Tuesday, October 20, 2009

more books

I won't be turning this blog into a book review. There are enough of those, plus I'm not that deluded about the value of my literary opinions. Surely I do have them and I'll argue argue them to no end, perfectly aware of their abject subjectivity. If it is in fact subjective. For all my liberalism, be it innate, inbred or consciously assumed, I really do feel like there is a concrete aesthetic in the universe: some things are simply more beautiful than others. As far as I'm concerned, there is no argument here. It just is so. I don't care who you are, as writers go, James is better than Rowling. Not just smarter or more complicated or more mature or has been around longer. He's just better.

Now, If you adhere to the notion that there is no basis for such a judgment because we all know that in this postmodern world there is no privileged position in the universe, know this: Einstein wasn't talking about you because you are wrong, and the reason why I can say that is because I am not. Unraveling the flawed logic here is not worth it. I know my condescension casts doubt upon my very contention a priori. (The latin is here to amuse and/or confuse [as is that rhyme] according to a whim, so don't get distracted, supposing that reading this post is not, in fact, a distraction.) The subtextual tension lies, however, in whether such a conspicuous acknowledgment of my own tenuous argument refutes or bolsters my earlier assertion. Heh, heh. I love spewing rhetoric. I just Kant stop myself!

Wretched. Wretched.

Enough already. Continuing, I recently found two books at a used bookstore near my apartment. The store is one of a national secondhand hand bookstore chain called "Book Off." Smile if you like--your reaction is not wrong. Just remember this isn't a English speaking place. The name is English because all Japanese just happen know a lot of English for a few reasons, not the least of which is that anyone born later than the mid 70's has had a minimum of 6 years of English study in school. Everyone who reads the store front understands "book" as in "book" and "off" as in "discount," so for Japanese customers "Book Off" is actually quite a descriptive, straightforward name devoid of innuendo. We should be a little magnanimous in our tolerance for the English foibles of another country and be happy they even make an effort at all. We should also be happy they didn't use the name of their sister store that sells used AV gear and computer ware called "Hard Off." Video games and computer programs are sold at "Book Off," by the way, so you needn't be concerned about the existence of a "Soft Off" as well.

Whatever the "Off," I bought the only two English titles for sale among the vast racks of Japanese books, manga and porn: August 1914 and The Island of the Day Before. Just how these two eclectic, heady tomes found their way into a used bookstore squeezed between a McDonald's and a conveyor belt sushi joint along some rural highway in Nara, Japan might be enough material for a third eclectic, heady tome. I bought them out of jocular desperation: I'm out of things to read, since my Japanese literacy leaves much to be desired and Tr**a won't lend me any more books, as those she's lent in the past somehow don't ever make it back to her.

Dad used to, and I'll bet he still does, keep a log of who's borrowed what book when, and I'm sure my name is still listed 6 or 10 times in delinquent glory therein. Maybe Tr**a should try that. My policy is to never lend a book outright. I either give it away (something painful that I try to avoid) or people borrow it from my house without asking, knowing that I won't notice it missing right away and even when I do, I'll just think I misplaced it in one of the 8 other places I pile my ever growing collection of books. Now I have two more.

I can't help but but wonder about these books. I think they bespeak some things about some elements of the ex-pat crowd. First of all, they smack of a sense of self-importance. These are works of two of the hardest reading authors I've ever encountered. They both make me feel guiltily stupid about how much I'm missing on each turned page. (Some of you will know the article I stole that from. I say, "good for you." Revel in your elitism. I certainly join you! More of you will not know the reference. Again, "good for you." Any perceived originality will just polish my urbane veneer.) Somehow, with all the much more accessible writers around, the store's English section consisted of Solzhenitsyn and Eco and no one else.

