Tag Archives: Kyoto

The roughing it

After a week of easing into it, I suppose you could say that finally I have approached the bare necessities for traveling.   I spent the night behind a bush in Banpaku Park in northern Osaka, fighting off mosquitoes and then the substantial temperature drop after midnight.  At first when I was in the sleeping bag I was nearly sweating, but around three or four I was shivering so much it was hard to get back to sleep.  I will have to take more samples to see if the air temperature follows a similar curve in Tokushima. 

After finally falling asleep around five I awoke to full daylight at seven.  There was an old man practicing his short game about ten meters off, but I think I scared him away once he realized my presence.  I proceeded to assemble my belongings and then wash my alternate set of laundry in a fountain next to the playground equipment.  Now I am readying up on the first leg of the pilgrimage while my underwear dries unabashedly hanging from a bench canopy.  More or less this is how the next three weeks will be I suppose, though I wonder if my back can take the stress.

Today after lunch I will try to get the rest of the way to Tokushima, starting with a hitch from Senri to Kobe.

The Kyoto

Kyoto.  The simple, five letter word is laden with so much history, fantasy and tantalization, just thinking of it changes my mood as instantly as a sudden squall.  Such a delicate blend of tradition and progress, the veneer of a thousand years of imperial dynasty only barely thins around the edges, revealing a glimmer of neon 21st century finance that courses within.  The new style Cool Japan tendrils of Tokyo wrap themselves lithely down the bullet train electric cables, and the vast marketing power of the Nikkei makes good use of the elegance woven into every kimono thread.  In many Japanese cities I am either a visitor or an inhabitant, but even having dwelled in Kyoto, I know that I could live fifty years and still never be received with genuine affection.  The silken masks Japanese show to each other every day can never fully be removed for me.

Ten days in

The perfect storm of Kanto’s migration west coupled with a three day weekend traditionally reserved for visiting ancestors’ graves in the countryside has backed me into a corner of the Nozomi Super Express for the ride back to Tokyo. I should have had the foresight to buy a reserved ticket before I even left the capital, but it’s not that big a deal. I’ve had worse returns. It remains to be seen how packed things get at Nagoya, it’s possible I won’t even be able to sit in the corner then, so I’m taking advantage of the time to write now.

I wasn’t alone this weekend hardly at all, actually. I figured coming into town with two days’ notice would leave me wandering around a lot, but to my chagrin I spent virtually the whole weekend with Nobue, going around to her various appointments with her, meeting father and mother each twice.

No temples, but I did more than a fair share of praying at Izumo Daijinja and Kitano Tenmanguu. For the most part I was able to avoid gloomy conversation concerning the earthquake and the hot controversy spun around the nuclear power industry, which has been bane to efforts to improve my spirit over the last ten days.

Yes, there are going to be lingering issues darkening life in Tokyo for months, conspiracy theory talk, rumors of radiation tainted vegetables and rolling blackouts that ensnare the faltering economy. But it’s neither cathartic nor a positive use of my time to spend another second thinking about it so the monologue ends here. I appreciate the problems we face as a community but it’s my nature to focus on the positive, on the future. There’s a life to live and countless victories yet to be won with my blinding resolution.

Mundane comforts

A couple of pictures I took last month in Kyoto with the Mamiya.

Left work today early at 8:30 feeling lousy and sore. Came home thinking I was going to flop but somehow managed to cook dinner, clean the kitchen, make tea and practice guitar. Now I feel much better (aside from my gastritis). If my mind would just spin down a little now I could get to bed before midnight perhaps. Just a little meditation…

Something worth remembering

Honey you are a rock
Upon which I stand
And I come here to talk
I hope you understand

That green eyes, yeah the spotlight, shines upon you
And how could, anybody, deny you

I came here with a load
And it feels so much lighter, now I’ve met you
And honey you should know, that I could never go on without you

Green eyes

Honey you are the sea
Upon which I float
And I came here to talk
I think you should know

That green eyes, you’re the one that I wanted to find
And anyone who, tried to deny you must be out of their mind

Cause I came here with a load
And it feels so much lighter, since I met you
Honey you should know, that I could never go on without you

