Wednesday, May 30, 2007


You may remember my flaky post back in March about the purloined million dollar golden carp and the 100 kilo gold block that was stolen, and how amazing it was that neither precious item was actually guarded or otherwise secured...

After the latter theft, I figured that anybody else in the country who had anything sizeable made out of the Midas stuff would take heed and make haste to secure their equity; well I was wrong. But in an oddly gestaltic way, it is comforting to realize that trust is so hard to kill in Japan.

Turns out that a certain hotel's famous crane-flanked golden bathtub, 176 pounds of 18kt gold worth about a million dollars, was not fastened to the floor or surveilled, and was secured simply by a chain across the door. Last night, the chain was cut and the bathtub stolen. Nobody saw anything. As the hotel's website says, the tub is only available a few hours a day, for security reasons...

Some folks never change. As for me, I figure that anybody else in the country who has anything sizeable made out of the Midas stuff will take heed and make haste to secure their equity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I've always thought of the morning route I take through the train station in the Big City with the rest of the rush hour crowd as a kind of subcivilized gauntlet through which one must shoulder one's way, angling for the narrow opening to the street so as to get ahead in the mob, all the while keeping an eye out for tangential time-crazed rushers swinging heavy, sharp-angled briefcases, dawdlers pulling invisibly behind them those deadly lowdown suitcases on wheels, or any of the other myriad threats to life and limb when everything's wild - and then on rainy days, fate tosses in those suddenly slippery floors - overall, what you might call defensive commuting.

That was until recently, when the station masters finally opened the newly renovated section, which offers two wide and bright new corridors with safety floors right next to the old, dimly lit and slippery corridor, whose narrow opening is endlessly fed by rapids of rush from trains, streets and subways.

No longer would rush-hour commuters experience the venturi effect as wide humanstreams were abruptly funneled into an opening for three abreast! Now there was new space, brightness, safer floors and faster egress staring the mob right in the face-- yet they continued to take the same old dingynarrowcrowded route as always!

When I took the new and spacious corridors for the first time last week, only two other people were in there with me; ahead of us the mob streamed on as before, right past the new openings-- elbowing, edging, racing, fighting for place, when if they took the new routes right in front of them they could have strolled as they liked: casually or quickly, run at top speed, even pirhouetted their way through with arms akimbo and briefcases whirling, if they felt like it, without colliding with another person. It's been a couple of weeks now, and still there's only a couple of people and me using the new corridors; the crowd continues to funnel into the dark narrow opening with the slippery floors!

Which is ok by me in my luxurious private walkway, but I can't help thinking that this does not bode well for the future of humanity.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


The Classic depression-era photo by Dorothea Lange
of an anonymous woman...

The story of who Migrant Mother was
and what became of her

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Well, I've done it. I've taken the plunge and I'm not looking back, except occasionally, for reference. Finally switched to the post-betablogger and lost all my sidebar links, now stark nakedly have to figure out how to transfer links en masse, tweak everything, who has the time?

But I'll get 'em all back up there even if I have to use thumb tacks. At least now people can dip into and link to the archive, which is neat. That function had disappeared recently as they drained the life force from paleoblogger, eventually making me one of the last holdouts, on that one mountainous island in the vast ethereal sea...

Seems like I can't play with the html as much as I'd like to though; have to poke and prod, play around, make mistakes, get dirty, have some fun, learn some new stuff, which is always good. Anyway, not as radical a change as I'd expected. Suggestions welcome.

Friday, May 25, 2007


"Social media expert Matthew Hurst recently collected link data for six weeks and produced this plot of the most active and interconnected parts of the blogosphere."
from Discovery

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Last evening I was driving home when I noticed in the dim light of the rear view mirror something that looked like two straps hanging down from the interior ceiling rack in the back. I made a mental post-it to straighten that jumble out in the morning.

True to my note, in the morning I went out and opened the side door of the van, got in and reached to put the straps back in their places, at which point I found out there were no straps hanging down: it was something on the outside of the back window.

I got out, went around to the back and there observed in the morning sunlight that it was two impressive streaks of bird contribution. Just a bit of bad synchronicity. So I got out the hose and the long-handled car brush and began to scrub away what by this time was more like stucco. It ran from the roof down to the bumper! Then I got out the ladder to get at the roof part of the mess and when I got up where I could see the whole roof, it was like looking at the floor of Jackson Pollock's studio.

