Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Now that I've had my Kindle Fire for a couple of months, I saw a guy reading a physical book the other day on the train and felt a touch of how old-fashioned it was, turning paper pages, page after page... The pace of tradition...

My Kindle isn't even nearly filled, despite all the free (public domain is vast!) and purchased books it contains (before too long it will hold more books than I have in physical form, a voluminous heaviness of former trees, believe me!) What's more, I can find any of those ebooks within seconds. (I don't know where the hell my actual copy of Emerson among the Eccentrics is; it's in one of those boxes in one of those rooms upstairs, knock yerself out.)

On top of that, when I summon any one of my ebooks from their endless bookshelf, it opens to where I was last reading. Also each word is a link to a dictionary, there is also wi-fi for interneting, and I can read in the dark without turning back and forth to get to page after page, also keeping hands warm in winter. I can read even a 2000-page book without danger of falling asleep and injuring myself. Physical books seem so HEAVY now... I used to carry two books max in my bag; now I carry hundreds in the weight of one.

I look at my stacks of physical books and boxes of physical books and rooms of physical books and shelves of physical books made from who knows how many pulverized trees that over the decades I have bought and read and kept and stacked and boxed and dusted and lifted and carried and moved from home to home and shipped both domestically and abroad, put into and taken from vehicles and picked up at the post office and lifted into rooms and unboxed and shelved and reboxed to make room for new books, back in the days when the world was going postal...

And fountain pens, remember fountain pens? In grammar school I learned the Palmer method (!) of cursive writing(!) with a steel-nibbed(!) quill pen(!) dipped into an inkwell(!), an inkwell set into the desk itself! Is that immediately post-stone age or what? Back then, fountain pens were sold everywhere, even in pharmacies! Like books! All professional men had a fountain pen clipped to their shirt pocket.

But the inky fountains were soon being backgrounded like so much else in this modern age; you gotta wonder where it's all heading now, as those beautiful things (like the Japanese writing brush of not so long ago, now exclusively an art form, like Western calligraphy is fast becoming) being shunted into the past where they'll be missed by those who remember, but what will my great-great-great grandchildren do with a fountain pen if they can find one?

I feel the same kind of thing I feel now when I come across my beloved old Mont Blanc: I love it, and love writing by hand, which draws from the mind the rhythms and breathings, the flowings and secret urges of words, lost to those who learn to merely tap on a keyboard. I love writing by hand as much as I love physical books-- I've always worshiped the reality and magic that pens and the books contain in their silence, always loved their heft and scent, the sound of the ink flowing out onto page, from page into eyes, into meanings... how can that become anachronism?

Armfuls of books, roomfuls of eloquence, pages of elegance written by hand, all heading for long ago now; we elders are the formal bearers of these things into the past, where books and pens will one day be like hieroglyphs on stone walls beneath desert sands...

After us they will become mysteries, and will have experts down the ages to tease out their secrets, but they will no longer be lived...

It goes without saying that I'm keeping my books and my pens.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Odd it should take a magazine so long to discover this - and by survey, not personal experience - but I guess that's the price you pay when you spend your life sitting at a desk doing traveler surveys.

I found this "revelation" to be true as soon as I hit the road way back in the 60s, when BAM! things changed radically from when I'd just been idling and getting stranger due to a job-induced deficiency of significant motion, both psychological and spatial. Distant gazes fade in the absence of horizons.

You can get a fast car and blur the spatial aspect a bit for as long as you can keep the pedal to the metal, but apart from road rage, there are no psychological changes. Then you leave the fast lane, pull into your garage at the end of a blurry day with bugs in your hair, maybe a speeding ticket or two and there you are, same old psyche taking the key out of the ignition and just... going into the house. Where's the sex appeal in that? Then there's the mortgage and car payments.

Travelers, on the other hand, almost by definition don't need cars - strong legs are fine; good pair of highway shoes, maybe a bicycle now and then, often just rented - sometimes other peoples' wheels, if hitchhiking is of use. And being of increased sex appeal, travelers don't need houses either. Apart from worldliness, multilingualism and several other qualities, newness is a big factor in sex appeal. And nobody is newer than a traveler. Casual freedom is the key. You're just as sexy wherever you go, so what's the hurry? Just a good sleeping bag, quality ground cloth and you're there. Plus, this way you get to go slower through all the places you can be sexy in, meet the locals; as for pieds-a-terre there are meadows, caves, beaches, pro tem couches, verandas, rooftops anywhere in the rest of the world, which is sexier if there are travelers around. You really meet people when you sleep on their surfaces.

