Time Travel

Posted on Monday, May 07, 2018, under , , , ,

Many of us have dreamed of being transported in time to a world entirely at odds with the one we live in. Suppose a time machine were invented and is now at hand. A question then: if you had a choice, which era / place would you want to end up in? Me, I always head a weak spot for the ancient Athens: it would be lovely to wash vegetables together with Diogenes or play poker with Socrates.

Well, last Sunday April 29th, at Jōnangū shrine in south Kyoto I did experience time-travel of sorts. Twice a year – in spring and autumn – the shrine hosts a re-enactment of an ancient poem-composing ritual, called Kyokusui no Utage曲水の宴 (Wandering Stream Banquet). It is a ceremony going back to the late Nara period (8th C.). The practice slowly died out as the samurai gained political power, until a revival in the mid 20th century.  

© DiscoverKyoto
Seven waka masters (5 men, 2 ladies) dressed in rich silk robes gracefully proceed onto a moss-carpeted garden and, after receiving the season's theme from the shrine priests, seat themselves along a garden stream, and write their poems on strips of paper to the tune of a koto melody wafting through the air. As the small cups of sake are sent sailing down the stream on bird-shaped boats, the poets occasionally lift the cup and take a sip. Once the waka have been composed, the strips of paper are collected and what follows is the highlight: the poems are finally read, or rather chanted out by a mini-choir of Shinto priests: a powerful, expressive harmony of complementary voices.

‘This was life!’ I said to myself, gradually drawn into this world of elegance, ritual and beauty. In fact I don’t recall ever being so at one with the environs so peculiar. I would like to reconsider my first choice for the time-travel.

Click below to watch videos.

Gagaku music with Shirabyoshi dance

Composing cum sake drinking

Priests intoning one of the 7 poems

Finale: Poets tottering back to their seats (that sake must've been rich!)

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Pigs and Greeks

Posted on Friday, March 23, 2018, under , , ,

For the third day running the rain is lashing against the windows, powerful gales are shaking the shutters, assaulting a rare passer-by or whoever heroically waits at the bus stop. Just below the house the furrows on the vegetable field are saturated with rainwater, brushwood and green onion stalks lying low, looking beaten. Shrouded in thick mist, Mount Hiei smoulders like a massive pyre. Up the famous mountain, somewhere deep in the forest, right now there are wild boars braving the cold.

I imagine them being constantly on the move, alone, trudging the mud from tree to tree, sniffing, looking to shelter from the relentless squall. Recently there has been a resurgence of wild boar in and around the old capital. There have been numerous sightings, and on occasion an animal has been caught on camera, as was the case a few days ago when a well-rounded specimen roamed the grounds of Kyoto University campus.

Who can blame them? A hog is a hog. A hog longs for rummaging but unless one is a hog one does not know why. If I were a boar I’d likely do the same: I’d wallow, I’d forage, I’d drag my snout through dirt, I’d trespass, I’d raid, I’d invade.

In Greek Myth Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, is killed by a boar. Ovid’s Metamorphoses narrates the legend in ‘Venus and Adonis (and Atalanta)’. In it Aphrodite ‘pillows her head’ on Adonis’ chest as she recounts the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes, two ‘godless lovers’ who make passionate love in a cave shrine ‘older than a human race’, where the wooden images of the ancient gods ‘averted their carved faces in horror’. For their act of sacrilege Atalanta and Hippomenes are transmuted into a pair of lions, ‘with a thorny scrub of a nuptial chamber’.

Aphrodite finishes her tale with a somewhat cryptic message for Adonis to ponder:

            Oh dear love,
            These and others like them, that disdain
            To give your hounds a run but come out looking for the hunter,
            For my sake, O dear boy, let them lie.
            Do not ruin our love with your recklessness.
                                                Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid, p.141

Alas, soon enough the Fates interfere with the most tragic outcome:

            [Adonis’] hounds woke a wild boar in a wallow.
            When this thug burst out his boar-spear’s point
            Glanced off the bone into the hump of muscle.

