Monday, September 30, 2002


Talked to an elderly farmer gentleman, one of the old family names around here, he stopped in his truck when he saw me standing outside with a shovel, sweating with no shirt on beneath my cowboy hat, looked me over for a few seconds, got out and ambled over, started to talk the way breezes start to blow; a most natural and unhurried individual, genetically conditioned by centuries of winds and waves and germination on a mountainside above a lake on an island that one day came by some quite subordinate process to be called Japan. He said that the rain had been good so far, had been bad last year and he didn't know if it would be good next year, no depth of consideration required where such would be folly, a wisdom lost in the citified world, most certifiably in the stock market. We chatted of everything from farming to the Heian era to poetry and snowfall as he lit a cigarette and smoked it to ash and then went on his way the way a breeze goes on its way.

Saturday, September 28, 2002


And I, oh I of little faith, castigating the chestnut tree as infertile, unproductive, judging by the bug-infested husks I found beneath it last year (having knelt on one in the grass and been stabbed multiply in the knee as by a sea urchin), and empty green ones in early September, at 6:00 this morning I was out harvesting the windfall of chestnuts, going OW! OO! OUCH! as I tried to pick them up in the dim light without gloves, trying to grab maybe one spine only...

Then, remembering another technique I had seen, I had to stop every few inches and winkle out a good-looking chestnut or two from the burrs scattered all over, using my feet the way the farm women do when harvesting chestnuts, stepping a foot on either side and forcing the chestnuts out, and how startlingly beautiful to the morning eye, when suddenly from the drab and spiky husks emerge those sleek, brown-coated thoroughbreds that fill my pockets, the morning silence the while punctuated by further thuds from the chestnut tree, the burrs falling, some bursting, spilling their contents out on the ground, others simply lying there voluptuously spiky in the grass.

And voluptuous is the word, with every bit of the quality of unmistakably overt sensual invitation to all comers, whether bugs, birds, beasts, or botanically lascivious guys like me. There are few sights more resplendent in their way than a thorny chestnut chest bursting like pride with its treasure on the dewy morning ground, glimmering brown gems even in the early light; and when husked and in a heap, how earthlovely is that deep glossy brown plumpness!

Rich brown chestnut-bulging husks all over the ground at my feet, I had a couple of pounds of chestnuts within a half hour, a process of great delight as being so direct and immediate in the link between me and all, like breathing, like sex, like being born, like dying, the ecstasy that pervades it all, so manifest in that brief burst of indistinctness from all that is...

And when peeled and boiled with rice, the chestnuts led me to experience first-tongue the deliciousness of kurigohan (chestnut rice): fresh and chesty chestnuts, steamed to just the right degree together with brown rice, become flavor and mouth-feel ambrosia when bitten into.

Later in the afternoon, home alone watching the veils of silver mist obscure and reveal the trees, wondering what could be the purpose of a life spent doing just such things, I realized like the mist and the trees the nature of revelation and concealment, that what is hidden need not be found to be known, need not be known to be worthy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002


These cooling days the hawks are shrilling mating shrills clearly meant to catch the ear, riding the winds and soaring in pairs high, high up in the light-blue pearl of sky brushed with horsetail clouds, and what a graceful expression of love they are on the feathered wing, of the transcendant love they are, even from way down here in the mundane distance you can feel how it must feel, how splendid it must feel to fly and tumble head over talons in love, voyeur that you are, and feel so natural being...

Monday, September 23, 2002


Saturday, to view the harvest moon we went to Hikone castle (the white sunlit pinpoint ENE across the Lake) where, as legend has it, Emperor Meiji stayed one night and for its special beauty decreed the castle be spared the fate of the many other castles throughout Japan that were being razed to end the samurai era.

Along the castle gate road, restored to the edo-style buildings of black wood and white clay as in the woodblock days, the shops offered such traditional goods as candles, pickles, fabrics, kampoyaku (herbal medicines), ceramics, sweets, stationery etc., with a coffee shop and a soft ice cream store to keep things up to par.

