Last days

ImageSo…Rather than delay any further, I’ll post what I wrote the last week in Japan. Since about the last few days there, my computer and iphoto have been jammed up with not enough memory, and I’ve had difficulty sorting it out. So this post will be without very many photos (even though I have about 4000 from the entire trip), or very many appropriate to the story type of pics. Bare with me. I promise to post more photos when I can fix my tech problems…

I’m writing the first part of this summary on Tuesday morning at the café downstairs next to Otani Hall. Most participants have departed, but a few sensei and stragglers are still here, slowly waking up, bleary eyed, voices hoarse from talking and partying too much. Luckily, my voice is intact. Maybe I’ve learned from past laryngitis experiences to keep my voice healthy with lots of water and other tricks. The last two days of the festival were intensely wonderful.  Early Sunday morning a long, all day concert began at Myoanji, the small Myoan sect shakuhachi temple we had visited and played at previously. I got there with Barbara at 8:30 and we had good seats, took lots of pics and videos, and in perfect Shakuhachi Festival fashion, I took a great nap slumped over my bags! Yes, these concerts and the pace of life and lack of sleep makes everyone exhausted. It’s normal to see people nodding off at concerts. Sometimes, even the performers begin to nod off, and that’s really funny. At the big Masters Concert finale Saturday night, there were maybe 80 people on stage, and many had long periods of seating seiza without playing. It was great fun to watch as one and then another nodding off and then wake with a start. I won’t mention names, but you know who you are!

Sunday’s Master Concert started at about 1 and went on until about 8. One could come and go, change seats, go out for food and breaks. So basically, you browsed the program and figured out your plan to see what you wanted to see and go out exploring and eating the rest of the time. The hall that day was close to the Imperial Palace grounds and park, so there was some sightseeing interspersed, a Japanese curry and beer lunch, a visit to a sweet little temple off to the side, and more shared taxis getting to and from everywhere. Still a bit bleary, hungover and sleepy from two nights in a row at the jazz club hearing and dancing to Brian Ritchie (of Violent Femmes), ImagePepe Danza (South American shaku and drummer), and Ty on tabla… we were all hitting up the vending machine iced coffees on our way around town over and over again!Image

On Monday,  there was another enormously long concert, and over the course of the day, in between listening, I window shopped alone, strolled to a Starbucks and got a venti frappachino (heavenly!!!) Saw a very cool shop with tie dye clothing that had an origami look to it. Folded, sculptural blouses, scarves, jewelry even. Way over my budget, but they have a website…so maybe someday I’ll get something from them. A group of us went out for a late lunch/early dinner of Ramen, and I had a cold bowl, with ice cubes, noodles, vegis and pork. They didn’t have iced coffee or tea, so I had a Coke. Wow. That’s a hit of caffeine!!! Later on, after seeing more Master shakuhachi players blow some of the most beautiful music in the universe, some of us went to the used Kimono store just a block away. We’d been eyeing it for days and finally went in. Very inexpensive, beautiful things. I immediately spotted the most amazing purple Kimono, and then everyone helped pick out the appropriate obi (wide wrapped belt) and rope for tieing off the top. When we got back to the entry way of the hall, someone saw it peeking out of my bag and said, Try it on for us. Then, a participant said: I’m a student of kimono sewing! Let me dress you properly. Now I had a room full of people helping and watching. She made the beautiful bow tie in the back and I paraded about a little for the people waiting for the concert. Hahahaha. Many oohs and ahhs in Japanese, pic taking, and commentary on our color choices. Then I was given a lesson in folding the kimono, which of course I forgot right away! Really a lot of fun J

So many more fun things and events, hijinks and friendships. Sunday night a group of us went out to karaoke. ImageSo much fun….Huge tall building, many stories, you pay by the hour and get a private room, pay for drinks as you go. Surprisingly affordable and really crazy fun. We danced and sang and watched as people waiting for the bus below us waved and laughed at us singing and dancing around! LOL. ImageMonday night I asked Tyler (who has been to Japan several times, speaks quite fluently and is oh so hip being a young cool hipster!)…I asked him, so…I’ve done everything, I think, on my list of cool and also ordinary things in Japan. I told him what I’ve done: made progress on shakuhachi, been able to speak enough to get around, went to karaoke, ate all kinds of food, saw all kinds of temples, went to public baths, river rafting, hiking, biking, all the major Tokyo stations and depahto, saw costumeplay and bought a sexy school girls outfit, took a lot of trains, taxis and one shinkansen, had Matcha tea, frequented conbinis and vending machines….What else haven’t I done that I need to do before I leave??? He thought for 5 seconds and blurted out: photo booth! Yup, so a group of us did the crazy thing and crammed into a photo booth, then decorated our pics electronically. We each got a teeny tiny printed version, and I hope Tyler got one on his cell phone that he can send to us. So silly, very fun.Image Now I’m writing this from Osaka/Itami airport, waiting for my plane….Most everyone left Tuesday. We were still at Otani Hall Tuesday morning and got to say good bye to the main senseis who had stayed communally at Otani the entire time: my sensei, Kakizakai, and his old friends Furuya and Matama. Bittersweet goodbyes, some tears, and lots of hugs. Contrary to some of the stereotypes about Japanese people never wanting to touch, hug, or show emotion, ImageI have found that when you spend time with people and know them for awhile, the opposite is true. Or even if you’ve known them a short time but have had an intensive visit, the bond of friendship is strong, the shared experiences and funny stories are there, and hugging and emotion is a part of every day life. There was so much love and affection, respect and bonds between three of the master players who are the top students of Yokoyama sensei, Imageand had just performed a beautiful memorial concert for him. Many people had moments of deep emotional release during this concert, and maybe the feeling of time passing, missing this loved teacher who has passed, and parting from good friends (new and old) added to the intensity of the experience.ImageBarbara and I were staying one more night and had arranged a different room in another building to move to. It wasn’t great, there were smokers downstairs and we had to run up and down with wet towels over our noses and mouths to escape breathing it in! But the room was fine, the bathrooms OK, and really, we weren’t there long at all, since we spent the day traveling to and visiting, hiking the entire loop around Mt Kurama, the birthplace of Reiki, home to numerous shrines and temples, a gorgeous and rugged hiking path, and a fabulous view at the top of surrounding mountain ranges. At the main temple at the top I was moved to tears by the beauty, by the music I’d heard while here, by my whole Japan experience coming to a close. I nearly dropped to my knees with swooning, and took out my shakuhachi.Image I played it with my eyes closed, and time passed in that way where you don’t really know what happened, was that 5 minutes, seconds or hours? When I’d finished, a few people sitting or standing nearby just slowly left. I went into seiza on the ground and bowed low and long to the temple and went on my way. ImageLater, at some kind of office annex building to the temple, the worker there came out and told me how much they enjoyed it. She’d heard me all the way in there? Had I played loud? I thought I’d been playing so softly… so reality had been twisted a bit and then we went on for the downhill part of our hiking journey. It was a great way to spend the last day in Japan.

