Monday, May 31, 2010
The sublimity in simply sitting here, with only nature as my companion, one that speaks to the nature in my body, summons my kinship with branching trees, rising clouds, singing insects, flowering air-- the colors, the dances, the perfumes, the music, so free in their way to my clockwound being as to ease me to their time, the real time, to be among them as part of the family, sharing the sublimity in simply being here...
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Given my former lifestyle and its related Karma, having made it to this age I'm familiar enough with the receiving end of the Big K in its many forms, and with the volatility of the Karmic Exchange. This morning though, was something new for me.
As I was freewheeling through the village down to the train station, I approached the little Shinto shrine that sits right by the roadside midvillage and always has, probably a shrine there 1000 years ago. It's tended mostly by the elder ladies of the village, who keep it clean, put flowers there in season, come up the mountain past our house to cut sakaki branches for it in winter, put some sake there, and a rice ball or some mochi, with incense on special days. Like every religious structure, it's about a lot more than religion; it embodies the local spirit, reflects the care of the community. The tenets of religion are actually the least of it by now - the whetherness of gods and so on - it's the collective face of the village that is kept clean and presentable to all who pass by, a symbol of their unity. To let it slip into dilapidation would be unthinkable. To violate the shrine or its trappings would be unhuman.
A description that fits Crow perfectly, but he of the darkness couldn't care less about such folderol, it being morning, he being hungry and lord of it all anyway. He always knows where the food is. Monkeys do too, but Crow, an early riser with wings, was there first, filching a big fresh rice ball from the shrine altar. He was just digging in, on the very altar itself, when yours truly, a spontaneously deputized agent of the Karmic Division, came quietly freewheeling down the road.
Crow's dark eye spotted my approach; he stopped beaking rice long enough to grab the rice ball with both taloned feet and take off fast, but fast was no longer an option, given the dead weight that is a rice ball. High was no longer an option either, so crow had to fly low, and in only one possible direction away: i.e., across the road right in the path of Karmic Agent Brady, who was quickly drawing nearer with weighty retribution, leaving but one heartbreaking way to escape the impending karma: by lessening the overall weight. So crow did the unthinkable, what is pretty near crowly impossible: he let go of the rice ball in mid-air, let it fall into the road where somebeast else could get it, in order to gain the speed and height he needed to avoid the jaganath that was speeding toward him, me atop the hell on wheels watching the whole show with amazement that Karma was using me as an agent... Apparently I had turned a spiritual corner of some kind, which is news to me.
It's probably not cool to complain after being Karmically deputized, but I wish the crow had been a monkey...
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
THE DISPLACED MIDWESTERNER EXEMPTION
Like many Americans, whether expat or frontline domestic, since reaching working age I have questioned the mental integrity of the IRS, an annual questionfest whose intensity is heightened after one has lived awhile in Japan among rub-it-in foreigners of other nationalities who gleefully pay no double taxes to their mentally healthy home countries.
That annual event came round again this morning, when my eyes fell upon this line while wading through the 2009 tax year's phonebook-sized "1040 FORMS & INSTRUCTION FOR OVERSEAS FILERS," to wit, form 1040, line 42, Exemptions, which states: "If line 38 is $125,100 or less and you did not provide housing to a Midwestern displaced individual, multiply $3,650 by the number on line 6d. Otherwise, see page 37." The coherence just leaps right out at you.
Mind you, I've never been one to turn down a tax exemption, but I've checked carefully and no matter how I tweak it, I haven't provided housing to a displaced Midwesterner, who at my house would have to be about as displaced as he could get. So I guess I'll just have to multiply $3,650 by the number on line 6d, whatever good that does. Did I mention that this Exemption is offered in the instruction for OVERSEAS filers?