Those magaziners might have asked me or any of my worldly acquaintances, but like true travelers we're not talking, except in the present instance to esoteric readers. You'd think word would get around, but travelers don't let on about this aspect of the Big Road, never have, really; who would? Word gets out and all at once everybody is on the road; no more couches, no more porches, beaches, caves and forests all at once full of folks who in their natures would actually rather stay home, now diluting the ratio and before too long the overall sex appeal plummets, like the quality of travel magazines...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


An important announcement from Kyoto Journal:  

"Fresh Currents: Japan's Flow from a Nuclear Past to a Renewable Future."

Dear friends,

At Kyoto Journal we are working hard on a special publication, "Fresh Currents," investigating the disastrous results of Japan's nuclear energy program, and the real potential for shifting to fully renewable energy sources.

We have started our first-ever fundraising campaign in our 25-year history as a non-profit organization. We aim to raise $9,500 by July 7th. With these funds, Fresh Currents will be released later this year in both print and PDF versions (with the eventual possibility of it subsequently being published in Japanese), which we will do our best to get into the hands of key policymakers, local government officials, community leaders, educators, and media outlets.

We offer unique rewards in return for donations. Pledge $25 to the project and receive a copy of Kyoto Journal’s brand new digital issue 76; your name will also be listed in Fresh Currents. For a pledge of $100 receive a subscription to Kyoto Journal (5 issues) and a digital copy of Fresh Currents. Those pledging $300 or more will be mailed an original artwork by renowned Kansai-based artist Brian Williams: a limited-edition, hand-drawn gravure etching of an ancient cedar growing on Yakushima.

Please visit, where you can view our campaign video, find out how we will utilize donations, who Fresh Currents contributors are, and more. We thank you for your support.

From all of us at KJ!


Please pass this message on.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


She asked if I had put ground sesame seeds on my ramen. I had done so and would later add more when the time was right, which was why I had left the ground sesame container open, and why there was still a mound of fried garlic slices in the small dish beside my bowl.

As this indicates, I subscribe to the Gradual Ramen Augmentation Principle (GRAP), which holds that you don't add every damn thing at once, unless you're a ramen newbie or have a mental condition of some kind with which you can nonetheless walk around among the general population.

With ramen, everybody develops their own Complex Creative Devouring Technique (CCDT), and if I do it wrong, I know I'll regret it for the rest of the bowl. You can't undo misdirected ramen. Nothing in the noodle area of the food shrine is more regrettable than ramen ruination, for one who appreciates the nuances between the noodles, where flavor resides.

Among the elements of this effort, apart from the ground sesame waiting over there in its container, is the garlic right beside my bowlful of ramen in thick savory broth with a red oily sheen, plus the sliced mushrooms, red peppers, soy sprouts, thin long-onion slices, bits of ground pork floating, here's a napkin for that drool...

I'd added some of the garlic and ground sesame at the beginning and mixed it in well to blend the flavors while amping up my appetite and cooling the temp to scaldsafe levels before I dove in - these steps are crucial, saving some garlic for later with sesame in my advance through the theater of ramen experience - then when all the succulence factors neared optimal merge and the time was right for more garlic with the remaining ramen and the ongoing garlic/sesame ratio fragrance - these things can get complicated at the quantum level - where the broth/garlic/sesame taste lines converge, the remainder of the garlic to be added at the precise point for optimal flavor distribution, you don't want it all at the beginning where it overwhelms the undertones of the Ramen Flavor Quantum Curve (RFQC).

These are key matters because, owing to cosmic laws as yet unformulated, fried garlic has a special affinity with emerging ground sesame essence, which at this moment begins to waft about, the flavors commingling at the heart of the dish, where one can no longer deal in quanta but can only slurp, scarf and worship.

And when, at the end, with both hands you grip and lift the bowl to drain those precious dregs of deliciousness, you have at last the full measure of your efforts.

Here's another napkin... 

Monday, June 11, 2012


You know how it could be - if you’ve seen Rashomon or The Seven Samurai you know how it could be - how heavy and slabby a Japanese rain can be, waterfally yet misty, in places clear between streaking chunks of water like in that Hiroshige woodcut of travelers at Shono Station hurrying up and down the mountain in the rain in their straw raincoats and rush hats...

That's the rain I mean, the rain that cascades in gushes and streams but with clear spots here and there where the mist moves around and wanders by, so you know how it can be if you're rolling up a nowadays mountain road on a motorcycle in the dark on a late night of that same rain, a torrent of the rainy season that follows Spring into this part of the world, especially now and here where I'm leaning left and right as I travel the curving road, trying to see in the reflected glare of my headlight with the rain running down my goggles, trying to see to distinguish frogs from gouts of rain on pavement...

This all-water ambiance is when the frogs travel in their countless numbers across roads like shallow rivers; they hop in every direction in the apparent safety of night, each making instant green decisions as to direction and timing, just as from the passive silence there suddenly comes a monster roaring out of the dark, rain running down its face invisible in the glare of the single bright eye swaying left and right, dark into light amidst countless leapings, and like the frogs the driver must make a series of instant decisions so as to not run off the road, yet avoid flattening any of the leaping frogs that in their numbers give the road a greenish cast in the wet light...

