DOGO GINKO (the official site)
Going to Gudabutsuan a hundred years too late is of course better than never going to Gudabutsuan at all, but perhaps the ideal time would be at dusk, alone, or maybe with a group of writer friends and a few bottles of sake. I think there must be an ideal time to ease drop on history. In the presence of TV cameras, and as a member of a ginko tour group, I found it difficult to listen as closely as it deserved. This may be plaintive but it is not a complaint. A fine group of people gathered at Gudabutsuan on the morning of the 28th , but I was not one of them. I was feeling a little feral. My "poet-on-an-adventure" self-image had been downgraded by a personal problem that made its appearance probably as a kami punishment for not going to the Dogo Hot Spa. It involved some sciatica and bleeding from a place I won't mention.
I sit on a bench and feel
remembering, "Gudabutsuan" is "the house of the stupid Buddha." I put a stoic look on the pained face of things.
The highlight of this excursion was meeting Takashi Nonin, whose name I remembered fondly from early encounters on the Shiki lists. On this morning he was Gudabutsuan's resident guide. I met several other people as well: David Burleigh, whose book Hidden Pond, I devoured while at Hiromi's house, and Janine Beichman, a talented historian and author of a biography on Shiki. We move as a group from Gudabutsuan to Bansui Villa where school children occupy the lawn; all of them drawing and painting. It is National Art Day and we will see such gatherings everywhere we go.
National Art Day-
everywhere students are drawn
We board a trolley to Dogo. We pass Bocchan's clock and pause amid the students encamped there, and move on through the Dogo Mall (a wonderful place to shop), where Hime-daruma dolls catch my eye. I ask one of my guides, who has the impossible task of keeping us all together, if I might make a quick purchase and of course she smiles and says yes.
Miho waits for me
to purchase Hime dolls
At the end of the shopping arcade I pose with a beautiful young girl in an almost equally beautiful kimono whose parasol seems the only defense between her and the world; that and the uniformed officer at her side. I honestly do not know if he was a real police officer or someone in a historical costume that was simply part of the flower arrangement. The TV cameras are here too, and the reporters want to interview me but it is difficult because I answer their Japanese with English. Inside the hot spa I hold up a 100 yen bill beside Soseki's picture in the area known as "Bocchan's room." immensely pleased for him, for Japan, the city of Matsuyama, and myself. This makes Miho laugh, who thought I would be a pinch-browed serious sort of American but has instead found me to be a would be Buddha of the absurd. Or just an honest fool.
at Bocchan's room Dogo Hot Spa-
on the emperor's chair
Our next destination is the Neon Slope. Here we are shepherded by Noma Minako. I ask if she is nervous and the question pops the cork on a confetti of stress. I mean her laughter makes beautiful bright ribbons in the air. She wants to know how I knew she was nervous. I think it was a beautiful butterfly passing behind her eyes. I follow her closely, because I don't want to be a problem, and also because I find her charming. Besides, there is no reason to stray on the Neon Slope.
nothing moves in the windows
of the Neon Slope
Arriving at a temple above the Neon Slope (where prostitute's are buried under nameless stones) we pause and write haiku for the ginko discussion and contest.
before the nameless stones-
After coffee, cake, and conversation with the group at a hotel in Dogo, Kim and I board a trolley back to Matsuyama. She asks me where I plan to eat dinner and I tell her I am undecided. She suggests a noodle shop.
my interpreter and I
rehearse our slurps
I tell Kim of my plans to look for a jazz club I had heard about and after dinner she guides me to its door. I walk back with her as far as the department store (near the trolley line) and return to the hotel to shower. The phone rings and it is Kim. She says she'd forgotten about a reception for The Japanese-British Society that she would like me to attend. The event is on the Chateutel's tenth floor and is already in progress. Still dripping like a waterdog, and not exactly enjoying the kami curse, I tell her I will be there in twenty minutes. When I go upstairs Kim is nowhere to be seen but there is a group of Japanese behind a foyer table who are looking at me quizzically. Since I don't know what else to say I say, "Kimiyo Tanaka." While a guest list is consulted I reason they probably have deduced I am not Kimiyo Tanaka and that they are checking to see if she's arrived I get the impression they do cannot resolve the issue, but two of the receptionists open the dark wooden doors, peering in so quietly I think there must be a sleeping dragon on the other side. I am wondering how to say, "No, that's ok. Please don't worry about it," when I am propelled into the room on the politesse of an ushers' tide receding behind me as silently as it entered. Since I am standing in an auditorium filled with Japanese and someone talking at a podium, and since I thought Kim had said "reception" I am not certain I am in the right place. (I didn't tell you I'd already gone to the tenth floor and was shushed away to the ninth.) Starting to feel like a semi-conscious wooden statue of Daniel Boone on a fashion catwalk I find a seat and pretend to be taking notes.
says the speaker
Looking around I find Kim, sitting not too far behind me and suddenly my good sense sits square on my shoulders like a scolding parrot. "Of course this is the right place. Isn't the speaker British? Isn't the meeting a meeting of The British-Japanese Society. Duh!"
The meeting adjourns and the group moves to the reception room for hors d'oeuvres and beer. Many of those present approach me, fill my glass, and try their English on my ears which this evening feel like mushrooms on my wooden head. I lose this bout of self-consciousness about the time someone starts singing "Danny Boy" to me. Over the course of the evening I swap business cards with twenty-five or so people.
THE MOON GLOW
When I enter the Moon Glow jazz club the jazz pianist (and owner), Hiroshi Igaue and the nightclub diva, Riza (?) have already begun the first set. When I sit down they begin to introduce their songs in English and all evening it seems as if the woman sings only to me, in the way an angel sings: in a human voice. I feel like I could be my father in another time, had time and DNA taken another course. I also know that I am and it has.
I am not as familiar with jazz as a culturally aware fellow should be, so when the bartender hands me a request list, I choose anything that has the word "blues" in it. Between sets I talk to Hiroshi and he asks if I'd like to play his guitar, and so I play for a half hour or so. It is not what I planned, but I'm almost always willing to let my fingers intercept, receive and fumble on the fret board of beautiful foolishness. I'd like to tell you I played to a packed house that raised the roof, letting in a thousand co-conspirator stars, but instead I must say: I played to a few silhouettes, to a lot of unoccupied tables and chairs; to the dark corners and spaces filled with emptiness that is the audience I know best. Afterwards I sit at the bar with Hiroshi. Riza stands at my shoulder and looks at me so silently, her dark hair streaming down her moonbeam face, I think she has become the Princess of the Night Sky. The conversation turns to haiku and a reporter at the bar, whose English is pretty good, enters the discussion. I pass out more business cards and explain the haiku printed on the reverse side. And if this were theater, (which of course it is), the stage direction would say, "fade."
a loose tile
on the sidewalk