It is also most unlikely that many of my US expat friends here, wherever they live in Japan, are housing any displaced Midwestern individuals, but it just goes to show you how obsessive the Gollums of our econopolity have become. No doubt there's a law somewhere saying that if you house a displaced Midwesterner then you can get a tax credit or a free coupon to Denny's or something, but the fact that they ask it of expats is a good indication of just how far the neomalignancy has advanced, how it has all become intertangled into one globally grossly expanding tax phonebook-producing moneyfeeding hydrabehemoth that has grown beyond control except by those at the top who push the dollarsign buttons and make billions yet pay no taxes. It is the domestic frontliners like you who pay the taxes, and those like us abroad who get the tax phonebooks that beget manic rantings like this, Hahahahahahaha, even though, living abroad, we are not taxed unless we're also rich, in which case we do not pay either, because we're rich! You see how it all holds together, don't you? Hahahahahahaha!
Say-- you look like you might be from the Midwest...
Sunday, May 23, 2010
The police in Japan of today aren't nearly as ShowMeYourPapersy as they were back when I first came here in the early seventies and folks in Tokyo used to stare at me in my rareness like folks in China do now to their visitors. Back then the police would stop you on the street or jump out of one of the corner police boxes and with one of those guilt-generating immigration faces ask to see your passport or alien registration, even though world terrorism wasn't yet much of a fad. We foreigners were a threat of some other kind, a threat that's no longer really a matter of papers, but has been reduced to its essence. The fundamental fact of foreignness in this "ethnically homogeneous" society is still here. [Ad before video, but worth the wait]
The other night I got off the train back from work in the big city, went to get my motorbike to head home, and even from a distance could see an ominous yellow tag on the handlebars. Some authority had been here. What had I done now. Untwisting the wire that held the tag in place, I took it off and saw that it contained a list of 9 items, one of which, #3 , had been checked by the observing authority. It was from the police.
A policeman or two had come out here, to this little motor/bicycle parking lot beneath the tracks of this tiny railstation - where at night I often detrain alone - to go from bike to bike and check these 9 items, such as "There is no lock on your vehicle," "You forgot to lock your vehicle," The handlebars of your vehicle are not locked," or (in my case) "The theft insurance on your vehicle has expired." (Bicycle and motorcycle theft insurance is required by law(!) in a country where crime is so rare (relatively speaking) that the police have time to visit little motor/bicycle parking lots beneath the tracks at tiny rail stations to go from bike to bike and observe 9 items regarding your two-wheeled vehicle. This is amazing only to a foreigner, so there is something to this foreignness...
Not that I'm complaining, mind you; it is a privilege truly unimaginable in the West - and just about everywhere else I've ever been - to feel so safe and enjoy such civility-- and by extension, to feel so remiss at having violated requirement #3. I'll get right on it.
Friday, May 21, 2010
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF DISCERNMENT
Choice is not a big deal in traditional Japan and never has been, especially out here in the countryside, where vanilla ice cream is exciting and everybody drives a white pickup truck. I could go on, but then I'd never finish, so I'll stop here if you don't mind, and take a quick right to get to my point.
Every couple of months we ship to Kasumi and Family up north a big bag of the organic brown rice we buy unpolished from Mr. S., an elderly rice farmer who lives across the Lake. We then take it to the community rice polisher down in the village, dump in the rice, use the graduated knob to fine tune the settings for optimal brownricedness, put in the coins (yes it's a rice-polishing vending machine!), then let it run and out comes rice polished just the way we like it. We ship the appropriate portion of the result to Kasumi; the grandies love that fresh natural country rice.
A side benefit of this is that now and then we get to meet various neighborhood folks down there, which can be interesting, plus we can store more rice at home, and for a longer time, because it has the hull still on until we polish it in the village, plus we get the bran and other husky stuff, that's emptied into a large barrel beside the polishing machine. I take the bran home and use it on the garden; it can also be used for making pickles, skin scrubs etc. (A mesh scrub-bag of organic rice bran in the bathtub!) How I dream on...
