I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with
the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is
Lycoris radiata; in English it's red
spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.
It's also referred to
as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two
elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet,
because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were
curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a
meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as
gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily
is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers
will grow along your…
Have you noticed that
Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles
with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and
bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called
bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a
symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link). From which one could
correctly deduce that peace is ever transient. Now, before I get
sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells,
yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).
I would not to
mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go: The oldest wind chimes
found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early
versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep
birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits. C…
My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi). It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.
I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect). A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!
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:
It's summer, and summer in the shitamachi means ... festival! We have so many local festivals in this area, and every weekend you can hear "wasshoi, wasshoi, wasshoi" in every small alley. It's the sound you make as you carry a mikoshi or portable shrine; the closest English equivalent would be "heave ho!"
Tokyo has three big festivals: Asakusa Sanja Matsuri, Kanda Matsuri and Hie Matsuri. The Asakusa festival is undeniably the biggest. It's held on the third weekend in May, it's the only one that's fully celebrated each year (the other two are biennial) and it attracts 1,5 million spectators. It's one helluva party. It begins on the Friday with the Meibutsu Daigyoretsu, a musical parade of traditionally dressed musicians and dancers; and it continues on the Saturday and the Sunday when mikoshi are paraded around the neighbourhood throughout the day. I've never attended it. What? You think I'd survive a crowd of 1,5 million? I do atten…
I used Japan's EMS service to mail documents to South
Monday 8 June mailed
Thursday 11 June arrived
Friday 12 June sent
to Cape Town
Monday 15 June arrived
Thursday 18 June "retention"
Friday 19 June delivered It takes South
Africa longer to deliver documents from the Cape Town Central Post Office Depot to
an address in Cape Town than it takes Japan to send those documents 13 536 km, almost
halfway around the world.
Ai, Suid-Afrika. It's not that difficult! Blah
This hasn't been a very rainy rainy season. It's been
mostly a blah dreary gray skies season. It hasn't even been very hot: low
twenties. I haven't used my air con yet. I have
sent roughly 643 LINE messages to my friends complaining about cold trains. The
Oedo Line is so cold that it's painful.
Biggest advantage of rainy season: hydrangeas.
You're going to have to try harder to kill me
I never paid much
attention to the golden flower, despite the fact that it's the symbol of
Japan's imperial family. Chrysanthemums – the English name is derived
from the Greek wordschrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower) – were just too uptight. Very
prim and proper and fussy and rigid. They look plastic, I thought, until I
accidentally bumped into a chrysanthemum display at Hikawa Jinja in Ōmiya and noticed the wide variety of cultivars. I jumped into my books
and went surfing with Google, and think I owe the chrysanthemum an apology.
It's a very interesting flower.
It was first cultivated in China
in the fifteenth century BC, and was regarded as one of the so-called
four noble plants: orchid, bamboo, plum blossom, chrysanthemum. The book Bencao GangmubyLi
Shizhen, which was written during the Ming Dynasty
(1368–1644),lists hundreds of varieties. Nowadays, I understand,
there are thousands. The flower eventually found its way to
Japan, where it was called kiku (菊) and revered…
I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's
As a matter of fact,
the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs
hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm
going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and
very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking
boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.
It starts at Ikusabata
Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends
about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos,
frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours. Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy! Ikusabata to Sawai It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…
Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)
Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…