Monday, December 31, 2018

A year in reads: 2018

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1972.05.07  Bickershaw Festival"

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Miracle on Third Street: Walking Kyoto’s Sanjo Dori

"In our final Deep Kyoto post of 2018, Edward J. Taylor completes his walking exploration of Kyoto's Sanjo Dori in the company of friend Max Dodds. Together they contemplate the shared memories of our collective history and wonder how the present will be remembered in times to come... "
Part One

Part Two

On the turntable:   J. Geils Band,  "The Best of the J. Geils Band"


Friday, December 28, 2018


Of a year on the wane,
Traces washed away by
Sake and rain.

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, Dick's Picks Vol. 34"

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Shards 2018

And in the continuing spirit of year-end cleaning, I came across a number of fragments written over the last decade:

"In Carl Jung's psychology, metanoia indicates a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form. Jung believed that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as existential crises that were sometimes attempts at self-reparation."
--World, Underworld, Overworld, Dreamworld By Mike Hockney

Slouching to a Different Drummer

Small Wars in Faraway Places

 Japan --  Movement without momentum

Socially enraged Buddhism (punk)

Celts dividing the year in half, the dark half of winter a long wait for light

Yoga's popularity in the 1990s as a means of controlling end of millennium fears

Laugh like rusty hinges (nasal)

In 2008, the government of Ecuador gave the natural world the same civil rights as to humans. In contrast, the US gave civil rights to corporations.

Anti-social social club

Hysterical piss bottle theatrics

Tennyson-- “O sorrow, wilt thou live with me / No casual mistress but a wife.”

“I know more about how my meat was raised than the meat did.”

Hopping into bedlam

Road coffee, served hot and weak in styrofoam cups. 

The close relationship of DNA to the environment (and subsequently arising culture) is disconnected due to mass migrations in modern times, which leads to more psychosis.

People upset their country is dead.  All that remains is who gets to pilfer the remains.

Heian shades of winter

Churches of the west are meant to be filled with the presence of God.  Religious centers of the east are filled with the presence of oneself.

To follow a blog one must be prepared for the lack of closure. Bloggers tend to give up suddenly without any notice; you'll always be left wondering whatever happened to the person,  how the day-to-day life that you have long been following turns out.

Yesterday's news is tomorrow's history. 

The song of the bird gives way to that of the cicada.  

Life is simply a day to day struggle to make sense of things. 

Sometimes I feel like I'm a hospice worker, sitting at the bedside to watch Japan as it dies. 

Behind every traveler writer is a frustrated novelist.

Kitchens are made for dancing 

On the inflight map there were more names for rivers than for actual towns.  (Over Siberia)

Congenital congeniality

Territorial pissings

Jehovah's Witness protection program

Left to their own devices

The bizarre miniaturization effect on Japanese cities when seen from the Shinkansen. was the political version of the Archimedes principle, that the bigger an oppressor gets, the more people get displaced...

Flanders ‘stache (Band name)

Summer sunshine
Wipes the lingering snow
From Fuji's brow

On the island of Shikoku, after the drab tones of winter, spring comes in as an increase in color across the landscape..  Not only with the pink of the plum blossoms and their more celebrated cousins the sakura, but also in the white shapes drifting from temple to temple. 

Above the onsen,
Fog swirls about like transparent witches
Rushing to the mountain wizard's coven.

At an exhibit of Shinto art:
-Mori as reading for 社 (Forest as sacred)
-Nihon Shoki, every kanji character a treasure
-Shinto forms in 8th C.  Buddhist influence

An old birch tree
Raises gnarled arms
To direct traffic.

During my long walks, farmers I pass often tell me that I'm erai when they hear I've walked more than say 10 km.   But they are the ones out here tomorrow doing the same hard physical work, whereas I'll be back at my soft desk.  


On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 35"

Monday, December 24, 2018

Odds and Sods

(Some leftovers from the journals, which didn't really fit anywhere else.)

