Me as an Artist

So probably everyone already saw my Facebook posts and the pictures  in May where I was in the GAM (Global Artist Movement) art show at the Toyota city art museum.  But for those who haven't, to make a long story short, I spent two weeks of musing and three days of painting this:

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Mount Ishizuchi

The car followed a river of teal and aquamarine, which wound around boulders it had carved out of the mountain.  Some of the boulders were as big as my flat, but the scene didn't have that jagged violence that I have been inspired by in other Japanese landscapes.  Though the scale of nature was impressive next to the size of our little car, the I felt calmed rather than excited about it.

This was Ehime during Golden Week.  A lot of people would be out visiting family, catching Covid in restaurants and among friends.  So I decided to go out to nature.  Somewhere long and hard that would make the 3-day weekend feel worth it.  I decided to climb Mt. Ishizuchi.

Ishizuchi is about 2,000 meters high.  I haven't climbed a mountain that high in forever.  The peak is a large rocky outcrop which seems to fold over like the hook of a nose.  Perhaps it's for that reason that a Tengu, a long-nosed creature of the spirit world, is worshipped there and there are festivals performed on the mountain each summer, despite the danger of falling off the rocks.  This Tengu is the protector of the mountain.  He protects the trees, the rocks, the wildlife. . .  And people seem to think he'll protect you too, if you send him your prayer.  But I think if I'm going to pray at a mountain shrine, I'm not going to pray for my safety, I'm going to pray that the mountain's biodiversity stays balanced and thrives.  At least I believe that's the kind of prayer that the Tengu would honor.

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The Early Bird Catches the Sunrise

Hello all,

It's been more than two years since I've moved to Okayama and sometimes I still pine for Kobe.  I always think - how can I recreate what I had in Kobe here in Tamano?
One of the things I miss is walking up the mountain to have tea with all of my friends, pausing along the way to watch insects, and feeling part of something bigger than me, feeling like I belong.

Sometimes, wandering along the hiking trail, I found myself pausing, giving up, wanting to turn around.  I thought, why am I here?  There are so many more beautiful mountains.  No one will be waiting for me at the top.  There are so many more lively mountains.  Why bother?  There are so many other ways to get exercise.

the very first time I made friends on Mt. Takatori in Kobe, it was because I'd wanted to see a sunrise from the top of a mountain for the first time.  I was hoping to catch the last of the cherry blossoms as well, and maybe both of those things would come together: The blossoms and the rising sun.  I felt rushed.  Would I be able to make it up there in time?  And then elation when I was able to see the sun rising from the morning haze.  

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!  (Although I'm not counting it as 2021 yet until Jan. 20th.)  I hope it's a much better year than last year.  At least plans won't be cancelled this year as probably we all know better now not to make plans in the first place.

Sometimes one good person can make or break an adventure.

I owe this adventure to the owner of the Irifune hotel.

At first Yossi and I spent the holidays cleaning the house, then relaxing with our relatives.  Snow fell lightly amidst a scattering of clouds that sometimes sent sharp beams of sunlight to prevent the white fluff from piling up, and sometimes covered the sun long enough for it to stick.  The sun and snow played tug of war for two days while we played hide-and-seek, made skype calls, made cookies, decorated the house in paper snowflakes, practiced piano and calligraphy, and ate heartily.  But on the third day, the snow was gone, the kids needed to do their winter break homework, and Yossi and I decided not to overstay our welcome.

We left the house with absolutely no plan whatsoever.  I was actually pining for Kobe, struggling with my need to meet up with old friends, versus the fear of Covid.  Somehow, in the next hour, we went from driving through the mountains wondering what to do, to being on a ferry heading toward the island of Shodoshima.

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"For Your Just" - written on a store ad

Some people say there's a kind of peer pressure felt on social media to have a feed full of fun and smiles no matter how sad or rotten you are on the inside.  I don't feel that as peer pressure, but I'm rather reluctant to put anything less than happy and bubbly up for public view.  I don't think twice about it, until someone mentions how happy I must be, when I haven't been really feeling that way.  Or what a fun-filled life I've been living, when I'm actually just as stuck as anyone else under the shadow of Covid-19.

I'm a very social person, and since I haven't been able to see my real friends for a year now, I've been getting closer with my neighbors and my husband's family.  I haven't spent a night anywhere where there have been any cases of Covid in that city.  I'm lucky I live near a mountain where I can just go lose myself in nature when I have nothing better to do.  And I have hobbies at home to keep me company.  And I have a very demanding job that takes up all those little scraps of free time here and there that I used to relax in.  So I'm not going to complain that Covid has destroyed my life or anything; that's simply not true.  But that doesn't mean I'm living my life oblivious to the disease and that doesn't mean I'm not lonely.