The road wandered on past lotus-filled moats and the house where Ii Naosuke, the 13th Daimyo (Lord) of Hikone, complained like any teenager of fossilizing while prepping for Daimyohood (couldn't be Daimyo till 35), studying philosophy, calligraphy, martial arts, poetry, zen, tea ceremony and flower arrangement, unlike world leaders of today.

At dusk we joined the surprisingly not-so-many folks who had come to hear the insect orchestra while watching the harvest moon rise over the magnificent pond in Genkyu-en (created in 1677), the castle's garden and guest villa, now a ryokan (what a place to stay!!).

With the night garden lit by paper lanterns and the pathways lined (or barred) with paper-sconced candles, folks with moonlight on their minds drifted toward their selected places on foot around the pond, across its bridges and over its islands (it is Lake Biwa in miniature) or by candle-lit boat across, there to sit sipping tea and conversing in low tones, gazing the while at the castle, itself looming like a moon in white rising on black wings, all waiting for the round bright face of the true harvest moon, the mood slowly subduing before the momentous event in this anciently magnificent yet unsung place out in the boonies only an hour and a half from 20 million people, sky like moonstone, and over all circling again and again the solitary crane with a squawk that sounded like "What are all these people doing in my place?"

Then with a fanfare of deepening silence the moon rose above the trees and fell in silver sparks upon the mirror of the pond rippled by shadows that were swans, as everyone gazed upward with an ancient shared respect until the garden closed at nine and the crane had it all to himself again as he and his ancestors have every night since 1677, with swans, frogs, insect songs and moon.

Saturday, September 21, 2002


Last Monday was old folks day, or respect for the aged day, as they call it, though I didn't notice any increase in respect. Of course I'm not completely elderly yet, but still. Pro rata respect would be good. I had the day off, anyway, so of course the rains came through, dumped a few oceans around the house; no painting the deck or chopping firewood, I was out in the cascading rain (reminded me of the time I went under Niagara Falls) shoveling acorns out of the culverts with a little red shovel like kids use at the beach. Well, can't a guy shovel acorns in the rain if he wants to? Even with a little red shovel? Yeah, all those immature acorns plug up the culverts as good as anything, a fact best realized when the very sky is water. And the red shovel in the pouring rain, talk about memories...

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Spider Lilies (Higanbana*)

And now that the rice fields have been shorn of their treasure of golden seeds, and are reduced to a stubbly beige corduroyed with straight rows of stalk-spikes, with all about to fall into the slowing cold of autumn and thence to the ice of winter, just in the nick of time pops up into the morning the bright red sparkling gems on long green stalks that are the spider lilies, clusters of them rising like hope itself reborn from the culled earth, freshly daring from the verge to bring us the crimson message that there is courage always in the land, there is brightness yet in the dark and warmth in the cold, there is sustenance yet beyond sight, as here to see; and if this is so for the likes of the wisps of these frail clouds unfolding, then how much for the likes of folk as sturdy as we, and so the verge of one more autumn is crossed in beauty

* Higan (Buddhist term for the week around equinox) + hana (flower); Lycoris radiata.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002


What a word is 'chaff,' truly biblical in its power, perfectly conveying the castoff, the useless, the windblown negligible fragment. There will always be chaff. But the bad rap isn't completely unwarranted. Soba chaff, for instance, makes an excellent filling for singularly uncomfortable pillows. As for rice chaff, naturally the big chaff here in Japan, it seems that not much is done with it; each year after the rice harvest there is a surfeit of the stuff, and of the punky scent of its slow burning in situ. Specifically it comprises the rice hulls, of which there are light beige piles everywhere after the grains have been culled, hulled, bagged and stored away.

I've recently learned of the many gardening uses of rice chaff, for example it is an ideal mulch, and soil loosener, among its other qualities. So I've been keeping a lookout for unwanted chaff to use in my garden. But the problem is, how do you tell if a pile of chaff is really unwanted? Just because it's sitting in a pile in the corner of a paddy doesn't mean it's been orphaned. This may be an intercultural thing, but it keeps me from going to farmer-neighbors' doors and asking "Say, do you have any unwanted chaff lying around?"

