Monday Jaunary 19, 1998
When we had originally planned to go to Kamakura, Shukuya-san had planned for us to spend one day at the Atami Museum of Art. I supposed that when we had to drop leaving Tokyo, we would also scratch the plan to go to Atami. Not so, I found out. I wondered why he was so set on our going there. My guide book did not even mention the area. There seemed so much more in Hakone, but here in his newly revised scheduling he had gone to considerable extra work canceling our previous train reservations and making new ones for us to go by train to Atami.
Leaving any one place to travel to another simply takes away my appetite, so again Werner had breakfast alone. I tried to block out the coming train trip by writing up my notes. No luck. We were both as nervous as if we had an overseas flight before us. We were almost relieved to leave the hotel at 10:00 and take a taxi to the Tokyo Train Station. This time Shukuya-san and Yamamoto-san had written out the instructions for the taxi driver.
It was Monday morning in the city and the traffic seemed worse than ever. As we stood at the crosswalk waiting on the light to change, I thought I would faint from the fumes. Somehow, when the cars stopped there was a little breeze created by us and the gang of pedestrians, so I got enough oxygen to walk into the station. We knew we were to go to gate 15 and the way was clearly marked. It was just such a long way to go. Always one more corner to turn, one more gate to go through. One more flight of stairs and we went up and outdoors. The noise and the rushing of the people was intense. We were thankful everything was so well organized so that we could sit down on a bench right beside our car -- #12. Or we were to be at gate 12 for car number 15? One more check to find out that we were in the right place, but just too early. I tried to quiet myself with writing:
such noise and fumes
nervousness in all three
Finally, this 'wrong' train pulled out giving us more daylight, and air, which was much needed. Still...
feeling abandoned while waiting
waiting for the train
pigeons on a wire
And just then I saw Shukuya-san come up the stairs and suddenly every thing began to go all right. We found our seats. We were together. The atmosphere was clean and quiet. We could talk. We could look at photographs. Already some of his photos had been developed and he had put them into albums for us. The train pulled out of the station so smoothly, we barely noticed.
The two men had let me have the window seat, so they talked together and I was glad to just look out the window.
the old cement walls
I was touched to see that out in the suburbs, the Japanese, as the Germans do, have individual gardens lining the rails. Many of the gardens were rice paddies -- some still had the shocked rice straw from harvest. It was if I could feel their need to continue the old ways of the farm even as Tokyo spread out around and surrounding them.
way of the train
green fields' line
of rice paddies
Werner, who has the best eyesight yet, soon spotted the first hills along the bay and then to our right -- inland. The farther we got from Tokyo, the more the sun was coming through the clouds. As we came abreast of the ridge of foothills the clouds drew back behind them as if there was something we were supposed to see.
is that white cloud there
Yes! With its sides completely covered with snow, Fuji looked like another cloud, but huge and imposing. As we got closer, the graceful slopes took on the shape that no cloud has -- that curve that I had memorized from photographs but was so much more meaningful in real life.
for today's trip to Fuji
on Fuji-san's peaks
Honest to god, it did look just like that to see the wavy line at the top of the peak. I really don't think I was using a metaphor in that ku; that was the truth. I saw a god smile on Japan.
My moments of staring at the whiteness of the holy mountain were interrupted by our arrival in Odawara.
train stops at
another gaudy town
That was the end of my view of Mount Fuji, but just thinking about seeing it still gives me a thrill.
The trip went extremely fast. Soon we were having glimpses of the bay and the ocean and before I got a really good look, we were pulling into the station of Atami. I liked Atami station. It was small. The stairs were short and within minutes of disembarking we were standing in the sweet air of the sea and sunshine piling good vibes all around us. Even the train station had that relaxed air of a watering hole, a Kurort, a place of healing.
Here we met Shukuya-san's friend of many years, Sei-ichiro Nakagae, who helped us into a taxi. I was totally happy just standing outside the station, but there were evidently better places to go. It seemed they were all uphill by the narrowest of streets. The great dressed stones that leaned walls against the mountain side spoke of how old this area was. It was a place to walk and carry the sun on our shoulders. I was regretting our haste until the taxi swung around before the entrance of the most astounding museum!
