Friday, December 31, 2004


May the splendor of true wealth
be yours in the Year of the Rooster.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Despite the cold rain this morning - the snow line has not yet reached down to us; any day now – we went out for our morning walk with Kaya, who is a good walker for one who is nearly four, walks great distances without complaint, finding things of interest along the way; today it was cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus L.), which are at their peak of ripeness about now, at least at this elevation. Dressed in red, Kaya picked and ate a lot of those red fruits, they are even more delicious when bright and wet with rain.

The only actual purpose-y purpose for our walk (true walks eschew all purpose) was to visit the yuzu tree of one of our upmountain neighbors, who lives in Kyoto and visits his mountain house occasionally, but has little use for the wonderful yuzu his tree produces in prodigious quantity, so he says we can take as much as we want, which is one of the symptoms of paradise, so these days we stop by to pick only a few to use in lunch or dinner or to put in the bath.

And one of the things that delights any child is the sight of a tree full of ripe fruit freely pickable, so Kaya was looking forward to the yuzufull moment. When we got close to the spot, however, we could see that the tree was no longer largely yellow with ripe yuzu; it was entirely green! When we got up close, we couldn’t see a single fruit. As to culprit clues, the ground around was littered with scraps of yuzu peel bearing the unmistakably myriad marks of monkey teeth.

If you had asked me yesterday I would have said monkeys don't eat yuzu; they're too sour. which proves at least one thing: when it comes to monkeys, you're better off asking someone else. Not only do monkeys like the sour fruit, by the standards of a Manhattan price for one yuzu, the gourmet beasts had cleared about $1000 worth in one simian fandango. But way up on top of the tree (which had been bent with the weight of the fruit) we found two last yuzu; so Kaya could jump up and down as intended, with one bright yellow fragrant yuzu in each hand in the rain.

We’ll have one yuzu in our lunchtime nabe, and put one in the bath tonight.


"Foremost among these misconceptions is that we must balance the environment against human needs. That reasoning is exactly upside-down. Human needs and a healthy environment are not opposing claims that must be balanced; instead, they are inexorably linked by chains of cause and effect. We need a healthy environment because we need clean water, clean air, wood, and food from the ocean, plus soil and sunlight to grow crops. We need functioning natural ecosystems, with their native species of earthworms, bees, plants, and microbes, to generate and aerate our soils, pollinate our crops, decompose our wastes, and produce our oxygen. We need to prevent toxic substances from accumulating in our water and air and soil. We need to prevent weeds, germs, and other pest species from becoming established in places where they aren't native and where they cause economic damage. Our strongest arguments for a healthy environment are selfish: we want it for ourselves, not for threatened species like snail darters, spotted owls, and Furbish louseworts.


Not all societies make fatal mistakes. There are parts of the world where societies have unfolded for thousands of years without any collapse, such as Java, Tonga, and (until 1945) Japan. Today, Germany and Japan are successfully managing their forests, which are even expanding in area rather than shrinking. The Alaskan salmon fishery and the Australian lobster fishery are being managed sustainably. The Dominican Republic, hardly a rich country, nevertheless has set aside a comprehensive system of protected areas encompassing most of the country's natural habitats."

The last Americans: environmental collapse and the end of civilization - Report
Jared Diamond

Great review of the book and reference to Oregon's touchstone Measure 37.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Just as Echo was getting Kaya ready for bed the clouds parted over the far shore and half the lake turned silver as a frosted glass, reminding me that the full moon was up there, and judging by the speed of those gray curtains would soon be making its appearance.

Knowing how Kaya loves the moon I asked if she wanted to see the full moon before she went to bed? She perked way up and of course said yes - what child would pass up a postponement of bed in any case, even with the good bedtime stories she gets to hear - so I picked her up in her lambfeet and carried her out onto the deck, it was still nearly night-dark out there, except for the reflected light from the lake through the barelimbed trees.

There was a cold stiff wind blowing down from the mountain, so I wrapped Kaya in the wings of my outer shirt and we snuggled together awaiting the grand appearance. While we waited I pointed out the one-two-three stars in a straight line up there that was Orion’s belt, just to plant that seed in her; she doesn’t know Orion from Archimedes, but now she’s heard the name and seen his stars.

As we fooled around out there dancing in the silver chill and saying silly stuff, the big slab of cloud slid slowly past until at last there was the big bright smiling moonlady, reflected in Kaya’s upturned face, lit in her eyes. We stayed long and looked, talked about that face so high, thought our own thoughts for a while, then back into the warm house and stories in bed, till came the moondreams...


The number of fatalities has been doubling every few hours since the massive tsunami struck tragically unprepared Indian Ocean shores; the death toll now stands at over 25,000, and will likely be much higher. Injuries must be many, many times that number, to say nothing of property, utility and treatment facility damage, necessitating emergency aid of every kind and description.

Here is a list of relief agencies where donations (online) and other aid can be sent.

Here is an excellent focus of all the ongoing news about this catastrophe.

A new ad hoc site on tsunami relief efforts with steady news updates here

Sunday, December 26, 2004


Deep into Christmas eve, about 3 am if you must know, I was sound asleep, with visions of sugarplums - whatever they are - dancing in my head, when I was awakened by a sound outside. A large sound.

Not on the roof, but beside the house. A large animal, after blundering through the thicket in the dark, had come out into the cleared area and begun plowing slowly through the thick layer of leaves there, occasionally stopping to snap off a soft twig of hedge/Biwa/fig tree and chew it up. Rumination is very loud on a silent night.

The air was cold and I was warm and sleepy; nevertheless, in the spirit of Christmas I rushed to the window to see what was the matter, but of course it was as dark as it had been at my pillow. I went to get a flashlight, opened the window slowly and shined the light out into the dark: about 20 meters away I saw a big white heart: Blitzen was mooning me.

It definitely wasn't Rudolph; I'm not sure if it was really Blitzen or Donder or one of the others, but Santa was missing at least one reindeer. Actually, more likely they're all on vacation when they get to in Japan, since the Japanese don't have chimneys and Christmas here is 100% commercial. Kaya and the twins, on the other hand, have a genuine Yule experience at our house and enjoy the story of the deer on vacation.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


"4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that 'flying reindeer' (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim)would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force."


Friday, December 24, 2004


"The problems have been well publicized: The most rapidly aging society in the world, the highest public debt level in the industrialized world, a decade of falling land and stock prices, declining education standards, rising crime, divorce, suicide, youth delinquency and all-too-frequent scandals involving everyone from elite civil servants to doctors, not to mention politicians and their business associates with their snouts in the trough.

But while it's easy to throw your hands in the air and dismiss Japan as a country drowning in a tsunami of its own making--as many have done--it might be worth paying attention to Kingston's important finding: Something positive is happening here. It's just been happening so quietly, so incrementally, that we all missed it."

From review of Japan's Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in the Twenty-First Century
By Jeff Kingston

Thursday, December 23, 2004


For all you folks out there in the rest of the world who don't have an emperor, I thought I'd post a thought or two on what it's like to have one, especially one that's descended directly from the sun.

Before I came to reside in Japan I never had an emperor. I never really wanted one. When I was growing up in New York, I didn't feel the slightest need for anything imperial; it was quite enough to have a school principal and then an office supervisor. So I certainly didn't move here to get myself an emperor.

Strictly speaking, even though I reside here now, I still don't truly have an emperor, though my Japanese wife does of course, and our Japanese friends, whether they like it or not. Having an emperor isn't really a matter of choice if you're a direct descendant of the center of our solar system, as my wife is, which makes the sun my distant relation by marriage. My children are thus directly descended from the sun as well. Unlike me, they tan quite easily.

