Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Stuff from an Old Notebook #12

On a return to Yonago, 2007

The eyes are funny things.  On the ride up to Yonago for the first time in 15 months.  Passing through a landscape that you once found enchanting.  But as is also the case with a lover, the enchantment becomes contentment, then mundane.  Those lines and curves that once held you are replaced by blemishes...

..but today the magic was back.  Enthralled by it all once again, finding again those once cherished sweet spots.  Delighting in the new. 

Or maybe it was simply the fine weather.  

On the turntable:  Mutabaruka, "The Ultimate Collection"

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Papers: Renae Lucas-Hall

"Japan seems a lot like what America would be like if Rock 'n' Roll had never happened."

On the turntable:  Mike Oldfield, "Tubular Bells"

Friday, June 26, 2020

Tracking the Kamo III

I left a little later than I'd hoped, close to 8 am.  It was a summer's day, but had the cool of hours earlier. I regretted not getting an quicker start, so that I could see the old-timers going through their funny exercises.  There were still a few around, but mainly it was people biking or walking to work. Sadly I didn't see any of the colony of nutria which used to live around here.  While admittedly a foreign species to Japan, their antics always brought people to a standstill, to watch their antics.  I presume they've been captured, as I hadn't seen them in a few years.

I crossed the stone turtles at Demachiyanagi, and returned to the Kamogawa's western edge.  The water still flowed quickly over some of the more deeply sunk flagstones of the riverbed, despite no rain since I left off two days before.   Atop the flattened reeds here stood a grey heron, which looked as always like it could really use a massage for its hunched shoulders.  A small pair of underpants lay limply on the stone steps.  A child must've enjoyed the water's coolness over the weekend.

 The fast flow of the water had done a number on the concrete stonework that brought definition to the falls.  After the big storm of 2013, many of these stones had been pushed out of place.  They'd been repaired, and again after another strong storm a few years later.  But as strong storms are getting more and more frequent from year to year, I'm not sure the city even made an effort anymore.  So the stone work continued to look like a mouthful of bad teeth. 

I passed by University Hospital.  People were sitting out on the benches in the wide patch of grass there, obvious patients due to their gowns.  I was always amused to see the ones who smoked.  This little patch of ground never failed to remind me of Mizoguchi Kenji, for a documentary on the director used this exact location during the closing scenes, as it was here that he finished his life.   

On the opposite bank was the ultimate picnic spot.  There were benches and wide patches of grass, and toilets nearby at the home center store across the road above.  Not to mention the shops of Demachiyanagi were just a few minutes north, with ample places to resupply.  Sakura trees lined both banks, creating in spring a ribbon of pink.  It made for a lovely bicycle ride, party people reveling everywhere.  

I saw an older man on one of the wooden decks going through what looks to be yoga poses.  It might have been the guy I saw tanning up north a couple of days ago. Another old man used his deck as an exercise bench, and had even brought his own dumbbells. 

Ahead on the path, I spied a turtle moving as fast as I'd ever seen a turtle move.   It begins to make its way down the embankment, but losing balance, begins to tumble.   Tucking its head and limbs into its shell, the turtle literally cartwheeled down the stone slope.  It must have been both terrifying and a little exhilarating.  

I've always liked the building at the southwest corner of Marutamachi bridge (and the little observation platforms jutting from the bridge's center).  Where the attractive brick building now stood was once the site of Nyokōba, a school for girls founded in 1872, upon the grounds of the former Kawaramachi villa of the Kujō family.   The school specialized in English and handicrafts, whose purpose was a means of reforming geisha and prostitutes, trapped into these roles during the stringent social dictates of the out-going feudal period.  Most students came from the lowest ranks of Japanese society, and those unable to afford their schooling were allowed to sell the wares that they had learned to make there. While the school was long gone, I appreciated that the current building there kept the look of the period.  

