Thursday, July 31, 2008


Well, with Keech still here for a last few days before heading back to Seattle, the dynamic trio Kaya, Mitsuki and Miasa came back into our lives on Monday with a triple-smiley burst of growth and energy, filling the house with giggles and running blurry circles around the big smooth cedar logs that rise to the roof from our living room floor. Pretty soon they were shinnying up those same logs and yelling from the ceiling. Keech hasn’t seen the twins since they were born nearly 5 years ago

Yesterday, following our early afternoon's labor, when I came into the house a few minutes after Keech, the trio were walking all over their new uncle. Literally. Keech was lying on a futon on the living room floor with KMM walking on his back, legs and feet. They work as a massage team, among other helpful things.

Later, when Keech and I were outside moving mounds of firewood we'd cut earlier, the sound of our labors intrigued the triad, who came out like a swarm of bees to see what we were up to; before you could say "whatchadoin" three times, they pitched in (barehanded) and helped Keech and I (gloved) load and stack wheelbarrows of the stuff, and only got one scraped arm and a bumped forehead in the process.

For these and other especially helpful tasks around the house they earn 5 or 10 yen, which they put in their little money envelopes and carry around with them, the way Keech used to do; incipient financiers, only all smiles.

What beautiful gifts they are, that keep on growing!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Part 2

So there we were, our fishermen's heads for a time filled with mental snakes, watching our steps, edging along the shore, long dark shadows of bass sliding calmly through the golden light reflecting from the bottom of the pond...

Unfortunately there were many more of the fast bluegills (they too were bigger than they ever manage to get in the Lake-- a couple of pounds or more). When at last Keech chose his first spot and had baited his hook and thrown it into the water, he assigned me the role he'd had in mind all along: he handed me his camera and said you can do the video. Instant Kubrick.

Then as we continued moving around in quest of better spots - where there would be all big bass and no irritating blue gills - Keech carrying pole and bait, I carrying my rucksack, the fishing box, the fishing net, the mosquito coils, the big bucket to hold the catch in and, in my other hand, the camera with which I was creating this taut handheld thriller that has always lain just beyond the reach of Hollywood.

As we moved, me lagging, Keech now and then yelling “Get outta there! Go away!” I in the distance saying “What? What?” Keech answering “Just yelling at the blue gills.” Because every time he dropped the hook into the clear water the bluegills beat the basses to the worm by a mile; it looked like a wily old bass was saying: go ahead, you bluegilled punks, try out that suspicious-looking worm for me, let's see what happens; and now and then of course one of blues would be faster than Keech's reflexes and get hooked, disappear abruptly into that mysterious upperworld and the bass would turn slowly away with a deepening, big-lipped frown, as if to say Yeah, I thought it was a scam...

Meanwhile the other big old basses were just gliding along, swimming slowly back and forth right out there in plain sight, taunting us, because as we soon realized they could see us clearly, we'd worn the wrong clothes too; looming up there in the late afternoon we must have looked to them like Las Vegas at night.

So at one new spot, as it was getting late we figured we should hide as best we could and use the biggest worms first, with a weight to drop the baited hook right down in front of the basses' noses, and while this was being tried I happened to be 20 yards away gathering up the stuff to move to the new spot, when I heard: “Got 'im!” and scrambled over there, stumbling over vines and twigs and rocks, pushing through slapping branches and ignoring mental snakes while filming my whole run and the big catch of a 7-pound largemouth, all in a Wellesian one-cut of streaming footage, but more like a late afternoon Japanese mountain version of The Blair Witch Project. We may get some stills out of it to post here later, but don't hold your breath.

Keech cleaned the bass and sliced it into two thick fillets that he rubbed with salt and lemon thyme, then broiled slowly over the still-hot embers of a logpile fire we'd started in the morning for ash fertilizer on the land where I'm planning to put the new garden...

Eat your heart out, Four Seasons.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Thunderstorms rise up in distant jeweled towers all around the far shores of the the striated rose and gray Lake, all quiet on this shore but for the insect song, the high chatter of swallows bathing in the last of the sun, flashing the white of their underwings, bursting now and then into clouds of aerodynamics... The rising columns of clouds insist into the sky, like insect song into silence, like clouds of wings into empty air-- they are each and every moment's thought of the earth, working things out, balancing all, earth and sky negotiating like sea does with shore, like birds do with air, like we do with our employers-- wait,,,,what??

