Monday, April 27, 2009

Temple of heaven

Sado Island, Japan, April 2009: the most peaceful and beautiful temple, absolutely deserted, long abandoned, and slowly decaying. These ancient trees flanked the stone steps leading up to the temple. The temple itself was half hidden by trees and covered in moss. My dad's friend Johnny and his Japanese wife Chieko met us from the ferry and took us straight here; we went through Tokyo at rush hour to catch the shinkanzen from frenetic Tokyo Station to Niigata, where we raced to a taxi and finally embarked on a two hour ferry journey, changing pace at every step, slowing, until finally we arrived here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Heel for heel and toe for toe

Shoes from the 1800s (fur-lined for warmth and, presumably, purple velvet for nobility). Sado Island, Japan, April 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Signs and wonders

In the garden at the potter Kawai Kanjiro's house, Kyoto. The wisteria on the trellis above had just produced its delicate lilac-coloured blooms and was packed with bumblebees. The house was beautiful and in keeping with the appealingly strict aesthetic we have seen everywhere; the pottery was a bit disappointing, although Kawai did have the biggest kiln I've ever seen.

Sanjo-dori, Kyoto. It all seems fair enough, really.

Fearsome, if somewhat bemused-looking dragon painted on the vast ceiling of a wooden temple at Kennin-ji, the oldest zen temple in Kyoto.
These are pretty humble photos taken by my Blackberry, owing to the fact that my camera is currently refusing to co-operate with any plan I draw up for it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zen and the art of gravel maintenance

Ginkaku-ji Shrine, Kyoto, April 16, 2009

Life in Kyoto

We're in Kyoto, visiting temples filled with maples and cherry trees, admiring zen landscaping and wandering along tiny streets filled with houses with wooden gates hiding secret gardens. It's my Dad's birthday, so he was allowed to read me one of his own poems at lunchtime, in a tiny deserted restaurant decorated in a worryingly kitsch English country garden style and called "My Favorite". The food was excellent: stir fried pork, beautifully moist rice, miso soup and delicately flavoured tofu. He also wanted a rickshaw ride so we were carried by Yoshi, who'd been pulling tourists around the narrow streets for 11 years and had legs of steel. Yoshi taught us the Japanese word for maple and how to say "thank you" in Kyoto dialect.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I am the egg man

This man (smouldering fag in hand) was cooking eggs at a handsome egg station in Ueno Park (home of the National Museum of Japan). He's also tossing handfuls of unappetising strips of bacon carelessly on to the cooking eggs. I am fond of eggs in all their guises but there was something about the insouciance with which he handled his egg duties, and his filthy red apron, that made for a happy egg station, although if you had any sense, the clues all being there if you cared to look for them, I don't think you'd be sampling his wares.

Prints of darkness

I'm in Tokyo, on a family fortunes trip with my father (two days in, and he has already introduced me to someone as his sister; analyse that!) where, to be sure, there is worse to be seen than this (Charlotte Olympia, Browns, GBP380), but not much worse: there is nothing attractive about this shoe. Its only redeeming feature is that it's a lot less expensive than the risible Chanel cage shoe. Do designers think women have no brains when it comes to buying shoes? (Don't answer that.)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Teach us to care and not to care

A few years ago there was an advertising campaign in the UK attempting to make the teaching profession more attractive on the premise that everyone remembers a good teacher. This is true, of course, although I remember a few bad ones too.

Mr Campbell was in his 60s when he taught me, a tall, rather ugly man with a bulbous nose and threadbare white hair, who was given to wearing tweed suits; he was known throughout the school as "Dirty Donald" for his predilection for rubbing his hand up and down the table leg while he spoke and a rumoured, although never substantiated, over-solicitous interest in the young women in his classes. Mr Campbell was a Cambridge scholar who spoke and read Latin and Greek; he had once commanded a much higher salary in a conventional private school, but he became enamoured of the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and ended up teaching English to wise-cracking smartmouths at my school (on my school copy of Othello, which I still have in an attic somewhere, someone had written across a solemn picture of Othello strangling Desdemona, "My God they make these dolls tighter these days").

I was the only person taking English A Level in my year, so I had the rare privilege of one to one lessons with Mr Campbell. Although he liked to close the curtains in the library when we were in there (cue countless impromptu "visits" for the duration of the lesson from studious pupils urgently requiring a copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch), he never made any inappropriate overtures.

Mr Campbell's lessons were so erudite that they were a joy. We read and laughed at Chaucer; we discussed Pride and Prejudice, and The Importance of Being Earnest, and marvelled at Paradise Lost, and Othello, and The Waste Land; and the excitement of the language, and the sense of discovery, and the thrill of learning, still stays with me. Mr Campbell understood what words can do, and knew how to bring out my ideas and responses to what I was reading, and gave me the confidence to think aloud.