Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Glass-Half-Full Grammar
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steepholm
Those of you who learned French - do you remember the lesson where they taught you about the third person plural pronoun? To recap: if you're talking about a group of males, it's "ils"; if a group of females it's "elles". But if it's a mixed group? Well, of course it's "ils", even if there's just one male and 999 females, so humiliating would it be for any man to have "elle" slapped on him. Besides, the rules seem to declare, men are simply more important.

I'm sure many have raged against this very patriarchal piece of grammar - including my daughter. However, today, my Japanese teacher told me that when she was learning French, her teacher (a man) had a different explanation: "If you have a glass of water and someone pees in it, it doesn't matter whether how much. Even if it's just a drop - you're still not going to drink from that glass."

Yes, I know it's problematic in its own right, but what a useful corrective to an age-old unfairness! (When I told my daughter this, she laughed like a drain.)
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Of Cuckoos and Chrysalids
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The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoos. These were the only two John Wyndhams I really loved as a child, although I read and quite enjoyed some others. It occurs to me now that they share the theme of a small group of telepathic children, mistrusted, feared and reviled by wider society. Cuckoos is the negative version, framed by a adult point of view in which the children are deserving of death. Chrysalids is the positive vision, in which the children are the basis of a possible new beginning for humanity, outgrowing and then escaping the dogmatic strictures of their elders. It was of course that book that resonated most with me, especially with its emphasis on keeping one's condition a secret. (The Cuckoos, by contrast, were happy enough for people to understand and tremble at their power.)

Well, I dare say that the fantasy of having secret powers is common enough among all children; but I wonder whether anyone has done a reading of The Chrysalids as an LGBTQ text?

The Cursed Yuzu
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About a month ago I mentioned that my little ditty in praise of the humble yuzu was due to be tweeted by the city authorities in Minoh, in northern Osaka. I don't know why, but the prospect delighted me.

The day after I wrote that post, though, than there was a 6.1 earthquake in Osaka, with its epicentre more or less directly in Minoh City. Three people died, and some cats in a cafe were seriously spooked. With writerly selfishness, my first thought was for my poem - and, as I feared, the city authorities postponed my jolly jingle. It simply wasn't appropriate at such a time. It too, I thought portentously, was among the victims of the earthquake.

But time passed. Earthquakes are common in Japan, and the people are resilient. I quietly hoped that the yuzu would rise again. Perhaps what people need at times like this is a little rhyme in praise of citrus? That's what I was thinking, and perhaps the Mayor of Minoh was too.

Then, on 6th July, devastating floods and landslides hit the Kansai region, destroying homes and roads. This time, 204 people died. Inevitably, once again the yuzu poem has been pushed back.

If I were more given to magical thinking than I am, I might read more into this than I do. As it is, I feel ashamed of myself for not quite being able to shed feelings of chagrin about the poem's non-appearance amidst so much disaster. But, shikata ga nai, as they say in Japan.

Coming and Gowering
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The first time I drove to the Gower, I was listening to a parliamentary debate on the radio, in which it seemed very likely that they were going to bomb Syria (which was obviously what that country needed more of). After an off-grid couple of days, I emerged to find that that had not happened after all, and was happy.

It's amazing how little world events impinge when you're out TV, radio, mobile and internet contact. The sheep bleat mockingly at all human endeavour good or ill, though without much indication of understanding - rather as if someone had scattered the 1922 Committee randomly over the hillside and given them woolly tails to match their minds. There appears to have been plenty going on, though: on football fields, at Chequers, in flooded Thai caves, and equally flooded Japanese hillsides. Still no bloody rain here, though.

Meanwhile, I asked this question on FB, but so far have had no suggestions there. Is there any country apart from the USA where one is ineligible to be head of government/state if not born a citizen of said country? I'm having difficulty coming up with an example. It seems strange that a country (mostly) of immigrants should be the only one to have distrust of immigrants enshrined in its constitution.

Incremental Understanding and Spirited Away
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steepholm
When I first watched Spirited Away - in the local arts cinema, when it came out - I knew virtually nothing about Japan or Japanese. I remember noticing with surprise, for example, that the cars drove on the left. Accordingly, a lot of things went over my head. Some I knew I didn't understand, others passed me by entirely. On the other hand, I already had a pretty good knowledge of Western fantasy tropes, mythology and, to an extent, magic. It didn't strike me as odd at all, for example, that Yubaba might want to take custody of Chihiro's name and issue her with another one. After all, names and things are ultimately one, as any reader of fantasy knows.

