Springtime Arrives along with the Popepool

Arriving here at the end of winter has the great advantage of being able to get ecstatic about the first glimpse of spring while being knocked senseless for only few weeks by the bitter cold. It was so warm today, that I just had to go out for a nice bicycle ride and a hike up to the large park along the western ridges. The trees in blossom now are plums. The cherry blossoms are spectacular but not even budding. The plum blossoms announce the coming of warm weather and have special place in my heart.

Oh, about the popepool. The other day, I was outside moving gracefully through my tai chi form when I suddenly began coughing and gasping for air. It was The Smoke from the incinerating of the mechanics oily rags across the street. Sure enough, when I checked the news, they had elected a new pope. I was later to find out that my poor nephew had lost his entire life saving (I may be exaggerating a little) in the office pool to guess which name the new pope would change to. All of the news media have had to make a big thing about the selection of a new pope. Really doesn’t make a difference. It’s still the same old game. What’s important to me is that he didn’t choose to call himself Pope Kundan. Now, that would have been a worry. Would have had to change my name again.







Revitalised in Paradise


So, I left you as I was arriving at the Baan Hom Samunphrai “The House of Sweet Smelling Herbs”. http://www.homprang.com/

The two founders and carers for this place are Homprang and Christopher. I fell in love with Homprang the moment I met her. Unfortunately for me, she is married to this great guy Christopher. The first thing she did when she heard of my recent ailment was fix me a herbal rice soup with a mug of herbal tea. I was given a room and rested until dinner which was delicious as are all the meals here. Just being here on this two acre property is a treat. Lawns and trees, a pond, and old wooden houses that they bought locally, took apart and reassembled to Christopher’s designs with common areas on the ground and sleeping above.


My room was upstairs in this building.

The Meditation Sala where I played my flute.

Inside the Meditation Sala.

When I arrived, there was a class of four thai massage students in their last week. Three French and one American. (Classes are limited to eight students.) In my two weeks here, people have come and gone as students and as paying guests. We have our meals at a long table so that you get to see everyone as least at those times. We’re nine kms outside the centre of Chiang Mai, so, people don’t just drop in. Occasionally, someone will come all this way just for a massage. It’s worth it.

This photo is unfortunately blurred. Sorry. It does give you and idea of dinner time. Standing is Christopher. The second person in on the right side is Homprang. Lots of young women around me at that time. That pepped me up.

My first massage here was on my second day. It was a ‘two hour full body massage’. Well, it went for two and three quarters of an hour and was one of the best therapeutic massages I’ve had in my long career of enjoying what life has to offer. None of my massages here have been less than two and a half hours. The credo here is to keep going until the massage is done. Nit, the woman who has been my massage therapist is this thin little woman who is very strong with incredible endurance. The first three of my five massages were two days apart but I found that I needed an extra day between for my body to fully integrate the changes. My last two massages included being massaged with hot herbal compresses during the second half. Want to melt your bones? That’s the way.

I must remember to mention the herbal steam baths I have been relishing every evening. How am I going to get one of those into my backpack?

This is the plunge pool beneath the room where you receive massages. The door in the back leads into the steam bath.

I haven’t said much about Christopher and Homprang because there is so much to say about them and so much that can not be said about them. Homprang is this ball of energy and love who moves gracefully about with the ease of one who is in harmony with existence. She makes one smile in wonder. There is a brief bio at the bottom of the home page for their website. My next to last night I finally got Christopher to tell me how they met. He gave me her whole bio and it was a story that if you saw it in a film you wouldn’t believe it. Christopher is this soft spoken American poet who lived much of his life in Britian and is a wealth of fascinating knowledge about Thai culture and life. There’s a link to some of his poems and a brief bio on the homepage. The two of them join us all at the evening meal where we relax and wander in conversation. I am so happy to be one of their friends.

It only took me two days here to begin feeling sprightly again and every day since has been a day of increasing vitality. The last two weeks have been full of good company, loving care, transforming massages, delicious food and a peaceful environment.

If you are ever in Chiang Mai, visit this place. You will be happy you did.

