Do you think he's crazy?
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Do you think he's crazy?
a journey of a thousand steps begins with one
I learned this proverb just after I got to Japan, and it has been a mantra that has become incredibly personal. After a year, I've been taking it step by step, some big and some infinetisemally small. I think lately I've felt like I've been taking tiny little steps. But whether it's things switching to the polar opposite after reaching a maximum like the I Ching says, working hard has increased my luck, or it's even just a figment of my imagination, I felt a HUGE step last night at aikido.
In my last post I wrote about the frustration I had trying to talk with my sensei about aikido at the seminar we went to this weekend, and the phrase that unlocked a lot of the mystery was nanto naku. Sensei had said this, and I didn't understand, but he expressed it was crucial to the conversation we were having. So yesterday at school before aikido class, I investigated it's meaning.
I went straight to Terao Sensei (my favorite teacher at school who's English ability is amazing) and asked him what nanto naku meant in English. He said, "Mmmmmmmm ... sore wa muzukashii ne." That is really difficult. He tried to explain further saying that Japanese use it to explain something that isn't clear or doesn't have an exact meaning. Great, the Japanese word for something that can't be expressed. How am I supposed to understand that? Terao Sensei checked his electronic dictionary and it said that one possible translation could be "somehow." Something happened somehow. Mmmmmm, muzukashii ne. It is difficult isn't it. In a sentence in English, nanto naku could be used to describe, "She didn't know why, but today for some reason, she had a strange feeling." So nanto naku would be "for some reason"?
OK. Well, this word explaining something that can't be explained is becoming a little more clear. It seems to depend a lot on the context, which is not an uncommon situation in the Japanese language. Perhaps one of the qualities that gives it the fame of being one of the more difficult languages to learn in the world.
So I went to aikido and saw Sensei with a big grin on his face while he was cooling off in front of a fan in the dojo. He seemed happy with the weekend, and so was I. I got changed and quickly ran back over to him. "Sensei! I looked up nanto naku today and think I kind of understand it." He seemed very happy to hear of my efforts, and began giving his own example of nanto naku as it relates to our conversation the other night, and thusly aikido.
He began by telling a story about Kukai, a figure famous in Japanese Buddhist history. (As a disclaimer, I don't know much about Kukai, and my retelling of this story Sensei told is only from my own understanding of the conversation we had and a little knowledge about Japanese tales.) He had gone to the forest in the mountains and sat down. Overcome with the wonder of the place, he attempted to look in every direction at everything in the forest as clearly as possible to be able to remember such a beautiful place. But he quickly realized that this was impossible. He could not possibly remember every detail of every tree and rock. He couldn't remember everything exactly clearly. Here he used the word, hakkiri, which means clearly. Sensei was able to understand the English word for hakkiri which he told me, and together we could translate his story. Anyway, so Kukai could not clearly remember every detail in the forest by investigating every direction. Instead, he sat and gazed at his surroundings with nanto naku.
In aikido, it is impossible to follow and remember every exact little detail in every waza all the time. And this takes into the account of all the different versions of aikido, which are as many as there are practitioners. Instead, it is important to practice aikido with nanto naku. If I could take a leap of translation here, in this case it seems to be like holistic, vaguely, and by feeling ... and somehow. Sensei said that a practitioner of aikido should not follow just the one way that their sensei teaches, but see other teacher's ways. He said everyone has their own strengths in aikido, and it's important to see the wide spectrum there is. Then, one can find their own aikido, by way of nanto naku.
Isn't this true in training in various martial arts? For me personally this couldn't be more accurate. I started martial arts by practicing Hawaiian Kenpo Karate, but from a teacher that would incorporate a lot of judo, ground fighting jujitsu techniques, muai thai, or anything at all that worked or seemed interesting. I then started practicing Tai Chi Chuan with a teacher who had originally started as a wrestler, went on to Tae Kwon Do, went on to Kaji Kenpo Karate, and now practices Chinese internal martial arts. After practicing Hawaiian Kenpo and Chinese internal martial arts, my time now in Aikido will eventually come to an end here in Japan, and I'll move on to something else. Even if I keep practicing Aikido somewhere else, it will be something else.
