Archive for June, 2010

EVENING – By Charles Simic

As this month contains the longest day of the year, Val sent a poem about evening:

EVENING – By Charles Simic

The snail gives off stillness.

The weed is blessed.

At the end of a long day

The man finds joy, the water peace.

Let all be simple.  Let all stand still

Without a final direction.

That which brings you into the world

To take you away at death

Is one and the same;

The shadow long and pointy

Is its church.

At night some understand what the grass says.

The grass knows a word or two.

It is not much.  It repeats the same word

Again and again, but not too loudly…


06 2010

Transformed by Kyoto and heading home

It is the last day of our journey that has brought me so many amazing places and has carried me through as many emotions as stops on our bus.

The trip, the experience, and the time here has been nothing less than magical. I have made many knew friends, done things I never imagined I would do (enjoyed some – the onsen, how I miss these; and not others – eating sea urchin – NEVER AGAIN!)

We have both liked this trip a great deal. I have learned how to take so much more in stride and the most amazing thing was that I learned that my capacity for patience was beyond what I ever thought, and on this trip I learned to adapt and change with circumstance while not giving up the goal. I saw everything I dreamed of before I left from New York and so much more –  Daibutsu of Nara and Kamakura, a wedding procession and ceremony blessing babies at Meiji-Jingu shrine in Tokyo, lighting incense for my mother and grandmother at Sanjusangen-Do Temple in Kyoto.

I had wanted to say something about how Japan was experienced by all of the senses because truly it is – the cool green smell of the bamboo groves, the briny smell of sea air; the toasty earthy taste of sesame, the more than pungent sour taste of pickled plum; the sound of your wooden shoes on the stone paths, the sound of running water everywhere; the feel of smooth time polished wood beneath your bare feet, the feel of the warm onsen water against your bare skin; the orange tori gates, the vast vistas of spectacular mountains and scenery, and the electric pulse of neon and panchenko dens.

But I have learned more in the past few days than this. Japan is not just as I first thought a place where east meets west, modern meets time honored, and technology meets tradition. Japan is an indescribable place between all of these things. It is the second of a view between a doorway or the sliver of light through a curtain. It is all of these things and somehow more, it is not the fives senses that I have been feeling here but so many more. I have learned that my five senses can be felt on many levels and ways. I now recognize the smell of mist pouring over the Higashiyama Mountains at night to cool Kyoto of the hot late spring day; I now know the taste of sorrow held in the mouth at the same time as instantaneous joy; I now know the sound not just of the nightingale floors of Nijo-Jo but also how my heart at times in the late hours of night can make the same cry as they miss my mother and grandmother simultaneously; I now know the feeling of a soft hand after an Onsen can be more welcomed than at any other point in the day; and I have seen with my eyes how this world can stand parallel with so many others.

I have been moved and endlessly enriched and entertained. I have driven a tractor, planted rice, played a game with a Geisha known here as Geiko, seen a more than bizarre show with a room full of older Japanese, and have at every place been thinking of all of you.

I wanted to write about so much more – the sleepless nights (many), the stomach aching from bizarre and wonderful foods (at this very moment), and the feelings I have had at every point, but all of this will wait until later. I end my letter to all of you with a poem I found this morning at Nazen-Ji Temple which captures my feelings better than I ever could.


The evening bell, solemn and bronze

In the grandfather temple down the hill

Sounds dimly here.

Slow beat of the mountain’s heart, perhaps,

or determined pulse of pine tree (gift of the birds)

growing out of a crotch of the slippery monkey tree.

All one, perhaps —

bell, mountain, tree

and steady cicada vibrato

and little white dog

and quiet artist-priest, carver of Noh masks

fashioning a bamboo crutch for the ancient peach tree.

All cool under nodding crowns of the vertical forest,

all seeking in this place,

all finding in this place —

hidden yet open to all —

the spirit in the cedar’s heart.

Saisho-in: a small Eighth Century Buddhist temple in a mountain gorge near Kyoto, Japan


06 2010

From my heart in the heart of Japan

Greetings from my heart in the heart of Japan (Takayama in Central Honshu) beneath the breathtaking Japanese Alps.

We have left Tokyo to dive into the countryside and the remarkably heartfelt and traditional side of Japan. We have driven through Mountains and sailed across lake Ashi past incredible painted Tori Gates. We have grasped sights of Mount Fuji cloaked in its usual garment of mist and seen the way it can allure when it lets the smallest bit of misty garment fall and allows you to see its entirety for a splendid and split second.

We have ventured along the coast to small fishing villages along the sea of Japan and have stayed at a traditional Ryokan hotel. From my room with windows on three sides, I have watched the sky as it streaks with gold, pink, and violet into night and then woke as it returned the gift from indigo, to red, to the same vermillion as Torii Gates at the dawn of the next morning. We have traveled through Kanazawa and lingered over stunning beauty and Zen like moments of contemplation at Kenoku-en garden. We have known the pleasure of eating cherry blossom ice cream in the sun on a bench in Sanamachi-Suji (the old town center) of Takayama.

It is late spring here and just past Cherry Blossom season, but the time now is the time of year for the blooming of the Irises and everywhere I go and look I am bathed in the beauty of these spectacular purples. They come in single Zen Haiku and in absurd abundances. They come in more hues of violet than I could imagine. With each view I can think of nothing but my mother and the beauty she is leaving me in this world; from a private whisper in a single flower to the loud vibratos of entire fields basked in a profusion of purple petals I hear my mother   saying how much she loves and will always be with me.

I have surprised myself as I slip deeper into the culture here and leave behind sides of Ramona to find new sides deeper within. I have found the tremendous gift of Onsen, the hot spring mineral baths that are so popular and appreciated here. Before arriving I had read about the Onsen experience and limiting myself by previous standards thought “Oh no, I can’t try that. A public bath with only a modesty towel to cover myself.” Well no towel or blanket for that matter could have covered the modesty of Ramona before this journey, let alone the meager hand towel they refer to as a “modesty towel” here. Yet the Ramona who has been so melted by this country and culture found a way to melt her modesty and in the act found one of the greatest gifts returned. The experience is distinctly one of Japan and to walk through the cool mist of the mountains in your Yakuta and to bow reverently to an old married couples as they meet outside the separated baths to return to sleep, to pass small children with their parents and their polite greetings of “konbanwa”, the feeling of surprising yourself as your every emotion washes off of you in the steaming mineral water. To be part of something so public and yet to be so solitary and private, to find space in the greater world that can be entirely your own. That is what I found in the deep pools of the many Onsen I tried from salt water near on the Sea of Japan to deep inside local forests in Hakone.

And because I have only a few min before I have to go one final thought on toilets because here in Japan you can never have enough. I have seen toilets that play music (yes), that flush automatically, they are conversation with fellow travelers and pictures are taken. I have not known how to open them on the bullet train (the small button to the side) or at times flush – some wonderful women at the restaurant all tapped their foot and said tap tap tap and there was a discreet button to tap and then they clapped. I mention toilets again because I have come to find they are a representation of Japan as a whole. They can be modern, sleek, and technological standing next to time honored, rudimentary, and basic. On this trip they have impressed, confused, and humbled me all at once. And this country has done the same. I would like to say how Japan is experienced by all of your senses but I will save that for the next and final letter from Kyoto.

Until then in my heart and in my mind,



06 2010