Tuesday, May 31, 2005



VILLAGE LIFE

And behold it was a village in the countryside, not many hours from the big city; there among the trees, the narrow streets and the old farm houses a festival was going on in which, among the villagers attending – the elders and the drunks, the kids, the mothers and the fathers – young macho handsome guys put on old tapestries like skirts, danced in the streets and didn't even begin to laugh at one another, wore long red hair and masks and gestured crazily in the complete confidence that deep tradition affords, for tradition is a great strength, the bond of a society.

And so it was good, it was food, to go to that far village fest and behold the young performing these rituals as they had been told, and as these village young have always done, for all the young lives till now and without complaint, for this is the tradition of their place, this is what they have been and are living, the tradition of their forebears far back. So it was that the young went through what for the young is hell: a pained and protracted learning of ancient rituals that have no place in this real world, that take time and slow it down then bend it backwards, when all the thrust of the modern world is forward at top speed into a future made in offices.

To their immediately personal eyes and minds, this ceremony was the stuff of old folks but they did it anyway, faithfully; and so, as you could see in their faces, as the rite took place they began to sense the value of this social bond, that through them, and all the eyes on them, holds all this together against the fast-approaching, sky-sized metablob of uniforming change that is oozing toward them and their village on all fronts; it was food to see and know that what is left in the local heart can still hold together in the face of that onslaught, that the young can still be turned to the good of all in a village where not all youth is leaving for the facelessness of the big city world and its apartness, when here the folk and their place are so together-rooted as to germinate hope for the ancient reach of us each in the world, that hearts may bear this hard-won wisdom beyond this new age to where newer lives will take it up, make it their own and hand it down, so that what is good about growth will go on.

Previously published, in slightly different form, in Kyoto Journal #57.

SMITHSONIAN SHILLS FOR INTELLIGENT DESIGN

The Smithsonian Institute, bastion of science, world symbol of humanity's quest for genuine knowledge and public institution, it turns out also sells a little on the side, if the money's right. $16,000 appears to be the street price for the illustrious name and the appearance of its endorsement. (Adamant denials notwithstanding as the money goes into the pocket.) I won't further unintelligence by linking to the egregiously misnamed party with the bucks.

via James Randi

NYT article

Later statement (June 1) from The Smithsonian:

"The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History recently approved a request by the Discovery Institute to hold a private, invitation-only screening and reception at the Museum on June 23 for the film "The Privileged Planet." Upon further review we have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution's scientific research. Neither the Smithsonian Institution nor the National Museum of Natural History supports or endorses the Discovery Institute or the film "The Privileged Planet." However, since Smithsonian policy states that all events held at any museum be "co-sponsored" by the director and the outside organization, and we have signed an agreement with this organization, we will honor the commitment made to provide space for the event."

Also via James Randi

Monday, May 30, 2005


YOKKAICHI KITE FESTIVAL: AMONG THE KITE FANATICS

You know how it is when you build a kite that's bigger than your house and weighs about a ton: on the big day you're set to fly it, it rains, right? It's always the way. So you postpone the big day till next week. And because in the case of which I speak your giant kite is made of bamboo and rice paper, watercolored in painstaking detail with symbols of flight and wind and power, you can't just leave it out in the rain, you've got to store it somewhere - somewhere big - but nothing's so big in Japan that's also empty, so you throw a couple dozen tarps over your kite and wait till next week.

And as is also always the way, next week's big day dawns blue and bright, with puffy clouds just hanging there, like popcorn on a string, in the kitist's anathema: still air. That is, air in which the motion of one's own breath is impressive. So when we arrived late in Yokkaichi for the big festival (postponed last week by rain), it didn't matter: at kite takeoff time there was barely enough wind to lift a tiny paper tissue kite above eye level if several folks blew upward.

In quest of a breeze it took a few hours of massively collective waiting and mob-shifting the huge kite from one direction to another and back again in the dry part of the wide riverbed, but at last in the afternoon the big kite took off, to the sound of an immense sigh from the crowd that seemed to lift the kite a bit higher. I've never seen so many kites or kite fanatics in one place before. It's a great thing to know that so many love what I used to misguidedly think of as a kid's toy. It was a pleasure to stand corrected among them and watch them at their art.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


KITE CITY, HERE WE COME

Off this fine May day to see the Yokkaichi Kite Festival, postponed from last rainy weekend; back later.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


REFERENDUM WITH FROG

As this morning we were returning from our walk, Ms. M, coming down mountain in her car, stopped to chat about the recent referendum on dissolving the town council, as referred to herein a few days ago (update on that: our side lost; the town council will not be dissolved; plans for the spanking new 24/365 gas plasma incinerator in the forest above the Lake will now go forward to meet our next phalanx; also, our township of Shiga-cho will be merged with and become Otsu-cho next year, so that the "hantai" voters hereabouts will have a new town council anyway, with higher taxes and much less influence).

As we chatted on the roadside about such faits acompli, I noticed a bright green frog on Ms. M's car roof. The roof was beginning to heat up in the strengthening sunlight, and you know that story about the boiling frog; also I was thinking that if the frog waits and at last jumps while the car's doing sixty, it's crow breakfast. Since we were stopped beside a rice paddy, while Echo carried on the conversation I tickled the frog in the rice-paddy direction along the hot roof, but since it was cooler where he was than wherever he went, he didn't like to move. He preferred to stand still and broil slowly.

