JAPAN FALL 2010

The following entries are travel experiences I had while in Japan fall of 2010.  It is not so much about technical instruction and information on Japanese gardens, etc., as it is about my journey as a traveler.  More informational topics on Japanese gardens will be covered through the regular weekly postings.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In Seattle sitting on the plane. I selected the emergency seat row - so I have lots of leg room...WONDERFUL. But I am near the lavatory. Possibly too near.

I am exhausted and still haven't really thought about being in Japan. It's surreal with a twinge of strange. I slept 30 some odd minutes last night and remembered everything but my packet of maps and contact info for places and people, etc. I'll manage. :)

Numb brain, numb bones, numb heart....strange that I'll be there soon. But normal at the same time.

I like meeting new people and engaging in interesting conversation. But I hope the gentleman next to me just wants to sleep - nope.

And we're off.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saturday, Sunday, Monday

"So are you famous?""Has any mathematician ever been famous?""Einstien?""He was famous for his physics.""Oh.  Well, are you famous in the math community?"The conversation I thought I didn`t want to have ended up a delight.  I do love meeting people and making aquaintences and that will usually override my sometimes reclusive nature.He was on his way to Kyoto to give math lectures for three days, then fly back to California where he teaches at Irvine University.  He`s one of a couple thousand worldwide that understands math the way he does and as I watched him type his notes I couldn`t begin to comprehend what could possible go on in that brain of his.  Math is such a foreign language to me.We talked a lot during the 11 hour flight from Seattle to Osaka.  Topics of all sorts were covered: math (very little though since he couldn`t really exlpain a thing to me), landscape design, religion and beliefs, family, books, movies, realtionships, sailing, Jerusalem, broken hearts, France, divorce, his kids, authenticity, hopes, conundrums, standards, makeup...just whatever really.  And he shared his almonds with me.He sails as a hobby and makes it a serious hobby.  Serious enough that he has sailed all around Europe - even when his kids were young they lived on a sailboat in the south of France.  Awesome.  He recently sailed to Newfoundland and has accomplished a feat only the most elite have conquered.  His pictures were amazing.Since we were both heading to Kyoto we caught the train together and made our way to the Kyoto terminal where we said our goodbys and goodlucks.  He said whenever I needed my annual coast, he would show me some beautiful beaches.  (Maybe even on a sail boat!)

As I made my way out of the station and into the streets I felt familiar.  I felt as if I had never left Japan.  That all that has happened since last June...never really existed and that I was simply continuing my life in Kyoto.  I caught a taxi to the hotel.  It`s in the north east region of Kyoto, and not too close to the station.  I checked in at the front desk and made my way to elevators...7th floor.  A light knock and when I pushed the door open I was greeted by the smell of tatami mats, Ruth of The Netherlands, and Jeaninne of Mexico.  Both younger than I.  We started talking as if we had known each other for years.  I love international exchanges.

The group is impressive.  We are 18 and I am among the younger part of the group. Utah, California, New York, Minnesota, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Serbia, England...maybe I have left out a country or two, but we are a great mix and are getting along fashionably well.  I love the diversity, and that we have one passion in common that unites us and makes us instant friends.  Gardens.  Many are not practicing landscape architects or designers, but somehow we all relate to the field in one way or another.  One man is in marketing and product development for cosmetics.  The new Estee Lauder frangrance, Sensuous?  Yeah, that is his.  I asked him what fragrance I would be and he said he would have to get to know my personality better.  But I`ll let you all know so it makes it easier for you when my birthday comes around.  Another lady simply loves to garden, as she says it is everyones second passion (if not first) in her country.  And you know you are talking with a true English women when she says: "Oh you must come..."

We are three to a room, a little tight...and sleep on futon on tatami.  I forgot about the hard pillows.  But I slept very well last night and woke with little problems.  I really do love sleeping traditional Japanese style.  The hotel is located next to nothing by way of restaurants, shopping, nightlife and movement.  And the internet that I thought I would have, doesn`t really exist.  This post is coming to you from the Univeristy, so those videos that I thought I would make and post will have to be created once I get to Kameoka in two weeks.