Today was just: clean up, pack up, hang out at the train station, a search for food, and Barbara and I parted. We ended up being close traveling buddies. Thank you Barbara for putting up with my crying (and laughing fits!) She found the Shinkansen (I hope) to Tokyo and Narita airport beyond, and I found the bus to Itami airport. Both of us, and in fact, most participants, have long journeys home. Japan is not easy to get to, but it is worth it. And even saying that sounds so superficial. It’s an incredibly beautiful, special, amazing, interesting country. So small, and so big, with a wealth of history, tradition, culture, art, music, both very old, and really new and modern. It’s got a lot of serious spiritual and traditional customs, but also some very very cute, convenient and quirky things, from high tech toilets to girls in knee socks, monks at temples, and religious charms alongside Hello Kitty hanging from cell phones, high speed trains, and slow hiking paths populated with ancient people on pilgrimages. I’m going to miss it terribly, and am steeling myself for the inevitable culture shock to come.


And yes, here back at home I am suffering from jetlag, unable to sleep at night and really sleepy in the daytime. But worse than the time change is the withdrawal and culture shock. I dearly miss the simplest stupid little things, like vending machines, and heated toilet seats. I find myself thinking in Japanese, and English sounds so weird. I’m horrified by the trash on the ground here and the rudeness of the people. On the other hand, I am ecstatically devouring all the fruit and vegetables I can find because I felt so deprived of these rareties in Japan. And having just finished an Aikido training weekend here with good friends, and meeting up with my other best (American) friends, I feel surrounded by support and love from old buddies who missed me terribly while I was gone. So it’s a mixed bag returning home. Maybe gradually (だんだん) I will become accustomed to the life in the US again. But maybe, I don’t really want to get that used to it again. There are some things I want to stay sensitized to and not go back to my old American ways. I’m wondering if that’s at all possible. I’m just waiting to see where this next road leads.Image

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Toothpaste, parties, jazz club

ImageLast time I posted it was Saturday morning, two days into the festival. I left out many pics of the last night camp party, my visit to Ryoanji, the first day and a half at the festival, workshops, and the jazz club! I have lots to say about everything but no time to write, post pics, or find wifi while I’m here. Maybe on Wednesday, my travel day, I’ll sit at the computer in the airport and on the plane and write as much as I can, and post it all later once I’m home. But the festival time is back to back concerts and workshops to attend, and venues to figure out how to travel to and then the travel time itself. There is no wifi and I only carry my iphone with me for the camera! Nothing else works. And there’s no time to really even check email. I can say this: everything is very cool, there’s more music being represented from all over the world, with all styles of shakuhachi lineages being represented than I remember from Sydney, the last festival I attended. Then again, I have a new perspective on things: four years ago I was such a beginnner and didn’t really know what I didn’t know. Now I have a little more knowledge, and little by little I am accumulating more, and am aware and understand more about the history, details of style and also, what I like and don’t like. There is so much music, we are all getting a little bit burnt out and we plan time daily to take off in the middle of the days events to either sight see or just chill at an espresso joint. So I saw a bit of the Imperial Palace and grounds, did a lot of just walking neighborhoods, and sharing cab rides with other participants. Cabs are surprisingly cheap, and if you share with maybe 3-4 others, it can be cheaper than a bus or subway. ImageFunny story about the subway: The other day I REALLY needed to use a bathroom (if you know what I mean) and my only choice was to duck into a subway station, buy a ticket to get in, knowing there would be a public bathroom. So that all worked out, but when I went to exit, the machine wouldn’t let me out, alarms sounded, etc. The station was deserted so I just hopped the turnstile! And now I have a 1000yen ticket I need to try to use or else that was a really expensive trip to the toilet. LOL… Additional amusing things happen daily of course, and I can’t remember them all, but here’s a priceless gem of communal living: The other morning, early, like 5:15, I’m at the bathroom brushing teeth, and I’m sort of in and out of the area a few times, and leave my toothpaste on the communal counter outside the bathrooms. When I return, just a few minutes later, there’s an ancient Japanese man, (a participant in our group – I recognize him), really skinny bow legged guy, maybe 80, no teeth, and he’s borrowing some of my toothpaste to put on his toothbrush!! I act surprised, he’s suddenly so confused and embarressed, apologizes profusely, practically bowing on the ground….I say, it’s OK, no problem. We part ways and 5 minutes later he finds me with some of his toothpaste to give back to me! I say, no no really it’s OK. Alright, so then much later in the day in finds me at the concert and apologizes again, and again I forgive him! Then, much much later on, at another party, and now he’s really really drunk, he starts cryiImageng, apologizing, and really causing a scene. So my sensei, Kakazakai, comes over to rescue me, he talks the guy down (it’s a little sad really, because he really is upset with himself for being forgetful and he thinks making such a bad mistake). Anyway, Kakizakai calms him down and then tells me that he is the oldest living student of our lineage’s founder, Yokoyama sensei. So this tells me the guy is very old, and should be treated with respect, and yet, he’s making a fool out of himself by being so drunk, apologetic, and also, kindof almost manhandling me a little. Or at least it seems this could happen and go bad at any moment. But Kakizakai performs a miracle, he calms him, I forgive him, we shake on it. And we think this is the end of it! But as the party progresses, he keeps it up. So I have to leave the party. I tell the story to my room mate of the day, Barbara, and we’re laughing about it. And then we hear knocking at our door. Oh no! She goes, since she knows no Japanese, this is a better choice. He’s got a pile of food to give to me, bottles of this and that. Barbara doesn’t know what to do. Kakizakai passes by starting to intervene, while Barbara mimes to him (“This is the brushing teeth guy, yes?”) and they both practically fall down laughing, eyes rolling. I’m sure this guy will never forgive him self for what was a minor little mistake. But OMG, soooo funny, we will laugh about it forever. Communal life has it’s very funny moments. The house mother, Seki-san, keeps changing around our rooms, we have to constantly pack and unpack. There are daily funny conversations where everyone gets confused about everything. And she’s always changing the hours of the bathing room for women and men. We get into some funny embarressing situations there too. But we’ve become family and so it’s OK to see each other in underwear walking to the bath, or brushing teeth and gargling in the morning. The cool part is that some of the participants and sensei (mostly the Japanese ones) are still staying here, while many other people (mostly the foreigners) have left for hotels. But there are just the three of us American women still here and we are having a blast with the hijinks of communal living. It’s just a lot of fun to try to communicate and figure out the rules, constantly ask questions and little by little my Japanese gets better and better. Seki-san is patient and I have become the go to person of the foreigners because I can understand and speak enough to get by. I’m writing this on Sunday and leave on Wednesday. Wow, can’t believe the trip is almost over. No time to send many pics now. I will update and enhance these last few blog posts later from home. I have many photos from the trip I haven’t posted yet, and hundreds from just the last few days here. So stay tuned, and if there is not another post, or maybe one more with no pics, you’ll know why. See you all soon.Image

