Sunday, January 31, 2010

Friday night

On Friday Andre (Haico’s old friend) took me to another of his favourite locals. It was a place he has been going to for ages and is not a place many foreigners go to, so we where noticed and had sake poured for us by the old guys sitting next to us on the mat (the sitting kills me!). We have started to joke that he only takes me to Grandma and Grandpa places. The very cute couple that run this place are into Kabuki and you can see the signed photos from actors around the top of the room (panorama here). The food was good- salads, pickles, grilled fish and the best udon I have had yet.

The couples very spoilt dog usually hates Andre, but this night decided she wanted to sit on his lap. The feeling of course is mutal.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tien-en hiking course: Kamakura

I started the day at Kenchoji (the last picture), which is the oldest Zen temple in Kamakura and an impressive wooden temple complex. The trail started up behind the temple climbing steeply straight away via a long sequence of stairs to a temple which had a lookout to view towards Fuji-san. As you can see the day was pretty clouded over and I only got glimpses of the very base at points during the day. It was also very windy making recording hard. I have found that the weather forcast changes pretty rapidly here with what is predicted for tomorrow in the evening being different to what was said in the morning. Rain was forecast for Friday- that is why I had headed out of town on Wednesday and Thursday. It held off till I got to Zuisenji (first picture) and then started to rain, making me head off before I wanted to really. Zuisenji is the oldest original garden in Kamakura and was filled with ancient blossom trees that needed to be propted up. It poured the whole way back to town and meant I took pretty straight route and didn’t see that many temples.
The hike was a good long walk with some steep climbing. It was mostly through deciduous forests, so lots of bare trees and then cedar (?) or some kind of pine (?) in the shaded gullies (4th from top- for Felicity and Lyndon). I love the straight trunks that don’t get foliage till near the top. The hike got a bit confusing in places with many trails cris-crossing and after a while the English directions disappeared from the signs, after about half way. Also I only saw about 10 other people on this walk over 5 hours. Some serious runners in special gear and other wanders like myself. It was a really nice change to be out and alone and will be a good place to make some recording on a less windy day.
The trail gave fantastic panoramic views of the coast (which photos don’t quiet capture), and that coast view with the space of the ocean made me think of home and I thought about lots of people as I walked along. The shrine cave above is one in a group in an area which where empty (there where lots of little ones along the walk) and made me think of Sarah doing an installation there. The camellia’s are for Haico; I understand the way he prune trees after seeing the gardens in Kamakura.
Of course half way back to Tokyo it cleared and the sky cleared as I passed Yokohama and I got a view of Fuji-san from base to top, much like the blue evening view the day before.
More shots here on flickr

Friday, January 29, 2010


At the end of my hike I found the temple Zeniaraibenzaiten. A magical place contained within a rocky canyon, entrance via a tunnel chipped out of the sandstone bedrock. Washing your money there is meant to double your money- I only took a small chance and washed about 800 yen, which I spent on fox charms at the next shrine. Workmen were replacing some of the timber gates.

I headed off to the next closest temple, which was Sasukeinarijinja, devoted to the god Inari who is represented (?) or associated (?) with foxes. These are fast become my favourite Shinto shrines. The foxes are believed to be the mediator between the spirit world and this world. The fox at the edge of the forest being especially auspicious. This means that at the beginning of each hike there are shrines to Inari. They are relatively small and modest and often at the edge among trees at large shrine complexes. With my Australian baggage, as foxes are man introduced and maintained, or contained, pests, the concept of them being an “in-between” of the “human” and “animal” resonates with me. I always take a moment and stop at the fox statues and give part of myself up to nature.

Also they are just beautiful spots, with red gates and flags. Red and green was a bit of theme at the Hotel New Kamakura too. The bottom shot above in the Inari shrine at Tsurugaoka hachimangu (pictured in two shots above- at the end of a really long walkway planted with cherry trees, current lit with the paper lanterns- 3rd shot above). I wandered round that shrine after dinner enjoying the darkness and spot-lit landscape and marvelled about how relaxed you can be in this country.

