Never Too Far

Market Harborough

One month ago on 2 March 2.3.23 (I love these numbers!), I embarked on the next stage of my Albihon (best of England and Japan) life to divide my time more equally between the country of my birth and my host country for the last 15 years.

My previous work as a freelance coach in Tokyo saw a long pause during the Covid crisis, and during that pause I also reached the formal retirement age in Japan which diminished the prospect of securing new employment.  Also, as an Englishman in Japan, I am often asked about and expected to be an expert on my  home country, but not having lived there continuously for more than 12 years I felt I was losing touch. Having been confidently saying that “it doesn’t rain every day, nor do we eat fish and chips every day”, I was starting to wonder whether that was in fact true. So after discussions with family and friends in both countries, I decided to return to the UK for six months to re-establish residence.

Logistics in place, with arrangements made to ship boxloads of books back, those that my wife had been nagging me to ‘abandon’, and enough clothes for four seasons – in one day – see what I mean?, I left Tokyo for the 14.5 hour flight over the Arctic circle and 2.5 hour drive from London to my home in Market Harborough, Leicestershire in the English East Midlands.

 Not to be confused with Akihabara (Tokyo’s famous ‘Electric Town’), despite similar pronunciation, ‘Harborough’  is a small (population 25,000), historic market town on the border with Northamptonshire, the county of my birth. So this was also a return to my roots where I would be a lot closer to my blood family.

However, it’s also important to remain in close touch with my Japanese connections and this soon happened. My wife and I are keen cinema goers and a couple of weeks before my departure we went to see Avatar, The Way of Water, in the splendid Toho cinema in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Shinjuku. A multi-screen hi-tech building adorned on its roof by a model (at least I think it is!) of Godzilla, going to watch a 3-hour plus movie is a complete afternoon out. A sell-out showing to a mainly Japanese,  fully-masked, silent but appreciative audience left me in no doubt as to my location. Since I was last in the UK, Market Harborough Cinema located in the Market Harborough theatre, has  undergone a revamp with the latest Laser Projection technology which allows it to show films that are on general release across the country. Nevertheless this not for profit, independent community cinema with a pull-down screen over the small theatre stage in front of the 117 seat capacity  audience, most of whom knew and were chatting to each other as they arrived, is a complete contrast to the 13 screen, 2800 capacity, 3D IMAX Dolby Toho cinema in Shinjuku.

Giant Godzilla Statue Atop Toho Cinema in the Shinjuku Kabukicho District of Tokyo, Japan

My first film was ‘Living’, starring award-nominated Bill Nighy, which I soon learned was based on ’Ikiru’ by Japanese film director Kurosawa, with Kazuo Ishiguro ( enjoying writing credits as well. So, despite the approximate 10,000 km physical between the two cinemas I was re-assured that I would never be too far from the other half of my new 50-50 lifestyle.

I had this re-confirmed the following day wandering around the stalls in Market Harborough’s old market square.

Certainly not for the purists, but it did bring me just that bit closer to my other home

Purrfect luck

Cats often feature in the books of Haruki Murakami and, indeed, in Japanese literature and folklore in general. Of the latter, the most famous is probably the maneki neko ((招き猫)or beckoning cat, images of which can be seen throughout the country, to bring good fortune to the owners. The origins  of the tale are claimed by both the inhabitants of Kyoto and Tokyo (and even the Chinese, not surprisingly), but the principle is the same: an impoverished owner of a failing store took pity on a passing cat and invited him in to share his meagre supplies of food. In gratitude the cat sat outside the store raising his paw to invite in passers-by, thus improving the fortunes of the kind-hearted shop owner.

Goutokuji Temple in Setagaya Ward, western Tokyo has its own version. At the end of the 17th century, a lord from Hikone was passing a temple when a thunderstorm was approaching. A cat emerged from the temple and raised its paw as if waving the lord inside, thus saving him from a drenching. In gratitude the lord rebuilt the temple and re-named it Goutokuji in 1697.


Nowadays this is commemorated by the display of thousands of cats beckoning the few visitors who make their way to this hidden gem off the main tourist trail.

