blankets, layered over the top of each other, but with the shared body heat, you hardly needed them.  I was lucky to be placed at the end, next to the wall, so I could kick out out a besocked foot, and was saved the discomfort of being wedged between two strangers.  However, the guy next to me snored and tossed enough for three.  My sleep, if any, was restless, and I too probably turned over every 15 minutes, like a pig on a spit.  Having be up since before 4:00, I was dead tired but couldn't sleep, my body still rolling with the ship I'd been on the past two nights.  Luckily, no one was allowed to smoke inside, but inevitably, some inconsiderate dolt would stand in the doorway and smoke, freezing all who slept on this end of the room.  At over 3000 meters, only shallow breathing was possible, so the cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of burning plastic somewhere beyond was agonizing.  I twice left my bunk at 7:30 and 10:30, and was amazed at the number of people moving beyond the doors.  At 2 a.m., the majority of the people left the warmth of the hut, to arrive at the top two hours before sunrise.  Let 'em freeze, I thought, as I turned over grumpily yet again.  

At 3:00, I left, my body stiff from having been prone for the last 10 1/2 hours.  I ate the remainder of my food, then joined the rest of the brainless robots on our slow march up the mountain.  (Too bad there wasn't a cliff at the top.)  It was easy to tell who had slept, for they bounded up easily.  The rest moved like centenarians, leaning too heavily on their staffs, which would slip on the shale and then hit other people in the feet or shins.  Or they'd unknowingly place them at odd angles that would trip any who tried to step past.  Worse still were the headlamps everyone seemed to be wearing, and when anyone turned their heads, all in the vicinity would be temporarily blinded.  

The lines of people moved slowly, like the longest amusement park queue in the world.  Above me, the lights zigzagged to the top.  Near the summit was a small shrine, and below this,  people stopped moving altogether.  The full moon sat behind the crest, and the clouds to the east were beginning to glow.  An Englishman standing nearby muttered irritably, "Let's move, ya fuckin' arseholes."  So I did just that, sticking to the inside of the trail, and cutting between switchbacks.  Leaving the masses behind, I reached the top, only to find it more crowded than down below.  I really should have expected this, on the Saturday night of the Obon Holiday.   (I heard later that there had been 10,000 people on the mountain that night.)  The food stalls at the top continued to gouge, gouge, gouge, and inside the shrine, three priests huddled around a tea kettle.

I weaved through the crowd to a dark building.  Stepping over a railing posted with a sign forbidding just that, I climbed up a small rise, just as the sun popped its head above the cloud line.  The crowd cheered and many bowed.  Others yelled, "Banzai!"  The reek of burnt plastic overpowered all, even the cold.  In the growing light, I realized that I was standing atop what must've been an entire summer's worth of garbage.

Realizing the cloud layer wasn't going to burn off anytime soon, I moved along the crater rim.   Finally, I limped up the incredibly steep final ascent to the true summit.  From here, I looked into Fuji's crater, reminiscent of one of Kurosawa's worst "Dreams."

At exactly 6 a.m., I started down.  The Gotemba trail began with some steep switchbacks, then after about a kilometer, a single hut appeared.  A short distance beyond was a small rise, atop which was a little silhouette of a man, standing amidst a pile of shiny metallic objects. The whole scene begs for the overused cliche of 'post-apocalyptic,' but no other word captures the mental image of this man on guard on his sentry post.  

Beyond this, the trail disappeared altogether, and so began a 5 1/2 kilometer descent straight down the side of the mountain.  This was by far the highlight of the whole thing.  I reached incredible speeds, nearing that of a car at times.  Now and then I'd literally be running completely out of control for minutes at a time, creating terrific slides as I'd skid to a stop in order to dump back ash from my shoes.  (Not all slides were as 'terrific.'  In 1980, twelve people were killed when they collectively started an entire section of the mountain to move, which subsequently buried them.)  It was awesome to run through the clouds alongside a single cord that marked the 'trail.'  Off to the side I could see other figures sprinting down through this wasteland, leaving a kilometer long dust tail in their wake.  Eventually one of these figures merged trajectories with mine, and we ran together awhile laughing with hysteria and adrenaline.  He was surprisingly, another foreigner, posted at an army base nearby, and in incredibly good shape judging from the speeds he was getting in his full pack.  Twice he dropped things, and I'd grab them as I swooped by.  When I stopped again to empty my shoes, he yelled "See you at the bottom!" and disappeared into the dust.

Near the bottom, the slope leveled somewhat and vegetation once again began to appear.  It was somewhat strange to see trees rising from black ash.  Off to my right, a river bed lay dark and dead. 
At the Fifth Station, I found that I had an hour's wait for the bus, so as I wandered over to the parking lot hoping to find my old Army buddy.  Predictably, he gave me a lift to the train station, and thirty minutes later I was on a train bound for my rendezvous with Jordan.

Arriving in Numazu two hours early, I disembarked looking like a ghost, covered as I was with dust.  Disheveled, exhausted, and undoubtedly reeking of all sorts of nastiness, I wandered around the small station of this onsen town, looking at maps and hoping to find a place where I could have a bath.  Finally, I asked a cab driver, who looked at me like I'd just come back from a jog on Saturn's rings.  So I turned and sat on a bench and opened my Stegner, feeling right at home with my homeless benchmates due to my appearance.  

And then Jordan finally arrived, beginning our journey down the Izu peninsula, on what would ultimately be a ceaseless 12-hour day of boats, trains, and buses...

On the turntable:  The Sacred Shakers, "The Sacred Shakers"
On the nighttable:  Dazai Osamu,  "Return to Tsuruga"


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Live Bloggin' the Election

I vote to have oatmeal this morning.

I vote to have a second cup of coffee.

I vote to kiss my wife and daughter good morning.

I vote not to shave.
(Remember Movember!)

I vote against being poll-erized.

I vote to go to Hiroshima and Miyajima for a couple of days.

I vote to ride in seat 9B of car #1 of the Nozomi 11 Shinkansen.

I vote that in the event of a tie, the Supreme Court should take penalty shots, with the candidates as goalkeepers.

I vote to eat Okonomiyaki at Rokutsubo in Hiroshima.


I vote that war stop being an alternative.

An Election Day Parable:

"There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

"Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

"We'll see," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

"How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.

"We'll see," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

"We'll see," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"We'll see" said the farmer."

On the turntable: Ry Cooder, "Election Special"
On the nighttable:  Murasaki Shikubu, "Tale of Genji" (Waley, trans.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #57

Wisps of steam
Exhaled into the autumn sky.
Asama warms her core.

On the turntable:  Bob Marley, "Rebel"

Monday, November 05, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #56

Quilt of yellow and tan
Spread across the valley floor.
Grasshoppers and ants.

On the turntable:  Foreigner, "Double Vision"

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sunday Papers: Alan Booth

"Were I to follow the Japanese tradition of writing seventeen-syllable poems about my journeys, a large number of these poems, I'm afraid, would feature beer and washing machines:

Clink of brown bottles;
I limp from the twin-tub:
Late summer's evening. "

On the turntable:  Cowboy Junkies, "Open Road"

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #55

Steam rising from stone.
Basho's etched words
Drifting through time.

On the turntable: Hank Williams, "Revealed"

Friday, November 02, 2012

Nakasendo Waypoints #54

Full moon and fresh snow.
Narai's only visitors,
On this cold morning.

On the turntable:  Benny Goodman, "How High the Moon"
On the nighttable:  Alan Booth, "Looking for the Lost"