Sunday, September 29, 2013
"A good part of our wandering and homelessness is love, eroticism. The romanticism of wandering, at least half of it, is nothing else but a kind of eagerness for adventure. But the other half is another eagerness -- an unconscious drive to transfigure and dissolve the erotic. We wanderers are very cunning -- we develop those feelings which are impossible to fulfill; and the love which actually should belong to a woman, we lightly scatter among small towns and mountains, lakes and valleys, children by the side of the road, beggars on the bridge, cows in the pasture, birds and butterflies. We separate love from its object, love alone is enough for us, in the same way that, in wandering, we don't look for a goal, we only look for the happiness of wandering, only the wandering."
On the turntable: The Beatles, "Anthology 3"
On the nighttable: Hermann Hesse, "Wandering"
Friday, September 27, 2013
The steam coming off the paddies indicated that the night at least had been cool. It was pleasant to walk the still-shaded streets of Kinomoto, this one in particular lined with old wooden homes and shops. The lamps were unnecessary in the light of day, but the lamp posts illuminated the way in the metal characters forged upon them, characters bearing the kanji for the Hokkoku Kaidō.
But all things do come to an end. Just as I was beginning to enjoy the sun's soft caress on my skin, I took a sharp right onto busy Rte 8. I hate these roads most at this time of day, when commuters are racing to work, their attention ever-forward, in complete disregard for anything beside the path. And where the sidewalk ends... I cross over the left, always left, so that I'll be able to face the fast moving traffic, allowing myself to pull a last minute leap should a driver's eyes be engaged by keitai, or the morning news broadcast upon their dashboard.
A few of the old post towns serve as pit stops, taking me away from the rush of metal, and enabling my adrenaline to slow. Here, most is wood and tile, and the occasional thatch. The rooflines of the latter resemble the prows of ships. The temples and shrines through here have an interesting characteristic that I've never seen. Rather than having the wooden decks that usually line the perimeter, it is as if the decks have been built, then folded upward to rest against the sides of the structures. This adds an interesting psychological element in drawing the eyes too upward, the movement extending beyond the pitched roofs and into the sky above. Not unlike Christian churches, really.
I take a rest in the shade of one temple gate, with the snip of scissors sounding behind me, in the hands of gardeners trimming the trees within the grounds. Then I'm moving out of town again, where the houses leave off to reveal the straight lines of dirt paths and cropped rice stalks, all perfectly aligned and leading toward the tufts of trees which serve to hide larger shrines.
I cross a small river over the old bridge, now limited to pedestrian use. For me, these bridges are straight out of the American South, as they link riverbanks thick with trees. The river itself is crowded with water foul -- ducks and egrets and heron. The rain swollen rivers are a banquet.
On the far side of the bridge is another post town with the curious name of Torahime, or 'Tiger Princess." The sign boasts of its history, but all I see is ugly development. The road here is broader than most, with the old structures all on the left. A new bridge is being built at the town's southern end, taking us further from what ever history once existed here.
Eventually, I arrive in Nagahama. Here, history exists in spades. The Hokkoku Kaidō is quite spiffy here, the older structures having been restored to house galleries and restaurants. This is Japan at its best. The side streets too intrigue, filled with people strolling around. There is even a craft beer brewery. I will be back.
I'm teased by views of Lake Biwa, just a few dozen meters to my right. But I never arrive on her shores. Instead, I'm fed onto yet another busy highway devoid of sidewalks. I'll pass through a few post towns, none of which honor their past. There are a few old stone road markers, which probably would have been a nuisance to remove. Then the road itself disappears in Maibara, and I'm forced to walk a long circuitous route around its train yard.
All south of here is similarly characterless. Massive industrial factories. Love hotels. The only hint at the natural are a pair of wild boar traps. I find great relief when arriving at the turn-off for the Nakasendo, for I know that this long 28 km trudge is coming to an end. Toriimoto really should get more words than it is usually allotted, as here the Nakasendō was bisected not only by the Hokkoku Kaidō, but also the Chōsenjin Kaidō coming in from Hikone. There is still some personality to the old town, with nice wooden buildings and the handful of descriptive signs. I've been through here three times, but today I notice little. As usual, I always seem to finish these walks with a dash for a train, not wanting to wait thirty minutes for the next. And so with a panting of breath and a leap into the air conditioned carriage, I too, am history.
