Monday, February 29, 2016


With profound delicacy,
The winter light tests
The softness of blue.

On the turntable:   Bob Mould "Black Sheets of Rain"

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Papers: Loudon Wainwright III

"Everything changes but nothing is new."

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "American Beauty"  

Saturday, February 27, 2016


In the English garden,
Sunshine lights upon frost
To mimic the yellow of daffodil.

On the turntable:  Blind Melon, "Blind Melon"

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Geometry of Motion

Trimming the fabric of the atmosphere,
As the earth twirls below,
Modeling her winter collection

On the turntable:  Bright Eyes, "Blood of the Young"

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Occurance at Cinnabar Bridge

The whistle blew shrilly and the train came to a complete halt.  It was just the other side of the crossing, with the conductor and the engineer looking down from the front window.  Oh no, I thought, a suicide.  

The conductor climbed down from the train and helped escort a young man who had been stuck in the no-man's-land between the drop gates.   The train then began to crawl toward where I was standing on the platform.  

As I waited reading my book, I felt a rather abrupt shove on my right arm.  I thought that someone might have run into me on the near empty platform,  but I turned to see a woman in her 70s smiling at me.  I thought that she must have mistaken me for someone else, but then she stepped in front of me to enter the train.  I took a seat further down the carriage, but she immediately came and sat beside me.  I no longer tech English for money, let alone free, I quickly said to her, I'm sorry but I'm not much in the mood for talking.  I am, she said.  So I quickly disembarked and walked to the next car.  From my new seat, I could see that she too had moved, to the end of her car, and was now staring at me through the glass door.  

What is it about foreigners that attract the mentally ill?  Over the years, I seem to be a magnet for them, a plaything they find on the street.  I'm not complaining, but am curious.  What do they read in us that makes us approachable?  The woman's behavior was harrassment, hands down.  I thought that if she were to approach me again I would ask her what she wanted, curiosity begining to win out.  

The train pulled away from the platform, seemingly in the wrong direction.  Weren't we now heading back toward Kyoto?  But my stop was the very next one, and the correct one.  I disembarked unmolested, heading toward the gates to begin the day's walk, alone.

On the turntable:  !!!, "Louden up Now"
On the nighttable:  Simon Arlitage., "All Points North"

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Japan Visitor piece

My piece on Hokaido's remote Rishiri and Rebun Islands has been published at the Japan Visitor website.  

The link is here.

On the turntable:  David Bowie, "Changes"

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Out in the Blue

Wes sat out front of Tenri Station, warming himself in the sun.  Someone was sitting beside him, who I thought might be a missionary from this town's eponymous sect of Buddhism, but it turned out to be a farmer, who wanted Wes to commit to nothing more than explaining what he was doing in this remote part of Nara prefecture.  As he and I walked off, a nearby pair of proselytizers kept up their rap, until the closing of the taxi door severed the flow.

I was happy that I was able to propose to Wes a hike that he hadn't yet done, as he has seemingly hiked just about everything in Japan, every step well documented in his web site, Hiking in Japan.  This particular peak of Ryu-ō-zan was for me the final hike in a book on the Tokai Shizen Hōdō, and while the mountain wasn't on the course itself, it promised a pleasant diversion.

Another goal for the day would be a gear test of sorts, as I wanted to see how a couple of new jackets would fare in preparation for a trip to Lapland later in the month.  But the 16 degree skies put an end to that, and inevitably the only thing to get tested was my patience, as a guardman tried to tell us that we couldn't walk through. He wasn't terribly persistent, as we didn't even change stride, not even for the actual workmen further on, who seemed not to see us.

A sign warning us about wild dogs was a brief concern, but they proved to be no obstacle either, probably off sunbathing somewhere.  We arrived unmolested at the first promontory of the day, upon a wide open clearing that had once served as the northern castle keep for the Toochi-clan during the mid-16th Century.  The views beneath the day's clear clear skies inspired, but were topped by the ruins of the slightly higher southern keep a short walk away.  To the south lay Hira and Ibuki, with the Omine peaks far to the south.  Osaka lay at the edge of the eye's reach, backlit by the sun.  Below, the Yamato plain was nocked and grooved with the dormant paddies of winter, their bounty once the source of economy for the great burial tombs that brought imperfection to their straight lines. 

