Yatsuyama hiking 2019

April 20. Some of the members of our international club at Shizuoka University, YASHIO, gathered at Gokoku Shrine in Shizuoka City to hike up the intown mountain Yatsuyama, all 108 meters of it. Only 108 meters, but we climbed, we felt joy breathing in air at the top, and we were able to look out over the ocean and the city–so of course Yatsuyama is a mountain. No question about it.


Eleven of us went. It’s hard to manage a hike with so many people with so much different experience hiking–so I was so happy that we could find the right pace–and that everyone could have a great time. In many ways, we were a lot like the flying carp at Gokoku Shrine, all different colors, flying here and there, but somehow all together.

Or maybe like the dandelions. Just out in the fresh air, enjoying the day, feeling blessed in a simple sort of way.

Pretty happy I’d say, wouldn’t you? This day, we were from Japan, China, and Indonesia.

And the cameraman, moi, representing the Western Hemisphere.

When you’re happy like this, it does something to your eyes. You see better.

Cherry blossoms.

Some hikers thought the cherry blossoms resembled a heart. One thought they looked like the face of a praying manus.

We’re lucky to have in Shizuoka so many varieties of cherry trees–they all bloom at slightly different times, making for a long and glorious season.

The bamboo forest.
The moon.
A red leaf at rest.
Flying flower petals.
Mama-Papa bamboo and baby bamboo.
A strawberry flower.
Happy grasshopper.
A bed of shaga flowers, at the foot of the mountain, near the shrine.
Some creatures may know more than you first imagine they do.

Mt. Hamaishi: views of the ocean, Mt. Fuji, and the southern Alps

March 24. A hike up Hamaishi, 707 meters, a mountain which comes face-to-face with Mt. Fuji.

It’s very convenient. From the heart of Shizuoka City to the parking lot near the Satta Pass trailhead, it only takes about 30 min. by car. You can also take the train and get off at Yui Station, though in that case, you’ll have to walk/taxi to the Satta Pass parking lot or nearby.

The picture above was taken from the parking lot, which is already about 100 m above sea level. That leaves you with about 600 m to climb.

The distance to the top is somewhat of a  mystery. The navigator on our Hearty Hiker team concluded that our round trip was a total of 13.7 km, but the sign posts all along the way suggest it’s significantly longer. Me, I trust our navigator. For sure, the time estimates on the sign posts are out of whack. The average hiker doesn’t take nearly as long as they indicate. This day we walked about six hours, I think.

The appeal of this hike, besides the ease of getting to it, is that you have, if it’s a clear day, great views of Mt. Fuji, great views of the Umegashima mountains and the southern Alps beyond, and . . .

. . . great views of Suruga Bay and the Izu Peninsula.

You walk along about 15 min. from the parking lot before you see your first trail signs and actually turn off from the pavement. You’ll soon walk behind this old shack. I love the view of the bay as seen over its slumping roof.

It’s also a good walk for spring flowers, though March is still a little early. The strawberry flower above was one of the few we saw. In three or four weeks, though, there should be lots here and there.

You pass through a bamboo thicket before you get into the cedar/cypress forest. Nice.

Once you’ve walked through the cedar/cypress forest a ways, you’ll be tempted by a sign suggesting you take a detour to the Tachibana Pond. If you’ve got the time, give in to the temptation. It’ll cost you 30 min. or so. The pond sits in a low spot, with evergreen trees rising all around, and the reflections (we were there about ten a.m.) are very pleasing to the eye.

The pond is less a mirror, I felt, and more an Impressionist painter. Maybe as our human eyes tend to be.

Although you’re never far from the ocean, there are not many views of it once you’re in the woods. There is a bit of up and down along the way, but most of the trail, as you can see, is fairly easy walking. Including our detour, it was just a smidgen over three hours from the parking lot to the summit.  (Signs say 4.5 hrs.)

One of the few places where the trail bent over to the edge of the ridge and the ocean view opened up.

And then the summit. Nothing between you and Fuji. Nothing at eye-level, anyway. Nothing but good-breathing air, that is.

