Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Resting in Ashidani

I look at the town office workers. It's long past their regular hours. The sterile glow of computer screens and overhead lights bathe them in depressing joy. This is the countryside but they continue to find reasons to work late hours. They might be very happy individuals but I don't sense any of that every time I look at them through the windows. I take the hint. I never want to come close to anything similar. It's true that my responsibility pales in comparison to probably everyone else around here but it comes with frustration. I'm happy to replace that with many things. I"m glad it's not Japanese TV.

IMG_4231_10-31 Ashidani

Japanese TV rots my mind, soul, and physical body. It's probably doing the same thing to everyone else. I tend to watch some programs via the internet of American shows but I'm left considering how worthwhile it is. It's a time filler. A time filler that should be put to better use. Many things should be put to better use.

IMG_4238_10-31 Ashidani

I put my body to good use after I went into a valley at the wrong place. I used my arms and my brain. I used the path of animals to help guide me along some steep slopes. I was making good use of everything. So there is a multiplying factor of goodness in it.

IMG_4241_10-31 Ashidani

Every branch I grab, every clump of sasa I steady myself on, and every narrow pass I cross is a renewed chance to succeed. Such simple success is sweet. Navigating rocks too. It's all the same. This is what fun should be you know. Grabbing loose roots before you know it and almost toppling over backward, only to be saved by your sure fire wit for grabbing another more secure point. Throw the bag up a rock and wedge the body up. Repeat in reverse if necessary but sometimes another path comes out.

IMG_4254_10-31 Ashidani

Just how far from the expectation of life could I go from?  For now it's only as far as the forest allows me.

IMG_4270_10-31 Ashidani

Someone really had the foresight to establish this shrine. I guess the gods are full though. They hadn't opened the can of alcohol sitting on the next step down. It was covered in thick pollen grime. The only offerings were pine needles and leaves today. I wanted to throw open the doors but alas they were cemented shut. What is more important here, the shrine commemorating the spirits of nature or the fact it's an ugly dais of concrete in a place it shouldn't be?

IMG_4280_10-31 Ashidani

Nobody comes here anyway. Nobody cares anymore.

IMG_4320_10-31 Ashidani

I think the benefit is all ours. I often wonder if the people fixing the roads to these remote areas like the nature very much. It seems they are desensitized to it. They can't wait to get back home, eat sashimi, and fall into seizures caused by the impossibly gaudy TV shows. Well it's good for me then. More for me to love.

IMG_4347_10-31 Ashidani

Then the question of how to make the best use of time comes back again. Maybe it's more about being simply happy. Yes, simple in happiness. If you wish for it you aren't going to get it. You have to go find it. I'm still wondering what that will be...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

椿山 - Tsubayama

After seeing the colors dabbed on the hills on Wednesday I couldn't do anything else but go back. Before waking up at 6:30 in the morning, mother earth did the favor for me around 4:30. I counted for about 15 seconds while everything was shaking. I might not clearly recall if that was correct. At about 16 seconds I was half expecting it was the terrible Nankai. The Nankai earthquake wouldn't affect me as much as others though. However, earthquakes are still frightening. Japan is a natural disaster fun land waiting to happen. After checking the TV to see if was a serious quake I went back to sleep for a few more hours before heading out to the forgotten reaches of the Shikoku countryside.

IMG_4111_10-27  Tsubayama

The clouds were hanging around like children who drop their ice cream cones. Low and sullen. Somehow the hills managed to hold their own. The hills remind me of special edition crayon boxes of fall colors even if they never existed.

IMG_4116_10-27  Tsubayama

My bag was heavy and the sweat began to run free from every pore of my body. Whenever this happens I imagine my predicament hiking in the winter with a wet body. I don't know if it will ever be easy to regulate my body temperature properly. I might end up with hypothermia before I ever figure it out. At least the late October temperatures aren't harsh when in other parts of the world the end of October is promising winter.

IMG_4119_10-27  Tsubayama

We found an old piece of pottery along the trail. It was entirely out of place but hand made. Too small to be a flower vase or good for much of anything. We left it to rest on a stump because it was probably some important local cultural property. I reminded my friend of that fact before she freely stole it.