And is chaff ever really wanted, or is it simply one of those non-commodities farmers have to put somewhere, like worn-out tractor parts? Many of the farmers, as I say, simply burn their chaffpiles right in the fields to get rid of them, generating an aroma that characterizes this time of year (like autumn leaves back in a NY of the past, but much less aromatic) and leaving ash scars all over their fields like geomantic moxibustion. There seems to be nothing systematic about this; some farmers simply let the chaff lie where it falls, some put it in piles at the paddy edge, or in small piles here and there randomly; others lay it down in strips, others mete it out neatly along the rows, some use it to blanket their daikon (BIG radish) sprouts, all of this I suppose reflecting the character of each farmer in some way, and the way he thinks about time, and his fields, how punctilious or fussy or lazy or symmetrically inclined he is.

The other day farmer T., who has a field across the road, drove up with six big bags of chaff (more than twice the size of the conventional western burlap bag) in the back of his truck and, taking each bag in turn in his arms, the bags being nearly as big as he, staggered to a different part of the now dry, shorn paddy and spun around fast and randomly like a kid in a schoolyard, whirling and scattering chaff everywhere till the bag was empty and he went dizzying back to get the next bag.

His was the most fun chaffscatter I've ever seen, by far. That chaff was definitely used, and each summer farmer T.'s rice plants appear to be happier than most. The cattle rancher across the Lake where I get my fertilizer simply scatters chaff six inches deep on the concrete floor of his cattle barn, then every couple days plows it all into big piles outside and lets it heat itself up till it's cured into the finest organic compost in Shiga Prefecture. Folks come from kilometers around to smile as they shovel it into bags to take home and spread on their gardens.

Sunday, September 15, 2002


Night on the pond
one by one the carp
through the moon

Saturday, September 14, 2002


Another weekend spent on the Stair Task. When I went out to delightedly put the finishing touches to my michaelangelic work on Saturday morning, I saw with eyes I somehow hadn't had last weekend that the last riser was four cm too high, which would fool the climbing foot into thinking the riser was the same height as the previous ones and causing stumbles for the next hundred years, couldn't believe I hadn't seen it, even with all those other things to think of, like a cure for cancer, the world economy, the Mets winning the series etc. So I tore the last step out and fixed it, got it the right height only to realize it wasn't centered. So I tore it out again and centered it, only to find out that one riser was in backward. So I tore it out (sometimes the learning curve is more like a flatline), turned it around, put it back in and fixed everything, only to realize that Einstein had no idea what he was talking about. 21 plus 6 equals 27, right? And a 27 cm wide riser-to-riser space would be well covered by a 30cm step, right? Wrong. At least not on my staircase. I think there's some kind of math warp up around my house in the region of the stone staircase, where 27 is bigger than 30. I measured the step: 30 cm wide, as it has always been. I removed it and measured the distance from the bottom of the upper riser to the top of the lower riser: 21 cm. And the thickness of the lower riser: 6cm, as it too has always been. So I put the step back on, and THE RISER STUCK OUT FROM BENEATH THE STEP!!!! Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, you guys had no idea that MATHEMATICS TOO IS RELATIVE!!!! Relative to what, I have no idea, except that it is focused around a stone staircase project in the mountains above a large lake somewhere in the far east that shall remain nameless, lest we get the tabloids over here (RELATIVITY DISPROVEN!! EXPATRIATE VIOLATES EINSTEIN!!). But you have to walk away; you can't let stone staircases drive you stone mad, as Archimedes intimated in his invention of the screw pump. I shall return.