On Wednesday, a rainy season day, we headed down to the village with a 30kg bag of rice to polish and send to Kasumi and family, went up to the old rice polisher and found that it was a new rice polisher. Looked real slick. Big, fancy buttons. Maybe even digital. Never had digital rice, no doubt it's fast and convenient. But on closer inspection we found that the concept of fine tuning was no longer appreciated, had been deemed an outdated thing of the past, and was not available. Gone was the big old friendly knob that had enabled infinite polishing choices. In its place were two buttons: 70% polished or Complete Obliteration of Any Indication that This Is Rice. For a higher price, too. Plus in its obsessive efficiency it sucked all polishings into a black hole; no bran was returned. This would not stand. Plus, we'd paid for that bran. (I suspect we may be the only ones around here making that argument.) We put the rice back in the car and headed north along the Lake to find another village rice polisher in an even more rural place where a spectrum of choice might still prevail, a last bastion of preference.
We went on quite a while through the downpour till we came to the egg cooperative, where they have a rice polisher in a shed out front. It was new, too, as it turned out, but offered three choices: 50%, 70% and Complete Obliteration etc. (What are these tiny translucent granules?) We like our rice around 35% polished, so there was no game in town for us, and it was now raining extra hard, which let me tell you makes it difficult to find new rice polishers tucked away up little village side streets, a demanding task at the best of times. So we put in our rice, put in our money, selected 50% and went for it, vowing to find an older, more liberal machine if there was one still around within a reasonable distance, though it probably wouldn't be there long if no one out here was opting for brown rice choices. Who's gonna support that? This sleeker, quieter, faster and more expensive rice polishing machine took our bran, too, and could not be insulted.
It seems that no one wants to choose the degree of polishing anymore, that there is no demand for the full-spectrum brownricedness, that in the new world we are all becoming, deep choice is no longer efficient.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
These are the early days of rice growing season, when the leaves of the new rice are all but invisible upon those many facets of water that just a few days ago were filled only with mountains and sky. Heading down the road these dawns is like traveling through a whole mountainside of optical illusions, passing by mirrors of open water where the farmers have planted their family paddies with the barest of rice stalks that from a distance are invisible, those small leaves placed 30 cm or so apart; in the slanted light it is a visual treat to slowly roll toward the village on my motorcycle and at first, looking down from above each watermirror, see nothing but sky reflected-- then a vague geometric pattern begins to emerge as the light changes and the tiny rice plants become manifest - mere wisps of green, the lines and rows of them curving and turning to fit the shape of the respective paddy - then when I draw to the level of the water there is suddenly a soft green layer floating there at eye level, like a jade mist above a mirror, then I look below to the next paddy and again it is only water, upon which a geometric pattern of green slowly resolves and turns to mist as I descend...
In a paddy here and there along the way stalks a crow, egret or hawk, searching for frog, insect, little fish that live there-- they pause in their breakfast labors, lift their heads above the green to watch me as I pass, then get back to the big menu...
Sunday, May 16, 2010
About 11 o'clock this morning as I was clearing the old onion bed and prepping it for what I haven't yet decided (the possibilities in gardening are as many as those in youth, which can be at once nostalgic and unsettling, an interesting combo), some of those youth of Japan who are mute in the sociospiritual sense and depend upon incoherent loudness for public expression - hundreds of them in this instance - came motorcycling past on the road down by the Lake, flicking their accelerators to flatulate the fact of their presence.
This usually occurs at night in the city, to the delight of those heavily put-upon urbanites trying to sleep on the other side of thin walls a few feet away, but on nice sunny Sundays like this the mutes sometimes roar collectively out into the country, where they can eructate in the light of day.
As they did so en masse, moving on by in their superficial soundcloud, a startled frog in a nearby kinmokusei tree suddenly began chirping rapidly with irritation. I couldn't make out all that he was saying amidst that torrent of noise, but before he was drowned out he said something like: What the hell is that? Who are those amateurs? How come they're saying nothing so loudly?