Still, I was surprised that by taking one character (千) from Chihiro's name (荻野千尋), Yubaba was able to come up with a name that didn't sound like any part of that name - namely, "Sen". That was explained later when I learned the difference between kunyomi and onyomi readings of kanji, as explained here. As a rule of thumb, the character "千" is Sen (kunyomi or native Japanese reading) when it's on its own, but Chi (onyomi or Chinese reading) when it's with other kanji, as in 千尋, or the name of my friend Chiho (千穂).

More recently, while eating at the yurei café in Kichijoji, my friend Mikako mentioned that after death she would be given a new name by the priests, who would do it by taking one of the kanji in her name and giving it a kunyomi reading. At least, I think that's what she said; I'd had a bit of sake by that time, and consulting the internet afterwards it seems that the rules for posthumous names are a bit more complicated than that.

"But... does that mean Yubaba's land is actually the land of the dead?" I remember asking, the penny dropping from my eyes. Mikako confirmed it.

Well, of course it makes sense - it's on the far side of water, after all. And the lands of the gods and the dead often bleed into each other, don't they? (Yes, Tír na nÓg, I'm looking at you.) That's going to be still more the case in a country with ancestor worship. It's only natural.

One thing I still don't get about Spirited Away is the title: 千と千尋の神隠し (Sen and Chihiro's Kamikushi). It's not that 神隠し doesn't really have an English translation - "being hidden by a god" is as close as I can get. If you're familiar with, say, Thomas the Rhymer or Kilmeny, then I think you have a pretty good idea what 神隠し involves. No, the bit I don't understand is "Sen and Chihiro" - as if they were two different characters. What's that all about?

Of course, it's not ideal to read Spirited Away through the prism of Western fantasy and myth - although it's a film influenced by Western fantasy, too. I recently read that in Japan its tagline was 「トンネルのむこうは、不思議の町でした!」 (There was a town of wonders through the tunnel!"), where 不思議の町 surely recalls 不思議の国、the usual translation for [Alice in] Wonderland, which of course begins with a young girl entering through a tunnel.

But we all start from where we start from.

Occasionally Emergent
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steepholm
I was out of commission for most of the last week with a fever. It's gone now, thanks to antibiotics, but I'm still very much in new-born Bambi mode, and can't take on much without the need to go and have a lie down or stare disinterestedly at a wall. In that sense, the World Cup arrived with impeccable timing.

I'm old enough to have been brought up to think of my normal body temperature as 98.4F. I gather that this is now 98.6F, for reasons unknown, but the UK has in any case long since moved to Celsius, where it's 37C. I don't have much sense of what a high temperature looks like in Celsius, though, so when I saw mine was 39C I didn't know whether to be alarmed or not. More recently I translated it into real money and saw that it was over 102F. No wonder I felt ill.

Anyway, in other news, I've occasionally been tempted by those DNA kits, as you might expect given my extensive family history tag, but have been naturally wary of handing over my DNA to a commercial company. Has any of you ever done it? Was it worth it? What do you see as the pros and cons? All advice gratefully received.

Perhaps because of my weakened state I'm currently tempted again. The Butlers themselves are relatively easy to track back quite a long way, but of course they make up only a small percentage of my genetic portfolio. As far as I know my ancestry is entirely from this island as far back as the late seventeenth century, when Jean René Giberne and Marie Le Mennet came over from France, but of course I don't know much. So, I'm curious (and have one or two pet theories I'd like to test).
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Definite Articles and Indefinite Books
literary studies
steepholm
Well! it is now publique, & you wil stand for your priuiledges wee know: to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer saies.


I recently received my author copies of Literary Studies Deconstructed, which was very exciting. I've been working on this book a long time - some of its ideas were first aired in this very blog - and I'm pretty proud of it.

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Of course, it's always a bit nerve-wracking (or nerve-racking? suddenly both look right/wrong), because you wonder what "faults escaped" you're going to bump your shins on. Especially since, with the online copyediting system used by my publisher, you can't actually see how things are going to look on the page, so matters of layout have to be taken on trust.

Having given this volume a quick once over, I'm fairly relieved: I found no outright howlers. However, at the proof stage I noticed that some copy editor had taken it on themselves to insert "the" at random intervals throughout the text; and I see now that a few of these eluded me. Luckily, none of them drastically alters the sense, but they're still a bit irritating. So, for example, "the collaborative nature of publication" becomes "the collaborative nature of the publication", even though I'm talking about publication in general. So, if you ever read the book and something doesn't look quite right, try taking out a "the" and seeing if it slots into place. Other than that, enjoy!

