I continue at last my account of our short trip to Italy earlier this year. All these observations were written quite soon after the days to which I refer, but now, when i re-read them, each seems impossibly remote, and one day is blurred into another in my memory. The entry takes up where i last left off – our overnight stay in the medieval town of Mantova. ….
those three weeks travelling about in my second home recently, got me noticing things i’d already known but hadn’t seen as a thread before that.
people often asked me how it felt to be back in japan after a ten-year gap, and it was hard to explain. it was not like what i was told was the rip van winkle experience of suddenly waking up in the same place and not remembering the time having passed… i was aware that many of my memories of place had been erased – and mainly because when i saw them again i remembered them anew… thus the time having passed was highlighted for me. but at the same time, i felt at home – at ease, not worried – i knew how to get about, how to get things done, everything seemed second nature to me. although i had often felt that i had forgotten how to speak japanese, as soon as i got out of the plane, japanese came out of my mouth unbidden. for me, amusing and very useful.
One thing that i began to notice differently was the presence of plantlife. the attitude or orientation towards plants is not the same as in the west. i do not know how to describe ‘from the inside’ what i feel is this peculiarly japanese orientation, but i did start to observe elements of the urban streetscape in japan, notice relative differences, and then started trying to account for them in my own mind – as maybe related to constraints on space in japan – or at least urban constraints of various kinds.
although i have lots of observations about japan from this trip, they’re all mostly scribbled in a notebook this time, because internet connectivity was very random, and because i was doing so much moving around – not much time to computer-ise my life at all while here.
my _intention_ is to write them up at some point, better sooner than later i guess, because the feeling, the texture, of the event fades if you let it lie too long in memory…
and indeed, i still have some episodes from our italy trip to post – even though i wrote them long ago and in the heat of the moment.
but one thing that always strikes me about japan is its mad architecture.
planning laws? what planning laws?
oh, yeah the individual buildings are sturdy, japanese builders have learnt much from the effects of earthquakes, and so you wont find a better contructed building. but then of course, they are only designed to last 20 to 30 years… which is why we go to temples and shrines which have ostenisbly been standing there for hundreds of years, but are actually re-constructed every 30 – 50 years or so… when they get word i am coming to visit that is.
but where they put the buildings, and in what relationship to other buildings and environmental features is not at legislated for.. or, if it is, this is nowhere obvious at all. town planning is an add-on affair, ad-hockery of the highest order, the glory of the higgeldy-piggeldy. domestic architecture can be quite ugly and based on the extremes of practicality and price. or, it can be rather satisfyingly complex and be based on an aesthetic which has been developing for hundreds of years. and, each of these approaches to the concerns of domestic housing can be located exactly next door to each other.
and then there are public or commercial buildings, ones where price is no barrier to appearance and design, and indeed a statement is what is required. buildings that might not be acceptable in the west, especially right -there-, do not get interfered with here in japan. build it and they will come!
anyway, i was treated to one utterly fantastic example yesterday. as i rounded the corner and this building came into view, i actually let out a yelp of surprise followed by rather immoderate laughter.
only in japan! you gotta love this place….
apparently it is meant to represent froth on beer…?
Shintaro – Akikusa!
Toubei – the mist!
the only chopped up [scenes from my childhood in this one] offering on youtube of “The Samurai”…
….one might say that this explains my fascination with japan, but one might then be wrong…
although it may be that at some deeper level, i have absorbed the lessons of the samurai and the ninja, their codes of behaviour and their night-time practices in the righting of wrongs, these underground robin hoods of the east.
…speaking of…richard green anyone? (the opening song featuring in many episodes of our lives)
so that, when i hit japan for the first time, so many years ago now (just over 30 years ago to be precise) some subterreanean identification may have been raised in my psyche… such that i suddenly recognised – while not recognising the source of the recognition – that this was one of my real ‘homes’. thus causing me to spend the following ten years figuring out ways of getting back there to rediscover my roots.
well, at least to try to figure out what made the place tick.
of course, that can never be pinned down, but, what does happen is that in some strange way, one is after a while able to slot in, to relax and feel in place, to feel comfortable in another culture while not actually being a part of it. a strange, intoxicating, and satisfying state.
Below are some observations made about 2 months previously, just before the advent of the big slush here in Helsinki. In the intervening time I had intended to flesh them out, to write more, to add some photographic extras—but in fact other events intervened, events which distracted me from this purpose and lead me astray. A trip to Sweden, and two to the UK for starters.
Various social encounters also attracted me away from the computer, always in the back of my mind I would imagine coming home and settling down to write or post, but instead I’d collapse slightly exhausted in front of the tv, there to drop off to sleep. And so, small pieces of Helsinki e-critures were left to moulder waiting for their moment in the web-log sun while time as usual marched on.
What follows are pieces on three themes close to my heart: public transport, food, and toilet and bathing facilities. They appear in that order, but this is not to say anything about their relative importance in my life, nor is there any suggestion that these three thematic strands are in any way related.
We nose the car out of the street and onto the A1, turning left and driving the one kilometre to junction 2 on the M1, where a sign says “THE NORTH”. It is like something in a fantasy novel, and we chuckle as we enter the flow of traffic on the M1 heading towards Birmingham for the second time in a month, feeling as if we might be travelling back to middle earth.
Our first sight of Sweden was from a train. The tickets had been bought for us, otherwise we might have taken the time to go by ferry to Stockholm and travelled by train to Växjö, but as it was we landed in Copenhagen and then boarded a train north, over the long bridge after the tunnel under the water which separates Denmark from Sweden. The airport at Copenhagen, at least when you get out of customs, is relatively tight-fitting, and not so many people in the hall felt crowd-like and made navigating about somewhat difficult. There were few places to sit about and wait, and few places to obtain food. It appeared that if you were waiting with the departee to leave, then there was not much to do or places to go in Copenhagen airport. We found a table and chairs anyway, on the mezzanine level, a place squeezed in between elevators and the SAS speedy entry and the line up of take-away food counters, which P dolefully scanned and reported that there was not much on offer of any quality we’d admire. We had to wait about an hour before our train departed.