Monday, October 31, 2005

It's Halloween and You Feel Like Dancin'

How I spent my Saturday night:

Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"
---Rascals/Grateful Dead, "Good Lovin'"
---Stones, "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'?"
---Bob Marley, "Exodus"
Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?"
ZZ Top, "Jesus Just Left Chicago"
Dead Kennedys, "Holiday in Cambodia"

The last three had me on vocals.

I was dressed as Johnny Depp in Pirates. This led to the following quote:
"With this getup, if I don't get laid tonite, I don't deserve a penis."

I didn't and I don't.

On the turntable: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Howl"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bring us Mingus

I can't get enough of Mingus lately. His stuff is just manic. Bass lines like the footfalls of someone running through a Rashomon forest freckled with light. Growling horns the encroaching beasts. "The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive-Ass Slippers," besides having a fantastic title, is one of the most perfect jazz records ever recorded.

On the turntable: (Don't make me say it. MINGUS! Aw yeah!)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Stranger than...

Over coffee with E-Ma Eric, he told me that I remind him of Ben Sachs from Paul Auster's "Leviathan." I was flattered of course, being a big fan of Auster, who can floor you when he's on, and break your heart when he's not. I was also a bit confused, never having really blown up anything of consequence. Besides, all my life I've been living like Larry Darrell. While aspiring to be Japhy Ryder.

It wasn't the first time I've been compared to a work of imagination. (Though aren't we all really, imagined into life by our parents?) Years back, in a Kobe bar long since flattened in the quake, my friend Mark said I reminded him of a cartoon character. I suppose he meant my vast range of facial expressions and exuberant way of communication. But Mark was cartoon-like in his actions. After all, this was on the night we were about to play William Tell with a dart, Mark's cigarette and far too much booze. The bartender leapt over and grabbed my arm just as I drew it back. I wouldn't have actually thrown it. I just wanted to see how far Mark would go. But I don't doubt the crazy fucker wouldn't have flinched, all the way up to the moment where the dart pierced his cheek.

On the turntable: Widespread Panic, "Uber Cobra"
On the nightable: Toni Morrison, "The Bluest Eye"

Friday, October 28, 2005

Whole Lotte Love

Took my weekly trip to Kansai, a region now awash with misery at its homegrown Tigers miserable performance in the Japan Series, which harkens comparisons with a Little League squad. Not everyone is unhappy with the team's misfortune apparently. Middle-aged women are thrilled that the victorious Lotte team is owned by a Korean company, therefore guaranteeing a handful of K-bot boy eye-candy making their way to commercials nationwide.

Safety Tip! On the train, take care not to sit beside any salaryman type who has an obvious cold. With a nose closed with congestion, he'll be forced to mouth-breathe, sending forth an odious collection of aromas which defy the staunchiest of nostrils.

On the turntable: Woody Guthrie, "Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tales from the 'hood

Checking my bank balance recently, I noticed a couple zeros that hadn't been there before. So I did what any red-blooded American would do: squander it. Time for some antique bling-bling. Came home with a couple 19th Century iron weapons and spears. As I carried them to my door, some neighbors gave me funny looks. It can't be a good thing when the gaijin begin to arm.

I live in an old house in the old part of town. Pre-westernization, this area would have been a lesser samurai quarter, not far from the castle, Buddhist temples, and red-light district. I know a trolley used to run by here, past a large ironworks which once covered this sector. The fact that my house was built just after the war leads me to assume that this area may have been bombed. Today, most of the homes surrounding ours are of a more recent vintage, the average life span of a house in Japan being a mere 24 years. One of the newest additions is a featureless blue box. One of these days, I'm going to knock on the door and pretending I mistake it for a dental clinic, make an appointment.

A month ago, in the Nog's bar district, somebody, apparently in an alcohol-fueled rage at an uninspired life, decided to take it out on my bicycle. The shape of the front wheel now resembles a flattened pumpkin. I took it to the nearby bicycle guy. He must've vibed my musical "talent", for in the five minutes we spent talking, he knocked over just about everything in his shop, causing such a wonderful symphony of mechanical clamor that I don't doubt he was channeling John Cage. As I applauded, he told me I'd be better off just stealing a wheel from someone else's bike. I eyed his stock suspiciously.

A block or so away is a soup line for cats. Everyday at noon, a dozen or so stand below a window which I assume is the kitchen. Next door is an overgrown yard which nearly hides what I call the fairy-tale house. It is a wonderfully ancient structure of angles which I'd call gothic, if the home weren't Japanese. The overhanging trees create arches leading to magical realms beyond. In the front is a large circular stone which would be considered small currency in the Yap Islands. It's probably leftover change from a recent trip.

One of my elderly neighbors is dressed up today. He's wearing a suit with a cut thirty years old. The tie is simply massive. Must be Koizumi's new "Cool Breeze" campaign.

A low concrete wall runs along perpendicular to the houses. It separates the sidewalk from a large vegetable garden. At the base of the wall are a line of colorful weeds and flowers which grow right from the concrete, looking like they're climbing under the wall in an attempt at truency. The unpredictability of nature.

