Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Imbibling Bibliophile #97

Singapore Noir, ed. by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Pilsner Urquell, Pilsner Urquell Brewery
On the turntable:  Anita O'Day, "Time for Two" 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Taking Tiger Mountain

After the mad dashes of rush hour, the loneliness and serenity of the spur line...

I'm nearing the end of my 90 minute trip from Kyoto, which bizarrely takes the same amount of time for Wes, who lives just over the mountain, as the crow flies.  But here in the suburbs crows rarely fly, too heavy they are from dining on improperly placed rubbish bags. 

We meet on an unseasonably warm January morning, which grows even warmer as we begin our slog up a 30 degrees slope that cuts directly into the heart of the suburbs, the lesser lanes radiating from it and plummeting suddenly downhill.  While the trip down to the station would be a skateboarder's delight, to do this climb after a long workday would feel like a cruel joke.

The arrow straight road ends where the green begins.  On its verge we find a small encampment of sorts, composed of a single table, a flimsy covering, and some swively office chairs.  Just below is the trail, climbing at an even greater angle along a disused funicular line that had once serviced the temple and the affiliated community above.  Its rails have been pulled up, though the concrete base is still there, now beginning to grow wild as the forest once again makes a claim.  It isn't just the flora, for a sign warns of vipers and wild boar, falling trees and tumbling stones.   

But we survive somehow, arriving at the top 25 hot minutes later.  The old funicular rail office has been repurposed for buses, and beyond is a small quiet lane running through a nice, older looking village which had no doubt been quite lively when the temple had more importance, its sangha younger and more engaged.  A few pleasant ryokan continue to survive, going back centuries.   

We continue our climb, the structures growing grander at each level.  One is lined with flags, still in the warm sunshine of morning.  Tigers were everywhere, a symbolic form I've elaborated on before.   The mountain's peak is quiet, empty of all the usual circumambulators.  I don't see any of the  small ceramic snake offerings that usually infest this peaceful space.  We instead find the metal peak marker stabbed down onto a tree truck, like a little insignificant license plate.   A few snapshots later, we descend.

The trail leads us along the ridgeline, dropping laterally to the northeast.  Clearings in the forest suggest the places where older temple buildings would have stood, although it isn't until Oku-no-in that we actually see a structure.  Out back is an ancient looking statue of Bishamon, supposedly Japan's oldest.  It is quiet here, as expected, but what is odd is the location, for most Oku-no-in are found high atop peaks, and this one is not only lower than the main temple itself, it is at the edge of the encroaching suburb.  Out in front of the temple is an old kiln, no longer in use.  A woman raking nearby confirms this, but for some reason is not forthcoming with any history or dates.  Shrugging we move on.  

As usual for Kansai, where suburbs hit foothills, gardens appear, tended by old-timers occupying their retirement years.  We wander through such a band before dropping unceremoniously into the suburbs proper.  They don't hold much interest, but we are coaxed along by the promise of temples and shrines hence.  Most of these are modest and small, though with ancient statuary common to this region.  One shrine does impress, not only the sing-song name of Iwatowa Jinja, but the massive rock face that is the actual focus of worship, free of any other cluttering of buildings but for the tell-tale torii gate.  

We have raced through the day, in anticipation of a second hike later on, but the silence and spirit of the place begins to work its magic.  We decide to slow down, and follow the tiled tigers ("They're great!") that mark an old pilgrimage route to a small burial mound that rises bald and grassy from the middle of the suburb.  We take a long lunch here, enjoying the last of the sunshine, as an encroaching storm front brings in what threatens to be a week of rain.  And at the end of a day spent bouncing along like Tigger, but finally we take a note from Winnie the Pooh:  "Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing."

On the turntable:  Johnny Winter, "Remembrance II"
On the nighttable: Philip Jeyaretnam, "Tigers in Paradise"

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


 Meteorological schizophrenia.
Despite the rain, the warmth lingers;
Despite the gusts, the sun falls.

On the turntable: Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at 'The Club'"

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Papers: Woody Allen

“Part of the metaphor of the film [is] that once you get out in the night, there is a sense that civilization is gone.  All the stores are closed, everything is dark and it's a different feeling.  You start to realize that the city is just a superimposed man-made convention and the real thing that you’re living on is a planet. It’s a wild thing in nature. And all the civilization that protects you and enables you to lie to yourself about life is all man-made and superimposed.” 

On the turntable:  Bauhaus, "Burning from the Inside" 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Hoshi Matsuri

Today on the Writers in Kyoto website:

"One of Japan's many new religions is Agon-shu, whose headquarters is on the Eastern Hills. Founded in 1954 as Jikeikai, it claims to be based on the Buddha's original teachings and boasts some half a million followers. Every year in February it hosts the huge Hoshi Matsuri, to which believers flock from all parts of the nation. For a firsthand account by Edward J. Taylor (aka Ted), please take a look at http://www.writersinkyoto.com/…/hoshi-matsuri-edward-j-tay…/ "

On the turntable:  The Cult, "Beyond Good and Evil"

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Papers: Gary Snyder

"The current form of Chinese characters with their little hooks and right angles came about when the Han Chinese shifted from incising signs with a stylus on shaved bamboo staves to writing with a rabbit-hair brush dipped in a pine soot ink on absorbent mulberry-fiber paper. The Chinese character forms are entirely a function of the way a brush tip turns when it lifts off the page. Lifting a brush, a burin, a pen, or a stylus is like releasing a bite or lifting a claw."

On the turntable:  The Art ot Noise, "The Art of Love"

Friday, January 10, 2020

Surveying the Kingdom

The girl on the train is standing, an English copy of War of the Worlds open in her hands.  I too am standing, and looking over her shoulder I notice the print is large and that she has highlighted words here and there. I wonder if she had particular trouble with the name of one of the characters:  Elphinstone.  

I disembark at Tenri, like many times before, and yet again push quickly through the old arcade (one of the healthiest in Japan) to Isonokami Jinja.  Rather than turn right as usual onto the Yama-no-be, I continue straight, through a few small hamlets until I see the sign for the falls.  I begin to climb.

Coming across the okunomiya for Isonokami shrine surprises.  Smoke still wafts from the remnants of a fire in the courtyard.  Momoo no Taki falls are just above.  At least a dozen Fudō Myoō statues mark this isolated sanctuary, each one a masterpiece.  Further on still, more statues line the steep path up to Taishinji.  The heads of many of these deities are turned toward the side, something new to me.   In the courtyard is a tall, flat rock stele commemorating the temple's founding during the Namboku Wars of the late 14th century.  I can almost picture the day when the stone was raised, the incredible labor involved, not only to erect the stone, to to raise the funds in order to do so.  Nobody in the crowd that day would have assumed that not many decades later the temple itself would become abandoned.  Further up in the forest, I come to the priest's residence.  It too empty and forlorn.  Directly in front is a clue:  two newish graves, with one for the priest, now 12 years gone.      

Crumbling log bridges lead to a steep trail that will climb to bisect massive stones.  Then I'm at the crest of Ōkunimiyama, which true to its name, overlooks the valley where the Japanese shifted from hunter/gatherers to sedentary farmers, supporting an Imperial system just finding its legs. And even from these heights, the future of this system, and of these people, is less than clear...

On the turntable:  Jean-Luc Ponty, The Gift of Time"

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Imbibling Bibliophile #96

Joan by Simon Fenwick

On the turntable:  Anita O'Day, "& The Three Sounds"

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Sunday Papers: John Pilkington

"In large numbers tourists have a depraving effect on those whose who serve them."

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "Terrapin Station"

Wednesday, January 01, 2020