IMG_4121_10-27  Tsubayama

After the mind numbing climb through the sugi waste lands. My spirits lifted in spite of the sombre skies.

IMG_4136_10-27  Tsubayama

IMG_4131_10-27  Tsubayama

Too much color to let my spirit sink.

IMG_4132_10-27  Tsubayama

IMG_4125_10-27  Tsubayama

And you keep going and going. You keep thinking the top is near. Then it's twice as far as you thought.

 IMG_4153_10-27  Tsubayama

My friend abruptly stopped and was spooked. I proclaimed how interesting the tree covered in fungus looked. She spooked me back. It was only because the tree was so disgusting looking. But oh how beautiful the process of decay which makes life. That is precisely the reason maggots are so revolting and beautiful at the same time. It might be going a little too far to say maggots are beautiful. Maybe appreciated is better?

IMG_4155_10-27  Tsubayama

On Friday I was terrified that in the past that I ate some morels because I learned of the existence of fake morels. Upon seeing the picture of the fakes I was rest assured it was pretty hard to make a mistake. I can only trust seasoned mushroom veterans I suppose. How well can they be trusted?

IMG_4160_10-27  Tsubayama

Oh how that trail dragged on. The sasa began to creep taller and taller in relation to the trail length. I don't have anything to show of that because it was all very wet and I had put my camera away for safe keeping.

IMG_4166_10-27  Tsubayama

The last push to the top was painful on my heels, ankles, and toes. I felt like I was swimming through bushes. My arms wet. The cold wind at the top nipping the skin. I wanted to finish this mountain off. The clouds became worse and shrouded any view of the surrounding mountains. I guess it wasn't really a waste. Crowning a mountain is always a good feeling. It's more about being out and experiencing anyway. Your eyes and memory will serve you well.

IMG_4173_10-27  Tsubayama

We hit a mikan high at the top. I got juiced up on 3 or 4 of the sweet citrus fruit. That made me temporarily forget I was on a mountain top nowhere near any place I should be eating citrus. What a strange contrast of sorts. Yes, happy.

IMG_4180_10-27  Tsubayama

Okay. Quite happy and ready to get down under the cloud layers. We blazed through the sasa fields and back along the trail in no time. There were many a fall and slips but we came out unharmed, in good enough condition to slay the day with one last stop.

IMG_4199_10-27  Tsubayama

Ah yes the fall from Wednesday, renewed in the glory of daylight.

IMG_4197_10-27  Tsubayama

Was I really on the hunt for fall again or was this just a reminder that value is hard to place? I'm sure Halloween costumes and alcohol are fun too. Give me a break. I'll stare into the glow of my computer and replay my day like an old film projector flickering back and forth. Back and forth. Neither better nor worse. Just a matter of value. Yes, value. Don't ask me what this all means. None of it made sense to me either. I think.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On The Hunt

It's still a little early to be in the search of fall color in the lower elevation areas. I thought I would do some recon though while the weather was nice this afternoon. There was a forest road I wanted to check out because I finally got new tires. I also did a little search to see how good the road was. I've been on some wretched forest roads that I should have never been on so I was trying to be prepared. There was actually quite a bit of fall color in the deeper higher elevation part of the valley I went to. It wasn't enough to make for any good photos yet. I think this weekend will be rather nice.

Tsubayama is such a wonderful place. I have written about it numerous times before. I think the history of inhabitants stretches back to the 1100s. You really feel like you have left modern Japan for a brief moment when you go there. I decided to follow the forest road that leads to the Tsubayama hiking trail just to see the condition of the road myself. I made it all the way to the hiking trail entrance which is off an oddly paved portion of road in the middle of nowhere. I figured I would keep going and see where it would lead. I thought for sure it would go somewhere because of how good of a road it was. But the longer I drove, the longer the road was. I had to pull off the side to let a van go by at one point. The man had rolled down his window and when he saw me only said hello and kept going. It was kind of odd. I wondered what he had intended to say to me. I thought they must have come from the direction I was going as it was such a long way back from where I had come. Boy was I wrong about that.