After a quick lunch we made an even quicker descent down past the Fudo-myō statue towering over the stream at Chōgaku-ji's Oku-no-in, then past a shrine for the mountain above, with its warning about dangerous reptiles.  While exploring a slightly overgrown side path we came across the entrance for a seemingly nameless burial mound, one that puzzled as it was halfway up the mountain rather than on the plains as was more common.  As I prepared to enter, Wes warned me about wild boars, but all we found was a bricked up doorway in the darkness.

There were further mysteries on the way down, including well-kept but forbidden side trails, places for aescetic waterfall practice, and some unusually carved Jizo.  Back in the sunshine again, we passed a car that had been driven into an irrigation ditch, and sat a long while in front of a new hiker's center that hadn't been here when I passed through ten years ago.  While that had been hot stroll along a mid-summer Yama-no-be-no-michi, todays' weather was far more pleasant, even as we replicated the walk at a much quicker pace, so quick that I completely missed the burial mound for the legendary shaman-queen Himiko just to the west.

The idea had been to get to Miwa station before the train to grab a coffee.  We were literally racing the clock, and arrived just as my transport home pulled in.   But the day was too nice, the air too warm, so I decided to catch a later one and pick my daughter from school up a few minutes late.  So Wes and I leaned into our respective ergonomic grooves in the trunk of an ancient oak, reminiscing about the days when of youth, when the future was open and ripe for building the civilization that is adulthood. 

On the nighttable:  Ian Buruma,  "Anglomania"
On the turntable:  77, "Revolution Rock" 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Papers: Paul Theroux

"Fiction can be an epistle to the living, but more often the things we write, believing they matter, are letters to the dead."  

On the turntable: Boz Scaggs, "The Essential Boz Scaggs"

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Takenouchi Kaido, End and Beginning

I had had a less than auspicious start.  Due to a late departure from home, I was forced to travel during the morning rush hour, something I am careful to avoid, an arrow-straight journey right through the heart of Osaka no less.  Standing on the platform to catch the loop line, I realized I was in the wrong place, but a quick sprint over to Nankai set me straight.  For some bizarre reason Yahoo Transit directed me to the wrong station, plonked me down in some nondescript housing development, from where it took a good ten minutes for a taxi to pass.   

The Takenouchi Kaido traditionally started where Sakai Station currently stands, and after a futile attempt to find some kind of historic marker stone, I turned my back on the station and its massive adjoining shopping mall and walked into the sunlight.  Another unseasonably warm February day, in what was proving to be a warm El Nino winter.  It was pleasant going in mere shirt-sleeves, along Oshoji-tsuji, what this section had been called in latter eras.  The wall of a nearby primary school had a mural highlighting Sakai's connection to the bigger world, as it had once been the only port open to foreigners during the Warring States period.  These foreign sailors and missionaries were depicted with the same exaggerated probosces as the late Edo prints of centuries later. I followed my own nose past the restaurants and cafes coming to life in late morning, and after passing the station to which I'd errantly arrived earlier, I found myself in definitive suburban Japan.  

The walk from here was rather uneventful yet at least pretty straight forward.   The Kaido was signposted surprisingly well, and I only doubted myself twice.  Suburban developers pay little heed to old maps, and in both cases I was unsure of which parallel road to follow.  I had a fifty percent success rate, and when I did go wrong, I realized it immediately then quickly doubled back to walk the correct route.  (I missed it because had been admiring the old stone marker pointing me down the very path I wanted.  Looking at the finger, not the moon.)

Where the suburbs began to thin I found a sprawling park that served as a good lunch venue, and it was delightful to bisect the cherry trees and allow my feet a reprieve from asphalt.  Throughout the day I played connect the dots with the ancient tumuli that pockmark eastern Osaka prefecture. The massive tomb of Nintoku passed unseen just to the south, but later I sat a long while beside that of Yamato Takeru, whose heroic exploits settled the Yamato tribes firmly and definitely in this area.  The only nomads now were the migratory birds enjoying the sun-warmed waters of the ponds that the ancients had used for irrigation when this road was in its heyday.  