The conversation was winding down, so I tried to grab him; he leaped a big one, then, but into a roadside culvert; so, now that I was committed to this green enterprise I had to bend down and get him out of there, which wasn't easy, since he was hopping freely now. But at last I caught him and set him well-aimed on the paddy verge, where he paused as if to assert and savor his own sovereignty; then he leaped, landed in the cool, bright water and frog-kicked away into its vastness with glee enough for both of us. No referendum ever felt better.

Friday, May 27, 2005


HEAVILY ONIONED GRATITUDE

The other day in the big city office I met Ken Rogers, managing editor of the Kyoto Journal, among other things on his diverse resume. Knowing well of my severe and protracted (if not permanent) dearth of garden-fresh onions, Ken was so kind as to present me with a very large bunch of ruthlessly purple onions from his very own garden to help me through hard times, onionwise. Ken, as you may have surmised, lives just over the mountains in the oddly monkey-deficient regions of northern Kyoto.

I pondered the diversity of nature's largesse as in heavily onioned gratitude I walked from the station up the mountain to my home, jauntily-tauntily flaunting the bag of fresh and fragrant onions before the very noses of the monkeys I knew were there in the roadside forest watching, putting little check marks next to my simianese name in their organizers, I saying loudly to no one in particular "boy are these fresh onions going to be good in onion sandwiches and salads and bolognese sauce and fried onion rings, to say nothing of onion soup and quiche..." and on I went all the way home naming onion meals, swinging the bag, spreading onion incense on air that was even now filling with the sound of simian saliva splashing on the forest floor... A delightful walk.

I'll have to ask Ken if he needs anything over there in north Kyoto; wonder if he'd like a fresh bunch of monkeys...

REAL MEN DON'T CONSERVE

"Japan has exported into the U.S. market two cars, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight, that each get better than 60 miles to the gallon by utilizing a hybrid electric/gasoline engine. The Washington Post reports that the two Japanese hybrids are virtually sold out in the U.S.

There is a five-month waiting period to purchase the Toyota Prius, which has become something of a status symbol among progressive politicians, such as Maine’s Gov. Angus King, and Hollywood celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio who owns two.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has proposed slashing about 35 percent of the funds for the public-private partnership with U.S. auto manufacturers to develop more fuel-efficient cars." [While phasing out the $2,000 tax credit for hybrid vehicles, but keeping the $25,000 tax write-off for Hummer or other large gas-guzzling SUVs.]


ORANGE ON A TABLE

The other night as I went out walking downmountain in the still air bequeathed to evening by a fine day, as I rounded a curve and emerged from behind the line of roadside trees that screened the Lake from view, there in the otherwise clear sky across the water was a long level of cloud stretched out perfectly flat like a table atop the far mountains, a table as draped in the sheen of fine gray silk. Resting atop the table was one very large, round and fully ripe orange, apart from the size and color having precisely the brightness of the moon, it's orange light speckling all the Lake like firework embers. I could only stand and watch it change as it rose, with the same feeling I get when cherry blossoms fall.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


BASHO'S FINAL HAIKU Part II


It was no mystery that Basho, at the end of a life spent wandering in pursuit of plain and humble beauty, chose as his resting place this small, quiet temple that perfectly manifests the principle of sabi, its thatched roof the earth-brown color of Basho's robes. It is also no mystery given the view of the Lake this place afforded during Basho's time; he visited here often for poetry gatherings and no doubt steeped himself in its history.

The mystery for me was why Basho, after an entire life spent in pursuit of the ephemera of words, as a lover of beauty, as a recluse who lived much of his life in simple austere refinement, as one who named himself after a useless banana plant (growing in a clime too cold for it to bear fruit) and having visited the many beautiful places in Japan on his far wanderings, should in his will reveal the wish to have his grave placed beside that of Kiso Yoshinaka, a renowned, ambitious, vengeful warrior who had been slain by his Minamoto cousins on the spot where this temple, Gichuin (Gichu is another pronunciation of Kiso's name) was built to commemorate him, warrior star of the Heike Monogatari, centuries before Basho was born.

Basho himself was born to a lowly samurai family of Ueno and was reputedly a ninja (Iga-ueno was (and still is) the ninja ‘capital’ of Japan), but not much credence is placed in this theory, which might link Basho-as-samurai to Kiso-as-samurai. I think it's more likely, given Basho's skills, that in choosing this place he did the same thing he did in his poetry: he combined very disparate elements to great dissonantive effect. Much more evocative than a monotone grave in a forest somewhere.

So there they lie, side by side: the tragic, vainglorious, multiply betrayed warrior and the simple, reclusive wandering poet, in precincts dotted with many haiku-carved stones - placed there by Basho's students and admirers over the centuries - and the grave stone of Kiso's Kyoto mistress over there in the corner (she killed herself upon hearing Kiso had been slain; Kiso's wife was forced to marry into the victorious side of the Minamoto clan, later became a mendicant nun and returned to Nagano in her final days...

By choosing to reside in these simple grounds, Basho has created his final, unspoken and unending poem, evoked in the spirit of all who come to visit here and let the long silence tell the stories that lie quietly in this place...

***

Here's an English translation of Basho's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" (Oku no Hosomichi).


Tuesday, May 24, 2005


BASHO'S FINAL HAIKU - Part I


After our visit to Ishiyamadera we went looking for Basho's grave, which I'd been surprised to learn was in Otsu (where Basho spent lot of time) and had since wanted to visit. In our fully intact expedition naivete we didn't need a map, of course; who would need a map to find the small-town grave of Japan's most famous poet and the whole world's haiku master?