It’s a good spot from which to take in the lie of the land, to see how Mt. Fuji slopes down to Fuji City and the bay.   Fuji City is where everyone in  the bullet train is taking a picture of the big symbolic mountain with their i-phones.  Turn your head to the left and there are the southern Alps. Come in mid-April or thereabouts and that bare-branched cherry tree will be sporting pink ribbons and bows. It’ll provide a splendid canopy for a picnic.

You can’t see it in the pic above, but there is an offshoot of the main trail that runs just behind and below the cherry tree. If you find your way onto it, you will see the pine tree below.

He is worth a close examination. See his trunk pushing down into the bottom, right-hand corner of the pic? Follow it up and see if you can see all the twists and turns it takes.

It’s pretty clear his message: No matter how complicated a childhood you may have had, you will (if only you keep your inner nature alive) eventually grow strong, sense the path you were meant to be on, and shoot up straight for the light.

On the way back, try to keep your eyes alert. No, not many flowers are blooming now, but just look at this little seed. He felt a bit unsure if he could reach his distant destination, so he asked his parents for a bit of help. Look at the vehicle they manufactured for him! Amazing.

Have a safe trip.

Smile like you do

March 9th. It had been a bit warm, but there’d been lots of rain and it was hard to gauge, beforehand, just how cold it remained in the mountains . . . so we Hearty Hikers had thought we might get one more chance to walk across the gentle Aozasa ridge in the snow.

But it was not to be. A bit of frost remained on the trail, here and there . . .

. . . but no snow.

No snow to glide through.

There was, however, a lot of snow on Mt. Fuji—and a beautiful blue sky.
And when Fuji smiles at you, under a big blue sky, you can’t help but tingle and smile back.

In my new novel, When a Sissy Climbs a Mountain in May (scheduled release late spring/early summer 2019), the narrator meets a woman and falls in love at first sight. Then it’s autumn, and the two of them are relaxing beneath a persimmon tree. The narrator’s brought his very own baby persimmon tree, just a few weeks old, to show her. He’s an odd fellow, all right, but give him a break—he’s coming out from a dark, dark place. Anyway, he tells us . . .

     We lay side by side looking up, the baby tree at our feet. We saw the same thing—the love coming through the blue, the warm glow of the orange.

I’d turn towards her, and she’d turn toward me and smile—and I would tingle.

What do you call a smile that makes you tingle?

A smingle?
SMINGLE seems a pretty good word for the phenomenon, so SMINGLE it is.

Fuji-kun was not the only smingler this day. We Hearty Hikers, as you can see . . .

. . . brought our own.

And to be honest, in the end it was hard to tell who was smingling whom—and who was smingling more.  The blue sky, Fuji-kun, and . . .
. . . our own lovely Hearty Hiker, were all smingler and smingled, all at once.

The day became, believe me, a true smingle fest.

And I would say (albeit from in my very limited experience) that there are not many things better in this old vale of tears than a good smingle fest. Actually, I can’t think of any. Not at the moment.

Those guys in NDuaDuo were there with us, too, and they were so impressed by all the smingling going down that they started singing right there and then—I love to see you / Smile / Smile like you do / Your eyes / Always say / Something so true. They went home that night and recorded a new song. A first cut, they say. I’ll paste it in down below. Give it a listen if you’ve got the time.

But I guess we’re going to have to give the Top Smingler of the Day award to our beloved and trustworthy friend, Fuji-kun.

He smingled us from beneath branches big and small.

  He smingled us through circles of branches.

He smingled us through circles of trees!  He perched himself   high in the sky and smingled us through a winter-branch garland.

And yes, even through the clouds that inevitably rolled in.
On a day with so much smingling, you don’t have to think twice about showing a little gratitude. Thank you, Jizo-san.

Song title: “Cedar Shade”

Artist: NDuaDuo

Genre: Po-po-f(aux)k

Bicycle commuting–bright, sunshiny day

Greatly beloved of us Hearty Hikers, Ryuso Mountain.

Third visible hump on the right.

It was rainy this morning, but about to stop—-probably for good—and I had to decide whether to drive to work or cycle.

Glad I decided to cycle.

Fuji looked like he might want to stay inside all day.

When the skies about him brightened . . . he decided to take a bubble bath.

