Thursday, June 27, 2013

The longer I've lived here, the more I've come to delight in that brief time of Spring when the wintered mountainside becomes more and more facets of blue sky as the paddies fill, until for a brief time before rice planting, from certain perspectives - like my front doorway - the sky is all over the ground.

Then come the little astonishments of lifetimes, like the early Spring morning when you walk out of the house into a mountain mist and behold upon that long watermirror the pale-green rows of just-planted rice shoots, stretching away into the soft wall of cloud right at your door... You can’t help but just stand there looking, letting the sight fill you with the miracle of magnificence just plain happening, in this day-to-day way.  

On the blue days, across that magic mirror glide the clouds that come sailing over the mountain like big baroque pearls, while hawks and swallows dive to snatch food from their reflections; at evening the calm of the mirror is broken into widening rings by a now-and-then rain, or rippled into memory by sudden evening breezes that shiver the silver light. 

From the morning train along the Lake, through Spring and Summer you can see the day-by-day changes all along the line, as the tides of days turn the land to sky that soon turns to rice leaves, the fields growing day by day into perfect levels of deep green blades that reveal the wind as they grow taller, until they begin to nod with the weight of their gold...

Monday, June 24, 2013


** Sign up for free issue **

The folks over at Kyoto Journal recently announced release of their 77th issue, after a long transition from print to digital (and a complete website rebuild). This puts KJ back on track as a quarterly publication providing "insights from Asia."

The 22 articles in this issue (200 pages+!) take readers beyond the ancient capital to Hiroshima, Tokyo and Fukushima, on to Korea, China, Nepal, Tibet, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, delving into film and fiction, poetry, "off-the-beaten-track" travels, craft and calligraphy, architectural and archaeological investigations, yoga, post-disaster initiatives, and reviews, finishing up right here on Pure Land Mountain.

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A one-year subscription to KJ (4 issues) is just 4,000 yen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Culture changes perceptibly even over just a few years, like children and language - things are quickly no longer square or groovy and many of us remember a lush, no-Internet world - but the change seems to be accelerating lately, now that I've lived long enough to have had my childhood seem much nearer the stone age. 

That's how prehistoric the present era feels now for a child of the 1940s, a time that at the time was current to the max with essentials like marbles, yo-yos, mumbledy-peg, trolley cars, typewriters, mimeos and carbon paper, clickety-clickety standup phones with five-digit phone numbers, young men in fedoras, grandpas in derbys and high-lace shoes, women in odd-feathered hats and long dresses; there was penmanship with steel pens dipped in school inkwells with slate tops, there were stenographers, dictaphones, telegraph wires all the way across the nation and teletype internationally, horse-drawn wagons delivering milk, bread and ice, there was no tv, "plastic" was a new word, and the old styles, language (Don't say "ain't"!), culture and mores, social borders-- racism, sexism, everywhere, everyone smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, heavy social drinking, normal obesity, litter was the norm, penny candy, cigars, spittoons, the list runs on like time...

I was prompted to recherche those temps perdu when I saw in a film clip an old-school British journalist with all the attendant perceptions, blinkers, mindsets and perspectives, back in the mod 1960s asking the young and sassy, off-the-wall Bob Dylan a rhetorically baroque question, the kind of question that even then was so Edwardianly orotund and sesquipedalianly circumlocutory that when confronted with it, or rather wrapped in it, Dylan uncharacteristically became so sympathetic to the asker as to not be his usual journosassy self, and as I listened to the question unfold I too felt sympathy for that elder statesman of journalism, attempting to speak as though the past fitted perfectly into the right-nowness of his moment, he assuming that he could position this young musical upstart relative to the post-Victorian pantheon of marble-halled literary icons and empirical ideals, that he could understand in his horseback-telegraph-spittoon-historied way what was now going on around him like lightning on vinyl. 

In his long professional life he himself had perhaps at last become his own ideal of the Edwardian journalist, hadn't felt the need to make any serious self-adjustments since then and here he was, speaking from the distant past to the distant present. I suppose I'm much the same by now, how can one tell as one rambles on...

There is always a special preserve for the youth of the day, but the changes since 1940 have been more radical than any before in history (atomic bomb!) (iPad!) and have caught many unprepared, like that senior journalist at the peak of his game, whose name might as well have been "Mr. Jones." 

Used to be that small adjustments were enough-- a fancy new harness, a bigger bustle, the latest height in a beaver hat, or a new pair of spats to get one through a goodly period of modern living, but this acceleration is new to the cutting-edge elders; we must now adjust more quickly and to greater extremes than any of our foreparents ever had to. How does one adapt to warp speed from the penny-farthings of yesteryear?

I trust the mind, though; as it always has, it will find and learn new ways of keeping up with the new tools it has made,  especially in the coming and coming young ones-- but this need for accelerated adaptation is becoming exponential, presenting a more interesting challenge than ever before to elderfolk, who no longer sit in armchairs crocheting or reading the local gazette while listening to the radio in the evening; now every day they dive headfirst into the global infosea, living Moore's Law. There's no shore to information now, which is as it should be, since there’s never been a shore to our hunger; we are, after all, living headlines. 

A most exciting time to have such a lengthy past.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Vegetables have been around longer than we have, you'd think by now they'd have figured out how to grow pretty much on their own. In the wild, they are indeed boss; too much so in some cases - kuzu finds an in and soon takes over. After generations of kitchy-koo domestication, though, the plants we call our vegetables can be a lot like children.

