Monthly Archives: April 2017

On a cold day . . . a museum


It has been a cool spring, but first, down in the city, the plum blossoms came and went, and then the cherry blossoms came and went, and the weather forecast said it was going to be a sunny, sunny day, so we Hearty Hiker’s headed up to Umegashima and the Abe Pass . . . believing that we’d see the spring being repeated—or at least beginning to be repeated—up in the mountains.


Once we’d climbed (in the car) up to the trailhead, though, we looked about and saw a lot of bare branches, no new leaves popping out, only the tiniest signs of spring (the flowers above), and above us only a grey, grey sky. So much for the weather forecast.

Then, as we walked, the morning side of noon, the temperature dropped.  I’m not sure why.


It wasn’t that cold (I say), and from time to time, we saw a strip of blue sky or two, but maybe because of expectations, my fellow Hearty  Hikers started shivering in their boots. (Later I’ll have them tested, to see if they’ve got any reptile blood in them.)

Anyway, when most of your team feels a little cold, there’s only one thing to do: dip inside a museum. Fortunately, when you’re up in the mountains, you can almost always find a good museum open. And what I like about the mountain museums is they are fairly comprehensive. They don’t split up art, science, natural history, and religion into different buildings.  You can study all those things all at once.


The first artifact/relic/artwork/cosmic sign we saw was entitled “Mountainside  Seashell.” For those of you who understand evolution in its standard form (all life rising from the oceans), or those who understand it in it’s more cosmic form, you will realize the value of this piece.


This one was my favorite this day: It was called “Energetic Creature Born of a Cosmic Bubble Swimming and Flying the Ocean and the Sky in All DIrections All at Once and Dreaming of the Glucose Produced in Green Cells Absorbing Light–the Light which was the Beginning of All.”


This piece is extraordinary, too, I think. “Stick and Moss,” it’s called. Some, I know, have said it’s childish and too simple to warrant much attention, but we can never be encouraged enough to appreciate green, and I would dare anyone who scoffs to pick up your paint brush and see if you get all that moss configured just as it is. I bet some of your canvasses may end up looking a lot like a plate of green peas after a young boy who’s determined not to eat a one has mussed them up a bit with his fork, squashed a few, in a futile attempt to convince his mother that he has tried a reasonable amount.


This one was called “Blurry Woodpecker In Blurry Red and Grey.” You may wonder if there really is a bird that looks so, or if it’s just a sort of “conceptual” rendition of some twisted idea that only live’s in the artist’s brain—and I’m not sure the answer, but I do like the pattern on the bird’s back, the touch of red on the top of his head, and how everything seems to blend.


There are also performance pieces. These two trees, as you can see, have grown together. That is true dedication to their vision, their craft, their art, their beliefs, their whatever, I’d say. It is a bit hard to say for sure how this insistence on non-duality is trying to influence us, but it did remind me of the way tree roots often share glucose with friends who are having a hard time getting the resources to make their own.  It made me think a little bit about what all might be going on beneath the soil the soles of my feet were pressing so ever slightly into. It is important to feel what’s going on in your soles.


The other Hearty Hiker’s, though, were most fascinated by the water color painter who is always on hand to paint the sky, as it is right then. As this guy painted, my teammates kept looking back and forth between the canvas and the sky, and the more they did, the more they seemed to get confused about which one seemed composed of the most real colors.


One even felt compelled to get as close a look at the sky as he could.

I suppose it’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself–so if you’re ever up this way on a surprisingly cold day, please step into a museum and have a look for yourself.

We forwent the souvenirs shop, got back in the car, descended the mountain a couple hundred meters, and took another walk. Here the springtime was a little further along.

We got to enjoy the cherry blossoms again.

170423_cherry_blossoms_2_600And those lavender-colored azaelas, you won’t find those down in town. If you want to get a hold of that color, you’ll have to partake of some high ground somewhere or another.



Talking cherry blossoms

170412_hanami_sumpu_tamami_450Last time, I wrote that the cherry blossoms have gotten some awful good press over the years—and that other flowers that bloom at the same time have gotten less coverage—and less love—than they deserve. This was not meant to take anything away from the cherry blossoms.

I love them.


And today, we at Persimmon Dreams are happy to have with us an expert on the beauty of nature, one of our Hearty Hikers, Ms. Tamami Kano.

What credentials does she have? She has the most essential one. She constantly has her eyes on nature, is always seeking something new, and is constantly finding and celebrating beauty.


