Monday, March 31, 2003
OTSU INCIDENT, PART III: THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
Well, as if directed by the hands that led us through the maze to the grave of Ernest Fenollosa, on this try we made it in no time at all to the very conveniently located and amazingly accessible Otsu Museum of History to see the Otsu Incident exhibition, which you know all about if you've been following this, and if not, we'll wait here while you go back and catch up.
The exhibition was all we expected, and extremely fascinating as history. Prince Nikolai (on left in poster above) and his cousin Prince George of Greece were given the grand tour on that day in May 1889: rickshaws from Kyoto, a tour past the transport canal that goes through the mountain to Kyoto, a steamboat ride out on the Lake to view the famed ancient pine of Karasaki, then back to Otsu where they toured an expo of local products at city hall and George purchased a fine rattan cane.
Then on through the city (very narrow streets, head-high roofs...and no electric poles!) in rickshaws heading back to Kyoto, when Nikolai was attacked by the sword-wielding Japanese policeman (photo on right above), the rickshawmen deflected the blow, and everybody rushed to subdue the attacker, George beating him with his new rattan cane. Then, according to the exhibition, Nikolai was taken to a kimono fabric shop right at the scene, where he was treated for two heavily bleeding but rather superficial wounds to the right side of his head. The attacker (who had struck because he believed Nikolai was reconnoitering for a future invasion by Russia, a not uncommon suspicion at the time) was then taken away and jailed nearby.
The point of the exhibition, however, was that, following imperial family demands for the attacker's immediate execution, several radical lawyers called for a standard modern legal approach and won out, thereby beginning to wrest the Japanese legal system from imperial dominance. According to exhibition data, the attacker died in the same prison a few months later, of pneumonia. The exhibition showed it all: the endless paperwork involved, the princely visaless passports, detailed maps; photos of the princes, the then-mayor of Otsu City, the governor of Shiga Prefecture, the conservative lawyers, the radical lawyers, the kimono shop owner with his imperial medal, the nationally famous superhero rickshawmen wearing the medals awarded by the tsar and the emperor (they also received huge rewards and generous pensions); the actual sword, the bloody handkerchief with a small bit of the corner clipped off (for forensic DNA research on the findings at Ekaterinsberg), the rattan cane, even the original sign from the shop where the rattan cane had been made, but not one single photo or mention, not one word, of Doctor Usui. Strange. I had been looking specifically for further details regarding the story of this hero who had, according to his own version of events, practically saved Nikolai's life, and there was nothing. Even the leading radical lawyer's wife's photograph was there, but nothing of the good doctor. Re-reading Doctor Usui's story, I note that he says (automatic translation): "It [Nikolai] had been transported in the hall of a hotel in the vicinity... I spontaneously placed then my two hands on the left side of the head of the patient and directed my intra-psychic perception inside the wound." Hotel? Left side? Was he actually there? Was the good doctor... the founder of Reiki... indulging in a bit of creative imagination? If not, why was he left completely out of the exhibition? The mystery continues...
Saturday, March 29, 2003
OTSU INCIDENT, PART II
Last week, you remember, I posted a post about not being able to make it to the Otsu Incident exhibition at the Otsu History Museum, and said I would post about it when we finally made it there. The exhibit ends on Monday, so we decided to go today since Monday would likely be busy for us and Sunday likely busy for the Museum.
So there we were, on our way at last, having been to the Museum before and confident in the normal way of getting there again whenever in our lives we might want to, and we took what appeared to be the same turning as before into the ancient maze of west-side mountain streets that still thread through that part of Otsu, as in all old cities in Japan built around rice paddies (don't get me started on Tokyo), and wound up in some narrow cul de sac under an overpass high in the upper reaches of junglehood, so we headed south, thinking we were lost northward, and wound up in another maze of a big park we remembered seeing as part of the vista from the Museum balcony, and since the upward roads were conveniently closed to traffic we parked and began to walk, but it was getting late; entry to the exhibit closed at 4:30 so we were hustling in what by now we knew was the right direction. Then we saw a map in the park that seemed to indicate that if we continued the way we were going we might not get there, but if we went this other special way we'd get there no-o-o-o problem, and being the trusting souls that we are, we opted for the latter and set off on a stone path into the woods, and I do mean woods, it was Hansel and Gretel in the orient, as the sun was setting and the Museum was closing but whatya gonna do, we had no other plans.
So we plunged on, up and down and in and around through bamboo groves and across stone bridges and up and down stone staircases, and then when we had at last arrived at what appeared to be the end there was nothing like a museum. Instead there was a map on one of those helpful tourist guide poles that said the Museum was back somewhere we'd just come from so we figured forget it and started back, took a wrong turning and, emerging from a wildly overgrown path through tall bamboo, wound up... at the bottom of some stone steps... that led up to the gate... of a temple called Homyo-in, before which an old sign said in Japanese "Grave of Ernest Fenollosa." Sure, I thought. But having little better to do we went up there and through the gate into the grounds of the temple, which had clearly seen much better days, there was a tarp over the roof and all buildings were closed up tight with no one around, and all the gates open, but the view was splendid, as we were in shadow while all below and the Lake was still sunlit.
