Thursday, April 24, 2014
I found the signs right away, little white rectangles of plastic tied to low hanging tree limbs and to signs. They helped me navigate the twisty road through the suburbs. Housewives lugged garbage sacks from their the side doors to their kitchens. School kids swerved around me, not expecting my figure to appear before them as they sped downhill on their bikes.
These suburbs began where I disembarked the train, just below the Kuragari Pass that I'd crossed a few weeks ago. Atop the next hill, I left them for forest. Stone buddhas lurked in the bamboo groves on either side of the road. Further along were a handful of small industrial compounds, surrounded by high, rusting, corrugated iron walls. At my approach, a pack of dogs began a racket close by beyond the trees, which had me worried until I passed the gate to the police dog training facility.
I spent the good part of the morning looking for beauty, something to shoot photos of; something to write about. But beauty's so thin on the ground down here. For years I'd considered buying property somewhere in Nara prefecture, a house in a small rural village, somewhat remote yet keeping close contact with Kyoto. But this entire area has had so much concrete poured over it. It was getting more and more difficult to find those ancient pieces of beauty that existed for a millennium, but now lay beneath.
I began to move closer to Nara proper. The road grew straight, lined with the usual suspects. I think if it were not for Mt. Ikoma, Osaka wouldv'e sprawled right into this town. I think it's to Nara's great benefit that the mountain is there. The suburbs lead right up to both flanks. This final stripmall was absolutely horrible. The walk kept getting worse and worse.
The road led directly to the edges of Sarasawa-no-ike, beside whose water I sat, admiring the sun-worshipping turtles who eyes closed, craned their great necks toward the five-tiered spires of Kōfuku-ji's dignified pagoda. I wove through the narrow street, bearing their history and character well. Most seem to have been converted into small eateries. Sadly, it was still early, so began to move south.
Within blocks, all charm had faded. I passed a long hour or so moving through more uninspired suburbs, the railway hugging the side of the road. One house did try to liven things up, it's front door framed by wisteria, perfect and purple and in full bloom. In another season, I'd have walked right by.
By the time I arrived in Tenri, I was beginning to get rewarded. The villages held what they always had, the small canals, the tiled roofs, and even one short section lined with arbor. Tenri itself was founded around it eponymous sect, and it showed. I found myself behind the sect's 'campus,' the temples stacked high and looking like dormitories. Everyone I passed was wearing these long sleeved black over-robes, looking like extras in a 1970's sci-fi film. I've written about Tenri before, and I was actually quite moved by the faith that I saw displayed here. But I also have a problem with organized religions, in particular those that are this, well, organized. At the southern edge of town, there incongruously was a condom vending machine, bearing the optimistic pitch of 'Cheerful Family Planning.'
I was paralleling now the ancient Yama-no-be-no-michi, which I consider to be one of the premier walking courses in Kansai. Though still considered part of the Ise Kaidō, this stretch that I was walking was called the Kami-no-michi, or high road to Nara. (The lower road lay to the west of me, and I intend to walk it later in the year.) The scenery began to rival the older road, passing before forested shrines, reservoir ponds, and towering hillock burial mounds. These final two hours walk redeemed the day for me.
As did the coffee, drunk al fresco at a simple cafe before Miwa station. The sun remained high and so did my spirit, despite more than 30 km over hard, uninspiring roads. I've walked this next section of the Ise Kaidō already, and will pick it up again further on, as autumn leans into winter, dry leaves falling atop the fields and hamlets of the deep Mie hills...
On the turntable: Ramblin' Thomas, "Ramblin' Thomas and the Dallas Blues Singers"
On the nighttable: Mark Law, "The Pyjama Game"
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Sunday, April 06, 2014
"You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices."
On the turntable: Brad Mehidau, "A Tribute to Joni Mitchell"
Thursday, April 03, 2014
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Quite pleased that I had a travel piece appear in last Sunday's Japan Times. The piece was originally conceived as an addendum for the Deep Kyoto Walks book I'm co-editing with Micheal Lambe, scheduled to be released this month.
The link is here.
On the turntable: The Band, "Across the Great Divide"