In other publication news, I hear from my friend Eriko in Minoh City, Osaka, that a bit of doggerel I composed while walking through the streets of Kyoto a couple of years ago is about to be Tweeted by the city government, as part of their yuzu promotion campaign. If you don't remember (shame on you!) it went like this:

There's a fruit called the yuzu I eat all the time.
It's bitter, but better than lemon or lime.
If you too like yuzu, feel free to share mine -
Won't you do the yuzu with me?


When my friend Chiho gave me a hanko a few years ago, she turned "Cathy" into the kanji "果" (ka) and "詩" (shi), which basically means "Fruit Poetry". Now at last I have earned that name.

I actually feel almost as excited about this as the book, especially because (unlike the book) it counts as "impact" for REF purposes.

Back, I'm Well? (10-11 June)
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The last day in Tokyo began with more contents tourism papers - here is our merry band of scholars after the last one:

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A typhoon was heading straight to Tokyo, so some people cried off the izakaya-and-karaoke evening in Kabukicho that we had planned, but four of us struggled on heroically - a New Zealander, a Filipino, me and another Brit (but which was which, dear reader?):

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We agreed that Tokyo in the rain at night had a bit of a Blade Runner vibe, but I can't help feeling that there's another film reference in this picture with even more direct relevance (and I don't mean Star Wars).

If you didn't see, let me spell it out in large letters. Here is Gojira/Godzilla up close. I didn't get to see him do his hourly roar, but the Tokyo typhoon nightline was quite good enough.

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Yesterday was a very long day - thanks to travelling West through the time zones - and I feel that jet lag is soon going to kick in in a big way. Also, I've gone right off Frankfurt airport. I don't blame them for my flight being delayed two and a half hours - that was the weather - but why did I have to go through security there twice - having already done it once in Tokyo? Add to that, eventually the screens showed my flight as "boarding" but did not think to divulge the gate number (which of course was different from what it said on the boarding pass). If it weren't for a passing passenger who recognised the panic in my eyes and told me, having had a text alert himself, I would be in Frankfurt still.

Once on the plane, I immediately had a nosebleed down my white shirt. This is something that had never happened to me before about two weeks ago, and since then they've been coming once every day or two. What can it mean?

As it happens, I have a health check due later today, so perhaps I'll find out then. At the time, though, it had the side benefit that the passenger in the next seat - who turned out to be a minister catering to German-speaking Protestants in south-west England - offered me a lift home from the airport, in the spirit of the Good Samaritan. Which I gratefully accepted.

Princesses by the Ponycart (30 May-9 June)
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There are few things more depressing than writing up a blog of one's exciting adventure abroad after one returns, jetlagged and deflated, to one's own home and pile of utility bills. Therefore I do not propose to put myself through that, but will post the last substantive account of my Japan adventure this very day, prior to my return on Monday.

Since I came back to Tokyo I've been mostly engaged in seeing old friends, going to Cotswold/Britain related places, and taking part in various events, primarily a four-day Contents Tourism symposium at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, although I also gave talks at Taisho, Seisen and TWCU universities. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow account, here is a fun photo gallery of some of the sights I've been to.

Wild Things and Wide EyesCollapse )

Steepholm Versus the Volcano; or, Fuji-san to Steepholm no Kamikakushi (25-29 May)
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I spent five days in Odawara (or rather in the suburb of Tomizu), and I don't propose to anatomise them here, partly because I've fallen lamentably behind in this account, and partly because some were spent in such unphotogenic pursuits as writing. However, those were punctuated by some interesting expeditions, and I'll try to give you a flavour of them.

Oh, oh, oh What a Lovely OdawaraCollapse )

Return to Fukuoka (24 May)
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Fukuoka was a bit of a self-indulgence - that is to say, my visit there was a day off from the Cotswold project, and really just a chance to revisit my haunts from the enjoyable few days I spent there two years ago.

When I say that Fukuoka reminds me to of Bristol, I don't want to overstate the matter - they're really very different cities, and Fukuoka is actually ten times bigger in terms of population (though it doesn't feel it), but they're both ports, both slightly removed from the spheres of the mega-cities. Whatever the reason, something about the cut of Fukuoka's jib reminds me of home.

