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Reporter's Notebook: A Lesson

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I am staying with an architect and his family for a few days while commuting to Tokyo to do my business. Today, the weather is hot and humid. At 8:30 A.M., it is an un-air-conditioned 90 degrees.

My host, Seiji Kawazu, a Buddhist to the bone, does not believe in air conditioning. "I like nature," he says. "I like to feel the cold in winter and the heat in summer. Weather is a part of life."

As we walk along the winding path through the pear orchards and tomato fields to the commuter station, he tells me how good the humid weather is for the tomatoes (although I notice that the pear trees must be protected from the heat and insects with heavy nets like gauze).

He is teaching his children also to observe and enjoy nature. It is summer vacation for his oldest boy, Koichi, 6 years old. He has given Koichi an assignment. Every day he must look out the window at the weather. The boy must observe closely the signs of weather--the force of wind, the shapes and color of clouds, the amount of sun. Koichi has a worksheet that he works on every day. It is the drawing of a window. Koichi must draw in the window what he sees, describe it in words, and write down the time of the observation and a general summary of the weather.

When the father comes home from work, if it is a reasonable hour, he first asks to see his son's worksheet and sits with him asking questions about his assignment. He has high expectations for Koichi. Not only does he expect neat penmanship and clear answers to his questions, but he demands that Koichi pay close attention to what he has to say and show the proper respect--not merely out of a sense of duty to the father but out of a concern for learning.

The Japanese countryside is a paradise for hikers. The rolling terraced hills, the pine and cedar forests, and the rocky coastlines are sublime. And the landscape is all the more alluring because it is still--in geological terms--very young. The mountains, islands, and plains are still being formed through seismic and volcanic activity.

On Sunday afternoons, the trains roll out from the crowded cities toward the villages, packed with families and groups of corporate workers who will picnic on the trails. In places like the ancient capital of Kyoto, which is surrounded by mountains, the city folk merely have to walk to the city limits to find a path into the hills.

I find myself drawn to the mountains--away from the hubub, the traffic, the city heat. I can look down on the world with a clear head. There are temples on the hilltops, and I sit and listen inside a temple till I almost think I can hear the spiders on the branches of trees spinning their webs.

On a hot day, my friend Setsuo and I walk in the mountains. I've forgotten to bring a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from my face. Setsuo offers me his. "No need," I say. "The breeze will be my handkerchief."

"You're a poet," he chides gently. But who can help being a poet in the clear summer air on a Japanese mountain?

I do not wander by myself, but always in a group, like most Japanese. We take a lunch and eat at the summit, Setsuo pulling out the whiskey flask.

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