Well I had a stick like the guy in the picture and I had a bag, though not on the stick but rather on my back, with a ten kilo medicine ball in it. I was not hanging off a cliff. But I was smelling the flowers. Let me explain before I get to the dog..that bloody great muckle beast of a German Shepherd.
It is my wont to walk barefoot in the mornings. It is Winter in Japan and I know that guy with his New Year kite thought I was a completely crazy old bugger. Fair enough. He looked almost offended that I should so disgrace the neighbourhood by walking on its white, frosty grass with my white, shoeless feet. Or maybe I was completely wrong and he was just walking by..
That is the moral of this story actually, if you like yours with morals. Do not assume anything and do not take anything personally..two of those hefty four agreements I had learned over the years and often forgotten to activate inside this aging skull. Who knows what anybody thinks anyway? I mean, how could you??
Up the hill as usual. There she is! A lovely Camellia tree I like to think of as one of my private Nature shrines. I take a break here, stand under it and smell the red flowers. They have no scent but I keep trying anyway. I just stand there on the dead leaf ground, feeling it all through my bared soles and take it all in. The best part is that this walk is usually devoid of any company. I have it all to myself and so it is easy to voice thoughts aloud, to rant at God or whatever. I had learned to rant at God in Iceland but that is a whole other story..
My reverie is broken by the sound of a large something moving through the bush nearby. First image forms of an inoshishi, a Japanese Wild Boar. This is after all the wild boar year in Japan. Yeah 2019! Wouldn’t that be symbolic I mused. But having met these creatures in the wild I was not overtly upbeat about it. We had just come out of the year of the Dog and it had often felt like a dogged-gone year doggone it! But a New Year now! And a large body moving through the brush nearby. Wild boars are aptly named. If you piss them off they can become very wild indeed. My walking stick-cum-exercise tool had another intention too. I mean you never know..
The heart beat increases slightly. I have always had that stubborn and irrational Scottish trait of walking out and facing the bugger, whatever form it might take. The first cut is the deepest etc. I grab the stick a little more tightly and walk out from under the Camellia to see a very large, even rather obese German Shepherd trailing his leash and with his nose in something. Until he saw me..
His startled owner , who was as sure as I was that nobody else ever came here, stood a couple of hundred yards away frozen in disbelief as his beloved canine started its charge at the weird foreigner. I could see the mutt had a ball in his great muckle mouth as he bounded towards me. Never freeze with animals sounds like bad advice right? But all animals freeze when they realize there is no escape. As if it would make them invisible. As if..
So my policy has always been to walk into stuff as I said so I just carried on walking as the beast tried to grab my left sleeve whilst still holding on to his precious ball. It did not feel like he was playing though, so I kept on walking and loudly uttered the age old Japanese reprimand to unruly children, Kora! Or in our parlance here, enough you brat!
That seemed to do it as I walked past the owner looking decidedly gruff. I think he was too shocked to say anything. Bad enough his doggie had a go at somebody, but far more problematic and unpredictable that it was a gaijin. Social mores here would surely involve profuse apology if I had been a native. It could all end up very badly even though nobody got hurt. The downside of Japanese culture is if you do the unthinkable, meiwaku to somebody i.e. impose some kind of trouble on a person they could easily make your life hell. Fortunately most Japanese are common sensed people. So you really have to go out of your way to impose trouble. Like having a great muckle German Shepherd take a full speed run at you and grab you by the wrist, albeit through his favourite ball.
I walked on to the next moment, as is my wont. I thought no more about it until I approached the same old hill and tree the next day and found myself getting tense. What if the mutt was there again? What if the guy is a yakuza and wants to scare me off any complaint, an old tactic the gangsters like to use. He had seemed like the type as I had passed him by. So I mentally prepared to take down the beast if he should try it again. This time I would whack him on the snout and if he still came back I would grapple the bastard to the ground just as I had the very large man in the dojo and I would throttle him. With two legs crossed around his canine torso and a guy twice his size on his furry neck he would greatly regret ever having done that again. I recalled the old story of the master acupuncturist Sawada who always walked with a huge staff getting attacked by a mongrel. He ran the poor beast through from mouth to anus with his expertly employed stick. Are you dear reader beginning to see a part of yourself in this idiot fantasy?