On the turntable: Eleventh Dream Day, "El Moodio"
On the nightable: Jay Rubin, "Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Unspeakable Visions of the Individual

Watched "The Source" again last night, a documentary about the Beat Generation, which reminded me of the time Zach and I got tight on Guinness at some open-mic thing in Ebisu, beer and words fueling the city-hiking muse, Zach having been stuck in the office all day, the whole while longing to wander the megapolis' s narrow streets, stepping through their shadows, past shoji-papered windows that hint at shapes beyond yet refusing detail, in the paper-picture perfect way of the hidden depths of the Japanese soul, many filled with dreams of time in foreign climes, just like we two perambulating buddhas, our footfall scrapes the sound of gutter-blown leaves, shrivelled and curled like a old man's fist, shaped by long toil with the masses, beasts of burden for Moloch, who herds them onto trains, fast trains high above the streets, like Trunk Road nagas moving the branches ready to swallow Ole' Zach and I as we lumber drunkenly in their direction, which is every direction, surrounding us in this jungle, the alleys and lanes we wander sans map, making turns by whim and instinct rather than landmark, though after one sudden unexpected turn the familiar is revealed in the form of an English couple whose apartment we suddenly found, the door before us opening to reveal their surprised faces red with whisky, brows furrowed in deep-thought at the viewing of said "Source," the final thirty minutes spinning in the machine, below TV screen revealing scenes of a 1994 Boulder and a Beat event, with Zach and I both in attendance, yet our foggy minds refusing to recall any previous discourse before that time we crossed paths in beer-sodden Chiba circa 2000, building a friendship which led to this serendipitous moment, watching a beat documentary revealing random audience shots, causing Zach to suddenly yawp, "There I Am!", bringing much laughter, until seconds later, it's my turn to yell the same, finding my own face there in the dark hall a decade gone, though the face has gone all red by now with the laughter and the whisky and the friendship, in this warm apartment safe against the cold Tokyo night in an autumn coming slowly to a close.

("That's not writing, that's typing.")

On the turntable: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Great Gig on the Fly

A month ago, Ushi asked me to play at a gig he organized at Jazz Inn. Tim and I called a couple friends and created a short set. It was smoking, probably the best we've played. We played two Marley covers in deference to a bass playing friend who is unbelievably rigid and tight, despite coming from a funk/reggae background. On the surface, reggae seems pretty simple --I mean even potheads can play the shit. But the drumming is ridiculously complex. Tim chose to stretch "Exodus" to about ten minutes, and by the end, sweat was pouring from me, starting with my burning shoulders and forearms. I got my reprieve behind the mike. I'm really starting to get a feel for singing, though I am still not ready to look at the audience when I do. Ushi's funk band went first, and midway through their set, he called me up to take the vocals on "Superstition." I also sang again during the session that followed once the bands were done. We blazed through a fifteen minute version of "Born Under A Bad Sign," every one taking a solo, including Tim playing ragtime like piano runs with his elbows. I didn't even know he could play. Fronting the combination of Motoi on guitar and Aa-chan on bass was magic. Add Alama to the mix and satori is sure to be mine.

Monday night we went to Hi High on the pretext of a short meeting with the owner about this week's upcoming gig. Somehow, we all ended up on stage, Tim, Zach, and Cian on guitars, me on congas. A quick twenty minute set for a single salaryman flanked by three hostesses. As we played, a couple other guys came in, one of whom bought us beers. Feeling I should sit and talk with him awhile, I turned obligation on it's head by pretending I was a hostess like the two on either side of him. I copied their actions the best I could, clapping when he sang, complimenting him profusely, signing karaoke he suggested. I didn't go as far as wiping his glass or touching his knee. Maybe next time. I was having a hilarious time, and the two Filipinas got it, but he seemed clueless. I hope he doesn't read this, these memoirs of a gai-sha...

On the turntable: The Heart of Bluegrass"

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Weekend In Autumn

Saturday night I went to the local Budokan for Aikido practice. At the front of the large hall was a banner announcing the "Moto-ha Yoshin-ryu Jujutsu Taikai." Beneath it were the flags of a dozen countries, most of them Scandanavian or former Soviet States. After playing guess that flag awhile, I pondered why an international event like this was being held in the 'Nog, of all places. Sunday, I went to watch and soon had my answer. It turns out this group is an offshoot of the Nishinomiya-based Hontai Yoshin-ryu, whose current head is originally from the 'Nog. It was strange to see a group of foreigners in my small city, in MY martial arts hall (and it is mine, since I'm the only foreign budoka to train with any consistancy). Their numbers were far greater than this city's non-Asian gaijin population of around thirty. Stranger still was to hear languages other than the current lingua franca of Eigo.