And over there just ahead a bit was a crudely hand-lettered sign pointing up some stone steps into the forest behind the temple, we went up there into the deepening shadows and sure enough, there was the actual grave of Ernest Fenollosa himself, the most seminal western scholar in Japanese history, and recipient of the highest imperial honor ever bestowed upon a foreigner, among his countless other honors and accomplishments. And here he was resting almost a century now in this very quiet and apparently little-known place. The man was a hero in my own past; countless times I had seen his name in just about everything I'd ever read about Japanese culture. Indeed, part of my reason for being in Japan could be traced back to him and his work. Among many others he influenced Hearn, Pound, Yeats, all the way up to Rexroth, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder in our own day, the list lengthens and widens and his influence goes on. Yet with all my time in Japan I never even knew he was here, at this now declining and unvisited temple that he loved for its beautiful view. (He had become a Tendai Buddhist at this temple (imagine the radicalness of that in Victorian times!!), and spent much time here.
Fenollosa died suddenly during a visit to London in 1906 and in his will requested that his ashes be placed here. The temple still has the telescope, globe, favorite chair, oil lamp and gramophone he left on his last visit, but they wouldn't let us in to see anything; a person on the intercom from deep within who didn't even want to come to the door said they don't show the place anymore. I had the distinct feeling that they weren't all that interested in, or appreciative of, the heritage in their charge.
There were no flowers at the grave, and only a few coins had been placed on the stone base. I left a one-word note pinned to the stone with a twig I cut from a nearby sakakitree. Perhaps just as amazing as Fenellosa being here, and just as generally unknown: right beside Fenollosa's grave is the grave of William Bigelow, scion of a very prominent Boston family, who also became a Tendai Buddhist and was assistant curator (Fenollosa was curator) of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, to which Bigelow bequeathed perhaps the world's greatest collection of ukiyo-e and other priceless objects of oriental art. But the amazement didn't end there: facing their graves is that of Kakuzo Okakura (Tenshin) who with Fenollosa first cataloged the incredible treasures of Horyuji in Nara, and later wrote the classic Book of Tea. What fascinating stories are here, right here, and not a soul around; nor, apparently, likely to be. Never did make it to the Otsu Incident, but instead stumbled onto something much more profound, that had no doubt been intended all along.
Enough. I'm going on a news fast, and instead watch and listen to the Real News, from the earth and the sky and the season. Here on the blue sky mountain the air is charged with the open-armed excitement of Spring; the plants know something big is coming; they can feel it, they are it as the perfume of life rises from the earth: their limbs are springy and vibrant in the softening wind, each node a swelling pink as on the peach and cherry trees, or white as on the plum; the slender apricot limbs are dotted along their lengths with tiny crackled garnets that glow in the morning sun; the weeping cherry is covered with tiny green brushes that paint the shape of the wind; even the cloudy mounds of pruned cherry tree limbs are swelling with the excitement, and soon we'll have piles and piles of blossoms lying there fulfilling the honor of the occasion. Ready to do my small part, I stand before the softening garden earth, pondering seeds.
Friday, March 28, 2003
CHERRY BLOSSOM FRONT
Enough of war and war's alarms; let's talk of another, gentle and beneficent front, the Cherry Blossom Front, the approaching wave of blossoming cherry trees as it glides north along the country in fragrant pink silence. May it soon wash over you.
I'D HATE TO THINK THAT THIS WAS TRUE.
Amazing excerpt from the "Black Coffee Briefing" Iraq: What Lies Ahead at conservative think-tank AEI.
"MR. LEDEEN: The question was what level of casualties will the American public digest...
I think it all depends how the war goes, and I think the level of casualties is secondary. I mean, it may sound like an odd thing to say. But all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war. And one of my favorite comments on American character, which is Patton's speech at the beginning of the movie, where he says, "Americans love war. We love fighting. We've always fought. We enjoy it. We're good at it," and so forth.
What we hate is not casualties but losing. And if the war goes well and if the American public has the conviction that we're being well led and that our people are fighting well and that we're winning, I don't think casualties are going to be the issue."
If the American public gets the idea that we're doing poorly, that we're badly led, that the war plan is inferior, that we're being outmaneuvered, outwitted, and our guys are dying on behalf of a losing cause, then they will turn against it, and that's the usual rule."
You can read the whole thing here. (Thanks to Ron Andrews for the link)
SO MANY DO.
Regarding the previous post, I remembered a letter sent by an American to a Japanese English-language newspaper not long ago. I post portions of it here:
"Since leaving Japan on January 31 and returning to America, all I have thought about is returning to Japan, a place I often used to criticize but have come to realize as my lifeline. [...] To my astonishment, most people in America believe that everyone in Japan wants to live in America. In Japan, though, I had found out that wasn't true. Many Japanese have no desire to leave their well-grounded society. [...] In America, I'm without feelings of being grounded or having family. In Japan, even as a foreigner with no relatives, I felt everyone was family. All of my American associates residing in Japan should take in as much as they can, for life won't get any better. I will return!"
Thursday, March 27, 2003
SHALL WE EAT?
