25 January 2019 sees the arrival on Amazon of my book with thoughts about Japanese life and culture:
It consists of short essays about things that have amused or interested me about Japan, ranging from Anime to Zen all illustrated with, largely, my own photographs. The book is available as a Kindle ebook (best with a colour screen Kindle) and as a paperback. You can buy them here:
I’ve chosen to self-publish this after a couple of travel publishers expressed interest but then sat on their hands for months. So with the possibility of interest from new visitors to Japan for the Rugby World Cup this year and the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, I got fed up waiting and decided to investigate Kindle Direct Publishing which proved pretty straightforward. The only downside is that it has to be an Amazon exclusive and they have minimum price scales for paperbacks which they print to order.
It has been great fun to write and the readers of first drafts have said some complimentary things about it. It’s brought back lots of very happy memories of my visits to Japan which started way back in 1979. I hope if you’ve enjoyed following my blogs over the years you’ll enjoy this slim volume which has obviously used the blogs and my travels as a source but with lots of added research to present a more helpful and insightful guide.
Please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested in going to or just reading about Japan. I’d welcome feedback from anyone who does read it and, of course, if you happen to like it reviews on Amazon, Good Reads and Tripadvisor can work wonders. Thanks for all your support in the past – and I hope – the future.
It’s been a while since the last blog – far too much work and play (yippee!) – but a lot has been going on – much of it with a Japanese flavour.
Everybody has seen Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa even if they didn’t know that was what they were seeing. It’s from a series of wood block prints called 36 views of Mount Fuji. We have reproductions of two of them on the walls at home so the opportunity to see all of them in digitally analysed new versions was too good to miss. The exhibition was at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane and to get there we went through the Spitalfields Market a lively area with craft, fashion and food stalls which we’d missed out on since it’s rebirth a few years ago. Great fun on a Saturday morning – very lively.
Some people are critical of ‘new’ versions of old works of art but seeing the whole series together was fascinating. Each print depicts aspects of everyday life in the Edo period (1603 to 1868)) always with a hint of Fujisan in the composition in the most imaginative ways. It showed just what a superb artist he was. The exhibition also confirmed the outstanding skills of the wood block makers and printers who worked with the artists of the period.
Prints on paper however well displayed always fade with age so seeing the colours as vibrant as they would have been in the first editions I found startling and a further tribute to the woodblock makers who had to make a block for each colour in the print. The exhibition also had various artists’ re-imaginings of Hokusai in an exhibition space laid out like the streets of old Edo with red lanterns and small rooms devoted to different visual approaches. A vast video wall completed the exhibition with images some of which gelled and some of which I failed to connect with. But a fascinating occasion all round.
Later in the month we saw lots more Hokusai in the brilliant Shunga exhibition at the British Museum – surely one of very few that have to carry a PG certificate! All the great artists of the period seem to have engaged in making erotic prints alongside their mainstream work. The extensive array gathered here shows that their drawings and the prints that followed were of the same quality as their mainstream work. It also confirms that sex can be elegant, energetic, exaggerated, delicate, delightful and dangerous but above all should be fun. There’s a great quote displayed relating to the old adage that size doesn’t matter:
“if ‘the thing’ were depicted in its actual size there would be nothing
of interest, for that reason don’t we say that art is fantasy?”
The exhibition is clearly very popular given the crowds and the length of time people spent looking at each of the hundreds of prints displayed. The curators have done a brilliant job in putting them in context and explaining that they were usually produced in sets of 12 as with so many ukiyo-e prints and would be used as instruction manuals for newlyweds, as foreplay for couples, consolation for the separated and just for a laugh.
Seeing rooms full of people losing their embarrassment while peering at sheet after sheet of bi-gender genitalia having such fun made one doubt whether there’s much British reserve left. There were a few faces around looking a little confused though. The exhibition runs until 5 January 2014 and is well worth a visit.
Following last month’s Japan Foundation lecture on zen in gardens (our own Japanese maples are looking especially fine this year) and ceramics we were keen to find some really elegant cups for green tea consumption. We found them in the most unlikely place while on a two-day break in Wiltshire.
