Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Britain is a foreign country!

I have now been back in the nation of my birth and upbringing for 214 hours.
Upon landing, i spent a couple of culture schocked days in London... and it seems that England has become a foreign country to me - everything is strange yet oddly familiar.
I have been at home for almost a week - pretty much everything at home is the same (but for minor details like the phone, kettle, digital tv, dining room table etc...)
i found myself wondering - has my Pre-JET self been waiting here in my bedroom to re-engulf me upon my return?

Jetlag slowly seeped from my system, and i eventually got around to
unpacking, while i compiled a list of things i noticed (and got enthusiastic/懐かしい/culture shocked about) on my return to England.

People (airport baggage handlers) are a British kind of shape... the language is very "normal"

Heathrow Airport is not on the whole very modern (compared to Kansai / Hong Kong) but a Vodaphone or Virgin stand seemed to bee pretty flashy / pseudo-futuristic. (is there ever anything really futuristic? surely any design can only ever be pseudo-futuristic, 'cos as soon as it is complete, the future has come and gone, and is just the same as the past with it's retro-future style)

The cars here are all rounded/strange shapes and shiny! so many different colours!

The motorways are Free!

3-pin plugs and sockets!

English Bathroom

no genkan in the home.


The smell of damp morning England seeping through the morning windows.
Drizzly kind of non-rain ... a mix of suburban scents with European overtones + a hint of manure!

breakfast with skimmed milk and Strauss!

Apples here are Tiny! and taste very earthy and real.


On walking around Hampton/Kingston:

Grey English summer with green treey smells.

ha! I almost nodded to a 外人! Everyone looks so foreign!
My eyes are unaccustomed to this environment.

so there.
i think i've kind of got used to it a bit more now

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

... And another ...

Another tile:

and another blog ...



nothing much there yet, but check back if you want.

nothing much here recently - been enjoying life communing with existence - and have realized i don't

also it's now pretty Summery and Warm - who wants to be stuck inside on the computer on a day like this?

Google has at last linked to Oxtropulation - check it out!
Thanks, Google, I knew i could trust you

Thursday, 13 April 2006

new tile for blog

composite from camera experimentation ... time for a new look blog?

Monday, 3 April 2006

Well, i'm back from my travels (for the moment...)

Hello! long time no blog entry...

My trip has been long and varied - nice to be away for 2 weeks... in Japan no-one ever gets more than a few days off, so 2 weeks is the sort of holiday you take in between jobs!

I started by going to Osaka by overnight ferry. After a 懐かしい couple of days in 京都, 鞍馬山 etc. with Mia, i took her to visit 平川節子先生 in 大阪, who served us お好み焼き. then I got the 夜行バス to 新潟県 and went for 6 days snowboarding in かぐら・苗場.

Charlie Brown the pension owner was interested to hear that the bearded foreign hitchhiker he'd picked up a couple of weeks ago was my brother! Staying in the same pension was a 65-year-old guy who was doing backcountry ski-touring, and training to do the Haute-route! Anyway, Kanbara-san invited me to go snow-trekking with him. He and Charlie showed me maps of the mountains, and where the risky areas to avoid were, etc., and although we didn't actually do any trekking together, we did meet up on the gondola, and a couple of times in mysterious hidden backcountry valleys.
Snow-wise, there was a little bit of fresh on the first day, but it was bright sunshine (and sunburn!-had to get factor 50 suncrm.) from the 2nd. So the snow got a bit sticky in parts, but the variety of terrain made up for it!
On a few days i hiked up from the top lift, from where can be discovered a whole load of valleys through which to descend to the pistes. Lots of people tend to gather on the peaks of the mountains, but when actually going down through the secret hidden valleys, there usually seems to be hardly anyone around! Magical! (one day the upper lifts were closed due to so i actually hiked for an hour and a half up the piste to above the top of the top lift - strenuous but most rewarding!) - the top lift was just under 2000m. high, so by the time you walk to the top you are feeling the altitude and can see for miles!
<-- This picture shows me at the top of the mountain (not the biggest!) with the friend or wife or daughter or someone of another retired ski-tourer i met up there - who was in Chamonix a few weeks ago! I reckon Kagura (including Naeba) beats ニセコ as an all-round ski-snowboard-piste-park-backcountry resort/ski area.