Aside from these, few other traces remained.  Little surprise considering the Takeuchi Kaido celebrated its 1400-year anniversary three years back. I enjoyed how the towns I passed through had an old Showa look, as if nothing has been touched since 1963.  I found this most exaggerated in the townof Furuichi, whose name can be translated as 'old market.'  That entrepreneurial spirit still exists in the form of shops in the form of suburban homes selling second-hand baby clothes, or functioning as cafes.  This American Country Boy lingered in front of one of the latter, called 'American Country,' but ultimately I moved on.   

The home stretch then began in Komagatani, a village whose pleasant look was the subtle darkened wood of Edo period temples and homes.  Beyond it, I was away from man-made structures for the first time all day, as the Takenouchi made its way to the pass that bears its name.  I would stop just short, having begun my walk with that very section years before.  As the final kilometer passed beneath my feet, I enjoyed having the twin peaks of Nijo just above me, as well as the higher reaches of the Katsuragi and Omine ranges further out.   The history of those places goes even further back, but my own place in that history has yet to begin.   

On the turntable:  Brian Ferry, "Taxi"
On the nighttable: Ian Baruma, "Anglomania"


Friday, February 19, 2016


Walking --
From the west to the east,
From the grey to the green,
From the present to the past.

On the turntable:  Bob Brozman, "Blue Hula Stomp"

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Warmth upon the face,
As we chase winter from
The dragon's eyrie.

On the turntable:   Bryan Sutton, "Bluegrass Guitar"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Deeper and Deeper

February surprised by giving us a Valentine's day weekend guaranteed to warm the heart with 19 degree temps.   Monday it was back to work, as the cloudy skies brought things back closer to zero.  As I stood on the platform of Kyoto Station the wind rushed around me with the cold determination of the commuters similarly swirling toward the intense heat of crowded transport.

Finding the correct door in which to enter a limited express train is a game of guesswork, with a low margin for error if one didn't want to stand for the duration of the ride.  After I confirmed my pole position with a passing railway staff, a gentleman in his 80's approached and complimented me on my Japanese, a compliment that the foreigner in Japan is never truly confident in receiving. We took up conversation in order to ignore the cold.  He was a university professor of the journeyman school, which in this country is not necessarily a respectable career path.  Being a bit of a journeyman myself, I could appreciate the breadth of knowledge that variety can bring.  We talked of his trips abroad, and in the midst of this, he handed me an English book he'd co-written with a Vietnamese professor dealing with the aftereffects of dioxin that had been dropped on that country by my own. (A book that didn't hold much interest for me, one I'm ashamed to say I 'forgot' on the train, not wanting to add additional weight to a backpack already overloaded for a two-day winter walk.)  Today he was going up to Tsuruga to attend a conference on hikikomori shut-ins.

The lights of the train cut through the grey from the direction of Osaka.   I hope you don't think me unkind to find irony in the subject of hikikomori, but as much as I enjoyed the conversation, the last thing I wanted was to continue it for the next hour.  I tend to shun conversing with strangers while on transport, preferring instead to withdraw into the company of book and internal monologue.   As it was, he led himself to a place farther down the train, and I found myself in the typical foreigner's position of sitting alone.  Shut out, as it were. 

The train sped along the cold waters of Lake Biwa.  Beyond its northern shore, we exited a tunnel to see the first flurries of snow, falling near horizontally upon the icy surfaces of hibernating rice fields.  Further along, my eye fell upon sections of the Hokuriku-do that I'd walked before.  Unlike the real snow country of Nagano where they board up the northern windows of houses, here it was merely with mats of reed and bamboo.  There was no snow on the ground at the moment, but one restaurant had pushed a small mountain from their carpark into the rice fields below, early irrigation for the blackened and stubbly soil. 

The horizontal snow was an indicator that I had better put on the rest of my layers.  Thus girded, I returned to where I'd left off my previous walk on a balmy evening in late November.  From here 60 km to go, or two days to complete the Hokuriku-do.  As this next stretch was lined with well-known onsen resorts, I had thought it best to do in midwinter, when the region's infamous gray skies have been scoured clean by the cold winds of winter.   