We drove down through alternating rain and drizzle, checked in and decided to go and view an outdoor sculpture exhibition at Lacock Abbey. By the time we arrived it was closed and nearly dark anyway, so we wandered around the village – in Cranford, Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter land – and came across Lacock Pottery. We climbed the stairs to the deserted loft gallery and there were two bowls that were just what we needed. We looked at the other exhibits but kept coming back and eventually rang the bell for service which brought forth David McDowell who filled us in on his own intriguing history as the offspring of a FitzChurchill. After a time he vouchsafed the information that the pots were by a local potter Matt Waite and used a very uncommon glaze called Chün or Jun. It has no colour in itself but when light strikes it it takes on the finest pale blue tone because of reflection on metallic particles in the glaze – fascinating stuff. We bought them, were given a lengthy guided tour of the glorious B&B David and his wife Simone run at the pottery and eventually escaped back for dinner at Marco Pierre White’s latest project Rudloe Arms. It’s work in progress at present but the art from his collection displayed all over the hotel means you could just walk around for hours enjoying the paintings, mobiles, cartoons, photographs and memorabilia.
The next day a total contrast in terms of weather but held the same surprises and delights. A bright blue sunny morning dawned – ideal for our planned trip to Bath. We caught the bus from the end of the hotel driveway benefitting from Freedom Passes’ nation-wide (except Scotland – boo – have your independence!) validity for free bus transport and we’d also been warned that Bath was notoriously difficult for parking.
Neither of us had been to Bath for ages and so set out to do the main touristy things: Pump Room, Roman Baths, Assembly Rooms, Fashion Museum and the less well known Museum of East Asian Art which houses a lot of Chinese pottery, lacquer and jade with some good examples of Japanese ceramics too. We scuttled round being close to closing time and then had a long chat in the museum shop to a young Japanese lady with whom we exchanged views about the collection, her enjoyment of the UK and our trip to Japan.
Our need to scuttle was caused by spending much longer than we ever thought we would at the Roman Baths – a truly amazing “visitor attraction” (dreadful phrase). History, archaeology, reconstructions and interactivity coupled with the incredible extent of the site mean that you could easily pass a whole day in the Baths but that would not do justice to Bath which really deserves its World Heritage Site status.
Dee and Mike taking in the Baths Bath’s chandelier-themed lights The real thing in the Assembly Rooms
Back to the hotel on the bus and tonight’s dinner is at another Marco Pierre White pub The Pear Tree about five miles from Rudloe. It’s been part of his empire for three years now and feels much better bedded in – indeed it has eight rooms so you can stay there too. The dining room is in a large conservatory on the side of an old stone pub and very tastefully decorated and designed. Food and wine were up to scratch too.
Then it was back to London but via the workshop of potter Matt Waite whose pots we bought earlier in the week. He didn’t have any others available but undertook to make us two more and to fashion us a sake jug and beakers in a similar style. We await the outcome with bated breath. Matt is interested in oriental ceramics and ancient glazes and produces elegant tableware in a variety of styles but all individually thrown so each pot, cup or bowl is unique. We were pleased to meet him and kept him from his kiln for far too long chatting about travel, pottery and everything under the sun. He was great company and is a fine potter.
Another Japan Foundation discussion evening focused on a Japanese project to catalogue all Japanese art objects in foreign collections – I don’t think it’s a sinister move to demand them all back! It was fascinating to see how many collections there are in stately homes and private houses as well as more accessibly in museums. We’ve ordered a promising-looking book A Guide to Japanese Art Collections in UK which will help us track them down as we travel around. It seems like there’s a good Japanese gallery in the Maidstone Museum which we might get to visit over Christmas.
And as with every blog there has been some more Japanese food. After the Shunga exhibition we paid a return visit to Abeno now with its licence restored so no free beer this time. Despite the availability of okonomiyaki we tried the soba rice which has rice, noodles, meat and vegetables and the yaki soba fried noodles. Both were excellent as were the kari kari renkon – crispy slices of lotus root with sea salt.
Then following the Japan Foundation evening we tried a fairly newly opened restaurant in Coptic Street called Cocoro. It specialises in ramen (noodles) and curry. We had one of each and they were very good – the speciality tonkotsu ramen with pork belly and broth made from stewed pork bone was really tasty. Judging from the salarymen behind us who had clearly been in for a long evening and several other tables occupied by Japanese diners it’s proving a popular addition to the area.
Finally my own first efforts at sushi making have been moderately successful. Taste is good, shape and symmetry leave a lot to be desired. I also made the delicious slightly sweet omelette we use to have frequently for breakfast in Japan. It is great on its own and also makes a good sushi filling. I used it with some roasted pepper in one set of sushi while the others were prawn and avocado.
Dee and I are going on a sushi-making course next year as a Christmas present to ourselves so we hope that rapid progress will be made.