            The boar deftly hooked the futile weapon
            Out of the wound and turned on the hunter,
            Overtook the boy’s panic scramble,

            Bedded its dagger tusks in under his crotch
            Then ploughed him with all its strength as if unearthing
            A tough tree’s roots, till it hurled him aside, mangled.
                                                Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid, p.141-2

In Homer’s Odyssey, the eponymous hero was injured in the thigh as a boy during a boar hunt. The boar emerges suddenly, close by Odysseus

But first [before he could strike] the boar struck him
above the knee, and gashed much of his flesh with his tusk.
                                                Odyssey, 19; 449-450

The scar on his leg proves to be a blessing in disguise when, many years later, it leads Eurycleia to recognize Odysseus on his return to Ithaca. What also strikes me is Homer’s description of the boar before he is disturbed by the footsteps of humans and dogs: the boar lies hidden in his lair, and is completely invisible:

There a great boar lay in its closely-knit lair.
The power of wet-blowing winds could not blow through it,
nor the shining sun strike it with its rays,
nor yet did the rain penetrate it, so solid it was,
and there was a great pile of fallen leaves on it.
                                    Odyssey, 19; 439-443

My image of a boar ‘constantly on the move’ in harsh weather is then most likely incorrect, as the beast seems to be adept at securing itself inside shelters impenetrable to the elements. Well, my lesson for today: check the facts if your imagination soars a bit high.

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Midorogaike Jizo

Posted on Sunday, February 11, 2018, under , , ,

It is odd to imagine that once upon a time this stately piece lay buried in a peat bog on the outskirts of Kyoto city. The handsome fella is in fact a bodhisattva Jizo statue, and the bog none other than our Midoroga pond. This Jizo is believed to be one of six similar statues carved from a single tree by one Ono-no-Takamura, a scholar who lived, died, then lived again in the early Heian period. The legend tells how the man passed, spent time in the underworld, then rose from the dead after some serious worshipping the Jizo. Once back on earth Takamura set about carving the six statues in the heat of religious verve.

The finished products were individually distributed to guard each one of the six ancient routes linking Kyoto with various towns and municipalities, such as Fushimi, Toba, Nagoya etc. Kurama-kaido connected Rakuchu (inner Kyoto city) to Shiga and beyond. It had the statue – affectionately known by locals as Kuramaguchi, or Midorogaike, or Aneko Jizo – posted at the road’s entrance, serving as a safe journey guardian.

Kurama-kaido used to pass by Midoroga pond. Tradition has it that nearby lay ‘a demon gateway’. The demons were supposed to reside in Kurama and Kifune, a few kilometres north of the pond. In order to keep the wretches at bay, the custom of bean-throwing (mamemaki, 豆まき) sat about at a nearby Yoshida shrine and has been continued to this day as part of the Setsubun (節分) celebrations at the start of spring (Feb 3rd).

It remains unclear though how this particular statue ended up in the bog, or the way it was found and retrieved from its muddy cradle. Currently the statue, all spruced up, sits enshrined at Jozenji near the present day Kuramaguchi subway station – once a boundary separating the inner city (rakuchu) from the suburbs (rakugai), or ‘the world beyond’.

Jozenji is one of those local ‘B-temples’, exuding a certain dose of neglect and lack of refinement (an odd carton box in the worship hall, a motorbike casually stationed by the main entrance). At the same time this semi-lax atmosphere lends it an air of intimacy that is largely absent from its more famous, touristy cousins. In late August pilgrims flock to the temple for the Kyoto Rokujizo Meguri – a pilgrimage to Six Jizo temples. The ceremony involves the worshippers walking along the route connecting the points of the ancient roads, as well as hanging paper amulets (ofuda) outside their homes for exorcising unquiet spirits. The powers of superstition drag on.

