Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Seems I left the career track just in time...

"Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint...

Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt. There's an arrow of causation that runs from diverging income trends to Jack Abramoff and the K Street project."

Interesting, that a discerning democracy elected one born into the 99.99th percentile to be its fair and balanced leader...


Freewheeling down the road this early morning after scraping the frost from my motorcycle, right around the third curve I came upon two aimless adolescent monkeys just hangin' out, fresh from the forest and looking for trouble, standing there at the roadside like teenagers do. Lolling idly on the streetcorner completely unsupervised, nothing to do, no job, no elders teaching them anything about bettering themselves and making something of their lives, other than just climbing fences or dangling from trees and saucily ogling passersby on motorcycles, maybe there's a garden around here we can raid, teenagers are the same everywhere. Fresh from the forest we all go through those phases, one way or another. I used to be one of those guys, but I managed to get out of my tree. They're probably checking my garden out right now, but I got all the shiitake yesterday. Nothing like a bit of education.

Monday, February 27, 2006


It was in Okinawa, back in the early sixties, that I first experienced what was there called by we foreign visitors "kamikaze driving." Many of the streets there, as here in Japan even now, were originally formed for a couple of lightly laden people who kept their arms to their sides, or maybe a small horse cart to pass by.

Most of those streets still exist in the major cities here, threading between the large thoroughfares of modern day. In the countryside there are no thoroughfares of modern day to speak of, other than those bypassing small towns to get to the major cities.

Major highways, other than the national expressways, are mostly narrow two-laners; the remaining local roads are the old horse tracks. In a taxi speeding down one of those, if you opened your door even a crack you'd hit a telephone pole or an elderly stroller; if you dared reach out your arm, you could steal an apple or knock someone off a bicycle.

After a while of driving here you get used to it though; if you meet another car coming the other way on a one-car-wide road, one of you (as determined by a complex formula of driver courtesy) pulls over into one of the mini-pullofs strategically located for the purpose. I say strategically, for there is a transcendent system to driving in Japan, a system put in place by one of the founding gods, probably Susano-O-No-Mikoto, if I know my deities.

But as a newly arrived foreigner not yet familiar with the trafficking ways of Japanese gods, you're not yet a fluid traffic element, so don't hit these mini-pulloffs with the necessary surrhythm so as to advance readily to your destination. By the time you've been driving here for a year or two though, if you're still in one piece and your license hasn't been revoked, you are mystically accepted into the national driving rhythm, and miraculously meet other cars only when there is such a pulloff handy.

It is quite an amazing thing, which on the first couple of occasions you chalk up to Western coincidence; soon, however, you realize that 50 out of 50 is against the odds of any crapshoot you've ever experienced; that's when it dawns on you that somehow you have fully merged with the national driving program. From that point on, you too are a kamikaze driver, and can speed blithely down streets not much bigger than the corridors of your house, quickly spotting bicyclists emerging from behind telephone poles and vegetable-laden elders stepping out of their doorways, without feeling even a tinge of alarm; they too are part of the rhythm.

So in all my 20 years of driving in Japan I haven't hit a single elderly person or other pedestrian, not even a bicyclist, though I have tapped mirrors with other cars on occasion, in sort of a hail-fellow-well-met kind of gesture. I suppose that if as a visitor you were a passenger on one of my kamikaze outings, you'd put fingernail marks in the dashboard, but no need to worry; we'll get there in one piece, unless maybe we run into a new a foreigner coming the other way.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


My name is Gudo Wafu Nishijima, a Buddist Monk, who is 86 years old, and recently because of my old age, I finished my Buddhist lectures, which were held at many places for many years, and so I decided to open Dogen Sangha Blog, to express the Buddhist thought. It might be very short sentences, but I would like to continue it as far as possible almost every day."


If you know Echo, you know she just had to walk on fire again. She married me, after all. So off we went yesterday morning to Sugawara Jinja so she could walk on some more fire.

You may remember our earlier quest for the renowned firewalking shrine event that it seemed no one had ever heard of, well this time was much the same, even though we'd been there before. It just seems to be a uniquely located location. This time we left the house at 10:40; the event started at 11, we figured maybe if we hurried we'd find it. Didn't work.