PD: Tamami, thank you for meeting us to enjoy the cherry blossoms today. Just in your own words, what do you feel standing here surrounded by all these cherry blossoms?

Tamami: Just happy. And grateful. I’d like to thank them for being here with me.

PD:  Do you have any favorite song or poem about the cherry blossoms?

Tamami: “Sakura, hira hira, maiochiru.” (The dancing cherry petals flutter, flutter, flutter down.)


PD: What do you think about the color of the blossoms?

Tamami: Impossibly delicate.

PD: Where is your favorite place to see cherry blossoms?


Tamami: If it’s daytime—and the sun is shining—I like the trees that cascade down over the moat, on the north side of Sumpu Park. The view from the bridge is marvelous. The color of the water and the grey of the moat-wall rocks and the pink of the blossoms harmonize perfectly.


PD: We know that you are a great connoisseur of beauty. Is there some difference between the beauty of the cherry blossoms and other flowers?

Tamami: Yes, there is. Should I try to explain it?

PD: If you don’t mind.

Tamami: With cherry blossoms, it’s the balance, the shape, the sweep of the limbs that creates the beauty. And then, also, I think . . . they are really Japanese.


PD: “Japanese”? What does that mean?

PD: I mean, they are a part of Japanese culture. When I stand under them, I feel a little bit of wabi sabi.


PD: Sorry to keep following up, but what is wabi sabi?

Tamami: Wabi sabi is a basic idea about Japanese aesthetics, finding perfection in imperfection and transcience.

PD: Is that your original definition?

Tamami: No, that’s the definition of my friend from Hungary. (laugh, laugh)


PD: I’ve noticed the shaga are blooming here in Johoku Park, as well as all the cherry trees. What do you think about the shaga? Are they beautiful, too? Is it the same beauty?

Tamami: Of course, the shaga are beautiful, too. But they are a bit different from cherry blossoms. I feel a wild energy in the stalks of the shaga. The flowers of the shaga seem both cute and elegant at the same time.


PD: Are the cherry blossoms cute and elegant?

Tamami: They are elegant. They have more of a mature beauty than a cuteness.

PD: Thank you for your time today. One last question. You said you feel grateful to the cherry blossoms. Is there anything you’d like to say to them now?

Tamami: Now I’m just thinking that maybe we have a lot of things to learn from not only cherry blossoms but from all plants. They never complain and accept things as they are. And just enjoy living. That’s really beautiful.


Good press


The cherry blossoms get good press.  For many, they are the Jimi Hendrix of the spring flowers: virtuoso rock stars who come on stage and dazzle—then leave us all too soon.


Here in Japan, at least, they have the status of great tragic heroes. They are Juliet, so pure and passionate, then, at such a young age, gone.


When people say hanami party (hanami–literally, “viewing the flowers”), they are almost always thinking about the cherry blossoms.  No one I know, here in Shizuoka at least, has a hanami party sitting beside a tulip bed.

Do you know how to count the blossoms on a mature cherry tree? As far as I know, there is only one way.



But a few days ago, as I commuted to work on my bicycle,  I could see, easily (anyone could), that the cherries weren’t the only ones out showing themselves off.

The cherries weren’t the only ones shining bright, for what (yes, they knew) would only be a short time.

170401_nichinichiso_450The nichinichso.


The shaga.


The daffodils.


The camellias.

170405_camelia_bee_b_600Not everyone puts the cherries above the camellias.


Not everyone puts the cherries above the na-no-hana.


And what about the harujion? Are they truly just weeds? Sure, maybe they need to comb their hair—but don’t they have their own sort of charm?


And the daisies—lord, what bad press they’ve gotten!  They make the soil soft and clean. They’re full of potasium, calcium, vitamins A, B, and C.

Maybe you’ve gotten the idea that you don’t like them. Maybe you don’t want them in your yard. That’s fine. But don’t tell me that the dandelion flowers are not beautiful. Don’t tell me that some of your children don’t think they are beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the cherry blossoms, too. I love them on a blue-sky day, and on a rainy day, too.

I just don’t like all this ranking. And all this ranking is probably the main reason why I’ve lost interest (for the most past, not completely, I admit) in competitve sports. Somebody beats somebody else 121-120, and somebody becomes the glorified champions of the universe—while somebody else becomes a footnote. They’re the losers. Maybe they even choked.

Choked 121-120.

Ranking is dividing. Dividing is divorce. Divorce, in all its meanings, is one of the worst—if not the worst—thing there is.