* A pond about 1,500m in circumference
* Creatures surviving since the Ice Age
* Biological communities designated as natural treasures 
* A pond of many legends
* The name’s origin unknown. One link to the discovery of      "Miroku Bosatsu Bodhisattva statue" inside the pond
* Midorogaike 深泥池: a straight reading of kanji impossible, loosely translated as ‘a bottomless muddy pond’

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Posted on Monday, October 09, 2017, under , ,

‘On behalf of Kyoto municipality, thank you for coming today to the special bonsai exhibition’ begins a slim, middle-aged Japanese lady dressed in lemon-tinted kimono, addressing a dozen or so visitors (mostly tourists) who have joined the tour on this rainy Friday afternoon. Her yellowy attire which blends well with the moss and juniper greens of the bonsai exhibits, her black hair styled into a bob cut, her small steps as she glides across the wooden parquet of Nijo castle, her synthetic smile, are all part of the eye-pleasing décor, at the same time feeling a tad oppressive, lacking in warmth and spontaneity. This is Kyoto after all.

The latter is thankfully provided by a colleague of hers, a Japanese male in his early forties congenial, well informed and instantly likeable. Whatever information the lemon-lady delivers in sober, unexcitable manner, he livens up with interesting detail or insight. There is something in his demeanour, calm yet passionate about the subject, that drives visitors to bombard him with questions. For my part, I wait until after the 30-minute tour is over and the tourists have by and large dispersed. This is my chance: everything I always wanted to know about bonsai but was afraid to ask.

Q: Which plant species are most commonly grown?
A: Pine, juniper, maple are the most common. Ordinary, everyday plants.
Q: In human terms, a bonsai plant can be said to be a midget, a person of restricted growth, do you agree?
A: Yes, but with a significant difference: it is a gardener who imposes restriction on the growth. 
Q: The growth of roots too? For instance does a root stop growing because it ‘feels’ it is placed inside a container?
A: As with treetops, bonsai roots are cut and trimmed, otherwise they may grow too long and even damage the container.
Q: But how on earth does a gardener reach the roots in the first place?
A: The plant needs to be lifted up out of its container.
Q: Some of the trees look quite heavy!
A: Yes. It might take at least two people to hold the heavy plant while the third gets busy lopping off the root ends. It takes years, decades, in some cases centuries to look after a single bonsai tree, to keep it alive.
Q: Speaking of which, how old is the oldest bonsai in Japan?
A: Hmm... I’d say 700 or 800 years old.
Q: So, that juniper over there, is one of the oldest?
A: That’s right.                                     
Q: Fascinating. Quite a few of bonsai junipers here have trunks at least partly coloured in white. We find it very impressive.
A: Yes. The white is actually a dead part of the trunk.
Q: We kind of suspected so. Never has a dead thing looked so beautiful!
A: [smiles] Foreigners in particular like the white bonsai trunks.
Q: But how come the dead part does not simply rot?
A: Good question. The white, dead trunk has to be looked after too. It is regularly coated in special solutions to prevent rot and disintegration.
Q: What else should we know to appreciate the bonsai art?
A: One way of enjoying is appreciating the asymmetry of the tree’s shape, which in a good bonsai reflects the irregular shape of things found in nature. Also the bonsai tree has a deeper cut from the front, so that the viewer has a better look. The best way to enjoy bonsai is to crouch down and look up at the tree.
Q: [crouching down and looking up at the old juniper] Ha, the tree looks much bigger from here! I feel much smaller too, as if sitting under a fully grown tree.
A: Which means the gardener has done well.

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Hiyoshi Taisha

Posted on Friday, October 06, 2017, under , , ,

The first thing that catches one’s eye are two wooden structures nestled high up the hill in the midst of a thick, lush forest overlooking Biwa lake. The sight alone is intriguing enough to make one wish to visit the temple in the first place. A map by the footpath suggests large temple grounds. What sticks out is an odd-looking position of three bridges, situated in the very close proximity to each other. Our visit will show that bridges are not the only unusual feature at Hiyoshi Taisha.