Beside the fights in the dojo, I also saw two out on the streets. In front of Tsutaya, a young guy was aggressively standing inches away from some teenager, in the face-to-face way that Japanese guys get, which always builds tension in me as I wonder whether they'll kiss or kill. Later, at Buchschule, a blue kei car weaved erratically through the parking lot. I thought he was cutting off others in an attempt for the "rock star parking" space I'd just pulled out from, but instead he passed it and purposely stopped in front of another kei car. The maniac then leapt out and began hollering at the driver of the other car, madly gesturing like a marionette and pointing up the street. I wanted to see how it would play out, but the signal changed and I had to go. Strange things are afoot in the 'Nog, especially outside places which sell overpriced books.

Maybe it was the full moon. To better bathe in its perfect light, I drove up to Daisen. Coming down through a quiet stretch of forest, I startled a group of wild boars, which began to run in different directions, bumping into one another in a textbook definition of the expression, "utter confusion." Their erratic stupidity, and the obvious pig-police reference brought to mind the Keystone Cops, or maybe the more local variety. The boars ran down the hill awhile but never darted into the obvious safety of the trees. Like the jackrabbits of New Mexico, they ran out ahead of my truck, but were more frightened of running into the uncertain darkness outside the headlights. So, I slowly pulled alongside the boars and watched them awhile. My only prior experience with inoshishi had been to fish pieces out of a stew with my chopsticks. Alive, they were much more exciting. They run a little and stop, run a little and stop. The biggest one actually walked up to my door, then ran back. Then another car pulled up, coming from the other direction. Imagine the confusion! It was an agonizing few minutes. Then, as if getting some silent cue, they all ran past my car and up the hill. The other car followed, which caused them to stop again. This stalemate quickly became, well, stale, so I headed home.

The whole thing reminded me of yet another fight I saw a few years ago. While driving the mountainous roads which weave back and forth across the Tottori-Okayama line, I saw strange goings on up ahead. In the middle of the road was a huge coiled viper, under full attack from a weasel which kept running from the brush, coming at the snake in large leaps. The snake would strike, but the weasel kept jumping back to a safe range. Here too, I was able to roll up on the scene, to where the viper was just under my window. After taking a few more hits, the snake quickly moved off the road into the brush, the weasel hot on its flank. Rikki Tikki Tavi lives!

(By the way, this is my hundredth post! Fighto!)

On the turntable: Serge Gainsbourg, "Gainsbourg... Forever"
On the nightable: "The O'Henry Awards: Prize Stories 2000"

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tragedy in Four Parts

Last weekend, Zach and I set off toward Aoyama. We were both wearing light, summery clothes, with sandals. But everyone else had on jackets and sweaters and scarves. Granted, it was a rainy day in Tokyo, but it wasn't THAT cold. Said Zach, "Tokyo has apparently decided that it's fall." Two days later in the 'Nog, the temperature took a steep dive and summer was instantly gone. I've never seen a season die so dramatically.

Lately in these "Notes," the mention of death abounds. As stated before, the 14th was the three-year anniversary of the death of my son. Ironically, on or around that day, 2 friends also blogged about death. Another friend sent a consolatory text from abroad, at the exact time that Ken died. It leads to believe that there is such a thing as the "Collective Conscious," where we are all plugged into something far greater than ourselves. Perhaps my friends "read" my thoughts and feelings that day. Or perhaps it is simply the nature of autumn, with the obvious decay of things well within sight.

On the turntable: Iron and Wine, "The Sea and the Rhythm"

Friday, October 21, 2005

On the express from Osaka to Kyoto

A blind man boards. His cap reads in English, "If it looks good, you'll see it."

At a suburban railway crossing: two cars, five bicycles, and a dripping, muddy tractor.

In a hilltop cemetary, an old man cleans a grave he'll soon occupy.

On the turntable: "Spongle, "Tales of the Inexpressive"
On the nightable: William Scott Wilson, "The Lone Samurai"

Thursday, October 20, 2005


If you find yourself in Tokyo on a weekend afternoon, one fun game you can play is "Guess My Hobby." To play, you simply ride around on the train and look at the various objects people are carrying. Those players with wild imaginations will go far. No binoculars or guide book required. Tell your friends!

On the turntable: Trance Mission, "Meanwhile"
On the nightable: Michiko Yamamoto, "Betty-san"

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Clouds and Rain

Zach said that the gods hate Tokyo. The rain seemed to fall only in the city, while the rest of the country had fair skies. The Shink ride in had been a testiment to this. A beautiful crisp autumn blue, offering the clearest view of Fuji that I've ever seen. Tokyo's streets on the other hand were slick, distorting the colors of neon. I dropped my bags at Casa Daza, having a quick beer and "arribas" with Zach, then backtracked toward Shinjuku for the workshop with David Swenson, one of the world's primary Ashtanga teachers. I arrived fairly exhausted and grumpy after trying to find the right room among the dozens that make up Studio Shinjuku. I looked forward to a mellow night of pranayama, but found that I'd misread the schedule and was instead faced with two and a half hours of 'jump-throughs" which require a fair amount of upper body strength. It wasn't long before adrenaline caught up with me, and by the time I closed out the night with a glass of red with Dana, I was pretty amped.

