Thursday, January 30, 2003



Kurt Vonnegut, one of those actual war veterans I spoke of in my WAR SALESMEN post, has a few words to say on C-Students in Office...

Tuesday, January 28, 2003



Seems the web these days is filled with macho blogs by war salesmen, desktop warriors who love to talk as though their words were ready weapons, and act all sorts of just and righteous and knowing and all-seeing and caring about the pain and freedom and rights of those they would invade and save with the wars they crave, wars that will kill and maim and starve more of those very folk in the process, though this does not figure much in the salesmen's calculations, for what they love above all (excepting themselves as virtual heroes) is war: not to fight it, but to talk about it endlessly. And if war does come, it will not be the masters of war or these posturing apologists who rush out and sign up to fight on the front lines and stare death in the face, it will not be they who pay with their blood for any victory or defeat; they themselves do not go to war, they send someone else: not their sons but the other ones, the sons of the quiet folk, who do not shout and call for death, the ones who live just across the street from us all and mow their lawns and go each day to school and the shop, and do not swagger for the right to bear arms; it is they who will march into death, take the brunt and sometimes survive, then later never boast about it, or even want to talk about it, and never call for more (they call rather for an end to all war). But they will fight a war if it comes, for duty is strong in them, not the craving for power. You quiet folks out there, don't listen to the hollow men who fill themselves and your ears with talk of war. Listen to those who have fought because it was their duty, not because they loved it. They will tell you the truth.

Saturday, January 25, 2003


Tada Chimako, one of Japan's great poets, has died. She was a wonderful and gentle woman. Here is one of the poems I co-translated for her book Moonstone Woman, published in 1990 by Katydid Books:

To the Last Stop

Each time I wake the scenery has changed
In which direction is time flowing
Ahead and behind, rails of mercury gleam
---Where will you get off
---I'm going to the last stop
Weeds growing thick and wild I fall asleep
Coiled up in soft beams of sunlight
tail of dream in mouth
(Perhaps after all the head is not the beginning
nor the tail the end)
It seems as though I haven't yet been born
and the world is the light beyond the egg shell
An alarm clock is ringing far off
Whose morning is that
Eggs hatching all at once
grammar school games between joyous teams
As the starting gun is fired
a hearse is waiting at the school gate
Carried away in sleep
Each time I wake the scenery has changed
The air is filed with butterflies
Tumbling over they become dead leaves
scatter away leaving emptiness behind
A roaring tunnel of hollowness
---Where is the last stop
---Don't you know either


Wednesday, January 22, 2003



Don't ask me. I haven't got a clue either, and it isn't the first time, as intimated by my use of this unique morsel for the title of what you are now reading. I ask you: can that be considered English? I'm beginning to suspect, rather, that we are witnessing the emergence of a new but still largely formless language that will one day be the language of the world. I remember the moment clearly: there was this lettering, this mentally disturbing roman lettering, sewn on the back of an expensive-looking jacket worn by a guy my age I saw getting off the train in Yamashina. Syntactically it reminded me of another equally confusing jacket in the new world language (forget about t-shirts) I'd seen not long before, going up the subway stairs in downtown Kyoto, an expensive dark leather jacket with lettering in lighter-colored leather sewn on the back that said "Bone In America." Then, as now, I ask you. I asked myself: if I were living in the US or Europe, would I ever pay big bucks for, then wear in public, with all those folks from all over the world walking around, an expensive jacket with a lot of kanji on the back regarding whose meaning I hadn't a clue, that many of those worldly folks might very well understand? No way! So how does it happen here, unless this is a new world language saying something profound that remains beyond the grasp of we who speak a fading language? What else would enable men of my age and intelligence to ostensibly paraphrase Bruce's most famous refrain so ludicrously unless they were in fact talking about, say, US paleontology or pornography, or offering cryptic reminders of Arthurian morvels? I've heard all the standard arguments about how romaji themselves are fashionable here in Japan, it doesn't necessarily matter what they say. Western visitors have been collecting such phrases since the black ships first elbowed in to Shimoda (I myself have a rather sizeable collection from various media); by now there must be genres and classifications for such phrases, but none of this answers my question. Why make such an expensive item without checking for linguistic coherence and potentially outrageous meanings, unless this IS the meaning, and some of us haven't a clue as to what it is? Western fashion designers often get into conventional trouble with cloth prints using other current languages they haven't fully checked out--most recently, quotes from the Koran at a sexy fashion show--but they were actual quotes, and were coherent, so they don't count. Does anyone out there have a clue (other than the writers of the phrases on the above-mentioned jackets) regarding the actual meanings and intentions of this new world language, whether or not you were bone in America, but preferably with Arthurian morvels of ability?

