I was writing the wrong blog, basically. For the last week, I’ve been straining to finish an article to answer the perennial question of my return: ‘what surprised you the most when you moved to Japan?’ But it’s a difficult question to answer, and I wasn’t getting much inspiration. Sometimes you don’t write well because you don’t know what to say. Continue reading “Fireworks and Gravestones”
So, inevitably I caught some kind of bug as my autumn term is wrapping up. I’ve been mulling over my penultimate offering before I fly back to the motherland, but I feel a bit feverish and ill-equipped for prose. So I thought I’d give you some weird poetry instead, based on some of my favourite photographs of my time in Japan. Haiku, naturally. Continue reading “Fever Dreams of the First Six Months”
‘There’s the Japanese- and then there’s everybody else’.
After I started the ball rolling on moving to Japan, I heard this one friendly warning time and time again, from a range of different people. A friend of my mum’s who worked with Japanese clients, a British-Nigerian dude who had worked in Osaka. Former travellers and Nipponophiles. On first impulse, it felt like a bit of a cliché, but now I’ve been here for six months, I thought I might revisit the statement, and evaluate it. Long story short? It’s totally right. But then again, it’s also completely wrong.* Continue reading “The Japanese and Everybody Else (Immigrant Song)”
As November closes, I find myself struggling to get an article finished. It’s been a good month: I’ve explored a remote mountain valley, watched some Shintō dance, bounced on a floating rock and tried deep-fried garlic. It’s also been a busy month; since I got back from Fukuoka last week I’ve been bowling, celebrated a mate’s birthday, bought famous fabrics in Fukuyama and visited a 300-year-old sake brewery.
So, I’m already back from Fukuoka, and I’m itching to write about Sumo- but I had a half-written blog article to finish. So, today’s offering is about beauty and ugliness, and how the two intertwine in modern Japan.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — Continue reading “Dancers in the Sprawl”
It was one of the old wild places. The Shibaki River hurtled down cliffs and over rocks unobserved, through the gorge it had created over millions of years. A few solitary travellers must have reached Sandandaki from time to time, and seen first-hand the white waters cascading over the ledge. Nonetheless, the gorge was remote enough that the Geihantsushi*, a pre-modern agricultural journal, recorded: ‘there is no access to the site to view the grandeur’.
In 1910, photographer Nanpo Kuma arrived in Sandankyo gorge, and fell in love. His efforts and photographs convinced adventurous tourists to visit, and in 1925 the gorge was designated a national scenic spot. I tried to find out more about Nanpo Kuma, but all I discovered online was the same brief summary, and a suggestion to visit the library at Sandankyo Hotel. Anyway, Nanpo, whoever you are, thank you.
I was chatting to a German guy on Tuesday morning as we shambled into town in the sunshine. We were holding forth on music, videogames, the merits of our various hometowns, the strange chaos of Japanese cities, and particularly on history. We spoke about the Berlin Wall, and how it created and still shapes the modern city. It arguably stopped Berlin from dominating Germany the way London does the United Kingdom, or Paris does France.
It came to me that all cities have a Berlin Wall, a dividing line that separates the city into two types of governance, two personalities, two essences. All cities have work attire and evening gear. All cities are transformed, lycanthropic and howling, at night, and wake up naked in the woods at dawn under the fading moon, with blood on their teeth. All cities are mixed metaphors. All cities are two cities*.
And why should here be any different?
To lift an opener from Che Guevara’s diary: this is the history of a failure. Not a failure of an effort, or a moral failure, but the failure of a theory to explain the world as it is. These are the kind of failures that drive scientific discovery, and self-discovery too.
Oyashirazu (親知らず), the Japanese word for wisdom teeth, is an etymological gem. The word roughly translates to ‘without the parents knowing’, and nobody’s quite sure why, although it’s probably because your wisdom teeth emerge after you move out of your family home. It’s such an elegant, lyrical word.
September arrived in style today, with a cool breeze, insistent rain, and clouds cuddling the mountains. I like the sharp-drawn demarcation between seasons, and to be honest after two months of Hiroshima summer I’m ready for autumn. Just don’t call it ‘fall’ like half my students do.