Green eyes
Green eyes

–Coldplay

“Holiday” afterthoughts

If nothing else, this trip to Kyoto was very efficient in terms of time. I was in the city for about twenty-six hours, spent less than four of that trying to sleep, and the remainder was pretty much writing, walking, and taking pictures for the brief period that the sun was out. I didn’t ride any subways or trains, and with all the back and forth traversing I did around Shijo, an eyeball estimate puts my foot traffic at about thirty kilometers, or slightly better than one of my best days at the M.S.S. Walkathon for St. Jude’s Medical Center. This was done with about six to seven kilograms of gear including my travel backpack and multiple wool, calf-length winter coats.

My mood went up and down in a fairly periodic fashion, which is par for the course considering the solitude, the cold, and the vast amounts of time with nothing to do other than write or walk. I am proud to say, though, that the only alcohol I had was a glass of wine I was treated to at lunch with some former colleagues.

Here are a couple highlights of my wanderings:


Pink is the path I walked on my first day after arriving at Kyoto staton at about two. Blue is the route I followed on the second day.

As night fell and my scheduled arrival time at the internet cafe a good five hours away, I was faced with the dilemna of what to do with my night. My options consisted of going to see Casino Royale for a third time, getting drunk, or being more productive with open schedule. Wisely, I chose the third option and bought a very nice book about the basics of SLR photography. For about the price of the movie ticket, I got a reusable reference book and spent a couple hours holed up in a warm corner of Starbucks until closing making satisfying progress with reading a technical book in Japanese. [Most people my age go to Starbucks because they like the atmosphere, the coffee, and the internet access (or to look sharp in public I guess). I go because I have nowhere to sleep and having already been to McDonald’s once in the day, it’s the warmest place to loiter that’s open late.]

“Go back to the basics.” “A just world values conservative nature.”

These words were written on a wrought iron ring I found on the ground outside of a pachinko parlor in Naka-ku. The worlds spoke to me so deeply, I thought it was a heavy-handed sign, just for me, of what I should do. I contemplated keeping it but my conscience has become a force undefeatable. And like Poe’s Telltale Heart or the One Ring, I nearly went insane in holding it and ran to the nearest police station after having it in my possession for fewer than five minutes. I did, however, record the finding so the words would not leave me.

This is daybreak at the gates of the Imperial Palace and soon after the Kamo River. The sun rose to a fairly clear morning and burned the fog off the horizon overlooking the Emperor’s perfectly cultivated mountains. I would continue on to walk another hour and a half to reach the foot of the world-renowed Ginkakuji, the silver temple famous for the scores of pilgrims who travel to pray at its altar for fortune. Unfortunately (sorry), there are no ATMs within miles of the ancient site and having spent the last of my coins on a vitamin drink and travel toothpaste (priorities), the five-dollar entrance fee barred me from nirvana. The timeless irony of commerce pervades even stoic Rinzai Zen Buddhism with the adage, “It takes money to make money.”

When I passed the sign for this hotel, I immediately shouted out loud, “HHEEHHHAAHHHRRRDIIIN-DOO-FLAHECHHHHHEEUUURRRSSSZZZZ!” I guarantee that at best, one person will get this joke. [Get it?]

I hoped to make up for my bad luck with Ginkakuji by following Valentine Michael Smith‘s example and visiting the animals in the zoo. Along the way I put my camera over the wall and tried to take pictures of some gazelles before I got around to the entrance, but all I ended up with was odd-angle shots of service areas and some empty cages. upon arriving however, I discovered it was closed for the holiday. This was just icing on the cake for me, but what was really depressing was when this little girl came skipping up path to the main gate with her father, incredibly excited about being able to go see all the animals, and they found out it wasn’t open. The guy probably works every single weekend trying to save for her education and when the poor sop finally has a chance to take a day off and make good on a promise to his daugther, the damn zoo is closed.

Towards the end of the my time in the city Rodney and I passed a charming little cafe with the most wonderful name. However, my delight was extinguished when Rodney explained to me how he knew the proprietor, and “David” actually passed away a number of years ago and his domestic partner had taken over the business along with a small gallery.