The month was rounded off nicely with some Murakami to add to the mix – he’s been missing a bit lately. In the New Yorker magazine on 28 October a new short story appeared called Samsa in Love. You can read it here and it makes for an good easy introduction to aspects of his world. The combination of disorientation, dysfunction, political edginess and the obvious nod to Franz Kakfa’s The Metamorphosis make for an interesting read. His descriptions of the interaction between Gregor Samsa and a hunchbacked woman with an ill-fitting bra are both poignant and hilarious.
First of all I (Dee) would like to thank everyone for their birthday wishes and for the cards and gifts received before we left.
Although the train service is good we decided to rent a car in Okayama to drive to Takematsu, our next stop and one of the main places to feature in Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore. We checked the location with the front desk who sent us to Okayama Station. I’d seen a Times Rent a Car Office in a street about a minute from the hotel but their webcheck told us to go to the station. So we do. And the Times Rent a Car office says we’re just for returns, you have to pick cars up just round from the hotel. Well it’s sunny and it’s exercise, but then they offer to drive us to the pick up point. Our baggage is still at the hotel but we accept. It’ll save us some time and we are now entering a period of serious hunting for Murakami places.
Installed in another Mazda Axela with its copious boot we set off on another sunny morning for the delights of Shikoku. The first of these was a stop at a service area as several of these are referred to in Kafka. Not this particular one but we wanted to know what they were like – excellent facilities, mediocre coffee, but warm loo seats and a peaceful garden to gather strength for the next stretch. Lots of trucks were parked up to so it could have been a stop for Nakata and Hoshino. Our next pleasure was crossing the Seto-Ohashi Bridge, the longest double-decker bridge in the world. We’d seen it yesterday from the ferry to Naoshima and now we were on it, all thirteen kilometres of it. Splendid, flying from island to island across the Inland Sea was exhilarating and you can see from it, unlike a lot of expressway travel. The toll was quite steep at ¥4800 but there is a lot of bridge to pay for.
Once in Takamatsu SatNav Lady – new car but no better sense of direction – delivers us to the back of the hotel where there is no visible means of access so I drive forward and we find ourselves in a pedestrianized shopping mall – oops! Creeping across it amid startled shoppers and speeding cyclists we come to a road again and escape with some relief. It takes a few false turns down side streets before once again gaining access to the front of the hotel from the correct direction – U-turns are very rare and often prevented by central barriers or cones that even I wasn’t going to take on.
Our room wasn’t ready this time but we left our luggage and went off to garden number three on our hit list, the Ritsurin Koen which was about five minutes drive up the road and had good parking so we strolled for two hours in this fascinating mixture of the South Garden – a traditional Japanese strolling garden with the usual calm atmosphere, borrowed landscape, tea houses, lanterns and bridges and the contrasting North Garden which is in a more modern style imitative of European park layouts. On discussing it later we both agreed that the traditional was much more to our liking – so the lawn’s coming up when we get back.
After going back to check in we drove down to Takamatsu Station which features in the book and photographed it and several hotels of the type Kafka might have stayed in on first arrival. Then it was find Colonel Sanders and Johnny Walker – 50% success rate. Yashima Shrine is thought to be the model for passages of action in the book so we went there and then drove round the coast looking for Kafka’s shore. Many beautiful coves presented themselves but no fishermen came to talk to us. Lots of crows did however. (For those who haven’t read it the hero converses frequently with a crow.) As the sun goes down we make our way back to the hotel – front entrance first time, this time – and are parked from a turntable into a vertical rotary stacking garage for the night – good value at ¥1000.
An evening stroll through the pedestrian area resulted in us being approached by a gentleman who had probably had a few too many after leaving the office so we politely declined his offer to buy us a drink and shot some of the shady side streets where Nakata’s deals could have taken place. Dinner and back to blogging duties.
Tuesday morning sees us set of for Tokushima where Hoshino and Yakata arrive in Shikoku and stay at a hotel near the station. We find possible locations there and then head for the mountains behind Kochi where Kafka spent several bewildering passages in dense, steep, tumbling forest. We found plenty of that and some fabulous mountain scenery. The comparison with European mountains is interesting with the vista softened here by the presence of deciduous trees and bamboo so high up, particularly at this time of year with their fresh unfurling foliage. We passed through what appeared to be a ghost town but did have a working post office and phone box and parked cars so we assume life was present. It was all very Murakami again.
