Thursday, January 31, 2013

Countdown to Wakuendings and Hokkaido Travel

Wakuwacky day.  The concerts are winding down or heating up.  Our conductor accidentally flung his baton into the viola section and continued to conduct with a huge smile on his face.  I'm sure that all the children were smiling as well at such a dramatic bit of flare, but due to an apparent school regulation, the emotions of their lower faces were hidden from view in an attempt to keep the germs at bay.  As the white stage lights dimmed in a show of the lighting capabilities of the HPAC center, their masks glowed purple in the black light making perfect rows of ghosts throughout the whole hall.  In the instrument demonstrations, the trumpet section started playing "Won't you be my Neighbor,"  from Mister Rogers and in answer to our unspoken question, "But where is Sean?" the stage door opened and Sean walked in playing the melody on his trumpet, wearing an orange cardigan.  He took off his shoes and sweater, changing into his concert jacket.  Only two more instrument demonstrations tomorrow.  Only two more chances.  Fridays have a tradition for being longer.  What will happen?

Had another very impromtu jazz dinner tonight.  When going on a trip, food needs to be eaten so it won't go bad, so Melkorka and I ate delicious cheese from Amsterdam, eggplant, sweet potato, and salad.  And with the internet taking a bit of an unexpected and confusing yasumi (break) from working in my apartment, we extended our moveable feast to her apartment for dessert.  Life tastes so good.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wakuwaku Wind Down

I suppose Wakuwaku can't go on forever.  No one said that it would.  But what a sudden surprise to realize that we have only four more performances of this program remaining.  In two days, less than 48 hours from now, this Wakuwaku year will come to a close; Smetana's famous melody from the Moldau and the lively wedding folk dance will be laid to rest.  No more the excitement of Rossini's William Tell Overture or Bizet's Intermezzo and Farandole.  (Fear not, the Radetzky March will surely escape this coming end.) The carefully made arrangements for viola sextet and bassoon duet will be stacked on someone's dining room table for a few weeks until being filed away for next year or until the memory of love's labor is forgotten into the every-other-Monday paper disposal.  A computer file lives forever...

In this last week, our new steady-hearted conductor revitalized some very small things in our well-worn performance patterns, pointing out intonation in places where we'd never really heard the harmony, addressing ensemble in places where it was never quite together, pulling out the melody from the dustpan.  There's only so much you can do in a short one-hour rehearsal on music that has been engrained in 30-plus performances and will only live on for a few more for the benefit of a sleepy group of middle-schoolers.  I feel really lucky whenever I encounter those who do it anyway.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Saagy Evening...

Oh the pleasure of a long preparation and delicious reward!  Good friends and good food- a cozy evening in Akuradanchi!

warming the nan dough to make it rise on top of the heater in the practice room

Nan!  Melkoraka made nan!  (a miracle!) 

Adding the garlic butter to nan- quality control

the table- almost ready

stack of delicious garlic nan

Yay!  It's time to eat!

saag chole with garlic nan- a very yummy and lovely evening-
go team!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Family Skype

This morning there was a layer of snow covering the sidewalks, and the streets, and the optimistic flowers.  Cats left their footprints in it before it sunk into the playground sand.  It reflected the sunlight up into the buildings and the tree trunks, brightening winter in an upside down sort of way.

I saw it from my window;  and then from miles away I heard my aunt's voice, and my mother's and father's.  I saw my brothers and the huge cat that was just a kitten 6 months ago.  My whole family was gathered last night to celebrate my brother's birthday.  Grandfather, my brother's girlfriend, cousin, too.  They told me about the trial of new gelato, paw paw flavored, a fruit from the midwest or the south of which I had never heard, never tasted.  And my mother sang the two repeated lines she could remember of a childhood song about paws paws, picking them up and putting them in her pocket.  I told her I liked her sweater and we set another date for Skype, one nearly a month away.

There are things that are shade life right now.  There is a color in which I'm embedded and can't even see.  The way my landscape is shaped by the people around me and those far away, by the routines that I fall into and construct, by the books that I read and the conversations that I have, by the pieces I practice, by the themes that I pull out of this daily living and on which I choose to focus.  How can I see their effect?  These temporary things in life.  What stays and goes?  Perhaps it is only relative.

