Archive for October, 2008

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Dull dull deadly dull.

October 26, 2008
No travelling this weekend and not much unravelling going on either for that matter apart from a moderate hangover. Up until last night I hadn’t had a drink for nearly two months. And after 3 drinks I was cream crackered and ready to go home.
The reason for no travelling? Well on Monday morning I have a company health check and I can’t stress how much I am really *really* looking forward to having to get weighed and measured alongside my diminutive Japanese colleagues.
In all seriousness though, it will most likely be an experience comparable to Koyasan or Miajima…the joy of living here is that I get to experience things like health checks and staff meetings and ways of living I never considered before. Mundane at home but terribly exciting here.
Company health checks, company bonding and just companies in general are something I’m naturally suspicious of. And here and there I must say I’ve noticed touches of the Orwellian in Japan. Especially corporate Japan. Every morning at eight the office workers in the building opposite my apartment all stand at their desks and do group physical jerks … Sorry – calisthenics – before they sit down for their ten hour shifts. (I will try to get a picture!) I think this sense of personal accountability to the company is similarly the motivation behind the company health check. Whatever happens it will be an experience as everything in Japan always is :)
So here are some old photos of Miajima:

Its rather nice to have this on my doorstep, well maybe not doorstep but its a 200 Yen tram ride away. The Torii begs to be photographed. Indeed, the whole of Japan seems to have been effortlessly arranged for the snap happy. Maybe its the Zen aesthetic?


These photos were taken all the way back in July. Seems a very long time ago now. I went back to last weekend with a German journalist called Stephan (Hi Stephan!) and got serious camera envy. I want one of the big spiffy ones. But is it worth it?

I like the shadows in this one.

Usually the Torrii is ‘floating’ but the first time I saw it was at low tide. I wasn’t disappointed though.. it was quite an experience to walk under this thing.

This is a stone Torii, on the path that takes you down from the town to the temple. Its probably concrete actually… thinking about it.

P.S Send me music if you can.

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Weekend Photos

October 22, 2008

It might be late October now, but in Hiroshima the sun still blazes overhead well into the mid afteroon, hotter than any summer day in England. The days peaks are becoming increasingly tempered though; the heat burns for maybe an hour or so now before quickly cooling into evening.
The rapid change leaves pockets of thick coolness in the air; half way between a mugginess and a fog – especially by the coast.

I’m writing this on a train actually, coming back from Onomichi – the train doors just slid open and the crack of fireworks sprayed themselves across the relative silence of the carriage, jerking the heads of those of us who don’t have ear buds in.
It feels quite like Bonfire night, only it’s still too hot and no one seems concerned about Hedgehogs.


And the forests, they’re changing most of all. I’ve had a mild obsession with trying to name the soft, full quality they have here. They cover the sheer mountain sides in sprays of spilt green bubbles. Constant clouds of thick gypsophilium. They aren’t solid exactly, they’re too fluid for that, but they have cool and delicious fullness to them. Each crack and gnarl seems spread out; the spaces between them full and solid. Each fissure, branch, space and break is set out solidly in the air. And the air in return contracts back towards the branches. It looks like the feeling when I’m doing Yoga and trying very hard to align myself – pushing energy and concentration into my muscles and then letting go and trying to hover midway between the two. They look like how that feels.

Maybe that’s why they proved so popular with the Buddhists eh?

So before, in summer, the trees were a thousand variations on the same green. Terribly beautiful but definitely green. Now, the colours are inumerous – each tree is becoming increasingly defined against its twin. Summer is definitely on the wane, even if the mid day sun refuses to agree.
These train lines slip between mountains, flanking the coast, moving south, slow local trains fit between the mountains, in the valleys pooled at their base. Rice Padis are drawn up into dollies, fires burn at intervals – It feels like a harvest festival scene from school. It could be…but the smells are different, burning rice fields smell different front burning corn. But just like at home the alters are covered in sweet potato and apple. They don’t have these little creatures though:

The open and closed mouth Lion Dogs protect the shrines and temples. The open mouthed creatures eat the evil spirits and the closed mouth ones keep the good spirits inside the temple or shrine.

In one temple, men sat together braiding what I think was rice straw into the thick ropes that hang from the torii.
Walking by, I raised my palm in greeting. The perimeter stone slats made their faces flicker like a silent movie. It took 3 frames for their hands to become raised and smile back.
Japan is a very friendly place at times.

I suppose this tree is very old, thats why it had its own little hut in the Temple garden. I got some really good photos of this tree when I was walking about but I ruined them whilst editing them :(
When we headed back towards the harbour the food festival was over and everyone was packing away. I had some tickets left so we tried to swap some for the leftovers. No one would take the cash tickets put they pressed food into our arms, bowls of small pickled fishes, Tamago Yaki, Pumpkin and Sweet Potato, thick white sauce over spring onions with fish and Rice cooked with Red Beans. They wrapped them up in lunch box cloths and gave us chopsticks.

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Music; Bento; Couchsurfing; Oh My!