Descending from the mountains we stopped frequently as photo opportunities presented themselves to the amusement and extreme courtesy of a truck driver who repeatedly overtook us while we were stopped and then pulled in to passing places to let us go by him. It was another amazing display of generosity and selflessness. As we approached Takamatsu again we went off to find another temple alluded to in the book and saw one of the pilgrims arriving. Shikoku is famous, among many other things, for an 88 temple, 1200 km pilgrimage which many Shingon Buddhist followers make each year and this pilgrim was on foot and dressed in the traditional manner rather than in a coach party.
We had to get the car back by six as we resume rail travel tomorrow so down to the port area, another easy and friendly drop off and back to the hotel for an onsen visit on the roof while our laundry swirled around in the free laundry. The communal bath was a first – separate male and female baths here but the ritual of a thorough cleansing shower followed by wallowing in hot, briny water, cold tubs for a contrast and for men an interior and exterior option so you could see and hear the city go by while lying up to your neck in water.
We asked reception for a recommendation for dinner and they didn’t fail us with Kokon restaurant. The sashimi dish the chef prepared was a work of art in itself and he and his assistant combined our phrase-books and their mobile phone apps to tell us exactly what we were eating. Squid, mackerel, sea bream, tuna, abalone, cuttlefish adorned the dish of ice with radish, shiso leaf and an intricately carved cucumber. When our tempura arrived it was already accompanied by a note prepared with the ingredients.
Good morning Kyoto. A little later than intended after completing the three day blog, going to Yodobashi – an incredible nine floors of electronics, electrical, camera and computer gear with some stationery thrown in – to buy a bigger USB drive to store all the photographs we’ve been taking. Yes they are on the cloud but it’s always reassuring to have a physical backup for us oldies. Our late night activities were accompanied by a little whisky which may have accounted for a good night’s sleep.
There’s some admin to do today too. We need to exchange our JR pass vouchers for the real thing and reserve our week after next overnight train to Hakodate. Fortunately the hotel is right across from Kyoto Station so we don’t have far to go. JR passes were easy, the sleeper reservation not so easy as the train I had selected from Hyperdia online is no longer in service so we’ll have to go from Osaka to Tokyo and get an overnight from there to Hakodate. It’s booked and we’ll just rejig things a bit.
Kyoto station is stunning. A glass and steel facade with amazing angles, lines and reflections and an interior to challenge Grand Central for the classical railway station images of the future. And like the St Pancras redevelopment in London it’s making stations not just places from which to travel but places to be. It has a stage and stepped terrace for music gigs, more restaurants and shops than you can imagine and a green garden on the roof with some very clever eco planting that helps reduce heat transfer into the building – lots of summer days are over 35 degrees – 19 last year alone and it will probably rise. From the roof there was a great view of the Kyoto Tower and our acceptable but undistinguished hotel (the one with the white T up the front). And that’s where we headed next.
Having set out in jeans and jumpers we quickly found temperatures soaring to 25 and up. We didn’t pack shorts but fortunately did have some light walking trousers and sandals which were more appropriate attire for the day – thank goodness for the three day unpacking stay. We set off with Katie’s “dorky” maps to explore some small parts of this huge city. Mastering the simple two-line subway, we went first the Shinjo-dori the main shopping street to see if we could buy a Japan road atlas in English to help with our next stages of rentacar travel. We found a big bookshop with new Murakami book posters everywhere but no road atlas. Off the main street, which is the universal, global big city shopping area, are arcades crammed with little shops which are much more interesting. Then we came to another of Katie’s suggestions, Pontocho, which is a narrow street lined with bars and restaurants overlooking the Tama River. It was so warm that we just had to go into one to enjoy the air conditioning for a bit and of course a beer. We had a great view of a team who had dammed up part of the river to build a platform out over it which apparently many of them do for the summer season. We could imagine the delights of a glass of wine out on the terrace.
Refreshed we strode off to the Nanzen-ji Temple where we enjoyed the beautiful spring garden – the shimmering colours of acers in spring are almost a match for their autumn glory and of course so much fresher. Here we also obtained, as advised, our hon (pr. hone) a folding book on which temples stamp their insignia with a hanko (handwritten kanji combined with a special rubber stamp). They are beautiful and will give us a great souvenir of our trip.
We then set off on the ‘Philosopher’s Walk’ a canal-side stroll through eastern suburbs with stretches of complete calm and peace conducive to higher thought – I certainly needed that – and small craft shops selling locally produced goods. By the time we reached the end we were well away from train lines and subway but Dee had cleverly picked up a bus map and the next one to round a corner was the 100 bound for Kyoto Station. It was very crowded at shop and shrine closing time and we stood for most of the journey which was a shame as it passed several landmarks of which we could only see the bottom half.
