Thursday, July 12, 2012

in Basho's shadow

yagate shinu
keshiki wa miezu
semi no koe
in the end, they die
without seeing the landscape
cicada sounds

I've been a Basho fan for quite some time. Not really an expert but the knowledge of a few of his beautiful mind-bubble poems (otherwise known as haiku, that's my bad translation above of one of my favorite summer ones, so any mistranslation is my fault) always clung to bits of my mind somewhere in the subconscious dusk between awareness and eternal oblivion. I think I first read Basho in college, a poem that I've tried to find since. The image is still framed in my mind (morning dew/pine trees/serenity) but sadly the words are gone. That's the brilliance of Basho though I suppose, he packaged up little images of nature, from his hikes in the Japanese Wilderness, and passed them down to us. I suppose this is a bit like praising Shakespeare, noting a man considered great is like bringing a pebble to a mountain and saying you increased the height. None the less, life brought me down to the Yamanaka area of Ishikawa last week. Basho also walked these roads, but literally 100s of years before. His ghost was smeared against a collection of buildings and society, his footprints lost in the echo chamber of Time. None the less, as I walked down the side of a rural river with a friend from college, talking about the futility of life, I couldn't help but think of the Banana Shack poet and his push against the layers and layers of years between me and him. Wanting or not, his shadow had been burnt against the wall of the cave so to speak. I felt like a thin gust of wind examining a rock, my life blowing past in a rush of transparent gusto, noticed by few, least of all this stone locked in the unreal past.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

spirals of erratic energy

I'm reading an odd post-scifi book right now (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu) and the main character is a time travel repairman. As he goes through time repairing broken time machines he ages at a normal temporal rate. At the same time, he sometimes takes a "vacation" from his job while his own machine is repaired. He always returns to the same place, slightly ahead in time to avoid paradoxes. He commented that his whole life from the front desk clerk's point of view would be over a few weeks at most. Between visits he ages 10 or 15 years but for the clerk it's just the next day. In a remote way, that's the way I feel when visiting family. For me life and time is flowing at a constant rate, but there are huge gaps between when I see them each time. It's as if in a day they have aged 5 years and I can feel the weight of time clearer than when lost in the maze of a day to day life of repetition.

As you can guess, my mother and sister came to visit me a month or so ago. There's no way I can currently find the time to sit down chronologically and write down every event, so I'll provide a few random event fragments here as a sort of mental bookmark.

Walking in a thin rain. Wooden arches in Meiji shrine, the crunch of the wide path. Quiet misty veil. Casually conversing with mother and sister, shrouded in bright yellow umbrellas.

Dinner in a dark restaurant. Kayo joins us. I'm wearing a vibrant tie-dyed shirt. Inner dialog is fascinated by her similarities to my mother. Sister wants to try some sake, I recommend one by its name alone: circle of the moon. Giblets soup, reminds me of my youth. My sister grew up differently, can't appreciate it. Warm food, still cold night.

Long train ride. Swaying in the sun. My landlord is with us. Rope way up a sharp cliff. Lunch boxes on the top, breath taking view. Millions of stairs to reach an ancient Buddha. Inner dialog is worried its too many stairs for mother, didn't remember that many stairs. Stairs. Stairs. Giant sitting stone Buddha. Peaceful and touristy. Landlord leaves. Stairs stairs stairs. Another giant Buddha, standing in silence.

Gathering with old students, and a few good friends. The awkward gaps in conversation between people that don't know each other. Eat chicken sticks. Mother crosses my personal boundaries and this leads to anger and discussion, late night angst and another day.

A parade of wonderful friends juxtaposed against the existence of my family members existing in Japan. Faces, places.

Hot springs with Taro. Kayo, mother, sister went their own way. Me and taro bathe, time seeps back, crawling out of his eyes and seeping out of his mouth in stories from before. Rain pours down. I lay down in the rain naked, body hot from the water pool. Cold rain bathes me for a moment, it acts as a shapeless embrace. The day ends with a somewhat failed attempt to see mount Fuji, surrounded by clouds, lost in a haze. 

Late at night conspiring with my sister to surprise my mother. Which leads to a moment of the three of us pressed in a crowd of people staring at a giant pink phallus object named Elisabeth. The Chinese ladies behind me hold on to my shoulders for support, I think about how Japanese people wouldn't do that. Phalluses everywhere. Foreigners too. Later a random wander leads us accidentally into the parade. We watch from the side, on someone's steps. After that we eat cheap yakitori chicken on sticks, as we stand in the eternal sunshine of happy memories.

Friday, February 17, 2012

haute cusine

So I've always heard rumors of "hidden pubs" in downtown Tokyo. Little places that only those with connections can find. The idea is quite intriguing, but I don't usually go out on my own and if I do it's usually somewhere cheap. When I'm with my friends we usually end up in a chain-shop, or somewhere not too hard to find. But a friend asked me to go try a Japanese pub in Shibuya tonight, and so I thought "Well, you only live once." and on an impulse headed out to find it.

