Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Every evening at about this time a treacly sensation steals over me and I suddenly feel like flinging out my arms and spinning about a flowery meadow somewhere, like I'm one of the Trapp children stuck forever in an alpine loop track of The Sound of Music. I shake my head to snap out of it and realize I'm just hearing once again that same old snippet of the execrable Edelweiss being played on the loudspeakers down in the village to mark the hour of five pm for any farmers who might be out in their fields and feel like dancing and singing of tiny white flowers, or maybe to summon home a Heidi who forgot her watch, and as the treacle washes over me I wonder at what long-ago village committee meeting from hell they made the innocuous-appearing but long-reaching decision to play the same syrupy song loudly in the twilight zone every single day all the way to the end of time, until one day a mountain-dwelling foreigner begins to intuit the actual length of eternity, to sense something new about the nature of madness...


It's not easy saying goodbye to our little green friends that stand so tall and taste so good and bring nourishment, are fun to watch grow spiky and strong from little seeds fed on sunshine and rain-- like our very own children in a way, though much quieter and requiring no education or frequent new wardrobes since they already know all they have to know and a lot more besides, wear no shoes and for even the most formal occasion require no more clothing than their birthday suits.

But the one thing they don't know is the reason onions and I have to go our separate ways: unlike other plants I could name, onions do not yet know how to make monkeys dislike them. And even if they did, we humans, being more akin to monkeys than we like to admit, would then also dislike onions, so this is clearly a no-win situation vis-a-vis yours truly and our pungent little friends with infinite hearts.

I only planted a few onion sets this year. I've been planting fewer and fewer onions each year since monkeys and I first became neighbors, thinking that perhaps I might reach a point at which the red-faced thieves wouldn't find so few onions worth the bother; but as life taught me this morning-- a bit of useful knowledge I now pass on to you-- it only takes one monkey to ravage onions. (If you don't think a couple dozen onions can be ravaged, stop by later this afternoon.)

I could plant and harvest a thousand onions if I wanted to spend major yen to put up an electric fence and pay endless power bills as many have done around here, since the oh-so-cute and spoiled-rotten simians have mobs of animal-loving friends in the cities who never see monkeys except in zoos and fawny photographs or doing cute things on tv (Japanese monkeys are simply unbeatable at PR), but my overall aim in life is to simplify, so goodbye my loyal globular friends, that always bring tears to my eyes...


Forgot to mention that this is the time of Japan's year when several holidays fall near each other to make so-called Golden Week, one of the big holiday seasons when everyone (except vacation service workers who are happy on overtime) traditionally takes a chunk of time off and the salarymen and their families go on vacation everywhere, often to Hawaii, the US mainland, Europe, Okinawa, Southeast Asia etc., but this year due to Japan's economic situation and the world situation it's more like Iron Pyrite Week or maybe Leaden Week, they're not even going on vacation locally very much. Indeed, some folks I know are even working today, on the emperor's birthday (I get the day off too, even though I don't have an emperor), when back in the good old 24kt Golden Week they'd take 5 days off in a row and figuratively light their figurative cigars with figurative 1000 yen bills and the vacation traffic would choke up the highways, the beaches would be jammed and the restaurants, hotels, airports, resorts and shopping streets would be as crowded as the jet ski areas on the Lake but now it's all very quiet, I can hear only one fading cigarette boat out there and no jet skis at all, it's almost like before there were motors. Funny how a slow economy seems closer to paradise.


Tuesday, April 29, 2003



No longer just for the rich; now everybody can have one!

Monday, April 28, 2003



Looks as though my congratulations to the city of Toyosato were premature. The voters of that municipality across the Lake, of whom so many Japanese were proud as manifesting the viability and strength of Democracy in Japan, gave Democracy a new twist (maybe distortion is a better word) when, after recalling the obviously front-man Mayor with the worst combover in Japan, possibly the world (the irresistible ad hominem jibe is mainly to give some indication of the extent of this bizarrity-- who would elect this man to any office on any basis?), they RE-ELECTED HIM!! I guess their on-second-thought appreciation of the dumped mayor's unquestionable value to the community, and of possible health problems for certain voters and their families if he wasn't unrejected, saved the day for democracy. The leader of the recall faction came in a sufficiently distant second to make the country safe for heavy handedness. Read this for a taste of politics at the local level in Japan!

Sunday, April 27, 2003



For the rare and ideal opportunity to observe West meeting East meeting West all over again through the eyes of a sharp observer, visit Pam's Blog of Random Stuff, where great posts pull no punches on going back home to New Hampshire after years in Japan (where her blog began; she used to be my nearest blogneighbor right across the Lake)... what Pam's discovering in New Hampshire about Japan is every bit as fascinating as what she's discovering about America...