But what came before family?  What has been more consistent throughout all the changes, near or far, for better or worse?  On and on for generations, this personal religion of sorts, handing off from one to the next, changing and growing, but always there.  Around us and inside of us.  As sure as the stars.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Winter Homesickness with Kaneko-san

Sometimes there are things inside of us of which we are unaware.  It's winter and I retreat from one corner of my apartment to another, avoiding the cold; half of my living space sits unused behind closed doors, holding empty boxes.  I sleep in my heated practice room, moving the mattress as needed.   It's a funny thing, the transition to winter and where it takes us.

Last night I had a surprisingly emotional dream about missing my family.  It stuck with me this morning, a harbinger of homesickness and the conscious feeling of physical isolation.  The winter retreat.  I wonder how much is my own state and how much comes the world around me.  Sickness, loneliness, days spent indoors.  It seems the world is regrouping, alone and collectively.

This morning after I got up I started to write my essay for dear Kaneko-san.  I started to write about writing letters to friends, how I was far away and liked letters.  I kept myself from staying on this topic for fear that I would accidentally inflect an emotional situation more dower than I meant and confer upon him some awkward responsibility.  I just wrote about upcoming plans to go to Hokkaido, strategically informing him that I would miss next week's lesson but would still study Japanese.

But it's so hard to hide the truth, even as gentle as this winter missing is these days;  and so as we worked on ways to say that we want something (a new car, a cell phone, a friend), I replaced my initial response of "lunch," (apparently not acceptable with this particular vocabulary and grammar) with "a ticket to America."  I didn't mean to say it, but of course it was the first thing that came to mind (well, after "lunch," that is).  And dear, dear Kaneko-san looked at me.  "Oh, homesick?"  And I said yes.  And then he started to ask me about home, about my parents, what jobs they had.

It's such a gift to find ourselves in another person's kindness.  That we hide these things, perhaps unknown even to ourselves, and yet there are those who are waiting to catch them with no great drama, but with simple graceful respect.  A minute of asking, of unadorned caring, and nothing more.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Light Snow

From where did the snow on the ground come?  Just a light dusting, offered like a magical visit from Santa when no one was looking.  How did it happen?  Sometimes when I'm looking the other way, miracles occur.  I open my mailbox and pull out a bank notice which I can't read.  I hear some people arguing indecipherably.  I live in Japan.  I play the cello.  I have friends and family who shape and support me.  Where was I looking?  How did this all happen?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Flu in Japan

It's flu season.  America seems to have had an early start and now finds itself in an epidemic.  And Japan has decided to get on board as well.  Several musicians have had to back out of concerts this week and quite a few more are wearing the symptoms.  When I look out to the audience, white masks look back.  Here, the issue of health is more a communal concern than an individual inconvenience.  The board backstage which announces our concert information contained an additional flyer today about taking care of our health.  It reminded us to wash our hands, rinse our mouths, avoid public places if possible, and wear a mask if we felt sick in order to keep the germs from spreading to others.  And if we are feeling ill so that we cannot play, we should call or email the office immediately.  These precautions in order to keep the highest quality of performance possible.  We should keep ourselves healthy in order to play well, but if we become sick we should promptly inform the office so that a substitute player can be contacted immediately in order to have a good replacement.  We should take care of ourselves for the good of everyone.  Perhaps it's touching that the whole world can share this illness together, but together, in our own endeavors, we can help one another return to health.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Looking Ahead to Niseko

In just over a week, several friends and I will be flying up north to the island of Hokkaido (the Wisconsin or Alaska of Japan; cold and snowy and dairy central) to give several concerts in the beautiful ski resort town of Niseko.  About two and half hours from Sapporo, this small town will be hosting us, graciously providing us with accommodation and transport as well as activities for the few days we will be there (skiing, snow shoeing, potato harvesting.....?).  In return we'll be playing several concerts for them.  After our stay in Niseko, we'll head to Sapporo for two days to see the famous snow festival.  It'll be a short trip, only four days from Hyogo, but from the communication with the people in Niseko it seems that it will be quite a full schedule.  I'm enjoying working on the chamber music with my peers and looking forward to playing the concerts, meeting new people, seeing snow and skiing for the first time ever (!) (other anticipated first time activities: snow shoeing, potato harvesting.....?).