This course will be a perfect compliment to what I experienced this spring.  We will have lectures for three hours daily along with first hand garden experiences.  What I learned and absorbed through the hearing of thoughts and theories during today`s lectures has already started to boil my blood and excite my soul.  It`s going to be an important few weeks and I mean to maximize my time here.

*******

I think maybe a Japanese bath is in order to finish the day.  We have public soaking tubs here and I hear the water is hot and wonderful.

*****

Oh, and yes. He is famous.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

So there really hasn`t been much time to post.  We`ve been consistently on the go and since there`s not decent internet access from the Hotel, I digress.  But I am always writing in my head and wish I could take you along with me more often.  What I experience here continues to be amazing.

I have locked up my macbook and iphone.  I don`t want to look at them for as long as possible.  It`s been freeing and nice.  I also don`t carry a watch so I won`t worry about the time.

The weather is cooler here than I had expected, and I decided to leave a few items homes that would have been very useful.  O`well.  But this cooler weather will aid the fall leaves in their change.  We should be here for the transformation.  I will chase leaves until I see them in their array of wonderful hues.

I am loving my time here.  It`s different but the same as the past spring...I guess more of a continuation but deeper and fuller and more dimensional  The group of travelers I am with are definitely more my crowd.  David showed up a day late to the seminar.  He`s from Charleston but worked at the Chicago Botanic Gardens for 11 years before buying a design/build business.  We`ve become good friends and it`s nice to have someone who will wait for you while you try on a coat or look at colorful shoes - and will let you borrow their jacket when you are too cold.  I am so used to traveling solo and always doing my own thing.  It`s been a nice change to have someone to negotiate the streets with and do a little give and take.  A few of us, David and John (cosmetics/fragrance man) included, went to Pontocho last night and had a grand time.  Lots of Kampai.

I will try to write more, but I am not sure the possibilities of that.  Since I am spending more time with other people and places, my time with the computer has been given less priority.  I think once the seminar is done and I get to Kameoka, I will have more time to write.

Kampai!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The people I am learning to love

I really love the compilation of people that have gathered from abroad to participate in this seminar.  Such diversity, it is completely refreshing.  I have always been drawn to diversity - it makes me feel more at home in a way.  I love hearing everyones accents, and sometimes I wonder how the others view mine.

Ruth, from the Netherlands is just what you`d picture.  She has short dirty-blond hair that she just lets be - rosey cheeks coupled with fair skin and wonderful soft brown eyes.  Her bone structure is that of a Hollander (?).  She`s probably the youngest in the group at 22 or 23 and is now getting her Masters in Landscape Architecture.  She has one younger brother and is an optimist, sensible, and laughs readily in a child-like manner.  She really does have a great mind and I enjoy hearing her thoughts and views.  She has many valid and wonderful opinions - and sometimes I wish I could borrow her brain.  She will be staying in Japan the longest - I think a whole two months?!  She has an internship up north, and will do quite a bit of traveling.  So jealous!  I love sharing a space with her.

Jeannine is quick, energetic, fashionable, and very smart.  She`s petite with beautil olive skin and exotic eyes with lengthy eyelashes.  She lives in Mexico city with her husband, but is looking to move out of the country because it is not safe.  When she got married two years ago, she and her husband wanted a hobby that they could do when they were together.  Bonsai was the result.  They have about 26 trees and she`s fantastic.  She`s sensitive, playful and loves Hello Kitty and wears a sheep mask to bed.  She comes to Japan for training and was the first female to train under a certain master in Tokyo this year.  She was always in the top of her class and was also in the ROTC in Mexico because she loves to shoot rifles.  I consider her husband, who is 12 years older, a very lucky man and I hope he knows it.  I think he does.  I hope to have a hobby with my husband someday.  Maybe bonsai.

Holger is great.  I love talking to the man.  He`s from Frankfurt, Germany and reminds me a tad of a younger version of Brother Gubler, but with a German accent (fitting since he went to GER on his mission).  He`s got the thin glasses, short almost non-existent hair and the head/face shape to be his brother.  He works in the HR department for some company and has no connection to Japanese gardens, other than that his wife is Japanese.  He`s been great to have around because he can get by on the streets and in the restaurants.  He`s quick to smile, laugh and be confused by how I phrase things.  We always are laughing at something or another about our usage of words.  No kids yet.  He askes very intelligent questions and is starting to get excited about plant names.  I think he`s a goner and will become a gardener when he gets home.  He`s so pleasant and adds some smoothness to the group.