The next morning came too early and I quickly found myself back at the Studio. So commenced what was probably the hardest single day of yoga I've ever done. Five hours of waning strength and increasing sweat. The mat got so soaked that I decided I'd need to buy a rug before I ever did Ashtanga again. Despite these mild traumas, the day was incredible, and I got a lot of new ammunition for teaching. After practice, a group of us went to a cafe for tea. It was closed, but the manager said he'd do drinks for us. Our numbers soon increased to twenty, and we eventually occupied every table. The staff looked less than pleased. I had a nice talk with Chama, who impressed us with his new camera. Many of the others were teachers from various studios about town. (The funny thing about "booms" in Japan is that rather than scattering things, they tend to draw people together.) Besides myself, a couple other teachers had commuted in: Andrew from Kyoto, and Natalia, one of the top Ashtangi in Spain, who was winding up a few months in town on her way to Mysore. She had a few groupies in tow, taking the form of some young cookie-cutter Japanese girls quietly talking at the next table. At six, the cafe officially opened, and everyone went their separate ways. Some of us went to a cheap, local Indian place with Japanese cooks but did good chai and huge nan. Plus the beers were cold. (I'm starting to find that Japanese beers taste better after martial arts than they do after yoga. Post-yoga imbibition requires something fuller-bodied, liked red wine or Guinness.) Over dinner, Andrew kept us quite entertained, no surprise if you know him and his devilish grin.
Back at the Casa, I found Zach and Dana both up. We watched the latest episode of "Extras," then high-browed it awhile, talking yogic philosophy. At my mention of the word "Genesis, " Zach said something about "Abacab," which is of course the chord progression that best approximates the sound that the universe made at the time of the Big Bang. Whether this chord structure was progressive or was composed is currently the focus of much debate in music schools across Nebraska.

Two year old Eli joined us on Sunday morning. I always enjoy playing with him, and he seems delighted when I come to town. The look of happiness crossing his face is often tinged with a brief look of fear, due to my frequent outbursts of spastic and dramatic motion. (Not unlike my yoga, actually.) Get used to it kid, such is the unpredictible nature of fun.
Zach and I headed up to Furla on Aoyama-dori. The sidewalks were packed with umbrella-toting dawdlers. There was some bizarre procession going on, with a marching band and costumed groups of folks dancing and weaving and clacking their clackers. At the head of a group of middle-aged women was one foreign guy who had outstanding choreography. This Furla visit kicked off a day which emphasized the business of yoga. I found myself at two other studios within the next 90 minutes. Crossing a bridge into a park in Shibuya, Zach told me that here he'd once walked into the middle of a yakuza turf war. (Sumimasen with a downward karate-chopping hand motion just doesn't cover it.)
I bought my yoga rug at Chama's studio, where I met Kengo who I remembered from the workshop, then set out for tea with Leza and Cameron. Waiting for my train at the station, I ran into a woman I met at EC. (She'd pursued me but I wasn't interested. The next morning I saw her leaving another guy's tent. Today, she was hand in hand with a multi-perforated J-punk. Ah, the fickle energy of youth.) I boarded my train, and as the doors closed, it began to move. Not forward. Back and forth. As I removed my headphones I heard people whispering "Jisshin. Jisshin." I'm no strangers to earthquakes, but standing on a sealed train three stories above the street in Tokyo is enough to soil the shorts.
Met Leza and when asked what I've been up to, the poor woman, who I hadn't seen in nine months, was forced to endure one of my patented babble-logues. Later, at Sun and Moon, she proved that she was a good sport by signing a copy of her new book for me. Dashed up the street to Integration Matsuri, held at the Claska Hotel where candle-light was throwing some wicked shadows on the fashion show and demos that followed: capoeria, belly dancing, yoga. One of the main reasons I'd gone was to try to meet Gio, who was spinning that night. (I love the CDs he puts out, under the name, "Makyo," and I highly recommend them. You can stream a few tracks at the Dakini Records page. In fact, do.) I wanted to ask him if he was the film reviewer for the Japan Times. He bashfully he admitted he was, and I praised him to great heights. I've been following his reviews for a decade now, and they're perfect. In fact, back in 1997, I'd almost met him in Hong Kong, when I'd been doing minor acting gigs, and had scammed a press pass to the HK Film Festival in order to meet directors and producers. Gio told me he had been busy hanging out with Christopher Doyle. Dude!!!
The party was, as they say, craic-ing. I saw a lot of familiar faces and made lots of new friends. Integration indeed. The words, "Yoga Boom" resonate still.

Next day, headed back to the 'Nog in order to share with my students the flying lessons I'd recieved from David Swenson. Left under heavy Tokyo skies, which cleared by Izu. The usual scenes followed. Shizuoka's tea plantations. Unbelievable Nagoya ugliness, today highlighted by the ongoing destruction of the Expo grounds. (In this city, someone has apparently decided that colorful tiles add cheer to a drab cityscape. Gray river birds scream "Bullocks!", wings spread wide like a flasher's raincoat.) Chubu plains a quilt of rice buds and cosmos, stretching toward the always magical Kumano mountains. Kyoto ringed with scarred hills. Tunnels of Kobe. Sanyo's industrial seashore. Pachinko lit Okayama. Then over the mountains to the 'Nog.