But, in the three storey pagoda, if you look carefully, very carefully, you might just spot, and be spotted by, a cat hiding in the rafters.

Feline fans keen to improve their own luck can buy their own version made from wood, plastic or more commonly ceramics. Some even have battery or solar powered rising paws to give you a greater sense of being welcomed. And pause for thought: the right paw raised is to bring money, the left to bring in more customers. Both raised and you can’t go wrong.


Noble efforts

An avid reader, my usual genres of choice range from historical to literary fiction, epic sagas and espionage and psychological thrillers as well as, obviously, books either set in Japan or written by Japanese authors. So, that gives me plenty of scope to hit, and usually exceed, my annual Goodreads challenge of 100 books. Not included on that list is either fantasy or science fiction but I will make an exception if there’s a crossover with one of my other genres of choice. Therefore, I recently read ‘Klara Under the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro a novel about Artificial Intelligence and in particular Artificial Friends or android. It was his first published novel since he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017.

Kaz, or, to give him his full name and title, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro OBE FRSA FRSL, was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to England with his parents when he was five years old. Now, a naturalized British citizen, he writes in English and much prefers to talk in my mother tongue rather than Japanese. His books range from post-war novels set in Japan (A Pale View of the Hills), to the fictional memoir of an English butler in a stately home (the Booker prize winner, ‘Remains of the Day’) to historical fantasy (A Buried Giant), to the more speculative works such as Never Let Me Go and now Klara Under the Sun. Despite my misgivings about the latter’s subject matter, the purity of his prose had me entranced from the beginning. Told through the eyes of Klara who is chosen from a shop window to be an Artificial Friend to Josie, it explores the developing relationships between Klara and her adoptive family. Suspenseful and at times emotional (yes, robots do have feelings), it’s easy to understand why the author has won some of the world’s top literary awards.

When he won the Nobel, Japanese TV news programmes interviewed residents of Nagasaki for their reaction. Few had read his books, which would have to be translated into Japanese in order for them to do so but most were proud that a native of their city had reached such literary heights.

Unlike Haruki Murakami, another Japanese author whose books I’ve read and thoroughly enjoy who is a long-term contender. Despite having had his books translated into many languages and being the recipient of many prizes, he’s always missed out on the ‘big one’ much to his fans’ disappointment. Although his best known books are probably the earlier ones such as ‘Wild Sheep Chase’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’, one of my favourites is ‘Kafka on the Shore’.

Murakami is a great music fan. A former owner of a Jazz café, music often features in his writing, and as the day of the announcement of the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature approaches, his fans ( known as Harukists) gather in Jazz bars waiting to celebrate the success of their hero, whilst bookstore owners prepare to stock the shelves only to have to put his books away until the next year. Divine help is also called upon, as some will visit the Hatanomori Hachiman shrine, tucked away in side street close to the National Stadium to pray for the result. Maybe, his next novel and his first for six years, the publication of which (theme  and title unknown) has been announced for 13 April will prove to be the trigger that will bring him and his loyal band of fans the ultimate prize.

A modern day ninja waits for the message to call her into action:

But win or not, I shall certainly buy the English version once published as well as other novels written by a growing list of Japanese authors whose unique style is increasing in popularity and meeting my reading needs as well as filling my bookshelves.


The Japanese for light shining or filtering through the trees. What better time to see it than late autumn/early winter. And what better place to see it than in the forest surrounding Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo.

The shrine, which sees various Shinto rituals throughout the year itself was established in 1920 to commemorate the virtues of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken who died in 1912 and 1914 respectively. The forest consists of about 100,000 trees donated from all over Japan and carefully planted by young people to form an eternal forest which recreates itself. Just over 100 years later it takes the form of a natural forest home to many endangered plants, animals and birds. Entering the grounds through the imposing torii gates you’ll often see the shrine’s staff sweeping up the fallen leaves from the public path ways and returning them to the forest as natural composting. Visitors are asked to keep to these pathways and not to disturb its natural form both for the sake of the forest and also because of the sacred nature of the ground; and not to climb the trees. Most visitors head straight for the main Shrine buildings to pray for health, happiness and good fortune, but another path to spiritual enlightenment is just to stroll through the forest paths, where permitted, to enjoy this natural oasis in the heart of one of the world’s biggest cities

Or even just to sit in quiet contemplation for a while

One of my favourite routes is the path that runs from the main Harajuku entrance to Sangubashi as it’s little known and little used so perfect for walking in silence.