As we piled out of the taxi we were drawn to the edge where only a few pine trees held back the bright blue waters of the bay. As we tried to get closer, the trees got bigger. At the far edge we turned and from there we could see the magnificence of this incredible museum. It seemed to carry the sand-colored walls right into the sky. For once I did not mind how many photos we had to take and pose for; I was happiest just being in the pure air. Yet, I was eager to climb to the top of this museum for the muse-see-ummm.
But shortly we came out on another island, populated only with the "King and Queen" - a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore with glorious views of the bay. Below the low wall were trees that promised to be cherry trees in April. The shine of the sun on the cold wind was like a premonition of the coming brilliance. But we still had miles to go and mountains to climb.
And climb we did, thank goodness by Mitsubishi escalators. Inside the walls, the stone imported from India seemed an endless up. When we finally seemed to be at the top, before the immense glass windows, we were hurried away to climb a stony walkway. But look, right over the edge! My first close-up view of the enormous bamboo in a forest. Now I was really ready to rebel and not go a step farther. Still when I turned from the bamboo, a garden path beckoned with so much charm I felt enchanted and followed meekly.
Up more stone-laid steps, under pines but there just ahead -- a red plum twisted out of the straight edge of a dark old wooden building. The red-pink of the blossoms made the sky so much bluer, I could hear the babble of a waterfall. Turning around, there it was in the side of the mountain. As we walked along the water's way, we were led to a tea house waiting at the edge of the cliff.
Around the door, as if flowers had been carefully planted, were women in kimono waiting to serve us dinner. We met our guide for the day, a bright-eyed man whose brother lives in Tucson, Arizona. As we crowded around the table, it was so warm we took off our coats and laid them on the extra chairs. I was impressed as immediately two women brought large napkins and laid them over the coats. Instantly the atmosphere around the table was quieter.
First were the rolled hot, white wash clothes laid in openwork baskets. I was surprised to see how the men scrubbed their faces as well as their hands. It was the right thing to do. To wipe away as much of the city as possible. End of make-up. At last.
On the tray was a tiny spray of white plum blossoms in a vase. The chopstick holders were deep blue-glazed tree-branches. A tiny porcelain fan case opened to reveal the first tasty tidbits of radish that cleared the nose like the Atami breezes.
The ladies were not used to a woman refusing the beer toast, and it took some explaining to get water. But the water was well worth the wait. I knew it was local spring water before the shy lady told us the story of its source. It approached the pinnacle of last night's sake.
The fish course came on an abalone shell held in place on a plate with a mound of salt. Strewn about were short pine needles which surely suggested waves. I was surprised how well the ruse worked! Was it the climb? The fresh air? The sunshine? The wholesome vibes of the place? The gentle spirits of the country women who carried in the food? All of the above added to the special beauty of the place.
While we ate, my mind closed down and the table conversation became a far away murmur. Never had I eaten so much of a Japanese meal. Every one of my dishes returned to the kitchen empty.
The most amazing part of the meal was yet to come. We had been served soups in other restaurants that were brought on tiny stoves to the table so one could pick out favorite tidbits while it bubbled away sending up clouds of fish breath freshness. When the women here began bringing the little stoves, I felt I knew what was coming. But my mind pulled up short as a large, flat, inch-thick slab of gray rock was laid over the flame. A woman showed me how to take pieces of the food from a platter to fry them to my own liking. Each item had been marinated so the second the tiny jellyfish (yes!) touched the hot rock, a delicious aroma filled the air. What delightful entertainment. After this I am sure I forgot the following courses.
I do remember being totally blown away by the beauty of dessert. I often get the feeling that dessert is an European addition to Japanese meals -- perhaps because dessert is always served with a spoon. Usually it seems the Japanese cooks who can create such wonders with Japanese foods hide their talents away when this course is prepared. Not this cook. The plate was a deep blue with golden lines on the ceramic swirls (French-style dinnerware). The spoon was gold plated with a mother of pearl handle. The cup was clear glass with a fine gold line design so you could see the gold and blue of the plate through it. As the final gold was a scoop of peach ice cream with apricot sauce. It was if the sunshine at the opened door had settled on the table before each guest. Total magic.
