September 19, 2009

In Search of Musashi

The alarm goes off, but I either don't hear it, don't care, or the woman next to me turns it off (it was Tomo, but let's say I don't hear it). So, I'm already late in catching the bus to Kumamoto. And it's raining. Hasn't rained all week; sunny and beautiful all week long. Today, it rains. Off and on, all day, raining. Nice.

The bus ride normally takes about two hours. But remember, it's raining. So we'll tack on an extra 10 minutes or so. Great. You see, I'm on a schedule. I'm out to find as much Musashi stuff as I can before and after I make my way to "Reigan-do," (and no Reigando is not the latest magical pop sensation from Mexico, I write of the Reigan Cave, the very place 'El Musashi' put brush to paper and wrote/finished the 'Gorin no Sho,' "The Book of Five Rings" for the martially impaired out there). My bus leaves at 13:10 and there's only one bus per day. Why one bus? Don't ask me. That's how they roll in Kumamoto. I need to be on that bus. I will be on that bus, so help me.

So far, I'm on schedule. I'm flying across town in a taxi to the Kenritsu Bijitsukan, a major art museum that holds several of Musashi's works. I've been online and seen swords, a black bokken, and several of his most famous paintings. I'm stoked. The driver weaves through the city, snaking in and around Kumamoto's most famous resident, "Kumamoto-jo," the castle first built in the early 1600s, by Lord Hosokawa, subsequently attacked, housed Musashi for a time before his death, and now looms over the city, a monolith of Edo-jidaism, just begging Godzilla to step on it. The driver is flying. In fact, I think he hit a few people - some old ladies or something - I don't even care. The driver pulls up. I pay him and race into the museum. Let's do this.
Museum Lady: Welcome dear patron. We have two showings today - this Hosokawa bullshit or this other Hosokawa bullshit.
Me: (slightly breathless) Uh, actually, I'm here to see Miyamoto Musashi's bullshit.
Museum Lady: Oh, (tittering laugh) we aren't displaying any of his bullshit.
Me: None of his bullshit?
Museum Lady: None of his bullshit.
Me: (Scenes in my head of flying 8000 miles to Japan with dollar signs overlaid) What about the other museum? The Shimada Bijitsukan? Are they displaying any of his-?
Museum Lady: No bullshit. Sumimasen.
Me: (Frowning)
Museum Lady: Just in case my previous Sumimasen was not enough, sumimasen.
Me: (sighing loudly) I hate you so much ...
Musashi - 1
Me - 0

I find myself outside wandering the parkway next to the castle. I am despondent and muttering to myself. I need a plan. My first plan failed on contact with the enemy, so I have to fall back to plan B. But by the time I remember plan B is a James Bond-ish attempt at 'underwear cocktails' with the museum's Director, I am already walking into Kumamoto-jo. So much for witty banter over whiskey in briefs.

Kumamoto-jo is huge. Its layout made the place impregnable for a time. Built early in the 1600s by the Hosokawa clan and sacked during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, a restoration of the Lord's residence, the Honmaru Palace, was completed in 2007.

I know none of this when I enter the castle. I just want to see something authentic. I am in search of authenticity - the works Musashi himself has laid hands on - so I figure the castle will be a decent second. Besides Musashi stayed here for a brief period toward the end of his life. So, in I go.

And, how is the castle? Nice. Really nice. Too nice. The main keep may as well be a movie set - it's a reconstruction built in 1960. Oh, sure, the outside looks right, but inside, the place is a museum, with just a few old things, and a giant concrete spiraling staircase comprising the spine of the place. I can't believe it. The accompanying Honmaru Palace is, in fact, perfect. Beautifully redone by some of Japan's artisans, it is a testament to - wait a minute, I don't care about any of this shit. I am here to see 'Old Japan.' Not, what 'New Japan' thinks 'Old Japan' looked like. Sigh.