The other reason I wanted to go was the Moomin Cafe, which I'd somehow managed to miss last time despite its being in the Canal City shopping centre, where I spent most of my time. This time, therefore, I booked into a hotel less than five minutes' walk away, and went directly from check-in. Luckily, I arrived in good time to meet up with some old friends:

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Having eaten a Snoopy-shaped rice set the day before, this time I gobbled up a Hattifattener (Nyoro-Nyoro in Japanese). The eyes are olives, in case you're wondering:

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I'm not normally a fan of shopping centres, but Canal City always charms me. Perhaps it's the hanging gardens, or the fountains? If Babylon had had a branch of Muji and a taste for J-Pop, it would have looked like this.

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I wandered down to the dock later, which I'd read was quite a buzzing place, but I was surprised to find that by 6.30 it was pretty much shut. I did go up Hataka Port Tower, though, and looked at the island-dotted sea in the company of a family of Korean tourists, before gently moseying my way back into the livelier part of town, where I ate tonkotsu ramen and mentaiko at a yatai - which is perhaps the most quintessentially Fukuoka dining choice ever. (Mentaiko, by the way, is a pollock-roe-based sausage, and curiously addictive.)

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I've spent so much of this trip in the company of other people that it was really quite strange to be alone for any time. Not unpleasant, but I was looking forward to getting to Odawara, where I was to stay with my friend Haruka, her mother Yuko and the rest of their family (including adorable toy poodles) for a few days, partly preparing the various papers I was due to give in Tokyo.

So, let's hop on the last shinkansen of this trip, with an ekiben in hand. In honour of Kyushu, I chose the famous kurobuta of Kagoshima - although, out of respect to my project, I should note that these quintessentially Japanese pigs are actually of English descent, having been bred from a herd of Berkshires.

Not many people know that, and fewer care, but I am of their dwindling number.

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Ryokan? Ryoukai! (22-24 May)
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From Osaka I took the shinkansen to the southern island of Kyushu and so to the onsen resort of Yufin, picking up my friend Chiho en route at Oita. I hadn't seen Chiho for two years, except at the end of a Skype line, and it was great to be with her again.

Of course, my main reason for being in Yufuin was to visit the Cotswold-themed attraction, Yufuin Floral Village - but I naturally took the opportunity to book us into a ryokan for night - the absence of which from any Japan trip would be like a gaping wound.

Yufuin with Me?Collapse )

Dreamton Days (19-22 May)
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On the morning of 19th May I met my friend Eriko at Osaka station and together we travelled to Kyoto, and thence to nearby Kameoka. Eriko is an anthropologist, whose speciality is magic. Having spent a long time studying the strange tribes of Glastonbury, England, she published a book on their religious beliefs (グラストンベリーの女神たち). Since we met through mevennen last year, we've discovered some overlap in our research interests, so when I invited her to come with me to Dreamton as my companion (and occasional interpreter) she kindly agreed. So it was that we climbed up into the hills around Kameoka (albeit in a taxi), and eventually arrived at a strangely British looking hamlet...

Dream on...Collapse )

Giving Osaka an Even Break (17-19 May)
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On escalators, you generally stand on the right (except in Japan where you stand on the left (except in the Kansai region where you stand on the right (except in Kyoto where you stand on the left))). What could be more logical or straightforward?

Now that we've got that straight, we're ready to repack our bags and head out west.

To the Land of the Setting Sun!Collapse )

The Secrets of Lockh(e)art Castle (15-17 May)
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This was the last sign of British Hills as I left on Tuesday. A Union flag against a rice field makes a fitting symbol of the project as a whole, don't you think? I'm putting it in my file of possible book covers, anyway.

What happened next?Collapse )

Boars and Bombs and Bears, Oh My!
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steepholm
Tangentially from yesterday’s post, two things made me think a little bit about risk assessment, something human beings are notoriously bad at.

As I mentioned, before going for a walk in the woods yesterday, I was issued with a little bell, and told it would keep bears away. “But don’t worry,” I was told, “the woods are full of bear alarms and bear traps, so you almost certainly won’t be attacked.” Why did this make me feel less, rather than more, reassured?

Carrying my bell, I wondered how it was meant to keep bears off. Surely a charging bear wouldn’t break its stride just because I rang a little bell in its face? It only slowly dawned on me that the bell was meant to be rung all the time (e.g. by being attached to the outside of my bag), and that that would in itself be off-putting. Around the same time, an alarm went off in the woods to my left. I jumped, naturally. Did that mean a bear was in the vicinity?! It was only after a number of other alarms went off in the succeeding minutes that I realised they were there to keep bears away, rather than to alert me to bears that had somehow made it through British Hills’ ring of steel. Prevention was better than cure, in both cases.