Saturday, April 26, 2003



At the very cusp of morning I hear through my windows, now all open at night, a regular and eager leafy thrashing sound, it is the thrushes going hard at this year's compost section of garden where I throw all the wood ash, rakings, used-up shiitake logs, small prunings and garden leftovers, and where as a result it is always greener than anywhere else. The chickweed is already bigger than the thrushes, but nevertheless they barge right into that soft green jungle and toss the duff about looking for the riches there and frequently finding them. By the time the sun is fully up they are stuffed, and fly off to roost in the sun. Nice life if you can get it, I think as I dress for work in the city.

Friday, April 25, 2003



With all this rain falling, and so protractedly, it seems as though tsuyu (rainy season) gets longer every year, making Japan very water-rich, in contrast to what's happening in the brokerage houses. And if there's one society around here that really appreciates those waterfalls of heavenly largesse, it's the myriad citizens of the ancient and honorable nation of Frogonia, fresh from the winter mud. Themselves consisting mostly of water plus a strong desire to talk all night, as the rain creates their perfectly designed home in the paddies the Frogonians have been putting on quite a show for we merely sapient neoresidents who have to build our own houses.

When I got to my house last night just after dusk (having spared countless lives by motorcycling erratically along a road that was green with frogs visiting other neighborhoods just the way I used to), despite the rain the Frogonian roar of excitement from the paddy amphitheaters was deafening as they all tried to talk at once, mostly the smaller frogs with their high-pitched and rhythmic message of "O man (pardon the necessary anthropomorphism) ain't this just the greatest thing in the world, what's happening right now!" while a couple of larger, less mobile elders in the corners were just going "Harrumph!" now and then. I couldn't hear my own "Harrumph!" till I'd gone indoors, but I didn't really mean it.

Thursday, April 24, 2003



The farmers are beginning to till the flooded rice fields. When we first moved here, this being one of Japan's ancient rice-producing areas all the fields on the mountainside followed the topography of the land as they always had. This had posed considerable difficulty for generations of local farmers. For example, right across the road from us was a sizeable ridge of land, itself untillable, that when we moved here was covered with trees where the egrets used to come and settle of summer evenings, the undergrowth being pretty much pheasant city. As a result of that ridge, though, some of the farmers had to practically pirhouette to till their fields, the topography dictating that many landowners had to have several small and oddly shaped parcels to make up their piece of land.

Then one day a couple of years ago all the farmers came up and cut down the trees on the ridge, carted them away and burned all the undergowth. Not long after came the Public Works folks (who pave Japan's rivers and concrete her mountains and seacoasts) and with their armies proceeded to organize pretty much the entire mountainside, paddy-wise (which did not please all the farmers, who had perforce to pay a good part of the cost themselves, some benefiting more than others from the resulting changes, many opposing change of any kind for various reasons). The huge machines plowed away the ridge and symmetrized all the fields as systematically as possible, not making too bad a job of it actually, using minimal concrete and walling with in situ stones where possible. They have clearly learned something from all the years of complaints that they don't know how to make their changes fit the locality.

Now the farmers who like their forebears had had to struggle all those years with their several tiny teardrop-shaped fields are clearly enjoying the ease and precision of tilling their newly symmetrical and much larger properties; the pheasants have moved to the bamboo groves in front of our house and the forests up behind; with the ridge gone, on a clear day we can now see all the way to the end of the Lake, and the rice fields still gracefully follow the greater contours of the mountainside. The egrets don't come around much anymore, though, leaving the local crows with one less bunch of birds they can tease of a summer night.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003



Late this afternoon I glanced out the window while going downstairs to make some tea and saw that a really splendid mist was forming after the day's steady rainfall through the cool air onto the mountainside (thoroughly warmed by yesterday's beautiful sunny day while I was in the office), and I decided that as soon as I'd set the tea to brewing I'd go out and try to capture with my camera that magical mood of ghostly trees and fading distances re-emerging and then disappearing to merely arm's length, then shifting again to mystical transformations in that wondrous dance mists never do twice the same, but when I set my tea to brewing, grabbed my camera and ran outside I found that during that moment the mist had reached the turning point of evening, passed its utmost peak of saturation and broken into all the pieces of a mountain rain, that turned the paddies into flat white light between here and the now only rain-misted trees, so I just went in and had my tea and watched.



Pure Land Mountain Lunch, clockwise from lower right: gemmae (brown rice) with sesame, topped with braised unagi (eel) and ground sansho herb in a handmade bisque glazed bowl; briefly boiled spinach with sesame, katsuo-bushi (bonito shavings) and soy sauce on a favorite plate from our last trip to the undiscovered paradise Okinawa; tofu with chopped shiso leaves and soy sauce on a little blue-rimmed plate decorated with eggplants; and miso soup with daikon and wakame in a wooden urushi bowl made by my sister-in-law's family in Shinshu. A lunch very light, very nutritious, even more very delicious, with a lot of history and quickly and thoroughly finished, as evidenced below.




Goethe-- what an evenly paced heart! Could be measured out in drams, oceans, mountains, worlds, whatever quantum the thought deserved. And what a time in which to be thus, when all was just dawning! If Goethe hadn't been there then, how much less spirited now would be!

Tuesday, April 22, 2003



Even now, I hear her voice.