By the time I started seeing signs that said 立入禁止 I was getting a little unsure of where I was headed. I told myself those signs only meant to stay away from the overhead wire areas where they would be sending logs up and down. The road got worse and worse. I just knew it had to go somewhere though! It couldn't just end. And then it did.

View Tsubayama Road in a larger map

Yes now I remember. I checked this road a few months ago to see if it connected to the next valley over. I remember seeing it didn't connect from what I could tell by the map. I wasn't that surprised the road ended but curse that guy in the van. He must have been too startled to even try speaking Japanese to me to let me know I shouldn't be going that way. So the long journey back along a rocky gravel road started again. I was in good spirits. At least I knew. The light was slowly fading and I didn't want to be out there in the dark.


Despite my wasted time I enjoyed the smell of the leaves. It was good to get away from the sugi, hinoki, and whatever other conifers are around. Not too far from the paved road back toward civilization is a nice waterfall too. It looked like it had a deep pool. It was almost dark by then so I couldn't see very well.


I'll probably be back out this weekend, weather permitting of course. I might just be on top of Tsubayama this time.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Failure Baked Into Apple Pie

So my printing projects took a turn for the worse the other evening. In the middle of doing complicated things my squeegee cracked and broke. I had white ink everywhere and was just starting to actually print on some shirts. I had to scrap everything and clean up the ink. There was no way to proceed with a broken tool no matter how much I wanted to. I'll come back to all of that mess after I've had a few days to mentally recover from the frustration. It wouldn't be the first with printing things.

However, I wasn't going to let that ruin my plans for today. Today was pie making. Last November I made a pumpkin pie that was delicious except for the crust. That needed to be much better. Aside from that I have no other experience making pies. It's probably one of those things best learned from a seasoned pro in person so you get the feel of the pastry dough and every little intricacy. No such luxury here. The next best thing was my lovely sister though. She kindly gave me her trade secrets. There was some gaping holes in the directions that left me a little unsure but I figured I could make it regardless.

I popped into the local store in the early afternoon to check out the apple stock. I noticed they had gotten quite a few apples in the past week. I thought they had some Jonagold but I read the Japanese wrong. When I got there today I wasn't sure what to get. The cheaper Santsugaru usually don't impress me much. They go bad quickly and end up mealy. They are too soft as well. I still buy them because I'm thrifty. My eye caught some other bags that had five apples in them. The only thing the package told me was 紅玉 (kougyoku). Great, red ball apples. That was so helpful. They did look familiar to Jonathon apples but in the apple world the looks can be deceiving. That apples could have tasted terrible and still looked like Jonathon. I contemplated for awhile and figured the red ball apples were worth a shot. I also got a more expensive bigger apple to see how it tasted.

The red balls tasted perfect. A wonderful tart flavor. I went to the work of peeling and chopping the apples up. Then doused them in sugar and cinnamon to let the apples sweat their moisture out. Alli had told me to add flour if there was a lot of juice but I had no idea if that meant make the juices thick. I decided to look at some other recipes and found that caramelizing the juices and adding them back into the pie is delicious. Maybe you can just put the juices back in the pie but I feared it getting soggy. In the mean time I did the crust per the recipe. I kind of forgot what it was supposed to feel like so it was more wet than I thought it should be. I didn't make any changes and left it how it was. I decided to trust the directions of my sister on that. If there was more too it she would have said. Plus I remembered from watching her she didn't do much else anyway.

The pie went in the oven for about 50 minutes. I pulled it when the juices were beginning to bubble up and it looked brown.


Everything was looking splendid.  An hour or two later I sliced the pie open and served myself a few slices.


I felt the joy of autumn surging through my brain. Might have been the sugary spike. So I didn't feel too guilty I cut up some pieces and delivered them to my neighbor. It's likely that I'll consume almost all the rest.


A great success for my first apple pie. Much thanks to my sister once again. I need to bake it longer next time to improve the crust texture but I think that's about the biggest modification it needs.  In the process of writing this I looked up what 紅玉 was. Well what do you know? That is the Japanese name for Jonathon apples. My intuition deserves a pat on the back. The taste buds already got their reward.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Printing Saga Continues

I'm terrible at art. I'm better off just trying desperately to take pictures and write things on this blog.