I don't want to be google searched (but if you can read Japanese or use your noggin you can figure it out) so I won't write the name of the place, but that's all I had, the name of the place. It was written with on an archaic character, and that set the tone of the place. Intentionally esoteric and difficult. Japanese style haute cuisine, if you will. So I google search a map with the name and it is close to the exit so I walk there, and there is nothing but the lifeless front of a windowless building, with no door. I think I must be in the wrong spot, so I walk up and down some more. Nothing. I stop by a shoe shop and ask the nice young lady for directions. She says that it is next door (based on the address) and I told her I already looked there. She says "I think the entrance is around back." so I wander some more, but the way around back is blocked by a high fence. I ask another fashion shop near the back for directions. They confirm it should be right there. By now I am getting suspicious, so I ask if they have ever heard of it. They say of course, everyone talks about it. But they won't give me more details, I almost feel like they are intentionally holding information back. I wander some more. There is a chain-pub man standing near the faceless building trying to scoop up customers for his chain. I break down and ask him. He glances around (I swear!) and then says, go in the building next to it, and then turn right, go in the small door. Very odd directions, but I take his advice. The building next to it is a dirty old building with small fashion shops. I walk to the back of the building and see a small thumb size sign that says the name of the shop with no arrow. Next to it on the right is a rickety path (it's on the second floor) leading to the other building, on the other side of the path there is a small brown door that is only about chest height. I fumble with it, trying to open it, it's heavy and I'm not sure if it is even unlocked, all that even labels the place is the small thumb size sign (above) that is old and worn.

The door slides open. Inside is a smooth rock step leading up into a small room, a Japanese Pub entrance. Beyond the entrance there is a small Pub counter and in the distance I can faintly make out stairs to the dinner tables. There is a door man. He looks at me smooth as ice, and just as cold, he says (in Japanese) "Do you have a reservation?" as soon as I have ducked into the entrance. I'm kind of caught off guard. And although the place had the initial feel of a cheap neighborhood pub, there was an undercurrent of sophisticated expensive elusiveness buzzing in the air. I was kind of surprised, so I just stammered out, "uhm.. uh.. no.. just 1 person, don't have any reservations at all." I could feel the unwelcome ice emanating from him. This place really seemed out of my league, part of me wanted to turn and run. But I had come this far, I decided to see where things would go. "In that case, I'm sorry." he said coldly. "We are quite busy tonight, and all our seats are all taken." I looked behind him, half of the counter was empty. I had gotten this brush off before, especially at places that don't like to serve foreign customers. In this case though, it might have been more just the exclusiveness of the establishment. Also, I glanced around, and all the other customers seemed to be in suits and nice outfits, I was wearing a casual sweater. Maybe I was under-dressed, but it's not like I could change right there in the entrance. "OK, I'll wait, how long will the wait be?" He seemed surprised, his eye kind of flinched. "The wait will be over 3 hours, sir." I nodded, "OK, I'll wait." This time his reaction was clear, he looked at me like I wasn't getting the hint he was clearly trying to give me. He switched to thick accented English "Waito, 3 ha-our-s, OK?" I nodded and confirmed. He wasnt getting rid of me that easy. He called over his manager, who gave me the story about being busy and having a long wait and a seat not being open until well after 9:00. (It was about 6:00 when I entered the shop.) I said I was fine, and I could wait, or I could just make a reservation and come back again that evening when it was free. He hesitated, which logically didn't make sense since the only claimed problem was the lack of reservation. I said, "I just heard about this place from a friend, so I wanted to come try it for myself and see what it's like. Or is it like 'get lost if you don't have a reservation?' or something?" trying to call his bluff. It worked. He made a decision. He said, "The next reservation for the far right counter seat isn't for another 40 minutes, so if you want to sit down and try something, please come this way." I was in!

I was nervous from all the haggling just to get a seat, and so I accidentally didn't take my shoes off fast enough, looked like an idiot foreigner but sat down and tried to work on the elaborately printed hand written menu. The manager pointed out one of the waiters, and said, "He speaks good English, talk with him." even though we had been speaking in Japanese until that point. I didn't want to ruin the hospitality, so I nervously tried to order in English, but the guy wasn't ready for it, so I switched to a English-Japanese mix. He asked what are you drinking, so I stammered out "uhm... do you have plum sake?" and he seemed to scoff at my choice. I decided it would be better to get one of the more fancy label sakes, even though I know nothing about sake. I changed my order to one I had tried before, and ordered one dish from the menu. It was flame seared raw fish slices. They gave a complimentary salad. The food was most excellent, and the service flawless. I even thought I saw my friend's husband across the counter, but the place seemed kind of reserved like a chapel so I didn't call out to him. I ate my food, made a little small talk with the designated waiter. And then, partly because I hadnt brought enough money for that pricy place and also because they said they had a reservation for that seat (though not sure it was true) I quickly asked for the bill. The staff member shook my hand and, in English, asked me to come back. For a place seemingly so hostile to outsiders he was quite insistent on speaking English.

The food was quite delicious, and the experience was exciting and new. Life in Tokyo land.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

rinse and repeat

Repetition is a fact of life. Repetition is part of the art and beauty of the cycle of life. But sometimes I want to break free and see life from an exochronic point of view. I believe exochronic is a made up word, and I read once that schizophrenics like to use made up words so I suppose I should be worried about that. But for what I am trying to express I can't find a word in English, so I just coined one. What I mean is that I strive to sometimes see my life external to time, a point of view unchained from the grim reaper. It is a bit hard to extract your thoughtstream from the flow of time though.

Another thing I have been thinking about is books. I have started reading a lot of books recently because of the convenience of reading ebooks on my smartphone. I've noticed an odd behavioral habit. I first started to notice with a paper book, named (if translated) Yellow Eyed Fish. I read through the book and suddenly slowed at the last few chapters. And even though I loved the book I suddenly couldn't bring myself to read more than a few pages at a time. I thought maybe it was because it was in a second language. But I have been reading endless English books on my phone with often the same pattern. I think now it's because I don't want to exit the mental cacoon constructed by the reading of each book. I don't usually reread books, and once I'm done, I'm done. All the thoughts with that book pulled out and put on a mental bookshelf. I think I am reluctant to leave behind the fascinating worlds of some books and so I am reluctant to finish each story.

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