But traces of the impovershed remained. Beneath a pair of willow trees, a homeless man had set up house, his structure defined by tarps and overlapping umbrellas. There used to be a lot more homeless under the bridges here, living in quite elaborate DIY structures, soundly assembled from found bits of plywood.  They always looked clean and were unobtrusive, unlike the socially abandoned casualties seen in Western cities. These underbridge structures disappeared, around the time of the floods of 2013.   As a dramatic counterpoint, there were a number of riverfront luxury flats near here, as well as a five-star international hotel.  A stream ran in front of the latter, lined with bushes and hydrangea plants.   This was one of the best places in the city to see fireflies, but this late into June they were gone.   

I always hated riding my bicycle over the uneven cobblestones here.  We had reached the first of the yuka restaurants, that straddled the stream from here all the way to Gojo-dōri.  From May to September, al fresco dining could be had over the waters flowing below, taking the edge of the heavy heat of a Kyoto summer. I was always amazed at the effort that must go into putting these things up.  If visiting the city during the summer, there was nowhere else better to eat. 

Locals too obvious agreed, for centuries-old painting showed that this had always been a popular amusement spot in summer.  And not only in summer.  The area around Sanjo-bridge was the western terminus of both the Tokaidō and Nakasendō post roads, and as such it would have been a place to relax or supply, depending on your direction. (Here we can still see the stone statues of Yaji-san & Kita-san, the antiheroes of the periods best known 'road novel,' Hizakurige, translated into English as On Shank's Mare.)   The area still had a similar flavor, densely packed with lodging, shopping, and food.  (Scratch deeper to find varying degrees of gambling and prostitution.). As such, it made for an easy place to hide, especially for the various political samurai groups during the final days of the Shogunate.  Sanjō Bridge itself bears the scars of one battle, sword marks cut into one post along the south rail after the famous Ikedaya Incident of 1864.

I passed below the Pontochô Kaburenjô, founded in 1872 to host the Kamogawa Odori geisha dances held each May.  Friends and couples line the banks from here to Shijo, usually from sunset until well into he night.  Bands set up on weekends, making it one of the more lively spots for the large number of students from Kyoto's 43 universities.     

Shijō Bridge.  Across the water was the Minamiza kabuki theater, built across from the statue of that art's founder, Izumo no Okuni.  One of seven kabuki theaters allowed to perform during the repressive Edo period, Minamiza was most active during December's kaomise, when some of the top kabuki performers assembled for dozens of performances.  Thirty meters north was another, less ornate building bearing the characters for Kita-za, once another centerpiece for kabuki until it stopped hosting performances in 1893.  Today it was host to an number of restaurants and bars.      

The small canal that cooled the riverfront yuka flowed into the river proper at Gojō bridge.  Here too ended my walking path.  Cafe Kano was here, a rarity in that it both opens early and does a good (but basic) Western breakfast set.  The owner isn't particularly warm, but it was a cozy, sunny place to meet friends early.   This part of the river was popular too with fishermen, who stood out in the water with their waders and ridiculously long poles.

I crossed over to the east side, and continued along that bank for a while. The city seemed to receded some, as the walls grew higher and hid what stood above.  The next bridge along was called Shomen-bashi.  Nintendo's original headquarters was just a few buildings to the west.  I always used to find it puzzling that Kyoto's Rokujō-dōri was conspicuously absent, until I later learned that the riverbed there had served as the city's execution grounds during the feudal period, which explained the massive cemetery along the mountainside above.  Modern Kyoto downplays this history, but there still stood a commemorative stone to the 52 Christians martyred here. 

I returned to the west bank at Shichijō, crossing the grand Shichijō Bridge, not terribly old but one of the river's more attractive.  Things grew industrial for awhile, not least of which were the trio of bridges which ushered the three rail lines out of town.    It grew steadily worse from there, and it wasn't too long before the motorways came in, criss-crossing and criss-crossing and criss-crossing again.  There weren't too many people down this way, except for the occasional unwise jogger.  But at least there was a good bicycle path.  

