Hotel Locoz, Royal. Hotel Chapel Christmas. All of the Hachioji love hotels hanging along the opening stretch of the Kanetsu expressway, so many garish, sordid havens calling to tortured lovers, tempting with the poorly cloaked promise of two to four hours’ escape from prying eyes and questions.
Shuffling through the Dogenzaka rest stop idly for the tenth time, I look at the tsukemono, I look at the over-sized nikuman, slowly taking in all the chain-mall glory of the Japanese highway system: surreal, smug. They aren’t actual products I’d ever consider buying; it’s QVC and a sideshow. So many hours of saying nothing but thinking so much idly, it’s the closest thing to switching off that a neurotic medical journal entry like me can manage.
Sometimes a man meets a woman and is sure of his future in an instant. Sometimes it takes him his whole life. I used to believe that there was a certain way to fall in love, but as the years have passed I’ve grown to believe that there is no correct way to love a person. Change is eternal, and the only unifying constant in the world. I will be what I was but more and never less, forever.
What frightens me is what I don’t understand, and what may be. But I can’t predict the future, not from reading a thousand books or running a million experiments. But I can choose how I live and who I am, every day from now until the last. It’s nothing unique in its existence, but the actions I take are.
I am independent, and a voice, one of billions but one nonetheless. I have no more right to my own pursuit of happiness than any other, but no less either. My freedoms and privileges are immutable and as natural as the force of wind. These things are to my mind undeniable, so perhaps that is why the founders of America declared them as such. Be it God or chance, we have been given these infinite possibilities. So quick to favor ourselves and shift doctrine to ego, being human is certainly a challenge. Though we can identify with the ideals of freedom, truth, and love, they are not automatic. However it is said that nothing of any value comes easily. These beliefs number among our greatest strengths, our instinctive and unflagging desire to challenge, grown, and learn. So flawed is man, but so beautiful. As troubled in petty ways as I forever may be, I have never for a moment wished to be directed as to be infallible and not make decisions on my own. Life is hard, and it’s the hard that makes it great.
May all the buddhas of love and compassion always give me strength, so I may share it with others.
Thank you mother, thank you father. Thank you all.
The last several days have been…vintage Rusty. Assumptions, preconceptions, goals and limitations. Extremes are still my master, I soon forget my rules and principles. But oh how the fire burns! As the flames shrink, a deeper heat, an enduring one swells within. What have I learned other than my own weaknesses ad nauseam? Small things. Small beauty more timeless and sacred than my petty aspirations. Stories told by captivating old men, designs for a home to confuse invaders and protect one’s family, through time I slipped– centuries of valor, betrayal, honor, and poetry.
Fujiwara, Yoshitsune, bakufu, and Basho… Tokugawa, Ishiguro, Aoyagi, and Odano. I hiked through knee deep snow under a canopy of dormant sakura. I ate kiritanpo and dojou nabe, visited half a dozen bars and snacks in one night, faltering only at the end. I talked with locals about the Minamoto, matsuri, wabisabi, and satisfaction with life. So many mysteries unresolved, shades of light exposed then drowned out in unfolding darkness. So many questions, so much uncertainty; like the fickle weather of Kakunodate: ten minutes indoors and a crystal blue sky becomes a swirling snow storm.
I watched all four hours of Gone with the Wind, witnessing the horrible self-defeating tragedy of mankind and the eternal yearning for fantasy (ignorance of truth). Satori seems scarce at first but perhaps there is something deeper here to bring to heart.
My first day, New Year’s, took me to Hiraizumi in Iwate. I forgot a number of important items but managed to hack something together with parts from the Ichinoseki ekimae Lawson. I also had oden from a konbini for the first time. It wasn’t bad. After arriving at Hiraizumi, I got set up in my room by 3:00 and then headed out to take as many pictures as I could before dark fell on the quiet, snowy town. I ended up going to Chuusonji and had a cup of amazake while watching the hundreds of temple goers stream up Gogatsu no Saka for hatsumode. I returned to my ryokan at dusk and spent a blissful half-hour spacing in front of a roaring gas furnace before an enormous supper. Though I planned to get a lot done in Photoshop at night, the touch pad combined with some ridiculously grainy Ilford Delta stymied my efforts. It took an hour just to perform dust and scratch removal from fifteen mediocre shots.
Afterwards I gave up on the PC and watched the TV for a couple of hours, the standard New Year’s celebrity shows, before turning in early for the night.
Wednesday I got a lot of mileage out of my day hitting all of the historical sites in the center of town before I had to leave at two. Transfers at Ichinoseki and Morioka were subdued, not many people in Japan travel on January second. I spent half an hour lay over each time and stood on the end of deserted, hulking, hangar-like station platforms watching a sunburst melt over snow-covered warehouses.
Basho came to Hiraizumi to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Yoshitsune’s death. It was then, seeing the open fields, all that remained of the once great Fujiwara monuments, that he wrote the famous haiku to sum up mankind’s fleeting glory.
Natsukusa ya (Ah, summer grass)
Tamedomo ga (All that remains from the ruin)
Yume no ato (of warriors’ dreams)
Though I always turn off my iPod when I enter a temple or shrine, I’ve spent most of my time walking around listening to the solemn half of the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. While this is fitting, reinforcing the muted, cold atmosphere I half-wished to find on this trip, this is not completely fair. Music, like any other form of art, can be used in recreation to serve us. We see what we want to see, we hear what we want to hear, and we feel what we want to feel. Walking around with headphones all the time reinforces any barriers we already have built up around us, encased in our our little private bubbles. This cannot continue for very long without adverse effect.
So I took off the headphones to leave my mind to idle though. As I further realized when walking through the jukai of Aokigahara, it’s not long before I start making nonsensical remarks to myself, quoting movies and books, frequently in an absurd voice. Before stopping for afternoon tea I wondered aloud if Basho talked to himself three hundred years ago, and if he did, did he quote popular theatrical comedy of the day, pausing to chuckle at how amused with himself he was?
Today I’m starting out on my four-day tour of Tohoku (northeast Japan). I’ve been planning it for days, and set got so many pieces of the puzzle put together in advance, but somehow still managed to first miss the train I hoped for by oversleeping, and then fail to estimate what time it really was and had to run to the station to make the next departure on time. In the process I made quick grab-and-run decisions that I may end up regretting in the next couple of days. The first of these is bringing the 5D, the second leaving behind my tripod. I also forgot the Holga and my positioner. I also declined to bring the Happy Hacking keyboard with me, which leaves me with only the working set of keys on the WinBook (this does not include escape, five, six, zero and consequently right parenthesis]. But all twenty-six letters of the alphabet work, and my current login password doesn’t contain any of the dead keys, so I’m fine as long as the five-year old Li-Ion battery holds up. At least I didn’t pull any boners like leave the power supply at home. I’ve done this with cameras before though.
To get back to the actual trip, I’m travelling to Tohoku, in particular Hiraizumi in Iwate prefecture, and fan favorite Kakunodate in Akita. One of the many challenges in this journey is time management, many in the realm of transportation. In Tokyo where the Yamanote line comes every two minutes, in the country trains come once an hour, and if one’s transfers don’t line up nicely with the sparse number of departures, a nice long fifty minutes or so is spent in the cold staring off of the station platform into rice fields. Today I have to transfer four times to get to my destination, and in the end I have a fifty-minute layover to travel one station. Maybe I’ll get a bus. Maybe I’ll decide to tough it out and walk. Who knows. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get a seat on the bullet train. Maybe not and I’ll be standing. That brings to mind one more thing I forgot to bring: a book. 🙁