But even the main routes have their attractions

Whilst jogging, dog walking, or any form of sports activities are prohibited in the grounds of the shrine to preserve its sanctity, the same is not true for Yoyogi Park. It is free to enter and open 24 hours and many forms of activity take place from picnicking and partying to running clubs out for their weekly training, to a dedicated dog run. Only a simple fence separates it from Meiji Shrine but even though the atmosphere is completely different at the right time of year and day, it’s still possible to indulge in a little Komorebi.

But my favourite park, which does come with limited opening hours and an entrance fee given its status as a ‘royal park’ is Shinjuku Gyoen. It has an interesting history dating back to the 17th century when the area was the residence of Kiyonari Naito, a vassal of the Shogun of the time, Ieyasu Tokugawa . The Government bought part of that estate and surrounding area to create the Naito Shinjuku Experimental Farm which would later become the Imperial Garden and the teahouse from where the Emperor used to visit the gardens forms part of today’s park first opened to the public in 1949. The Naito dynasty lives on and part of the area close to the park which now consists mainly of high rise apartment buildings is still owned by one of his ancestors. I was fortunate enough to live from 2007-2010 in one of his houses overlooking the Park and my landlord, Mr Naito lived in the house next to me.  Following a serious stroke in early 2009, as part of my rehabilitation I was encouraged to take a daily walk, and where better to do that in the neighbouring Shinjuku Gyoen, so it has particularly strong connections to my time in Japan, and I still try to get in there at least once a week pausing to talk to the trees giving thanks for my ability to enjoy this oasis just a few minutes’ walk from the world’s busiest railway station. Especially at this time of the year.

So, whenever one wants to escape from the troubles of the world or even of the mind, just taking time to enjoy light filtering through the trees, can lighten one’s mood, thanks to


Grunter & Groaners/Pushers & Thrusters.

“Greetings Grapple Fans!” was how commentator Kent Walton used to open ITV Sports’ wrestling programme on a Saturday afternoon, a must-watch for this teenage fan in the UK 50 years ago.  From the Royal brothers tag team of Bert Royal and Vic Faulkner, to bad boy Mick McManus, the man they loved to hate, from the masked mystery of Kendo Nagasaki to Johnny Kwango, the head-butt specialist, everyone had their favourites. But perhaps the most iconic of this ‘sporting’ phenomenon were the massive Big Daddy (real name Shirley Crabtree) and his erstwhile tag-team partner Giant Haystacks (Martin Ruane) both of whom I had the pleasure to see in a live tournament in London’s Royal Albert Hall in the late 1970s.

That was shortly before I was first sent to work in Japan. The UK’s grunters and groaners (both sound effects used to good dramatic effect), would not have gone down well in the more refined world of sumo wrestling where displaying emotion is not considered acceptable in this traditional martial art.  But I soon grew to enjoy the six televised tournaments a year alternating between Tokyo and regional cities of Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.  As well as learning about all the traditions and rituals that accompany the bouts; the techniques of pushing and thrusting or grabbing the opponent’s mawashi belt to force him either out of the ring or onto the floor; and the ranking system from the junior divisions through to the seniors, I got to know and appreciate some of the characters who graced the dohyo ring.

Not all the wrestlers were Japanese born and bred. One of the more personable was Hawaiian-born Takamiyama (Jesse Kuhaulua). At more than 200 kgs and with his trademark sideburns, he was instantly recognisable and not just to sumo fans. But it was in the ring that he achieved most fame by becoming the first foreign born rikishi wrestler to win a top division yuusho championship back in 1972.

