Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #27

The Inland Sea by Donald Richie
Ayinger Brewery,  Celebrator Doppelbock
On the turntable:  EPMD, "Strictly Business"

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Papers: Jean Cocteau

"I've always preferred mythology to history. History is truth that becomes an illusion. Mythology is an illusion that becomes reality."

On the turntable:  The Cranberries, "No Need to Argue"

Friday, September 22, 2017



On a day before storms.

On the turntable:  Eric's Trip, "Love Tara"


Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Above and below;
Along stepping stones laid
Laterally across the sea.

On the turntable:  Elvis Costello, "The River in Reverse"

Monday, September 18, 2017


Sound of the koto,
Bamboo in the rain.

On the turntable:  Eric Clapton, "Crossroads" 
On the nighttable: Philip Hoare, "Noel Coward"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Papers: Robert Louis Stevenson

"No one knows the stars who has not slept, as the French happily put it, à la belle étoile.  He may know all their names and distances and magnitudes, and yet be ignorant of what alone concerns mankind,—their serene and gladsome influence on the mind.  The greater part of poetry is about the stars; and very justly, for they are themselves the most classical of poets."

On the turntable:  Depeche Mode, "Black Celebration"

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #26

The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger
Kure Beer, Kure Ginjo

On the turntable:  The Exploited, "Live at the White House"

Friday, September 08, 2017

Dotting the Eyes

"Where the bloody hell are you?"  Such was the tag line in an A$180 million Australian advertising campaign, which hoped to lure back the Japanese tourists who had once flocked down under.  Not a race known for irony, the Japanese didn't bite. 

I felt the same call every time I rode a train past Mt. Ikoma.  Wes and I had left our north-south traverse of the mountain unfinished for a surprising five full years.  And even getting back to the funicular station was a challenge, due in part to Kintetsu railway taking great pride in their passenger's skill in orienteering train stations devoid of signage.  Bizarrely enough, Wes wound up on a train I would have taken had my ESP skills been better honed, and up the funicular we went.  

The Ikoma sign posters must also subcontract with Kintetsu.  It took us a few minutes to find the trail, and over the next hour, we were constantly second guessing ourselves.  It had been a while since I had hiked this close to a major city, and the sheer density of trails was labyrinthian.  We circled a cemetery so long that I worried we'd eventually join its population.  

Our time under the trees proved too short as we were eventually fed onto a paved road that would lead us all the way down to Takaida station at the mountain's southern extreme.  Luckily there was little traffic, but for the cacophonous campaign cars politicking, including one guy on a bull-horn mounted bicycle.  A woman shrieked "Please support me!"to us in passing, and overcome by the absurdity of it I turned and rebutted, "But you people won't let me vote!" 

We'd only walked for two hours but it was time again for the train.  A long sit in the middle of a hiking day is dangerous, as the laws of inertia make it difficult to start up again.  We debarked listlessly at Ikoma Station to begin our true hike of the day.  A series of steps led from near the station all the way up to the Hōzan-ji temple, one of the more sacred sites in the area.  The traces of this route's long history were easy to see, in the form of older inns and tea shops that had once been part of the pilgrimage.  But as is often the case in Japan, change was being enforced upon the area, and the perfectly sufficient older stones steps were being given the root canal treatment, replaced with concrete.  Wes railed at this awhile, as this was his home mountain, and this route one of his favorites.  Thus we continued to huff and puff up the hill, Wes' exhalations taking the form of colorful words. 

Thankfully the spiritual foundation of the temple was still sound.  It truly was one of the most picturesque in the region, one still mercifully free of the tourist invasion.  The handful of people about were sincere in their devotions, which was equally true of Shigisan Temple which we'd skirted earlier on.  The scent of incense lay thick on the late summer air, the song of cicada heavy in the forest.  The temple grounds were rich with history and symbolic statuary, its centerpiece being the main hall with its overlapping gables, all crowned in cypress bark.  There was also a puzzling European building from the Meiji period, apparently a guest house.  

We continued up the steps in a light-falling rain.  The mountain was infamous for the amusement park on the crest, itself hemmed in by a new forest of cellular phone antennae.  We found the marker for the true peak, ringed as it was by a kiddle train. The attendant was kind enough to allow us to literally step over the train and even shot our summit photo for us, Wes and I looking quite the couple in our (unintentionally) matching T-shirts and backpacks.       