Earlier, one of the staff told me that one of the reasons British Hills had become more popular in recent years was because of terror attacks in Europe. It wasn’t just London, or even just Britain: the whole continent was tarred with the same brush in the minds of many Japanese, despite the statistical unlikelihood of being caught in an attack. We tutted about this, but then it occurred to me to ask, hadn’t this very region of Touhoku been overflown by North Korean missiles more than once in recent months? And wasn’t this very prefecture of Fukushima the site of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that not long ago had killed some 18,000 people and left swathes of land uninhabitable to this day?

Indeed, they admitted, all this was so, but when it comes to assessing risk inside Japan people take a very different attitude - accepting the inevitability of disaster in a resigned しょうがない sort of way. Foreign disasters, by contrast, are anomalous and frightening.

On the Fourteenth of May, at the Dawn of the Day (13-15 May)
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I'm not going to linger over the events of 12th May - not because they were unmemorable, but because it was mostly a day of a) meeting old friends and b) giving a lecture, and also because I didn't take any photographs during that time to amuse you. In short, I went to Kyuritsu University in Jimbochou to give a talk on the Cotswold project to the membership of the Japanese society for the study of British Children's Literature (or Children's Literature in English - the Japanese and English versions of the society's name differ subtly). I had a very nice lunch with Miho and Satomi, and afterwards met many other friends who have occasionally appeared in these pages, such as Mikako, Yoshiko, Akiko, Naomi, and the rest. The lecture went fairly well, I think, although I ran out of time before I ran out of material, and then most of us went on to a local izakaya, where (joined by Hiroko) we ate and drank to saturation. Altogether a good day, if not a photogenic one.

The only unplanned thing I should mention is that, on the way to Kyuritsu, I stopped at Meguro to look at the hotel Meguro Gajoen, which was used (so Miho had informed me) as one of the models of Spirited Away, and was in any case well worth a visit in its own right, especially the toilets. I always feel a bit self-conscious going into a hotel where I'm not actually a guest, so I didn't take any pictures - and the toilet would have been a particularly problematic place to start snapping - but I can certainly confirm that it's quite an astounding building, even if I didn't (in the ten minutes available) notice any obvious Miyazaki references. If you'd like to see more, check out this blog, especially the toilet and waterfall.

It was there, lost in admiration of the ceiling tiles, that I accidentally left my tablet computer, on which I had been anxiously checking the subway times. I was halfway back to Meguro station by the time I realised my error, which necessitated my running back down the hill, bearding the reception staff in their den, and then bursting into the toilet, quite unlike the demure creature who had been there 10 minutes before. Luckily, the clientele of the Gajoen are not only rich but also honest (a rare combination), and the tablet was lying neatly on a side table, as if expecting me.

But the main business of this post is British Hills in Fukushima. This was (and at the time of writing still is) the first stop on my "Britain in Japan tour", a 90-minute shinkansen ride north-ish of Tokyo. I stopped at Shin-Shirakawa - a fairly small town/city - and a while later a green shuttle bus arrived to take me (and several Japanese people) the 40-minute hairpin drive up into the mountains, nestled amidst which was this oasis of Britishness.

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Could those hills be British? Read on...

An insupportable number of pictures below the cutCollapse )

Gained in Translation (10-12 May)
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I think I may be in Tokyo.

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In fact, I`ve been here for more than 24 hours already. How transient is life!

Like last year, I had a brief German stopover (in Munich) and, like last year, did my blood pressure no favours through worrying about missing the connection, but Lufthansa ("Efficiency doesn't have to be brutal") got me here on time, with a couple of hours to spare before I could check into my AirBnB. I spent that time looking around Haneda airport's upper reaches, where they try hard to showcase Japan in both its traditional and hypermodern aspects, enhancing both by the simple means of juxtaposition:

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When I wrote my first Japan entry, back in 2015, I was afraid that if I didn`t write things down I would forget the zesty newness of everything, such is the tendency of human beings to become blasé. I suppose that's happened, to an extent. I don't plan to post many amusing examples of Japanglish this time, for example, for they are simply too numerous. On the other hand, being fresh from the UK I was still rather taken with this invitation on a photo booth at Haneda. I'm sure it will be a great comfort to my grieving relatives to have my picture immortalised next to an astronaut dog:

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And never underestimate Tokyo's ability to come up with new ways to distract us. Cute, interactive robots have definitely become more numerous since my last visit, like this little fellow (click for the video). I've the seen the future, and it's shot sideways on by mistake:

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I was also struck, as if for the first time, by the number of unaccompanied children - travelling in small groups or alone - on the subway. By children, here, I mean no more than five or six years old. (Japanese children do get sent out alone at a very young age by modern Western standards. They've even made it into a a TV show.) And very confident they seemed, too, although almost impossibly cute in their sailor (girls) or soldier (boys) uniforms. I guess my journey coincided with the end of the primary school day.