In Japan there are always flyers for concerts and here is the one that they made for us.  I feel lucky to be a part of this project- many thanks to the friends and organizers who are making this possible!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To the Smiling Girl at Today's Wakuwaku

To the young girl sitting in the front row, right in front of the cello section, thank you for making today's concert so wakuwaku.  Uniformed in solidarity with the rest of the middle school audience, no measure could hide your diamond soul.  Your beautiful smile and genuine excitement pulled down the fourth wall, so heavy fortified over the past month of adult concerts.  While your compatriots slept, your eyes were wide open.  There are others like you, my dear; at nearly every concert, there is at least one like you that I can see, filled with some curious excitement and anticipation.  But around you maybe you don't see them, on stage sometimes we are tired.  But know that your smile touched me and made me care more, for your sake and also for mine.  Thank you for being an innocent reminder, unaware of the contagious ambivalence around you.  Keep the fire burning...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Arrival of the Red Queen

Yesterday I went to the bank to make a wire transfer home.  They gave me the form and then said something about "today" and "not possible" and something about "tomorrow." Oh so tomorrow is ok?  Yes tomorrow is fine.  Oh but I can't tomorrow, Wednesday ok?  And then we hit a block and spent about 30 minutes in mutual consternation, me holding this piece of paper, wondering if I should fill it out and sit in line with my number.  Is it possible today?  No.  But fill this out anyway?  I sat there with my number, waiting for a man behind the counter whom I thought had been summoned to help.  But he never came.  So I thought I'd fill the time by filling in my name and address.  Filling, filling, filling...  My number came up but I was only through "ANDRE..."  so I had another confusing exchange with a new person and got a new number.   And then waited for 45 minutes of careful service rendered to the holders of the two numbers ahead of me.

When it was my turn I was told that my name didn't match the one on my passbook.  Lower versus upper case letter issues.  Ok ok, and I allowed her to take out the ruler to draw two careful lines through my capitol lettered name so that I could rewrite it as it was printed on my passbook.  And then I went back to my seat and waited.  And when I was summoned again there was "Iran"  something, something "North Korea"  something, something and "check" with her pointing to two little boxes.  Which box?  No I have nothing with Iran or North Korea. (!)  Which box?  Oh, both boxes?  Ok.  By this point it was more a game of appeasement, less of communication.  But maybe those things aren't really so different even when we use words that we understand.

I left with the understanding that the thing not possible "today" and which could happen "tomorrow" was the actual transfer of money.  I also left with the hope and understanding that by tomorrow, when I go to the ATM to update my passbook (a process of putting a little book into a slot in the machine which notates all bank transactions into it), most of my money should have dissolved into the Pacific Ocean and be on it's way to reconstituting itself in America.  And from there on to Great Lakes, another body of water that will permanently absorb it, soon to be satiated.   On and on we go, from one hand to another, country to country, confusion to confusion.  Getting there, almost there.


When the clouds are low and the sky is clear above, the stars walk with me.  I can neither get ahead, nor fall behind.  Racing one another until I arrive, ringing a doorbell for dinner.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America.  Remembering a man of great importance for our country's history.  Values that transcend time and distance.  To be more fully mindful of those things that matter, that make us living.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Japanese Telling of "The Stolen Bike"

For the past week I've been able to practice a pretty consistent schedule of Japanese study.  Perhaps it was this that fueled an over-confidence in my Japanese composition skills.  Both my essay this week and last covered a considerably larger portion of the page, and this week I decided to exercise some additional artistic craft with the story, heretofore unknown by Kaneko-san, of my stolen bike.  In my naivete I neglected to calculate the weight of importance that grammatical tense plays in setting up suspense and delivering a punchline.  In my first paragraph, I gave no allusion to the fact that I currently have my bike back in my possession; that awaited the first line of the final (read: second) paragraph.  Preceding it was the sentence, "I had planned to buy a bike in April."

