Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, March 31, 2017

I did it my way.
Tokyo to Kawagoe

I read recently that the art of Bonsai will die out in thirty years due to a lack of trainee bonsai masters.  As we stood in front of a thousand year old tree today at the Omiya Bonsai museum it was not hard to see why.  It’s simply impossible to imagine the feeling one would have before walking into one’s employer’s office to explain how it had just turned up its toes while in one’s care. To snip a wrong branch on a three hundred year old tree would be bad enough!

At the Kitain Temple, we marvelled once again over joints and proportions that changed in magical ways, bringing indoors out and outdoors in, listening transfixed to the song of the nightingale as we walked across the connecting bridge betwixt samurai’s house and temple.  There’s no reason to fix the squeaky stairs at home now, I just need to work out how to tune them and give them a slight vibrato effect.

Then to the museum in Kawagoe where we could dismantle and re-mantle those joints we had come to love, through the ancient warehouse district and finally to yet another modern gallery, curious in form and in content where we found our own nightingale.

To our great shame, his name did not stick in any of our minds, but it was his last day at the office after 29 years of tending the gallery, and whether it was because of this or because he just liked us, he deemed us fit to share his farewell moment with a glorious a capella baritone rendition of “My Way” obviously honed through a similar number of hours of karaoke to those required to become a bonsai master.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Dangers of book learning.

When one is touring there are things that one really shouldn’t miss, and things that some say one shouldn’t miss and I suppose some things that are missable but into which one collides by good fortune.

Today was a day spent not missing quite a lot.  While the cherry blossoms still have a day or two before they reach their prime in Ueno Park,the parties were in full swing as we made our way to the Museum of Western Art.   

I suppose it was a bit of a “death by architecture” day with a sprinkled topping of some of the finest art could possibly imagine.    Having munched our way through a feast of works of the likes of Corbusier, Frank Loyd Wright, paintings by the great European Masters, a collection of Rodin, and who knows what else we made it to a museum dedicated to the work of  Katushika Hokusai “the woodblock guy, who made the wave picture”.  

It was a splendid brand new aluminium crystal, detailed to the sort of perfection that made one’s eyes water.  Of course one could ask questions as to how well it may stand the test of time but that would be failing to enjoy the moment.    Speaking of standing time’s test, our visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s school for girls was a somewhat shattering experience for yours truly.   

For considerably more than half a century my expectations have been built chapter after chapter by various texts and experts leading me to believe that this chap was special and he undoubtedly was.     

His work was well ahead of his time, but I was expecting I think to see genius at work, spaces beautifully resolved, public areas that I could stand erect in without taking more skin from the top of my scone.   Certainly if one put two buildings of the same era side by side, the differences and originality would be staggering, but for me the experience of those jarring volumes left me with a feeling that it was a great idea not quite properly worked out.

I spoke with others in our group who know about this stuff, of my concerns, and in reply they looked at me with a different kind of concern.

Am I the only one who can see the emperor has no clothes on?


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Okayama to Tokyo via Kurashiki

Tokyo is close enough to five hours away by Bullet train and today’s schedule had us travelling more or less for the whole day.  Were we travelling by ourselves that’s exactly what we would have done, wasting the better part of half a day in the process.  But Robert who wrote the schedule after all, is nothing if not keen for us not to miss an opportunity to discover a corner of Japan while it’s only a train or two and a bit of stored luggage away and all we had to do was finish breakfast early and follow.

The town of Kurashiki was our surprise destination, and if finding a museum closed in our honour yesterday didn’t make us feel at home enough, a town built around a canal network did the trick very nicely today, topped off by a museum filled to the eyebrows with a wondrous collection of paintings from the European masters.   

As something of a contrast the folk craft museum in an old granary was equally captivating, although it says something of the calibre of our group that many, including one of us were transfixed by nothing more complex than a simple wall with timber cladding fixed with hand forged nails, many of us feeling a compulsion to run hands over it and stare at it for long minutes on end, eyes glazed and sighing at the wonder of it.  