Chewing on my brown rice the thought occurs to me, gestalting the distinctly American and Japanese portions of my psyche, that despite the vaunted tradition of individual liberty in America, (as though government were the source of liberty) and of individual restriction in Japan, the fact is that things are just the opposite: the individual in Japan is more free in the ways in which freedom really counts, i. e., in the spirit, whereas the American is perhaps more free in a societal sense, but is more restricted in the spirit. And that if you have a free spirit, there is little need for external liberty on a grand scale; whereas if you have only external liberty (the generosity thereof delimited by implicit violence, street crime etc.), you are constantly starved for a greater freedom, and are ever seeking new excitement in narrower and narrower ways. One is thus much freer (which is not to say totally free) within the restrictions of Japanese life: free of religious prejudice, free of the psychological and social restrictions of both implicit and explicit violence; free of fears of all kinds. Including fear of government. Americans fear their government (think IRA, CIA etc.) much more than do the Japanese. And as for social rules, one can, after all, break the 'rules' now and then in Japan, and merely get begrudging tolerance of what is obviously a necessary and presumably temporary whim; whereas if you step over the equivalent bounds in the US (I particularly remember the hassles with long hair, earrings on men; right now, if you're Arabic or French...), it can have severe consequences indeed. America is very vindictive in its liberty [update: here's a perfect example, link thanks to Ron Andrews], even unto the levels of government. Of course I am speaking in a general way, and somewhat from the elevated status given foreigners here (no such status is given foreigners in the US, where foreignness is rather a negative thing to be overcome); but even allowing for this, one enjoys a peace of mind here that is utterly unknown, even incomprehensible, in the US; one does not fear. What is the price of such freedom? In the US, there is a sense of dog-eat-dog; in Japan, it's more like: Shall we eat?
KYOTO JOURNAL #53 NOW OUT
Kyoto Journal issue # 53, Just Deeds (special issue) is now out, and it's a beauty. Go here for a preview, and for info on how to subscribe. Or ask for a copy at your local bookstore. And if you're in town, come see us at the exhibition!!
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
GREAT LITTLE HIGHWAY
Back from the equinox trip we found that T-san had in his country generosity brought more bucked kaki wood and many small mountains of fruit tree limb prunings, for which we are most grateful. I have my firewood work cut out for me for the next few days, for which I am also most grateful, itching to get my hands on lots of physical work after a relatively idle winter. On the trip we got in some long walks and hikes in between stretches of driving. We began with a sprint north to Tsuruga on the Japan Sea Coast and the southern tip of snow country (no snow left on the coast, though) then continued north on Route 8, which for a time curves high along the coast affording panoramas of the sea and the distant peninsula across Tsuruga Bay, then glides lower and narrows to Route 305 (a great little highway fronting on the Japan Sea itself), the kind of local barely two-lane coastal road I love, the distance from sheer mountain to shelf-edge perhaps 50 feet in places, all filled up with living and passing through. The road led on through small towns of ancient fishing clans, boatyards, safe harbors, jetties, fish markets, where we stopped and amid sun-drying fish got the lowdown on the high prices for crab: the ones that have gotten more oceanic exercise are much more flavorful and cost more than the similar-looking but in fact couch-potato crabs. Then there were the hot springs, their tiny parking lots filled with cars of tourists come to enjoy the seaside rotenburo (baths in the open air), and on past floats and nets drying in the sun, the fishermen sitting around in groups talking and repairing till time to fish again, the road turning on through tunnels carved through spurs of the mountain that rises behind, now and then jutting across the road, the houses right up to the road's edge, windows right next to the passing cars... And the way of the light with the salt in the air and in the old folks, always ready to talk to a stranger, seems most of the young folks have gone off, the fishermen mostly in their 50s and older now, a sepia nostalgia palpable here of times perhaps gone by forever, though the folks are still building, there is much here besides commercial fishing-- the scenery, the mountains, the ocean and islands, the hot springs and of course the road, the fishing villages strung out along it like salty silver pearls...
And back again to surfing the web, at once I encounter the self-righteous piping of the armchair warlovers, proudly wearing the faraway agonies as their personal badges of honor and purpose, using violent death as proof of their argument, urging on the young soldiers being led into death and worse by the warlords well out of danger, who call upon patriotism and loyalty and courage, and who will be much richer when all this is over, unlike the surviving veterans. Who remembers the names of Caesar's soldiers? It disheartening to read and to think of, in every aspect. And the bites and bytes and clips of war being marketed like souvenirs at the Circus Maximus by all the major media: deeper than mere sadness to know that there is still such a vast market for war. It's the warlovers who make war necessary.
Monday, March 24, 2003
Posted Monday, March 24, 2003 by Robert Brady
EMERGENCY EQUINOX VACATION
Just back from a four-day emergency equinox vacation on the road from Shiga to Fukui, Gifu, Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures, great stays, great food, great places, great people on random wanderings between predetermined points: no papers, no mags, no radio, the only sign of war was on tv in a very country restaurant with bad reception that showed a green-haired, orange-faced, yellow-lipped Bush as though by the ghost of Warhol, saying something threatening that no one in the restaurant paid any heed in preference to matters at hand, as life went on for the fishermen, farmers, foresters, artisans as it always has. Specifics to be interspersed in days to come...
