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Showing posts from 2016

Three years later

Hi, Mum! Today is the third anniversary of your death. I took this photo in Yanaka three years ago. Remember? I walked through the shitamachi after I received the news. Aimlessly, and for many hours, and finally ended up at Jyōmyō-in with its 84 000 statues of Jizō, the protector of mothers, children and travelers. You loved Japan's autumn colours. I remember.

Happy birthday, Mum

It would've been your birthday today. Here's your favourite flower, with love, from me.

The Seven Stages of Gaijinhood Redux

Years ago there was a blog called The Westerner's Fear of the Neonsign. It was one of the best blogs ever written about Japan, but it's been taken down. His seminal post was The Seven Stages of Gaijinhood. Here's the graph:

You can read more about it, as well as comments from other old-timers, on, yet another excellent blog that's gone quiet. It happens. You find yourself with nothing new to write about anymore, or perhaps blogs -- well-considered, well-researched, well-written -- have been replaced by easier, faster, transient social media such as Twitter and Instagram.

So, using the lingo of short-form social media, here's my version of the 5 stages. Yup, only 5.

WTF Japan?
FFS Japan!
Meh ...

Step 5 can go in three directions: "it's not perfect, but it's home, and I've got to make it work" or "I'm going home to my own country, which isn't perfect, but I've got to make it work" or "let's g…

Cherry blossoms 2016: fourth report from Meguro

This has been a rather blah cherry blossom season. I should use the past tense – it was disappointing – because it's over now in Tokyo. A few tenacious blossoms remain, and late-blooming varieties might still surprise us, but the main act has finished.
As I've mentioned before,  I stubbornly completed two walks despite the bad weather: a grey day in Kamakura, which I've already written about, and an early-morning sopping wet walk along the Meguro River. My new camera, Mycroft, still hasn't entirely forgiven me for the latter.

This river walk is one of Tokyo's most famous cherry blossom spots, but I avoided it in the past because it looked even more crowded than Chidorigafuchi. This year, when the weekend of peak bloom (満開 mankai) was accompanied by rain, I thought I'd take a chance because it would probably be less frantic. I arrived early and walked from Meguro Station along the river to Ikejiriohashi Station. Despite the rain, the last part of the river in …

Cherry blossoms 2016: third report from Kamakura

The weather gods, or Mother Nature, or fate: they're all in a bad mood due to global warming or possibly Japan's obsession with concrete …
It's been estimated that Japan pours 490 cubic meters of concrete per square kilometer, compared with 40 cubic meters in the USA and 310 in China. Not for nothing is Japan known as the construction state.*
Anyway. Whatever the reason, the 2016 cherry blossom season has been one of the worst since I arrived in this mortared matrix ten years ago: it remains overcast, chilly and drizzly. Early April is seldom perfect, but this year's been extra dismal.

While others might bewail a lost opportunity to get blotto under the blossoms, I'm in a strop because it's nigh impossible to take decent photos when soft pink blossoms disappear against a grey sky.
Most of my plans were scuppered, but I stubbornly followed two: to go to Kamakura (which I did last Friday) and to walk along the Meguro River (this morning), both for the first time in c…

Cherry blossoms 2016: second report

There's a bit more colour, but we're still a few days from full bloom. I took these photos at Zōjō-ji this morning. The temple is clearly preparing for big crowds this coming weekend: they're putting up food stalls and what looks like a platform (tea ceremony? dances? AKB-forty-whatnot? who knows) around the main temple building.

Cherry blossoms 2016: first report

The first report is that ... nothing's happening yet. Or, to be more precise, very little is happening. Or to add further detail (for science, John!), very little is happening in Ueno Park.

I noticed one or two early-blooming trees that are always first, every year, but there's not much colour to be seen. The only entertainment, as a matter of fact, is watching the swan boats get into trouble. It's vastly amusing to watch a young swain trying to keep his cool in front of his coiffed, coutured, manicured inamorata while the swan boat is moving in the wrong direction, stuck in a corner, refuses to be manoeuvered and generally speaking is doing everything possible to turn the lover and the poet into a fool and a lunatic. Meanwhile young kids are merrily peddling away, completely in control.

I could watch it for hours.

I've included a few photos. This is what it looks like right now. Full bloom next week.

Plummy pleasures at Kairakuen

Japan has a thing about lists: the three views of Japan, the three major night views, thirty-six special places of scenic beauty, one hundred soundscapes (this list does not include slurping or sniffing, which means it's a fake) and the four cheapest vending machines in Dokonimomachi 4-9-4.
It also has a list of TheThree Great Gardens of Japan (日本三名園 Nihon Sanmeien) please-note-capital-letters: Kenrokuen or "garden which combines six characteristics", Korakuen or "garden of pleasure after" (that would be after visiting the four cheapest vending machines in Dokonimomachi 4-9-4) and Kairakuen or "a garden to enjoy with people".

So when an opportunity arose to visit the garden to enjoy with 701 233 septuagenarians during plum blossom season, I was understandably happy. Or, to paraphrase my students, "I am excite. It is very fun."
Off I went, and ...

Look, no kidding, the plum orchard in Kairakuen is beautiful: hundreds of trees, many different spe…

A shrine for MIA and AWOL cats

Your cat's gone missing? Went walkabout and hasn't returned? Copycatted Tao in The Incredible Journey or perhaps Kunkush aka Dias?
Fear not. Japan has a shrine for you. If you pray at Tachikawa Suitengū (立川水天宮), your errant moggy will return to you unharmed. That explains the shrine's nickname, Nekogaeshi Jinja (猫返し神社) or "Cat Returns Shrine".

It all started with jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita (山下洋輔), whose cat disappeared. Yamashita walked all over the neighbourhood in search of the animal, but no success. During his wanderings he stopped at Tachikawa Suitengū, several kilometers from his home, and prayed for his cat’s return.
The next day … guess who turned up? Since then, cat lovers visit this shrine to ask for their cats’ protection, and people who’ve lost a cat pray that their pet will come back home.

The shrine, also known as Azusami Tenjinsha (阿豆佐味天神社), is  in Tachikawa, a 20-minute walk from either Musashi-Sunagawa Station on the Seibu Haijima Line or Su…