Saturday, April 30, 2005


"'Everybody knows you always start with scissors,' she added. 'Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper.' Flora piped in. 'Since they were beginners, scissors was definitely the safest,' she said, adding that if the other side were also to choose scissors and another round was required, the correct play would be to stick to scissors - because, as Alice explained, 'Everybody expects you to choose rock.'

Sotheby's took a different tack."

Story (NYT)


These are just a few of the epistemological subjects Kaya and I discussed yesterday:

train food
centipede shoe stores
snake feathers
spider bicycles
fish hands
elephant fingernails

Of course this list merely skims the surface; the heights and depths were pretty much unconfined by what we stodgy grownups like to call "concepts."

Friday, April 29, 2005


Echo and I had taken the regular JR train along the Hozu River gorge from Arashiyama in NW Kyoto before, but we'd never taken the famous Torokku train (which once an hour makes a 25-minute run along the old track section from Arashiyama-Sagano, traveling the edge of the cliff above the river gorge to Kameoka, then immediately heading back the other way; 600 yen one way) so we decided to do that today and take Kaya with us, since she's a Thomas the Tank Car fanatic.

The scenery along the gorge is spectacular enough at any time of year (renowned for cherry blossom time and Autumn) - you can travel down the river by boat most days in Spring and Summer, we passed a lot of boats along the way - but the Torokko train (5 cars), a little open-car chuggy red-and-yellow train, is endearingly rickety and satisfactorily clickety-clackety to win the heart of any train lover four years old and above.

The train was perfect, the weather was perfect and by strange chance we arrived everywhere right on time; the only thing that at first seemed a drawback was that we'd picked the first day of Golden week to do it, as had several million others, looked like, but the family crowds were as festive as crowds can be, so it was one big party after all.

Everyone was in the best of moods, even the conductors and the long-haired Oni (demon) that rode the train and got off at every stop to dance around on the platform, help with the boarding and deboarding, give the kids a happy fright. Kaya had a great time (she loved when it all got dark, cool and noisy in the tunnels); she waved to all the boaters on the river and was beloved by all the grandmas on the train.


Kaya arrived last night, about 2 inches taller, quieter, with a much clearer Kayaface and a more crystallized, more adult personality, though she’s not yet 5. She now enjoys style, loves to show off her new clothing with the bunnies and the kittens on it. Beholding these changes is one of the wonders of grandparenting: you get to see the miracle in stop motion.

But having grown up most recently and exclusively in the city, Kaya has forgotten much about darkness, which I didn’t expect. When we went outside together last night to do some fireworks it wasn’t half-hearted city dark we went into, but deep genuine country dark, that summons the strength of the eyes and the depths of the spirit. It was odd to see Kaya looking around edgily and staying close to me, trying to keep her back away from the dark and finally asking to be held, so I laughed as I held her and told her to listen to all the singing frogs - did she think they were scared? No, they were singing. Loudly.

And had she forgotten all the times we’d gone out right into this very darkness with our flashlights and walked around the mountainside looking at frogs and bugs? Hadn’t that been fun? She had to agree because it had been, so when she got her feet back on the ground again and we began to do the fireworks she felt more and more at home in the darkness and was soon running around in it waving sparklers, one in each hand. Few things are cuter than Kaya in the dark by fireworks, running around covered with kittens.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


"Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbani­zation, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power."

Environmental Heresies
By Stewart Brand

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


They certainly are on the dot; you can practically set your watch by them. If a train is late even by half a minute, waiting veteran passengers know immediately, begin looking at their watches and down the track for the reason. Conductors and announcers apologize profusely if there is even a slight delay. So there is a point to the linked article below, but I think the Amagasaki train wreck is due primarily to incompetence - on the part of the 23-year-old driver and the folks who allowed him to drive a rush-hour train. An experienced and capable driver would have dealt appropriately with (self-caused) delay, but this was the second time this guy had screwed up. And this apart from the pressure these drivers are under.

Japan's problem: Trains that are too punctual

Quiet Japanese town turned into scene of horror


Well, in what seems like only a few months we have made it to the verge of another Golden Week, when many of the many city people in Japan crowd the highways on their way to non-city elsewhere, a good number of them traveling from urban Kansai out to all the nature there is around where I live, to enjoy the often beautiful weather of this period.

Kaya, for example, will be coming tomorrow to stay with us for a few days on a huge vacation from her noisome little twin sisters, during which time she will bask in being the complete focus of attention, as she deserves, at least for this time in her young life. She is outgrowing that need already, as day by day she becomes a genuinely individual little lady.

It’s fascinating to observe how Kaya develops in separate durations as she comes to visit every few months, a phenomenon you can’t appreciate with your own children as they grow up invisibly, right before your eyes. I look back at photos of my children when they were that age, clearly recall them like that and wish I could have those thems back for just one day, but Kaya will fill that need perfectly, in her own special way. That's one of the many reasons we have grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


"The promoters in the U.S. have become loath to even book or schedule foreign acts these days, as the odds are just not in their favor. The prospect of spending money on promotion, ads and radio only to have the show cancelled by the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] when the act applies for their visas is discouraging, and financially ruinous to some small promoters - so they eventually just don't end up taking the risk. Likewise, many small U.S. labels who might release recordings by foreign artists will think twice if there will be little likelihood of a local live show to generate press and interest. Often that's the only way they have of generating press and word of mouth. So, many times, the labels 'edit' what they release based on these legal and economic factors.