Monday, April 21, 2003


just one perfect
cherry blossom day
then the ground is pink

As I mentioned in an earlier post, last week a big bunch of oak limbs not literally fell into my lap that were perfect for shiitake logs. When the certified shiitake spore plugs came out in February I had bought a bag of 500 in anticipation of a forthcoming supply of oak logs, but that had been cancelled due to sale of the land the trees were on, so the plugs had been just sitting in my toolshed in a state of fungal lust, and were clearly eager to consummate their oaken orgy. Fungal shouts of joy are of course beyond the range of human hearing, but these spore were definitely ready to get it on: I could sense a sort of silken vibration when I opened the bag in the presence of willing oak, cut only a week ago. There was a hint of wild passion in the air, though that could just be Spring. As I was drilling and inoculating the logs in my role as fungal matchmaker, I kept thinking that although this was clearly Be Kind to Fungi Week, it was also Be Kind to Monkeys Week, since the monkeys are very likely to get most of the resulting shiitake, and are even now no doubt marking the event on their festive calendar; still, there is magic about freshly harvested shiitake mushrooms that makes it all worth while even if I only get only 10 or 20 percent (more if I harvest while the mushrooms are still small). As I was going through the inoculation steps, I took some photos of the spore plugs and an oak log with the plugs about to be hammered in (ca. 6 inch diamond pattern), in case any of you kind folks would like to be nice to fungi in return for pure and clean and healthy deliciousness. If you can get spore plugs (or with only spore, make your own plugs). In any case, shiitake are superfood. Ask any monkey. For any further details or info, email me.

Sunday, April 20, 2003


spring rain -
many small voices
one big roar

Couple of times today went out into the torrent, the Rashomon rain, to check on things like rain-hammered tulips, narcissi and daffodils, mushroom buds and onion sets; several of the farm ladies out gathering sansai despite the rain, specifically today warabi (bracken fern: Pteridium aquilinum). (They got to all the fukinoto and taranome before me.) I had to pause at length to look at the energetic St. John's Wort, being surprised at how well it and the rain understand each other, clearly for a very long time, the Wort keeping a drop of its old friend close at the tip of each leaf, the silvery beads clearly content to remain there, quite unlike rain's general behavior on, for example, my head.

Saturday, April 19, 2003



Thursday was gorgeous. Friday was more gorgeous. Today, Saturday, began with a splendid dawn whence, among other tasks I planned to drill and inoculate the previously mentioned shiitake logs (it's better to do it as soon as you can after harvesting the logs, to preclude their natural inoculation by undesired fungi) and get some more bulbs and seeds in the ground, prepare the ginger bed too, but no sooner had I laid a hand on those logs than it began to rain, and it has rained all day since, the logs this evening just sitting out there dripping happily in the rain while the frogs begin their chorus, happy as can be with water above, water below. There is vast contentment in that sound, of rain falling and frogs calling, over and over, that all is well.

In the mist, cherry blossoms
Deeper in the mist
cherry blossoms

What pleasure it is, what delicate pleasure, to stand out at dawn beneath the blooming cherries and see in the distance more and more blooming cherries, the mountain green also dotted here and there by a demure peach or brash apricot...

The quiet morning cherry-scented mountain air is worth more than all the assets in the world.
And out on the Lake the ayu boats trawl here and there, trailing golden shavings that curl and fade along the wakes in the slant of misted sunrise, the sharp-eyed fishermen seeking the fishes I hope manage to elude them.

Last night's frog chorale has drawn to a close, though the croaky choir is clearly here in force, unlike elsewhere in the world where experts say the hoppy songsters are disappearing; soon there may be more experts than frogs.

Apart from the alarming increase in experts, this change bodes ill for our species, for frogs live (as anyone knows who has conversed with frogs) at the frontier of existence. They are our environmental pioneers, as it were, and the responsibility weighs upon them deeply. Nevertheless, they go on singing. May we all take a lesson from our amphibian friends.

Friday, April 18, 2003



Yes. Read that word. Remember that name. Honor the epitome of... no, not sourness; not saltiness, nor astringency, though it is all three, unlike any other big hitters in that puckery ballpark such as lemon juice, vinegar, alum or cynicism. The umeboshi or pickled plum is in a class by itself.

Major component of Japanese soul food, the umeboshi is the pink and smily grandmother of the green plum (actually a variety of apricot but why quibble over facts at a time like this), wrinkled and salty and soft but very brash, and can still show you youngsters a thing or two. So honor the high goddess of whatever it is, the supreme being of puckerdom, that indefinable quality that is so perfectly embodied in the umeboshi and nowhere else in the universe. Even the name is just right: oo-meh-bo-shee, it sounds delicious.

You can make your own umeboshi if you've got a lot of just right green ume, just right rock salt, just right purple shiso leaves, just right crockery, a lot of time and a few other things, but like rice, in Japan the umeboshi is a matter of regional pride, everywhere claiming that theirs is the best. And each is best in its way, but with umeboshi it's a more of a gourmet approach, as with wine or cheese or coffee: we all know what we like.