The heat was beginning to come up. I decided to walk the parallel track on the berm above me, for at least there were some patches of cooling shade, with things below to look at, albeit scenes of small industry.  But up here was where all the people were.  One pair of old-timers walked along the far bank, one of them sensibly wearing a conical hat. 

The concrete finally left me alone, at least underfoot.  I moved along grass and earth, through an area that appeared popular with local teens, obvious from the fire pits and remnants of parties. Perhaps this was connected with the skate park that lay unseen just above me, which I'd passed on a previous walk.  Above, the highways still criss-crossed, but at least they brought shade.  

At the other end of the demographic was a gateball park here, and even on a warm day, there were at least three-dozen people out playing.  A closer look revealed it to be a temporary installation, to judge from a few grass-cutters leaning against the slope.  

In my rubberneacking, I hadn't noticed that I'd walked myself out onto a peninsula.  It would be a long backtrack to a bridge, but a look ahead showed that the river was narrow and running quiet.  A pair of cranes stood high above the water, inferring it wasn't particularly deep.  I pushed through the weeds, in the process scaring off both cranes and a heron.  Shoes and all, it was only takes five steps to cross.  The water was cooling, but I didn't like the smell.     

The track on this side continued to be dirt, but there was definitely a 'wrong side of the tracks' feel to it all.  On the opposite bank was a nice, well-tended walking path, no doubt to the enjoyment of the suburban houses beyond.  They had colonized an area once cultural rich, with Jonangu Shrine, the site of the old Toba Palace, and the place where the first shots were fired to begin the brief Boshin War that brought down the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The suburbs eventually claimed all, and I found myself walking along a track that looked more or less unused.  This too was a peninsula, which grew wilder and wilder the further I went.  It eventually gave way completely to a patch of low vegetation.  It wasn't too dense and I could push my way through.  I knew from the map that there was a road up to my right, but it ran through a construction site and I wasn't sure if I would be allowed passage.  Better to keep off the radar.  

Across the river to the east I saw three large monoliths.  These long rectangular stones were known as the Toba Ishi, brought upstream as part of repairwork on Nijō-jo, which had been damaged during the Omi-Wakasa Earthquake of 1662.  Somehow the stones went overboard here,where they remained until found centuries later during dredging of the river.

I finally came to the end of the peninsula, a world of rocks and mud.  Pronged footprints showed the presence of water fowl, who dined on the nutrients in the sediment.  All this would be underwater during the rains.  But the water today was relatively low, so I crossed again.  It was broader here, and running fast, forcing me to concentrate on my footing as I go.  The water grasped at my ankles, untying the laces of my shoes.  

There was a man parked down here. the lens on his camera probably more expensive than his car.  Below me, this final peninsula opened out wide enough to hold a number of rugby and soccer pitches. I was now walking equidistant to the Kamo and Katsura rivers. A markerstone noted that I would have to walk six more kilometers to reach the end of the latter.  I'd walked that far bank before, all the way to Osaka, mimicking the boat journey taken by Kyoto's old aristocrats as they made their way toward the Kumano shrines.  Like them, I had begun my own pilgrimage there from Kyoto proper.   Then as now, I was impressed with the large vegetable gardens along the banks, bursting with cabbage and beans, corn and onions.  I wondered how the farmers got the right to farm here.  In the past, I marvelled too at the sturdy-looking homeless camps, but didn't see any today.   

My maps had shown a park at the confluence, but I was unable to reach it, as the weeds grew too dense, and I could proceed to more.  But I could see from the GPS that I was mere meters away.  Here the Kamogawa changed its name, once married to the Katsuragawa.  It would continue to flow to meet the Uji river, then again changing its identity to the grand Yodogawa, which ultimately would pass through Osaka and meet the sea.   The Taoists, and many other philosophers after them, give ample reason why water is one of the most powerful forces there is.  Yet I had one power that water does not have.  That was the ability to turn and head back upstream.

