Thursday, December 31, 2020

A year in reads: 2020



On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1976-07-18, Orpheum Theater" 


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Journal of the Plague Year

It begins during a hike on January 23, with a call from my wife.  She mentions that something seems to be brewing in Wuhan, and that we ought to call off our late spring trip to Shanghai.  I of course suggest we wait a bit, as it is still months before the trip.  But she, having lived in exile in Europe during the SARS spring of 2003, wants to emotionally commit to postponing, as it is a DIY trip that we can take anytime.  Moments after hanging up, she begins to cancel our bookings.

Two days later I fly to join my wife for Chinese New Year.  Before I leave Kyoto, Lai Yong asks me to buy masks for her and her parents, as they have already run out in Singapore.  At the local shop, all the pegs and shelves are full.  By the time I return in two weeks, there isn't a mask to be found, and won't be for months. 

Singaporeans are going about their business for the holiday.  But each morning brings worse and worse news out of China.   I go for a walk along the river one morning, and the Merlion is teeming with tourists.  These will be among the last selfies taken of a bare face.  In a shop a day later, the newspaper is calling on people to mask up, and the government will send two to each citizen.    

We fly to Taipei to stay a night at the airport hotel, before flying on to Palau.  Hardly anyone wears masks on this journey, but on the return a week later, everyone is.  Taipei airport is near deserted, and my flight back to Osaka is only 10 percent full.  Mine is the only caucasian face, and the only one, predictably, unmasked. 
As the stores have run out, Lai Yong orders 100 masks online, just to keep around to be safe.  I laugh how I actually have to sign for the package with a trace of my finger across the thing.  And I joke with her later, what if I get sick from that act despite her best efforts?  Or to get infected from handling books delivered from the US or UK, the virus passed through the post. 
 Japan as we now remember didn't move on things for a couple more months, and things carried on nearly as normal, but a heightened normal.  I had hoped to finish the last couple of neighborhood walks for a intended book on Kyoto, but after the first one in mid-March, I gave up.  The intention was to write as things are at the current time, but to write about the virus would ground it too firmly in the specific  present.  Plus it just felt scary out there.  Even masked, I held my breathe anytime I passed anyone on the street.   Kyoto Station shops were all shuttered, the public toilets closed, with only a handful of people walking about.  The trains too, fewer, and with no more than 10 people per carriage, everyone sitting comfortably far apart.  Convenience stores seemed unbelievably tidy;  fewer customers meant the staff had nothing else to do.  JTB was of course shuttered.  Pedestrians would stop to allow others to pass, with enhanced sensory awareness.  And there was good spacing in the queue in front of a pachinko parlor.  But how about when it opened?
Things were still new then, and uncertain.  I have memories of the air of spring being dim and smoky. though I know that was not the case.

On social media. instead of food photos in restaurants, people shot things that they were cooking.  It was nice to see that with the free time, people could take more care and time with things.  Even in my neighborhood, once the windows were thrown open with the warm weather of May, in would waft wonderful scents I'd never smelt around here before.  On one day the scent of Indian curry caused me to order takeout. 
But more than the cooking on social media, was the mix of angry politics and fear.  And half-baked theories and misinformation. I could sense which friends were having a hard time with it all, as their posts were always dark and fear-inducing.  I tended not to get too emotionally invested in what I read, as the following morning the world would be new all over again.  And in those early days, I awake thinking, "it" is still here.  Reading the news about the new world reminded me of Kirk on Star Trek:  "Mr. Sulu,  damage report."   
My guide work went flat-line,and my usual writing gigs were on hold, as no one really wanted to publish travel pieces at this time, some feeling that to do so was irresponsible.  Grounded in Kyoto as I was, I took up the hikes I'd long hoped to do.  In recent years, my walks gravitated to old roads and little towns, but with so much off-limits and closed down, the mountains made better sense. I'd long been after mountains on the Kansai Hyakumeizan  and Kinki Hyakumeizan, which do to the overlap on the two lists, a couple of friends had dubbed the Kinkan 132.   Over the course of the year, I knocked off 27 peaks.  
One of these was just north of the city, and on the hike I was shocked at the state of Kitayama in general.  Huge swathes of forest had come down in the September 2018 typhoon, and in the act of prevention, other sections had been badly mismanaged by the forestry industry, large sections completely denuded in what can only be called ecocide.  I hiked a dozen more peaks up there, wanting to do it before typhoon season hit.  Bizarrely, we had none, something I haven't experienced in 26 summers in Japan.  But rainy season dragged on and on, closing off the wilderness which created in me almost a sense of claustrophobia.  And as predicted, more forest fell, including over the popular rail line up to Kurama.

