Friday, March 11, 2011


A surreal night, watching the devastation in Japan while the blare of tsunami sirens bounced about the walls of Honolulu's myriad concrete buildings.

Waves penetrated my sleep.

Best wishes to all in Japan who are feeling as uncertain as the ocean.
May calmer waters come your way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reading David Abrams The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world and came across this gem of a passage in which he describes the role of perception in the life of an organism.
Consider a spider weaving its web, for instance, and the assumption still held by many scientists that the behavior of such a diminutive creature is thoroughly "programmed in its genes." Certainly, the spider has received a rich genetic inheritance from its parents and its predecessors. Whatever "instructions," however, are enfolded within the living genome, they can hardly predict the specifics of the microterrain within which the spider may find itself at any particular moment. They could hardly have determined in advance the exact distances between the cave wall and the branch that the spider is now employing as an anchorage point for her current web or the exact strength of the monsoon rains that make web-spinning a bit more difficult on this evening. And so the genome could not explicitly have commanded the order of every flexion and extension of her various limbs as she weaves this web into its place. However complex are the inherited "programs," patterns, or predispositions, they must still be adapted to the immediate, situation in which the spider finds itself. However determinate one s genetic inheritance, it must still, as it were, be woven into the present, an activity that necessarily involves both a receptivity to the specific shapes and textures of that present and a spontaneous creativity in adjusting oneself (and one's inheritance) to those contours. It is this open activity, this dynamic blend of receptivity and creativity by which every animate organism necessarily orients itself to the world (and orients the world around itself), that we speak of by the term "perception" (50).
I can't help imagining how different the world would be if we lived in ways more attuned to our perception of the world-as-it-is, rather than the world-as-it-is-said-to-be. What are the tools and methods we use to know the world and how do those shape the world we experience?

Abram, D. 1996. The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world. New York: Vintage.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Checking back in

Hello? Hello. . .? Anyone still out there?

After too long of a hiatus, I've finally found my way back to the blogosphere.

Not sure what the content of my posts will be from here on out.
I still have plenty to say about Japanese environments, rural communities, forest governance, and the like. But, my mind is wandering to other topics as well. Will have to see what comes out.

Last night found my way to Mardi Gras here in downtown Honolulu. It was an odd mish-mash of Brazil, Cuba, and Nawlins, an oddly appropriate mix. Anyway, I was back home and in bed by 11PM. . .hardly the late-night revelry that the organizers intended, I'm sure. Ah, but such is the life of an over-worked grad-student (am I overworked).

Right, well, I'm back.
Let's leave it at that for now.
There are various papers awaiting my revisions.

Over and out.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Days and days and days go by with not a word on my blog. Then, today, one of these little guys decided to come along and wake me up. This morning as I sat in my office on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus a Japanese White Eye decided to come for a visit. The bird announced itself with a light thud on the glass (clean windows, a bird's nightmare). I stood from my chair and examined the ledge outside my window.

There lay the little bird. So small and delicate, its little breast rising in falling with rapid breaths. It seemed mortally wounded and near its last breath. I'm a lover of birds and the Japanese White Eye I love above all others, so I felt compelled to stay there with the little fellow in his final moments of life. It was heartbreaking.

But, seemingly just as quickly as this wee champ had gone down, it suddenly sprung back on its two feet. The bird's eyes seemed wide, like a quarterback who's just had his bell rung. The movements of the bird were slow at first, but soon it was looking around some. I continued to watch, giving words of encouragement in Japanese, "ganbare". The bird finally noticed me and we gazed at each other for some time. I sensed that it was a bit embarrassed--a feeling familiar to anyone who has ever accidentally rammed themselves into a door or window.

"I understand," I thought and left my office to run to the restroom.

When I came back the ledge was empty.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring Snow 春雪

While most of the archipelago is enjoying spring, with summer lurking just around the bend, Ontake-san still suggests winter. Well, at least in form. I'm in Hawai`i, so I have no tactile sense of the mountain, but surely its snows are heavy with water. The sun, in its increasingly long arc across the sky working to slowly dismantle the labors of winter. Winter does not give in so easily however, rearing its head and gnashing its teeth now and again (particularly this year, where there was a snow storm well into April). Nights too, on the mighty mountain, still belong to winter. But, soon the summer sun will prevail, at least for a few months, as it has for so many years. Its lovely, this child-like wrestling match.

