Each morning I have been in Japan I have woken one hour earlier than the day before: 6:00, 5:00, 4:00 am. I seem to sleep well while asleep. I mean, I have no recollection of tossing and turning, but when my eyes fly open it is impossible to close the shop of my brain. Like a shopkeeper, I start to take inventory of all the day has refracted into the camera obscurae of my head and I find it has been too much to retain. It is like the waves of an ocean washing over a shallow bowl. And so I lie there and try to gather what is still within me, to place the goods upon the shelf of words. What I see; what I hear; what I taste and smell are so greatly changed that attempting to write them down is like dealing with a remembered and therefore once again unfolding dream. I am intrigued anew and I struggle to get at the elusive content that teases my comprehension like a scent might tease a dog. All this while new distractions and attractions appear. For example: I am trying to compose my thoughts when I see a shooting star out the window and being dimly aware of a world that at four in the morning is also dimly lit, I mistake the clay roof of the house next door for the mountains I saw in the same window the day before.
a shooting star
over the mountain…
But if this trip has been a gift of serendipity, the gods continue to keep a poker face. Nor am I quick to lose the mind of an addled shopkeeper. I stare at what I am dealt and count my blessings. I start to recall the 100th anniversary mourning Anniversary I attended yesterday, specifically the haiku etched in Shiki's new stone.
over the temple
the shape of the window
And I revise…
the shape of the mountain
but my mind is racing and the synapse begging for speech does not please me. Slowly light leeches out the darkness and I realize I have mistaken a roof for a mountain. I can plainly see why.
over the clay roof
the shape of the mountain
If haiku is the rice of the Japanese soul it is simply because it is indigenous as the clay that comprises the roofs that everywhere add a kind of imperial grace to sheds and temples alike.
9/20/01 Paper Lantern Shop
One of the features of Matsuyama (Dogo Onsen) that stands out in my mind is Bocchan's Clock. I may have more to say of this later, but frankly I did not "see" it as thoroughly as I would have liked. While I planned to go back and watch it strike the hours there was always so much to do and see elsewhere that it didn't happen. There's a certain irony to this I know, clockwork being clockwork. The clock is a magnificent contraption housed by characters from Soseki's novel, Bocchan, about a naive young man from Tokyo who lands a teaching job in Matsuyama. During his tenure he becomes aware of a murder plot involving characters named Red Shirt and Green Shirt, two teachers both courting the affections of the same woman. One of the teachers plans to kill the other in order to eliminate this problem. While Soseki is said to paint a caustic portrait of Matsuyama as a city redeemed only by its hot spa, the city nonetheless loves him for his work. Go figure! Soseki's picture can be found on the thousand yen note. And of course, Soseki is the fellow who befriended Shiki and invited him to stay at his home, during those famous 50 days. I have not read Soseki's novels but it is on my list of the "must do's" I bring back from Japan. One of the things that impresses me is how 'Bocchan" is valued for the trait of naivete that I find myself identifying with. I am 52 years old and while naivete is something I am sure I must have shed a lot of every 17 years or so, I have lived so introspectively that when I come out to see the world there is always something to nonplus me. Certainly part of my 'nonplussedness' comes from the fact that everywhere I went in Shikoku I was treated so exceedingly well it left me speechless. Three weeks left more of an imprint on me than should be natural for a man of firmer clay. The impression is all the more distinct because the people I met valued me for those quirky aspects of my personality that elsewhere might be regarded as unsophisticated. I am somewhat intimidated by crowds in America, but hospitality bleached all such fear out of me in Japan.
Well…you may wonder why I preface a trip to a lantern shop with such long windedness about a clock. I don't know- except that when I think of the lantern maker I think of the characters residing in Bocchan's clock. That I saw the clock after the visit is neither here nor there. I am giving you my impressions of Japan and this is the way the topography of impressions has risen from the protoplasm of memory.
When asked by Naoko and Hiromi what souvenirs I might be looking for in Japan, "paper lanterns" was one of the items I mentioned. Actually most everything I was looking for was something my wife said she would like… and how could I refuse my Penelope a wish -- especially when I was on a fantastic voyage that in three weeks would present twenty years worth of chimera around the islands of the Sake Sea.
pulling up in front
of the lantern shop
beneath an awning-
a door to a lantern shop
The shop is narrow. There are several lanterns displayed behind sliding glass to the left of the entry and a sales counter immediately beyond that. All the lanterns but a few are white (unpainted). The few that aren't are beige. Like a choice between eggshells. A stairway climbs the face of the back wall and disappears into the ceiling. The shop is neither dimly nor brightly lit. The light does not hide anything but it does not enhance either. This is an accurate description, but please remember, I am reflecting. This is a little different from shasei, because now, I am reporting from an internal landscape that has been changed by an ambient moment; not from an ambient moment encountered. In the moment we may forget who we are, but in memory we recollect that self who comes back to us changed, bewitched by the dream of life. A little bell jingled when we opened the door, so the absence of the proprietor should be of no concern. And isn't. The lantern maker descends the stairs.
the lantern maker descends
through the ceiling
He is perhaps in his late fifties or earlier sixties, and now that I think about it, his face may be very like one of the figures in the spa of Bocchan's clock. The lantern maker is dressed in the only pair of long johns I will see in Japan. I am not accustomed to folks conducting business in long johns and neither did I expect to encounter them in Japan. I find it quaint. Naoko tells him what we would like and he says that he only works by bulk consignment for festivals, but finally agrees to make one for me.
white long johns--
the lantern maker moves
among his lanterns
He also agrees to paint one red kanji on the lantern. I'm not sure if the suggestion was his idea or Naoko's but it was perfect. The kanji was "festival." So I will regard it not simply as a memento moire but as a sign every day may be regarded as a festival as well. After he paints the lettering the lantern maker says he will apply a coat of oil to the white lantern that over the years will alter its color to beige. We are to pick up the lantern in a few days. When we do, the lantern maker is again wearing long johns - which may contribute to my sense that he is a character in, yet outside the influence of time. In other words, I have placed him and his shop into the landscape of memory. His aging skin clothed in white long johns makes me regard him as a kind of living lantern. I mean him no discredit in this elfin portrait and thank him forever.