I like umeboshi in a beautiful scarlet-pink, with a rather firm softness, the acquired saltiness and the native sour/bitterness of the originally green plums now wed in a ruby synthesis as perfect as that of cream and honey or peanut butter and jelly or gin and tonic or-- well, it's another on that short list of perfect couples. We get ours in a bucketful every spring, fresh made from a Kanazawa farm full of wooden buckets jammed with rosy, salty, mouthwatering exquisiteness from pampered trees that know all about heaven. Great as a topping on rice, mashed up in a winter ochazuke or as a digestive spring cleanser, the umeboshi clearly has been handed down to us by the gods themselves. I'm going on like this because we just ran out of our year's supply, and wait with mouths watering at the very thought.

Thursday, April 17, 2003


water filling
mountain paddies--
sky on the ground


We have new neighbors just up the mountain from us, very nice folks building a log house on a good piece of land, with southern exposure and a view of the Lake. In the process, they are trimming some trees on the property to make clearance for their roof, and will not be heating with a wood stove, soo... in a mutually neighborly favor I offered to carry all the wood scrap away, and yesterday began cutting it to stove lengths in the last light of day. There's cherry, oak and some ironwood, I was hard put to get most of it sized and stacked and covered before the rains came in the night. Out of the big pile of trim also came a dozen 1.5-meter oak logs of size enough for shiitake culturing. The monkeys will be delighted. Still much cutting and sizing yet to be done, I think wistfully as I look sawlessly out my office window in Osaka at millions of neighbors.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003



Standing on the train platform this morning, instead of gazing as I usually do at the sunrise Lake and the wild-shore doings of King Pheasant and his harem, I turned and scanned the mountains that are mist-obscured in great part these early Spring days, like those presumably redundant scenes on the old Japanese byobu (room divider screens). In one part of the range left clear of mist by the hand of the highest artist, I could see amidst the brightening green a zig-zagging streak of peak-blossom cherry trees, that ran like a long wild river of pink down to the foot of the mountain. I had to travel a long way on that river, to get back to my reason for taking a train.


Ever since Japan
put Natsume Soseki
on the thousand-yen bill
many Americans have dreamed
of the Walt Whitman dollar
the Edgar Allan Poe five-spot
the Herman Melville sawbuck
the Jack Kerouac twenty
the Emily Dickenson fifty
the Mark Twain C-note
or at least
the Thoreau thousand
but all we get are generals
and presidents
monolithic buildings
on the flip side.
Of course Japan
has had 2000 years
to put its writers on the money
America just got here
so for centuries yet
we'll have to be content
to spend politicians
and military men
until they're all gone
when we can begin at last
to transact Walt and the others
whose words are worth more
than all the money ever printed.




Anyone else out there get one of these emails?

"Dear Robert:

We are creating a TV pilot about blogging. We want to bring this
phenomenon of personal expression to television for the very first
time, and have been scouring the web for appropriate sites. Your web site
seems like a potentially great fit for the show..."

With a link to...


Well the election returns are in and Tokyo voters re-elected the outspoken dinosaur Ishihara to their prefectural governorship. I suspect they like him not particularly because of the irrational ideas he often espouses, like a true gerontocrat, but for the way he shoots off at the mouth in unexpected sound bytes and gets into trouble, unlike most of the monoliths in parliament and elsewhere. In other words, Ishihara is much more entertainer than politician. And in a not unexpected but still unpleasant setback for the antinuclear power folks, the apparatchik governor of Fukui Prefecture (a major focus of Japan's nuclear power industry) was re-elected over his antinuclear power opponent, who nevertheless garnered an unexpectedly large number of votes in a hotly contested election. News was much rosier in the vicinity of Pure Land Mountain, as our local candidate for the Shiga Prefectural Assembly, a very nice midwife who lives just across the ridge and is strongly against the proposed incinerator, handily and unexpectedly edged out the major party-backed pro-incinerator incumbent, to very loud cheers in the neighborhood. "We Did it! We DID it!" Was heard from living room windows throughout the land around.

Monday, April 14, 2003


Yesterday we traveled a bit south on the lakeside road to see the third-evening events of the four-day Sanno Matsuri (festival) at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine on the lower slope of Mt. Hiei. Although the Shrine is renowned for its ancient maple trees and their leaves in autumn, the blooming cherry trees that now line its streets offer a taste of what it must be like to ascend into heaven while still alive. The shrine precincts themselves rank among the most beautiful in all of Japan; but under cherry blossoms at their peak, beneath a rising moon, words fade to sounds of awe.

Today, shrine members carry the Omikoshi (portable shrines) from other nearby Lake-coast shrines by boat to Hiyoshi Taisha to have them all recharged with kami-power, and last night was the turn for the local Omikoshi to "be born," an event in which hundreds of local young men came running and screaming in flame-bearing packs up the dark road to the ancient open-fronted building that housed the four old Omikoshi.