On the turntable: Pink Floyd, "Ummagumma"
On the nighttable: Alexandra Horowitz, "On Looking"
Thursday, September 26, 2013
I've been a few days in the Kiso Valley, and after seeing my clients off in Nagoya, I speed over to north Biwa to continue the Hokkoku Wakiōkan, from where I left off in spring 2009. I remember that as being a delightful walk, and today too doesn't disappoint, as I'm led along a well-marked and quite meandering course. Farmers are busy in their fields, putting their rice fields to sleep for the winter. And almost in parallel, people are busy cleaning the family graves.
The trail takes me behind a factory and though a bamboo forest. This is prime habitat for the mamushi, and I'm less than pleased that the trail is overgrown. My eyes stay glued to the ground. With each step, it seems that everything that can possibly take flight does, with large, fist-sized frogs startling most. I also find myself walking the edge of a harvested rice paddy, the owner herself having told me that this was where the old road once ran.
Steps onward, I come to the site of the battle of the Anegawa. It is now just a small stream running amidst the field, but one summer afternoon in 1570 this was dubbed the River of Blood. I'm astounded by just how many battles took place in this area, but it makes sense considering these flat lands stand before the series of passes that once protected the Emperor and his old capital. In the stillness I see no life, yet there are the occasional graves, and the pile of dozens of bicycles in their own graveyard nearby. The shrouds that had once covered the heads of enemy dead are now the white of soba flowers, which bobble atop their tall thin stalks.
The canals have not only been a companion but have given this walk its beauty. I'll leave them temporarily as I walk through grape orchards and into the forest. When I come out the other side, I'm at the foot of Ibuki-san. Parasails circle high overhead. The mountain itself looks less amused, her left shoulder having been savagely hacked into. I squint awhile at the upper flanks, looking for hikers, but they'd be too far off. So I drop down to the river's edge, near the remnants of an old bridge that once crossed here. I move toward an existing bridge downriver, musing at the power of water, and at how well it represents the flow of the inevitable, in particular when it confronts the follies of man. I sit awhile with the higanbana flowers at the river's edge, yet another reminder of the impermanent.
I'm getting closer to Gifu now, and the pastoral scenes begin to taper off. As if to further emphasize the lesson on impermanence, the battery on my iPhone dies. This is tragic for me, as I've been following a map on its screen. Without it, I'd never be able to guess the zigzag course I've been following. Amazingly, I find a power outlet on the side of a bank right beside me. I plug in, sit in the shade, and listen to Bob Dylan sing about something or other. After a satisfactory interval, I move on again. From here is a busy road, moving uphill. I am offered the choice of a few smaller forest roads just to my right, but the trails are too overgrown, the grass knee high. I may seen like I'm a little too preoccupied with snakes (and like all phobias, perhaps that's true), but I do know that this is the time of year when the snakes are being forcibly evicted from the rice paddies where they've made a happy home all summer, feasting on frogs. So they're now on the move, crankily looking for food, and aggressively protecting their newborn. This is the season when I see the most vipers and anyway, I don't like walking where I can't see what's underfoot.
I finally get a quick reprieve from the busy highway. As I cross a small river in the forest, my battery dies again. Incredibly, a car drives by, stops, and asks me if I need a lift. I politely refuse, and when I explain my situation, the driver offers to let me use the outlet at her house, just a two minute walk up the road. I take another short break there, where I'm offered some tea to replenish my own batteries. I smile at this kind woman's Red Sox T-shirt. We've woken her teenage son upon our return, who, unfazed at my foreign face, slinks off somewhere. The photo of a man smiles down from above the TV. Probably the father. Probably deceased. Living amidst all the history of the area, it little surprises that my hostess is a fan. We chat awhile, until I decide that I'd better get moving again. Due to my late start, I'll be getting to my train close to dark, and I know I have one more patch of forest to cross.
But it too is overgrown, and as I sit and above looking downward, I see no apparent way across the confluence of streams that the trail bisects. So I stay once again on the road, dropping to the true course when I can.