*photo courtesy of the blog 水と緑のふるさと王滝村

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

原谷苑の桜 Sakura at "Haradanien"

A short video taken before coming to Hawai'i of sakura (cherry blossoms) falling at Hara-dani-en (原谷苑) near Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) temple in Kyoto.

Sorry, I'm not savvy enough to include some fitting music or anything. . .so it's just video as is, which my wife Aki clarifies at the end.

For those who haven't been to Haradanien is worth checking out during sakura season. . .guess you have to wait a year now.

Haradanien website (Japanese only)

Friday, April 30, 2010





Sunday, February 7, 2010

Walking on water: frozen shintaki

Yesterday Aki and I visited Shintaki (新滝) waterfall with a friend.  Last winter the waterfall froze for only a brief period and we didn't have a chance to see. I'm very glad we've taken the time to see it this winter.

Recently, Otaki has spent more time on the negative side of the thermometer than it has on the positive side, so the ice on Shintaki has continued to grow and grow.

The color of the ice are difficult to capture through the lens (at least for someone as unskilled in the art of photography as I). However, the phantasmal shapes that stand up from the ground and hang down from cliffs overhead are alluring to say the least. Rippled flows of ice spread out in deep shades of blue. One can walk, with caution, over the still movements of the water.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a car with out of town plates parked above Shintaki for about a week. I'm guessing this was a religious practitioner, probably staying a small wooden hut that flanks the waterfall. I've heard that some of the stronger practitioners are able to perform taki-shu-gyou (滝修行)--standing beneath the falling water--even in the winter; though I have not seen this.

Shintaki is a sacred place.
Anyone can walk on water here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter wonders

Evening walk in Kuzo hamlet. One of my favorite places in Otaki. The road we walked on, my wife and I, was covered in many spots in a good 5 centimeters of ice. From the forest above us we heard the "chi chi chi" of macaques calling to their comrades that there are bigger primates about.

Only a few minutes up the road from our house a narrow valley opens enough to allow glimpses of Mt. Ontake. On this evening, clouds clung loosely about the mighty mountain, like down on a gosling. The air was dry and brought a sharpness to the winter landscape, imbuing it with a liveliness that betrayed its skeletal trees and empty fields, which might otherwise signify a scene of lifelessness. The songs of wintering birds struck out from the forest and cut through the frozen silence.
A bit further on and we caught sight of a Japanese serow and his (her?) mate. They stood silent and unmoving on patches of grass occupying the center of concrete squares arrayed to form a larger lattice-work that covered a steep road-cut to ensure stability. I was amazed at how well the serow's coats fit the altered environment. My wife had great difficulty spotting the beasts. Serows are said to have bad eyes, so the four of us stood gazing upon (or failing to gaze upon) each other for quite some time. The sound of a car engine (at leastI presume it was the sound; I myself couldn't hear it) sent the serows scrambling across the slope and into the woods. The car came past us a bit later, "their eyes may be bad, but they sure have good ears," I concluded.

Stars were appearing in the dusk as we turned around and said good night to Mt. Ontake.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Today is the first day of the new year that I've spent in Otaki; I was in Kyoto over the holidays.
Throughout the day I've marveled at the winter light as it plays across the landscape. The low and flat rays of the sun slink through deep gorges of the Otaki Valley, and leap out from ridgelines in the most amusing ways. This interplay of light and earth casts deep blue shadows down the valley, creating a landscape of interloping framents of light and dark. It's a landscape made whole by being broken apart.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monitored: a visit from Japan's Forestry Agency

Image source: Makino, H. and M. Mitsuo (1953).
付知川に於ける材木伐出の沿革と檜解 (History of timber extraction in Tsukuchigawa).
Tsukuchigawa, 付知川営林署 (Tsukuchigawa Forest Management Office).

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent article in a Nagano newspaper, the Shinano-mainichi-shinbun 信濃毎日新聞, about my research and recent paper presentation in Philadelphia promoted the local Forestry Agency office to give me a call and set up a time to talk. Yesterday, I met with two officials from the Forestry Agency: the heads of the Agematsu 上松 and Setogawa 瀬戸川 offices (the latter is located here in Otaki).

