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Tom's travels

Fudo Myo-o; the 'bird" of paradise

So despite my cracking, growling, allergy-damaged voice, my mini-gig Thursday went over pretty well. I had done some singing at Liz's party, borrowing a guitar for a few songs, and thought I might be ok; but when I got in to my first song "She Belongs To Me" my voice started to crack like I was 13 again. I went into a more gravelly mode and finished, then explained in my pidgin Nihongo, "Sumimasen, my voice....chotto byouki deshita. Allergy, araji. Demo...ganbatte!"

Ganbatte. That's the big one. Give it your all and they will love you here. I made my way through two more songs (my own "Floating World", and "I Know You Rider"), and they actually demanded one more from me (I did "In the Pines").

The fellow who runs the folk night asked me (with the bar owner acting as translator) when I was leaving, when I'd be back in Japan. When I told him I might be back for a karate tournament in November, and mentioned Seido Juku, he went wild. Turns out he used to train in Seido. Had nothing but praise for Kaicho Nakamura, such a "good and upright" man.

So that went well.

Yesterday, went out to Takatsuki to catch the second half of a two-day jazz festival. Eric was playing with a salsa group early in the afternoon, then we hung around watching other bands all evening. Saw wild fusion with a guy playing shamisen, as well as more standard jazz trio and small bands, at halls and at cafes. Another bit of the whole international thing, jazz in the suburbs of Kansai (Takatsuki is between Kyoto and Osaka, Columbia to their Baltimore and Washington perhaps.)

Today I did some day-job work, and did some reading around Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra". When I went for lunch in Nara with Kaz, the topic of sacred mountains came up, and I tried to explain the line from that poem, about how "all true paths lead through mountains." It occurred to me that it might be a nifty thing to include in the book a "commentary" on the Sutra - if he had the balls to write a "Sutra" on Smokey, I'll take the idea and run with it. Maybe do one on Camden Benares's "Enlightenment of a Seeker" story, too.

religion and politics

Heading out now to Liz's birthday lunch in Kyoto...lovely day for it. Tonight I play a few songs at The Cellar in the Folk Jamboree thing.

Tuesday I went down to the Osaka Peace Center in Osakajo-koen. Very sobering exhibits about the air raids on Osaka in WWII and about the Japanese invasions and atrocities in Manchuria, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia. Also small exhibits on the atomic bombings and on the Auschwitz camp. They also have more exhibits on nuclear disarmament, the ecological crisis, and the work of Unicef (though this was one was all in Nihongo so I didn't really get it).

Kaz talked a little bit about how Shinto was misused leading up to the war. The whole "Emperor as a living kami who must be obeyed" thing was a creation of the Meiji restoration (which, ironically, pretty much occurred at the demand of the United States), later used in the early 20th century to ramp up nationalist fervor. Shinto shrines were built in occupied territories in Asia and the conquered people made to pay homage at them.

Zen, too, was abused, the bushido ideal twisted to the point of Zen priests cheering on kamikaze attacks.

The dangers of mixing religion and politics. There's a bumper sticker slogan, "The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake", but it's much worse than that. Despite legends of "The Burning Times", not all that many people were murdered in witch-hunts, while mixing religion with politics in Japan gave us millions dead in the Pacific theater of Word War II.

And ethical teachers, religious leaders have always had to become involved in the politics of the day. Buddha tried to get local kings to be nicer (and was almost assassinated for his trouble). Jesus might have talked about rendering on to Caesar, but once he became a threat to the power structure, bam!, crucify him. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were great spiritual leaders who led political movements - using a tactic of civil disobedience put forth by that Transcendentalist proto-pagan Thoreau.

so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell?

At Tin's mic night. Played two of my songs, "Floating World" and "Even Wise Men Get The Blues" which went over ok; also tried the spoken word piece "A Bizarre Act of Kindness", which the mostly Nihonjin audience didn't get much of...

Guy playing "Wish you Were Here"..which is a good excuse to incorporate something I wrote up recently:

So You Think You Can Tell Heaven From Hell?

Mahayana Buddhism never met an idea, a myth or a metaphor, that it didn't like. While the original teachings of Sakyamuni used the Hindu concept of re-incarnation as a teaching tool, he didn't have much to say about the afterlife. It wasn't relevant to his primary mission, relieving human suffering; and notions of a afterlife don't mesh all that well with the ideas of anatman and sunyatta, no-self and emptyness.

