Monday, September 22, 2008


Before the Grand Prix...

... a prayer to the Bodhisattva protector of horses, Batô-Kannon-Bosatsu...

... and an offering to all the dead horses, whose spirits are here with us today.

All went well...

... for everybody!

Iizuna, Nagano
20-21 September 2008

The Just Crusade

What is the purpose of intelligence if not to serve others? And I'm not referring to the false servitude that high-ranking state-employed flunkeys exhibit so proudly, as if it were a badge of virtue: the façade of humility they wear is nothing more than vanity and disdain. Cloaked every morning in the ostentatious modesty of the high-ranking civil servant, Etienne de Broglie convinced me long ago of the pride of his caste. Inversely, privilege brings with it true obligations. If you belong to the inner sanctum of the elite, you must serve in equal proportion to the glory and ease of material existence you derive from belonging to that inner sanctum. What would I do if I were Colombe Josse, a young student at the École Normale with all my future before me? I would dedicate myself to the progress of Humanity, with resolving issues that are crucial for the survival, well-being and elevation of mankind, with the fate of Beauty in the world, or with the just crusade for philosophical authenticity. It's not a calling, there are choices, the field is wide. You do not take up philosophy the way you enter the seminary, with a credo as your sword and a single path as your destiny. Should you study Plato, Epicurus, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel or even Husserl? Esthetics, politics, morality, epistemology, metaphysics? Should you devote your time to teaching, to producing a body of work, to research, to Culture? It makes no difference. The only thing that matters is your intention: are you elevating thought and contributing to the common good, or rather joining the ranks in a field of study whose only purpose is its own perpetuation, and only function the self-reproduction of a sterile elite - for this turns the university into a sect.

from Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, trans. Alison Anderson (N.Y.: Europa Editions, 2008), p. 252.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

quiet morning

Mt. Iizuna and Mt. Reisenji
View from Lake Reisenji
Iizuna, Nagano
20 September 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So, let us drink a cup of tea

Kakuzo Okakura, the author of the Book of Tea, laments the rebellion of the Mongolian tribes in the thirteen century not because it brought death and desolation but because it destroyed one of the creations of the Song dynasty, the most precious among them, the art of tea. Like Okakura, I know that tea is no minor beverage. When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accesion to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.

from Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, trans. Alison Anderson (N.Y.: Europa Editions, 2008), p. 91.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Battle scars

Photo source: Jim Brandenburg

When you're young you doubtless think that you're going to sail into a lovely lake of quietude and peace. This is profoundly untrue.

Doris Lessing, cited in William Lee Adams, 'Doris Lessing's Battle Scars', Time Magazine, July 09, 2008.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Celebrating the first full moon of Autumn
Imaihara, Nagano
14th September 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tree spirits

Throughout the ages, and all over the world, people have been awed by their local trees. Belief in tree spirits and in the sacredness of trees is widespread. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, trees were thought to be inhabited by female spirits called Dryad (oak trees) or Meliae (ash trees). In Scottish folklore a friendly tree spirit, called the Ghillie Dhu, helps lost children find their way home.
Japan, as might be expected, is home to a rich tradition encompassing various tree spirits, generally called Kodama. Traditionally, foresters made offerings to the Kodama before cutting a tree down. Also, various tree spirits can be counted among Japan's classical yokai fairies. One of my favorites is the jinmenju or "people face tree" depicted by Sekien Toriyama in his marvelous Gazu Hyakki Yako (1776).
In Okinawa Prefecture, the Kijimuna spirit inhabits huge gajumaru fig trees, and is said to bring prosperity to the home. Japan's most famous kodama are the cute little white shaky-head guys portrayed in the famous anime movie Princess Mononoke, and the large and small camphor tree (kusu) spirits in My Neighbor Totoro.

from Kevin Short, 'Nature in short: Japanese Trees offer key to understanding wider nature', Daily Yomiuri Online, Sep. 5, 2008.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Oni-daiko / Demon Drum Dance
Iwakubi, Sado Island
September 2007

Percussion is generally agreed to have been the world's first form of instrumental music, and in Asia especially, drums have a long history of functions beyond simple entertainment. In ancient times, the territory of a Japanese village was defined by the area in which a drum beaten at an agreed spot was audible, and the sound of the drum was the signal used to call inhabitants together. Even today the custom still survives in remote places, and every country festival features an element of taiko, in which both adults and youngsters take it in turns to pound large, deep-toned drums with short, thick, heavy drumsticks.

Angus Waycott, Sado: Japan's Island in Exile (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1996), p. 122.