Sunday, December 31, 2017

A year in reads: 2017


On the turntable:  The Beatles, "Live at the Hollywood Bowl"

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #41

Home from Sea, by Robert Louis Stevenson
         Vailima Pure, Samoa Breweries Ltd

On the turntable:  Jerry reed, "Red Hot Picker"

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #40

Oomingmak by Peter Matthiessen
Mango Wheat, Blue Moon Brewing Company

On the turntable:  The Germs, "MIA"

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #39

One Life at a Time Please by Edward Abbey
Cappuccino,  The French Pastry Shop and Crêperie

On the turntable:  Green Day, "Insomniac"

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Papers: Paul Theroux

"Travel, which is nearly always seen as an attempt to escape from the ego, is in my opinion the opposite.  Nothing induces concentration or inspires memory like an alien landscape or a foreign culture. It is simply not possible (as romantics think) to lose yourself in an exotic place. Much more likely is an experience of intense nostalgia, a harking back to an earlier stage in your life, or seeing clearly a serious mistake."

On the turntable: Esperanza Spalding, "Radio Music Society"
On the nighttable:  Paul Theroux, "The Happy Isles of Oceania"

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Papers: Kenneth Rexroth

"Experience has very few pointers and those point around in circles. Experience is its own content."

On the turntable:  Enya, "The Celts"

Saturday, December 09, 2017

On the Great Eastern Road III

A pair of Russians were poking around in an old house.  I saw them enter through the front door, which they left open, revealing a couple of tatami laying on their sides, and old stove.  They dwarfed the old Japanese man with them, who was presumingly showing them the property.  What I found most curious was what Russians might be doing out here.  We'd see the occasional Russian sailor up in Yonago (accompanied by urban myths about stolen cars and bicycles stolen being sold over in Russia), but that was a port town on shared waters. But this was landlocked and somewhat remote part of Mie.  Brazilians I could understand, a presence hinted at by the trilingual signs warning them, and me, that a 3.2 meter tsunami could reach here to dampen my shoes.

I'd see no more foreigners that day.  The locals of Yokkaichi though were out and getting on with their respective days, and those that I passed at this early hour actually gave me a greeting.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised since strangers (foreigners included) have been walking this Tokaidō for many centuries.  A nice change I suppose from what had been expected of their ancestors:  on their knees, faces in the dirt, and god forbid any incidental eye-contact was made with a feudal lord  passing by in their fanciful processions.  

A steady stream of traffic sped past me on its way back to town.  I sometimes hate walking these roads at this time of the morning.  It was particularly bad today, as in most countries this narrow road would be for single lane traffic only.  But here it was for two, and the unpleasant trend lately is that people's preferences are leaning toward bigger cars.  When walking on heavily trafficked roads, I tend to stay on the right, against the flow so that I can at least see the cars before they hit me.  But the Japanese are taught the annoying habit to pull over to the extreme far left when stopped or when in a queue, leaving me very little room between their wing-mirrors and the frontage of houses.  It was unpleasant going, but as usual I could escape into my music, listening to a rotation of Elvis Costello and Ewen MacColl, as they told me all that was wrong in Britain in the late 20th Century.  I continue to move against this flow like a steam train, little puffs of white emerging from my mouth every few steps.  

The clock must have hit nine, for suddenly the rush of cars was no more.  I can begin to take better note of what's around me.  Stepping into the oasis of a shrine,  the sound of birdsong tricked me into thinking I was listening to the sound of a cicada.   I laughed at the sight of a woman who had put on a heavy parka to take out her rubbish, a journey of perhaps five meters from her front door.   

I knew that was climbing because the tsunami warning signs were increasing their increments.  The road dipped again briefly into Ishiyakushi-cho, where I ate lunch hastily on some crates stacked behind a supermarket.  Naturally there was a pleasant little park with benches about a 100 meters further on.  It marked the end of a poetry walk of sorts, as each of the houses in this little town had poems by Sasaki Nobutsuna hanging in front.  The house of this great tanka poet still stands, though most of his real work was done in Tokyo, where he founded Japan's first poetry monthly, and was later the first recipient of Japan's Order of Culture.     

The next suburb had postings of another sort.  Photos of the faces of construction workers hung near their building site, probably to ease the minds of nervous suburbanites, living in a nation growing more and more afraid of the outside world.  Though what really has changed since the days when Sasaki's poem, “The Song of the Conquest of China,” rallied the boys 80 years ago?

Kameyama welled up next, the first glimpse of real charm all day.  The initial shopping arcade not so much so, with its shuttered shops eliciting the usual question of whether they simply had the day off, or was the town slowly dying.  An abrupt left turn led me downhill through an older part of town, which still bore a number of houses from the feudal period.  One of these had a sign proudly announcing the work of the Tokaidō Preservation Project.  I fought off an urge to call this group and ask where they were getting their funding and whether it they really felt it was worth it, as the machinami vibe was long gone.  Aside from a few nice buildings, the rest were completely prefab, and looked as if they'd been built during the previous decade.  A mobile phone attennae towered above it all.  And the directional signs for the Tokaidō itself were the worst in the prefecture.  Game over, man.  

But bizarrely enough, this was the nicest stretch of all, pressing toward Seki on a quiet riverbank.  I'd wanted to explore the town, as it is the best preserved on the entire Tokaidō.  But I needed to get back to Kyoto to pick my daughter up from school.  I'll be sure to return early next time.  As it was, the ride home was complicated, at the typhoons of last September had knocked out the rail line, and the substitute buses were about as consistent as the efforts at preservation in Kamiyama.  I made a pathetic attempt at hitching, but only a taxi could get me to the next train station on time for the once hourly service.  So a day that had started with traffic moving too quickly culminated in a further rush of tires, the meter frustratingly following suit.