I don't know how to say that sentence, really.  "I had planned..."– complicated thing to convey as it turns out, and even my superb (read: dubious) intuition about how I'd like the Japanese language to work turns out to be a little underdeveloped.  Poor Kaneko-san was confused, despite my asterisk directing him to the bottom of the page with a list of unknown and questionable items.  Without reading ahead to the last paragraph (incorrigibly detail oriented as he is) he corrected the tense concoction I had created in a manner still not clear to me.  In truth, this was one of several creative ventures I attempted here and elsewhere resulting in a lot of confusion.

Perhaps I've not gained as conclusive a lesson in Japanese grammar as I might have if I played a little more by the rules and stuck with what I know.  But I've learned (I think?) what doesn't work and if the goal is to learn more Japanese, then I'm chipping away at it bit by bit (dandan) everyday.  There's no finish line awaiting me.

I wonder, though, if I don't have an underlying ulterior motive, one most certainly met in today's lesson.  Despite my botched particles, strange tenses, and questionable vocabulary resulting in a lot of red pen usage, I felt a small victory as Kaneko-san read the first line of the last paragraph and gasped.  In the midst of confusion, a punchline delivered.  Communication success.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter Poncho

Several weeks ago, before the loss of my bike, the poncho which I kept in my handbar basket left me.  A small breach of trust, a fairly inexpensive outer covering best replaced, anyway.  Nevertheless, it was a goodbye my hands did not offer, one to which they did not wave.

Around the same time, the sun set earlier than ever and slept in past a prudent hour.  It hoarded daylight hours and the warmth of short shadows.  Now, the fall leaves have finally come to a rest, their blazing colors taken by the soil or the quick dustpans of fastidious grounds crews.  The trees have withdrawn the buds of spring, the cold air has tightened my nose and the smell of flowers is hidden from view.  At night, sometimes I remember the voice of the river that still runs there along the path with me.  I hear it waiting for me to see its sound again.  

As I pulled my bike into the parking shed of my building, enjoying the delayed gratification of a dinner not yet started, I slowly pulled my lock from the basket and fetched the key from my pocket.  So many bikes in our crowded shed, and more to come in the next hour as people retreated home from the cold.  The end of a day of reawakened practicing, of a concert program of French music, of Japanese study with amusing example sentences ("How many TVs are in your dorm?" "There are two, but I don't watch TV?"  "Why don't you watch TV?"  "Because I don't understand Japanese."),  of baseball teams training for spring, and accordion players practicing in open spaces.  It was the end of a day of appreciating uncertainty in both the clutch of practical planning and the release of carefree openness.

As I slowly locked my bike my eyes found the wall of the shed.  On it lay my poncho.  For how long had it been waiting for me to see it?  Waiting quietly, patiently without patience for me to return to it?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Group Dinner at Little India

It's hard to say why the servers at the Indian restaurant were so adamant about taking our picture.  A table of eighteen gaikokujin (and two Japanese significant others) enjoying curries, nan, spicy potatoes (french fries with spice served with Indian condiments) and nan-wraps.  They gave us free lassis and brought out chocolate nan after we embarrassed the guest of honor with a round of Happy Birthday.  Service in Japanese restaurants is always polite, but the Indians at Little India are always so genuinely warm and happy to see us.  Some members of our group are true regulars, but all of us have enjoyed their hospitality numerous times.

So maybe they took several pictures–posing with us separately with different cameras and also of us by ourselves– so they can put it on their wall for others to see.  Or perhaps it is the unusual sight of such a large group of foreigners together.  Or maybe a combination of these things and something more, a kind-hearted memento of a happy time in their restaurant.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake

Today, on the 18th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, several hundred people decided to come to HPAC to listen to an open rehearsal.  Before we began, we took a moment to stand in silence together.

The HPAC orchestra was founded as a way to uplift the people of this region after such a devastating natural disaster.  Thousands of lives were lost, property damaged, economic stability undermined.  It was hard not to think of the personal significance this day must have had to many of the people in the audience.  A reminder of what compels people to come to such a safe space and to share it together, in music or silence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Winter Mountain

The distant green mountains are tipped with snow, now and again.  Out of reach, out of winter fog and blinding sun.  Miles from the mountain I turn away; view them from a window's warmth.  A steadfast visitation from the gods, breathing slower than I can hear.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


As I followed the officer around to the back of the station, I suddenly became afraid that he might lead me to a small tricycle with pink streamers.  Rest assured, there is no such thing as human error in the Japanese police system.  My bike was my bike and after sitting in a small room and stamping my inkan a few times (it's so much fun to "sign" things here!) I came around the corner to find my bike at the front desk, ready for me to ride off into the (figurative) sunset.