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Camp ends, Festival begins!

ImageDay before yesterday was the last half day of camp and then we went right into the Shakuhachi Festival. It’s hard to keep up and keep track of the days, and equally difficult to post a blog. There just isn’t time, and there’s no wifi except my corner lot where I sit on the ground haha. So today I’ll send this no matter what, without enough colorful photos. I’ll update it at some future point with more pics, so please be patient! It’s been crazy busy, and everyone’s been walking around muttering softly (in English AND Japanese, and a few other languages too…), under their breath, (or not so softly), things like: crazy, busy, chaotic, insane, nuts… but strangely enough, everything gets done, everyone is basically ecstatic with the experience, and also very exhausted. No one has been sleeping enough, or well, and then add to that our very early morning Robuki practices at the temple, and late night events, or in the case of the the other night, a huge camp concert and party (so much food, beer, and sake….), and then, subsequent nights of more late night events and parties after…well, let’s just say people are walking around bleary eyed, needing alot of coffee and aspirins! A few nights ago we performed, ate, drank, laughed, spoke in many languages and horsed around. Between the 70 plus participants at camp, we had several massage therapists, reiki masters, acupuncturists and other holistic healers. We ended up all giving each other sessions in one corner of the party room once everyone had had so much to drink that lying on the floor just seemed like the only way to go! Then we had to strip our bedding and be all packed up to stow our bags in one small area. For those of us continuing to stay here the rest of the festival week, we were given new rooms later in the day. In the mean time, we had this crazy room full of stuff that people are trying to get in and out of to retrieve shakuhachi, tape recorders, shoes, food, and the like throughout the morning. Little did we know that we’d have to yet again move rooms two days later!! It’s really chaotic, but we’re going with the flow 🙂 After attending classes I can sometimes retreat to the espresso joint, or my parking lot, to take time to write and have a coffee. Ah, a moment to myself to sit and reflect… We had a great class two days ago with Kakizakai sensei. It was a lecture I’d heard him give before about “boring scale practice!” This time I videotaped it and really absorbed this basic exercise routine he suggests. The sounds of shakuhachis filled the packed room. Then, a mad rush for one more sales session of CDs and books by all the sensei, and I had a private lesson with Shimura sensei, a teacher I had not yet worked with. What a sweet and gentle man, of the Myoan sect, with the most beautiful soft sound, and contrasts of tone color. We did not work on a piece of music, just on timbre, relaxing the mouth, and playing softly. Fantastic! It was in a small room, filled with folded futons stacked high, windows open and hearing the sounds of other classes and shakuhachi being blown. Despite the casual and possible distracting environment, Shimura was intense and focused, relaxed and kind. He demonstrated so many things and took command of the space, the Ma of the room, the music, our selves as musicians. I attempted to imitate, and he made a few suggestions. I improved quickly over the course of the lesson and at the end, he complimented me for being able to make changes so fast. My sound is much improved once again. Another level, another mountain. One of my room mates here has been Java, a 30 year old shakuhachi player from China. She was one of the finalists for the competition performances. We all rooted for her to do well, and she really did! She is so sweet and humble, looks so much younger than she is, but plays incredibly well. A true up and coming talent. The 24 finalists took about 5 hours to perform all the pieces. The Hall was crowded and warm. Air conditioning has been turned low since the earthquake and tsunami of last year in order to save on electricity. This was the first time I felt that oppressive heat and humidity that will be growing all summer. I listened to nearly all the players, with just some short breaks in and out of the hall. At the end, when the winners were announced, it was a big shock to everyone, some letting out gasps. It was a big surprise First Place winner. No one thought he deserved it, especially after hearing the judges comments. We plan on investigating thoroughly what the judges were thinking!!! Second and Third place winners seemed far more deserving in our opinion…. My friend Java did great, and was amongst the middle tier of players – young and up and coming, but not quite masterful yet. There were several, maybe even 6 or 8 players who seemed like they did not belong on the stage with the others….. But it was a marathon of hearing a wide variety of styles and pieces, a great way to spend the afternoon. Afterwords a group of us treated ourselves to a real sit down dinner in a nice yet reasonable restaurant (we are all on a budget!): sushi, sashimi, salads, beer, sake, the works. We had our own room of 4 tables sitting four each, on the floor, but with cutouts for your legs to dangle. Fun, delicious, fantastic! Yesterday the festival activities continued, with about 9 hours of concerts and workshops. Sometimes three events overlapped, and a few times they were at different venues. It’s going to be hard to pick and choose between them. In the morning I was joined by room mate Barbara, in a visit to the famous rock garden at the temple Ryoan-ji, where John Cage was inspired to write his famous piece that I have performed many times. We figured out the 45 minutes bus trip there and were treated to seeing a bit more of Kyoto. I sat at the rock garden and played shakuhachi for about 30 minutes and no one seemed to mind. It was another one of those amazing Japan experiences. After that, we ate our bento box lunches, learned the bus ride back, and found our way to the Art Center where the day’s activities began.Crowded huge room of shakuhachis for sale, lots of reunion time with people arriving just now form the States, Australia, and Europe. Very exciting as lectures, workshops and concerts began. I assisted Chrsi Blaisdel again in his workshop, and then I watched two workshops by Matama sensei and Furuya sensei on Rando pieces and San’an. Got it all on tape. Learned so very much, fantastic day!. But it wasn’t over yet. A bunch of us grabbed a taxi and headed over to a cool jazz club where Brian Ritchie and Pepe (sorry don’t remember last name) performed. They will be there again tonight with Ty the tabla player. This was great to be in a jazz club in Kyoto!!! From start to finish it was a 15 hour long day. We arrived at Otani Hall, just before midnight, when they lock the doors, hot tub waiting for us and a much deserved fantastic sleep!!! This morning I meet with a shakuhachi maker to take a look at a 2.4 instrument (that’s big long shakuhachi). I’ve been shopping and I’ve heard his flutes are great and reasonably priced. We’ll see. It’s a very personal thing to see what flute fits your hands and fingers. There’s no telling if he has the one for me…………..Lots of people have asked me to write more about what it was like in the trailer, what it was like to practice so much, be alone, structure my time. They act curious and also I sense they would have difficulty being able to figure out how to do this. Sorry all, but it came easy to me, I fell into a nice routine, and could have gone on for months longer… Maybe because of my music school background, the idea of practicing 6-8 hours a day is not foreign, but really, to describe it would just sound boring, like a schedule chart of things to do, blow by blow (so to speak…) Let’s just say I established enjoyable habits that I hope to take home with me. I was ecstatic to be able to play that much and see light speed progress.  And  doing this away from home, without distractions, surrounded by the culture, sights, language, and food of Japan was an amazing experience. Now I’m onto a more passive and sponge like stage! LOL!!! I get to sit in concert halls and listen to masters perform for 4 days straight. That’s another sort of magic!

