Friday, June 27, 2008


I go to an American ATM for the first time and all the instructions are in plain English, so helpful and direct for the newbie, no overload of boilerplate politeness, just the familiar minimalism of step A, step B etc.

I put in my card, zip through the procedure and to my strange surprise real, old-fashioned money comes out, that the core of me reflexively realizes it can buy stuff with, the bills looking just the way real money still looks in the central bank of my mind even after all these years, with pictures on it of people I learned about long ago in school-- iconic revolutionaries and generals, presidents and other members of that permanent psychopantheon, with historic buildings on the back, every denomination impractically pale green and uniform in size, the ones and hundreds differentiated only by the zeros and the portraits of George and Ben, each bill mythically charged by particulars deeply interwoven with my own history, unlike multicolored and varisized Japanese money, which, though artier, more practical and (at the moment) economically stronger, is nevertheless not fully accepted by my central bank, where it has no historic heft and does not viscerally impress me; only my intellect knows I can actually buy stuff with those pretty pieces of paper.

Ever surprising, all the insitutional minutiae the traveler never leaves behind...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From the archives: May 1, 2002


Japan is not commonly known around the world as the chronically cherry-pieless nation that it is, though it isn't really an easy secret to hide, if you know where to look. Go down any country road; take any turning; and sooner or later you will come upon a breathtaking vista, or a splendid and intriguing national treasure, but it will definitely not be a pie. Let alone a cherry pie. Not a wedge, not a sliver, not a crust, not a crumb. Quaint villages; unique temples; smiling people, lovely seacoasts; graceful mountains; famous local rice crackers; but cherry pie? [cue mad laughter of demented foreigners] I don't even have a decent picture of a piece of cherry pie. And though I've never heard it mentioned in polite company, this historic broad-spectrum pielessness could go a long way toward explaining Japan's surprising dearth of Nobel prizes. Lack of cherry pie will do that to a country.

Yes, incredible as it may sound, it is true: no excellent cherry pie, no adequate cherry pie, not even tolerably counterfeit cherry pie, like I used to find in just about any American grocery store back in the days when I wouldn't have lived as long as I'll live now because I came to Japan, where, after extra-long decades of life-extending tofu and fermented soybeans and seaweed, and careful though increasingly delirious consideration, I have come to the conclusion that genuine home-made cherry pie must be what they eat in heaven, where there are all kinds of pies, and cakes, and cookies, too. Real cakes; real chocolate cakes; devil's food cakes, even. And chocolate chip cookies, that proudly and justly bear that name.

In Japan, after some tofu and broiled fish, for dessert there is perhaps bean paste, inside or outside some white or pink or maybe (whoopee!) green rice paste, or possibly rice crackers with seaweed, maybe an apple slice (be still, my heart!), and people live a few years longer, though it is not clear to me exactly why they would want to do so under such circumstances. It couldn't be for more dessert. And despite the lingering sense that one is doing the right thing dietarily, there is another sense that lingers a lot more, in fact drapes itself permanently over the psychography: the sense that as the years pass, one is missing out completely on those essential aspects of life that are manifested most congenially in cherry pie.

I'm sure that mental fugues like the aforegoing are common on both sides of the Pacific; no doubt a Japanese expat in the US, after twenty straight years of home-made, golden-crusted cherry pie, dreams longingly of tofu and broiled fish chased down by bean paste or rice crackers and seaweed, and more power to him, may he one day live long in his pieless homeland. But chronic cherry pie deficiency is a serious matter for a body that has been forged, in great part, of home-made cherry pie.

Sadly, though, I have begun to acknowledge to myself that despite the longer and dietarily minimalist life I am now living, I may never again partake of cherry pie, not even if I return to my native land, which is itself undergoing oriental transformations resulting from ever more radically healthy lifestyle extremes focusing on a longer life in terms of mere time, time filled with tofu and fermented soybeans, aggravated by a febrile kind of righteousness accompanying general proscriptions of pie and other manifestations of heaven on earth, like a la mode; but I can dream, and I dream that when at last, after my greatly extended, tofu-full, cherry-pie-deficient life I arrive at the heavenly gates, and God of course asks me first thing how long it's been since I had any cherry pie, and I say casually "Oh, I guess it must be at least forty or fifty years now, ma'am," God'll say with tears in her eyes, "MY GOD!! Peter, forget about whatever petty wrongs this poor fellow may have committed, and get those gates open AT ONCE; take this sufferer express to the BIG table and seat him right next to me; give him anything he wants, forever, and start him off with a real taste of heaven: our best home-made cherry pie!!" Some posthumous folks might prefer rice crackers and seaweed, but that would have to be somewhere other than heaven; and what then would be the point in dying?

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Heard some adult gradeschoolers on LA radio the other day speaking mockingly of older guys driving sports cars "trying to be cool, and they're not cool."

There were three of of them bloviating, two men and one woman, sounding for all the world like kids in third grade making fun of someone new, someone different, ostracizing some other kid because of his shoes or bookbag or hair or you name it, we've all been there, but many of us - hopefully most - sooner or later graduated.