Friday, March 21, 2003
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Yesterday T-san, the farmer who owns the plant nursery acreage up the mountain from us (just beyond the double bend in the road) stopped by and said he'd heard from the village grapevine that we of this house had a wood-burning stove and were always on the lookout for good firewood anyone might be cutting down for discard; that he had just cut down an old kaki (persimmon) tree on his land up above and was going to cart it away from there and trash it, but if by any chance we did want it we could go and "WHO-O-OSH!!!" he was spinning around in my doorway wrapped in the vortex of my thanks and I was up there loading the wood into my van. Dense, heavy, beautiful wood, makes me wish I had a parallel life in which to start young in becoming a traditional carpenter so intimate with wood as to make a perfectly joined kaki wood work of art that would one day be in a collection somewhere of timeless 21st century artifacts by nameless artisans, but in this particular non-traditional carpenter life that's a few weeks' worth of winter heat right there. (I still have some beautiful cherry wood, though, that I've never been able to bring myself to burn; what's a day's heat in comparison?) T-san said he'd be cutting down another kaki tree pretty soon, I thanked him again and prepared my firewooding tools for further spontaneous whooshing, and subsequent carpenterial wishing. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Smart bombs they're called, to indicate
That sacred mind is portioned here--
What shame, that mind is used to make
Uncounted children disappear.
Monday, March 17, 2003
Yesterday afternoon Echo and I set off into the Rashomon rain (the kind of rain that fell in the Kurosawa movie of that title, seems characteristically to fall in Japan), drove across the Lake Biwa bridge and up the east side of the Lake to Omihachiman, the very old and scenic castle town that has so many ancient festivals, this one being the Sagicho Matsuri (matsuri: festival) at Himure Hachimangu shrine, likely to do with the spring equinox, though no one seems to know quite how the festival originated, except that Oda Nobunaga had something to do with its continuance, he loved festivals and spent a lot of time in this area.
The moatside streets of the town were wistfully beautiful in the heavy spring rain: the stone walls, the arched bridges, the budding trees, and through them all wending the noisy processions of tall, heavy floats carried by groups of all ages, from little kids to teens to elders, the floats all decorated with various local symbols, most prominently a craftily fabricated sheep (this being the year of the sheep), each float to do battle with its counterpart at the gate to the shrine, the heavy floats charging each other over and over till one was toppled.
Any watcher could see this is where Japanese kids (at least the country kids) get their fortitude: after carrying these heavy floats in the pouring rain all the way from their neighborhoods to the shrine they would raise their floats time and time and time again, and charge!!! Until the contest was determined. The victor then entered the gate first, and the floats were carefully arranged before the shrine and set afire, all in the Rashomon rain.
The streets were a soup of float debris, the float bearers all dripping with rain and not caring in the least as they danced in glee around their fire, still chanting with one voice as the flames rose at last, sending all their efforts to the gods.
AND IT ISN'T EVEN RAINY SEASON
I saw the sun for a split second this morning, and I've got the stats to prove it. I work in an office 3 days a week. Taking the past month as a statistical sample, that gives 16 days off and 12 days on. On the 4 Saturdays off, the weather was: rain, rain, rain and rain. On the 4 Sundays off: rain, rain, snow and rain. On the 4 Mondays off: rain, rain, rain and rain. On the 4 Wednesdays off: rain, rain, snow and rain. Of the 12 days on, 1 was rainy, 1 light snow, 3 partly cloudy and 7 were gorgeous clear sunny blue days like they make in heaven, as I verified repeatedly from my hermetically sealed office window. These odds are phenomenal-- as even a strictly non-statistical individual like myself will readily acknowledge-- and violate every known and unknown law of probability in the universe, even moreso than Bush's election. I am writing this, and will post it, on a rainy Monday. Tomorrow, off the to the office in a blaze of sunlight from a blue sky bigger than the world. Then I'm off to a heavily rainy Vegas to make my fortune.
[Addendum: Some hours after I posted this, a bright round golden object appeared in the sky and shone bright warm light upon the land hereabouts. A series of further tests identified it as the sun. I rushed outside and got a couple of hours of gardening in. It pays to complain. RB]
Sunday, March 16, 2003
RECHERCHE DU TASTE PERDU
From a wine review I read in a newspaper a couple of days ago: "...this wine explodes with high-toned fruit in the mouth, but it possesses a rustic edge that will allow it to hold up extremely well with burgers or pizza." I can't wait to try the Chateau Neuf du Fish'n'Chips.
