Ground Control

My invisible partner on this tour, and the person who more than any other helps ensure things run smoothly for me, is my wife Kaname. Unable to join me on the trip, she has instead been helping out behind the scenes, researching and organising things, always trying to remain one step ahead of my ever-changeable schedule.

Needless to say, her appearance in Aomori City on my first full day there was a surprise and of all the faces I had encountered so far from back in Tokyo, it was by far the most welcome. She joined me with The Earth Earth on Saturday, and then on Sunday we had shit to do. It was good to have someone with me who could make fun of signs with me.

Firstly, it turns out the real reason for her coming was that she had discovered that while while it had ended its run in Tokyo, Cinemadict in Aomori was showing Love & Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic. In this, I was rather a secondary consideration. Now, as much as I maintain a pretense of cultured intellect, I usually need to be coerced into watching such worthy films, and in the end a deal was struck where I would watch Love & Mercy with her, while she would watch Ant Man with me.

Given the context in which I was watching it, I couldn’t help seeing Love & Mercy through the filter of some of the ideas that had been bouncing around my brain over the past couple of days in Aomori Prefecture. Rather than the mother figure that dominated Shuji Terayama’s vision of the hometown, in Brian Wilson’t case, it was the father. In both cases, however, the symbolic destruction of the home is what either sets the character free or at least holds the promise of doing so. Why Aomori of all places seemed to open up these Freudian lines of thought I’m not sure, although the connection with Terayama (who I shall be returning to again in the next post) and the eerily beautiful, Lovecraftian emptiness of the landscape may have been working on me together as an infernal double act to that end.

We looked around for record stores and found some of The Earth Earth’s CDs in a small indie corner inside Heritage Records. We also perused a local street fashion and photography zine and couldn’t work out if it was cool or sad that something like this existed.


At lunch we took in some of Aomori’s traditional music, with a Tsugaru-jamisen performance at a restaurant. Tsugaru-jamisen is a style of shamisen playing characterised by rhythmical, percussive, high tempo strokes, a great deal of space for improvisation in one’s interpretation of a theme, and a pentatonic scale that often gives the music the semblance of bluegrass or blues. Compare classic Tsugaru-jamisen performer Chikuzan Takahashi with American guitarist John Fahey and it’s clear that through very different traditions, they have ended up in at least a superficially similar place, from the blue notes via the intricate picking style, to the off-kilter modulations.

It’s a mundane observation of travel writing that it is more about the writer than the subject she or he is writing about, and it is also a characteristic of mine as a writer that upon grasping hold of a theme, I’ll run it into the ground until there is nothing left. Nevertheless, I’ll ask forgiveness to go on and say that despite the many years that separate me from my home on the outskirts of Bristol, John Fahey’s music is something that has a direct line to some of my earliest childhood memories. It was his The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites that I learned to operate a record player to, so I could listen to Variations on the Cuckoo over and over again, and those sounds are never far from the surface of my memory.

Kaname departed with the next stage warily planned, and I was alone again in a big country.


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