The ever increasing rain and  the idea of an early train home spurred on a rapid descent.  A bit too rapid perhaps as Wes took a hard fall midway down.  All appeared intact, including his sense of humor.  Despite being popular with hikers, the trail was steep and rocky underfoot, and overall, rather bland.  Here and again I'd catch a whiff of the sweet smell of decay, which, in a bizarre parallel to our walk five years ago, sent me on a Proustian journey into childhood, to memories of picnics and sticky soft drinks spilled in the sun, and the accompanying attraction of bees.  I thought that Japanese children could never have such memories, as the people are so tidy, and would mop up such a spill as it occurred.

Our finish line for the day was Hiraoka Shrine, its main torii gate in particular.  A series of workmen were laying a new one into deep postholes, shoring up the foundation with sand atop which concrete would later be laid.  The foreman explained that this will make it easier for the eventual replacement, one hundred years further on.  I found this optimism refreshing, as I looked back at the mountain, a once sacred relic heavily fondled and abused.  The question remained:  Will there be a Shinto in 100 years?  And more importantly, will there even be that many Japanese?  

And then we all will be the ones asking, "Where the bloody hell are you?"

On the turntable:  The Band, "Music from Big Pink"         
On the nighttable:  Harry Ricketts, "Rudyard Kipling:  A Life"

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu IV

It is a quiet Sunday, but I don't like how it has begun.  My taxi driver doesn't know the way, and each of his U-turns costs me fare money. I point this out to him, and feel badly immediately at being so petty, so tell him the girl in the photo on his dashboard (a grandchild obviously) is really cute.  He then turns off the meter.

I look for my farmer chauffeur but don't see him.  I'm hoping the neighboring beasts are similarly sleeping in.  Within minutes, I'm already in the forest, facing a steep uphill push.  The can of coffee and single piece of bread are quickly proving insufficient as fuel.  I'm already exhausted when I come to a Youth Camp at the top of the mountain, the middle-school boys eating noisily and excitedly, the girls jogging along in a wide variety of heights.  Like my energy levels, the signage soon eludes me, so I walk to a tall building to ask directions.  A man in the window cautions me against bears, which have become more active the last few years.  I take this information with me, fear newly fed.  

There is a tourist farm of sorts adjacent, with cabins and a few families milling about. It makes me miss my own daughter, so I have a quick chat with her over another can of coffee.  The road then drops me a long way before entering forest again. Each step downward will eventually be paralleled by another one up.  It is a roller-coaster day, crossing laterally a series of ranges.  Up and up to a pass, then down again to bisect a forest road. And repeat, and repeat.  And repeat.   This is the nature of the TSH, designed as it was to take in as much of the natural landscape as possible.  I mean, the thing actually detours in order to climb the steepest parts.  

That said, I would consider this particular sections to be one of the best.  Granted, a lot of the forest was cedar, but that too is part of it.  Nature, albeit with a lower-case "n."  So too were the views, of electrical towers walking the hills much like I was. Boy, do I envy their stride.  

And in the hills I remain, the ground alive with leaping insects, the narrower grassy sections the abode of spiders, awaiting the next home-delivered meal.  The constant shifting of elevation is doing a number on my legs, and thus inspired, I pull out my poles at some point, speeding along demi-arachnid style.    

I reach something called the Ise Pass, which has an elaborate torii framing the direction of the Grand Shrine itself.  My map shows that another farm was coming up, which promises a cold drink.  But it has closed long ago, so onward I push, through a mixed growth forest, the varied leafy vegetation punctuated with signs warning of bears.        

And finally, the morning side of noon, I reach the base of the stairs leading to my final peak, Nebiso-ga-take.  Despite all the up and down, I have stayed relatively high, but still face a good 400-meter vertical ascent to its 1120 meter summit.  I sit and eat rice balls, day-old and slightly crunchy.   Just up the road from me is a carpark with a dozen vehicles. This is good luck for me, as I plan to return to where I am in order to thumb it to a train station.  I have three to choose from, each about 45 minutes drive away, and in a different prefecture.  I hope to go north, back to Akechi, in order to visit the Taishō period buildings I saw yesterday.  But first...

I push wearily up more stairs, leaning into my poles. I begin to pass people heading down, each a potential ride.  Most painful is meeting a groups of twenty old-timers, who chat with me awhile amidst a worn away section of eroded steeplechase steps.  I accelerate away through the beautiful forest, using the root system of deciduous trees for traction.   

I arrive in a sweaty mess at the top.  A chubby guy sits smoking over his camp stove.  Apparently Fuji is visible from up here, but he's never seen it despite three attempts.  A young couple tries to sit quietly not far from the summit marker, but they're interrupted by a group of chatty women in plaid who've come up the TSH from the Aichi side. I too will follow suit and try my luck with the Fuji view again, but that day is long off.  For now I have a ride to catch.

