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Showing posts from September, 2011

Higanbana at Kinchakuda: a riot of red

It's one of the most beautiful flower displays I've seen in Japan: a riot of red higanbana in Kinchakudain Saitama. The flowers are in full bloom right now and will remain at their best for another week. (These photos were taken this morning.) It's a fun, easy day trip from Tokyo. Highly recommended. I will write in more detail tomorrow, but here's a quick how-to-get-there guide. Take an express train on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station. Change to a local train atHannō Station, and get off two stops later at Koma Station. It takes just over an hour in total. Don't bother about buses (few) or taxis (none). Just follow the backpacking geriatrics and the food stalls selling farm veggies. The park is about 15 minutes on foot from the station, and the entrance fee is ¥200. You have one more week ...




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Cosmos at Shōwa Kinen Park in Tachikawa

It's a huge park. It's seriously massive. It's so big that it takes you more than two hours to walk around it, and that's only if you're Olimpiada Vladimirovna Ivanova. It's usually called the Shōwa Kinen Park, but its official name is the Shōwa Commemorative National Government Park (国営昭和記念公園, Kokuei Shōwa Kinen Kōen). It covers 163 hectares in Tachikawa, west of Tokyo, and it includes ponds, a Japanese garden, a 14-km cycling course, a bird sanctuary, a dragonfly marsh, a barbecue area, a foggy forest and a dancing dome. I kid you not. You can find more information at its officialwebsite.

I went there today to look at the cosmos, but I should have done it earlier in the season: the flowers are way past their best. My time was limited and I couldn't explore the entire park, but I will definitely return in November to enjoy the autumn foliage, especially the magnificent ginkgo-lined road near the park's Tachikawa Gate.
The best way to get there is on the …

The bamboo grove at Hōkoku-ji in Kamakura

I love bamboo in all its forms: from strolling through a bamboo forest to eating takenoko (bamboo shoots). I also think wind in bamboo is one of the loveliest sounds in the world.

The most famous bamboo forest within reach of Tokyo is in the Arashiyama district near Kyoto, but there's another one – less known, but in a way much more charming – in Kamakura. It's more a grove than a forest, but you can find it at Hōkoku-ji (報国寺)in the eastern part of Kamakura. It's on Route 204 that runs from Kamakura to the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway.

Although Hōkoku-ji is tiny compared to Arashiyama, it's better in one way: it's more intimate. Arashiyama is a big forest, but the bamboo is fenced off and you walk along an asphalt road that's wide enough for a car. Hōkoku-ji is small, but you walk through it on a narrow path made from stones, and the only barrier between you and the bamboo is very low rope. The disadvantage of Hōkoku-ji's easygoing approach is this:

I don'…

The colour of decayed leaves

Today, suddenly, unexpectedly, there was a touch of autumn in the air. A crisp early morning and a cool evening. That's why I've started a new experiment: a brown blog.The current blog colours are "the colour of red decayed leaves" (赤朽葉色, aka-kuchiba-iro) for the background and "chestnut plum" (栗梅, kuri-ume) for the titles. The colours are still subdued, because leaves have only just started changing colours. Come November, and I'll have to try yellows and reds.



For the anniversary of my death

Yesterday I went to Yanaka Cemetery, but the normally well-kept graveyard looked as if … well … as if a typhoon had hit it. That's exactly what had happened, of course, and you could see Typhoon Roke's legacy everywhere: toppled trees, scattered twigs and leaves, sotoba in disarray, sodden flowers and bedraggled sakaki branches. Even the crows looked frazzled.

Despite the mess – or rather, because of it! – the cemetery was busier than usual. Crews were scampering to tidy up before Ohigan on Friday, 23 September, when the Japanese visit family graves. They clean the graves, pull weeds, pour water on the tombstone and light incense as a gesture of appreciation. This year, thanks to Roke, their task will take a bit longer than usual.
Not everybody waits until Ohigan itself, and yesterday I could see many individuals paying respects to their ancestors. The cemetery, which is huge, also has "professionals", usually old-timers, who take care of graves; but there are many gra…

What plague is next? Locusts?

Japan has become positively biblical. Remember the plagues of Egypt as described in Exodus? Ditto. We've had death and destruction, water, hail and thunder, flies, darkness (thanks, Tepco!), livestock disease and incurable boils (that sounds like radiation to me). What's next? Locusts?

Ah well. So be it. We'll turn the next calamity into lunch. The Afrikaans poet C. Louis Leipoldt, who also wrote cookbooks and a travel dairy, included a locust recipe in hisCape Cookbook. He said you should immerse them in boiling water and pull off their legs. Then you add some salt, pepper and cinnamon and fry their trunks until brown. Now you know.
Here's a photo of Typhoon Roke over Japan. It was taken yesterday afternoon. The typhoon was accompanied – why am I not surprised? – by a magnitude 5.3 earthquake that occurred in Ibaraki at 10:30 pm. It must have been at the same time that Roke was actually moving over that area.
It will definitely be locusts next.

Thoughts and smiles and dried-up tears

A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web Of silken threads and silver strings To catch all sorts of flying things, Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles And specks of dried-up tears, And dust of dreams that catch and cling For years and years and years . . .
A new collection of never-before-seen poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein (who died in 1999) has just been published. It's called Every Thing On It. I guess I'll have to go visit a bookstore again. Here's an animated adaptation of an old favourite, The Giving Tree, read by Silverstein himself:

The ghost Jizōs of Kanmangafuchi

Nikkō (日光) is famous as a World Heritage Site that contains shrines such as Nikkō Tōshō-gūand Futarasan Jinja, but my favourite part is, predictably, slightly off the beaten track. Not exactly unknown, but if you compare it to the main attractions that are mobbed by multitudinous hordes, it's positively deserted. It's Kanmangafuchi, a narrow gorge that's formed by the Daiya River. (As per usual, click on the photos to see bigger versions.)



You approach Kanmangafuchi via the Stone Park, a garden with stones and rocks placed arbitrarily, or possibly arranged very carefully to look haphazard.


The path that leads into Kanmangafuchi is lined with about 70 statues of Jizō. There used to be 100, but several washed away during a flood in 1902. They're called Hyaku Jizō (one hundred Jizō) or Narabi Jizō (Jizō in a line). It's said that if you count the statues while walking in opposite directions along the path, you never get the same total, no matter how often you re-count. …