We simply got off the train at Ishiyama Station and headed in the general direction down one of the narrow streets that follow the slope toward the Lake, looking for all the signs and other myriad indications that would no doubt surround the famous final precincts of such an illustrious artist - pointing fingersigns, flags, fireworks, billboards, neon signs flashing "This way to Basho's grave," hot dog stands, loudspeakers, haiku recitations, haiku CD hawkers, fleets of tour buses and what not: these would lead us to the location of one of Japan's must-be-most-famous tombs...

There were a lot of interesting shops to see as we walked and walked around and around: a bakery, a mahjong tile shop, a bicycle shop, a great looking sake bar, but just typical old-Japan neighborhood shops, no sign whatsoever that the supreme being of haiku was anywhere within a hundred kilometers of where we journeyed along the narrow road to the deep nowhere. Not even a Basho t-shirt store; I would've bought one. We checked the local area maps that are posted here and there at key intersections to aid seekers of known addresses (buildings in Japan are addressed in the order of their construction, so a known address is about as useful as "go south"), but the maps had never heard of Basho, or his reputed grave.

So we asked a young woman who lived around there, she didn't know. We asked in various shops; an elderly man (the elderly remember the ancient things) said "it's down there somewhere, ask down there." We went down there and asked, they said "ask over there, they might know." Over there they said "it's down that narrow alley over there, you see that alley? Go down there."

We went down the narrow alley, still no signs of any kind bespeaking local pride in the fact that Japan's most famous poet, the guy who wrote the world-renowned frog haiku, was resting just a gravestone's throw away. We came out of the alley and there, from over the non-descript wall of an unassuming precinct along a side street peeked a couple of basho (banana tree) leaves, especially green in the rain. That must be the place. What a haiku, bright basho leaves telling us where Basho was. Bet that was his idea.

Nobody else in the neighborhood seemed to notice. We were the only ones there, for our entire visit. It appears that Basho, who never liked fame and preferred seclusion, had chosen his gravesite well, in a humble place amid local folks who honored his wishes. And there in that small, quiet temple in the rain I encountered another of the many mysteries about Basho...

(To be continued...)


Monday, May 23, 2005


IN LIGHT OF RAIN

Went in the rain to Ishiyamadera and realized anew, in all that wet and verdant beauty arranged along the mountainside, the deep truth of Inei Rai San, Tanizaki's rambling discourse on Japanese beauty.

Ishiyamadera was meant to be seen in natural dimness; even better, in the light of rain. With all its fantastic rock formations and hidden groves, recesses and pockets of natural elegance finely maintained, the temple has anciently drawn Japan's artists; Murasaki Shikibu is said to have written some of The Tale of Genji here, in a room now named after her.

Not to mention the layout and architecture of the buildings carefully positioned throughout the forested mountainside (the elegant Tahoto (Treasure Tower), the oldest such building in Japan, was commissioned by Yoritomo Minamoto), in one of which Basho himself stayed awhile, no doubt enjoying what must have been a fantastic Seto-river-and-moon-viewing and haiku-writing platform back in the Basho days.

We slowly wandered that sampling of paradise for a few hours, hung around with the demons a bit and then went looking for Basho’s grave, said to be not too far away...

Sunday, May 22, 2005


WET KITES

We were planning to go across the Lake today to enjoy the Odako Matsuri (Big Kite Festival) in Yokkaichi City, which is famous for kites (but terrible at internet PR; Googling the phrase “odako matsuri” gets but 4 not-too-informative or graphic mentions, all in Japanese, for a very well-known festival) and where today they plan to fly a 100 tsubo-sized kite (one tsubo = 3.3 m2) weighing over 700 kilos, which is a big kite, indeed can be deadly in high winds, but in the event of rain – paper kites are no fun in rain - the Festival will be postponed to next weekend and it’s raining very calmly right now, so we’re going with plan D, which is to head for Ishiyamadera in Otsu at the Lake's southern end, where the Ao Oni (Green Demons) are dancing today - and demons dance, as we all know, rain or shine. I'll stick a demon foto in here if I get any decent ones in the rainy-day lighting...

Saturday, May 21, 2005


out of my pocket:
not my glasses -
a mushroom

Friday, May 20, 2005



FULL HARVEST

"While there are still those diehards in the medical community who preach the old dogma that supplements aren't necessary if you eat a "balanced diet," it is nonetheless a fact that animal feeds ALL contain nutritional supplements. Agricultural experts recognize that farmers must supplement animal feeds. They know that the grain and other foodstuffs do not contain enough nutrients to maintain healthy livestock without adding supplements. If animals can't stay healthy eating our modern crops, how can human beings?"
...............

"What you need to grow good quality plants is good mineral nutrition, good digestion in the soil, and the appropriate cosmic wavelength that we call sunlight and a good quotient of old air in the soil to feed the digestion, which is compost, and a good clean air environment so that the plants can absorb non-polluted air to build on and function. I use rock dust and oyster shell and rock phosphates and crushed rock. I couldn't grow a garden without mineral supplementation. Every enzymatic process is built around a mineral element -a single element or a mineral compound. And enzymatic processes control all life. So, delete minerals, you got problems. Listen to the land-grant colleges and feed plants that old commercial NPK stuff and you're guaranteed to have imbalances. You can't force something to grow to completeness. You can only nurture it to grow to completeness. And it's so easy to do it right. And it's so hard to do it wrong!"

Excerpted from the book entitled Empty Harvest by Bernard Jensen and Mark Anderson.

