Category: Japan


Giving it away: Prelude

giving-it-away

Note to self, scratched in the back of “On Writing” by Steven King.

Lemme go ahead and put this out into the world: the prelude to my book.

It’s not perfect. It’s not edited (at least to any degree that I, as a professional editor, would admit). And it probably ain’t final. But it is. So there. Here. Read it, free of charge and with my compliments.

Early this year, I warned that this blog might not be pretty, so I guess this is one way of delivering on my word.

If you want to share your thoughts or impressions, feel free to comment and feel free to push it further into the world. With the caveat that I’m doing this for myself and my muse and not for others, I thank you in advance.

Prelude

Spires of smoke rose above the city of Kigaru, wedged between the twin mountains of Mizuyama and Kayama. Thicker, darker columns – from the larger kilns and blacksmiths – reached the greatest heights before dissipating in the cold winds of early autumn. Lower, lighter threads of smoke spoke of more humble origins, of temples and family hearths.

Surrounded by the mountains’ mist and the fog of the bay, Kigaru bore a shroud about and above it. The tops of its tallest trees were bare, exposed to the whipping winds – all but the ancient ginkgo tree inside the Himeji Temple grounds. Leaves yellow and gold clung to its branches, holding fast against an approaching winter. Proud, perhaps, but no less resplendent, they’d eventually succumb to the rhythm of the seasons, falling, with few exceptions, together.

One fan-shaped, yellow-gold leaf floated down, just missing the top of the temple wall and coming to rest just shy of the gravel footpath. It landed amid the ceramics covering a ragged tatami mat.

“Aren’t you lovely?” asked the old man, picking it up and studying the leaf. He cast his gaze over his shoulder to the 1,000-year-old tree in the courtyard. “And no doubt lonely,” he added with no hint of sadness. “Not to worry. You can stay with me for a time.” Between a weathered thumb and forefinger, he rolled its stem back and forth, back and forth before tucking it into a pocket inside his coat.

Voices and commotion rose on the other side of the wall. The throng of temple visitors, moments before meandering through the gate and along the pathway, quickly split apart at the insistence of three horsemen. The old man and other seasonal vendors like him gathered the goods at the edge of their mats, trying to keep their wares from being trampled by pilgrims who were trying to not get trampled themselves.

After the riders passed, the crowd reunited. Another vender, a younger woman – a potter, a novice as judged by her crafts – leaned toward Jinbei, who had already brushed dirt of his tatami and began setting out his crockery.

“Say, weren’t those Nakagawa riders?” she not so much asked as confided.

“Mm-hmm,” he mumbled an answer an agreement. “Didn’t expect to see them this early.”

“What? Early in the day?” she asked. “I hope I don’t have to make a habit of saving my goods getting crushed.” The young woman righted a set of thick teacups. “I thought I’d be less dangerous here than on Sochira Street,” she said with a bright laugh that reminded him of the leaf in his pocket.

“The season. I mean early in the season,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see their family crest before the Autumn Grand Ceremony, attended by all noble houses – the Nakagawa clan and lesser estates. That’s not for another three weeks.”

She arched an eyebrow. “And so?”

“And so, they don’t enter this holy ground except on such occasions, except when it’s expected, when it’s required of their station.”

The young potter had stopped setting out her goods to look at and listen to the old man. “Then why were they here?”

He was quiet for a breath. “Beats me,” he answered, then returned her attention. “But whatever the reason, it was important, judging by how quickly they left took off.”

She kept watching him as he got back to work.

“Who knows?” he said, allowing himself a grin before feigning reverence. “Maybe they all achieved simultaneous spiritual enlightenment, satori, and each of them wanted to be the first to brag about it to Lord Nakagawa.”

Such a jibe could get him struck down – he knew it, as did she. Yet she chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand and trying in vain to muffle her mirth, like the yellow-gold leaf in his pocket.

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March was made of yarn

Scattered thoughts in my notebook and marginalia in the above were the only things I’d written of our visit to the coast until now.

In the summer of 2014, we visited Japan and stopped along the coast to see areas affected by the tsunami of 2011. Accompanying us were friends whom we’d thought we’d lost in that very tsunami. Ironic and reassuring at the same time.

What we saw, what we experienced, what we felt … it all made an impression. I can’t see someone sharing a space with such an occurrence — even separated by time — and not feel … well, something. I can only imagine what it was like to look up to see the ocean moving toward you, 125+ feet higher than normal at its peak.

Coming into focus
This is the first I’ve published anything I’ve written about the experience. A few years ago, I read March was Made of Yarn, a collection of literature (and even a manga) about the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 and related events.

But recently I’ve had occasion to read articles on subject, some pieces coming from the fringe. Stuff like how taxi drivers along the coast report passengers who ask to be take to the coast and then disappear along the way. And others a bit more harrowing.

Another one — altogether grounded in this realm — was a report on tsunami stones, which were places along the coast to warn future generations of past tsunami catastrophes. This was the article that finally spurred me to attempt to share my experiences visiting the coast.

Ayukawa

Building, torn off concrete footings and set on its side, near Ayukawa

Not broken, just incomplete
This post … It’s short, incomplete, as I see it, but that’s fittingly one of the feelings impressed on me along the coast. Once complete, thriving, now … still many years afterward … incomplete, scattered.

To remedy things (at least from a literary angle), I’ll add more. Maybe more to this one, but likely additional posts of a more personal nature.


Aneyoshi’s stonemason

Tamashige’s calloused hands picked up the metal chisel and hammer again. Fresh dust, dry and coarse, blanketed the ground at his feet. Dust – so much dust. So much it formed a pale nimbus around the base of the short stone pillar that was his work today.

Japan 2014 slideshow (170).jpgHe looked at his tools and weary hands, but couldn’t stop. He had to continue. He loosely cradled the tools of his craft for a moment. Then glanced at the stone before looking beyond it, his eyes coming to rest on the ancient mountain laurel still clinging higher up the hillside.

A sigh.

He turned, back toward the resilient shrub, and looked down toward Aneyoshi Town. What was left of it. Its rubble now littered the ground at his feet – broken beams, ceramics, roof tiles, even a fabric doll.

These items didn’t belong here, not on the hillside above the town. They belonged near the bay, not pushed and crushed, scattered by the irresistible, adamant force of a rising sea.

These things didn’t belong here – didn’t deserve to be covered in stone dust. He did. That was his calling. But he couldn’t understand why he still … was. Perhaps it was because he, as the settlement’s stonemason, was the only one who could carve these warning stones, the only one who could ensure the fresh, rough-torn impressions of the tsunami would reach others decades after he was gone.

“Present melts into past,” he murmured to himself, turning back to his work, “and past — that becomes distant memory. Unless it’s carved in stone.”

Future generations would see the stones, and hopefully take heed of their recessed words, which implored readers not to build homes between stone and sea.

Perhaps that was the reason Tamashige, the Aneyoshi stonemason, still lived. Perhaps he could invest his hope in that.

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