It amounts to a kind of cultural censorship. Call me paranoid, but given all the manipulative tricks the Republicans have gotten up to recently, I am prepared to believe that this has less to do with Homeland security and more to do with keeping the American public ignorant and free of foreign influence and inspiration. An ill-informed, isolated, ignorant populace is a populace easily manipulated. Fed a diet of reality shows coupled with faith-based reasoning (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and you have a perfect recipe for a country in which the government that can do more or less whatever it wants. Democracy becomes a farce without access to information. And culture - music, theater, dance, etc. - is information for the heart. Yes, we can still obtain news reports and recordings online, but without live performance there is a hole where there should be face to face 'news' about how others live, how they love and why and what their passions are. If we are not allowed to feel the rest of the world then we can be told anything about it and not know what those people are really like. If the Other is hidden from you, then you don't even know to ask or inquire about what it is you're not getting - because you don't even know it exists.

Any government that can cynically manufacture fake news reports, install fake reporters, create fake media outlets and then simply shrug it off when caught is capable of doing this as well."

From David Byrne's Journal

Be sure to check out the superb David Byrne Radio, if you've got broadband.


Many of those who are kind enough to visit these pages on a regular basis have noted my occasional microscopic examination of scientists who spend so much time and grants doing studies to learn stuff you and I knew all along but didn't get a penny for knowing, like there's dandruff in the air, or monkeys don't steal if you watch them, scientists doing grueling seven-year studies on tropical islands and suchlike, addressing urgent scientific issues in their bikinis.

Or enjoying all the free popcorn they can eat. Yes, other of those clipboarded individuals staunchly advancing the banner of truth have raised the summit of knowledge yet again. Putting differently sized issues like disease and world hunger on the back burner, in a questionably crunchy study funded by Purdue's Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research, our dedicated seekers of wisdom have resolved an issue that has plagued mankind ever since prime time: unpopped popcorn.

In the most shocking aspect of their revelations, the team of certified popcornologists found that "the percentage of unpopped kernels ranged from 4 percent in premium brands to 47 percent in the cheaper ones." (47%!! Is it still that high? What has science been doing all these years?) And that there were "17 billion quarts of popcorn sold each year in the United States." Which means that the US is about up to its hips in popped corn. Here in Japan it only ever gets ankle deep.

The research will appear in the July 11 edition of the journal BioMacromolecules. Watch out for the unpopped ones at the bottom.


The death and injury tolls still climbing from that train crash in Amagasaki, folks on the also crowded train into Osaka this morning screamy-skittish as the train made a few unusual sudden jerky stops, the train schedules hereabouts affected by the wreck - Japan's worst in 40 years - everyone's got those images in mind from the practically 24 hour tv coverage since it happened, and sitting or standing similarly jammed on much the same kind of train as it streaks past now uncomfortably close big brown apartment buildings on the way into the big city doesn't help...

Sunday, April 24, 2005


The frogs are singing in the moonlight, there is a full moon - but whispered through the clouds - nevertheless in what light they have they know it is time and the moon is full and so they sing in full earnest their massive chorale majestically from silver sheets of water, taking on every aspect there ever was of Greek theater, the ears of merely standby humans hearing in that vast rap the rhythms of a sprightly Irish jig that segues easily into reggae with a touch of Mozart and a few riffs Beethoven never heard of--

The listener standing there truly listening hears the very earth speaking, saying what worlds have always said to anyone who might listen: take the night unto yourselves, enjoy its moon, there is no other...


As on this evening I sat on the deck watching the sunset over the Lake, a farmer was tilling his lower paddy with a mechanical tiller, taking long slow sweeping passes over the surface of the swelling water (deep tilling in water is no fast process), and there on the verge of the upper paddy sat a dozen hawks, who never ever flock (the most you ever see is two together, and they’re in love).

This was partytime bigtime, so the multihawks sat there in the fading sun watching hawkeyed as the farmer stirred their supper, yet arguing among themselves over the best vantages whence to first spot what the farmer turned up with his tilling, the farmer paying as little attention to the hawks as they to him - which is in the natural way of things and much to be recommended – would that humans did the same.

Then when one of the hawks spotted something tasty from bug to frog it would swoop on big wings regardless of the machine with the man in it and snatch the morsel from the watery earth - making amazing exceptions to the basic hawk rule, to life-and-death avoid any motion that particularly involved humans. When successful, the hawk would fly up to a convenient tree or telephone pole (whichever was more convenient to the delicacy) to have dinner. When one hawk swooped, laggards would follow, as hope always does, but the genuinest hawkeye would have it, every time. (There is a big lesson there, which I will perhaps delve into if I live long enough).