The Himalayan Mountain Yatra 2012: Prologue

A few lifetimes ago, climbing mountains was my obsession. Any chance that I had, I was looking for a new mountain to climb or a new way to go up a mountain that I had climbed before. I would scamper up the rocks and ravines. Running along the ridges, I was so fast that I became renown in the region where my family had their home. My best friend, Tika, also loved to climb mountains but he enjoyed taking his time and stopping along the way to look at some interesting flower or formation or view. The only view that I was interested in was the view from the top. This difference was perhaps why we were such good friends. We both loved mountains and both had our own way on a mountain.

Tika and I came from families which were traders. In the summer our families would travel to far lands to trade in whatever was easy to transport and was profitable. This, of course, gave us many opportunities to climb new mountains. One summer, our fathers finally gave their permission for Tika and I to go off on our own to play the trader’s game. We had many summers of apprenticeship and were certain that we would easily come back with goods that would astound our families. With this in mind, we set off in a new direction. There was, of course, in the back of our minds the search for ever higher and more unusual mountains. Before we had travelled very far, we began to hear of a mountain in a Kingdom that was so far away that we were not sure if it was real or not. This mountain was not just very tall but was renown for being especially difficult to climb. The mountain was considered to be holy and one had to have the permission of the King to climb it. If you were to somehow get in his favour, he would watch from above as you climbed a smaller less difficult mountain nearby. He himself had climbed the mountain many times but had allowed almost no one else to do so. Being young men of some ambition, this was a story that wetted our appetites even more. Especially mine.

It took us most of the summer to reach the border of the Kingdom. We had done only a minimum of trading along the way as we were in a hurry and felt that we could make our profit on our return. As we crossed the pass that marked entry to the Kingdom, we saw what we knew immediately was the sacred mountain. It’s top was in the clouds. At it’s base, we could just make out the city that contained the palace of the King. In the first village we came to, we went into the local general store/ public house and were lucky enough to find a man from the city who was travelled enough that he could speak a dialect that we understood. (In the city, we were able to find many people who spoke the language common to all the courts in our known world.) When we asked him about the mountain, he told us that we were, indeed, fortunate as we had come at an opportune time to climb the mountain. The King, whose name was Sonal, did indeed enjoy climbing mountains. His joy was to take his family out to a lodge on a lake at the foot of the mountain where they would relax and he could scale the peak. It had been a lonely pursuit for years as his wife and first two daughters were very happy to admire the mountain from the lake but had no inclination to go higher than a horse could easily carry them. However, when the third daughter, Sureya, was barely able to walk, she was begging her father to take her with him. With time she was as skilled as he. There were those who, in private, whispered that she was even more so.

As it happened, the first two daughters had married and the queen was insistent that it was time for Sureya to do so as well. King Sonal doted on this daughter and it is easy to imagine that he would have been happy to have her by his side for all of his days. However, he also wanted her to be happy herself and had spoken to her of finding a suitable husband. As she was the third daughter, and the first two had made very advantageous mariages, it was easier for the King to convince his wife that the younger daughter could be more unrestricted in her choice of a husband. Little did the King’s wife expect what criteria would be announced by the King.

Sureya had made a condition that only her father could have understood. It was announced that there would be a contest for the honour to have an interview with the Princess and the chance of her hand. There would be a race to the peak of the sacred mountain. The first five to reach the top would have the opportunity to the interview. (They would also receive a small sack of gold coins for there skill.) Before the announcement had been made, the mountain had been completely surrounded by soldiers to ensure that no one had an advantage. Furthermore, the climbing would begin on the most difficult side of the mountain. There would first be an elimination round on a neighbouring mountain where the King and Sureya would be in a special lookout and observe the skill of the initial contestants. Only the most skilled twenty would go on to the final challenge.

Well, do you think I was excited or do you think I was excited? Being a brash young man who had an easy way with the lasses, it was not the daughter’s hand that excited me. It was the chance to not only climb the legendary mountain but to test my skill against the best in the land.