On the turntable:  Mark Knopfler, "The Ragpicker's Dream'

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Tracking the Kamo II

I waited three days for the rains to subside.  And once again, the rivers were scaturient.  I removed my mask and sat a moment to enjoy the strong scent of wet moss, of damp.  Then I turned my feet toward town. 

Moving back toward the city seemed a fitting metaphor.  During the time of Corona, I'd spent a large percentage of my time in the mountains, climbing two or three peaks a week, taking advantage of the good weather of spring, and partly to stave off the ennui of staying home. And with things appearing to calm somewhat, I was making my way out of the hills, and back to a peopled land. 

The bus, the first public transit I'd used in over three months, dropped me where I finished my last hike, at Iwayabashi.  Aside from the tidy inn, it was a pretty ramshackle hamlet up here, and an single glimpse was not enough to tell whether or not some of the houses had occupants.  A few of the homes were tidy, with neat little gardens girded against animal raids. Atop a hillock at the bend in the Kamagawa stood a small temple, and the number of graves out back hinted that this area had once been more prosperous. 

The river, which had been concreted beneath the hamlet, now began to again run wild.  It began to pick up speed as it dropped considerably into a deepening gorge.  The valley was cut deep here, and the road, hardly wider than a single vehicle, hung to the eastern edge of the hills. In places where the valley broadened stood the inevitable house, or two.  A few people were out in their gardens, well tended and as lush as the surrounding vegetation and trees.  The largest and most well-kept house was home to a cafe that offered simple lodging, which would make a pleasant place to watch fireflies on a clear summer night.  

At Hakubai-bashi, the Kamogawa made an almost 90 degree turn to the east.  In this nook, someone had built an archery range, utilized by the university clubs in town.  The surrounding houses were almost fortress-like, taking advantage of the breadth of the valley.  Among them was a stone marker that claimed this as the headwaters of the Kamogawa. I knew different.  

This attractive little hamlet seemed well-looked after by the gods of the nearby Itsukushima Jinja. The roots of the shrine went back to the mid Heian period, when it bore the impossibly Hawaiian-sounding name of Amastuiwatowakewakahime Shrine.   These villages, then and now, supplied the old capital with lumber.  With the downsizing of local gods during the Meiji period, many ancient shrines and gods were consolidated here, and the shrine's name had been changed in order to hide the Buddhist connections, at a time when that religion was being suppressed by the new regime.

But Buddhism went on to survive, as attested by Koun-ji, a zen temple just up the road.  As I was climbing the steep flight of moss-covered stone steps I realized I had been here before.  This village of Kumo-ga-hata holds it own fire festival in late August, when the adjacent hillside is set blaze to reveal a Chinese character, in a mini-version of Kyoto's famous okuribi.  I visited this in 2007, as written in the first half of this post.  And this village might have taken on a greater role in my life, as we nearly moved here upon our return to Japan in early 2012 (as detailed in the last paragraph here).  I'd thought at that time that I would try to study here at this temple. Today I saw no evidence of a priest, though the temple building looked sound, and a brief chat with a friendly woman in the house below assured me that the festival is still held.        

I descended to where I remembered that old house as being, and was shocked to find that while it still stood, it was currently being used as a dumping ground of sorts, with rubbish stacked high all around the grounds.  I remember the house as being beautiful, with the character of age.  As I walked away, shocked, I began to play, as I do, the game of alternative existences.  I imagined that training in Zen.  I imagined helping carry the old Omikoshi that I'd seen inside the shrine. I imagined my daughter going to school just up the road.  But at the time it had been impossible, as I would be traveling a lot for work, and the little Mokumoku bus that wended its way along this narrow road only ran twice a day.  My daughter's mother would have felt terribly isolated, particularly with an infant in the house.  It's a bit sad really, thinking that we could have brought more life to the place. And I wonder what impact it would have had on our marriage itself.  For that, much like the house itself, didn't survive either.         

