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Showing posts from October, 2012

The drums of Africa

A few days ago I wrote a post about the taiko group Kodō, and in a comment to fellow blogger Keiko-san I said that I wished I could see Kodō performing with djembe drummers from Africa. If you're interested in drumming, I've included a few videos. The first is a djembe performance by Bolokada Conde, one of the world's foremost djembefolas. (It's a very different technique with very different rhythms, more spontaneous and less disciplined, but I hope you'll like it.) The second is a lesson from a djembe teacher. The third is simply a video about Africa's natural rhythms. Watch it: it's beautiful. Now do you understand why I love drums?



Sharp eyes (or ears?) might've noticed that all these songs originated in West Africa. Africa's best music comes from its western regions. I'd like to introduce you to a few singers as well: Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré from Mali, Youssou N'Dour from Senegal and the grande dame of African music, the gravel-a…

The power of Kodō, live on stage

Finally, ten years after I discovered them in a CD shop in Cape Town, I saw a live performance of the taiko drumming group Kodō. It was worth a ten-year wait: it's the most perfect combination of power, rhythm, discipline and exuberance I've ever seen.

I went with fellow blogger Sarah (thanks, Sarah!) to a performance in Tsudanuma in Chiba. It was quite an adventure, due to work responsibilities and train delays.

First of all, it was on a Tuesday, which meant I had to leave work early on an afternoon when I was supposed to attend a meeting. I therefore had this conversation with the powers that be at a certain institution of higher education:

"Umm. You know I'm interested in Japanese culture, don't you?" I said.
"Yes! You know more about shrines than we do!" the powers that be said. "No, no, no, I'm but a stupid savage. But, so, you see, there's this music concert." "What music?" "Oh, traditional Japanese music. This grou…

The splendour of Japan's cedars

I vaguely recall that I had a life, once upon a time, but then this thing called work happened. I did manage to escape, briefly, here. Can you identify it? (Sarah, it should be easy for you.) It's an old route that was trodden 1200 years ago by a famous priest who managed to cross a raging river with the help of a god and two snakes. It's located in a not-so-famous part of a very famous venue. Just on the other side of the hill, thousands are gawking; here, you can enjoy the splendour of centuries-old cedars in silence and solitude.

Click on the photos to see bigger versions. Story to follow. (Comments are welcome, but I might not be able to respond immediately.)












What does Japan smell like?

I was going to write another post altogether, but then a tiny orange flower interfered, and I was off on a fascinating journey into the sense of smell.

The little flower is called kinmokusei (金木犀) or Osmanthus fragrans. It grows on a nondescript boring tree that nobody pays any attention to. Then October arrives, and the tree produces orange flowers that have the sweetest fragrance ever. It's a flirt. It teases and seduces, dances in the air, beckons you to pursue it down narrow alleys.

Kinmokusei was introduced from China in the Edo period, and although it's used as food in China (tea, jam, soup, dumplings), in Japan it's mostly associated with fragrance and with … toilets. That's because the flower is a standard ingredient in many air-freshening sprays for toilets, both private and public. I don't immediately think of a toilet when I smell kinmokusei. I think, "Autumn! Yay!"

Kinmokusei got me thinking. What does Japan smell like? So here’s my list of te…

Wait. Be patient. It will come.

A sea of trees, a world map of shrubs and ...

I never knew about this! Why didn't I know about this? Umi-no-Mori (Sea of Trees or Sea Forest) is a project designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando, who wants to turn 88 acres of landfill (the size of a golf course) in Tokyo Bay into a forest.

He says he hopes to collect donations of ¥1000 per person from half a million people. If you want to donate, you can do it on the website here. I fully intend to visit this park as soon as possible (in other words, in November) and report in more detail, but in the meantime …
I heard about Umi-no-Mori at the 29th National Urban Greenery Fair Tokyo, which I ran into, purely by chance, in Hibiya Park. Umi-no-Mori has a special exhibition in which they're forming the map of the world with Kochia scoparia shrubs, combined with messages of encouragement for Tōhoku. Oh, yes, the quake was 18 months ago, but many Tōhoku residents are still living in temporary shelters and reconstruction will take decades. The government has not exactly …

Sloppy editing? Not on the cover!

It's a truism that copy-editors will make their biggest mistake in a 72-point headline. I certainly made a few doozies in my day; mostly in body copy, Saint Bosco be praised. I know, and I bow my head in abject shame, that I regularly make mistakes in my own posts and comments.

Yet, however and notwithstanding my acknowledgement that to err is human ... a mistake on the front page of a poetry book, in the author's name? Eish, White Pine Press!


The poet isTaneda Santōka. I wrote about himhere.

Howbeit, nonetheless and despite my righteous indignation, I readily concur that it's divine to forgive, and in this particular case not too difficult. White Pine Press is a non-profit literary press, and it's made poetry from all over the world accessible to the rest of us.

It's just ... on the cover, and in the poet's name? Ouch.

Tokyo's top five gorgeous ginkgos

Tokyo is famous for its ginkgo avenues which burst into colour towards late November and early December, but the city also has magnificent individual trees that are well worth a visit.

After all, the ginkgo biloba was designated the official metropolitan tree in 1996; and the symbol of Tokyo Metropolis(東京都Tōkyō-to) is made up of three arcs resembling a ginkgo leaf to represent the letter T for Tokyo. The tree was selected by residents, who voted as follows: ginkgo 49%, zelkova 32%, Yoshino cherry tree 19%. Read more about it here.
I've made a list of my Famous Five. I don't have autumn photos of all of them, but my intention is to do a follow-up post in December. They're listed in no particular order, except that I've saved my personal favourite for last.

The guardian of the cemetery
It's neither particularly old nor exceptionally big, but it's breathtaking in autumn. It's a massive ginkgo that stands guard in Yanaka Cemetery, its golden leaves forming a shar…