somewhere between...

winter and spring. maybe, both seasons are here, sharing, fighting otherwise, at the moment. people in the western part of japan recognised 春一番 haru ichiban (the first gale of spring) last weekend. i was right in not holding my breath, however. we’ve had chilly days and only a few sunny days lately. according to the weather forecast, there seem to be more rainy or cloudy days this week as well. on friday, i went out to my park as soon as the rain stopped. the wind was wintry while the light was somewhat different from the one i felt a week ago or so. naturally, the flora and fauna of the park did know of its difference better than i did.

there is a 梅 woomei (prunus mume known as japanese apricot or chinese plum) orchard in the park. it’s been getting popular and popular for locals as a woomei-mi ( blossom-viewing picnic) spot over the last couple of years. 見 is in fact much less familiar than hana-mi ( cherry blossom-viewing picnic). but, blossom is more fragrant than blossom indeed, so you might swoon. i was planning, or hoping, to picnic some time between late this month and early march just like i did twice last year: one with my mother and another with daughter during her stay. we enjoyed our packed lunch and a tiny glass of woomei-shu (ume liquor) under the blossoms.

it was quite 風流 hooryu (sort of -- characteristically japanese taste and a traditionally poetic manner for appreciating the nature) and i liked it. blossom is a symbol of spring for 俳句 haiku & 和歌 waka (japanese poetry). it is not just a pretty face, though. it’s a tough beauty since it blooms even in the snow; it bears a versatile fruit for cooking. but, then again, i’ve already realised the blossoms in my park came out much earlier than last year. this year’s best season is going. it’s been too chilly to take a picnic there. apparently, i am missing an opportunity to go on a 見 this year. however, there were a party who immersed themselves in feasting among the trees in the orchard.

they were intoxicated メジロ mejiro (japanese white-eyes). they were flying from tree to tree sucking nectar frantically even though i stood pretty close to them. they’d escape me, stay away from noisy people, usually. when it came to season, they appeared to get carried away, no time for caution, which looked funny to me and made me smile -- alright then, little birds, i’d willingly give up my picnic for you all! even so, i had great fun just viewing the blossoms. i left the orchard and walked along the path. then i stopped to check with the place where hellebores (known as christmas roses) were planted. they also came into bloom at once.

i noticed many bird-watchers holding their digital cameras with “grand and long” telephoto lens. i was jealous. i took a different path from my usual one for a change. a flowerbed of 葉牡丹 habotan (ornamental cabbages), which i had passed by before, caught my eye. as 葉牡丹 was not among my favourites, i had always ignored them. the ruffled leaves appeared in subtle pastel shades. i was captivated by them for the first time. the rain had washed every leaf earlier on so that they could stand out, looking as pristine as ones on a flower show. i should’ve approved of its hidden beauty from the very first, shouldn't i? i felt like apologising to them.

back home, meanwhile, i found the first flower of a hyacinth in my living room sprang into bloom.

and now there've been a lot more – almost in full bloom since then. i love its scent as much as the aroma of coffee on a sunday morning.


the green tea city

shion, my daughter, left me yesterday. so my life is now back to normal, but my flat felts empty. she stayed with me for the whole last week and got what she (or i) planned done while she was here. for instance, with her help, we completed a project that we moved my bed and antique chest of drawers from the biggest room in my flat, where they had occupied, to the next room i had used as my study until we changed it. the next day, we went to ikea to get some stuff for a finishing touch and she bought me a duvet cover as a belated birthday gift. anyway, my former bed room, being reborn as a proper living room, is looking pretty good.

whenever shion is here, she’d go out to the park for an hour-walk every morning. and she did that in spite of having started suffering hay fever (and so have i, caused by cider pollen). we also had meals with my mother a couple of times at her home and paid a visit to my brother in his hospital together. but the high light of her stay was, like always, to become tourists visiting some historic place in 京都 kyoto. we chose 宇治 uji city in the kyoto prefecture this time. the city actually boasts two unesco world heritage sites located on the right and left banks of the uji river: 平等院 byodo-in (temple) and 宇治上神社 ujigami-jinja (shrine).

we made it on friday. although we were hoping that it’d be a sunny day, it turned out to be cloudy, even raining sometimes, certainly not a nice day for a day-out. yet, it was pleasantly a quiet day since there was no big tourist-crowd at all. 平等院 byodo-in, built in the mid 11th century, is so familiar as it appears on our every 10 yen coin. in fact, we both had visited uji before, definitely the temple, but we barely remembered what it was really like. 鳳凰堂 phoenix hall with the ornaments of phoenix on the rooftop stood magnificently. in particular, i loved the statues of bodhisattvas with musical instruments on clouds – all national treasures.

when we walked out of the gate, it was already 3 o’clock. it was time for hungry tourists to have a break for sure. we found a cosy eatery nearby and had a 3-course meal of 湯葉 yuba, tofu-skin, which kyoto is also famous for. while 豆腐 tofu has been a global food now, 湯葉 yuba is still almost unknown for european and american gourmet people. my brother took me to a popular 湯葉 yuba restaurant in kyoto before his second hospitalisation for surgery, actually. we then had an 10-course meal that every dish was made with soybeans as ingredients like meat, cheese and milk. no wonder, it’s very healthy.