Saturday, March 15, 2003
THE OTSU INCIDENT, PART I
My suddenly crowded work schedule today has absolutely nothing to do with the title hereof, other than that it obviated my plan to visit and post herein about the Otsu Museum exhibit on the little-known Otsu Incident, in which Crown Prince Nicholas Alexandrovich of Russia, on a pleasure tour of Japan in 1891, while touring Otsu at the southernmost end of Lake Biwa (Japan's first capital, just over the mountains here from Kyoto) was attacked and seriously wounded by one of his sword-wielding Japanese police guards. This reputedly was an important pretext to the Russo-Japanese war, which fanned Japan's colonial ambitions. We all know where that led. I will try to make it to the exhibit next week; but for now, for a fascinating read, search Google for Mikao Usui+Otsu Incident, hit translate if you don't read French, scroll down a bit and read the amazing account of the Japanese doctor who witnessed the event and gave Nicholas emergency treatment. He was the doctor who later founded Reiki, a form of which he used in treating Nicholas. Another historically fascinating aspect is that the cloths and bandages used to treat the wound were saved, and recently sampled for DNA to authenticate the remains of then-Emperor Nicholas and his family, murdered by the Bolsheviks, who had grown in power as Nicholas waned with the humbling loss of the R-J War. The tangles of history come full circle, just down the road!!
Friday, March 14, 2003
JAPANESE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO CUT WASTE, GARBAGE 50% BY 2010
Well, I suppose they don't mean the National Diet and local politics; they must be talking about other kinds of waste. For a start, they could have manufacturers and stores sell things that aren't singly packaged, then collectively packaged, tagged all over, then containered, then wrapped in paper, taped, bagged in plastic, then bagged in more plastic--say, maybe they could do something about those refrigerators, washing machines, televisons, car batteries and huge incinerators in the forest, while they're at it!
The fly is praying
with its hands and feet
Thursday, March 13, 2003
TO OUR GENTLE VISITORS
Please excuse the occasional lapses around here (graphic gaps, archive absence, comment cancellation etc.) while Pyra moves us all piecemeal into Google.
OOF!! OUCH!! Hey WATCH IT, willya?!
THE BRIGHTLING THRUSH
Well there must be something in the air, because this morning when I woke up it felt like the same winter chill that has prevailed since Siberia came down for its recent visit, but unlike the last long bunch of yesterdays, the birds were going wild; dawn was filled with birdsong. The manic warbler was back in force atop the still leafless weeping cherry, with a flitter of potential girlfriends darting among the bamboo still bent over from the recent snow. There were some wheatears in there too, and several other blurry dashes of color whizzing around in the big excitement they were taking part in, guess this must be it: the beginning of spring. I was reminded of the closing lines of Thomas Hardy's exquisite Darkling Thrush: "That I could think there trembled through/ His happy good-night air/ Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew/ And I was unaware." Spring was that Hope.
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
HOORAY FOR TOYOSATO!!!
Residents of the beautiful little town of Toyosato across the Lake have taken a very encouraging step for the future of politics in Japan. They have voted to remove the Town Mayor from office, saying that his unilateral actions in attempting to destroy a beloved landmark school do not accord with the feelings of the townspeople. The bullying tactics of the thugs the Mayor sent to carry out his order didn't help much either. This Mayoral expulsion, way under-reported in the Western media, is causing a very big grassroots reaction that may change the face of Japanese politics forever, as the people take back their power from the hands of self-serving politicians.
A pleasant and very complimentary surprise upon scanning my referrals to find that Rebecca Blood, who literally wrote the book on the Blogging phenomenon (The Weblog Handbook), includes Notes in her list of fine weblogs, Weblogs of Place. Thanks Rebecca!!
ONE WORLD, ONE WATER
Well, the 3rd World Water Forum is imminent, as you may know, and there is much doubt as to its likely effectiveness in addressing already current and fast approaching water problems around the world. The Forum is to be held here in the Kansai region, portions of it taking place in Osaka, Kyoto and right up the road here in Shiga, since those regions get their drinking water from Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, which comprises the central portion of Shiga Prefecture. Forum promotions speak of noble goals in regard to the conservation of water worldwide, of preserving forsts and bodies of water and crystal streams for future generations, and for local resident enjoyment and health etc. I plan to be there to point out Shiga Prefecture's own plans to build a large industrial incinerator right in the middle of those virgin forests, beside those crystal streams, above those future generations' sacred Lake whence nearly 20 million people currently drink, and see if the Forum folks have anything to say about those stated motives of theirs. If you would, please visit their not-too-coherently organized site and send them an email voicing your thoughts on this foretaste of your own future water supply, wherever you are in the world. One world, one water.
Monday, March 10, 2003
It's always some place on the road, the long road of my travels, some small town or country place I'm passing through and perhaps never to pass through again that the nameless epiphany comes: not a vision but a feeling, a flash of the light the soul sees by, triggered by some psychic convergence of who knows what elements of the spirit/mind/body/world interface. It began to happen early on, when as a kid I encountered a place on a road that, for no reason I could see, evoked in me that certainty greater than knowledge. Of course back then I had no idea what do with such awareness, especially right in the face of a strictly non-epiphanic education, and after all the subsequent education I still don't have a clear idea what to do with it; but I know an epiphany when I feel one, it's fully distinct from mere reality, so I've always followed epiphanies, and kept them in mind.
And so I've always been on the road. Epiphany is of course the subliminus to Kerouac's serially epiphanic book of that very title; what better metaphor for this nameless, grail-less quest we're on? Notably, moreover, at least in my life, epiphanies never occurred in classrooms or cities, a fact that tended to reinforce my departure therefrom ASAP, because if an epiphany does anything at all, it INVITES, and so I began to hitch-hike at an early age, out into and around the countryside.