I almost forgot to talk about our trip to another temple where we dressed as Komuso and walked around the grounds! Everyone wore something they brought (I’m in my Aikido gi which passes for summer wear by Komuso!) and added borrowed tengai hats and other clothing of the wandering shakuhachi playing monks. At the main gates we attracted a big crowd, and finally were kicked out! But then found a quieter location where we were able to take more photos. Lots and lots of fun!!! Once again, to all my readers, thanks for your patience. I will post lots and lots of photos when I’m back home and can continue writing about it all with more sleep and and real internet service. HAHAHA. If I’m lucky I’ll post one more time while I’m here. I fly back and arrive home the same day, Wednesday June 6. I can’t believe I’m going back to the US in a matter of days. Get ready for some posts about culture shock 🙂

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Shakuhachi Camp in Kyoto

Shakuhachi Camp is intense enough when we’re in Boulder, Colorado. But it doesn’t compare to having camp in Japan… Nonstop playing, lessons, classes, socializing. In Boulder, we stay at a retreat center with an easy walk to the dining hall where we eat together, there are mid morning and afternoon snacks, and most people have their own rooms, sharing bathrooms only. Space is ample, and there is plenty  of privacy if one desires. Life is easy…Here in Kyoto, however, it’s a different story! We are all staying in a dormitory like building (Otani Hall) across the street and with great views of a gorgeous and huge temple, one of the largest in Japan. Our building has several stories, rooms have tatami mat floors, and seating is Japanese style, on knees or cross legged, on pillows, on the floor. There are low tables for music or eating. Sleeping is on futons with comforters and buckwheat filled (or a plastic imitation) pillows. There are only 10 women, but something like 50 plus men. The men’s sleeping room is huge, but I hear they are still quite crowded. The women’s room has plenty of space, and really, it’s quite nice. During the day, we fold up our bedding, because the rooms are used for classes and private lessons. Suitcases and belongings are set aside – we still have access – but space is at a premium. Meals are being brought in (bento boxes) and we eat in one room together. There are bathrooms with sinks and toilets on each floor. However, only one bathing room with 4 showers and one large Japanese traditional style deep bath. Even numbered hours of the day are for men, odd numbered hours are for women. Or, one can choose to go to the public bathhouse just a block away, for 370 yen. It’s a good deal, and a bit of a “getaway!” So while life here at the camp is a bit crowded, and maybe some would say difficult, we are constantly surrounded by the sound of the shakuhachi, and we have a built in shared interest and philosophy, so intense friendships are forming every moment. It is total communal living. It has it’s ups and downs, but generally speaking, it’s quite a unique and wonderful experience. In addition to helping out at registration, I am one of several assistants to the organizers, and if something needs doing, we all try to help out. In the mid morning break I tend to the sales counter where sensei are selling CDs and books. Right now I have an envelope in my bag with a huge wad of 10,000 yen bills and tons of change. My brain is being challenged mathematically AND linguistically by having to give change in Japanese! Attending classes has been great, and I love it that I’m sitting with friends from all over the world, not just those I know from the Boulder camp, but many I haven’t seen since the festival and camp in Sydney 4 years ago. And this time, since I can speak a bit of Japanese, it’s really fun to talk with people I met in Sydney that I couldn’t speak with back then. Also, several of us were commenting on how much our playing has grown in 4 years. It’s a real benchmark for us! Today I also assisted Christopher Blaisdel at his workshop on relaxation techniques for shakuhachi players. We did a lot of the physical exercises we had worked on together with Chris’ dancer friend about a month ago, and some Aikido techniques I know well. What great fun to have a room full of 70 musicians jumping around and rolling on the floor!! Today’s big adventure was a field trip to a Myoan temple (special sect/lineage of shakuhachi playing). About 30 of us loaded into 7 taxis and made our way through Kyoto traffic and across the river.  It was so different than the temples I’d visited in Chichibu, so much more refined, simple, yet incredibly beautiful. It had a particularly lovely and serene garden, with a cool carpet of bright green moss, bamboo, some small pools and rocks with water. Shoji screens inside and out, some removed for the time being to create more space indoors, and as the room became wamer with so many people inside, the outer ones were slid open to allow more breeze. We were given a tour, and by special pre-arrangement, we sat and as a group played Kyorei, an old old honkyoku, people say it’s the oldest piece. After we played, the monk lit incense and candles, and we were instructed to, one by one, go to the altar, say whatever silent prayers we wished, bow, and take a good look inside where there was a statue of a monk playing shakuhachi. Throughout our trip to the temple, the tour, and our performance and prayers, a huge thunderstorm was under way: lightning, big downpour, and it just wasn’t letting up. So the head monk said he would play a piece for us