Sunday, August 31, 2008
HINT OF INFINITY
While walking one of our usual paths down along the small river toward the lake this afternoon, as we came to where the river passed under the lakeside road I saw a small bird suddenly hit the water in the shadow of the bridge and fly on toward me. I'd never seen any bird that size around here fish the water in flight. I was above, on the high riverbank; the bird flew on past me upriver through the tall reeds, a feathered blur, its wings buzzing mightily-- almost like a large hummingbird, except hummingbirds don't fish, and perhaps even more relevantly, there are no hummingbirds in Japan.
As the little bird zipped straight past below me, its back feathers suddenly and magically flashed a solid stripe of electric blue for about the 30 or so meters that it remained in sight, flying low and steadfastly upriver. The color told me what bird it was: it was a kawasemi. I had never seen one around here before.
That unexpected light -- flashing along the air with a purpose of its own, clearly evolved for revelation to an eye in just this way -- was like the gleam of forever breaking through into now, and then the air was closed again.
A hint of infinity doesn't take long.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Apart from the fact that you have to walk differently – indeed, LIVE differently – one of the many interesting aspects of corporeal whiplash is that you can’t breathe deeply, because it hurts too much to stretch all those tenterhooked muscles around the chest and abdomen. As a corollary, yawns, coughs - and above all, sneezes - must be avoided. To sneeze in such a condition, or even try to stifle a sneeze under way, is to scream reflexively, moan/groan, arrrgggghhhh and what not, WOW that hurt, you gasp in the aftermath. So I microyawn, I nanocough, and I haven’t sneezed in a week.
Still, one grows the more complacent with the gradual return to the quotidian, where a sneeze is an old friend and the guard goes down, as it did yesterday morning when I was in the supermarket in the big city picking up some stuff, just one of the routines of daily life, when I felt a sneeze coming on there amidst the busy morning crowd, as sneezes often do, what the hell, reaching for some tea or something, paying no attention to the new sneeze rule, when I remembered what would happen if I did sneeze, right here in the rush hour supermarket with one arm full of purchases, the other holding my bag, what a sight that would be, and what could be weirder than to see a grown man writhing on a supermarket floor after sneezing, except to BE that grown man.
I quickly worked my right hand free and upward, to press my fingers on the vagus nerve just below my nose, don’t want to fling my purchases and moan in agony, another one of those weird foreigners, so I just stood there in a corner with some wannabee English muffins and stuff under one arm, hunched and contorting, trying to discourage the sneeze, defeat the sneeze, send the sneeze back where it came from, making faces, finger pressing, would I sneeze and scream or would I succeed in silence, it was touch and go, a sweaty brow, the issue in serious doubt, the sheet of pain hung by a thread that led who knows where, as shopping workers walked by staring at the odd impromptu behavior of that muffined etc. foreigner acting strangely over there in the corner by the pastry section, but who cares what fellow shoppers think? I care what hurts, and in time the sneeze went away; I was stronger than a mere reflexive expansion of the diaphragm.
A new light shone, the world returned to normal muzak mode, people buying things... But now, somewhere inside me, there is an extra sneeze, a sneeze denied, a sneeze with experience, waiting...
Thursday, August 28, 2008
THE VALUE OF WHAT IS YOURS
Here in the aftermath of speed in darkness I am amazed in the night at how blithely I used to whirl about in bed while asleep, turning onto my right side or my left, doing double flips, handsprings, roundoffs, backhandstands, forward rolls, tucks, reverse double vaults etc. all night long with the grace and ease of a somnambulent gymnast, heedlessly lying on my back or flopping on my stomach to catch a last few Zs in the dawn; then I am amazed in the day at how I used to just jump up into morning sunlight and put arms and legs right and left, here and there into shirts and pants as though there were nothing to it, been doing it all my life then loping down the stairs to carry on with all the multiple twists, somersaults and triple-back saltos of daily life.
When you've got it, when it's yours, you don’t appreciate it, which is maybe why so many times in life it is taken away, held at a distance like a gem in a jeweler’s hand, to afford perspective, make visible to you the value of what is yours, before - if you are lucky - it is given back to you again.
And even if it is not, if it is gone forever, as can happen with age (the greatest teacher of genuine value), you are thankful for the treasure you held if only for a time...
So value every loved one, every friend, every day, every portion of breath, every grace of motion, as though you are much older than you are...
