Cropped Out

3EA467F0-9A00-4155-97EE-C1F4A8C327E4I was lugging these heavy old tatami mats across the pig and goat pen, to make a path over the earthen space in front of the chicken enclosure. After all, as my host Kaz said ‘after a few years, tatami will return to the land’. Suddenly, I started to think about how people use, and think about, the land beneath our feet. Continue reading “Cropped Out”

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Valley Folk and City Kids

I was stalked home by a white cat the other night. It was exceptionally odd- the cat would walk in the shadow at the edge of the path. When I turned away, the cat would start sprinting towards me; I would suddenly turn back and the cat would screech to a halt a little too late, its piercing eyes fixed on mine. I’m not one for the supernatural, but I felt like that cat knew me. Continue reading “Valley Folk and City Kids”

Hell or Hot Water

The steam rises, gently caressing the edges of the bamboo-pattern tiles. A pipe (real bamboo this time) brings bubbling, warm water from a hot spring. A group of friends in their twenties chat animatedly as they get ready for the plunge. An older man sinks deep into the water, eyes closed, world outside invisible. Continue reading “Hell or Hot Water”

A Feast for the Senses

When we’re asked what we remember about a place or time in our lives, we aren’t always honest. The truth is that what sticks with us, the indelible element of our life experiences, can be kind of mundane, or just downright fucking random. Social media encourages us to think of ourselves as linear beings assembling ‘narratives’ of our lives- I am guilty of this- but despite the conditioning power of screen time, we mostly experience the world as a jumbled series of impulses and associations. The story is something we build because we have to. Continue reading “A Feast for the Senses”

Finis (Travelogue Part 7: Takehara- Kobe)

I was sitting on a ferris wheel reading about John Bercow. Some people would call this rock bottom.

I don’t know what it says about the times, or about me. You could say that the internet has destroyed all our attention spans. You could call it Brexit Derangement Syndrome. Or maybe it’s more specific to me. But sitting there in that little red capsule I’d commissoned on a whim to mark the last night of this phase of my journey, my eyes were drawn to the little flat screen instead of the bright lights of Kobe outside1. Continue reading “Finis (Travelogue Part 7: Takehara- Kobe)”

Two Peaces (Travelogue Part 6- Nagasaki- Hiroshima)

I liked Korea. It wasn’t just the rich, easily accessible street food, or the strong coffee. It wasn’t just the suprising boisterousness of daily life- when I went to Silloam Sauna there were people shouting across the room and jumping into the pools, which was a world apart from Japan. I liked the passion for colour in Korean temples and the rough-and-ready markets. Yeah, I liked Korea.

But I fell in love with Japan. Continue reading “Two Peaces (Travelogue Part 6- Nagasaki- Hiroshima)”

We’re All Waving Flags (Travelogue Part 5: Seoul)

‘Just one more shop. I’ll be back in a moment, wait here.’

He wasn’t. I had been waiting for the best part of two hours, trudging round shoe shops in the rain in futile pursuit of the perfect trainers. In fairness, it wasn’t all Vasilyy’s fault. His size wasn’t easy to find, and some of the shop assistants gave the strong impression of being on heavy sedatives. Then there’s the international shoe size system omnishambles. If you were looking for bearish signs about world peace, the fact we can’t agree on a single global standard for measuring fucking foot size would rank high up there. I start with this story not to name and shame V, although that is fun, but to point out that Seoul is the kind of city where one district contains two hours’ worth of shoe shopping options. Continue reading “We’re All Waving Flags (Travelogue Part 5: Seoul)”

Spice and Silence (Travelogue Part 4: Gyeongju- Gangneung- Seoul)

I was there on the Seoul metro, listening to Iron & Wine because it was the least Seoul-metro music I could think of. I was hoping to be overground again, anywhere else. This isn’t an indictment of the Seoul metro system, which is excellent, with its sprawling stations, vast, broad platforms and airport-style conveyer belts to ferry you about wherever. It’s just that I’ve been ill (cough, whimper), and when I’m feeling rough, being trapped in a tin can under the Earth with strangers is about as welcome as brunch with Iain Duncan Smith. In downtown Aleppo. Continue reading “Spice and Silence (Travelogue Part 4: Gyeongju- Gangneung- Seoul)”

Korea, Decent Coffee and the World Transformed (Travelogue Part 3: Busan- Gyeongju)

Another shore, another story. This week I took my first proper steps into South Korea and mainland Asia (a brief stopover in Taiwan last year notwithstanding), and it’s been… a lot. I’m currently in the swankiest internet cafe I’ve set foot in, surrounded by gamers playing Portal, FIFA and World of Warcraft, and trying to make sense of what I’ve seen and felt so far. I make no apologies for the length of my article- I didn’t have time to write a shorter one. Continue reading “Korea, Decent Coffee and the World Transformed (Travelogue Part 3: Busan- Gyeongju)”

Nearer the Smoke (Travelogue Part 2: Hiroshima- Aso- Kumamoto)

It started with a homecoming. Familiar city streets. Streets I’ve walked a hundred times before, where I can trace the road crossings and vending machines. Hiroshima is close to my heart. Continue reading “Nearer the Smoke (Travelogue Part 2: Hiroshima- Aso- Kumamoto)”