That night, Monday, I'd hoped to answer emails, but got sidetracked by the lunar eclipse. Laying in bed with a glass of red, watching the sun's slow shadow creep across the moon's face, I suddenly flashed on the word "hatha."

On the turntable, "Poi Dog Pondering"
On the nightable: Lawrence Rogers, "Tokyo Stories"

Friday, October 14, 2005

October 14th elegy

Ken-chan, today three years gone. I miss you more with every breath.

I awoke this day in Kyoto. I wasn't the least bit sad, the day being far too gorgeous for that. I sat on the banks of the Kamo-gawa, eating breakfast and playing lizard.

Ken died around one in the afternoon. I'd hoped to find a temple where I could light incense, but here in Kyoto of all places, the routes I chose didn't take me by a single one. As one o'clock neared, I chose an inauspicious approach, getting into a couple minor disagreeances with a JR worker and some part-timer at Subway. Typical crap about inflexibility of rules superceding a hyper-flexive reality. And on this day, with weather that was too perfect, and the calender date a reminder that life is too fleeting and unpredictable. Why get bogged down with rules? I took my own advice and blew off the temple idea, then found a quiet planter near Kyoto Station to sit quietly.

A week before, I'd made coffee plans for one o'clock, momentarily overlooking the time and date. I have mixed feelings about this. While Ken is with me constantly, my occasional forgetting is a sign I'm moving on. Yet I'll never get so far that I lose sight of this day, the horrible 14th of October.

On the turntable: UNKLE, "Never, Never, Land"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Confessions of an armchair budoka

All this talk of Kyoto reminds me that I neglected to mention a trip a couple weeks back. My main purpose was to attend a martial arts event held at the Butokuden. After a forced march cross-town with Anna, I entered the building, a huge, gorgeous structure slightly reminiscent of where Morpheus fought Neo in the first Matrix film. Two summers ago, I'd had the pleasure of doing a lot of iai here when I trained for my sandan test. Today there were a couple dozen groups demonstrating some of the varied arts of the area, a real mishmash of styles and eras, koryu and modern and hybrid. They all marched into the arena to that song that served as the theme to the 'Bad News Bears," the spectators clapping along. Ironically, the Takeuchi members, whose group had the longest history and richest tradition, were the only ones keeping it real by wearing street clothes. This procession was succeeded by the singing of the always controversial national anthem. In a militaristically charged place like this, it was hardly a surprise. The young adults in the crowd were sitting quietly while the old timers were standing and singing proudly. I imagine the song must have entirely different connotations for them, the only of these assembled warriors to have been touched by war. Next up, cheerleaders! It's the last thing I'd expect at a martial arts demo. They were the most lethargic group of cheerleaders I've ever seen, nary a smile among them. In Japanese, the word, "genki" has no real equivalent in English, but often I've seen it in dictionaries as "pep." And who are more the Popes of pep than cheerleaders? Sadly, this group seemed to lack any. "(Sigh) We've, um, got spirit, yes we do, we've got spi--aw forget it."
Tameshigiri (test cutting) was the first event, and they had spirit, yes they did. Those swords went through bamboo like butter, and though I was most definitely impressed, for some reason, in my head, I kept paraphrasing one of my favorite lines from the film "Arthur:" "You must've hated that tree." Chambara was next. With their Nerf swords, the gang looked like they were having a pillow fight. "You're it, hee hee hee." Change the uniforms of the women and you have yourselves a new fetish. This thought was a nice transition to some strange judo/karate hybrid. As they rolled on the mats, I kept thinking, "Get a room." Then little by little, each subsequent group helped me remember how much I love these arts and their techniques, and my brain eventually shut up and I gave the place and the event the respect they were due.

On the turntable: Ryans Adams, "Jacksonville City Nights"
On the nightable: Ambrose Bierce, "Short Stories"

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

1000 words

Finally figured out how to post photos. Here are some pics from my recent trip Stateside.

Ben and some giant trees in Big Basin. Keep in mind the dude is 7 foot 6. Beer break at the German Explorer's Club on Mount Tam.
Thai iced tea in Noe Valley.
B and me.
Gino walks the red dust near Acoma.
House band in front of Yoga Source, Santa Fe.