Now, at the end of the long feast - i.e., it’s too dark to see and the farmer and the hawks have gone home - the surviving frogs in the already plowed upper paddies are singing the night as if it were their own. And it is. They’ve made it this far.


All this endlessly ongoing royalty folderol in England about kings, queens, princes and princesses, ascendancy, legitimacy, dukes, dutchesses, consorts and people in waiting - all a holdover from way back in the days when one could become king by virtue of having a horse, some luck and a good change of clothing - I wonder why they don't simply do away with it all. Though in a way it's better than soap opera if you have an empty afternoon, metaphorically speaking.

Here in Japan the people enjoy a much more staid version of aristocracy, with imperial deities whispering diatribes at each other in antique syllables and the nation carefully weighing the earthshaking issue of whether or not it would be possible perhaps to allow a female to inherit the right to sit on an elaborate chair.

It's sobering to realize that so many people have nothing better to do with their afternoons, let alone their thoughts and fealties. The nature of leadership can be much worse, though, as it currently is in the States, where aristocracy is purchased pretty much at auction, though multilevel incompetence can last for no more than 8 years at a time, quite long enough to do considerable damage, yet giving the people extended pause to thank their various deities for term limits.

As an American in Japan, I have no king but Elvis.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


As stacks of strictly deadlined editing work keep me indoors on this heavenly blue day I gaze now and then out the window at my large and newly composted ginger bed hungering for ginger root, my freshly tilled lemongrass bed lying there so deeply earnest in the sunlight, awaiting seed and covering soil so it can get to work, to say nothing of the places I've set for basil, beans, spinach various herbs and lovely potbound flowers crying for their new homes... In gardening, as in all else, some days are without mercy.

Friday, April 22, 2005


The old new nutritional pyramid was bad enough, with meat and dairy all over the place, but you put pyramid building in the hands of bureaucrats and this is what you get: the new new nutritional pyramid, sort of a rainbow sliding board thingy with a sinister, darkly deformed figure climbing up the side, perhaps toward some sort of sacrifice at the top in which the still-beating heart is offered to the sun god whose light has been cut off.

But why pyramids, for paperpushing sake, why not have just a simple low-sided BOX like I use, into which you throw everything organic that isn't refined or processed to death and certainly isn't mostly meat, with just a few select cheeses on the side, along with some wines and the occasional fine cigar? Then you just pick some things out, combine them and eat, drink or smoke the result.

Look inside the pyramid

In a similarly clogged vein, see Meaty Diet Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

And then there's the meat industry's predictable response to the study: Meat industry slams cancer study

"A new study that suggests high consumption of processed meats could raise the risk of pancreatic cancer was 'not capable of proving cause and effect' claims the American meat association."

Sounds like the argument the cigarette folks used for decades...


In the city all the windows stare at other windows, the day is indoors, the night is neon, everyone busy moving - no one yet where they want to be - only pausing, then hurrying to otherwheres, and I was one.

When I got home to the mountain last night, though, the house by the forest was dark, the all-around filled with a quiet calm proven by the singing frogs, the sky-high air aglow with the light of the swelling moon reflecting off the rice paddies trickle-flooding down the mountain, the hundreds of single perfect mirrors of still water giving back the moonlight like thin sheets of silver against a vast genuine darkness pierced here and there with starlight, it was like being inside a moonstone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Tabasco sauce? Great topping for ice cream.

JalapeƱos? Mild, mouth-refreshing chewing gum.

I'd had those long red peppers and those long green peppers, I'd had straight red pepper relish in red pepper juice with my huevos rancheros in Mexico City and sweated it out no-o-o-o problem. I'd graduated, man. Nothing could touch me now.

So when in beautiful Baguio in the Philippines in a cute little sidewalk cafe I ordered an appetizing rice dish from a friendly waiter and the sun was shining and the birds were winging and singing and it was a wonderful world and people smiling and I on my vacation and my meal came looking sooo good and on top were these three cute little green peppers, the cutest trio of pale green tiny-teeny peppers, miniatures of the real thing, right out of Peter Rabbit or a little doll house, like mini-toys so eentsy and cutely cultural, kind of cuddly, I ate all three of them in my first spoonful of rice and my life changed and I became a herd of flaming wild horses stampeding in a desert of blast furnaces beneath a sky full of screaming meteors, with blowtorches for ears and lasers for eyes and then I went blind and then I went deaf and then my skin vaporized and I became the great tree of fire that burns for all eternity and then my bones became charcoal and I had no identity and knowledge went away from me and there was nothingness filled to overflowing with the absence of the passing of time and then there was a spinning with a shrill keening like a white-hot nervous system imploding in razor-sharp fragments toward a naked point of light that had unbearable sounds coming from it and I was whirled through a pinhole of illumination and sizzled molten into a raw body brokenly sprawled in a chair in another world before a plate of rice on a table and the body was going guhhhh....., guhhhhh...., and a waiter was bending over it going Are you all right sir? What happened?