Once the gangs of guys had all leaped up into the building in a mad rush, some linked arms to close off the space while the others proceeded to rock the Omikoshi back and forth, the Omikoshi legs pounding on the old wide planks of the building, turning it into a very large wooden drum whose beat threaded through various syncopations in a booming resonance that, coupled with the wild energy output, created a trance-like state in the young men and the thousands of observers who came drifting up the cherry-blossom-arched lanes to witness the event as it went on into the night, the firelight reflecting from the golden Omikoshi roofs and tapestries, that sparkled as they rocked heavily back and forth in the rhythm of the vast heartbeat we all share.

We left after a few hours, the pounding fading back into the night up the mountain as we found our way down through the dark along narrow, stone-walled alleys lit only by cherry blossoms filtering moonlight.


Eamonn Fingleton in a guest article at Prudent Bear offers the very interesting argument that Japan is not at all the economic basket case the developed world seems to wishfully think it is, that in fact it's just the opposite: that this traditonally secretive society is setting the pace for both the developed and developing worlds...From what I'm seeing here, I would tend to agree.

Sunday, April 13, 2003



I suspected something like this was in the air. Given the bullheaded quality of recent events, this looks pretty scary to the rest of the world.


Pure Land Mountain being one year old this month, some of the more frequent visitors hereto will note the slight but significant name change, the new name being easier for me to type and to say, and what everyone seems to wind up calling this humble effort anyway. As well, my Beverly Hills agent advises me that the change will enable my graphics department to work on a logo that can then be used in merchandising, such as on t-shirts, baseball hats, coffee mugs, towels, tattoos, handbags, jewelry, scarves, the sides of buses, mountainsides, dirigibles, skywriting, how far does it go, does commercialism have an edge like they used to think the world did, or does it return to where I am right now...just a thought.

Saturday, April 12, 2003


what are they talking about
their first night out
the frogs

covered all over
in pink popcorn
the apricot tree


Minako Takeno makes magnetism liquidly visible in these astonishing photos. Via the always new and awesome Speckled Paint. Even clearer now why Ralph Waldo Emerson always carried a compass.

Friday, April 11, 2003


Spring is here, and over the past few days the hundred-million-plus folks in Japan have begun to hear the prowling roar of politicians trying to get elected, the office-seekers trolling the neighborhoods in their bannered and ultra-loudspeakered vans, waving out the windows in their white gloves to impart the illusion of unsullied hands.

The politicians are accompanied by as many uguisu (warblers: the bird) (good-looking young women in some kind of uniform who wave and call out the candidate's name over and over endlessly) as their party can afford (a bevy, if it's the LDP), and the racket is unbelievable in the name of democracy, but not many complain as they would if Japan actually were a democracy.

The Japanese don't really have a history of complaining; it is not in their basically gentle and polite nature, so the politicians, whose very name is a metastasis of politeness, walk all over them thus. They walk all over them in office as well, judging by the endless political scandals happening daily all over the nation, like weather. And like weather, no one seems to think there's anything you can do about it but get an umbrella, or a shovel.

When Mexico's PRI party finally fell from power a few years ago, it left Japan's LDP standing embarrassingly alone as the longest-ruling political party in the world. And the LDP is still gerontocratically in charge. This year, though, a number of younger candidates are spryly distancing themselves and running as independents (every single candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election is running primarily as an independent! [Fukui Prefecture as well, where 15 of Japan's 51 nuclear reactors are]), because there is change in the air.

These mornings when I go down to the train station, though, it doesn't seem like much is changing: each day's election crew (they take turns) is there waiting unctuously to say good morning even to me, though I can't vote: there are the day-glo-jacket-wearing party functionaries, the uguisu , the loudspeakers and the respective local candidate (folksy if independent, diffident and snooty if LDP); the racket is amazing. Then when I get off at Umeda Station in Osaka, things reach a new state of cacophony, since the many more candidates can park their trucks anywhere and stand atop them on platforms with their waving uguisu and give long, deafening, haranguing speeches (I noticed the roadside traffic decibel counters were turned off this morning) that wash like auto exhaust over the rivers of commuters flowing past in all directions and paying no attention whatever; they've heard it all before a thousand times, and white gloves get dirty fast in the city. If I could vote in Japan (as I could in any other developed nation where I'd lived for so long as a permanent resident), I'd never vote for anyone who made that much noise about their racket.



The Baseball Hall of Shame

Thursday, April 10, 2003



The rice fields are now emerging as the water trickles downward through each night; each morning more and more of the winter-tousled mountainside is flooded into perfect facets of the sky. The farmers come up and in rubber boots walk the peripheries of their nascent fields pondering, heads down, thoughts in the dirt-- the nature of the situation in the winds of spring, the melting snows and the pending rains-- back and forth and around the edges of the land they walk, looking up, down, along, around, judging, thinking, deciding, attuning to what is in their blood that has come from this very land.


Michael Moore tells about his "Hollywood Backlash" in a great piece at Common Dreams.