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
REMAINING IN MOTION
You can ask any person of my acquaintance and they will tell you that I have always strictly adhered to the law of gravity (except when in love), and am a close follower of inertia (both the at-rest and in-motion aspects, particularly the former).
No doubt there are a lot of people who love telephone poles, since there’s no disputing taste, but personally I can't stand the things, and even less so now. Always right in the way, all that ugliness strung out over the everyscape just so we can chat at a distance and see after dark, watch Survivor and so forth. I'm not being a curmudgeon here, or a grouch, grump or even a fogey, all of which you do best when you're older, so I meet the age requirement; fact is, I disliked telephone poles even when I was young, because they were almost as everywhere then, and they were just as ugly, the old ones splintery and smelling of creosote (they used wood when I was a kid; remember wood?). They ruined the scenery just as they do now, standing right in the middle of the picture with their elbows sticking out in rank disapproval of these pointless esthetic yearnings of ours.
Anyway, in said strict accordance with the laws of gravity, inertia and centrifugality I traversed the appropriate mathematical arc through the pure mountain air while the motorcycle continued to unite with the pole. Following my brief calculus demonstration I found myself flat on my back there in the mountain darkness, the motorcycle headlight illuminating my sprawled body as it gasped for air, like being pinned there in the dark by the eye of god on a solitary mountain road with that What is the meaning of life question hovering there at the basis, what is reality after all - one is never so alone, yet so integrated withal, as at such moments - so after lying there on the road not thinking at all of Jack Kerouac while relearning to breathe and restructuring an appropriate degree of accepted reality, working various joints this way and that to determine the extent of my integrity, I at last was able to stand up, hobble over to and hop onto the still running motorbike, which now wouldn't turn right or very far left, and managed to drive it upmountain the rest of the way home, which to my good fortune was straight ahead. I'd have a hell of a left-body Charlie horse tomorrow (landed mainly on my left shoulder).
Which, 4 days later, is still the case. Plus a couple of cracked ribs and a subluxated collar bone, all taped up and strapped together. At least I can type, once my right hand lifts my left hand onto the keyboard.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
NEWS GETS AROUND
Seems word has gotten out in the simian world that I'm putting up an anti-monkey fence around my garden; the hungry hairy jobless critters are now edging off into the big city, probably looking for work, even attempting to take the subway for free.
To those many frustrated men in blue who now know exactly how I feel: just email me if you need any advice. Also I have some selected anti-monkey rocks for sale or lease, and ideas for a subway fence that might work...
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
AND HE SHOULD KNOW.
In case you'd like to be sure you're actually voting this time,
and that the actual winner is elected...
- Segment 6 of 8 -
Planning to E-Vote? Read This First...
(It's not surprising that Diebold is no longer named Diebold;
alarmingly, though, it's new name is "Premier"...)
Monday, August 18, 2008
Saturday being our last day with the grandies, we (Kasumi, Tatsuya Echo and I) took them to pick blueberries at the blueberry farm (and restaurant) Sora-no-ne, up north and inland from the Lake, where they each filled a container with excitement and blueberries, nibbling on the peak fruit all the while, we grownups enjoying their excitement and the blueberries, helping the trio find the biggest blueberries to pick among the millions of swelling dusky blue globes.
When each of the three had filled her container to the brim, we took them for picnicking, swimming and playing to a place not far from there, their favorite play place, called Kodomo-no-kuni (site link at the link) on the shore of Lake Biwa. It has a big and challenging playground, plus a beach, a pool, a stream, cars you can pedal along roads all around the grounds and lots of other stuff-- the trio love the place; and even better it’s free, except for a 500 yen parking fee. You pretty much have to have a car to get there, though, as far as I know.
When we returned home in the evening the kids went out into the garden, where they discovered the newly dug soil with the post holes around it and asked if they could go in there and walk on it, and go into the post holes - they just had to walk on that fluffy soil and go down into those deep holes - then they discovered the standing sheaf of reeds I had there for marking pole-to-pole distance, and right away turned them into swords and skyreachers and fishing poles, went fishing for imaginary fish in the post holes and caught a few large ones, had us remove the fish from their airhooks and assess their flavor.
Kaya gathered some rocks and made an imaginary fire with all her fish on it and got leaves for spicing and salad while Miasa made soba noodles and Mitsuki made udon noodles, then in the growing dimness one of the twins did what I guess is an instinctive thing for a new female— she pushed one tall reed into the ground and about a meter away pushed another reed into the ground, then stood there before them clicking two sticks together and chanting a song, the other twin soon joining in seamlessly, creating an enchanting and spontaneous song of apparently made-up words.