And a woman there, who I later learned was my wife, said He ate three of those cute little green peppers all at once, could that have something to do with it, and the restaurant fell silent, and the waiter said THREE? He ate THREE? At ONCE? Are you sure? And everyone in the restaurant came over to look, saying THREE? He ate THREE? At ONCE?? Are you sure? Oh my god did you hear that, this guy ate THREE at once babble babble and he's still ALIVE babble babble and they watched to see if I stayed alive and could talk and everything, and I said my name, and the year, and how many fingers they held up, and how much was two plus two, and people came crowding in from the street and the neighborhoods around and mobs came in from the countryside saying where's the guy that ate three at once, did it really happen, and I was identified and they asked me all sorts of questions and the crowd started chanting that someone like me should be leading the country, not Marcos, and that Marcos should step aside but I just said get me to the airport quick and got a plane out of there to someplace cool and not long after that Marcos did too.

[Previously published, in sightly different form, in Kyoto Journal and Utne Reader]


"Windows of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing and those of consulates in Shanghai and other cities were smashed by hurled stones, and the buildings' walls were defaced with ink and paint. Hundreds of PET bottles were hurled into the missions' yards."

The horror, the horror! But for genuine horror,


"The plaintiffs had sought 100 million yen (930,000 dollars) for atrocities including the Nanjing massacre, bombings by Japanese forces and the "Unit 731" that performed medical experiments on humans."

But then perhaps if you can create a unit 731 and never even apologize (while erasing it all from your children's history texts), refusing compensation must be even easier than using a comfort woman.

And as if that weren't enough warped righteousness,



And now they're thowing gunpowder on the fire:

"Japanese lawmakers announced Tuesday that they would visit a controversial shrine that critics say glorifies past wartime atrocities. Every visit by a Japanese prime minister to the Yasukuni shrine - where Japanese war dead, including war criminals, are enshrined - prompts strong official protests from China."

For a good take on the roots and ramifications of Japan's behavior, see The Schizophrenic Superpower by Alan Dupont

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Yesterday evening being the date of the first event in the 8th International Symposium on Fireworks' display series, we set out with a comfortable travel time-cushion to Ogoto, south of here on the Lake (usually a 20-25 minute drive), where the first show was to be.

Unfortunately, everyone within a hundred kilometers of the site had the same idea, so we were still a good distance away being passed by snails when the show began silently lighting up the sky a tantalizing distance ahead. Since this was the first night, the fireworks were either British or Chinese; they did not look Japanese, they were more… impressionistic? In any case these would be blasting-edge fireworks, making their first public appearance in Japan, maybe the world.

In all the urgency of new fireworks we therefore took an immediate hard left and headed for the lakeshore where we knew there was a nice park from which we could view the fireworks across the water - and hear them loud and clear - from a couple of kilometers away. Also it would be darker there, so in that way better for the watching than being part of the deafened jam right at the site (sour fireworks).

Unfortunately, everyone within ten kilometers of the park had the same idea, so the park and the road to it were packed with cars and pedestrian fireworks fans bumping into each other in the dark as explosions rocked the air, flashing glimpses of the faces of the toes you just stepped on…as China and Britain showed their stuff on the skycanvas.

And it was impressive. Things I’ve never seen fireworks do before: like gigantic slowly swelling globes of multicolored light quanta, pulsing from within, very long lasting and very slow fading; and fernlike columns of golden fire climbing very slowly way up into the sky, now and then pausing in place, then climbing onward…

There is a gourmet quality to fireworks, like wines made of light… Wednesday night Italy and China will be serving their eyewine in Moriyama, across the Lake. We'll be there early, as part of the deafened jam.

Monday, April 18, 2005


On Saturday, with the cherry trees shouting pink all over the place beneath nearly perfect blue skies, and a river of pink flowing down from the mountain where the cherry trees line the winding road up to the ski resort, that's where we went to celebrate Spring. At the top there was a taiko concert by some very talented lady drummers.

Then on Sunday, all things being the same except now the sky was perfect and with a light breeze, we walked up the mountain again, but this time with some friends who have a house further north along the Lake. The husband of the couple brought along his sanshin (the Okinawan three-stringed musical instrument that evolved into Japan’s shamisen) and played some Okinawan folk songs (I love Okinawan folks songs!) as we walked up the mountain road beneath the scented pink canopy to the top where there was very fine Okinawan music playing on the stage among the cherry trees.

Today, Monday, as the first of the cherry petals begin to fall like tremulous sparks from a living flame, the loss of each petal infinitessimally diminishing the beauty, there comes that melancholy feeling at sight of such tender visible transience - you want them to hold on a bit longer, stay, stay where they are in such beauty... forever, even...

Sunday, April 17, 2005


The big heart aches at all the bysmal mistakes being made in the name of faith and intelligence, which leads to the abysmal thought that what is genuine is not being honored. You heard it first in your own soul.

the weeping cherry blossoms
dancing in the wind

Daylight fades--
thanks to the swallows
half a moon!

