Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Whirligig

Gumyo Tracks

The train tracks leading away from Gumyo, the little town I am living in now. The photograph doesn’t show you the incessant noise of the highway nearby, though.

Raindrops spray across the train window, the reds and blues and greens of street lights and neon signs, splayed across the glass panes, run like bleeding dyes, shimmering. The wind outside whips the water across the surface, distorting the night scene, tugging and streaking it, until the reflection of my face within the blackness is mixed like paints into the lights of passing neighborhoods. My good eye stares into a void, twixt the light and darkness, day and night, innocent making out with knowing. It is within this ball of calmness that the train hurtles through the empty hours, the limited express, destination: last call of the season. Leaves fly up in the train’s wake, whirling like bats, cold, helpless, and final.

Gumyo Station View

A town still asleep at dawn

House roofs and apartment buildings, telephone poles and high tension wires, train station platforms lined with dour-faced commuters wearing black coats, neon signs and clanging train crossings, all of them whip by outside the train windows. People nod off opposite me, others read books, or stare blearily out into the dawn grey. I follow their gazes, seeking… what? Clouds and birds, the sky untamed, rain imminent, a puff of cool air from the open doors when the train stops. It seems the years in Japan have always been characterized by the clackity-clack of train tracks, and I have always been following the single-file processionals along the rail lines, or waiting on platforms as my white breath dispells in the late autumn air.

Gumyo Bend

The main road from the station takes a slight detour along the train tracks. Here is where I discover the other face of Gumyo, the side that must once have made up the whole town here before the highway bypass ran roughshod right over the heart of the town.

Home seems far away all the time these days. Four weeks have passed since moving out to Chiba. The two pairs of pants and two shirts that accompany me for the week out at the guesthouse, the heavy laptop computer with its retinue of hard drives, mouse, A/C adapters, and notebook of serial numbers and passwords, the drawing case that holds a few pens and pencils for drawing and its sister journal, the two books I’m reading (I’ve been trying to get through “Queen of the Night” by Arturo Perez-Revert, but have been so tired that I always end up nodding to sleep on the trains as I attempt to read it), the change of socks, underwear, and t-shirts, the toiletry kit, the diabetes kit, the camera, and extra, warm jacket… are beginning to outstay their welcome on my back. I wake each night to the slapping of a stranger’s slippers shuffling to the toilet outside my bedroom door, sit every night with strangers at the dinner table in a room decorated with gold-plated clocks and cheap Chinese painting prints and dominated by a huge, wide-screen TV always running the same news program again and again, while these strangers puff away at cigarettes and overload on bottles of whiskey and shochu and vodka, and wait for strangers to finish in the bathroom so I can brush my teeth. It’s as if my life is not my own and my home back in Tokyo a place where someone else has moved in.

Gumyo Leaves

The first rays of the sun graze the brooding roof of a farmhouse.

Gumyo Jidohambai

Remnant of a town long gone. As I entered this area there was lots of wind and flapping sheet metal and rotten wood. It was too early to see most of the townsfolk, but those who had hauled themselves out of bed greeted me as if I was a regular neighbor.

Gumyo Grove

A carefully tended grove protected from the wind by thick hedges and windbreaks. Nothing moved, the leaves seemed to be holding their breath.

The key turns in the lock, waking the tumblers inside, and allowing me to pull back the creaking door. The air within the apartment is warm. An aroma of cooking curry greets my nostrils. As the door bangs shut behind me my wife steps out from behind the kitchen door and smiles. She looks both tired and sad, but full of life, as always.

“Welcome home,” she says quietly, in that self-assured way that always makes me feel safe. “Put your pack down and take off your shoes.”

I lower the pack and feel the weight of the day lift. Everything is familiar. My wife holds out her arms to receive an embrace.

“How are you?” I ask, a little shy.

She smiles, knowing there is no need to answer. “I’ve made some curry,” she says.

