May 27, 2008

Graffiti near Shinjuku Station

Lost In Blue

Lost In Blue - Sleep Walker
Crisis - Bottom Rhythm Jam
Early Summer - Ryo Fukui Trio
Solid Water (Rainer Truby Trio Remix) - Extended Spirit
Just Getting By - Elizabeth Shepherd Trio
Pamela - Art Blakey & The Jazz Messngers
Boom Jackie Boom Chick - Paul Gonsalves Quartet
Khamasin - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
His Nibs - Neil Cowley Trio
Tsui So - indigo jam unit

Books: Half A Life by V.S. Naipaul

Half A Life tells the story of Willie Somerset Chandran, an Indian-born lead named after the English writer W.S. Maugham who had visited India at the time his father was living as a mendicant having taken a vow of silence. The reasons for this are unclear, but in the period prior to independence, Willie's father shows his rebellion against the system by marrying a 'backward', or someone of the lowest caste.

Willie comes to despise his father and attempts to find a new life by emigrating to London. There, while trying to make a living as a writer, he sees 1950s West Indian bohemian life in west London firsthand and is both attracted and repulsed by it.

Then, after the publication of a collection of short stories, he is contacted by a woman called Ana from an east African Portuguese colony (read Mozambique), and then goes to live with her as her husband on her estate. Despite living there for 18 years, Willie seems to learn very little about Africa and seems only half-tuned in to what's going on around him.

Naipaul's book is interesting and contains many insights into life as an immigrant in the mid-twentieth century post-colonial decades, though at the same time many of the characters are only half-sketched out, meaning that Half A Life at times seems like half a novel, and Chandran seems like a person who has drifted through life without really making any real decisions. Having said that, however, I enjoyed it enough to get hold of the follow-up, The Magic Seeds.

May 26, 2008

No Lies

Sunday's Setting Sun

Early evening sun after a day of cloud and rain.

May 19, 2008

Books: Friend Of The Devil by Peter Robinson

Friend Of The Devil is the seventeenth in the Chief Inspector Banks series, though I have to confess that it is the first of Peter Robinson's books that I've read. In this installment, Banks is investigating the brutal murder and rape of a young 19 year old girl in an area of town known as The Maze. Despite the crime having been committed on a Saturday night, Banks and his team seem to be unable to find any witnesses to the event. At the same time, in Whitby, Banks' one time colleague DI Cabbott is investigating the murder of a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic woman.

As both investigations proceed, it becomes apparent that the two seemingly different crimes may in fact be linked in some way. Banks and Cabbot will have to put the past behind them and find a way to be able to work again in order to solve both crimes.

The description of the area that the novel takes place in together with the good use of dialogue is reminiscent in part of one of Robinson's contemporaries, Ian Rankin, which can only be a good thing. Based on this outing, I will certainly be looking at reading some of the other books in the Banks series.

May 16, 2008

Ruler Of My Heart

Storm - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Castles of Islam - Trio of Bamboo
Encounter - Bottom Rhythm Jam
Sea Shanty - Max Grunhard Quintet
Maybe Neverending - Harcsa Veronika
The Wave - Lalo Schifrin
But The Land - Kingdom*Afrocks

Garra - Marcos Valle
It's Too Late - Willie Hightower
Ruler Of My Heart - Irma Thomas

May 08, 2008

A free 'of' with every sign

It seems that sign writers in Aizu Wakamatsu have an excess stock of the word of. So much so that they feel compelled to include one in several English signs regardless of effect.

May 06, 2008

Fukushima: Day 3 - Aizu Wakamatsu

One thing you will notice if you visit the Aizu area is the abundance of painted red beasts on sale as souvenirs. At first glance it might not be obvious what kind of animal they are, but they are in fact red cows, locally called aka bekko, and they are supposed to bring luck and ward off disaster. In some places around Aizu Wakamatsu, you can have a go at painting patterns your own red cow, so of course I had to have a go.

A picture of concentration as I daub the cow with white paint.

The finished article.

After getting all artistic, it was time for a lunch time stroll around Tsurugo-jo, a castle in spacious grounds near the centre of the city. The grounds themselves are peaceful and impressive, housing its own tea garden and plenty of greenery. The castle itself, however, was less impressive. The original structure was destroyed in battle in the mid-nineteenth century and today just a few of the original stones remain. In the 1960s though the castle was rebuilt and it was opened to tourists. From the outside you can see the original shape and size of the building, but once you set foot inside it is like entering an anonymous modern museum, and you notice that the rebuilding was in fact done in concrete, as has happened with many other 'restored' castles in Japan. Unfortunately, I can't read enough Japanese to be able say whether or not the exhibition is interesting or not, but I can certainly say that the building is something of a disappointment, the view from the top aside.