and hope that when he finished, the rain would stop for our trip back to Otani Hall. It was a beautiful, long piece, but the storm and thunder continued. We were asked if one of the students wanted to volunteer to give another offering of a piece to the temple. No one volunteered. So it was suggested that the person from farthest away play something, and maybe by then, the rain would stop. So a student from Germany played. Fabulous, lovely. And the rain continued. Not that we minded. The place, the setting, was magical, and hearing all this music, beautifully played, with the sound of rain, thunder, and the drips of rain in a small pond that was forming…..well, it was stunning, people were crying, and for many of us, it was the first time seeing such a place, the garden, the moss, the shoji screens, the wooden carvings of the architecture. So then, it was suggested that a woman play. All eyes went to me. But I hadn’t brought any music with me and I wasn’t about to play my newly memorized, long, difficult, and famous piece under these most special (but pressured) circumstances. But there was another woman there, from Australia (we had only just met), and someone had music of a piece we both knew, so we played that piece, Tamuke, together. It went well. We sort of covered for each other as we both got a little nervous and our sound faded in and out a bit at times. But really, we did beautifully. It was a lovely experience to play in this small special temple, with a group of like minded and supportive, appreciative people, and several monks and high level shakuhachi masters present. And yet, as we finished Tamuke, it was still thundering, lightning and pouring. So, another volunteer was asked to play. No Japanese student had yet played. And not one would volunteer. But a student from Taiwan did, and played Shika no Tone in the solo version, a very lovely rendition.  Through the raindrops, we could hear the deer calling to each other in the far off forest! And finally, the rain stopped. We had a bit more of a tour and explanation of the photographs of past head monks, statues, screen paintings, the garden, and then we all slowly dispersed, on our own for the way back home. After dinner, we had our first short break in two days before a planned panel discussion. I decided to go to the public bath (the onsen) by myself. Just needed some alone time. You know, it’s been a real culture shock for me to go from 6 weeks on my own, living alone, in the mountains in Chichibu, to living with 70 or so people, in the middle of a big city! I really have missed my alone time, and being able to eat, sleep, practice, read, have quiet or coffee or conversation any time I feel like it! And also, I’m finding that being at the camp, where, although there are several langagues being spoken and translated (Japanese, English, Chinese, and some smattering of European languages), mostly I’m hearing and speaking English. The majority of participants are Americans, Australians, or Europeans who have that language in common. Even though there are many Japanese here, I get the feeling that many of these Japanese participants speak English, and as a whole, to a greater degree than people on the street. And, the Japanese being translated is very polite, well spoken Japanese. It’s different than what I’ve been hearing on the street with everyday people in shops. I can feel my Japanese slipping already, by not using it and searching for words every day.  So tonight, going to the onsen alone was a great idea. I had more conversation, more interaction than when I’m walking around with a group, especially a group of other westerners. Or, with a Japanese speaking person who is, in effect, taking care of everything for me… I would rather be alone, and have these fun, interesting, and sometimes silly experiences. Tonight at the onsen, the bathing part was ordinary and nothing odd happened, but while I was dressing in the “locker” room, I had a great conversation. I was dressing, putting on some light pants I bought in Chichibu, kindof long shorts really, in a print that looks like flowers from a distance, but up close you can tell it’s a print made from Mickey and Minnie Mouse! So I hear the ladies in the dressing room giggling a bit and saying “cute cute!!!” So I turn around and say hi and we talk about the pants. How its funny I come from LA, where Disneyland is, but I had to come to Japan to buy these pants! Then they of course asked the usual questions and I gave the usual answers. I started to hear their accent; I had been told Kyoto had a different accent and dialect and manner even, or if people were from nearby Osaka, there is a kindof roughness to the speech and personality. I heard it. Clearly. Fun. They complimented my Japanese, and I said, no no it’s terrible really… Then, as I was leaving, I thanked them for speaking with me because it helped me practice my Japanese. They seemed to really like that I did that. I left the onsen feeling so relaxed, confidant, good all over. The air was cool now after the rainstorm, and as I floated down the street, my body hot and still steamy from the hot tubs of course, but my heart warmed from the good feelings and conversations I had with these ladies. As I left, I realized that I never would have had that experience had I been with another person, or in a group. A lone traveller always has the best adventures and experiences. Even though I’ll be surrounded by the commeraderie of friends for my last few days in Japan, I’ll try to steal away some time each day for myself, so these little adventures can continue just a bit longer…