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I shouldn't demean the sharp little brains of genuine kindergarteners by comparing them to current US economic advisors, but I just got my in-all-seriousness Economic Stimulus check, sort of money-colored, with the Statue of Liberty on it, though it was only for $300 because being an expat with a good accountant I have paid no US taxes since 1972, and $300 is all that 36 years of zero taxes deserves. Great return on investment, though!

And not to bite the hand that stimulates me, but it strikes me somewhere in preschool that the US government, which I'd mistakenly thought had an economic department filled to the rafters with top-level financial advisers who knew way more than any of my economics professors ever did - in the face of the biggest national debt in history, negative personal savings, financial entities swooning and collapsing right and left, a trillion-dollar war going on, personal debt surpassing Everest, a sky-high Sword of Derivatives hanging over the world, housing foreclosures up the cliche ("When the Treasury/Fed team moved to rescue Bear Stearns and, more recently, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the $5 trillion-plus burden of risk was neatly transferred to the American citizen."), multiple industrial giants on the brink of bankruptcy, pensions and health plans in respective black holes - sends a 300 dollar check (payable in fiat money, no less) to stimulate a guy on a mountain on the other side of the world! It's somewhat less stimulating to me than it is to a guy on a mountain back in the US, since by the time I get it cashed via the labyrinthine Japanese banking system, the dollar could well be toast and I'll wind up getting stimulated by maybe half a tank of gas, whereas maybe the guy on the other mountain can still get a case of world-class beer.

As hinted at in the aforegoing, I find it it a very unpalatable reality to swallow regarding my native country-- that a select group of America's best minds (excluding those currently creating the vacuum at the very top) actually got together, brainstormed and concluded that the best thing to do right now, to begin pulling the US economy out of its 10-year, multitrillion dollar hole (the money to pay for which will of course come out of the common taxpayers' wallet) is to send everybody some pocket change! They think they're stimulating the economy by giving people back a smidgeon of THEIR OWN MONEY! Your money, in my case. Nice of you; thanks.

There's always hope, though; maybe the next administration can get the whole class into the first grade...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Part 1

Playing catch was peanuts: two gloves, a baseball tossed back and forth for an hour or so in a vacant lot on a Sunday afternoon, who knows where these things can lead? (Keech had a helluva good arm at the age of 12, though, which made the activity a bit formidable, but I was younger then.) Time does interesting things to parent-child relationships; when dealing with your growing child you tend to deal in the past, with the way the child was - one, five, ten years ago - the ratio varies with the parent. Treating them fully in and from the here and now is a challenge.

For example, when Keech was younger (before he went off to senior high school in the US) and wanted to go fishing, I'd take him to one of the many shores we have hereabouts and then sandbag while he fished; that was cool, and that was what I thought I was in for this time, when he said "Let's go fishing": a welcome break from our rock-moving, log-sawing and weed-whacking day; instead, some good sandbagging time for the Big B on a somewhere shore gazing up at a blue sky, chewing on a blade of grass, peacefully tending gentle herds of thoughts...

But now that time finds me at the age of 68 (in November anyway), Keech - a ripe old 26 in October - wants to go fishing in an advanced sort of way. He's always loved fishing, I don't know where he got that from, no one in my family ever went fishing much, except me for a time when I was a boy, but seeing as how I never liked fish as a food, eventually I lived up to and through the dichotomy. Now I don't like fish so I like don't fish. But sandbagging is always welcome.

Anyway, as I was saying, 68, 26: big diff. Keech (arrived here from the US on July 11) got over jetlag in a day; I (returned here July 7) am only recently fully returned. (Age has its priorities, and immediate arrival isn't one of them.) So, after girding myself with a good night's sleep, an energy breakfast and a stiff cup of coffee to make my hair stand up and give me something to emulate, Keech and I set off for the secret mountain pond that few fishermen know about and none come to anymore, since the authorities put the forbidding gate up (but we know the terrain). It's just a couple hundred meters from our house, a deep 4-acre tarn wherein unfished and therefore inexperienced fish are growing to great size in a piscene paradise of clear mountain water.

