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Showing posts from November, 2013

Autumn splendour at Hondo-ji in Chiba

I seldom do a post that's only photos, but Hondo-ji seems to be an exception every autumn.
I revisited the temple, one of my all-time favourites, yesterday to enjoy its autumn scenery, and I've decided to focus on photos. Because … a picture is worth a thousand words; I've written about the temple before (link, link, link); I'm facing yet another non-stop working weekend and I don't have enough time to write an epic worthy of Ὅμηρος.¹

I went very early, before the crowds of seniors arrived. (Why do old women talk so much and so loudly? Why?) It was an icy morning, and I was sniffling and shivering, but utterly entranced by the temple's beauty. I try to discover new autumn spots every year – this year it was Kamakura – but Hondo-ji is the one spot that draws me back every single season.
If you're wondering why I haven't written about Kamakura yet, no time!, but I've published a few photos on Google+.
1) Greek epic poet Hómēros.

A perfect morning at Matsuchiyama Shōten

There are days in Japan so perfect that I barely know what to do with myself, and that day at Matsuchiyama Shōten* was such a day.

It's always been one of my favourite temples, and I returned to enjoy the autumn splendor of the ginkgo trees in its precinct. As I stood on the stairs leading to the main building, a priest and two maintenance workers walked out. I lowered my camera to give them a chance to pass. The priest stopped next to me. "You can go in if you want to," he said in perfect English.
I dropped my camera, fell down the stairs, scampered back up and pretended I was in perfect control of myself, the situation and life in general.
"I can?" I stuttered.
"Yes, you can," he echoed Obama. "Just take off your shoes and …" He pointed at my camera and crossed his arms.
"Oh, no photos, no no no, I mean, yes yes yes, of course!"
I can be remarkably erudite under pressure.

So I scrabbled backwards, bowing and thanking, took off my shoes…

Grocery shopping with a rucksack

Middle-class South Africans live in big houses with big kitchens, and the average family has two cars in a double garage that's bigger than the average studio apartment in Tokyo.
Many houses have pantries, or at least a spacious food cupboard and a ginormous refrigerator. I'm 1.58 m; my refrigerator was taller than I am.
Grocery shopping is usually done once a week, by car, at the nearest supermarket. You walk around with a shopping trolley the size of a Hummer, buy in bulk and fill your car's boot (trunk to Americans) to the brim. I did it as well, even when I lived by myself, although I seldom had more than three bags in my boot.
Then you eat. That might be why 70% of all South African women (all races combined) above the age of 35 are overweight. Men fare better, with 40% of all men above the age of 35 being overweight.
My sisters, their kids and I are all relatively skinny, but we're not exactly normal in any way.
Then there's Tokyo. You could probably get two…

Guide to Entering and Surviving Japan and Tokyo

When I arrived in Japan eight years ago, I was an idiot. I still am, but I've become a slightly more sophisticated idiot, which means I tend to make more complicated mistakes.
Let me explain that: I know how to use an ATM, but I still manage to forget my Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ internet banking password, and then I have to go to the bank, provide fingerprints, a DNA monster and a sworn affidavit from Sadakazu Tanigaki¹that I may be a criminal from Africa, but I'm relatively harmless. NB relatively.
Anyway, when I arrived in Tokyo for the first time, I confidently assured The Hero that he wouldn't have to fetch me at the airport, since I was a seasoned war zones traveler. It should be added that he was a salaryman at the time, and the end of the universe itself is no excuse for a salaryman to neglect his work duties.
I caught the Narita Express to Tokyo Station, and then … I lost it. "It" being myself, my self-assurance, my independence, my sense of direction. Tokyo S…

Tokyo's best spots for autumn leaves, 2013

It's show time, folks! We're still enjoying the overture in central Tokyo, but the main act will start, oh, probably ten days from now. The name of the performance? Crimson Leaves, 2013 Edition.
Crimson leaves or kōyō (紅葉) is how Japan refers to autumn colours, and though Japan is not – contrary to the belief of its citizens – the only country in the world to experience four seasons, it truly owns autumn. Autumn in Japan is beautiful beyond words, pictures or belief.

I've published lists of Tokyo's best autumn spots before, but I thought I'd do a revised edition for 2013. There are so many spots that it's very difficult to select a few. Initially I wanted to limit it to places that can easily be reached by tourists who can't speak Japanese, but eventually included a few that are perhaps not so easy to access, but very most definitely very worth it.  
I haven't included access maps in this specific post, but I've linked to websites or my own posts about…