And "'Hydroponics? Ridiculous!' A Real Farmer Looks at Medical Marijuana'" at Counterpunch.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


ALONE WITH MAYONNAISE

As I stroll the mountainfoot village byways and outlying roads and pathways on my local springtime rambles, as an erstwhile onion grower I can't help but feel a recurring twinge of virtual nostalgia over what never was, when I note the local inhabitants' unconstrained success at growing onions to an extent that is practically offensive - rows and rows, columns, regiments, divisions, standing armies of onions - that over time swell like liquid pearls at the base of proud green leafspears rising sturdily above the brown earth like flags of the vast onion nation, open to the sun and heedless of the wind, marching onward into kitchens, the while transforming soil into something that excels atop a cheeseburger or as fried golden rings or just makes a great sandwich alone with mayonnaise, to say nothing of the many roles of onions in the salads and sauces of this world, and I say to myself: there are no monkeys around here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


TOKYO'S 'THE STUDY GROUP RELATING TO THE PREVENTION OF BEHAVIOR THAT CAUSES DISCOMFORT AMONG NUMEROUS PEOPLE IN PUBLIC PLACES' BEARS ITS FANGS


Neo-impoliteness is making steady headway in Japan, the land of perhaps the greatest degree of social politeness in history, with the exception of World War II. I remember when I first arrived here, seeing two drivers - whose automobiles had just collided - bowing deeply to each other at the roadside over the unpardonable offence each had just committed against the other. Their insurance agents probably sent each other a couple of those $300 melons.

As to the nether extremes of this rampant courtesy, the complete lack of decent swearwords in Japanese has frequently been a drawback to my own efforts at appropriate social engagement in the Land of Wa. English swearwords, no matter how powerful, simply fall dead to the ground like songbirds hit a plate glass window. That's how polite it can get here.

Used to get, that is; for now, in the face of the staggering impoliteness currently spreading throughout the archipelago like a barbarian invasion in the form of such feckless behavior as using strong perfume, carrying large bags, kissing, infants crying, sitting on the floor, eating in public, using an umbrella to practice golf swings and that vexing bugaboo, taking up too much room with one’s newspaper -- the list of extreme social violations is a long one. Whether these would make the cut in NYC is another matter altogether.

But not to worry; the STUDY GROUP RELATING TO THE PREVENTION OF BEHAVIOR THAT CAUSES DISCOMFORT AMONG NUMEROUS PEOPLE IN PUBLIC PLACES (SGRTTPOBTCDANPIPP) will find the answer.

Now I wonder if there’s also a STUDY GROUP RELATING TO THE INVENTION OF WORDS THAT CAUSE DISCOMFORT AMONG NUMEROUS PEOPLE IN PUBLIC PLACES. One needs something effective to say to all these impolite people.

WILL JAPAN HAVE THE FIRST HUMAN WEEDS?


Not that human weeds is a new genomic concept, but Japanese researchers at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences have successfully inserted a human liver gene into the rice genome. Was their purpose to make rice more like us? To create kindred meals? To give that bland looking grain a human face? To make rice taste like liver? Look like liver? To make rice more delicious, maybe? More nutritious? That might be good. Healthier for our children’s livers? None of the above. By inserting a human liver gene that makes CPY2B6, an attractively labeled enzyme that is good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the body (we know where all those chemicals come from, don’t we) their purpose was to make the rice resistant to even more agricultural chemicals!

The objective was to produce a strain of rice that can withstand even more of the countless agricultural poisons used on our growing foods! Any rash insect or fungus or wilt that dared approach the new frankengrain - with its you-and-me component – could then be shot, gassed, nuked, cyanided, arseniced, PCB’d you name it, and still make it to your dinner table in a form resembling rice, with perhaps a bit of a liverish tint and a subtly chemical aftertaste. Can scientific motivation get any nobler than that?

Some geneticists are wary of what might happen if the liver gene should get into, say, weeds, that might then want to take over the world on behalf of the one true liver. But no need to worry; the men in white are on the case. Finish your rice, kids.

More on this

Monday, May 16, 2005


TREES NEVER SLEEP

Bucking, quartering and splitting firewood is an extremely educational process, to say nothing of the bodily risk involved, as I’ve indicated many times in these unworthy chronicles. But the education afforded by hardwoods is not like college: it never ends. And in college a professor is unlikely to remove any of your fingers or toes. I’ve been firewooding for about ten fully educational years now, and today I learned a new one from firewood’s bag of tricks that's going straight into my Firewood Tactics Analysis File.

You’re halving then quartering a bucked section of oak with the splitting maul. As you are halving it, you introduce the following wedge to free up the starting wedge, which you then use to begin quartering the log while keeping the halves yet relatively intact, for stability. Once you’ve got the quarters to the point where you feel you can pull them apart by hand, you drive the maul head solidly into the top of the conniving chopping stump to free both hands, pull off the first quarter of the log, thus freeing the following wedge that was still inside; it falls in all apparent innocence to the ground.

You then try to pull the second half into quarters and find that they are still too strongly bound together. To free them, you need the following wedge. Later, you realize that the wood has known this all along. With one hand holding the unstable half-section and your mind focused on getting the wedge, you bend over the maul handle to pick up the wedge where it has been deviously tossed by the firewood; your chest presses to the precisely planned degree on the perfectly positioned maul handle thus freeing the maul, which, through its own counterweight, flips and thuds impressively into the ground exactly where your uneducated right foot would have been but for the agility that can still avail beyond the age of sixty when the moment requires.

So I remind myself once more: Do not sleep in the slightest while firewooding, because trees are always awake.

ARE YOU A CULTURAL CREATIVE?

