One of the things that is both so endearing and frustrating about Japan is that it is truly a culture without irony. It is a culture that can have an official Coming of Age ceremony at Disneyland and see no irony in it at all. You know all those whacky commercials Japan is famous for? These are only possible in a country without irony, and indeed those commercials are not actually ironic, which makes them all the more amazing.
This is a small shrine I came across on a recent walk through Kyoto. The large red sign says “God of Academics”, while the two vertical black and white signs on either side say, essentially, throw money in and pray here for academic success and getting into a good school. This is all perfectly normal, but I loved the fact that the same shrine would also put up the vertical wooden sign to the far right, which says “Fortune-Telling School.”
I don’t usually get much culture beyond poopy diapers and Thomas the Tank Engine, so sometimes it’s refreshing to go into Kyoto and indulge myself. As I had last year, this year I went to my favorite shakuhachi-busking corner at Kiyamachi below Sanjo, right beside a babbling brook and under a bunch of cherry blossoms, to play for everyone and hopefully make some change. That last is of course ancillary to the whole enterprise, but adds an element of fun and chance human interaction.
I played just to the left of where you can see in this photo. Lots of people stopped on this bridge to watch me play.
These next three photos were taken by my friend Jeffrey, who dropped by with his son Anthony to watch and take photos before going to a photography exhibit (shown below).
Reminder to self: Iron shirt first next timefull exif
One of my favorite things about doing this is talking to people. This time I met three old ladies, in their 60′s or 70′s. At first they stopped and listened for a few moments, then each gave me a 1000 yen (about 10 dollars) before moving on. This was remarkable for its generosity, and I gave them a bow-while-playing. A while later they came back again, and started requesting certain songs. At this point it was obvious that, although they spoke decent Japanese, they were definitely from somewhere else. I asked and they said they were from Korea. So, I played them the two Korean folk songs that I know by heart. It was very nice, although the entire experience was tinged by the knowledge that most likely the only reason we could communicate at all was because they had grown up in Japanese-occupied Korea, and had been forced to learn the language at school.
Just as I was putting my flute away an elderly Japanese couple approached and started talking to me. The lady said that she really liked shakuhachi, so I took my flute out again and began to play a simple song. At his wife’s urging, the husband began to sing along with me. It was a nice little impromptu duet, and I was glad to have Jeffrey there to capture the moment. Afterward, as I was packing up again, I learned that the lady likes exactly the kind of classical shakuhachi music I specialize in, which is pretty remarkable. It’s the kind of esoteric genre that only those who actually play it make an effort to listen to. (All the songs I play in situations like this street performance are purely shakuhachi arrangements of well-known, 20th century songs.)
After that we all went to a photography exhibit by Sawa Kenji (佐和賢爾), a Buddhist priest and my photography teacher (although that implies a more formal relationship than actually exists). I had seen one of the photographs before, laid out on the floor of his temple, so I had lured Jeffrey out with the promise of an incredible show, and he wasn’t disappointed. I’ll let the photographs below speak for themselves, but in case it’s hard to tell each scene is covered in three or four exposures, which are combined to make unified images. We got there at the very end of the last day, and I just happened to have my flutes with me, so I gave a short impromptu concert there for him and everybody else before they turned on the lights and started taking the photographs down. It was a nice moment.
We live about a kilometer away from the biggest lake in Japan, lake Biwa (about the size of lake Tahoe), and yet we rarely go there. Whenever we do, though, it’s always lots of fun. I’m hoping we end up spending more and more time in and by the lake as Genbo and Zoe get older.
The other day we went down to the shore and Genbo and Zoe had a ball. It reminded me of what might have been the last time, which was almost exactly a year ago. Hard to believe.
I haven’t posted for a long time, and I now have a suped-up customized posting system courtesy of Jeffrey, so this is going to be a long one.
First, Genbo on the way to the beach this time.
Almost the exact same shot one year ago
Now compare this Zoe…
With this one. Hard to believe it’s the same creature
Growing up means adventure!
Which sometimes means mishap!
“Genbo, I know the waves keep washing it ashore, but whill you stop throwing that empty beer can into the lake!”
Zoe is happy to play with mommy on the grass
Mother and daughter
…But one who loves his sister