Kurt and Mason during Mason's last hours. Fear and Loathing across Nebraska.
Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Festival as seen and heard from Ethan's patio.
Buddha nature times three. With Hot Tub.
Hiking the Flatirons.
Running Man Eric and Brown County State Park, IN.
Derek on the beach, Chicago.
Braver at his restaurant.
Post-yoga Guinness with Ben and Emiko.
Anna playing "Kate Hepburn" on Sado.
Okuri-daiko. After the deluge.
Kodo beats us off.
On the turntable: Stanton Moore, "Flyin' the Koop"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Kyoto: Slight Return

Drove to Kyoto for the first time. Dense clouds had settled on the 'Nog, and whipping along the fog-shrouded treetops of the Yonago Expressway, I felt like I was moving through Borneo. At 105 kph, the dashboard began to "ping!" and with those pings and the claustrophobic whiteness, I suddenly became a submarine commander. Irritation created by the incessant pinging can be overcome by turning the stereo up to 11 and caterwauling along to Paul Weller.

It takes 4 hours to make it to Kyoto by bus. I did the trip in 2 1/2. It wasn't that I was speeding so much as the music drove me forward. Once in the city, I was amazed at how different things look by car. On the bus, you're looking sideways essentially, and the eye deals with smaller details like sidewalk pedestrian traffic and the temples, shops, or homes beyond. Looking straight through the windshield of a car, you get a larger overview, and taken on this scale, you realize that Kyoto is in many ways, a pretty ugly place. The beauty of the trees hides the ugliness of the forest.

In the afternoon, on the east side, I met Eric (of E-Ma and Kyoto Journal) at Buttercups for taco rice and much needed caffeine. We had an interesting chat about upcoming issues now brewing at KJ. He's just back from a trip to the US, accompanying one of his Hanazono profs for a tour of private collections of Japanese art. I envy the fact that he has experienced beauty that the rest of us will never see.
Later, on the west side, Anna S. and I went to her local for beer, sake, and the wonder that is chijimi. Upon learning of my profession, the mama-san did yoga poses in between refilling our glasses. We talked about the Japanese national team's soccer match, held earlier that night. The mama-san said it had been against Uraguay, a bar patron said Ukraine, and the newspaper later said Latvia. The fog had moved inward...

Speaking of soccer, I'm reading a terrific book called, "How Soccer Explains the World." It tries to define globalization in terms of the game and its supporters. I highly recommend it to fans of the sport, or to those with a passing interest. If you can understand why the Japanese call the game "soccer", yet have formed the JFA, or Japanese "Football" Association, you know more about the game than anyone and have no need for this book.

On the turntable: Jim White, "Drill a Hole in that Substrate and Tell Me What You See."
On the nightable: Franklin Foer, "How Soccer Explains the World"

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cheat sheet

Here are my own answers to the questions posed Wednesday.

Philosopher: Chuang Tzu, the world's first beatnik

Date: Cleopatra, not very attractive supposedly, but had the sex appeal to turn two generals' togas into tents

Explorer: with Reinhold Messner, a walk around the English countryside

Artist: Akira Kurosawa

Writer: Kurt Gutjahr, my brother and sometime alter-ego

Battle: Ichinotani for the amazing cavalry descent on Suma beach

Discovery: when noise became music

Ruler: Shotoku-taishi

Event: Woodstock

One Day Visit: return to Yonago on Oct. 14th, 2002 and prevent my son's fatal accident

On the turntable: Jerry Garcia Band gig, July 29th& 30th, 1977

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Wake up! It's 50 AD

Spent a good part of this grey day watching "Waking Life" again. I am a big fan of Linklater films, "Slacker" being one of my all time faves, due to its capturing a particular time in my youth. "Waking Life" is like it's heavier cousin. The DVD has this cool feature where we can read as subtitles the ideas and concepts which gave birth to the screenplay. I'd also recommend watching the film itself with its dialogue subtitled, so as to further imprint those ideas on your brain. As I did when I saw it the first time, I only watched in twenty minute increments, to allow myself time to digest. (Years ago I saw a similar film, "Mind Walk" in the theater, and remember wishing I was watching the video so I could do precisely this.) This film feeds your head, which in turn nourishes journals...

On a sadder note, Sarara closed last Friday. This Asian cafe went fully microbiotic 18 months ago, the first restaurant in Yonago to do so. The world needs more places like this, offering cheap healthy food, Vietnamese coffee, and free internet service. Frustratingly, many of this city's better places have closed over the years, due to a fickle public who prefer trends over quality. Sarara was a star on the expat scene and will be sorely missed.
Last night was a special farewell party for special customers. Many of the 'Nog's fun and funky people were in attendance, many of whom I hadn't seen in a while, including Tani-chan, Shogen-san, Simona, Pamela, and Manjinder. The night was an international splash of creative vegan delights, imported wines, and good talk. It was sad to walk out the doors for the final time, but I anticipate that Shiho, Miho, and the gang will move on to do wonderful things with their lives.

On the turntable: Stereolab, "Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night"
On the nightable: Sachio Ito, "The Tomb of the Wild Chysanthemum"

Friday, October 07, 2005

Red red wine (?)

