Two Meals at Lotus House

When we returned to Lotus House, I noticed this drawing in the foyer, and was fascinated by the rows of images, which, to me, symbolized the continuity and changeable nature of experience. Rows of clocks displaying different times. Rows of musical notes. Rows of faces expressing a variety of feelings. Rows of eyes looking in different directions. Rows of hearts with pluses, minuses and question marks. Rows of I Ching hexagrams. Rows of trees and rows of cars. Rows of fish and rows of boats. Life.

Jun began to prepare the bamboo shoots to be part of our supper. First he cut them in half lengthwise.

Next he removed the inedible outer layers and upper point of the bamboo shoot, and cut the edible inner shoot into bite-sized pieces.

He also prepared pasta for lunch, and served it on (what else?) lily pad plates. I realized this was one of the very few times I’d been served food on a full-sized plate in Japan, and certainly one of the few times I was offered a fork. Usually food is served in many small dishes with chopsticks. But eating spaghetti with chopsticks is probably beyond my skill level right now. I’m not even all that graceful eating it with a fork.

Jun topped the pasta with sauteed vegetables and baby squid, brewed an intense onion soup, and tossed a green salad from his garden vegetables.

Setsuko and I enjoyed this superb meal at the table on their wonderful porch overlooking everything and God.

After lunch, Setsuko took her daily walk, and I sat down at the outdoor table to make some drawings for the television documentary. Sayaka, the director, had asked me for drawings from the animated show on which I am working now. I told her that my animation consultant, Jack Enyart, had suggested that I add myself as a character in the show, and she immediately wanted to see how I would portray myself as a cartoon character.

My character not only makes music; she plants trees.  She always has stars twinkling around her head.

The trees grow to be the centers of “guilds,” a permaculture term meaning groups of plants that benefit one another by growing in proximity. Usually a guild includes plants that not only feed humans, but, also, feed birds and beneficial insects, fix nitrogen in the surrounding soil, build biomass, provide shade and mulch, and create a moist subclimate in arid places. Many plants can grow in a small space if they are placed so that each can fill a different elevation according to their natural patterns of growth.

In the evening, all four of us gathered for a splendid meal featuring the bamboo shoots stewed with a melange of Jun’s garden vegetables. We each ate half of a small fish, perfectly sauteed. Homemade daikon pickles (from homegrown daikon) and homegrown rice completed this lovingly prepared, typically Japanese meal.

One cannot eat this rice without thinking of Jun and Setsuko’s beautiful rice paddies, which I visited the next day with their daughter Ren.

A Walk in Fujino with Jun

While Setsuko worked in her home office (preparing to send a television crew to Bangladesh), Jun gathered and prepared foods for lunch and dinner. I love taking walks and was eager to see the neighborhood, so I tagged along. First we walked to a bamboo grove just down the road where Jun would harvest bamboo shoots, which can only be accomplished in springtime.

He dug up two, enough, he explained to me, to make a meal for four people. Previous to this trip to Japan, I’d only eaten bamboo shoots from a can, and I was delighted with the delicate flavor of freshly harvested and cooked bamboo shoots. It’s like comparing canned peas to fresh peas picked from a garden.

Jun and Setsuko’s vegetable gardens, wheat and millet fields are on land about a mile from their home. Walking there, we passed a number of large abstract sculptures made by local artists. Above is an artist’s home and studio close to Lotus House, and below are some of the pieces situated along the road.

Not far from the sculpture, we passed a magnificent piece of sacred architecture:

A Zen Buddhist temple…

…with monuments in front…

…and gardens on one side.

Across the road from the temple I saw a tea farm

…and, nearby, a pond with bamboo growing around it.

Of course, I didn’t miss the local man hole cover.

We walked into the valley where Jun and Setsuko’s gardens are.

Jun picked a variety of greens for our lunch and dinner, and then we headed back to Lotus House.

Lotus House

I left Tokyo by train the next day with Setsuko Miura, to be a guest in her home for five nights, while I did two performances at a (sort of) nearby music festival and participated with her in creating a TV documentary about my work. Setsuko, her husband Jun, and their daughter Ren (which means "Lotus"), live exemplary and extraordinary lives in Fujino (which means “covered with wisteria”), a mountain town an hour by train outside of Tokyo. There, they grow and prepare almost all of their own food (including rice), live in an energy efficient house they designed and built themselves from sustainable materials, and participate in the creation and maintainance of a local Waldorf school, a community natural farming rice field, and a permaculture center.