...premise for a Singapore story, about a professional dog walker being a front for a burglar...

...houses in Singapore function not so much as homes but as places to escape the heat...

...a fence for a queue is erected around where I'm sitting.  A perfect Singapore metaphor, this control of personal space...

 ...Echoes of the muezzin's prayer overlaps across the valley, distorting the original word of god...

...into the narrow valley of Oku Hida and an accompanying claustrophobia probably due to the overcast skies and the fact that it is still winter up here.  The sakura are not even close to bloom, although they've already finished in Kyoto.  Sign of the times in Japan:  staff of our inn is split between Mandarin speakers  and English-speaking Nepalese.  Not a local to be seen, but for the cook who'd pop his head out at the end of the meal, as if in expectation of accolades. Good selection of sake and surprisingly good choice of red wines.  Our small group makes its way through most of the former.  I go back to my room to read my books about Tibet, but I'm not yet ready for the Himalayas.  Not quite done with Japan... this year's insane heat of July, the crows all seem to have their mouths open. And its the first time I've seen kites in awhile.  I watch one whose tail twitches to catch the thermals and I realize that's probably why I hadn't seen them, as there's been no wind to speak of.  When it has blown, it's been sparse, and hot.  Today for the first time in weeks I can feel a bit of cool coming through my open windows.  Despite that, my body still remains wrapped in its usual sticky film...

...on the commentary for an Ozu film, Donald Richie was talking about how well the Japanese do goodbyes. It got me thinking about the American hello vs. the Japanese goodbye.  It is difficult for the individuality-loving Americans to break their personal laws of inertia to join any type of group, so when they come in they come in strong, with a robust "Hi, how are you?"  The Japanese on the other hand find difficulty in breaking through the tensile strength of the group, and the bows and farewells drag on and on... 

...I began to wonder why 49 days is the magic number for reincarnation. The Buddhists believe that the soul goes through seven stages of tests, each lasting seven days, seven of course being a magic number in many cultures.  But with a little poking around I was pleasantly surprised to find that forty-nine days is also the time in which an embryo is thought to develop, knowledge I believe the ancients were on to...     

...pale diffuse light of winter crawls down the wall...

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks, Vol. 31"

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday Papers: Lucian Swift Kirtland

"When a Japanese sleeps his absorption by his dream hours is so complete that one is tempted to believe that his so-called waking hours (no matter how manifested in energy) may be only a hazy interim between periods of a much more important psychic existence."

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 28"

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Heaven and Earth are Filled...

Learning to see beyond Christian dogma to recognize that Heaven is simply a present existence while engaged in good deeds.  Hell is the opposite, while engaged in bad.  Simple mathematics really:  good begets good; evil begets evil. 

The Chinese have instead looked at this in terms of heaven and earth, where earth is the physical existence we enjoy here on this planet, and Heaven is the elements moving around us, like weather patterns, natural phenomena, etc.   The landscape paintings therefore most often depicted a sage in the mountains, but it's not really him in the mountains as much as him engaging the phenomenally of existence, where the human force and the natural world come the closest to terms.  I suppose had the ancient Chinese been more of a seafaring people, more of their paintings would have depicted the open water, as there too we are the most vulnerable to the whims of nature.  

A decade of zen study in Japan had brought the idea of reincarnation to the fore, that souls eventually transmigrate into something else, as conditioned by the laws of karma.  Yet when my son died, I was puzzled by all my Japanese relatives talking about how he was now in Heaven, or the Pure Land in the Japanese Buddhist idea.  I made temporary sense of this in thinking that the subjective corporeal stamp that was Ken's "soul" was now in Heaven, while the more objective animating "spirit" would reincarnate.     

It was just after university that I started to read more about Buddhism and found myself more and more swayed by it's ideals. The Buddhist concept of the world made more sense to me, and I was able to eventually reconcile in it the Catholic ideals that I had been raised with.  But I was simply unable to make the leap from the Christian concept of Heaven to Buddhist reincarnation. It proved to be a near impenetrable chasm.