I've used the word "monitor" in the title of this post and I intend the full range of meaning that the word embodies--from innocent watching to menacing surveillance. It seems to me this is the nature of monitoring; one never knows how closely they are being watched, or to what ends. In this instance monitoring came to mind for two reasons: 1) the swiftness with which the Forestry Agency suddenly expressed interest in my research, and 2) the sense I gained of the Forestry Agency's desire to closely control information about National Forests.

As concerns reason number one, the Forestry Agency contacted me the day after I returned from Philadelphia; they were eager to chat. To explain reason number two I'll briefly discuss the meeting we had yesterday.

I had met each of the two officials that came to visit me yesterday. The head of the Agematsu office (the senior of the two) I had met at a function hosted by Asahi Beer, who sponsors some forest maintenance projects in the village. The head of the local Seto-gawa office I had met previously when I went to interview him as part of my research. In our meeting the senior official did all of the talking, while his junior took notes. We sat across from each other--the two of them on one side and me on the other--in a small meeting room at the school I work at here in Otaki.

The senior official began by explaining that they were interested in hearing about my paper presentation. What seemed to be of particular interest to the official was how forests in the Kiso Valley and the Forestry Agency were perceived by other scholars in America (since I had presented at the American Anthropological Association meeting). This intrigued me. Why the concern over the "external gaze". . .perhaps the agency also feels monitored.

I explained my research a bit. I talked about forest history and changing conceptions of landscapes and the impact on local residents as actors and potential actors in arrangements of co-governance. I tried to emphasize the point that I do not think the Forestry Agency is useless, but that current governing arrangements are too lopsided and that there is room for more local involvement in forest governance. It seems to me this last part is the hard part for the Forestry Agency to swallow. I don't know for sure, but it seems to me that they are low on the governmental totem pole at this point and therefore feel threatened in their position. Again, I don't know this for sure and plan to look into it more.

The senior official next asked me if I thought that I had been misrepresented in the article that was published about me. I explained that since I am conducting research that will become a 200-300 page disseration, that yes, a 250 word article was likely a misrepresentation. However, I also suggested that I agreed with what was said in the article (the need for more local involvement in governance). The official explained to me that the Forestry Agency is also wrestling with issues of local involvement and that a 5 year plan for forests in the Matsumoto area (city about 90 kilometers north of Otaki) will include a survey of local citizens. He went on to explain that the 5 year plan for the Kiso Valley will come out a year later and will also have a similar component. "Good stuff," I thought, "but enough?"

"Hopefully you can look at those when the come out," he concluded. I told him that I'd love to and that up until now I had done most of my research about the Forestry Agency online and admitted that I had done little 'face-to-face' work, which I view as a bias in my research. He took this opportunity to explain that there are a lot of people on the ground doing forestry work and that it is hard to get a sense of it. Just as it is hard to get a sense of the history of a particular village like Otaki. He wondered if I really understood the whole system. Admittedly, I don't--no one does. . .and that's my main argument for more local involvement. All of this is too complex for any one of us to get a grasp on alone. So why leave governance and management solely up to a single agency? At this point in my notes I wrote: "Mr. ________ is trying to tell me that I don't know." I found, and find, this position quite paternalistic and see it as an attempt to control information about the agency and about forests in Otaki. I had heard this sentiment once previously, during my interview with the junior official who had told me that Forest Agency personnel know more about the forests than local people, with the implication that co-governance makes little sense.

Our meeting wrapped up soon after this. Bows and thank yous were exchanged with a slight air of awkwardness. I told the officials that I'd like to have a chance to come talk with them again and do more research. It's something I hope to do.

So, what does this little event tell us? Well. . .I don't know really. For me "monitoring" immediately came to mind and is a concept that I hope to explore further in this context. Foucault's theories of power, which I have been using to think about socio-natural environmental change here in Otaki, complicate ideas of monitoring by teasing out the subtle ways that actors are MONITORED, but also how they MONITOR themselves and each other. This is intriguing to me in that my opinions about the Forestry Agency developed partly out of conversations with local residents. However, I've yet to hear any comments about the newspaper article that prompted this meeting. Perhaps talking about such things is something that local residents don't feel willing to or capable of doing. Monitoring?

Talking about different ways of living in the environment is the first step. . .yet, perhaps the hardest.