Skip to main content

Winter is assault; summer is seduction

And thus it came to pass that summer arrived.

Not overnight, as winter tends to do when it slams into the city and rages around the narrow alleys, but softly, with a wink and a smile.

Winter is assault; summer is seduction.


Early summer in Tokyo. Windows and balcony doors remain open. You wake up at night and realize that you're too hot in your oversized Mad Dogs T-shirt, and that perhaps it's time to start using the electric fan. Air conditioning? No. No no no. Last year you didn't switch on your air con until August, and you'll be damned if you hands-up sooner this year.

You go on a walkpedition next to your beloved Sumidagawa, with your sentinel Sky Tree standing guard on the horizon, hazy in the hot air, and your body turns damp within minutes. You're not sweating rivers yet – it's not that limp soggy drenched sensation of mid-summer – but you know it was a wise decision to wear a white shirt that won't display the perspiration gathering under your backpack.

This photo was taken from Umayabashi. The boats are floating restaurants: you can rent them for dinner and parties.

No, it's not very hot yet. You don't put on sunscreen or insect repellent before you set off, because it isn't really necessary: the sun is mild and benevolent, and the mosquitoes haven't organized attack squadrons. You're not wearing sunglasses, but neither are you squinting into a blinding haze.

You're already immensely irritated by women who carry parasols and have no concept of personal space or the simple fact that a parasol is considerably bigger than their tiny heads housing their tiny brains. You've turned into a total prat: you refuse to duck out of their way. If they don't tip it sideways as they walk past you, you slap it away as if it were a pesky gnat. You'd prefer to slap them, but even barbarians know where to draw the line.

I walked along this path. The green bridge is Umayabashi.

(You do wonder whether you should rewrite all personal descriptions on social media and simply say, "Ru Sumida, parasol hater.")

Your hair is permanently in a ponytail, and your hiking boots have been replaced by vellies which will soon step aside for what you call your Jesus sandals: handmade South African leather sandals more comfortable than bare feet.

Jeans will take a break till autumn, and your khaki skirt and lightweight cargo pants have been recalled to active duty.

Your skin – with such clear evidence of decades under the fierce African sun – soaks up the gathering moisture in the air and glows with an inner light that no woman of your age should, in all fairness, claim. It has nothing to do with skin or age, of course, and everything to do with beingatpeacedness. It will last until winter, and then you'll look your true age again, so don't gloat.

Umayabashi

Komagatabashi

I don't know whether this is just branding or a real floating Tully's. Does anybody know?

Laundry dries within an hour. That, too, won't last, because rainy season is around the corner: a month of non-stop rain that brings mould to bathrooms and wet sheets draped over your sofa. Tokyo doesn't believe in tumble dryers and doesn't need them either, except in this month of glorious, blessed, sublime rain that whispers against your body.

The city is already experiencing an overture to rainy season, with intermittent showers and high humidity.

Overweight men steam in trains and mop their faces; skinny women cover their faces with sun visors and arms with long black gloves.

You? You drink in the sunlight, and enjoy walking through this city of your heart in blazing sunlight or in night air as soft as rose petals.

You stand on the banks of the Sumida, pick a dandelion and blow its seeds across the wide river; and for a moment, a brief breathless pause, you wish that you could dance along on the trade winds, wherever they carry you, and answer the call of the far horizon. Then you look at your city, listen to the silent river and smile at the sun. Here you are, where you ought to be, for now.

It's summer.

Komagatabashi

Notes

1) I took these photos during a recent walk next to the Sumida River. The writing is just an excuse to publish Sky Tree photos.

2) Let me state for the record that I am fully aware of the damage that sunlight can do to your skin, especially if you're not used to sunlight or have reddish hair and/or a very fair skin. Yoo-hoo. Guess who has reddish hair? I'm against parasols because too many parasolling women have appalling manners, and they insist on carrying a parasol when it's 20 degrees, cloudy and 6 pm. Please. Also, the fact that women in Japan flounce around with frilly parasols is, to me, a metaphor of everything that's wrong with gender issues in this country, and when I say everything, I really mean that everything is wrong. There's a reason why Japan is 105th out of 136 countries in the Global Gender Gap ReportJa ja ja, I know it's not the parasols' fault, but it's symbolic to me.

3) Read more about the Sumidagawa's bridges here and here

I love the curves of Komagatabashi. Read more about the Sumida's bridges here.



