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Showing posts from September, 2013

'n Berg en 'n boom en 'n waterstroom

My mother passed away on the 24th of September. It was a spring day in South Africa, but in Japan autumn had arrived in soft rain, fallen leaves and a blood-red bloom known as the flower of the dead.
Earlier that same morning I had referred to higanbana as the most spectacular flower in Japan, not realizing that I would never again be able to look at it without sadness.

It's called higanbana because it flowers during ohigan(お彼岸), a Buddhist celebration that takes place twice a year on the spring and the autumn equinox. Ohigan roughly means "the other shore", in other words, enlightenment. The ideal during ohigan is that you should focus on the so-calledsix perfections; the more practical application is that you return to your hometown on these days, clean family graves and pay respects to your ancestors.
Although it wasn't unexpected – my mother was frail and had contracted pneumonia – the news was a shock. Earlier this year I had promised my mother that I wouldn't …

My mother

Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there; I did not die.


わたしのお墓に佇み泣かないでください わたしはそこにはいません、わたしは眠りません わたしはふきわたる千の風 わたしは雪上のダイヤモンドのきらめき わたしは豊穣の穀物にそそぐ陽光 わたしはおだやかな秋雨 あなたが朝の静けさの中で目覚めるとき わたしは翔け昇る上昇気流となって 弧を描いて飛ぶ静かな鳥たちとともにいます わたしは夜に輝くやさしい星々 わたしのお墓に佇み嘆かないでください わたしはそこにはいません、わたしは死ななかったのです
(The poem was written by Mary Elizabeth Frye and translated into Japanese by Arai Man.)
Today a soft autumn rain is falling in Tokyo, and the rice is ripening in the hinterland. What do I do with the KitKats I bought, the letter that I haven't finished yet, the ¥2000 I paid into my Skype account for conversations that will never happen?

Bye, Mom. You'll always be in my heart…

Higanbana at Kinchakuda in Saitama

The most spectacular flower in Japan is not the cherry blossom. If you prefer pale pink froth, that's OK, but I'd rather* indulge in red-hot fiery passion. Look at this!


The flower is the higanbana (red spider lily), which blooms around the autumn equinox, and the best viewing spot near Tokyo is Kinchakuda (巾着田) in Saitama. The flowers are currently in full bloom (link), and you'll be able to enjoy it for the next week to ten days.
Kinchakuda requires a bit of a trek, but it's worth it. 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.
The park is 15 minutes on foot from the station. There aren't any English signs, but don't worry: just follow the backpacking old-timers or use Google Maps. I've drawn a map for you. It's not the shortest or most interesting route, but it's the easiest. I still can't fig…

The Tenen Hiking Trail in Kamakura

"I can't do this anymore," my colleague said. The bell for the next lesson had just rung, but he was still sitting in his chair, looking like Marvin the Paranoid Android.
He's an eikaiwa veteran who's had a stint as a school manager, and he's a genuinely good teacher, but he's reached that saturation level that hits any eikaiwa teacher with half a brain and a smidgen of goodwill.
Eikaiwa teaching is a thoroughly unnatural job: you're supposed to make entertaining small talk with strangers you may never see again, and you're supposed to do this for eight hours. If it's an interesting person, great, but sometimes you're stuck with Kenji whose hobby is sleeping or Mariko whose hobby is to go to shopping.
I grimaced in sympathy. Only two things keep me going right now: knowing that university classes will resume shortly, and hiking. As I observed my colleague, I made an instant decision: Kamakura. Friday, my day off, Tenen Hiking Trail.

Kamakura…