I joshingly bring all this up because today's a holiday, being the birthday of the current emperor Akihito, the Heisei Emperor of Japan. His father, Hirohito, reigned as the Showa Emperor from 1926 to 1989. His birthday was a holiday while he was alive. So there are definitely some advantages to having a solar in-law.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


What food for the heart, the majesty of those mountains up in the sky in the morning, clad in white with a sunlit rose-colored cape of cloudswirl sweeping outward with a cosmic gesture, suffusing the still graywhite predawn ground down where I am with that aura of eternity where now and then are one, and problems are as snowflakes on the tongue...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

her sweatshirt says
what a sourpuss

Monday, December 20, 2004


"Otogi Zoshi are tales for adults and children [to] enjoy alike. In the Muromachi Period and the Edo Period, people would have great fun thumbing through the pages by themselves or have someone read to them - there were many ways to enjoy the stories. The greatest pleasure of all though, must surely have been the beautiful painted color illustrations."

From The Kyoto University Library Collection

via wolfdog at MetaFilter

Sunday, December 19, 2004


"After all, the average Tokyo apartment is so small that it can make even a New Yorker feel like a caged animal. And only a cooking-averse undergraduate could love the typical Japanese kitchenette with its half-size refrigerator and an oven that can grill fish but not much more. To get around the lack of storage space, Tokyo shoppers shop more frequently than their American counterparts and tend to buy a lot of fresh food at local stores. The size of the classic Japanese meal - a few pieces of raw fish or a modest bowl of noodle soup - contrasts sharply with such American faves as the double bacon cheeseburger or the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.


Thanks to an influx of American-style food, Japan is changing. In the 20 years from 1980 to 1999, Japanese spending on fresh produce dropped 10 percent, while expenditures on Western processed foods jumped 20 percent. Over the same two decades, obesity figures for Japanese males rose 40 percent. In the last 40 years, obesity in the population as a whole has more than tripled."


[Note the supersized attitude ("average Tokyo apartment so small that it can make even a New Yorker feel like a caged animal; only a cooking-averse undergraduate could love the typical Japanese kitchenette")... As a former New Yorker myself, I've lived for 30 years with the "typical Japanese kitchenette with its half-size refrigerator," (no buckets of ice cream or gallons of Coke) and found it no problem. I now prefer it to supersized kitchens and fridges. In food, volume is inimical to quality. I can prepare some fine (fresh) eats in a Japanese kitchen, and Etsuko can do even better. We still cook primarily on just one gas burner, a habit we got into when we lived in Spain. If Japan does supersize, though, it will start with kitchens and fridges, then spread to the young...]


This morning as we were taking our walk, regarding which there was nothing remarkable apart from the gold-and-lapis panorama of the sun rising over the lake, the lungfuls of rich air freshly expressed by the mountain forests and the food that is the feeling of your legs carrying you easily along a morning mountain road, we had gotten as far as the other side of the draw when, looking back at our house in the distance, we saw a white van pull up in the drive and knew at once that it must be Mr. S., come to deliver our organic genmai (brown rice) r-e-a-l-l-y early so we had to hurry back.

Since Mr. S. lives across the Lake, is a busy man and his delicious rice is increasingly in demand, he is not that easy to get hold of. When at last we did get reach him a few days ago, he had said he'd deliver our 60 kg before 10 a.m. on Sunday, but this was very before 10 am (folks who get up as early as we do tend to think everyone else’s day starts later) so we had to run all the way back while watching to see if Mr. S. might give up and drive away with our genmai. I had dallied earlier to take some photos, so Echo had a head start and got back just as he was turning around in the driveway to head back down the mountain.

Mr. S. is a tall, handsome, healthy, loquacious, elegantly dressed 80-year-old who moves like a much younger man. He is also a bonsai master; one of his black pine creations was in the back of his truck beside our 60 kg of genmai; he is selling some of his collection. The 60 kg he brought us will last the two of us about 5-6 months if we eat our usual amount of rice, but Kaya and the twins are coming, so this is more likely a 4-month supply.

Mr. S. grows organic rice using rice bran and a fermentation process in a method he has developed on his own and is trying to get patented, from which he produces fully organic genmai using no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or othercides. This is especially important with brown rice, which is so much closer to the actual state of cultivation. But what is amazingly more, he charges about 1/3 less for it than other organic sources charge.

The rice he delivers is 100% brown rice; only the hulls have been removed. Our task now is to find a larger rice polisher; we like to occasionally have 80% ‘brown’ rice, or even 50% sometimes, depending on the recipe. We save the removed bran for baking bread, use it in soups or simply spread it on the garden. Mr. S.’s brown rice is definitely the best way to eat grains. Plus we're forced to run back to the house now and then. I’ll have to see about maybe getting one of his cherry bonsai...

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Housewife heading home
from shopping, daikon
in the Louis Vuitton


Methods: Data on the ingredients of the Polymeal were taken from the literature. The evidence based recipe included wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic, and almonds. Data from the Framingham heart study and the Framingham offspring study were used to build life tables to model the benefits of the Polymeal in the general population from age 50, assuming multiplicative correlations.

Results: Combining the ingredients of the Polymeal would reduce cardiovascular disease events by 76%. For men, taking the Polymeal daily represented an increase in total life expectancy of 6.6 years, an increase in life expectancy free from cardiovascular disease of 9.0 years, and a decrease in life expectancy with cardiovascular disease of 2.4 years. The corresponding differences for women were 4.8, 8.1, and 3.3 years.

Study (requires free registration after Jan 7 2005)

News article

Friday, December 17, 2004


"Triad is owned by a man named Tod Rapp, who has also donated money to both the Republican Party and the election campaign of George W. Bush. Triad manufactures punch-card voting systems, and also wrote the computer program that tallied the punch-card votes cast in 41 Ohio counties last November.

Given the ubiquity of the Triad voting systems in Ohio, the allegations that have been leveled against this company strike to the heart of the assumed result of the 2004 election.

Earlier this week, the allegations against triad were first raised by Green Party candidate David Cobb, who testified at a hearing held in Columbus, Ohio by Rep. John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee. In his testimony, Cobb stated:

Mr. Chairman, though our time is limited, I must bring to the committee's attention the most recent and perhaps most troubling incident that was related to my campaign on Sunday, December 12, about a shocking event that occurred last Friday, December 10..."

Full story

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Buy Blue

Democracy sure is interesting...

and you can

Search brand-name politics!


One summer afternoon not long ago I was driving home from the larger village up the road, taking the way I always go when driving home from there (the back road from the turnoff at the stonemasons, curving on around the low hill and under the railway toward the new riverside park), and was just about halfway along that familiar road when all at once the car was a temple - something sacred was going on - because all the air was suddenly a beautiful sacred incense that was streaming through the car and me, and then the splendid scent was gone.

I slowed and looked all around to see if a there was a temple procession passing through the neighborhood, or maybe there was an incense competition (they still have incense competitions in Japan) going on nearby (the fragrance had been far too strong and intense to have been merely a local incense burner, or to have been wafted from afar), or maybe a distant incense factory was on fire, or maybe I was having an olfactory flashback...

I concluded that whatever it was, it was a one-time anomaly, and forgot all about it. But repetition is a function of heavenly things. One day not long after I was riding along the same road with Kaya in the car and the windows open, when Kaya smiled her big smile of random happiness and said “ii nioi!” (nice smell!) And there was the fragrance again, along the same stretch of road and as strong as last time, with no evidence anywhere as to the source.

Now, even in winter, when I drive along there day or night I open the windows for an uplift and the scent is always there, it's like driving through a strong, deep stream of sacred fragrance about 15 meters wide, right through that neighborhood that doesn't have a single incense factory in it. I still don't know where the scent is coming from, but it's always wonderfully welcome, a free gift put on the air by the spirits in charge of random happiness...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Actual history can be SO inconvenient. Two days ago China honored the 67th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, right where Japan's history is obscured by some heavily applied whitewash.

"When inconvenient historical facts are conveniently denied and censored by power brokers in authoritarian regimes such as North Korea or Iran, we call it despotism, Orwellian, even evil. But what should we call it when such facts are denied by elected leaders and mainstream media in Japan...?

