Thursday, February 27, 2003



No, this has nothing to do with George II, either. I went out to do some pruning yesterday and found that on the day before, the monkey tribe had passed through my part of the mountain and torn off and eaten most of the leaves from the yatsude (Japanese aralia; Fatsia japonica ) on the southern edge of my garden; which, after a moment's thought I didn't mind too much because just between you and me I don't like the plant, never have, it was on the property when we bought it, it's one of those classic must-have Japanese garden plants, but this one is spindly-gangly and drops big dead brown curly leaves all over within and around itself and neighboring shrubs, and looks rather ghastly at times in its pale green reaching-zombie appearance. I was surprised that the monkeys seemed to relish its leaves, they'd ripped practically every one of them off, the ground was strewn with long green rapined stems, and that's a lot of leaves, they'd even broken a number of the large trunkstems to get at them.

The leaves have a smell somewhat remeniscent of celery very distantly crossed with fennel, though I've heard somewhere that the plant is poisonous; it certainly looks the part. But there's no accounting for monkeys' tastes. So I cleaned up after the simian marauders, who had also feasted on the remnants of a few long onions I'd had growing in a box on the deck, they just threw dirt and green onion bits all over the place as though nature would clean up after them as always, spoiling them rotten, nature in this case being me, a role I usually appreciate and am deeply honored by, though not in this instance, but where can I register my complaint? Anyway, I didn't treally mind that either.

But after I'd gone to all the noble trouble of sloughing off these depredations ("well, you know, monkeys will be monkeys"), you can imagine the rage in my umbrage when I saw that the little sons of centipedes had chewed off every-single-bud from the three-year-old fig tree, from which I was expecting maybe some baby fruit one of these years. They'd even broken off the upper branches to get at the buds higher up. And I had unjustly blamed Dr. Crow for the buds missing last year; my apologies, Doctor. But now every bud is gone, and it's doubtful whether the tree will survive. This means war. Of some kind. A nice war. I'll use cream pies or something. Monkeys hate cream pies.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003



(No, this has nothing to do with the popularly unelected US president or his effect on other nations.) Speaking of allergies, when I first came to Japan back in the early seventies I noted a phenomenon I'd never heard of in my years growing up in America, a thing the Japanese called "atopi," which manifested mainly in infants. At the time, I thought it was a Japanese word, that's how often I'd heard of it. A quick look in the medical references showd me that such a thing did exist in the West, where it was called "atopy," and was vaguely defined in the medical texts as an allergic reaction with strong familial tendencies, but during my years in the States I had never seen it, whereas it seemed to be very common in Japan (many of whose cities, as everyone knows from Minamata et seq., have served as the world's pollutional guinea pigs). If you haven't noticed an increase in atopy/allergies generally in the past few years, here in Japan or elsewhere, then you must be just back from Mars. For an update, how does an allergy increase of 90% sound? And then comes the wonder where all the allergies come from, could it be the blue food, the brown air, the red water... for of course you are everything you eat and drink and breathe and wear and live in and...

Monday, February 24, 2003



A very witty and incisive take on marketing research-generated foods served up by an eerily cold-blooded industry; check out the Kid Cuisine too: suddenly a possible source looms for all those strange allergies and new behavioral disorders...

Saturday, February 22, 2003



"War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world."

George Orwell, 1984

For the latest in neo-Orwellianism, visit here


Wanting to get some summer sun on the light-starved areas of the vegetable garden (where otherwise nothing will grow much beyond scionhood) what torture it was in a certain place in the soul to prune the cherry tree, to choose this morning which of those superbly graceful limbs to lop off-- with the tiny, barely pinkening buds still on, long slender limbs already swelling with thoughts of spring-- the anguish at this cost of having to eat, and wanting to grow my own, oh, spirit of the cherry tree I hope you understand the needs of we merely footed creatures, what savages we have to be at times, and may your lost limbs blossom richly in another heaven throughout your days (as far across the field truckloads of trees come down the mountain...). I also had the temerity to climb on high in the snowflaked atmosphere and sway in the wind as I pruned the mighty oak, just one of whose noble limbs would otherwise bring summernoon darkness upon my heirloom tomatoes; and those beautifully golden-grained limbs I inoculated at once with shiitake and many thanks, may they thrive in their new goldenness!!!
The past few days the weather hasn't been sure what it wants to be when it grows up; now and then it will billow down from the mountain in pillowy clouds of snowstorm, reaching in its softly tendriled whiteness to envelope the house in a swirl like a shaken snowglobe that is then set down, the sun soon bright and warming in a pure blue sky like it wants to be Los Angeles around here.