The other day I wrote about coincidence. They often have far-reaching consequences. Wednesday and Thursday, I found myself working at LuonLuon for the first time. Strangely, all four of Miki's employees were simultaneously unavailable. Miki had just come back from the 'Nam, and had loads of new merchandise to prepare. I worked the front, greeting customers with varied renditions of "Irassyaimase!" I had planned a quick trip to Kyoto, but decided to push it back to the weekend. The consequences of that decision will soon play out...
While at the shop Thursday, I recieved a text message from Jenn, saying she was having a birthday get-together at Missile. Ironically, in a conversation I had had an hour before, I found out that Jenn had gone back to Canada for the summer due to health problems. If I hadn't met that other person, I would never have known that Jenn had left, and would've gone to the bar assuming she'd been here all along. The party was small, but I was surprised to see a few JETs from Tottori city who were in town to take advantage of the 'Nog's plethora of escape opportunities, all bound for far reaching places like Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and Seoul. I too, made a quick escape, my attendance brief due to the fact that I showed up already pretty buzzed.
I'd earlier had dinner with Local Legends Tim and Zack. We'd gotten together to watch a DVD copy of "Alice's Restaurant" which I'd bought while in the States. I love 60's movies, with their hip dialog and herky-jerky camera work. The story and music were good, the acting less so. No doubt many of the "actors" seemed to be Arlo Guthrie's friends. (Cronyism exists at all levels.) As I watched the film, I thought how bizarre it must be for Arlo, or Ziggy Marley, or others whose parents were giants and had died while their children were relatively young. Arlo, never really having had the chance to get to know his father, no doubt defines him in legendary terms like the rest of us do.
My thoughts were everywhere that evening, due in part to the "Dago Red" wine we were drinking. It was an Australian Shiraz of unknown vintage. Left for years to age in the kitchen, the 'Nog's extremes of hot and cold had metamorphisized the stuff into something so powerful it caused in me strange hallucinatory thought patterns. This rotgut seemed to affect us all differently, Tim bursting into sudden and frequent Tony Clifton imitations; Zack laughing hysterically on the floor. Every sip (and a sip was about all you could stand) was accompanied by contorted facial expressions and foul language. Yet despite a taste that can only be descibed as white-blind terror, we kept going back for more.

On the turntable: Jimi Hendrix, "BBC Sessions"

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hot and spicy

Reading about Tapas in the Sanskrit sense (meaning "heat") led me to think of tapas in the culinary sense. Having tried tapas a few times, I can't say I really see the appeal. I mean, I can see it, but it doesn't really work for me. Maybe the appeal for Americans is the neat compartmentalization of the foreign, cut into easy to digest portions. Tapas are rarely eaten alone, usually being an experience shared with friends, the safety and security of facing the unfamiliar with our peers, followed by a group-think appraisal or dismissal. This is the package tour of cuisine.

On the turntable: John Coltrane, "A John Coltrane Retrospective. The Impulse Years"
On the nightable: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, "The Perfection of Yoga"

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Quiz Night!

Below is a list of time machine questions I used to ask my English students. Sometimes I'll throw them out on a long road trip with friends. Please send your answers via email (if you know my address) or in the comments section (though no doubt most comments will say something like, "Love your blog, dude! Will bookmark you. Come by and check out my page, dealing with the more pleasant features of muffler belts!").
I'll post my own answers in a few days.

You can talk with one philosopher.
You can date anyone in history.
You can take a trip with an explorer. (With whom and where?)
You can watch any artist at work.
You can have a conversation with any writer.
You can witness a battle.
You can be present at any scientific discovery.
You can meet a famous ruler or head of state.
You can take part in one historical event.
You can visit any place in the world for one day.

I look forward to hearing your answers...

On the turntable: Ween, "The Pod"
On the nighttable: Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, "The Single Tone"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Among the elements

The rods and cones in my eyes haven't worked properly since birth, and as a result, I am unable to see numbers in those multi-colored circles which I sometimes come across in anatomy textbooks. I wonder if the colors I see in my world are the same that you see in yours. If I were hit on the head and this "problem" suddenly miraculously corrected, would I go insane in seeing that the sun is now your blue, the sky your yellow? I wonder too if the colors I saw at the beach on Sunday night were more amazing in being viewed with my imperfect eyes. The combination of overcast sky, reflective sea, and fading daylight created the most perfect shade of blue I've ever seen. Was the world wearing this hue to mourn the death of a season?

Monday morning I found myself beside a completely different body of water. I finally had my hangover-delayed djembe lesson with Alama. He wanted to be outside on this near-perfect fall day, so we played in the park beside Lake Togo. It was bizarre to be an American in Japan, conversing in French with a man from Guinea, within sight of a large Chinese garden and pavillion. (All in a day's work for this internationalizationer.) As we played, an old man fishing nearby reeled in something big, and Alama without a pause began to sing out in his powerful griot voice: "A fish ya, a fish ya, give me some of that fish, man, if you please." In Japanese. I wonder how he'd handle a Marley tune.