China's directly experienced perspective:

Nanjing rally commemorates Nanjing Massacre anniversary

Nanjing Marks 65th [sic] Anniversary of Japanese Massacre


"Honda is in a class of its own when it comes to producing clean cars and trucks," said David Friedman, Research Director of UCS's [Union of Concerned Scientists] Clean Vehicles Program and lead author of the report. "General Motors, on the other hand, is stuck in reverse. GM has spent countless dollars in advertising trying to create a green image, but as the only automaker to move backwards on both smog and carbon dioxide, its rhetoric doesn't match reality."

Full story at Common Dreams

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Early this morning, getting sleepily on the commuter train without resorting to the usual full-spectrum seating strategy, I simply occupied the nearest aisle seat of a two-seater closest to the center of the car that would be nearest the exit of the arrival platform and soon realized that the plump young guy passenger sitting beside me had a loud, rhythmic clicking sound coming from his head, sort of like many small metallic doors opening covertly one by one, or maybe the gradual parting of bone.

If I turned to look I might see a long-necked extraterrestrial slug staring back at me from out of the unfolded skull, who knew these days, then the alien sound began to grow louder and more insistent, as though the beast were swelling to its true proportions, it must be pretty damn big, maybe I should change seats before it occupied him completely and had me for breakfast.

I turned to see how far the takeover had advanced, perhaps gauge the potential reach of the beast, when I beheld a gleaming pair of very hi-tech earphones bouncing on the guy's ears. That sound of bone cracking was in fact music! Music that was, if you're an absolute stickler for definition, meant to be listened to! And the listener was either sleeping through it (!), or it had rendered him unconscious. He was definitely alive, I could see him breathing. Alien takeovers keep their victims alive right till the end, then they discard them like a husk.

Judging by the creative nuance and thematic sensibilities of the sonic event, unconsciousness appeared to be the listening mode of choice. However, it's a sort of unwritten general principle of mine not to fall asleep to the sound of bone breaking. So not having brought along any of those earplugs explosive experts use (bad commuter planning), before the next stop I warped to a distant and therefore much quieter seat. In that newfound tranquility I pondered an addition to my commuter arsenal: hi-tech earphones, playing be-bop, top volume: that would keep the unearthly at bay.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Out in the morning sweeping with a long broom up under the lower eaves of the housefront preparatory to the last bit of painting, as I reached up and swept I was surrounded by a rain of sleepy spider families - mothers, fathers, long gray strands of architecturally impressive residences, very artistic egg sacs – indeed, entire arachnoidal communities disrupted from complex pre-winter preparations, now abruptly eight-legged refugees with a thousand kids and no snowshoes, though thankfully it's still rather warm and snowless, so spinners with the wherewithal still have time to whip up a spider Hilton in a prime location.

I could almost hear them as they drifted past me: whooooooaaaa, what's happening - all that work for nothing - where are the kids - there goes my job - I'm not even out of the egg yet and already I've got problems - and such like, until all was ready for my own pre-winter nesting preparations. As a traveler who took a very long time getting to where I am, I know how they feel.

Friday, December 10, 2004


Its aging population makes Japan the testing ground for the future of the world's elderly. And here is a partial glimpse of that future, in the figure of ifbot. Looks like we should anticipate a day when the elderly will have no one to really talk to, no one to really spend time with but a factory-programmed robot featuring a full menu of expressions, that can perform such functions as conversation, calculation, puzzles, memory games, advice, medical check among its altogether 15 functions. It also has 108 LED lights built into its head so it can express emotion. It can ask: "How are you feeling today?" But I doubt it will ever really mean it. I think I'll go have a pack of cigarettes.

engadget's take

ifbot: "How are you feeling today?"

Me: "Quite a bit worse, actually."


For some reason unknown to me, as most reasons are, I woke up this morning with that universally accursed tune running through my head in kitschy madness from the moment I opened my eyes and realized once more who I was, or at least what name I am called, this bag of memories, this walking bio, but what do I know, I don't even program the background music.

The tune - you know it, definitely, everybody does, but doesn't want to, we don't have a choice in these matters, do we - is one of those frothy-bouncy things we all grow to hate sooner or later no matter what part of the world we're in if we don't lose our minds first, I'm sure you've hated it as well - no, I won't tell you what the tune is, you'll never forgive me - with its rhythmanic anchors that lock onto your medulla oblongata, relentless repetitions that hypnotize your serpent brain, sonic claws that hook onto your basic mental wiring and thematic cables that weld themselves to the walls of your consciousness so that whenever you relax your guard for just a moment it pops up out of the top of your head like the tune to a you-in-the-box and you're humming it again, whistling it again, tapping it again, dancing it again, pirhouetting again down the subway platform like Mary Poppins only I'm a guy, which makes it worse, and everyone is staring at you like you're a Mary Poppins kind of guy humming with a deep voice that tune everyone is trying so hard to forget and here you come along and ruin everything, it was the same when I pirhouetted into the office...

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Yesterday being one of those beautiful crisp October days that because of global warming now fall in December, we went across the Lake to take part in the Burning Dedicated Wood Festival at Agajinja (aka Tarobo-gu) on Sekishinzan (Red God Mountain). The shrine is in the nether region of lost travelers alluded to earlier in these humble chronicles, but despite the usual random arrangement of highways and signs along our way, through sheer accident we made it to the correct mountain with plenty of time to spare, even after parking at a distance and walking the rest of the way to the mountain.

As we ambled though the pleasant roadside gauntlet of smiling farmer ladies selling their vegetables, beans, konnyaku, country-style pickles etc., occasional glances upward showed why the mountain had become a focus of the sacred. Throughout the millennia (the shrine was finally built in the 7th century), this mountainside was clearly the place for anyone who wanted to be alone; any sanctity-directed soul in this neighborhood who sought natural solitude in proximity to heaven must have been drawn here like a magnet.

In elegant testimony to Japan's religious syncretism, right at the bottom of the long stairway up to Tarobo's Shinto complex, strung out above over the mountainside, sits a Buddhist temple, whose explanatory sign takes the usual pride of temples around here in having been burned to the ground by Oda Nobunaga, who apparently later had a change of heart and restored this place, at least. Seems you can't burn down temples all your life.

A general uplift comes over you as you draw near the mythic mountain, and in that ebullience I started up the long stairway taking two steps at a time, but after a couple hundred of those I felt my legs dangling in hell and had to pause at the first landing to get my breath, heart, lungs, legs, general existence etc. back onto the earthly plane. I then commenced to climb at a pace more befitting an elder who has learned to minimize ebullience, i.e., experience in .zip format.

Thence upward in suitably elder fashion along the trail through chants and bells, prayer handclaps and red carpets of leaves past platforms and copper-roofed shrines to all the gods, including me (above one altar is a Shinto mirror; just visit to be whom you worship) that are tilted out on stilts or jammed in caves and crevices and ravines...

When at last we reached the first level the big fire was going before mountained offerings of radishes, sake, mikan, watermelons, strawberries, rice and more; there was a sort of vicarious firewalking path set up, across which folks were walking, while elsewhere bunches of elder ladies linked their arms and edged backward laughing through the roiling smoke toward the giant orange firetongue that was roaring at the sky, to get the sacred heat on their sore backs or legs or heads or wherever, as the mountain priests handed out fire talismans to the crowd.

Further up along the stilted walk was my personal favorite, Benzaiten (goddess of the arts) above her cave, then on to and through the giant rock that was split by the gods way before even the first inkling of history; passing through the split at the end of your climb you are reborn onto that small platform also known as life, in front of the shrine of Tarobo, the timeless goblin of the mountain. Here in vast distances the eye swallows whole are tiny homes down there, and moving among them mere specks like yourself, going about life much as you do when you're not gasping for air way up here, where it is growing cold, the horizon is darkening, end of day is nearing, time to start down and begin another life...

