my life

Shinkansen tickets, artistic lap dance, drinking in moderation

On the Shinkansen to Nagoya.

The brain - and this is not at all an original observation - is a strange thing.

So here I am on this blazing fast train, Osaka to Kyoto in fifteen minutes (really - left Shin-Osaka 14;23, now stopped in Kyoto 14:38). Am I worried about a fiery crash? No, I was worried that, even with English available on the ticket machines, I wouldn't be able to figure out how to buy a ticket. (Shinkansen tickets are this weird two-part deal, one for the distance, one for the means by which you travel it.) But I puzzled it out. Hurray for me.

Stayed out late last night for Liz's sayonara party. She had to change her performance plan: renting a projector would have been prohibitively expensive, sort of defeating the whole chairtable purpose of the gig. So she decided to auction off a "lap dance". Well, seeing as it's all for a good cause, when the first few bids were low, I decided to it bump up a bit. Somehow David and I ended up tying with winning bids, and a round of rock-paper-scissors came out in a tie (two scissors), so we both chipped in 5000 Yen (about $40) and got to be participants in the show. (It was a PG-13, experimental improv "lap dance", not really the sort of thing you see at the "gentleman's club", more of a hoot than a turn-on. Fun.)

kumite, upcoming Zen center stay

Wednesday, by the way, was promotion night at the Kansai dojo. Four people testing for ikkyu and nikyu. I was the only yudansha for the kumite; interesting to think how I'll be a memory here. "Hey, remember my advanced brown belt promotion, when that wacky American sensei was here?" As senior guy present I got to tie belts on people - back home that honor always goes to Kyoshi Kate, of course.

So, I'm going to be ending my stay here with two days at a Zen Center! Last Saturday I met (re-met, actually) David's housemate Amelia, who had spend a few days at the Tekishin center a bit outside Kyoto, and really recommended it. I contacted them, and I'm going to stay for two nights, the 28th and 29th. From what I understand it's pretty much working and living monk-style, with lots of zazen, working around the temple, and formal ritual meals. I don't think it'll be cushy but it should be educational.

Iga Ueno: Basho's birthplace (oh, and ninjas)

in the garden of
Basho's ancestral home -
a buttefly

Today, out to Iga Ueno. Kind of out in the sticks, you have to ride the Kansai/Yamatoji line way out past Nara to the Yamatoji line's end at Kamo, the pick up a tiny backcountry train to Iga Ueno. Then I switched to a Kintetsu train to go downtown.

To paraphrase Lou Gosset Jr.'s drill sergeant from An Officer and a Gentleman: "Only two things come out of Iga Ueno, boy: ninjas and haiku masters. And I don't see no sword on your back."

This is the home town, the birthplace, of Basho. And it's also known for it's ninjas, apparently they were allies of Ieyasu Tokagawa. Guess which one the lady at the tourist office assumed I was here to see? But she seemed pleasantly surprised when I inquired after the Basho museum instead of the Ninja one.

The museum is not much to see if you can't read Japanese, but I could enjoy some paintings on the scrolls, and it's closest to the station.

But Basho's birthplace and childhood home, preserved or restored, is something to see. The lady who worked there was so nice; only a bit of English but tried to explain as much to me as possbile. Took my photo outside the place for me. Looking into the courtyard garden - bam! butterfly, so the above haiku.

She gave me an English map of the local Basho sites. At her suggestion I visited the nearby Shinto shrine to which he dedicated his first collection of poems. The shrine is not a spectacular sight, but interesting that a fellow so associated with Zen would make such a gesture.

creepy, or lost in translation?

So last night I go out to an art gallery where Liz is performing at an exhibition opening. Ended out going for dinner and karaoke with Dave and his girlfriend and an Nihonjin friend of theirs, quite nice. Around 11 they had to head back, I decided to stay out late, go down to Shisaibashi (thus the song fragment that came to me last night).

Ended up at Cinquecento again, where I ran into this Japanese guy I've seen around a few times. Older guy, maybe late 40s, good English, I've chatted with him and he's bought me drinks. First time I met him I thought he might be gay and trying to pick me up, but then he said someting about getting home to his wife, so I figured I was safe.

a song fragment

song fragment...

Give me a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Out all night 'till the first train runs
Yes a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Out all night 'till the light of the sun

stuck somewhere in a dead-end town
when fun is outlawed and can't be found
please take me away to a better place
a floating world and a pretty face

Give me a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Narrow streets and vibrant lights
Yes a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Take it from me it's quite a sight

a poetic pilgrimage

finger wet with tears
i touch the monument to
haiku poets

-- written at Rakushisha, Kyoto

A poetic pilgrimage today. Back out to Arishiyama, this time with the intent to visit Rakushisha, the reconstructed cottage of haiku poet Mukai Kyorai. Kyorai was a friend and student of Basho, who said of Kyorai that he was "in charge of haiku in Western Japan."

Some of his haiku (gathered from the internet):

Chanting and humming / gongs immerse the green valley / in cool waves of air

Returning from a funeral / I saw this very moon / high above the moor

Awakening faith / At the time when blossoms / Are just in the bud.

Sadly fading / its light on my palm - / a glowworm

Trees as well as stones / glaring in my sight - / heat wave

I'm coming, I yelled / yet knocking on the gate - / it's snowing

Rakushisha literally means "Cottage of the Fallen Persimmons". Apparently, Kyorai had a bunch of fruit trees with a bumper crop expected, and had made arrangements to sell it. But a storm blew up one night, and knocked all the persimmons to the ground. (Arishiyama means "stormy mountain".)

When Kyorai saw the damage the next day, and saw the mountain through the now-bare trees, he had an awakening experience (even if an expensive one, since he had to pay back advance payment on the fruit.)

Basho stayed at the cottage three times, in the late 1600s. So the place has some gravitas in the haiku world.

So much so, I found (and this wasn't in the guidebook) that there's a monument to haiku poets in the garden. This "haijin to" (haiku poets memorial) gorinto (five-stone monument, a traditional form often found in graveyards representing the five elements - in Japanese thinking, earth, water, fire, wind, and heaven/void) is dedicated to all haiku poets of the past, present, and future.

Well, having written a few haiku myself, I figure that's a monument to us, not a monument to them, if you see my meaning, so I got a little teary-eyed. Touched my eye, then touched the stone, finger damp with a tear.

A poem stone next to the monument (added later, I think) reads:

the spring rain
heaven and earth here
the monument to haiku poets

haru no ame
ame tsuchi koko ni
haijin to

Love is all you need

"Love is all you need". That's playing in Mojo Bar right now.

I was reading one of the books I picked up Tuesday, on the nature of "not being religious" in Japanese culture. The author seemed to be a fan of Shin, or Jodo, Buddhism, where you put your faith and trust in Amida Buddha. At first this to me seemed to be a cheap way out, but then I realized that it was a pretty good form of "love" yoga.

The ancient Hindu teachers recommended several forms of yoga, or "yoking", binding, as religious practice. Today the term yoga is often thought to refer just to the path of physical culture, but there was also the path of work, the path of love, and the path of psychological investigation. Different paths are appropriate for people of different disposition.

All of these can also be found within Zen. The Zen martial arts are very much a physical culture working toward enlightenment. Practical working Zen is there in the story of Hui Neng, and in many classic koens. The path of love is found in Zen in the image of Kannon, and in other forms of Buddhism in the compassion of Amida Buddha. And zazen is a path of psychological investigation.

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