Yet Robert Linssen's Living Zen eventually helped me chose one over the other.  The book deftly explains zen usuing the language of a number of disciplines, such as religion, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics, among others.  But I found clarity in its description of zen in terms of energy, particularly in how energy is always in balance, how atoms (and electricity) are in a constant flow of plus and minus.  I began to see Heaven, at least how Christianity defines it, as a sort of energy bank, where souls go after they die.  It made no sense to me, as it seemed contradictory to what I understood about the world.   

Bizarrely enough, as my understanding of Buddhism evolved, I found that I could no longer believe in reincarnation either. A zen teacher I studied under claimed that reincarnation has no place in traditional Buddhism, and it found its way in later due to the Vedanta-inflected Buddhism that developed later in Tibet.  And this began to make sense.  

Now I feel that reincarnation is simply a metaphor for the body decomposing and its remains going on to feed already existing life forms like worms and vegetation,  then working its way from there up the food chain to create life in new bodies.  

In a metaphorical sense, perhaps the word 'reincarnation' should be replaced instead by 'reanimation.'   Which brings us back to the Christians again.  After all, wasn't Jesus reborn three day after death, like a hermit meditating in cave, this new person born after some sort of enlightened experience?  

Or as others would have it, Christmas's proximity to the Winter Solstice speaks volumes, for on December 21st the sun stops moving southward, pauses, and then starts moving northward.  The very word "solstice," derived from the Latin "sol" for "sun" and "sisto" for "stop."

Thus the confusion continues.  Doubt, I suppose, is a wonderful catalyst for resurrection, of ideas both old and new.   

On the turntable:  Bach, "Cantatas"

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Cheerio: Blues Big Coffee

Yesterday I accidentally came across a piece I published back in 2008, on a website more or less defunct.  The link can possibly be found here.

It had to happen during rainy season. She told you that she was getting married, and you'd had no idea whatsoever that she had something going on the side. And it just had to happen during rainy season. This time of year, you always feel so hemmed in, the clouds like a lid over the city, the air much too tactile. You think you're going to be sick and go quickly into the bathroom and kneel in front of the bowl. Nothing comes. You're zoning out, still stunned, staring at the Rorschach patterns of mold on the tiled walls. She always joked about that, about how you never cleaned it because you thought the fungus had some sort of anti-biotic effect and kept you healthy. Now these same walls are hemming you in. You gotta get out.
You brush past your neighbor on the stairs, barely registering as she says something about the color of your face. You make it onto the street and walk awhile. The sky is clearing some, but the damp still hangs heavy around you. You wait for a signal to change, then cross the street and find yourself before a ridiculously colorful vending machine. It says "Cherrio" on the side, which brings an ironic smirk to your lips. You want something cold. You push a coin through the slot, and hit a button under a can of Blues Big Coffee.

You can really relate, man. Under the logo is a guy blowing a horn — maybe Louis Armstrong — and surrounding him are the words, "High Quality Enjoy Coffee." A contradiction, you think, between enjoyment and the blues. But this town has never had a shortage of contradictions. The can's design, too, is far from bluesy, with colored stripes like the backdrop to some Monkees video. But the Monkees got the blues too sometimes. And as you pop the top and take a sip, you remember their prophecy:

"And I will drink my coffee slow,
And I will watch my shadow grow,
And disappear in firelight,
And sleep alone again tonight."
Ted Taylor works in Kyoto as a writer and yoga teacher, essentially twisting words and human bodies. He aspires to make balloon animals someday. More of his writing can be found at
Discuss with other coffee lovers. (1)

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Winterland 1973, The Complete Recordings"

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Knowing Tranquility XX (Miyajima)