Fukushima: Day 2 - Higashiyama Onsen

Late in the afternoon it was time to take the sightseeing bus out to Higashiyama Onsen, the hot spring area in Aizu Wakamatsu. The bus stop is at the bottom end of the valley and it was a five minute or so walk up the hill to get to the ryokan.

On the main road on the way was this rather retro looking strip joint. I'm not sure how much custom it gets, but I'm led to believe that most hot spring resorts have at least one less than salubrious establishment.

The ryokan I stayed at was called Harataki, named after the falls that flowed down the river behind it. From the rooms you can here the constant roar of water and the evening view is quite spectacular.

Of course the baths are the main attractions of hot springs, and Harataki have got it just right. The communal baths are great, and there are also four private baths (as above) you can book for a 50-minute slot.The spring water here is a rather warm 56 degrees Centigrade, but once you get used to it, you're in for a real treat.

The food was also great with half being a set course and the rest being a buffet system. This suited me down to the ground, as I often find that the set menus you get at many ryokan are so big that I can't manage all the food. I'm sure that you could feed a small family on one person's servings.

All in all, quite possibly the best ryokan I've stayed in to date, and I'll definitely want to come back at some point.

Fukushima: Day 2 - Aizu Wakamatsu

If you continue on the train from Yunokami Onsen, you eventually arrive in Aizu Wakamatsu, a town with a rich history and plenty to see, as well as having a hot spring area. For just 500 yen you can get a one day pass for the sightseeing loop bus that stops at various different points around town. First stop for me was Nanokamachi, an area featuring several attractive old buildings and some interesting shops to look around.

Nanokamachi Station is also home to nice little cafe and zakka shop, and it would be easy to while away time here if you really wanted to.

Over the road from Nanokamchi Station is Amidaji Temple, where some of the fallen soldiers of the Boshin Uprising are buried.

A houjicha (roasted tea) vendor freshly roasting tea leaves in the street. At just 100 yen for a large pack, it was an absolute bargain.
One of the high points in the town is the Oyakuen garden featuring medicinal herb plots, as well as a wonderfully landscaped traditional garden complete with pond and tea arbour. It was nice just wander around and the sit and take in the scenery in total peace and quiet.

Fukushima: Day 2 - Ouchijuku

After breakfast it was an early check out and into taxi to Ouchijuku some 6 kilometres away. The staff at the minshuku had advised to set off sooner rather than later as the traffic gets very heavy by mid-morning in the holiday period.

Ouchijuku is a quiet town with a glorious past, but which is now simply a tourist spot famous for its main street consisting of Edo period buildings. It was an important post town in days gone by, making its money from people passing through, much as it does today, albeit in different circumstances.

It was good to get there early, as it was possible to wander around at leisure without getting jostled and bumped by other sightseers, though it gradually got busier and busier as mid-morning approached.

The main street consists of lots of old buildings with thatched roofs, most of which are now eateries, shops selling souvenirs or local produce. I had a lot of fun looking at the different types of jam, miso and tea on sale as well as the usual tourist tat, but the only thing that convinced me to part with any cash was a bottle of Dr Noguchi sake, which was shaped like a chemist's flask. I'm no sake connoisseur, but mainly wanted the bottle, which will make a nice ornament when I've drunk the contents. Shallow, I know, but ...

Apart from the main sightseeing street, there isn't much else to the town, but it is surrounded by some beautiful natural scenery, and I was particularly impressed by the many different shades of green in the surrounding hills.
Time was running out, as a return journey in the taxi had been booked for 11 o'clock, but no trip to Ouchijuku would be complete without a bowl of ippon soba (buckwheat noodles in a cold soup with a whole leek), even if it meant having a very early lunch. The idea is to use the leek instead of chopsticks to eat the noodles, but taking a bite from it from time to time to complement the noodles. It was a novel and tasty experience.

On the taxi ride back to Yunokami Onsen station I could see the queue of cars waiting to get to Ouchijuku which tailed back over 4 kilometres. Who ever said cars were the best way to get around?