After 6 wonderful days, i went down to the coast in search of my host family - the 塚田 family in 直江津. I had sent them a letter in February, but it hadn't got through, so they had no idea i was coming... I arrived at their village at 8 pm, and couldn't find their house (a bridge has been widened, and there are a lot more houses than i remember) so i camped on a plot of grass between a road and a wind turbine by the sea, and in the morning, decided to search for the house for a bit before going to get on the train. Just as i was about to give up, i noticed a house set back from the road, and i could see through the window that the layout of the interior looked promising! I took my chances, and the door was answered by 隆平, the kid who was 8 when i stayed before, and is now about 12 or 13. He didn't really recognized me, but knew who i was when i said my name. He went and got his mum, who was surprised and pleased to see me - she thought i had already gone back to England. (she later said that her surprise was not so much the fact that i turned up, as the size of my backpack!) They invited me in for tea, and persuaded me to stay the night (I was not difficult to persuade, especially as the weather went from balmy and calm to snowy haily gale-force thunderstorms over the course of the afternoon!) The only things which have really changed about their place are Ryu's height, awareness and piano-playing ability (very inspiring!) and they have a dog (who we walked before the weather broke... haven't walked a dog for ages!)

Next day they were off to visit relations 神奈川県 (they invited me along, but i said i'd press on back to Kyushu)
so they put me on a train for the first day of 5 days unlimited local train travel.
I went to 金沢 where i visited 兼六園, one of Japan's three most famous landscaped gardens. Somewhat different to 屋久島, but interesting nonetheless. Living near Kanazawa is The, one of the other British CIRs who arrived at the same time as me. He was having a birthday party at his girlfriend's mum's house that evening, so i went along for a somewhat surreal evening ... i have never before petted and extremely small dog in a dress.... This dog (Candy) was one of 3 - only one of which was not wearing clothes - and the other clothed one (Chelsea) had disparately bulging eyes, an out-of control tongue (mostly stuck out at a silly angle) and slight paranoia (apparently Chelsea had "water-brain disease" where half of its brain is made of water...)
These dogs were highly expensive pedigrees (although the 3rd one, Ramune, was actually the offspring of Candy) and i can't help feeling that the deformed nature of Chelsea had something to do with the generations of inbreeding necessary to produce pedigrees...
The's girlfriend's mum cooked us all (5 - 7 peope) a huge pile of 天麩羅 and insisted we stayed the night (although The had work the next day, so we made our excuses).

Next day, i got back on the trains, and made slow progress to 鳥取 ... At one point i met a German guy - fresh off the Kansai plane - who was going to a Zen monastery to do a 6-month meditation retreat.
In the evening, strong winds delayed the trains (we stopped at 2 subsequent stations for half an hour or more - with announcements every 5 minutes that they would decide in 5 minutes whether the wind had calmed down enough...)

Found a cheap hotel and hot 温泉 in Tottori, and ran in the morning for the 6:30 train, as i had decided to try and get back to 吉富 that evening (thereby saving the extra 2 units on the railcard).

And i did get back, on Friday evening, ater a loooong tiring day with about 5 or 7 changes - almost too tired to appreciate the beautiful 山口 coastline we were passing.

The cherry blossoms are in full and spectacular bloom, so this weekend included 花見 in 犀川 with the takos and Mia.

As is normal for April, the office has changed a lot - my desk has been moved 2 spaces to the left making me much nearer to the 課長 and 係長 (i almost feel exposed!) and 2 new people have joined the office. Supervisor still the same.

The warm weather has started (again!) (although there is still a slight chill in the evenings).

Monday, 27 February 2006

"History is only the register of crimes and misfortunes." Voltaire

added to which, people only seem to remember the good times of life experience.

So we create the illusion thatwe have it much better off than the ancients. Maybe it was all fine and modern for them too.

"Everything's fine today, that is our illusion." Voltaire
also, people complain about daily life. So this creates the following illusion:

Life before i was born: Rubbish (getting gradually better over time)
Life since i was born: Great ("we used to have it so good")
Life now: Rubbish ("Life sucks")
Life now:great!(everything's alright for ever) )
Life in the past (when talking to kids/successors): "you kids have it so much easier nowadays"
Life in the future:
either "Things can only get better" / "It's getting better all the time"
or "It's all downhill from here" (which could mean better or worse)
or "This country's going straight to hell!"
therefore summed up as Uncertain.

(why do i keep getting images of Yarpole church?)

does anyone actually know anything at all?
(if you do, then please let me know!)

Boxes Rant

(instigated by hearing that Mia was not allowed to go and teach outside instead of in the classroom)

What is it about humanity that we are so intent on shutting ourselves up in little boxes?! Physically , psychologically, socially, we build these walls, and lock ourselves away, then wondr what we're running away from!
We don't realise we're running from the sun! From the power and light that will give us the energy to "cope with life".

What does that mean, anyway? "Cope With Life?"
Why do we have to make Life out to be something that we need to "cope" with?
Life is a Joy; with challenges, perhaps, but to say it is necessary to "cope" with life gives "life" a heavy dark lustre which it does not need.

as i write, the windows are covered by blinds (have you noticed i am usually sitting in the office as i write this blog?) to prevent the sunlight from coming in (are they called blinds 'cos that's what they make you?) and we are subjected to the ghastly fluorescence that pervades offices (and kitchens? why kitchens?) the world over.