Tika and I made our way to the city. It was a splendid place. We had experienced many different towns and cities in our travels with our families and this was one of the most pleasant of them all. The structures were well built and the streets were wide and clean. There was a large park in the centre with a small lake and winding paths. The people seemed content and friendly. We had soon found lodging above a public house. The owner was a genial man who was happy to share many more details about the upcoming contest. There was an undercurrent of excitement amongst the people. Many young and not so young men had come to compete.

The next day we found our way to a building where a minor official of the court was taking applications. After an inspection to determine if I were fit enough for the contest, I was given a coloured sash and a number. There were so many contestants, that there were going to be several elimination races. The number was the number of the race and the sash was to make identification easy for the King and princess’s judging. With so many elimination races, it was possible that in the final race you would be competing against men whom you had not raced against before. The beginning races were a week off and, so, Tika and I went two days walk away to find a mountain for me to use as practice. Tika was, as I said before, of a different temperament than I and would act in a support role for me.

I am not one to boast and when I said earlier that I was exceeding quick at scaling mountains, I was being quite accurate. The three days of preliminary races soon arrived and as expected, I found myself in the top dozen candidates.

While I was focused on the racing, Tika, in addition to logistical support, had been making arrangements that would ensure that no one would interfere with me before the race. Tika was a very charming fellow in a relaxed way and he had found us lodging in a small apartment where he could prepare my meals and see that I was safe and comfortable. He had made friends with some of the local children and they had become his eyes and ears.

The day of the final race arrived and I finally found myself on the way through the cordon of soldiers to see the face of the mountain up close. It was a very different thing to see the mountain other than at a distance and the side chosen was indeed imposing. We only had about half an hour to stand and search for the best route upward. There were no speeches or ribbons cut. We were told to get READY…SET….GO! About half the racers headed for one location. I was not one of those. It was an obviously easy way to begin the journey upwards but I was more interested in a more difficult beginning that would lead me more quickly to a section that looked to me to offer more choices to continue. I knew from experience, one needed to have alternatives available along the way because you couldn’t foresee what was really ahead. My skill and speed helped me to maintain equal vertical progress through that first section and, then, my foresight, strength and skill soon had me out in front. I was told later, that after the half way point, there were only three of us in real contention. I was not aware of this. I was just focused on my own progress and moving with the flow of the mountain. This is something that I have not mentioned. As a mountain is born, it’s surface has certain patterns that are specific to it. If you can sense these patterns, you will find a flow that takes over your movement. In a way, you are guided by the mountain itself. Usually I was able to take a bit of extra time to discover that flow. I was fortunate in that though I under the pressure of the race, I soon found the flow on that magnificent mountain. I let go and danced up the mountain.

Yes, I was the first to the top. Only by a little. There were two others less than one body length behind me. As each of the climbers reached the top, he had his moment of triumph or disappointment and, then, looked around from his perch at the top and a broad smile spread across his face. We were all dedicated climbers and the place that we had attained was too special to let it pass in extraneous considerations. When the last person had arrived, we all looked around raised our arms and cheered. It was that kind of moment.

OK, so, I won the climb and was thus one of the five eligible to meet the daughter of the King. I was given the rest of the day to rest and prepare as best I could for the interview. I enjoyed that time. I ate well and the next morning bathed and donned some excellent clothes that Tika had picked up for me. I was going to make the best impression I could even though I had no real interest in marrying the princess. I had done what I had come for, had some gold in my purse (Tika had made a few good bets as well) and I was young and free. I was just going along out of curtesy and curiosity.

When I arrived at the palace, I was shown into a well furnished room where I waited with the other five. We were informed that we would have our interviews in reverse order of our reaching the summit of the mountain. I noticed that most of the others were showing some nerves. I was relaxed and content. We were told that we should not reveal what was discussed in our interviews until the chosen one was announced. So, when I was finally shown through the large doors, I had no idea of what direction the conversation would take.

A servant held the door for me to enter. The room that I entered was smaller than the others that I had passed through. There were some cushions a short way from a fine dark red curtain. Light came through a window on the opposite wall from the curtain. I was aware of something intangible about the place. A voice from behind the curtain floated out, “Welcome, Uina.”