Turns out that during hawk courtship time, one of the taloned romeos had taken as his love perch - whence he sang his heartfelt laments to the seductively spiraling Mae Wests of his species - the long bare branch that shoots out from one of the tall hinoki trees in front of the house, right above our open-air garage. This effectively transformed our pristine red van into a hawk outhouse.

So I hosed and scrubbed the whole roof until it was as shiny red as the rest of the van, which took quite a while, but since I was up there... I myself was in no danger of a direct contribution, now that hawk courting is over for the season, but looking at the branch I could see that from that high up, and from that large a bird with that large a contribution, the impact upon the car roof must have been considerable, which explained the decidedly Pollock effect... and was that the strange distant booming I'd been hearing last week, that I thought might be a hearing problem?

Anyway, now I have to make another note to myself, on a large, long-term mental post-it: "Hawk in love: move car."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I’ve given up on growing slow-swelling onions, at least until (if ever) I move or build my mountain garden stalag, but some kind of madness comes over me each Spring and I cannot help myself: I plant tomatoes, the first garden plant I grew when I was a kid. For me, there is no kitchen garden without tomatoes, even if I don't get any of them. According to my careful statistical calculations, there's a reasonable (but not necessary) possibility that I'll get to the tomatoes before the monkeys do; it happens sometimes, the same way people find large gold nuggets sometimes, as earlier this Spring with my mushrooms.

Tomatoes grow fast and abundantly, and even though there's a good chance I'll get some of them, maybe even most of them, to better my odds I surrounded the tomato plants with takanotsume (hawk's talon) plants, the small but prolific hot Japanese red pepper, just to see if their flaming presence had any deterrent effect on the red-faced monkey tomato thieves.

Another trick I think would work is to put one or two brightly realistic rubber snakes among the tomato plants, since monkeys go bats at the sight of snakes (love to be on hand to see the effect of that!), but for some interesting reason, realistic rubber snakes are not easy to come by in Japan, where it would appear they could be most beneficial. This brings to mind Japan's serious lack of cherry pie. Now that I think of it, I have never seen a realistic rubber snake in Japan. Rubber snakes of whatever kind have never played any noticeable part in Japanese society that I can recall, as they do in the West, from the toy and practical joke level to serious realistic snake collecting. I must investigate this, not only for the cultural aspect, but more importantly for the sake of access to the tomatoes of tomorrow.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The Granddaughters in their kimono
for shichi-go-san in November last year.
That's Kaya (now 6) in the middle,
Mitsuki with the formally positioned hands on the left
and Miasa, the younger twin (both now 4), on the right.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


If you'd asked me yesterday what I thought of hairy vetch, I'd likely have backed away and looked at you suspiciously. If you asked me the same thing today, I'd conclude you were a knowledgeable gardener. Interesting thing about knowledge, how rapidly it transforms one's opinions.

This morning I was looking at that prolific plant whose face and pushy manner I knew so well from lo, these many seasons - but whose name I knew not - that each Spring pops up after the cleavers and chickweed have gone and grows all over my garden and flower beds clearly wanting to take over-- I found it thriving in the corner of my front flower bed and made a note to myself to later get the hand scythe and clear it out of there, then I went online to find out what the nasty, pushy stuff was: appropriately, it was named "hairy vetch" (vicia villosa).

The pictures were accompanied by this text: "In the course of these 18 years study, we ... screened more than 2000 plants and found potential allelopathic plants useful for sustainable agriculture. From the potent allelopathic plants, we isolated several new bioactive chemicals and some of them were patented. As for direct application for the farm, Velvetbean (Mucuna pruriens) ... and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) ... are now gradually spreading as allelopathic cover crop in Japan and in some other parts of the world. Hairy vetch is now accepted by Japanese farmers and recommended as cover plants for the vegetation control of fallow, abandoned field, and orchard."

Then I opened my email and found this in the Organic Gardening newsletter from Rodale: "If you love the flavor of juicy, ripe, home-grown tomatoes—then remember these four simple words: Sow! Cut! Plant! Pluck! These magic words are the key to "can't-miss" tomatoes that require virtually no weeding and hardly any watering—and they give you red, ripe tomatoes sooner than you ever imagined! The "hairy" secret is hairy vetch—a miracle plant used by farmers all over America to build the fertility of their soil. The trick is to sow this nitrogen-boosting, soil-protecting plant in the fall. Cut it down two weeks before you set out your tomatoes. Plant your seedling in a hole you cut in the dried vetch. And pluck the best no-work tomatoes you ever grew! It's as easy as 1-2-3-4! The thick vetch will smother any weeds that would even dare to pop up—and it helps keep soil and your tomato plants nice and moist!"

