Monthly Archives: August 2014

Yanbushi Mountain


Some folks stayed home, but all those who were out on the mountain had a great day. Some scrambled up the river, frenetic with energy. Others were content to plod along. No problem. Everyone has his or her own pace.

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And some of those who lived on the mountain seemed pretty much satisfied to stay in the spot they called home. They seemed to understand what the mountain was all about right there were they were.

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It seems that those who come for the day see something magical in all the loose rock . . . and that they can’t stop themselves from picking up a big rock or a little stone and stacking it on top of another big rock or stone.  For sure, as you climb the path along the Nishi Hikage River, here and there you’ll see stacks of rocks and stones.

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You can choose your own word for one of these stacks: church, temple, shrine, cute stack of rocks. I prefer temple, more or less because I like the sound of the word. Temple.

And you will add a rock to a rising temple. Because you’ll feel something very nice on the mountain—how could you not, what with the way that river keeps rushing, and the trees keep growing, and what with your eyes discovering things growing like you never knew things could grow, in all sorts of nooks and crannies, in shapes and sizes and colors that awaken you, that sometimes even make you feel like you’re scuba diving in the sky?—and you’ll want to express your gratitude to the mountain for giving you that feeling.


Of course you will.

You’ll understand that the others, the ones who built up the temple you’re adding to—ones you’ll never meet—felt something pretty much the same as you did and wanted to express the same gratitude, and that your expression of gratitude is going to add to theirs . . . and that the dear souls who come after, well, they’re going to want to express their gratitude all the more, because of what you added.


Last Saturday, before we got to the “temple zone,” I found a  shard from a broken bowl. Yes, yes, life is perfect nowhere. There are broken bowls everywhere. But here you are closer to the temples that are being built. Here, it’s a bit easier to see that you can build a temple from a broken bowl.


Yesterday, our party climbed steadily but also stopped a lot to take pictures (and fiddle with the camera). Trailhead (8:30 am) –> Oo-iwa, “the big rock” (9:25 am) –> Yomogi Toge, the Yomogi Pass (10:15 am) –> Yanbushi summit (12:05 pm). You can find good trail-defining pictures with trail times for a November climb here.

The first half of the trail follows the river up—and takes you across the river numerous times. Keep that in mind if it’s rained a lot before you go.

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You’ll see lots of big rocks along the way, but believe me, you’ll know when you get to the big rock. It’s big. And there’s a sign that says this is the big rock (大岩).


You continue along the river all the way to the pass. (Honesty compels me to tell you that a “small” landslide has made the last stretch to the pass a bit treacherous. There’s a rope you can hold on to, but it may be more than some want to try.)

But let’s assume you get to the pass. Then it’s just a lot of huffing and puffing up to the top of Yanbushi. If you want to rest, search out this “sitting tree.” (Sure, sure, which way would you grow?)


Just before you get to the top, the trail widens, and on both sides of you, there are fields of small bamboo.  Yanagiran also grow in the open areas, but we were a couple of weeks too late, at least this year. We saw only a few blossoms. Willow herb or fireweed may be translations for yanagiran, literally “willow lily.”


On a clear day, you can see Fuji-san from the top of Yanbushi, but this day wasn’t clear.


But it was lovely just the same . . . and what did it matter, we’d help build a beautiful temple.


Good water


Someone saved my life today.

That’s what I feel like singing every time I climb Ryuso.

In my neighborhood, 33 degrees. Thirty minutes by car to the trailhead parking lot, 26 degrees. Fifty-seven minutes climbing, 17 degrees. (That’s 91.4, 78.8, 62.6, respectively, for my fahrenheit friends in the U.S.)


But when I say I want to sing someone saved my life today I’m not really talking about the temperature. On the mountain, my brain works. Some things, at least a few, make sense.

To put it mathematically, for me . . .

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Ah, Ryuso, hope to see you again soon!


Lotus blossoms

140809_lotus_300As always, you’d rather spend the day with your daughter, but you can’t, and suddenly you find yourself remembering where she went to kindergarten. The next thing you know you’re on your bicycle heading for that part of town–and passing through the lotus fields.

Somewhere in Japan, a typhoon is passing through. Here in Shizuoka, though, there’s not much affect, other than thick gray skies and constant gusts.

But just look at the size of those leaves! And just look at how tall those green, green stems grow! They’ve got to get those giant blossoms up out of the elephant-ear leaves and into the sky! And just look at them go! Up, up, up!

After all that effort, do you think they’re going to complain that the sky wasn’t blue enough when they got to where they could see it good?

No, they’re not. And neither did I. Both the lotus field and the sky were lovely, just as they were.

But I did feel like seeing them under a blue sky–and maybe when the blossoms had opened a bit more. So two days later, I went back. Yes, on my bicycle.


Not waiting for the winds to pass,

Not waiting for the sky to brighten,

The lotus rose from swampy ground,

An eager green,  tight-packed titan.


Though its snuggling sheets show rich dark pink,

I know  its need inside to whiten.

It will surrender, will surely show

A naked, tender heart aglow–

And me . . . I’ll feel my burdens lighten?

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One who performs his duty without attachment,

surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord,

is unaffected by sinful action,

as the lotus is untouched by water.

(The Bhagavad Gita)

The lotus, if you don’t know, is cultivated for its roots, known as renkon, and is an established part of Japanese cooking and cooking elsewhere in Asia.  You can get some basic English information on the lotus here, including nutrional information for renkon, and pictures of the root and farmers in the fields on this Japanese-language page.


The only thing to do

Hiroshima was first, on August 6th, 1945 . . . Nagasaki, second, on August 9th, 1945.