At the end of the long chant (chant > enchanting: interesting tacit understanding in us modern folk, of how deeply those words connect) she declared to her father and I, who stood at the edge of the garden watching this instantaneous succession of goings on, that this was now a special gateway, and that beyond it was a special room where they could go and do special things. She stood before the gateway and began clacking her sticks again in rhythm with her sister, preparing the room until it was all ready for use, then she went fishing in one of the post holes she hadn’t fished in yet.
Standing there watching in the dimness that gave an aura to their endless spring of imaginings, I couldn’t help but realize the deep and inborn magic that resides in those new spirits; we grownups tend to think it’s all "made up," but seeing the three do their untrained rituals there in the dark at the end of a day, still directly connected to their (and our) source, I was suddenly aware that it’s not made up at all, but is as ancient and true as the seeds of humanity. It wasn’t thought, which is new to each mind, but spiritual instinct, now living on in them—not to be erased or supplanted by education, if I can help it--
All in all, a heartfilling day.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
BIG HOT CITY RAMBLE
You talk about heat island syndrome as only happens in the big city, well just go outside at 10:30 a.m. from this Big City office where I'm working today - during Obon, no less - and you wouldn't believe how the deadstill air, dense with reflected sun from the tall mirrorglass buildings around here, can make this worse than Death Valley, it's like a solar oven, you could fry an egg on your cordovan wingtip, not that I'm wearing wingtips, actually I'm wearing some great pull-on sneaker type shoes I picked up in the States where they have my shoe size, they're really convenient for living in Japan, where you have to take your shoes off all the time and then put them back on, but an egg would just make a mess on these, I don't even like to picture it especially in this heat, they're sort of netty and cool, lots of openings for air, makes them perfect footwear for heat island syndrome here in the big hot city, but noway suited for the fried egg thing as I say, whereas the image of a fresh egg broken over a superheated cordovan wingtip holds a certain charm for me here, highly polished cordovan as well furnishing a superior surface for frying an egg if you think about it, let's not get all psychological over this, it's not your shoe, it just makes a good metaphor, a cordovan wingtip, nor did I say a Manolo Blahnik stilletto heel or anything - which now that I think of it might work as well, if it was patent leather and not open-toed - but I'm just talking about the intensity of heat island syndrome around here in the big city, actually I think it's frying my brain...
Thursday, August 14, 2008
AT LEAST IT WASN'T PETER THE GREAT'S FOOT
I came to blessedly metric Japan, where everything is so simply factored in powers of ten, from a retroimperial USA where 1 inch (derived from the length of 3 archaic barleycorns) was about 0.08333 feet or about 0.02778 yards, and 12 inches equaled 1 foot (the length of some ancient king's you guessed it; good thing it wasn't Peter the Great, or we'd be getting a lot fewer miles per gallon today), 3 feet equaled 1 yard (the apocryphal distance between the nose and thumb of Henry I), 16 ounces equaled one pound, 2 cups equaled 1 pint, 2 pints equaled 1 quart or was it 4 pints - no, that's quarts to a gallon, which -- anyway, a fluid ounce was 1/12 or 1/16 or 1/20 of a pint, depending - there was a gill in there somewhere, as I recall... (The schoolhours I spent memorizing all that, then all the years forgetting it!)
There were also 8 quarts to the peck, 4 pecks to the bushel and what the hell else, which was handled in or troy or avoirdupois was it, to say nothing of apothecary and mariner measurements, there was a gill in there somewhere too, if memory serves, I still get pretty international just thinking about it, let me see, so a mile was 190,080 barleycorns or 5280 king's feet, depending on whoever that king was.
But as I say, since I moved here to Japan, things have gotten a lot simpler, I can do without barleycorns and regal pedality, just whip out the old divide/multiply by 10 technique, except when for example I must work from a carpentry diagram measured in fractions of regal feet and nose-fingertip distances, or when I buy things like my American woodstove, whose nuts and bolts are based on various cumulations of barleycorns, whereas my wrenches are rationally graded (try to imagine a nanoinch, and you'll see where this must ultimately end), the nuts and bolts therefore being irreplaceable here except by international snailmail, and to work them I have to get hold of some old barleycorn-based tools or find a king's foot somewhere, though they only have emperors here, with small metric feet...
