Wednesday, November 23, 2011


One standby item I dig out faithfully every winter that unfortunate folks abroad in the West know little or nothing of, much to their necessarily unspoken disappointment (rife indeed are the disappointments we know not of) is my good old haramaki. Or maybe my fashionably new haramaki.

Yes, when the days grow short and the temperature falls, when the skin gets bumpy and the snuggle factor begins to rise, when the spirit with spring in its heart but winter in its teeth calls for some sort of cuddle, that's when I feel sorry for all those shivery folks in the developed world who have to crank up the central heating merely because they don't have a haramaki handy.

I truly hope that doesn't include such a thinking person as yourself. And when you think about it, what better place to maki (wrap) than the hara (roughly: abdomen)? The ancient orientals knew all about these things. Long before infrared was made visible, they knew that major quantities of body heat were lost from the uncovered, or even conventionally clothed, hara.

A brief look at your handy anatomical model will confirm this. Note where the ribs end, and where the major organs are as a result exposed and essentially unprotected, sheltered from the world only by a smattering of muscle and a layer of skin. Shivering liver!! Icy bladder!! Snowy pancreas!! Chattering kidneys!! Frozen colon!!

And if you look closely at any of those ancient twelve-foot tall Japanese temple guardians, you'll see that the very center of their dynamic energy, the root of their ki, is the hara, firmly outthrust, and centered with a navel that looks like the satellite image of a typhoon (how well they understood the unity of energy in those days!).

Needless to say, the haramaki soon becomes an essential element of one's winter clothing here in the historically energy-conscious orient, where central heating is not yet the norm and you can go into any general store and get yourself a haramaki of cotton, wool or silk, even a self-heating haramaki, if you're of that persuasion, and lower your heating bills.

In the deeps of winter I sometimes think that perhaps Japan should organize some kind of relief effort and send haramaki out into the developed world to relieve the tremendous suffering caused by crushing monthly energy bills to heat an entire house when you only need to heat the occupant, but then I realize that the Japanese themselves are slowly but surely slipping out of life itself and into the intensive care of central heating, and I think maybe I should stock up on haramaki while they're still available.

On the other hand, though, with the big oil price rises looming incrementally the further we get down the centrally heated billion-lane expressway that is tomorrow, I think the haramaki could one day be, worldwide, the ideal form of central heating.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I suppose as one gets older there's an increasing tendency to get a bit more scroogey as the humbuggy holidays approach, it must have something to do with age and a greater understanding of the value of time or something - there aren't many teen scrooges that I know of - and even though I don't feel all that humbuggish for my age, I may have been scroogey a few times in recent years, especially around the holidays, though such topics make one evasive about the stats. Anyway, this was all more or less true until last Friday morning.

I had come home late the night before and fallen right into bed, having forgotten that the Trio of Brio were staying the night. I'd gotten up before 6 am and was doing some work on the computer, so engrossed in my task in the dawn silence that I continued in forgetment, until all at once the bedroom door to the loft opened and three little sleepyfaced girls came out with rumply pajamas and tousled hair, cute beyond the reaches of that word. Rubbing their eyes, they gathered around me where I sat and all at once began singing Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, for yes it was my birthday - I'd forgotten that too - and the early morning chill all at once became warm, as these three barefoot little angels turned humbug around on a pinpoint and made it sunshine. It was a touching scene, both inside and out.

So now for the rest of my life if for some reason I happen to get a scroogey twist in my psychoshorts, all I have to do is picture those sleepy, loving little faces singing to me in their really early morning celebration of my long-ago birth and I love everything about this crazy world.

What a birthday present.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Left pretty much on its own the garden has gone autumn-wild and punky looking, the marigolds taking over where the tomatoes used to be, the peppers going wild with fecundity. The cucumber and goya vines have withered, the only structures now remaining are the unexpectedly graceful ad hoc architectures of bamboo that once balanced reaching festoons of green and yellow but now stand without purpose. Before it snows I shall turn all that into next year's compost, apart from the marigolds.

Surprisingly, the monkeys have left my 6-week-old shallots untouched! I can't really convey the surprise in this, those green fronds are so succulent and simian-vulnerable. It's a you-had-to-be-here-for-15-years kind of thing. There they are, my happy green sprouts growing unmolested by simian hands for all this time. Either there has been major monkey culling of some kind or the redfaced gang is planning a large operation. It's been suspiciously quiet.

