Thursday, August 04, 2005

japan - days 2 3 4 and 5

a little background is necessary here, so please bear with me. i have an old friend, david franklin (aka manta), who i met back in 2000 through pope who was, at the time, shooting neovoxer ( and i was acting in the film and being part of the general mayhem. manta is a performance artist and a martial arts instructor for an esoteric japanese style called shintaido, and after being invited to attend some of his boston classes (which were often held outside in random parks) i was really turned on to the practice. i went to one weekend-long shintaido retreat back in 2000, where i found the whole shintaido community very tight-knit and welcoming. there are probably less than 1000 folks in the united states into shintaido. there are other small communities all over the world, but japan is where the style originated and where the largest number of folks practice. a brief history is difficult, but you can go to and get a basic idea. it was founded in the 1960s as a reaction against the violent and careless direction that karate and other japanese martial arts were taking, and was more or less developed by a bunch of artists through a long workshop process. watching someone practice it looks like a combination of karate, tai chi, primal scream therapy, and modern dance improvisation. on our second european tour, we invited manta to travel with us on the tour bus for the purpose of videotaping (it was on that fateful journey that the avril lavigne "karaoke verite" video was born) and kicking our asses awake in the morning to practice shintaido. some of my fondest memories of that tour were of running "Eiko" across a field in blackheath, england at dawn, screaming "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAEEEEE" at the top of my lungs at the rising cloudy sun. anyway, as soon as we realized we were coming to japan i wrote manta straightaway to see if he could hook us up with some shintaido folks over here, and indeed he shot right back that his friend, jet, lived right near tokyo and would probably love to come to the festival and do some practicing. as fate would have it, there was a "waterfall training" already scheduled in a nearby town right after the festival, and jet invited us to come along. i knew little about this but figured it could only be interesting and probably wonderful, so i said fuck yes. everybody else but brian bailed out (emily wanted to stay at fujirock and see bands; sean slade, joel and robert preferred to have nothing to do with a potentially freezing cold waterfall and their potential submersion Into It and instead chose to go to tokyo and look at girls and temples) so we got on the train the next morning with jet and his friend mr. oi and began our journey.

jet spoke some english, but communication was limited to the basics. we took two trains, buildings disappearing and rice paddies growing, and then took a taxi from the last train stop to the mountain, which has been a holy buddhist place for centuries. there was a large shrine across from our small inn (which was run by a kindly old buddhist monk) and a path along a rocky stream leading up to the waterfall. during the day, it was an obvious tourist destination for japanese and there was a handful of families with kidlets bathing in the stream. our inn was very spartan and beautiful; each room was in the old japanese style, with only woven straw mats on the floor and one low table, otherwise no furniture, no beds. we slept on thin futons that were folded in the closet along with the quilts and pillows. after we arrived, we met the other shintaido folks who had made the trek to the mountain for the training. there were five other men besides jet and mr. oi and two women, everyone mostly in their 30s or 40s. we met goro, a beautiful long-haired guy who was the waterfall training leader, and we headed out to a beautiful clearing in front of the shrine to practice shintaido for about an hour in preparation for going up the mountain. mr. oi was the sensei (the teacher/leader) for the shintaido practice and gave his instruction in gorgeous broken english for our benefit, which was very kind, since my shintaido was fucking rusty and i'd forgotten a lot.

then we went to the waterfall. this is where things started to get very interesting. one woman who spoke excellent english interpreted everything that goro told us as we prepared, one by one, to go through this process which apparently has roots stretching back ages in the buddhist, shinto and japanese warrior traditions. all eleven of us walked the paths and stairs up to the base of the waterfall, which was about 20 stories high and loud as hell. on the way up we bowed at the small shrines built into the sides of the mountain and purified our hands and mouths (via swishing) with the water from the shrine, which was trickling directly, they said, from mount fuji. above the waterfall itself was built a wooden balcony on a gorge that overlooked the place where the crashing waterfall met the earth, and this is where we prepared and left our belongings. the trees and flora on the mountain were thick and rainforesty and there were luminescent black butterflies and spiders flitting about everywhere. goro passed out sandals made of rope that we tied to our feet for traction while walking in the slick, rocky white-water; then he determined an order in which people would enter the waterfall - basically from most to least experienced....there were men there who had done this training 100 times and a few total novices like us. a small wooden box of sea salt was passed around and we rubbed the dry salt on our bodies for purification ("private parts" area - very important). there was a short meditation and then we descended altogether into the rocks and water and goro took his place at a large rock that faced the waterfall (whose base was probably about ten feet wide). as we stood there, deafening waterfall bits bursting in our faces, goro began the ceremony with what i assume was a kind of blessing of the waterfall, though it appeared more like a exorcism. hands clapping powerfully together, japanese words shouted and muttered, the rest of the sea-salt scattered, a bottle of water from the mountain shrine splashed into the spray, and then mr. oi entered the water (fully dressed - we were the only ones not wearing a full "gi" - the traditional white martial arts uniform).

i don't know if you've ever tried to stay erect under a massive waterfall, but it's fucking near impossible. even the masters like mr. oi would get violently punched over by the sheer velocity of the water and have to re-find their footing. most stayed under for less than a few minutes; the hardcore would remain there, locked to the earth like human edifices, for what seemed like ages. it wasn't a question of man vs. nature with man emerging triumphant, it was more a vivid display of man triumphing over the division between man and nature itself. a teeny woman before me was knocked down four or five times and finally made it through a few moments in the waterfall without tumbling. my turn came, i waded through water and rocks trying to completely clear my mind, and i stood in a very light part of the waterfall (i knew we'd be returning the next morning and i figured it wold be ok to be a pussy the first time around). the water hit my head and i raised my hands. it all made perfect sense.

