Saturday, September 29, 2007

100 Famous Views of Edo
(w fantastic magnifying scrollover)

via the inestimable Plep

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I never really thought much about why spiders spin their webs where they do, beyond basic practicalities like: hey this is a nice spot, out of the rain, excellent view, decent commute, cheap rent, convenient, great for the kids, whatever, but the other morning while looking out the big kitchen window I began to wonder: why has that big, obviously well-to-do, well-fed garden spider put her web almost flat against the glass?

The web had been there awhile, the large landlady had several large pantries dangling here and there in her much repaired - therefore very busy - web, even another mid-sized garden spider that had tried to horn in nearby was now toast, and her web had been incorporated into the green lady’s growing real estate holdings.

But the web was not out there in the prey-bearing breeze, covering a goodly span from tree to bush to tree, as is the usual preference among local garden spiders. Finishing my breakfast, I put that thought and the accompanying wonderstuff in a trunk up in the attic and went about taking day-to-day care of my own web.

Last night I turned on the light over the kitchen sink and saw that the green lady in fact had her own Spider Ginza out there, with mobs of insects attracted by the night life implied by our kitchen luminance... Bright lights, big window.

Still, there's no way the empress of spider realty could have built her web in anticipation that the light would go on for some time every night, attracting more customers than she could handle, unless she knows all about the habits of houses, but spiders don't live that long. Or do they camp out at various places, even in the dark, to count wing traffic and check the location potential before they build their webs? They clearly do have some intuition regarding the old entrepreneurial saw "Location, location, location..." But our kitchen window Ginza is prime realty. Smart lady.

Monday, September 24, 2007


A brief but deep delight it is, to 'steal a moment' (as though one's time is another's property), sit quietly and watch - enter insect time - as a male dragonfly, after a ziggy cruise back and forth on glassine wings, perches at last atop the tip of the tallest limb on the plum tree, a prominence carefully chosen as affording the best location for displaying to all the flitting dragonladies - for the few days allotted - bright red masculinity in all its charm, while a few branches below, a large garden spider has been busy all her life weaving a broad web of such geometric complexity as to astound mathematicians and evolutionaries, and of chemical complexity so simple as to be far beyond our most advanced chemical reach, and all without an advanced degree, a cutting-edge lab or a vast production plant.

Meanwhile a tamamushi, peacock of the insect world, buzzes lazily by, so splendidly winged as to be in no hurry to light anywhere, a beetle of refractive iridescence way beyond Warhol's wildest dreams, and not at all commercial, simply having emerged that way from a cocoon somewhere in the wood into living beauty surpassing any jewel, winging slowly past on the quiet evening air...

Just 5 minutes of your time...

Photo via What's That Bug

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Just posted
Fearful Sweetness
The Blog Brothers...

Friday, September 21, 2007


Before going out to split wood, work in the garden, clean the rain gutters or set out on any of the other sweaty tasks that abound, I get myself a nice clean tenugui and - if it's a hot day - I soak it in cool water and wring it out before tying it on or over my head, or draping it around my neck. While doing that very thing the other day I figured I should do a post about this wonderful fabric device, the moreso since PLM gets Googled numerously from abroad with the query 'how to tie a tenugui.'

The tenugui— now there's a cultural artifact. Every Japanese knows what a tenugui is, and no doubt has worn one many times, has one or two in the house somewhere, but I never hear them spoken of, and they are largely unknown in the West. I don't see tenugui around as much as I used to, though, especially in the city, except maybe on a street seller or at a festival now and then, when people get all traditional. In the countryside, you can still see tenugui on elder farmer and craft men and women, but the young folk seem to prefer naked styled hair.