More shots here on flickr

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Kite Kamakura

Day #1
I have put links into this post to my Flickr; you can click across for each link or click the Flickr link at the end and scroll through the photos then.
Didn’t get off quiet as early as I wanted to yesterday morning. It was also the first day where I have felt a little overwhelmed with the transport system. I was worried that I was avoiding the underground because I use the raised Yamamote Line so much, so I used the underground to get to Tokyo station, where I would get the local train to Kamakura. I had to change lines to get there, and the change was a bit of maze and at Tokyo station I got really confused by the signs and ended up in the wrong place. But I didn’t panic and even coped with peak hour crush. Once I was on the right train I realised that there was a closer station to pick up that connection and I didn’t need to go through the underground at all. And when I got to Kamakura I found out there was a train direct from Sibuya- so I just done that 45min trek to Tokyo station for nothing... avoiding or not avoiding? Who knows, but at least next time I will know the direct route.
Apart from going to Kamakura to see and experience the temples I was hoping that the forests that Sarah had written about would be good birding and less crowded that Takao-san (yes- I will post about that day…), and with less background noise than the Meiji Temple (which is in the centre of Tokyo) and the industrial Oi Yacho Koen.
When I got off at Kamakura I had a good feeling because straight away I saw two large raptors circling above the town.
My plan was that I would check out some of temples on the route to the two hiking tracks- one starts on the western side of the tracks behind the big Buddha and one on the East from the oldest Zen temple in Kamakura: the beautiful Kenchoji; to Zuisenji. Kamakura is located between small hills with the valleys running down to the ocean. Lots of the temples are built into the tops of these valleys and there are walking tracks over the ridges to the next valley- if you are a Kamakuran the shortest route to where you are going will often be walking up these steep sets of stairs.
I chose the shorter hiking track as I was starting in the middle of the day and took the little rickety local train to a couple of stations along. First thing I heard when I got off was a high-pitched whistling and whinnying like a horse (but high pitched- imagine the sounds in those old Western movies in the desert) - a raptor call. There where several circling quiet low. I finally have a copy of a field guide I like and identified the birds as Black Kites: “58.5 to 68.5cms in the body (females bigger than males) with a 150cm wingspan. Locally abundant on sea coasts, rivers and lakes; where it feeds mainly on carrion and dead fish.” There where quiet a lot of them in sky and I wander along happy at their presence and admiring the beauty of the gardens in the temples.
I had brought with me a packed lunch as I had remember from Sarah’s blog that she had needed the apple and seeds she had packed. There were plenty of places on the west side for food but I was happy to eat my tomatoes, bread roll and cream cheese with walnuts and figs. But I was feeling very self conscious because you never see Japanese people eating on the street and as it was a holy place, and I was responding to it’s special energy, I didn’t want to offend anyone by sitting in the wrong place to eat- I had considered some of the stairs leading up to temple gates, stairs in tiny cemeteries, the train station- I did grab one mouth full before the train arrived- so after several hours when I got to the vending machines and picnic table thoughtfully provided at the coastal look out at Syugenji temple, I was really relieved. Before I sat down I took a picture of the sign with the Black Kites. As part of my research I have been taking pictures of animal–human interaction, so I was most pleased to get the shot of the Kite on the TV antenna, and have been collecting pictures of animal signs- you can see some more here. I didn’t really think about what it might mean, just ‘yes they are Black Kites’.
Why does food always taste so good when you have been walking a lot? Or when you are at a lookout admiring the clear sky and ocean? Why can’t we make proper crunchy French bread in Australia?
Those where my thoughts as I focused on breaking off pieces of baguette and spreading the cheese, feeling the relaxation spread as my blood sugar levels started to go back up.
I was looking out to the ocean when I sensed something large near my left shoulder. Sharp pain in my left thumb! I cry out! A crow? No- too big, too fast A Kite! My god!
Having such a large bird so close to you is quiet a buzz! It happen so fast I was looking the wrong direction so didn’t really see him/her descend straight down with the talons forward. The pain in my thumb focussed my eyes away from the birds movement I just saw him/her spreading its wings and glide away. My instant reaction was to put away the rest of my baguette so he/she didn’t come around for another swoop.
Everyone around asked if I was ok and apologised (As if they had control!) I showed them my binoculars and field guide and said I was happy because I had come to see birds and that was a close look. And the birds kept circling overhead at about a 4-metre clearance- that is close.
Only after a few minutes I realised that he/she had taken the chunk I was eating out of my hand and that he had nicked my thumb near my nail. Amazing really given the size of the bird and the size of it’s claws. I am in awe of it’s ability to judge space and speed.
The Kites flying over town had a more ominous feeling after that and I felt hunted and hungry. I wasn’t really into this temple- the garden where beautiful but would have been nicer at another time of year. I headed off to the Big Buddha hoping to find a safe spot to eat.
I got accosted by two school girls wanting to practice their English- it wasn’t very advanced. The concept of “Is this an ok eating spot” was not getting across- but I figured the big stones where there under the blossom trees ready for the picnics so it wouldn’t matter if I was 2 months early.
I had given up seeing Fuji-san when I was rewarded with this view towards the end of my 3km walk.

Go to flickr for extra photos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New link to Avaaz petition to drop Haiti's debt

click here or on the top link on your right

Here is part of Avaaz request:

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the world's poorest countries. After Haitian slaves rose up and won their independence in 1804, France demanded billions in reparations -- launching a spiral of poverty and unjust debt that has lasted two centuries.

In recent years, the tremendous worldwide campaign for debt relief has awoken the world's conscience. And in the last few days, under mounting public pressure, lenders have begun to say the right things about erasing Haiti's still-devastating debt burden.

But the devil is in the details. After the 2004 tsunami, the IMF announced relief from debt payments for stricken countries -- but the underlying debt went right on growing. Once public attention had faded, the debt payments were bigger than ever.

