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…
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…
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!
Yelp! I'm doing a "Japanese
New Year's customs" post on Africa time, six days ex post facto,
but I plead your indulgence: New Year's decorations are traditionally removed on
the first Saturday of the new year, in other words, I haven't caused deadline
"Just now", by the way, is a South African expression that means shortly, later, eventually, in a minute, tomorrow, next year, maybe never, probably never, ha ha never, shut up I'm busy. It can also mean a minute ago, a while ago, two hours ago, in my previous life. You can also say "now now", which means as soon as possible, shortly, later, eventually, etc etc etc.
Decorations Japanese New Year’s decorations are called o-shogatsu kazari (お正月飾り). It’s usually made of natural
materials such as straw ropes, pine branches, bamboo and paper. They should be put up by December the 28th,
since December the 29th includes the number 9 (九
ku), which is regarded as a bad luck number becaus…
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…
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…
How in heaven's name did Edo travellers walk
long this road …
over this pass …
wearing straw sandals?!
Last week I walked along the old Tōkaidō
Sea Road) in Hakone. I did it in sturdy hiking boots, and although my feet weren't disgruntled, they weren't entirely gruntled either, if I may paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse.
It was the first time I visited Hakone, and I enjoyed it so
much that I'll just have to go again. My main goal:
following the Tōkaidō, the road that connected Edo and Kyoto. The old road has been replaced by modern highways² and
high-speed railways, but you can still walk
along the original route between Moto-Hakone (800 meters above sea level) and
Hakone-Yumoto (80 meters above sea level), a distance of about 10 km. The sea
levels should warn you that it's a steep route. I didn't do the full course. I started at Hakoneen along the shore of Lake Ashi and then walked through Moto-Hakone to Hatajuku, halfway along the
old Tōkaidō, and returned along…
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…