Before we'd been lost too long (we knew definitely that the shrine was somewhere within an uncertain number of kilometers from wherever we were) we drove to a train station that was rumored to be in the shrine's vicinity and checked the big local map posted in front of the station, spotted the little red dot that indicated Sugawara Jinja and drove there right away in the wrong direction. A word here about the big maps they put in front of train stations in Japan: those maps are made by local people, who already know where everything is. They don't need a map, and they expect pretty much the same of you. It is simply a polite invitation to get to know the place by direct experience.

So we wound up in a small alley street somewhere and asked a group of local elders, who were standing there chatting, where Sugawara Jinja was. Much hissing and musing issued at once from the group, till at last one of the men said basically, eyebrows rising: "If you want to go to Sugawara Jinja, why are you all the way over here?" An elder woman then gasped in astonishment: "Why, that's way over in Ebe!" (We had been looking for Ebe all along, but each place appears to have only one small place-name sign, which is kept in the mayor's office.

By a thoroughgoing process of elimination, we finally blundered into Sugawara Jinja via one of the infinite directions in which it lies, just as the priests were preparing the ashes for all the feet. Only 160 people would be issued the certificates enabling them to sear their soles; Echo got in at #159.

The firewalkers young and elder were hopping over the air-shimmering embers as they walked, but Echo said it wasn't nearly as hot as last year. She also walked the fire at a shrine near here not long ago, so I suppose you get used to it. Anyway it's easier than finding Sugawara Jinja.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


The big news today in Japan, eclipsing even the multifaceted Livedoor scandal, is the news of Shizuka Arakawa's winning the gold medal for figure skating in Torino, Japan's only medal for this Winter Oympics.

Yesterday morning at all the big train stations here in Japan, all the newspapers were handing out free copies of the story to commuters, who then stopped rushing to work and just stood there reading. It even stopped commuters! After all the bad news that's been oppressing the national mood, it was a very welcome uplift. Even Koizumi smiled an apolitical smile.

Life-sized Arakawa cutouts were on every news program, her performance was replayed over and over, the scene always cutting to her parents watching her in the stadium, then to relatives and local residents of her hometown watching her performance from local halls, all breaking into screams and tears of joy at the successful climax of her free skating routine... intercut with old documentary footage about Arakawa's skating history, how her mother had made all these outfits for her daughter over the years since she started skating at the age of 5, boxes of worn out skates (her mother couldn't throw any of it away), how two years ago Shizuka had decided to quit skating and had worked at a convenience store until, at the urging of her parents and coach to try for just one more year, maybe even make the Olympics, at last she decided to skate until she could perhaps achieve one perfect performance.

She did that at the Olympics, when it counted. I noticed that midway through her routine she broke into a smile for herself; she knew right then that she had it nailed. What a thrill it all is for Japan.

Interviewed on tv later, with her gold medal about her neck, she said she stayed calm by not watching the other skaters perform and not listening to their music, and by thinking of the ice cream and pleasant coffees she'd enjoyed in Torino...

She'll have a very different normal life now.

Friday, February 24, 2006


As countless tv ads indicate daily, the Japanese study English by the millions (like so many other people around the globe), but compared to other Asian countries, they seem to have little success at it. (Yesterday I saw a document in English from one of the Japanese Government Ministries and the English was a national embarrassment!)

The why of all this has always been somewhat of a mystery. Even well-educated Japanese are rarely fluent in English, which is a surprise to many, especially Americans. The US, though much more of a melting pot, also has never been much of a linguistic contender globally, preferring to coast on linguistic privilege. But monolinguists in English no longer have the global edge they once had. And many US states don't even have a HS language requirement anymore!

As if that weren't bad enough, at the US State Department, only 10 of 34,000 employees are rated fully fluent in Arabic! Right now!

I see a new world composition coming.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


But just in case they're not, this might give you some time to get ready...

"The Laboratoire EuropĂ©en d’Anticipation Politique Europe 2020 (LEAP/E2020) now estimates to over 80% the probability that the week of March 20-26, 2006 will be the beginning of the most significant political crisis the world has known since the Fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, together with an economic and financial crisis of a scope comparable with that of 1929. This last week of March 2006 will be the turning-point of a number of critical developments, resulting in an acceleration of all the factors leading to a major crisis, disregard any American or Israeli military intervention against Iran. In case such an intervention is conducted, the probability of a major crisis to start rises up to 100%, according to LEAP/E2020.