Friday, February 21, 2003



Superb take on the age segregation and quasi-imprisonment that is modern education, with all its deleterious and worsening side-effects. Like their Western counterparts, Japanese educators could learn a great deal from this, if they were actually in the business of learning.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003


Just posted this old poem of mine on Poets Against the War:


First time I saw it mean that
was screamed in big red slanting
stretched-out letters tattered with ZINGs
in a 40's comic, above a
heroic GI in the Pacific
diving for jungle cover, teeth gritting
at black lines from the sky caging
wiped out his platoon
left him alone on the island
cursing the Zero,
the rising sun.
I cursed with him, living on
keeping that enemy aloft somewhere
over that uncharted island
found again in the heat
of 30 summers later, a little
nomiya outside Ikebukuro
in Tokyo, sitting drinking
cold sake with salt
beside a white-haired man.
We drank together, he told me,
arms over each other's shoulders,
of piloting a Zero through the war
being a kamikaze volunteer
when suddenly it ended, left him
shamefully alive, the Zero man
trying to stay aloft for 30 years
now offering me,
the guy alone on the island,
more salt
more sake, saying
"More, here's more,
this is sacred--
One thing I have learned,
your life
is all you have."

Tuesday, February 18, 2003



There I was defending Japanese probity just a few posts ago, and at just about that time Yokohama City goes and issues a Juminhyo (Certificate of Residence) to a sea lion. The lucky new resident, nicknamed Tama-chan, was given residency because he has been seen of late frolicking in and basking along a local river. I myself, however, who also occasionally frolic, though I bask less than I used to, can't get a Juminhyo no matter how cute I am, because I'm a foreign alien. Our Juminhyo has to be in my wife's name, since she's the Japanese in the family.

In officially listing the members of Japanese families, the Juminhyo (feudal holdover from the Tokugawa era, when everyone was tracked very carefully, the wet dream of every government since the dawn of time) gives the family unit official status (as though families derive legitimacy from governments!). The irony in granting residency to a marine mammal is that terran mammals such as foreign national and ethnic homo sapiens within Japan are forbidden by law from appearing on Juminhyo. Members of the international community here cannot get Juminhyo; and "mixed-race" (laughable concept) family units lack full official recognition.

The government recently expanded the list of Juminhyo-able kanji characters that can be used for naming children, if you can imagine such a thing, all you freely naming folks in other countries to whom such a thing as a government-approved name for your child, not to mention family certification, is anathema (bet the Dubya crew would LOVE to have a Juminhyo system). But the rather malleable populace here seems to be quite pleased at this governmental largesse.

There are even second- and third-generation Chinese and Korean residents of Japan who cannot get Juminhyo (not that they all want one, but still...). Hence foreign spouses appear in their Japanese spouses' Juminhyo as "missing." Thus the children of such unions are officially illegitimate, and if the Japanese spouse (holder of the Juminhyo) dies, the children are listed as orphans. Unless, of course, they're sea lions.

(For greater and more accurate detail on the current status quo of this and other aspects of de jure life in Japan, check out this very informative site.)

And visit this site to take part in the Friends of Tama Chan Celebration!!

Sunday, February 16, 2003




It is at times an ache of the heart to be an expatriate far from one's home country, though the ache diminishes over time as the world itself becomes home. And there are special moments of reconnection. Yesterday I was gratified to note that even though my home country is extremely busy drumming up war and otherwise upsetting so many other countries in the world, its representatives running around trying to persuade other governments (despite what their populaces think) to join in a massive attack upon a practically prostrate small nation, America has taken the time and trouble, and gone to great expense (at the original instigation of that other humanitarian the Watergate guy), to let me know that it has not forgotten me. There in my mailbox, as regular as Old Faithful, harbinger of the only agonies of Spring, rested the Pasadena-phonebook-sized 2002 PACKAGE 1040-7 Forms and Instructions for Overseas Filers from that antithesis of Robin Hood, the IRA. They give us folks abroad an extra two months to figure out how to file. Inside the cover, one of the pie charts shows me that 18% of my US taxes go to "National Defense." From this distance, and from my own military experience, I can't help but wonder why they put it all in the keeping of a questionably elected draft dodger. But like I say, expatriatism does have its heartaches.