Takamiyama (Jesse)

Closer to home was Chiyonofuji (aka The Wolf) from the northern island of Hokkaido. At ‘only’ 126kgs, and 80kgs lighter than Takamiyama, he was one of the lighter wrestlers relying on his muscular frame and skill to achieve the top rank of Yokozuna grand champion at the age of 26. He held that position for a record 10 years. Following his retirement in 1989, he went on to join the ranks of the sumo elders, owning and running his own ‘stable’ or club.

‘The Wolf’ Chiyonofuji

Chiyonofuji was still around when I returned to Japan in 2011, 30 years after I first took an interest in the sport, and I often was able to see my hero when I, also semi-retired, started to attend tournaments and ceremonial events. But, sadly, the world of sumo lost one of its greatest stars when he died of cancer aged only 61.

At Meiji Shrine in 2014

Nowadays, the sport is dominated by wrestlers from Mongolia, none more so than Hakuho (actual name: Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal), who set plenty of records of his own (longest reigning yokozuna, most top division championship wins, most matches in a professional career) surpassing most of his own heroes and role models from which he became known as the King of the Ring. He retired just over a year ago and now runs his own stable as well as getting out to meet his fans and promoting the sport.

Hakuho performs

Like most sports which receive wide TV coverage, nothing is better than watching it live and in recent years I’ve been lucky enough to see a few tournaments as well as the ceremonial events such as the Yokozuna performing the entering the ring ceremony at Meiji shrine in the new year.

Braving the chill of winter

In Tokyo the tournaments are held three times a year in the Rygoku kokugikan stadium on the banks of the Sumida River.

A day out, especially pre-covid, involved turning up early to watch some of the junior division bouts and the rising stars; buying a bento lunch, from one of the many food and souvenir stalls, to eat in your seat, either a mat on the floor or a regular cinema style chair; enjoying the entering of the ring ceremonies as each wrestler is introduced to his fans; and hopefully seeing one of your favourites beating someone from a higher rank to register his suitability for promotion.

One develops favourites of course, and I follow the careers of some of the (eastern) European wrestlers who have become successful in recent years.

There can be up to four yokozuna grand champions at any one time. But currently, mongolian Terunofuji is the only to one to hold the rank, so he performs a solo entering the ring ceremony.

If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket for the final day of the tournament there will also be the climax of the trophy presentations to the winner who just happened to be Terunofuji.

But more than anything else, it’s a day which guarantees drama and good sportsmanship and an insight into this aspect of Japanese culture and tradition dating back more than 1300 years. So, sit back, and when the referee turns his gunbai, ceremonial fan, forward, Let Battle commence.

Royal reflections and respect

It certainly wasn’t planned, but it is rather poignant that the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is taking place on Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. And notable that the Japanese Emperor and Empress are making their first overseas trip, since taking on their roles, to attend the funeral.

Although neither a republican, nor staunch Royalist, I have tremendous respect for the late Queen, for what she achieved for my country and the world during her amazing 70 year long reign. Questions are already being raised as to the future of the Monarchy and its relevance in the world today; King Charles himself has already committed to ensuring it is a better fit and I’m sure with his well-known grit and determination he’ll do just that.

From a personal point of view, I was very privileged to meet The Queen twice during my career being involved in the planning and execution of two State visits. In Zimbabwe in 1991, as Head of the Commonwealth, a role the new King will also take seriously, she attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare. At that time, I was appointed as Liaison Officer between her staff working in State House, and my own team at the British High Commission. So, I saw close-up the detailed preparations that go into such a visit, and the sheer professionalism of Her Majesty and her husband HRH Prince Philip in carrying out those duties. As a member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, I was amazed when she undertook a series of one-to-one meetings with every attending Head of State, before embarking on the more ceremonial events such as receptions and banquets. Whilst all around her anxiously checked and double-checked every detail of the programme to ensure nothing would go wrong, she just got one with the job, and if something did go wrong just took it in her stride.