And just recently a friend's wallet, surreptitiously jettisoned while biking, was immediately returned to the police untouched, money still there.  Happy endings in Japan.  Why is it so, how can it be?  Is it the steadfast police?  An honest population?

Perhaps it is as inexplicable as the crows; bidden or unbidden, always present.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Coming of Age

Today is Coming of Age Day (Seijin no hi) in Japan.  Celebrating the right to vote, buy alcohol and cigarettes, and be recognized as an adult by the government, those who turned 20 years old between April 2 of 2012 and April 1 of 2013 are invited to town government centers for festivities and speeches, and continue the celebrations with friends and family through the evening.  There were lots of young women dressed in beautiful furisode (type of kimono with long sleeves) on the trains and streets, hair done beautifully, signifying that they are unmarried and an adult.  I even saw a few young men in hakama.

Coming of Age ceremonies date since the early 8th century but it became an established national holiday in 1948.  Originally celebrated on January 15th, it was moved to the 2nd Monday of January in 2000 as part of the Happy Monday System.  (If you're going to have a Monday System, why not make it Happy?)

It's hard not to stare at these beautiful young women in traditional attire.  There is so much care given to their hair with flowers and jewels, their nails, their beautiful shawls and shoes and the fabric of their attire; even their posture seems to have blossomed and matured from the slumped middle schoolers I see in the Wakuwaku concerts.  And that they should be bestowed with this national holiday where the post office and the like close in their honor.  What responsibility is thus handed to them?  What does society expect in return?

When I came home today I opened the curtain in my practice room to look out onto the playground.  As the sun began to set, I started my Tae Kwon Do workout with jumping jacks and through the window caught the attention of two little girls at the top of the slide.  They stared and started to mimic me, giggling, and I laughed and waived at them as we had a game of copying jumping jacks through my soundproof window.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Return to Japanese Lessons

Had it been three weeks since we met, dear Kaneko-san?  Seeing you again I would not have believed it to be more than a day.  Still there, your laugh; still there, your excited handwriting; still there, your reliable excursion to the copier for scrap paper, deferring my readily waiting notebook.  Your words seem softer, your ears more open, the rhythm of our exchange finding a center through the time elapsed.  Perhaps it is a slower, calmer exhalation which allows me to linger past noon, clarifying words beyond the gestures which explicate that I should pay my monthly lesson fee.  Yes I know this, but what is the word for "fee?"  Please let us have the time to learn a little more.  Raishuu, Kaneko-san.  Until next week.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bike Found!

Wonder of wonders, the Japanese police have found my bike!

I had been prepared to be a bike bum for the next few unseasonable months, borrowing one bike and then another from the good will of many HPAC members; and yet somehow the police recovered my bike in only two weeks.  They found it under some else's bottom.  I may have the option to press charges, though I'm fairly certain I will decline to do so.  As much fun as I've had with the Japanese penal system thus far, I'm happy to further explore Japan through its wildlife, language, culture, dining, maybe even dentist offices, before delving into its courts.

The infinitely flexible Yoshie Maeda, our personal manager, had been willing to set aside the needs of her recently purchased kimchi in order to meet me at the Amagasaki police station this evening to help with paperwork.  But due to the surprising concern of the police chief that I would have to ride home after dark, we have postponed our reclamation until Tuesday afternoon.  I'm not sure what forms or questions will be needed, but I'm guessing it's a little more than a smile, which is close to all I can offer right now.  It's not something that I saw very often during our filing of the police report two weeks ago.  They were very serious.  And serious got it done.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Clarifying Hand Gestures

Our conductor looked out into the audience to get an opinion on the balance, yesterday.  A Japanese violinist in the house made a large "O" with her hands over her head to show that it was good, ok, daijobu.  It's a very commonly used symbol in Japan.  Our conductor replied, "Ah yes we have a symbol like this in Italy," and putting his hands above his head, but with the backs of the fingers together making a heart shape, he continued, "We use it when we want to make love."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Arrival of Keys

In a follow-up to a previous pursuit, the car keys arrived today!  Five days earlier than promised, they were accompanied by a touching letter, indicative of the carefulness and consideration of our exchange that day at the Nissan dealership:

"Thank you for Andrea Kleesattel the other day.  Because the key which had you order it was done, I mail it.
The key made it in the key number xxxxxxx which you saw, but please confirm it by car which there is in the United States.
I think that there is not the problem, but approve it even if there is operation defectiveness because it is not a vehicle in Japan because you cannot return goods.