Instead of a teacher that professes that one should practice one art under one teacher their whole life, I have a Buddhist priest who promotes ideas of cross training and individualization. I am a very lucky gaijin.
This discovery of nanto naku and hakkiri felt like a lightning bolt from the Japanese language gods and for the rest of class I nanto naku-ishly understood much more than I ever have of what Sensei said.
Seriously, a bit of magic was surely involved. I think one practical explanation of this may be that I had gotten in the habit of not listening very clearly to what Sensei said when explaining techniques. When he presents a technique for us to practice, he does give a little explanation, but because I have a hard time understanding him, I just phased his words out and looked at his physical movements. This is good in a way, and surely nanto naku, but I have become a bit lazy in listening to Japanese sometimes. By making an effort to hear more clearly what he's saying helped me hear a lot more at practice last night.
In my last post I also expressed frustration in my limited two days a week of Aikido, and my desire to join the two more classes Sensei has in the next town over. It seems it's not open to beginners, and when it's come up before Sensei has always said it's too far for me without a car. Because this weekend I have obligations at school, I was going to wait until next week to seriously ask Sensei about joining. BUT! After practice tonight as we were leaving Sensei said ...
"So are you coming to class on Wednesday?"
At this I could have melted into the floor in an enlightened joy. Of course I was coming. We agreed that he would pick me up from the dojo in Kurobe in his car and we'd go together from now on.
A big leap in understanding Japanese. A big leap in understanding my Sensei's view of Aikido. And more time to practice Aikido with Sensei.
Now I sit at school, impatiently waiting for tomorrow night at 7 when Wednesday practice begins.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Aikidoka putting on their dancing skirts ... hahaha, just kidding, the pants/kilt/skirt is a hakama and it's very serious business, and I want one oh so very badly.
Gaijin about to eat mat.
This girl is one of the higher ranking and toughest aikidoka in our dojo, and never gives you a technique. But it seems after 8 months I've broken her down with silly gaijin charm! Smiling in the middle of techniques. In aikido we smile through the pain.
They even let me have my turn sometimes.
Some decorations commonly found in ryokan.
This room was built partially over the garden's pond and you could look down through glass to see the biggest koi fish I've ever seen.
There he is! The famous Hosogoshi. Definitely the coolest guy in Japan.
More cool ryokan decorations.
In one of the bigger rooms people were staying in, they had a garden inside the room.
Friday, August 27, 2010
It all starts again. Thrust from the night's rest into the sun, to mountain forests on meandering paths, it all starts again.
old and wooden,
with bell and dragon inhabitants.
Though hardly a thing of the past,
it now matures with cigarette butts and lights.
Yin and yang exist eternally.
Rice field seas isolate human buildings and gardens,
as islands to be visited by a monkey's hungry curiousity.Important things are transported along tracks with shacks.
But there is nothing here save what's already been done.
Past the signs that read "wild boar warning" is where magic still stirs.
Both ancient and fresh,
this is not just a picture, an image, or a forest.
This is life in all it's complex intricacies.
Anger, fear, happiness, and computers.
And also is this; sex, fame, the war in Iraq, your great grandchild.This is the end of a road.
Sporadically, images of self appear all alone.
I've searched for hours pushing a bike in the sun,
looking for something without a name,
without a past that has been tainted by the writings of man.
Perhaps it takes a small pond of mosquitoes on a medium sized mountain ... nope, it was made by man.
Perhaps it's hell...
Perhaps the picture just won't come out right.
Already again this day ends.
What of everything, but nothing at all ...
there must be something.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I happily resaddled my bike to ride across the flat of the dam's top. Looking all the down the side of the dam, all I wanted to do was slide down to the bottom of the refreshing looking pool. More realistically, on the other side of the dam was a large part of the river that looked amazingly delicious to swim in. After riding for so long in the heat, I couldn't think of anything better than to dive in, but I looked around all of the banks to the water, and they were lined with steep grades of bushes and such. This was a popular tourist spot with picnic benches and informational boards, but no way to get into the water. Here was a wonderful place for the Japanese to make the water accessible, but no, of course not. Someone might drown because "water in nature is scary." My frustration was peaking, but soon subsided as I reasoned the onsen was close and I was immersed in exploring the dam.