It's time to cancel Haiti's debt fully and without conditions, and ensure that earthquake aid is made with grants, not loans. A victory now will change lives in Haiti even after the world's attention has moved on. Join the call for debt relief, and pass this message to those who feel the same:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conversations with Dogs

There is a bit of a dog thing going on at the moment, it’s a bit long to go into now but I will later- the promised posts are stacking up!
The weather has been a little warmer this last week and there have been a lot of people out and about on weekends and in the evenings. The last couple of days I have been walking in Yoyogi most late afternoons. I’m in love with this park and the way people use the public space. One thing that seems to be the thing on weekends is for people to dress their lap dogs up in these strange costumes. The poodle is a classic- chaps for emergency squatting. Hoodies for dogs are the rage- or puffer jackets with hoods. The hoods usually have ears on them too. Although I have not seen a dog wearing the hood up yet.
The ginger foxy looking dog is my favourite so far. He was really cute and I said “kawai” to the owner (a guy in his 20’s I guess). The dog reacted to this word by jumping up and rubbing himself against me- a well worked attention routine, he must love the ladies. The man with the two black dogs and I say hello to each other. He recognises me as the lady who like to pat and take pictures of dogs. The other picture is out my studio window. Last week a lady was throwing a ball up this walkway between the building, she was out of sight, I would just see the dog come bounding into view every couple of minutes.
Off to Kamakura tomorrow, bright and early. For a seek preview you can check Sarah’s post here. I am hoping for views of Fuji-san on the way. It was a super clear day today, cold with a slight breeze blowing away the pollution. The mountain must have been in view. I felt a kind of elation you get from extra oxygen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last train home

On Saturday night I took the last train home from the gay zone in Shinjiku. Even though I had read Sarah’s great descriptions, I was still surprised of how much this moment was like a piece of theatre or performance art. People seem to run out from everywhere and although you see people rushing to work and home again, this has a totally different energy partly because it’s mostly young people dressed up, often in some wild costumes.

I only had one direct trip to make and at Shibuya there was a chaotic scramble as the police waited at the top and the bottom of escalators getting ready to turn them off. A girl in a tiny short purple skirt with green spots and blue stocking with red platform shoes runs thudded past me to change to the JR.

They had already put the roller doors down on one half of the stairs and a group of men where making their cardboard rooms for the night. Even this had a staged feel; they all seemed to be very clean and over 60 and their cloths where dusky blue, grey and kaki. But it was the soundscape that made it strange, their precise movements where accompanied by the stretching and snapping of masking tape. Even at this low point there was a kind of practical aesthetic efficiency. Poor guys, it was a cold night.

At that time the only cars on the road are taxis.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Today- Takao-san

too tired after a very early start to post now. will update soon.

More coming here, I promise, just too many things to think about and get down.

Yesterday- Akihabara

I have a thing for loud hailers.
Success in Akihabara! I managed to find a reasonably priced omnidirectional lapel mic for background field recordings- AKG c417. Also I was told that the best prices are from an online supplier, so will order the rest of equipment from there. The store- Musicvox- only had one in stock, the other one is coming in on Wednesday so I might do some tourism then. But I have to get a zine finished by Saturday for the open studio. I only have ideas and research pictures at the moment.
Back in Aoyama, Takayuki took Nicolas and I to a local workers food/drink joint.

Monday, January 18, 2010

First impressions always last

I think Tokyo has been one of the only places I have been where the ride in from the airport was exciting.
At one point the freeway went over a rise and in the far distance I saw Mt Fuji- snow covered from top to base, with no cloud on the peak. It seemed to take up the whole sky and horizon even at that distance of more than 300kms away. It literally made me gasp and I felt its presence deep in the centre of my being. I know that sounds corny, but I can’t explain why it made me feel that way. I had read about the cult of looking for views of Mt Fuji in my Hiking guide book and thought it was an odd hobby. But I tell you- I’m hooked. I hope tomorrow to go to the top of Mt Takao to see it again. I really fluked a good clear day. Everyone I have told can’t believe I saw it from so far north.
These pictures does not really capture the moment. The guy in the seat in front of me went crazy trying to capture it on film too.
Other things from the bus ride in that still stick in my mind are:
  • The trees being held in place by tripods and wrapped in cloth- I think that is just a winter measure against frost.
  • The pastel signage on the trucks- especially the stylised logo of a black cat carrying kitten in it’s mouth. I assumed it was a cat food company but I have seen so many of them in Tokyo that I’m revising that opinion.
  • Looking down from the elevated freeway into a small park where a woman in a tailored white knee length coat was smoking a cigarette, standing, staring up at the freeway.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Late start

Its been a week and a half since I arrived in Tokyo and considering I havebeen writing this blog in my head I figure it’s time to get some stuff out there.
So some images to start…..
My apartment the first day I moved in and unpacked. I took these photosto remind myself how neat the place can be, for those of you who don’t know me- or have not been to my place, this is the usual state of my desk.