Inside, I went still. My head turned toward the curtain and I slowly replied. The first questions were what you would expect with any friend and so I was able to answer even though I was actually listening to the voice rather than the words. There was a pause and, in a very direct manner, I was asked, “Would you give up climbing mountains if I were to ask you?” With this question I found myself in a way that I had never imagined. My answer was not one of logic and not one that I had ever imagined. “Climbing mountains is my greatest joy. I entered the race only for the chance to climb such a remarkable mountain. I came here only as a curtesy and out of curiosity. There was no desire on my part to become your husband. The question that you ask could never have brought forth any but a negative answer from me. However, since the moment I entered this room and heard your voice and felt your presence, my entire being can only say ‘yes’. ”

The curtain swung open and the most beautiful woman I had ever seen stepped out and was sitting before me. She took my hand and as she drew me towards her she breathed, ‘yes, yes, yes…’

As evening approached, we walked out through the garden to a pergola where she introduced me to her father.

The next day, Sureya and I climbed the mountain that had brought us together. She danced along beside me to the top.

Tika stayed for the wedding. Afterwards, he left on horseback with one of the King’s guards as an escort. He was on his way to tell our families of the news. By the time that he located them, they had to send word with the guard that with winter setting in, they would be waiting til spring to see us.

When my parents arrived, they were happy to find that they were to be grandparents as well. My mother stayed on til after the birth and, then, my father returned from his journeys and after a brief stay they were off again.

During the pregnancy and following the birth, my desire to climb move back in my mind. When our daughter, Sukriya, was a few months old, Sureya and I started up the mountain with Sukriya held in a sling in front of Sureya. Perhaps it was the joy of the three of us ascending this special mountain for the first time that made me so excited and bursting with energy. After a short while, Sureya said to me, “Go ahead. Take off. You wish to fly. Celebrate this occasion and fly.” She knew my heart and with her blessing, I sprang up the slope. I reached the top and looked down. Some clouds had blown in and I could not locate them, so, I started down. When I reached where I expected them to be, they were not there. I called out and heard Sureya’s voice. Following down, I found her huddled behind a large boulder. She pulled me too her, “A gust of wind came around the mountain and caught Sukriya’s sling like a sail. It caught me by surprise and I lost my balance enough that I stepped on a loose rock and fell. As I fell, I could only think of protecting Sukriya. I sprained my ankle and did something to my wrist. I’m so happy that you are back to care for us.”

I was in shock. The joy and excitement of the day vanished as the possibilities flooded into my mind. After checking that there were no other injuries, I said, “I swear that for ten lives I will always be the last one up the mountain.”

Only three lifetimes have passed since that vow. What to do?

Will The Real Mt Shasta Please Stand Up!

I am writing this to you all as an assurance that I did indeed experience Mt Shasta and surrounds and return to you all. My good friend, Sheelu, picked me up at my sister’s house and we drove through the 103 F heat to the Casa de Plunge. (Also known as The Lake House, it is the holiday home of my brother, John.  and his wife, Stephanie, on Lake Shasta.) The next morning found us driving up to the mountain that is so famous and well known in certain circles. the high point of ten day for me was the visit to Upper Panther Meadow. This is the site of  a spring that is sacred to the local Winimum Wintu people. It is the place of their origin. The meadow is also the home of a small flowering bush that takes two to four hundred years to grow to a height of four inches.

These flowering bushes are only four inches tall.

Unknowing people have trampled much of this rare vegetation. Twenty- five years ago, there was a ” Harmonic Convergence” in the meadow that destroyed most of these plants in the meadow.  Since then, signage has been erected and, the day we visited, there was a volunteer guide to tell us about the place. Something of interest was the Vole tunnels where they hibernate with separate rooms for their food, sleeping and shitting. In the spring, the rains wash through the evacuated tunnels and mixes the contents into a wonderful fertilizer for the meadow. Very cool.