On the other side of the dam was a series of ladders that lead all the way to the bottom, and only had a low gate barring entry. "Mmmmm" I thought. Just below the top where I was, there was a door that led into the dam itself. I looked around, saw nobody, and quickly jumped down one level to jiggle the handle. Locked. Of course. I quickly climbed back up, and gave up on any James Bond activity for the moment.
I looked down the road and saw a bridge, leading to a tunnel that went into a mountain to some unknown desitination. I certainly wanted to follow it, but if I went down every strange road in the mountains, I would need another 10 years in this area of bike adventures every weekend. Those similar such roads I've followed before have rarely ended, and seem to be for other dams or powerlines.
Well, back on track for the homestretch to Ogawa onsen. One way would be to take a nice small overgrown road around the mountain, but it was roped off. The other way was an enclosed tunnel instead of the one with an open side that I ascended earlier. These tunnels are not fun to pass through. They are dark, the sidewalks are barely wider than my handle bars, the pedestrian paths are raised a foot from the road, and have steep curving concrete walls on the side. The sound of even a single car thunders deafeningly through the whole tunnel. It takes the utmost relaxation and trust to keep pedaling straight ahead as cars pass only feet away. Usually these tunnels are not heavily trafficked, but I surely get through them as fast as posibble. They are probably the most dangerous part of my bike trips. One interesting thing is that these tunnels are always extremely damp. Puddles in the road, dripping water from the cieling, and containing very cool air. I imagine it's from clouds/fog/mist that is trapped in there.
Ah finally, Ogawa onsen. Or at least the Ogawa onsen hotel. These moments have become priceless for me. The satisfaction of reaching the destination is momentarily accompanied by the shocked gazes of passerbys. In this case they were vacationing Japanese relaxing in the ambiance of nature and comfort of onsen. But then comes me, a disheveled, smelly, hairy, sunburnt gaijin stumbling off his bike in the parking lot. I think I used to be self conscious about these kinds of things, but that's not such a good feeling to express because often times Japanese will meet you with equal if not increased awkwardness. But now I just smile, bow, and give a hearty "konnichiwa!" This is also usually met with equal enthusiasm. This is actually a great example of a gaijin's experience in Japan. If you are scared, nervous, and self conscious, the country will close in around you with uncomfortable looks. But if you embrace the concepts of genki (energetic/enthusiastic) and ganbaru (persevering/giving effort) with a big smile and nod of the head, oceans will part before you with the applause of the Japanese population.
The man who gave me the passes to the onsen earlier mentioned there were two onsen at Ogawa. One was a nice modern one which he praised, and the other which was an old boring one he squinched his nose at. So I continued along the road to scout out the area. I reluctantly climbed some stairs into the trees to find this large Buddhist statue, and found a sign leading to the old onsen. One path was gravel, and another was grassy, but again roped off. If you haven't noticed, this is another pet peeve of mine with Japan. The number of unneccesary ropes and signs prohibiting entry to perfectly fine areas is really inhibiting my adventurous nature. To the Japanese, it seems that someone has made a safe clean road to be shepherded conveniently on, so you had better use it.
I stepped over the pathetic rope anyway.
My path followed maybe 10 feet away from the safe one, which was along a very refreshing looking river that I would love to get in, but there was no clear path through the brush to it, and there were signs telling people not to swim in it and had pictures of drowning children and monkeys. All I want to do is get into some cold natural water before the onsen, but it's just impossible if you follow the rules around here.