Well, it�fs official. Astronomers have calculated to within an error of plus-minus 1% that the age of the universe is 13.7 cycles of the Jade Wheel, that the first stars lit up just 200 breaths of the Ruby Elephant after the cosmos was born from the eye of the Amber Carp, and that it will expand unhindered upon the back of the Golden Turtle, thinning and cooling until it eventually reaches nothingness at the Moonstone Gate of the Emerald Dragon.

Friday, February 14, 2003


If you're under 100 years of age and are interested at all in food, especially the finest oriental cuisine, then you probably saw the Japanese movie Tampopo, and if you saw Tampopo you know what it means to get a ramen craving, like you did after the movie. And as to the ideal venue for craving ramen, Japan is of course the Ramen Empire. The ideal ramen emporium (forget about making ramen at home, do you make truffles at home?) is perhaps the epitome of the greasy chopstick. I have an unspoken dictum somewhere among my ramen parameters, to the effect that if the counters sparkle, the waitresses are radiant and you can see clearly out the windows, seek thy ramen elsewhere. One of my first priorities, whenever I've moved to a new neighborhood in Japan, has always been to find the best ramen shop around (some urgencies are more urgent than others), which isn't easy, there are so many flashy imposters attempting to cash in on the rep of the one true noodle nirvana to be found in any town. In such a quest, the best person to ask is a local college student if you can find one, because ramen may be excellent brain food, but it's also low in price. And the difference between run-of-the-mill ramen and ramen for the gods is about the same as the difference between here and heaven, quite enough reason to go looking. I've found the best ramenya around here, it may even have an edge over the one I used to go to in Kyoto, and if you think I'm going to give you the name of either, you're out of luck; they're too crowded as it is. The one I go to now still has those sort of naugahyde seats and smeary plastic chandeliers, with greasy red pepper and garlic paste jars (for a short run in the sidebar there's a photo of the stuff they have on the table), their tonkotsu (pork marrow (broth)) is perfection, I always get the chashu (from the Chinese for 'roasted pork') (once you've found perfection, why change?), in which the pork, roasted to near disappearance, is sliced even nearer disappearance until it's little more than a fragrant rumor residing atop the chewy deliciousness of the noodles swirling in the tonkotsu, with some garlic paste just here and some red pepper paste over here... Back later, I'm going out to get some ramen. Tonkotsu chashu, kudasai.


The other evening, all unprepared, being in the neighborhood across the Lake where the health store lady had said they sell composted cow manure I took the left turn directly across from the blue-roofed coffee shop and found the cattle farm without wandering too much, didn't expect to find it so easily in the usual random grid of rice paddy farm roads but I found it, and since I was there and the moment was thus auspicious, what the hell, I asked for ten bags and the guy gave me ten empty paper feed sacks and showed me the shovels and went away leaving me there in the cold and falling darkness with my city clothes and two huge piles of cow manure compost to work with.

"Pack it in," he'd said, "get your money's worth," and so at last there in the dark it was just steaming everests of composting cowshit (sounds like a Batman exclamation) and yours truly, balancing the bags while I shoveled it in and stacked the bags and loaded them into the van as fast as I could (one doesn't really dilly-dally in dirty duty), but it takes quite a long and hot while to cram ten big floppy paper bags with steaming cow manure compost in the falling dark, the cows slowly chewing their dinnercuds snug over there in the deeps of their barn, gazing brown-eyed out at me shoveling; the air was filled with figurative bovine ruminations on the sad lives of these lowly two-legged cloth-wearing creatures who have to spend their lives taking care of the noble cow; even, in some bizarre instances, devotedly cleaning cow toilets in the cold and darkness while inappropriately clothed, like this poor guy.

And of course the compost was still composting, so what with the sweat and the compost steam, the van and I remained warm and moist on the way home, and had to be aired out considerably before the entire universe no longer evoked the inside of a cow.