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Leaving Chichibu and arriving in Kyoto

ImageThe day I left Chichibu, I got up too early, or course. 4am and could not go back to sleep. It’s fine, I’m hopped up and ready to get to Kyoto! Pre-made breakfast, iced coffee, tea, food. Last bit of packing and closing up the trailer. So it’s a long travel day, but I’m writing this at 9:30 am, on the Shinkansen, the bullet train to Kyoto, because my connections were perfect and effortless!!!  A 30 minute walk to the Chichibu station – only that long because of all my baggage. I thought I had sent most of my heavy stuff home in the box and lightened up. Not. I still have too much stuff, too many bags. Oh well. I just don’t know how to travel light I guess J Caught the 6:45 train from Chichibu to Ikebukuro, but while waiting at the station, I practiced shakuhachi a bit. It was deserted when I began, but then a small group of people were there waiting for the trains, some taxi drivers listening chewing gum hanging around, and I met another shih tzu (I thought he was Maru with another owner, the daughter maybe? ImageBut no it was a different dog, his name was Wonkoru!) At Ikebukuero I had a short walk and 2 staircases to the JR Yamaonote line to Shinagawa, and just one elevator, one escolator and a short walk to the Shinkansen ticket office. ImageTransaction was easy, they took my credit card, I knew the exact words to say and I caught the next train in 10 minutes at 9:07! Wow. Efficient, easy, fun. ImageThe train is more like an airplane than any train I’ve been on. There are stewardesses who look at your tickets, go around in carts with washcloths, food and drinks. ImageI got the reserved, green car, with bigger seats and only 2 next to each other with an ample aisle in between and plenty of storage overhead or in the back of each car for baggage. It feels like first class in an airplane.Image There are hook ups for your computer, radio, heated seats for winter, and wireless for those who live here. My laptop and iphone do not recognize the wifi…. The train is smooth and really moves. I find it a little difficult to look out the windows at passing scenery. It’s disorienting because its faster than a car or train but not as fast as a plane. Having had one experience with vertigo on this trip, I don’t want another, so I’m looking at the slower moving horizon or nothing at all…  While I muse on fashion, I’ll show pics of train toilets!!!! LOL ImageSome observations on fashion in Tokyo. I hadn’t been to or through Tokyo in a few weeks. Chichibu is, you know, the boonies, so everyone is super casual, just wearing jeans, sweats, work clothes. Or school uniforms or business suits. That’s it. No style. One trip into Ikebukuro (and that’s not even the center of Tokyo, or where all the fashion really happens) and I’m bombarded suddenly with the levels of interesting clothes people wear. Oh yeah, probably 80% of the people are casual or in uniform, just like in Chichibu, and there are plenty of sneakers and ball caps. ImageBut when people dress up, they really dress up. The young women, in the short skirts or shorts, the high knee socks pulled higher to look like stockings, this cute sexy school girl look is so cool! And then, Everything is ornamented to be unique or different: cell phones, purses, and backpacks have charms hanging off of them, the more the better. And in the more extreme cases, the charms are not just the ordinary small plastic or ceramic ones, but big, fluffy, furry ones, like you’ve got a few cozy pets you’re carrying around with you all day long. ImageNails are ornamented not just with polish, but with stars and glitter, gel and faux jewels. Cell phones have mirrors on one side so you can check your makeup while checking your email, talking on Facebook,  listening to music or watching a movie. It’s high tech, while being girlie, flirty, original. And probably most of all, gives young women a way to be individuals instead of just staying in the box of conformity. OK I almost missed it. While writing this, I heard the tell tale sound of cameras clicking. Lots of cameras, all around me. ImageI looked up form the laptop and saw: Mt Fuji, Big, right outside my window!!! I got some pics. Oh wow. ImageShe’s big and beautiful, snowy, and I saw the top! With only a little bit of clouds. The pics are not great, she looked way bigger from the train. But it’s good enough for me. I’m a very happy person right now! I saw Fuji san!!!!!!! ImageAnd yes, I got to Kyoto. Exited the train station in the wrong direction, which led to an extra long walk with luggage in the heat. ImageA young girl helped me find my way, and I asked her in the course of our walk if she liked Disneyland. Who doesn’t, right? And yes, I gave her a Disneyland postcard and she nearly fainted on the sidewalk. Fun. Thanks for those postcards Shelley. Lots of fun!!! ImageIt’s hot. There’s no wifi. But today (my second day here) someone found it. hee hee. I’m writing this sitting in a parking lot behind a hotel, next to a 7 11, down the street from the temple and our lovely tatami mat rooms. ImageKyoto’s interesting, not at all what I expected. I’ll write more next blog post. For now, I have to quickly post this and get back to work at shakuhachi camp, which is in full swing. It’s great to see so many shakuhachi players from all over the world in the same room. Over 60 participants, 15 teachers.Image My teacher’s two sons were here yesterday helping out and we got to horse around making the name tags for everyone in the office. Today all my shakuhachi friends from the Boulder camp, and some I haven’t seen since the last festival in Sydney are here. It’s a big reunion. ImageI’m also meeting new friends and players, form China, Taiwan, Australia, all over the US, and Europe, as well as Japan of course. I’m assisting with small things, like computer work, registering people and showing them around, and generally helping out as need be. It’s chaotic but everyone is settling in nicely. Now that I’ve found wifi (hahaha) I get check in maybe once a day, or every other day. I’ll write via Microsoft word and download pics ahead of time so as to minimize time sitting on asphalt in the hot Kyoto humid sun!! So, all for now, talk to you all soon.Image

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On the river: last day in Chichibu