Friday, January 17, 2003



The other day I was outside just standing around as one can tend to do on sudden splendid winter days when there is so much to do inside, just go outside and stand there and take the whole scene in from all directions, trees earth sun sky you name it, throw in a galaxy or two if you want (it was one of those days), it'll just lighten my heart all the more, when straight out of left field I saw a large woodpecker stroll right up the side of the tall oak tree like you and I walk down the street. He'd pause every couple of feet and listen to the tree to overhear bug conversations, that's not illegal in the wild, then he'd stroll another yard or so straight up as casually as if he were twirling a cane, cock his ears and eavesdrop, poke a bit at the bark to maybe make a bug yell for help, then glide on upward, very dapper in his pinstripe. He strolled thus for over twenty meters before the promenade got too narrow and he flew off to begin strolling another tree. And if I hadn't left my urgent indoor tasks and gone aimlessly outside to just pointlessly stand there on the edge of left field I never would have seen the woodpecker stroll. So if you've got a lot of really urgent stuff to do indoors, why not just go outside and simply stand there for a while? Left field is just the greatest place.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003


Drove over to Chojuji temple in Ishibe-cho in the mountains across the lake to see the oni bashiri (devil running), which I'd expected to be thronged and peppered with neck-craning tourists and diluted with that sense of urgency and unrealness that tourists impart, but there were only locals there, mostly grandparents and their grandchildren, the new parents apparently not so interested in passing on to their children what is about to be lost, the parents themselves maybe never having embraced it enough to value, so it was all the more poignant to see this time-alloyed excitement of the aging soul, this modern-age pointing out by the elders to the exceedingly young the basic truths of life as manifested in devils and masks, ritual and chant, bell and drum, fear and redemption.

It was a small building as temples go, built near a thousand years ago and roofed in cedar bark, far off to one side of the main highway artery, close to the heart of things. All the doors were closed, and after the cradling lull of the sacred chant, when the drums began to boom and the bells to clang, the heart and the blood did the same, no matter what one's religion; for truth has little to do with religion, it has to do with blood and bone, eyes and time, rhythm and memory in those rising through an entire life on the cusp of now; both the future and the past were there in great measure, devilish and otherwise, with respect, awe, humor, and a touch of practiced disdain from the teenage oni with their bleached hair, who nevertheless did their best and it was none too bad, clearly they had dallied with deviltry before; but it was a revelation to see it all without a mass of tourists, it was like another country, so simple still, so pure, as to give me some hope for the ancient heart of Japan, that it may yet beat into the coming century, when some new hearts will take it up and make it their own, and that what is good about devils will go on.


Big night snow still falling, transforming our pastoral world into idyllic white; a cornucopia of nostalgia and snow down your neck from cedar trees. Gorgeous rich curlicues of windcarved snowloaves adorning the deck rails and roofs and bushes and trees and rocks and everything, observer warm by wood fire. For brief moments among gouts of white that the wind brings down from the forests, the Lake is visible, a gray swath of moire silk spread out before some mountains dim and snowclad, in glimpses of distance as in a Chinese painting-- then just a few flakes and a bit of gold suncoin is scattered over the white countryside in a procession of noblesse oblige at the heart of the snowstorm-- then back to clouds of snowflakes I see swirling all along the mountain and down in the village from clumps of trees when they are touched by the wand of the wind, poof: now it's white, then it's green, then it's gone!!

And looking at the Lake, unlike as at the sea, one can see the corridors in the palace of the wind, and how the wind has many rooms and vast, and how it is yet the palace of a dragon, that travels the world at its whim and dances its dance over land and water alike; on land we rarely see the palace chambers except in a whirlwind now and then, but the comparatively calm mirror of the Lake is its open stage, where the architecture of the wind is plain, its undulations like the land turned upside down and made liquid, peopled by beings with the voices of trees...