On the turntable:  Ella Fitzgerald,  "The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks"
On the nighttable:  Tony Horwitz, "Blue Latitudes"



Friday, December 08, 2017

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu V

The Tokai Shizen Hōdō, while technically a single course, is in fact accentuated by a number of looping branches that diverge from the main trunk.  Unfortunately somebody thought it would be a clever idea to put all of these trail intersections in places that were far from any public transport, namely on the peaks of mountains.  What this meant was a fair amount of backtracking at either end of these intersections, not to mention expensive taxi rides.  

In this particular case the cab took me out a long narrow valley that culminated in an underused golf course, and a sad little zoo.  And on a morning as cold as this one, I didn't see anyone on the links, nor any sign of animals but for the frantic barking of caged dogs.  At the place where the road ended it splintered out into a number of smaller lanes, and it took a fair bit of guesswork to figure out which one.  Before long, I was able to come across a trail marker for the TSH, and following that path uphill for about ten minutes, I was able to come to the junction that I'd been looking for.  Then I turned around and went back.          

This was the first, yet for me the final, portion of the Ena Route of the TSH.  I'd walked about half of it repeatedly over the years, while leading tours along the Nakasendo,  and from there I walked south to rejoin the main eastbound path again.  After I finished my intended stretch today, I planned to return to the end of the Kansai section, and pick it up from there. 

But this section seemed almost as if it were trying to make me forego the whole thing altogether.  There are few things as uninspiring as 28km over tarmac, through bland suburb broken by tinny monuments to small industry.  Not to mention the stench coming from the paper factory coming from over the rise in Kani, which filled my nostrils every few steps. 

But I plodded on, down busy roads, beneath highway flyovers, concrete ever underfoot.  Over the course of the day, my perspective would shift to reveal the peaks of Mounts Ontake, and Hakusan and Ena, each snow covered and looming far out in the distance.  A man joined me for a short stretch, falling into step along the way to his car parked nearby.  He offered me an apple, which could have been the apple of knowledge, though I'm not sure.  We chatted awhile, and once again I was amazed that people in the countryside rarely acknowledge the fact that I'm not Japanese, and talk to me like a normal human being. 

The apple proved to be my only food for awhile, as the store I'd planned to hit up for lunch had closed years ago.   Others lay just off my route, but it would be awhile before I'd pass one closer in.  On the way there would be two hills, a narrow, sakura-lined concrete river, and a small tunnel like that from the dead platoon scene in Kurosawa's Dreams.  

I lingered over that eventual lunch, resting a pair of aching feet. My iPod is a godsend on days like this, but the battery conked out not long afterward. And my mood soured from there on, fixated upon whoever had created this route.  They had a lot to answer for, calling the section a "nature trail."

Finally, under a massive tree tied to some legend from the Heian Period,  a quaint town of Kukuri rose up on both sides to meet me.  The concrete remained, but the scenery at least was a little better, above a long, sinuous reservoir that was pretty in its own way.  The trail took an abrupt turn here, as if it too wanted to venture into the surrounding hills.  And finally, my feet found something softer beneath them.  

My mood was lifted to such an extent that I had no fear when I got to the bear.  I never saw it, but I heard its threatening huff, then the sound of its bulk crashing down the hillside.  I barely broke stride, but grew less pleased with the trail when it dropped me in the very direction that the bear had run.  Wild boar had been active here as well, the trail shredded by their foraging snouts.  

So it was with no little irony that I was happy to come to road once again.  My guidebook showed that a path would before long divert me to the right and through forest again, but the ample signage through here kept me on the fire road as it weaved down toward the valley floor.  The route must have been changed at some point.  

This was verified by a man I met along the way.  He told me that he walked this road often, and wasn't too happy when I mentioned the bear.  The stick he carried was for such possibilities, as unlikely as they were, and the way he wielded it gave me the impression that he was a martial artist.  He showed me some of the side routes that he sometimes took, telling me that they would lead me to the train station faster. But I was determined to stay with the TSH.  So we continued on, chatting as we did, though there was some sort of disjunct in the conversation, and I assumed that he spent a lot of time alone.  

When we hit the valley floor, I left him behind, and moved quickly along a small stretch of river toward Mitake station.  I knew this town well from my Nakasendo walks, had many times enjoyed its quiet temple and free museum,  and the tasty okonomiyaki at the shop run by the Korean lady who I learned had recently passed away.  No matter today, for I simply wanted to get off my sore feet, and was lucky to find a seat amongst the high school kids who knew nothing of bears, or old roads, kids who like me simply wanted to move past unpleasantness and get on to the next thing.  

On the turntable:  Eric Clapton, "Stages"

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #38

The Happy Isles of Oceania, by Paul Theroux
Devil Craft Tokyo Brewery,  Escape Pina Colada 

On the turntable:  Elvis Costello, "Brutal Youth"

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Imbibing Bibliophile #37

The Scarlet Gang of the Asakusa, by Kawabata Yasunari
Asahi Breweries, Craftsmanship Weizen

On the turntable:  Ewan MacColl, "Scottish Drinking and Pipe Songs"

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Seeking greater heights,
As the twilight brings
A lingering chill.

On the turntable:   Elliot Smith, "XO"

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sunday Papers: E.M. Forster

"Buddhism has died out in India, in accordance with its own law."

On the turntable:  Paul McCartney And Elvis Costello,  "The McCartney/MacManus Collaboration"