Osaka notes

Posted on: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 19:55 By: Tom Swiss

Well, been back from Japan a few weeks now, hustling to make up lost
time at work. So again no updates for a while.

Japan was...wonderful. Again, I didn't want to leave; and I'm now
tentatively planning and plotting to go back for a longer stay, maybe six
months or a year.

It wouldn't be until next fall at the earliest, what with the big Seido Karate 30th Anniversary Saiten in June, and the AOBTA conference in July.

I don't know if I'll go through with it or not, but I am signed up for a
Japanese language class in the spring at Anne Arundel Community College.
(Have to go all the way to Arnold - I'm minutes from UMBC and Catonsville
campus of BCCC, but they don't offer the introductory Nihongo class next
semister...) And I'm looking at turning part of my house into an apartment
I can rent out to help cover the mortgage while I'm away. I figure these
are useful things to do regardless of whether I follow through on a longer

More on that later, I'm sure. Getting back to my trip report, when last
we left I was planning to go to Nara. I'm just going to cut and paste some
journal entries here (lightly edited)...

I'll put some photos up here as soon as I can figure out how to set
Drupal (the software behind this site) up to allow that.

Nov 1

In Nara, just left Todai-ji and the Daibutsu [the huge bronze Buddha
statue that is a cultural treasure]. In Nara park now...twentysomething
guys (ok, now I see some girls too) playing some sort of tag game...two
girls playing badminton, one in boots with 3 inch's like a whole
nation of Tina Turners...

Two old men with purple hair, not together. A Japanese schoolgirl giving
me the eye as I came out of the temple. Mugwort mochi, yum. Bought carved
wooden darumas. Tame deer, one who bowed to me I swear.

Nara. I like it here.

Nov 3

In front of the ceramics museum in Osaka...came down to wander about and
maybe see it but came across a little arts street festival by the
riverside. Spent about 45 minutes talking to a cute [lady] painter from
Barcelona who spoke four languages, which made me resolve to get off my ass
and sign up for a Nihongo class when I get back. Bought this very wabi-sabi
wooed bowl made from a piece of wood that had partly rotted away, so the
bowl is "broken" to start with, reminding me of Seung Sahn's koen about the
broken bowl and the cat food.

Now I'm drinking a Thai beer; last night, Chimay, Belgian brew, in the
Blarney Stone, Irish pub, in Osaka. Couldn't resist the international
triple threat.

Nov 4

Well, at least I got a story out of the day.

Robin and I planned to come to Kooyasan today, but she was overwhelmed
by schoolwork (and maybe a little tired of me, a separate story). So I
tried to do it on my own.

The first difficulty was finding the right train at Namba. First time at
this huge station, got all turned around but finally got of a train in the
right direction, rolling into town about quarter after two.

One of the primary attractions is staying the night at on of the many
temples in the area. I was really looking forward to doing this with Robin,
and wasn't sure about staying on my own, but by the time I got to Kooyansan
I'd figured I'd go for it. Even bought a toothbrush, since I'd forgotten

Found the tourist information office to ask about staying at a shukubo.
In front of me were an American couple - and I didn't have to ask. Ugly
American all the way. They wanted this poor guy behind the counter to
completely plan their return train trip not just what lines to take, a
reasonable question, but stops down to the minute, so they could make
their connection with the "Thunderbird" (apparently the shinkansen)

Took close to half an hour to get them sorted out (tying up the only
English speaker there), even with me pulling out a Osaka subway map to help
out. The "best" part was the husband's aside to me as the poor helpful
nihonjin was looking for train maps: "You'd think nobody ever asked this
before." Yeah...

Anyway, they got sorted out, I got to ask about a shukubo. There was one
mentioned in my guidebook that offered Zen instruction, which I thought
would be great, but I found out that the only English-speaking instructor
had left. I asked the fellow for his suggestion, but [he] was reluctant to give
one, and suggested that I check out a few, come back and make a
reservation, or do it at the other information office down the end of the
main strip of town. Just be back before the closed at five p.m.

The problem, I quickly learned, is that I have no idea how to check out
a Buddhist temple as a potential lodging. I couldn't even figure out which
one was which, or where to go beside sticking my nose in the
courtyard...there didn't seem to be "front offices" to approach.

So I resolved to go see the other major attraction, the Okunoin, with
the the mausoleum of Kobodaishi and a famous hall of lanterns, then come
back and throw myself on the choice of the guy at the office.

Well, let's just say that the Okunoin looked closer on the map than it
was in reality, which is why I'm on the train back now at 6:30. Just missed
the closing, really.