Still better to be prepared right. Or would you rather be the one who decides that this walk will no longer be part of your day? Remember the bogymen of your childhood? Remember that place where it had happened, where you got scared, or sick or whatever. Do not take anything personally sounds so cool on the printed page of a best selling book. As I approach the Camellia I am already ready, just in case. No blame. I am seriously taking it personally that somebody’s fucking mutt can disperse my calm on this beautiful walk. But wait, there is another adage, right. Do not assume anything. Just do not make up that story in your head. Let it go. But..
Nobody there. I breathe a sigh of relief. What an old fool I think! As if the guy would come back the next day and repeat the performance. Now that would be decidedly criminal..
Which brings us to today.
Frost on the ground but it is getting sunny as the post solstice sun drags his ass up a tad higher each morning. The dog has returned to my consciousness. In the Tarot card the dog represents all the worries and attachments this world proffers amongst other, deeper meanings. It is always grabbing at the Fool, messing with his reality and bustin his Wa, his peace of mind. Just when you thought you had it all figured out..that pain-in-the-arse dog will re-appear in some form or other. Life is suffering as the crafty old Buddhists tell us.
What about re-appearing as a dog again though? That dog! That big, muckle thick-necked bloody Alsasian! I walk on and decide I cannot let this creature control my morning walk. Maybe I could shout a warning into the trees so the owner knows I am here and backs off with the mutt. You see how conspiracy theory grows here..all you need are a few plot lines to get twisted and somebody is out to get you. Or am I the only paranoid guy in the room?
I decide, as always, to march on and deal with it if and when it happens. And then over to my right, at the bottom of the hill there stands the guy. The dog is lying by his side. He says nothing as I turn to walk up the hill where the whole incident had transpired two days previously. I feel the heart tense. Shit! This guy is waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, a guy I have never seen in months of daily walks. A guy with a huge and potentially dangerous dog by his side. Silently waiting. But no doubt after he sees I have returned, noted I am built like a brick shithouse and carry a big, heavy pack as well as a keen stick he will change his mind about messing with me again. Maybe he took offense at my reprimanding his dog though! Who had ever shouted to his dog Kora! ? Maybe I should wait at the top of the hill until they leave. Coward!
I cannot start the year a coward of course so I do the usual prayer out loud inside the ancient replica of a yayoi period hut and as I descend the steps and see them below I also do the usual 33 squats and head straight for them. Still not a word from the guy and the dog is by his side over on the left. I decide not to make eye contact or say a word, since that might set them both off. As I reach the bottom step and turn to go my way back with my nemesis only fifty yards away I hear the timid voice of the man behind me.
Kono mae sumimasendeshita
“I am so sorry for the other day” And then it hit me. All of this inter-cranial theatrics had been completely unrelated to the situation at hand. He had been waiting patiently at the bottom of the stairs specifically to apologize to me! He had no doubt been feeling like shit for two days and himself may have been worried sick I would set some complaints in action against his dearest doggie. When he had first seen me I was a bit too far away and he may have been too afraid to pipe up at a distance. Seeing his last chance as I turned my back to him and the shepherd he had mustered up the courage to say something, albeit very meekly..
I raised my staff in friendly greeting as I walked downhill and replied, Daijobu da! Or, in your parlance, We’re cool.
Though I may never know if this is an accurate reading of the situation I felt instantly better that we had sorted this out. If we ever meet again it will no doubt involve a handshake and a pat on the beastie’s head. Do not assume anything and even more importantly, do not take anything personally. Especially in a new year which, according to the real Lunar calendar in China and Japan, is still the dog year. No sign of the wild pig till February..