When oh when will people realize that solar power is Free, and doesn't even need to be converted into electricity to be used?

If anyone reading this has ever built or considered building a building that makes all possible use of natural light, then please let me know!

Monday, 13 February 2006

blue sky blue

It is a truly beautiful day.

i find this fruastrating, because i am "stuck" in the office supposedly writing my monthly magazine article (on art) when i could be outside absorbing it...
(Why is it always when i'm frustratedly sitting in the office that i find myself writing my blog? It's supposed to be a blog of stuff i do, not a blog of stuff i would like to be doing but can't)
A quote by Kahlil Gibran floated through my Gmail account this morning - "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit." So what is Liberty? Is it the same as freedom? Does the fact that i am sitting in an office when i'd rather be outside mean that i have neither? Or am i making this compromise so that i have the means to experience freedom and liberty in different forms?

In my dream-sky this morning, there were no clouds.

When, having woken up, i eventually managed to drag myself from under the warm covers, and up the hill, i realized that this is the truth for the "real" sky as well.

三寒四温, literally "3 cold 4 warm" is a way of describing the weather cycles as Japan approaches spring. 3 days of cold, 4 days of warm.

Reading "Chaos"... very amazing...

(this entry rushed and incomplete 'cos the 12:00 chimes have gone and i gotta go+ see if Steve's back from Nagano)

a final word - Don't Drink Coffee!
well, you can if you want but i don't reccommend it.
It doesn'T work for me, anyway.

Friday, 13 January 2006

Art College Application

At last! I have finished and sent off my Art College Application!
well, that's a relief....

Just in case anyone's interested, here's my personal statement: (with added notes and links)

From cardboard models to candle making, artistic projects and ideas fascinated me from an early age.

The Art Department at Monmouth School provided me with a variety of media and held workshops with artists including Jenny Whiskard, Jonty Henshall, and Anthony Frost. My developing interest in pursuits such as abstract expressionism, photography and driftwood sculpture culminated in my A-level projects:

- An “investigation of self” project consisted of a driftwood cabinet containing artefacts, photos and sculptures from throughout my life; it also included a video portrait of my life;
- An “Abstract Colours” project based on oil and acrylic paintings of Monmouth School buildings was backed up by a related study and video about the life and work of Anthony Frost;
- A third project was the result of an extracurricular life-drawing class;
- For the exam theme “Industrial Action” I constructed a semi-abstract oil painting based on photos of construction machinery.

During my gap year I studied Japanese in Japan and travelled in Europe. Throughout this and my university career I bound my own travel diaries and dream diaries and continued my life video portrait.

While living in Tokyo during my second year of university, I developed an interest in Kabuki theatre. I also got a brief glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of the performing arts through a part-time job with the Bologna Opera on tour in Japan.
In Tokyo, my drawing style was influenced by visits to art exhibitions including Kandinsky and Sesshu. Art galleries I have enjoyed in the UK include the Tate Modern and Tate St. Ives; I also love the concept of the gallery as a living art space as envisioned by the Baltic in Gateshead.

The majority of my recent artwork consists of abstract drawings made with pencils and oil pastels, photography and digital imaging. I am interested in creating depth within drawings and have experimented with bringing this into 3 dimensions with freezer-based ice sculpture and some ceramics. I am also interested in the construction of large interactive spaces – an idea I have yet to develop.

I am currently working at the Board of Education in a small town in Japan as a CIR on the JET programme. My job consists mostly of teaching English throughout the community, but also incorporates international relationships through music in a band with other CIRs who come from several different countries.
A lot of my work is with the town Kids’ Club. I have used this as a basis for teaching juggling, musical improvisation, inline skating and paper aeroplane making. My next of these projects is an Anthony Frost style abstract collage workshop.
Due to finishing my contract in Japan, I won’t be available for interview until August – I hope this is not too inconvenient.

HCAD is the nearest Art College to my home near Leominster, but this is not the only reason for choosing to study there. The small college environment attracts me, as does the variety of disciplines on offer, including book arts.
I feel that the chance of working alongside a group of artists at College would give me the opportunity to develop my art and help link my current practices with my long-term goals.
My long-term goals include the incorporation of art and artworks at various levels of society, and I am attracted to the practice of art within local communities and the revival of rural craftsmanship.

My other interests range from outdoor pursuits such as hiking, paragliding and snowboarding to inner pursuits including yoga, meditation and reading. I love many forms of music and play the clarinet, saxophone, piano, accordion, as well as pretty much anything else I can get my hands on. When in the UK I also ring church bells.

