For whom the band plays

At the center of the dusty field, a troop of six-year olds stood in tight formation, dressed in Western style marching band outfits. It looked to my eyes like a tribute to UCLA marching in the Rose Parade, only I stood on elementary school grounds in Ashikaga, Japan in Tochigi prefecture.

The six year old boys and girls banged their drums and cymbals and spun around. A line of children stood stationary, playing little trumpet riffs on old school Yamaha keyboards. A particularly powerful six-year old boy pounded his gigantic standing Pearl drum so hard it jolted from its stand and into the dusty field below. Teachers scrambled to get it set back up. The show went on.

Beyond the intricately white-chalked infield, a bank of tents provided shade to clusters of parents and grandparents sitting in folding chairs. They slurped yakisoba noodles, incurred brain freezes over rainbow colored shaved ice and sipped their cups of tea. The ones who weren’t eating were holding video cameras. Capturing the moment, the moments, all of them during the 8 hour event. There would be hours and hours of footage and their kids will have only been in a 15-minute segment of it. That’s respect.

Beyond the orderly row of tents lay the concession stands. Fashionable teenagers with awkward English phrases on their shirts like ‘Crosed for Season’ devoured the festival fare. Leather faced college students with tidal waves of spiked hair walked through the proceedings, smoking and squinting and remembering their now distant childhood in the marching band. Ah, memories.

At the very back of the proceedings sat clusters of fathers and grandfathers. Detached from the rest of the community. Scowling faces and random limbs peering out of a constant haze of cigarette smoke. The band did not play for them. They snorted and wheezed, becoming one. The mothers with small children held their breaths and walked quickly through the area. The old men spoke loudly and brashly, letting everyone know that the elders of the village were still on patrol.

The marching band was building to a crescendo. The six-year old maestro flapping her arms with gusto, exactly on time. The band doing a decent enough job of keeping that time. And then it was done. The band closed. They quickly discarded their instruments onto giant blue tarps and formed a human pyramid under the supervision of their teachers. The camcorders captured it all. The village elders missed it all. And then the next act took the center of the field. Fathers lined up to jump rope, ten at a time. And so sports day ebbed and flowed. Our duties done, we headed offsite for lunch. The village elders could not leave. Bound by familial and community duty. Although, they could leave at any moment if they really wanted to. And everyone knew it.

'Japanese food commercial'

Flying bits of food in white space.
Disembodied celebrity head,
Licking lips. Eyes bulging.

Mouth opens and receives the flying bits.
Kinetic energy boosts.
Type appears, comic style.

The celebrity screams.
A good scream.
'Delicious!' they declare.

Now, at a local bar,
Or family dinner tables, or in the office.
They consume the food product again.

Now, smiling family or coworkers appear.
And eat the bits. 
And scream out in joy.

This food product is number 1!
We are reminded.
And then forced to read much text.

In one second.

Pastime is Nowtime.

Pastime is Nowtime.

John Lennon Bread

An hour shinkansen ride from Tokyo station gets you to Karuizawa. A little town surrounded by a picture perfect green ring of mountains. Upon leaving the station, the modern traveller is greeted with two choices. Head south and get stuck in an enormous ring of newly minted outlet malls. Or head north, onto the historic shopping street, and into the green mountains beyond.

Being modern travellers, we opted for both. I mean it was a little chilly being right on the cusp of fall, so we bought some extra layers and then headed for the mountains.

Our hotel, the Pension Uehara, lay just off the main shopping street, kind of built into the woods.An A-frame structure with a couple of floors. A basic ski lodge style facility, with a sweet staff ushering in all the visitors like family.

With our bags dropped off, we continued further down the shopping street. Passing all manner of real estate offices, rental bike shops and restaurants. Eventually we came to a little french bakery called French Bakery, that once famously served bread to John Lennon and his family. Karuizawa makes for a perfect, small town retreat where even the most famous musician in the world could go to be anonymous and blend into the woods.

The sun went down and the shops started closing all at once. We found a modern mini mall that looked like something you might find in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Everything was dark, but we walked to the backside of the open air mall just in case. Turned out a gigantic Italian / pizza place was open. We were the only guests. The realities of the off season beginning to sink in. We ate and talked as our kids danced like they owned the place.

The next day we visited another resort set up along a river in the middle of the woods. The buildings in the complex were woven between and wound around trees like a modern remake of the Ewok village. The buildings were all finished in a beautiful black painted wood.

We opted for the marquee soba shop out of the ten or so restaurants and cafes in the complex. On one wooden landing they had built an outdoor library with wooden columns packed with book shelves. Everything about the place was designed uniquely.

Kamakura, Japan. A town carved from the mountains resulting in a living treasure map dotted in temples and surfer dudes.

Kamakura dragon dawg.

Kamakura dragon dawg.

Timeout deck.

Timeout deck.

Reflection Beyond Capture

I sat in the middle of a garden of sand.
With Japanese maples looking on.
Or maybe they were just maples,
Since I was in Japan.

Only the sand was water.
And the raked circles made by leaf,
Not by monks’ rake.
But the atmosphere was the same.

The leaves fell.
At an even pace.
Not unlike a screensaver,
Designed to relax citizens of desks.

Fiery leaves, falling triumphantly,
Announcing their down fall at half speed.
Pleasing us onlookers.
Letting us exist in ‘a moment.’

A living diary entry. This garden.
With its consistent low wind soundtrack,
And the sun reflecting in perfect watery gleams.
The production level was top class.

A bird chirped every 10 seconds.
Maybe 11.
Water trickled from some mountain stream, unseen.
The hot spring theatre was fully set.

The mountain boulders were precisely placed.
A mystic tutorial in composition.
Every stone moss covered, some with tiny trees blossoming.
I wished to arrange my thoughts like that.

The sky, brilliant blue as if to battle the fire leaves.
I looked up and saw freedom and possibility.
The leaves raced like pirate ships across the pond,
Full of loot and secret wisdom.

I painted the wispy autumn clouds with my mind.
First with a watery ink brush, then with a pencil. Roughly.
I closed my eyes and committed the scene to memory.
For no picture could confine this moment.

Karuizawa, Japan

Shibuya calling.

Shibuya calling.

Ghosts of a festival.

Ghosts of a festival.

The Ashikaga clouds getting all Kurosawa with it.

The Ashikaga clouds getting all Kurosawa with it.

Shinjuku evening.

Shinjuku evening.

How the east was won

The East was won by being first.

By carving enormous beings into the walls of stone cliffs.

By claiming the sun as her own.

By painting legends over the fibres of gold tapestries.

By tangling war with art.

By making poetry the key to religion

and to armies.

By treating language as a sword.

By taking offense to a dirty look.

By severing ties on a whim.

On bad mustard.

By forsaking love for power.

Turning ambition into castles

and artifacts and the kinds of things

that tourists now Instagram for granted.

By respecting tradition.

By inventing tradition.

By inventing numbers.

So that we can all keep score

and understand how much we’re losing by.

By distilling the sun to fire.

And making it a play thing

to celebrate inevitable victories.

By speaking lies with authority.

At gun point and missile tip.

By setting clocks to untruth.

By bending reality in convenient directions.

By organizing.

and memorizing.

and cloning bodies and virtues alike.

And now the sun sets.

The fireworks erupt.

The tapestries stand tall.

Ambition unravels.

Another victory is implied.

Nike Japan - Just Do It ‘Your Step’

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