Goethe warns us to be careful of what we wish for.  With an almost Teutonic determination I pushed forward into the storm, the winds mercifully aiding me as I moved south.  Visibility was compromised as the skies pressed in, and I could see very little beyond the road I trod.   The weather was perfect though for photographing detail; the light ideal for black and white.  It's funny but when you begin to shoot black and white, you begin to visualize things in black and white, and how well a photograph of a certain object would look in that medium.  And so I carried on, head down, eyes open, getting my Domon Ken on.     

Komatsu was a rather small city, if it could be called a city at all.  Somewhere along the way was a stone marking an old ichirizuka, and another marking the site of an old technological school whose mere 13 year life had overlapped the years of the Second World War.  This may or may not have had a relationship with the large factory that was my companion for at least 30 minutes.  About midway along, it dawned on me that the Komatsu corporation may have indeed been founded here (Wikipedia tells me it was). Once a small rural enterprise, those same war years were good to the company, when its tanks and howitzers saw good use.  It has since grown to become the world's second largest producer of construction equipment, contributing in part to these very walks I do, providing not only the medium, but the impetus to see things before they are all paved over.   

Town ended where the factory did (both literally and metaphorically), and the road began to undertake a series of right-angle turns through the rice paddies.  As my body shifted in space, the wind buffeted me from this direction and that.  By the time I reached the windbreak of the next town, the nature of the snow had changed.  Until now it been falling in large clumps, usually an indicator of accumulation, but the earth had been too warm to receive it.  Now, it was small cold pellets.  Frozen rain. The road surface was beginning to go white.  As the road began to build up just north of Kaga Onsen, small turrets raised themselves from the central stripe and began to spray water in four directions.  This moving water prevented the road surface from freezing, but as it ran off to the sides of the road, it mixed with the freshly fallen snow to form a slushy bog.  Walking atop it was like walking through porridge, neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right to slow my progress by a third.   Not good. 

Today's plan had been ambitious.  I had been forced to start the walk in late morning, hoping to move quickly to cover my intended 32 kilometers within the six hours before dark.   And now, only halfway through, my pace was impeded even further by the ice beginning to form beneath the sludge. 

I pushed on for thirty more minutes until reaching Kaga Onsen, a town I was quite fond of as we'd shot scenes for Children of Water there seven years ago.  I toyed with the idea of staying the night and doing a long 40 km day tomorrow, but the weather forecast was less than optimistic.  A train it would be.  

Somewhere around Tsuruga,  the wet snow had devolved into a sort of dust, blowing past a surprised plum tree opening toward partial bloom.  Tunnels and more tunnels and more tunnels again.  And to my disbelief, I arrived back in a Kyoto basked in the warmth of sunny skies. 


On the turntable:  Keb Mo, "Slow Down"
On the nighttable:  George MacDonald Fraser, "Quartered Safe Out Here"

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Papers: Dwight Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. … We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.”

On the turntable: Frank Zappa, "Bongo Fury" 
On the nighttable:  Mary Richie, "A Romantic Education"

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Minus 10 is a plus:
Mount Iwate lifts her hat
And bestows us with gifts.

On the turntable:  B.B. King, "Blues Summit"

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Streaks of color
Wend their way through
A monochrome world.

On the turntable:  Bodkin, "Bodkin"

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Burdened by impossible weight,
Monsters bend their weary forms
Awaiting the advent in spring.

On the turntable:  Bon Iver, "Bon Iver"

Monday, February 08, 2016


A day held below zero.
My hair turns to stone
In the outdoor bath.

On the turntable:  Boomtown Rats, "Boomtown Rats"

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sunday Papers: Chaobang

"Do not expect any respect, humans, so long as you scream about terrorism while celebrating your own countries' war crimes, or insist, as though you have a clue, that people of some ethnicities are more violent than others."

On the turntable: The Amboy Dukes, "Journey to the Center of your Mind"

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Journey through the Past

The weather forecast showed 12 degree temps, which the sunny morning skies confirmed.  I decided to spend the day playing connect the dots.  I had already walked a series of routes down in south Nara prefecture, but subsequent internet fiddling showed me that I had 'eaten the loaf, but left the heels,' if you will.  Where did those routes connect?  A fine day to find out. 