After we'd detoured to the opposite side of the pond, we plunged a good way into the hilly dense woods that line the shore, me stumbling along in the wrong shoes. I'd worn the slip-ons just for digging up some backup worms, and unthinkingly (another prerog of elderhood) kept on wearing them, even unto the rocky, slopy, rocky, viney, saplingy woods, where the first living creature we saw was a mamushi, Japan's only poisonous snake, rarely seen in the daytime - and even then practically invisible - but Keech had immediately spotted the serpent there among the fallen leaves at the base of a tree, and said is that a mamushi?

Is what a mamushi? I looked, I asked, peering, focusing, putting on my glasses, but I couldn't see anything resembling a snake. Keech pointed it out with the handle of the fishnet he was carrying, then nudged it. It moved. I saw it: yes, it was indeed a mamushi, a teenager about 40 cm long, a beautiful creature in his brown-patterned silvery gray, sort of glowing there in the dim light of the forest floor, elegant in his movement steadfastly away, in the confident hauteur that deadly venom affords... But how many more invisible vipers might there be around here? To fishermen, such thoughts bear no thinking about, when further steps are required...

[To be continued...]

Monday, July 21, 2008


As if being national were more important than being human...

I've mentioned the fact that I had to adopt my own children in order to give them dual nationality... Which reminds me, I have to write a post on that...

In a nation historically leery of immigration, yet with a steadily declining population:

"Japan is set to reform its nationality law to recognise children born out of wedlock to foreign mothers after a benchmark Supreme Court ruling last month, a report said on Sunday.

The justice ministry drafted the amendment so as to give Japanese nationality to children born to foreign mothers without consideration to their parents' marital status...

Japan, which largely regards itself as ethnically homogeneous, bases nationality on blood ties. It has rejected the idea of large-scale immigration even though it has one of the world's lowest birthrates.

In Japan, nationality was traditionally passed down through the paternal line, with a child obtaining Japanese citizenship only if his or her father was Japanese."

Friday, July 18, 2008

From the archive - July 28, 2003:


We have dialogued, bamboo and I.

Since I moved here the bamboo (the 3-meter tall 2-cm thick mountainside kind that creates an impenetrable green wall traversable only by wild pigs, foxes, pheasants, ferrets and snakes), I've learned much about bamboo relentlessness and singleness of purpose.

Don't let that subtle yet elegant demeanor, that Asian inwardness, that quietly sophisticated, golden segmented curvature fool you. Don't be deceived by that slender arching tallness, that timeless sheen. Bamboo works 24 hours a day.

Just because it's made into delicate cages for crickets, or into hair-thick wickets for catching tiny freshwater fishes, or shaved into feathery whisks for ceremoniously stirring green tea into an inviting froth, don't conclude therefore that bamboo is a delicate, effete, lily-wristed wisp of a plant. It is not. It is rooted with cables of steel.

You know this when you live with it growing on the land beside your garden, into which the bamboo subterraneously insinuates itself day and night, sending its long cableroots silently across in the dark a foot or two beneath the so innocently clear-looking soil; then one day when at last you are naively priding yourself on having won your battle with that puny weakling of a plant, your golden nemesis sends up here and there all over your garden its many silent green flags of conquest, which it then proceeds to celebrate with practically visible growth upward. Some species grow a meter a day.

Bamboo is in fact a single-minded, deeply rooted, relentless rocket of a plant, with a patience much older and deeper than our own; so patient that some species bloom only once in a century or so. No need for hurry, when such power is yours. I am temporary; bamboo prevails. And strong? Ask me, who have tried to cut its stalks, root out its roots, for years now. It is stronger than earthquakes, let alone me.

It is so strong that in Japan it is traditionally grown like big living mats on hillsides, so that its deep tangle of steel-cable underpinning holds the hillside in place while the earth rolls and roils like a just-caught eel. Such strength must be honored.