On my road there was that roadside place beside the Mississippi River in Missouri, where I was suddenly filled with the foresense of a wondrous journey ahead if I continued on: that led to the other side of the world, to children who would never have been born if I'd turned back. Then later on the same journey, going over that hill on a one-lane back road in Indiana brought tears to my eyes at seeing that no purpose is needed; and that turn among the mesas in Arizona that taught more than all the universities in the world.
Not every state had epiphanies for me, because borders after all are artifice, whereas epiphanies are hypernatural confluences of who and where and when that require movement on our part to beget that shimmer of past in resonance with future that is the ultimate and eternal present, which anyway is the fundamental business of roads. And thus they lead on, those sirens of the soul.
That small town street corner one night hitching through Virginia, that had in it the heart of all small towns (I've found that heart in so many countries since) and that has meant so much to me across the years: my alter-home town around the world. For of course these wayfare illuminations aren't exclusive to the US, they can be found along roads and other paths of movement anywhere, as I was to learn, though the US nodes perhaps resonate in my native grain. All have become memorial in me, and taught me love of serendipity.
That curving road in Vermont that had all time in it: I'm there yet; and that one up along the northern coast of Maine, that held in its open moment the spirit of everything that grows. It seems these road epiphanies are glimpses of a vaster place than we perceive within the limits of merely wide-open eyes: they are the power points, the tsubos on the meridians of this world and of its moments, and as I pass by them or through them on the meridians of my life, it is as though new vastnesses are revealed in the realm of what I guess you'd call my soul, and I feel spiritually certain of something I've never been able to define, let alone confine, religiously.
Then the road is the road again, and I carry in me the "place" I just passed, and can "go" back there and experience its totality at any moment, no matter where I later am. And it doesn't even have to be a road; a path will do, a path through the woods can be rich with epiphany. What seems to matter in all this, though, is that one is journeying. Not just routine transit from one place to another in the endless loops we tend to make of our lives out to the garage or off to the classroom or office, but commencing a journey beyond simple movement through life; a quest, in other words, of one kind or another, with no particular grail in mind. One thereby embodies the transience to which epiphany comes, as dawn to night. As up on that mountain roadside among the pinons in Colorado where all time was opened to no time...
Of course, you can't make epiphanies happen. More often than not, the epiphanic place is scenically nondescript, there is nothing remarkable or distinct about it; one would never choose such a place over its myriad vicinities as a site of epiphany. Scenic places are more often forgotten for their scenery than remembered for that other power, which is not of world or fashion. Interestingly, all the epiphanic places seem somehow to link to the same source, and cause the same awareness-feeling to shimmer beneath the particular. The place of epiphany is fecund, it is full, it is nurturing, it is joyous. In other words it is more than the mere place it appears to be, much more; it is a windblown veil, a gate to the Big Elsewhere.
Some say my epiphanic places are places I've known in past lives, and that what I'm feeling is the distant echo of ancient memories, sweetened with the savor of immortality. I've had epiphanies here in Japan too, of course, in my wanderings around. So perhaps I was once Japanese. But then I know it is more than past lives, more than life, that this light tells me of. Each time the Big Elsewhere suffuses that particular when and where of me it is a starry surprise. Indeed, if I expect it, or desire it, it never comes; only when I get well out of the way is there room for a spark of eternity in the humdrum; before the epiphany, there is never any expectation that this place, this one-lane road through a swamp in Georgia, or this tiny dirt road past a dilapidated house across a stream in Shiga, or this curve in a waterway in southern Malaysia, will be one of the places I'll never forget as long as I live, and maybe longer. Maybe that's the true power of certain places we pass along the roads we call our lives, on our way to elsewhere.
snow on the windows
steam from the tea
Sunday, March 09, 2003
On cold winter nights like these very ones, back in Tokyo in 1972 I first heard a group of folks wandering the alleyways around my old house in Mita, making a loud clacking sound (like the sound I soon found out precedes Kabuki plays), then sing-songing a strangely affecting chant, "Hiiiinoyoooojin!" over and over. It was the neighborhood firewarders, groups of neighbors taking turns each winter week to stroll the byways every night at about bedtime, warning everyone to be careful of fire at this most fire-prone time of day. Many folks then were still using charcoal, kerosene or occasionally electric heaters to warm themselves, could fall asleep and set a whole neighborhood of conjoined wooden houses ablaze. And here in this rural village the tradition continues even now, though there's much less need for it with modern stand-alone houses. It continues, I suspect, because there's always been more to it than fire safety: it's also a community reminder of residents caring for each other, an affirmation of being neighbors, of being familiarly together in this, of getting together and strolling the dark streets in a group, taking turns calling out: "Hiiinoyooojiiin! Be careful with Fire!"