One could, of course, pick up an English novel at any good new bookstore, but those books are mostly self-help and psudo-political rags (Rich Dad, Morally Triumphant Dad, The Closing of the American Mouth and other such ilk), Victorian classics, complete with TOEIC rating, or airplane reads. Though ex-pats read whatever popular fiction is around--we are no more immune to Dan Brownanity than anywhere else--there is always a section of us that fancies themselves above such commonness. These are the people who only order from Amazon, or worse Exlibiris, after reading the NY Times book review with the hope that their less intellectually pretentious foreign friends will be impressed when they come over for exotic Tex-Mex burritos or shepherd's pie and see the pompous display of erudite, though unread, texts decorating an Ikea bookcase.

Looking at The Island, I feel good seeing that there are only creases halfway through the spine, because now I know I won't be the only person who has owned the book trying to project an air of I'm-better-than-you-ness but never in sooth finished reading it, though that isn't so important since books like these aren't the kind you could ever chat about if you were to finish. I mean, how much can you say about something you didn't really get and no one else has read?

Looking at this, quite a lot, it seems, while affording, no less, a chance to drop an "in sooth" with grace and panache.

This leads to another thing the books say about ex-pats: a conclusion deduced from the two titles themselves. The two books are both the work of well established, fairly famous writers, though neither book is its respective writer's most well known work. Most of the Japanese ex-pat community do have college degrees due to several visa/immigration issues, so it's entirely within the realm of possibility that some, hopefully many, of these primarily liberal arts graduates will have had found themselves confronted at one point with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch or The Name of the Rose in some history or literary survey class and might, thus, not only remember the story and its writer but even be able to spit up some of the insights their professors had. Because of this, it would be dangerous to display one of those more well known books if you haven't read them. But many ex-pats feel the need to showoff academic acumen they don't posses, so for them, it's better to flaunt something that will impress by association with out risking exposure as a scholastic fraud.

What is, however, a readily apparent fraud is how much I have written about two books I have yet to read a page of. I'm amazed how much there is to say about nothing. What would be even more amazing is if someone actually read this much of that nothing. What more could I then say but "thanks" and "my condolences."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I almost posted a schlock of drivel I wrote on some unused handouts on the train home since it's been about two weeks since my last addition and I'm trying to be remotely consistent for now. In the context of some things that are going on with someone close to me right now, however, it didn't seem appropriate at the present. My ceaseless inanity can be put off for a while, I think.

I may end up mentioning or alluding to some pretty private matters here, so I hope I don't offend the person I'm writing about. I don't think it will, though, and I'll try to be delicate.

What is not a delicate matter is this: one of my closest friend's best friend from home is dying, a victim of, as far as anything makes sense, a strike of malice from one of the Universe's many hammers of random abuse, in this case, pervasively aggressive leukemia. I don't want to dwell on the ludicrous lack of fairness in this world and how much things like this rattles my struggle to maintain a sense of justice and ethical morality in the midst of this flimsy fabric woven by our existence. It is perhaps enough to say simply that this sucks.

I don't really know my friend's friend (C--) all that well. I met him only once; therefore, admittedly my level of direct emotional investment is rather limited, though that does not mean the gravity of everything is lost on me in any measure. I am instead involved in this indirectly, in that I am emotionally invested in what my friend (S--) is going through with C--. And there has certainly been a lot to go through over the past months of treatments, remissions, relapses, financial absurdity, etc. Throughout, I have watched S-- wrack himself with guilt and geographically imposed impotent frustration. I've tried to be supportive, but what can I offer besides empty platitudes and empathy?

Totally unequipped to succor S-- in any meaningful way through his ordeal, his reaction to C--'s situation astounds me, despite what should be crippling grief.

S-- and I are in many ways polar opposites. He's highly competitive. I am not remotely so, at least not anymore. He did well in school. I barely found school most days. He was a key member of nationally ranked H.S. football and wrestling teams. I spent most of my time watching the girls' team members as I lost 80% of my H.S. tennis matches. S-- is a ridiculously skilled leader and organizer of people and events. I loathe responsibility for others. He built and runs a successful business. I'm not sure if I can even spell "business." He can make fantastically good Mexican food from scratch. I can eat Mexican food. He pledged for a frat in college. I had bit parts in three plays in college. He has earned the respect and esteem of his peers through tireless efforts on their behalf. I beat people into submission with misused hyperbolic vocabulary and oblique derision.