Amazingly, he was voicing the very same thoughts that were even then burbling up from what must be the amphibian levels of my bathoconscious!
How unlike an exhaust pipe!
Friday, May 14, 2010
FOREST MONKEYS, STREET MONKEYS
As a sapient being and anciently practiced discerner of patterns amidst chaos, I can't help but perceive the similarities between the lowdown thieving conscienceless behavior of my local simians at one end of the Intelligence Spectrum, and the lowdown thieving conscienceless behavior of Wall Street simians at the other end. The forest monkeys in their basal integrity come and take a few onions, bite a radish or two, then are gone till they're again hungry in this neighborhood and there is nothing better around than my onions. They never get bonuses or flaunt the success of their scam, they never make off with more than they can carry.
The Street monkeys, in contrast, find that integrity gets in the way of their desires; they want more than just the onions of it all, they want the yachts and the golf courses, the 25 million dollar houses, they want the respect of folks like themselves, who can only envy. So they package a dozen actual onions and millions of promises of onions and trillions of onion IOUs into tranches that they get rated AAA 100% ONION by some bribed rating agency, then sell the Fully Onionized Derivatives at declared value to widows and pensioners, mayors and governments all over the world, who then believe they are rich in onions and will be even richer when they cash in their fat onion portfolios in 20 years.
Both parties of perpetrators know, somewhere in their "Heart," that they are committing dishonest acts, the main difference being that it's easier to perceive in the forest monkeys. You can see they feel guilty when stealing - which they know must be clandestine - and they look guilty when caught red-faced. The Street monkeys, in contrast, feel no guilt; in fact they reward themselves all the more handsomely the greater their dishonesty. What's more, they even flaunt their actions, lately praising themselves for so many brilliantly (and honestly impossible) profitable quarters in a row, achieved by further milking the biggest scam in the history of sapience.
Forest monkeys, with their ingrained integrity, would never stoop so low.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
A SMALL JIG
The monkeys of course know when I am at home, and they know that when I am at home I am ever on the watch, gardenwise, that when I see a monkey in the vicinity I am a man of fast and accurate rocks, loud scary fireworks and other advanced forms of dastardly insistence upon vegetable possession.
Of course the monkeys know these things. But they also know that I work in the city on Tuesdays, and that Echo is away on errands all Tuesday afternoon. So they are patient. They don't often come on those other days, unless they're strangers, who are easily chased off. The native monkeys wait, hold the kids back, restrain themselves. They come on Tuesday afternoon, after the red car has been spotted and confirmed as coming down the mountain. "Red car descent confirmed, let's move out..." the monkey Godfather says into his virtual wrist mike.
So it wasn't really a big surprise when on Wednesday morning, one of my at home days, I awoke and looked out the window upon my garden, where I perceived even with sleepy, eyeglassless eyes that that the few onions that had remained did so no longer. Some form of lowly, crass and uncaring beast had paid a visit to my onions, as depicted in those impressionist flecks of white scattered there among the long, blurry brushtrokes of toppled green.
The reason I wasn't jumping up and down possessed with Gardener's Rage, however, was that I had been quietly and inyerfacedly harvesting and consuming my very own onions for some time now, as per reasons posted of previously; hence there weren't that many onions left, and those of lowest value. I had also scored 99.99 percent of the shiitake in my daily log scans, so when the drooling beasts came upon the empty logs after the paucity of onions there was likely much gnashing of simian teeth in that quarter, which pleases me immensely.