Russell is a crazy aesthetics pruner.  Crazy in the best way possible.  He`s quite the conversationalist and entertaining at that.  He`s got passion and excitement.  Living in California he has several Clients whose shrubs and trees he cares for.  If you`re going out for dinner or to a pub, take Russell and you are guaranteed a good time.  He`s the one with all of the one-liners that will be quoted for several days following and his commentary on politics makes you think he should be a comedian.

Christianne goes by Nutty.  She`s from southern England and is so wonderful to converse with.  How could a group of garden lovers exist without an English accent somewhere in the group?!?  We have had wonderful conversations and she is all ready to give me some contact names for people I should know in the UK if I am serious about gardening.  She just simply loves gardening, even though her two kids who are about 19 and 24 sometimes thinks she`s crazy.  Her husband lets her be so.  GOod for him!  Obsession is the word she uses to describe the people she calls her countrymen.  She has lovely English blond hair and wears a lovely grey trench coat with some green ankle high wellies.  She`s wonferul.

Konstantijn is the the sweetest.  His parents must simply love him and their hearts must fill up with pride when they think of him.  His Belgiun accent is just delightful and I get all happy inside when I talk with him.  He kind of reminds me, in a small way, of the main character from Lars and the Real Girl.  His parents own a flower shop back home.  When he was 12 he wanted to go to horticulture school, but his parents said no.  So, when he turned 18 he went anyways and now has his own landscape design business.  His parents now approve.  His hobbies include Koi and Bonsai - as well as volunteering around the town educating people about tree care.  He is the oldest and has some younger brothers and a 10 year old sister.  I am sure they all adore their older brother who smiles with his light blue Belgian eyes, and when his mouth curves up they sparkle.  And he has a great green sweater and black beanie.  He`s quite, but loves to come with the small group of us that go out together in the evenings or for lunch.  He`s content to just be and observe, but will talk plenty when talked to.

We all get along so well, it`s ridiculous.  I think people who love gardens, naturally tend to have big hearts.  I think that`s why we all have such a grand time together.  We are big heart people.

More people introductions to come at a later date.

So much I have learned already.  And by doing so I realize all the more I have to go - all that I do not understand.  So much.  I hope within the coming weeks I will be able to write snippets of my thoughts and feelings or ideas that I have had while being here.  I might burst.  I wonder what my life will be.  I wonder how long I will live in Salt Lake.  I feel that it won`t be a long term or permanent part of my life.  I would love to live abroad - or move to a larger, more diverse city in the NorthWest or New England.  And if I am supposed to stay in Utah - then it will have to be coupled with ample abroad experience and travel.  But I think it would be well for me to consider a change within the coming years...just need to wrap up Middle Earth so that I am free for the world to find me.  What an adventure.

I`ll also need a lot of money.

Oh yeah - that part, too.

Traveler Notes

A tourist gets lost, a traveler wanders.*****When traveling, there exists a balance between the use of the different modes of transportation: bus, subway, train,  motorbike, bicycle, and foot.  I think it`s important to experience all of the above, or as many are available, in order to gain an array of experiences and ways of life in any particular city or town.  Plus, there`s some odd sense of accomplishment when you`ve got the local transportation systems and routes down.  You feel like you belong, and that`s one purpose of a traveler.This morning on my way to the University, I could have taken the bus which would have cut my travel time from 30 plus minutes to about 10.  But why take the bus when you have time to walk?  The weather is the best it`s ever been, a perfect fall day in Kyoto.  I would have missed out on seeing Grandma ride by on a scooter with her scarf showing her speed.  Or a few grandpas pedaling down the sidewalk.  I love seeing the elderly out zooming around.  It`s so normal here.  The two yellow butterflies entertaining the coreopsis would never have been witnessed, and the smell of morning bread at a local bakery would never have reached my nasal passages.  I also wouldn`t have realized that the little green and red people on the "walk" and "do not walk" lights are all wearing hats.  So appropriate.Sometimes it`s good to leave the sidewalks and experience life on the bus or the subway - from my experience you get to observe the business class a bit better.  Lots of suits on the subways.This type of going about doesn`t need to be restricted to only when you are out of town or abroad, and many of us probably already do use a number of modes to get around during our weekly routines, but maybe not.  "But it would be so impractical."  Well, try something different this week and see what happens.  See what you learn.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Public Bath