In the next hamlet I spied a young family, perhaps living in the house with the large banner that faced the road, admonishing us all to protect the beleaguered Article 9 Peace Clause in the Japanese Constitution.  The government has just as aggressively been going after the forest here too, as right at the edge of the houses here is the first of the clear-cuts I'll come to today.

The dotted hamlets of Kumogahata were behind me.  The road curved and bent to follow the twists of the river.  It was well below me now, its white form easily seen through the dark green, rain-sodden ceders.  Along the way, the Kamogawa made a complete elbow bend. A sign here warned of bears.  Little wonder, as the forest above was now gone.   Even without the bears, I was rarely alone. Bicyclists and runners had been sliding past all morning, one of the later stopping to soak his head under a pipe extending from a small rivulet that flowed into the Kamo.

The road dropped steadily as I drew closer to town, eventually reaching a certain equilibrium with the river.  All along here were small shacks piled with bags of salt.  And the third cut was the deepest.  Most of this may have come down in a storm, as higher up were the tell-tale cross hatching trunks.  Below this though all had been shorn, even those bedecked with tape, which are usually designated as those to be left standing.  But there was comfort in the fact that the new growth was coming in lush and varied.

The clear cut remained above me for a good twenty minutes as I carried on.  Some men were working on replacing the electrical lines.  Another group was either widening or shoring up the road,  liberally pouring concrete.  There was more lining the riverbed, perhaps in conjunction with a structure that looked to be a small hydroelectric plant.

Where the forest began again, the Tokai Shizen Hōdō dropped in from the left, descending from Yonaki-goe Pass.  So apparently I'd walked the stretch before, as the TSH went all the way down to the city.  There was a bit more traffic now, though from where I couldn't say.  Not long afterward, the Kyoto Isshu Trail joined us.  There was a small party of hikers here trying to make out the route, but they quickly disappeared into the trees again.   

The road from Iwakura similarly came in, then turned to follow the Kamogawa into town.  Here too, the river dictated where the road would go, its swollen waters running nearly as fast as the cars above.  Finally the broad Kyoto river valley opened up before me.  The Kamo and I had reached the city proper.    

On opposite banks, schoolboys were playing a game of baseball.  Here the river suddenly slows and becomes a popular place for families to take a cool dip in summer. It was humid but not too hot today, so there weren't that many people in the water.  During my first hot summer in Kyoto, I too enjoyed the waters here.  A friend and I had biked upriver, under the assumption that to get as far north as we could, we would be above any pollutants.  But I hadn't liked the smell on me when I toweled off, and it was only later that I learnt of the euphemistic "Clean Center" rubbish incinerator hidden in the hills just above.      

Just below this calm stretch of river, the waters dropped over a set of double falls. This Hiragino Dam was erected in 1941 to control sediment build-up, after a flood a decade earlier had washed away thirty-two of Kyoto's forty-one bridges.  Occasionally you'll see older boys daringly playing in the foam between.   Some of them probably live in the dense tangle of suburban homes that begin here.  Many homes facing the river were made up to resemble cozy Western cottages.  But no matter how nice the domicile, it would be impossible to ignore the ugly factory across the water.  This seemed a double insult in that the pair of hills behind stands the Okunokiya, or inner sanctum of Kyoto's important Kamigamo shrine.

On the far banks I saw the familiar training grounds for what they call "Cinematic Horses," which never fails to bring to mind the ending of the film, Kagemusha.   Nearby stood a pair of rice polishing machines, probably to service the odd rice fields that still exists between the new-fab homes.  Thirty, perhaps even twenty, years ago, this would have all been rice fields.  One industrious person kept in touch with their inner farmer, selling tomatoes in little coin lockers in front one their house.  