The announcement of this crisis results from the analysis of decisions taken by the two key-actors of the main on-going international crisis, i.e. the United States and Iran:

-- On the one hand there is the Iranian decision of opening the first oil bourse priced in Euros [see what happened to Saddam when he tried it...] on March 20, 2006 in Teheran, available to all oil producers of the region;

-- On the other hand, there is the decision of the American Federal Reserve to stop publishing M3 figures (the most reliable indicator on the amount of dollars circulating in the world) from March 23, 2006 onward.

These two decisions constitute altogether the indicators, the causes and the consequences of the historical transition in progress between the order created after World War II and the new international equilibrium in gestation since the collapse of the USSR. Their magnitude as much as their simultaneity will catalyse all the tensions, weaknesses and imbalances accumulated since more than a decade throughout the international system."

Full article

Excellent analysis of the situation here

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


As I've indicated a number of times in these lowly chronicles, I'm not a big fan of camphor as firewood. (I'm sure this is very valuable information for all you woodheaters abroad.) I got hold of an entire camphorwood log last summer and spent many stubborn sweaty hours trying to split a couple of bucked sections by hand and gave up on the rest of it; camphor wood is way more stubborn than I am. So now I use the remaining sections for various other purposes in the garden. The wood is light but never decays; even bacteria seem to dislike it. Which I suppose is why it's a primary ingredient in Tiger Balm, and that old standby of my childhood, Vicks' Vaporub.

I did however get some split chunks of the wood in a half cord I recently bought from my local wood dealer to tide us over for these few remaining weeks of cold weather, since all the wood I split last summer won't be ready till the coming winter.

So this cold foggy morning, after I got the stove going good I went to the woodpile and got a big chunk of camphor wood that the dealer had split with a power splitter; I could tell by the broadly ragged edges and the splintered nature of the chunk that even with a power splitter the camphor had put up a hell of a fight, light as the wood is. Indeed, it looked as though it was still reaching out for the rest of itself, even now trying to hold all together. I arranged it in the stove with some other "hotter" wood (camphor burns rather fast and not very hot, like pine wood) and had breakfast.

Later I went out into the still-hanging mist to get some greens from the garden and noticed a very pleasant scent on the pearlescent air, though nothing was blooming yet; I even checked the jinchoge (myrtle), which is due to blossom pretty soon. The scent was vaguely familiar though, sort of like... camphor, but not, exactly... Then it became apparent that I was smelling the chimney smoke that was being held to the earth by the mist; it was the camphor wood burning, its diluted scent now perfuming the mist like a rare incense, turning all the air into a temple.

Camphor wood does have its worshipful aspects.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


This morning I experienced an odd bit of nostalgia shock when I saw a woman in the city carrying her infant in the old-fashioned way. It was all the more surprising for the additional fact that it has become rather unusual even to see Japanese women with newborns anymore. The mother was using one of the baby slings that were so common when I first came to Japan (and a version of which I myself used on occasion when our children were born), but that sadly have pretty much disappeared, as this sight reminded me. The mother was carrying the infant strapped to her front, facing her.

To accommodate all the added bulk, she was wearing a modern-fashion version of the thick oversized winter coat designed for the purpose (though I liked the old-fashioned ethnic designs better), the safely contained baby peering out from between the lapels at the new but cold morning world from the comfort of her mother's touch and warmth.

The sight used to seem so third-world-y (and was so common) when I first came to this country, fresh from the land of baby carriages that were even then beginning to resemble small wingless 747s, and beheld Japanese mothers everywhere with babies simply strapped right to their front or back and going about their tasks freehanded, the babies sharing in it all and watching every move, staring directly into the faces on the bus.

Having used both methods myself, I'll take the baby sling. It does two bodies good.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Yesterday while out on one of our excursions we went to look at a piece of mountainside land we'd thought about buying 10 years ago when we were looking for the land we finally bought.

It was the same road as back then, but like so many of memory's roads, it didn't lead to the same place anymore; it led instead to another mystery. As the road wound up the mountain, it took us past a very large structure of stone on a small plateau shelving off the mountainside. I pulled over and got out to look at it more closely.

At first I took it to be the ruins of a castle, but a little more thought soon did away with that surmise: the mountain loomed up behind it; bad location for a castle. On closer examination it resembled an ancient tumulus, now very derelict from centuries (millennia?) of weather and tremor...

The site had clearly become a very popular dumping ground for free disposal of the many things one has to pay a fee to dump nowadays, all tossed into what looks to have been a sort of moat around the structure (moats are frequently characteristic of ancient tumuli here)...