when everyone was finished we convened back up on the platform and bowed to each other and the water a final time. then we descended back to the inn, where we had strict orders from goro to spend fifteen minutes in the baths. so i was alone in the women's communal bath with the two japanese shintaido women (whose names i never knew), and we soaked there, naked in the big tiled tub. i talked to them a little about how grateful i was to be, finally, around people who were taking care of themselves. they listened and asked questions. i told them about Rock World and the many self-destructive and harmful people we encounter. then i went up to our room and fell asleep. everybody left except jet and goro, who spent the night in the inn with us. we all ate a late dinner together in the inn dining-room....the best food i've eaten here by far. the kindly monk prepared it for us and it was a lavish spread of sashimi, soup, tempura, salad and tofu. a smorgasbord of orgasmic food, eaten with jet and goro who were now my two favorite japanese people in the world, talking about Everything and laughing. after dinner the monk cut up a watermelon for us and proudly showed us the pictures of the sumo wrestler who got filmed by CNN doing waterfall training outside his inn. then we all adjourned to jet and goro's room, practiced sitting meditation for a half hour, and then went to sleep like logs (i was a log, at least. i think brian may have been more like a quaking aspen).

the next morning we awoke and ate a similarly incredible breakfast, then went to the temple clearing to prepare for waterfall training: day two. jet showed us a few good exercises to do before stage (they really liked our show by the way - "very strong. very powerful energy. yes. you two - very important - stay soft and connected") and then i sat and watched the two of them do some symbolic sword-fighting using long wooden staffs. the two of them would occasionally get locked together, each facing the sky with swords pointed heavenwards and clashing upwards like two coital birds.

then back up to the waterfall we went....rope shoes, meditation and preparations, salt, excorcism. this time it was only the four of us. i resolved to become a human rock and i entered the water (which was colder than the day before) and after getting knocked over multiple times i managed to stand my ground for a few minutes. your mind has no choice but to clear. maybe a stray thought to keep your balance, but there is just you and your body getting eaten and reborn by thousands of gallons of water pummeling your meaningless self. i knew it was time to go when it was, and i let myself get spit out back into the world.

we were exhausted by all this and went to rest again in the inn, we left a dresden dolls CD with the monk and thanked everyone there for taking good care of us, then started to head back towards tokyo with jet.
we talked about japan and america and europe. it's a small world while being very big. japan has been wonderful for me because it has forced me at every turn to be so humble. everybody here is very quiet and
respectful and i am overly self-conscious about seeming like the Ugly American. this has increased my general mindfulness about everything i do, from the volume at which i speak to the way i eat to the way i sit
down in a chair. this is good, this is very good.

after returning briefly to tokyo we went to kyoto by train, with robert and sean, to visit my friend zach. he's an ex-pat i went to college with briefly, now married to a japanese doctor named maki and fathering a gorgeous one-year old boy named gen. we were welcomed warmly into zach's house and got to commune with the youth a little bit (gen was pretty freaked by us strangers) and listen to zach play his shakuhachi, a traditional japanese bamboo flute that he's been studying on and off for more than ten years. then we spent a quiet night in a veggie-centric kyoto restaurant in a converted traditional townhouse, where we shared our large low table (completely coincidentally) with a band from okinawa called tink tink (pronounced "tinku tinku", a double reference to "twinkle twinkle little star" and the sound a shamisen makes when you pluck it). they were hyper and adorable and we took pictures and traded CDs and promised to try to make it to their show a few days later in tokyo. we spent the next day in kyoto staggering through the heat getting awestruck by temples and shrines and beautiful things. i bought some socks. we ate some sushi. i love this country.

back in tokyo now, everyone seems to be in great spirits, especially sean slade (our esteemed producer). it's been wonderful to combine the journey with a few scattered conversations here and there about the upcoming recording (we start september 10th) and choices we may make about this and that. but generally i haven't been giving a fucking thought to music. the only thing i've listened to over here is my "the best of fad gadget" cd, which is all i may ever need for the rest of my life. i love fad gadget. i do i do i do.

i have seen the collision of goth and disney and it is harajuku.


fieryredfairy said...

you sound like you two an incrediable time. My boyfriend and I thinking of starting a band any word of advice or may I say wisdom from the great amanda palmer.

zachawry said...

I'm glad you liked Harajuku.

By the way, did you ever make it to the Tink Tink show? I'm sure they were crushed if you didn't....

crazyjaneski said...

That waterfall business sounds incredible, as does Japan. I love that feeling of being somewhere OTHER - that sense of mindfulness is so important.

I love your diary!

TripleBypass said...

I am really glad you enjoyed Japan. It is a wonderful place. I feel bad I did not get to meet up with you. As I told Emily if you ever want to come back to Japan and do some other shows, I would be more than happy to get you some gigs, especially in the Osaka area.

DJ TripleBypass aka Matt Duffy

maia said...

Your turn of phrase is wicked Amanda. I have this pretty image of the kindly monk reveling in your tracks.
Take Care Often

Superbel said...

OH yes.... Harajuku. Japan is a very cool place to shop but if you are stuck with a crazy Japanese host family for 6 weeks, like I was when I was 17, who yelled and screamed at you for what seemed like no reason at all.... then you grow to despise their "save face culture". Saying that, there are of course some lovely people there like the ones you met.

Have you seen the book intitles Fruits by the famous photographer of all things harajuku Shoichi Aoki? My friend bought me this beautifully produced book for my birthday. Its a book full of wonderfully vibrant colourful photos of the many fashions and fads throughout Harajuku in the past years. It is lovely and I hope you get to view it one day.

Please tour Australia sometime soon! I hope you make it off the east coast and to Adelaide and Perth!