Saturday, April 16, 2005


An excellent site, in English, detailing Japan's splendid traditional crafts by region and category, with photographs, histories, interviews with the artists and tour information. Searchable. The photos I've used are of a couple of Shiga Prefecture's more famous crafts. Click on By Category to see how comprehensive this site is!
With a deep bow to grandcrewno at MetaFilter.


This morning I was awakened by a warbler sitting on a twig right outside my open window, trilling endlessly about his great good fortune at having this opportunity to share with the hereabouts his very keen appreciation that there was nothing to equal this great goldenness emerging yet another time, this warm light that was even now embracing the world once more. Some days are just like that: gold flows into your pockets, everything is music to your ears. In that very sunny mood I too arose. So far, so good.

Friday, April 15, 2005


"Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, East Asia was the site of some the most costly wars during the era of the Cold War. But [since] the collapse of the Soviet Union, the region has been a bastion of peace and stability. In recent years, however, that has begun to change as old historic rivalries, whose roots lie in the era of empire and war, have erupted. The common denominator in virtually all of these disputes has been Japan, which has become involved in increasingly acrimonious conflicts with both Korea and China: these have involved Japan and South Korea over Takeshima/Tokdo Islands, and Japan and China over Taiwan, and the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands."

From International Perspective by Marshall Auerback

Every day now Japanese tv is filled with anti-Japan riots in China and South Korea and denials that Chinese students have been killed in Japan...


The nickle finally dropped for Rupert Murdoch regarding the demise of the printed newspaper, which as I've said I will not lament, especially when everyone gets their daily news fix from sleek little handhelds, as opposed to, for example, the woman beside me on the train this morning who as I was nodding off in cozy modern commuter comfort actually made a quite passable tambourine out of her daily gazette, beating it to the tune of When the Saints Come Marching In I think it was, trumpets, tuba and bass drum not required.

As to the tambourine technique, you have to have been in Japan and seen the way train commuters read their newspapers, using the street version of fast Fourier transformation (reducing the number of computations needed for N points from 2N2 to 2N lg N, where lg is the base-2 logarithm). This method was developed way back when commuters were advised to leave their sweaters at the office so as to make more room on the trains.

Under such literally social pressure, the commuters fold their open newspaper further in half lengthwise, then crosswise and so on till it is down to the size of the article they wish to read - overhead, if need be - complexly unfolding and refolding several meter-square surfaces a few hundred times or so in a complex newsy-noisy origami that wasn’t particularly bothersome back in the days when everyone was standing and rocking together on the way to work anyhow, but now that the trains are bigger and there’s more room and spacious seats in which to doze off, the pros still fold their papers the old way, as the woman next to me did this morning - such a petite woman, could jump in the ring with any pro folder...

Thursday, April 14, 2005


"When your results are ready Project Director Dr. Spencer Wells will introduce you to your earliest human relatives—the members of your specific haplogroup. You'll receive a personalized genetic analysis, including an online overview of your deep ancestral history. The analysis reveals where and when your haplogroup originated and how they lived. You'll also receive a dynamic map, specific to your lineage, on which to trace your relatives' journeys across the planet."



On clear Spring mornings like this one, when the sun blasts above the far shore of the Lake and pokes warm gold into every piece of night on the mountainside, the first individual to lay claim to it all is King Pheasant, who squawkously proclaims his title over and over from various vantages so that we all may hear who on rare occasions lie abed in quest of but a few more sacred Zs, and when I finally give up, get up, get dressed and go downstairs to bask in the sun's full largesse there is his majesty himself right out in front of the house, standing tall in the sun on a high stack of cut bamboo every bit like a family crest, the very Lord of the Morning, fatter and fancier dressed than I remember him – these must be prosperous times in the kingdom - claiming that area as well and letting his perfectly camouflaged wives and children, to say nothing of would-be usurpers, know right where he is.

Then when I go outside to start my motorcycle for the winding ride down to the train the air is silent: the bright aristocrat is nowhere to be found. He has relinquished all to me, for the nonce; then when I leave he takes it all back again for the use of himself and his family. Actually it would be the perfect democracy, if my Lord didn't get up so early.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

We're starving over here; we need more whale analysis!

Japan wants to nearly double its desired catch of minke whales and start catching humpback and fin whales, in a plan based on Japan's argument that there is a need to increase hunting activities in order to analyze the ecosystem of the Antarctic Ocean. They are SO concerned about whale welfare it just takes away the breath of any merely common sense kind of person.

A whale-fed official from Japan's Fisheries Agency (note: not the World Fishery Agency) rote-recited to a news agency that there was "a need to consider surveying such whales... given that there has been an increase in the number of sightings, since we’re out there every day looking for any excuse to kill whales.” [That last part was mine.]

As it just so happens - and this is pure coincidence - the meat from the minke, sei and sperm whales analytically slaughtered during the sheerly scientific research program is sold commercially. Well cut my flukes off and call me a whale analyst.