Me, once I’m on the bicycle, I’m always sure it’s the right decision, whether it rains or not.

It’s a completely different experience on the bicycle. Easy to stop and look.

Those are tea bushes in the background.

Easy to hop off the bicycle and walk a minute or two, get a better look at the rape flowers.

  And when the blue does come out, it’s easy to STOP . . . as in STOP COMPLETELY . . . and enjoy the moment.

As best as circumstances allow, leave home early enough that you don’t have to rush.

What a beautiful bright sunshiny day! What a good day to be here in Shizuoka!

Blue sky snow — Aozasa Mountain

February 2, 2019. A clear and warm winter’s day. A beautiful day for a snow hike.

From my place in Shizuoka City, about a 45 min. drive to the town of Utogi, famous for its wasabi, and another 15 min. to the Aozasa trailhead. Actually, there are two trailheads, one at Aoi Kogen, and another farther along the mountain road, one that leads directly up to the Jizo Pass.

If you drive six or seven minutes past Aoi Kogen and get to a place where it looks like a couple of cars could park . . . and red-coat Jizo is there to greet you, then you know you’re where you’re supposed to be.

From the “Red-coat Jizo” start to the Jizo Pass, it’s a 30 or 40 min. walk–this day through the snow.

We love to walk in the snow. We went to walk in the snow.

Reaching the Jizo Pass.

There’s a hut at the pass, with another Jizo inside. Someone’s left him some drinks, and a bit of change, and he looks pretty content.

A few minutes up from the Jizo Pass, along the main Aozasa Mountain ridge, is one of our favorite Fuji-san viewing spots. The photograph at the very top of this blog post is from this spot, too. 

From the Jizo Pass to the top of Mount Aozasa, it’s an hour and half or so. It might take a little longer if you stop to take a thousand pictures, or if you chase a deer into the bamboo grass and play a little hide-and-seek with him. Once he’s deep in the bamboo grass, though, it’s really, really hard to win!

And of course, you’ll need a bit of time simply to experience pure joy.
It was, you might recall, a spectacular walk along this trail, walking under this lovely blue sky, gliding (or so it seemed) through this sweet snow—a couple of years ago—that inspired our musical friends, NDuaDuo, to compose their song, “Yuki ga arukiyasui,” which, I guess, translates literally as “It’s Easy to Walk in the Snow,” but perhaps translates, in terms of meaning, more effectively as “What Joy it is to Walk in the Snow.”

Anyway, NDuaDuo was there with us on this most recent hike, too, and they went home and re-recorded “Yuki ga arukiyasui,” and asked me if they could upload it here.

But of course, I said.

If you like the song, let me know, and I’ll let NDuaDuo know.

And a bit more info. The story of how this NDuaDuo song was composed, at least the fictional story behind the composition, can be found in my new novel, When a Sissy Climbs a Mountain in May, due out in May. Hopefully, in May. It might become June. We’ll see.
The final ascent to the Aozasa summit.

Where we enjoyed watching Fuji-san trying on hats. First, this mini flying saucer hat.

Then the mini flying saucer hat expanded into a standard flying saucer hat . . . and began sending up cloud-smoke signals.  Read them if you can.

Pretty lovely view of the Pacific Ocean, too.

Next, Fuji-san tried on his Cat-in-the-Hat cowboy hat.

By the way, around here, everyone knows that Fuji-san likes to try on hats like this when he knows it’s going to rain in the evening.

It did rain.

Finally, photo below, a whipped-over-to-the-land-of Oz hat.

Remember, Oz? There was some scary stuff there, all right.

But only when Dorothy’s mind wasn’t in the right place.

The right awareness is easy. Just tap your heels together three times—or take three gliding steps through the “Yuki ga arukiyasui” Aozasa snow.

White Christmas Aozasa

We were looking for a White Christmas.

So we Hearty Hikers drove up through Utogi to the Aozasa Mountain trailhead. By “White Christmas,” what we were thinking was 10 cm of snow.  Or so. To walk in. We like walking in the snow.

But there wasn’t any snow, not on the ground, anyway.  In the trees, though, was an odd sort of wind-blown, “toothbrush” snow—and a lot of ice, too.