GET YOUR COLON CLEANSED OVER THE INTERNET
The strangeness of spam is growing apace. For a long time now, every time I open my email I've been offered a chance to lose several hundred pounds for only a few thousand dollars, have my breasts enlarged and various parts of my anatomy lengthened or invigorated or uplifted or whatever. Now, from the patently reputable address of Colo_nCleans_ehixxx@yahoo.com comes the offer of a cleansed colon for only "just under $52.00." For that price, SleazeCo. will send me something never mentioned specifically: no clue whether it is a device, a substance, a sheaf of instructions or just a map to the nearest clinic. But the fact that such quality communication (and all the other low-life literature) is filling more and more mailboxes is an indication that the sleazeball senders are getting some response and making some money off the fears and ignorance of few or many in the internet world. And when at last the colon scam runs out of gullible colons, they'll offer to sell you a surefire way to make money on the internet hand over fist, the entire good-health sales package only just under $52.00, all underhand, no overhead, addresses included, at this untraceable address.
Saturday, March 08, 2003
THE WHOLE WIND
The wind in the city is not the whole wind, not the real wind, but torn up and scattered fragments of wind that have little relation to the entire living organism we hear at our house in these spring-bearing nights of wind coming toward us like a giant animal, a vast cat that comes sliding roarily across the forest tops and grabs the general landscape, tosses it about with lightning skill and deftness and is gone; you lie abed listening to it go, sinking into the silence it leaves behind where soon at the bottom you hear the depths of heaven until here comes another one and so it goes on until you tire of the game and doze off into a sleep that like the night is full of the cats of wind pouncing everywhere at once...
There's a growing to-do in blogland about the integrity of blogs that go commercial, extrospection prompted by the Google purchase and Mountain Dew's unctuous Raging Cow campaign, as the business world discovers this amazing new blogging phenomenon, and now the blogosophers are pondering whether it's ethical to carry ads, blog blog blog. What's new, and what's the big deal. Commercial blogs will be instantly marked as sellouts of commensurately diminished integrity and, if apparent integrity was their strong point, they will be routed around or get dropped, just like lousy tv programs. It's the real world in here too. Bad taste, discernment, filet mignon, Cheetos, warts and all.
Friday, March 07, 2003
At dawn this morning, I looked out the window into the snowy mist and there with my very own eyes beheld the culprit at last. There in the dirt scattered upon the snow stood the dastardly dirt-digger who has been disinterring the composted garbage from wherever I bury it in the garden-- only to now and then find it dug up again a day or two later-- but leaving no sign of who had done it. I should have known. At first I'd thought it was a tanuki (Japanese racoon), who are mythically renowned in Japan for their trickery and deceipt; but then, not having seen any tanuki around recently, I began to think it might be the dogs from down in the village, who are known to wander about some nights; but in mid-winter? So I'd thought my garbage deposit was safe this time, especially since it had snowed heavily just after I buried it, hence it was under many centimeters of snow as well. But this morning, as I say, there in the mist, glowing in all his redness, gleefully digging dark dirt up onto the pure white snow and being monitored carefully by Dr. Crow and his shapely crowette-- two fluffed-up chunks of blackness, blobs of leftover night shuffling from foot to foot atop two garden stakes-- was the Dancing Fox. The dark duo sat there nightfully grumbling, bundles of feathers waiting their turn, saying get the lead out will you foxy, you've had enough, don't be greedy-- when he had done all the work-- and at last Fox finished his delicate browsing (or couldn't stand the constant nagging) and left the scene on bouncy tiptoe, at which point I turned the bedroom light on and the corvine couple cursed loudly over their shoulders as they flew huffily away from their rightful turn at the luscious banquet that just lay there, awaiting their discerning beaks.
Thursday, March 06, 2003
What a strange and spiritually alien concept is 'retirement,' premised as it is upon strange assumptions, all of them negative and detrimental, inimical to the spirit and its natural course: a tacit admission that what you do is not your true life's work, but something that keeps you from it for most of your lifetime, in return for which sacrifice you are compensated with the duty to pay taxes and health insurance premiums and social security, then one day when you reach 'retirement age' you will have your own time back again, and can return to your true life and its true calling, if you can recall it. You can only retire if you haven't been doing your life's work. "After you retire, you can live the life you've always wanted to live." But by then you're so far from who you really were as to be lost in time. "Retirement brings security." Well not only is that sheer bull, it can be a painful goring, as so many imminent retirees are about to find out, and then the flood of baby boomers. So you folks that are coming along behind, don't swallow all the propaganda unless you're comfortable with it. In the first place, 'security' is just a word insurance salesmen use to up the premiums you'll never see hide nor hair of; there's no such thing as security outside yourself. That's the first thing you learn in the wilds of life, where thrive all the arts, action, adventure, discoveries, revelations, epiphanies, excitements and beauties. Social security is a big pyramid scheme. The whole of society has for decades taught us as children that life consists of a career and its end, and that this is the only path open. I remember getting my social security card when I was 14 and getting my first taxable job (now you get your SS# at birth!!), and hearing that I'd have to retire at whatever age they'd set it at back then; I remember trying to figure out what in the world it meant: me retiring in 50 years was somewhere beyond the far reaches of the solar system. But the idea that whatever I was doing, I would be forced to end it, was very disturbing. So as soon as my college loan was paid off I quit and took my life back. I took to the road. That would be my life's work.