Whale meat is seen as a very high-profit delicacy in Japan by well-recompensed but otherwise impartial officials in Tokyo who maintain that the tradition is an important part of the nation's cultural heritage, like placing decapitated criminals’ heads on little elevated platforms along the roads out of Edo. Hmmm… wonder why they don’t do that anymore, that was an even older tradition than whaling…

Story before I got hold of it


Down in the village by the Lake at the foot of the mountain we have our own little cherry tree street - as do most villages that have survived - that is lined with cherry trees now frothing in bloom. To pass under this long arcade while walking home from the station is, as the long-time-ago cherry-tree planters well knew, a living welcome-home blessing, of subtle fragrance and flowery light, both day and evening, lifting the spirit to its natural heights, a spirit one then brings into the home.

As for me, though, who must walk thence up the mountain (when I walk), I get to pass beyond there and along the road that meanders upward along the ridge, so I get to see, through gaps here and there in the curtains of green that line the way (with an occasional cherry tree or magnolia), glimpses of the flowering wild cherry trees that here and there shine among the green that blankets the steep sides of the upper slopes. There is something magical about those wild blossomings, off by themselves in the wild wood beyond reach and for no one to see, the dance nature dances when she's alone...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Every once in a while, particularly when the weather is nice - like now - we up here on the mountain are visited by clusters of well-dressed folks of vacuous sincerity who come out from the city to walk in their high heels over my raised beds so they can get their spoken routine within earshot and interrupt my labors to hand me some brightly colored tracts outlining God’s plan for humanity and that includes me, their eyes say, as though it were a gift or at least a revelation, but I politely refuse the tracts and after pointing out God’s own asparagus on which they are treading I attempt to talk to them frankly as one being to another but it is always impossible, for true believers are limited in hearing and no longer command certain fields of thought.

Nevertheless I tell them I do not need a middleman to maintain my relations with higherness, nor do I need the conflicting words of God's many secretaries - whose descendants have been killing each other ever since - that anytime I see a sprout rise up out of the ground, hold in my hand a tiny plant with its roots shining, smell the crown of a baby's head, take a deep breath of the scent of lilac, watch a hawk ride the wind, see the stars circle the night sky or behold any other of a thousand daily miracles, I have no doubt that I am as much heaven as earth, as much now as eternity, that I therefore know lowness as well as I know highness, yesterday as well as forever, for I am those aspects embodied, I carry them within me in every cell and heartbeat, indeed as these visitors themselves do; but by then they have drifted off to trample other gardens, leaving me in the ancient company of seeds...

Monday, April 11, 2005


The cherry trees are blossoming up here now, catching up to the daphne a week or so later than down by the lake, laying that subtle fragrance down and popping pink all around, up in the forest and along the roads up here, some yellow too from the forsythia, some white from the tall tulip trees; the weeping cherry out front is just beginning its scarlet blush.

Even the scurrilous monkeys seem to be enjoying the new brightness; on our walk this morning saw a couple of saucy tribes of them, young and elder, sitting high up in the best part of the bright pink wild cherry trees as though they were big easy chairs: not eating not grooming, just sitting there, dreaming of the swelling mushrooms at my place.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Thoreau touched upon it lying golden in the sun, and as it stands there piled up through your own daily efforts, melded once more with the efforts of light over decades you see before you a measure of it all, a presence that stands upon its own as everything that is ever worthy stands: it is tall, it is built of sheer effort, it is faceted with the very truth of effort, and to make a much smaller point, it will warm you when winter comes, without fail. How much like that can we say of this world?


While handweeding the garden early this morning, on the rhythmic waves of that protective nurturing action my unattended mind drifted naturally to thoughts of nurturing children, how you want them to become more like radishes and lettuce than weeds unpurposed in their lives, yet you want them to be strong in their own weedy natures ("you're growing like a weed"), since they'll always rely on their weedy roots for the strengths they need to grow to fullness in their individual ways...

We've all sprung from the wild, as did these radishes and lettuces and beans, though through lives and lives in hope we weed the wildness out, knowing from our own individual pasts how special growth must surrender broader strength, conscious life hopefully focusing as largely as it can on the higher things to be gained from nourishment and light, doing much as a gardener does...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

LITTLE BOY: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture

"ABOUT THE EXHIBITION - The project’s title, LITTLE BOY, refers to the codename for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Murakami’s interpretation of Japan’s popular culture and graphic arts of the past three decades is rooted in his country’s memories of the war and in the evolution of Japan’s understanding of its postwar situation. In Murakami’s view, the specific historical events and processes that inform otaku culture include military aggression and defeat in the Pacific War (1932-1945); the devastation of the atomic bomb; Japan’s military and political dependence on the United States; and, the replacement of a traditional, hierarchical Japanese culture with a disposable consumer culture ostensibly produced for children and adolescents. The title also refers to the infantalization of the Japanese culture and mindset, evident in the fixation on cartoon imagery, “cute” products and young markets a result, Murakami argues, of Japan’s economic and political dependence on the west. These unresolved conflicts, LITTLE BOY suggests, are the explosive context of Japan’s pop culture."