It was gorgeous.

All is one.

We. Truth. Hope.

That’s what I felt walking along the Aozasa ridge today.

At Shizuoka University, I’m involved with an international club, YASHIO, that gives our Japanese students a chance to speak English, our students from all over the world a chance to speak Japanese, and everybody a chance to meet people from everywhere and share themselves and their cultures.

Everybody involved with YASHIO makes me incredibly happy. And when I see people from all over the world together, I feel just what I felt today.

We. Truth. Hope. All is one.

Wind-blown, “toothbrush” snow.

Mt. Fuji, this day, only showing a sliver of his belly.

Through the icy trail tunnels.

You may have never heard of NDuaDuo, but they like YASHIO a lot, too.

NDuaDuo is a po po f(aux)k music group.

You may not have ever heard of po po f(aux)k music, either. Let’s just say, though, for the moment, that it’s a non-commercial style of music.

And what we can tell you about NDuaduo is they only sing what’s in their hearts.

A few years ago, they wrote a song, “We,” to sing at an international Christmas party.

Recently they recorded a very po-po-f(aux)k version of it—and they’ve asked me to share it with you now. If it’s not your cup of tea, well, then it’s not, but they say that if you like it, if it suits the way you like to think about Christmas, then they’re happy for you to share it with whomever you like.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season.

Hugs from all of us here at Persimmon Dreams.

WE

We’ve gathered here at Christmas time from all around the globe.

We look into each other’s eyes—we see no xenophobes.

Together we can feel so much hope.

Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope. Ho-o-ope.

In your eyes I see a light that really, really shines.

Makes me feel that all of us are something quite divine.

You’ve got me feeling mighty fine.

Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fi-i-ine.

Sri Lanka and Germany might be represented here.

Malaysia and Shizuoka’s spirit is feeling awful near.

What can you possibly see that anyone would ever have to fear?

Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fe-ea-ear.

Maybe we’ve got some Christians here, a couple of Muslims, too.

A Buddhist, a Hindi, might be sitting next to you.

You are they, and they are you, you know it’s oh so true.

True. True. True. True. Tru-u-ue.

People from Indonesia might be here by chance.

From China, Georgia, Vietnam, Ghana and France.

From Thailand and Slovokia, it makes me want to dance.

Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Da-an-ance.

Well, I’m really just so happy that you are sitting here with me.

So look into my eyes and tell me what you see.

I see you and you see me—and we are really we.

We. We. We. We. We-ee-ee.

We. We. We. We. We-ee-ee. We-ee-ee. We-ee-ee.

A beautiful day on Aozasa.

When it’s done, all there is to do is to express a whole lot of gratitude.

 

Icy Aozasa

Mid-December.

The Aozasa trailhead. As always Red-Coat Jizo was there to welcome me to the neighborhood.

I could stand there and smile at him forever. His spirit imbues the whole mountain. A bit of snow on his cap this day.

There’d been a good bit of rain a couple of days before, and then the sun was supposed to be out, so I headed to Aozasa thinking that the views of Fuji, with a heavy snow cap, would be magnificent.

I wasn’t expecting at all what I saw: the trees atop Shimojumaisan, just across from the trail up to the Jizo Pass, all iced up and frosty.

There’d been a little snow . . . but very little. 

The blues were lovely, as I’d expected . . . except where Fuji-kun was situated. All about him were thick grey clouds.

So a day intended for Fuji-watching, turned into a day to be fascinated by the beauty of the ice on the limbs beneath a blue-blue sky.

Really, really beautiful.

I’d asked a number of different folks to come along, but everyone was busy, so I was all by my lonesome.

Though far from lonely. Solitude, Mr. Thoreau called it.

I know it was a good day for fanciful thought because twice after removing my glove to take a picture, I dropped it and left it behind and didn’t realize I didn’t have it until I’d gone along for ten or fifteen minutes. Each time. Just the chance for a little more exercise!

No, of course I’m not absent-minded, just a deep-diving daydreamer. Especially under blue like this.

When I reached the top of Aozasa, Fuji-kun was still hiding in the grey.

And then he wasn’t. How nice it was to see him!