It was a nifty trip, though, and a got a lot of thinking done (how much is really actionable is another thing), in addition to a fair amount of reading, writing, and experience with my new wide-angle lens. The trip back was of course standing room only on the Shinkansen, but fortunately I scored a floor spot in between cars after the stop at Nagoya, so it was actually a pretty good deal.

Living out of a bag

A couple weeks ago I thought that I could survive for a month or so sleeping and showering in a manga kissa if I had to. However, after last night, I’m starting to rethink my position. I barely fit into my designated box and the chair didn’t recline more than 135 degrees, so despite as tired as I was, I wouldnt’ exactly say I slept deeply. Actually, I had a dream that I was in the manga kissa, but that each time I woke up, it seemd to be five minutes earlier than when I last went to sleep. It turned out in the end that the culprit was a rarely seen supporting character from a webcomic I regularly read. It was drawn crudely and unlike all the others, and every time I looked at the wriggling mass some sort of garbled foreboding music bellowed, like Dark Side of the Moon run through a sewer pipe. I’m not sure what it means, but it only kept me unconscious for about two hours. In the end I suppose it was better than trying to sleep in a park, though.

Now I’m in Matsuya having just finished my fermented soybean set meal, (how else am I going to start a day like this and survive?), listening to cheap Pizzicato Five knockoff music and thinking how convenient twenty-four hour trips through quasi-urbania are made by places like 7-11, Matsuya, and the manga kissa. If not for them, the only way I’d eat at quarter to six on a national holiday would be to untether some samurai rations from my bundle and sit in the frigid, pitch dark night and reflect on how nice a fire would be. (Actually I’m in luck, it’s not that cold at all despite being winter: a tepid six degrees with no wind at all.)

But the sunrise awaits me at the Imperial Palace, so I must be on my way.

Travelling.

Oh, but why? How a winter’s day by the Kamo can chill a man. No sun, no snow, just damp and stone. How else could the day be spent? But so much, so many things… how many do await in this old city for a traveller and a thinker? But money does not buy happiness, oh no. With money comes so much baggage, so much regret, like a city, not your own, but only belonging to someone else, now gone.

Gentle duck, fair fisher.

Gentle duck, fair fisher.

The heron finds meal for today. Waking water, tender sleeper; you will flow no matter how many lovers visit your shores. Silent reed, ragged grass; in your weathered arms the crane keeps her home.

Not skirts, not pavement, not dates made on a calendar; time walks by while I sit.

Happy

So Nobue got a job with a supplement company just down the street from Kyoto eki. This is really big for her, it’s her first like career job and she really worked hard to get it. When she called to tell me she got the job, she couldn’t stop laughing she was so happy and I think people were rioting in joy in her room. So I bought her a huge armful of miniature sunflowers and such and had it trucked down there to meet her Saturday morning.

Yeah.

I’m happy for her. I’m really happy for her. Bittersweet, oh yes. I guess I’ll continue watching from the sidelines. Or maybe I should just leave the stadium.

Kyoto

…Originally recorded August 14th…

I’ve been in Kyoto for three hours now. So far it’s been like visiting your old high school with a hangover…after having been dumped at prom. Though it’s a big city, I’m still in fear of running into someone I know. I’ve walked a grand arc through the places I used to frequent. I feel like I’m on an empty tour bus, “Wasteland of the Ignorant Fallen”. It’s still at least another half an hour until I see Rodney, but given my current mindset and his usual approach to support, I’m not sure I’m entirely looking forward to it. I want to be in a bed, near an open sliding glass door, inches from this rain and miles from anyone else.

Half the girls in this damn town look like her. Same hair, same makeup, same shoes, socks, build. Or maybe I’m seeing more similarities that there really are. [Ever seen Vertigo?] I’m actually quite disgusted with myself for the way I’m handling this whole thing, but I guess that’s why I’m in this situation: because of the way I handle things.

18 minutes.

I’m out of the rain, but sitting by the subway entrance at Shijo Karasuma is probably one of the top five places I could find trouble.

“The mass of men lead lives of quite desperation”, mine just happens to be punctuated by the occasional scream.