Sunday, 1 January 2006

新年 (New Year)

The night of the New Year was something of a surreal experience for me. I sat around at home wondering whether to go out or go to bed. Eventually, I decided to go and do the shrine thing. This led to the question of which shrine to go to. As I was preparing to go out, I discovered that the only money I had left was 30 yen: 5 5-yen coins and 5 1-yen coins. So I decided to go to 5 shrines, and spend 6円 at each (5 to say goodbye to 2005 and 6 to welcome 2006.) Made sense to me, anyway. As I cycled through the night and got closer to the main shrine the amount of traffic – cars, bicycles and pedesrtrians – gradually increased. I parked my bike and walked through the torii and along the avenue to the main shrine buildings, where I arrived at about 5 to 12. I joined a queue of people, which extended between a couple of bonfires in the courtyard to the main shrine building. 12:00 came and went, four dancers and three musicians started performing 神楽 in the 神楽台 and the queue I was in gradually started to move. One or two people recognized me and said おめでとうございます. When I reached the shrine building, I did the usual – i.e. threw my coins (6円) into the money box, banged the gong with the rope, clapped my hands and bowed. Then I went to watch the 神楽。Also watching was 谷本さん, her son and daughter and another couple of members of the kids club Junior Leaders, with whom I exchanged the customary greeting. I stayed and watched 神楽 with them for a while (one of the dancers was Daiki, another of the JuniorLeaders) and warmed myself on the fire. Various other people came and went, including some of the kids I teach (and their parents – it was a valuable occasion for learning who is in who’s family!) and ケンちゃん. The first four kagura dancers finished their bit, and a single older guy came on to replace them. There was some talk in the audience of an appearing soon, so this looked to become a very typical kagura performance – most kagura seems to consist of a brave guy who beats a demon. This was indeed the case, although this demon was more méchant than any I'd seen before. His first victim was a young boy from the audience, who he took up onto the stage. The kid was old enough to realize what was going on, i.e. that this was kagura and he was expected to participate, but probably still young enough to believe that this was a real demon. This was all very well, and the kid participated (the demon got him to bow down in the direction of the good brave old guy) without too much reluctance. But the 鬼’s next action shocked/appalled me. The victim was a 2-year-old girl who was in the arms of her mother. The “demon” tore her away, and carried her screaming up onto the stage. I have just finished reading a book which explains how child abuse and early childhood experiences (especially traumatic ones) are the root of most procrastination and difficulty throughout life, so have been somewhat sensitive to child-rearing methods while reading it. Although the child was eventually returned to her mother, goodness knows what trauma she has undergone and the difficulty that will cause her in later life. Ok, so it’s all just fun and games, drama, a bit of a laugh, but how do you explain that to a 2-year-old, who is surely convinced that this terrifying monster is out to rid her of all security?

After the demon had returned the kid, terrorized a middle aged woman and eventually left the stage and I was convinced it wasn’t about to come back and traumatize any more 2-year-olds, I made my excuses and went off to tour the other shrines. On my way out around the back of the shrine, I again crossed paths with three of the 11-year-olds I teach, and they further abbreviated 開けましておめでとうございます to 開けおめ。My next stop was the bright red 稲荷神社 down by the harbour. It was dark and there was no gong, but I deposited my 6円 and continued. Cycled around the Mitsubishi Pharmaceuticals factory, up to the main road, along a couple of (dark) roads whose existence I'd never before had any inkling of, and around to an enshrined and wooded hillock I had walked over when I walked to Buzen. The approach to the shrine was dark, but there were lights up at the buildings. No people around. It was not clear which of the buildings was the main shrine, and there was neither gong nor money box. So I selected a bulding which seemed to be a 神楽台; in many shrines this is directly in front of the main shrine. So I threw 6円 over towards the grille at the back of the stage and walked over to the edge of the park to look at the night. I found my way back down through the dark woods to my bike, and headed over to a theretofore unbeknownst shrine I had noticed over the other side of a field from the dark lanes I had travelled. This was a more typical shrine with a couple of 鳥居 and a main shrine behind a 神楽台。 The money box gladly accepted my offering and I continued towards the shrine on the hill near my appartment. This is another 稲荷神社, complete with 3 or more 鳥居 and a few foxes (and a thousand or so paper cranes) but no gong and no money-box. So 6円 are currently sitting somewhere inside the shrine.
After another night view of Yoshitomi and Nakatsu, I returned to my appartment at about 2 am, phoned home, and got mutually confused with my dad as to when I had last phoned. I got to bed at around 3, and it was an hour later that the most surreal experience of the night occurred. The phone rang, and I answered it before I was fully awake. It was Mia in Oregon, who had mis-calculated the time difference. So we talked for a bit and then I went back to sleep. Or maybe it was a dream. I guess the first bit definitely wasn’t a dream though, ‘cos I definitely have no money in my wallet – not even 30円。