This is Sekigahara proper now, obvious due to the frequent signs which indicate where generals once camped on those nights leading into October 1600. I too have spent plenty of nights here, inevitably in restless sleep. Looking to kill time before breakfast, I'd stroll the area, with the sun rising on yet another day marching away from history. It isn't long before I recognize where I am, and my phone can stay in my pocket until I get to the station.
On the turntable: Charles Mingus, "Tijuana Moods"
On the nighttable: Lowell Sheppard, "Chasing the Cherry Blossom"
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
I would return to the walk, and to Sakamoto where I had left off. The sky is hazier, the day hotter, pressing toward 30 depute this being the last week of September. I'm front-facing a large shrine when I make an abrupt turn to the right. This particular road will accompany me a long while, as I bisect dozens of temples and shrines, each with a small plaque which explains its place in history. As I photograph one, a woman asks me if I can read what's written on it. I explain that my kanji ability is decent, not great, and if I were to try to puzzle the whole thing out, I'd be standing there for fifteen minutes. Usually I'll skim read to get the gist of things, then photograph the sign to read again in more detail later. She tells me that she is the priest's wife, and invites me in to look at the altar. I thank her, but tell her that I'd best keep moving along. It's hot already at this early hour, and I'm liking the feeling of locomotion.
I come soon to Karasaki Shrine, one of Omi's eight famous sights. They are meant to be seen not only in their specific locales, but also under certain conditions. I'm supposed to enjoy this view of the water at sunset, on a rainy evening. Instead, I get fishermen casting nets across a water surface shimmering in the sun. Behind me is the Shrine's equally famous pine tree, twisting itself tall and proudly over the grassy lawn. The 'kara' of Karasaki reads "T'ang" in Chinese, so I assume this tree, or one like it, has been here since at least the Heian period. A small sign tells me that the tree had been damaged in last week's typhoon. As if one cue, some workmen appear, and begin to wrap things in sheets of blue.
I come eventually to the busier road I'd followed last week. Some bicyclists who'd passed me earlier are now sitting in the shade of a convenience store, one of them smoking a cigarette with no apparent air of incongruance. I'll be on this damn road for awhile. Lake Biwa is mere meters to my left, but I am only given the odd glimpse. I've ranted before about how the most beautiful cities in any country are those that feature their waterfront. Here, Otsu has straightjacketed hers in concrete highways and chain stores. Seeing the water would be a nice distraction. Another of my usual rants is this city's lack of trail signs, but walkers are done the further injustice of sharing the busy road with the incessant stream of cars, without the courtesy of sidewalks.
I'm directed up the last of the roads I'll walk, which again takes on the look of an old feudal highway, the two-story houses narrowing to one lane, punctuated by Buddha statues and small shrines. Just below Mii-dera, I'll turn left down a lane lined with temples. At its end, I'll find the stone that marks where the Nishi Omiji meets the Tokaido, the latter stretching away from me, familiar from a morning fifteen months ago.
It's only 10:30, so I decide to walk another couple of hours over the ridge to Yamashima station. I backtrack past the temples again, which stand shoulder to shoulder all the way to the forest's edge. Opposite, on the lower side of the road are a parallel row of houses that themselves line the narrow canal that will eventually become the Kyoto aquaduct. Workmen and residents are removing sandbags at the canal's edge, and the presence of small diggers reveals the ferocity of the water's movement during the storm. The small road upon which I'm walking then gets cluttered when one of the machines backs up, stopping the flow of cars and taxis heading to one of the many temples on the opposite side. It is O-higan today, and the graves are busy with visitors.
After freeing myself from the traffic jam below, I stop for a chocolate break, sitting beside a large grave that stands alone at the edge of the forest, one carved with Korean characters. The odd car passes by as I make my way along the forested road toward the pass. There is the obligatory Jizo hall, with a sign informing me that what I've been walking is know as the Kozuki-goe, the route taken by those moving north from Kyoto, rather than following the heavier trafficked Tokaido moving east. The more I follow the more famous old roads, the more I encounter their smaller, more localized siblings. Too many to walk in one lifetime.