This is another one of those morning-on-the-train-to-the-big-city postings, so if you’re tired of those just browse around, take your time…

For me, one of the more addling aspects of commuting in Japan has always been, right from the very start of my participation in that fine art form, the number of announcements the announcers make on the trains.

When I first came here I used to wonder what in the world they could be talking about at such length to complete strangers, but now that I understand what they’re saying (when the sound system is passable) I don’t wonder all that much less. Maybe they love the sound of their own voices, maybe they have a daily word quota, but they go on and on beyond the necessary information, like simply the next stop (but six times?), transfer info, which side will be the exit, don’t forget your umbrella, but who cares about their kids or the trouble they’re having with their wives or their general health or their new car it sounds like sometimes, the way they babble on, just as you’re slipping into that very fine dream about the…

Anyway, this morning it was the usual to the tenth power because the announcer, a pretty good far-reaching tenor even without a mike, clearly loved his voice and loved to talk, but he had the sound turned up to max plus alpha and, being in his own little deaf cubicle in the last car, was unaware of the effect his every announcement was having on the poor pulp of passengers over the 45-minute ride.

If he had but glanced somewhere other than in the mirror as he made his looooong announcements he would have seen sleepers bounding awake, non-sleepers bouncing in their seats with his every blurrily announced phrase (he’d likely blown the speakers early on) “We’ve been there were going here and here and here and here we’ve been there and we’re going here and here and here and here there too thank you for taking the railway sorry the train is running a little late I say sorry the train is running a little late thank you for taking the railway don’t forget your umbrellas don’t forget your umbrellas thank you for taking the railway the exit is on the left the exit is on the left the exit is on the left there thank you for taking the railway platform x for destination y platform x for destination y thank you for taking the railway” on and on he went, even as we detrained on rubber legs.

When I got off my ears were ringing; I had never been thanked or directed so much so loudly in my life, and the teeming city seemed so quiet…

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


For decades now, dandruff has been brushed off as myriad flakes of no importance, or only negative importance at best; indeed, dandruff's place in the scheme of things has gone unsung for so long that there are no folk songs, rock songs, operas, novels or myths about the flaky phenomenon, so it comes as no surprise that clouds of dander have been ignored by climate modelers. But no longer.

At last someone with scientific credentials has come right out and said what so many dandruff producers have always secretly suspected was true: dandruff plays a key role in the big picture. Dandruff is “the right size and shape to act as nuclei for ice crystals, which in turn form clouds and rain, and thus could potentially affect weather and climate.” Even now, your very own dandruff could be working to prevent drought. Or causing floods.

On the other head, all those dandruff shampoo makers might be interfering with natural processes, possibly accelerating global warming. Maybe 10 or 20% or even more dandruff in the atmosphere would preserve the ozone layer while preventing all the glacial melting, flooding and hurricanes we've been suffering lately: who knows? (Millions scratch their heads.)

Though in the subject study dandruff is unjustly grouped with pollen, spores, bacteria, algae, fungi and viruses – confirmed troublemakers all – dander does its part in comprising a dust that could make up 25 percent of so-called aerosols (particles in the atmosphere that affect pollution, cloud formation [think rain, drought, flooding] and that can both reflect and absorb radiation from the sun [think global warming]), a dust that is found from Russia's remote Lake Baikal to the Amazon, Antarctica, the Swiss Alps and even down in Greenland ice cores - really ancient dandruff, from long before the dawn of social embarrassment.

And to the surprise of no one with dandruff, as much as 80 percent of the particulate matter collected in the study was biological in origin – oddly ranging from 15 percent over the Swiss Alps to 80 percent from the Amazon and Lake Baikal in the autumn, where at any given time you'd be hard put to find anyone brushing his or her hair.

While he is not claiming that dandruff affects global warming, the scientist who has finally struck a blow for the transcendant role of dandruff said that the tests proved dandruff etc. could easily affect cloud formation because it is comparatively low in density, small enough to travel very far, easily lifted up, lighter than desert sands (sheer poetry) that are carried across oceans and distributed easily around the world.

More proof that everything is interconnected, that a heedless hairbrusher in Peoria could unwittingly be preventing floods in Lousiana while melting glaciers in Alaska. Dandruff is complicated, and the facts aren't all in. So next time you brush off your shoulders, think of what you might be doing to marine life, deserts, big rivers and the people who live at sea level, at least until we know more....

The scientific version


As over the years I've hefted and heaved firewood into the house in wind, snow, rain and just plain cold clarity, like this morning (great natural exercise), the pressure has grown steadily stronger for me to say - until I can no longer remain silent on this point - that one of my wisest utilitarian purchases ever was the nylon firewood tote from Lehman's ideal store. There. Now I can relax. In front of the warm woodstove.

Monday, April 04, 2005


"I once was blind, but now I see" takes on a different meaning outside creationism.