The structure itself comprised very large stones (about half the size of our van), all fairly tumbledown, apart from the still intact high facet that had caught my eye. Another odd thing was that there were no historical signs around as to what the structure might be, nor were there any signs of archaeological excavation, all the more intriguing because as far as I know there's nothing very historical on the mountainsides this far north along the western shore of the Lake; most of the big-time history took place along the eastern shore (e. g., Nobunaga’s Castle) or further south on this shore. As well, this location was inconveniently high up on the mountain, with nothing else around; why all the way up here?

Whenever I see such mysterious ruins, where humanity past is speaking a time-transcendant form of language to humanity present, my temporary existence is filled with a sense of eternity at perceiving the true vastness of human time, at knowing that so long ago hundreds or thousands of workers sweated and strained, as with these stones, to build a structure to honor someone they revered or obeyed with a purpose that filled - even transcended - their own lives, and now all that remains of their efforts is the whisper of fallen stones in the wind, the disparate blending of honor and folly in anonymity...

Are we ourselves today any different, in our ambitions? Does the same fate await our own highest dreams, will they too one day serve merely as a place for folks to abandon whatever the future equivalent may be of pickup trucks and tvs, refrigerators and teapots, stereos and bedsprings?

Here's hoping we make it further than that...

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Very often of late in my various Japanese bureaucratic editings having to do with Japanese society I come across worrisome phrases like "the growing proportion of elderly," "the increasingly aging society" and suchlike catchall concepts by which millions of persons and their collective wisdom are bundled together anonymously like a big social tumor or something.

Twenty years ago I didn't take much notice of such phrases because I wasn't in the elder group yet (if ever I would be); but now that I am, I find these socially fretful cliches patronizing, as if we silver foxes were all a big unwonted burden - perhaps even an imminent coronary in the body public - when in fact we are the wiser part of the public heart, the experienced portion of the social brain.

Among the many 60-pluses there are of course individuals who all their lives have always done what they were instructed to do and taken the paths they were directed to take, following their lives like a rut in the road: it may very well be that for their portion of the aging society there are cataractous and sclerotic times ahead: what happens when after a monodimensional lifetime your rut runs out into a multiplicity of dimensions, requiring a rennaissance history of diverse perceptions and multifaceted actions?

What happens when in your latter years you realize that you've spent all your life following the dictates of phantom uberfolks who had no idea who you really were or what you really loved (nor did they care), that perhaps you'd even had to be told what to be and what to want: could there be a greater disappointment than such a discovery at the end of the rut? What greater mockery than that open road flaunting its freedom now, after all these decades? It's that kind of person who frets about the "the increasingly aging society" and "the growing proportion of elderly."

As for the rest of us elders and wisers, we can take care of ourselves, the way we have all our lives; the road has taught us how.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Up at ancient Sufuku Temple
only pillar stones remain--
soon, plum blossoms

Friday, February 17, 2006


As one of the founders - indeed pioneers - of the grunge movement as an undergrowth of the hippie style, owing to my growing personal conviction that clothing is not much beyond utilitarian (I had my fill of the alternative in 10 years of fashion modeling) I sort of naturally segued into wearing only jeans, T’s or western snap-button shirts and cowboy boots (for warmth, safety, convenience, universality (forest/garden/office), durability, price, you name it.

But now I see that because of a movie the cowboy look is back: shirts worn in Brokeback Mountain are auctioning at record prices.

The mountain I live on isn’t Brokeback, but just like when grunge came around I’m right at the front lines of style again!

What am I gonna wear now?

Thursday, February 16, 2006


On Friday night - which was Setsubun, the first day of the Lunar Spring - in keeping with an ancient Japanese tradition the visiting grandkids got the chance to shout "Out with the devil! In with good fortune!" at the top of their voices over and over while throwing handfuls of roasted soybeans out into the darkness from all the doorways of the house. It was interesting to see how they handled it.

A lot of folks are cynical about the rituals of tradition, especially ancient tradition, such as Setsubun is. Cynicism is one of the cheaper philosophies, requiring no real experience or thought (indeed, it is diminished by both). But anyone who has actually lived and perceptively experienced what is out in the world knows full well that there is value in traditional metaphoric/symbolic reminders of the ideal, and worth in speaking out for it.