Eight years later in Seoul, South Korea another overseas posting for me, and another State Visit for Her Majesty. With trade and investment at the heart of Anglo-Korean relationships, the British Embassy was keen to use her visit to promote UK plc, and The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh did just that highlighting some of our successes and laying the groundwork for future business. I was involved in arranging for Prince Philip to visit and meet British companies working on the construction of the new Incheon airport hoping to be a regional transportation hub for the Asia Pacific.

For both of these visits, the energy and enthusiasm emanating from Her Majesty made her welcome wherever she went, and she certainly earned my respect. Although I do not believe in an after-life, I am happy that today her mortal remains will be laid to rest alongside those of her beloved husband and constant supporter of 73 years. May they both Rest in Peace; an historic example to us all in these troubled times.

And, Long Live the King!

Thank you, Your Majesty!

#4: Never too late

Although, over the years, as a father I’ve taken my children to theme parks in England and other parts of the world, I’ve never actually been to a Disney resort. So, just two weeks short of my 65th birthday, and with a coupon for a free night at a Hilton Hotel, it was time to put that to rights and to head out to Tokyo Bay on a cool and drizzly evening for a very pleasant night at the Hilton on the Bay. I must confess to being rather apprehensive about my first Disney experience expecting it all to be rather garish and over the top, but my son’s partner who is rather a Disney expert had suggested that DisneySea was probably more suitable for someone of advancing years compared to DisneyWorld.

Not only were we celebrating my own birthday in advance but it was also DisneySea’s 20th Anniversary. The sun was shining and the skies were blue so we had an early start and armed with an all-day passport got in to join in the 20th Anniversary celebrations which were branded as ‘Time to Shine’. And so it was and time to find our way around the venue.

Top of the agenda was to meet the stars, so we oriented ourselves through the centre to do just that. In accordance with Covid protocols were asked not to get too close to Mickey and Minnie; we were wearing masks but they weren’t.  Soon after that they emerged from their protective environment with some of their pals for a jaunt around the waterfront.

‘OOPs’ Indeed!

The culture vulture in me enjoyed the attractions related to popular entertainment and I ‘held on to my potato’ in an exciting ride around Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom.

A more sedate circuit with Sinbad took me back to watching videos with my kids years ago,

We even went to ‘Infinity and Beyond’ in the Toy Story’s shooting gallery – my wife scored more hits than me but I had a better accuracy rate! No pictures as I was shooting targets rather than photos.

A couple of shows (no photos allowed) with Mickey & friends singing and dancing to the American Big Band Beat sound got us inside for an hour, and then we hit the water with a gondola tour of Venice.

Followed by a trip on a paddle steamer to see the ‘Sea’.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Tokyo Disney Resort, and it did bring out the big kid in me. However, I’m no stranger to Tokyo Bay as very close by is Kasai Rinkai Koen (Marine Park).  As well as being a popular spot for Tokyoites to visit and to enjoy the oceanfront of Tokyo Bay, and also the venue for the 2020 Tokyo Games’ canoe slalom events, it is a very important area of nature conservation. The Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ), of which I am a member, holds regular gatherings there to observe and enjoy some of the 126 species of birds, including many migratory shore birds and waders which can be seen from the hides and on the ponds and waterfront. Just four years ago, the WBSJ was successful, at COP13 in the United Arab  Emirates, in having Kasai Marine Park designated as the First Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Site in Tokyo.  A very proud moment for my Japanese birding friends.

So, this weekend, it’s time to put away the fake Mickey ears and get out my binoculars to enjoy yet another aspect of the rich cultural heritage of Tokyo.

Great egret


Suntory Hall, Tokyo

Yet another downside of the Corona crisis in Japan, like so many other countries, has been the lack of classical music concerts. This has been particularly so here because enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans flock to the performances by leading orchestras from across the world. So, we were very excited to be able to attend a concert of music by English and American composers given by the NHK Symphony Orchestra at Suntory Hall last week. But even that had fallen victim to the crisis as both the Chief Conductor Paavo Jarvi, and guest violinist Hilary Hahn were unable to enter Japan due to additional Omicron border control restrictions. However re-knowned Japanese conductor, Tadaaki Otaka and Japanese -American violinist Mayumi Kanagawa stepped in: The Show must go on.

