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Words-and-Pictures: Old Stones

Note: This selection of Words-and-Pictures was made on September 25, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido.

The remains of the Totomi Kokubunji are located near Iwate station in the Old Tokaido station of Mitsuke, which is Station #28 (from Tokyo). You can read about my visit to the ruins in my  Logbook.

"Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . .  Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I spent a lot of time in America chasing after old stones. I have been to just about all of the major ruins in the Southwest, and a lot of the minor ones. I have seen walls of standing stones, fallen stones, scattered stones, and excavated stones.

Why do I do it? I don't know. I get a feeling from these stones. I mean, all stones are old, but to think that a human being--virtually indistinguishable from me--labored to place this stone just so...

I often am engulfed in a feeling of elemental sadness when I encounter such stones. Listen: I once approached a temple in Kansai from the wrong direction. I ended up climbing a hill and there, standing among old stones, I suddenly burst into sobs. When the storm passed, I walked down the other side of the hill and saw a sign indicating that these stones were the foundation stones of a pagoda.

So this Kokubunji I saw today had a special meaning for me. I prayed in front of these statues, then walked the grounds, thinking...

When the gardener planted this tree, did he know that it would long outlast the buildings around it?

When the mason laid these stones, did he know a man from an unknown land across the sea would someday walk among them?

When this wash basin was carved out, did the stone cutter know that it would become one of the last vestiges of this holy site?

Did the caretakers of this place, in a time of hope, exuberance, expansion, and faith in the future, did they know that someday casual strollers would need to be reminded to pick up their dogs' poo before leaving this sacred ground?

Seriously, I felt a haiku coming on until I saw the ubiquitous dog poo sign.

But in a way that just underscores my point: History is cyclical. Nations rise and fall and rise again (if they're lucky). This place was built in one boom, then failed. Other booms have come and gone since. As I strolled among the ruins, it was hard not to think of the rubble in the streets of New York. Has a downswing begun?


Posted October 1, 2019

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