Thursday, September 12, 2002


I saw it the other day, it just sort of jumped out at me from a newspaper article I was skimming on my way to some actual news, and I thought my eyes had deceived me so I directed the derelict orbs to check again and confirm that 'no one would really ever say such a thing in a newspaper, which is supposed to maintain at least the illusion of fidelity to facts,' is I guess what was going on in my interconscious, that part of the mind we live and walk around in and look at the world from the windows of, that we create as we go along out of bits and pieces of what we think was the past and what we think is the present and what we expect will be the future, but yes, the paper said what my eyes had said it said, and I quote: "...a yellowing 1976 newspaper." I couldn't believe it. A yellowing 1976 newspaper?? Didn't they mean 1796? Did they think 1976 was ancient history or something? And stated so cavalierly! Why 1976 was only a couple of... decades... yeah, I guess the paper could be a little discolored by now, if it's been left in an attic window or something, and if you really want to stretch a point, but why say it's yellow, as if we'd all instantly concur, as if 1976 were a universal symbol of antiquity or something? Much more to the point is the fact that even though I'm pretty dogeared myself, 1976 was only a year or two ago in my mind, and I dare say in most readers' minds who aren't mere children of 35 or so. What are these chronically challenged journalists thinking of, calling a newspaper from thence 'yellowing'? Thomas Jefferson's letters are yellowing. Civil war posters are yellowing. A 1976 newspaper is not yellowing. Slightly sepia, perhaps, around the edges if improperly stored. I know that to those handicapped by youth-- those suffering the chronic deficit of limited years-- 1976 might seem a long time ago, but in fact it isn't. And actual, physical newspapers do not 'yellow' all that much in a mere decade or two for the convenience of unconscionably juvenile journalists. Where do they get 15-year-old journalists, anyway? Does the world in its new age believe that 1976 is just so much history? When, then, were the sixties: in the big archive with the pyramids and the fall of Rome? Hell no. Why, even the fifties are still right here, fresh as a new front page: that's me on the high school steps with the guys, listening to Elvis sing Hound Dog over the airwaves for the very first time, just a couple of minutes ago.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002


Who kills in the name of religion is a traitor to God.

Saturday, September 07, 2002


At the village train station, still in the residual throes of commuting zombosis I was getting on my bike to head home up the evening mountain when I noticed a huge nuclear explosion across the Lake.

Actually I couldn't see the Lake, or the opposite shore, because of a postsummer purple haze that in my last moments reminded me of Jimi Hendrix, but the big bright scarlet mushroom was at the right height to be far beyond the opposite shore, then my regaining mind automatically began to seek more acceptable explanations and for a moment I thought it might be the setting sun but alas I realized I was looking east so forget that, so maybe it was some kind of bizarre new sun-reflecting building someone was building over there - perhaps an avante-garde anodyzed neon pinball parlor - but then I could see it was growing slowly and steadily, right before my eyes, just like an atomic explosion, and what else but a nuke gives a slowly growing red mushroom like that, maybe from North Korea, or could it have to do with the Middle East, and so I watched what might be the end of my world erupt ever so slowly into what, sadly, before the recent changes in the world I would have recognized right away as the huge, vivid scarlet harvest moon...

(This post is a journal entry from last year, when the harvest moon was on October 2; this year, it will be on September 21; mark it on your calendar! This addendum is thanks to Fred First, who has a fine country blog.)

Thursday, September 05, 2002


Last night and this morning it rained like in Genesis, so I began assembling materials and selecting two of each of the animals, a male and female when I could find them, otherwise forget it, who has the time these days? Quite a job while it lasted, you've got to do the best you can in trying times, and I was out in the rain herding wild pigs, pheasants, deer, bears, foxes, dogs, cats, frogs, ladybugs etc., and yes, in case you're wondering, mosquitoes too, you've got to be fair in such things and hold no prejudice when justice is in your hands, you've got to be as godlike as you can be under stress, as I've learned in my years at the office, experience that, monotonous as it was, was really no preparation for the task of culling and loading this variety of life forms, funguses even, and weeds of course (post-deluvian gardeners will kill me), into the ark as it was being hastily assembled from the flotsam and jetsam of modern civilization by E and the kids and other concerned neighbors who were interested in what lay beyond the rain and had read the brochures, we got a couple of doves too to bring back olive branches when it was all over, and packed the big picnic hamper and shoved in the van in case there were any roads left afterwards, and the tv, though I didn't see much future for that, still the kids wouldn't go without it, and all the beer and lots of paperbacks and my laptop, maybe the internet would survive, and soaking wet we christened the craft with the leftover wine and when I finally woke up it was POURING rain and I was a half-hour late, with rivers on the road and the train at 1/3 speed. It's these kinds of experiences that make waking working life tolerable, and believe me, Noah has my sympathies.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002