Vole Tunnels

As we arrived, the guide was just finishing talking with three ladies in white. Just before they moved on, one asked him if there had been any recent ‘ascensions’. We were to find out that in 1930 , a man named David Lloyd, after drinking an elixer of St Germaine ascended body and all up into another dimension  in front of witnesses on Mt Shasta. OK. This only the beginning.
As we were leaving, a man in the parking area told us that Mt Shasta has entrances to the underground where the Lemurians live at the centre of the earth. I didn’t know about this piece of history, but, when Lemuria was destroyed, some of the Lemurians escaped through tunnels to the middle of the earth and the entrances are somewhere around Mt Shasta.  The reason that there are clouds swirling around the top of the mountain is so that you won’t see the UFOs as they fly into the secret entrances on the mountain. (There’s so much that they didn’t teach me about at school!)  This same man sleeps out and communicates telepathically with the UFOs. They reply by blinking their lights.  Maybe they figure that he can only send, not receive.
Now, I know there is a rumor going around that Sheelu and I were abducted by aliens while on Mt Shasta and I want to say that …. Mmmm … Arwagl …mndoobiel… Nngblta …. and that’s what happened. Other than that, we had a very good time on the mountain. I was tempted to either join the Lemurians  or  ascend but being such a Libran, I couldn’t decide, so, I’m still around in this dimension for a while yet.
Having settled those important questions, we moved on, over the next few days, to enjoy some of the vast amount of beauty that the region offers in this dimension. A visit to nearby Castle Lake where we jumped naked in the cold clear waters and hiked up a trail was a very refreshing treat.

Castle Lake

On our last day, we went a distance to Burney Falls where we had a picnic by the lake and, then, walked the loop trail for an experience of something amazing.

Over the stream below the falls.

As I stood captivated by the water roaring in true tumult above me, I reflected on how it just kept pouring and pouring, constantly fresh and new, different water from moment to moment. For thousands of years water has kept moving over these falls. I was reminded of the feeling I used to have as a kid in my bed at night imagining infinity.

Burney Falls

The falls comprise the above ground water that shoots over the top, but, there is also underground water that bursts out of the wall. Here is photo taken amongst the mist.

Sheelu and I eventually tore ourselves away from the falls and made our way to another great miracle. Having dinnern with John and Steph. Below is a photo of us all at the Dogwood Diner in Dunsmuir. A couple chefs moved up from the city to open this little place in this lovely little town just down the road from the mountain. Our laughing waiter brought us wonderful salads followed by extraordinary mains. I had a tart that was bliss melting in my mouth. It was an evening of relaxed story telling and the pleasure of the company of loved ones.

Dogwood Diner

The 15th Rocky Shakuhachi Camp, Kyoto

What do you get when you put 80 players of the shakuhachi together in two floors of one building for four days?

Serious Shakuhachi Practice

A hell of a lot of fun, learning and playing.

The Rockies Shakuhachi Summer Camp is usually held near Boulder, Colorado with about 30 attendees. To more than double the size and transplant it to Kyoto was a miracle that David, Cory, Christopher and the rest of the crew pulled off beautifully. It was a time to explore the many styles and schools of shakuhachi. To refine technique and discover new ways to approach the instrument. To hear some inspiring performances and, perhaps, best of all, it was a place to catch up with old friends and make new ones. In fact, when I think of those few days, what first comes to me is a collection of faces of new close friends passing before my eyes. Their smiles and easy closeness.  The happiness of being together.

Kyoto Shakuhachi Camp Members

Of course, there were some difficulties. Like Kundan attempting to sit on the floor for the whole camp. “Hey, I sit for an hour at a time occasionally, I can do this.” He went home the first night, thinking, “I wonder why I’m so tired. Maybe it’s my biorhythm. A good night’s sleep will do me.” Half way through the next day, in a small workshop, the sensei asked if he was ok. “Oh, sure,” he said to the fuzzy image before him. The sensei was no fool. He soon called a break and had the translator bring Kundan a chair. Superman quickly returned to life and was able to gather the strength to play his shak again.