Thursday, February 13, 2003



In my decades as a resident of Japan I have often heard or read criticisms of Japan by foreigners who lived here; such can be heard in and regarding every country in the world. But early on I realized that the more vitriolic of such criticisms are in fact outwardly directed self-loathing, in individuals who feel trapped in positions they hold here (for which they are so thankless) and take it out on their surroundings, looking obsessively for the bad and of course finding it, as one can anywhere if one is unhappy enough to waste life in looking for it.

But when these rants are offered abroad as legitimate criticisms of this country, it is a cultural crime. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the West such drivel is often treated as legitimate perception, when to any rational long-term resident of Japan it is clearly a view from a pathologic eye. Such views are usually put forth by individuals who have been here for a few months or years, often teaching English with all the joy of a sliver in the soul, having no true appreciation of or interest in the culture, history or people except to the extent that it feeds their own malignancy. Another hallmark of such individuals is their claim that the host society persistently thwarts their wishes, their right to happiness-- their malignant anger, like their plight, being entirely the fault of the country-- yet these persons are deemed experts on Japan by editors abroad who have never been to this inscrutable land in the far-off orient. Some time ago I read such a diatribe on an internet site renowned for its intelligent commentary, by an individual (I'll name no names as not wanting to give even the slightest publicity to such shallow malevolence) who claims to have been here for quite a long time, and I was staggered that this individual was considered an expert on anything about his host country, let alone his own unhappiness. It is a profound pity that such may be seen elsewhere in the world as true perspectives on Japan.

By way of rebuttal to these pitiable individuals, I submit that the Japanese people in general are no more or less decent than any other people on earth, no more or less just, hard-working, religious, intelligent, attractive, no more or less historically or genetically pure. To seek in these qualities, or in many others, reasons to defame an entire people is to imprison one's mind within oneself, thereby making it as small as possible. In this way such individuals acquire sufficient density to take themselves seriously. Unfortunately, editors of no taste too often do the same.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003



By now, everyone with any financial interest has heard that gold is going wild in Asia, particularly Japan, where folks are getting tired of nearly zero interest on their limitedly insured accounts at teetering banks amid predictions of dire inflation, huge government deficits, pension uncertainties and so on, till the man in the street is walking into the gold stores that have always been there, but formerly were unfrequented little places in the back streets, discreet as pawn shops, and there buying staggering amounts of gold to sock away so they can perhaps keep their money when all falls down, since gold will always hold its value. As they say, you can't go broke owning gold.

But with this gold fever comes an interesting retro attitude toward gold as glittering treasure, like the gorgeously tinkling old hoards of oban (large gold coins) the rich used to hoard in Edo days (and still let fall in a gleaming rain from their fingers on the samurai tv shows). Hence one gold sales pitch is accompanied by the leaflet photo below, showing that if you buy some 25 million yen (about US$200,000) worth of Austrian Euro gold coins you get this Edo style ironbound cashbox to keep your hoard in, just like the Daimyo (loosely, Lords) used to do.

What's interesting to me is that (apart from the fact that you can sell $200,000 worth of anything using a leaflet), in all my time in Japan I've never seen such a thing as a chest of gold for sale, or been aware of what this image implies: that the Japanese, no matter how modern and up-to-date they may seem in other respects, have been carrying this ancient mindset around inside themselves all these centuries, and in economic crisis it surfaces once again, symbol of the age-old wish that works even now as a strong sales hook: to have an old-fashioned ironbound cash box full of gold that so aptly metaphors nobility and wealth, even though such a portable container is utterly, even recklessly, impractical in this day and age as a means of storing a fifth of a million dollars in untraceable precious metal...

Sunday, February 09, 2003


Today went up along the western shore of the Lake toward Makino (that beautiful old village with the magnificent ancient cherry tree-lined coastal road I'll post pictures of this April when the trees blossom) but turned off before reaching there and went up into the low hills of Imazu. Our purpose was to savor the very, very first savor of spring, to be found around here at a place that was discovered by a junior high school science student only about 20 years ago, and has since been designated a Japanese natural treasure, a small (perhaps two acres) mountain bog said to be one of the finest places around for viewing such a large assemblage of Zazensou or Darumasou (Zen meditation plant, or Daruma plant, for its resemblance to a monk in meditating in a small hut) (Simplocarpus renifolius), known less spiritually in English as Skunk Cabbage.