At the beginning of the year, my daughter mentioned that she hoped to climb Fuji during the summer.  To prepare, I took her on weekly hikes, increasing that once her school was shut down.  On one of these, I was amused at at the trail runner at Gorogoro who covered his mouth as he came running past.  And once it was announced that Fuji wouldn;t open for the season, my daughter disappeared into playing with friends. 

With all the hiking, weather becoming an obsession. Having no work, I had the luxury of choosing the finest and warmest days.  On other days, I found comfort in food and films.  When this all begin, I was already in the middle of a marathon deep dive into the works of Godard, but his sledge hammer Marxist pessimism  added to the claustrophobia.  I began to gravitate to road movies set in the American west, and to films I'd loved while in high school and university.  Despite the fact I had no work, and no way to see my Singaporean wife, I felt that life wasn't all that bad.  Yet my choice of films hinted at a deeper psychological stress, trying to escape into wide open spaces, or to a time of life that was relatively carefree.

Most of my days were spent reading in my usual spot, with the view of the street below.  Day after day, I see the same few dozen neighbors, but now there were many new faces out on the street, probably people out for a meandering walk as that felt the safest thing to do. Life felt very European. lived outdoors. And freed from the confines of school, kids running literally everywhere.  It truly was like the world of Logan's Run, as I saw relatively few adults for awhile. 
In the beginning I too thought that this was little more than the flu.  I tempered my skepticism with prudence.  At first I avoided masks for awhile (except in shops or trains), but then I ran into a conflict with one of my dogmas.  I can't understand those who doubt climate change, and often think that if your neighbor called you at work to say that there might be smoke coming out of your house, you wouldn't dismiss it, but would rush to be certain.  Yet I was doing this same kind of denial with the virus;  I was not all that sure if it was serious, but I should at least take precautions.  It didn't take me but a few weeks to take it far more seriously, and anyway, I'd been holed up alone at home since the beginning anyway, only heading out for hikes by car, or a weekly trip to the supermarket.  Most food I ordered online.       
And the year wore on.  And many impressions were born;

-As my life revolves around travel I was relishing the time at home.  For months I didn't want to meet, or even chat online with friends.  The spring and summer felt like an personal retreat.  One benefit of being in the house so much is that I finally learned what all the light switches are. 

-The metaphor that we’re at the end of an age and some people accept it, but those who stand to lose the most are pushing back the hardest.  The virus is a microcosm of this.
-The few times I dashed out to the store to buy something and realized I'd forgotten my mask; while out in public felt like I would if I'd forgotten my trousers.   

-The Japanese were ridiculed for their exclusionist immigration policy.  But this extended domestically as well, as there were reports of people in the countryside throwing rocks at cars with out of prefecture license plates.  Maybe this is not racist after all but simply a case of circling the wagons.  
-Smell are amplified in a mask. The scent of coffee on my fingers long lingers. No sense worrying about the garlic you ate for lunch. 
-In one of the only paid writing gigs I got, I was sent by the city of Obama to to a promotional travel piece for them.  This was the first I'd been spent time with people other my daughter or a few close friends. and a day after returning home, I received word that the guy who'd led me around for two days had been in close contact with three people who'd tested positive for the virus.  He was negative, and of course I was, but I was a little shaken by this close encounter.  It was like the character in a war film who comes unscathed out of intense combat to find to find a bullet hole in his helmet. 

-Waiting for an attractive girl to pull down here mask is like The Dance of the Seven Veils.

-The first time I go out with a group of masked Japanese, it dawns on me just how much of Japanese expression involves the mouth.  The eyes reveal little.