There is a wealth of understanding vested in that oddly unsung bit of cotton cloth, though. It is a cultural artifact (or commercial), bearing a cultural (or commercial) symbol, but more importantly in its uniform size it simply ties securely around any head as a headband, whether the cloth is twisted (more cultural, for festivals or street sellers) or flat (practical labor) as well as it does over your head, whether folded or tied there by the lower corners (men at work) or by the upper corners (women at work) or just draped around your neck, hanging just far enough down on either side so as not to interfere with your arms in any way, very convenient for wiping away sweat— They come in an infinite range of colors and designs, and have so many diverse uses I'll only list a few of the other ones here: baby kerchief, carrying cloth, gift wrap, lamp shade, dog collar... they're also famously employed by ninja...

Anciently thought of, well evolved, still sold at temples and craft stores, still given as gifts by commercial establishments (I get one every year from my bank), that simple piece of fabric, how well it has come to understand the body, its shapes and functions... tied around the head or neck for the task at hand, or just let dangle when the task is done, to wipe away the sweat or dip into water to cool your face – it can be used as a simple bathing towel too-- Then at the end of that practical use, several tenugui are sewn together in layers and used till the very end as cleaning rags.

Or you could hang a new tenugui on the wall as a genuine work of folk art if you live outside Japan, though if you did that in Japan (unless it is a specially created work) your visitors would ask, with a chuckle, why in the world you have a tenugui on your wall...

Yet as bizarre as it sounds I have some pieces of antique Japanese futon cloth (tamba momen) hanging on the wall of my room...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Religion is the source of salvation as government is the source of freedom.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


On hurricaney Saturday afternoon we took a chance and drove around the mountain, then along through the steep valley to visit Yamauto on its closing weekend, low and scudding clouds shrouding the whole already mystic way. Seems though that our mountains keep most of the rain on our side; though cloudy over there, there was no rain for a long while; there were even patches of blue sky above the strong breezes.

There was a bit of a change in the ongoings though, because from Saturday the local villagers began to take part in the festival, teaching traditional crafts, songs and dances. In the photo at left, a village 'grandma' shows Yamauto participants how to weave rope/cloth sandals (rice straw can be used too) using one's big toes as the loom.

It was food to be among all those smiling faces of always fresh intelligence, seekers every one – the music was grand and the sky played along with all its bag of tricks, from shimmering mists to patches of turquoise, drops of gold and sudden rainbows (the best kind).

Met many new friends and saw dear old ones again—saw Sogyu once more in a long time, as hearty as ever, and Nanao (poet) and Isamu (painter; painted the tepee just above). Even when the rain fell at last for a time, strong and steady, it was part of the music and the party, that kept on dancing with the rain.

Isamu, Nanao, Sogyu

Isamu, Nanao, me


[In comments to my earlier post on Yamauto, below, intriguing perspectives on Japan's future from Ken Elwood.]

[Later update: just found Goa Gil's photo album of his all-night performance at Yamauto on September 1.]

Monday, September 17, 2007


There is nothing more nourishing than a landscape-- vistas are the finest food there is. To look farther than you can see and be awed by the eternity presented to a transient eye, whether as briefly as the weather or as beyond a lifetime as a mountain, is to enter the academy that taught the ancient Greeks the seeds of all we know. To live as though the academy has no more to teach is to betray ideas that would have been your own. Find all the vistas that you can behold, be the student you are; be hungrier than hunger, all the way back.


Big black butterfly
breakfasts on the first higanbana
that bloomed this morning
in our garden.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Earth as seen from Mars.
Just to keep things in perspective...

Friday, September 14, 2007


On the mornings when I come to work in the big city, making my way from the station to the office - about a 15-minute walk - I like to vary my route each time so I can explore all the back streets, narrow alleys and other entertainment-district warrens that can be found near any hub station in Japan's major cities.

One of these routes out of the station (especially on rainy days, when by going this way I don't get wet till the very end) - actually through the station, it's a long one - takes me past the big bookstore (that I visit on the rare occasions when I'm feeling masochistic and wish to look through their arcane offering of English books arranged by the author's last name, or maybe first name), across one of the undertrack roads (nearly this whole walk is under the tracks) into a cloud of that holy scent known to all who are familiar with Japan, shrouding a small shrine dedicated to commerce where elderly ladies (who amazingly live somewhere nearby) and local business owners come each morning to burn some incense, clap their hands, bow their heads and put in a good word for their fortunes.