Will be back to Aozasa soon. Will likely be some yuki ga arukiyasui snow by then.

A symphony of comfort and compassion

Some facts. October 21. A two-day hike up and down Mt. Kobushi (2475 m) from Mokidaira (1433 meters). Distance going up along the Chikuma River, about 7 km, coming down via Mt. Sampo and Mt. Oyama, a bit farther. The trailhead, by car from Shizuoka, about three hours.

The Chikuma Trail is maybe the easiest trail I’ve walked going up any of the “Famous 100 Mountains of Japan.” It only took us about 4 hours to the top, and that was with me taking 634 pictures—and a leisurely lunch.

The trail takes you past the headwaters of the Chikuma River, known downstream as the Shinano River—the longest river in Japan. 

So here you are. Last week you were in the Alps hoping to see the yellow larches up against a blue sky—but the skies were overcast.

Now you’ve crossed the parking lot and stepped onto the mountain trail—and the skies . . . well, not a hint of grey anywhere.

You can feel yourself stepping into another world, into a world of color, into a big warm room filled with love.

Yes, yes, you don’t think about it—your lips just do curl up.

You come to a shrine. Right on the trail.

Inside you meet Jizo-san. He’s about 10 cm tall. But it doesn’t matter how tall he is. It only matters the expression on his face. What a sweet, comforting compassionate fellow he is! How at ease he makes you feel. You put your hands together. You hope maybe, somehow, that you can repay the favor. Sometime, somehow.

And this day you feel truly blessed.

Because this day you can believe that each and every one of the beautiful leaves is a little Jizo-san.

A symphony of comfort and compassion in yellow, blue, red, and orange.

The river rolls on . . . water so pure.

You can’t help it. You feel giddy.

You can see a young girl sitting at a piano, all nerves. You can remember how you loved the tears that welled in your eyes.
Maybe you’ll even see that girl turn a cartwheel twirl.

And it’s all right to feel joy.
It’d be hard not to.
You’ve felt the light through the trees . . .

. . . and primary colors are the most primary matters.

And yes, it’s true each leaf has its own voice. A Jizo’s voice.
Recognize each leaf’s equal worth—and everything becomes easier. Everything  begins to make sense.
And the river rolls on.

If you come to a stack of rocks, go ahead and put one on yourself. It might be a light for the next person who comes along.

Up,  up you go—but you’re amazed by how gentle the trail seems today.

And up ahead. What’s that?

Why it’s the larch tree/blue sky combo you were looking for last week!

You pass the headwaters, the trail turns up into a fir forest, but you haven’t got much farther to go. Before you know it you’re on the ridge . . .

. . . and you’ve got a completely different view.
And there you are on the summit!

Otsukaresama deshita.

Up to the Jizos–and the larches

The obelisk atop Mt. Jizo, one of the three peaks comprising Mt. Ho-o-san-zan, in the southern Alps.

October 13th.

Ho-o-san-zan.

We started our hike at Aoki Kosen Onsen, a little under three hours from Shizuoka City by car.  The last thirty minutes of the drive was along  a sometimes dirt road that was sometimes a dirt road with a lot of potholes and ruts. Unless you have a 4-wheel drive, high-sitting vehicle, go slow.

We Hearty Hikers had known the fall colors would be lovely, and we’d tried to wait for a blue-sky day, but the weather, especially in the mountains, is difficult to predict, and after an hour or two of walking and hoping that the mist would blow off, we accepted the fact that the day was meant to be grey—and shifted gears mentally. We reminded ourselves that a grey day has its own beauty.

Of course, it helped to hum to ourselves those lyrics of NDuaDuo:

Grey is our play / On a day like today / Grey is just grey / As we go on our way.

And the grey was beautiful—and we could, as NDuaDuo suggests, “recognize a fallen leaf’s equal worth.”

The guidebook said it was a six-hour walk up to the Ho-o-san-zan Lodge, but it only took us about five. Sometimes our times are right about at what the book says is average, and sometimes not—and it’s all fairly random . . . all to say that posted times serve as a rough estimate at best.

The climb from the onsen to the summit of the first peak, Mt. Jizo, takes you up about 1700 meters, so it’s a pretty good haul.