When sapience rains on my head, it pours! Now I'm not only going to let that wonderful plant Hairy Vetch - that miracle plant with the wonderful name - stay where it is and proliferate, I'm going to save its precious seeds and plant them as my garden ground cover in the fall.

Knowledge rules!

And the monkeys will love my tomatoes.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Kyoto Journal #66

is now out, gracing fine bookstores everywhere...

Thursday, May 17, 2007


One thing I have always admired and appreciated about Japan is its underlying current of general civility, which is so deep as to have an almost competitive aspect, i.e., who can be polite first, or for the longest time, as in bowing deeper and longer. (This politesse excludes rush-hour train-boarding competitions, when civilized niceties are suspended until all seats are claimed). This kind of multilayered, extended civility, almost unknown in the west, is second nature to me now; there is a genuine and transcendent pleasure in being kind to others in this way.

As an example, yesterday morning when I went to the dentist I got there early so as to be first served of the early appointments, but early as I was, when I took my shoes off (yup, just like at home) and entered the waiting room, there was already an elderly gentleman there ahead of me; we sat there in our socks, waiting. When the assistant opened the door and called both our names, the gentleman kindly deferred, to allow me to enter first. But since he had been there first, I demurred with thanks, and said "Dozo," gesturing him on ahead of me with a wave of my arm. So when he entered the clinic itself, which is when you put on the house slippers provided, he put on the second pair of slippers in the arranged row, leaving the first (and easiest) pair for me to use. Each of us was thus both thanked and thankful.

This civility is everywhere, and surprisingly even extends to driving. On my way home from the dentist, as I drove along the narrow, tree-lined, generally empty and peacefully greened mountain road I take in preference to the charmless noisy highway down on the flatland, the morning's civility continued, even in such an isolated place.

As I approached a narrow bridge, another car from the opposite did also. Thus it became a question of who could first reach the pulloff on either sides of bridges on narrow roads, so as to allow the other driver to continue on. We both reached our pulloff(s) at about the same time, but I was slightly ahead and so came to a stop first. The other fellow therefore kept on, crossing the bridge with a bow of his head and a small beep of thanks. 

Happens all the time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Late yesterday afternoon I was out watering the garden under a fine blue sky when I sensed a great rejoicing above me, a non-stop exaltation coming from the direction of heaven. I looked up and beheld in all that broad clear blue a single barn swallow, just one little swallow way up there, filling all that sky with happiness, chattersinging nonstop while looping and curlicueing in wide curves as though doing some ecstatic skywriting, executing aerodynamic maneuvers that made the Blue Angels look like kindergarten, and he just went on and on, rollicking and singing at the top of his talent, though there were no other swallows around.

Now I don't profess to know all that much about bird emotion, but I do know happiness when I see it, and this was a whole skyful of joy, emanating from one little aerodynamically perfect back and white feathered creature who was using every aerial broadcasting skill at his command to let the world know just how he felt; he was way happier than any lark I ever heard. Just goes to show how mood can change a whole environment.

He wasn't hunting for his dinner, he wasn't calling for a mate, he wasn't fending off intruders into his territory, he was all alone in his glee, frolicking, swooping and singing excitedly all over the sky for no reason that I could see; the only thing I could think he was singing about with such passion would have to be something like "I found a wife! We built a nest! My wife just laid two eggs! Two eggs! Two beautiful eggs!" It was of that nature.

Monday, May 14, 2007


When we lived on the island of Ibiza in Spain, in an old finca out on a point of land overlooking Tagomago Island in the Mediterranean, wild rosemary grew everywhere around us - not quite a weed - among the almond, olive and carob trees, and the sheep didn't eat it, which was great. We used it for cooking of course, skewers too; I even made toothpicks, chopsticks and I Ching sticks out of it.

It never grew very large there, though, given the hard soil, heat and general dryness, but it was a constant companion of that place-- an old face, year round. So when we moved here to the mountain, one of the first things I put in the garden was a rosemary plant. It was a mere sprout at the time, but there's lots more water here, and with all that moisture and care the rosemary is now very large, more than twice the height it grew in Spain, and gangly as a result, its long older branches eventually reaching more along the ground than rising toward the sky, the way the new branches do before they too grow lengthy and stretch out along the earth.