However, the interesting part, the thing that makes a story out of it
(at least a story I can tell myself, a narrative, a contextualization) is
that when I got to Okunoin and the (very lovely) hall of lanterns, I got an
urge to buy on of the charms they had. Just 500 yen, what the heck, maybe
bring some luck. I picked one at random (I thought) and got the attention
of one of the monks to buy it, figuring I could look up the kanji when I
got home.

He asked me something in Nihongo, and I just looked puzzled and said my
all purpose friendly "wakarimasen." He said, "Baby. Say who's born." He
looked like he was going to write something down - maybe a prayer for
whoever I named.

Well, there's only one baby in my brain right now. "Rose Gurklis.
Rosie." [My best friend's infant daughter.]

Unfortunately our communication broke down about then, but he seemed

satisfied that I would give the thing to a friend who'd just had a

So, apparently my mission for today was to get this charm for Rosie.
Which makes it no chore at all.

Thing is, I just learned the kanji for "baby" from my "easy kanji" book.
Just learned, as in "yesterday". I didn't consciously recognize it when I
picked it up, but I did when I looked at it on the train later. Somewhere
in my brain, did I know? Some subconscious selection? If so I wouldn't have

Obviously it took some finagling for the Universe to get me to get this
thing for her. Magick. That's all.

Nov 6

In no particular order: convenience store sake, walking through kyoto in
the rain with Robin, a 400 yen (~$4) umbrella that will be a keepsake, mine
blue, hers fuchsia, gender roles all the way, riding the bus all the way
around the loop because we'd screwed up, lost, then saying it kept us out of
the rain, both true, lesson that being lost is survivable, even pleasant
with the right company as our talk encircles and surrounds western Kyoto,
dinner at a tiny organic restaurant, tofu and brown rice and beer, she
steps outside to smoke (one of very few places I've seen require this) and
the waiter (one of the owners, family owned we find out later) takes an
ashtray out to her, the wabi-sabi of a Japanese PF Flyers ad she rips from
a magazine, the world is so small and yet there's so much in it, wander
down the shotengai [covered shopping arcade], Shinto temples along the way
next to lingerie and souvenir shops - "here's the clergy of the mall" -
one more drink in a swanky coffeehouse/cafe, now train back, Robin next to
me, also writing, I wonder about what.

Later...her apartment, today I have been reading papers form her class,
her fellow students on Kerouac and Whalen and Snyder, none of whom (except
one piece by Snyder) I know. Pick up "Windblown World", collected Kerouac
journals, read:

"Grass will grow and the gods die fast and everything is true."

Last night here and that seems fitting capstone.

Nov 7

At O'hare [Airport] now, back in the USA, waiting for connection to
[Baltimore], and already Japan seems like a dream...started to seem that
once we were in the air...I wept at takeoff...

Followed Robin down to Family Mart so she could get change, pay me back
for dinner, so that was where we said our farewells...she off to work, me
back to the apartment for a little more sleep, then pack and drag
everything down to the train...she said it would feel strange to come back
and me not be there...I couldn't ask for kinder words..a hug, a kiss on the
cheek (me to her) and she was gone...left a note, "Thank you! Thank you!
Thank you! Convenience store sake will always be the best to me now. Love
love love Tom"...have to mail her a CD with the photos from Halloween
party, want to record a rough version of her song and include it...left the
Kyoto umbrella in the men's room at Umeda - I am not destined to own
umbrellas (irony being that I had called it a "treasured keepsake")

[Something I forgot to mention before:] After dinner Saturday, walking
through Umeda station we go through a corridor she hasn't used before, by
little mall-type restaurants, at the end a little Shinto shrine...this hits
her strongly, she is dazed as we walk (the wrong way) through the
station...she's in love with Japan, says (the next night in the Kyoto rain)
it feels like home, still foreign but that's part of it...part of the
Robin-sunflower-locomotive (densha) nerve movie, it will be a moment in the
the book they write about her, I'm hoping to be a character (I am a
character, of course...)

Nov 13

Scanning back over my notes from the trip, don't think I mentioned the
farmhouse museum. One of the coolest things I saw, no doubt. About a dozen
old Edo period farmhouses moved from all over the island to this park,
beautiful park, in Osaka. Go to Himeji to see how the daimyo lived, but
this is how the real Japanese people lived. Lot of older people there
volunteering, in period dress, working around the houses, everyone very
nice. One very old gentleman, I'm not sure if he was saying he was 100 or
if he was talking about the houses being hundreds of years old, practicing
his limited faltering English (still an order of magnitude greater that my
Nihongo) on me. (Which reminds me of this guy I saw in Umeda station, 90 if
he was a day, leaning on a staff as he walked across the floor and up the
escalator, just this great energy about him, going "on three legs in the
evening" but going strong, independent, alive...a moment when I fell a
little more in love with Japan).