Thursday, April 22, 2010


June 4, 2010

The aim of my Kyoto trip, among other things, was to catch up with some old friends. The big surprise was reconnecting with Rob Singer, a dai sempai (great older student) and onjin (benefactor) from way back when. Rob is an amazing character. He's curator of Japanese art at the LA County Museum of Art, and splits his time living in Los Angeles and Kyoto. I called him out of the blue to see if he'd be around in Kyoto when I visited, and he blew my mind by offering me a chance to freeload at one of his old machiya.

 Naomi Togashi, my old girlfriend from the late 1970s, with whom I've been in contact all these years, was also  very hospitable  She put me up at her house in the northern hills and treated me to a lot on Kyoto Kuisine. Her father, a prominent Kyoto sculptor I used to enjoy getting drunk with, was stricken acutely ill with a monster headache and vomiting a few days before I left and I insisted they take him directly to the emergency room. Apparently that advice saved his life. He had a hematoma on his brain. I didn't get to drink beer with him on this trip. 
At right is Minoru Togashi's sculpture in the Sanjo Keihin Station Plaza, with his thematic wavy design he calls Ku ni Kakeru Kaidan (Stairway to the Void).
I  got to see Jun Tomita, a very mellow textile artist friend who works with giant looms in his studio in a remote village in the western hills. I didn't see anyone from the eastern hills. There are no southern hills.  

My old drinking buddy from Kyoto University Tetsuya Matsuda MD and his wife Yuriko humored me when exhaustion and drink sabotaged my capacity to speak the Japanese language during an extraordinary dinner in Gion. He reminded me how to say aphasia in Japanese but I quickly forgot. (Is it beginning to sound like people drink too much in Japan? The government toughened up on the DUI law: The fine is $5,000. Seriously. People are scared sober. The law evidently is a subsidy for the taxi industry and helped launch a new service industry that drives intoxicated clients home in their own cars.)

Yasu Suzuka, featured in one of the posts above, lived up to his reputation as a hard-working mad artist. He took me to a local hot spring and fed me the best soba I've ever tasted. The bonus encounter was with Andrew Horvat, dai sempai from the Tokyo press corps who's in Kyoto directing a study-abroad program for Stanford. I saw Dallas Pyle all over the place, despite the fact the he was home in Maine, safe from all the ghosts of Kyoto past.  

June 9, 2010

The ribs were bruised, not cracked. No collapsed lungs due to deep pranayama breathing. The  welts on the top of my head have healed. Minoru Togashi is home from hospital and mending well.  I'm planning a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia this winter. .

Exhausted transit passengers waiting for a plane at Narita, one of the he world's worst international airports

Kyoto, the Town I Love

I'm returning to Japan after a long hiatus -- nearly five years. That's the longest absence since I first visited as student in 1973. This is a journal of my May 2010 very short trip to Kyoto, where I studied for a combination of three-and-a -half years during the 1970s. (At right, that's what I looked like when I first landed in Kyoto.)

I made every effort to revisit Kyoto when I was a journalist living in Tokyo in the 1980's and roving around Asia in the 1990's and early 2000's. I've seen Buddhist temples disappear and rice paddies drained, and rural hamlets demolished to make room for ferro-concrete homes. I grieved for the lovely shiden trolley system when it was torn up and replaced by shiny subway lines.

Some areas in the center of Kyoto are unrecognizable now as the old wooden buildings -- seasoned to a beautifully mottled dark-brown by decades and centuries of weather -- have been raised so that  architects could desecrate the city with contemporary eyesores.
Kyoto was spared fire bombing by the Americans during the Pacific War and removed from the short list of atomic bomb targets because right-minded people  recognized the crucial importance of its ancient cultural legacy to the Japanese and to the civilized world.

What does the city look like today? What's unchanged, such as the little red mailbox I constructed at the entry of of my apartment 33 years ago when I was foreign  student at Kyoto University. I'm told it's still there. (Thats me on the left when I last visited in 2006.) 

Is there something extraodinary and deep about Kyoto that you can't necessarily see but will endure for another thousand years?