Because you write a sentence by translation software of the Internet, there may be the point where the contents is wrong, but approve it.

Nissan Osaka sale Takarazuka store, Co., Ltd."

At the very least I think I may send them a letter of thanks for all the work they put into this project: cutting the key, translating our exchange, translating the letter.  It's strange how this broken English communicates such good will, far more than any specially crafted wording.  A very special pleasure to receive such a letter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sources of Learning

Recalibrating my center of gravity.  Watching the focus of awareness shift back to myself, my own body and mind.  Such an opportunity to explore the difference in two ways of life, two modes of learning.

This week we are working with an Italian conductor and cellist on a challenging and beautiful program including Saint-Saens Cello Concerto, for which our conductor plays the solo part, and Mozart's Jupiter Symphony.  The full rehearsal schedule is used well as he pushes us to be more together, to phrase as he wishes, to play more in tune, to listen more carefully.  These are things that surely we have all been taught before.  Did we forget, are we unaware, incapable, distracted?  All innocent possibilities that fall into the responsible hands of another- a conductor, or at times a teacher, or maybe a friend.  These people in life that remind us, that teach us things that maybe we already know, or maybe things we've yet to discover.  How much can we expect of ourselves to know what we do, and to know what can be possible?

Sometimes we must be our own teachers.  There are lessons from this sort of relationship with the self.  Of being a leader in whom we can trust, to whom we will listen, which respects the one that follows.  Planning the direction in which we want to go, learning what that inner path feels like and following it.  And then there are the times when we are lucky enough to have another in whom we can trust.  The privilege of having a good teacher or a good friend.  So many ways of learning and growing, back and forth, all together.  So many ways of living in one life.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Salad Express

This morning Andrew boarded the Salad Express, a charter bus with dancing bok choy and green pepper bound for the Kansai International Airport.  On the sidewalk next to the bus door, there was a chair with a small digital clock.  He boarded at 7:22, and I, along with the porter and luggage handler, watched each minute until 7:30, when a little alarm went off.  A late comer dashed onboard in the last second, the doors closed hastily so as not to get behind schedule, and the bus drove away, completing the circle in the parking lot where it had left off three weeks ago when Andrew arrived in this exact location.

I went to get some tea to fill the time before HPAC opened, but found myself too early for the mall's Starbucks, standing in the window overlooking the bus stop, train tracks, and waiting taxi cabs, listening to sentimental hits from the 70s.  California Dreamin' answered by thoughts about future travel.  Funny how the universe works.

And how to fill the space that someone leaves?  Opening a door and silence there.  What music, what radio show, what kihop, can fill it?  What solitary ritual substitutes the one performed by two?  Seeing the world through two eyes, two ears, one body once again.  Remembering shared experiences and relearning a new rhythm remembered.  How is this different from before?  How does another person change the way we live?  What it is, why is it, that we miss someone?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Last Day

Today was Andrew's last day and we'll be getting up early to catch the bus to the airport.  A slow day of walking around downtown Takarazuka, trying questionable things from vending machines, taking pictures in Japanese photo booths, sitting by the river.  Tomorrow a return to life as usual.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Yesterday Andrew and I set off for Koyasan, a small mountain town founded by the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi in the 9th century.  By bus, several trains, cable car and another bus, we watched the crowded city scape of Osaka dissipate into open spaces and towns in the crevices of mountains, filled with the magic that made their existence possible.  The auditory clutter of sirens, beeping walk lights and yelling vendors relaxed into the silence of trains waiting for the single track line to clear before passing, squeaking on old rails as they climbed along mountain ridges.  We arrived at our temple and were escorted to our room, a simple beautiful space with sliding doors made with paper and thin wood lattice, a kotatsu table in the middle.  We walked around the temple for 20 minutes before going to the afternoon meditation.