At the south gate we are required to pay entrance fee, somewhat surprising as Shinto shrines in Japan are usually visited free of charge. I later learn that in the Middle Ages, the nearby Enryaku-ji temple influenced the shrine to include some Buddhist ethos: could this be the reason for fee inclusion? A middle-aged woman with an overly serious expression hands us the printed guides: the English version, being a single sheet of typed text on A4 sheet of paper, looks a poor cousin to its fancy Japanese counterpart. No complaints though, good intentions appreciated.

After climbing up a longish set of stone steps, we find ourselves in front of a vermillion gate (torii). The torii is built in Sanno style, unusual in that its two top lintels are crowned with a triangular attachment, a sort of gable, thus creating a ‘rooftop’, or perhaps an ‘arms-in-prayer’, effect (Wikipedia suggests Hiyoshi Taisha has the best example of Sanno torii in Japan).

After the obligatory bow, we continue sauntering up a wide gravel path. It is a beautiful, crisp autumn day. After a few minutes another surprise: inside a metal cage two snow monkeys! It strikes us immediately how small and dark the cage is. Poor fellas, they could certainly do with some exercise. Give them more elbow room for pity’s sake!

                    Messengers of God
                    behind metal bars:
                    a pair of macaques

We leave the caged creatures behind and soon come upon a rock apparently of certain import. My companion Y. kindly translates the adjacent notice, which states the rock is considered medicinal. It has a slight depression in the middle, allowing for rainwater to develop on rainy days. Thus formed, the water inside this puddle is believed to be therapeutic, for the ailing eye in particular. Should one then splash one’s eyes with puddle water and expect a miraculous recovery?!

Climbing up the Hachioji hill to reach the aforementioned ‘twin’ shrine halls proves a minor miracle itself. Y. is wearing flat shoes which invariably threaten to fall apart. It does not help that we are sweating like pigs with no towel at hand, that the path is steep and dotted with sharp rocks. It takes us forty or so minutes to reach the two shrines, Sannomiyagu and Ushiogu. The view of lake Biwa is spectacular and for it alone the climb was worth it. We sit down on the steps and take a few panoramic photos. At one moment the breeze carries a strong herbal fragrance over to our nostrils, so strong in fact that for a second I think I have just entered an essential oils store!

                    Hachioji hill:
                    smitten by the essence
                    of an unknown herb
We climb a few more steps to pay respects to a famous Great Golden Rock situated between the two buildings. The rock derives its name from the fact that the sunlight is reflected off it on sunny mornings. The rock is even mentioned in the Kojiki, the oldest written record of Japanese history. I imagine the golden sun reflection must be quite a sight. If I ever decide to come back here on some sunny day, it will only be me in full hiking gear, and with plenty of water!

It is time to walk back downhill. Y. wishes she had a pair of wings to put on then glide back to the lower altitudes! Walking, or more accurately, staggering toward the shrine exit we pass the three stone bridges we saw earlier on the map.  Why are they so close to each other? Y. and I venture a few guesses. Perhaps they were made to serve different social stratums: one for nobility, one for priests, one for peasants. Or were they built for aesthetic effect, as a kind of medieval take on conceptual art installation? The truth, we later find out, is more prosaic than that. After Oda Nobunaga’s army burnt the shrine around 1571, the new buildings were erected soon after. The rebuild included old wooden bridges, which were replaced by the fireproof stone ones, which stand to this day. But why three bridges? The more the merrier, we dare presume.

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Posted on Saturday, September 23, 2017, under ,

This year typhoons in Kyoto are few and far between. Once they do arrive though, their force feels more severe and more lethal than in the previous years. Or so it seems. Of course my personal perception could be false. I can therefore only give some weight to my apprehensions by presenting a small, yet telling, inventory of things broken, displaced or damaged in and around the house.   