ImageLike magic, my last day here has been a perfect, warm, blue sky, sunny day. Not one cloud, no rain, and finally summer. ImageThe kind of day that just screams at you to get outdoors and have some summer fun, eat ice cream, play hooky, drink iced coffee too late in the afternoon (yes, I’m at Wa writing this now with Brazilian jazz on in the background 😉 ImageSo I finally made it to the river for a boat cruise: Imagelong wooden boat, one person steering up front with a really big bamboo pole. Some rapids, lots of fun. Packed with a light bag of snacks, water, plastic bags for valuables, little jacket just in case, I rode the bike to the closest station, the little local one, Ohanabatake, and hopped a train to Nagatoro, a town just a little farther than I had ridden to the farthest away temple. ImageFrom the train windows, I could even recognize the area, the terrain and some streets. I’m really becoming a local 🙂 30 minutes later, arriving and finding Nagatoro to be a cute, small town, mainly geared towards the tourist trade of river rafting, boat cruises, and kayaking. If I’d know more Japanese, or met people who do it, I would’ve loved to go out on the rapids in a kayak. But not being skilled at that myself, no equipment, no past experience, ImageI figured the tour boat was a safer bet. and it was still lots of fun. Ticket purchase went smoothly, and timing was good. I only had a little 20 minute wait for the bus that takes you to the starting point. So I made the rounds of the town, bought more snacks, some local dried and salted vegetables, delicious! And more iced tea. Samples everywhere of pickled vegetables, and some were in the shape of a shark. ImageImageYup. Remember the poster with the whales and fossils? Well, there used to be sharks here too. You can buy shark teeth 🙂 I didn’t. So a lot of the shops have fossil stuff, and cool crystals and stones, mala beads and necklaces, and that’s right up my alley… I could have bought dozens. ImageImageBut I didn’t buy anything. I’m a poor American tourist, relying on samples for lunch today 🙂 LOL Seriously the dollar just plunged again. Now, 1000 Yen is $12.50. When I arrived it was $12. Doesn’t sound like a lot does it? But multiply by many zeroes and believe me it adds up. Basic food starts to feel very expensive. I’ve barely had fruit in almost 2 months. Vegetables are also very very pricey. What’s left? Rice, noodles and tofu. I’ve probably gained 10 pounds 😦 Fish is not too expensive, in small amounts. Still, when I get home, I think I will gorge myself on green salads and strawberries 🙂 Anyway, back to the river cruise! ImageWe got off the bus, there was only a group of 7 of us. We got on the boat, everyone a little skittish. Put on life vests, and then were told where to sit. They have to balance the boat left and right… We were given some basic instructions on how to hold on to the sides of the boat, put any valuables in plastic bags, put your bags up off the floor of the boat, because that was going to get filled with water, and remember to hold up the plastic sheeting when needed. Got that? We took off and after a brief area of calm, we hit rapids. ImageI put the iphone away for 90% of the time on the hour long ride. It was fun. We got wet. Everyone screamed, did whoo hoos, and laughed a lot. We passed a huge rock, like, the size of a big whale in fact, and I figured this was the rock my sensei had told me was connected to the underground part of Chichibu city. This is the rock that protects Chichibu from earthquakes. We feel them here, but they don’t do damage. The rock protects the area. Cool. We were also treated to some nice waterfalls off to the side of the cliffs beside the river. So green, so cool on this hot day…. ImageI got off, along with two others, Imageat the half way point, actually the river brings you right back to the station where you started, very nice little trip. The others stayed on for the longer trip I had opted out of. I knew I had to practice a bit, get to Wa 😉 and pack….this was good enough for me. Getting back to the station required a nice hike up some stairs, and a walk through the town’s shops and food stalls. Fun. More snacks, samples, and window shopping. What a relaxed, pleasant, mellow atmosphere. A beautiful Saturday, good weather, plenty of people out with families, and of course, their dogs! ImageI saw sooo many cute dogs. ImageThe small ones, I was figuring out, are snuck on the trains in carriers and then the owners stash the carrier at the train station lockers. The big ones? I don’t know? Maybe they drove there? Anyway, lots of cuties, and yes, the Corgy and Bordie Collie I met do Agility! ImageSo that was a fun conversation right there, how their dogs were way better than my dogs at Agility, but how much fun it is anyway, for the humans too! Image But unfortunately they would not stay still for a good photo!! I got a special treat, in that the old train was making an appearance, and I grabbed photos not only of the train, but of the people taking pictures of the train, always fun.Image Also took a great little video, which I’ll post to Facebook.Image I saw another group of photo takers near a shop and couldn’t figure out what they were so enthralled over. ImageOn closer inspection, it was a nest full of baby birds!!! I was calling it “cute, small bird” so someone nearby taught me the word for “baby bird” and I immediately forgot it. That’s how it’s been going…unless I hear something over and over again, I don’t retain it. *sigh* The ride home was uneventful, but I planned the rest of the day: back to the trailer, do a bit of practicing and packing, head out to Wa to write. By the time that’s all over it’ll be time to practice and pack more seriously, make a little dinner, and get to bed early. Very early train to catch to Kyoto in the morning….I’m a little bit sad. My last visit to the Wa cafe. My last night in Chichibu, last night at the trailer. Going to miss this town. I’m sure I’ll be back, maybe in a different season? Fall/WInter? Of course, adventure awaits in Kyoto, lots and lots of friends there for the shakuhachi camp and festival. Living in a temple! Futons! Tatami mats! Really, it’s going to be awesome. But the solitude and intensive practice time I had here was everything I wanted it to be. And more. So, I’ll be taking tons of pics and writing my blog via a Word document, to be transferred here whenever I have an internet connection. Gonna have to play that all by ear. Those of you who have been following and reading regularly, thank you so much for becoming fans and making comments!!! And I apologize for disappointing or keeping you waiting these last days of my trip.  I will go thru a bit of blogging withdrawal too probably. I hope to get to it as often and quickly as possible. So, this is Sayonara, for now 🙂Image


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the beauty of form following function