Poets and paganism

Feeling a little byoki...wonder if allergies are kicking in? Anyway, Friday night, gotta go out (especially since I've got to be good tomorrow night, to make it out to Nara in good shape in the early afternoon to observe Kaz's Shinto class. Went for dinner at Slices, where I ran into Liz, with two of her English students, mother and son, about 10 years old I'd guess. Hung out with them a bit, got dinner free for playing assistant Eigo sensei. Went with them to Babylon, the body mod/goth bar (yes, took the the kid) was interesting to see their reaction - actually interested, they talked to the owner (who's is heavily tattooed, pieced, and implanted) and looked at photo albums of tattoos and even a suspension. Then over the Chopstick Tattoo to see Ben, who talked with them some more (all in Nihongo) and gave the fifty cent tour.

I stopped over at the Cellar, caught the last few songs from the band playing tonight - classic rock, "Pinball Wizard" and "Tommy" and "Long Live Rock" being sung phonetically. Now down to Cinquecento.

Anyway. Finished reading the Bukowski collection I packed. He could have done ok in the bars over here I think.

I've also been reading some Whitman and Emerson, catching up on the Transcendentalists. They, and the Romantics who proceeded them, are I think a big and overlooked part of the history of this whole pagan thing. (The connection with the British Romantics was brought to my attention by Ronald Hutton's book The Triumph of the Moon; much of the information that follows comes from that tome.)

some Shinto notes

On the way back from Nara now. Today I met up with Kashiwagi Kazuhito, Kaz, the Shinto priest I met a few weeks ago.

I recorded much of our conversation, but the battery of my recorder gave out before our talk did. (Hoping that the recording came out intelligible). A few notes of things that stand out as I ride along...:

  • You have to empty your self of ego to be filled with spiritual power.
  • Shinto starts with harai (cleansing, realignment, correction), ends with harai.
  • Kagami - the mirror shows us ourselves, need a true image of ourself to make progress. "Ga" is ego. Remove it, and you become "kami". There is a ritual in which you treat your reflection as a kami.

sex (or the lack thereof) and the single gaijin

Back out to Kyoto today, on the Hankyu train now...

So Friday, after I got back home from Kyoto I decided to bike down to Shinsaibashi and go out for the evening (it being Friday night and all). Ended up at Cinquecento. Randomly met another one of Eric's co-workers - on Wednesday a new guy from Australia, Rob, had turned up at the dojo, he's a teacher at KIS, now Friday I met Kendel, another KIS teacher, from New Zealand.

A Japanese girl a few stools down decided to introduce herself. Introduce herself rather vigorously, one might say. She was nice to talk to, seemed an outsider in her own country, a hardcore punk rock fan, lonely, and I was happy to talk to her (even as, I must admit, I was eying other women). But I just wasn't interested in taking her home, as she quite clearly suggested. (Two warning signs that, IMHO, one should be very careful about getting involved with someone are the name or logo of a band tattooed on their body, and cutting scars. While neither of these are absolute deal-killers - people do change, after all, and get left with regrettable tattoos and scars after the fact - the presence of both warrants extreme caution.)

"Do you like Japanese girls?" she asked.

"Sure. I like all kinds of girls - Japanese girls, American girls, whatever." In my life I've gone from a hamburger-lover to a vegan, from a Catholic to a Zen Pagan, but I had it figured out real early that I liked girls. It was certainly never a matter of "choice", as some homophobes would have it - I was born heterosexual and seem stuck that way, even if logic suggests we'd all be better off bi (and thus maximize our chances of a date).

Nanzen-ji again; the place of Zen in Japan

So after hanging out at the Amemura Folk Jam last night, with a little help from the owner as translator I booked a slot to play the next time, May 3rd. (The guy who runs it has about as much English as I have Japanese.) The amazing thing is that they're all booked up though June! Not bad for what we'd call an open-mic night back home. But since I'm gone long before then he managed to squeeze me in.