Known in Yankee City as Matsooie, Yankee rookie Hideki Matsui (Matsu-i = pine-well) gave Japan a real lift in these down and troubling times when in his first regular game in Yankee stadium he stepped up to the plate and with a full count calmly swatted a game-winning grand slam home run and as the whole place went wild, rounded the bases with a zen calm. That shot heard across the Pacific must have been replayed about 10,000 times throughout the day, on every Japanese tv program, whether news or not. Here's a little bit of how that much-needed grand slam felt to the proud folks in Japan.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003


1. Eat only refined foods; who needs nutrients?
2. Max out on junk food (refined food with a vengeance).
3. Eat as much meat and dairy as possible. Red meat and milk at every meal is good.
4. Drink as much coffee as you can, to maintain complete digestive panic.
5. Smoke as often as possible, so as to keep the entire body optimally toxic.
6. Get a stressful job, preferably seated all day amidst electronics.
7. Fill up on horror from news and media of all kinds, with potato chips and soda.
8. Live in a teeming metropolis, preferably industrial; avoid walking.
9. Scoff at organic foods, vegetarianism and nutritional supplements.
10. Take all the drugs and treatments the entire medical industry offers. (Remember: your doctor knows more than your body does.)

Start the kids early in the 10-step program. Any one of these steps alone will do the job, but will lead only to lower degrees of illness and disability, and the next thing you know the poor doc will have to drive a Honda Civic or something. Of course you can always mix and match, depending on your situation. Not everyone can have an optimally stressful job, for example; so if, say, you have a job planting flowers, you might want to double up on the red meat, drink more milk, augment the coffee, add a pack a day, that kind of thing. You can find a way around these little curves life may throw at you, and maybe at the same time toss in some new tires for the doc's Lambo.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003



In re my post on the 27th about the new perspectives afforded the expatriate, and about the relativity of freedom (SHALL WE EAT?), since the invasion of Iraq I've broken my news fast a couple of times, now and then watching both Japanese tv and US tv via satellite for updates on the progress of this very sinister precedent. The difference between these two perspectives of the very same event is extremely unsettling. On Japanese tv, from the weeknightly news program News Station I learn more about the true nitty-gritty of the goings-on in Iraq than I get from any length of satellite tv news from the US. On Japanese tv I see lengthy, actual, impartially shot video takes of dusty, dirty, shocking events as they unfold that include the horrific and heart-breaking details of actual war, as it happened on that day. On US tv I see an endless parade of coiffed and pancaked career-oriented talking heads yapping airfill about the weather in Kuwait (cut to weatherperson), or drinking-water problems somewhere in Iraq (clips of marines handing out plastic bottles of water to grateful children), or there's a whole talking torso in front of the white house, or standing in the way of some vague smoke rising from somewhere in a distant, shimmering, unreal Baghdad, cut to Bush smiling and waving on the way to his helicopter or addressing an audience of pumped-up marines (talk about a captive audience). I see the US flag, I see US families of US soldiers holding US flags, I see a black brigadier general of the US Marines wearing camo, showing selected reporters carefully edited black-and-white surgical-strike silent-film clips of geometric shapes exploding. Hard to believe there's a war going on. Too bad they can't get satellite Japanese tv in the US.

Monday, April 07, 2003


It's amazing what one can do in just a couple of hours. This afternoon I went out to work in the garden for two hours and during that time planted several varieties of flowers, two rows of radishes, one of lettuce, one of spinach and one of rocket, pruned the kinmokusei, stacked the firewood and sharpened a wedge, the list of things to do reaching from me to Tierra del Fuego, but at least I made a start. That was just a couple of hours in the afternoon.

And all the while I was delighting in the perfume wafting from the jinchoge, up in the cloud of consciousness wondering why it is that we humans love those fragrances so much. I'm human, I'm curious (two qualities not necessarily mutually defining); I know that evolutionarily it is good for the flowers: smell great, get propagated. But what is the evolutionary advantage in it for us humans? How does love of those fragrances enhance our survival? What advantage is it to pause in the grove of cherry blossoms and listen to the warbler sing, thereby sampling paradise, though it appears to offer no survival benefit? Indeed just the opposite, as implied in the danger-imminent cherry blossom scene in The Seven Samurai, one of the greatest scenes ever put on film, in the greatest movie ever made.

It must be that the fragrances of flowers touch memories far beyond our own, reach ancient and essential depths in us that would otherwise go unmet in the onrush of our lives, and that from flowers we learn how to be deeper in both person and spirit as we live and grow the tree of humanity. Clearly, there are those in positions of power who have never gotten a single thing from flowers; but judging by the beauty of these fragrances, so intimate with the winds of Spring and the spirit of change, flowers will never give up trying.

Sunday, April 06, 2003



Funny I should run into that excellent quote below by Jane Goodall just after I mentioned the interspecies conference I was planning with the local simians. Of course Jane resides among sophisticated, cultured and generally polite chimpanzees who eat termites with their pinkies raised, as opposed to the roving gangs of red-faced petty thieves I have to deal with, but as folks must say somewhere in the world, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your monkeys."