“You look tired,” I say. “Have you been sleeping okay?”

She lowers her head and forces her smile. “Same as you,” she says. “It’s strange here without you.”

“Yeah,” I agree. We stand holding each other without saying anything more, letting the sound of the wind rushing against the windows and the tap dancing of the water boiling in the pot in the kitchen play against one another.

Gumyo Sunrise Grove

A fallow rice field still holding rainwater from the storm the night before. Mist was rising over all the fields

Gumyo Dawn Fields

I couldn’t believe this was the same area I had been grumbling about for the past three weeks. The farther I ran the more the old towns drifted back into sight.

Gumyo Shrine

An old wooden shrine listed as part of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” (Kanto Plain Communal Road), a footpath that arcs from the far side of Tokyo, up over the north along the Tanigawa range and extends down along the east side here, a distance of over 400 kilometers, much of it in the mountains and through backroad countryside. I never knew that Gumyo was the place where the path came to an end. So in many ways I had reached the End of the World…

Gumyo Fountain

…and found the Well…

It was dawn again. The wind still blew, but colder now. My pack bulged with the essentials again and sat by the front door. I lifted the pack, switched off the hall light, and pushed the front door open. A cold finger of the wind wriggled its way inside and lifted the cloth hanging over the kitchen door. Before it could explore further I stepped outside into the darkness and pushed the door gently closed behind me. I didn’t bother using the umbrella… it would only snap out of shape any way. The train was waiting, so I hoisted the pack into a better position, and headed toward the train station.

Gumyo Leaf Tunnel

My wandering took me away from the main roads into fields that welled straight up out of my childhood.

Gumyo Footprints

I love it when the tarmac slowly erodes away and turns to dirt, and then finally just peters out .

Gumyo Onions

The risen sun streaming light on a patch of onions.

Gumyo Crossing

Much of Japan once looked like this. I really miss walking along such roads. Now that most people rely on cars and the bypaths no longer connect little enclaves that once held the strings of communities together, there is a sense of desolation and emptiness, as if these places no longer hold value. All eyes now turn to Tokyo. As more rural communites turn into these dying landscapes, the future of Japan seems to hold no center. A city without its surrounding past, a rural community without its reason for being…

Gumyo Gingko
Categories
Climate Change Global Systems Failure Journal Musings Nature Society Stewardship

A Moth Wing of Devastation

I think I am slowly losing my mind. It has been building that way ever since the awful events of the New York tragedy. Something snipped on that day and as time has given me perspective I realize more and more that the waywardness of my heart and soul centers around an invisible despair, rather than on anger or righteousness. As the inevitable drums roll and boots keep marching past something lurking behind it all tethers itself to my voice and prevents the proper words from forming. For three and a half years now it is as if I have been screaming in silence. And no matter how many tears well up or doors I strike or cries of agony escape my lips as I watch the unwrapping of terrible things on the TV or printed pages or on the computer screen, the silence absorbs it all in utter indifference. My heart is breaking. I can’t take much more of this awful truth. Part of me needs to believe that we are still decent, but every day it seems to get worse. And the helplessness and impotent fury are stealing away the center. On the one side it is this utter madness speaking words through cruelty and violence, on the other it is the breaking of our beloved Earth.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but something deeply disturbing has unraveled the string that has always connected me to making sense of my life and to living every day. If I look inside I can sense the wildness of emotions and the animal panic. Something isn’t right with the world or with myself. The vertigo of teetering on an icy edge never goes away.

Beth, over at Cassandra Pages refers to the interview of Seymour Hersh. What he speaks about is nothing new, but the affirmation of an insidious doom that he creates by bringing all the jigsaw pieces together left the hair standing on my back because of how true it all rang. Then I glance left and right at the increasingly alarming reports recently about the coming global systems failure, the chaos of humankind facing mass extinction, and the mind just lets go. It is so huge. Beyond my ability to comprehend or emotionally envelope.