Today, back out to Kyoto, Nanzen-ji again. Saw the gardens at the side temples, nice; went up into the Senmon, tall, good, view. There was some sort of rehearsal for a ritual or event going on in the main temple, which was really cool to see. It seemed to be about or for the benefit of a family of lay practitioners. I stood there for about fifteen minutes watching a priestess(?) teach a little girl how to walk gracefully, while two other priestesses worked out a bow-and-turn routine. A couple of Zen monks goofed off, one stoking another's shaved head and making some sort of joke. They work out their "marks" based off a piece of tape on the carpet. It was as ordinary as a wedding rehearsal back home.

beauty and the mystical sense

Waiting at the crosswalk, near the bridge by the Osaka Dome: a man my age, perhaps a few years younger, ordinary guy in khaki windbreaker holding hands on either side with his daughters, maybe six and eight: they, on unicycles, one pink, one yellow, white tires; the girls in matching outfits (unicycle team outfits? or just kawaii?): blue jeans (with mutli-colored stars low on the leg), pink jackets/sweatshirts, white puffy parka-type vest.

Me, big smile, trying not to stare; the girls sneaking looks at the funny-looking long-haired gaijin. All beautiful.

Speaking of beauty...

All of us have some sort of aesthetic sense, a sense of beauty. What triggers it may be as varied as Cantor's diagonalization argument about the infinity of the reals versus the infinity of rational numbers, or the Ramones classic punk anthem "Blitzkrieg Bop", or a folk song played in Japanese with harmonica and guitar, but every human being of sound mind possesses the ability to experience the recognition of beauty. We would hold a person without this ability to be damaged, lacking, an object of pity.

Similar to this aesthetic sense, but distinct from it, is what we might call a "mystical sense".(Credit to Raymond Smullyan for this analogy between the aesthetic and mystical senses.) The experience of the mystical is sometimes expressed as the sense of "the presence of the divine", sometimes as an experience of "Cosmic Consciousness", sometimes as "the perception of emptiness" or a "feeling of oneness with the universe", depending on the social conditioning and religious training of the experiencer. But these are all perceptions of the mystical sense, just as things are varied as the beauty of a sunset, of a Bach fugue, and a Zen garden are all perceptions of the aesthetic sense.

Daruma-dera: temple of the red-bearded barbarian

Back out to Kyoto today. (Seeing that it's past April 15, did I mention that I filed for an extension on my taxes? I had planned to bring all the papers over here and do them here on-line, needing the refund, but the papers took up too much luggage space. Anyway...)

To Nijo Castle, Daruma-dera, then walking around Gion a bit.

Nijo: castle's ok, worth seeing for historical interest, it's where the last shogun announced the restoration of the Emperor to the daimyo. the gardens a nice - some parts are trees and shrubs with grass and wildflowers allowed to grow. A kid with a dandelion, more interested in it than in all the carefully planted trees - thanks young sensei.

About a mile off is Daruma-dera, a temple dedicated to Daruma. Not in my guidebook, I found a little bit about it on the web and knew I had to check it out. Fortunately it's marked on the Periplus map of Kyoto I bought this morning. Tucked away in the suburbs, it's an active temple, no English brochure or signs other that the one in front. The main hall has zillions of Daruma figures.

Interesting fellow, Daruma, and interesting his adaptation as a toy/good luck charm/holy image by the Japanese. Daruma, a.k.a Bodhidharma outside of Japan, is credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism, as well as being the root of many of the healing and martial arts that trace their origin to China - including both karate and shiatsu. (See why I had to go say hi?)

He lived around 500 A.D. or so, and came to China from either India or Persia. Classically he is often depicted as being swarthy, with wild hair and often a red beard. (Many koans make reference to "the barbarian's red beard.") He also often is shown with bulging eyes, the legend being that, frustrated with falling asleep while meditating, he cut off his own eyelids; where he threw them to the ground,the first tea plant sprouted.

(Zen is replete with stories about hacking off body parts - thankfully, most of them should be taken figuratively, otherwise early Zen followers would have been dying from blood loss or subsequent infection at such a rate at to preclude the school's survival.)

new bike, Friday's Kyoto trip

Another thing to check off on the experience list - being in an earthquake. A minor one, about a 5.3, centered about 100 miles away; no damage reported anywhere, but quite distinctly felt in my apartment.

Bought another bike yesterday. Yes, another bike. I got myself lulled into a false sense of security, left my bike unlocked Wednesday afternoon; Thursday it was gone. I first hoped it had just been moved, the folks at the grocery store sometimes move the bikes parked (illegally) out front to make room for deliveries, but it didn't turn up.

Apparently theft of bikes - and umbrellas - is not uncommon.


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