Darwin's Posse


You have to hand it to the scientists, who now “say they have succeeded in visualizing feelings of trust developing in a specific region of the brain.” The question is, can you really trust such information? I have the feeling that they’ll soon find out why we have feelings, and nail that to the barn door too. Not to put the scientists down, they’re on a quest, like every sentient being, the quest for why, which is nowhere in the brain no matter the size of the grant. Though there’s always spin, which is totally brainbound. I hope that's not where we all live now, only in the brain.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

These nights, these nights
of wind-cleared air
stars gleam calm up there
with all the soul you are


There I was this morning as is my wont these days, kneeling in the driveway in the light rain after a night’s heavy rain (as to the why of it, no spoiler here, but as any fan of baptism knows, the rain washes away the surface of things and reveals the hidden). As I edged my way purposefully up toward the house, carefully scrutinizing the ground, I was suddenly bowled over into purposelessness by the rich fragrance flowing from the jinchoge (Daphne) bush, whose blossoms had for a few days now been lightly perfuming the upper air where I normally reside; but here, down where the earth is, where the cool air and rain were heading and the moment happened to find me, the whole river of jinchoge was flowing as it must in heaven, and I was awash…

I breathed deeply and again, to take in that scent with its whisper of lime lineage, that trace of orange connection, a touch of gardenia in the family perhaps, and then the modicum that makes it jinchoge. Then the heavy rain returned, so I returned into the upper air where we all live, where there is a hint of heaven.

But now I know there's more.


One silently recurring advantage or disadvantage we US expats have twice a year in Japan occurs each year right about now, when daylight savings time doesn’t happen, and then in Fall when it doesn't happen again in reverse, allegedly screwing up our biological clocks or allegedly saving energy. Or giving workers more daylight to enjoy their after-work evenings, which anyway wouldn't happen in Japan, where salarimen don't really have evenings after work, since they're working overtime, on their biological clocks too.

Daylight Saving
You Can't Save Daylight

Saturday, April 02, 2005


"Whose ear was it we found the bean in?" Such are the questions one finds oneself asking while reminiscing the precipitous peaks and perilous pitfalls of parentage. "Which one had the finger stuck in the table leg that had to take the ambulance?" And so forth. Any veteran parent can come up with a half dozen such questions on the spot.

For as there are countless moments of grace in the long, long (add as many longs as you need, they’re free) history that parentage is, spelled of individually crawling days spent upraising the smallborn to walking and running, tricycling, bicycling, motorcycling, graduation and finally marriage, so there are timeless moments of surreality that by their temper give the whole that overall adventurous quality so enjoyed in retrospect as at no other time.

At those individual moments, of course, it is an ambulance, after all, or if you’re lucky, only as remarkable as a bean in an ear (no wonder she couldn’t hear!); thus it is more a matter of wonderment now than it was then, when phenomena like beans in dear ears, sand in familiar eyes and bumps on beloved heads were commonplace, and the inevitability of survival did not have the certainty that blessed retrospect imparts. Time gives a sheen to all things, even to stumbles and falls, bruises and cuts, tables and beans (parents feel free to fill in here), all as dear to the heart as a thorn to the skin, it doesn’t matter what nation you’re in.

Then you grandparent, and it starts all over again.


On one of our recent Spring morning walks along the Lake (where we can see all the cherry blossoms swelling with the pink news a little more each day) we found a secret bed of peppermint that had escaped into the wild and was having a vegetative ball living the low life, all its pedigree nonetheless thriving untended amid the tall grasses and other certified weeds, ignored there by local herb hunters, who have little use for mint.

The surprise of seeing it spread out beneath a tree by a stream into the Lake (there's lots of expectedly new mogusa [moxa] there, for example, and excellent wild watercress), those familiar rippled-jade leaves peeking up from down amid the pale cowlicks of wild grass was a thrill to this wild-herb hunter’s heart.

We took a sampling for tea and when it was as delicious as it was, we went back to kneel for more. This time we took bagsful and some cuttings for planting in our garden, whence it can escape onto the mountain in no time. We'll go again in a few weeks, when those square red stems will be knee-high. Getting your mint as a gift from the wild of your own time is way better than exchanging your time for colored pieces of paper to trade for it. In its own way, mint knows this too: no matter how long it’s been tended in whatever garden, it makes its way into the kindred wild, where it’s naturally happy.

Now for the Mint Julep.

Friday, April 01, 2005


Young woman walking
down dark village alley
face lit only
by her cellphone screen


"The UN-backed Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report found that nearly two-thirds of Earth's life-supporting ecosystems, including clean water, pure air, and stable climate, are being degraded by unsustainable use...

The already grim situation may worsen dramatically during the first half of the 21st century, the report's authors warn...

"'The overriding conclusion of this assessment is that it lies within the power of human societies to ease the strains we are putting on the nature services [!?!] of the planet, while continuing to use them to bring better living standards to all...

Achieving this, however, will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision-making and new ways of cooperation between government, business and civil society... The warning signs are there for all of us to see. The future now lies in our hands.'"

Don't hold your breath. Or maybe it's better if you do. In any case, if we don't get wise, meta-ecosystems have a way of correcting themselves...