The last typhoon from a couple of weeks ago (Sanvu, early September, wind speeds up to 150km/hour) managed to blow away a cover sheet off my scooter, detach an antenna from the rooftop, and even blow my letterbox nameplate out of its slot! Later I wondered about the final destination of these items. This being a suburban residential area they could have easily shown up at a neighbour’s doorstep. Just as plausibly, any of them could have reached and landed on Midoroga pond, situated a short walk to the northeast, then floated for a bit until they sank to its dark green bottom.

Today’s typhoon, which goes under the global name of Talim (interestingly, the vast majority of Japanese are not aware of this term, here they simply give typhoons numbers in chronological order) is, once again, accompanied by extremely violent wind gusts (measured at 175km/hr). Metal shutters are rattling, various doors inside the house shaking and grumbling as though lost souls are desperately trying to break though. When I step outside to inspect the situation in the backyard, I find a laundry pole has been kicked from its prop to a lower one, as if demoted to a lower rank. I find a pair of slippers rearranged by wind to a sort of X-shape: Communist hammer & sickle springs to mind. It makes me think how easily we get used to objects sitting in their spots, as if their peculiar locations were set in stone. How easily we forget that furniture can actually be moved around! Let’s find a different niche for the floor lamp. Let’s move the desk to the middle of the room! Rearrange the order of forks and knives. Let’s refresh!

In the late afternoon I take a stroll before the rain arrives. Above Midoroga pond the clouds are fifty shades of grey indeed, moving along with amazing pace. My eye picks a smallish one and follows, trying to estimate its speed. I’d say, on a par with a light bomber aircraft. I notice that ducks and coots, normally to be seen sailing near the shore, are out of eyeshot. In place of them, as it were, is a sizeable piece of sod, a turf of high grass with a bunch of yellow wildflowers sprung on top. It looks the tiniest island in the world. Besides, it is actually drifting! At first, a little to the east. A short pause. Then back, to the west. Very slowly. A pause. Then off again, northwards. A minor spectacle!

All day long I have not spoken to a single person, bar a man on the motor scooter. He trundles into a narrow side street as I walk from the opposite direction. The scooterist stops, looks at his mobile phone then checks whatever is on the screen against the buildings in front of him. Lost. I walk up and ask if he needs help. He is short-bearded, lean, in his fifties. A white helmet and black-rimmed glasses, are they supposed to add a touch of intellect? ‘Have you seen this house before?’ he asks with a thick French accent (isn’t French accent always thick?), showing me the photo. I reply in the negative, add he could possibly try the street along the pond. Polite smiles on both sides, and good luck to him. I recall the bloke a couple of hours later when the storm turns crazy. Very unwise of him to be riding a moped in this weather. How does he get back home? Or does he? I worry a bit about him, my sole interlocutor today.

It is close to midnight as I am writing this. The wind and rain are slowly subsiding. I shall to bed soon, too dark and wet for any kind of inspection.

ps. The morning aftermath: in the garden a terracotta pot containing a large heavy shrub overturned; rubbish bins overturned; broken-off tree branches in the street; piles upon piles of leaves everywhere (where did I put that broom again?); crisp air and a spotless sky. I can live with that.

September, 2017

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Two Faces of Our City

Posted on Friday, May 06, 2016, under , ,

Today, on May 1st, I went out on scooter hoping to locate workers’ gathering or a political rally of some kind. My expectations were based on witnessing a May Day demo five years ago (report here) that consisted of a rather well-behaved procession of some hundred chanting protesters walking in orderly fashion down Horikawa street. After all, they were allowed a single street lane at the same time obeying the usual pedestrian rules including waiting at traffic lights. Shepherded by the police uniform, the parade was nevertheless intent on drowning out the passing traffic, the marchers shouting on top of their voices.

Today, alas, they were hard to come by. After vainly riding up and down Horikawa and the adjacent streets for some time, I gave it up. ‘Well, so much for labour solidarity’, I mumbled to myself. Disappointed, I turned onto Oike street and headed east. Good thing I did, because once I reached the City Hall there it was, your proper workers demo – the crowds, the placards, chants, flags, whistles, megaphones. The place wasn’t exactly on fire, more like simmering in warm spring sunshine. At least it seemed livelier than what I remember from five years ago.