Tuesday, January 14, 2003



A few days ago I noticed the sound of destruction and the smoke of debris fires beyond the trees up across the road, took a walk over there and found a half dozen men at work demolishing a couple of old cabins and clearing the property, about 500 tsubo, for what they said would be a new house. I asked if I could have the trees they were cutting down, big oak and beech, since they were just burning them there in a big pit (the waste!!!), they said sure. They were glad to be spared the noxious task of burning green wood on wet ground for fixed pay. So at my request they said they'd cut the logs into ca. 80 cm lengths and leave them near the road on Monday. Later, when I went back to explore what the men would be cutting down on the morrow, I came upon a cluster of kuromoji (Japanese spicebush), its light golden buds glowing like secret Buddha smiles in the dusk of the copse; there were five trunks to the cluster, each 1-2 inches in diameter. First I clipped all the smaller branches, then cut the trunks, took them all home and filled the house with that special scent by carving multiple vari-sized acupressure sticks, hiking staffs, toothpicks, skewers, shavings to use for the bath; and arranged branches here and there in vases. The great thing about kuromoji is that the creamy white, splendidly carving wood never seems to lose its fragrance; I've had some bunches of it here in the loft for 5 years or so now, and if I break a twig, there is that perfume, makes Buddha smile like that.

Monday, January 13, 2003



When late at night before sleep I step outside to stand within the star-sparkling darkness and breathe deeply the clear, clean breath of the mountain forest, spiced with cedar and pine, truly it is a wondrous thing---and when I turn and look up at the chestnut tree, its bare winter branches reaching up into the night sky like hands of greeting, stars sparkling among its fingers, and at its crown a big silver spangle of the filling moon, truly it is a wondrous thing, worthy to take into dreams---

Sunday, January 12, 2003



Today Echo and I drove across the mountains into Kyoto and visited a yuba restaurant where we had a fine lunch comprising mainly, and not surprisingly, yuba, that healthful mouth-ambrosia skimmed from soy milk that originated in the temple kitchens as an essential part of shojin ryori (monks' food) and can be made into so many nice traditional foodthings from soup to dessert, and is so rich in clean proteins and other nourishment. We were on our way to visit Ebisu Jinja down in Gion, Kyoto's entertainment district, a very traditional and very photogenic place where each year at about this time all the folks doing business in the area come and pray to Ebisu, the God of Business (among other things), for success in the coming year. Prayers were tied everywhere. What a crowd, from geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) to grandmas and and grandpas, tourists and romantic couples, the young women dressed in kimono finery. The day was fine, the food was fine, there were smiles everywhere.
Our return was via the famous walk past Kyoto's icon Yasaka pagoda to Maruyama Park; along the way, stopped in at one of my favorites among the many tiny wonderful shops that line the narrow streets, and from the sweet elderly lady who sits there on the tatami surrounded by thousands of amazing animal dolls of all sizes from the very small to the very very small, bought a splendid 3cm New Year ram that was in the window.

Saturday, January 11, 2003



Just saw on Japanese tv something I can, yet cannot, believe is currently (according to the tv program) a BIG hit with youngsters in the US: dayglo margarine (blue, purple, pink etc.), that is squeezed from a plastic bottle onto whatever and eaten. This bizarre-looking and dietarily abusive product is reflective of so many problematic aspects of the American diet and its effects on American youth and life, and of the nutritionally neglectful attitude of the US government and US corporations toward American children, I don't know where to begin... Enlightening US parents' comments on the subject can be found here.

Friday, January 10, 2003



One of the world's earliest and longest-lasting bloggers (and my historical favorite) Samuel Pepys, has started up his blog again on the first of January just as he did so long ago, still one page a day, with all those people now watching over his shoulder and offering very nice annotations; at last Sam's gaining the diverse, discerning and distant audience he wrote for. I just now read the latest entry----and so to bed.

Thursday, January 09, 2003


furu-ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
keitai no oto

[ancient pond
frog jumps
cell phone sound]

cell phone rings
on the morning train
everyone awake

Tuesday, January 07, 2003


Walking down the early morning street in the big city on my first day back at the office in the new year, my mind in that kind of hapless fog it enters when, in all its ancient innocence of having gotten up more or less around dawn for the past ten days, it is one day (for no reason it can truly understand) gotten up very early in the morning and dressed up and put on a train from the clear, bright, quiet countryside and taken off the train into the darkly roaring canyons of a vast Asian metropolis rivered with strangers zipping here and there on errands that appear to involve life and death, my coat pocket soon steaming warm from the Japanese fast-food breakfast I've purchased for myself (I've minimized meat and dairy in my diet for over 40 years now, but "That which is never broken is not a rule" is one of my more adhered-to mottoes, so I got a couple of nice warm steamed meat and curry buns to have for breakfast) and thus it is that I find myself on the way to the office, pockets steaming as I say, meditating upon the comparative qualities of Japanese and American fast foods (Big Macs! Bucket-o-Chicken! Barrel-o-Coke!) and finding therein the very width and breadth and gravity of many of the problems that beset the world today.