There is uplift to ritual (the other side of science) as well, in thus asserting - as in Setsubun - that we have a measure of control over the presence or absence of "the devil" and over our own fortunes. It is of deep worth to remind ourselves of this and to teach our children that they too have individual power (not surrendered power, as to a political or religious organization) that can be personally brought to bear on behalf of goodness and bright fortune not only for themselves, but for their entire household and all its members, and by extension, society itself.

Setsubun is an anciently tacit – though noisy - erasure of animosities and a rebuke to the untoward. By flinging hard beans in the face of misfortune you are showing the night your strength, shouting out to the darkness without as well as within (the house and yourself) that you care about the entities that reside here, that you are responsible for and will defend this place, for this household and its members are shared in your charge.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Went up to the 'secret' mountain spring to get some water this afternoon, the off-road way now passable since the 'heat' wave, the spring stronger than ever with that deep melting snow upmountain seeping into the ground, all that pure, cold delicious water gurgling out for free 24/365...

After we finish filling all the bottles and water cans, the instinct is to 'turn the water off' right away, not let it 'go to waste'; in the evergrip of human implication it's hard to bear that treasure just flowing away uncaptured in the silence of the mountain forest (the kind of water city people pay for bottles of), watch it keep on gushing out after all our containers are full, as though we were its purpose; it's a mind mirror in which we observe ourselves thinking these odd thoughts...

Then passing beyond the mirror and accepting all that wondrous stuff just spilling into the mud and running freely down the mountain like the wild animal it is. Reminds me of the feeling I had when I was a kid and raised an infant wild animal and had learn to let it go...

A little water, a little wisdom...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Wheeling instinctively down the icy mountain road on my motorcycle this morning, body ever at the ready for instant checks and automicroadjustments, my unneeded mind took a break and drifted back to when I began to learn all this ice-wheel stuff, which was when at the age of seven I got my first bicycle, for Christmas, in upstate New York, which in winter has some sort of sister-windchill relationship with Siberia.

The bike was a truly "spiffy" (my grandmother’s word; I rode it first to her house) Columbia, the perfect scarlet (I'd never seen the perfect scarlet before) with ivory striping down the crossbars and fenders. It was a "26" (one spoke with disdain of childish "24s") and still too big for me, but as God clearly indicated to me at the time, there was no way I was going to wait till icelessness to take this baby out.

So out I went into the hoarfrosted teeth of Siberian morning on my new wheels and proceeded to slither and slide and slew and yaw and fall and get up again and pedal on along the slushy roads and icy sidewalks atop my sparkling new bike, it was cold and hard but great, and I made it to all the necessary wheres and back. Little did I know that I was preparing for decades further on the road, the occasional winter commute down an icy Japanese countryside mountain to catch a train into a Japanese city on the other side of the world, right next door to Siberia.

Ain't life every bit as great as a new bike?

Monday, February 13, 2006


Saw Mr. Butterscotch wandering around in the garden yesterday morning, flowing along in his golden robes like a mobile miracle across the snow, we could but stand and watch in silence... and last evening saw a wheatear bouncing cheerily on the bare branches of the weeping cherry, looking in the window. Then very early this morning while drinking my tea and gazing with a headful of dreams out the big kitchen window I'd swear I saw a woodpecker silhouetted against the brightening sky, listening to the limbs and trunk of the garden oak, but he was gone in a flash, so many trees to listen to for breakfast.

Then on the way out for a walk this morning heard a bird doing some major trilling from upmountain through the icy air which, since it's so dry, makes for a crisper sharper song; sounded like the songster fully appreciated that, because he was going at it like a dozen Mozarts. On the way of the walk I saw Mr. Butterscotch's tiny, pointy tracks loping like the curves of a slow river along the snowcrust - though I can't imagine what he may be finding to eat yet, there's no fast food around here...

The buds of myrtle, plum, cherry and forsythia are swelling, just showing the first edge of their true colors and there is that distant fragrance to the air, of a world in open beauty not all that far away...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Kyoto Journal #62 now out!

Out in winter night
sipping the sky
and the moon in my tea

Saturday, February 11, 2006


"The terrorist surveillance program was highly classified, and information about it was improperly given to the news media. As the Attorney General pointed out this week, it's easy to imagine America's enemies 'shaking their heads in amazement' that anyone would disclose this information, thereby giving notice to those enemies, damaging national security, and putting our citizens at risk."


A couple of nights ago, while out on the deck in the silence under a clear sky I saw a meteor – not a 'shooting star,' but a much brighter, thicker, slower, more intense column of light - streak straight down from the sky directly in the east. It lasted only a second or so before it burned out in the unchanged silence, about a hand's length (at arm's length) above the horizon.