"First of all, we’re talking today about a quarter of the adults in the United States, 50 million adults, and probably 80 to 90 million adults in Western Europe. These people take the ideas of ecology very seriously, and they support slowing business growth in order to save the planet. They also take very seriously women’s issues and issues of personal growth and relationships. We found that the typical Cultural Creative cares intensely about the issues raised by post–World War II social movements. These movements include those focused on civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, peace, jobs and social justice, gay and lesbian rights, alternative health care, spirituality, personal growth, and now, of course, stopping corporate globalization. All of those concerns are now converging into a strong concern for the whole planet."


Are you a cultural creative?

Cultural Creatives

Sunday, May 15, 2005


THE KOAN OF SILENCE

When this afternoon we visited Hiyoshi Taisha shrine in Sakamoto, one of our favorite places at any time of year, in an exquisitely beautiful sub-temple of Enryaku-ji all was at peace, no cicadas yet, some birds were chirping at first but when they saw us approach the massive sacred bell they began to whisper…

Echo grabbed hold of the rope that’s used to swing the big log that after a few good heaves will reach and strike the bell and sound the very air; the birds put their wingtips in their ears…

For indeed, what is more spiritually inviting on a warm Spring afternoon with its carefully attended silence than a huge shrine bell just hanging there nascent with noise in a quiet sleepy subtemple with no one around, the young monks all napping in their cells just a few meters away?

1 – 2 – 3 - she swung the log and whipped it forward but the rope had been tied to the bell frame so as to stop the log about 2mm before it struck the bell. Silence doesn’t get any bigger than that.

The rope hadn’t been tied so that the log was simply immobile; there would be no spiritual lesson therein: it had been tied so that someone could swing the log back and forth, slowly priming and readying for sound with every expectation of sonic spiritual uplift, and then the wham of S – I – L – E – N – C – E, drawn out slowly and to its fullest length the way a cat stretches.

It was a sort of reality koan, something like “What is the sound of a bell not ringing?” The sound is within you, your spirit reverberates…

Saturday, May 14, 2005


PURE LAND MOUNTAIN TO BE DEFILED?





Though Japan is rooted strongly in its past, it has never been a tradition here to think environmentally about the future into which that past must advance. Thus in many ways Japan has become the canary in the coal mine for the developed world, as witness Minamata disease.

Despite the fact that Japanese city folks now routinely regiment their trash, little is being done to lessen the volume of trash produced, or to change public attitude toward how trash is disposed of: it's all being incinerated, as limited landfill areas run out. As a result, Japan has the most incinerators in the world (as of 1997 there were more than 1,850 municipal waste incinerators in Japan, compared with about 150 in the United States and 50 in Germany. Japan also has more than 3,300 privately owned (and poorly regulated) industrial incinerators – Source). Thanks to this approach, Japan is also the most dioxinated country in the world. To put some radioactive frosting on that celebratory cake, the country also now has 50 nuclear power plants (in one of the most tectonically volatile regions on the planet), is right up there in number of nuclear power accidents, and is reviving its plans for a plutonium processing plant, in a region that is already a nuclear hotbed.

But public attitude begins locally, where in the present instance the yellow and red "hantai" (‘against’) signs now showing up on houses and sheds and fences and poles around this neighborhood are being put up by locals who, for whatever reason (more power, more money, more jobs, it’s progress...) oppose dissolving the current town council for a new one that might cancel current plans to build just what Japan needs: another incinerator. But this time it's not just any old incinerator, for not just any old incineration, and not just in any old location: an essentially experimental gas plasma incinerator, run 24/365 (at tremendous expense), to burn industrial waste - than which the only waste more toxic is nuclear - right on the shores of Lake Biwa, the liquid heart of Japan.

You'd think something would have been learned by now, but general licensed depredation of all that is natural and genuine - for the particular advantage of a select few - seems to be the way of history, at least in the short term, though no short term has ever been as potentially deadly as the one we're now living through.

But as Mahatma Ghandi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”





GAIA (Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance)

Japan: Officials Blamed for Promoting Toxic Incinerators in Thailand


WORLD ECONOMY INDEX

These nights
fewer flashing jets
among the stars

Friday, May 13, 2005


DEAR TO OUR HEARTS

While Googling around with facts the other day I found that "women," a topic dear to all hearts, receives 266,000,000 mentions on Google’s catalog of web pages, in slight contrast to the 252,000,000 "men" gets, then one thing led to another as it always does and the subject of "sex" arose, so to speak: it got 317,000,000 mentions - many of them intimate whispers - more than for "men" or "women" alone, but less than for both combined, which will not be detailed here as we wish to preserve our General Audiences rating.

"Celibacy," in contrast, received a deservedly paltry 521,000 mentions, who brought that up.

Then the seeker’s thoughts graduated naturally to "love," which got a pretty respectable 266,000,000, the same as "women" though also less than "sex," but then there’s always been more sex than love, just stand around in Shinjuku for a while, or go for a night stroll in the Bois de Boulogne. "Love," as sadly it too often does, led to "hate," which had 31,500,000 strident mentions, a reasonable cosmic balance I guess, and then on to the relative relevance of some of our other iconic priorities…

Peace 68,000,000 War 234,000,000
Life 431,000,000 Death 117,000,000
Wealth 22,000,000 Poverty 24,000,000
Money 243,000,000 Debt 79,900,000
Einstein 12,400,000 Elvis 13,000,000
Jesus 50,600,000 Buddha 7,140,000
Christianity 13,200,000 Buddhism 5,320,000
Islam 22,000,000
Email 645,000,000 Internet 631,000,000
News 1,060,000,000

Interesting way of looking at it...

