And finally at rest, for the moment. Since arriving in Japan on Feb. 8, I've been to Oita, Yamaguchi (three times), Okayama, and driven to Kansai three times. Hiroshima in between. Arrived for good in Kyoto on a Monday, then was guiding clients along the Nakasendo two days later. Back in Kyoto after those twelve days, to a house filled with boxes, still getting their land legs after two months at sea and riding the waves of red tape. Twelve hours later, guiding clients around Kyoto for two days. I'd hoped to unpack some, but I had only a single day off, and needed some 'me' time. Will set off on another 12 day Nakasendo tour tonight. Miki and the baby are in Hiroshima for the time being.
I walked around Kyoto a little, both while guiding clients and while guiding myself. Kyoto both has and hasn't changed. I feel the gap very little, the two years - two weeks -two hundred years- intangible. I've been gone, and I haven't.
There are more earbuds in dainty little ears, and the girls seem taken with those ugly Columbo trenchcoats. Restaurants have taken to label that there foods come from anywhere but Fukushima. Most of my foreign friends have had a Job done on them by Apple, everywhere iPhones and iPads and Mac Airs, oh my!
There are the usual hordes of Chinese tourists at Gingaku, but the tour groups are all over the city now. I seem to see more Chinese people than Western now. They're still dressed well, but look less moneyed than they did a few years ago. China must be getting liberal with their visas. At least I've yet to see any phlegm on the Path of Philosophy.
Exploring my new neighborhood in the mornings, after a fucking rooster at the school across the street wakes me at daybreak. I'm a little anxious about what he'll do in summer, when the sun rises before 4. (I hope I don't resort to poultricide.)
For the first time in decades, my home is surrounded by more grey than green. But I can see Hiei from my second floor window, and the river and Daitokuji are short walks away. I hope to resume zazen at Ryusenji again. Need to be a stone in the gale of all this movement...
On the turntable: Weather Report, "8:30" On the nighttable: "The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder"
The last day on the Nakasendo had a distinct John Lennon theme. A muzak version of "Jealous Guy" was piped in above my breakfast. Later in Karuizawa, I ate bread at the French Bakery, under the watchful eyes of a Lennon poster, the Liverpool Legend pushing a bike, with a couple of baquettes in the basket, ready to deliver his bread to Yoko on 1978 visit. The final part of the morning was spent "Walking on Thin Ice," so much ice and snow that they kept us from dropping down the pass and enjoying closer views of some beautifully jagged peaks. And the journey home. I had walked the Nakasendo from Kyo to Edo, and now traced the Tokaido back. After many days spent at the speed of foot, the Shinkansen moves obscenely fast. And one last poem:
Goddess Fuji Allows me a lingering glance At her snowy locks.
On the turntable: Karsh kale, "Realize"On the nighttable: David Mitchell, "The Thousand Autumns of Jan de Zoet"
As of today, I'm back in the Kyo. I hope that I have a better relationship with her this time around. A lot of the frustration I found there last time was work related, a dissatisfaction with the yoga world that found parallel in Santa Fe. But other things rankled too.
A few months before leaving, Miki and I had climbed up to the top of Daimonji. As we sat looking over the city, Miki asked me what we would do if we were to stay in town. And I went cold. It's amazing that the idea caused a reaction so negative that it was felt physically. That negativity can be found in an interview I did at about the same time. Though there is also some optimism there.
When I left in 2009, I was really burnt out with Japan. From the moment we decided to go, I unconsciously began to focus mostly on the bad parts of the place. I likened it to the break-up of a relationship. To find the courage to say goodbye, we need to first divest emotionally, an act that makes the eyes naturally focus on the warts. Yet a couple months later, as we were on Henro and walking into Matsuyama after days in the deeper mountains, Miki again asked me the same question. And this time I felt sad at what we'd left behind.