after the late lunch, we crossed the foot bridges and headed for our other destination, 宇治上神社 ujigami-jinja. well, from an economical point of view, shrines are better for tourists than temples and i’ll tell you why. shrines won’t charge you for just viewing the site, while you will always have to pay some entrance fee to view renowned temples. shion and i were simply happy to go through the austere gate of 宇治上神社 ujigami-jinja free. but yet, the ancient shrine looked demure, divine and impressive enough to remember. it is different from other ordinary shrines. it’s moderately decorated, which is quite unusual for shinto shrines.

as a matter of fact, 宇治 uji is one of the main green tea producers in japan. so, if you visit kyoto, you will see green tea flavoured sweet things like cake and ice cream wherever you go. and shion couldn’t resist them. when she went up to the central part of kyoto for shopping on her own on thursday, she brought me her favourite green tea baumkuchen. we enjoyed a huge piece of it. and she was planning to eat it all before leaving for tokyo where she lives. but the thing is, she couldn’t. because she had too much sushi that her grandma offered when we visited her again.

now my sweet daughter’s gone. i am finishing the rest of it... green tea bliss!


like valentine’s day

i know valentine’s day is the busiest day for florists in the western world. when i was working for jane packer flowers (as my work experience during my london flower-period) on valentine’s day, all the girl-staff worn something red were getting hyper and hyper as we order-slips got piled. our small workroom was a flower bouquet factory. i wondered who would be the lucky ladies being given an expensive v-day flower gift by their men, while snapping flower stems and ribbons with a pair of scissors all day. but, regular men (usually with no budget) would buy their sweethearts one single stem of red rose. that was better than nothing, i thought.

in japan, basically, valentine’s day has long been adapted as “a chocolate day” for girls by the japanese confectionery industry. young women used to generously give away a small box of chocolates to men they work with. but i’ve heard that women, these days, are less flattering for men than before. they generously buy themselves a box of choice chocolates as a reward for something like hard work, or, if they are teenagers they make their own homemade chocolate and give some to their girlfriends and eat the rest themselves. there’re no romantic motivation or even other feel-good factors for men anymore.

meanwhile, i was given a red rose by my young friends last wednesday. actually, it was nothing to do with valentine’s day. they are students of a university in osaka i once worked for. as they were completing their intensive english course, i was invited to the ceremony. how sweet! aren’t they? the boys wore suits and the girls wore dresses. they all looked as bright as a ray of spring light. it was a joyous days and i was grateful to them for sharing the celebration with me.

yes, i call them “kids” but, to be honest, i hoped they would consider me a best friend. like it or not, i am more like a mother figure for them. i'm a little disappointed. when i was leaving the celebration party, the kids gave me the beautiful red rose and scrumptious strawberry shortcake. it was like valentine's day. one single stem of rose appeared to be perfect. it surely does make up for my disappointment.


lock, canal, stables and rocking horses

each time i hear of the news about the recent recession in britain, i recall the time when business remained slack but people were as sturdy as their wellington boots in this country. my 1st london life, which i personally call my “london flower-period” (i was studying floristry then), happened from 1988 to 1991. at the time, we didn’t really have a great choice of places to go on dreary sundays in the cold months. due to the sunday trading act, shops were not allowed to trade on sundays. even oxford street was deserted, you couldn’t imagine that now. so i’d take my kids to museums. or, another choice was flea markets, which i now miss most about london.

it’s february. a year ago, i learned that a large fire broke out in the camden market area on an online newspaper. i wondered and worried how much had affected the markets, because camden lock used to be my playground. but yet, i know camden lock is not what it used to be. i witnessed it changing over time during the 2nd and 3rd spans of my london life that lasted until 2005. i miss my london days when people still clung onto victoriana. it was before they had chucked out their chintz, which was ikea’s infamous tv campaign encouraging britain to buy brand new things; it was before “cool britannia” was born and also it was before a celebrity culture was rather hysterically welcomed be the british.

the camden markets have always been considered a tourist trap. it’s probably true. in the late 80’s i saw punks and goths hanging around the tube station, who obviously attracted tourists. i simply enjoyed being an onlooker, though i kind of sensed young people’s dissatisfaction with their society and themselves, or whatever. but then, i knew that there was something nice to be found and i could be a finder if only i’d drive my rickety austin metro heading for camden town: the lock, the canal and the stables markets of which stalls dealt food, crafts, second-hand clothes, used furniture, antiques and bric-a-brac, that is, a pile of junk.

i loved treasure-hunting at the markets. i still keep some of the stuff i bought there like jugs, vases and candle holders, although most of them just went missing as i’ve moved from place to place crossing the oceans so many times in my past 2 decades. things i found at the markets as love at first sight but sadly i couldn’t afford to take any home were rocking horses. i was a little girl who fantasised about going on horseback in the fairytale forest while riding on a merry-go-round; it’d always been my childhood dream to have my own horse till i realised it was a dream that would never come true. so, i’ve always had my soft spot for them.

i never forget about the sunday that i ran into one with cute wicked eyes, sitting nervously on a shabby arm chair next to the heart brand signboard. as much as i wanted to take it with me, it was a bit big for an impulse buy. i hoped that someone with a heart of gold would have that rocking horse join his or her family…well, like always, i think i am taking a trip down memory lane right now. anyway, as years went past, many antique (junk?) stalls disappeared from the camden markets. but certainly, there was a good old time for good old rocking horses. where did all the rocking horses go? ---i’m still thinking of them, and wishing them a warm home.