I fly down, using my poles as if skiing.  I am happy at each person I overtake, but the holy grail is the bigger group.  The descent should take 30 minutes, but I'm cutting well into that.  Suddenly, an ankle rolls, and I'm down.  Structurally I'm sound, but the dust and dirt have muddied an already sweat soaked body.  I dry as I go, and reach the carpark to find the group stretching out their goodbyes, as is customary.  

Just up the road is a small van, and stepping behind it, I change my clothes into a clean set from my pack.  I always take this precaution on summer hikes, as I don't want to revolt a potential ride.  But no one comes.  One by one, my group all turn west toward Nagoya.  The one vehicle that does pass is a younger man I'd met who leaves me by the side of the road.  Shit.

I walk east, knowing there is a turn off toward Akechi, which might be easier.  It is only about 15 minutes away, but no one passes in my direction.  I find the road to be a small one, which isn't promising.  Along the way is a bus shelter, which I approach optimistically, to find that the one bus a week leaves on Wednesday.  

Just as I have talked myself into giving up and thumbing toward Nagoya, a sports car approaches and stops.  The snaggle-toothed driver takes the turns quickly, his wife looking less than pleased with him for picking me up.  They drop me at a michi-no-eki on a busy road, telling me that my "chances are better here, that is, if anyone stops."  I frown at the pessimism and think as I always do, "Well dude, you stopped..."

It acts as a jinx, and I stand beside the road for nearly an hour.  I walk in the direct of Akechi, cursing snaggle-tooth with every step. My curses are eventually directed at each passing driver.  By the top of the hour I've convinced myself that the people of Inabu are the least hospitable in Japan.  Drastic, I know, but this it is the first time in over twenty years hitching in Japan that I am looking to be denied a ride. And I am really stuck, as I am far from trains or any alternate form of transport.  

Finally, a logging truck surprises in pulling over.  The driver, a logger, is young and friendly, and we exchange mountain stories over the next hour.  I've given up on the idea of any further sightseeing, which suits my feet fine.  I arrive finally at the train and once aboard, I gently sway along the border of seasons, as the cool of autumn blows through the window.

On the turntable:  The Clash, "Elvis has Left the Building"

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu III

I've noticed over the years the fear creeping in, the anxiety about the wild that hangs upon me more heavily than my backpack.  Granted, there has been an increase in animal encounters in Japan recently, but it doesn't warrant the fear.  The day's hike brings with it more worry than usual, as I am forced to undertake a late start, one that will guarantee the final hour will be walked in full darkness, and in a mountainous section to boot. The past few days have brought a taste of autumn, a time when the pre-hibernation beasties are most active, gorging themselves on the all you can eat banquet that is the Japanese mountainscape.  

Luckily I check my flashlight, and replace the failing batteries.  I dawdle when I reach Ena station, as I know that the train company has changed their schedules, forcing me to kill an hour.  The time allows me a rethink, and I decide to fork out for an expensive taxi ride in the hopes of getting to my inn before too late.  

I begin my walk a half an hour later in Akechi, an attractive little town that bills itself as "Taishō town,"  since a handful of buildings dotting this small valley were built in that early 20th Century era.  I cover the section I missed last time, following not only the TSH, but also something called the 'Taishō Walk' which leads me past a few of them, then up and over a small pass out of town.  

It is a pretty day through a series of attractive rural villages.  I'm fed now and again onto narrow forest roads that bisect short sections of plantation cedar. With each step I am getting more and more remote, but there is an annoying number of roads out here, which twist and spiral atop one another. Apparently the LDP has spent a lot of money in the area.  Multiple roads mean multiple places to go wrong, and I really don't have the daylight for it today.  I am (and will continue to be) lucky with the ample signage, but one sign has been scratched out and the directional arrow redirected.  It contradicts the map in my book, so I go with the devil I know, assuming that the 'corrected' sign is a prank.  After a nervous 20 minutes or so, I find that I made the right choice. 

I suspect 'road demons,' for the prank, especially after I pass a turn off for one of their race courses.  What is it with Gifu Prefecture and its Speed Kings?  Moments after thinking this, I hear the sound of motorbikes shrieking through turns somewhere above me.  The sound follows me well into the forest and never grew any less annoying.  