Japanese fast foods (I refer to traditional Japanese fast foods here, the modern ones being essentially indistinguishable from those of America, except perhaps in the packaging) tend to be lighter and more natural, involving fewer stages of refinement. The Nikuman, for example, is a fluffy steamed bun cored with a stew of meat and costs less than a dollar. It's hot, fast, tasty, filling, low in calories and easy to find at all hours. (For simplicity, I'm leaving out all the other stuff that dietary pain-in-the-necks like myself often decry, like additives, preservatives, organics etc., also in the firm belief that just about anything is ok-- in fact, quite delicious-- once in a while).

There's no real American equivalent to the Nikuman. Nor is there any real American equivalent to the Taiyaki, another of my street-sold winter favorites, a crispy mold-baked fish-shaped crepe-dough filled with a paste made of sweetened adzuki beans. Warm and tasty, natural winter street food, and the vendor is always interesting. Another favorite is the pebble-roasted yakiimo (baked sweet potato), still sold from singsong trucks that slowly wend the winter nights. Great handwarmers as you eat the steaming and nourishing sweetness. Food built for the air and the season and the body. No American equivalents there either. So I guess there's no comparison after all. Maybe the US could gain something, as it were, from fast food like this.

Saturday, January 04, 2003


Kaya and I were taking a walk to the pond this morning when along the roadside I noticed a locust tree that still had some long felty pods hanging from it. As Kaya watched, I jumped way up high and grabbed a branch and pulled it down to lower another branch that had a big pod on it. I broke off the pod and gave it to Kaya, who, being just two years old a couple of days ago, had never seen such a thing, or anything even remotely resembling it, in her entire life; and here I was giving it to her as a gift. She was dumbfounded at this magical event, and stood there open mouthed for a long time, looking at this strange object in her own hand. Then I took the pod from her and split it neatly into two magical halves, each half nestling four or five large round flat brown hard shiny seeds, like gems in a fitted box. Kaya looked at them in amazement, then at me in amazement. I took one seed out and put it in her hand. She stared at it with two years of intensity. Then we took the other seeds out and she put them carefully in her pocket and went to the pond rich, and went back home rich. The seeds are all now carefully stacked on Kaya's little table, gaining interest.

Friday, January 03, 2003

MORE LIGHT all living things a fire is a river of need, a kind of conversation, a dialog of light with darkness, like the fire in the sky and in a leaf. The heart itself is a flame, ablaze at the sight of itself in another eye; we carry all this like a sky in ourselves, and so when we come to tend a fire, we find that delight of meeting an old friend. Just stir this bit here and the fire flares up, fuel once starved for air now fed, from ember to flame, setting new thoughts alight.

Tending a fire is the whole soul's delight, much like tending to life itself; in return the fire shares more than light and warmth, if we listen to its ancient tongue, for it speaks a language that lived far before and lives yet within us: This is the way you should tend yourself; this is the way you should tend others and your world. The fire is that of us outside ourselves.

We recognize this tacitly, as we do in the light of stars. When we gaze into a fire's light we gaze into a mystic mirror, upon vast and untold secrets of ourselves. What we find there we feel to our depths, but cannot say.

Thursday, January 02, 2003



Sitting here alone at the kitchen table in close attendance upon getting some work done, my eye is caught by the flickering of the fire in the stove, the flames dancing in time to the second movement of Mozart's sonata in E flat for piano and violin (K. 380)-- I lift my eyes and see just a strip of land this side of the blue Lake in the sunlight, the foreground all in the shade of the mountain: in the luminescent air across the Lake rise the snowclad mountains of Ibuki and Suzuka and I feel what I've felt at every epiphany in my life, that my time has just begun, that each beginning begins with light: the light in Mozart's music, the light of the fire, the light of the sun, the light of the land, of snow, of seeing, of knowing, the light of being mortal that puts the fire into it all...

Wednesday, January 01, 2003



May you this year enjoy the Peace and Good Fortune brought by the Ram.