After a good quarter of an hour of incessant slogan-yelling and air-punching fists, it was getting a bit monotonous. Arms getting tired too. Thankfully the proceedings took a sprightly turn. Someone from the organizing committee (local JCP?) told the crowds to form a file and start tripping and skipping about the tarmac, which looked a lot like a Dragon Dance, albeit a dragon up in years. Gradually the chanting procession snaked its way toward the entrance steps to the City Hall where the smiling committee stood waving – too many marchers to shake hands with everyone.

What is strikingly different between a Japanese demo and say, one held this year in France or Turkey, is its non-threatening, almost celebratory nature. In Europe there was a lot of hatred, violence, crushed skulls and burning vehicles. In Kyoto, if there is hatred and dissatisfaction – and there must be otherwise there would be no protest – these are not overtly expressed. Are Japanese aware perhaps that violence or no violence, at the end of the day nothing will change? Is their ‘predicament’ worth risking neck for? Probably not.

May Day Kyoto Demos 2016

The last jumping member had been waved off, the committee disbanded, the Dragon fell to pieces. The crowds did not disperse though. Perhaps they were taking a well-deserved break before marching on south toward Kyoto station? Myself, I was delighted to have found my demo after all, and was reminded of that age-old truth: good things happen when you least expect them.

Filled up with revolutionary sentiments, I suddenly wished for different, more peaceful environs. I rode northeast and picked Enkō-ji temple at the foothills of Mt. Hiei. Just what the doctor ordered. The temple grounds are the polar opposite of the City Hall’s simmering stage. The protest pulled you in and you wanted to be a part of the crowd, the next person your ‘brother in arms’. At Enkō-ji a different game. All you really want is to be left alone; to give in to your senses; to hear yourself breathing.

The demo was about a need for change, be it social, political etc. The self-respecting air of Enkō-ji exudes resistance to change, a sense of fixedness. The only threat to status-quo is of an evolutionary kind, if that: young bamboo shoots springing up here and there in the shadow of their elderly cousins, or the bullfrog’s murderous bellow, only underline the permanence of things.

And so, today I have been a guest in two worlds, worlds that could not be more different. And no matter how hard I tried to find some kind of meaningful connection between them, I failed. There is no connection here, apart from physical proximity. Then there is the realization that it is possible to trespass on both worlds in a short space of time, and belong to both. Or more accurately, belong to neither.

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A Pond Best Avoided?

Posted on Sunday, October 04, 2015, under , ,

It takes three minutes on foot from where I live to reach the south-western tip of Midorogaike pond – a modestly sized body of stagnant water, high moorland and a few islets of floating peat. The information board by the gravel footpath says, in both Japanese and English, the lake covers some 9 hectares with a circumference of about 1.5 km. About one third of the lake is made up of floating peat bog, which occupies the central part of the lake, itself practically unreachable. Apart from a couple of battered wooden dinghies buried in quagmire, as if to warn an adventurer as to the likely outcome of their potential exploit, there are no boats or vessels on hand.

One also learns from the info board that the lake is very unusual in Western Japan as it sustains a cool temperate zone, similar to upper marshland in the north-eastern part of the country. This means the lake is home to some rare aquatic plant colonies, as well as animal creatures, such as a subspecies of large hoverfly, or a diving bell spider (the only spider species known to live entirely underwater). At the same time, plants and insects typical of a warm temperate zone, are also in attendance: common reed, Japanese diving beetle, or the giant bullfrog – one unwelcome import from America.