Standing out there alone in the darkness I was primally startled; but as quickly I realized, scientifically, what I had just seen. So I went back to my primal reaction and dug in, tried to think in the way our ancestors 50,000 years ago would have thought about such things as fire streaking from a cold dark sky, to imagine from out of that same darkness the answers they wove into their world as gods, and the sources of those gods... the myths came forth more easily than I'd expected they would, we are in fact so close to that source in ourselves... those gods and their source are in us all still... we carry them not far beneath the surface, just below the cultures, religions and manners that stem from them; they are far more ours, and more genuine to us, than the latter components of our general veneer.

The body and the mind know more than science can ever fathom...

Friday, February 10, 2006


Japan's absolutely scientific whale research, which necessitates the epistemological slaughter of the imperiled creatures (like that general in Vietnam who saved that no longer extant village) has resulted in a whale meat glut.

Strictly out of concern for the welfare of their traditional cetacean friends, the Japanese researchers now have more totally scientific whale meat on the market than Japanese consumers are willing to consume for purely academic purposes.

Absolutely scientific whale meat prices are plunging. Gotta put the research results somewhere. Like pet food. The resulting – but completely scientific - desperation has led the eco-focused researchers to promote the consumption of utterly scientific whale meat in school lunches, a captive audience if there ever was one:

"Nutritionists have even developed child-friendly whale dishes, including whale meatballs, hamburgers and whale spaghetti bolognese, said Tetsuji Sawada of Wakayama's education board." (Can whalemeat ice cream be far behind?)

The kids can't turn that down. Especially the science majors.

"Even if we capture 2,000 whales a year for 100 years, it's OK because whale numbers are growing," says the strictly educational pamphlet Delicious Whales, distributed by the government-affiliated Japan Whaling Association. (‘Capture’ is the scientific term for ‘kill.’)

And the whale researchers just came up with that new superslaughtering grenade harpoon too. Reality just won't give some knowledge-starved scientists a break.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


"I was very lucky to have seen that culture which showed me that a real community of shared labor is possible -- or at least was at one time in this country. And if I ever doubt it I can go up to those hill farms and look into the clouded old eyes and wrinkled visages of the people who once babysat me as a child and with whom I shot my first rabbit and quail."

Welcome to Middle-Class Lockdown - Joe Bageant's beautiful take on loss of community in America

(Also see Revenge of the Mutt People)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


It might not be her, though; it could be her notoriously troublemaking brother the Shinto god Susano-o-no-Mikoto, who is in charge of storms. Although Amaterasu (progenitor of the imperial lineage) was female, that fact somehow got lost over the millennia in the historic power struggle (think Susano-O) for the Chrysanthemum Throne, which now demands male lineage. It's a mistake to look for logic here, though, because traditionally, females haven't been able to pass on much of anything in Japan. Until not too long ago wives were the property of their husbands, and until very a few years ago, could not pass on citizenship to their children (which law Echo and I got around through devious maneuvering – the end result of which was that I had to adopt my own children - which episode I'll detail in a later post on the subject).

Anyway, as sketchily noted in these meager chronicles, Japan has recently been struggling with the stark possibility of having no imperial y-chromosome carriers available, not even one, to become Emperor a generation from now. The entire nation was just on the verge of debating the topic of thinking about maybe considering the possibility that perhaps a woman could conceivably on the off chance, if... but then Amaterasu gave things a teasing tweak, given that she's female; or Susano-O, what with his mythic rep, threw a deific spanner in the works: the wife of the Crown Prince's brother (Crown Prince 2?) just announced that she is 6 weeks pregnant, and now everyone but me and a few people I know is in a dither over the fact that maybe it'll be a boy (parliament burst into applause when news of the pregnancy was announced), and the entire spiritual worth of Japan may not have to be vested in a woman after all, perish the thought.

Now it seems to me that such an attitude would yank Amaterasu's chain bigtime, so maybe she's just causing this princess pregnancy thing as a tease to get even for all the sexist dithering that's been going on for a couple thousand years now. On the other hand, though, given the historically macho tradition here, which is straight out of Susano's bag of tricks (Imperial Heir Storm at Palace-- I can see the Heavenly Gazette headlines now), this is his last-ditch effort to maintain the status quo. So the way I figure it, if this is Susano-O’s fiddle, the child will be a boy; if it's Amaterasu's doing, it will be a girl. A girl who will have the unique misfortune of being born as a historically grave disappointment to an entire nation, but cousin to the Empress.

