Monthly Archives: August 2015

Kita 3 cho-me — 2


The goal today will be, while considering the photographs and descriptions, to fill in the blank in the following sentence with the only possible correct answer. It’s a bit difficult, so the first and last letters are provided:

THIS HOUSE IS BEING BUILT IN THE LAND OF E                                         Es.


1. Steel.


2. Lots of steel.


3. Bolts. Secured deeply into the concrete.


4. Concrete. Volume of concrete: lots.


5. This concrete will secure a lovely view of the mountains . . . in a mountainous land . . . with active volcanoes here and there . . . with seismic plates shifting, from time to time, deep beneath the surface.


6. More bolts.

And the drumroll . . . da da da da da da DA!  Yes, yes, you’re right. You are in the land of EARTHQUAKES.

I’ll only add that before building a house in Japan, you have to have the solidity of the ground you’re building on measured. If it’s not solid—if it’s subject to shifting, that is—you’ll have to pay to have steel-reinforced concrete pylons inserted way down into the ground. Fortunately, I’m building on top of what was, and I guess still is, a mountain. The subterranean “stuff” is solid.

So. Steel. Concrete. Bolts. I think we’re good to go here. We can go ahead and put up our foundation flag.



Ryuso in the rain


Not all that much rain, really. But enough. Enough to loosen up your mind a bit.


On a day like this, the cedars don’t look taller—just wiser.

150829_leaf_lovers_600In slightly wet conditions, the leaves of trees allow their natural affection for one another to get the best of them. They press their bodies together—and do their best to go swimming off together through the grey.  Of course, if you’ve mastered your study of evolution, you’ll know it’s not surprising to see leaves trying to swim.


After all, when they get wet and shiny, their colors are as vibrant as those of any tropical fish.


And just look at those backbones and ribs. Those features are shouting, “Of course, fish are our close relatives!”


Once you accept this reality, you’ll look down at leaves and be pretty sure they are not immobile on the ground—you’ll see that they are, most likely, hovering above the ground, surfing on waves of air.


Some leaves, you’ll note, trace their ancestry to fish—but through the dinosaurs and reptiles.


The light, oddly enough, loves a rainy day—especially when there is a mountain forest to cut into.


But the light realizes that it can’t cut through enough to shine on everything, so it tends to shine on the things that you want to see.



Don’t you like these wild hydrangeas? And you can see them, can’t you? So there you have it.


In the middle of all this grey, you can see these devil lilies just fine. Those sweet drops of water you see clearly.


It perhaps goes without saying, but a bit of rain makes the day a better one for discovering toad (lily)s.


And on a rainy day, you’ll be much more likely to have the opportunity to hold a giant worm.

Lucky you.

And consider this: the yellow flowers of the chabo-hototogisu only bloom for a single day. If you had stayed home because of the rain, you would have never met this guy.



Kita 3 cho-me — 1


The lily blooming in my tiny backyard garden may not look particularly special. After all . . .


. . . these guys are  blooming all over town—and in abundance. But the one in my garden has  a history. Back in February I was driving home. I’d just been in a real estate agent’s unnecessarily plush office signing a contract, buying a seventy-some-odd tsubo plot of land in the northern part of the city, a neighborhood—Kita (literally, “North”)—nestled between two long rows of little mountains. The plush office, along with the free packages of, yes, wait for it, saran wrap, were just a little too much.

Together, they got mind typhooning. Oh, a tsubo = 3.3 square meters.

So there I was, in the car driving home, and I say to the hearty hiker who was with me, “I don’t feel like I just bought a piece of land. I mean, someone can’t just sell you a piece of land, can he? You can’t really buy land, can you? Can you?”

“No, not really,” she replies.

“Right? I’m right, right?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, I feel better. You want to go by there?”

“You had better. If you’re going to knock down some trees, you’ll have to tell them. They’ve got a right to know their fate.”



There was an old house to be knocked down, but that didn’t bother me at all. It was the plants. I had a plan for a garden, new soil was going to have to be brought in, and the plants living there happily weren’t, unfortunately, for the most part, going to be able to stay.