One of my favorite parts of the day happens right after I wake or right before I sleep.The public bath.Each day, I am left a clean, fresh robe with two clean yellow towels.  One big and one small.  Up in my room, I gather my showering and bathing essentials, undress and put on the navy and white robe, which comes with a thick dark tie.  Slide on the green slippers, make my way to the elevator, and go from the top floor to the bottom floor where the lobby and some shops are.  Past the shop, down the hall, down another hall - through some sliding doors.  A sign reminds you, "No Smorking."   The men and women are separated.  You enter a room that we would probably term as a locker room.  There are spaces for slippers and woven baskets for your belongings.  You disrobe, take what shower gels and shampoos you need with you and open another sliding door and into the big room with the bath.  Really, all shampoos and conditioners and washes are provided at the sinks - so really you don`t need to take anything with you.  But this American girl, with her Bumble and Bumble, does.  I have never liked hotel hair and body products.  So far I am the only one that has brought in my own....everything.Along the walls are low rows of sinks with a dismountable shower hose at each one for wetting and rinsing purposes.  You sit low on a little stool, with a sink and mirror in front of you.  A little basin that you use to gather water from the faucet is facing downwards in front of you.  Flip the basin around, set the temperature and turn on the water.Rule number one: Do not splash your neighbor.After you have soaped up, shampooed, conditioned and rinsed - you turn your basin upside down and make your way to the soaking tub.  The water is hot and welcoming to the muscles.  It`s a rather large tub - with a panoramic view out to a bamboo and stone garden.  Sometimes it is quiet with only a few people.  Sometimes it is busy and chitchatty when all the older ladies come in with their friends - lots of fun laughter when that happens.When you are done soaking you leave the bath, leave the room - find your basket with your towel and other belongings - dry off and dress.  The have a vanity outside in the locker room with more sinks and mirrors complete with q-tips, cotton balls, lotion and blowdryers so that you can be ready for the day when you leave.*****It`s quite normal to see people wandering the hotel in robes.  Coming from or going to the bath I am not sure.  Sometimes they wear them to breakfast.I think I have said this before, but a large Japanese soaking tub with a soap up, rinse off shower, adjacent a small garden. is already in my house plans.

Pathways

The first day of the seminar we had a lecture by Ken Kawai on pathways.  I learned more than I had hoped, and gained understanding in areas in which I was not expecting.

In Japanese pathway is Michi, derived from the two characters Mi, meaning sacred or beautiful, and Chi, meaning direction.

Pathways; a beautiful and sacred direction.

The many paths in Kyoto were purposely created to lead one from a secular space to a sacred space.

I find all of the above very interesting, like the depth of layers in parable.  And I am not going to go off and share my thoughts and ideas about this just yet.  Maybe in a month or two I shall.  One thing I have learned during the past week is that one should let others have time to develop their own thoughts and creations about ideas before you share your own.  It makes for a more even/equal and well-rounded conversation afterwards.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Work Day