-The new Japanese bow, bending forward to lower the forehead to thermometer guns. 
-These days feel a bit like the early days of AIDS.  Meeting a friend is like doing a pick-up at a singles bar: you don't know where that person has been.
-Feeling like Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful, trying to make sure my daughter is happy and maintains a decent quality of life.   Obviously this is of a completely different scale, and let's hope I don't get shot at the end.    

-The Go To Travel campaign may as well be called CoVid Kizuna, harmoniously spreading the virus throughout the entire nation.

-We refer to hindsight as 2020, but I can't think of a year when I've lived so much in the present, unable as we are were to make any solid plans.
And at year's end, I still haven't seen my wife since February 7, though we've made a few attempts.  And with the rapid rise in cases, guide work in the spring seems less and less likely...
On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1976-07-12, Orpheum Theater" 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sunday Papers: Yi Sang


"The few who force themselves to walk in this city are the holy philosophers, contemptuously glaring at capitalism and the ending of a century."

 --(on Tokyo, 1936)


On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "1971-11-07, Harding Theater, SF"

Thursday, December 24, 2020




Double-helix of steam
Rises from my coffee,
DNA of the day ahead.
On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "1973-06-24 Portland Memorial Coliseum"

Tuesday, December 22, 2020



Upon an arboreal carpet
Drops listlessly drift.
Can it be snow?
On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1973-09-08 Nassau Coliseum"

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Papers: Steven Soderbergh

"I always speak French around the end of the year because it makes being rude sound so cool!"

On the turntable:  Muddy waters, "28 Great Blues Songs"

Friday, December 18, 2020



                                   Shinadani’s Treasures
                             Lay scattered on the ground
                                      Crimson and gold.

On the turntable: Mudcrutch, "Mudcrutch " 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Die Shizen

Anti-litter signs litter the path...

On the turntable:  Can, "Tago Mago"

Monday, December 14, 2020




Crumbling forest canopy
Softens my footfalls;
 All under the Buddha’s stone gaze.
On the turntable:  Capsule, "Player" 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday Papers: Matsumoto Toshio


Kyoto. A city drenched in the rain of old memories.


On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1972-03-26 Academy of Music, New York, NY"


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Deep Kyoto Video Walks


Strolling on the Path of Philosophy with Robert Yellin. An excerpt from the Deep Kyoto Walks anthology.

Robert's gallery has since moved to a new location. Details at:

On the turntable:  The Springfields, "Folk Songs from the Hills" 

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sunday Papers: Woody Allen

"Real life is fine for those who can't do any better."

On the turntable: China Crisis, "Diary of a Hollow Horse"

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Deep Kyoto Paperback Release



I'm very pleased to announce that the paperbook version of Deep Kyoto Walks has been released. As Michael Lambe writes:

"I am delighted to announce the release of Deep Kyoto: Walks as a paperback edition. This is a print on demand (POD) edition and has been independently produced via Amazon’s Direct Publishing service. Here are the details:

Deep Kyoto: Walks
Publisher: Deep Kyoto
ISBN: 979-8561499616
Price: $15.99 / ¥1,840
Available from:,, and

Editors: Michael Lambe & Ted Taylor
Authors: Jennifer Louise Teeter, Bridget Scott, Miki Matsumoto, Robert Yellin, Pico Iyer, Chris Rowthorn, John Dougill, John Ashburne, Stephen Henry Gill, Sanborn Brown, Joel Stewart, Izumi Texidor-Hirai, Perrin Lindelauf and Judith Clancy.