In the cold wind
She rubs the statue's hand
With all her need

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sometimes diamonds and platinum in the form of a 4cm cartoon cat say it better than Li Po on his best day...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


"Japan is warning the White House that there will be 'enormous capital flight' from the dollar if the Bush administration maintains its laissez-faire approach to the mounting currency crisis. Tokyo fears that Japan's strongest economic recovery in a decade could be derailed by the sudden appreciation in the yen against the greenback.

The criticism of President Bush's inaction, by a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, will be taken as a veiled threat that Japan could start to sell off its multi-billion-dollar holdings of US Treasuries. 'The Japanese government is going to ask for a strong dollar policy; if it continues to fall, there would be enormous capital flight from the dollar,' said Kaoru Yosano, chairman of the LDP's policy council, adding that Japan would be calling on its fellow G7 governments to demand the US deal with the massive fiscal deficit that has helped to prompt the dollar's decline.

Yosano's remarks echoed a warning from a senior Japanese Ministry of Finance official that if the US does not push up interest rates to make the dollar more attractive, 'the one-way sentiment on the dollar will have a negative impact on the flow of capital into the US.' He added that Japan is urging its European counterparts to join a campaign of coordinated currency-market intervention, saying: 'If the dollar is depreciating, we should have coordinated action: that has already been communicated to my European counterparts.'

More on the dollar's dire dilemma at The New Yorker

Monday, December 06, 2004


Yesterday evening as I was waiting for my train on the platform in Kyoto station I saw a pale American-looking fellow in his early twenties, well over six feet tall, sticking way out from the crowd in his surfer shades and a gaudy backpack, standing there amidst a small cluster of folks over whom he towered, holding a newborn baby.

With him was a Japanese woman, her head not reaching to his shoulder, apparently his wife; the small crowd comprised her parents and siblings and a lot of luggage, and it soon became clear that the husband and wife were visiting her home in Shiga for the first time together, probably met at college.

The parents, plain old country folk, were in a kind of culture shock daze at having suddenly thus - and with no alternative - to deal with a foreign husband who spoke no Japanese and had never even been in this country before, where he stuck out exactly like the tall foreigner he was, the parents looking sort of numb at what their daughter had wrought out there in the world and brought home, they were just local folks, courageously trying now to embrace these sharp new facts, but they didn’t seem to know how. They were still living in what they’d thought had been reality.

In them I beheld the tremendous shock it can be for a provincial person’s child to go to a foreign land and come back home with a foreign spouse; it added to my own insight and sympathy for what Echo and I had wrought upon her parents, who, though they were not exactly simple country folk, were small-mountain-town folk; the shock for these people before me was perhaps even greater. They had no choice whatsoever but to confront it, and the imminent reactions of their neighbors, the entire neighborhood, indeed the whole village; there would be many ‘tsks’ and head shakings in the rainbow of attitudes that would befall these stunned cultural pioneers even now learning how to greet what was to come, how to do what must be done... may all good come to them all...

How different it was nearly 30 years ago when Echo and I, having met in Tokyo (there were few foreign expats there then), were living together in Spain, and in the Japanese way Echo hinted at the fact to her mother by writing to ask that she send two sets of Ohashi (chopsticks); her mother wouldn't acknowledge the cryptic request, but sent three sets instead.

Then when our daughter Kasumi was born, Echo wrote of the fact to her mother; when the news reached Echo's father, he struck her name from the family book and threatened to kill us both with the family sword if we ever came to their house. But Echo's mother sent baby gifts on the sly, and over the next couple of years things were slowly acknowledged, but from a distance. When at our Shinto wedding ceremony in Kyoto four years later I first met Echo's father, he bowed before me, touching his head to the floor; from then on I was part of the family.

Now that I think of it, I never did get to see the family sword...

Sunday, December 05, 2004



"I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and obscene) riders attached to it: a clause removing all endangered species protections from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon; a waiver of environmental review for grazing permits on public lands; a rider pressed by developers to weaken protection for crucial habitats in California.

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer - pictures of my grandchildren: Henry, age 12; of Thomas, age 10; of Nancy, 7; Jassie, 3; Sara Jane, nine months. I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, 'Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.' And then I am stopped short by the thought: 'That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world.'"
From: Battlefield Earth
By Bill Moyers

This is scary stuff. The environment is held in common by all the world.
The Grist Moyers mentions; a great ecozine.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


There I was out and way up pruning the cedars this morning so as to get the task done before the rains that will drench the rest of this weekend, holding on for dear life as I stretched on tiptoe from the tiptop of the fully extended manymeterstall ladder, making a further ladder upward out of the pruned branches, thence further heavenward cutting away the shadows so as to let more winter light into the house (untended lower branches of a mass of cedars can get pretty funereal).

Yes, there I was; and in such a place it goes without saying that regarding the total absence of further shiitake harvests - if such had even crossed my mind amidst all that fragrant green - there would have been on my face that supremely confident look Donald Duck wore in that cartoon where he was certain he had just stopped his house from breaking in two, when the actual fact broke in on him; such as well was the latter look on my face when, from way up there my eyes, following the path of a falling branch, beheld on the sunward side of the stack of shiitake logs (where there had been even fewer shiitake than on the shady side at the absolutely final harvest a few weeks ago so I didn't even look anymore) several new shiitake of a size and pristinity that would cop a country fair blue ribbon easy, if there were any counties in Japan. Or fairs in them. With blue ribbons.

So when I was finished and had bigger shoulders from sawing first with the left and then with the right over and over again all morning, building an appetite to match the hour, I took those shiitake and sliced them thin as paper and sauted them in my home-made basil-flavored olive oil with a little garlic and broth and grated pecorino, then tossed in the al dente fettucine and ecstasized, the while admiring the cedars with their new shoulders.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Almost exactly a year ago I posted about perchlorate, an explosive additive to rocket fuel that had been found in lettuce in the Colorado area; well now the EPA study is in. And to give you some idea of the true extent of this 'invisible' problem, the Environmental Protection Agency has a "Perchlorate Coordinator for the Southwest and Pacific Region." Because it's not just Colorado, the Southwest or the Pacific region.

"Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests released this week have confirmed the presence of perchlorate - an explosive additive in solid rocket fuel - in almost every sample of lettuce and milk taken in a nationwide investigation. Perchlorate, leaking from military bases and defense contractors' facilities, is known to cause regional water pollution, resulting in serious health effects.

BushGreenwatch reported last December on the stalling tactics of the Bush Administration and the Defense Department regarding a national standard for safe drinking water. [3] The EPA's preliminary risk assessment found that perchlorate should not exceed 1 part per billion (ppb) in drinking water for protecting developing fetuses, but industry and Defense Department scientists claim that as much as 200 ppb is safe for human consumption.

Problems associated with perchlorate include impaired thyroid function, tumors, cancer, and decreased learning capacity and developmental problems - such as loss of hearing and speech - in children."

And Japan wants rockets of its own...

beyond tv antennas
just left of skyscraper
morning moon

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Nanten (Nandina domestica) is the plant that grows and spreads and grows again beside the big rock that pokes up through one end of our deck (geomanticotraditionally, nanten is always grown somewhere at the north end of a house) but even though I’ve been trimming our nanten back at least twice a year ever since we moved in and because nanten just has an aesthetic look about it (it’s also known as Sacred bamboo or Heavenly bamboo, though it’s not a bamboo) and is so hardy (the wood of the stems is strong and decay resistant, making it excellent for garden stakes) and the birds love the berries that come out in fall and stay all winter (for the wingless, the berries are used to treat sore throats and the like), nanten and I have a relationship that I value.

Even when I’m hunkered down in the summer heat with a handsaw trying to keep from swearing as I work my way in amidst the army of nanten stalks marching straight and tall to take over our front garden I have to love the stuff, it’s so spindly at bottom, yet hardy, everleaved, with its bright red berries and leaves that are living rainbows through the year-- and in winter it does this dark green dance in the falling snow--

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Speaking of Santa Barbara a couple of posts ago in re the Hisha antique auction, I mentioned my post on the auction to my brother, who lives in Santa Barbara, and he asked me to post about a house he owns in Desert Hot Springs (in Coachella Valley near Palm Springs) that he has just renovated and is putting up for rent. Take the tour (contact number inside).