Due to these peculiar features the lake’s plant community was designated as a national natural treasure back in 1927, the designation altered in 1988 to include the animals as well. Fascinating, I think to myself, as I walk eastward along the southern shore, secretly hoping a creature would crop up and pose for a late evening photocall. The footpath this side of the lake is well-lit by street lamps, so much so that the light spreads some distance making it possible to make out water lilies resting on dark-green scum, and even a couple of ducks mucking about in the shallows (there is a long and winding path on the pond’s surface which ducks have ploughed for their own passage through scum).

I am struck how exceptionally still it is around here. Nothing stirs. And when something does move, like a cluster of reeds swaying, or an occasional duck or carp rippling the surface, they only add to the sense of pervasive stillness. It is exactly this subdued, lusterless quietude that lends the lake the air of mystery and eeriness it is so infamous for. Rather than the pond’s extraordinary aquatic features, Kyotoites have known Midorogaike for its notorious image of one being haunted by ghosts. This fact alone puts the lake on the tourist map of places best avoided.

In local folklore spooky stories abound, old and new. Ask any Kyotoite about the pond and the odds are they will come up with a ghost tale of some kind. The oft repeated one goes something like this. A Kyoto cab driver picks up a passenger, a woman possibly in her late fifties. As the car approaches Midorogaike, the cabby turns back to speak to the woman. Lo and behold, she has vanished. All the driver sees is a damp blotch on the seat.

Another tale has a local resident who, while taking a stroll by the lake, comes across a pile of clothes discarded on the ground. At first she thinks it rude manners. Then a thought creeps in: could this be a hint of a suicide? As she does not immediately see any shoes, she instinctively starts looking for a pair (Japanese are expected to be considerate enough to remove footwear before taking own life). She is saddened, however, to discover a floating body instead. Once the police have put the case to bed, the woman returns home only to find a pair of shoes by her front door, filled with water.

I am now standing at the south-western corner of the pond. Here the gravel path ends. For the adventurous soul there is a mud path that leads up the eastern shore through the forest. As I weigh up my options, the screech of an eagle-owl pierces the air. 

A windless valley:
over the peat bog
a disconsolate screech

I walk home wondering if the horror tales about Midorogaike have been invented on purpose, with one thing in mind: to keep people away from the lake so as to preserve its unique habitat. Who knows.

Few days later I revisit the pond. This time I foot it along the east shore, a soft path of peat and clay. It leads through the woods, all the time close to water. At some places the path turns very soft, almost gooey, and if one is not careful one might slide straight down into the lake. The mostly secondary forest is dominated by Japanese red pine and deciduous oak trees that go by the name of bao li. Some trees produce beautifully semi-transparent resin that stretches down from tree barks, looking like a Christmas ornament, or an icicle.

After about a hundred meters into the forest the path abruptly ends, and with some sadness I realize that it is impossible to walk the whole of lake’s perimeter. The woods being too dense to continue (the thought of coming back with a machete crosses my mind), I start trudging back past some glistening ferns and moss.

Post scriptum

I have been meaning to post my blog entry on Midorogaike for a few days now, yet never got round to it. In the meantime I decided to pay the lake another visit – for no particular reason. I have just got back home from tonight’s outing. It is close to midnight. I am sitting in my room, still trembling with awe and astonishment at what has just taken place.

I am walking down a narrow street, approaching the lake’s southern shore. The rain drizzling, the full moon peeking through the fast moving clouds. I barely step onto the gravel that borders the shore, when out of darkness a hefty, four-legged creature is running in my direction. I freeze. In a split second I think it a mythical beast that has come to take my soul away. As the eyes adjust I am able to detect the beast: a massive stag with splendid antlers, most likely frightened by hearing my footsteps. Now he is charging just past me, hollow thuds echoing across the valley. It misses me by a meter or two, and disappears up the familiar forest path on the eastern shore.

Fast approaching
a pair of antlers –
I stand powerless

I am sitting in my room, trying to decipher my instinctive response during the close encounter. It wasn’t fear, that is for sure. It was closer to total astonishment, and acceptance. Acceptance of fate. Of whatever the stars had in store for me. I was ready.

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