Since finishing my bicycling temple tour, I’ve been walking and running more. Seeing things around town at a slower pace is nice because you can start and stop easily, see more details, go into stores and generally have more mobility to vary the speed of observation.  When you know your way around a bit, and aren’t always wondering where you are, or looking for a particular place, you begin to relax and notice more details and nuance. Kindof  like learning a piece of music! So I’m seeing more of what was always right in front of me. Of course, I noticed immediately upon arrival in the country how clean everything is. You never see any trash anywhere. And the odd thing is, there doesn’t  seem to be many public trash bins around! Maybe an occasional one for recycling near a vending machine, or in front of a convenience store. But not in the train stations, not on public street corners. People just don’t generate a lot of trash when they’re out and about. You see kids and business people on their way to school and work and they are carrying lunch boxes or the Japanese version: cloth wrapped around bento boxes. Not plastic bags full with of snacks wrapped in more plastic for the day, not a Starbucks paper cup, not a wad of napkins stuffed in a pocket. In 7 weeks, I have not seen one scrap of trash. Anywhere. And then, in a place like Chichibu where…I’d describe it as somewhat suburban/quasi-rural, and close to very rural, so there’s lots and lots of trees and flowers everywhere…. there is not one leaf blower!!!! Yay!!!! LOL. So, instead, you get nice quiet streets with a pleasant array of leaves and flowers surrounding your path. In front of individual houses or shops, people go outside with small beautiful handmade brooms, and sweep a little area in front of the doorway, or the path to the door only, so that you don’t track in anything. And since everyone does that, in front of homes and shops, the area where most foot traffic is stays neat and tidy, allowing for the wild areas to be more wild and natural. But that’s it. And of course, since you’re taking off shoes anyway, houses are kept far more spotless than any western home, with less effort spent on housecleaning I’m imagining… Architecture, gardens, doorways and entrances, furniture, bedding, even clothing and packing of suitcases, is all done with space saving and efficiency in mind. It’s a very small island with a lot of people. Even though there is a lot of open space in the countryside, there seems to be a control against the growth of cities outwards from the center. So, unlike America, where the open spaces have slowly been filled with an exploding population and suburban sprawl, here things are dense within the cities, but with plenty of green space left outside of them. That density has affected how people live and plan their homes, and the necessary functions have created incredibly beautiful and serene forms. (The old “form follows function” idea come to life!)

So, sliding doors, windows, and shoji screens are more normal than doors or windows that open in/out because they use less space! Bedding is put away in clean sliding door closets so that the room may be emptied and/or used for other, multiple purposes throughout the day. Floors are tatami or wood, clean and cool for the climate. Even lighting a room is so well thought out – lamps are so beautifully designed to not heat up, and to give just the right amount of light, looking modern and gorgeous while doing so. Everyone knows how to travel light, going on long trips with small bags of beautifully folded lightweight clothing. I think part of the reason is the tradition, knowledge and habit of folding. It’s not just origami for fun and pleasure! I’ve noticed that there is a way people fold everything here, from futon and bedding, to an elegantly wrapped gift. Even clothing put out for pickup by the trash collectors is folded perfectly in stacks and tied with string. Of course it is! It takes up less space that way then if it were just thrown crumpled in a bag! The folds in clothing, in boxes and gifts, is imitated and replicated in noodle making, in the folds of a kimono, in the neat rows of vegetables, the vertical beams of window shades, and the tile and ceramic rooftops. It’s everywhere.  The other day, I saw two workmen repairing a blemish in the street. No jackhammer. They used a couple of small chisels and little hammers, and then with brooms and hand tools and a little portable cement, patched it up. It’s like some mastermind has devised the most efficient, least offensive way to do every task, and that’s just how it’s done.

Quietly, efficiently, with a communal bent, recycling always in mind, with space saving always in mind, and with a politeness and thoughtfulness for others comfort at all times. I’d like to think, or hope, that I can take even a small percentage of that sensibility home with me. And I’m sure I will. But I know better. Here, these things are embedded deep into the culture, over many hundreds and thousands of years. It is beyond just habit, it’s a way of life and it’s nearly unthinkable to live any other way. Western culture, and especially American culture, has different roots. We have the history of a vast frontier, so big that people thought it was infinite, and in a way, expendable. We have the history of “every man for himself,” which spawned an extremely creative, great individualistic culture, but also one that is selfish and capitalistic. (Not that there’s anything wrong with capitalism. But when it’s at the expense of losing sight of more important things, like the environment, like the arts, like education, I have difficulties with it…) So it would be impossible to – overnight – change the ways of the west to become more like the east.  But I’m thinking there’s no way one goes home from here totally unchanged. I expect to ride my bike and walk more than I already did. I expect to take composting and recycling more seriously than I have been lately. I don’t expect to suddenly take mass transit on my long commute (it doesn’t exist!), or change where I live because of it (can’t sell a house in this market and besides, I like where I live!), or even, to buy a small car (above all else, I value my comfort on those 400 miles a week!). Oh well. I’d like to think I could tear up my backyard and plant a huge vegetable garden, but I know better. I’ve tried in the past.  The soil and climate where I live is just not suitable. I’ll have to settle for citrus fruit trees, drought tolerant plants, and farmers markets. More clean, serene, open spaces inside the home, nicer storage, and getting rid of clutter? Oh yeah, that I can do. Politeness during ones daily activities? Yes I will do more and more of that. Here, it’s easy, because everyone is polite, so you can be polite back without even thinking. Here, even the signs asking that you not allow your dog to poop on this spot are extremely polite! At home, in the US, so many people are rude, it’s much more difficult to remain polite and civilized. But in a way, that’s the best challenge of all. To be serene in an un-serene world. So, in little ways, I plan to bring some of Japan home with me. I thought I’d become addicted to the wonderful array of tea here. But imagine my surprise, because the one thing I can’t bring home, and it’s a total shock that I’d find this here: it’s the very best espresso I’ve ever had in my life. I will really miss WaPlus Coffee, the actual espresso, as well as the the cafe itself. What a dreamy little spot I’ll remember forever.

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