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Freewheeling down the mountain this morning into sunrise I ran into a minisquall from a thick silver band over the lake that the sun had just risen above, and the placid bright blue air was all at once a quick wind filled with fat drops of gold falling molten on the ground. As I rolled over all that wealth I looked to my left and saw that the road was curving into the tourmaline wall of a rainbow arching higher than the mountains; soon all the air around me took on the glow of revelation and I was gliding through an ambience of emerald, ruby and topaz over a long and curving road of solid gold. Some folks think a lot of money makes you rich.

Monday, November 29, 2004


If you’re interested in seeing or bidding on the finest Japanese antiques and can get to Santa Barbara CA on December 1-2, don’t miss the Hisha Auction, featuring 18th, 19th and early 20th century antiquities (tansu, bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy and scroll paintings, basketry, textiles, mirror boxes, lacquerware, vases, tea kettles, woodblock prints, woodcarvings, stonework etc.) collected and imported by long-time Kyoto friends of ours, based in Kyoto, Santa Barbara and Seattle. Highly recommended, even if only for the aesthetic experience. Plus it’s always great to see the Hisha folks. And that tsubo would look great by the fireplace; that basket, hanging in the kitchen...

Sunday, November 28, 2004


I imagine quite a number of American expats have gotten hold of turkeys from the Foreign Buyers Club, Maki's or Meidi-ya in Kyoto or another import source (turkeys are nowhere on the Japanese market) and since Thursday was not a holiday here, are roasting them today to serve along with minimally ersatz stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and some autumn vegetables, which I doubt will be rutabagas or parsnips.

I did that once about 15 years ago when we lived in Kyoto, and as a considerable dietary change the kids loved it, but that was enough; I really haven’t got the mental wherewithal for spending an entire day in the kitchen to produce something that disappears in an hour.

Having lived here in Japan for so long my autumnal thanks now tend to blur into the days themselves. For the local tranquility, enough food whereby to remain healthy, a fire to warm by, blue skies and bright suns, full moons, falling leaves laying the red carpet for snow and the palaces of ice-- whose imminence even now scents the air-- I give thanks.

I also visit my mind’s back porch, where all my life's old-fashioned thanksgivings are stored away...

Friday, November 26, 2004


''freeing spirit' issue
(containing my 'Ramble,' Habitat of Spirit)
KJ was shortlisted again this year (for the 8th consecutive year) in the Utne Independent Press Awards, this time in three categories:

* General Excellence
* Design
* Cultural/Social Coverage

Previous nominations: Art & Design Excellence (award winner, 1998), Local/Regional Coverage, Writing Excellence, Design, General Excellence, and Best Essays.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


With winter approaching, the garden is a mess.

The spinach sprouts are pretty well organized, thanks to the expertise of winter spinach with its rich green history (it even grows under the snow), there are also a couple of rows of winter shungiku, a Japanese green that's very tasty fried up on its own or in miso shiru on a cold day; but cypress and cedar logs, and me-high mounds of branches from the four south roadside trees the power company was glad to cut for free (they were imminent snowbreak threats to the power lines that ran through their heavy branches) are now piled fragrantly here and there in the garden at the convenience of the lumbermen (who were willing to cut the trees but not to cart the result away). And the branches take forever to rot, so no compost there...

It took ten years of shady winters till we finally gave up and realized that it would be worth it to get more sunlight on house and garden in the season of cold, when sunlight is gold. Still, we stood in a large shadow of regret as we called the power company and asked; they were glad to comply, and with alacrity, before the snows. Though we are welcomely ringed by about 60+ tall trees (cherry, plum, peach, oak, cedar, cypress, chestnut), in light of the prospect the thinning was a wise decision: what a difference with more light (just ask Goethe)!

The brighter garden is now in sunlight for all but a couple of hours at each end of day, and the house is bright throughout, even when the sky is cloudy and the grandchildren aren't here. What's more, now I'll be able to plant a variety of fruit trees in select and sunlit spots where they won't shade the garden. There's also a 2-meter-tall Bay sapling with very savory leaves (obtained as a mere slip of a sapling from a long-time Japanese gardener in Kyoto), hungry for a strong taproot and armfuls of sunlight, that I'll move to where the new light falls; when more fully grown, the Bay will also serve as a bit of a windbreak to the garden. Some new fruit trees too, when I get the time after the house is all caulked and painted and I grow some years younger.

Haruya came and took many of the logs for their restaurant cooking fire; we prefer not to use cedar in our own woodstove, it burns too fast, smoky and spark-poppy compared to the hot and heavy, clean-burning windfall oak and beech we get for free...

But first I cadged for myself two thick and hefty wood-chopping sections of beautifully grained cypress; what a difference that makes in the firewood chopping ritual! I love just staring at the beauty of years of time in those widening red rings, instead of chopping firewood...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


I offer many thanks for the generous and much-appreciated post about Pure Land Mountain at Time Goes By (my posts seem much better there; wish I could edit them like she does), with excerpts eloquently arranged and introduced by Ronni, whose own words are worth every minute of a daily visit. I am intrigued also by her interest in the phenomenon of aging and all that it means and does, what it's for, where and how it goes...


With Echo (Etsuko) gone up north this past week to visit Kasumi, Kaya and the twins, and thence her relatives in Nagano (home to the Japanese alps and hot springs galore), I lapsed into bachelor mode with disappointing speed.

What with wordwork and housepainting and caulking, garden tasks etc., I just don't have the time to cook the diversity of natural Japanese gourmet meals Echo prepares so well (even if I knew how), so after I finished the tasty leftovers she leftover, I initially began to fall back on traditional Japanese fast food, such as gemmae (brown rice) mochi, soba (buckwheat) noodles, natto, ramen etc., and when that ran out I resorted to pasta and sandwiches (sometimes even standing over the sink, the dining area for men who live alone), thence to the dietary basement of cheese and crackers-- there were even some potato chips in there too-- thank goodness they're gone...

From about the third day I could distinctly feel the difference in myself, a sort of calorific lethargy stealing steadily over me, a diminishment of natural energy accompanied by a growing ache in my hips as my digestion turned itself upon me, and thoughts of junk food dashed through my head now and again. There goes an Oreo...

But today, just as I'm reaching the end of my dietary rope (how about a big chunka just cheese), Echo is returning. Soon, with new, plentiful, diverse and lovely nourishment, I will revert to my normal moderately lethargic (moderation in all things) self again.

Still, it was a bit of a shock to be part of that relapse; I would have thought I was made of fussier stuff.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


One of the many fine things about living on a mountainside is that it starts to become colder before the flatlands do, so we get to enjoy our simple woodfire a week or so before the complexly hermetic central heating of the new lowland buildings begins to imitate the tropics.

We started our first fire of the season in the woodstove a few days ago, and as always it was a physicospiritual event. Hefty ingots of gold and silver wood, cut and stacked over the past two winters to spend the summers gathering interest from the sun-- and tended all along with winter in mind-- were carried inside, layered ritually in the freshly cleaned firebox below the freshly cleaned stovepipe and set alight with some shavings from themselves.

As we knelt before the flame, holding out our hands to the warm blessing of ancient light, we were awed once again at how just a small fire in the hearth can transform the air of the entire house, like passion in the heart, telling us in whispers of common warmth to be more like the flame than the darkness.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Storm drains under Tokyo

I know they've been constructing storm drains under Osaka for decades now, to handle the runoff from sudden heavy rains on a city barely above sea level, but this awesomeness is under a vast (also very near sea-level) city built atop the old swamps of the little fishing village that once was Edo... Inspiring locale for a new computer game...

via riffola at MetaFilter

Saturday, November 20, 2004


"A team of tech-savvy but patient experts in their 50s and 60s has been set up to offer consultancy for Japan's growing number of elderly small business owners on their computer needs, the Japanese arm of IBM said.