Gardening will get you through times of no marijuana better than marijuana will get you through times of no gardening, apart from the hallucinatory aspects, unless you're growing the weed itself (a topic for another time), to which by the way I am not opposed, though marijuana has never been my drug of choice, which is any kind of pie in season.

I also endorse the weed's use under circumstances of wisdom seldom observed nowadays, particularly in politics and finance, which aspect might interest any young persons who happened to read this without zoning out at the logical and grammatic challenges embodied in some of these sentences, education (another form of gardening) also being what it is today.

Implicit in this pastoral metaphor of course is that knowledge is the seed, the educator is the farmer and the student is the soil, which seems apt enough... Seeds are what they are, but basic educators today are overworked and students are underchallenged. The knowledge is there and vital; we need many more and justly compensated teachers who love to 'garden,' and hungry students rich in compost...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The new Japan Environmental Exchange Eco-calendar for 2012 is out,
in support of recovery in East Japan:
— 12 Key Concepts to Open Up a New Green World —

Part of the proceeds from sales of this calendar
will be donated toward recovery in East Japan.

Monday, November 07, 2011


I've learned a lot of things from stones, both from building with them and from butting my head against their walls, the latter when I was mostly younger and stone walls were largely metaphorical. The main thing I've learned is that the process of building with stone is that of the Socratic dialog, with me as student and stones as teacher.

Stones do the Socratic thing well; they have infinite patience, impeccable honesty and know their stuff right down to the ground. You can trust a stone completely; a stone will never lie. So if you listen with care, and don’t mind a few of the pinched fingers and bruised toes that are the price of stony knowledge, the stones and the wall will show you in true Socratic fashion that you already know how to build a stone wall.

I seek to build it one way, and in learning I cannot do it that way (the rocks will not stand for it, they have their scruples and are not constrained by logic; they understand a much greater fundamental than we humans do), I learn some small thing that only rocks can teach, a kind of stony grammar, a petrosyntax. I focus on that and build... no, that will not do either; that is not the whole of the thing, only a part. Rocks know it cannot all be learned at once, and wisely do not crowd me with knowledge. But with that part I go on, and try again, and fail again, but when, after a week away I come back to the task, I find I have learned another little bit that is part of me, part of what I know about stones and stone walls, part of what stones in their limitless patience embody. With that I go on again, begin to build, and fail again, learn another thing. So it goes on, as bit by bit what I learn rises up like a stone wall. And when that wall is at last all learned, it is but a slight step to build the wall itself.

If I want a wall that is a stone poem in stone syntax, I must learn the bit-by-bit stones teach me until at last I have a stone wall, not a book wall, not a Bob wall. The finest mortar for a stone wall, therefore, is patience in the builder, blended with integrity. No integrity in the builder, no integrity in the wall.

But the bigger lesson comes later, when the wall is standing at last and you go off into the world filled with the realization that this dialectic pertains to everything you do: that any worthy effort is a dialog, that wisdom is a living thing, not frozen in time, not a doctrine or a dogma, not a monument, not a library, not a printed book or etherpage, and that you are born with wisdom ready and waiting to be known to you.

What does living wisdom tell us? Among other things, that the solution is where the problems are: in ourselves. Loss of beauty, true beauty, within and without our lives, is the sign, the lesson, the indication, the marker of our deviation from the living wisdom that comes from within ourselves.

Lack of contact with that wisdom lies at the heart of our problem, and if we continue in our current way we are ended: the real thing won’t stand for it. Existence must be a dialog with the present, as the living, thinking person is taught by any art, any worthy endeavor. You are instructed and guided by the very task, the very ongoing. You are taught the true way most truly only by traveling it, not by standing still and listening to others tell you the way, or by looking at an old map of where others have gone. The way is vast, greater far than we are, and it will prevail, no matter how we treat it or view it. We either go as it goes or the walls we have built will collapse upon us.

And as there is living wisdom, so there is dead wisdom. Dead wisdom obviates dialog by saying: "Do it this way because we have always done it this way." Dead wisdom souls a dead society. Living wisdom, on the other hand, like all that is ongoing, is always and ever new. Living wisdom is green, the green of grass, the green of leaf, green of the living layer beneath the bark of a tree. It is the green of youth and hope in hearts that are alive.

Earlier version published in Kyoto Journal #53

Thursday, November 03, 2011