Travelogue - Home

This one is not dated.  Its starting at 1:57 am on the 30th of September...

Part I:  Abandoned Water Parks
Part II: Measuring against the Norm.
Part III:  Crawling out of the woodwork.
Part IV: Japanese Lolitas

Subject:  Abandoned Water Parks and the Detritus of Higashiyama

I've been exploring the last two days. Mostly been learning my neighborhood. My new apartment is in Misasagi. Technically, from reading the Kanji its "Mi-Misasagi" which translates "honorable Emperor's burial ground." Which is fair enough.  Mi-mi-sa-sa-gi would sounds sillier than it already does... A few weeks ago I found a strange forest, or, large grove of trees rather, and when I got to the center of it, where I expected a temple, there was nothing there, just a small cemetary.  I marked it off in my head as a ruins of an old temple. But today, I found a 1:25000 scale map ot the area at the library (photocopied it). And sure enough, that's THE Misasagi. I think to 99% of the locals Misasagi is just a subway stop, and few ever visit the Emperor's Burial Ground (except to walk the dog)

So there I was, tromping through the woods... My apartment faces a large hill. I was climbing over it today, and at the top, I found an Observatory (yes, Beth, that song was in my head; I kept saying "grossemodule" and giggling).  When in search of ancient temples, finding a modern Astronomical complex is even cooler.  I was off-trail when I saw it, following a fence line around the back of a temple;  I saw the buildings through the trees and emerged behind the main tower.  Wandering about, I jumped a gate and climbed onto the roof of one of the non-telescope-domed buildings. I kept low (cause I was visible to the rest of the area; and studied the horizon for a while. ...But I noticed a clearing futher down the slope, so I set out for it.

My amazement cannot be described in words. I found what appeared to be a pre-ruin. It was like they started building some sorta cult-gathering place and lost funding. Down the side of the hill were terraced sites for what? Parking? Building complexes? and then there was a huge semi-arena with two big octagonal metal lids in the middle and four metal lids on the outside.  Like two huge I-Ching coins. (missle silos? who the f*ck knows!) I am still dumbfounded trying to rationalize what this place was intended to be... The "arena" area is square. You could put really comfortable bleacher seats on the steppes up two sides, although, each level has guardrails, and is better proportioned for strolling than sitting.  There are boxes with electrical wiring inset in the ground at regular intervals.   And the strangest feature of all, is a tunnel and stairs that lead from the road that runs around to back of the site into the center of the arena.  Like something you'd see at a football stadium for the team to make a dramatic entry against a backdrop of the panoramic mountains and Yamashina.   The whole site is fenced in with proper, residential style metal fencing. and you could comfortably hold a picnic for five thousand, assuming you cleared all the vines, creepers, and weeds which have taken over the area.  There are stairs constructed like they were intending thousands of visitors every day. But the whole site is abandoned, and as one trained in Architecture, I've NEVER seen its equivalent. Its truly bizarre.   I'll go back for photos when the leaves are changing...  Which should be any day now.

So then, I wandered back down to sanjo (third street).  I was looking for "Shogun-Zuka" [shogun's mound], but missed the road to the top of the mountain.  There's supposed to be a nice view from there... Anyway, on my way home, as I approached the overpass of Sanjo-Dori (3rd Block Street, actually) I noticed something funny about a building.  It seemed to be in use, cause there were a lot of cars parked there, but it seemed run-down at the same time.  On closer examination it appeared to be a pool complex. But no, it was an abandoned water park with three pools and two large water slides.  I  slipped through a hole in the gate, and wandered around. The whole place is overgrown with weeds. In the larger now-still wave pool swam a single white carp. Very wabi-sabi. In the other pool, a 24' sailboat was anchored beside an island with two palm trees. A snake was crawling around behind that pool. The whole place, abandoned, its pools becoming ponds and slowly returning to nature. I want to go catch more carp and populate the rest of the the pools.  The sailboat is filled with water and still "floating"; a strange site.... The water slides are dry, but structurally intact, tempting me to daring play. None of the buildings have been broken into, surprisingly... And the weeds have grown above my shoulders in places...  The absence of vandalism is a true testimony to the Japanese spirit.  There wasn't even any sign of squaters, and given the number of people who live under bridges in Kyoto and Osaka, that's pretty amazing. 

Altogether, Emperor's Mausoleum, Shogun's view, Pure Water Mountain (Kiyomizu-zan) and these other three places, its starting to feel like Salvadore Dali does Lord of the Rings. Who needs drugs!!!

