Last night I did a really fun thing with a friend of mine: I watched her perform her "koto" in front of 50 people at Buster's Baskets in Culver City, on Higuera Street. Buster's Baskets is of interest in itself. Its like an olde curiosity shop full of beautiful jewelry, vintage clothing, funky pillows, original art, prints, magnets, feathers, masks. Everywhere I turned there was something else to look at. Even the furniture was for sale. There are fine looking ornate chairs and a huge antique looking armoire. Buster, by the way, was on hand to say hello. He was an oversized dog with a friendly smile, who obligingly let me take his photo with my iPhone.
So what is a "koto"? You ask. Its a Japanese zither. Six feet in length. Made of a soft wood with thirteen strings. My friend picked up this hobby at the age of 49, thinking "This is LA, if I want to find a 'koto' teacher, it can't be impossible." Within one week a teacher was found, via the yellow pages. Yes you CAN let your fingers do the walking. They hit it off immediately. My friend has the "touch" for playing this fret-less instrument. Its pentatonic scale is both eerie and beautiful.
As her interest in koto grew, my friend realized that learning the Japanese language would be a boon to her. Tentatively she began to learn a few words here and there. The script is completely different. Three separate alphabets must be mastered, "Kanji" is technically not even an alphabet, as it is not phonetic as are the other two writing notations in Japanese. But interest leads us where it will. Like water flowing to the sea, my friend found her interest in Japanese merited a trip to Japan.
In the spring of 2002, as the cherry blossoms were blooming pink and intense against the drab sky my friend visited for the first time the land that invented koto. "How far my interest has taken me!" she thought as she stared around in delight. The old wonders of Kyoto glittered with exotic beauty. Temples were everywhere. Her reinvention of herself was hardly complete, in truth it was just beginning. Encouraged by her Japanese to host to take a scenic walking tour around the temple grounds my friend came across a stone "Jizo."
Jizo are Buddhist statues, considered Bodhisattva. They are the patron "saint" so to speak of children and travelers, firefighters and people in impossible situations. Because of their protective status of travelers, these Japanese statues are found on hiking trails all over Japan. As my friend considered the Jizo in front of her, it was as if he were speaking to her. "You'll think I'm crazy," she admitted to me last night, "but it was as if the stone statue had come to life for me." The Jizo encouraged her to work for World Peace.
Thus was the genesis of the Jizo Peace Center in Pine Mountain Club, California. Please visit her website at http://www.jizopeacecenter.org.