Here’s the official blurb:

An anthology of 18 meditative strolls in Japan’s ancient capital, Deep Kyoto: Walks is both a tribute to life in the city of “Purple Hills and Crystal Streams”, and a testament to the art of contemplative city walking. In a series of rambles that express each writer’s intimate relationship with the city, they take you not only to the most famous shrines and temples, but also to those backstreets of memory where personal history and the greater story of the city intersect. Join Pico Iyer, Judith Clancy, Chris Rowthorn, John Dougill, Robert Yellin, John Ashburne and more as they explore markets and mountains, bars and gardens, palaces and pagodas and show us Kyoto afresh through the eyes of those who call it “home”. Included are:

18 walks
17 photographic illustrations
A specially commissioned woodblock print by Richard Steiner
12 detailed maps
Cover Art by internationally acclaimed artist Sarah Brayer

The e-book edition of Deep Kyoto: Walks has been available since 2014 and has received many fine reviews. The text of the new paperback is essentially the same as that of the e-book, but some typos and errors present in the digital text have now been corrected for the print edition. In addition, while the text of the e-book includes color photographs, this was not possible for the paperback which is in black and white. Happily, all the photographs have turned out very well in black and white and the paperback also has one extra image (courtesy of Ted Taylor). Moreover, the glorious cover by Yutaka Nakayama is still in color, and Richard Steiner’s “Abiding” print is also reproduced in color on the back cover.

The completion of this project is due in large part to the tireless work of our designer and technical maestro Rick Elizaga to whom I offer my eternal gratitude. Many thanks also to all the contributors for taking part in this project and making this a very splendid book! Order now to get it on time for Christmas!"
On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "1971-04-06 Fillmore East"

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sunday Papers: Franz Kafka

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

On the turntable:  McCoy Tyner, "Atlantis"

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Oh, the Places You Won't Go!

I do not miss the tourist hordes,

Don't miss the way their voices roar

I do miss them with their cases

I do not miss them filling spaces

Things are so much quieter today

I do not miss them at all I say!

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Trouper’s Club, Los Angeles, 3/25/66 "

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Papers: Ernest Hemingway

"A continent ages quickly once we come. The natives live in harmony with it. But the foreigner destroys, cuts down the trees, drains the water, so that the water supply is altered, and in a short time the soil, once the sod is turned under, is cropped out and, next, it starts to blow away as it has blown away in every old country. [...] The earth gets tired of being exploited."

On the turntable:  Miles Davis, "Live in New York"

Thursday, November 19, 2020




Beneath a slate gray sky,
Trees flaunt their colors 
As if in defiance.

Heaven. Earth. Man.
Towering ikebana,
In a trio of cedars
On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "1973-11-11Winterland"

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Imbibing Bibliophile



The Imbibing Bibliophile has been a feature here for the past four years, where I have paired drinks with the books I was reading at the time.  Upon reaching the 100th post, I decided to give the series its own home.  All the old posts have been copied over, and the count has continued (albeit slowly in this year of the virus.)


Please follow the link here at The Imbibing Bibliophile.

On the turntable:  Jimi Hendrix, "Baggy's Rehearsal Sessions"

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sunday Papers: P.L (?)

"Art is a transfer of intimacy."

On the turntable:  Mount Eerie, "Singers" 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Twenty-four shames a Second


I used this idle year to enroll myself in autodidactic film school.  As I cycle chronologically through films and directors, it dawns on me that the history of cinema is like childhood.  First you see, then you speak. 

It is obvious too why (with a few notable exceptions), the Hollywood film is a dead medium.  I've often felt that film as art began to spiral in the late 1970s.  Jaws created the blockbuster, and Star Wars was an exercise in developing tie-in merchandise rather than in writing good dialogue.  Then Heaven's Gate destroyed forever the director as auteur.  The freedom that filmmakers had been given in the late '60s was taken away, with the money men now making creative decisions sans any sort of creativity.  

The history of film is one of generational innovation.  First was film itself, then in the 1930s came sound.  Color followed in the '50s, then the freewheeling storytelling and technique of the '70s.  Digital animation in the 1990s revolutionized (and in my opinion dumbed down) the presentation of image.  

And since then?  Nothing.  We skipped a cycle about a decade ago, and are meant to be satisfied with a rehash of anniversary reissues (with the usual cosmetic surgery of improved definition and sound),  as a palate cleanse after the junk food violence that is supposed to entertain us. 

Roll credits.