Jimmy Carter was practically driven out of town for trying to change the US to the metric system, though scientists in the US have always used it (what have they got against kings' feet)?
However, a quick look at the world map of non-metric nations shows us that the USA is not alone in its quest to remain faithful to a few grains and an old regal extremity...
It shares its backward-looking determination with Myanmar and Liberia.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Hundred-dollar melons and other crazy prices
have always been a Japan thing, to the point of cliche,
but this is getting out of hand. A hundred dollars for 4 grapes?
Or maybe you'd prefer some Beef Tongue ice cream?
Monday, August 11, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Yesterday, Kaya was taken by her other grandfather to see a planetarium. Mitsuki and Miasa were envious as double five-year-olds when they heard about Kaya's pending good time, but then they were told that they were coming to our house for the afternoon and evening, and their envy waned a bit; at least we have different toys, plus we live on a mountain.
When they got here we told them we were taking them to a concert. They'd apparently heard of the word, and seemed excited at the prospect. (What did 'concert' mean to them? What does a five-year old twin female expect from a ‘concert’? How do you ask such questions of a 5-year-old twin female?)
When all the travelly stuff was ready we took them down along the lake, around the mountain and into the beautiful narrow valley on the other side from us, where we drove the curving road in the deep shade along the lazy mountain stream until we found a good spot, went down to the stream bank and the twins went out of the hot day into the clear mountain water for a cool swim, enjoyed picking up larger and larger rocks from the bottom and tossing them further out, making the biggest splashes possible all over themselves and effecting their changes in the general layout of the universe, then after an hour or so of waterfun they toweled off and we went on to the concert, which was just down the road.
The ‘Haruya’ family, whom I've mentioned herein a few times, the most natural and simply living family I know in these parts (e.g., none of their three sons goes to school, they are home-schooled, extremely rare in Japan) (I have a lot of great stories about the family I should get to herein sometime). They live in a traditional Japanese village house in one of the small villages along that river. For their livelihood, in addition to occasionally serving excellent reservations-only meals in their home, restaurant-fashion, they travel around the country to various ecoevents where they sell delicious home-made organic ready-to-eat foods. As well, they are movers and shakers in a lot of the events that happen over in their valley neighborhood and elsewhere. They are also a rock/folk band, and were going to play the first set of the concert, starting at 4pm.
The twins knew none of these details, and seemed unusually quiet sitting right in the front row before a stage that was the deck of a rustic farmhouse up inside the edge of the woods. There were a lot of kids running around (almost all boys), but the twins stayed fascinated before the stage, watching the band set up; then the performance began. The Haruya band, Yamamoto 844 (mother on piano, father on lead guitar, sons on vocals and drums; another woman on bass, her two sons helping with the vocals). Five boys in total, from 5-8 years old, did the vocals in the first song. The Haruya folks’ three sons, 8, 5 and 2, took turns playing the drums during their set. Believe it or not, the 2-year-old did a responsibly credible job on the drums-- he stayed seated, pounding now and then, and finished with a big satisfying crash on the cymbals.
During the set, I was watching the twins now and then to see how they were taking all this; was it too noisy? Totally bizarre? Was it their first actual concert? They were too busy watching to answer silly questions; they never moved from the bench, sat there eating their snacks and drinking their cold tea, eyes locked on the performance.
After the first couple of songs, the oldest brother, 8, became the main vocalist and really belted out the tunes. During the closing song, Mitsuki kept pulling at Echo's sleeve and saying something, but Echo couldn't hear clearly because of the volume, so she just nodded. After the song ended, Mitsuki said Sonno hito wa kakkoii... Mitsuki sukii desu! Which situationally translates as: That guy is really cool... I like him! She wanted his autograph.
Echo went over and found him behind the stage with his friends, horsing around like an 8-year-old, and persuaded him to come and give his autograph to one of those cute twins over there (seems it was his first autograph, and he was uncharacteristically a bit shy about it). He came over in his Grateful Dead bear t-shirt, and in his immediate presence it was clear that Mitsuki, who had just turned five a few days ago, had a major crush on this guy nearly twice her age. He signed his name in normal-sized letters. Echo asked him to sign it BIG; he did. Mitsuki held the paper with just the tips of her fingers, like a basically untouchable treasure.