We love firsts, don’t we. Thus, Hiroshima gets tons more media space this time of year than . . . what was it? . . . oh yeah, Nagasaki.

The argument is often made, especially from the American side, that given the great fervor of the Japanese (both the military and the general population) and their alleged intention to defend the mainland to the very last person (man and woman), bringing the war to a quick conclusion by dropping an atomic bomb was justified. That is (the argument goes), by dropping the bombs (two, it was), death and suffering of an even larger magnitude than what the bombs brought was avoided.

That’s an argument. Take the side you like.

But what are we to think about Nagasaki? Even if you side with the “necessity” argument, how many exhibitions of terrifying weapons of mass destruction were necessary? One wasn’t enough?

Recently, I saw a video posted of fighters, seven or eight, scrambling out of tunnels and into Israeli territory, only to be blown away by what looked to be a pretty hefty bomb. (For them, it didn’t seem to matter that it wasn’t nuclear.) There were viewer comments of all sorts, from all points-of-view, but every time I read one, all I could think was this is a point-of-view, a perspective, an opinon, an argument, an interpretion. The only indisputable, no-other-way-of-looking-at-it thing to be said, I thought, was, some people were blown to smithereens.

People who are entrenched on one side or the other often express with a degree of confidence the  tough steps that must be taken to end the crisis. Naturally, those steps depend on which side they’re on. On the other hand–at least in my experience–those who sympathize with both sides, at least to some extent, seem a bit more at a loss.

So what to do?

All I know to think is that it surely begins with the children. Maybe you could take all the children in Israel and Gaza and switch them all around–and then maybe people would be a little less willing to launch missiles into communities in which their own children might be living. Yes, yes, absolutely absurd. Could never be done. Well then, how about at least sending the children to live with a family across the border for a year or so, so that they’d at least know whose death their leaders’ policies were bringing about? Again, absurd? Sorry, sorry, sorry. Could you consider this then: printing this simple message on the back of every textbook used in every classroom (social sciences, math, chemistry, whatever) all over the world: PEOPLE LIVING EVERYWHERE ARE HUMAN BEINGS AND THUS DESERVE TO LIVE IN PEACE AND WITH DIGNITY. WE CAN’T KILL ANY OF THEM, EVEN IF THEY SOMETIMES DO THINGS WE DON’T LIKE. DON’T EVER FORGET THIS. AND DON’T LISTEN TO ANYONE WHO TRIES TO TELL YOU DIFFERENT.

If you think my words sound weak and trite, you could go for a message that sounds a little more authorative, like . . . DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. Wait, is that how it went? Did Jesus add an UNLESS YOUR AND THEIR PARENTS DON’T LIKE EACH OTHER? No, I don’t believe he did. Did Jesus want us to read that stipulation into his words? Wow, now we’re back in the realm of opinion and interpretation. You can interpret what he said however you like. (Me, I don’t see much trickery or irony in Jesus’s words and tend to take his statement at face value.)

But it does begin with the children, don’t you think? Because if you go around fighting, you’ll eventually have to convince them to do the killing . . . the killing, you know, of people, otherwise known as human beings.

Me, I think that killing other human beings is an unnatural act. Maybe you do, too, in general, at least.

Some children, many I’d like to think, will choose never to kill, not even in a time of war. A few, sadly, might be convinced to kill rather easily.  And then there will be those who might kill during war if they feel there’s a compelling reason. And historically, the reason that seems to be the most compelling is this: the enemy’s culture is barbaric, the greater portion of its population savage and lunatic, and its whole country nothing but a roiling, boiling pot of evil.

If you need to ask a great many children to kill when they grow up, your task will be made much easier if you can deceive them while they’re still young, while they’re impressionable and gullible and wanting to trust.

Deceiving the children. I don’t like that. Not at all.

Here at Persimmon Dreams, we’re particularly fond of a very, very short chapter from a novel we’ve published. A young boy, Kenta Ishiguro, is trying to understand what it must have been like to have been a part of World War II, and he is realizing what education must have been like when his grandfather was young–what Americans must have learned about the Japanese, and what Japanese must have learned about Americans. We re-print the chapter, in its entirety, below.

Sorry, no photographs this time. Come back again if you’d like to see some.

*     *     *


Yes, it was going to be brutal. And the ones who’d have to finish the brutal task, you’d have to get them ready. So you’d have no choice: you’d have to deceive them.

Yes, you’d have to deceive the children. It was the only thing to do.

In science class, some little boys were so wimpy they cried when asked to stick a knife in a dead frog’s chest. How were you going to get them to stick a bayonet in a live human being?

Human beings. How much more convenient war would be if there were none on the other side!

So you could imagine it.

You could imagine, in New York City, a mother handing a child a sign to carry: Down with the Japs–THE RATS!

You could imagine an elementary school teacher announcing a great victory, marveling at the mountain the dead bodies had become, displaying his astonishment at how foolish such a cowering, yappy species could be. Chinks, chinks, chinks, chinks! he bellows. Too stupid to know what they are!

You could imagine an officer berating a young soldier. The young soldier, still a child, trembles. The tip of his bayonet shakes. The officer growls–They are not human beings!

Shizuoka summer


Nope, it’s not too late to move to Shizuoka! Not too late to find a bike and tool around a  neighborhood or two!

No, no, don’t let a little heat or humidity stop you. Get a bottle of water. Or two. Drink. Sweat. And feast your eyes on all that grows so green under that gorgeous blue sky.

Each leaf


August 3rd. Up to Bara-no-dan.

And then down into the forest.

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Each leaf we saw fall

in the odd August cool

fell to the soft forest floor . . .

as only it could.

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And then on to the top of Hakkorei.


All day long, looking near and far.