The philosopher? … in pursuit of gesiha on the walk? … this is what Dee wanted by the end of it.
As we got back to the station, we decided to see if the Kyoto Tower had an observation gallery. It does, we went up. Dusk falling visibility hazy after the heat of the day but a fun visit nonetheless.
Shinkansen passing on the approach to Kyoto The Tower reflected in Kyoto Station
After a freshen up and a couple of much needed beers following a hot day on our feet we decided to head out to find dinner locally. I don’t know if you have the same problem but we are very indecisive when confronted with a street with five restaurants all of which look interesting. We walk up, we walk back, we look at menu pictures outside and then we decide we really are hungry and are going to have to plump for one of them. We did and it turned out to be a hibachi grill place. We were shown, shoes off of course, to a private screened booth with a footwell under our table and were served fresh vegetables and akta mackerel which we cook ourselves over a brazier with three red hot charcoal logs. Great fun and very tasty and we had chosen some excellent sashimi as a starter. We enquired of our server how she spoke such good English and it turned out that Mikita was coming to Brighton in June to study English and had been practising ahead of the trip. We have been struck by amazing meetings with people with existing and possible connections throughout the trip – there really are only six degrees of separation.
We left the restaurant and walked back towards the hotel and spied a rather lively and bright yellow-coloured bar (apologies to our Hornet friends that it is yellow AND green) – standing only and it had a great name. So given the deprivation of yellow as we are missing so much Watford football, we thought a sake night cap was in order. It proved a great people-watching place as late nighters popped in for a quick one on the way home and two ladies of a certain age stood consuming beer to our left until closing time – when we too were asked to drink up and depart – extremely politely. Busy, busy, Kyoto.
Masoho restaurant entrance The last orders bar
Friday dawned fresh, bright and breezy and it was back to jeans and sweaters big time. How can the temperature change by 15 degrees overnight? Well it did and we took the subway south to visit Higashi Inari Shrine. Sadly we missread the map and finish up at a station which is s forty-five minute walk from the shrine rather than the railway station that’s right in front of it. So a taxi was hailed and delivered us to the Fox Shrine which apart from amazing main buildings has a walkway of shrine gates or torii which stretch up to the main shrine on the mountain and involve 10 000 vermillion gates – awesome. We only walked the first three thousand as other sites called but a stroll to the top and back would make a great half day outing given more time. We were approached by a uniformed guard and were worried that we’d been photographing in the wrong place but he was a retired firefighter who had spent time in Sheffield and Liverpool on job exchanges and welcomed the opportunity to speak English. We next took a short train ride to Tofukuji Temple where the buildings are stupendous but the main attraction was a beautiful zen garden on all four sides of the main hall. A wonderful oasis of peace and contemplative strolling in the midst of busy, busy Kyoto. On our way back to the station we called into a small temple Doju-in where the attendant most beautifully calligraphed and then stamped our hon.
We then used our JR Passes for the second time on a train to Kiyazumi which is an amazing complex with superb views over the whole spread of Kyoto and then walked through quaint streets with fabulous little shops dotted about until we reached the Yasaka Pagoda and turned in to the Maruyama Park a popular open space with ponds and shady pathways – and a few ups and downs as we’re in the mountain foothills. After an increasingly chilly walk around the park as the wind got up we descended to the Chion-in Temple just in time to find it close. This is fortunately a short downhill walk from Gion the ancient geisha district which we wanted to explore. It’s lovely, weird and wonderful. We saw women buying kimonos and accessories, having their hair done and one of my favourite shops was a koto, shimasen and shakuhachi shop.
Yasaka pagoda Maruyama Park Old and new Kyoto meet in Gion
Some difficulties next after boarding a train at the first station we came to, Kawaramachi, where we showed our passes only to be told at the exit ticket barrier that it was a private railway and we’d need to pay. Kyoto – maybe Japan trains = confused.com. However we got back safely and did a load of laundry in the coin-op in the hotel, conveniently on our floor. Then repacking ready for the road tomorrow and what felt like a wimpy dinner in the restaurant beneath the hotel which was actually rather good – beef and potato stew for me and fried beef and rice for Dee occasioning slight food envy. She had made the right choice.
With the added excitement of a new Haruki Murakami novel being published while we’re in Japan we’ve set about rereading them all for clues as to their settings. Some are clearly specified, others are vague, composites or invented. However we plan to track down as many as we can. For his last book 1Q84 the publishers Shinchosa have mapped the locations in considerable detail. Each pin opens up to show where certain actions in the novel take place but as they are all in Japanese I have to make do with a Google translation which often leaves a rather vague and confused account of what I suspect – and sometimes recall – lies behind them.