In short, had I met him in Jr. high or high school or college, I would have despised him with unmitigated vehemence and gone to extraordinary lengths to see him groveling swine-like in craven humiliation before the masses.

Luckily, we met at a time when I could see past my petty prejudices and appreciate people who possess qualities that I think are important, which for S-- are a fecund sense of humor, unfailing loyalty, and good natured tolerance and generosity. This is not to say that S-- is not without his faults, he was in a frat after all, but I am surely in no position to judge another's shortcomings, crusty sack of deficiency that I am.

But I'm not writing this to prop S-- up (he has a pretty good sense of self-worth with any padding from me) or describe S--'s personality. After all, you either already know him or you don't and if you don't, you probably live far away. I'm writing this because of S--'s remarkable way of dealing with the refractory state of C--'s circumstances. Personally, I have trouble with grief and bereavement and the events leading up to them. I find myself so unable to process the loss of someone I know, let alone love, that I tend to shut down emotionally when I can or take whatever escape is available at the moment if I can’t. A number of problems result because of this: I miss chances to truly grieve either because I can’t get to that emotional level or because I make or allow myself to be physically absent. Then I feel guilty about that the whole while my unreleased grief slowly corrodes its way out of the cracks in my mind over the space of years.

That’s why S--‘s approach to the tragedy before him impressed my to the point that I feel compelled to write about it. When he got the news about C--, he switched in to action mode rather than be adversely affected by the sorrow and despair that were surely exquisite. Immediately and without waiting for someone else to, S--organized an online support network to create a means for the people concerned with C-- to both with him well and know what they could do for him and his family. S-- then began regular updates on C--‘s condition so all those people who were getting involved through the network know what was going on and feel that their efforts and prayers were appreciated and making some kind of difference. This required him to have regular contact with C-- and his family and throughout, as far as I am privy, has been a consummate supporter and friend, managing mundane concerns and affairs and remaining a beacon of hope and positivity.

Later when some financial pressure developed, S-- organized a huge private auction to raise money. He contacted not only people involved with the support network, but also anyone else he could about donating goods and services for the auction, while simultaneously finding a venue, applying for government permits, getting the word out to people in sundry ways, in addition to solving countless snags directly related and otherwise. Ultimately, his work was a resounding success and a huge amount of money went to assisting C-- ‘s family through his treatments. For me this was impressive because not only was it far beyond anything I’d ever dream of attempting, but he took care of everything over months from the other side of the Pacific. Ridiculous dedication. Who does something like that? I know there must be many such heroes around somewhere, but they are damn scarce around me.

S-- is not looking for any sort of tribute or lauding, and that’s not what I mean to do here. I’ve just been impressed and wanted to say something about what I’ve been privileged to witness. Maybe this is just a feeble attempt to transmit positive Karmic vibes. Maybe I’m just worried about my friend and hope he feels better through what he’s done. In spite of the Universe’s unrelenting display of evidence to the contrary, some things do make sense, truly matter and have real meaning. I merely wish it didn’t take random cosmic malevolence to get a chance see that.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I spent the morning looking for a place that still sold film. Nothing obscure--though I'd love to have gotten a hold of a roll or two Velvia or Kodachrome 64--just some, as of now, old-fashioned 35mm film. But it was nowhere I looked. I figured there wouldn't be much of a selection, but none? Surely the turnover from out of date to retro-cool has become so quick any lag is imperceptible or at worst unappreciated. In any case, it looks like 35mil has yet to be wrapped up in the analog renaissance gestating reel to reel, 8mm, and McIntosh tube amps (as if they ever lost any coolness). My hope is for a rediscovery of Beta. You may think I'm kidding, but that would be because you don't know anything about Beta, which in my condescending opinion is on a par with video disks in vying for media supremacy.