I don't really mind the monkeys taking their vig in exchange for my use of their ancestral turf, especially a radically diminished vig, such as I've been contriving of late. It's not like we have a contract or anything. Also they left the garlic alone and don't like spinach, chard, radishes, shungiku or peppers, among other things. And there aren't yet any cukes, tomatoes or squashes, which I will hawkeye like I do the shiitake, so all in all most of my garden remained mine, a matter of not-too-small a jig on my part, even before I found my glasses.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
EXPAT BOOKWORM JUBILATION
As a long-time traveler who has experienced many of the world's markets (in fact, sold in a few) and the infinity of trickery therein, I of course did not believe it when I visited an online bookstore with an Amazonlike selection range and Amazonlike prices, but that offered FREE SHIPPING WORLDWIDE (Amazon offers "free" shipping in the continental US for only $79 a year!), I thought who are you kidding, from Seattle to here it's usually book price plus ca. 50% for shipping costs, and this new place was in the UK, but then after checking a bit deeper decided to try it and see, ordered two paperback books (one of which Amazon had only in hardback (to be pre-ordered!). Received the two books in perfect shape by air, the first in about 2 weeks, the other at a bit over 3 weeks (delayed by to the Icelandic volcano, as discovered via order tracking). I don't know how they do it but I hope it lasts. I suspect that Expat English bookworms worldwide are now rejoicing.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
This morning I was restacking the old firewood into a new and improved arrangement for next year, and was just lifting the last 10cm diameter cherry log from the northernmost cord open to the wind so I could stack some newly split wood there, when all of a sudden on the support cedar log below was a professional baby mamushi, going "Huh?" "Wha?" "I was asleep, man, what the..." looking around and talking kinda slow like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland saying Wwwhhhooo aaarrreee yyyooouuu??? Actually he was a bit older than a baby mamushi, which would be more like the snake I found under my front door one morning.
He'd be about a foot long were one to stretch him out, which I was not about to do, you can if you want, and even though he was curled up small I could tell he was a mamushi because of the casual and fearless way he addressed me, a giant looming over him with giant claws and clothes and stuff. He didn't dash off at lightspeed, the way venomless snakes always do. Plus there was the professional pinstriping and other decorations along his body, even though not in the black-and-brown of mamushi adulthood, or the black-and-gray of infancy-- more like, I guess, an adolescent red-and-green-- but even if you've never seen it before, way in your inherited archives you always know exactly what it means-- that "zero at the bone" that Emily spoke of. He slowly tilted his head up to better see what the hell, and though tiny, his head was triangular like that of a pit viper, all the more beautiful for its perfect, gemlike tininess.
It was morning and still cool, so he'd been racked out since dawn after a night on the new job, and had not expected an interruption to his snaky dreams. However, I already had his former roof in my hand and was not going to put it back because I'm restacking this firewood so get over it, was the thoughtwave. After a loaded pause (Hey, I got venom you know...) he did the reptilian version of Good Grief..., slithered slowly to the ground and huffed off into the downmountain underbrush to find a new place to crash and not be interrupted by one of these crazy, legged creatures.
Not long after, as I was stacking the new wood I could have sworn I heard some tiny snake snores, but that was probably just the bamboo leaves rubbing in the breeze.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
WE AND THE RAIN FOREST
At the convenience store on the way to the office this morning I bought for my afternoon coffee break which I'm having right now a double-espresso in one of those plastic cups with the plastic membrane and plastic dome lid that have the plastic straw glued to the side with some plastic glue, and I notice it has on its side - not far from the straw - a green and bulbous-toed, but otherwise nondescript rainforest frog standing alert in a tiny white space just above the symbols for Do Not Microwave and "PURA" (in katakana), the Japanese disposal code for plastic items as required by some international convention on preserving the whatever of the earth yeah sure, and the bar code for sheer biz purposes, and of course the corporate URL, then above the alert frog (who is, I note, trademarked), in a rectangle of definitely not gold, float a couple good-lookin' coffee beans, and beside the frog are some simple instructions on how to remove the straw from its plastic concealment on the side of the container without spilling the coffee all over yourself, and we're in charge of the frogs? They're depending on us for their survival? Oh yeah, the frog's tiny space is surrounded by a jagged green circle that says above the frog's head in accordance with said International Convention, in a kind of glory banner: RAINFOREST ALLIANCE, here among city canyons, and underneath the frog a ribbon across that says CERTIFIED. Aren't we the strangest of species.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
One of the reasons I love gardening is the challenges it poses, especially up here, trying to grow vegetables where no vegetables have ever grown, in the face of monkeys deer, wild pigs and so forth; there are so many facets that it's always new, like being a seed myself. Another thing I like is the flowers. Finding flowers that will survive here, even thrive here. I'm still trying. And losing, mostly.