I soon come to a smaller path which follows the canal, its water beginning to accelerate toward the aqueduct at the foot of this mountain. I bypass it, formulating an idea about a walking trip that follows this little canal as it brings the water from Biwa and over two passes to Nanzenji. I'm interrupted from my revery by a group of old timers walking up the hill toward me. Earlier, I'd seen a dozen old men walking solo, each wearing a number that identifies them as some sort of walking race today, which I'm uncharitably referring to (in my head) as the 'old man marathon." But this group is unrelated, and had chosen this walk as a consolation prize to a planned mountain walk that had been called off due to storm-related trail damage. I say farewell, and a few minute's descent brings me to a busy bypass road, complete with a police speed trap. A quick look at the map shows me that I should have followed the smaller path along the canal. I figure out how to return to the Kozuki-goe, and along the way, encounter a woman moving red cones in order to allow her car to pass. She must live in the lone house that stands at the bend in the now-closed road. A concrete wall has fallen against the front, taking with it a road sign. The road itself has fallen away, the force of storm swollen water having risen with fury at this small bend.
I've passed through the barricades on the far end of the road, and meet again the group of old-timers from thirty minutes before. They confirm that I had indeed wanted to take the smaller road, and as it is only a kilometer to the pass, I hurry up and back. Heading west once more, I make a metal note to return to a now shuttered Jakko-ji in order to see it's Magaibutsu. It's a pretty straight forward walk along the aqueduct, sakura shading its length. (This last point is perhaps a hint as to when to do this particular walk.) I'm directed alongside some small factories. In front of one, the road has collapsed completely into the river. Then finally I meet the stone marker at the corner of the Tokaido, and familiar territory, and the train that gets me home for lunch.
On the turntable: Miles Davis, "Seven Steps"
On the nighttable: Junichi Saga, "Memories of Silk and Straw"
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Sunday, September 22, 2013
"Luxury is the enemy of observation, a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing."
On the turntable: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, "Drinking in the Blues"
On the nighttable: Peter Fonda, "Don't Tell Dad"
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The day after the typhoon gave us a beating, the sun rose to reveal a day crisp with the promise of autumn. I decided to take advantage of the good weather by continuing the walk down the west coast of Biwa, a walk I'd begun in the summer of 2009.
At that time I had been walking the "Umi no be no Michi," ignorant to the fact that this monicker is of recent vintage. Since older times, it has been known as the Nishi Omiji, and is a section of the longer Hokkoku Kaido, as it is called where it runs along Biwa's eastern shore. It was this route I walked today, headed toward where it linked up with the Tokaido down in Otsu.
I get off the train in Omi Takashima, walking toward a Lake swollen with flood water and bright with sunshine. The pedestrian tunnels, and the shoreline walkway to which they led, are completely submerged. I stay high up on the quiet road that ran through the village, before getting prefunctorily dumped onto the significantly busier Rte 161, which unfortunately would make up most of the day's walk. As such, it is a relatively uneventful walk, and I remind myself that this same monotony caused me to thumb a ride last time.
But I stick it out. The wind isn't high, but breezy enough to keep things cool. It creates whitecaps on the surface of the Lake, a surface stained brown with mud. I know from my map that I won't be off road much today, so I relish the small path that take me past a dozen stone Buddhas enjoying the sun on their faces, and down to the Shirahige Shrine, whose vermillion is a nice earthy contrast to the impossible blue of the sky. The forests around shrines are usually the healthiest to be found in a nation famed for its deforestation, yet above Shirahige are strands of dead white wood. Even more ironic, if you consider the 'white beard' that is the shrine's name.
Thick conifer boughs lie across the road in some places, their needles still moist with life. But above Komatsu I see the real damage. A river that feeds the surrounding rice paddies had jumped its banks, the waters finding new beds as they ran along the roads and into the fields. Luckily, the farmers had already harvested here, but I imagine that it'll take some work to get the mud out and make the fields fertile again. A sinkhole has dropped out the center of one field as if a plug has been pulled. A scarecrow stands nearby with arms in the air as if being robbed.
