Books from the Tengu's Library
A New Podcast on Hidden Japan: People, Culture, History, Traditions
A few years ago, in Japan, in an old-fashioned cafe dense with cigarette smoke, I met a man who claimed to be the Tengu, the giant Japanese monster or yokai who lives on Mount Kurama near Kyoto.
We talked about lots of things - jazz, coffee, history, and poetry, before he told me about his library. He has thousands of volumes. He gave me a long list of books to read, which I jotted down on a napkin.
He then breathed in deeply from his cigar, which I assumed was Cuban, and he exhaled through that incredibly long nose of his. He leaned forward and suggested I start a podcast. I expressed surprise that he knew about the internet. He simply frowned at me and continued to tell me about the podcast he wanted me to begin.
Let me paraphrase him, as I did not record the interview. He said:
"What you have to understand Michael is that it is not about Japan. It is about you. We like to talk about the 'other' as if they are not in the room, but we are really simply looking in the mirror. There is no such thing as the 'real Japan,' any more than there is such a thing as the 'real Australia.' We need to go beyond the stereotypes, and caricatures, and begin talking to one another about our experiences, and who we are. All views must be welcome or none. I have lived in times when only one view was accepted. They were dark days, even for us who live in the shadows. Do a podcast that can be respected. Build bridges, open doors, be willing to learn something new, prepare to weep, and to laugh, and all joys in between. Be prepared for the odd surprise."
The Tengu gave me his name. I was surprised how ordinary it was. I promised not to reveal it. He lives in Kyoto now and teaches at university. He said he would listen in from time to time, and when possible, make an appearance.
He then told me he had to fly.