It was so hypnotising, so beautiful that one dares not post a photo lest others too should fall under its spell.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Changing with the Times.
Naoshima to Okayama via Bizen

Robbie San suggested that a reference in this journal to himself would be appropriate, something, he said, along the lines of “Robert knows his stuff” would be fine.  Even at this early stage of our tour, the evidence seems to suggest that he really does, having us zip from ferry to train to platform to train making connections with precious minutes to spare thus saving hours of time that would otherwise be wasted, making side journeys that would otherwise be impossible,  possible.

Today our commute to Okayama brought us within a couple of train connections to Imbe in the provence of Bizen, noted for the style of unglazed ceramic ware that bears its name, and home of a very important museum explaining the history and detail of how it came to be.

Now Robert may know his stuff, but seriously he hasn’t a clue when it comes to our own habit of arriving on precisely the day that museums are closed.  Thus it was, that when we arrived the museum which was normally closed on Mondays, had decided that Tuesday would be nice for a day off this week.   

Using all the guile and skill carefully honed through years of travelling with groups like ours, our leader was fearless and undeterred, talking his way into one of the family run potteries, and having us invited into another where the firing process was explained in great detail.  

There we learned from a young potter that sitting cross legged on the floor throwing pots as his father-in-law has done for forty years is perhaps a much too painful way of eking out a living.  Instead he had dug a hole beside his wheel and placed a chair in it bringing at least a semblance of  twenty-first  century sensibility to his craft though he assured us the ancient methods will prevail through time. 


Monday, March 27, 2017

A billionaire for a day.
Okayama to Naoshima to Teshima or not

When one is staying in the midst of a grand collection of masterpieces, it’s easy enough to feign illness, in order that one might be left alone with one’s collection.   Actually the illness may not have been entirely imaginary, although thankfully nothing a day spent productively lounging around alternately tolerating the stupendous view from the equally stupendous room, and wandering among the collection downstairs wouldn’t fix.

So while the other of us marched off with the rest of the troupe to discover what was from all accounts the equally spectacular delights of the sister Art Island  of Teshima, the other reigned smugly for an afternoon over his domain, wandering through its corridors safely tethered to a place where according to a translation we had seen a few days earlier, he could “tidy himself” should the need arise.

Thankfully the malady was not of the lingering kind, fading with the sunset just enough so that one could partake in the evening’s festivities almost unimpeded, and at the same time receive a complete review of the day’s activities elsewhere on the screens of a thousand (or was it three) smart phones..


Sunday, March 26, 2017

In Wonderland.
Okayama to Naoshima

The Art Island of Naoshima is truly a wondrous place. 

Our companions clearly are of the same accord as we, minds reeling, dangerously close to sensory overload in the nicest possible way, having spent the day before wonders of art, wondering about art, and it must be said wondering in some cases how the artist convinced someone that this was art.   Then of course there was the wondering if it was actually art but that wondering was always overwhelmed by the wonder of the architecture and the micro museums and galleries and the wonderfulness of it all.

With examples of the work of anyone who is or has been anyone in the world of visual art displayed in purpose designed vaults and chambers themselves the work of renowned architect Tadao Ando, and our room located within one of those magical museums but with dare I say it, wondrous views across the inland sea, we were in a photographer’s heaven.

Except that photography is pretty much prohibited inside any building on the island, and outside some as well,  just for good measure.

So I took a photo of a giant pumpkin.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

A day in the garden.
Tokyo to Okayama

Okayama is really just a stopover on our journey, but handily enough it happens to be the place where Korakuen, one of Japans three great gardens can be found.  When one thinks of gardens of any description, one imagines fluorescent green lawns and leafy trees with perhaps a flower or two.  

When one does that, one is imagining summer 

Strangely perhaps, when one actually visits a garden in summer one never thinks “well this is all very nice but what does it look like in spring?”. So when one comes from a clime where summer never ends it comes as a slight sensory shock to see acres of  the crunchy straw and monochrome of a winter not quite complete.  A garden however, doesn’t get to be the best of the best based on one season per year, so as the plums and cherries and wisteria patiently waited their turn to bloom and the rice and other grasses prepared to change the palette  of the scene, we had the pleasure of examining its bones laid bare.

