By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
April 10, 2004 It's been a good weekend. On Thursday, I went to visit the local monkeys with some friends. The babies were out and around, and although they were young, they appeared to be committed to the fundamentals, namely the tremendous importance of climbing on things and the equally tremendous importance of abandoning the basic principles of physics as applicable to self-preservation whilst launching surprise attacks intended to knock each other off said things. We met a Japanese researcher who was tracking what he referred as 'monkey male female intimacy'. He'd identified the alpha male of the mountain and kept following him around with a notebook, running if necessary. Did the alpha male have many girlfriends? No, he said, checking through his logs to be sure. Zero girlfriends. We weren't really surprised, given that some git was following the poor monkey around with a notebook, making even a master seduction process rather difficult. We gave sympathetic nods to the obviously frustrated monkey and I wondered how long it would be until he abdicated the alpha-ship in exchange for some time alone with the ladies. For everyone else, it was a beautiful day, with spring weather and the last of the cherry blossoms crying out life and peace and naps whenever anyone liked.
On Friday, I found an international foods store and gave the Japanese a fright by wandering around with a dazed grin. I nearly wept at the sight of some Newman's Own products. I blew the last of the petty cash on chips, dip and a jar of pickles.
On the left, you will notice a new photo gallery. Instead of a standard travelogue, wherein I would merely tell of the long journey and the train breaking down in the middle of nowhere and the crazy French nature photographer who hired me as his translator and the long hike through the forest and along the narrow, frozen mountain, let me quote to you from a pamphlet, some of which is available on the website.
An outline of Jigokudani Yaenkoen
Most readers of this web-page will be able to make an educated guess about of the spiritual significance of what I found there. Needless to say, it was a powerful day, and I will bring those truths to you, in time. For now I have only the pictures, and may they be a spell for winter wherever it lingers.
(news) A warning that terrorists might strike trains and buses in major U.S. cities using bombs concealed in bags or luggage has the nation's transit systems ratcheting up security measures.
Is this really what it's come to at home? If they're serious about tackling concealed sources of terror on the trains, they need to start with buckets of barbecue chicken on the CTA. A whole lot of terror has been enacted upon my innocent stomach by those fucking things.
April 2, 2004 There was a brawl in the streets a few weeks ago. The yakuza have an office building about halfway between our house and their 'sports club' down the block, and in the morning, you can often see the lads in spotless black suits forming phalanxes around the entrance to the parking garage, waiting for the inevitable black limousines to arrive. On the morning of the brawl, I slept late and awoke to the sound of shouting. I didn't think much of it at first, since the shouting was less shrill than the election vans and less unsettling than the squads of monks who showed up at various points in the winter, walking about a hundred yards apart from each other through these narrow side streets, chanting for the coming of spring. Most of all, though, I took little notice because people saying good morning to each other can sound pretty violent around here sometimes. It became clear after a couple of minutes that things were getting knocked over, though, so I got out of bed and went to the window, and that is when I saw the brawl, less than twenty yards from our house. It was not balletic gunplay or martial arts mayhem as the movies promised; the fight was centered around two old guys, both of them screaming and clawing and far beyond composure, and everyone else was undecided as to whether they should be separating the bosses, giving the bosses space to settle it, or choosing someone on the other side of the dispute and whaling on him. As a result, most of the yakuza were standing around, bumping into each other, making tentative movements toward the bosses and pausing to half-heartedly shove whoever was nearby. I thought about getting out my camera, but I was still in my underwear, not yet in stealth mode, and our walls are paper-thin, hardly suitable for stopping bullets. After a moderate amount of damage was done, someone finally took some initiative and broke up the fight. Everyone smoothed out their suits and headed in separate directions, except for one guy who stayed behind to pick up all of the things that had been knocked over, most of them bicycles. I put on some pants and got on with my day.
But there has been no trouble of late. It was touch-and-go for a while, but the monks pulled it off again; spring is here and Kyoto is in good cheer. After weeks of nightly reports on the news, the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and everything is at its most beautiful. I had the day off, so I set off along the Path of Philosophy, a tree-lined canal where priests and theologians took contemplative strolls in ages past. Hundreds of people were there, eating and drinking and excitedly observing the cherry blossoms. I chose to emulate the ancients and spent my walk in deep thought about subjects of scholarly interest, primarily questions regarding what monkeys would do in various situations. It was a nice day. At some point, I will post a photo album. There are still a lot of monkey pictures to get through yet, though. (You will notice them there on the left. I think the autumn gallery is about the best thing I've ever done outside of a bowling alley.)
I arrived at the very end of the season last year, and my first memories of Japan were in this air, at this temperature, utterly lost at all times. With the rainy season less than three weeks away, the atmosphere didn't last long, but the memories were vivid, and it's pleasantly disorienting to have that sense again. After a long disappearance, a lot of food that had absolutely no reason to be seasonal has returned - various noodle bento boxes and varieties of onigiri - much to the relief of my intensely boring diet. I'd thought it all phased out, but it's back and improved and, in some cases, now including packets of bread crumbs (in the case of the noodle bentos). In a classic Japanese move, the local grocery store got a liquor license over the winter and promptly ditched most of the bread and bottled water to make room for the booze. Fortunately, they bought out the flower store next door and have just finished converting that into the liquor department, so the bread is back. Which is nice. Nothing can be taken for granted with food and drink. I need only take a few steps outside of my house to buy orange juice from a device that doubles as a slot machine. If you make a purchase from it, you get one free play at the slots, which as best I can tell are rigged to give you three matching numbers but miss on the fourth. It happens every time, and I imagine that really fucks with some people. As for me, I am satisfied with the orange juice.
I should have posted this a while ago, but I forgot that I had it. Here is a stealth photo taken by one of my housemates at last year's yakuza summer festival:
I didn't eat any of the food, so I have no real health concern, but for fuck's sake, even if the guy is a dandy cook, shouldn't he have waited until his most recent 'error' was healed before going back at the grill?
(news) President Bush on Thursday signed into law an act that would make it a separate federal crime to harm a pregnant woman's fetus, in a move likely to bolster his support with conservatives in an election-year.
I am at a distance from things, so I am missing details about important news stories at home in the USA. Obviously, you are not allowed to harm a fetus, but can someone clarify what the law says if the fetus starts it? I hate to be an alarmist, but I have had dreams about apocalyptic futures ruled by lawless mobs of roving fetuses, and I am concerned that fetuses are going to get it into their newly-formed heads that they can start trouble without consequences. Now, well-behaved fetuses have always had no greater friend than me, but unfortunately there's always going to be a certain element that makes these discussions necessary. I'd like to see some provisions regarding the revocation of womb privileges, for example. It would send the right message if we could just take a few of the troublemakers and say, that's it then, to the test tube with you and think about what you did, or think about it just as soon your prefrontal cortex develops.
I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.
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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.