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…
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…
It's a modest plant,
easy to overlook, yet it used to be Japan's most beloved flower.
Bush clover (ハギ, hagi)
is mentioned in 141* poems in the Manyōshū (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves),
Japan's first anthology of poetry, compiled in the 8th century. That far
exceeds the 119 poems about the second-most popular flower, plum blossoms. The
latter was revered as an exotic import from China; the former was praised for
its rustic simplicity.
Bush clover grows about 3 m in height and has long, slender branches
that droop across paths. The branches represent feminine elegance, but it's also a symbol of vigour thanks to its ability to produce young shoots from old stock. It flowers in September, when summer's heat lingers,
but it's believed that if you can see dew drops on the plant's small green
leaves, you know that autumn is near.
Nowadays the flower attracts little attention. There aren't any good
bush clover viewing spots in Tokyo that I know of, apart…
Last night we had a magnificent thunderstorm in Tokyo, so today: a post about thunder! I've also discovered that there's a thunder temple in the shitamachi, but I'm going to keep you in suspense. I'll try to get there today, provided it stops drizzling, but it probably justifies its own post. Meantime … Raijin (雷神) The god of thunder is called Raijin, Kaminari-sama or Raiden-sama, and he loves to eat the belly buttons of children. When there's thunder, parents tell their kids to hide their navels so that Raijin can't kidnap them. Quakes, thunder, fire and father Traditionally the Japanese feared four things in ascending order of severity: 地震·雷·火事·親父, jishin (earthquake), kaminari (thunder), kaji (fire), oyaji (father). The father was the most terrifying because in old days he had complete control over his household. (I can hear men sigh with longing, "When did it all go wrong?") I've also seen a slight adaptation:地震·雷·火事·大山風. The first three terrors r…
Kaidan! Ghost stories! You ready? August is the month of Obon (お盆), a Buddhist festival that honours
ancestral spirits, who are believed to return to their birthplaces in this
week. Since otherworldly beings are
wandering about, it's also the perfect time for ghost stories or kaidan. Kaidan (怪談) consists of two kanji: 怪 (kai) meaning "strange, mysterious or bewitching
apparition" and 談 (dan) meaning"talk"or "recited narrative". It's a
slightly old-fashioned word that conjures up tales from the Edo era, and we're
going to start our August Kaidan Series with an old Edo tale of murder,
betrayal and revenge that remains the most famous ghost story in Japan. It's called
Yotsuya Kadain (四谷怪談),
and it proves that "heavenhas norage like love to hatred turned, norhellafury like a
woman scorned".¹ It's roughly based on a real
event: a woman called Oiwa² married a man called Tamiya Iuzaemon, but after
their divorce, various misfortunes be…
Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)
Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…
The Sumida River
covers a distance of 27 km from Kita-ku to Tokyo Bay, but its most interesting
section is – of course! – the one that runs through the shitamachi.
Today, in the second
part of my Sumida series, I'll cover the lower section from Shirahigebashi to
originally included extra information about the river's main shrines, for example a shrine that's dedicated to the river god himself, but the post got so long that you
would've fallen asleep halfway through. Let's focus on the bridges, and then
I'll interrupt my series with an extra post about the gods.
section has the most interesting bridges, several of which were constructed by
Kawasaki Steel Construction (currently Kawasaki Heavy Industries) after older
bridges collapsed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. The company rebuilt a
total of 25 bridges using 16 000 tonnes of steel after that quake, including Shirahigebashi, Kiyosubashi and Eitaibashi. The Sumida
bridges became famo…
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…
I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's
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
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…