35mm film doesn't even approach such quality, its main charm being that I've spent more time with it than anything else. Regardless, or even irregardless for that matter, I still couldn't find any. Not at 7-11, nor Royal Home Center, Japan's answer to Home Depot, nor either of the huge electronics stores out on Highway 24. I had almost resorted to cracking open one of those disposable cameras when I walked into a little corner photo lab near the station.

It looked desolate and had a tang of long unused machinery in the air: a soon to be casualty of digital. I'm surprised it hasn't succumbed already. Maybe there's a huge market for overpriced passport photos or something. In among the SD cards I finally found a dusty three pack of Fuji Film, standard fare in all respects except that the rolls were 27(?) exp. Whatever, I had some now.

This all transpired due to a rare fit of cleaning. The cat had made a mess of my box of carefully tangled audio and computer cordage, and I was then similarly possessed to pull them all out and remind myself what I had amassed over the years. At the bottom of sundry XLR's, USB's, quarter inch patches, quarter inch to mini's, RCA to mini's, Firewires, cellphone chargers, etc., I rediscovered the knockoff Halliburton containing my old camera gear. I'm extremely proud of the kit I was able to piece together on virtually zero money growing up. Opening the case, I found, all totally mold free(!), my F3 and trusty cadre of Nikkors: the barely adequate 28mm, the 135mm for showing how serious I was, the 80-200mm I probably stole during the Ms. Paxman days of Newswriting, and the 55mm f/1.2 (I love this lens--though anyone who can read the notation will know that already). All that alongside the weird bending F3 speedlight with the upside-down logo and my MD4. Fond memories. Nagging regrets.

Why this even meant anything is because I've been mulling over making a leap to a serious digital SLR. The little Nikon S6 I've got is serviceable for what it is. Some color balance issues and no anti-shake compensation, but it's worked good enough even after being dropped into a toilet (post flush). It's just that I have a stubborn delusion that I can take a real photograph and not only press a button to record a visual reminder of a moment that was something I felt warranted to be thusly recorded at the time. Not that snapshots of our lives don't count as "real." They can, I think, be almost too real, disallowing the recollection of occasions filtered through our need to have had things been more to what we'd like them to have been, instead of the naked preservation a snapshot makes of how a moment was in cold reality.

What I mean by a "photograph" is an image wherein time, events, meaning have a fluid quality that becomes fixed only when viewed, the viewer a participant in determining the what or when of the image and whether it is significant (or not) according to their sensibilities at the moment of viewing. Not a recorded happening viewed; rather an image the viewing of which is in itself a happening. This sounds like an attempt to render a definition of aesthetics, and it'd be an utterly inelegant one if it were. No, it's merely tenuous justification for buying an expensive now toy. (Don't worry. I'm perfectly aware that my rhetorical dismissal here is just my trying to escape accountability for waxing philosophical. It will happen again.)

The model I've decided on is Nikon's D90. [Interjection: there is no camera brand but Nikon. Never mind that Adam makes his living with Canon--only Nikon offers the fine tradition of snobbish affectation I find so delectable.] Having waited this long to make my all-out digital foray however, I knew I could wait a little longer till the D90x or whatever came out and the price dropped on the D90's. Right now, I was feeling the comfortable grip of the F3 and suddenly just had to go take some pictures for the first time in I don't know how many years. Anyone can go take 8 gigs of digital swill and find one or two decent shots from among the chaff. It takes true spiritual dedication to instead spend a few minutes composing every single frame while simultaneously working out exposure and lighting factors, knowing the whole time that you'll be paying for each shutter flicker and that all the pictures will be swill anyway since you forgot to set the ISO in the first place.

Tomoko had left to teach a lesson somewhere by the time I returned triumphant from my tour de film, so as I had no domestic concerns other than the chores I was ignoring, I threw some food at the cat and set out on my shite sucking fold-a-bike to catch the last half hour of sunlight.

