Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The young girl in the school uniform sitting across from us on the train out of Kyoto puts her manga back in her purse and stares at the passing houses out the window beneath the almost lowered shade.

When she notices out of the corner of her eye that I am ducking my head a little to also watch the scenery beneath the lowered windowshade, she reaches over and raises it a notch, without making a big deal out of it.

I nod, acknowledging her kind gesture, and she favors me with a shy, touching smile that I can help but return with a smile of my own.

As soon as I do, though, I recall the seaweed snacks I'd been munching just before boarding the train, and I wonder exactly how much shit I've got stuck between my teeth.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Familiars of the Gods

Sure, we bought the crackers specifically to feed the deer who roam wild in this shrine, but these guys are getting pushy. Katie is surrounded by three young deer who are acting like they're ready to shove her to the ground and take the damn crackers by force if necessary, while the guy next to me with the horns is nipping my hip to make sure I know he's ready for his snack.

When I am a bit slow in responding, he lowers his head and stabs me in the thigh. I bat his horns aside and, communicating in a way that I believe most mammals understand, hiss, and he takes a step back in shock at being so affronted.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Apparently we were staring at the map a little loudly, because the man in the dark suit has come over to offer assistance. 

When we explain to him that we're looking for a bus that Google tells us is right here but which is, in fact, nowhere to be found, he smiles apologetically and grabs a guy holding piles and piles of maps.

So now we've got two guys helping us and we're still no closer to finding the bus, until we manage to communicate to them where we're going. 

They tell us a bus that we were going to get on anyway (before I started paying more attention to Google than to what was going on in front of me), and Katie manages to not look at me like I'm once again the dumbest guy in Kyoto.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bodhisattva Vow

After a few hours by bullet train in the Japanese countryside, we arrive in Kyoto and, after parking our luggage in a coin locker in the station, Katie and I head off to explore.

The first temple, described by the guidebooks as "the last word in gaudiness," is, while a bit on the large side, hardly as tacky as the description would lead one to believe. A moat full of shimmering carp surrounds an enormous compound in which a good half dozen buildings, all dedicated to one form or another of the Buddha.

As Katie and I kneel together in the temple, I feel this enormous pressure, almost physical, in the almost exact shape of the space surrounding us, and I can feel the area in my body around my heart slowly opening, and I think, "How can I make this happen for everyone, all the time?" but there's no real answer.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Better Without God

The second time we were approached today was the only time they didn't talk about religion. The first guy just wanted to talk about the difference between Soka Gakkai International and his Original True and Completely Not Made Up Like SGI Buddhism, but I told him we already had some. The third time was a little lady who wanted to "lead us to her church," which I'm pretty sure is how a slasher movie, I can't recall which one, starts.

The second time, though, was just a bunch of kids who asked to speak to us and do a "small cultural exchange," and they were sweet and funny and not at all religious: just a tall, gawky guy with the shock of bleached-orange hair and a shy, smiley girl who used to live in Hokkaido, along with their classmates, trying to talk about Japan and remember the words for what to call the Statue of Liberty.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Speak Low

"Speak soft!" the Japanese tour guide says sharply to the obnoxious man who has been talking over him for the last fifteen minutes. "There are other people here."

And suddenly, my dislike of the obnoxious man and his loud, entitled European family melts somewhat, because I know that he might not be able to help it. I know what it feels like to be too large and too loud and too sarcastic in a land where people are polite, neatly proportioned, tidy and almost entirely lacking in irony.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tokyo Morning/Night

After the priests march solemnly through the square in front of the temple, their paper thin white robes rustling over the rhythmic clip-clop of their thick soled sandals, the acolyte pounds the enormous wooden drum, and its hollow boom rises high above the silent trees surrounding the temple compound. A shimmering drone begins, woven through with a reedy, nasal melody, and then a mournful flute joins in as the Shinto funeral procession files into their seats in front of the shrine.

Later that night, the lights go down at the Robot Restaurant, and the performers hammer on smaller versions of the same drum the acolyte played this morning, but this time they wear outrageous wigs, and a sound system pumps gallons of techno music through the auditorium while flashing LEDs shove every color possible down our gaping eyeholes. Dancers in skimpy outfits and terrifying masks gyrate to the beat while glittering robots show us yet another side of Tokyo.