Thursday, May 12, 2005


WHAT A CARPENTER!


In the early Spring of last year I was sitting out on the deck one evening having a glass of wine, when from above I heard a sound like a tiny wood rasp but couldn’t find the source. Then as I continued sitting there I noticed some tiny wood shavings falling down onto my lap. Looking up more specifically, I saw a perfectly round hole in the bottom edge of the eaveboard. As I watched, I saw what looked like a large bumblebee emerge. I headed straight for the internet. According to what I found out there about carpenter bees, there was no need to worry about it.

Then last night I heard the same sound, checked this morning and found that the bee (must be the same bee?) was making a new hole in the bottom edge of the same board, about 2 meters down from the old hole. The female carpenter bee bores straight in - in this case upward - then makes a number of lateral bores 90 degrees perpendicular to the main bore, to lay her eggs in.

This particular board is about an inch thick, and like the bee herself the hole is slightly less than half an inch in diameter, as must be the lateral bores, yet this amazing carpenter, working steadfastly there in the pitch dark, with only a quarter-inch of leeway on either side, has drilled over and over again along the narrow width of the board without ever breaching to either side.

In a natural situation, such as a log or dead tree, such a problem would never present itself. But here, in an artifactually narrow piece of wood, she seems to somehow be aware of the narrowness and does not err even slightly either way; with control in three dimensions, she bores straight perpendicular for many times her length… How does she do it, I wonder…

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


SHERLOCK HOLMES THE SECULARIST

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

"I see millions and millions of stars Holmes," replies Watson.

"And what do you deduce from that?"

Watson ponders for a minute. "Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Logically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?"

Holmes is silent for a moment and then says: "Watson you idiot, someone has stolen our tent!"

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


IS THERE IMMIGRATION AFTER DEATH?

In Japan it seems, once a foreigner, eternally a foreigner. There are cultural pioneers from abroad who have been permanent residents of Tokyo for well over a hundred years now, but their visas are no good. Many were here soon after Japan peeked out the gates after 300 years of isolation from foreign influence.

The foreigners in question reside in graves in the Gaijin bochi (foreign section) of Aoyama Cemetery (and others) in Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government wants them out of there, to make a park amidst the Japanese graves. They say its simply because the foreigners’ grave fees haven't been paid, as required by law; after a certain date, control of the plots reverts to the TMG.

But a curious codicil to the law says that only relatives can pay the fees! As long-ago foreign residents, it’s unlikely that they'd have living relatives in the vicinity. Very convenient for mass deportation.

My own Permanent Residency was hard enough to get; may not be worth it, in the really long run…

Residents

Abroad

Foreign Section Trust

[Also posted at Blogcritics]

Monday, May 09, 2005


MONKEYS OBSERVE BRADY SPLITTING FIREWOOD


While I was splitting oak as the day headed for noon, every now and then I'd hear a loud thrash in the bamboo downhill east of the house; I'd look expecting to see some large animal come blundering out, but saw nothing, figured it must be an oddly careless wild pig forcing its way through the bamboo - unlikely to be a bear - went back to splitting, then again the noise and again. Finally, I saw a monkey silhouette rise up into the higher foliage, then another and another, a whole tribe of them had gone through the bamboo to get to the tall trees at the center of that bamboo grove, apparently to loaf at their ease in the sunny breeze amidst the ample edibles there - sort of a simian grandstand - while observing yours truly doing something that animals never did in all their history until one of our ancestors took an intelligent leap and became the first of us two-leggeds a few eons ago, which led to me in this particular instance.

So there we were, the self-styled homo sapiens with axe and the self-nonstyled toolless monkeys, together on the mountainside for a few moments of special interchange, the latter chattering away at their leisure in their tree-arm easy chairs as I sawed and lugged and chopped and sweated.

After observing my activities in silence for a few moments, the lesser monkeys asked the Alpha male (I'm translating here): "What the hell is he doing?" Alpha responded: "Looks like he's breaking up those big trees into little pieces for another one of those pointless human reasons. Hand me a couple of those berries. Breaking up trees? He doesn't look angry. Say is that the same guy who was doing this yesterday? How come he's blue today? He was brown yesterday! He can change his skin. Why? Who knows with humans. He's the guy used to grow onions, now he's breaking up trees into sticks; who can explain what the hairless do? More berries. Must have some influence though, he got all those trees to lay down like that. Male No. 8, check out his garden. Wife No. 4, get me some nuts."

No. 8 tries to sneak into the garden on the south side of the house; at once I race for my supply of AMBMs (Anti-Monkey Ballistic Missiles, known in times of peace as "rocks"); loud screeching from the trees: "8, he sees you! Get out of there fast!" I've only planted radishes, spinach, lettuce and ginger so far, though, none of which monkeys like, and the tomato plants are still small, so there's nothing for 8 to find anyway. Still, it's good to fire away at the neophytes, teach them that entering my garden is a matter of hefty risk. 8 speeds back to the tribe in the trees and nibbles on a stick as he listens to Alpha pontificate:

"Unknowable creatures those humans - grow stuff we don't want - I'll never figure them out; who else would grow spinach one day then spend days breaking trees into small pieces, only to just stack the pieces up? Wood's not food; all beyond wisdom, if you ask me. More berries. Some of those tasty buds, too. Now this, this is the life. I can't imagine why there's a want to be humans, though; sure can't be fun. Look at that guy sweat!"