Japan's a great place for photos. Every angle holds the possibility of a scene pregnant with Oriental exoticism at once pierced by any number of elements of Occidental intrusion ready to beat anyone looking at the picture over the head with tired irony to the extreme that even taking the picture seems crushingly trite. I ignore irony--though not, case in point, loose alliteration. I don't think we can decide to be ironic anymore. Maybe irony as a conscious act of wit/satire/cleverness died sometime after Catch-22. Died isn't the right word, though. Everything became ironic in its being, and we're left with a world the inhabiting of which is fundamentally ironic, for we are the embodiment of irony. We're just born that way. Or born stupid. (Oh, that was mean.) Thus, my venture back into the realm of silver tarnished emulsion is not an ironic act any more than it is an act of any kind. Such is the always already deconstructed existence: constant circles and layers of self-conscious, self-reflective sarcasm spiraling ad infinitum (see Gravity's Rainbow).

What yet remained decidedly and objectively un-ironic, however, was that catching crawfish is no different than catching sand crabs, only that crawfish are slower. The rice fields that grow more and more vast the further one removes from central Nara City teem with crawfish, American as purported by their Japanese name, Amerikan-zarigani, and they probably bespeak another enormity my country has imposed on some environment. I'm sure a Holocaust of native species extinction ensued with the American crawfish's introduction into the delicate balance that WAS the Japanese rice field ecosystem. Dissertation fodder if I've ever heard any.

While holding one of the ruddy prawns up to be photographed against a backing canvas of ripening rice, lushly green and wind-wavy, I also disconcertingly discovered that I can't focus manually very well anymore because I can't see very well anymore. Today's just full of wonderment. If there had been more light, depth of field would otherwise have spared me this blurry indignity, but the sun's last rays were slip-sliding away into a Paul Simon song with loathsome abandon and it was shoot now or wait for it to get even darker, my less than rock-steady grip already a concern in this light at 1/30 of a sec. I knew I should have brought the nocturnal 55mm. Curse my narrow pockets and hate of bags.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Oh, we have a cat now. RD Condensed version: found an abandoned kitten pathetically trying to keep warm in the rain behind the exhaust of a filthy vending machine; we slipped it into a box for the night via rubber gloves and paper towels given its obvious and myriad parasite infestations; the vet said it will probably die but to try keeping it warm and fed and see what happens; we try; it's dosed with flea and mite meds; it stays alive; we kept it in the box in the entryway for the two weeks it took for the mites and their eggs to die; it's noisy and we worried we'd get kicked out of our No Pets hermitage; we didn't; two more weeks spent bathing it every other day to clear up mite ravaged, mangy skin--white fur, so it looked all nasty, poxy pink; still not dead; found a possible home but decided to wait to get it healthy and vaccinated so someone else won't have to; it made a full recovery--too full; possible home fell through; there are ZERO city/county/prefectural animal shelters in Japan; they eat dolphin here too in a few quaint little sea villages; I don't even know what to think about that; we considered the only private shelter in Kansai, but they have enough work and by then the cat was living here. It's name is Lolo.

Lolo is a tomcat, white with ice blue eyes, big pointy ears and a faint brown stripe that looks like the inside of a younger brother's dress shirt collar was wiped gently along the top of its key-crooked tail. He's constantly ambushing our feet, which earns him the off kick when we don't notice in time, and we're trying to break a biting habit, though most of that's probably just because he's teething. Lolo gets on OK with Coco, the in-laws' mutt. She's fascinated with him and sometimes gets too excited, but he'll smack her if she gets too close. Tomoko's mom's in love already and will take care of him when we're not here, despite her cat allergy. Sniffling weirdo.