About this time of year, when the rosemary is putting out all the new shoots on its branches, and the branches themselves are bouncy with moisture from the generous Spring rains, the entire plant takes on a floppy life of its own in the mountain wind; but whenever I take the hose and use the strong jet to wash away the tangles of spider webs and windblown leaves that about now begin to clog the scented branches, the rosemary reminds me of a big green sheepdog gallumping playfully in and out of the waterstream with its long wet green fur, away and toward what feels so good but is also fun to avoid. The new branchings are not yet woody, and the light silvery tint to their underleaves makes them seem all the more like big furry green sunbleached paws romping in fun with the hose on a warm day.

And when we're done with the hose bath, there's nothing cleaner, greener and loving drying itself in the breezy sun, than the rosemary dog.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Ready for planting.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Climbing up the mountain road these Spring evenings at the hour of not quite dark, when all the sky is like a throw of velvet reflecting a distant light, almost as if you could reach up there and trail your hand among the tiny, brightening stars...

At about this time the sun-warmed earth, still damp from recent rains and now blanketed with the cooling air of day, sends out from all its secret palaces the richest of its fragrances, that ride on the air I rise through as I climb... All the perfumes are there, if you have the time...

Who knows how they come to be, these spices of life for each inhalation - cinnamon, oregano, thyme, it is a long list - it holds a hint of chocolate, of tea, there is apple, gardenia, mushroom, living earth, coffee, musk... The moments I pass through are rich... The night is an ancient acquaintance...

For whom does the night send out its secret perfumes, but those who can sense them? And why is it so? In the night, as in the day, it is to say in fragrance that all is interwoven, that none are apart. In each of these nights we are given to sense the miracles around us, all the more finely to perceive and enjoy the miracles of ourselves.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mick just posted
Let There Be Soul
The Blog Brothers.

Rock On.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


On my way to work a couple of weeks ago I'd been astonished to see a pair of attractive young Asian women standing beside a wide rush hour sidewalk outside of Osaka's busy Umeda Station, holding handwritten signs that said: "Free Hugs!" (in English!) I remembered reading about a 'Juan Mann' in Sydney, who had been offering Free Hugs to passersby, but that was a guy. In Australia. These were women. In Japan.

I doubted if very many Japanese had heard of the hugger guy, let alone really understood the Free Hug action (and the English sign) for what it was in the Western sense, because Japanese only touch strangers (other than illicitly) in random rush-hour commuter collisions. I remember thinking these young ladies were going to have few takers here. A hug in Japan is not the same as a hug in Australia.

The Japanese don't hug, they bow. I've hugged my own kids of course, so they're used to hugging, but never my in-laws (does anyone?) or in-law relations. I can't imagine ever hugging any of my Japanese acquaintances; they would be shocked! So I figured maybe those two women were inspired by the Free Hugs guy, but would soon give up when they had stood for days without a request for a hug. I couldn't picture any of these workaday commuters, in their hurries to and from the office, going up to the women in public, right there for everyone to see, and asking for a hug; that was admitting an emotional need of some sort, and whoever did it would be the focus of all eyes, maybe even get photographed...

This morning, still groggy from the long Golden Week vacation luxury of freely doing whatever I want around the house and environs at my own pace, and the same each day for days on end, without having to readjust my crowd/time/noise/space psychoparameters in preparation for trips into the big city, it was therefore in a state of mobgrog that I was amazed to again behold the Free Hugs women standing with their Free Hug signs. Had they managed to hug somebody in public? Neither one was hugging anybody at the moment, but one of them was speaking at length to a guy who was at least enjoying a spontaneous chat with an attractive woman stranger right there on the street, which in Japan can be as good as a hug in Sydney.

The Japanese are still not even comfortable shaking hands. They do so perforce with foreigners, but rarely with each other. So I still can't imagine staid Japanese businessmen requesting a free hug from these women (even married couples don't hug in public!). But these two dauntless young women at least augur nice changes, however many hugs they manage to give out. Whether passersby get a free hug or not, they're at least starting to think about "hugs" and hugging and all that that might mean, however culturally different it is.

Another emotionseed closer to the eden of really caring for one another.

Sunday, May 06, 2007



---Japanese trade representative

Whoever controls the seed controls the food...