This special variety of the plant (taxonomic suffix Schott ex Miguel) apparently sets it apart, it being somewhat rare. Still, I wasn't expecting too many Skunk Ca--I mean, Zazensou fans to show up, so you can imagine my surprise when it looked like Elvis had been spotted in the vicinity. I can't imagine Americans mobbing out into the countryside to catch a glimpse of Zazen-- I mean, Skunk Cabbage, but out in this special place it was like the Ginza on a bargain Sunday: you could hardly see the Skunk-- Zazensou for the photographers on the narrow boardwalk through the bog, which was indeed richly populated with Sku-- Zaz-- the plant, glimpsable in flashes of red and yellow over the shoulders and heads of the jostling lens wielders on the boardwalk. Few are as unyielding of natural space as are nature photographers.

As I stood there on the ridge I was very impressed with how many people can fit on a narrow boardwalk through a swamp, and was expecting someone to tumble in any minute before I ventured out myself and couldn't get any decent pictures without elbows or other lenses in them, so you can go here to get a look (with other nice photos of this area). There were elderly folks there, young folks, kids, car and busfuls of folks pulling in from as far away as Nagoya, all for a day out viewing Skunk--Zazensou, the tonguetip of Spring, which season is what it was really all about. There's nothing like the first promise of a new year, at any age.

Saturday, February 08, 2003


Grownup footprints
travel straight,
the logical path
no turning aside.
Little footprints
wander to walls
ring around trees
climb hills
slide down
lead to angels
in the drifts,
the children always turning
from the footprints of others
for the joy of beholding
their own at their feet,
to feel at its fullest
the wonder of going
no matter how fast
how easy
or where.

First printed in
Further on this Floating bridge of Dreams
1988, Katydid Books.

Thursday, February 06, 2003



This morning as a strong snow was falling I looked out the window of the train as it was pulling out from a country station and saw a stretched-out procession of travelers on the opposite unroofed train platform struggling forward into the snowy wind to await their train, colorful umbrellas held down as shields against the white dashes streaking down from the gray sky before a tapestry of snow-covered tile roofs that stepped up the mountainside, then the trees and bamboo of the mountainside itself, glimpsed beyond swirling curtains of trailing white, and there I was in a genuine woodblock print by Hiroshige-- his latest one, with the train in it pulling out of the countryside station-- that's me looking out the window of the fourth car from the back, with the red baseball hat on. The richer the culture, the closer it all is to art.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003


February first or fourth were proposed to us by the local Shinto priest as auspicious days for the Jichinsai ceremony of blessing the land on which the house is to be built. We chose the former date, the ceremony to be held at one o'clock in the afternoon. But the priest had stipulated that it shouldn't be raining or snowing.

On the day, we in Kyoto received a phone call from the priest at about 7 am; he said that it was snowing only lightly in Shiga and it seemed ok; was everything in progress, we told him it was. When we got to the village at about noon, having left the house at around 9:30 and taken the long route because of snow in the mountains on the way (we only have two-wheel drive, automatic, useless in snow), as soon as we turned off route 161 onto the road up to the land we encountered about 25~30cm of snow, mostly slush lower down, but becoming pure and relatively untrammeled by the time we reached the school.

Just up the hill beyond, up which our wheels slithered and slid, we left the van at the roadside and unloaded the god-goodies we'd picked up in the small town on the way. These included a large bottle of high-class local sake, dried seaweed, long green onions, pumpkin, rice, salt, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, nori, dried squid and strawberries. Gods love this stuff. We lugged these up the rest of the way through fallen and falling white silence, a truly grand, appropriately magnified stillness, the mountains impressive in their ermine robes. When we got to the tunnel beneath the highway, I noted that no vehicles had been by in the past hour or two; it was now after noon. I left Echo with the stuff in the tunnel, out of the steadily thickening snowfall, and went up the rest of the way to see if anyone was there. Nobody but snow, about 40cm deep. Snow of a quality absolutely perfect for snowballs, which I verified personally for some time.