Setsuko and Jun both work hard to create their healthful, sustainable and elegant lifestyle and to raise a happy and broadly-educated daughter. They abandoned the traditional gender roles; Setsuko supports the family with her income as a television producer specializing in environmental issues, and Jun maintains the house, grows the food, and provides a large portion of the child care. Setsuko clearly derives inspiration and satisfaction from her career. Jun’s joy in gardening and cooking are palpable, and he is a master chef. Setsuko enjoys cooking and gardening, too, when she has time, and she adores her family. She radiates peace, joy and good health, quite unlike many of people I see commuting by train to jobs in Tokyo.

They call their home Lotus House. There’s a lotus on the front door…

…an old Chinese painting of lotus in the hallway..

…and a basket of lotus pods in Ren’s room…

…plus a pine cone collection on a window sill.

The great room looks out over a wooded canyon.

In one corner of the great room hangs a print of my painting “Zephyr.”

On cold days, the great room is warmed by a woodstove.

On warm days, the table on the porch outside the great room is the perch of choice.

From the other end of the porch, one can see the town of Fujino below in the valley.

Across the canyon from their home, on a wooded hillside, one of the many artists of Fujino set up a giant pair of blue eyes that seem to gaze into space.

The bedrooms and bathroom are downstairs.

I was particularly struck by the serene aesthetic of the bathroom…

…but I had to laugh when I noticed an Indonesian priapus near the ceiling in the corner above the toilet.

Every night before I slept (on an organic cotton futon in Ren’s room; she still sleeps in the same room with her parents), I took a long hot soak in the tub (gotta shower first!) It was divine.

Big Train Day in Tokyo

Tokyo man hole cover.
May 16, 2007, Tokyo. My first big change after turning 58 is that I begin to travel by train in Japan by myself, lack of language skills notwithstanding. Usually one of my friends studies the train schedules online, and hands me a paper telling me which trains to take and at what stations to change trains.

If I don’t know how to get to the next train I’m supposed to take (some stations have dozens of platforms at different levels and cover several acres), I ask the officials working in the station to help me. In one particularly large station, the friendly young man in the office actually walked me to the correct platform, which took quite a while, going up elevators and across shopping areas where hundreds of people walked purposefully in all directions. He was happy to practice his English. It was sweet, and by no means a singular occurance. I met friendly and helpful people everywhere I went.

Often I can find my own way by the signs (which are normally in both Japanese characters and in alphabetical letters), and just ask people standing near me for confirmation when needed by saying, “Seimasen (excuse me)” and stating my destination. If they start talking to me in Japanese, I say, “Gomenasai (I’m sorry). Scoshi scoshi Nihongo (very little Japanese).” After they help me, I say “Domo arigato gozaimas! (thanks so much for what you just did!)”

First stop today was in the Chiyoda section of Tokyo, to meet for the first time the literary agent with whom I’ve been doing business for years by email. Isn’t she gorgeous? This is Miko Yamanouchi, director of Japan Uni Agency.

We met for tea in the Koseto Cafe, where the walls are covered by dramatic murals painted by a famous actress. I discuss with Miko my current projects. Her English is perfect, and no wonder, she’s off to New York, or London, or Sydney, at the drop of a hat.

Next stop, I have a lunch date next with Setsuko Miura, my dear friend who produces television shows with an environmentalist viewpoint at TV Man Union. We dine at a very modern looking natural foods cafe in fashionable Shinjuku, near her office.

I have come to her office to discuss the interview-documentary that she and her crew will be filming of me the following Sunday, while I am performing at the Natural High music festival at Doshi, at a mountain campground two hours drive from Tokyo.

Colorful posters in the hall clue me to the wide variety of shows TV Man Union produces.

Sayaka Matsukawa, the director, (on the left, above) wants me to sing the songs from my first CD that have the most meaning to her: Hang Out and Breathe, and Pain and Love. I’m happy, of course, to oblige. She would like me to draw some line drawings typical of what I plan for the animated educational series for children on which I am working now. No problem. I always carry my pens. Mita Yutaka (center), the executive producer, mostly just listened as Sayaka and Setsuko unfolded the plans. Setsuko, who lived in California in the ‘70’s, and no doubt studied English mightily, translated for me.

Setsuko drew me a map so that I could walk to the Kurkku building from her office in about 45 minutes. I took this photograph from a bridge over Omotesando, an elegant shopping street on the border of Shibuya and Shinjuku. This part of Tokyo is full of trendy shops, and caters to young people especially.

I stopped into a natural foods market, and marvelled at the mix of imported, familiar products and typical Japanese foods, grown and prepared without chemicals. In the bins nearest me are organically grown mizuma (delicate salad greens), daikon (giant radishes), gobo (burdock root), and negi (green onions).

I passed a cute store selling “green” clothing (organic cotton, hemp, and other natural fibers). See the “Save the Earth” sign inside?