Bizarrely enough, members of that tribe come to my rescue.  I find myself walking up a newer section of road, one that is climbing steadily and beginning to compress into hairpin curves.  I've been diligent about walking every meter of this TSH, but I see no reason to be on this road, which brings a feeling of redundancy in the way it curls back on itself.  I turn to thumb a ride with the first car passing, its lowered frame nearly flush with the ground.  My heroes, a pair of Speed Kings, scream away in their usual noise, but prove to be polite in conversation, deferent in their choice of verb tenses.  I'm in the car less than five minutes, but they've saved me a tough climb and helped add fifteen crucial daylight minutes to my day.

I keep to this road awhile before it peters out in a picturesque village at the end of the day.  The sun is still bright and brings out all the shades of green.  The rice harvest is not long off now.  And above wells up my last set of mountains.  I have about an hour of daylight left, but need at least that to get through.  I push hard up the stairs into the trees.  My legs are drained and don't appreciate these concrete 'logs' that are a prominent feature of the TSH. While I appreciate the attempt to improve the trail, the earth beneath them gradually erodes away, and after a few years they are too high to comfortably ascend.  A few years after that, the hiker faces a steeplechase.  I'll take a gradual slope any day.

I arrive atop the pass winded and covered in a poultice of sweat and spiderwebs.  I've made good time.  The descent will take a full two kilometers, into the setting sun. The light is welcome, but it blinds me somewhat, and I can't get a good look at where I place my feet. What's making things worse is my state of mind.  The Japanese believe that telling ghost stories in summer helps to bring chills that ease the heat.  In that spirit (no pun) I've read a half dozen books of spooky tales over the last week, and my eyes are bringing new definition to the shadows.  And as the sun begins to leave the sky, the birds and insects seem to protest its going in a noisy cacophony. 

I pick up my pace as I turn through a long series of switchbacks, scaring a pair of deer whose footfalls echo away in a rhythm graceful and light.  Deer of course are not very bright, but can bears and boars become habituated to man's absence in the night?  Pigs are famously smart (though not enough to fly), and Russian bears can be taught to ride bicycles.  Do they know that after dark, man goes away, and the forest is essentially theirs? 

I reach the road again in the grey crepuscule.  I walk a short distance over to a bus stop, the one and only bus having left hours before.  I can't figure out the kanji for the village's name, so I take a photo of the characters to show my taxi driver for when I return tomorrow. I notice a farmer standing there, who seems on the verge of saying something, but chooses instead to turn toward his house. 

I face a long 8 km walk to Odo onsen, and my inn.   This is the only accommodation along this whole section, and had forced me to cover the distance I had gone.  But it ensures an easier day tomorrow.  I plod along the wide road, hoping for traffic, but everything is going in the wrong direction.  A single car passes in a half an hour, and doesn't even slow.  I know from experience that after full dark, no one will stop.  I call my inn to ensure them that I am still coming, and will be later than expected.  They seem less than happy at this news.  And at that very moment, a car pulls up, with the smiling face of the farmer.

He must be in his seventies, and built with the usually wiry gristle of his occupation.  I worry that he drove out this way simply to give me a lift, but he says that no, the only food around here is at the convenience store in town.  (Funny concept for a farmer.)  My inn happens to be next door, and the old woman in charge is surprised that I arrived so quickly.  So soon in fact that the bath is still tepid.  I sit as close as I can to the faucet, seeking the balance between full relaxation and a painful scalding.  Dinner too is a similarly lukewarm affair, taken alone in my room.  I had hoped for a bit of social hour in a common room, where the foreigner is the night's entertainment.  But I seem to be the only guest.  And the woman looking after me (probably the daughter-in-law) seems a bit anxious.  I ask if they ever get any foreign guests, and she tells that they had one once.  I do my best to be a good specimen, eating all my food, and replacing the futons in the morning.  I've pulled all of them out to build a high-rise bed platform, far more inviting than the single rock-hard layer provided.  But good manners aside, I pushed hard today, and need good rest for the 18 kg to come, all of them in mountains... 

On the turntable:  The Dubliners, "Greatest Hits"
On the nighttable:  Robert Byron, "The Road to Oxiona"


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sunday Papers: Herman Melville

"Meditation and water are wedded for ever."

On the turntable:  The Clash, "Out of Control"

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #25

In Light of Shadows by Izumi Kyoka
Matsumoto Brewery, Traditional Bitter

On the turntable:  Etta James, "At Last!"

Friday, September 01, 2017


Along the border
Of province and season,
All is in steady decay.

On the turntable:  The Style Council, "The Complete Adventures of The Style Council"