Were some guy to rush the property, drive a stake into the dirt, claim it for himself, start construction on a hamburger joint . . . I would call the police. That’s what legal ownership means, I guess.

But the plants aren’t interested in that.

We thanked them for making way for us. (My house it will be, I suppose, but members of the Hearty Hikers are welcome to stay whenever they like. Heck, they can move in if they want. I love those guys.)

We told the plants we’d take care to take good care of the energy of the place.

We couldn’t save them all, but I dug up a kane-no-naru plant (a “money-making” plant, so called perhaps, because the leaves resemble coins (however, slightly), and maybe called a “dollar plant” in English). And the lily. I didn’t even know that it was a lily at the time. It wasn’t very big.

And the camellias were getting ready to bloom. I clipped some buds and took them home.


Then we walked to the neighborhood shrine.


February, right. The plum blossoms were lovely.


The altar was shining.


“They know who you are,” my HH buddy said. “They’re happy to see you.”

I explained to them who I was. I’m moving in, just up the hill, I said, head bowed. Gonna make some noise knocking down the old house, putting up a new one. I hope that doesn’t bother you guys too much. I’m aware of the energy up there. I’ll try not to do any damage to it. I promise I’ll do my best not to mess it up.

I felt pretty good walking back to the lot. I’m guessing I didn’t make such a bad impression.

But you can’t just do this once and think you’ve got eternal license. You’ve got to do it every day—and even then your license will be eternally limited. You’ve paid for stewardship, and nothing more.

May 31. Groundbreaking.


The sky is blue. Two priests are dressed in a deep bluish-purple. They explain what’s going to happen. Basically, we’re going to let the local deities know, again, what we’re up to. Ask for understanding. First, though, we need to clean up a bit.


The priests take turns chant-chant-chanting. The older one is 88. I figure he must know the dieties pretty well. The young one chants while reading from a scroll.


The chanting goes on for quite a while. Sometimes words leap out clearly—Mr. R would like to build a house here . . . no fires, please . . . bless the plans of Mr. Architect . . . don’t let the heat bear down to hard on the carpenters employed by Mr. Builder—but a lot of it is just ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruuuuuhhh, ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruuuuuhhh, ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruuuuuhhh.


I loved that sound.  I could have listened all day—listened all through the night.

The chanting flows into you, like the vibration of your ukulele. Those few words that you can make sense of have popped out from the chanting so comically that you are certain they have done so to remind you how  comic your existence is—No! You DON’T own this land!

And then the young priest blows on a big conch shell! It’s huge and he puts everything he’s got into it, and you think that maybe he’ll knock the sun right out of the sky, but the sound comes out all muffled, and it’s as off key as it can get, but still it’s so full of expression, so sincere, so humble, that you suddenly turn to—who else?—yourself and say: Utatte ii! 

That is . . . “You can sing! There’s no reason not to sing! You should sing!”

You want to fly home, grab your ukulele, fly back. You want to stand in front of that shrine, bang away on those four strings and sing, “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wah, ba-ba-bloo-ba-bing-bang-boo.”

The crows are circling now, cawing. They’re spreading the word: “Hey, this R guy is here. He’s building. Seems all right. Let’s give him a chance.”

And then the cups of sake are offered. We drink a little, too.

And then I take a hoe and slice down the ceremonial mountain of dirt.

Let the fun begin.


The lily blooms.


Yatsugadake–Day 2


Hello, hello! Here I am at the edge of this cliff. See me?

No, I’m not signaling for you to abandon the day, to tap your ruby heels together three times and get yourself back to your living room as quickly as you can. No, definitely not. What I’m doing is signaling that I’ve found yet another reason why it makes perfect sense to .  .  .


. . . tromp an hour from the lodge (near Mt. Iodake) to Mt. Yokodake . . .


. . . picking out one safe step after another along the rocky trail, making sure you don’t sprain (or worse, break) your ankle, and then to . . .


. . . tromp another couple of hours over to and up the rather steep Mt. Akadake (the highest peak along the Yatsugadake ridge — 2897 meters).