Shortly after returning to our room, they brought a beautiful dinner of tofu, tempura, soup, rice, oden, noodles with vegetables, radishes, tea, and an orange.  And when they cleared it away they rolled out the futon.  We went to the communal baths, copied the heart sutra, read some of the Teachings of Buddha that was in the room, and watched some Japanese television before going to bed early enough that we might awake for the morning service and fire ritual at 7 and 7:30 respectively.

Everywhere in the temple was cold, heated only by space heaters, the hallways lined with sliding paper doors, breath visible and the sound of temple slippers clumping and sliding along the broad wood planks.  At morning service, the breath of the chanting monks came out quickly, a space in front of their lips before it was visible.  The fire ritual heated the early winter morning.

We then walked the town, a single street about 4 km long.  Okunoin, the cemetery in the cedar trees, beautiful temples, the silence of the forest everywhere.  Such a different space in Japan.  Amazing to merge in and out of it in the space of a single day.

our dinner

sitting down to eat


futons, space heater, and tea snacks left on the table

the Heart sutra and tea

putting on yukata for the communal baths
and the haori to stay warm along the way

breakfast: rice, tea, miso soup, sour plum and pickle radish,
sweetened black beans, tofu cake and seaweed

behind the paper sliding doors, a space for conversation or thoughtful sitting, or hiding...
(not pictured is the game of Go under the cabinet)

beautiful view from the toilet (with heated seat, oh yeah)

hallway to the baths and office

courtyard through the windows

another room with a typical setup (kotatsu table with blanket, etc)

corner on the way to the Mainhall and Meditation Room

entrance gate to Ekoin Temple where we stayed

the cemetery stones in the forest
in Okunoin cemetery, with hanging icicles 

up to a silent wooded shrine

mountain villages along the train line

Friday, January 4, 2013

Headed to Koyasan

This morning we are heading slightly south to a stay for a night in a Buddhist temple on Mt.Koya.  Will be back tomorrow evening.

Beautiful Day in Osaka

A day full of pleasure.  A temple of morning sun, the smell of incense, taiyaki, and chestnuts mixing freely in the open air festivities.  Long walk along the river to Osaka-Jo, getting lost in the space between maps.  Finally arriving there, the dwindling minutes of the castle's access hours spent watching an aikido tournament within the fortress walls, bodies feeling, strategizing, balancing, sensing and acting.  The goal of our walk clearly otherwise than we had plotted.  After a perfunctory but beautiful visit to the top of the castle and the inside downward spiraling museum exhibits, a long walk along a night river to dinner on the 27th floor.  House miso paste on raw vegetables, radish soup, sake, sashimi, exquisite salad, delicate raw tofu, toro sushi, miso broccolini with monkfish liver, sea bream rice cake in a bowl of Japanese tea, seafood miso soup, and green tea azuki ice cream, all with a night view of Osaka, perched over the cooks chopping and arranging the dishes meticulously. 

eating taiyaki

Japanese cakes

river walk

Osaka Castle

view from Osaka castle

raw vegetables and radish soup

overflowing sake

house miso paste

delicious salad


raw tofu before....

and after

miso broccolini with monkfish liver

toro sushi

sea bream rice ball in Japanese soup

seafood miso soup

box of sake


green tea ice cream with azuki


the view

Thursday, January 3, 2013


A lovely day to Himeji, a fortress castle to the west.  Kenji-san offered his volunteer services as a free English tour guide for us.  He has a baby clothes business but his son has taken on most of the responsibilities, so now he practices his English by reading online newspapers, watching CNN and other English-speaking TV and being an English tour guide at the Himeji Castle and other castles and historical places around Japan.  He just got his license to be an official English tour guide.  And then gardens, and closed museums and shopping streets.  

servant quarters of the fortress

samurai armor 

"Don't Climb a Stone Wall"  advice for the ages

under construction-but at least a picture of what it should look like

so many cats, a cat castle!

well, and also a dog

pond in the surrounding gardens


watching the fish

the gardens and a view of the castle behind stone walls

garden pond

"Watch your head"

lunchtime tea, warming up

shrine New Year celebration

desserted shopping street

construction helpers