After a bit of toying around in the 作業室 (sagyou shitsu, which I have aptly named recently) over the past few days I have made some progress on the previously mentioned printing apparatus. It was a mistake to buy cheap pine wood. I hate getting pine sap and resin on my hands. That stuff won't come off. I assume there is some easy solution to that problem that doesn't involve regular hand soap. Without wasting too much more time and if you are interested, watch the video below to get an idea of what this looks like in action.

It's a shame I'll have to leave these things behind next year. I'm sure I'll find a good home for everything. I couldn't have it any other way.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Screening Redesign

I've been thinking a lot about screen printing the past week after finally making something. I find the art very fascinating and really like it more and more. There are so many techniques and ways to print things. It's overwhelming but I love the flood of knowledge when I read about it. Just today I came across new things that made me eager to keep learning.

As my next goal is to print a 3 color design, I realized my printing press setup (if you can call it a printing press...) is not suitable. During my terribly busy day - see super not busy - I spent a large part of the afternoon thinking how I could build an easy and effective system for my table top. Bridging together my needs and elements of other systems I came up with the following.


This involves 6 clamps to secure different parts of the system. This allows a lot of flexibility because everything is movable on the table then. The screen will clamp to a hinges that are screwed into blocks which will in turn be held by clamps on the table. The printing platen that the shirt goes on for printing will be positioned on a longer piece of wood that can be slid up and down. This will then be clamped on the table edge.

There is a small degree of off contact with the hinge being positioned under the screen that will be very good. You can see that gap created on the drawing. This will help prevent the stencil from sticking to substrates in the future. Cardboard could be inserted between the clamp and hinge to raise the distance if desired.

The biggest plus of the design is the platen. The shirt can be slid on the platen and the excess material will hang off the edges and out of the way. Thus only one layer of fabric and the wood platen will be in contact with each other rather than the backside of the shirt bunching up against the front. The shirt will also lay very flat so it will make aligning multiple color prints easier.

Of course this all looks good to me in theory. We will have to see how it comes out. I'll start work on this tomorrow.

Monday, October 8, 2012

And It Only Took 8 Months...

Once upon a time I proclaimed that I was soon going to be making t-shirts. Soon was a huge understatement. The photo emulsion I ordered worked like Elmer's Glue, it just washed out with water and wouldn't stay in place after being exposed to light. Yeah that probably doesn't make any sense but I wasn't going to waste time trying to figure out how to use the sun. I like the flexibility of using a halogen lamp. As I sat pondering what to do about the terrible emulsion I did find another kind online. I'm glad I didn't buy it because it makes a permanent stencil. I somehow randomly caught that bit of info after looking over the same product many times. A few weeks ago I bought a kind that is more similar to what I have used before. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Last week in the middle of making my second stencil my lamp broke so I had to wait once again to actually get to making a shirt. Before that I had done a test stencil that still was washing out a little too much. Oh the joyous frustration of working with new things. In the world of screen printing or silk screening there is a learning curve with any product change. I miss the access to cheaper materials back home. It's what kept me from getting into this sooner.

Today brought much better success. I was finally able to make a suitable stencil.

Bear Screen Stencil

Don't tell the North Central company I stole their design. But maybe if they didn't charge 3000 yen for a t-shirt I would be more likely to buy one. At least that is what I thought when I was in Hokkaido last winter. Sweet shirts with a price that made me want to vomit. It might be wise to open a black market and profit off cheap skates like me. I actually just wanted to make a shirt and this happened to be an easy design. If you are totally uninformed about making stencils just remember it's magic and nothing else. Yes, pure magic. Then with a few waves of your hand, some ink, and a squeegee the impossible happens. Oh the glamor of it all.


I was rather pleased given my interesting use of paper and canola oil for exposing screens. The details were pretty spot on. I think this one looked the best.


I mean it looks best on me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Ishizuchi Morning - Part 2

 Read Part 1 here.