Nature is a Unitarian.

Anyway, when it comes to the dandelions, if you’re determined to exterminate them, you’d better have a pretty damned good plan.  They like living just as much as you—and they’re ready.


Snow Woman


It’s April, but there was a bit of rain yesterday, and the temperatures have been unusually low, so when we decided to head off this morning for a hike up Aozasayama, we thought we might run into a bit of snow.


A bit. Boy, were we wrong!

When you see this much snow from a distance (above), you know it’s going to be deep on the trail. We should have remembered what we did yesterday. An English study group asked me to facilitate a discussion on Lafcadio Hearn’s short folk tale, “The Snow Woman.”


Do you know the story? Two woodcutters, on a bitterly cold winter day, take refuge in an old hut. In the middle of the night, the snow woman comes and breathes on the older one, killing him. Upon the younger one, though, she takes pity—for he’s “pretty”—and she spares his life.

I don’t think you have to read any more to conclude that the forces of nature can be capricious and cruel.

The young woodcutter promises the snow woman never to speak of the experience.


Back to our hike: The jizo, as always, welcomed us to the neighborhood. Keep the jizo in mind as you climb, and you can be assured of your safety, no matter how severe your physical situation becomes.

Back to the snow woman: A year later, the young woodcutter meets a demure young lady (with pale, snow-like skin . . . Hearn certainly doesn’t want you to get confused!), and before you know it, they’re married with ten children. Ten! How lovely and peaceful those years were.

170402_grey_mountain_sky_600But one day, the once-upon-a-time young woodcutter suddenly remembers the night his co-worker, the old man, died. He tells his wife, the mother of his ten children, about it.


She flies into a rage. She reveals her true identity. He’s broken his promise and must pay the price. He must die. Only she loves her ten children—and without him they will not be able to eat. So she spares him—again—and she “melt[s] into a bright white mist that spired to the roof-beams, and shudder[s] away through the smoke-hole.”

170402_snowtrail_450Which leaves me with a whooooooole lot of questions, but it does explain why the trail up Aozasayama was knee-deep . . . and then hip-deep. It was the Snow Woman—she knew we’d been talking about her, knew it was a good time to make her presence felt.

For sure, nature can be capricious and cruel. And if you don’t respect her, you can get yourself in a whole lot of trouble. So if you hike in the snow, make sure you keep your legs and feet dry. If you’re wondering how safe it is to go on, go back.

Most of the time, though, nature just wants to be your Best Friend Forever. To nurture you, and to give you great joy.


I love the patterns of the branches above. How they seem to be reaching into the white and blue, stirring it up. But you don’t have to search for ages to find branches that are playing with the sky like this. They know to grow like that.  They are light eaters—and they know how to share.


These budding flowers are hanging down from a mitsumata bush, the bark of which was (is still???) used to make paper.


The jizo atop the ridge understands nature and the capricious snow woman very well. That’s why he’s built himself this nifty hut. Keeps him dry—and keeps you safe. If you’re in the neighborhood toss him a couple of coins. It’ll be money well spent.


Some hikers may wonder who reigns on the mountain, the snow woman or the jizo, but actually, the answer depends on each hiker’s mindset. Just as the trees channel the energy all about, so do you.  Which energy do you channel most, fear of the snow woman, or gratitude to the jizo? The answer to that question may influence what energy you believe this tree . . .


. . . is channeling.  170402_no_fuji_view_600

Finally, we made it to our favorite Fuji viewing spot. It took us three times as long as it usually does to get here. We were only a third of the way to our destination—the top of Aozasa.

We decided that it was a good time to call it a day. Our feet were still dry . . . more or less.

In the above picture, you may think there is no Mt. Fuji, but if you are eagle-eyed and look closely, you will see a tiny bit of our dear friend.


Okay, I’ll give you a hint.  Follow the most vertical branch down to its twigs. Look just to the right of—and a bit below—the twig on the right.


So much beauty. The trees know how much can be done with water and light (okay, and a few minerals), and so should we.

Turn these wet cedar needles upside-down . . .


. . . and you might just see a Christmas tree, nicely decorated, shining bright.


I, for one, think it’s lovely.

Thanks, guys, everyone in the Saturday study group. Your thoughts on “The Snow Woman” were insightful and thought-provoking. I feel so happy to be able to hang out with such inspiring folks.

Thank you, thank you.

No, no, that’s not the snow woman flying into the upper right corner of the pic below. That’s the sun. That’s the light that enables you to see.