Musashi - 2
Me - 0

I will sigh a lot this day. I make my way down the road, back to the Kotsu Center, where I had originally arrived. I see a taxi at the roadside and look at my watch: 12:15. Almost an hour until I have to catch the bus to Reigan-do. His grave. I can make the grave - Musashi Zuka. I've got time. I talk to the Taximan - Musashi's grave? Yeah, sure. Great. We drive. It starts to rain again. Hard. Boy, there's a lot of traffic in this city. And we drive. And drive. And drive. I look at my watch, it's nearly 12:45. What the-?! My brain goes into NASA calculation mode: make it there, see the grave, get back to the center, denominator ... "Houston, we have a problem." There's not enough time to do this. In fact, I still have to make certain which bus I am supposed to exactly, precisely take. I explain this to my driver. He nods, "Sumimasen." I sigh.

Musashi - 3
Me - 0

He turns around and heads back. I pay him 3000yen. About 30 bucks to drive me around in the rain. Don't worry, he says. Musashi Zuka is open until 6:00pm, so I can see it when I return from Reigan-do.

I've just a few minutes left to catch the bus. I race inside and ask about the bus and bus stop. They tell me, and remind me of the return schedule, taking a moment to print out a copy of it. Great, whatever. I run to the stop. It's 13:08. No bus. I wait. 13:09. 13:10. 11. 12. Bus Number 6 finally rolls up. A bunch of old ladies get on before me. I ask the driver if this is the bus to Reigan-do. He nods. Beautiful.

We drive out of town, into the countryside. We turn up a nearby mountain. A big one. And weave around its turns, slowing anytime we pass oncoming vehicles. Man, it's tight up here. It should be - the road is only wide enough for one vehicle. Why? Because that's how they roll in ... nevermind.

40 minutes later I step off the bus at, 'Iwato Kannon Iriguchi,' which, had there been a nearby map would've been labeled, "MIDDLE OF NOWHERE," right above a dot saying, "You are here." There's a road, leading off this main road with some promising signs. It starts to rain again.

I head up. And up. And up. The road leads me to Iwato No Sato Koen (Park), and then I see it ... a massive, white marble statue of Musashi in Zazen. I made it. I'm here.

Musashi - 3
Me - 1 (Take that Japan!)

I shake and ring the rope bell to wake up the Kensei and head in. The park is simply the entrance to the outer area of a temple that houses Reigan-do. I find a small road that snakes around into a valley on the other side of a ridge, where I find several houses and ... chickens? I see another sign, I think it reads "Unganzen-ji," the temple. Not too many visitors on this rainy Saturday, in fact, none, when I arrive. I pay the smoking man inside the tattered outbuilding 200yen and he buzzes me through a metal gate into the grounds.

The first building I come to is actually a huge glass paneled case with several articles inside. I am surprised to find several of Musashi's works, a large black, oar-like bokuto, and a couple articles of clothing. None of it real I guess, for it's basically sitting out in the elements. (Tomo would later translate a few of the photos - articles of clothing, or type of clothing relate to a woman named "Higaki Hime," from a famous Edo-jidai story, a black bokuto of "4 shaku and 2 sun" was supposed to be the length used by Musashi to fight Sasaki Kojiro at Ganryujima, and a mantra written by a monk helped to cure a woman's eye infection.)

I make my way up a rise and am confronted with hundreds of seated statues, each posed differently. Some are silently crying out to heaven, some are headless, some in repose. The silence, the enclosure, the stillness, make it awfully creepy. It is the "Gohyakurakan," the 500 Buddhas dedicated some 160 years after Musashi's time. Many of the statues did not survive earthquakes and hurricanes, but the story goes, if you look them in their faces, you'll eventually find one that looks like you.

Over another rise and I can see the enclosed path to Reigan-do. I make my way slowly. Reigan-do means "spirit cave" and is undoubtedly millions of years old, but has only been reportedly used since the Heian period, 794-1185, to house 'Iwato kannon,' a Buddhist deity. The cave was well known for answering prayers. In fact, 'Reiganzen-ji,' a temple dedicated to the use of the cave, was founded during the Nambokuchojidai, 1336-1392, but no longer exists.

Several monuments have been set out ahead of the cave, which finally comes into view. It is huge. The mouth is nearly 50 feet high and almost as wide. I am once again disappointed to find a modern update to this original - concrete stairs and a raised wooden platform have been built into the cave itself. However, I notice some of the original steps, carved right from the bedrock, still exist.

Going into the cave brings you above the original 'floor,' where this new wooden floor creates a level surface for tourists. A massive rock, called "Funatoseki" or "Sentoseki/Sendoishi" dominates the middle of the cave.