SLOW ADVERTISING II

Two months ago at about this time I went to Takashima up the road along the Lake and visited 'Village' there, where I took took a photo of the still green sugidama (cedar ball) hanging in front of the local sake maker's roadside emporium, which foto I included in my post titled Slow Advertising.

Went there again yesterday and took the foto at left. Judging by the brownness of the sugidama, the sake must be about ready; I would have bought some, but the place was closed up on Sunday.

Had something instead at the Irish Pub. I'll try for sake again when the sugi is even browner.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


ROBERT SHECKLEY GRAVELY ILL

I've just learned that Robert Sheckley, unpretentious genius sci-fi author and a good friend of mine from when we both lived in Ibiza in the late 70s, has fallen gravely ill in Kiev while attending a sci-fi event. May he soon recover and keep on keeping on with his unique mastery. I keep him in all my upward thoughts.

Peacefully pruning
temple pines -
yet so grumpy

FASCINATING THINGS JUST KEEP ON HAPPENING

Many soul-stirring things boiling up into the brain to relate here, like Kaya’s trip to the mountaintop above us via the red gondola and how she loved being on top of the world for the first time in her nearly 5-year life; the 14 logs (13 oak and 1 camphor) now stacked deck-high in front of the house that were delivered by Mawaribuchi-san; his superior firewood-woodstove-woodtool service, Maxwood; the subsequent morning intervals spent as but one elder man with splitting maul in hand staring at the 3 tons of logs as I grab a few moments in the excellent shade of the now richly green plum tree while resting from bucking the 4-meter logs into stove lengths with my toylike non-Stihl chainsaw, which plaything quality it acquired when I saw how Mawaribuchi-san’s 265 Stihl chainsaw cut through half-meter oak logs like I slice bread for toast; how I really appreciate having purchased my Gransfors Bruks splitting maul, its material and form the products of careful work and experienced thought with the intended task in mind; the fragrance of camphor when it is split, how it and my sense of smell have known each other for eons; and up along the Lake, Watertail Shrine that we’re going to visit this pm as soon as I dash this off, but I’ll try to get to all these things and treat them one by one; trouble is, fascinating things just keep on happening, you can never catch up to life...

Saturday, May 07, 2005


KNOWLEDGE AS LIQUID

Last night around 4 am I was awakened by an unusually strong, oddly constant wind. Wind is never that constant, it waxes and wanes like everything else does. That intense constancy puzzled what there was of my intelligence. As my mind threw a few more sleepwebs off, I went through the usual fuzzy strong-night-wind routine: had I left anything outside that might blow over or away? (We’ve lost a number of potted plants, tarps and firewood covers over the years.) At once I realized I had left the tall Madagascar jasmine sitting sunward in its brand-new pot on the deck railing above the perilous rocks that edge the herbs.

Wincing for the imminent crash, at about one-third IQ I got out of bed and stumbled downstairs in the hissing dark (turning the lights on makes it harder to get back to sleep), opened the door to the garden and stepped out to get the plant. But as it turned out there was no intense and constant wind; rather, there was a very intense and large-dropped rain, that now fell equally upon me as upon all the land around. By the time I’d lugged the potted jasmine to the safety it did not after all require, my IQ had been restored to peak tremolo by the massive icy-cold 4 am shower I’d just been given. Dripping with new knowledge regarding the craftiness of rain, I went back to bed shivering and warming, awaiting dreams of my childhood visit to Niagara Falls.

Friday, May 06, 2005


KANSAS BOARD OF EDUCATION MUCH LESS EVOLVED THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT, SAYS RESEARCHER


Extensive DNA research has revealed that education board members in certain states, particularly Kansas - not to mention Tennessee, a state famous for the original Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial - are evolutionary 'throwbacks.' "In fact, some of these people have actually devolved during the 80 years since the Scopes ‘Monkey' trial" says Bill Thornton, chief DNA specialist with the National School Board Evolution Analysis Project.

"And it isn't just a couple of base pairs we're talking about here; they've devolved a whole couple of limbs lower on the big tree, so to speak. Up until now, this whole throwback thing was just a theory, but now we have scientific evidence that devolution is possible, perhaps even relatively common among school boards. We all see signs of devolution in daily life, but that sample is too massive for short-term analysis. That's what makes the Kansas Board of Education the perfect case study. These people are probably the best example we could have had of the way in which evolution can actually reverse itself, if you want go backwards badly enough.

It's likely somehow related to the placebo effect, only with much more profound results, since it directly reverses familial evolutionary progress -- even though the retrograde Board members don't believe in evolution, which goes on whether you believe in it or not. Wait till they see the charts, though.

DNA-wise, some of them are much further back than we've ever seen in our extensive Education Board DNA database. We've noted similar tendencies in California as well, and of course in many elected officials. In fact, we're conducting a similar study of the US executive branch at the moment, with what look to be very interesting results."


[Just posted this at Blogcritics. RB]


"Ignorance is God's gift to Kansas." Richard Dawkins

Thursday, May 05, 2005


MADA DA YO...

Every American (I don't know what they think about this in Europe) who comes to Japan and sees children playing kakurenbo is deeply shocked, even more so an American who raises children here, and grandchildren, and watches them participating in it all unaware of the horror that attends the violation of childhood's fundamental rules at whatever age.

The way we used to play it when I was a kid - and these are strict rules, you don't fool around with these rules - was that the one who was 'It' would count loudly to ten or whatever assigned number, while all the other kids ran in absolute silence (who would do otherwise?) as far away as allowed by the count to find a really sneakily deviously unfindable hiding place that would lead to victory for the hider and defeat for the seeker. That's the name of the game.