So although I know that one day my mountain garden may very well be a flourishing bamboo thicket once again, in the blessing of the meanwhile the green army and I do battle of an ancient and honorable kind, that I learn much from, and do not really want to win.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Fresh back from strange country US, now in strange country Japan, must take shoes off indoors and suchlike, no root beer, no pie - pangs of ice cream, pizza withdrawal - life rich with jet lag, brain not yet fully arrived, IQ returning by freighter, Keech here for first visit in a while; KMM the dynamic trio due to arrive later this month, much heavy rock/log work in garden yesterday with help of young Keech muscle, today wading through mindfog to office where must present reasonable simulation of former intellect and verbal coherence... tomorrow go fishing in pond... right now must catch train... familiar but interesting shapes in mental mist...

Friday, July 11, 2008


An interesting perspective on fuel (and other) price rises...

"The system and its apologists are desperate to keep this obvious truth hidden from the public, or at least to keep the public confused about it. For example, last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that 'a weaker dollar cannot be blamed for soaring oil prices.' This is on par with saying that 'heavy rain cannot be blamed for flooding in the Midwest.'

Proof – and this is where that pesky 'reality' thing really gets in the way of a good lie – is that gasoline prices have hardly changed in terms of real money. A gallon of gasoline today costs about $4.10 in American fiat money, but can still be had for less than a quarter-ounce of silver. [Currently 18.37 per ounce and rising]. A silver quarter from 1964 or earlier contains nearly a quarter-ounce of silver, and, despite fluctuations in the price of the two commodities, will usually buy roughly a gallon of gas. This situation has changed little in decades."

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I'd refrained for years from using portable music while commuting to Osaka and back, not because nobody my age on my train has an iPod or wears earbuds in public, but because I couldn't bear the thought of experiencing rush hour from the glory level of Coltrane, or of being pinned against train windows with Nine-Inch Nails; it would be unbearable to crush through the business district with Satie; heartbreaking to arrive at my office with Concrete Blonde.

The germ of those misgivings was my fear that the sudden contrast between the ecstatic heights in my head and the actual pits of the day would too painfully expose the irrhythmic nature of the quotidian; that with such measures of grandness going through my mind I would find naked reality even harder to appreciate than before I began wearing musicians.

But as soon as I got back from the US with my new music-filled iPod and plugged in - or plugged out, rather - I found that I needn't have worried. Plowing through fellow Osaka rush hour contestants with the help of The Pixies, or shouldering through wickets with the Chet Baker quartet gives the mundane that surrealistic quality it's always needed, transforming a humdrum commute into a suitably bizarre art form.

And having all those stellar personas right there in my head to rhythm me through it all, shrinking hours of commuting competition into minutes of playtime, drowning train announcements in Muddy Waters, blanketing shrieking infants with the Mothers of Invention - idealizing the quotidian - is basically what art is all about anyway, isn't it?

And in this state of technoschizophrenia, hearing a music that no one else hears, tapping my feet to rhythms unsensed by those around me, lip-syncing with voices from other dimensions, walking to the beat of a different drummer as it were, I view the commuting scenario as a very zany movie by a top director with a sense of humor much like my own, to which this is the masterfully shuffled soundtrack; and I can walk out of the theater anytime, is the unreal mood.

And amidst the tyranny of transit, suddenly there are choices: Red Hot Chili Peppers, or train through tunnel? Thirty-three garbled public announcements or the Talking Heads? The guy next to me coughing for an hour or Radiohead? To say there is no contest is to say that the sun shines in the daytime.

Although the choice is clear, and distinguishes this virtual fugue state from true schizophrenia, it is uplifting to be a madman manque: to watch the commuter hordes massively lemminging down the station stairs to I Wish I Was a Catfish is to see by a strange and welcome light.

I hit 'pause,' turn instinctively to a fellow commuter to share this vision and am met with the lemming look, when I realize that base reality is in fact largely uninhabited at this time of day; so I flip back out and follow the lemming crowd, but not nearly as really as I used to; actually, I'm on my way to one of the many potential heavens I've just begun to realize there are: a company meeting at which my boss will sing Heroin exactly like Lou Reed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

After a month away
no plums left on the tree -
but a tiny green frog


You can sense the empathy...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


"Strict Inspections Being Carried Out for the Prevention of Terrorism" declare the long yellow banners with blood-red lettering that now adorn the wall of the vast immigration hall at Kansai International Airport here in Japan (whose few 'terrorists' in recent decades - that's when we're talking about, isn't it? - have been purely Japanese-- Red Army long ago, Aum Shinrikyo less long ago), where we frazzled potential terrorists are strung out in a long maze of lines like for a Kafka Ride at Disney World (as I was leaving the US, after they'd x-rayed my backpack, boots, hat and everything in my pockets and I'd passed the metal detector and been bodily wanded they critically confiscated my unopened bottle of water but let me keep my chocolate-covered almonds and raisins; luckily I wasn't wearing my New York 1984 t-shirt). I think of taking a picture of the banners, but I then I think of Guantanamo... I have the strong sense that the J-higherups are delighting in this opportunity to tighten the reins of power on an increasingly freedom-demanding public...