The storm was coming, and I needed to find safe haven.  I originally considered waiting things out in Hiroshima proper, but I am not much in the mood for big cities.  Besides, as my daughter's mother is from there, my own history has been firmly interwoven with the place, and I reference it in numerous ways that have nothing to do with the sea.  When in town, I hardly notice that its there.  Instead, I take the old trolley into town to visit a pizza joint I know called Mario's, with a bizarre decor of light blue that reminds me somewhat of the US Navy of the 1940s, particularly Sinatra in uniform for some reason. Along the way, an old man is sitting directly before me, his head turned up toward mine.  He is of that certain age…  I look down to make eye-contact.  "Are you going to the A-bomb Dome?'  he asks me.  "Yes," I answer, squatting down to make my eyes the level of his.   
"I was a soldier when I was seventeen, and that morning, the bomb destroyed the barracks around me."  He presses one his palms to his ribs.  "I still have the scars here.  
I don't say anything, just nod as I continue looking at his warm eyes. 
He smiles.  "That was a long time ago.  I've traveled all over the world, seen many countries.  But I've never been to America."
I was expecting this, but not what he said next.  
"Too many guns there."

Peace Park.  It feels almost criminal not to visit Hiroshima and not stop by.  There's now a direct ferry from the park to Miyajima.  Such an obvious idea, but one didn't come into existence until 2014.  What took them so long?  I have my own store of memories of Miyajima too, but it feels like a better place to hunker down for the next few days.  It seems the right thing to do, to pass the typhoon while on an island, to see what the locals usually face.  It isn't as brave as it sounds, since the main towns of most islands tend to face north, and storms hit from the south.  This is deliberate of course.  

As it is, the storm passes across the mainland anyway, right through the city of Hiroshima itself.  But the rain falls for two full days nevertheless, leaving me little to do but wander around with two-thirds of the world hidden by my umbrella. I tend to avoid aquariums in Japan, but there is little else to do on such a rainy day.  Inside, I have a bizarre encounter with a pure-white dolphin, that just bobs on his side of the glass, pondering me. It feels a little like a sci-fi film, of an alien trying to make contact.   
I give up on the day and return to my inn, to reread a book by Alex Kerr find on a bookshelf near the in a small reading room off the lobby.  Midway through I check my email and find I have received an email from the man himself.  Very small place indeed, this Japan, despite these hundreds of islands. 

And this particular island I have to myself, encountering nearly no one as I drop into shops, to ponder the infinity of choice of wooden rice scoops. Lunches are long, usually involving oysters just coming into season, spent in conversation with the owners happy to be distracted.  I am pleased to find a pop-up craft beer bar, which may not last the season.  Hopefully others will take it's place.  The rain is lifting, so I take a glass out to the seawall, where I sit awhile, watching life return after the rains.

Tourists accompany the return of the sun.  I decide to watch the recession of mists from the top of Mt. Misen, to enjoy a hike among the stone Buddhas along the trail.  It has always been one of my favorite hikes, but am put off a little by the number of people attempting to dispute the laws of impermanence with their selfie sticks. I lose them by dropping down the trail to Daisho-in, one of my favorite temples in Japan.  The main hall has a large sand mandala made by Tibetan monks during the Dalai Lama's Sacred Music Festival, held here in 2001.  That weekend will always be one of the highlights of my near 25 years in Japan.  But sadly a few months later the Twin Towers fell, and the entire  world began to change.      

It is time to move on, but the journey that began in Himeji ages ago finished here.  During one of my last boat rides I was already thinking of a follow up trip sometime, one that leaves Donald Richie behind.  Instead I'd take Basho, who famously said, ""Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought." In this spirit, I''d next time paying closer attention to where the ferries run, trying to go as much as possible from island to island, and hit spots I missed this time around.  And I would certainly move at a slower pace, spending more time on the islands themselves, getting to know the locals, familiarize myself with a way of life that isn't long for the world. 

On the turntable:  Jane Siberry, "Child"