Here’s what Kurkku’s compound looks like from the street. There’s a garden store on the first floor, a natural foods cafe on the second floor, and a garden on the roof. Down the alley is their other building, with an elegant natural foods restaurant on the first floor, a bookstore and a “green” store selling sustainably produced clothing and gifts on the second floor, and the Artist Power Bank offices on the third floor. Both buildings were built from recycled and sustainably produced materials. Last October I performed a concert and storytelling show in the bookstore.  Next May I’ll do it again, as the opening of an art exhibit I’m having there. Artist Power Bank is an environmentalist arts notforprofit that runs Kurkku and funds community projects that raise awareness of sustainability and the environment.  They sponsored my tour last October.

When I arrived at the office, two Ainu tribespeople were visiting from Hokkaido. The woman is a fashion designer who makes clothes using traditional folkwear designs from her culture, including the beautiful robe she is wearing.

They insisted upon dressing me up in their clothing, and then instructed me in placing my hands in the proscribed mudra (hand position).

I had a productive meeting with the Artist Power Bank and Kurkku staff regarding the upcoming Natural High festival and my participation in it. Several of my friends from last October are working with me on this event, including Kaori, the translator (second from left), and Keisuke Era, the project director (third from left).

After the m
eeting, I walked to the Shibuya train station via Takeshita Street in Harajuku, the brightly lit shopping alley for college age and younger people. Varieties of pop music filled the air from each store, and the crowded street had a carnival vibe. Lotsa wild hair colors, costumes, tats, and piercings saunter by.

Besides the many shops selling punk clothes, sports clothes, and cutesie girlie fashion layers, there was a store with conservative shirtwaist dresses typical of the 1950’s. Is it really hip to be square, AGAIN? Although, God knows, these women have the waistlines for that style!

The only shop that lured me was an India import store. I guess I loved their handpainted staircase. But I continued to the train station, rode two trains for an hour and a half back to Zushi, took the bus from the Zushi train station to the bottom of the hill where Koki and Ayako live, and walked up to their house, well pleased that I am now able to get around on my own.

A Little Stroll in Hayama

The next day I awoke at Koki and Ayako’s house in Hayama (on the closest beach coast to Tokyo) to sunshine and soft breezes. My friends were both gone for the day, so I took a little walk by myself. I had new shoes, and a new skirt (a birthday gift from Sachiho, made of ultra-comfortable hemp and cotton jersey by a company called Little Eagle), and I felt pretty spiffy, so off I went…

…down the steep street at the top of which Koki and Ayako live.

The coastline of Hayama, with its volcanic, green hills and luxurious homes.

I walked down to Standing Stone Park again. This time Mount Fuji was not visible on the horizon, but the Stone has an undeniable drama to it. A beach with an erection.

A plein air painter worked in the park that day. I turned to see what she was depicting.

Yes, I think I might choose this view, too, if I were into making oil paintings of landscapes.

However, for reasons I can’t fathom, when I go to Japan, I want to photograph the man hole covers.

All of them. One of each.

Even rusty ones.

But Hayama definitely has a sense of place. One homeowner painted the Standing Stone onto his garage door, including a full frontal of Mount Fuji, with snow.

What I Did on My Birthday

At 5 AM on May 14, 2007, my 58th birthday, I sat in Fumon-ji Temple in Ako City, Japan, and listened to Eiyu Fujimoto, a Soto sect Zen Buddhist nun and leader of the temple, chant the Lotus Sutra, punctuating her rich vocalizations with beats on a wooden drum and an occasional chiming of the temple’s big bowl gong. About twenty people attended the early morning service, which took place in both the large and the smaller halls of the temple.

After Eiyu chanted, she invited Sachiho and me each to sing a song in the temple. Sachiho sang a lovely song with her lyre.

There was no guitar to borrow today, so I sang, a capella, my meditation song “Hang Out and Breathe.” It felt wonderful to let my voice resonate in the big wooden hall.

Ryu Umehara, an artist who lives in the house closest to the Donto-in (the house Sachiho built in honor of her late husband Donto) in Tamagusuku, Okinawa, brought one of his paintings to the temple. Here are Sachiho, Eiyu Sensei, Ryu and his wife (whose name I forgot to write down!)

The painting is representative of Ryu’s work, delicate, playful and colorful images of people in nature; these two are playing stringed instruments, one plucked and one bowed.

Ryu invited us to come to Mau Chai, a nearby teahouse and gift shop in Ako City, where he was having an art show in the upstairs room.

Sachiho and I went over there, and I tried to buy a book of Ryu’s paintings to take home with me. However, Ryu insisted on giving it to me as a birthday gift! He signed it for me, with a drawing of a dragon, which is the meaning of his name.

birthday07-ryu's book.jpg

What a treasure! 

So I bought myself another birthday gift downstairs – a pair of Italian shoes with
Turkish wool kilim uppers. Sachiho approved, saying that usually ethnic shoes are uncomfortable, but the Italian soles would be comfortable and last a long time. They ARE comfortable.