The first evening was devoted to introductions. There was supposed to be other stuff but with 80 individuals…  Here are a couple of the many good stories from that evening:

One man wanted to marry the daughter of a shakuhachi teacher. The father told him, “If you want to marry my daughter, you’ll have to learn to play the shakuhachi.”  He knew how to test a suitor’s intentions! Twenty-five years later, the son-in-law is still happily married and is teaching the shakuhachi.

Another Japanese man wasn’t interested in traditional Japanese music. He loved jazz. Then, one night he heard a British musician playing jazz on a shakuhachi (there were some eye brows raised at this suggestion) and loved it. The next day, he was walking his dog and saw that his neighbour, who had the same type of dog, was carrying something shaped like a shakuhachi. Not only was it a shakuhachi but the neighbour is a shakuhachi teacher. And, now his teacher.

The vastness of the camp allowed me to make some great ‘mistakes’ . One was when I wandered into the “wrong” workshop and learned a bit of a beautiful piece “Haru no Umi” that is accompanied by koto. Having only learned solo pieces, this was a fun new experience. At another workshop we all learned some folk tunes. During the camp we got to hear improvisation with tabla, as well as, pieces accompanied by koto, shamisen and singer. (The woman who played the koto, shamisen and sang was the amazing Sawako Fukuhara.) There were absolute beginners who got their own classes and gave heart the rest of us to know that we are a living growing tradition. There were people from all over the world including a group from China who included some very good players. The shakuhachi was originally brought from China to Japan and, then, kinda faded away there. Over the last decade, the shakuhachi returned to China. Chinese players have multiplied and there are over one thousand people studying shakuhachi in China. The last evening, was a student/faculty concert that I joined in amongst a large number of my colleagues for one number. One of the highlights was an arrangement by Elliot Kallen of James Brown’s “I Feel Good”.

Then, there was the field trip-

We were all given the opportunity to dress as a Komuso and play in the garden of a Zen Temple. The Komuso were the Zen priest who used the shakuhachi as a meditation tool. When outside the temple, they would wear these basket hats and wander freely all over Japan.

Our one authentically dressed Komuso before the basket.

Many of them were masterless samurai. Eventually, enough rumours of their possibly being spies reached the Shogun that he disbanded them. It is from them that many of the great pieces have been passed down.

To play Komuso in a garden!!!! I jumped at the chance. I was surprised that there were only a dozen of us up for it. We only had six of the basket hats and only one of us had the authentic costume. So, we improvised. Aikido gi, kimono, whatever looked Japanesee.

The “Gate” at the Zen temple.

We, then, filled a van and two taxis for a drive across town to a large Zen temple complex. David had picked a splendid location, the ‘Gate’ of the temple.

As the first group of six got fitted with their baskets, tourists (mostly Japanese) started to gather. There were lots of smiles and pictures.

Group One “Komuso”

Everyone was having a great time. One British couple were getting a discourse on the shakuhachi and told of the upcoming festival.

Then… a young woman came tearing down the hill toward the gate in a very official mode. We let her attempt to find out who was in charge for a little while before directing her to the right person. It transpired that we weren’t allowed to have a “photo session” in the temple grounds without applying for permission and paying a fee. Well, we didn’t think of this as a “photo session”, just a bit of fun. So, we packed up and walked over to a small public roadway within the temple complex and continued our adventure. 86ed from a Zen temple. That was a new one.

We left the tourists behind but there were still some passersby.

Even with the basket hat, they found me.

K & The Geisha

A Model Komuso

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

There were so many great sessions. I’ll just write a little about two of them.

One of the special guests was Junsuke Kawase III. Among other things he told us that twenty- five years ago he gave up smoking. Besides gaining a little weight, he developed asthma. It got so bad that he couldn’t play his shakuhachi. He was inhaling steroids up to six times a day. He asked his doctor if the treatments would cure his asthma and was told, “No, we’re only dealing with the symptoms.” Then, a friend told him of having a successful treatment in Beijing. So, off to Bejing where he started treatment with a Qi Gung doctor. In a very short time, he felt much better and was able to start playing his flute. The Qi Gung doctor said to him, “I didn’t know that they had such a Qi Gung instrument in Japan.” Junsuke went on to tell us some of what he learned about Qi Gung and it’s relation to playing the shakuhachi.