October 16, 2008
This week I was seized by the strange urge to make myself a wee Bento.
Bento’s are usually made by housewives (I’m hesitant to using this word…but there it is…) for their families. Whether to show their affection or maybe partly for reasons of social kudos, they typically put rather allot of effort into their Bento making. Using a solitary piece of Nori to faithfully render a Pikachu on Kenji’s rice balls (for example) or doing terribly exciting things with Tamagoyaki.
So it felt a little rediculous but it was incredibly fun to do.

I come home from work every day for lunch (except when I’m feeling the need to communicate with someone who isn’t under the age of 5 and nip to a cafe for a sarnie…) so a Bento is pretty pointless. I’m wobbling inbetween thinking its a little pathetic making *myself* a Bento or whether it’s empowering. Certainly its traditional function reminds me of the certain lonely aspects of living alone! But on the other hand, I think it’s rather important to show myself a little bit of care and affection, especially at lunch time when I’ve typically just spent a morning being battered around by small children. And besides, maybe I am my own husband out here so why not?

So I made my first Bento:

I brought the majority of the packaging at the 100 Yen Shop (100 Yen is approximately 47p) and a specialist discount Bento place which is above the Addidas shop on Hon Dori if you happen to be in Hiroshima.

I had allot of fun making the dishes, Although I went a little bit Delia on it’s ass:

On the botton tier:
Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Curry and Tofu cooked with Chilli and Red Pepper

(which this is not…but you get the idea)

On the middle tier:
Chunks of Sweet Potato and Pumpkin and Steamed white cabbage and Basil

And on top… Tamago Yaki, edamamae and dun dun dun: HOME MADE ONIGIRI!!!!
I’m terribley proud of my little rice balls…but despite my very best efforts they had fallen apart by the morning. Maybe brown rice is too dry? Some had an edamame filling

And some had tofu and chilli.

And here it is tucked up for the night in mi fridge

I love cooking. I really love it and more than that I love cooking for people. I’ve had couch surfers staying with me the past two nights and I relished the opportunity to sit down and eat in community with people. I miss it.
I hope the word community can convey everything I mean it to.
So if you are in Hiroshima please come and visit!

Bento making led quiet naturally to photography.
I am filled with questions…these few photos are a pretty poor effort but I want to share them nonetheless. I took maybe sixty shots and maybe thirty were a blurry mess and wobbly and the rest were ok. The camera seemed to refuse to focus on the food meaning maybe only 3 shots have the kind of clarity I find appealing in a photograph. Do I need a better camera? A tripod? My abilities are certainly lacking anyway… Its much more difficult to photograph foos because of the backdrop I suppose. .. although maybe the cluttered desk provides a little context :)
The only instruction I’ve ever had is from my Dad (Hi Dad!) who showed me how to frame photographs with surroundings and try to add balance.
Photographing food seems to be a different matter though… Well…obviously…You’ll never see these shots in Woman and Home.

Finally music…the last bands I properly got into were Portishead; the Cinematic Orchestra and Efterklang. What are you listening to right now? I need some more music in my life so let me know so I can listen to them on Deezer.

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Koyasan

October 8, 2008

Koyasan had me completely enthralled:


It felt like I was walking into one of the fairy tales that framed my early childhood. The towering stone plinths, moss covered doorways and the mausoleums almost seemed familiar.


Doors to nowhere have been an aesthetic obsession of mine for the longest , longest time. They absolutely fascinate me. I suppose in a graveyard, they aren’t really doors to nowhere; as little as I comprehend these matters, the symbolism is maybe obvious.

And it fascinates me – thresholds, transgression, the splitting of life and death and the communion of the two…and in this context – this massive, massive wood with trees hundreds of years old, it made for a pretty intense day.

And that was just the wood.

Koyasan is an area of upland, that nestles into its surrounding eight mountain peaks (like a lotus flower?) in Wakayama prefecture. Its devoted to the study and practice of the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism. I don’t know much about this sect (I don’t know much about Buddhism), however;apparently it does not see enlightenment as a remote entity taking millennia to achieve. Instead enlightenment is a real possibility achieved through living a ritualised and conscious life. Humans, accordingly, are creatures with an innate and luminous holiness which if channelled correctly through Buddhist practises, manifests itself as a sacred and beneficial wisdom.
So there you go eh?

It was a wonderful weekend, we stayed in Dai-en-in temple, I can’t even express how beautiful and important it was. The morning worship, the monk we met who showed us around, the Zen garden, the sound of rain falling on the roof for the ten dark hours we spent lying on our futons; The mists that held themselves around the temple and among the trees all morning. Sitting in the temples, enjoying the peace and the holiness was an awesome feeling, a feeling I haven’t felt for a long time. It felt the same as when I used to sit and meditate at Walsingham Catholic shrine back in the UK. Which was surprising – if not a little pleasant actually.

And wonderfully, my scarf seems to have absorbed some of the smoke and still smells like incense, which of course makes me a very happy bunny indeed.