Friday, November 09, 2007

I'm ba-a-a-ck!!!!

Had a fab time in Japan, but my mind is whizzing with all the things that have happened while I was away. Ally Blake has had her darling baby, Bridget Ava. (Don’t you love those names?) Sizzle, Seduce & Simmer has been launched with great excitement and aplomb in Dymocks in Melbourne. And the news filtered through that Anne Weale, who first started writing for M&B in 1955 and who was one of the most fascinating authors I have ever met, has died. Anne was such a strong and intelligent women, it's hard to believe and terribly sad that she's passed away.

My little journey seems quite insignificant by comparison with these important events, but I’ll record it here anyway, because I’d like to get it down before the memories fade.

We flew out from Cairns, which is always a spectacular way to leave Australia (in my unbiased FNQ opinion). The cays on the Great Barrier Reef looked like pieces of jewellery – olive green, fringed by iridescent aqua and set in the deeper blue of the sea. It was just after the full moon in October, which is when the coral spawns each year and I also could see strings and clouds of this white coral spawn in the deeper blue water.

Our flight took us over Port Moresby and we also saw Lae on the coast as well as some of the amazing peninsulas of PNG, long stretches of beach and pretty offshore islands. It would be perfect sailing country if it weren’t for pirates.

On the flight I read Susan Wiggs’s “Dockside,” Book Three in her Lakeshore Chronicles. I’m loving that series and now have to wait till next March for Book 4 which will be Sophie Bellamy’s story.

It was wonderful to see my son, Andrew, at the airport, looking spiffy in a new black velvet jacket. (The Japanese are v fashion conscious.)

And health conscious. One of the first things I noticed about Japan is how very clean it is. Considering its huge population in such a small space, I think this is quite remarkable. The trains, the airport, the stations and streets are all litter and dust free. On the first morning, I looked out my hotel window and the first thing I saw was a neat little tiled courtyard across the road, complete with a topiary garden and a little man in a uniform and cap sweeping the yard and the seats. Later, all the shopkeepers swept the footpaths in front of their shops.

On our first day, after a breakfast that was a mixture of Japanese and western for me ( gorgeous steamed dumplings, a slice of omelette, smoked fish and kale, then fruit and yoghurt), we set off with Andrew for Nikko. (this was a complicated journey involving 5 train changes. Thank heavens Andy is now fluent in Japanese!)

Nikko is a beautiful village to the north of Tokyo, set in the foothills of majestic mountains, some of which had snow on the top. When you get out of the train, you are virtually at the bottom of the village and there is a long street lined with all kinds of dark, interesting cafes and fascinating old shops selling weird dried fish and vegetables (pictured top left). This road winds its way up the hillside till you reach a classic, old red arched wooden bridge crossing the Daiku River.

This is the beginning of the truly scenic and important part of Nikko – the State forest with shrines and temples.

The hillsides here are covered in gorgeous trees – enormous, ancient pines – and liquid ambers, which should now, in the middle of autumn, be covered in red and gold. But thanks to global warming, autumn is late this year. Only a few threes had begun to turn, but these were enough to show us how spectacular these hillsides will look in another few weeks.

The really important feature here is the shrine of the Tokugawa Ieyasu , the warlord shogun who conquered Japan. He had never been to Nikko, but he’d heard so much about its beauty that he chose it as his burial place. A year after he died, he was made a god and now the shrines and temples surrounding his tomb are all v important. This isn't his shrine, but we photographed it because the tree was so pretty.

I was fascinated to see these pieces of paper tied to trees and to learn from Andrew that they are prayers people have left there. The Shinto priests gather them up and take them into the temple to include in their prayers.

I don't want to weigh you down with too many details. There were many more temples, shrines, sculptures and beautiful gardens at Nikko than I can show here.
Nikko is also the site of the carving of the famous three wise monkeys, which inspired the well known legend and saying -- Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

More tomorrow...


Liz Fielding said...

Japan looks just fabulous, Barbara. The photographs are wonderful. And your flight sounds a lot more spectacular than taking off from anywhere in the UK!

Bronwyn Jameson said...

Gorgeous post, Barb, and I love all the descriptive detail. So warm and lush, just like in your books. My one visit to Japan was, hmm, 18 years ago. I'm happy to hear that it's still so clean. Looking forward to the more to come.