The giveaway was that the mocking trio acted like insiders who knew it all-- even the motive of every older guy who drives a sports car. Maybe in fact he just likes superb cars and always has; maybe he's been building street rods all his life; maybe he just likes speed, or is a former race car driver; maybe he has a truly lived life's appreciation of beauty and elegance, or maybe now at last he is able to realize his dream of one day owning an Alfa Romeo. These and the many other possible reasons were beyond the grasp of the left-behind trio.

It was painfully plain to hear them, still held back after all these years - now salaried and heeded (presumably-- and for not having graduated?) - projecting the history of their own failing struggle with being cool-- for that is what the sports-car scenario meant to them: being cool; i. e., they themselves were uncool, and bitter about it-- a fact that was clear to all graduates who happened to overhear.

As Lao Tzu would have said, were he living today and speaking in this modern context:

“He who speaks of the Cool knows nothing of the Cool; he who speaks not of the Cool needs not, for he is Cool.”


"There is no way to the Cool; Cool is the way."

That's why those older guys don't talk about the Cool-- they drive it.

Bugs the hell out of certain people.

And by the way, that 'c' in America? It stands for 'cool.'

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Just before we left Santa Barbara for our visit to Desert Hot Springs I saw on Google news that only a few hours ago there had been a 7.2 earthquake in Kurihara, just beyond the mountains on the other side of the lake, a beautiful area we often visit on our jaunts. Deaths, landslides, roads wiped out, communication cut off...

The news said the shock had been so strong it was felt all the way up in Tokyo, so it seemed like it must have been felt, or even worse, over at our house. I immediately tried to call Echo, but couldn't get through, and because I had sent her an email the night before and hadn't yet received a reply, I was beginning to picture nasty scenarios, so on the possibility that it might have been a local phone jam to Japan I called Keech in Seattle and asked him to try to get through.

Half an our later he phoned back and said he had gotten through to Echo, that she was ok and hadn't felt the quake(!), nor had Kasumi up in Saitama near Tokyo.

An hour or so later came an email from Echo confirming the details.

Nasty scenarios are profoundly so when you don't know the facts, but do know that you can't get home for at LEAST 24 hours...

Now back to being where I am... i.e., on another active fault line...

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Well here I am in Santa Barbara, slowly awakening at different times of day, regaining appetites at three in the morning corporeal time, relearning life's coherence through the kindly aid of unthinkably diverse varieties of beer and conversation - backed up by a vast array of pretzels - slowly emerging beyond the time frame I carried from the other side of the world to here, where folks on all sides are complaining about the low price of gas (Only 4$ a gallon! 33% cheaper than in Japan! ) and in other places being awed speechless at the size of the food warehouse superhangars with parking lots to the horizon that resemble the scales on a valley-sized diamondback skin laid out along the contours of the land. Then the trip inside, where aisles and rows of stacks of pallets and columns of boxes valley out into the fading distance like the edges of the grand canyon, or perhaps the way the earth curves out of sight between here and Japan...

As well, having come fresh and wide-eyed with memorial yearnings from the land of vanilla ice cream - possibly strawberry if fortune is kind - the pieless land, the nation without genuine cookies, the country of no true root beer, like any stranger in a strange land one could babble on at way greater length than this humble scribble upon beholding the megamarket ice cream and candy, soda and beer sections, or upon reading the standalone dessert menus in the many restaurants of shocking cuisinal variation-- Mexican, Italian, Cajun, Greek, Argentinian, Peruvian, NY deli etc., the many different kinds of actual sandwiches with varieties of true bread, diverse contents, dressings, pickles and of course you can get all the Japanese varieties of food too, from sushi to sashimi, soba to ramen, you name it, in the truly international nation...

Then there's the always unexpected surprise of strangers talking to each other, of suddenly getting into deep conversations with store clerks, of hearing and sharing life stories with waitresses, pedestrians, other people walking their dogs, the list goes on... the edgy discomfort of wearing shoes in the house, pedestrians talking passionately into their tiny phones, how buying a bag or two of groceries can cost well over a hundred dollars, the surprise of having dollars come out of the ATM, how much more like real money it still seems to me, despite its steady devaluation, than the yen that come out back in Japan...

More to follow as emerging coherence allows...

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I'm heading into the skies today for my month-long trip to the US, to visit relatives and friends and see how the old country is doing these days, socioeconomico and otherowise... will start posting from there in a couple of days, when my senses catch up with me. Till then... Move gracefully...

Saturday, June 07, 2008


The first big tsuyu rainfall washes heaven down from upmountain in the form of all the debris of winter that has gathered at the forest’s edge, the torrential flow down and off the road having such force that it rolls a rock or two the size of footballs into our section of the culvert, where they get stuck and block up all the other runoff debris that follows - leaves, rotted wood, sand, soil, other wild vegetable matter - packing it in there so densely that at the bottom of our driveway the swelling buildup often lifts off the heavy gratings and starts moving THEM down the mountain. Gets pretty unsightly if left too long, which I prefer to do until it becomes a strong reminder, so it’s usually right about now that the task hits number one on my meter-long to-do list.