...many small business owners were the same age, so the elderly hi-tech team ‘understands the delicate needs of potential clients. They share many similarities as human beings. They have lived through similar periods, so they should have an easier time understanding each other...'"

Very smart of IBM Japan.


The next monthly DAJ Kansai Political Movie Night is coming soon.

Featuring the 2004 documentary...

"Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties"

Plus, an added short feature...
"How Democrats and Progressives Can Win: Solutions from George

Enjoy Thanksgiving with two films, one about today's America and
the other about how progressives can take our country back from
those bent on polarizing the debate.

When: Thursday, November 25, films start at 7 p.m.
Film info: English only, 60 min. & 25 min.
Where: Tocca a Te, in Umeda (doors open at 6 p.m.)
Address & map:
(or follow the links at

Admission: 1000 yen, includes a free drink & free homemade
popcorn (voted Best in Kansai!)

Open discussion after the films.

For more about the film:

For more info, contact:

From: Ron Andrews
Democrats Abroad Japan - Kansai (DAJK)

Friday, November 19, 2004


1965 revisited.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

in between
the songs
the rain

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


"And when you look for ways to revive your failing towns and dying rural counties, don't even think about tourism. Who wants to go to small-town America now? You people scare us. We'll island-hop from now on, thank you, spending our time and our money in blue cities. If an urbanite is dying to have a country experience, rural Vermont is lovely. Maple syrup, rolling hills, fly-fishing--everything you could want. Country bumpkins in red rural areas who depend on tourists from urban areas but vote Republican can forget our money."

At least in the U.S. there's some chutzpah flying around between polities. Here in Japan the same flabby party has been in power since the war. My kids have an emperor, for godsake. Though of course they've gotten over it...


Our village doctor, who often jogs through the forests up here on the mountain, is an interesting character. He moved into the area just a few years ago, and brings with him a radical air of medicine and sociality. He has a big neon Peace sign lit up at night outside his office near the center of the village, is opposed to all the big-government changes being imposed on the area, such as the planned incinerator, and has big anti-incinerator posters up in his office, which no doubt generates disharmony with certain individuals who are in favor of degrading the region.

The good doctor is also strongly against unnecessary drugs and medical treatments, a principle rather detrimental to his practice, though it makes him definitely the doctor for me. The elder folks around here, though, most of whom still believe that medicine = pocketfuls of prescription drugs, initially found it a bit off-putting to go all the way to the doctor’s and get examined, only to be advised to change to healthier lifestyles and sent away empty-handed.

In contrast to the other new doctor in the larger village down the road, whose waiting room is always jammed, our new doctor has always had an empty waiting room whenever I went there. Until recently. When I went for my annual physical early this morning there were four people waiting, as compared to none last year. It would seem that the country folks are slowly coming around to the new doctor’s way of thinking. He should be valued all the more for sticking to the principle of optimal and inexpensive health care for his patients (and for the national health plan), as opposed to his bank account. We need more people like the Good Doctor.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Remember the Boyfriend's Arm Pillow, comprising a fraction of a boyfriend, that has been flying off the shelves into wannabe partially girlfriend's beds? Now at last there's something for those being replaced by pillows (must be quite unsettling). The innovative folks at Kameo, following careful research and development, have introduced the Lap Pillow, shown at left, which provides the less intellectual half of a girlfriend for those fractionally replaced boyfriends. (Maybe these two groups should get together or something, and actually pillow each other; you never know, it might lead to something). The Boyfriend's Arm Pillow is now purchasable here.


"The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by Bush appointees, plans to launch a new study in which participating low income families will have their children exposed to toxic pesticides over the course of two years. The study entitled CHEERS [!!! (exclamations of disgust are mine)] (Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study) will look at how chemicals can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed by children ranging from babies to 3 years old. For taking part in these studies, each family will receive $970, a free video camera, a T-shirt, and a framed certificate of appreciation."

There's no bottom to cynicism.

Sign petition here and forward info to family and friends...

Sunday, November 14, 2004


Today finally harvested the last of the Oshoga ('big ginger': on the left in the picture) and Koshoga ('little ginger': on the right in the picture), to use the new part in making ginger pickles. The new ginger, scraped of its thin skin and sliced thinly, is combined with also thinly sliced lemons and honey in a glass jar, then let sit for a time to stew in the juices generated by the exotic combo. The long fat roots are saved to make tea.

The ivory-and-pink colored portion, the new ginger, grows from the old darker bulbs, the standard ‘ginger,’one bulb of which is visible at the bottom in the picture above. Being very fibrous and strong flavored, standard ginger is grated for use in cooking. The new ginger, fiberless and crisp like a potato, has a mild savory version of the older ginger's flavor, and its texture and mouthfeel make it eminently pickleable. When it's ready, its ivory-and-pink looks beautiful in a Shigaraki dish. I'll try to get a photo of the finished ginger pickles in here when they're ready, but they tend to go a lot faster than I can remember...

(a pinch of this pickle is also a wonderfully zingy addition to any herb tea)

(and of course there's gingerade...)

Saturday, November 13, 2004


The Governator is visiting Japan to drum up business for California; he appears to be governing like an action hero: he's everywhere at once, getting things done right down to the nitty-gritty that you don't see capital-G governors usually getting involved in.

Surveying an upscale Tokyo supermarket display of California wine and oranges, he tells the manager: “You're going to continue giving these products premium shelf space, right?” The manager nods obediently, as if to Terminator himself (and who else could it be?), who then says. “Because I’LL BE BACK to conduct inspections.” Nod, nod, “Yes, yes!”

Koizumi was so impressed when he met Arnold that as they shook hands for the flashing press, he blurted out in awe (off-record, but they didn't blank the mikes because Koizumi spoke in English, so there was no danger anyone would understand): "You're so popular!!" Then added: “More popular than Bush!” At which Arnold blanched slightly under his tan, but kept smiling to the cameras, saying nothing, knowing in his heart it was true. Koizumi quickly zipped it up and smiled tightly into the cameras, hoping no one had heard, especially Bush. Koizumi too seems to have a tongue problem.

[The spin put on it by Koizumi's spokesman (probably after they realized it must have leaked) is slightly different; he quotes Koizumi as saying "President Bush"; but if my memory serves (sound bites pass fast), it was just "Bush" (and wasn't meant to be heard beyond the two of them). Nor, of course, is there any mention in the article of the looks on their faces at the time.]

Friday, November 12, 2004


There I was at dusk, standing atop the fresh-cut pile of hinoki (Japanese cypress) logs down at the bottom of the garden, when in the stillness I heard a bird chattering warning high in the forest across the road, so I stopped to listen for what might be the matter.

Soon I heard a large rustling that drew nearer: then there was the buck, standing with his head out in the open at the edge of the road; he'd stopped there midstep because I'd moved, craning my neck to see over the azalea hedge what the noise might be.

He was the picture of majesty, just his head and shoulders visible, must be a 14 pointer at least, though I couldn't see well and other things were edging through my mind; the wind was crosswise of us, so he couldn't get my scent, but he knew something was there so froze, and as I looked at him it was dawning on me that he was about 1/10 of a second away, chargewise, and this was his turf.

He couldn't really see me clearly in this light or tell what I was because of the wind so he might take it into his multi-tined head to assert his rights - he could leap over this hedge in a twinkling - and though I'd seen him several times at a distance I had no real idea of his character, so even though it isn't exactly mating season and he owed me a lot of spinach I decided it would be better to pursue the better part of valor.

When I got up to the deck I looked and he was still there staring; I called Echo out to have a look and he stared at us a while, then turned and loped back into his vast golden palace. I figure you can't really begrudge a guy like that a little spinach.