There are a lot of waterfalls along the way, all very lovely, though on this day the mist made it difficult to get a clear picture.

Up, up we went.

The lodge is situated at 2382 meters. As you approach it, you move into the area that the larch trees like.

They are magnificent.

We had a quick lunch at the lodge, then set off on the final kilometer, in distance, to the top of Mt. Jizo.

The first half of this last kilometer is still in the woods and not so, so steep, but once you’re out of the woods and onto the sandy slope, it gets steep indeed. Overall, that last 1 km of walking rises about 400 meters.

I think the body language explains it pretty well. A tough thirty minutes.

I got myself plum tuckered out.

Half of the Hearty Hiking team, though, did just fine—had energy to spare.

The rocks, in the photo above, comprise the Mt. Jizo summit, at 2764 meters. Some say the obelisk is shaped like a bird’s beak, and thus the three-peak range was named Ho-o, the “Phoenix” Mountain. The obelisk is also said to be shaped like a Jizo, and thus the name Mt. Jizo . . .

. . . and that also helps explain the large  number of Jizo statues on the top.

What’s a Jizo? Here’s a quotation from a book I’m writing now. The narrator is not any sort of expert on religion or Buddhism, but his description is fairly straightforward, easy to understand, an not too inaccurate, I think.

A Jizo is a bodhisattva—that is, a Buddha in the making. But she, or he, has chosen freely (using her or his very own free will) to postpone the final leg of her spiritual journey in order to offer comfort and support to those souls struggling here in this earthly vale of tears. She especially takes pride in protecting children—and has an even more special interest in looking out for children who have been lost in childbirth or miscarriages. Basically, though, she, or he, is looking out for everyone. You’ll find her representation all over Japan, but primarily in Buddhist temples.

. . . If you tried to describe the appearance of the majority of Jizo statues with a single word, I think you’d have to choose ROUND.

These Jizo statues make me very happy. I do feel like their spirits are looking out for me—and they make me want to look out for others.

Some of you know, I’ve got a Jizo in my back yard.

And in the book I’m writing now, the Jizo at Enkoji Temple in Kyoto and the Jizo at the Mt. Aozasa trailhead make cameo appearances.

Just below the rocky summit with its couple dozen jizos, just down from the larches . . .

. . . very beautiful larches . . .

. . . down in a sandy field . . . is an entire village of Jizos.

They are watching out for all of us.

Under blue skies. Under grey. Always.

We walked back down and spent the night in the lodge. The next morning, we climbed back up, about an hour, along a different trail, and hit the ridge about a 45-minutes walk past Mt. Jizo.  In the above photo, we’re looking back toward Mt. Jizo.

Larches just below the Mt. Jizo summit.

Once we were back on the ridge, it was another hour or so to the top of Mt. Kannon, the highest point on Ho-o-san-zan, at 2841 meters.

It was snowing much of the time. 

And absolutely lovely all the time.

From Mt. Kannon to Mt. Yakushi, it’s an easy and beautiful walk, slightly downhill. The top of Mt. Yakushi is at 2780 meters.

Sometimes, on a grey day, if the sun works its way partially out from the mist, you’ll see a rainbow.
That’ll make you feel pretty good as you zero in on Mt. Yakushi.

Then it’s four hours down through the woods.
NDuaDuo: When your eyes are on the ground / There really is so much to be found. 

Wouldn’t you know it. Get back in the car and drive thirty minutes and you’re back in the land of blue skies. We were sitting out on the porch of the Nirisaki Asahi Hot Springs (carbinated water) when I took the picture below.

 

A neighborhood of spider lilies

 

It’s September, and all over the neighborhood the spider lilies are blooming. I’m not sure to say how I feel about them but to say that they make me feel very aware. It’s a very good feeling.

They’re in the amaryllis family and known by zillions of names. Other names in English are red magic lily, naked lady, resurrection lily, and hurricane lily–the latter surely because they’re said to be encouraged to pop out from the ground after a big late summer or early autumn rain.