That gives me a total of twenty-three reasons. Below, I’ll start with #5. If you haven’t already found four (or at least three), then 5 ~ 23 are not likely to be very convincing.


#5 – Yellow flowers.


# 6 – White flowers.


#7 – More white flowers.


#8 – Big shadows.


#9 – Pink flowers. (Challenge yourself to find a komakusa that an insect hasn’t bitten into. Word has it that the bugs love these guys.)


#10 – Big rocks to scramble over.

150807_up_to_yoko_dake2_600#11 – Big rocks to imagine over.


#12 – Blue flowers.


#13 – A fun road back.


#14 – Many places that will remind you of what you read the day before: Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. (If you’ve perused The Hearty Hikers’ Handbook, you’ll surely recall page 643, which states, “Of course, mountains are beings!”)


#15 – Many places, framed nicely, which will remind you that the contours of the various peaks only remain fixed if you never move.


#16 –  A bird’s-eye view.


#17 – Purple flowers.


#18 – Purple flowers with bees.


#19 – Frilly purple flowers.


#20 – Purple flowers and white flowers and bird’s-eye views and blue skies and mountains and more mountains and                . (Yes, there will be blanks that you get to fill in!)


#21 – The sunrise.

150807_yatsugadake_evening_600#22 – The Sunset.


#23 – A sign that will give you as clear a direction for your life as you will ever receive. The choice is entirely yours.


Yatsugadake — Day 1


August 6th. The Hearty Hikers team had left Shizuoka early morning, and were now bearing down on the long stretch of peaks known collectively as Yatsugadake, in Nagano.

Don’t ask if that was the driver who had his arm out the window taking the above shot. Just focus on the silhouette of the range. Try to keep the shape of the individual peaks clear in your mind. Probably you can’t. Because they are going to look different a zillion times over before the next two days are through.


There’s about a zillion routes up into the “hills”—but we chose to start at Minoto Guchi. Actually, we chose to start at Minoto itself, not the Guchi, the “gateway” to Minoto, but three or four minutes over the deeply rutted road up to Minoto had me fearing that my poor little Aqua might not make it, so we backed up, and parked at the Guchi (half price), and walked forty minutes or so extra.

This is part of the fun of a first experience. You don’t know what’s coming, whether or not it’s going to be completely safe or problem-free. Or maybe that wouldn’t be part of the fun for you.

We left the parking lot at about 9:15.


At Minoto, you can choose to go up along the North Stream (Kitazawa), or the South one (Minamizawa). As we had our eyes set on Io-dake (“Sulphur Mountain”), we took the North Stream.


There were flowers galore.


 We came across numerous types of thistles, most of them still in bud, and some, like this one, looking an awful lot like jet engines about to let it rip. What energy!


These guys, ibukitorikabuto (what a name!), love hanging out by the water. Don’t get too close, though, they’re said to be rather toxic.


My Hearty Hikers companion suggested that this cluster of buds looked like a gathering of pigeons. Yeah, yeah, I can see that, but she also said that . . .


. . . these light-hearted creamy yellow lovers looked like swans dancing. Yes, they’re swans, obviously, but they’re way past dancing—they’re necking!


Whether there was sulphur in the water coming down the “sulphur” mountain or not, I don’t know, but there was definitely some sort of heavy mineral content. 

 Speaking of heavy mineral content, I don’t feel comfortable going on these more-than-a-day trips without a book in my backpack. I know I’ll be too tired to read a lot—so it has to be a book from which a sentence or two can do wonders for me.

I took the same book that I took with me to climb Shirouma in Hakuba, Nagano, a few summers ago.

Atop Shirouma, I read just three sentences (I think) to my Hearty Hikers buddy:

Who sees the many and not the ONE, wanders on from death to death. Even by the mind this truth is to be learned: there are not many but only ONE. Who sees variety and not the unity wanders on from death to death.


Sometimes the flowers were small and tucked in among the grass, so you had to look close to find them—but they were there in plenty, that’s for sure.