I grumbled along the path and found a shack with signs that looked like the "men" and "women" curtains that usually hang before the changing rooms to onsen. I looked up to find a small pool that went slightly into the side of a rock cliff. It was obviously natural due to the effect the water had on the rocks. But I was confused because I couldn't tell if you were allowed to go in. Men? Women? Both? I poked around and heard and old woman attendant walking around with a cleaning bucket. She saw me look into the men's side of the changing shack, but when I came out and she saw me again, she leaped back absolutely surprised to see me. I also used to be nervous talking to older people because the language barrier can be so wide, but hesitation only results in increased confusion. I comfortably enter these conversations expecting each participant to only understand about a quarter of what each other are trying to say, and I use as simple and direct Japanese as possible.
"What is this place?"
"blah blah blah blah Buddhist blah blah blah."
I look over towards the steaming water and see incense and a small Buddhist statue. I look back at the "men" and "women" curtains.
"Is this an onsen?"
"Can I enter?"
I saw a rocky path that climbed up and around the onsen.
"Can I go up there?"
"blah blah blah cannot blah blah blah."
"Uhhhh ... OK."
"Excuse me. Sorry. Thank you."
"Excuse me. Thank you."
I turned around and waited for her to shuffle away. Then I looked back three seconds later and saw no trace of her. I peered around all corners and in all doors. Still no sign. She just disappeared.
Anyway, I took her "cannot" for, "you cannot help but go up there", and climbed the rocky path.
After being in Japan for a year and recently returning from a week in the States, my appreciation for certain nuances in Japanese culture have increased, but my respect for unnecessary limitations has dropped through the floor. I now play my "gaijin card" in any situation I deem harmless.
The path became more overgrown with every step and ended where a small concrete tunnel began. I peered in and saw no end. My feet had disappeared beneath thick bushes and shrubs, and the mosquitoes had been replaced by what I think were hornets, and that was the end of it. Any Indiana Jones-ing reached it's limit with the bugs and I hightailed it out of there as quickly as possible cursing and flailing my arms. I had to find one of those safe Japanese paths again.
I got back to the onsen, saw no sign of the attendent, and went a little further along the path. There was another onsen with a changing shack that only had a "women"s" sign on it, so I took an innocent look around. The attendent reappeared and said that it was only for women. I dumbly looked at the sign and said, "Oh sorry! I still can't read kanji well. I'm sorry, excuse me, thank you!"
That was the furthest point of my journey, and time to finally get in the hotel onsen. I would have gone in the natural outside one, but going straight from the heat to hot onsen water didn't sound good without cleaning off in something colder first.
I can't believe how lucky I am to have such journeys anytime I decide to ride towards the mountains in search of onsen.
Cheers to small town Toyama.
Any desires to chase images to Tokyo and Kyoto have been extinguished for the time being.
After a long soak, a beer, and a twenty minute session in the massage chairs, I slowly exited the hotel and climbed on my bike to take the long downhill cruise into the sunset.
But not without one more cause of excitement.
Instead of taking the closed tunnel back, I took the grassy route along the side of the mountain.
It was certainly much nicer to bike on a grassy path in the fresh air as I looked down at the river. I had my head down and started thinking about monkeys, pondering the chances of seeing them around here, when all of a sudden, I heard a rustling in front of me and saw two monkey butts disappear into the bushes below. I followed quickly to look for them, but only heard their rustling. Then more noise in the bushes above me to the left. I was surrounded by them! I slowly walked my bike along the path with eyes glued to the bushes and trees around. Then in front of me about 30 meters were four monkeys sitting in the road. As I got closer, two ran away, but two sat and waited for me to get closer before darting into the bushes.
It should be known that I suffered tens of mosquito bites on my legs for these pictures. I've always attracted an above average amount of mosquito bites, but the ones here in Japan are just vicious. My bites here swell up huge and itch much more than any I've had elsewhere. (This does not include sand flies though which are even a million times worse.) I guessed that a week's worth of itching hell was worth this short monkey experience.
This has become a regular Saturday for me, and each week I grow thirstier for such adventures. Sunday I usually write on the blog, relax, and hang out with friends, but I need another dose of bike riding this weekend.
On my way home, I'm already planning the next day's adventure.