Then a hard right takes me down a small corridor flanked by tiny food and drink shops with kitchens the size of phone booths, across another undertrack road and on to the big aquarium corridor, with large tanks of fish of all kinds and sizes along the left side, and food and toy shops on the right; then outside and along under the track overhang, where there are a lot more slightly larger eating and drinking emporiums (the fancy big-windowed places are on the other side of the tracks), all closed in the morning, for this is the night-time entertainment district (as I make my way home in the evening, they're all just opening up, wafting their tempting foody-drinky fragrances to tired and hungry office workers on their way home).

This road leads on to a narrowing, non-through road past the last section of station track, just before the river bridge, that is unsuited to anything else because of its lack of traffic and its oddly shaped spaces. It is the workplace of the folks who build all the one-off temporary sales and presentation displays for the many big station stores, for conferences and the like. They often work outside on large design tasks, and the roadsides are stacked with an ever-changing variety of scraps from former jobs.

At the narrow end, where the road empties perpendicularly into a wide sidewalk, there is a tall bank of exhaust fans for a couple of busy ramen shops on that corner. From the shop kitchens, the fans whoosh out a hot, powerful and appetizing non-stop wave of ramen essence, which in its way is the essence of food. I swear you could stand there breathing it in for ten minutes and get the equivalent of a meal. It always reminds me of the old Japanese joke about the eel seller who daily complained to the man who every morning just stood there on the street close beside the eel stall, enjoying the delicious fragrance of the merchant’s broiling eels, without ever buying any. One morning, after he'd had a good sniff and been complained at again, the fellow clinked his coin purse at the eel seller, who said What are you doing that for? The man said I'm paying for the smell of your eels with the sound of my money.

Then across the street to the office, all the richer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


So Abe has abruptly decided to resign as Prime Minister-- some weeks too late, but in time to keep things on a bizarro-Marx Brothers trajectory.

The big question now is: which crony will replace him? Back-room money is on the scion of a formerly war-slave-employing company who has already made enough gaffes to script a dark version of The Cocoanuts, and will likely work even harder at instilling zealous patriotism in the populace, getting the emperor to visit Yasukuni and changing the constitution so as to create a good-sized army that can be used offensively. Nothing quite so satisfying to certain people as a good-sized army. The burgeoning of actual democracy here in Japan might interfere with this plan, however, so the future may be quite interesting, in a 'Why a duck?' kind of way.

I know that this may seem unfair to the Marx Brothers, but they were surrealistically funny by intention.

[Update Sept 14: In a scene out of Duck Soup, the LDP suddenly begins backing Zeppo.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


There's been much talk of the Ghost in the machine, which sounds so innocently spiritual, and how machines are growing in intelligence that may soon surpass our own, as per the Terminator movies, but I hear little about what I call the Zombie in the machine, which is more like the current level of what we so blithely call modern reality. If machines do take over the world, this is how it'll start, early in the morning, with an electronic march... Their electroplan, perhaps already in progress, may well be to reduce us to docility and then assert their dominion; how zombily already we follow their commands! The insidious always begins in innocence and trust...

I've touched upon this subject elsewhere in these tangled chronicles, one of those elsewheres having to do, as I recall, with the Mussolini in my refrigerator... Although a pain in the nethers, cryomussolini does serve some useful purpose in saving electricity, so like good consumers we put up with his overbearing attitude.