As the sun was setting and the featured group was setting up for its session late into the night, before leaving (we had to meet Kasumi at home around 7) we went over to where the Haruya family was now selling their foods, and told the boy's mother about what had happened. She said to her son, who was there helping out, why don't you draw her a picture of a samurai on the paper? (He loves drawing and Japanese history, so draws a lot of historic figures). He took the paper, M&M following, and went over to an outdoor worktable of plywood over sawhorses and began to draw. The twins watched in close fascination; he joked, they laughed. I took some pictures. His 5-year-old brother came over. Echo said That doesn't look like a samurai. The younger brother said It isn't a samurai; it's Napoleon. Napoleon? said Echo; It doesn't look like Napoleon, either. It’s Napoleon the third, said the home-schooled 5-year-old.
When we got home, Napoleon III in his own special folder, Mitsuki commandeered Echo to write a fan letter, inviting her crush to “come by Shinkansen and stay at my house and go to a restaurant where we can have spaghetti, pizza and dessert.” Echo asked who else would go on the date; Miasa said I'll go! Mitsuki said His mother, my mother, and Miasa.
Then she carefully colored his drawing of Napoleon III and gave it in its folder to Echo to keep for her, put a bunch of her own drawings and newly learned writings in the envelope with the letter for Echo to give to her one and only.
That's Mitsuki in the last photo, holding the paper...
Five years old...
Friday, August 08, 2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Had the three wee ones over yesterday afternoon and evening while their mother went off for an evening of rare comparative freedom to meet with some old friends from her younger days around here. It gets stranger each year how simply being in the presence of small impossibly cute beings like KMM (currently 7-6-6) can draw the energy right out of my body much faster and more thoroughly than hard labor. I could split firewood for hours, take a short break before some gardening, then take a long walk before lunch, but with these three, even if they are reading or quietly playing (they’re well behaved young ladies for the most part, and only rarely leave the galaxy), there is some other powerful cosmic force at play, which I hereby dub Bright Matter. Scientists haven’t discovered this aspect of reality yet, they’re so involved in proving the existence of Dark Matter; wait till they have granddaughters.
If, while (and only while) the three are at last quietly occupied I sneak upstairs to do a bit of editing (as fate will twist it, I'm swamped with work these days), within a minute or two one of the trio quietly comes up and sits on my knee, wants to watch, wants to try (it is the highest crime to discourage such wishes; anyway, granting them is infinitely more pleasant than work), then there are two, then three, and less and less of whatever I was doing. Soon the girls are learning how to use the mouse to color some pages on a kiddie website they ask me to find for them, and as they become absorbed in that I drift downstairs to ponder our new garden, which Mr. H (who has the big fruit tree nursery upmountain) over the weekend dug up with his power shovel and cleared out all the rocks (there's a big pile of them over in the garden corner), pulled out the stubborn stumps that were poking up here and there (the extent of the cherry tree roots was astonishing!) (there's a big pile of them over in another corner) and ripped up the deep bamboo roots (they're piled on top of the stumps), all to be dealt with at some point, when the Bright Matter index is lower.
Next we have to put up the monkey/deer/wild pig fence, which should be interesting, but plans evaporate in the presence of Bright Matter as here come the trio again, Watchadoin, so we do some fireworks, it's dusky enough, but the twins don't yet know about things like upwind/downwind (we have to learn that, too!), so while I'm sparkler-lighting for two sisters, the other sister's first sparkler sends all its smoke into her face and she has no idea what to do while holding a bright flame in her own hand, other than to quietly stand there and breathe/not breathe as best she can, so abruptly doesn't like fireworks anymore - every moment is HUGE at that age.
Then we feed the three and put them to bed; Echo goes into the bath and I go softly into the upstairs silence for some quiet reading until the three fall asleep, when I can at last raid the fridge to my own content, but my peace is interrupted as four small feet come pounding up the stairs, yelling Mitsuki's nose is bleeding! I go downstairs and Mitsuki is lying on the floor holding a softball of tissues to her bloody nose and looking very serious, so I assure her all is ok, take her to the bathroom sink (keep your head tilted back!) to wash off, tell her to lie down on her back and be still-- then Echo comes out of the bath and they're all up and excited to tell her about the whole bloody adventure from start to finish and then some. They’ll be awake for a while now; amidst the new and intense waves of Bright Matter I ponder having a large strong coffee so maybe I can make it all the way to bed.