To get to my point, this evening I made a preliminary approach to setting up that interspecies conference. I'd just finished splitting some bucked oak that had sat too long and gotten comfortable being just the way it was, so was being stubborn and wore me out; plus I was using a wedge that needed balancing, but it was getting too dark so I ended the woodsplitting and was putting the tools back in the shed when from upmountain I heard a monkey making that settling-down whoop they make when they try to get all organized and togethered before it gets dark.

I was surprised to hear any monkeys in the neighborhood, since they'd just been through here a couple days ago and heisted my shiitake (see monkey post below Jane), but from the sound of these voices it was a rather small, likely renegade troupe, going Whoop! Whoop! A far-traveling sound. So I quick made up my handwhistle and imitated the sound as best I could with limp hands that had just been pulling oak logs apart, my initial efforts clearly causing some consternation among the monkeys regarding this very disjointed tale they were hearing from that flaky monkey just down the mountain, but I practiced till I became coherent, and the monkeys began responding.

Having never spoken Monkey before, I tried a few things like whooping backwards and faster and slower and what not, just to see what they'd say, and their calls changed accordingly: so I was saying something, but I didn't know what it was. I tried a few things that I thought might sound to monkeys like "Beat it!" or "This is my turf!" But they just emitted that monkey chuckle, said something in the tone of "We know where you live." I then played a couple of bars of the Star-Spangled Banner, which met with total silence, but then I realized that of course they'd never heard it before (definitely the first time in the history of the universe that that anthem has been heard on this mountain). To be diplomatic, I played a couple of bars of Kimigayo (Japanese national anthem), but the silence was just as deep. Clearly the monkeys are not into anthems of any kind; which is, on the face of it, very understandable.

So I reverted to the settling whoop, when I suddenly realized from the return calls that the monkeys were drawing steadily closer; at this time of evening they shouldn't be moving at all. They also seemed to be increasing in number, while my number remained unchanged. At that moment I had to admit that perhaps I'd been a bit hasty; I simply wasn't ready for an interspecies conference right here and now, what with no secretariat, no buffet, not even a good cocktail bar.

And then there was the big problem of interpretation: for all I knew, I might be saying "Come and get it!" and before long I'd be standing there surrounded by very disappointed monkeys going through my pockets looking for interspecies loans. So I headed for the house and left the conference for another time. At least we got a dialog going, though; maybe I'll try again in the morning before breakfast, when I'm much more apelike.

"We have to stop leaving all the decisions to the so-called decision makers, but take matters into our own hands, realise that each one of us makes a difference, and that if everyone who cares acts in a way that is ethical, thinks about buying ethical things, then the world would be changed very fast."

Jane Goodall

Saturday, April 05, 2003



No, that's not a recipe either, though I wouldn't mind seeing it on a menu. When the monkey squad raided in February and ripped all the shiitake buds off our oak logs, the mushrooms immediately went hard to work making even more new buds (monkeys and shiitake clearly go a long way back together) in readiness for the warming rains of Spring. Since then I've kept a watchful eye on the little brown budding delicacies, ready to harvest them at the earliest possible moment. It's an endless battle to outmonkey the appropriately red-faced simians, who have my entire schedule down in their organizers and know when I go to work, almost never marauding when I'm home. But outmonkeying monkeys shouldn't be any problem for a member of the highest order in the manmade hierarchy, and accordingly of greater intelligence; I know when the monkeys go to work, too. So yesterday before going into town I harvested just a couple of the larger shiitake, leaving the smaller ones to grow larger in the rain of the day, assuming (an error-prone action available only to the highest order) that the rain would keep the monkeys immobile for the day (since they have no umbrellas, I guess) and I'd be home tomorrow to keep an eye out. But the fact is, that if you spend your entire life in mountain forests and you're hungry enough, the weather doesn't mean a thing. Because despite the all-day heavy rain the simian stealth squad paid my mushrooms an extended visit and got fat on my labor (I sense here a strong analogy to government bureaucracy, but will forthrightly avoid such an inviting and deserving tangent, in fact it may be much more than an analogy, the two may be very near equivalence, and stick to the monkeys for the moment). Due to some error on the monkeys' part, however (no way considerate; they probably just got full) they left me about 20% of the take, as I discovered this morning when I went out to check. I immediately harvested all that were left, and resolved even more firmly that I'd demand a greater percentage at our next interspecies conference.