On the turntable:  Ennio Morricone, "The Best of Ennio Morricone"      


Sunday, November 08, 2020

Sunday Papers: Oscar Wilde

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between."
On the turntable:  The Mountain Goats, "Heretic Pride"


Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Faster than the Speed of Thought


Technology is moving to quickly for the inevitable changes in human ethics.  Historically large technological changes brought about an accompanying shift in human consciousness.  Technology is accelerating the rate of information to the point that we are now choking on it.  Forget about ethics then, we no longer have the time in which to process things, to just take an idea and sit and think about it.  Before you can make an informed decision, you're being led to the next, and the next. No wonder the world is so shallow.  Nothing seems fully thought out anymore.      


On the turntable:  Laibach, "The Satanic Rock Opera"


Sunday, November 01, 2020

Sunday Papers: Norman Mailer

"Politics quarantines one from history; most of the people who nourish themselves in the political life are in the game not to make history but to be diverted from the history which is being made."

On the turntable: Jimi Hendrix, "1969-06-22 Newport Pop Festival"

Friday, October 30, 2020

Three Shapes, Five Lakes...



Throughout the world, a mention of the name "Obama" brings to mind one thing, or person that is, and reactions will vary based on your postal code.  For the Japanese, Obama can only mean saba.  We started the day more or less at the source, the seafront fish market.  The morning auction was in full swing, with a young barker calling out prices, the buyers making little gestures with their fingers like in a Chinese drinking game.  They were very subtle in this, half -hiding their hands as they did.  (I'm told that with the fugu auction, both parties place their hands in a bag, ensuring the utmost secrecy.)  Things ground to a halt occasionally when there was a discrepancy, but I suppose today's loser is tomorrow's winner. Generally speaking the action was fast, and the group moved steadily down the rows of styrofoam boxes piled high.  



Today, one type of fish was being sold in mass quantities, and I'm told that it wasn't sold too often.  Being autumn, I presumed it will be ground up to fertilize the now bare rice paddies, rather than wind up on a plate somewhere.  Once the fish had been bought it was moved off to the side, before being loaded up on small pickups and carted off.  The remaining buyers continued to move as one, except for one character who drifted around confidently, a sly smirk ever on his face.  I secretly thought of him as The Godfather. He was all pro.


We visited his shop not long afterward, down at the end of the nearby Fish Center, and I recognized a number of men I'd just seen buying at the market.  People moved through, buying fish to take home, or settling into one of the small eateries to sample seafood as fresh as it gets.  We'd limited our own visit as we would enjoy our breakfast at nearby Sushi Tomi, a small shop with a friendly and engaging itamae.  Many sushi chefs can be dour, but Shimakawa-san never failed to return our banter, even as he shaped the fish in quick movements with his hands.  It was a wonderful performance, each piece of fish a treasure.  I tend not to like ikura, but here it delighted as the roe literally popped between the teeth.  I could easily have stayed here the rest of the morning. 


But we had appointments to keep.  The first was with a farmer who led us along the terraced rice fields of Tanada, which stepped up gradually from the sea below.  It was an impressive enough place today, and I could imagine its beauty when in the full green of pre-harvest.  The hundred plots were collectively farmed, and in May the fields were lit by 2000 candles to emulate the lights of the squid boats out to sea.  A stele near the water's edge marked the site of a medieval garden called Okino Ishi, where people once gazed upon the rock formations towering from the water. Renowned Heian-period poet Lady Sanuki composed her famous waka about one of them, collected in the Hyakunin Isshu:

My sleeves are like
the rock in the offing that
can’t be seen even at low tide,
unknown to anyone, but
there’s not a moment they are dry.

-trans. Joshua S. Mostow. 

As we continued along the coast, I thought about how Japanese sentimentality inspires a large part of their poetic canon. And this coastline brought the same out in me, for I lived on it for a dozen years, a hundred kilometers or so to the west.  There was familiarity then in the fishing villages we passed through, in the weathered wooden houses huddled together along little lanes.  In one we ran into a friend of our driver, who was generous in offering us a taste of naresushi, or pickled mackerel.  This is the original sushi, dating to the 7th Century, and far removed from the tidy little hand-pressed delights that make up Jiro's dreams.  Fermented over a few months in wooden buckets, naresushi looks like bark, has the texture of jerky, and with a flavor that doesn't fully hit the palate until a few seconds after swallowing.  