And finally, today I went to Ryoan-Ji temple, which contains the "Quintessential" zen rock garden. The one which every other rock garden is trying to emulate. I spent a couple of hours contemplating the garden, memorizing its arrangement, looking for the organizational scheme, etc. I was prepared to be disappointed and jaded. But I have to admit, even with all the tourists, it works. By the time I left, I felt a hair's breath closer to inner peace. The rocks really are calming.  As with all Japanese Art, the composition is isometrically balanced.  The single device that I'm noticing in everything I look at is the 30-60-90 triangle.  Ryoan-Ji rock garden is no exception.  If you place an architect's triangle on top of the garden, you have defined the placement of the rocks.  There are five groupings, a group of two sits neatly in the top of the triangle (the 60 degree angle is on the left).   The largest and tallest grouping is of five rocks, including two not bounded by moss; it is placed more than halfway along the shorter leg of the triangle toward the viewer.  The other three groupings (3,2,3) form an irregular triangle to the right side. with the first group of three sitting exactly on the line of the main triangle.  I spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out where to put a sixteenth stone to no avail.  I tried taking away a stone.  No luck either.    But on a general note, Nearly all Japanese composition fits this rubric; 3+2=5, the isometric triangle rests on its hypotenuse, and everything pivots on the void.    Very sophisticated and elegant.

The rest of the gardens at the temple were also spectacular. I'm planning on going on a photo rampage when the leaves change... Don't you worry. For all the unreal beauty of the Gardens, they're really hard to photograph. I look at all the postcards, and there's not a single one that does anything for the gardens. You just gotta walk through them... But I'll put together a slide show and someday, maybe we can take a walk together...

In all, I had such a full weekend, I went to bed at 9PM only to wake up at 1:15 AM, visions of Japanese Schoolgirls dancing in my head. They are terribly cute.  Mockingly, horribly cute. After school, they all hike up their skirts, many beyond the bounds of decency; then you're walking behind them up the stairs to get on a train, and they have to hold a bag behind their back so don't see more than you should... They ride bicycles like that... And they're everywhere... Its no wonder there's a burgeoning market for school-girl porn in this country, they're a bunch of little teases. And since one does it, they ALL do it, cause its that kind of country... <sigh> life is such suffering.  So I had one of two options... I took the latter, made some chamomile tea, and then wrote this for your consumption.  The phenomenon of Schoolgirls hiking up their skirts is really intresting;  is it for the attention?  They're bound to notice the shorter their skirt, the greater the glances.  And to not hike up one's skirt is bound to be a sign of prudishness.  But, there you are, with your skirt barely covering your ass.   One of the more recent crimes in Japan is using cellphones with built-in cameras to photograph up girls skirts on the trains.  Photographing under girls skirts is a long-standing problem in Japan actually.  And many many softcore porn and manga (comics) play off the school-girl's short skirt phenomena.  Its actually a cultural theme.  So my question is... nah, I guess I don't really have a question.  Its all pretty clear, isn't it?  My reaction is simply to note that "life is suffering" and move on...  There are those who would (and did) ask, 'how is a cute girl proof of suffering?'   Because tonight, I woke up with visions of schoolgirls dancing in my head. 

I hope this finds you well... Shouts out to all my niggaz.


Subject:  Measuring against the Norm...

Lately, its become apparent to what extent the Japanese psyche is concerned with conformity and excelling against the norm.  Lets talk about testing. 

Its a well-known fact that The Japanese educational is very strict.  Students study for their High School and College entrance exams with a seriousness perhaps only matched in Germany.  Indeed, getting into the right university is tantamount to success in Japan.  Even within a company, promotions and assignments are often meted out based upon which university one attended.  Cliques form within a company based upon a shared Alma Mater.  Its a well known fact that you do not stand a chance in Federal-Level employment if you don't atttend Tokyo University.  Politicians come almost exclusively from that school.   And likewise, living outside of Tokyo makes it even harder to attend Tokyo University.  Notice the pyramid structure...