When the table was cleared again, the women brought the bowls of green tea. Silently I thanked the woman on Tuesday night who taught me well how to turn my bowl and take the noisy third sip. Our guide was following the procedure exactly. Then I noticed that as the only woman (?) my cup was different. The men all had matching rough bowls with an oatmeal glaze. My cup had perfectly straight sides with a strict pattern painted in bright colors on it. It seemed almost Chinese to me. I mentioned the difference in the cups, but the guide just smiled at me with a perfectly calm face.
Reluctant to leave the peaceful atmosphere of the nearly empty restaurant, everyone simply milled around. Soon this was construed to be a photo-op. The ladies spread out pillows for Werner and I and by the second or third flash all the women and then even the cook from the kitchen was included in our picture! He deserved the honor. His meal, artistically and food-wise, was the very best of so many memorable meals in Japan.
We were barely back out in the sunny garden before the Restaurant Kaiseki Tea Lunch when a man came with keys. Next to the restaurant had been built (rebuilt from the building in Kyoto) the mansion-home of the artist Korin. It seemed the man who had masterminded this museum felt Korin had never gotten the attention he deserved, so he made it his obligation to recreate Korin's home and give him his honor due.
I had read the old stories of Japan and pictured them in my mind. Now I was seeing the real thing in this preserved house. It was amazing how accurate both versions were. I wanted to simply sit down to soak up the angles of walls and roof and walkways. Yet we kept walking until around the corner of a small verandah was the shrine this man had made for Korin. That stopped everyone. This was the closest I had been allowed to be to one of these gold encrusted shrines.
The more we saw of this place, the more aware I was of the power of the guiding force which was behind it. Here was someone had had a marvelous vision and the power to manifest it. I began to wonder who he was.
As we straggled back into the museum, I found out where Shukuya-san had disappeared to. He came from the gift shop with his arms loaded with silk fans for both Werner and I (I was to have the white plum one, Werner got the pink plum), scarves of the same print (Korin's most famous painting of the white and red plum on gold grounds surrounding the sinuous curves of a dark golden stream bed). Picture books of Hokusai's "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" (actually 46 views), and Hiroshige's "Fifty-three Stages on the Tokaido Highway", plus the catalog of the MOA (Museum of Art) permanent collection (so we could study at home all the treasures we were seeing in person).
Still overwhelmed by getting these riches, we were hasten on to where Shukuya-san was calling us to look at a tea-storage vase in a vitrine. It was one of the national treasures of Japan with wisteria painted all around on a white ground. But my eye was attracted to the next vitrine where I couldn't help crying out, "My cup!" The cup I had been served the green tea in was special. It was a replica of one of the two rare golden diamond tea bowls. I was so honored that I felt very small in not recognizing the cup earlier for what it was and what it meant.
in my tea bowl
the art of Japan
I had to sit down. Using my note pad as an excuse, I tried to calm myself with writing.
on both sides of the glass case
museum walls them
in and out
choosing their china
in the museum
In the room with the National Treasure of an Album of Calligraphy Styles (this incredible book really seems worthy of being so honored) I found Shukuya-san standing before a scroll of writing -- writing over whited out writing. It was a letter of congratulations written by one of his ancestors -- Fujiwara no Shunzei, one of the most famous tanka writers and a compiler of an Imperial Anthology of tanka in the 11th century. Lacking famous forebears, I simply fell head over heels in love with a huge mangy tiger drawn on a golden screen in immense, energetic strokes.
And now I cannot find the postcard that I bought! But finding the brochure from MOA, I am reminded to mention that the museum also has a beautiful Noh theater as well as a golden tea room, which was gorgeous but rather lacking in sabi and wabi, at least. Which reminds me that the room with the most sabi / wabi was a sales room for natural foods and natural health care items. In a museum? Things were getting more and more curious.
Suddenly we were hastened along the escalators with the words, "You don't want to miss this." There in a rotunda where we had glimpsed children's artwork earlier darkness was being split open by colorful laser beams, smoke and heavy music. Flashback. The Sixties. Berkeley. The Light Show we smoked hashish for. Here I was cold sober but already taken back to my youth. Just before embarrassing myself, the lights came on and we were surrounded again with children's art -- which was very good and worth a longer look than we were able to give it.