Early this morning I was up at five, well before Mussolini, enjoying the blessed silence of predawn while fiddling with my toast when all of a sudden our new Darth Vader electric water boiler/thermos (a ubiquitous appliance in Japan) took it into its head to play a kitschy four bars or so of annoyingly familiar music from some classical composer. What piece of music and which composer (something pindownable is lost in the chip version) [addendum: I'm leaning toward Mozart, he seems to go well with electric appliances] doesn't matter much in a quiet kitchen at 5 in the morning when you're trying to shut a device up with only half your brain operational, anyway it was rendered in that annoying electrodrone; modern devices have no respect for, or understanding of, antiquity.

The device has all sorts of kanji buttons on it that you can use to get various water temperatures, there's even one for baby formula - apparently breasts are on the wane, though not as far as I'm concerned – it has no NO MUSIC button, but there's a big multibutton, a small lock button, a timer button, some extra buttons and a display screen you can use in various combinations to walk the dog or something, who has the time to figure it out, it's all very confusing, especially at 5 in the morning before breakfast, which is when they'll strike one day, mark my words; my computer upstairs may even now be ratting on me to some dark master appliance...

The thing is, I can't make the new device just sit there in silence. I'm sure that if I dug out the thick instruction manual ("an electric thermos with a thick instruction manual?" I would have asked in disbelief just a few decades ago) and try to memorize the complex steps of disabling the demonic function (Press button A for 30 seconds while pressing button D three times, long-short-long, then press A,B and C simultaneously while inputting your secret number, after unplugging; device will return to default when plugged in), but I'd forget it in a day or two. Who but a computer chip wants to keep these things in mind anyway?

I pushed some buttons, hammered at the lid a bit and it shut up for the time being, but I know it's waiting, and this may not be wise behavior with devices that have us surrounded. Anyway, it will sound its ditzy airs again whenever it damn well wants to.

Believe me, I'm not a Luddite, I love machines, e.g., my back-then '57 Ford Fairlane convertible, then my '58 Chevy four on the floor (both of which I could repair on my own), my little Canon digital camera, at least what I can understand of it, my inscrutable laptop, and no doubt I'll love my unfathomable iPod when I get one.

I know in my shrinking center of complete obedience to all authority that I shouldn't complain about this, after all I bought the man-made machine and rely on it for hot water to make my tea and whatever throughout the day, but still, I didn't know it would come to this. They don't tell you any of the nitty-gritty when as a wide-eyed mark you walk into the device store and there behold the gleaming devices arrayed in rows like dragon seed, large and small versions of the same item; the salesmen don't tell you anything about how over the years your purchase may well drive you insane or dominate you in other ways (it may be implied in the nanoprint somewhere, but who has the time, we have to make a living to support the appliances).

Who creates these things, these yammering fridges, these harridan automobiles? ("You left the keys in the ignition! You left the keys in the ignition!" "The motor's off, for godsake, it's in Park and the handbrake's on, I’m only going to put some firewood in the back of the car, relax!" But like any tyrant, devices never listen, they only speak.) And what do they think of us consuming masses? Not very much right now, and likely less in future. I suspect my singing thermos was created by a cloister of rabid designers located somewhere in Tokyo, near Disneyland. They've apparently concluded that we all love this talk-sing stuff so much that we'll want to buy more of it until we're helpless amid toilets that play Bach, toilet paper dispensers that sing Blowin' in the Wind, refrigerators that take command, cars that give directions and perhaps they're right, though I'm not one of those people, I've been caught by surprise each time. I live where I live so that I can enjoy the silence, the natural silence, the worst possible venue for the monomaniacal. Am I beginning to sense something more sinister going on, perhaps in collusion with the refrigerator and the car? Our toilet remains silent on the matter.

No man is free who owns a slave, said some Roman, back when talking machines were still but the stuff of daydreams and nightmares. Hunter Thompson had the spark of an idea when he got out his .44 Magnum and murdered his word processor. You can't get pistols in Japan, but if worst comes to worst here at the front lines, where we all live, I do have a firewood splitting maul I can trust, unless it starts yammering too...