However, even regionally, attending a particularly prestigious university is more important than excelling in general.  Branding is everything.  To attend the Right Highschool is important, and certain schools have fierce competition, making it a "pleasure" to attend a difficult highschool, and therefore subverting tendancies toward delinquency.  (Its common to skip classes, but not to skip school altogether).  We have several students at Nova who attend High School, Nova, and a private Cram School after that.  One poor 14 year old is in school from 9 am to 9 pm, and then has homework once she gets home.  I am subtly showing her the door to America where such behavior is an abomination, by pointing out that with her english skills, she can easily get into an American university, and out of Japan for good.   A student who does poorly on the Entrance exams the first time is then subjected to a post-highschool "Cram school" where vacations don't exist, weekends don't exist, and the hours are long and gruelling.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention.  High Schools often are six days a week, especially the prestigious ones.  Some have every other saturday off school;  Public high schools are usually only five days a week.  And looked down upon accordingly.   In public highschools there is still a gradation from lesser to better.  And all kids must help clean the schools, as they don't have funding for Janitors.  A prestigious public highschool with therefore require maybe 30 minutes of cleaning a day... perhaps as much as two hours.  

Somehow, It seems, school is wrapped in to be a seven day a week, eight hour a day activity, once school clubs, and festivals are factored in...

Okay, so what does this indoctrination do to the adult?  Being graded remains important throughout one's adult life.  Many of my students are studying because they take biannual TOEIC tests (English comp. test).  They must know grammar and structure; there is, however, no spoken component to the test...)   Likewise, performance reviews, and many other metrics are measured with tests.  A Japanese worker still takes tests, and must do well on them to advance in the company...

What about outside of work?  Japan is fond of print-outs.  When I go bowling, I am presented, upon leaving with a printout of my score, including several matricese to judge my performance.  People save printouts of their golf scores for posterity.  Gyms, also, will put you through a battery of tests, where you can compare your health and fitness against the norm for your age group, body type, etc.   You are given a sort of "physical" and rated by the norm.  Though we usually reserve this judgement to Doctors, I suppose American gyms would offer the service as well...

Okay fine.  But what is stranger still; Karaoke.  Karaoke machines have a ranking and grading system.  You can measure your performance at Karaoke.  Rhythm, intonation, projection, all factor in.   At the end, you will remember that day when you got 98% singing your favorite song.   One student was bragging that he once got a perfect score on a traditional Japanese song.   We measure the levels of our students, and there is great pressure for us to level-up a student who has been in one level for too long, despite their performance, or else, they will loose heart and not buy more tickets.  In all, ranking and measuring are vitally important to the Japanese.

In all the "-do's" of Japan, be it Sho-do, Ken-do, Aiki-do, Sa-do, there is a ranking system.  One progresses through fifteen years of studying flower aranging one level at a time.  Someone can boast that they are a fifth level or fifteenth level of flower arranging.  There's a ranking system for wearing Kimono;  one studies for many years and is qualified to tie an Obi with masterly precision.   There's a ranking system for study of traditional dance, for studying Caligraphy, for studying anything you are always assigned to a level, and advance in stages, with each stage passed involving another test of one's proficiency. 

In short, I don't think there is a walk of life in Japan where there does not exist a ranking system.  In situations where there is not a competitive rating system, one is probably invented.  Students brag about being a "safety driver"  which I think means a certification on their license.   People recount how much they drank the night before and over what length of time with accuracy and concern.    One conclusion that can be drawn from all this is that Japan is a very competitive society.  Whereas conformity is played out in the universal acceptance of a means of judging via testing, (Americans being much more prone to blame the test and criticise the methodology for arriving at the score than the Japanese), competitiveness is evident in the eagerness to be tested.  Nobody complains about the tests, rather, they simply wish to do well on every test given, and prove their superiority or mastery.  I tend to underestimate the competitiveness of the Japanese spirit.

On a final note, I have a student who works in upper management for a joint venture between Toray and DuPont.  He was explaining how Toray has developed a new method for producing yarn, and how they are seeking to produce more of this yarn domestically, instead of importing it from the U.S.  I said "oh no!  We need the business!"  I explained how the textile industry is collapsing in the south, and bringing down the economy, and as butterfly wings' flappings causes typhoons, he is forcing me to find work overseas, and worse still, forcing my cousin to live in Alabama (a fate which should befall no one).  He countered by saying that the quality of the American yarn is inferior to the Japanese.  That if they want inferior yarn, they can go to china.  Japan is seeking to perfect the quality of yarn by not only selling it by weight but by length.  He said the variance in length per weight of yarn is unacceptable, and Toray has a solution.  Always, I note the element of competitiveness, relative measuring, testing, scaling, and grading.

The consequences of all this are indeed far reaching. 


Subject:  Crawling out of the woodwork...

In the last week, I've had two ancient friends rejoin my life...  Via email.    This is my reward for publishing my life online, i reckon...  Shane, who was long lost to the depths of Kansas at last count, has reappeared in Oregon, miles south and north of my last homes...  I long for a teleportation device so I could be with him now!  Likewise, Tracy, who reappeared in North Carolina after a several years absence.  Old friends.  Very old friends.  Nostalgia.  Rememberance of things past...