And it’s little wonder that when I spotted these guys, I turned to my Hearty Hikers companion and said, “Look where we are now!”


“And now!”

We came upon the Akadake Kosen Lodge around noon, had some wonderfully delicious rice balls, and some chicken sauteed in pesto (the perfect combination, rice balls and pesto, that is), then headed on up, no longer along the river, and no longer in the land of flowers aplenty.

In the woods, sans river, we began to anticipate the tree line—and a panoramic view.


But we remained tucked inside the woods until almost the very moment we stepped out on the ridge.

Not flowers aplenty maybe, inside those woods, but there’s always a fellow here or there who jumps out and surprises you.


Yes, yes, “Here we are!” she exclaimed.


 You can expect, in the afternoon, that the mist is going to roll in, and when we stepped up onto the ridge (at 1:40), it was there to greet us.


The signs were clear enough, even if, for the moment, they were in the middle of grey, and pointing, in both directions at nothing but grey.


A moment later, though, the mist cleared a bit, and the peak of Mt. Io-dake came into view. Not so steep.


The ridge provided a completely different environment for the flowers. These guys loved it up there. They were partying like crazy.


As we neared the peak, and the rocks came into better focus, we began to sense what might be awaiting us the next day.


And what do you know, but just like that the breeze blew away almost all the mist over the entire length of Yatsugadake, and there we were atop Io-dake with a stunning view of Yoko-dake (the sharp tooth), and Aka-dake (the tallest peak of the group, in the middle), and Amida-dake (where the clouds are gathering, and of which we’d consider, the next day, making our fourth peak, before consulting our knees and deciding to save it for another trip).


So many ridge flowers!

Yes, yes, I’d memorized the one sentence I was going to “read” from my book once we’d settled into our lodge, just fifteen minutes down the ridge on the opposite side of Io-dake.

Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.

I remember someone pointing out  that passage to me a while back and asking me if I thought that that “all beings” bit included those flying black bugs that buzz around like flies, then flip across your skin like somersaulting Olympic gymnasts, then sting the hell out of you . . . and I could only reply that I suppose it did.


But those ridge flowers, what a delight.


As we approached our lodge (around 3 PM, I think), they opened their hearts to us.



150802_pink_flower_600It’s hot!

But these flowers seem to be doing just fine.


No matter how you look at them.

The gladiolas, too. They look mighty fine . . .


. . . from this angle. And from . . .


. . . this one, too.

And the rice fields. How much they seem to love these dog days. Every year there’s that day or two when you wonder if the green’s gotten as green as green can get—or whether that first bit of yellow has begun to work it’s way into the mix. Either way, it’s a fabulous color.

And maybe makes you a little more tolerant of the 36 degrees Celsius. (This cooling effect shows up in people to varying degrees, and in some, it’s totally unobservable—so don’t hold me to anything if it doesn’t work for you.)

Me, I just want to stand before  a field and repeat the single word . . .









While the clouds were out, I suppose things cooled off just enough for the horses to come out, too. I came across a herd crossing beneath an overpass. Maybe they’d just been watered. They looked pretty fresh.


Up along a river, I discovered lots of butterflies out and about. They seemed to like the heat . . .


. . . but then I saw some of them take some pretty long pit stops in slim-thin puddles. I wasn’t sure if they were laying down to drink more efficiently or to cool off their wings. (Flap your wings vigorously for ten to twelve minutes (at least enough to lighten your weight by a kilo or two), and see how much heat you work up.)


The plums can’t seem to get enough sun . . .


. . . but they’ve made a conscious decision to become umeboshi—dried plums—and are tickled to death to wrinkle up.

I don’t recommend this for you. Wear a hat.

The cicadas like to get awful rowdy in all this heat, but then again, once they’ve emerged from the ground—after a couple of years in the dark—and popped out from their larval exoskeletons. . .


. . . they don’t last very long. Sing, sing, sing, and die.

Me, I took the hint from the butterflies. I found a pool in the river and went in neck deep.



And yes, thank you for asking. My persimmon tree is doing fine. We here at Persimmon Dreams love him dearly.