Yet I return. I come to Japan this time with a completely different mindset than when I first arrived in 1994. At that time, and through the subsequent 15 years, I was determined to leave the country eventually in order to go to grad school. This time I come with my mind open, finding the idea of finishing out my life here not entirely unpleasant.
Will this mindset affect how I engage Kyoto this time? I quote Shakespeare, at his most zen: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
On the turntable: Counting Crows, "Across a Wire" On the nighttable: James L. McClintock, "Nature's Kindred Spirits"
During my interim in suburban-industrial Hiroshima, I found myself growing a little scattered. Partly it was the train and auto traffic passing close to both sides of the house. Partly it was the constant flow of details and possibilities that needed attending in regard to our resettling in Kyoto.
I found ground in daily walks up the road to Oogashira Jinja. Up the ravine behind the shrine was a powerful waterfall that beautifully shaped the colorful rocks upon which it fell. In this peaceful nook, I began to teach Sora the magic of the world, placing her hand upon the smooth coolness of stone, upon the moist cold of bark and moss. I let the spray of the falls baptize her face.
As we strolled, I found myself wanting to walk with her at the speed of her thought, to allow her to engage things at her own natural pace. There must be neuroscience somewhere on the thoughts of infants. Do my daughter's thoughts move and pause like an adult on strong psychedelics? Or are they more like the hyperkinetic frenzy of disconnected synaptic stimulation?
Sora herself isn't telling.
On the turntable: Rustic Overtones, "Rooms by the Hour"
Leaving New Mexico, taking off at dawn to pass directly over the valley of petroglyphs at the western edge of town, a valley that I'd walked a couple of days ago.
And on the Trans-Pacific flight, getting an free upgrade, which enabled me to choose my own in-flight viewing. My choices were perfectly arbitrary, but in hindsight, had profound significance. First up was "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," about a woman who leaves behind a apparently futureless life in New Mexico. Last was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the story of a man who chooses to live life as an alien. (OK, I'm admittedly reaching a little with that one.) In between, I finally got a chance to watch "No Country for Old Men." What resonated in me there were images more literal than metaphoric, as my eyes wandered over landscapes that had been wandered over by foot multiple times.
And the usual return to Japan, 'usual' in that I knew how to navigate the process. (Though the fingerprinting was a first for me.) Bought a tea called "Pungency," before riding the slow train under a full moon frequently jumping into view amidst a cluttered Osaka landscape...
And upon my return I found myself completely devoid of culture shock, or reverse-culture shock, or whatever it is that my own particular case warrants. From the airplane to the train to the front door. Over the course of the first few days, I seamlessly fit back in, knew where to move all the pieces. It was if these two years never happened. It was if I had been here just last week, going through all the motions of my life.
But there was one difference, a difference that I couldn't have predicted. My ability with the language, albeit rusty, was still there, yet I was speaking slightly out of context. What I mean by this is that when one lives abroad, language serves only as the vehicle. Knowing how to navigate the roads is something else. My two years back in my home country, speaking my own language had made me lose my verbal Japanese cues, had made me forget the nuances. Bizarrely, they were there when I was in the States, and presented themselves when I would talk to myself, phrases like, "おかしいな！" or " いたい！" or " 暑い、" or even the occasional "はい！" Yet back here in Japan, my vehicle of language was driving off road. Japanese society is filled with 決めた言い方, or stock phrases. Certain phrases are heard in certain circumstances, every time. And I'd misplaced them, and found myself using regularly constructed Japanese, which sounded strangely out of place. Another disconnect was my body language. I moved through space as an American, making me feel conspicuous and huge. My wife's family were treating me the same as always, as if these two years hadn't happened. But I wasn't the same, and felt slightly out of step. I wondered if they noticed the disjunct.
Now three weeks after my return, the rough edges have worn away, perhaps washed away in the bath, or worn down by the sheets of the futon.
On the turntable: Neil Young, "Year of the Horse" On the nighttable: G. E. Morrison, "An Australian in China"