For the moment I`m staying in Nishikoyama, a quiet district near Meguro. I really like the neighbourhood, which is full of little streets and interesting shops that deserve further exploration. I wish I were staying here more than three days.

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The apartment is clean and comes with everything I need, including of course a few gadgets that are new to me (you dry your washing by hanging your clothes over the bath and turning on a stream of hot air that transforms the entire room into a clothes dryer - what?). There are many buttons set into the walls that I do not understand the functions of and dare not touch, although I assume none of them is actually designed to do me harm. Altogether, life in Nishikoyama is good.

Despite that, this morning I took myself into the heart of the city, to make Shinkansen reservations at Tokyo Station. I had about 10 to make, so thought I might as well do them all at once, thus saving a lot of queuing later. Beyond that I had no errands at all, but decided to spend one day (actually my only entirely free day for the entire time I'm here) making like a flaneuse, and wandering through Tokyo as the spirit moved me. From Tokyo station, it moved me in the general direction of the sewage works (or at least the main office), and then past the back entrances of some restaurants and down a fairly insalubrious alley under the railway, where I discovered that the smell of stale urine is much the same in Japan and England. "Why did this never happen to Balzac?" I cried, before deciding to look at a map after all.

I was given the use of an iPad by my work recently, and had hired a Pocket Wifi for the duration of my stay here, so for the first time in my life I actually had access to GPS. Theoretically I could have found my way anywhere, I suppose. On the other hand, I'm currently using the same iPad to read Tristan Gooley's Walker's Guide to Outside Clues and Signs, and I can't help but feel Mr Gooley's disapproving gaze every time I type in a location. All the same, with the weather being rather cooler than I'd anticipated (after last year's heatstroke, and needing to get an entire month's worth of Stuff into one suitcase, I'd packed without any really warm clothes), I did ask Google maps to show me the way to the nearest Uniqlo so that I could buy a long-sleeved top, and so it did. (For reference, Uniqlo is a bit like Primark, I suppose?) Well, perhaps there are natural signs that you can follow to find a Uniqlo - I wouldn't expect to find one in Ginza, for example - but I'm pretty sure Gooley doesn't cover them.

On the subject of odd juxtapositions, I particularly enjoyed watching this business-suited man play jazz piano (the fun kind) on this very pink free piano in the Marunouchi Building:

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Pudding this evening was a steamed cake from Ginza Kimuraya, which I bought mostly for the novel written on the side of the packet:

My lasting memory of that first trip to France in 1952 is of sensuality. Today, one would have to step off an aeroplane on the other side of the world to exprience such an impact on the sense. There was a strangely exotic smell which hit me as soon as I set foot on the quay at Calais, later identified as a mixture of strong tobacco, expensive scent and fresh garlic.


Despite this Proustian rhapsody, and somewhat to my disappointment, the cake only tasted of cake. But then, so did Proust's madeleine. I guess you had to be there.

I Saw Some Grass Growing through the Pavements Today
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I'm off to Japan on Wednesday. It will of course be just too late for Golden Week, which was deliberate on my part (since the trains and hotels are crowded then), but one day I'd like to see the carp streamers of children's day. That happens on 5th May, in other words today.

Instead, I enjoyed the sudden summer here in Bristol. I've been playing the field with cafés lately, and today (the weather being fine) my steps were naturally drawn down to the City Farm Café in St Werburghs, ten minutes' walk down the path from my house. Not only do you get to eat in the company of Jacobs sheep, etc., but you can do it from the comfort of the bole of an enchanted tree.

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In the afternoon, the mixing of the rural with the urban continued in the form of Bristol's Jack-in-the-Green, who wove his way through the city followed by his acolytes, welcoming in the summer. In this video, he and his entourage are making their way up the Gloucester Rd., while I stand near a bus stop. Who needs the greenwood, after all? And as for matsuri, we have our own. Click to watch.

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Diana Wynne Jones Conference/Convention
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steepholm
It's been ten years since Farah Mendlesohn and I last organised a Diana Wynne Jones conference in Bristol. Too long? Well, if you'd like to see another, here's your chance...

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