Just that quick we were out of the museum and headed into another building. Here we had time to sit together while a set of keys was tracked down. I learned that this museum, and the one at Hakone, the gardens and the tea houses and the mansion for Korin were the result of visions by Mikichi Okada (Meishu-sama) (1882 - 1955) who taught that outstanding works of art "not only deepen one's sentiments and cultivate one's personality but also purify the spirit, indirectly leading to happiness." According to the brochure, Mr. Okada acquired this land and conceived the idea that if people had works of art to enjoy, they would become better people. He gave himself and his wealth to prove this so. Along the way, he also -- long before the New Age Movement -- recognized that channeling power from other sources could enrich and heal. From this knowledge he came to understand the importance of so-called "natural farming" which he began in 1935. Hence the natural food store in the museum.
Then it became clear to us that we were now in what had been a private residence for him and that we were being escorted to the Atami Zuiunkyo Suishoden (The Crystal House) of the Sekai Kyusei Kyo (Johrei Fellowship). In the halls were memorials to Mr. Okada, each one with gorgeous flower arrangements. He believed that from flowers people would learn of beauty and well-being.
The tour became more curious as we were led through a tunnel to the very top of the house. Out a door and then there were marble stairs where we removed our shoes and put on the slippers by Christian Dior. Down another small hallway and the room opened out into a half-circle of floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the Sagami Bay and the rows of mountains down the peninsula. The weather was so clear the staff kept remarking that it had been months since they could see Oshima so distinctly.
The thought kept crossing my mind that if there is a god, the spirit was very close to here and it was for this view that it remained here.
I was grateful for the cups of hot tea. They brought an element of reality to the scene. Big, stuffed chairs were slid into a semi-circle while we sat and stared at the bay blue waters as if besotted. Occasionally someone would attempt to talk, but even the English seemed a foreign language up here.
At one point Nakagae-san impatiently ran out of the room. A short time later he returned breathing hard. He had run all the way back to the museum gift store for a book about Kyoto and a set of postcards from Hirosawa Pond. He felt it was so important for us to see these pictures, to have them and to take them with us. The connection to Hirosawa Pond with this house will have to wait for another visit to be completely resolved. Perhaps the present owner of this place holds the secret.
We debated whether we had time to stay until sunset and still make it back to the train station in time to get our reserved seats. While cooler heads than mine discussed such mundane affairs, I took the chance to scoot off to the ladies' room.
That was an experience in itself. The walls were totally covered in pink marble. And the toilet seat was heated. And I had not believed the reports of this Japanese wonder.
As I came back into the room, the sliver of sun was just dropping behind the rim of the nearby mountain. As I stood by the window, near Nakagae-san, a strange, strong wind sprang up in the corner and passed over the low-growing bamboo in a pattern as if it wanted to tear some of them from the ground. I nearly smiled at the spirits. I bowed to acknowledge their presence. Nakagae-san had a frightened look on his face. He recognized the wind as special and a bit intimidating.
As we were leaving the room I noticed in the very center of the back wall was a near life-sized photograph of a man in Japanese dress above a bare marble altar. I walked over and met Mr. Okada. I was thanking him for all he had done and for allowing me to share one day in his paradise, when the museum guide glided beside me to say, "Our Founder." I had to bite my tongue not to say to the guide, "He is not happy about the lack of flowers on this altar." but I felt it was not my place.
As we took one last look back out over the bay, a swirl of white clouds had caught the last golden rays the mountain could not hold back. This golden light radiated down on the water -- magically turning the dark blue surface to a light gold sheen without the sun.
In a dream we retraced our steps and were once again slipped down the mountain by taxi. In it we unwound the narrow streets until, like a toy, the train station appeared. We climbed the steps to the platform where we sat to watch that golden cloud now turn pink. Pink in itself and pink for the water. How often had I seen that at home and not realized the message in it?
The bullet train to Tokyo came slinking by like a lightning snake. Then it was gone. I thought of how experiences, even the most meaningful ones, rush past us like the train.
Soon our train came, and with it darkness. In the electric lights Shukuya-san and I looked at the books from the museum, exclaiming in joy as we found photos of the treasures we had seen. He patiently translated important words and names to write them down for me.
A dinner had been planned for the evening in Tokyo but we each agreed we felt we had had enough pleasure for the day. We parted with deep gratitude to Mutsuo Shukuya-san for this experience, his many gifts and his patience with us for the day. The experiences were well-worth the travel time. And even that had been made pleasant.
Chapter Six .