After the lesson, I headed into the hills nearby. I had heard that there was a small castle around here, atop a steep mountain path. Midway up, I passed hundreds of wasps swarming a dead tree beside the path. As usual, I had my head down, carefully looking for vipers on the overgrown trail. I had heard the wasps, but hadn't seen them until I was standing amidst them. A tense moment. If you hike a lot in Japan, you'll often come across old-timers who'll warn you about wasps, but this was the first time I'd actually seen any. Apparently they hadn't worried the old-timer I met at the mountain top, beside the castle. He was a spry 84, and had climbed up from a nearby village. Surprisingly, he seemed unfazed at my skin-tone, smiling and asking where I live rather than where I'm from. After a quick chat he descended and I was left alone with the history and the view. Hiking down via a different path, I came across some bizarre rock formations and an explanatory sign. I love how in countries with a long history, local place names are often taken from legend. It gives the feeling that I'm tied into something far bigger, far older, than myself. Much nicer than calling a place "Taylorville" simply because some guy named Edward Joseph Taylor decided to build himself a bank and railroad stop.

At the bottom, I got into my car and drove toward the sea, singing along loudly with Taj Mahal, as the windmills spun slowly, their blades pointing me toward home.

On the turntable: "Avalon Blues: Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt"

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Yesterday, I jokingly called for the end of summer, though in reality I could do with an endless summer. (America, keep driving those SUV's!) Today, the air is cool and a light autumn rain is falling. Coincidence? Hardly, since it is typhoon season, and these storms are usually preceeded by a few days of muggy heat. At the moment, typhoon 19 is out west, heading toward China. The official name, is "Longwang," which is fitting, since this weather is totally screwing all those people nationwide who had planned to have Sports Day today. THAT part is the coincidence.

I am a big fan of coincidence, which is why I am extremely fond of the work of Paul Auster. Yesterday, Local Legend Tim told me that he attended a game at Yankee Stadium on August 15th. I had planned on going to the same game, but choose not to, in order to spend time with my injured Nana. I am certain that if I had gone, the gods of coincidence would've arranged it for Tim and I to run into each other.

The other day I mentioned my friend Colleen. Back in January, when preparing for my trip to Ireland, I had emailed my Irish mate Eunice asking for advice. She sent a lengthy response, closing with, "as I write, an IM has just come in from miz colleen sheils, resident of tokyo, to say she'll phone me in a few minutes, so I will wrap up kind sir." The next day, I go to Tokyo to play percussion at a kirtan for tsunami relief, with Reema Datta and Danny Paradise, in town for an Ashtanga workshop. I'm a bit early, so after dropping my stuff at Sun and Moon Yoga, I go across the street to the Starbucks in Meguro Station. As I await my caramel machiatto, I hear someone say, "Ted?" Sure enough, it's Colleen, though I'm baffled as to how she recognizes me after 6 years. Stranger still, we've both ordered the same drinks, plus she's on her way to the kirtan I'm about to play.

The Japanese call this kind of phenomena, "en." It's a vague term, almost meaning fate, but not quite. I think of "en" as the dental floss that binds us to the mystery of the universe. "Dental floss" may sound trite, but really, this "en" is something that everyone is familiar with, yet seems to be overlooked as insignificant by most people.

On the turntable: Wilco, "A Ghost is Born"

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The summer that wouldn't die

This is ridiculous! It was 30 C today! Perfect beach day. I need summer to officially end so that I can begin taking my life seriously again.

Couldn't make it to the beach due to work (pardon the 4-letter word), but had a little time to hang with Local Legends Tim and Zach. I entered their house in a suit and left in borrowed attire, allowing me to hit (Dis-)Gusto as a surfer. Later we went to the Minatoyama monkey cage and talked up simian anarchy.

Last night went late again. Had a pseudo-surprise party at English School. I brought the congas over, playing solo to a techno CD in an empty room for awhile, til the others caught on. Dancing and other bedlam broke out. Pete in the rarest form. When Michael was on the drums, I searched the kitchen for exotic noise making implements. Chopstick and coffee press cowbell. Thumbtack box maracas. Who knew that yoga blocks would create such a marvellous rhythmical CLAP! Show me a stationery store and I'll show you an orchestra. (Go to today's post at Shell's Journal for forensic evidence. You know the drill by now. To the left my friend!)

Besides the heat, another recent theme has been films. Been reading Ethan Coen's book of short stories, so decided to watch his remake of "The Ladykillers." I loved it as much as the original, Alec Guinness sheer magic. Saw Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" again, this time on DVD with all the extra stuff on the '68 barricades. Absolutely, absolutely floored by "Buena Vista Social Club." (Like a riddle: "How many musical greats can you fit on one stage?") I wanna go to Cuba so badly, to wander below shuttered European flats, dodging ancient cars piloted by drivers drunk on rum. And dance in a land where everyone's a percussionist. I know why the US State Department's so afraid. That little island stole the soul.

Years ago Miki told me that if you drink sports drink (Aquarius, Pocari, Gatorade) before drinking alcohol , you'll get extra buzzed. Tonight I'll test that theory over a new red wine discovery. Papio Cabernet Sauvignon. Bought solely for the beatnik monkeys playing bongos on the label. A steal at 882 yen, ya dig?

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 23"