While one may revel in the thought of trying a delicacy 1300 years old, that timeline is nothing when compared with our next destination.  The world's first Varve museum was in a long, squat A-frame structure stretching between the Sanjusangenzan mountain range and the Mikata Five Lakes.  One of these lakes, Suigetsu is unusual in that it has no marine life.  As such, the sediment on the bottom lies undisturbed, which has allowed scientists to take a 45-meter cylindrical sample of the lake bed.  This is the varve, a sample composed of alternating light and dark layers, each pair representing a single year.  To walk past the 45-meter long striped wall was to walk 70,000 years back in time.  The stripes revealed changes in climate and environment, the ice ages and volcanic eruptions. Most startling of all was just how small a portion of the varve dealt with human time.  


After a pleasant seafood lunch at a lakeside inn, we continued by car to the Rainbow Line that cut over the hilltops between the five lakes and the sea.  From a viewpoint up top, a chairlift whisked us up to the interconnected terraces above.  We were ever on the go today, so I envied the people here in varying states of recline, in hammocks, loungers, swings, all enjoying a day whose weather was as perfect as autumn gets.  There were a number of cafes, a rose garden, and of course the view of the lakes, the sea, and the shoreline, all given definition by an array of mountains.  On a day like today, one could spend an entire afternoon doing little but admiring the changes in the light.

But what awaited became the pinnacle of the day.  We hired a large boat to cruise the perimeter of Lake Suigetsu, past the villages, the charming hot springs inn, and the narrow channel that led underground through the hills to the sea.  On board was a modest sample of Mikata Umeshu, the region's renowned plum wine that can be found even in chic restaurants in Manhattan.  We'd earlier visited their brewery, but could now finally sample their finest, including a few that were only available at special events such as this.  I'm used to plum wine being smooth, but the grades as high as 19% and 38% gave quite a kick.  


So it was that we sipped as the shoreline drifted by, much of it lined with trees of the same plum as that in our glasses.  And as the day came toward an end, and the light began to shimmer off the water, our boat delivered us once again to shore.  Heading south then toward Kyoto, in the footsteps of so many others over the centuries, already anticipating another visit in order to further explore these distant shores not at all far from home.  


On the turntable:  Jimi Hendrix, "The Cry of Love"

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Not Wholly Mackerel

The car headed north, at a pace so fast as if to go back in time.  Our driver deftly avoided the busier main road, and we moved along a country road lined on both sides with rice fields, long since harvested on this mid-October day.  Low clouds hung over the high peaks that gave definition to this broad valley, and late season dragonflies buzzed the forest of sheared stalks lined neatly in the now-dry paddies.

Obama isn't so much a place remote as a place far-off though well connected.  This small city on the Sea of Japan is indelibly tied to Kyoto by the famed Saba Kaidō, the feudal-period highway along which men would travel back to the old capital, carrying mackerel packed in brine for preservation.  A former staple of the Imperial Family, the fish eventually became a popular addition to the usual vegetarian fare of the land-locked city.  Like the Silk Road, the Saba Kaidō was never a single path, but the name refers to any of the five roads that extended southward through the mountains. The Wakasa Kaido was the most reliable, and enabled men and horses to reach Kyoto by the following morning, to ensure freshness. The brine also seasoned the fish along the journey, enhancing its flavor.


For the final few kilometers into Obama, the old road overlapped with another highway, the Tango Kaidō which ran along the sea.  It was here that we'd begin our visit, where that road ran through the center of Obama's old merchant quarter.  On the corner of a small street leading down from a Hachiman Shrine was an old Edo-period Suiyasu merchant house, specialists in papermaking.  A carpenter in charge of the restoration of the old house led us around its interconnected structures, one with an impressive two-story wooden facade lined with windows sunk into wooden frames.  The Edo-period kura storehouse had a unusual stepped doorway, once quite common to the Tango area. Traditionally, each region had its own unique architectural features, though the cultural streamlining that followed the feudal period sought a more universal style, as defined by legal codes. Today, most kura look the same.