Forever. One may talk of it but not know it. And yet, Japan has so many ancient temples and shrines that I could not shake the feeling that Forever was just out of site, always one step away from being seen. In Oyamazumi it had just let go of a samurai sword and moved to other things.
all these years
Amori Hike Hichi's sword
has cut through time
It had just left the blue-threaded armor to step briefly into the cavity of my chest.
this moment I am
looking at the backside of
Saimei Ten No's mirror
Or perhaps it was napping in the hollow of the 2500 year old camphor tree.
the camphor tree's
Oyamazumi-no-kami is a god of seas and mountains. He was the son of Izanagi and Izanami who in myth, are the creators of Japan. Eventually Oyamazumi was recognized as the patron god of all the islands. Because of the shrines importance, much armor was dedicated to the shrine both in thanks for, and as propitiatory gesture to assure safe sailing and victory in war. The shrine has many national treasures and important cultural properties. The site also has a museum of the sea. I found the marine collection both impressive and sad.
at this shore-
so many species floating
And I guess I should leave it at that, unhaiku, as it may be -- thankful that as yet, my fortune continues. And what better place to have one's fortune bought (Naoko) than at this shrine of the sea? When Naoko translates, it turns out to be an ordinary sort of fortune, the efficacy of which depends on the state of my heart.
my fortune hangs
dust on my shoes
While I toured the museum of the sea Naoko called her parents who live in nearby Imabari. Her mother is preparing lunch for us.
I have enjoyed sushi in Japan. It was not something I thought my Fu dog eyes would let into the gate of my mouth, but it happened and happened more than once. Let it be said that curiosity has a big appetite and that it eats with gusto. As I understand it, there are three kinds of sushi in Japan: kneaded, unkneaded and rolled (chi ra shi zu shi, Nigi ri zu shi, and ma ki zu shi). But the best sushi I had in Japan was at Naoko's mother and father's house. The fish (sea bream, squid, salmon, tuna and shrimp) were served with kneaded rice and horseradish. The fish were caught daily in the Seto Sea.
After Naoko's mother and father met us at the door, I was shown the kamidana and the Buddhist altar. The altar was beautiful. It was comprised of dark wood and decorated with goldleaf or something that caught and dispersed light in intriguing ways. The effect inspired a sense of repose and reflection. Even the drinks and cakes left as offerings were translated into something more than themselves by a masterful interplay of shade and light. Obviously I was (and am) not familiar with such altars - and quite frankly I am not overly familiar with Christian altars either - but I found this to be a fascinating and mysterious cabinetry. If my unsophistication is showing, forgive me. My soul became a Hime doll and ran inside leaving me dumbfounded in the flesh.
peering through my glasses
I wonder what to do
On the wall there were photographs of grandparents and of an uncle who died in World War II. Later, sitting across from Naoko's father, it may be I was thinking of this man's brother, killed in action, and of my father who was his enemy; or it may be I am predisposed to perceive in certain ways (as if destiny were threads already attached to heaven): My father had fought in the Philippines and my father had died shortly after I had won this trip to Japan. He was very pleased for me and in the weeks before his death I had grown close to him in ways not attained in broader times. I guess I am trying to make a gasp a measured breath, it is simply that; left alone with Naoko's father, neither of us speaking one another's language; both of us quietly chewing sushi…he began to seem so much like my father I could not take my eyes off him. The resemblance was not so physical as it was one of expression; the way some part of him peered through this other man's eyes.
looks like my father--
in the other world
I was haunted by the sensation even as I was comforted. My father/not my father/my father/not my father like an unsounded chant I am only hearing now.
Naoko's mother speaks only a few words of English or was reluctant to do so, but if I am worried about violating some taboo of Japanese etiquette, she is a hostess wanting to make sure I am comfortable. Thus, in a moment of protracted silence she gestures to her husband and says, "Towel maker."I find this charming and using one arm as a piston and the other to point at myself I make a train sound and say, "Railroad worker." If I were a visual artist I would draw a phantom train composed of a single breath weaving its way through an atmospheric fallout of brightly colored towels; the landscapes of our faces looking up toward a ceiling turned limitless. As if breath had popped the cork on bottled confetti, Naoko's mother produces a whole sackful of variable towels. She asks me to chose a couple to take back with me and then insists I should take them all. I don't have a train to offer in return.
As we were leaving, I was shown the Japanese garden. Many old trees. One of the maples, though small in stature was two hundred years old. Naoko's mother also runs back inside and returns with a bottle of Windchime Sake. Hiromi and I will drink it my last night in Japan. (Not to give the impression there has not already been a number of bottles brought to the shore of emptiness.)