Thus in the cool of this afternoon I got out the culvert shovel and a couple of big buckets, removed the gratings and got to work. I should mention that, along with all the other stuff from upmountain, the rain washes down earthworms. A lot of earthworms. So when I lifted the first shovelful into the air it looked like Medusa’s hair, only of happy earthworms. Nowhere else have I seen such a density of fat and sassy earthworms in one cubic measure of anything. They appeared to believe they were in heaven. There were little newbies and great biggies in there, all just lolling around in the absolute richness; those on the edge would just fall from the shovel and lay there, no need to panic in heaven. This is what I call the pate de foie gras of compost.

I filled about 8 buckets to overflowing (there's more for later), carried them out back and scattered them over our 4-meter square growing compost pile of leaves, kitchen and garden waste, which is already rich with worms; the new arrivals just dove in and out of the broadness of their new wealth the way dolphins cruise on top of their ocean. It was the worm’s second heaven, out there in the shade of the cherry tree, an even bigger heaven than they’d enjoyed before.

Gave me a sense of how it must feel to be a benevolent god.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


"Kiddie Records Weekly began in 2005 as a one year project devoted to the golden age of children's records. This period spanned from the mid forties through the early fifties and produced a wealth of all-time classics. Many of these recordings were extravagant Hollywood productions on major record labels and featured big time celebrities and composers.

Over the years, these forgotten treasures slipped off the radar and it became our mission to give them a new lease on life by sharing them with today's generation of online listeners."

Listen online or download to play later... (Great for expats who want their kids to enjoy English)

Monday, June 02, 2008


The other day I was out splitting wood and I heard the phone ring. I put down the axe, took off my gloves and ran into the house because I was expecting a call from Echo, who was on her way home from visiting her folks in Nagano, and I’d have to pick her up at the station. Got to the phone and it had stopped ringing. Or had it rung at all? Went back to work.

At some point on the next day the same thing happened: the phone rang just once, I standing there with the phone in hand, wondering if in fact the phone had rung at all. Was I hearing things? My ears didn’t seem to be ringing, but all those decades of loud music, even that full-volume Zappa this morning...

That afternoon I was out on the deck, with a higher aural vantage, and I heard the phone ring again. Only it wasn’t in the house: the sound was coming from the paddy across the road! Just one ring. It was a frog calling. Without a phone. So one frog had learned to emit a tradition-breaking ribbet that was precisely like the sound of our telephone ringing. But only once.

You can stand there for an hour, if you’re like me this afternoon, and not hear our phone ring in the paddy even once; but get into a distracting task or a distracted state of mind, and suddenly the phone rings (is the frog watching?); you respond to the sound with what we humans call a Pavlovian reaction, but in this case I guess would have to be called Frogovian.

The only onceness of it is what makes it effective in tweaking any human with a phone like mine. If he went riiiing riiiing riiing etc. as frogs have historically done with their ribbetry, I would pinpoint the sound and not be fooled. The wily singularity of the ring, coupled with its sonic precision, leads me to an ominous surmise: that there may be purpose here, or at least a natural encroachment of some new kind upon we humans, naively isolate in our technococoonery.

It seems to be just one frog at the moment, since there’s no cacophony of ringing phones and no callbacks that I can perceive, but how long can that last, if the frog is having such fun? If my intensifying surmise is true, this could get worse, and more diverse. Soon there may be more events of this nature-- frogs sounding like doorbells, alarm clocks, chatmail... Already there’s that bird - in the Amazon I think - that imitates the call of the chainsaw… Nature, being everywhere by--well, by nature-- is always listening and always learning, and now it may be conspiring, in this mild instance to run us pointlessly to our phones. But if one morning in the future you rush out of the house and jump into your car only to discover that it’s a tree-- and it's taking you somewhere you’ve never been-- remember you heard it here first.

And no, I haven’t taken hallucinogenics in years.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Ah, the deep pleasure it is to sit here at the end of a fine hardworking day, entire body wrapt in that luxurious lassitude of labor (strictly unintentional alliteration) and watch the hawks riding the air swells in timeless professionalism, enjoy the swallows filling the still-blue air with their kind of writing, take part in the sun setting in its lightspilling way over the blue lake...

From here where I sit I also overlook the woodsplitting stump where I’ve just been laboring into the shadows, the wheelbarrow resting on tomorrow’s woodpile; with cold beer in warm hand I trace the striations of calm and turbulence wrangling their curlicues on the boat-empty water as the lake too settles from a day’s work, rolling over in shades of blue and gray toward tomorrow, its fluxing currents of warm and cold not so different from my own - we are ancient relatives, after all - it is a time of welcome solitude for the lake and I, its body knowing as well as mine the traverse of sun into stars, light into dark, warmth into cold, here in this now that is the source of all understanding, of genesis, of tomorrow.