What am I to do? Recently I’ve been trying the only thing I can do… start small. Go out into my garden or onto the street, wade through the oceans of pain, and press my fingertip against the surface of tree bark or taste a snowflake on my tongue. I know it doesn’t make an iota of difference in the fate of this world we’ve so badly mismanaged, and most likely the tiny administrations will be swept away in the flood of destruction, but if I must go then I want it to be on my terms, holding dear those things which do still make sense.

As I jogged along the river bank near my house a few days ago I little girl riding her bicycle ahead of her mother, called back, “Mama. If only I could take a trip to another country! If only I could travel to those faraway places right now!”

Her voice still rings in my ear. A heart yearning for engagement. I wish her all the best and cling to the tiny hope that her request might come true, and that the winds of change bring scents of relenting. Of hands stayed. Of a missed beat and a resumption of real reality.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Loving Uncategorized

Sunset

IzumiBare branches of a cherry tree in a kindergarten near my home, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004I went with my wife for a long evening walk along the Nogawa River near my home the other day. A cold wind barreled down the corridor between the concrete walls of the river, laying the dead reeds flat to the ground and ruffling the feathers of the spot-billed ducks, pin-tailed ducks, little egrets, gray starlings, rock doves (common pigeons), jungle crows, carrion crows, and white wagtails that huddled along the ankle deep waters that gurgled by. Initially we had gone to share the experience of using our digital cameras together, but as I walked the accumulation of countless white plastic bags, discarded tissues, beer and soda cans, old mattresses, mangled bicycle frames, washed out shoes, a pair of panties, a motorcycle helmet, shampoo bottles, smashed liquor bottles, a collage of smut magazines laid open with pictures of young women in different poses, twelve (I counted them) fluorescent green tennis balls floating in the river, two car batteries wrapped in plastic, a bucket on its side spilling its contents of ripped lottery tickets, a plastic, red-checkered table cloth, a weathered printer, several snakes of computer wiring, a rusting motor scooter, and a humidifier in a soggy paper bag, well, they all just really got to me. My eye was dragged to them whenever I raised the camera lens and looked at the screen. I witnessed the birds wandering innocently amidst this and felt, simply, disgust.

When it comes to their environment Japanese are truly slobs. People simply don’t care. I’ve been pondering whether to go about painting some huge cloth signs to hang up along bridges and on the side of buildings asking, in Japanese, “Don’t you have any pride in your own country? I, a dirty foreigner, can see the awful mess of your land, why can’t you? Why don’t you at least clean up your garbage, if you can’t actually make an effort to make the environment healthy? Mt. Fuji is a disgrace!”

Knowing the Japanese, the police would be involved and I would be deported, most likely.

The scene and these thoughts killed the anticipation of taking beautiful photos. My wife and I sat down on a bench overlooking the river and watched a huge blue cloud obscure the sun and burst with god-rays, shafts of light walking over the cityscape, the edge of the light piercing our pupils. We held hands and talked about sad things, of endings. Of the final movement in a long struggle. A fat tabby cat squatted down just out of reach beside us, mewing for a handout. We laughed and in laughing broke down weeping. We turned our backs to the public path to hide in privacy, and cried together, still holding hands, the cold wind still brushing between our legs, our tears turning cold on our cheeks, and both of us reaching out gentle fingers to brush them away.

Three bombers pass by overhead as I write this and I ask, how can anything so abstract and faceless matter more than the difficulty of learning how to love and how to let go? Of knowing what is important to you and finding the language that would let you defend it and keep it near? I would say this is wisdom in the making, but I never knew until now that it hurts sometimes when wisdom comes calling. And that sometimes love involves conceding an absence that almost feels more than you can bear.

Kindness and grace sing alone in the evening, asking only that you listen. It is what you recognize in the heat of the setting sun, that last reaching out across a distance and feeling the warmth of someone who is necessary to your existence.