It was a work day.  We pruned trees in the the Imperial Palace Garden Park grounds.  Equiped with Japanese pruners, we went to work with the Imperial Palace gardeners and learned along side them.  I can`t say that I subscribe to all of their pruning techniques, but there are some things I will incorporate into my gardening style.  There`s a fine line between enhancnig a trees beauty and really showing off it`s structure by shaping and cutting, and pruning so deeply so that the plant feels like it can`t reach it`s potential and fulfill it`s purpose as a creation.  Sometimes I think the trees here are a little hindered.I will talk about other wrestles I have later in regards to the gardens here.  Maybe wrestle isn`t the proper word...I just have to make some decisions.I need some separation from the group.  No matter how wonderful the dynamics and personalities are - I need some solo time to wander.  To think and not think.  To find a noodle shop and get a bowl of soba.  I have had my udon and ramen.  Now I just need soba.  And as always, sushi.  It`s been a blast going out everynight with various people to the different areas of Kyoto and discovering the streets, narrow and wide.  Kyoto in the day is wondrous.  Kyoto in the dark has a hint of intrigue.  I have enjoyed the company of others so much and we have had wonderful times together.  Just last night we were down in Gion.  Wandering along the cherry tree lined canal, we crossed a stone bridge and ducked into a small restuarant.  You never are really sure what you are getting.  The hanging cloth with Japanese writing hangs over the top part of the doorway.  We were seated on the floor with a inlaid skillet as the center of our low table.  Our view was out to the low lit canal and the prices were fair.  The food was excellent.  As it most always is.  Afterward we wandered more streets...just whatever took our hearts we followed.  We passed a Geisha heading to work.  To see one in person is simply exquisite!  Beauty like a magnolia blossom.  They really are breathtaking.  Caucasians look so silly, okay - stupid, when they dress as a Geisha and powder their face white.  Unless maybe your little girl is one for Halloween.  I think our noses and eyelids are too big.  That being said, Kimono is extemely comfortable to wear.So tonight I am off on my own.  Wahoo.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Vending Machines A word must be said about vending machines.  Simply because they, along with a mass of power lines, are an integral part of the Kyoto Urbanscape.  Drink vending machines are EVERYWHERE.  In the city, up by the temples, along the mountain roads.  Thirsty?  No worries if you`ve got your yen.  Water, juice, green tea, cold coffee, hot coffee, beer.  It`s all there.  But not so much soda.  There are also vending machines with packs of cigarettes.  Okaaay.  Supposedly you have this special card to use those, but really.  Smoking in Japan used to be so much worse than it is today, but there are still plenty of places where people are allowed to smoke, which is really a bummer.  John used to work in Tokyo back in the day when you could smoke in the office at your desk.  Can you imagine!  They say it`s gotten much better and that while there is still plenty of smokers, it really has cut back.

Oh - and Tommy Lee Jones has this totally awesome I-look-serious-while-looking-up-and-away picture of him on the BOSS vending machines.  It always makes me laugh.

Temple Entries

Temple Entries are coming.  It`s just that they take so much energy to compose that they might have to wait until Kameoka.  Then we will revisit the temple gardens together.  Hopefully then, I will still be able to portray my experiences adequately.  Somtimes the moments are fleeting and must be caputred in the moment, like the late afternoon lighting on a photographers fall outing.All of my senses have been challenged here in Kyoto.  Sights, sounds, tastes, feels, smells...and one must add heart as the 6th sense when in Kyoto.  You are hit by so much in so little time that if you are not centered you may be run over.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

you can't win 'em all

I took the wrong number 5 bus.  And ended up in the completely opposite direction.  I was barely still on the map when I exited the bus, and found myself surrounded by overpasses, viaducts, darkness and nothingness.  Where am I?!  No where.

Oooops.

Hungry, I stopped into the nearest resturant that looked even remotely reputable.  After 5 minutes at the bar, I couldn`t take it anymore.  The horrible music playing over the system was not helping and I didn`t want Chinese food anyways.  I asked if I could have my sweet and sour pork to go.  Please.

After a costly cab ride, I ate my pork in the hotel lobby where the musak is even worse!  Dur.  Later that evening I ended up having a conversation with ...... where I did indeed need to remind him he is married and there will not be anything between us.  He`s not my type either way.  So the unexpected sub-plot of my Japan adventures should be over.

You live and you learn, right?  We`ll chalk last night up to experience.  Oh, the lessons learned.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Two points of impact

