May 20:

We took the train to the quiet little town of Kamakura, formerly the capital of Japan during the Kamakura shogunate (1185-1333) and spent several hours walking around in the rain, exploring. We went to Kotoku-in and saw the famous monumental bronze Buddha statue, the largest bronze Buddha in Japan, and visited the Hase-dera temple which contains an enormous wooden statue of Kannon, the largest wooden statue in Japan. We met with poet Maki Starfield and her sister Mie. Had lunch with them and then we all took a train to Ginza for a performance by Maki (at which Ronnie, Ken, and I were to provide musical accompaniment) at a nightclub called Mugen. Maki had some trouble finding the place. We wandered around in the misty rainy streets and she had to stop and ask directions of people a couple of times. We finally found it located on the 4th floor of a high-rise. The nightclub was small but elegant and dark. Maki performed her poetry, a unique style of surrealistic haiku she calls “Tsubuyaki,” giving readings in both Japanese and English, and Ronnie accompanied her playing improvisations on the shakuhachi. About halfway through the performance the three of us played “Kumoi-jishi” together, a celebratory tune that provided a nice interlude between the two halves of Maki’s performance. The audience was quite small, which is probably not surprising for an avant-garde, performance-art event like this, but Maki performed with great aplomb nonetheless. I think she was brave to put her artistic work out there in this way despite the inevitable difficulties of trying to garner an audience for it.

May 21:

The leaders of the Tenrikyo Center where we were staying met with us in the conference room in the dorm and gave us an introductory, welcoming introduction to the basic principles of the Tenrikyo religion. My impression was that Tenrikyo seems to be based on a model of the human mind that is clear and sensible, and emphasizes some practical principles of good mental hygiene. The Tenrikyo fellows later took us out to lunch at a restaurant that used to be a sumo stable. It had pictures all over the walls of great sumo stars of years past. The former sumo practice ring was even still there, in the middle of the restaurant. After lunch we walked about 10 minutes to the Asakusa shopping district and spent an hour wandering about. It was big, crowded, hectic, and dazzling. There was also a very beautiful temple there, Senso-ji, dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. In the evening Heidi and Kay and I took the train to Ginza to attend the Kabuki performance at the Tokyo Grand Kabuki Theater. We saw two performances, “Stone-Cutting Kajiwara,” and “Two Women at Dojoji Temple.” They were fascinating and intense. In some ways they reminded me of the intensity of opera, with its extravagant spectacles and overwrought passions. The “Two Women” performance was especially enthralling for the great beauty and gracefulness of the dance. Fortunately for us non-Japanese speakers the theater had headsets we could rent that broadcast English-language commentary on the performances as we watched, rendering them mostly comprehensible. After the Kabuki, Heidi and Kay and I took the train back, getting off at the Asakusa station and then walking across the bridge over the Sumida River. The rain had finally stopped. We made our way back to the Tenrikyo dorm and I felt proud of the three of us for being able to navigate our way through the city successfully.