Echo and I were later standing in the tunnel, figuring that the priest must have cancelled and that maybe we should go back down to the village and call him, when a small, spiffy and obviously 4WD van came purling up the road over the drifts. It was the priest. He stopped in the tunnel. We talked. He was strongly in favor of no Jichinsai today, since the snow was falling in a heavily anticeremonial fashion. Echo said that the architect, the contractor and the materials man would be coming, some from quite far, and it was too late now to call it off, so could he do something simple maybe. He said ok, chugged on up. It would just be the three of us then, I figured, assuming that the others had cancelled; they'd have to be crazy to come out here in this, like me and Echo and the priest.

When we got to the place, the snow was falling in big white feathers, softly onto a down of silence. Every once in a while there was a muffled thump as it avalanched from the cedars. The priest opened his van and took out snow shovels, gave me one, marked out a circle in the snow and he and I began to dig. The ceremony had to be held on bare ground: the earth connection was essential. Still, with the snow falling like this I didn't have much hope for an earth connection of any magnitude; the snow was piling up on the priest's shoulders. He wore white cotton robes with a brown vest and a high woolen hat. Out in the air the Lake was invisible; nothing but a blur of whiteness out there: what a sight it would be from the front windows!!

After we'd dug out a circle, the priest began to unload the ceremonial paraphernalia. First the wooden altars, which he set up so he faced north in the center of the circle, and which were immediately covered with a centimeter of snow, that Echo brushed off every now and then to make room for the next centimeter. Then out came the dishes, into which went salt and rice, and the bigger dishes into which went carrots, peppers, eggplants, onions, pumpkins, dried squid, seaweed, strawberries etc., and then the flasks, into which went the sake. All were soon buried in snow.

While all this was under way, out of the white dimness came the contractor, carrying four wooden stakes, a heavy sackful of something, and two bottles of sake; and knowing exactly what to do. The priest pointed to a place on the ground and the contractor emptied the sack there: instant sandpile. Then he proceeded to drive the stakes into the ground at four points on the edge of the circle, marking off a square inside the circle. To these stakes he tied the bamboo fronds the priest had put out earlier; to these fronds he led rice-straw rope around the square; the architect, who had also emerged from the whiteness bearing two bottles of sake, which he put on the altar, began to hang strips of white cut-and-folded paper (also prepared earlier by the priest) from between the strands of the ropes, all these little adjustments making an admirable essentially instant and very naturalistic outdoor ceremonial chapel.

All this while, the sky was a palpaple thick whiteness. The snow was falling harder and harder as we stood there while the priest, under cover of the back door of his van, donned his red crane-covered gray silk ceremonial robes (it was painful to think of them getting drenched), put on his tall lacquered wicker hat, took his wooden ceremonial wand in hand, stepped out into the circle to begin the ceremony, and the snow stopped, and the clouds in one part of the sky separated into a little blue circle and the sun shone full down upon the scene. I swear to this. I said to myself this guy's got connections. He began the ceremony, moving crisply in ritual, each motion part of a complex cosmic hypermetacosmogeometry, the priest the while reciting incantations leading to a soft monotone that grew in power until he was shouting at more than full voice into the sunny silence of the trees; then, taking out from his robes a large folded parchment, he began to read what sounded like a list of all the gods he was calling, and the list went on and on, and somewhere in the middle of it all I was startled to hear my own name, and that of my wife; some sort of cosmic application form.

About this time another car came out of the whiteness and parked with a blast of the horn at the roadside. It was the materials man. He trudged on up through the deep snow just as the priest had blessed all the things on the altar and was beginning to lead us through our portions of the ritual: the architect took the ceremonial scythe and made three rice-stalk-cutting motions above the pile of sand; then I used the ceremonial spade to dig three spadefuls of sand; then Echo did the same; then the materials man; then the contractor dug a hole in the top of the pile with the ceremonial paddy hoe and buried the small box (wrapped in white paper with an inscription on it) the priest placed in the hole. The priest then did some more incantation, which led to a reversal of the long howl that had summoned forth the gods and now, in reverse, sent them back to their places, and ended the ceremony. He gave the contractor the little box and told him that before construction he should bury the box under the northeastern corner of the house. He then stepped out of the circle, and the sun went in, the sky got dark, and it began to snow heavily again. I swear to this too.