In Japanese, their most commonly used name is 彼岸花  (higanbana = the equinox flower),   死人花 (shibitobana = dead person flower), 幽霊花 (yureibana = ghost flower), 蛇の花, (hebi no hana = snake flower), 剃刀花 (kamisoribana = razor flower), 狐花, (kitsunebana = fox flower), and—no offense to anyone intended—はっかけばばあ (hakkakebabah = toothless old woman).

In Sanskrit, they’re called manjushaka, which translates something like “flower of heaven.” The scientific name is Lycoris radiata, after a spirit of the sea in Greek mythology.

They originally come from China, where they still exist as diploids, that is, their chromosones come in pairs, enabling them to produce seeds. However, the spider lilies brought into Japan were tripoids, their chromosones coming in sets of three, and are unable to produce seeds. Basically, they are sterile, and can only be grown from their bulbs.

Spider lilies in the U.S., they say, all come from three bulbs brought back from Japan by a military man in 1854—not long after Admiral Perry had aimed his cannons at the mainland and said, from his “black ships,” open up for business or else.

The most common theory out there is that when rice was first brought from China to Japan, some of the bulbs came along for the ride—that is, they were not intentionally brought to Japan, and that when the poisonous nature of their bulbs was discovered, farmers planted them at the edge of rice fields to keep away small pests like mice and moles.

So you most commonly find them growing them at the edge of rice fields—and by rivers and small streams, and also in graveyards.

The bulbs may be poisonous, but some have found some sweetness in the flowers.

Some people say the flowers look like sparklers and remind them of summer festivals.

Some say they look like the garlands that a young bride and her bridesmaids might wear.

Some say there is something sexy about them.

One person told me that if roses are sophisticated and elegant ballet dancers, spider lilies are passionate Latin dancers.

Actually, the flow of petals atop a single stalk looks to me like a ballet ensemble—six dancers. One stalk with one umbel (a kind of upside-down umbrella frame) with six radiating “spokes”, each with a five-curly-petals flower, the petals from one spoke weaving together with the ones to both sides of it. The “garland” effect.

Some say the spider lilies frighten them. Some say they comfort them. Some say the fluorescent red of new blossoms is “too loud.” Others say the brilliance invigorates them.

They are certainly associated with death—so if death is something you fear greatly, then you might not like to visit our neck of the woods in September.

But it’s better not to think of them as death flowers, but as (as their most common Japanese name suggests you do) equinox flowers.

The equinox.

The rice is ready to harvest.

The persimmons are well on their way.

It’s a time to be joyous. A time to feel content. But it’s also the beginning of the cool weather. The days and nights are now of equal length, but for the rest of the year, the days are only going to get shorter, and the nights longer.

All things must pass.

The equinox. For Buddhists, this is the time of Haramitsu (in Japanese), and Paramita (in Sanskrit), which might translate as something like the Six (or Ten) Practices for Becoming Enlightened. Below is a basic explanation of the Six-Practice version. If I’ve gotten something wrong, or something is a bit incomplete, let me know.

Fuse (Dana) – generosity, charity, the giving of alms

Jikai (Sila) – ethical living

Nintai (Ksanti) – patience, forbearance, forgiveness

Shohjin (Virya) – abstinence

Zentei (Dhyana) – equanimity and awareness (perhaps through meditation)

Chie (Prajna) – wisdom, insight into the true nature of reality

To me, these are six of the many, many things the spider lilies want us to consider.

Some people say they look like sentinels, standing at the edge of fields as they do, kind of like the officers on duty in the neighborhood police box: They’re watching us.

That’s a little creepy, maybe. To me, they are much more like Jizo. They are bodhisattva, beings well on their way to enlightenment, but beings who have kindly stayed behind  so that they can help us, so that they can guide us. “All things must pass,” they say to us, “But that’s nothing to worry about. It’s always been that way and always will. You’re going to be just fine. Just live the best life you can. Follow your own inner nature and all will be fine.”

So when I look at the spider lilies, and I feel particularly moved by them . . .

. . . here’s the image that fills my head. These guys also live in the neighborhood.

Not all of the spider lilies are red. I like them in all colors. But I especially like the red ones, and I especially like the ones next to a rice field turned golden yellow . . .
. . . and especially like them next to a golden rice field under a blue sky. I’m simple. Primary colors do wonders for me.