I think about my loves.  My friends, my compadres.  I look at my new acquaintances and I think, this world just isn't big enough, nor life strong enough to accomodate all these feelings.  I miss so many people.  I long for so many scattered across the globe.  I wish for a time when I may once again enjoy the presence of all these fine people.  I look at my email addresses.  This paltry connection to my heart's loves.  There's Jen, picking grapes in the Pyranese.  There's friends in Thailand, in Korea, in New Hampshire, in New York.  And there's me in Japan.  and my new-found friends here...  Fuck.  I can't possibly see everyone at once.  If I had a wish, and if I wished a wish beyond all wishes, it would be that all of us, from every walk of my life, could at one time meet and be together in eachother's presence.  I dream a dream beyond all possibility of a party with everyone present.  I want for nothing in the world but the company of my dearest friends.  From Seattle to Charlotte, from California to Kentucky.  There's too many people and too little time.  I wish I wish I dream to see you all again, face to face.  It is so hard to be stable, to settle down when everyone is scattered to the nether realms of the global world! 

Tonight I lectured, yet again, on Buddhism to a new acquaintance from D.C. who lives downstairs.  He heads for India in November.  I long a longing so intense for the bedlam of India...  I long long longings for new adventures, for new religions and new companions.  I battle daily my own inertia propelling me into homeless joblessness.  I seek not stability.  I seek connection to the world, which is far to big for fulfillment. 

So tonight I will sleep on futon and Tatami, and tomorrow I'll explore the bizarre politics of Nova.  I wish beyond wish for a world beyond tomorrow, where my heart can find comfort in the bosom of my friends loving embrace.  But tonight I sleep alone.  I dream of friends lost and now regained.  Of times beyond concept, of twists and turns on the path of life.  I dream of a day when I can once again be in the loving company of all my relations. 

Tommy, where are you now?   And Daniel Ford, are you alive?  And Ama, with her child,  Willow with hers.   Lovers lost in the sands of time.   Still I move on, forever grasping at future time.  Struggling to stay connected to an ephemeral past.  So many lost, so many yet to find.  Tonight...

Tonight my heart is full of longing...


Subject: Japanese Lolitas

Oh, and just when you think you have everything figured out...

Today I was in the grocery store, and I was exploring the aisles I never walk.  I was searching for exotic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and Thai Red Pepper sause; everything seemed normal.  Thats when I happened to look up and see a Monk with shopping basket, tattered rope shoes, and one of the big conical bamboo hats that are so stereotypically Japano-Asian.  It was too early in the morning for such a thing.  I never get used to seeing Monks shopping.  He was in full regalia, and appeared to be in renunciate mode.  His black kimono was faded and threadbare.  He was the picture of asceticism, except that he was in the supermarket, with shopping basket, buying fish, tofu, and bread.  I awoke this morning after a crazy dream at 6 am (which is becoming a disturbing trend, except that I'm well rested and can find no reason, nor have the ability to go back to sleep).  Moments like these are the ones that make you pause and reflect that you are a long, long way from Kansas.  That, and the seaweed aisle...

On a related note, about a month ago I was awaken by a chorus of "ooohway"s.  In high low mid and four part harmony, I heard walking up the street this arhythmical chorus.  Then down the hill... I let it pass.  It was seven A.M. and as intriguing as it was, I wasn't about to get out of bed...  But then they returned, back up the hill, and I couldn't resist.  As they walked past the front of the house, I saw the procession.  About seven or ten Ascetics in the same faded black kimonos, this time wearing the cone-brimmed hats, and walking at a fast clip, chanting "ooooooohhhhwayyyyyyy" "ooooohhwway" "OOOOOOOOOOHWAAAAY".  While they walked they all appeared to be polishing a small white ivory disk that hung by a string from their neck with their fingers.   It was a mystery then, and remains one now.  Nobody I've talked to can explain it.  The trend still stands where for every question I ask, I end up explaining more about buddhism than learning...  I do pick up spurious details here and there, though...

But on to the subject at hand... Just when you think you have everything figured out...  I need sake for this one.  Please hold...

Okay.  I was shopping on Teramachi, when I happened to cross Shijo and continue up a side steet.  I found a tiny boutique selling women's clothes, only... not... women's clothes, but clothes for little girls;  But... actually sorta semi-retro poodle skirts, pink boots with high heels, Fur lined fifties Jackets.  I got sidetracked and discovered a movement! 