Construction work with cute drawings. Welcome to Japan.


Umayabashi looks like a giant sea serpent from this angle ...

Right next to Umayabashi, under the highway, a small temple. Welcome to Japan.

Horses on Umayabashi

Cool, dude! 

Hazy early-morning sky. It's summer.

Popular posts from this blog

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.


It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

The Tenen Hiking Trail in Kamakura

"I can't do this anymore," my colleague said. The bell for the next lesson had just rung, but he was still sitting in his chair, looking like Marvin the Paranoid Android.
He's an eikaiwa veteran who's had a stint as a school manager, and he's a genuinely good teacher, but he's reached that saturation level that hits any eikaiwa teacher with half a brain and a smidgen of goodwill.
Eikaiwa teaching is a thoroughly unnatural job: you're supposed to make entertaining small talk with strangers you may never see again, and you're supposed to do this for eight hours. If it's an interesting person, great, but sometimes you're stuck with Kenji whose hobby is sleeping or Mariko whose hobby is to go to shopping.
I grimaced in sympathy. Only two things keep me going right now: knowing that university classes will resume shortly, and hiking. As I observed my colleague, I made an instant decision: Kamakura. Friday, my day off, Tenen Hiking Trail.

Kamakura…

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.
C…

Happy birthday, Mum!

Here's an August flower for you.  Not your beloved cherry blossoms, but your favourite colour. I miss you.


Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.
Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!
Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…

How to control a killer flood on the Sumida River

This is epic! It started with mild curiosity. Why doesn't Tokyo do more with its rivers? Instead of entombing them in concrete, why not more parks and boats and bridle paths?
Then it escalated. Where does the Sumida River start? Why is the Arakawa in Tokyo such a straight line? Surely that's not natural? Iwabuchi sluice. What's that? Great Kanto Flood 1910. Cripes, look!, Sensō-ji was under water. Why is there so little information in English? Wait, hang on, Wikipedia is wrong!
Thus idle speculation unleashed a growing fascination with Tokyo's flood control techniques: a complex system of rivers, canals, sluices, locks, controlled water levels, super levees, evacuation areas and a massive underground discharge channel in Saitama. Research proved interesting but frustrating, so I rejected academia in favor of empirical evidence: I walked along Tokyo's most important waterway, the Sumida, from its origin in Kita-ku to Tokyo Bay. I covered 25 km and passed over/under…

The Princess Who Loved Insects (updated)

My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi).

It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.


I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect).  A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!

Donald Keene mentions in hi…

Hiking in Nikko to Takinoo Jinja

Polish your boots, get your backpack and grab your camera. We're going hiking again, and this time we'll follow in the footsteps of a holy man.
Shōdō Shōnin (勝道上人) was one of the great monks of the Heian era. Not only the first person to explore the mountains of  Nikko, he also founded several temples in this area, including Shiunryū-ji (present-day Rinnō-ji) and Chūzen-ji.

It is said that when he wanted to cross the Daiya River, a flood cut off his access to the mountains beyond. A deity appeared on the opposite bank and threw two snakes across the raging river. The snakes turned into a bridge, and Shōdō could cross safely.
After his death in March 817 he was buried in Nikko. His statue stands at the entrance to the Nikko World Heritage Site in honour of his contribution to Buddhism in Japan.

You can still walk along one of his routes, a meandering trail¹ that takes you behind the famous Tōshō-gū, across the hills, past a famous waterfall and into a quiet gorge – no tourists! –…

The ultimate guide to Kanda Myojin

I'm floundering. I don't know how to start a post about Kanda Myōjin (神田明神), because how do you choose a highlight from this collection below?
The decapitated head of a rebellious samurai who's still haunting Ōtemachi is buried in the vicinity, and his deified spirit is enshrined here.It's been called the world's geekiest shrine thanks to its proximity to otaku heaven Akihabara. The shrine has a Facebook, Twitter and LINE account.You can see some extremely generously endowed young ladies on the shrine's ema.It has a horse. A real horse. A tiny living breathing pony.Birds protect it against fire.
See my problem? Where do I start the ultimate guide to the ultimate shrine?




Why Kanda Myōjin?
Let's be boring and kick off with my own connection with Kanda Myōjin, which is very simple: I've always lived within walking distance of the shrine. My first four years in Tokyo were spent in Kanda, blissfully close to the book district Jinbōchō, and I frequently passed …