The riverfront trails now began, one on either side.  Life was beginning to appear.  A pair of old men sat on benches in the shade.  A woman plucked a shamisen.  A middle aged man lay sunbathing on one of those wooden decks that appear from time to time.  I came to the first of the Kamogawa's many bridges, the Nishikamogawa-bashi, which looked somewhat French in its design.  A number of people crossing above wore black, heading to a similarly faux-French wedding hall behind the trees on the east bank. 

The river moved fast through its now concrete bed.  The frequent sets of waterfalls served as brakes, but still the usually towering reeds now lay flat, as they often do during rainy season.   One set of benches had Auduban type drawings of the river fowl, though conspicuously missing was the grey heron, which, besides the Kamogawa namesake duck, is the bird most often seen here.  And all along, the river was lined with the spikily lush deutzia bushes that bloom a eye-catching bridal veil white in May.

A black lab scooted down an embankment to fetch a bobbing ball that someone had lost in an eddy.  He shook himself, spraying water across the first of the Kamogawa's many distance markers.  Sixteen kilometers until the end at the Katsuragawa.  I still had a good ways to go.  

The grand trees of Kamigamo Jinja appeared to the east.  The city has been widening the bridge that leads to the shrine, probably to accommodate the coaches that serve as a sort of pulse of the tourist boom in the city.  I was always puzzled as to why they'd widen this bridge to four lanes, when the road immediately narrows again to two on either end, hemmed in by the businesses that line those sections.  It felt to me that this will simply lead to more congestion.  I wondered if even the shrine's eight myriad gods could comprehend Japanese bureaucracy.  

What I did know is that I would stop here today.  I'd already walked the next stretch two years ago with Chris.  More precisely, while my feet would continue to carry me home, it was here that I'd stop my brush, to paraphrase Basho.  I'd pick things up again down at the confluence with the Takano-gawa, at Demachiyanagi.      

On the turntable:  The Moody Blues, "This is The Moody Blues"

Monday, June 22, 2020

Tracking the Kamo

I'd been waiting for a hole in the weather, and being rainy season, I'd been waiting a week.  All the rain seemed fitting, as what I had in mind was tracing a river.  Due to that week of bad weather, the water I was now walking above was literally racing down toward sea level,  Yet the water I was after was in the next watershed.  I didn't expect to reach it until later in the day.  

Maps of the region show that the source of Kyoto's famous Kamogawa has its origins on the slopes of Sajiki-ga-take, a 895 meter peak just north of the city.  The river could be considered the origin of Kyoto itself, as its Imperial founding fathers found it fit ideally within the dictates of Chinese feng shui that dictated the preeminent architectural principles of the time.  And as feng shui can have varied interpretations, so too can maps.  I decided to seek a place furthest up the mountain, one I'd approach from above, following the tenets of gravity.  I'd loop around to approach the peak from the back, then follow the ridgeline down.  That was the way the rains would fall. 

For the first half an hour or so I walked up the logging road built on the bank of the Sofutani-gawa, which joins the Kamogawa lower down where I parked my car.  It proved to be a lovely walk, despite the tarmac beneath my feet.  The river in particular was ever rushing to my left.  On this day, the waters ran fast and white. 

Despite man's best efforts to maintain these forests, a large number of trees were down, fallen across the river, and crushing the guardrails at the side of the road.  I've wondered before at this, whether this is due to the increasing strength of summer storms, or to the trees being left to grow to such unweildly heights that they topple in high winds, while beneath them, their shallow roots are unable to cling to the sodden soil that slips away beneath.   There was a strange beauty to the crosshatch of trees down the hillside, an infinite number of geographic angles to be found in their corpses.  