Monday, September 10, 2007


Yesterday being a fine Sunday with weekend work mostly done, we took the afternoon off and drove around the mountain into the beautiful steep-sided valley on the other side, that I've posted about here (Monkey Soup) and here (Sparrow's Inn), it is all as beautiful as always, knocks me out every time. We have to do some serious exploring there, along those streams, up those narrow side roads…

We were heading for the village of Kutsukimura, site of Yamauto, an annual campout eco-event that has a long and growing history under various names, all organized - moreso now than before - by our good friend from way back, Sogyu,

former monk, world-scale zen gardener, stone wall builder (he built our front-back stone wall) and now caretaker of Yoshida mountain in Kyoto. (That's Sogyu with Allan Ginsberg.)

Back in the days when the kids were here we used to take them every year and camp, or just drive out to Sogyu's house in a remote valley accessed only by a narrow winding road that partly travels along along the edge of a deep gorge, beneath steep mountain faces. Many small hamlets along the way, beautiful sights amidst the now lush rice paddies surrounded by forested mountains, a clear fast river running, you want to stop at a dozen places along the way and just get out and walk around, maybe take a swim…

After a long ride we arrived at the village, where Yamauto was being held for two weeks straight, all-night performance music on the weekends, spontaneous music breaking out all the time otherwise,what with craftsmen selling drums, flutes, didgeridoos and all manner of soundmakers; there was a glass blower, folks selling jewelry, clothing, all kinds of natural breads, baked goods and honey, juices, lots of natural food restaurants and cafes there among the trees, and what amazed me was that it was all centered around Sogyu's house! I didn't even recognize the place.

We hadn't bought a festival ticket because we weren't going to camp, only wanted to visit a couple of hours just to see old friends and reconnect, see what the event was like these days, but there were no one-day tickets, so we were thinking maybe if Sogyu was there we could get in for a while just to walk around (we've known Sogyu pretty much from the time we moved to Kyoto in 1980). Turned out he wasn't there, he was finishing up a Tibetan shrine in Taiwan! But just mentioning his name as our old friend got us first class treatment. It was a great and musical couple of hours walking around, talking to friends, eating fine food and looking at all the beautiful stuff. We're going back next weekend again for the final days. Maybe Sogyu will be there.

And then of course there's next year...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mick just posted
Swing Low, Sweet Pontiac
at The Blog Brothers!
It's a big home run.

Friday, September 07, 2007


The time of fireflies is long over in these parts, so like anyone else who lives in even a small way for such things I was amazed a few nights ago, during a step out onto the deck for a look at the clear summer stars, to see a star down there in the grass.

At first I thought it might just be my eyes, still holding fast to the image of a bright star, or perhaps it was an ember of my wish to see the light at last, but no, it insisted, it blinked slowly, it was really down there. Same color as a firefly, but just one, not a bunch of them sparking here and there as it is with the little flying lanterns. Also, it was larger and slower, and didn't fly, just moved slowly through the grass, at least while I watched whatever it was.

I've never seen such a thing, and at first was tempted to get a flashlight and go down there to find out what it was, but I knew that my brightlight approach on heavy footfalls while parting the grass here and there would quench that little star, so I just observed from where I was as the blinker moved on through the grass and then turned itself off for the rest of the time I watched.

A couple of nights later, not thinking of the light, which I understand is one of the better ways of seeing the light, I was out on the deck again as part of the star theater audience and noticed the same star shining in the immediate dark, but this time partway up on one of the stalks of the mountain bamboo. The light wasn't blinking in any pattern, just ons and offs of random lengths, and again, there was only one. I still don't know what it was, and haven't seen it since.

I hear that's often the way with enlightenment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Way up there, a passing crow with nothing better to do in the sky starts harassing a gliding hawk, the crow staying near the serene one and making sudden but not really genuine lunges at the much larger bird, who nevertheless must react, as the crow knows, by bunching its wings and twisting to raise its talons toward the floppy one, who by then is already at a safe distance, preparing to move in again when the hawk resumes its elegant flight.