I wish you could be here.  I wish you were close by.  I wish the reverberating vibrations of my Kyoto drenched soul could be infused into your bosom and soak you from head to toe.My head is swimming with the days events.  It has been so impactful, I just might start to cry and drown if I cannot get some footing.We started the morning at Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion.  We arrived before the gates opened at 9am.  The head gardener for the temple came to greet us and then proceeded to take us to rooms and gardens where the everyday tourist is not allowed, which turned a well-attended garden into a more intimate experience.  After spending some time in various buildings we were taken out by the main pond, where the Golden Pavillion sits.  I thought that surely here we would have to settle with being a part of the masses, but much to my delight we were escorted past the bamboo barrier and down a path that follows the western shore.  Here we were even allowed to tread over the moss to get a good angle for our pictures.  It was quiet, serene.  An egret a top a verticle stone protruding out of the water made the living painting complete.  Some maples are were red.  They will peak in 10 days.We were to meet at 10:15 for the bus, the exit was our rendevouz point.  At 10 o`clock I found myself arriving at a line of shops signaling the end of the temple grounds.  15 minutes not to waste.  I headed back toward the entrance.There`s a large bell before one enters the garden, and for 200 yen one can sound the bell themselves.  I had the change in my pocket and waited in the short line, behind the young boy with his parents.  After they had sounded the bell, first the father, then the son - they came down from the covered bell porch and I was encouraged up and in.  A thick braided rope tied to a large wooden beam hung in front of me.  Looking up, the bell was impressive.  With a motion by the monk, I placed my hands together as a prayer and with closed eyes bowed towards the bell.  I then grasped the rope, my gripe was wide.  My stance was wide as well with one foot in front of the other so as to keep my balance.  Two practice swings - the monk demonstrating the motion through charades.Now it was time.  Time to ring the bell.I pulled the rope back with much vigor while drawing in a breath.  When the beam reached the point of return, with some force, but not too much (the goal is not to hit it as hard as you can, but focus more on the purpose and what it means to be the ring bearer), I pulled the rope forward and downward...........................................................  .................. ............... ............... ......... .          ..........     ...         ..                    .The bell sounded.  It vibrated.  Rich and complete.  Through the air and through me it passed, leaving lingering traces of parabolic waves in my core.I was lifted out of time and space.

And like my nap at Tofukuji, I became a part of that sound, and it changed me.

Placing my hands together, I bowed my head and left the bell.  Grateful for the experience.

*****

As I left Kinkakuji, the vibrations of the bell left with me.  There was a physical change in my heart and my chest felt so full.  A strange combination of ready to burst, yet so settled.  Contentment and Overjoyed.  I felt lighter.

We were heading to Ryoanji.  The famous fifteen stone garden that had such an impact on me this spring.  I was curious and interested in finding out what it would be like to re-visit so soon.  Would it have the same powerful impact?  Would I feel the same distinct presence?  Would I still enjoy it and find it absolutely fascinating.

Yes, yes and yes.

I do not know why I feel the way I do when I am in that space.  All the gardens we have visited are just absolutely beautiful.  All are worth the trip.  All impactful.  But Ryoanji is the only one I feel a distinct difference with.  It has a spirit that is very strong, and even though the temple veranda is always full of visitors, I somehow can be there and be there.  Maybe it`s a result of growing up in a household of 13.  You learn to find the calm in the midst of noise and movement.

I sat on the temple porch for a while.  The mid-morning sun seeping into my bones and I am warmed.  So much of me is warmed.  I sit and try to figure out how 15 stones in raked white gravel can have such an impact.  It is so simple, but not simple-minded.  Later I asked several people in the group about their experience.  "It made me feel like a tourist" "I have seen other gardens more beautiful" "Meh" "It just another wonderful garden here in Kyoto."  Some did feel awe and amazement as I did, and it was good to talk to those who felt the power of the space.  I wonder what it all means, these feeling I have.  I feel like I am supposed to figure out what it is and what I am supposed to do with it.  Maybe there is a reason I felt the way I did.  Now the journey begins to figure that out.

*****

It is nearing the end of the day for me.  For you it is just beginning.  I just came from the best lecture we have had yet, given by Professor Sasaki.  The lecture ignited my brain - blasted even.  It made me rethink my approach to what I have taught at the University for the residential landscape design course.  So much to evaluate and condsider and reconsider.  And now, how to put it into words.  What a task.

So today was a very good day.  And there is still time for more experiences.  It`s only 5:31 pm here.  Time for sushi?  Maybe I can save you a piece of toro.

Tomorrow morning we leave for the mountains.  We are going to stay by a river where we will make our own version of a Japanese garden.  It should be something.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Traveler's Nap

Yesterday we broke early.  Just over 2 hours before we had to meet on Shijo-dori at the tea house where Prof. Amasaki would show some of his design work.

Over 2 hours and the sun was our and the sky was blue.  Some white clouds were passing from west to east.  It had been a bheautiful day since sunrise.

We made our way down some narrow streets and found a small restaurant where a hotplate of rice, pork, scallion and a whole raw egg was waiting for me.  Many times they serve the food just a tad undercooked, so that it finishes cooking in front of you, hence the purpose for the hotplate.  I would love to have a set of hotplates and invite friends over for wonderful dinners.