This was a death sentence pure and simple, stemming from improper forestry practices.  After the war, extensive logging had been undertaken nationwide, in order to rebuild the bombed out cities.  They'd decided to replant with cryptomeria and cypress, "junk wood" that grows incredibly quickly, and therefore could be utilized for the rebuilding of the subsequent generation.  Somewhere along the line it was found to be cheaper to log the old growth forests of Indonesia, Australia, and British Columbia.  These coniferous forests (or more aptly, plantations), make up 40% of Japanese woodland, and have been essentially left to themselves.  Which has given rise to new problems.  The pollen they give off in spring now causes millions of dollars in absenteeism due to allergies.  And the overcrowding of the trees doesn't allow enough sunlight to penetrate to grow any vegetation at ground level for animals to feed upon.  (You hear very little birdsong or insects there.)  As a result, wildlife has begun to move closer to the neighboring villages for food, which has given rise to more and more bear encounters, and animal raids of gardens and fields.  I rarely saw electrical fences before about 15 years ago.  Now they are nearly everywhere.   

The forestry industry's approach to greater risk of storm damage appears based on the old Vietnam strategy of burning the village to save it.  About halfway into my ascent up the road, the forest nearly disappeared completely.  Enormous stretches had been razed.  (Online photos accompanying reports of recent hikes here show that this forest came down in late November last year.). This act of aggression went beyond a mere thinning before the return of typhoon season.   Like the high walls built along the Tohoku coastline after the 2011 tsunami, it had the feel of an act of revenge.  This was no trim; this was a complete buzzcut.  Where was the Lorax when you needed him?   

I passed the most commonly used route up Sajiki, marked by a hand-carved sigh tied to a stump, pointing up past hundreds of other stumps.  My own route was unmarked, which I would have missed without the GPS.  My 'trail' was now a dirt road hastily cut into the slope.  It led soon enough to an older track, which I followed to a large clearing called Saru-toge.  The trail all but disappeared down the far side, a creek bed with more water than earth.  Footing beneath was all a jumble of moss-covered fallen logs.  I made my way gingerly, taking care not to slip, and ever mindful of vipers who may be hungry and cranky after days hiding from the rain.  (In my concentration I didn't notice the leach that fastened itself to my shin.  It was only hours later at home that I noticed the blood flowing through a smaller forest of leg hair.

The rest of the day was relatively perfunctory: up and over Ishibutsu-toge (disappointingly missing the stone Buddhas of its namesake); along the ridge to Sofu-dani and its quartet of ancient trees (a place right out of a samurai film, the type of place for ambush); and further on to the summit.  The route down was a potpourri of Japanese trails: wide paths, broad forest roads, narrow animal tracks down steep hills. The ridge gradually led downward, and with a sharp left turn, began to level off.

This was the headwaters of the Kamogawa.  There were a handful of graves here, no doubt priests from the Iwaya Shimyō-in temple further on.  A half-dozen Roku Jizo stood watch from atop a stone wall, and another, standing alone, had luckily been missed by a toppled tree, its calm face beaming innocently from through the boughs.    

The trail now followed the Kamo, criss-crossing the stream a number of times.  The skeleton of a massive tree lay across the stream bed, from behind which a deer ran out, stopping uphill to look down at me as I passed by.  Beyond this was the new growth of an old clear cut.  While one quarter of the slope had been reclaimed by juvenile conifers, the rest had been allowed to grow wild, now a riot of varied shapes and shades of green.  It gave one some hope that those horribly decimated places could eventually reclaim themselves.  

Around the time when the temple roofs appeared, the temple priest himself popped up from the river, clad in heavy wellies and a mask in his breast pocket.  We chatted awhile, he worried about leeches, though assured by my long trousers.  I'd meet his wife a decade ago, finding we made mutual friends within the Kyoto Journal contingent, and as we talked about Gary Snyder and Royall Tyler, I thought that these must be interesting people indeed.  When I mentioned this conversation to the priest, he said, "Ah Snyder!  That brings back memories."       