At the back, a makeshift wall sections the cave off - I have no idea how far back the cave actually goes. A small shrine (to Musashi or Iwato Kannon or both) has been encased there.
The rock walls are cold, but dry. I climb up onto the massive rock, which the floor has been built around, look out, and am instantly disappointed. Whatever inspiration Musashi found here from Reigan's view, is gone. Trees have been allowed to grow just outside its entrance, obscuring the original view. I will not see what he saw.
It makes sense that a view would have been preferred from this spot. Part of the cave's 'power,' perhaps, might have been found in the perspective it affords, not simply its isolation. Reigan's position is high enough to see for miles ahead of it, but the surrounding forest has been allowed to close in tightly.

I say a short prayer, climb down and try to light some incense, but there are no matches and nearby lighters are dried up. My offering will go inextinguished. Perhaps this is the way offerings should be. A few locals show up and mill around the cave for a time and then leave. Another light rain falls. The blanket of rain intensifies the surrounding sounds as they drift into the cave.

Musashi began writing 'Gorin no Sho' at Reigan-do in 1645 at four in the morning, giving new life to his experiences, knowledge, and testament to his sheer persevering will, as his own life was ending. It is a shame that after millions of years in existence, and so many centuries of dedicated use, this cave, with all its collective years of inspiration and solace, has fallen from collective consciousness into seeming disuse. It is now a tourist stop for curious Japanese and strange foreign Budoka, who probably show up from time to time.

But in this moment, I cannot help but imagine if forethought had kept this cave raw and unencumbered by a changing world; if its caretakers had sought not to "add" to the ease of its use, but prevent the same. Its hollowness and perspective unchanged, the cave would today allow fellow travelers the same privilege of its use, while providing us a glimpse into the past, from the very seat from which so many contemplated the same questions we seek to answer today. Alas, it is not to be. The cave's update, leaves us lost in translation. As I leave and move up another rise, I discover a glimpse of the view from Reigan-do. It is magnificent. Miles away, in the distance, misty covered mountains frame the sea.
I buy (yet another) copy of Gorin no Sho from the same smoking man who gave me entrance and I'm off down the mountain, remembering faintly, earlier words reminding me of the bus' return. As I race down, visions of time schedules in my head, I'm trying not to let my feet slip out from under me on the wet pavement. Or get hit by oncoming cars. Or let my friend Joe's $2000 Canon be smashed by the preceding. A breathless, sweaty, wet mess, my shins killing me from braking down the steep incline, I make it to the bus stop and find ... I am 10 minutes too late. I would have time enough after that, to contemplate my own questions.

Musashi - 4
Me - 1?

Two hours later, I roll back into Kumamoto. Musashi's grave is closed. In fact, everything is closed and I have had it. I call Tomo and relate the story to her in animated fashion. "Come home," she says. I do.

Musashi did not make it easy for me. Of course, that was how he lived his life. He never did anything the easy way. He purposely made it hard. That is one of the enduring qualities of his life, his works, and his lesson. Experience, perseverance, and sheer will were his teachers. And here I was enthusiastically pursuing only what was left in his wake - his art, his residence, his contemplation, his death; only the things that were left behind. But instead of being treated with the appreciation of his art and examples of his history, I had been given a rare lesson into his purpose. I was out in front of his wake, ahead of it, experiencing life as he might have: As I looked for answers, I found none. As I pursued another's experience, I discovered my own. As I was faced with disappointment at each turn, I kept going.

Perhaps this is a window into Musashi's genius. The life of Budo, the life of the real budoka, is not flashing swords and swirling brushes, astounding techniques and dynamic tactics. It is our quiet, everyday self-driven purpose. The perseverance of our will, the cultivation of our courage, the search for higher truth, calling to us, for an enlightened existence. Musashi's lesson offers, no matter how great the teachings, we are our own greatest teachers and we can discover our own magnificent perspective from the solace, security, and strength of a cave of our own making.

The following day I went to the local Fukuoka museum, where they just happened to be displaying Musashi's original painting, "Hotei, God of Fortune, watching at cock fighting."

It was really cool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that's a story... i got nuthin'.