After the most satifiying lunch, we walk adjacent the willow weeping river.  I break away from the small group.

"I am going to sit by the river."

And I do.

I make my way west and come to the Kamo river.  Large blocks create a steep wall which frames the wide span of water.  It is not too deep.  I find a place, not too far from a bridge where a large peninsula-like form of stone and grass has protruded out from the wall.  I make my way down to the waters edge and set my jacket down, followed by me sitting down.  I sit and look across the river.  A long stretch of quintessential Japanese architecture spans the entire length of two bridges.  I am in a good place.

I take out a pen and notebook and start making some notes.  But I am not in the mood to write.  I have just eaten a full plate of hot food.  The early afternoon November sun is ripe and the clouds passing overhead are telling me, maybe you should rest.  Smart clouds.

I set my backpack behind me as a pillow and recline back into the stones and grass.  The stones feel good on my back and soften my tired muscles.  It is so good to feel the air, I take a series of several deep breaths.  With the water so near - at the edge of my feet even, all my thoughts are washed down river.  I drift off with the clouds.

In a state of subconsciousness, I am dully aware that one side of my body is burning hot from the low wintering sun, like a hot iron being constantly pressed against me.  The other side, the right side, feels nothing but the cold wind.  It is strong and forced and hits me like waves on a shoreline - but I do not shiver.  The two constrasts balance each other, I am neither hot nor cold.  I am in peace.  And maybe I can understand Yin and Yang.

Sleep.

I lay there for awhile.  Dozey, so dozey.  I have sunken into the space and I feel weighted into place like a deep bag of rice.  After a good while I slowly open my heavy eyelids in a lazy manner.  I see the clouds above me.  White and puffy.  I roll my head and gaze across the river and see all the Machiya.  Kyoto!

I must be dreaming.

And I don`t want to wake up.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Carpenter and the Frenchman

I met him last night when he came walking through the woods. I was creating a stone, moss and gravel arrangement down by the railroad tracks that run along the edge of one of the last virgin forests in Japan.  We are about 2 hours into the mountains north and west of Kyoto.Harper is from Minnesota, but has lived in Japan for 30 years and is a carpenter by trade, focusing on traditional Japanese furniture.  He was pleasant to talk to and stayed with our group for dinner and drinks afterward.  I had lots of questions and he was kind enough to answer.  Questions about living in Japan, working in Japan - what the market is like, etc.  It takes a certain kind of person to make it here as a foreigner because they just don't want you here, and make it difficult to do so.  After 30 years of trying and dealing with visas, etc., he just barely got his residency.  He doesn't recommend it, but then again, he says he wouldn't have it any other way.  He loves his rustic life in the countryside of Japan.I mentioned that I would be going up to Tango Hanto peninsula Monday morning for the rest of the week.  Claude, a Frenchman who is married to a Japanese woman, will be taking me around to the restaurants, onsens, beaches, temples, towns and coastal areas - and will provide lodging for me - a quaint traditional farmhouse all to myself in the middle of rice paddies near the coast."Oh, yes...Claude."  A hearty chuckle and a distant look in his warm eyes.  "Huh.  He's a fossil among us ex-pats.  Great man.  Tell him I say hello.  It's been a long time..."And so the big wide world stays small.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heian Family Descendant

He's a descendant of the family of the Heian Shrine, the largest Shrine in Kyoto.  Each year he attends a festival where he dresses in traditional clothing and participates in the ceremony."A gift for you," he nods.A white paper parcel with some Japanese writing on it is handed to me.He explains that inside are two tickets to the Heian Shrine gardens, and two sets of chopsticks.  They are tapered at both ends.The chopsticks are special, to be used at the New Year.His English is understandable.  "On New Years day...eat with these chopsticks.  One side [he pauses and points to one end] you eat with, the other side...the other side [he pauses again] is for God.""You eat with God."And he nods again.*****I am liking this country more and more.

Jet Lagged Days

I planned my journey so that when I returned I would have time to do nothing for several days as my body adjusts to the airplane ride home and the time difference.So far, so good....at doing nothing.Tomorrow, that will not be the case - and the adventurous life continues...sure, why not.