The locations range from Expressway Number 3 where the world of 1Q84 begins for Aomame to the Hotel Okura where a significant act occurs. Incidentally I stayed at the Hotel Okura in 1979 and 1981 when I first visited Japan. Sadly for this trip it’s way out of our budget range but we’ll visit for a cup of tea. I hope they still have the brilliant ikebana arrangements that used to grace the lobby each morning. I’ve just discovered that there’s a festival of gardening at the Okura while we’re in Tokyo so we’ll definitely be going there.
There were also some helpful location pointers in a New York Times article by Sam Anderson shortly after the publication in English of 1Q84. The very helpful staff at the London office of the Japan National Tourism Organization also sent me links to a series of walks in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan based on Murakami’s books and a detailed list of locations where Norwegian Wood was filmed which may prove an interesting comparison for our own thoughts about the locations in that book which was the first we read and still have in its red and green two volume form. The film was good but I wasn’t always sure that the locations selected matched how I’d imagined them. But hey not many films do do they?
It’s been a great opportunity to revisit all the novels and short stories – this time with the added advantage of having them all on Kindle as well so we can make notes, highlight passages and then investigate actual and likely locations and add them to our itinerary. And boy do these books repay rereading! So much nuance, detail and context that slip by in the first read make it a fresh, fabulous journey into Mondo Murakami.
Ever since I was lucky enough to make trips to China and Japan in the late seventies and early eighties, I’ve dreamed about going back – especially to Japan. Those trips were work – a party from the Inner London Education Authority was invited by the Ministries of Education in Beijing and Tokyo to run a series of lectures and workshops for teachers. They worked us hard and I think we gave them value for money but there was only a very little time for sightseeing. But what I did manage to see of Japan in particular gave me a lasting hunger to return.
Then discovering more of Japan through its literature provided a way of staving off the hunger. An earlier Japan was evoked in novels by Kobo Abe, Akutagawa, Kawabata and Tanizaki who each brought the country to life through superb description and the painting of atmosphere. In the sixties there was a cult following for Yukio Mishima who gave completely new insights into a different Japan. And then I discovered Murakami (Haruki that is) and the desire to visit and explore grew stronger with every new book. The twin wishes to return to Japan myself and to share my excitement for the country with Dee who is equally hooked, have grown steadily. Time, budget and circumstances have contrived against it until now.
Somehow this year I will celebrate a major milestone birthday – my biblical span is up. I can’t really believe it but my birth certificate has inscribed in that beautiful, long-lost functionary script my date of birth in July 1943. So it must be true. We’ll actually be in Japan for Dee’s birthday but perhaps I’ll join in early and, who knows, just carry on until the due date.
Our Murakami pursuit will take us on a Wild Sheep Chase and a right old Dance, Dance, Dance in Hokkaido in the north, extensive forays into Tokyo and several other parts of Honshu and down to Shikoku to pursue Kafka, Nakata and Johnnie Walker from Kafka on the Shore. In addition to this we were both in the process of reading Tan Twan Eng’s Booker candidate Garden of the Evening Mists and an existing interest in Japanese gardens, reawakened on a recent visit to Tatton Park, became even stronger. So a lovely gift of a few years ago 1001 Gardens You Must Visit Before You Die came off the shelf and the itinerary expanded to include at least three of the country’s most highly regarded gardens: Kenrokuen at Kanazawa on the western China Sea coast; Korakuen in Okayama overlooking the Inland Sea and Ritsurin Koen in Takamatsu on Shikoku Island. Well at least we’d intended to go to Takamatsu since Kafka on the Shore is largely set there.
Early in 2013 it became clear that a space in our work schedules would permit a sensible length trip to Japan in April and May. It would also afford us an opportunity of visiting my son and daughter-in-law who are living in Hong Kong. We had been working for some time on an itinerary that would take in many of the locations we knew through reading – especially those of Murakami. We needed a month to do it justice. We’d picked the most expensive time to travel since we include Golden Week in our dates with no less than five national holidays and the time when all Japanese go travelling. It’s also of course smack in the middle of hanami – the cherry blossom viewing season.
Ah well, best bite the bullet (train) and see what can be done.
Then the other day walking to meet some fellow Watford supporters for a City ‘Orns monthly drinks and dinner I came across this in the middle of Bloomsbury!