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
FIFTEEN CM OF SNOW MY FOOT
So much for my weather-reading skills. Woke up this am and there was snow drifting a meter high out on the deck and in the garden, burying my optimistic seeds. Looking out the window at the stasis of snow as the entire house rises steadily through the sky, taking the world with it, trees and roads and lake and mountains and all, rising into a sky without end... and in the grove the silent cedar grove where snowflakes whisper crystal secrets to each other the branches cradle the gathering snow as the fruit of this season, the snow outlining each needle in a suave of whiteness like the hairs in the eyebrow of a lover in an ancient painting done with a brush made of the lover's hair...
COCA-COLA IS A SWEET TOOTH FAIRY
Aren't juridical bodies really nice people? This cynical drop-in-the-bucket generosity reminds me of the nice old dentist-man of my childhood who, after drilling and filling my childhood cavities, gave me a nice big lollipop out of the goodness of his heart, and sure enough before long I was back in his chair again, looking forward to another lollipop...
Tuesday, March 04, 2003
BIG BROTHER IS SURFING YOU!!
Pure Land had two interesting hits earlier today, very close together: one from "Department of State, United States," and one from "Department of Energy, United States." Is Colin gonna cut off my power because of what I said about George II? Anybody else out there been surfed by whole US Gov't departments? I'd better double-check those IRS form 1040s. Better double-time that; just had a hit from the US Army...[added March 15]
THE HEART OF BRIGHTNESS
Big surprise of snow last night after big winds of change, this morning sky a swirl of pearlescent gray, though nothing like you'd expect for the cusp of yukiguni, 10~15 paltry centimeters; still, it's white and silent with that particular spatial beauty mountainsides afford, and delights in having fire somewhere at its heart, as for example in our stove. The only ones unhappy with the snow are the crows, who hate snow because it's so damned white and makes them stand out like the sun would stand out if it shone at night, even though that's what the sun does, actually, but the simile works in a weird way. Anyhow, being the color of night, crows prefer to be part of the big shadow that pervades the day, and are generally very at home standing hunched over unseen in trees, one with the shapeless shadows, spying on everything, chuckling now and then or playing a prank, until they feel it's time to assert themselves by laughing raucously at the world. And then snow comes along and ruins the fun. I see a caucus of crows huddled forlornly in the leafless trees across the field, all hunched up in individual disgruntled bunches of wet black feathers, not even harrumphing to each other, no escape from this devilish unblackness, just scrunching their snow-covered shoulders and leering black-eyed at the unsightly whiteness of it all, so damn pure and soft and yah-yah, no sense of fun whatsoever, just this ridiculously sculptured passiveness you can't even eat or walk in it's disgusting, a couple dozen bedraggled silhouettes over there in the bare branches, the bitter dried-up fruits of night, waiting till one day they are invisible again.
Utter Non-Sequitur Department
It's interesting to read all those gun-loving macho rightist patriots angrily asserting their deeply heartfelt compassion for the plight of the poor maltreated Iraqi people under the despotic bootheel of that gun-loving macho rightist patriot...
Saturday, March 01, 2003
THE WILD NEIGHBORHOOD
One of the many fine things about Japan is the way in which sansai (lit: mountain vegetables) are an integral part of just about everyone's diet. Even in the cities, where the hunger for the "natural" is growing apace, some sansai are showing up in the supermarkets, though those are usually grown on farms, not wild. Wild is inimical to business. Apart from being free (actually, at the price of nice walks through nice places) and affording good exercise in the harvesting, sansai are organic, low-calorie and seasonal: the ideal food.
This time of year whenever I'm out on one of my meanderambles I find that my eyes are already automatically scanning the damp spring earth for early signs of the first sansai to show its face after winter: the piquant fukinoto (butterbur buds). I tasted a miso-pickled version (fukimiso) this winter that was just dynamite, and want to try to make some from the emergent hordes of fukinoto we find around here every year. (If you want the recipe, email me.)
These wild meadows are the perfect place for gathering fukinoto when it first peeps its pale jade-encased chick-yellow blossoms above the dull brown ground of winter's natural compost, and once you've spotted one fukinoto surprise you right away begin to spot the others emerging beneath the tangled carpet of last year's wildflower stems as your hunter's eye catches on, and soon you're heading home with a bagful of fragrant buds.
Then later comes fuki itself, the fan-like leaves of the same plant, whose stems make a crispy pickle. And not long after, into the new warmth comes taranome, the emperor of sansai, my eyes pick out the tall, thin, brown, viciously thorned stems (having seen what monkeys can do to trees with delicious leaves, I understand thorns much better) poking up here and there; my eyes also note how far along the bud development is. Timing is essential in sansai, and by that I mean getting there first, for soon the twos and threes and larger groups of folks from near and far will be coming here in the spring ritual of wandering around the mountains with baskets, harvesting nature's excellent produce.
We have special places where we pick our fukinoto and taranome and the many other varieties of sansai there are; such 'secret' places become kind of family heirlooms out in the country, like the best places to find matsutake (pine mushrooms). But of course it's best to live right in the wild neighborhood, as we do. I just got back from a fukinoto meanderamble this rainy morning, but it's too early yet. I'll put up some photos when it's time.