The whole thing is Amaterasu's fault anyway, for starting all this when she stirred up Japan out of nothingness, way back when the choices were still infinite...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Only two days after Lunar Spring and already the whole countryside is giving up the snowghost. Late yesterday evening the snow that had been falling steadily all day changed to rain, which began melting the snow everywhere, most notably on our roof. As I was reading in the afternoon the cold white stuff up there began to break apart; each big slab would surrender its integrity, slide clacking down the ceramic roof tiles till it reached the edge, and fall onto the lower eaves, each cascade turning the whole house into a big snowdrum. Then, laced with icicles, it tumbled the rest of the way in a tinkling hiss to the ground, compacting the pile already there.

Perhaps the most amazing thing in all this was how much snow can fit on a roof. It is 1 a.m. as I write this, and the snow (now with some ice beneath it) that has been clinging to the higher places on the roof and is the last to go does not want to, and by virtue of its under-ice need not travel all that precipitately; plainly uncooperative, it is nudged slowly downward by the rain runneling beneath it, the maybe 50-pound slabs begrudging down the ceramic rooftiles a foot or two at a time until they can grab hold again and so rumble along in stops and starts, resounding like thick slate slabs over cobbles, all the way down to the roof edge then crashing to the ground. The thing is, I sleep just a few feet beneath that roof, and that's a long way to listen to ice slide right above your head. Each time I think: surely this is the last slab; there couldn't be any more snow up there. I've been thinking that since 5 p.m. That's how much snow there can be on a roof.

Normally none of this would bother me; I'd be sound asleep and not hear a thing. But because of this cold that's been trying to get me for the past week or so, I napped a couple of times today and my sleep is cruelly lighter. As to the what the kids have to do with all this (haven't I mentioned them?), whenever the littlies come to visit I get exposed to all the microbial cutting-edge stuff that's wafting around the viral kingdom's Kiddy Laboratory, sort of a full-time pathogenic Expo, in which I fully and gleefully participate. Blowing up the kids' balloons again for them, sharing cookies, wiping runny noses, getting sneezed at and coughed upon with loving abandon and all the other kid-vectors that crafty viruses take advantage of, within a day or two of the kids' initial visit I'm feeling a twinge in the gut, a quirk in a lung, a tweak in the nose, a croak in the throat, a rock in the head and such like minor warnings, and must begin my usual multi-fronted campaign against the various sieges under way, from most of which I emerge victorious, though battered; then comes the next onslaught. As this indicates, a great part of grandfatherhood is taken up by preparation and recuperation. Bed rest is big.

There: surely that was the last slab of snow...

Monday, February 06, 2006


Folks on the train not sleeping or reading are staring into their keitai (mobile phones) and nudging the tiny keys with their thumbs; others are pecking away at laptops; dinosaur me, writing by hand with my Moleskine and pen. There are deep differences in scribing via these modes that are yet to be explored...

Moleskine hacks

Sunday, February 05, 2006


On Friday night, which was Setsubun, the first day of the Lunar Spring, Kaya and the twins got the chance to shout "Out with the devil! In with good fortune!" at the top of their voices over and over while throwing handfuls of soybeans into the darkness from all the doorways of the house. Kaya had done it before, but for the twins it was the first time. A year ago they couldn't throw anything but a rattle, and here they were with a ritual. It was interesting to see how they handled it.

A lot of folks are cynical about the rituals of tradition, especially ancient tradition, such as Setsubun is. Cynicism is cheap of course, requires no real experience or thought. But anyone who has actually lived and perceptively experienced what is out in the world knows that there is value in metaphoric/symbolic reminders (whether specifically factually valid or no) of the ideal and the worth of speaking out for it. There is uplift to ritual (the other side of science) as well, in thus asserting - as in Setsubun - that we have a measure of control over the presence or absence of "the demons" and over our own fortunes. It is of deep worth to remind ourselves of this and to teach our children that they too have individual power (not surrendered power, as to a political or religious organization) that can be personally brought to bear on behalf of goodness and bright fortune not only for themselves, but for their entire household and all its members, and by extension, society itself.

is an anciently tacit – though noisy - erasure of animosities and a rebuke to the untoward. By flinging hard beans in the face of misfortune you are showing the night your strength, shouting out to the darkness without as well as within (the house and yourself) that you care about the entities that reside here, that you are responsible for and will defend this place, for this household and its members are shared in your charge.