And Shimei-in temple itself was quite memorable, with its rocky precipices behind, and the massive moss-coated boulders I'd been passing all the way down.  The temple was said to have been built by Kukai in 829, though the roots go back to 650 with En-no-Gyoja, founder of the yamabushi sect.  This went on to become a place of training, once so grand that by 1550, forty buildings filled the valley.  The principal figure of worship for the yamabushi is Fudo-myo, and his statue here is supposedly the oldest in Japan, carved by Kukai himself (that jack-of-all-trades).   More recently, renowned writer Shiba Ryotaro wrote an essay described an unusual night spent here, and a later conversation he had about it with Miyazaki Hayao served as inspiration for the latter's "Princess Mononoke."

Most relevant to this piece is that the water deity was enshrined in a cave here, which legend has it as the true source of the Kamogawa.  Perhaps symbolically, it was to this temple that the last of Japan's many demons was chased from the new capital of Kyoto. It was known as Chimimori, a spirit of nature, one beyond human knowledge.  The pure waters of the Kamo prevailed.  

I followed these waters along the temple's entrance road, lined with ancient Jizo under protective structures of wood and stone.  A trio of small inns surrounded a fork in the road, each with terraces that allowed one in summer to dine above the cool of the flowing waters.  And it is from here that I'd continue to follow the river toward the city another day.  For above came the gathering of rain clouds, ensuring that the Kamogawa will continue to flow on.  

On the turntable:  Miles Davis, "Jazz Classics"
On the nighttable:  Max Boot, "The Road Not Taken" 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Papers: Cid Corman

"We are the nuts of the money tree."

On the turntable:  Charles Trenet, "L'Essential"

Thursday, June 18, 2020


Wild grasses
Grow from cold moss
On Iwabune’s stone lantern.

On the turntable:  Melanie, "Candles in the Rain"

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Stuff from an Old Notebook #10

-Hearing the announcements form the adjacent train station through the ceiling fan in the toilet of my hotel room…

-Sound of cutting bamboo just like shinai.

-A park bench amidst rice fields, concrete chunks still stuck to legs

-The government pours concrete as liberally as its citizens pour soy sauce.

-Minis don't look so mini in Japan.

-Past the dirt walls with tiled grooves run small streams, crossed by narrow concrete bridges. And above, the peaks with shapes more often seen in South American jungles

On the turntable:  Tino, "Tino's Breaks, Volume 5"

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunday Papers: Bernardo Bertolucci

"I have learnt to distrust whatever I read about China in the western press but I have an even greater suspicion of what the Chinese write about themselves in their own newspapers."

On the turntable: Mahavishnu Orchestra, "Between Nothingness and Eternity"

Thursday, June 11, 2020


Saigyō Idō.
Cobwebs mimic
The water’s still surface.

On the turntable: Marty Robbins, "In the Wild West"

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Stuff from an Old Notebook #9


From the air, the mountains of Laos are like little gumdrops.  On approach to Bangkok, you pass over hundreds of flooded paddy fields, and if the sun is right, they light up with a great burst of pyrotechnics.  Light folds around towering storm clouds, bouncing back up off a layer of smog below.

On the turntable: Modern Jazz Quartet,  "Music from Odds Against Tomorrow"

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Sunday papers: Robert Twigger

"The Culture- call it the global hive- has one aim- to get as big and fat as possible. Doesn't matter how many drones and workers die in the process. That's why average health is now DECLINING in the west. In the past an increase in health meant increased productivity and growth of human activity. Now ill health only generates money and goods from rich people. Poor people no longer contribute much to productivity (productivity in the past was increased by volume of workers, now it is increased by cleverness of manufacturing system)." 

On the turntable:  Johnny Winter, "Anthology"

Thursday, June 04, 2020


Black and white and silent films;
Visions of a world 
Where people live under water.

On the turntable:  Micheal Franti, "2004-05-07, Issap Baobab"

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Stuff from an Old Notebook #8

There's a point in playing music where you stop concentrating and "it" clicks. It's as if the music finds you, shuts off your mind and starts to whirl you around like a waltz.  Everything else stops.

On the turntable:  Naked City w/ Mike Patton, "Live Torture Garden Tour"