Gardeners must therefore now and then provide temporal guidance to our selectively bred green friends, who in their growth and development are prone to undesired tendencies that can accompany human preferences and require staking, training, shading, netting, fencing, heading, stringing up and so forth. Such guidance, however, should be administered with balanced judgment and tender interspecies diplomacy. You don't want a garden full of offended tomatoes or even worse, peppers. Lettuce, forget about it. 

The other day I spotted my newly emerged Climbing Bean tendrils just hanging around lowdown, looking for green action in an arm-over-the-shoulder kind of way with the Spinach, a family that can be bad company for vegetables that have been bred for higher aspirations.

I know from personal human experience, mutatis mutandis, that lowlifery in the early phase sets a bad precedent, and can tend to restrain upward ambition. If Climbing Beans remain too long in an earth-hugging relationship, they may never regain their full powers, never reach the heights to which their birthright entitles them. So without sounding too elitist about it, I had to take the gangly neophytes aside and, in the gentle language suitable to sprouts, give them good advice without bruising their spirits. 

There's an art to vegetal diplomacy. To the young but unstriving reachers, I said: "Listen here, greenies-- there are a few things you've got to learn about life. First of all, you've got to choose your companions wisely. Don't hang around with the groundhuggers-- no offense to you, Spinach, don't get all bolty. This isn't personal, it's gardening. You do your job well. We love you. You're tasty, you're nourishing, you're beautiful. Keep up the good work..."  (Gardeners often sound like Hollywood agents.) 

"But you, all you young beans, reaching with your tendrils: choose high-reaching companions! At your age, take all the help you can get! See those nets up there? Look for the net overhead and use it. Climb as high as you can and don't look back; grab a stake and keep on reaching! Believe me, the sky's the limit for you youngsters, so go for it with all you've got! You'll be blooming way up there in no time! That's your destiny!" 

And so I went on, a bit over the top, the green young tendrils hopefully hanging on my every word, though now that they've known the ease of Spinach life, I thought it wiser to lash them to the masts of ambition with plastic twists.

Thursday, June 06, 2013


Last night on Japan tv I saw one of those health programs, there seem to be a lot of them these days, there were no such programs back when I was younger in the West and there was only one channel (and when "health faddist" store clerks dressed like doctors and nurses!). These are programs on which some hip-hyper expert shovels out heaps of information that is soon proven to be more or less inaccurate - who really knows until the last pitch - but this claim was pretty convincing; what's more, it was right up my alley (that's an elder idiom from a time when alleys were a big part of life).

This claim was convincing because I could tell it was true. In fact, I'll bet it is true. I sure hope it's true. Be good if it was. It declared that elders who are "grumpy" (i.e., emotionally discerning), "cranky" (sensitive), "opinionated" (knowledgeable), "fussy" (tasteful), "disgruntled" (perceptive), or as we used to say, "testy" (not many truly testy folks around anymore), are less likely to become senile or develop Alzheimer's, there being some significant iota of laboratory correlation between discontent and mental acuity; I can certainly see why that would be the case.

The fact is, that if you continue to actually grow with age, you naturally grow more discerning, and by the time you reach the early levels of the life summit you have had so much experience, acquired so much concise and incontrovertible judgmental ability - overall awareness on so many fronts - that you can easily tell, for example, the difference between wisdom and its absence.

For this and other reasons, it would be a massive loss to humankind and its evolutionary potential if there were not always sufficient elders to nurture the Big Germination. It would be disastrous if disgruntlement, the surest sign that one knows what is right, was not viewed as a good and necessary, even laudable quality, as good for the world as for the individual, like all the other laudable qualities mentioned above.

Indeed, the older I become the more apparent is the urgency for those at the summit to point out the facts of these matters with a forcible forefinger, providing detailed explication to these wisdom-starved whippersnappers! Why, we elders haven't even touched the surface of staying sharp in today's world; I'll get on with my part as soon as I find my glasses.

Monday, June 03, 2013


You gotta love those rare special events you have no idea are coming, moments you couldn't have imagined would be waiting there just ahead of now, like the other night. I was driving the grandgirls (12, 10 and 10) up to our place to stay the weekend; the darkness lay heavy on the mountain and the fog was thick, the way it loves to get in Spring.

As we wended our way up the winding road toward the house, I was driving slowly, expecting who knows what, some wild pigs, a buck, maybe - even a bear - to dash out from the forest and across the road... Then, in that quiet mood, as we came up around the last curve to the crossroads, just past the tunnel, with not much visible in the lowbeam glare, we met the unexpected: standing there, all alone in the swirling mist, at the center of crossroads and headlights, stood the actual Bambi.

I must say, in the dense silence of a foggy mountain night there is nothing louder than the sudden spotlit appearance of a baby deer in the roadway with three little girls in the car. A high moment it was for the Trio, and a strange moment for that tiny creature out there, panic shivering its white-spotted golden fawn body, big dark eyes staring into blinding light, in a world as new as it ever gets...

The girls slowly hushed at the emotion of the sight; I slowed the car even more, not knowing which way a skittish Bambi might bolt as we crept slowly toward him standing there bouncing around on four brand-new gangly legs - boing, boing, boing - then bobbling away - But that way was uphill, houses up there; then heading left - fence there; then to the right - fence there too, what to do what to do, it would have to be downward then: into the jaws... of the glaring monster... Would there be such courage in that new life? Or might a skittish infant just bolt under the car? What do we evernew creatures know about such things?

I slowed... and then stopped; Bambi bounced his way toward the side of the road and teetered squeezily past us, within arm’s length out the open windows, the girls calling his name right into his big ears, until he could skitter for deer life into the welcome darkness. Bet he never forgets that time when the huge nightbeast came at him with blinding eyes and roaring voice, and how he managed his escape.

A tale of courage for all descendants.