Kuzu gets such a bad rap in the States, but is used in several ways here in Japan: to make baskets, for noodles, as a tonic and as the finest thickening agent in cooking. It's also been successfully used in China to treat alcoholism and for other purposes. No one here is trying to eradicate it (they do cut it back, though); why doesn't somebody in the US start to make use of the huge domestic supply, I wonder; there's clearly a market for the imported products (ca. $40.00 a pound!)... homegrown, anyone?

Here's another informative site on the many uses of kuzu.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


You mentioned the way folks sleep on the trains in wasn't you? Somebody did. Oh it was this guy. He's got a lot of fotos on his blog of salarymen sleeping on the trains in Japan. To me, those fotos are like snapshots of air. I almost don't see what's photographic about the subject. I'm not sure one wouldn't see the same thing on the Long Island Railroad, if that has ever really been operative. But since I'm on the subject, there is a difference, to wit:

He says the folks in the pictures are sleeping because they're exhausted but exhaustion isn't really necessary; EVERYBODY sleeps on trains in Japan, even standing up; as an old Japan hand I've done it myself, in fact, buckling knees and all. And speaking of facts, the fact is I’ve never seen an entire country before that could fall asleep in an instant on any sort of conveyance like the Japanese can do.

Some have said it's because of the way Japanese babies used to be carried strapped to their mothers, but as I have indicated I can do the e-z-sleep on trains and buses too, even standing up, and I've never been strapped to a Japanese mother that I know of. Next explanation please.

It just so happens that I have one handy right here, if you could just wait while I establish the necessary background to the genesis of a budding hypothesis. Not long after I first came to Japan, while on a bus I saw a soundly sleeping schoolgirl wake up and press the button for her stop, then go back to sleep! (She woke again when the bus stopped.) This puzzled me, who sat there awake watching, and who had traveled over oceans and continents on all sorts of conveyances and not slept except when it was bedtime.

Japan in its long cultural development had clearly evolved a culturally cozy relation with sleep that was unknown in the west. (I know I'm getting into some scientificoculturosociologically iffy stuff here, so any links to scientific studies of cultural sleep would be greatly appreciated.) Of course in the west there are folks who can drop off to sleep at the slip of an eyelid; but those folks are usually very, very tired, or at some time in their past have been strapped to Japanese mothers.

In time I learned that Japanese people under conveyance don't really sleep, in the standard western sense of the word; as I discovered by doing, it is more like a state of suspended animation that speeds up time and makes commuting go by in a flash, like those astronauts in the pods in Alien; it is as kin to deep meditation as to sleep, perhaps somewhere in between.

I had no idea how to do it when I arrived with a history of zero commuting; now it's easy. All you do is get on a train, close your eyes and keep them shut. If you can get out of the way, as the Japanese know how to do through early meditation, you slip into a sleep, such as I am enjoying right now as I sit at my desk in the big city attempting to gather these letters together into words, these words together into zzzzzzz...

BUT there are no vivid dreams, as one sees in shallow sleep (are there dreams at desks?). Of those sleeping on the train, probably 1 in 100 is really “sleeping” and you sometimes hear snores, though nowhere near as often as during the go-go 80s, when everyone worked late and partied hard. And if you take that last train on a Friday, that drunken sleep is genuine drunken sleep, as differentiated from sleep, whence the sleeper awakens at the terminus without drooling.

Those fotos remind me: I have a train to catch...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Out this morning at long last scavenging the hurricane-downed hardwoods, Godzilla the Lizard did some serious stomping around here, even though these environs are nothing like a major metropolitan area; I guess global warming is affecting the discernment of the giant lizard, who clearly no longer heads straight for the big cities like he used to. Those giant footprints broke off a lot of opportunistic oak, beech, cherry and ironwood: in just a couple of hours we got a month’s worth of winter heat for 2005-6.

It was clear from looking at the trees that had broken off, in comparison to the staunch survivors, that the latter manifested integrity of growth-- long, slow, straight, firm-- and as a result, were balanced over the decades in their tradeoffs with the atmosphere. Those trees had thick, healthy-looking bark, rich crowns now bright gold, and broad bases; clearly they were old familiars of wind and rain, processes with which they themselves are integral. So Godzilla passing through was in effect culling those who'd seen a chance, broken fast and reckless for the sun, overextended, weakened and-- thanks for the firewood: what beauty your flames will be.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


With the shiitake now emerging, each morning I go outside and steal a march on the monkeys by harvesting the biggest open mushrooms and leaving only the buds to expand. This is good also in that, apart from getting me out of the house before breakfast, it gives the often crowded mushrooms some elbow room of the fungal sort.

Though in fact I haven't seen any monkeys around here recently and I'm not sure why, I'm not going to fall for that trick again, where Oh boy the monkeys are gone, tra-la; maybe someone else along these mountains was foolish enough to grow pumpkins, upon which many a monkey magnate has built his fortune and spun a political reputation, often unworthily conferred upon a ne'er-do-well son or two and down the generations, to the detriment of the species, as has been known to happen in our own world.

Or maybe the simians have gotten sapient and gone into the city for work—you certainly can't hope for much of a career in the forest--could be any number of reasons I suppose, who knows why monkeys do the things they do, they're like teenagers in that regard as I recall (when I was a teenager I didn't know why I did the things I did either); still, I'm not taking any chances, even if the monkeys are elected officials by now, or come into my garden waving Shiitake Confiscation Writs. These are MY mushrooms, as long as I get them before the monkeys do.

Aren't higher laws great?

Sunday, November 07, 2004


With the roofing scaffolding still up and the berries on the various bushes around the house just now reaching their peak, the birds who come to eat them take a break now and then from pigging out and catch some slack on the scaffolding where they can look in the windows, which as a result they have learned to do. They definitely didn't used to-- I don't remember the birds staring at me before-- but the scaffolding is perfect for the new passerine pastime.

Of course some of them are just preening, 'hey, good-looking bird-dude,' they chirp, but depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun, they can sometimes see right in the windows, so at about those times they tend to sit there looking in, watching us go about our unbirdlike lives, cheeping among themselves about these strange creatures inside that odd construct, so unlike a simple, practical nest: ‘two legs but no feathers they have, isn't that weird...’ We puzzle the hell out of them. It's as though we were in a big birdcage, which in fact we are, if I stop and think about it, which I do now and then when I pose for a bird.

One of them was watching me trying to paint the other day without wings, and I could tell by the look on his face and the startled tiltings of his head and his bouncy squeakings that it was a sorry sight, this featherless biped having to hang there like that when all you have to do is this, and he'd flit from one pipe to another to demonstrate how easy it would be if I just used my arms like wings instead of the crude way I was insisting on. I told him ‘believe me, I tried it for years as a kid and it doesn't work, I've got the scars to prove it.’ But birds don't use words. Nor do they have to paint, the world is their house, as is the air. No taxes, no politicians...where did we go wrong?

Saturday, November 06, 2004


As the leaves fall and slowly bare the trees, exposing the sky for all the majesty it is, the satellite signal is also slowly breaking through, bringing me televised pictures I don't necessarily want to see to the full, calling for frequent surges of will power that I can't always muster (e.g. there's that new program everyone's talking about, and the last segment in that excellent series on History channel is showing right now...).

Thus it was that a few days ago, early in the leaf-fall, one minute I was merely an elder male homo sapiens hanging by one arm from the scaffolding trying to paint under the eaves of our recently re-roofed house up on a mountainside above a lake in central Japan maybe 45 minutes from Kyoto experiencing the zen nothingness of dangling sweating with one arm carefully extended-- like Adam toward God in Michaelangelo's painting, only holding a brown-stain-dripping paint brush, with a white stucco wall playing God-- when my wife stuck her head out the front door and said "Looks like Bush will carry Florida," and the next moment I was an expat American rushing inside to see actual bits of the US election with a paintbrush in my hand.