However deeply I personally wish to continue on this philosophical tack, let me get back to the kids. Kaya had done Setsubun before, so grabbed goodly handfuls of beans and flung them far, shouting with the great gusto of the newly empowered, as the adults were doing a bit more familiarly; Miasa took a small handful of beans and started eating them while watching the action; Mitsuki sort of stood in the background, shocked by this sudden odd behavior in her elders, unlike anything she had ever seen, her mother and Kaya and Echo shouting at the top of their lungs into the darkness like that and throwing away perfectly good beans, completely out of character. It was a major eye opener for both of them.

It was all over in a few minutes, but it felt great and was impressive in all directions. Then the demons were gone and good fortune came pouring in, in the form of little faces smiling in the light. I'll bet next time M&M both dig right in, both bean and voicewise, now that they've learned what good it can do. Besides, by next year they'll be 50% more experienced.


I've always loved daikon; as a vegetable it is very impressive of course, but it is also multiply delicious, whether grated, sliced, grilled, raw or as an ingredient in oden, and it makes a great range of pickles, among other of its uses. But seldom has a root vegetable been so honored as this stalwart individual in the small town of Aoi...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Clacking together each two
chunks of oak firewood
to get the sawdust off
I keep expecting kabuki


I've been in all manner of business situations in Japan for over 30 years now and I've never seen an actual angry confrontation, other than once by a clearly mentally unstable individual and once by me, when I was still very American. Those examples are not to be conflated.

"If we are to learn anything from the Japanese, it should be that reduction of conflict always produces a significant increase in efficiency, productivity, and quality of work-life.

My study of Japanese business opened my eyes to the power of heterarchy. It is now obvious that all human organizations must master the power of the heterarchy. However, hierarchy is not the villain in this story. For American businesses to throw out hierarchy in a rush to embrace the Japanese way could be a worse mistake than to make no change at all. American businesses are the masters at hierarchy, and here the Japanese can learn something from them."

HETERARCHY: The Secret of Japan, Inc.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Dinosaurs may be extinct in the immediate sense, but their saurian reflections live on in the blood of many politicians of today, as evidenced here in the prehistoric thinking of former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma:

"If Aiko [daughter of the Crown Prince] becomes the reigning empress and gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him, their child may be the emperor." We should never let that happen."

(Whereas if a male becomes the reigning emperor... there would be no such problem? I don't get the logic of that... Maybe imperial males are innately less attracted to foreigners, or more easily conditioned?)

As a blue-eyed, full-blooded foreigner I take offense, of course - what an insulting thing to say - but my worldly blood gives me strength. I have a far more important question: where do they find these people? How do these people attain high office? Seems to be happening all over the world; surely the Japanese, fully intermingled members of the human race and with full access to its wisdom, can come up with something better than pretensions to sanguine sanitation?

I must add the disclaimer that, even though I am a member of the blue-eyed club, and a bona fide mongrel foreigner (here in Japan, 98% of the world is foreign), I have no designs on the daughter of the Crown Prince; she's way too young for me, though no doubt there is a blue-eyed four-year old mongrel earthling boy somewhere who would catch her eye...

And what would be lost to such a future union but the yammering of pureblood wannabes like Hiranuma? I say go for it, Aiko: live your own life, marry whoever calls to your heart, and ignore the dinosaurs. I'd say the same thing if you were male. Welcome to the whole world.


I was on my way to the office today through the cold city morning where all was gray and misty in the stone and glass canyons filling with the day's noise; empty-windowed buildings closed up tight behind shuttered doors only now beginning to screech open; the sun aslant, peeking in undecided— in short, a time for moral misgivings, jettisoned scruples, uncertainties of every stripe— when out of the raucous mist there came an elder man, leaning on a cane, who tottered up to a couple of those big-eyed, lustbright porn stickers the nightslime glue to everything along the streets (to be found by others awash in the ebb tides of darkness), pulled them from the street sign pole to which they were stuck at eye height (atop the glue of a thousand previous stickers), tore them into pieces and threw them right there on the ground, then tottered on, a living Don Quixote making his daily morning rounds. Good for you, elderfellow.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


For those who might be interested in particular vagaries of a Catholic boyhood of the ancient 1940s, just posted this at TheBlogBrothers.com...