Nothing terribly special to report, as I'd already consumed the tastiest bits.  Nara is world famous for its lengthy history, nearly 1500 years of history, so its no surprise at how lived in the area looks.  Even the newer house look weathered, the older ones hanging on.  There are the odd small blemishes of industry, and the obligatory highways and rail lines, but I like the way the mountains and fields close in to hug everything. In particular the first section of the day, along the eastern reaches of the Yamato Kaidō, as the valley walls grow closer and closer as if to shield its kiss with the Hase Kaidō, a kiss I'd missed on my walking the latter road two years ago. 

Not far away is the junction with the Kami-tsu-michi.  I had thought that I had covered this 2-km elbow of the Ise Hon Kaidō while on a walk of the Tokai Shizen Hodō in 2009,  but the TSH is further up toward the hills, a fact I discover as I sit sunning myself beside Shiroyama Jinja, perusing a series of online websites and refueling on a rice ball and some cold chicken.  The Ise Kaido proper follows the river below, and so now do I.  A handful of children play in its dry bed, two grannies gossip on a bench above.  I criss-cross someone's farm, passing a number of signs pointing toward the seemingly infinite shrines and ruins that dot this, the Yama-no-be Michi, one of my earliest walks in the area, and still one of my favorite walks in Japan.  I move through the village of Miwa, following the shrill sound of a flute to an Hatsu Ebisu festival and its giant red fish omikoshi.  This is an affiliate shrine of nearby Miwa Jingu, where the god of alcohol is deified. I smile at the smaller shrine's eponymous beer, and realize that I have yet to drink that particular brand this year.  Hatsu Yebisu is most definitely called for, but will have to wait, as February is generally a dry month for me.  (Perhaps then, a Super Dry instead?)  A handful of steps away brings me to Miwa Jingu's massive torii, supposedly the tallest in Japan.  Not long after arriving in Japan, knowing that sake is enshrined here, I sat drinking a cup in the shadow of that very gate, watching the sun set over the Katsuragi range.  This gate more or less marks where I had thought I'd finished my walk of the Kami-no-michi in 2014.
But now, my walk of the Ise Kaido can finally be called complete. 

I toast this with a tea and some chocolate, before heading down Route 169, into the heart of Sakurai.  It is a modern road, yet thankfully lined with mom and pop shops rather than box stores.  It never ceases to amaze me just how many beauty salons and eyewear shops there are in Japan.   It is as its citizens want not only the perfect coif, but also the ability to clearly see the perfect coif of everyone else.   (This is where I will insert a snarky quip, saying "for a people so dead set on 20/20 vision, it is amazing how astigmatic is the government's hindsight view, in following the definition found in Merriam-Webster: 'showing incapacity for observation or discrimination.'" Perhaps my own lenses are rose-tinted.) 

The Kami-tsu-Michi is now cut by a rail line and a river, but after a little creative detouring, I am walking the section known locally as the Yamada Kaidō (confused yet?).  It is more or less the rural Route 15, which curves itself toward Kashima Jingu.  The sky clouds over for the first time all day which brings the wind and chill.  Alternately, the mists of time part to reveal the landscape of the sixth century capital Asuka, dotted with dozens of key-shaped burial mounds.  A village, then a town escort me back to the rail-line, which I follow south a few kilometers until I enter the train station. 

This ending will too serve as a beginning.  I have one last road to walk down here, leading from this tomb kingdom of Asuka to the later-era Heijo Palace of Nara, paralleling the temporal progression that marked the transition from newly sedentary hunter gatherers to a more established civilization defined by collective agriculture and a new import --  Buddhism.

No map links per se, due to the nature of the day.  Instead:

On the turntable:  Annie Lennox, "Medusa"
On the nighttable:  John Nathan, "Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere"

Friday, February 05, 2016


Winter chill be damned.
Beer and meat,
Meat and beer.

(..with a couple of well-loved bloggers.) 

On the turntable:  Boredoms, "Super Roots 9"

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


Tracing figure eights in Nara:
Following the clouds of my breath,
And those centuries dead.

On the turntable:  Buffalo Springfield, "Box Set"