Last year I scattered a few different packets of wild flower mixes of unspecified particularities over our small landscapy gardens out in front of the house, where some narcissus and wild iris (the latter getting rare, I hear) survive, but not much else (the monkeys dug up and ate the lily bulbs), and everything competes with the bamboo. A couple of tiny wild flower plants are there this year in one area, but over in the other area something really caught on, and found a niche. Bushy low foliage it had, with a tiny red spot at the feathery leaf tips, maybe 40 cm high, spreading to maybe a meter in width so far, then last month it began putting out long thin stalks that developed pointy new tips on them, like little pale-green witches' hats.
Then the little hats began to change to tan, then gold shone through, then one of them began to split at the bottom and halfway up, and I could see there was a vivid orange-gold something in there; it stayed that way for days, until at last I could stand it no longer and gave a tug on the pointy tip of the "hat," which slid off in a silken way to reveal a tucked-up, thin-petaled, gold-orange flower, which the next morning opened fully into brightness, then closed when evening came. I had no idea what it was. Something from the cosmos family?
It seemed familiar though, so I image-googled "flowers that close at night" and there it was, right up top! It was a California poppy! A flower I had first beheld at sunset nearly 40 years ago on the upper meadows of Big Sur, a place I visited many times while living in Berkeley...
And here was my colorful old friend come to thrive in my garden on the other side of the world, shouting out dozens of that same orange hello.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Sogyu came by late Friday afternoon with the kakishibu we ordered-- enough intensified persimmon peel juice to treat the whole deck, two coats. Yesterday, therefore, after two cloudy but rainless days and one sunny morning had dried out the deck real well, I started kakishibuing. (Feel free to use this newly coined verb, which I hereby donate to the public domain.)
Kakishibu has an interesting fragrance-- an organic smell, sort of astringent; not like you'd want to drink it, but not that sensibly toxic volatile smell of the standard wood treatment stuff. Brushing on kakishibu is like painting with thin red wine. It's reddish and watery on the brush, but not deadly at all; no need to wear gloves to protect your skin, safety goggles to protect your eyes, mask to preserve your general existence, no hazmat suit for optimal protection from unspecified mutational possibilities.
It's safe for kids to later run around on barefoot and basically will not kill you, now or unto seven generations. There is no need for skull and crossbones on the container, or instructions on what to do if you should get it on your person, in your eyes or ingest it, god forbid, no big red letters saying BE SURE TO KEEP IT OFF YOUR SKIN KEEP IT AWAY FROM YOU AND ANY OTHER LIVING THING, DO NOT BREATHE THE FUMES OMIGOD WHAT IS THAT... Kakishibu doesn't beget horror movie thoughts or smell like a chemical weapons factory when you're finished treating the house you have to live in afterwards. Whatever sour-winish smell there is is gone quickly.
The first coat makes the wood a bit darker, the second that much darker and so on till you reach the desired shade, but it even looks organic somehow, and on lighter wood quite interesting, colorwise. It doesn't do anything unnatural and you could eat off of it if you were so minded-- had no plates, real simple living, whatever. It came in three two-liter recycled PET bottles Sogyu kindly sold us from out of his major stash of the stuff he gets from an old Kyoto kakishibu store he frequents.
I recommend kakishibu for treating any wood you need treated. It may be about double the cost of deadly poison, but it has considerable advantages, many beyond price, such as extended longevity of home, self and family. Nice to stay around, see your kids grow up normally and so on.
Kakishibu serves way beyond the small print.