Friday, April 04, 2003


Each Autumn, after I've been unexpectedly uplifted by the exquisitely peach-and-creamy fragrance of kinmokusei, the shy harbinger of Autumn and Winter beauty, I swear that next time I won't be, I'll look forward to it, anticipate it and be ready for it, but somehow it always catches me thinking some other way and forces me to rediscover it, which is a pretty crafty thing in a plant if you think about it. And here in Spring, at the opposite pole of the year, is the counterpart presaging the richness of Spring and Summer, that caught me once again this morning walking out the door on my way to work, dispersed in some now forgotten thought, when all at once a key part of my mind was in heaven, eagerly inviting the rest of me there. Heaven as manifested also in a fragrance (much less descript than that of the kinmokusei, though it and my nose are clearly ancient familiars)[later note: today (April 6) the scent was even richer, and is a sort of faintly grapy lily-of-the-valley fragrance. RB], in this case wafting from the very unassuming shrub over there under the cedars, the one with the soft green leaves and the unprepossessing shape, known in Japan as jinchoge (Daphne odora). All the year round standing there unattractive, drawing no attention; but then one early Spring day she's robed in tiny purple velvet flowers, and what an empress of the air Daphne is now!!

Thursday, April 03, 2003



Over the weekend, during a non-rainy anomaly my hands were itching for stonework so I tore down a portion of the old stone wall of the upper garden and rebuilt it but it's still not quite right so I planned to redo it on Wednesday but it rained all day. Today was beautiful but I was at the office. Stones have all the fun. Also cleared and burned a lot of scrap, felt good, made plans to fell the oak above, planted some radishes, mended a chair, shaped the weeping cherry a bit away from the eave. Amidst all this I was alone in the bamboo wind and the glassine trills of the hawks in love, many birds came to audition; all were accepted gratefully into my growing spring chorus; I even saw some frogs, and turned up a couple of sleepy red salamanders from under their stone-wall coverlet, fresh from the long dream of winter, squinting and rubbing their eyes in the sudden light and looking about, remembering, doing a salamandery "Oh yeah, I remember this place; but who are you?" Such company!! Rarely a moment to myself, but I didn't mind. The self is such an abstraction, compared to the all of this.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003


For those of you interested in such things as superb places to visit (the rest of you can go to the kitchen and have a grilled cheddar sandwich with lemon thyme on home-made bread if you want; there's some nice tea there, too)-- Ernest Fenollosa, Tsarevich Nikolai of Russia and the mystery of Dr. Usui having serially interrupted my highlighting of the Emergency Equinox Vacation-- I herewith return to my ruminations on that wonderful experience.

As I indicated, we pretty much randomly wandered within a predefined area north of here, the greater part of which wandering was on surprisingly modern roads along rushing jade rivers and long jade lakes between steep mountains. One of our objectives was the renowned and beautiful village of thatch-roofed houses named Shirakawago, now a world heritage site. Nestled in a long curve of the Shirakawa river where it widens into a narrow valley, the village houses are almost exclusively roofed with thatch in the traditional way, known as gasshozukuri ("praying hands-fashioned") because of their resemblance to steeply praying hands with the fingertips folded through one another.

[Following are excerpts from my journal]
Outside the house we're staying in (many of them are ryokan), all the night is filled with the sound of water. Water is everywhere in these mountains: streams rivers ponds lakes paddies trickles drips waterfalls, running trickling plashing tinkling roaring spraying runneling: every single thing water can do, it does here. Outside, the sound is of fast water roiling by, with some falling onto stones in a small but steady way; ears know all this stuff. We came here in the night, so I have to wait till morning to see what kind of waterbeast lives close by.

The woman comes and slides our door open, tells us that the bath is ready. Big old square deep wooden bath made of tightly fitted cedar boards, hot water steadily overflowing onto the stone floor in gouts of steam. Still a lot of snow on the ground outside, so the floor wants to be cold, but the water wants it hot; they argue in the air. The water in the bath is about 600 degrees. The Japanese like it hot. I get my legs in and let them go numb for a while, then put my hand under the running cold water to fool the rest of my existence while I lower it slowly into liquid hell and stay there for as long as I can bear it. Now back in my room in my cotton yukata and nothing else I steam, I generate indoor clouds, I am a walking demonstration of infra-red. Echo returns from the bath, says "That was the perfect temperature."

And after a night's sleep, I find a small river roaring by outside, very intent on its destination. The village itself in the morning is a slow river: the houses, the outbuildings, the craft shops, the views, all move at rural speed. And the people unfailingly friendly, despite living day to day in what has essentially become a living museum, in which the residents are a big part of the exhibit. They are handling it very well, though too many of those who live here are elderly now (like so many small rural towns in Japan), at the end of the day sitting close together in the last of the sun the way they always have, white-haired, old-clothed, talking, gesturing, oblivious to the tourist stream that is intrigued by their ancient sense of fashion, and by the fact that they sit there outside in the cold just talking; and when these are gone, all this will truly be a museum of how they once lived, before all this happened.



Here at the long dusk to a rainy day, when all the air is the breath of spring, the warbler sits in the about-to-blossom cherry tree right outside my window and sings out the very rhythm and pulse of the coming changes, while incidentally laying claim to all these lands around for his own little feathered self; he clearly has plans, and is central to the action. He deserves it all, too, for such a rich and splendrous song as that out of so tiny a body, and all by memory, from a score composed long before the thought of time.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003



Here's a glimpse of where the developed world is headed; may as well start early to find your place in the new scheme of things....