Inevitably, though as evolution will have it in this infinity of choice we must all face in life, the driver prefers to remain uninjured, so there must be a number of fate-selected frogs that evolution prefers remain on the road for countless eventualities, one among them being the hawk's breakfast, for which the hawk will be thankful...

When I'd been heading down the same road that dry morning, I'd seen a hungry hawk picking forlornly at a fallen yellow-green leaf that lay on the roadway, much like a flat frog would; he dropped the leaf at my approach as he lifted off into higher hunger, the leaf fluttering abandoned to the ground like a dream of breakfast...

The karma of tonight will be balanced out tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Now that the rice fields have been planted with long even rows of the faintest wispy green brushstrokes on pale gray silk that are the rice seedlings, and the leftover blocks of unplanted rice shoots remain here and there in the fields and on their edges, the only large living things to be seen in the paddies are egrets and grandmothers.

The egrets, in their turn, with long, slow, careful steps practiced and perfected over eons, elegantly patrol the paddies filled with young rice plants (never stepping on even one tiny shoot) and continue patrolling throughout the growing season, ensuring that proper balance is maintained between the populations of little fish, frogs and insects.

The other large creatures in the paddies, the grandmothers, are out there early in the morning or late in the evening after the machines have gone, to plant by hand here and there in the difficult corners and paddy-edge curves, to use up the last of the otherwise wasted rice shoots. Then the grandmothers come throughout the growing season to pluck the weeds that always, in the history of just about everything, try to take over.

The egrets do it because it feeds them, it's a pleasure and it leads onward. The grandmothers do it for the same reasons.

Saturday, June 02, 2012


I am not going to complain about the weather, I am not going to complain about the weather, I am not going to complain about the weather, so spins my mental noncomplaint wheel. I must remind myself. It’s a pending hurricane I think, been hanging over the archipelago with its cloudy rainless veil and no sun to speak of for four days now; cool nights, good for planting if this was a month or two ago, but now I use it as ideal cover for my maxosweaty endeavors like pruning and cleaning the culvert beside the inner road, a superb source of upmountain soil and leaf mould, plus it’s free, only a lot of sweat required, which I am able to produce in major volume with little effort, so who could ask for more. Perfect weather for hard labor, but I’m not all that ecstatic. Every cloud has an aluminum lining.

On the brighter side, had the Trio of Brio helping me yesterday at the early part of the culvert etc. task, and with four of us it went way faster than me soloing this last little part. Which reminds me, I forgot to mention that when we went to buy the wheelbarrow together I noticed that the girls just walked along among the big bright swatches of potted flowers on sale display at the gardening center without paying any particular attention to the blossoms, despite all that color and fragrance, so after we’d picked out the wheelbarrow I said they could each choose one kind of flower to take home and plant in a pot. I hadn’t expected such an interesting result. 

So there I was standing by a brand new green wheelbarrow with yellow handles while three little girls went touring around among the thousands of flowers in pots, closely examining each kind to see which one was theirs, the one they wanted. What criteria were they using, I wondered. Looking for something that spoke to them somehow-- that said what? Of course the color and design, maybe the fragrance, but fragrance, design and color were in abundance; what else? That personal something more that each of them was looking for without knowing what it was until they saw it. It took a while; they went all over to see all the flowers and make sure. I waited. I’d already planted my flowers.

Kaya came back first. She had selected what the shop called Kashmir Decoration, a cluster of varicolored flowers that looked like small pointy brushes that had been dipped in special bright paints. Miasa came back after about 5 minutes with her selection, a pot of small round-petaled pink, almost cartoony flowers, called Fairy Stars, beautiful little things with white dots at their centers, that rose on thin stems and danced like pink stars in the eye-sky. We waited. Mitsuki, the fussier twin, was making extra sure. At last she came back holding a pot containing one big round yellowball blossom on a tall stem; it looked like a miniature sun, it was so piercingly yellow. It was called an African Marigold.

The thing that surprised me was how different and how ‘thought-out’ the flower selections were. In my shockingly offbase mindlock I’d expected that all three would just quickpick the same sort of cutesy, babybreathy kind of ittybitty flowerbunch, but their picks were as far apart and as different as one could get. I’d had no idea, I realized, how deeply different the three really are; even the twins! 

During the drive home the girls carried their flowers on their laps. When we arrived they each selected a pot they liked from among the empties stacked around the garden, and I helped them pot and water the plants, asked if they each remembered their flower’s name. We put the flowers in the shade, then the next morning moved them into the sun. The plants are healthy and growing day by day, so each time the girls visit, they run to see their flowers and go aaah! I see them saying the names to themselves.

Three such different flowers!