The sun blew up the sky while a Buddhist priest gave a morning service to a small group of worshipers. They chanted some Japanese that was intelligible to me and did some rituals that I couldn't possibly understand. Then when they finished the balding priest took out his cellphone and took pictures of the sunrise. Maybe it was just a camera but I want to believe he had a cellphone. It's hard for anyone to escape the conveniences of our modern age. Maybe that is why we drag our bodies up mountain sides in the hope we lose that connection, if only for a moment.


If you are feeling intrepid you can walk out on the Tengudake. In fact if you want to visit the highest point in western Japan you need to make it out to that precipice in order to make the claim.


Over the past few years I've developed an even stronger love for the fall.


I'm captivated. The Japanese fall is especially beautiful because of the colors at play. I will miss it dearly. Next year I might be around long enough to see it once more but I'm not sure. I might not be able to stay long enough. I guess that is why it's important to take these opportunities while I still can.


I went out on Tengudake to find some more views of the beautiful colors. My friend came out halfway but the drop off and steep rocks kept her back. That's okay. I never will push my friends to do anything they feel uncomfortable with. I know my limits and stick to them.


I crested the top where some sort of monument stands and proceeded toward the next point on the ridge. The wall here is filled with specks of color and bushes. There is a long section of rock that looks like entirely out of place. I thought it was some metal water shoot that had been unfortunately placed on the mountain side. But upon closer inspection it was just weathered rock.


Mt. Misen sticks up into the sky with its little shrine. The lowlands of Ehime can be seen off in the distance. The Inland Sea also appeared on that morning because it was so clear. It's wonderful to see the land, sea, and sky in whole package.


I took in all the views. I was the only one out there. The photographers back near the temple were probably grinding their teeth because I was in their shots. I quickly scampered back over the ridge to meet back up with my friend. It was about time to leave the peak and make our way back home. I greatly looked forward to the views of the mountain and surrounding areas going down.


As I sit here writing on this lovely Sunday morning I can only think how many people are making their way to the peak. The experience changes greatly with more people up there. It starts to feel like a giant tourist attraction rather than a pristine mountain. It already feels that way though because of the inn and temple at the top. It has lost some of the natural feel and it won't ever get it back. Japan has a weird view of nature. I'm not sure if they really revere it as much as it seems. As long as you have built a viewing platform to access the nature it remains okay or something along those lines. I don't think there is any way to justify it. People want easy access to beautiful places with the easiest possible means. Part of me feels that this mentality is so wrong. But what can be done?


Almost 2 hours later and Kamegamori came back into view on the way back down. Two years ago I was out on that peak watching the sunrise all by myself. It was nice to have a friend with me at the top of Ishizuchi however. Christopher McCandless said, "Happiness is only shared." He realized that one can only spend so much time alone before they yearn to share with others. I find that balance to be true in my life. 


There were buses of high school girls pulling up to the parking lot as we were leaving. They weren't very happy to be there. But it wasn't by their demeanor we could tell. They adamantly stated they didn't want to climb the mountain. They probably could have sat at the restaurant on their cellphones texting all day. They probably could have used their cellphones as mirrors to fix their hair and make up. They probably couldn't have cared less about being there. People sometimes poke fun at me about my passion for nature. They can't understand any of this. They think they know living. They think they know I'm the crazy one for loving nature and maybe even feel sorry for me.

It is I who feel sorry for them.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Ishizuchi Morning - Part 1

It's 9:50 PM Thursday night and the worst of my problems is the mold on my winter coat. It was too heavy anyway. I ended up leaving it at home. My trusty lama jacket would do just fine. Ten minutes later, a heavy backpack and my friend ringing the door bell forced me to make final decisions. Even with a heavy load I have to keep reminding myself it's practice for my inevitable pilgrimage. But with that being months away and my lack of consistent physical exercise it might just be how I make myself feel better.

The skies were clear and the wind was calm. The night couldn't have been much better. I hoped I wouldn't be confronted with fog and clouds by the time I reached the mountains. I should have known better. At the pass the wall of fog came blowing at us head on. The car lights punched the gut of the fog but it did little. Maybe the forecast had been totally wrong. I could only hope some more. Several other cars were parked near the trail head and those individuals probably had the same idea as mine. Ascend through the dark morning and reap the reward waiting at the horizon. The moon was bleeding through the thick fog and a bit dismayed I settled into the back of the car to doze while my friend somehow found comfort in the passenger seat.