On the last day, the Super Session was with Ichizan Hoshida-sensei. He started by asking us if, when we warmed up in the morning, did we start off blowing the best note we could or just blowing. I was one of the majority who raised their hands to the latter. It was an eye opener to me. Among other things, he talked about starting off with just blowing at 40% strength for four seconds at a time and making each blow the best note that we could blow. I remembered this.

The camp ended at noon and the World Shakuhachi Festival Competition Final Performances began at one o’clock in the same building. There were 24 contestants. It was open to anyone of any age with any level of experience. Most of the contestants were in and around their 20s. What surprised me was the entry of Riley Lee in the competition. If you don’t know, Riley Lee has been playing the shakuhachi since the early seventies. He has performed publicly for many of those years and has produced a large number of excellent cds. To say that I was puzzled is an understatement. My answer was to arrive:

This is how I experienced it. The competitions finalists included some of the finest young up coming players. It was, of course, a highly charged event for them and they would have been listening very carefully to the other players. They each played two pieces. The first was a choice of two pieces that the organisers provided. One with two koto accompanying. It was very melodious. The second with koto  and shamisen contained some very intense sections with the solo being a slower interlude. The second piece played was a choice of the player and only limited by time. Riley was number 22 in order of playing the first piece. Watching the other performers, they would stand or sit beside the accompanists and, facing the audience, would nod when ready and set off into the piece. When Riley came on stage, he adjusted his chair to the side of the accompanists so that he was facing both them and the audience. As he played, he and the koto and shamisen were playing as a unit. Then, when he came to the solo part, it was Riley sitting there alone surrounded by a silent stillness out of which came the exquisite sound of the shakuhachi. When Riley played his other solo piece, that same intense experience occurred. To be present when a shakuhachi master plays at such heights is a rare opportunity.

The morning after the camp, I woke at 5 am. (Not on purpose!) By 5:30, I was in the garden of a small shrine moving through a beautiful slow Yang Chen Fu form. Then, I unpacked my shakuhachi. I stood feeling the energy move up from the earth to mix with the breath in my belly, then, to rise up at 45% strength to emerge as the best note that I could blow. I continued this way maintaining the 45% strength for a length of time until I felt the energy of my breath increase of its own accord and while I stayed relaxed it moved up to emerge as a loud best note I could blow. I had often wondered about the term “Suizen” (blowing zen). That morning, I felt that I had tasted it.

Ten Thousand Words

A Cut Above the Rest

So, there I am, wandering through Kyoto business streets when I come upon a knifemaker’s shop. If you know anything of Japanese knives you would be as excited as I was. The Japanese knives that are made by such a maker are made with the care and technique of the samurai swords. Three layers of metal and so sharp that they slice rather than just cut. Although I have enough kitchen knives, I was drawn in by my love of such art. On the wall were displayed the different steps from the chunk of metal to the final product. (I was so awestruck that I forgot to take any photos.) Some of the knives had swirls on the blades like you see on some of the swords.

Looking around, having to remember to stop the saliva from dripping from my mouth, I came across …

Yes, these are a pair of haircutting scissors. I use them for trimming my beard. From tip to toe, they are about sixteen centimetres (six and a half inches) long.  Look at the beautiful curves of the handle.

Take a closer look….

The thumb hole is shaped for a right hander. I didn’t notice at the time, so, I don’t know if they had a southpaw version in stock. You see the tensioner for the blades. The blades are slightly hollowed for an even sharper edge. The edge is meant to last ten years between sharpenings. With my twice a week beard trim…


The other side… The Maker’s Mark!




I said above that I trim my beard twice a week. Since these new scissors found a new home beside the 95 year old double edged razor, I have found myself being a bit more scrupulous about the stray hairs on my face.

A gentleman’s treasure.