Also, since it's sick, I'll mention it. Last Friday, we found little maggoty writhing sections of tapeworm in its stool, so we ran immediately back to the vet in vile angst for a broad spectrum internal parasite treatment. The next day we found out that it worked, but I can't believe the zoological extravaganza of freshly extinct vermin that burst forth in fecal jubilation as the wildly effective drugs passed through the little cat. Abject foulness. The cat sniffed its ghoulish waste once and walked off, totally nonplussed. I, however, am still retching, very, very plussed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I'm writing this on the printer's and flyleaves of a novel someone left at work (though am transposing it here at a later now). That someone was doubtless a teacher, since a) the book was in the teachers' lounge and b) only teachers use the lounge. Two things may be gleaned from this: 1) I am a teacher, and 2) at least one teacher takes things another teacher has left lying around. I have no qualms about this. Let me assure you here that all teachers do this, this being acquiring things that another doesn't own or is not likely to miss. The very fact that an item is left out in a teacher's lounge means that said item has either not yet been acquired or, more probably, has been dis-acquired by another teacher and is, therefore, fair game.

Teachers are a hoarding lot, but they're also usually fairly generous, so it's assumed that any teacher will hang onto what they may conceivably need now or at some future time and leave anything else for some other teacher to procure. That way everyone builds up a huge mass of stuff and nothing gets thrown away. Ever. Certainly ecological, but a system not with out flaws. Namely, no teacher will willing relinquish space, say a classroom or office, unless the alternative is better from every discernible angle (administrators are a cunning pack). This is not because we are whores for a bigger window or room nearer the elevator, though we are, but because classrooms, offices, lunchrooms, lounges, labs, etc. are sacred spaces to teachers. The major thing that physically binds us to our trade are the place wherein we ply it. The blind hope that a mind might be reached may be the furtive god of us heathen, but the real worship is of our spaces. No church can compare to a well located and appointed classroom or a good rack of bookshelves.

In the meantime, I acquired the book I'm still writing in, but I need to assure you that no thievery was involved. I feel compelled to put your mind at ease on this moral point and also make it clear that I am not attempting a thin, droll rant that sets up a cheap jibe because the name of the book is The Book Thief.

But whatever its title, its not a very good book. Of course, Elle and Woman and Home Magazines disagree with me as reported in the Acclaim for The Book Thief pages. USA Today adds that it should be on a shelf with The Diary of Anne Frank--"set to become a classic." Who am I to argue with USA Today? They're in full color! Talk about scraping the review barrel. To be fair, I guess the 50 pages or so I slogged through weren't awful (If you want awful, try The Pornographer's Poem. You'll be wanting to puke in your mouth and then explode that vomit in a fountain of incredulous laughter. I can't say enough bad about that steaming sheaf of monkey dung. It is neither edgy or important. It is tripe.), but The Book Thief has a number of problems I just couldn't get past. 1) The interspersed interjections of mantras, asides, images and other texturizers lumbering in centered, bold type throughout are annoying and make the book look like a pre-teen fantasy; 2) the story is told by a whimsically philosophical Grim Reaper who gets emotionally caught up in a jewish kid's struggle to survive Nazi Germany and the omniscient, though cloyingly sentimental, narrator bit is jejune and tired (in this way it reminds me of Lovely Bones, but not quite as bad); 3) it's written in Australian (I can just hear the audio book: 'ee maibee deed!); 4) the text is blatantly self-reflexive and consciously genre bending while at the same time being poorly crafted in both style and delivery (there is no atoning inelegance in a published text [just so were clear, online publishing is not publishing, except in a peer refereed academic journal that no one will read anyway. Let's not kid ourselves]).

In short, don't bother. Reread Anne Frank instead.

And get preached at by some random blog, while you're at it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Day in Yoshino

My goal is to update this at least once a week in some way. To help that end this* is recycled, but you don't know that.

Last week we drove a few hours to hang around the river that runs through the mountains of South Nara. A beautiful day. The kind that make you wish you'd paid attention in elementary school, when such days stretched out from June into the infinite of summer vacation. A day cloudless and breezy, warm enough to finally ride with the windows down and AC off after three months of Monsoon that just wouldn't give up its suffocatingly hot pervasion. After rounding up essential supplies (i.e. leftover curry I made way too much of, bread--nan being slightly out of my culinary domain, random containers of green[ish] tea, rice balls with grilled salmon a la 7-11, and string cheese) we were off, puzzlement over string cheese notwithstanding.