Thankfully here, the old traditions still hold. A short walk away was Sanchome, Obama's former red-light district that has maintained a look centuries old.  A few accommodations to the modern age have been allowed, namely the small sprinklers laid into the tarmac which in winter will emit running water as a means of preventing the surface from icing over. Migawarizaru hung from the eaves along both
sides, these little cloth monkeys meant to deflect illness or bad luck. A small Buddhist hall housed a statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion, unusual for its bright gold headdress.  (I would have loved to ponder the meaning at the quaint Imaarashi cafe nearby.)    

We arrived at Hōtōrō, a traditional restaurant once used exclusively by geisha.  A guide took us through this labyrinthian structure, past elaborately decorated screens, and allowed us time to peer through the intricately carved lattice windows to catch a view of the overlapped roof lines and their patchwork of grey tile.  

As Hōtōrō was closed for the day, we headed to the nearby  restaurant Miyabi, which served up a generous portion of saba, grilled beautifully.  An accompaniment of other local seafood delicacies filled out a sumptuous kaiseki lunch.  Above us hung photos of celebrities enjoying similar fare, and a large aquarium filled with the still-swimming dinner course wrapped itself around the open kitchen beyond. 

A visit to the local museum helped stave off the sleepiness that usually follows such large meals.  I was astounded to find that Obama was founded around the same time as Kyoto, though its roots go back 1300 years as a center for salt production.  From here the town grew into an important harbor for the trade ships that traced the shores of the Japanese archipelago, exchanging regional goods during the time that Japan was closed to foreign influences.  Yet its earliest role as an open port led it to become one of the doorways for the influx of ideas and technologies brought from mainland Asia.  These flowed down the Wakasa Kaidō to the old capitals and Nara and Kyoto, which grew in significance due to those very same imports.


Some of that culture stayed local.  Two Shinto shrines just out of town date to a time when Japan's spiritual traditions found a foothold as the Japanese were settling into a sedentary culture.  We reached these shrines by bicycle, riding past old farm houses and along quiet rural roads.  You can always tell a shrine's age by the size of its shade trees, and these of the paired Wakasahime and Wakasahiko Shrines certainly towered, one of them supposedly 1000 years old.  Smaller trees at Wakasahiko were brought here a saplings from Kyoto's Imperial Palace, now tall enough to shade a modest Noh stage in one corner of the grounds.  Dating from the early 8th Century, the shrines still look after the safety of the local fishermen.


Buddhism here could be found at a pair of temples further up the valley, both dating to a time not long after the introduction of the religion to Japan. (Similarly, two of the Zen temples that arrived in Obama later would take on important roles in exporting Zen to the West.)  Upon arriving at Jingu-ji, I realized I'd been here before, for the Omizu Okuri event that takes place every March, serving as a prelude of sorts to Nara's famous Omizu Tori event held 10 days later.  An old path culminated in a set of stone steps leading to the temple grounds, which included one thatch-covered teahouse of a rustic beauty that blended perfectly with leaves just beginning to take on their autumn hues.  The priest here led us to the main hall, where we sat and heard a lecture that reached the similar esoteric heights of the statuary that we looked upon.  Fitting for a temple 1300 years old, a time when Shinto and Buddhism were fused as one. 


One valley over, Myotsu-ji is 100 years older, but with a similar legacy.  The path up was far steeper, and by the time the visitor arrived one felt ready to settle into the silence beneath the trees that dwarfed even the 22 meter pagoda and its 800 year history.  The young priest here too gave us a lecture, but one that stayed pragmatically upon the temple itself.  

The afternoon exercise for body, mind, and spirit made more welcome the meal to cap the day.  While expecting another saba feast, I was surprised to find us pulling into La Verita, whose enthusiastic chef prepares Italian meals prepared from local produce and treasures from the sea.  The wine list was of course a wonderful addition, but his handmade cheese is the true delight of any meal here.  Many many courses later, we wandered back along the beach toward our traditional accommodation, to dreams awash with the tide of history and time.    

On the turntable:  Laibach, "An Introduction to Laibach"