When we returned to the temple, Eiyu’s cook had prepared us all a splendid breakfast…

…with miso soup, pickles, rice, tofu, land and sea vegetables.  Afterwards, Eiyu brought out her photograph albums and showed us photos of a Tara Dance ritual held at Fumon-ji Temple.  Eiyu herself had danced in the ritual, looking elegant in a sari.  In the Tara Dance, a mandala of dancers in many colors of saris depicts the 21 Praises of the goddess Tara.  I danced in the very first of these ritual dances, on Maui in the 1980’s, because the choreographer, Prema Dasara, a classically trained Odissi dancer, was a personal friend.  She had been asked to create this ritual by the Tibetan Buddhist master Tai Situ Rinpoche.  Since the mid-1980s, Prema has been traveling internationally teaching Tara dance, although the Fumon-ji ritual was organized by one of her students.

Afterward, Eiyu gave me a birthday card with a playable keyboard that would also play Happy Birthday. She also gave me and Sachiho each a set of little bells to ring above our heads whenever we were troubled by negative thoughts. I keep mine handy!

Sachiho borrowed Eiyu’s car, and we went off to bathe at an on-sen (hot springs bathhouse). We passed this large and beautiful Shinto shrine, which is just down the hill from Fumon-ji Temple.

In front of the on-sen, I found another lovely specimen for my collection of Japanese man hole photographs.

This on-sen had outside pools with a panoramic view of the huge bay that lies between Ako City and the Pacific Ocean. We relaxed in the pool for over an hour, sharing stories, laughing, or just floating and listening to our breathing.

When we got back to the temple, we packed up, thanked Eiyu Sensei profusely, and took one last look at the big view of Ako City from the hill above the temple…

…and the beautifully restored buildings of the temple compound (this is the smaller hall where we’d had the second half of the service that morning), before we hopped into a taxi to the train station, and took a train to the airport. Sachiho flew back home to Naha City, Okinawa, where her sons awaited, and I flew back to Tokyo, where more adventures were about to begin.

Mothers Day Celebration at Fumonji Temple

After our dinner in Nara, Sachiho and I got into Ryoko’s van, and Ryoko drove us to Fumonji Temple in the lovely seaside town of Ako. We arrived late at night and bedded down in the dormatory (above) of the temple on futons in a tatami matted room. Already a group of women slept in the next room; all had come for a Mothers Day celebration organized by our dear friend Mana Koike (who created and runs the Alohana spiritual center on Oshima), in part to honor a visit by Clara Shinobu Iura, one of the Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. Clara’s an indigenous tribeswoman TWICE; her parents are Ainu tribespeople from northern Japan, but, because of her birth, lifetime and work in Brazil, she identifies herself with the indigenous people of the Amazon.

Fumonji Temple had to be the perfect location for the celebration, as it is the home of a famous 1200 year old statue of the Goddess of Compassion, Quan Yin (Kannon in Japanese). And also, the keeper of the temple, Eiyu Fujimoto, a Zen Buddhist nun of the Soto tradition, is revered as a great mother.  Most people call her Eiyu Sensei (teacher).  She’s seventy, but she’s got skin like a teenager, and the loveliest smile.

The old temple had been in great disrepair when Eiyu took the reins some years back, but through persistent hard work, enormous patience, and good cheer, she inspired people to donate funds and labor, and the temple was renovated to its current perfect beauty.

We gathered in the temple and sat quietly for a while. Our celebration began with a musical offering by spiritual singer/songwriters Takahiro and Rie, who played the day before I did at Happy Flower Beach Party music festival last October in Nago, Okinawa.

Next, beautiful Minaru danced her Earth Dance. She teaches this.

After Minaru, an a capella vocalist sang two of her songs.

Then a singer songwriter performed with guitar.

I borrowed Takahiro’s guitar (I’d already shipped mine back to Tokyo), and performed a couple of songs. I had to sing sitting down because the strap was not adjustable.

Last of all, Sachiho performed her spiritual songs.

Mana, with infinite elegance and grace, danced to Sachiho’s singing.

Sachiho’s last song was her husband, Donto’s, song “Nami,” which almost every hippie lady in Japan can perform as a hula. Even Clara was dancing.

After the performances, some little children brought Clara a gift.

There was a new mother to be celebrated that day, too.

I thanked Takahiro for lending me his guitar and was delighted to connect with him and Rie again.

Another friend I hadn’t seen since the 2002 tour on the Big Island of Hawaii that I set up for Amana came to the celebration. Her name is Miki, and she’s a ceramic artist.

Before everyone left, we gathered for a big, happy group shot, and I got a special hug from Clara, whose first language is Portuguese; we could meet on a common ground in Spanish, which we both speak as a second language.