Arriving at the secret spot Tomoko's brother had exhaustedly delved through untold camping-otaku blogs in order to find, a hidden Eden where the bank was wide and flat and the river was deep enough to swim--a veritable paradise of peace and seclusion, we began to hike down a long switchbacked trail from the village where we parked the car and emerged from a mountain bamboo thicket into the much sought Utopia...only to find that the secret setting was know only to us, the blogger, and at least several hundred other people who were already there.
We picked our way through the throng chockablock along the bank and found an untaken spot to spread out among the boulders, horseflies and deafening drone of dancehall reggae. Settled, I looked up through a sweet fog of barbecue smoke and tanning oil vapor at the majestic, though hazy, mountains rising in evergreen from the opposite side of the river into a sky that was, to wantonly rip-off a film of my youth, so blue it hurt my eyes. Or maybe it was just the flaming cord of cigarettes billowing over from our neighboring revelers that caused my tears.

The food was the same as I remembered it was from dinner the past two nights, so no complaints. Plus there was string cheese.

Someone told me once that you should never swim within an hour of eating lest you cramp up and drown, presumably, down. Cub Scouts, mayhaps? Who knows? I might have made it up. Eitherwise (that needs to be a word), I once related that to Tomoko, who in blind faith and abject trust believed me and added the slip of trivia to her vast and encyclopedic fund of hypochondria/nature-paranoia. For her the world is fraught with dangers, vermin, filth and germs in even the most sterile environs, let alone a river that could, for all we knew, be careening murderously through the perhaps fathoms deep gorge before us. Never mind the lazily bobbing inner-tubers drifting most un-NASCAR-like past the rail-thin co-eds wading across an ankle lapping ford! We could DROWN!!! In other words, I had to wait to swim. So, I slathered on some sun screen, started re-reading The Third Policeman, and proceeded to burn the shit out of my feet and ever widening bald spot, where I have woefully forgotten to SPF-ize.

The hour up, we wound our way down the river to a narrow canyon where the water was deep enough to no only swim, but had rocks and cliffs that gleefully beckoned for the jumping off of. The water was crisp and clean flowing turquoise at its deepest, bubbling around rocks and eddying in apses in the escarpments jutting up on both sides. Immediately we climbed onto a large rock that stood in the midst of the opening of the narrows. It was maybe 2 meters tall and bedecked with teens daring each other to jump. Having luckily grown up in the shadow of Waiamea and Laie Point, a mere two meters lacked any sort of fear factor for me, so I stood up and dove in to the current below. I'm sure the sight of a mildly (allow me my euphemisms) out of shape man approaching middle age in his gleaming white and redness piercing the water was the epitome of grace and physical prowess. Feel free to fill in the details with your imagination. My brother-in-law was stunned. He's pretty physically adroit at most things, especially compared to me, who is, as you may be aware to varying degrees, perhaps the clumsiest of person you know. (I once punched myself in my braces filled mouth in 10th grade while describing a fight I seen after some show to Cassy Johnson in Balborona's photo class. Easily one of my coolest moments.) For some reason, my brother-in-law can't swim all that confidently, much less dive.

So I, yes I, was asked to instruct him in the art of no flip, no tuck, no twist, straight boring diving.
So, I began my course in Remedial Ornamental Water Entering. The teacher was crap and the student worse, so not much progress was made. He just could not get it. I felt like that was fine. I mean, who really cares if a 30 year old can or can't dive, especially when that person is native to a place with zero coastline. Finally, I was asked to dive from something higher so he could better see what I was doing. Obligingly, I climbed up to a higher spot on a cliff and dove off. Now as I'm sure you know, checking the depth of the water before diving from a new place is a sound and wise thing to do. I, however, am neither sound nor wise, as can now be attested to by the bone deep puncture I was bequeathed by a jagged shallow stone and now sport horrendously on my bandaged left thumb, which I have now smashed wincing against the space bar countless times while writing this just because I care that much.

