Thursday, May 1, 2008


((Pictures will be added soon---ALL of mine from here seem to have vanished, which makes me EXTREMELY nervous. I'll put 'em on as soon as I find 'em!))

There’s this absurd little thing called Purikura that Japanese school girls seem to go bonkers over. I’m bonkers for it as well, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, what it is is this crazy photobooth that takes a bunch of pictures all with different backgrounds and fun poses and things, and then sends you around the back to a little touch screen booth where you can decorate your pictures with all sorts of random stuff. Then the pictures print out all on this sheet about the size of a post card, tiny and cute and actually ready to be peeled off of their back because they are STICKERS.

There is nothing about that whole process not to like.

Sasaki and I have done oodles of Purikura. We can’t help ourselves--I think it’s in the female brain chemistry.

We visited a lovely graveyard today. It was attached to Sounzen Temple in Hakone. Bhuddist graveyards are really very interesting, and I have this thing for graveyards. I know that makes me sound psycho and weird, but it’s a reflection of the fact that I am an archaeologist, and EVERYONE knows that the best artefacts are to be found in burials. Everytime we pass a graveyard my fingers start to twitch and my eyes go blank. Sasaki described it as “having a psychotic brain melt-down causing me to revert to my primal digging instincts.”

I think she’s right.

The cherry-blossoms (Sakura) were in full bloom and it was just gorgeous--AND the graveyard had the graves of the Hojo family, the feudal clan that ruled the area during the Sengoku Jidai (also known as the Warring States era--roughly 1350 to about 1600) and that was AMAZING to see. My fingers were twitching like MAD.

We went down into Odawara to the castle there, which had been the seat of power for the Hojos in said Sengoku Jidai. The Sakura were in full bloom and the castle loomed up in stately splendor—a magnificent echo of the Japan that had once been.
It is really an imposing structure and positioned very well for defense. It turned back army after army until the fifth Hojo Daimyo finally surrendered to the forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the new military leader who was in the process of uniting the war-torn Japan.

For those of you who have read the book which my mother and I wrote, the castle from which Chajiko escaped by tying all of her lovely kimono together into a rope was written with this one in mind.

At any rate, it was a relief to see it. I know that sounds funny, but I was feeling oddly smothered and homesick by the not-really-traditionalness of the ryokan and the fake “back to nature” of the Hakone tourist spots. To see the castle, reconstructed recently though it may have been, was a sort of balancing experience.

I think I discovered something very interesting about Japanese culture today. I mean, I was aware of it in the past, but only in a limited sense, and today made me realize that it seems to go deeper than I had realized.

In poetry if one wished to lend a sense of verisimilitude and legitimacy to ones poems, one would make an allusion to another work, usually a famous one, written by a great poet sometime in the past. By tying ones own words in with the words of a master by the use of such a reference, ones own poem became that much more “important,” for lack of a better term.

For example, the great poet Basho wrote something along these lines:

year-end reveling
Still in pilgrim’s cloak must I
walk my lonely road.

And I, in my desire to give my meagre efforts a sense of legitimacy, may pen something like this:
the sparrow’s sharp song
startles year’s-end revelers
it is early yet

The reference to the year-end reveling calls to mind the poem by basho, which is something most readers would have known in the time when making haiku was still something that was commonly done as a form of entertainment, as well as for the purposes of art or literary exercise. At any rate, then with the reference to the work of Basho and the images his words conjure up to strengthen my own, the poem gains an entirely new level of meaning.

Am I making any sense?

At any rate, something I noticed in both Sankei-en and Odawara-jyo sort of clicked into place in my mind today. In Sankei-en, a lot of the buildings had been made around a central thing that had come from another important or significant building. A lentil piece, or a central beam, or railing banisters from palaces or temples. In Odawara, there was a metal capping-piece that had both marked and protected a nail that had come from the second house of the imperial family. What it seemed to me to be was something like what was happening in the poetry--using the pieces of something older and established to build something new, as if taking a piece of that reputation and attaching it to the new thing. I don’t know if it’s the same thing at all, but it came up in my mind suddenly as an interesting and rather startling parallel.

Tomorrow we get on the bullet train (shinkansen) and head to Kyoto, which is my FAVOURITE place in Japan. No joke. I adore it.