Its impossible to abide in Japan for long without noticing a category of fashion, indeed the most glaring of fashions, the stuff entire websites are devoted to, whereby young girls dress up like china dolls.  Sometimes, complete with Anime hair styles and a Geisha's white makup.  Its difficult to ascribe a Western archetype to this;  they alternately get lumped in with Punks and Goths.  But there never seems to be anything particularly "gothic" or "punk" about the girls.  Its a fashion movement, and not a political statement; if that's possible.  At least its not the No Future of the punks nor the No Present, death-and-bondage, of the Goths.   It turns out, these girls are part of a subculture referred to as Lolitas!!! 

I can't hide the fact that I was floored.  My source reveals that it is not in the same vein as the Novel cum Movie cum Remake by the same name, about the middle aged man who runs off with the 14 year old girl.  Its not a sexual thing, at least.  Its not even, properly speaking about dressing like teenagers.  After all, no teenager in the history of any country has ever dressed as such.  However, the fashion is quasi-retro 1950's Americana; poodle skirts are Huge.  Crenaline and lace abound.  Pink is "in".  Plaids and mini-skirts and knee-boots with heels.  Fur-lined miniskirts and Vintage Jackets.   This, blends, or rather fades, to the other end of the spectrum, of a fashion-goth, like Marilyn Manson.  Red Ankle length dresses with Crucifixes; Black fingernail polish, Jet Black Hair.   There's even a genera of music to accompany the trend, known as Visable-'kay'; which translates to Visible-image.  Something like a goth-centric glam rock.  I couldn't get a fix on the sound, but it is very Nippon-o-centric.  The bands tend to wear lots of makeup, and quasi-goth fashions; they tend to be Boy-Bands, with Lolita girl audiences. 

I'm still reeling over this revelation, and especially the nomicker of the movement.  Without irony, today I discovered the missing link in Japanese fashion.  What is it when its not Goth, not Punk, but somewhere inbetween?  They would be "Lolitas."

So, the ramifications are huge; they basically outnumber and outclass what is loosely termed goth and punk in Japan.  In fact, I really doubt the Japanese have a punk or goth streak in their entire gene pool.  The Lolitas are really the driving force in counterculture fashion in retrospect; and four months of retrospect are on order for me.  I have to Revisit Shinsaibashi in Osaka, and I finally have an adequate rubric for a visit to Tokyo.  The Lolitas are the first and only thing resembling a true subculture I've found.   Being American, I take subcultures for granted;  I assume that difference is important, and that conformity is only possible to one of several established normative behaviours; there is no such thing as uniformity in "American" culture.  There is no "American" like there is "Japanese" or even really "German", or "French.  As a clever Serb once told me in Nis, "The American Nation is Imagination,"  which is to say, Nationalism, as such, is impossible, if not ficticious for an Amalgam such as America.  And my experience exploring some 20+ coutries now confirms that analysis more than it refutes it...

Let me expand further, Lolitas are the first Nipponocentric Counterculture I've seen, outside of Zen; in fact it neatly closes the opposite bracket of Zen; for whereas in Zen self-annihilation and indeed Buddhism as a whole, culminates, fructifies in the establishment of radical idividuality, a self striving for not-self and subtracting from itself the society which produced it, , , at the other end of the equasion we meet the most feminine expression of individuality, the Lolita, who does not abide by the normative fashion, the Office Lady uniform, the spike heels and mini-skirt, or the ubiquitous, homogenous hairstyle of the tragically beautiful Japanese twenty year old.   And destroy all those illusions, Zen is almost exclusively a Male pursuit in Japan.  Likewise fashion is almost exclusively the domain of women.  As Japanese, we are given a painfully wide chasm to cross in stepping outside the norm of this bell curve.  The curve, where I to draw one is at least triple the magnitude of a similar curve mapping "western" countercultural trends.  (Picture a bell.  Hey, this works quite nicely!  Picture a Western bell, yer Liberty Bell, as it were, which flares on either side?  Now picture a Japanese temple bell.  There is no flair; it is an unabashed, inverted U shape.  Sans Serif.  99.9% follow the norm, 0.1% are at variance within the first standard deviation).   I don't feel like drawing right now... Write to me for more, and I'll create them...

Whew.  I'm exhausted. I had the rug pulled out from under me from three directions simultaneously today... Rather, I had the rug, floor and ceiling pulled away from me today.  Maybe one of the walls as well... Who knows.  I'm tired.  This posting has gone on long enough.  More will come from all of this I assure you.

 

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