Every immigration booth for non-Japanese has a helpful sign above it in blue-light lettering that says "Foreign Visitors," we questionable aliens zigging and zagging through the maze where it's only by accident (an official woman going along the lines checking that customs forms are filled out properly so as to save some of the time being massively blackholed by this entire procedure) that I am found to have Permanent Residency (lived, worked, paid taxes, sent my kids to school here for 28 straight years thus far) and so as a returning alien potential terrorist am privileged to be directed to either of two booths that have a helpful sign above them in blue-light lettering that says "Foreign Visitors" to distinguish them from all the other booths that have a helpful sign above them in blue-light lettering that says "Foreign Visitors," the object apparently being to dementiate any returning alien potential terrorists who - many of them, as today, with potential terrorist kids - will wind up being no more dangerous than these long jet-lagged lines of innocent travelers awaiting their turn to figure out how to mugshot and fingerprint themselves over and over until they get it right, so that they will never again try to get into this country and spend a lot of money.

The Japanese government meanwhile is shelling out billions to encourage tourism from abroad. It all makes perfect sense, if you've ever taken the Kafka Ride.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


(This one's for Winston)

Went this afternoon down toward the beach to a large and renowned supermarket of the AmeriCal kind whose Grand Canyon aisles I love to wander, soaking up the full spectrum of largesse on offer-- the football fields of ice cream choices and the shorelines of beer selections, all unknown in my honorable country of residence.

The acreage of root beer alone always gives me pause, as do the Everests of cheeses, the cliffs of wines. Today, like one without a compass I stumbled into the Eden of the baked goods section and there in the distance beheld - do my eyes deceive me - what appeared to be an elaborate architecture of pies that Antonio Gaudi would have admired greatly, a Sagrada Familia of pies. Drawing nearer, I beheld towers of pies of apple, chocolate creme, key lime, lemon meringue, coconut creme, cherry, berry, pecan - the list outruns my pen - all clearly on personal terms with heaven.

As I drew nearer, my eyes already swimming as in a sea of pies with their frothy peaks and scalloped crusts, all I could I do was dive in mentally and perform the breaststroke, the butterfly, the crawl, and snorkel to the luscious depths, then return to the crust, roll onto my back and just float in supreme deliciousness-- the mind can do wondrous things far from shore in an ocean of pies.

Didn't buy anything though, since I still had a Gibraltar of cherry pie a la mode to finish at home-- but now I know where they are.

This is good, for there is truth in pies that cannot be plumbed elsewhere.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Received the sad news that my long-time blog buddy Winston Rand has suddenly passed away, just a day or two after leaving one of his always uplifting comments on a post of mine.

I'd never met Winston, or even spoken to him, just luckily got to know him through words over years, and always looked forward to his observations. I knew him in that way you can when you read the writings of a person who loves the spirit that lives in the flow of thought shared with kindred spirits, as in the unique relations of the blog. I never would have 'met' Winston were it not for this new technology that has so privileged us all.

So often, Winston was the first to leave a comment on something I'd posted, his words showing me that he was a kind man and an optimist - a combination of integrity that the world can always use more of - ever looking to the bright side of even dark things. There was light in all his words-- his empathy for that styrofoam cup in the midst of heavy traffic is a perfect example of the depth and perception of his observations, and stands as testament to a good and caring man. Those feelings of mine were borne out to the full when I read the touching words written by Winston's wife ("Roomie," as as he lovingly called her) that form the final post on his blog, Nobody Asked, where Winston can always be visited.

Enjoy heaven, Winston. I hope to meet you there in person before too long, if I can change my habits in time.

You always added sunshine to my day.