It's 2:00 AM and the fog is still rolling by. I didn't want to leave the car. I wanted to keep sleeping. It would have been so easy to give up. The clouds didn't abate last time so what would be the point I thought. My friend said, "Let's go." There was no more discussion. Onto the faintly illuminated trail we went. The flashlights bounced off the dew soaked plants. The wind kept finding us as we crisscrossed back and forth along the ridge. I went from a fleece to short sleeves and then back again. I relived the 3 other times I had been on the trail. I couldn't believe it was a 4th. I had promised myself to never hike the trail again. It wasn't even peak for the fall color yet. Perhaps my motives are misplaced though. There is something special about every aspect. The mushy steps along the wet trail. The wind biting at my ears and arms. The heart pounding in my head. The damp smells and fresh air. What more is there than that moment?


It's 4:30 AM and the final leg of the trail lies in front of us. The steep finale of the trail. By then the heavens had cleared and my heart began to feel more excited but not from exertion. I didn't even feel fatigued like other times I had gone to the top. The air of that night made me feel different. When we arrived at the top I was greeted by like minded companions hanging out for the morning sun rise. I don't judge them. We are all the same. It was peaceful. Nobody was speaking. The only sounds were the wind blowing against the ridge and the faint mumbling of sutras at the mountain top temple. That man continued on for an hour unabated. Maybe it was just Kobodaishi who never really passed but remains.


They say you shouldn't eat meat before climbing the mountain. Bad luck will come to those who haven't purified themselves. I didn't succumb to such a fate. It might be wise, though, to take fair warning. Who knows when a lurking tengu might appear and decide he is through being kind.


I sat on some rocks looking at the wild sprawl of Shikoku. The rocky mountains stretch across the entire island. In prior visits the clouds and haze prevented me from seeing the ocean to the south. In the glow of the morning sun the Pacific eyed us back. This is where the sun ends and begins.


And Ishizuchi was waiting. Waiting like it has been for hundreds of years and more...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tea and Tosa Cows

I had grand visions of capturing the local tea fields in all their splendor. The skies were clear. The sun was intense. The workers were supposed to be out trimming and cleaning up plants. I think the only thing I really got out of it was all the sweat dripping on my camera. But the best thing was that I took one of those big round bamboo hats farmers wear in the field. On a bright sunny day that is a savior for reviewing pictures on the camera. I'll have to wear it more often but I sure feel silly.

IMG_3642_10-3 Yoriai

I like the aesthetic of tea fields. The round contours and sloping shapes are peaceful to look at.

IMG_3654_10-3 Yoriai

There are countless homes around these hills. Many are falling into disrepair. Others are hanging on. Some of the people might win the battle against the houses. I wanted to touch the tiller. I wanted to take it. But what good is that to me? I always wanted one.

IMG_3665_10-3 Yoriai

I want to hop on one of these tea carts and ride up the hills. They are everywhere and taunt me all the time. It's never going to happen though. I can't say I hate being taunted by them however. I realized I was tired of walking so I decided to head up the mountain road to check if my cow friends were hanging out. In the spring I discovered a mountain top grazing area. It's interesting because of how it's laid out. Little roads running between fence areas with trees and tiny hills. I like it up there.

IMG_3668_10-3 Yoriai

That is the northern view. Can't you see why I like it? Of course. I was blessed with seeing flat grazing areas my entire life. Seeing a pasture up this high fills me with some sense of wonder. If only I could find a legitimate field or meadow for playing in.

IMG_3681_10-3 Yoriai

And not very far back a tiny road runs toward the cow pastures. On the first drive by I didn't notice any cows. But on the way back my friends were chopping grass like champs. How perfect.

IMG_3693_10-3 Yoriai

These cows are peaceful and kind. If you enter the pen they will get scared though. They don't take to strangers very well. Last time the farmer let me into the pen after he fed them pounds of tomatoes. It was fun watching them. But they were a little afraid to get near me. It might have been because of the calves.


Take it easy bud. Take it easy.