Meter high watermarks show on the sides of the houses of the village, and many of the low concrete walls that surround them have been pushed over. The water is back in its riverbed, but trees and debris are piled high on both sides to the height of a man. The owners of the house closest to the river are lucky that it is still standing, with the mud on the roads below it 10 cm deep. I step up and over dead trees, past the residents busy with their shovels.
I cross diagonally through rice paddies. The maker of the map I'm using seems to have lost his mind completely when I'm directed along a zigzag course across the berms separating them. I choose to stay on the road, which then leads directly to an anti-simian fence. It is effective against this particular simian, forcing me to detour. But I find some small satisfaction in the fact that I'm walking faster than the traffic up on the Rte 161 Bypass.
A crow lies dead in the road, which surprises me considering their agility. It is rare to see them as roadkill. But it makes more sense when I see the farmer in his field, aiming a slingshot at the birds and firing off shots at them. But they don't move too far from their mate, who looks freshly dead. I 'm not sure what the farmer is protecting, as his fields have already been harvested. After yesterday's rain, they take on their flooded appearance of spring, accompanied by the sweet smell of manure.
The rural scenes leave off after I pass below the peak of Hira-san. The mountain, and all below her, reveal their details in the clearness of the air. I find myself stopping often simply to gaze at a richness of detail seen only on the day after typhoons. It is almost worth having a day or two of bad weather, but I'm sure that those currently shoveling mud would disagree.
And with the coming of city, my enthusiasm begins to wane. I wrote a year ago about how I won't walk 25 km on a day over 25 degrees, but I've broken my word once again, and push close to 35. The breeze can no longer resist the heat of the day, and I wind up sunburned and slightly dehydrated. My amusement at the quirkiness of my mapmaker turns to abuse when I'm led along a stone beach now underwater. The highway has long lost its charm, though I'm pleased to find a marker for an 'ichirizuka,' the only indication all day that I've been on the right path after all.
Heading toward Sakamoto Station, schoolkids begin to pass me on their way home. One girl nearly walks directly into me. On her bookbag is the English word, "Look!" But I've been looking all day and am weary. I knew that I wouldn't do the full 40km stretch in one day, and am pleased to have come so far. It'll be a mere stroll through the suburbs to get to the terminus in Otsu. Hopefully, some remnants of the past will reveal themselves. "Look!"
(MAP: http://www.yamareco.com/modules/yamareco/detail-275232.html )
On the turntable: Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, "Studio Jams"
On the nighttable: Azby Brown, "Just Enough"
Monday, September 16, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Friday, September 13, 2013
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Sunday, September 08, 2013
Friday, September 06, 2013
The lines were clearly drawn, two sides, each yelling through bullhorns. Around and between them stood the riot cops, in their blue helmets and light body armor.
The passion of the arguments was bringing the heat into the day. The rightists were relatively few in number, but shouted the loudest. Despite their personal beliefs that they represent the soul of this country, the majority looked like they didn't belong, looking like society's bottom-feeders. Most had the stocky build of the working class, and well as the conservativism of the blue collar worker of my own country, I find myself surprised at their suppost for a cause that has so little concern with their well-being. Economic cannon fodder.
The other side didn't speak so vehemently, but had greater representation. Two or three of them fielded responses to why Japan needs to hold onto nuclear power, why it needs to beef up its military. One brave guy was taunting the riot police directly into their faces through a bullhorn. The rest of the leftists numbers sat quietly on the ground, listening to calmer speeches issuing from a series of speakers standing before the atomic dome. The speakers rotated in and out for a while, one of them a German national with a really bad translator. Just to the left of the speakers were another cluster of red-clad righter wingers being ignored by the crowd despite their best tough guy scowls and stances.
There were a number of smaller peace groups about, as well as anti-nuke groups with more localized concerns such as stopping a particular reactor, like Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi. They rarely numbered more than a dozen, but they did have guitars, and they did have songs.
A group of Buddhists sat not far off, chanting and beating drums as the sun falls upon upon their saffron robes. Three priests of a different sect ignored the din, offering incense at a stone altar front of the dome.
I smile at the passing foreign tourists who might mistake this for the actual ceremony.
And plainsclothes cops with the tell-tale ear pieces film it all.
Seated quietly to the side are a few dozen people clad in black. Hibakusha. It is they I feel for most of all in this, as they try to remember with dignity friends and family members now lost. Yet all around them the political chaos reigns.