Of course there were photos, lots of photos of garden edging and bamboo ties and lines of sight through trees, but each time an opportunity arose for that great garden “hero” shot, some tourist would appear in a whacky pink puffy jacket to stand out in the shot as Robert our trusty and terrible insightful leader was given to remark “like a certain piece of dog’s anatomy”, although perhaps more precisely put, going on to helpfully suggest that they should be banned, and who could disagree.

Thankfully, back in town no-one has thus far had similar thoughts about buildings similarly clad.


Friday, March 24, 2017

We have an itinerary.

Travel for us is a somewhat random, some might even say haphazard affair.  We tend to lurch on with only the vaguest of notions about where we might end up on any given day, following signs on a whim, walking and riding transport in a pattern that often resembles the wiring on a Tokyo back street.  Like the wiring though, what appears to be completely accidental almost inevitably ends up at some sort of bright light.

Today for instance, we managed to quite deliberately find our way to Nippori Fabric Town, accidentally discovering a sensational bowl of noodles along the way, some more excellent steam buns, and somehow discovering the first flowering cherry tree of summer.  In that we were not alone it must be said, as here in Japan, the cherry tree in blossom has special significance, quite different to its significance in France where it is a sign that shortly we’ll be eating cherry tart.

Back to our random travels for a bit though: Most reading this will be only too well aware that we are not particularly fussy about where we sleep as well, having found ourselves gratefully recumbent on many a floor, couch and spare mattress on our wanders.

All that changes tomorrow.  We’ve done a strangely uncharacteristic thing.   We’ve arranged to travel with a small group on a guided journey with an actual itinerary and accomodation booked weeks in advance.  

Over the coming few weeks we shall have a chap telling us about things, taking us places, organising accomodation and even more strangely travelling to a schedule, and we’re going to like it a lot.  We’ll be staying in hotels in which if the cost of all this is anything to go by, we might even find ourselves sitting at tables with table cloths.   It's a bit of an experiment really, so stay tuned.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Through the looking glass.
Brisbane to Tokyo

If this morning was hot and humid and relaxed as we sat outside our house, this evening was cold and damp and positively dozy as we wandered in downtown Tokyo.

It can hardly be jetlag causing our state of fatigue, because there’s just an hour of time difference between home and here, so we’ll blame the sudden cessation of work or perhaps it’s an allergy to airline food, but there is no doubt we have once again found ourselves on the other side of the looking glass, in a world which will be more fully revealed in coming weeks.

For now, a quick stretch of the legs down one of Ginza’s retail streets, some steamed buns and a nice cup of tea were the perfect end to what had been a fairly long day, or perhaps to the year to date.

It will be interesting to retrace our steps on the morrow, revisiting these streets with fresher eyes, but is the temperature really going to be in single digits all day?



Good heavens is that the time?
Dicky Beach to Brisbane

When one closes the door to the house for a period of extended travel, there’s a strange sense of closing the door on all of the ills and spills and the accompanying madness up to that point in time.  

Suddenly the whirlwind that sometimes seems to be of tornado like proportions simply stops.  

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag?  Blow that for a game of soldiers, why not leave ‘em at home and get on with life!

So it was at four thirty this morning, we found ourselves sitting in complete silence, the doors firmly locked behind us, memories of the race to get the place tidied, tools away, make space in the garage for the car, and the ills and spills of recent months already starting to fade.  The sweat from that effort washed off, but already starting to reform as the solid wall of humidity and mid twenty degree temperature made its presence felt, clad as we were in clothing more suited to our destination.

We were not leaving everything in the state we would have preferred, but the two bags at our feet contained all that we would need for the next three months and providing the the bus had not forgotten to pick us up and of course that we remembered to race in and turn the lights off when it did, we just had this feeling that everything would in a very short space of time, be simply tickety-boo. 

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