Economy

…Originally recorded August 14th…

55% of Japan’s 4 trillion dollar economy is domestic consumer spending. I’m on a budget of about 10 dollars a day for food, and that’s all for eating out as I don’t have a kitchen. Kyoto’s posh shopping district is in some ways even fancier that Tokyo’s Ginza. Shijo dori stretches from the Kamogawa to Karasuma and along the way is an avenue of specialty shops and department stores. The fine stone sidewalks are covered, so even in the rain commerce may commence unhindered. Jewelry shops and specialty tea houses nuzzle between the towering obelisks of Hanshin, Hankyu and Daimaru. The Japanese deaprtment store is a wonder of brillant presentation, each one feels like a Saks or a Bloomingdale’s with a cavalcade of meticulously arranged wares from Gucchi to gouda. They seem expensive to me but appear to be quite popular, always jammed with women with 3 bags on each arm. I usually feel underdressed just going there, but to see the marvel of better living is worth it.

I never wanted to be rich until I came to Japan and saw the packaging.

Lovers

…Originally recorded August 14th…

There are no lovers at the Kamogawa today. The steady rain continues, making the river run high and quickly. I’m perched like a pelican under my umbrella on a red granite bench, a small plastic bag for a seat cushion. Here, alone at the Kamogawa, just north of Gojo, I look across to the west bank and see the large pagoda’ed restaurant where just about this time last year I was taking Nobue’s picture. She was so beautiful…it made me feel strangely on edge, but weak.

I wonder why I came back up here. To torture myself is the only thing I can imagine. Maybe I thought I could come to terms with things somehow, but the contrary is quite true. It just makes me wish I would run into her. But if I did, I have no idea what I’d say…wanting to speak the precise words needed to make it all back to the way it was…to make it all perfect and magical, her and I in love like I thought we were. But the truth is there are no such words. There is no combination of feelings or gestures on appearances in any reality that would change things, let alone me understanding the way she felt. And as Reagan said “you can’t change her mind about how she feels, and even if some how you miraculously could, isn’t that something you don’t want, really?”

My heart is so twisted, I don’t even know what I’m feeling anymore…a mix of pain, longing, peace and joy from memories’ nostalgia of everything dead.

Rituals

…Originally recorded August 14th…

So I’m performing a ritual that was one once rife with teenage puppy love and urgency: the express train ride from Takanohara to Kyoto. Today the air is filled with as many ghosts as my mind; it’s unseasonably cold and raining. The rice fields look all the more vibrantly green against the grey water-coloured sky and the mountains which sang to me yesterday now hide in anonymity, obscured by fog. Telephone and power lines spread in spidery directions over all planes in my 16-bit vision. I find myself wanting to crawl through the pumpkin patches and paddies, soaking up the raw honestly, freeing my conscience of the industrial grime and tendrils that have festered and sprouted on my skin. So many small rivers fall before my eyes in between clumps of weathered earthone houses. Like a salmon I want to navigate them all to the sea. But blind poetry has me jaded, and perhaps I’m too far gone.

In a cloudy world do we find drama – the dark eyes and hair of a candy-lipped nymph, I begin to think myself spoiled to pine for such pet-bottle innocence long lost in the crow’s feet of my face. Fitzgerald and the color green spring to mind, echoing “symbolism! symbolism!” from my literature teacher’s bobbing throat. In perspective foreshortening does our idealism grow, for smaller things farther out of reach have less flaws. There’s enough hidden energy on these rooftops alone to keep my gnarled form breathing.

Rusted numbers stand ungarnished golems in a sea of weathered, carbon-copy apartments, and the rice fields and mountains become occluded by gambling dens and billboards. But Japan doesn’t have enough money to keep all the scenery fresh, so walls crack unpatched while sprawling weeds and moss attest nature’s perseverance over paving.

More and more tall beige buildings loom over the cockeyed, stained houses. The feeling ebbs from my legs as I slide further down in my seat from the train’s gentle rocking, and with the numb paralysis comes the end of my train ride. In a few moments I’ll disembark into the monolith of human self-effacing achievement, Kyoto eki….a place large enough to make even the most jubilant of lovers feel small, for you take it all at once….mammoth, blue, and vaulted.