And so it continued to do the rest of the time we were there. The word 'miracle' was heard among us. Afterward we all had a cup of the holyized sake and Echo divided the vegetables between us and the priest. We got the dried squid, he got the strawberries. All then set off down the hill in the vehicles, but I preferred to walk, to be alone in this vast action of snow, this immense concatenation of white silence, every step a splendid one. Part of the way down I heard, as crisply as though directed to me by the snowflakes and heightened by their lacy quiet, from the soul of the whiteness the call of the hawk, arrowing out through the vast powder of the sky. There was no answer but a gentle falling everywhere.

(First published, in slightly different form, in Kyoto Journal's Inaka double issue.)
[Meant to post this 1995 journal entry yesterday, on the anniversary, but got sidetracked by my haramaki (see previous post). RB]

Tuesday, February 04, 2003


One standby item I dig out faithfully every winter that unfortunate folks abroad in the West know little or nothing of, much to their necessarily unspoken disappointment (rife indeed are the disappointments we know not of) is my good old haramaki.

Yes, when the days grow short and the temperature falls, when the skin gets bumpy and the snuggle factor begins to rise, when the spirit with spring in its heart but winter in its teeth calls for some sort of cuddle, that's when I feel sorry for all those shivery folks in the developed world who have to crank up the central heating merely because they don't have a haramaki handy.

I truly hope that doesn't include such a thinking person as yourself. And when you think about it, what better place to maki (wrap) than the hara (roughly: abdomen)? The ancient orientals knew all about these things. Long before infrared was made visible, they knew that major quantities of body heat were lost from the uncovered, or even conventionally clothed, hara.

A brief look at your handy anatomical model will confirm this. Note where the ribs end, and where the major organs are as a result exposed and essentially unprotected, sheltered from the world only by a smattering of muscle and a layer of skin. Shivering liver!! Icy bladder!! Snowy pancreas!! Chattering kidneys!! Frozen colon!!

And if you look closely at any of those ancient twelve-foot tall Japanese temple guardians, you'll see that the very center of their dynamic energy, the root of their ki, is the hara, firmly outthrust, and centered with a navel that looks like the satellite image of a typhoon (how well they understood the unity of energy in those days!).

Needless to say, the haramaki soon becomes an essential element of one's winter clothing here in the historically energy-conscious orient, where central heating is not yet the norm and you can go into any general store and get yourself a haramaki of cotton, wool or silk, even a self-heating haramaki, if you're of that persuasion.

In the deeps of winter I sometimes think that perhaps Japan should organize some kind of relief effort and send haramaki out into the developed world to relieve the tremendous suffering caused by crushing monthly energy bills to heat an entire house when you only need to heat the occupant, but then I realize that the Japanese themselves are slowly but surely slipping out of life itself and into the intensive care of central heating, and I think maybe I should stock up on haramaki while they're still available.

On the other hand, though, with the big oil price rises looming incrementally the further we get down the centrally heated billion-lane expressway that is tomorrow, I think the haramaki could one day be, worldwide, the ideal form of central heating.

Monday, February 03, 2003


The recent assertion throughout the media that a Chinese navigator first discovered America some years before Columbus, and the ensuing debate over the certitude of the doubtful details, all appears to me to be chronically time-blind in the usual scholastic way, the facts likely being as I first surmised them some years ago in the Kyoto Journal, more or less as follows:


The very first discovery of America, or of the land mass that would one day be known as America, took place at what would have been 3:22 in the afternoon on April 27th, 39,926 B.C. when Aijuk, a young hunter pursuing a wounded caribou, jumped from a large ice floe onto the uninhabited continent now known as North America, beating out Columbus by a good 42,000 years or so. But no countries are named after Aijuk; no states, cities, streets or universities, automobiles, rivers, buildings, squares, expressways, moving picture corporations, record companies, dry cleaners, rock groups, no, not even a cigar bears the name of America's true discoverer. Because when Aijuk's foot became the very first to touch the now hallowed ground of the broad American continent, Aijuk didn't claim the land for any king, god, nation or manifest destiny; he held no ceremony, planted no flag, had no quoteworthy statement ready for the occasion, didn't name the place after his chief or even carve his own name on a rock. In fact, such thoughts never entered his head, because back then it was all one world. Aijuk simply scanned the horizon, gave up on the caribou and jumped back out of America. What's more, he never even knew he'd been there: such was the clarity of mind in those long-gone days.