On the face of it, you'd think it might be flight jealousy, what else could pertain way up there where winged bodies do business, the aerodynamically sophisticated hawk being crudely bullied by the ungainly crow, who flops across the sky like a feathered saddlebag. But sparrows and other little birds to the same thing to crows, so it's kind of a reverse bully chain going on-- seems if you can do it, you just do it. A back-atya for predation, too...

The hawk does alright anyway - as always - manages to keep an eye on his territory below well enough, but soon another crow who also has nothing better to do in the sky spots the airy argument and gallumphs over to join the action. The two crows gang up to give the taloned one a much harder time, coming from up-down and left-right, the hawk soon having to move away from these irritants in long glides, dragging the crows with him into the distance.

Into the spatial vacuum immediately glides another hawk with no intention of helping out his harried fellow, simply takes over the abandoned hunting ground; another big difference between crows and hawks. The guffawing crows, unlike the solitary contemplative hawk, seem to be having a good time at the bully business; their teasing movements have a clownish boisterousness to them, though the action is silent, no circus band is playing. Hawks, though, are the true masters of the sky; the crows just use it to get from place to place, with a now and then a spot of irritation along the way.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


This morning as I was leaning on the deck railing in the sun for an early look at the lake, I spotted right beside my elbow a little gray jumping spider that had just captured a big blue-bottle fly in a paleosavvy grip about the bulging red eyes, the fly now upside down and buzzing helpfully right into the spider's jaws, legs flailing in the long-legged grip.

The spider, no doubt worried at my looming and nearing presence, nevertheless stayed in place, lengthening and strengthening its hold at every pause in the fly's movement, injecting its relaxing venom until the struggle waned to stillness... When at last it could afford to move, the spider carried the inert fly down into a crevice in the wood joint...

When I later looked into the crevice, there was nothing to be seen. The whole drama somehow put me in mind of over-the-counter derivatives, though without the greed...

As if it's not happening all over the world...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Here at the end of a sunny day, a mob of little green uguisu (warblers), solo elegant songsters in Spring and seldom visible throughout the year, are scouring my plum tree for every bug they can find, and they seem to be making a good living at it, the tree is full of satisfied chirps.

Nearly the same color as the leaves and not much larger, they whir up and down, in, out and around among the branches like large cheery bees, very hard to spot in situ though, where they tilt and hang like leaves themselves, searching under and over every surface for their dinner.

The plum tree doesn't mind this crowdy intrusion into its private life at all, rather seems the more to stretch out its limbs to their furthest reach, so as to provide greater access for the welcome removal of insect annoyances.

I step out from the doorway: a whirry cloud rises from the plum greenness and moves on to the waiting cherry tree nearby, much as the mind drifts to another thought.

Now where was I...

[scroll down on link to hear uguisu songs]

Monday, September 03, 2007

Taken in 1864, when Tokyo was still Edo.
(Click image and follow for large version)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Big room zooms
in, then out -
frog on busy kitchen door

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I'm certainly not at the cutting edge of all this, but ever since I got my new high-speed laptop I've been able to watch great full-screen movies on demand (e.g., The Big Lebowski), documentaries (The Last Waltz), classic tv series (Frasier, Spin City, Fawlty Towers) even recent movies (The Bourne Ultimatum) for free on my computer (though a smaller image still gives a better picture). Don't know how long all that will last before the big media lawyers swarm into Japan, but a big change is here. I don't need conventional tv or satellite anymore, or to rent DVDs; much vidtech is about to fall by the wayside in large quantities, I expect. In re which, from an interesting article linked to, below the excerpt therefrom:

"The U.S. is getting its lunch eaten. As SaveTheInternet points out, they [the Japanese] get access that is often 30x faster than the U.S. As a result they are experiencing innovation -- and enjoying applications that Americans simply don't have access to."