This bright morning I traced a rainbow that arched from somewhere around Steve's house all the way to Mt. Hiei, and stood there swimming in the vision. We get full and long-term rainbows all the time out here, as compared to the couple of minutes of barely distinguishable portions of arc we used to get sometimes in the city, kind of faded and archaeological, like an artifact that disintegrates on contact with modern air, such as that is, but these arches of light we see against the mountains and the Lake are real rainbows, rich ones, wide ones, full ones, all the way from here to there, pots of gold everywhere, from violet to orange with all the in between, and you can't help but stand and ponder (unless for some criminal reason you're in a hurry) that you can't find the edges to the rainbow (but the rainbow is distinct, isn't it; yet it isn't, is it), and none of the colors have an edge but they too are distinct but not, which leads you to realize as you stand there, fully rainbow-minded by now, that this small band of colors we are vouchsafed to see is but a small segment of the infinite stretch of vibrations there are; that sound and gamma rays are of the same continuum, as are all other 'waves,' including us, and why in the world should we see only this little bit, would it be too much if we could see it all; and in a way we're seeing with our ears when we hear sound waves, and hearing with our eyes when we see light waves, and hearing/seeing with our skin when we feel heat waves, all part of the one continuum we chop up into different senses; and in the very same dark-age way that we used to think the world was flat and the sun rose, so we still think our senses separate, our perceptions isolate and all distinct, 20/20, and at the edges where only the senses get fuzzy begins the dogma...

Monday, September 02, 2002


Saturday went to the impressively located Otsu City Museum of History to see an exhibition on the history of Japanese advertising from the Edo era to the 1950s or so, the ads (from woodblock prints and old wooden signs to lithographed posters and signs of paper and metal) to no surprise predominantly promoting drinks and pharmaceuticals and insecticides.

One poster showed a sexy young lady ecstatically spraying her immediate 1920 environment with deadly chemicals; another promoted an earlier version comprising a bent straw through which the kids of the household could blow, spraying toxic chemicals on the insects hovering around their elders, such fun!

But back then there were few rules; thus the surreal sight of a poster featuring a dainty woman in kimono driving a big beer truck in 1911, another young beauty in kimono touting rubber cement for men to repair their bike and truck tires with, another featured a naughty flapper girl with skirt hiked up to here holding yet another beer. In perhaps one of Japan's earliest e-commerce posters, a kimono'd woman talking on a wooden wall phone in a lithographed poster for a Tokyo kimono shop says "For the finest in kimonos, dial 18"! It was totally rad when it came out, much like what is totally rad now.

Things have changed in some major regards, though, the big illnesses then being syphilis and worms; also, the image of Bismarck was a big draw, but the general concerns then as now were bad complexion, bad breath, indigestion, headache and dandruff, one brochure touting a "medico-chemical oily tonic for dandruff scales containing cholestero-lecithin"; another blithely promoted the World Congress for Leisure Time and Recreation in Hamburg, July 23-30, 1936, with the very concept of leisure about to undergo blitzkreig, as evidenced in the wartime propaganda posters (which the Japanese visitors seemed to avoid) shouting how America had killed Japan's friends, and picturing art-deco Japanese bombers swarming over art deco American industrial sectors, others idolizing the kamikaze who stood gazing infinitely into the wind; yet others promoted Japanese war bonds, a bad investment, as things turned out.

There in a several room nutshell was the truth of (not in) advertising (and its bedfellow, politics) anywhere in the world, at any time. I left hoping that visitors weren't viewing the exhibition as merely a cute but simplistic version of a now mature and reliable medium, but as evidence that advertising is no nearer the truth now than it was then.