This film should be shown in every school
and every community hall around the world.

The choice is still ours...

The Future of Food


A bright spot: Monsanto - How Now Brown Cow? (with thanks to Annette)

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Bearers of one of the many sacred taiko (lit: big drum)
shouldered and drummed around the neighborhoods
of Omihachiman City during the Hachiman Matsuri (festival)
finally make it through Hachimangu Shrine gate at the end,
after many tries.

Friday, May 04, 2007


These Spring days, the hawks grace the air in high blue romance, the males gliding, squealing and whirling around demurely spiraling but attentive females, the way love soars in wide-winged feathered beings.

Speaking of being, while I was out splitting wood late yesterday afternoon (after double-digging a new garden bed and transplanting some overgrown potted herbs into the soil) I heard a hawk who, at the end of his own days' labors, was majestying atop a pole over by the road, scanning his vast hawkdom and singing his heart out for love, like a feathered troubador. Maybe I was prompted by my exchange in Warbler the other day, but I figured I might as well see if I could get the big feathered being to converse, so I gave Hawk a try.

To anyone acquainted with it, Hawk is a difficult language; Warbler is a lyric breeze in comparison. Hawks work over long distances, so they start off piercingly loud (and far-reaching) at a high pitch and then go higher, the note thinning yet widening somehow, with an even higher-pitched and very difficult vibrato curlicue added at the end. The note is hard, but the vibrato is really tough, not only because the note goes so high and then flattens and widens, but because while whistling that note you have no oral room to move, so have to make the vibrato with your diaphragm, which is at counterpurposes to whistling, to get the whole thing just right.

Hawks have been doing it all their lives, but I just started, so I gave it a couple of feeble tries and garnered no attention other than what might have been a hawkish chuckle. After a while, though, I at least got into the vibrato ballpark, and my general pronunciation didn't seem too bad, but the hawk, who, if I was getting it right, should be needle-eyeing me as a competitor, instead turned and looked at me funny, pulling his head back from his shoulders, like 'What the-- Who the hell-- Was that noise YOU?' Must have been my accent. I tried a few more times, but he could take no more and flew away-- shaking his head, if I'm not mistaken. I tried to whistle my apologies in accented Hawk, but he did not respond.

In further proof of my failure at mastering the wide-winged language, not a single female hawk cruised by to check out this cool dude with the interesting east coast accent. A good thing, too; I wasn't feeling the slightest tinge of feathered romance. Which lack, now that I think about it, probably doomed my effort from the start.

Made wood chopping kind of high and airy, though.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Just had a six-green vinaigrette salad (two kinds of lettuce, spinach, arugula, mitsuba and dandelion) with red radishes and onions, all from my own garden except the onions, and we all know why that is. It was every bit as delicious as the picking of each leaf to fill my bamboo basket in the last gold of the day.


Big city folks are strange: all day they use the elevators for free, then go to the gym and pay to use electric stairs.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


And thus was quelled the Spartacan rebellion of chickweed and cleavers, my army of one finally mowing them down like weeds, leaving here and there patches of worthy mitsuba to thrive, and the butter-yellow dandelions, of course, 'cause their seedpuffs bring dreams to grandchildren.

The Spartacan comparison isn't really appropriate though, since these are not Roman slaves, they are vegetable competitors, and have plenty of land of their own around here, indeed the whole mountain. They practically run the place this time of year. Just their field across the road dwarfs my small property. Why they want my place too, is what I want to know. You have to put your border down somewhere.

To eradicate cleavers with a weed whacker is to now and then get a face full of wet green mush, but I used the whacker to get the job done because I wanted to go looking for some sansai later in the day, the sansai window being a very narrow one, all wild goodies being wise to our hungry ways, especially the thornily reclusive, yet noble, taranome (aralia elata). To say nothing of the many wily and early rising sansai hunters. You have to act fast and strike while the bud is hot.

In our upper forest wanderings we also came upon a mother lode of koshiabura (of the ginseng family) and got bagsful of the opening buds, which Echo later chopped and lightly boiled some of, then added sesame paste and soy sauce to make a wonderful addition to any meal one might be eating that came straight from heaven.

Of course I was most thankful to the taranome and the koshiabura for these gifts of nature they gave us, though I took pains to point out that I can't really say the same of the punky cleavers and chickweed. They nodded in complete agreement, but it might have been the wind.