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Hanzaki Art Meguri in Yubara

I took the emergency flashlight from the hotel and I'm walking along a creek at 11:30 at night, shining it into the river.  I'm wearing a mask with a paper mask cover over it, but not because I'm worried about Covid.  I mean, I'm in a resort town in the middle of a pandemic, there's almost no one here!  Especially in the middle of the night!  But I am in a river valley amidst towering hills, which means it's frigid.  The mask keeps my face warm.

I know the Hanzaki (colloquial term for Giant Salamandar) are not going to be out this night unless they're starving.  They only have to eat one fish a week, and what's the chance that tonight's going to be the night for fishing.  But I'm doing this so I can't say I didn't try.

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Sea Fireflies

"Is anyone interested in coming with me to see sea fireflies?"

It was a post made by an older man on a local facebook site.  I'd run into him before at a friend's party, but I barely remembered his name.  We were basically strangers.  But I thought I'd look up, "Sea fireflies" as I'd never heard of that term before.

What I found were fascinating little creatures.  They're scavengers along sandy shores and when bothered, they spurt out a fluorescent blue liquid.  The light fades rather quickly, like a blinking firefly.  And it so happens that they're proliferous in my area during the summer.  I love the little creatures of the world and I decided I wanted to see these.  But I wasn't sure about getting in a car with a stranger in a foreign country.

I sent him a tentative message.  It turns out there was another woman around my age coming as well.  That settled it, I was in!  Sea fireflies, here I come!

Then he asked if he could pick me up early and we could go visit an art gallery beforehand.
I checked this guy's facebook page.  It's all posts of him caring for his aging mother and administering her rehabilitation.  He owns a yacht and uses it to give rides to people to help overcome their mental instabilities.  He's a licensed psychologist.
I figured I'd give this guy a chance.

Best decision ever.

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Imagine living in the Warring States period of Japan, when one day your neighbor swears fealty to your lord and they have a celebration together, and the next day they're sending an army to kill you.  Imagine men growing up under these warring lords, their role models being warriors, which is just another heroic name for murderer.  Finding peace with your own death in battle was an aesthetic principle.  It had to be, or what other way could you justify that kind of madness.  With no beginning or end to war, death in itself had to be an honorable aim.  Imagine being a woman married to a feudal lord, fearful each day that your husband will die in battle and you will be left with absolutely nothing.

On top of Tsuneyama (Mount Tsune), Princess Tsuruhime's husband and sons decide to end their own lives rather than be killed by their enemies.  But the princess is trained in the arts of war, and she decides to go down fighting instead of slitting her stomach with her husband's sword.  She gathers an army of 35 women to challenge the enemy to a duel, a duel that ends in tragedy, but their moment of bravery has not been forgotten.
Now we stamp our feet and sing a song of prayer.  In part, this festival is a way to connect to our past, our roots.  In part, this festival is a way to celebrate our love for this mountain that stands above us.  The people of Utogi and I gather together for an exclusive dance.

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Magatama and the Eclipse

I'm having tea with a friend outside of a Magatama shop.  We walked here from a cafe that had indoor seating, but I'd rather be out in the rain where I feel safer from catching diseases.  Behind us, a glass display shows various stones worth more than my month's salary.

Magatama is similar to Yin-Yang.  They are stones in the shape of a tadpole, with a hole through the center of the "head" and the "tail" curving inward.  Kind of like one half of a yin-yang symbol.  When my friends held the tea party for me, the fortune-teller who read my palm wore two Magatama, one as a necklace and one as a bracelet.  He said they were his power stones.

I didn't really care at the time.

So suddenly these very lovely looking young ladies enter the courtyard.  It's been decorated with a hundred colorful umbrellas both as an art installation, and so no one gets rained on.  As they move together in a group, a filming crew follows them.  They get their pictures taken and make some kind of an announcement.  My friend and I watch idly, but we're engaged in other conversation.  My friend went to a Magatama workshop where she made a necklace and she's busy telling me about how she doesn't like it and never wears it, but her husband wants her to wear it because he paid for the workshop.

She stops talking.  Something's going on behind us.  The filming crew has approached!  Without any introduction or anything, a microphone is put in my face.

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