There were flashing pixels of foto-ops, some pixels of Bush's nose superimposed on stripes of the White House, some stutters of a sound bite, then some Kerry hair and an ear and his wife saying "Shove it" I think it was, and some other stuttery pixelated statements I couldn't make out, random distillations of politics in which nothing was really lost, I know what the characters all look like and it's easy to imagine what there is for them to say, we've heard it all, who needs candidates really, even when the leaves fall. But with the pixel count increasing daily I'll have to find more and more things to do outside, and never bring dripping paintbrushes into the house.

Friday, November 05, 2004


I talked with Kaya on the phone, at nearly 4 years old she can handle a phone like a pro, though the conversation tends to wander all over the place being as it’s in and out of Japanese and English and back again (since she’s talking to me, and I try to use only English with her), since everything in her mind is of equal importance and must be gotten out as soon as she thinks of it before it gets away so she told me about the new Thomas the Tank Engine pop-up book I had sent her, and how it worked and what it did, and how she had a little blue Thomas toy of her own now, and how one of the twins who was crying in the background had fallen down and the other one was asleep and they could operate the Thomas book too, and they’re moving to another house soon, and some nursery school details plus a lot of very urgent stuff sprinkled in there I didn’t get, it went by so fast, but it’s always wonderful taking a trip in a child’s mind, mine could use a little oil

Thursday, November 04, 2004


Now that America has proven H. L. Mencken correct by voting its preference for incomplete sentences (sadly reveletory, that), before I clear out all this Bush detritus and get back to blogging primarily about local reality (if I can't stand the absence of US politics in my writing life I'll start another blog; if I have the time and that blog gets off the ground I'll link to it from here), just a few parting words from a great US expat wordman regarding the situation America has now legitimized:

"For a country to turn itself into an imperial kind of despotism, you need an outside enemy. This was the brilliance of Adolf Hitler and his team. In fact, Goering gave a fascinating interview at Nuremberg. He said that the only way that you can organize an intelligent and well-educated people like the Germans into going to war, a war of conquest, was to frighten them. And you frighten them with, 'we have great enemies everywhere, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, all over the place, and they have their eye on us,' and you go from there.

Well, it's the same techniques in a very crude way that we're seeing today. You cannot have a war on an abstract noun. 'Terrorism' is that. It's like a war on bad temper. 'Oh yes, I really want to join that battle. Where do we start?' It is semantically stupid, and actually in practice it's diabolical. We knocked down two countries who had done us no harm and intended us no harm. God knows what they intend now. And certainly after 9/11, they were innocent of any of that. But it happened through sheer reiteration and just telling lies, ferocious lies between Cheney and Bush about the connections of al Qaeda and Saddam and so on.

I think we're a bit tired of that story, but the story never registers. Sixty percent of the American people think that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. When you've got people as hypnotized by that, you can only do it two ways, and it can only be done with a lot of premeditation. One is you have a terrible educational system for the general public, where they're taught nothing when it comes to American history. I think they erase whatever it is they might have in their head.

So you have that, and then you have a totally corrupt media, which will tell any lie that the state wants it to."

Amnesia: Gore Vidal on America's current imbroglio
By Emily Udell

[For a raw cross-section of post-election emotions, be sure to read the comments after the article.]


Except for Putin, of course, who has his own residual KGB agenda, and is looking forward to ruble revenge via the impending deep descent of the dollar and the high ascent of oil. Bin Laden too is admittedly looking forward to the bankrupting of America, and who better for his fanatic purposes than the kneejerk pResident America has now given him?

In legitimizing Dubya and what he has done, America has validated a path eagerly sought by those who do not wish it well. The rich, of course, went for Bush at about 70%. No explanation needed there; they're selling insider stock in their companies by the multimillions and putting it into gold, getting it out of the country. They know what's coming.

Then there are all the middle class and older folks who believe what they're told by the media. They're the ones who are buying those very stocks and real estate, gonna make a killing, he's so good for business!

The sad thing is that all those trusting voters who are sending their sons and grandsons to a meaningless war and believe what they're told by the rich-owned media will be left holding the bag of ballooning mortgages, shrinking pensions and zero health care; they're the ones who will get it right in the face when it all hits the fan. It won't be a pretty sight. W and his cronies won't see it, though; they'll be partyin' on the even bigger ranch.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


"It's not even Election Day yet, and the Kerry-Edwards campaign is already down by a almost a million votes. That's because, in important states like Ohio, Florida and New Mexico, voter names have been systematically removed from the rolls and absentee ballots have been overlooked--overwhelmingly in minority areas, like Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, where Hispanic voters have a 500 percent greater chance of their vote being 'spoiled.'

John Kerry is down by several thousand votes in New Mexico, though not one ballot has yet been counted. He's also losing big time in Colorado and Ohio; and he's way down in Florida, though the votes won't be totaled until Tuesday night.

Through a combination of sophisticated vote rustling--ethnic cleansing of voter rolls, absentee ballots gone AWOL, machines that 'spoil' votes--John Kerry begins with a nationwide deficit that could easily exceed one million votes."

From: An Election Spoiled Rotten

Monday, November 1, 2004

by Greg Palast

[Emphasis mine: RB]

[Font color: hyperblack]

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


"Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington research group whose findings have proved highly dependable, notes that, this year, a typical person in the lowest fifth of the income distribution will get a tax cut of ninety-one dollars, a typical person in the middle fifth will pocket eight hundred and sixty-three dollars, and a typical person in the top one per cent will collect a windfall of fifty-nine thousand two hundred and ninety-two dollars."

The New Yorker--Talk of the Town
Excellent take on the cynical opportunism in the Bush camp from day 1.

"Let them hate so long as they fear." - Caligula

Whatever else you do, Vote on November 2


After 113,552 votes from 191 countries, it's Kerry with 77.1%, followed by Other with 13.8% and Bush with 9.1%. The big picture is often clearer from a multinational perspective.

Monday, November 01, 2004


"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."

Merchants of fear.


"Rather than admit error when its claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction proved false, the administration seamlessly switched rationales. The war, officials said, actually was about spreading democracy."


"But the truth is, neither party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq--which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks..."

Death Near Baghdad:

Click on Photo Gallery of "Blood and tears in Sadr City" on right sidebar of same MSNBC page. Four more years of this?

Sunday, October 31, 2004


This afternoon, while taking a break from my daily gymnastics of painting under the back eaves of the house, where for some sections I have to be eight feet tall and other sections two feet tall, I took the time to enjoy my natural height by gussying up the happenstance hedge that borders the road (some of the plants (kinmokusei, azalea, tsubaki) were put there by the land's previous owner, some I added (blueberry, biwa, natsume) where something was needed, some are opportunistic (sansho, nanten)), and found that since my last check a horde of vines had infiltrated from the wild and were climbing up the sunny slopes of my hedge, casting its sun-hungry leaves in shadow!

I immediately took appropriate gardener's umbrage and began pulling the usurpers down, clipping them here and there to do so, and in the midst of the broad tangle discovered a very nice growth of young akebi vine (superior for alternative medicaments, baskets, natural rope and other crafty items), so began to take more care with what I was doing, clipping every couple of meters, and as I went along I began to resemble a fluffy pile of bright leaves with a head sticking out, so I discarded the nefarious vines (my call, admittedly based largely on what I do NOT know) and separated out the 3-meter lengths of akebi.

Rather than just leave them piled somewhere where I'd forget them, or coil them up and maybe spoil their utility by 'setting' the curve, I draped the akebi vines over my shoulders (so I could later hang them at full length under the eaves) and continued with my task, adding more and more akebi as I cleared up the hedge.

Thus it happened that I trailed a long train of imperially verdant robes when, as Monarch of the Immediate Vicinity, I concluded my visit and regally ascended the stone stairway into the royal garden, through which I passed in stately procession to a breezy fanfare and a largesse of leaves, with oak and cherry, peach and chestnut in careful attendance; thence I retired to tea in the palace, after carefully hanging my long emerald robes under the eaves, freshly painted not moments ago by the king himself.