*Long, Needlessly Embellished Story Warning

Friday, September 11, 2009

Akira in Miwa

Akira stayed the night on his way to Tokyo and Akainu died without even a whimper from the Osaka indie music scene. Ingrates. While he was here and in a flurry of Japonifilia we trekked south to Omiwa Shrine, entertained en-route by a 10 year-old-ish train otaku-nymph engrossed in snapping picts of passing trains and stations and then commenting on his shots quietly to himself. We imagined him all grownup later on the way home as we watched a man, T-shirt belted into jeans and carrying a small suitcase/backpack by the attached grip with the telescoping roller handle extended up beneath his armpit, walk up and down the platform in front of where we sat and Akira dragged out a slow burn off an American Spirit.

Omiwa Shrine, literally “the big God God enterprise”, it turns out, is well worth the outing. Japan's oldest after some manner of reckoning, the shrine is famous for what it lacks, a main worship hall, boasting instead a singularly unique (as if there were other uniques) triple torii, or gate, at the foot of the small mountain rising holy behind the shrine site. The gate is designated as a national cultural treasure and is not only a glorious wonder to behold, but is also entirely invisible. Akira and I traipsed with no success all over the site searching for the gate clearly photographed in the brochures one of the shrine-maidens forced on us so Akira would stop asking her arcane questions about the protective charms for sale in a cryptic effort to flirt with her.

Unable to locate the gate, we finally marched into the obviously official administrative reception hall, presumably where gads of yen are gifted wish-laden to the gods of the shrine, namely, if you must insist, Ohmononushi-no-ohkami (aka Yamato-no-ohmononushi-kushimikatama-no-mikoto, the hefty deity of the progress and development of Japan wholly!), Sukunahikona-no-kami (the Drug, Herb and Sake God—he's well worshiped by young and old), and Ohnamuchi-no-kami (who is, as far as I can make out, the God of “Also Appearing at this Shrine”). Clad only in the slippers we took off in the entryway of the building, we marched straight up to the nearest priest piously plugging away at some Excel spreadsheet behind an imposing desk and demanded to know where the famed yet seemingly non-existent gate stood in shamanistic glory.

The venerable priest looked up from his screen and perused us in a somewhat cockeyed manner, but that was because his right eye was in fact cocked alarmingly to an even more extreme right. He crookedly informed us that the gate was completely hidden behind the ceremonial pavilion in the middle of open area at the top of the stairs between the mountain and the gravel road through the forest we'd walked to get to the shrine site, beaming that we were the first people to ask about the gate in several months! Mental. Like going to d'Orsay and missing Sunflowers. He then asked us to follow him up into and through the ceremonial hall overflowing with mystic opulence, telling us that it's a holy place where only initiates can can tread but that we're okay with him since he's know all the other high priests since thay were kids, so we walked through the solemn vestibule at peace in the knowledge that the gods would accept us since our holy guide had once played truth-or-dare with the rest of the shrine elders.

Eventually we passed through the hall and walked along an ancient hallway-like terrace with a mahogany (since that sounds good) floor worn lacquer smooth by centuries of shuffling tabi to where we could peer around the back of the building and see the fabled torii towering about eight feet high in sacred majesty. Actually, it was quite stunning in a manner typically Japanese in understatement: the unpainted gate drew our eyes past it's modest, though rather fey, eaves to the mountain beyond thick with towering cypress that truly did bespeak a divinity echoing with the faith of countless believers. Terribly sublime.

The old priest joked with us as he saw us out and we thanked him awkwardly for the generous tour. Properly awestruck, somehow on the way back to the station the late summer sun didn't seem as hot nor did the cicadas sound as shrill as they'd been the day before.

Ah, my corniness offends even my own sensibilities.