This post will be politics-free, except to say that I am thinking of America and everyone who will be affected by today's news. Actually I've carefully avoided keeping up with world news during my month in Japan. It wasn't that hard, since I hardly had time to look at the internet, and I couldn't understand any of the newspapers, but let me thoroughly recommend stepping out of the flood of news that you can't do anything about, once in a while, just on principle. Il faut cultiver notre jardin....
Japan was, if anything, even more fascinating than last time I went, two years ago. I covered many miles - and a fair bit of water too, as you see from the evening picture above. I'm still feeling tired and jetlagged, but here are a few photos just to give you a flavour of what I did and saw. I wasn't doing any travel articles, but I was doing some work there, and so one bonus was that I got to some places that were way off the tourist routes.
Japan's big cities can be magnificent but overwhelming, but much of the countryside is depopulated. This unbalance is not good in some ways, but the loneliness does leave enough mental space to consider the spirits, ghosts and the other supernatural beings who traditionally dwell in the Japanese landscape. Sometimes really got the feeling that they couldn't be too far away in the woods and mountains.
Not that I'm suggesting this inoffensive couple were spirits - they just happened to be walking in an overgrown garden of a large mansion in Kakunodate. This is a small town in Akita prefecture that is known as a well preserved samurai town. Akita is not a tourist area, though, so tour groups seemed noticeably absent and we had the place almost to ourselves.
The winters there are long and hard, and by now, I suppose Akita is covered in snow, so I am glad I saw its beautiful autumn. Japanese maples are the most delicate trees with brilliantly coloured autumn leaves. Imagine a place where they grow wild....the colours so bright they almost hurt your eyes.
I wish I'd had three times as long in Tokyo. Below is something I snapped in a shop that sells festival and musical products. It looks impressive, but I don't know exactly what it is! Can anyone tell me?
This little group of Tokyo children were being shown an outdoor fish tank, and I was amused to see that all of them were interested in the fish, except for one little boy .... who was fascinated by me.
These folkloric characters seem to be making sake out of rice. I don't know who they are supposed to be, but in spite of their horns and fearsome appearance, they look pretty good tempered to me.
And this was my Halloween lunch, complete with pastry ghost (if you look carefully you see it is howling). They couldn't find an orange pumpkin, but hey. This photo was taken in the cafe of an art gallery on the 53rd floor of the Mori tower in Roppongi Hills where we saw a great exhibition on Art and the Universe. Actually it was almost worth paying the entrance fee just to sit in this cafe right next to that dizzying view!
When I went to Kyoto, a friend took me to the famous food market in Nishiki Street, where I snapped through the window of a specialist mushroom shop.
At present exchange rates, 20,000 yen is £154 or $191 so the mushrooms this gentleman sells aren't really suitable for anyone's Sunday morning fry-up.
Also in Kyoto, I loved watching these friends having a bento picnic in the royal palace grounds.
Japanese aren't nearly as keen on sweets and cakes as Westerners, but I went into a nice old fashioned coffee shop in the city which had lovely cakes, which in this case are guarded by a pottery dog on the plate. At least, I think it's a dog. What do you think?
We were lucky to have good weather throughout our trip, which I appreciated when we spent a few days at Takamatsu, on the shores of the Seto Inland Sea. We got quite used to chugging around the place on ferries taking a look at various islands. I specially liked Ogijima, which hardly anyone visits. Here's the guardian of the Ogijima lighthouse doing some litter picking on the beach. I only saw him and two other people the whole afternoon.
The image below was taken on the island of Teshima. Several empty houses on the island have been converted into art works, and this one, called "Il Vente," is entirely decorated in an optical illusion style. The picture shows the cafe area, which is partly in an open courtyard - it was shut when I visited, but that just meant that nothing distracted from the artwork. Downstairs, the weird visual effects in the house were created by shadows, lines and accents of bright colour. Upstairs, a combination of spots and lines was even more disorientating, yet somehow the place managed to have a pleasant atmosphere when you were inside.
The islands offer a chance to roam around unspoiled countryside with many views of sea and mountains. It is sad that so much of Japan's countryside is neglected, for some of it is very charming. Small scale and traditional, it usually offers something to see before you have been walking for too long - ricefields, cosmos fields, neat rows of splendid vegetables, the occasional cow, fig-trees, many persimmon trees and, every now and then, a satsuma orchard.
Oh, and of course, any number of bright wildflowers.
Finally, here is an image from the Hiroshima peace museum. I am not that easily moved to tears, but it was a most sobering description of what happens when nuclear weapons are used. I will write about it, but today isn't the day to do so.
The shot belowshows is a clip from a film of the bombing, overlaid with a moving poem written by someone who was a tiny baby when the bomb went off, and how his mother fled with him through scenes of devastation. I think all politicians should have to take a trip to this museum. It's so upsetting but when you get outside, it's encouraging to look around and see what a busy and thriving city Hiroshima is today.
So this is a taster of what I did in Japan. Apologies for any misspellings, etc. I am just too jetlagged to notice, I think. But I'll be writing more, and explaining more, when I ave tackled everything that has been waiting now I'm home!