'It,' upon reaching the agreed number count, would then say loudly (heavy penalties for whispering) "Here I come, ready or not, anyone around my goal is It!" (to catch the sneaks who ran zero feet away), then begin to seek as sneakily deviously as the hiders had hidden. Contrast this with the way kakurenbo is played in Japan, a comparison perhaps revelatory of fundamental international differences, as the hiding-and-seeking children of these two noble cultures grow up to become the hiding-and-seeking leaders of their respective nations.

In Japan, for some reason I have never been able to fathom, 'It' shouts "Mo ii kai?" ("Is it ok yet?") over and over and over in response to the hiders, who as they seek their hideaways repeatedly say "Mada da yo!" ("Not yet!") thereby regularly revealing their direction of travel; then at the end, when at last they are satisfactorily hidden, do they remain silent? NO! They yell out "Mo ii yo!" ("It's ok now!") thereby giving away their exact location to 'It,' who immediately heads straight for where the hider's voice last emanated. Try as I might, as an experienced former child I cannot see the charm in this.

In the American version, the object is clearly to give yourself all the breaks you can possibly get, thereby to stay hidden in what is nitty-gritty competition for victory; in Japan, by contrast, it seems that the object is to be found, to be of material assistance in your own defeat!

So each time I see the game played here I am sorely tempted to tell my young relations to say nothing in response to the call of 'It' and just hide quietly, but that would bring the Japanese version of the game to an instant halt, since 'It' would never receive the signal to begin seeking, so would stand there forever, presumably. For whatever reason, that ploy has never been allowed to survive here...

As to what this means at the international level, all I can say is mada da yo...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


SOMEBODY'S GOTTA DO IT

On Sunday's beautiful morning we went north to our favorite kiddy beach just south of Matsu-no-ura, where there's a long narrow shaded lawn with gazebo and table right beside the sandy stretch of beach that segues into Matsu-no-ura proper (just go north along the beach shore road that starts at Horai and take a right at the police box, then a left; park close by the stone wall). You gotta get there early though in beach season, which we can do since we live only 5 minutes away.

There Kaya got down to serious beach business with all her digging and sand moving equipment while Echo did yoga and I explored the beach for a while and took some pictures, then laid down on the lawn and herded Zs in the shade until lunch. Only the leading edge of the summer tourist throngs have arrived, so we had the best of it all.

Monday, May 02, 2005


REAL LIGHT


The oak leaves have reached the size at which the Great Mother is once again cutting off my satellite television privileges, just in time for Golden week. And it's not because I've been bad (not that I haven't been, mind you; a few wisely selected vices afford moral perspective), but because I've been good (yes, there have been times).

When I relate this seasonal phenomenon to city folks who watch too much tv they say why don’t you just cut the oaks down - as if I’d rather have tv than oak trees! When values reach that point they're not values anymore, just passive reaction - like reaching for the potato chips.

I take this green oaken statement instead as a recurring and necessary reminder of a deeper truth than we can carry in ourselves, that what is every day created out there beyond us is more important than what a certain few of us can spin into extended distractions, some of which are now even called 'reality' tv!

Thus each Spring as the wintry glaze of accreted entertainment is lifted I soon realize (returning clarity of mind) that in fact it is a reward to be cut off from that spiritually toxic stuff; in lieu of most of it I’d rather watch oak leaves grow, which I’m doing right now. Beautiful new green, and alive, the way the real light shines through…

SOME MEMES YOU CAN'T FORGET


It was well over a month ago, as I recall, that Anna Scott kindly asked me to take part in this reading meme and I said I would, gladly, and started to think about it, got a couple portions decided then turned around and blinked and to my amazement well over a month had passed, as I recall, when Ronni Bennett sent me an email kindly asking me to participate in this reading meme, so I figured I'd better get my act together while I still had one with available parts; for me, some things just take more than well over a month:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

ULYSSES by James Joyce


Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Anna Karenina


The last book you bought is:

THE BLIND WATCHMAKER by Richard Dawkins


The last book you read:

THE CREATORS by Daniel J. Boorstin


What are you currently reading?

(rereading) IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS by Junichiro Tanizaki

(rereading) THE JOURNALS OF LEWIS AND CLARK ed. DeVoto

AMERICA IN 1492 ed. Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.


Five books you would take to a deserted island:

WALDEN by H. D. Thoreau

BEYOND GEOGRAPHY by Frederick Turner

ROUGHING IT by Mark Twain

THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J. R. R. Tolkein

LEAVES OF GRASS by Walt Whitman


Who are you going to pass this meme to (3 persons) and why?


Ronni Bennett too late...
Shirley Mills ex post facto...
M. Sinclair Stevens
Indigo Ocean

Because I'd love some book recommendations from people whose taste I respect.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


AMAGASAKI

From the crushed train
cell phones ringing
ringing


A PATRIOT ACT

Featuring on the BIG SCREEN in May, the 2004 film...

"A Patriot Act"

When: Sunday, May 15
General meeting starts at 5 p.m.
Film starts at 5:30 p.m.
(doors open at 4 p.m.)

Where: Tocca a Te, in Umeda

Admission: 500-yen film admission, which includes a drink &
the best free popcorn in Kansai, plus a 500-yen requested
donation from US citizens. The meeting is free.

Assorted foods and drinks will be available.

Open discussion after the film.

For more info and to order the DVD:

For more info or a PDF of this month's flyer (A4 or A5 size),
contact: kansai-movies@demsjapan.jp