At 8:15, all fall silent, only the cicadas keeping up the din. Bells from across the city begin to toll.
On the other end of the Peace Park, the Prime Minister will be speaking soon. Newly elected politician Yamamoto Taro gives a rousing speech to his anti-nuke constituents, stating that it is time to shout down the PM. Nearly a thousand people stand and begin to march toward the site of the official ceremony. The riot cops march with them, directing traffic along the way. I follow at a safe distance. Despite my solidarity with their cause, I choose to honor the bomb victims and keep my politics in my pocket today. When we near the Peace Museum, the march veers toward the headquarters of the Chugoku Electric Power company, where they will continue the chanting for another hour.
I decide instead to move toward the official memorial ceremony. A UN representative is giving the usual shallow and vapid speech in English, saying something about how we mustn't repeat the horrors of nuclear war. But how can she speak on the horrors of nuclear war while ignoring the ongoing horrors in Fukushima?
I return to the dome, passing the white clad grannies performing their annual peace flags protest, handing out flowers to passerby. One of their number will step up to the mic holding a flag and say, "Japan wants peace," or "The US wants Peace," or "Malawi wants peace." Compared to the peace marchers, it is neat and tidy, and so inoffensibly Japanese.
The leftist having moved on, the rightists are now shouting at one another. I hear one group repeating the words, "American aggression, American aggression." (Ironically enough, within 24 hours the media will quote the memorial attendee Oliver Stone with saying the same thing.) Another group of rightists is making racial taunts against Korea. A lone woman holds a small sign in his face, which says simply, "Not Today."
A group of relay runners begins to move out onto the hot city streets, heading toward Nagasaki. I too move on. In the park, a group of high school girls offer tea for peace. I accept a bowl, piping hot but surprisingly refreshing against the heat. Behind me, a Korean tour group is praying at the memorial for Korean victims. In front of me, a man with the Chinese name is speaking in Japanese with some students before the Memorial to the Unknown Victims. Later that evening, I'll see a large group of monks chanting here, as this is the only place in the park where the ashes of the cremated have actually been laid to rest. I move away from them, to ring the peace bell and offer a prayer.
I've been here all morning and am beginning to grow overwhelmed by the crowds and the heaviness. I smile at the Japanese man wearing the USAF T-shirt with out any sense of irony, and at the American Flag waving above a bar a few streets from the park.
I walk a long way, eventually finding my respite in Toshogu Shrine, on the other side of town. I follow the forest path up to the Buddhist Peace Stupa atop the hill. The trail lower down is swept clean, but higher up it is littered with leaves and the carcasses of cicada. It looks as if the Shintoists swept only until the uppermost shrine, leaving the Buddhists to fend for themselves on the higher sections. Nevertheless, this path must be beautiful in the spring, under the spread of pink sakura overhead.
I top the hill, the stupa before me, built on the Burmese model. There are dozens of these throughout Japan, warranting a book, or at least an article. It is tough to look directly at it today, as it literally glows white in the sun. It is well into the 30's now, too hot to linger. I'll come back to town in the cool of the evening...
...Miki and I return to the Peace Park at dusk. Things are far quieter, but tens of thousands of people continue to mill about. We stop and watch Oliver Stone sitting on a stage with a news team. We don't stay for his remarks, choose instead to read them in tomorrow's paper. The area around the dome is still lively, a band now playing uplifting music for some reason. Neither Miki nor I are in the mood, so we go sit by the river. A hundred people crowd the steps, gently placing candles wrapped in colorful paper bags into the water. It reminds both of us of the funerary ghats along the Ganges. A cello plays as the bags begin to follow the current, moving down river toward what ever comes next...
On the turntable: Shakti, "Shakti"
On the nighttable: Oliver Statler, The Black Ship Scroll"
Thursday, September 05, 2013
Currently in Matsumoto. There's a big symphonic event happening here, with Seiji Ozawa behind the wand. So it goes that the notes from a violin flow through the hotel halls, masterfully played, the arpeggios like water bouncing on rock.
On the turntable: Yo-Yo Ma, "The Cello Suites"