Tadaaki Otaka

Benjamin Britten

Sir Edward Elgar

Samuel Barber

Tadaaki Otaka CBE   has been the NHK Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Conductor since 2010, and was previously the principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the United Kingdom. I first saw him in 2011 when he took the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra to the UK for a charity concert to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which had happened whilst I was in the UK. Otaka has a close affinity with British composers, which was reflected in last week’s concert which included the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’, and Edward Elgar’s ‘Enigma variations’.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was born in Lowestoft, in the county of Suffolk on the east coast of England. It’s a part of my home country I know well having spent some of my teenage years swimming in the cold North Sea, birdwatching in some of the sanctuaries, and, more recently running the Suffolk coastal footpath marathon, so I have an affinity with one of the most famous of Britain’s composers, Britten. He is known best for his orchestral showpiece The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) and the War Requiem (1962). Peter Grimes (1945) is his best known opera and is a tragic tale set on the dramatic Suffolk coast so the Four Sea Interludes took me closer to my UK roots  for a while.

Edward Elgar (1857-1954) was born in the English Midlands, close to Worcester where I also have family links as it was there that my parents first met at college. A senior of Britten he is known not only for the Enigma variations (1899), but also for his Pomp & Circumstance Marches, No 1 being a firm favourite at the British Promenade concerts with the words ‘Land of Hope & Glory’, as well as his choral work the Dream of Gerontius (1900).

Samuel Barber (1910-1981).  My American friends would not forgive me for omitting reference to his Violin Concerto Opus 14 which allowed the soloist, Mayumi Kanagawa to display her virtuoso skills. I sometimes wonder why people relate violin playing to sad stories, but her brief encore could have moved me to tears even without knowing its name or provenance.

A wonderful concert spoilt only as the audience were asked not to vocalise their appreciation at the end, as part of the anti-infection measures. However, an audible behind-the-masks groan of approval said it all along with rapturous applause for the conductor, the orchestra, and I’m proud to say, the best of English classical music in Japan. BRAVO!!

#2: ALL THE TWOs: A Call to adventure

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo


This week marked the start of the Year of the Tiger and yesterday was 2nd February 2022 or 2.2.22. It’s also two years since my post retirement freelance work came to and end mainly as a result of the Corona crisis. When I decided to take early retirement from my main career with the UK Government and to remain in Tokyo, to where I was posted at the time, it had been my intention to divide my time equally between my family home in the British Midlands and my adopted home in Japan. To which a good friend remarked “So, you want the best of both worlds?” But, a regular contract as a business writing trainer and coach meant I spent the greater part of my time here in Japan.

However, reality now starts to kick in as one year from now, I’ll need to return to the UK to qualify for my State Pension when I turn 66. Joseph Campbell talks about a Hero’s Journey and although no hero, I like the structure that he advocates especially when embarking on one of life’s adventures. In his book ‘The Hero with a thousand faces’ he says one of the ways in which an adventure can begin is a ‘blunder’:

A blunder – apparently the merest chance- reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts….the blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.

Hero with a Thousand Faces, Chapter 1.Departure, 1. Call to adventure

/My failure to find any further freelance work could well be described as my blunder leading to my personal destiny, the call to the adventure of living the Albihon (best of England and Japan) lifestyle as well as writing about it. When I need to think, I usually do so best while walking. My final training contract took place on the 19th floor of the imposing Arco Tower building in Tokyo’s Meguro district.

From there we were usually blessed with views of Mt Fuji on the horizon. Whilst climbing Japan’s iconic mountain has long been a challenge I’d love to undertake, it’s not yet the climbing season so that’ll have to wait. A more realistic destination was the woodland area breaking up the suburban sprawl, I used to gaze down on. So yesterday I visited Rinshi no Mori park for the first time. After starting as a Meguro test nursery in 1900, it became Hayashi trial forest park in 1989. Now forest trails, adventure playgrounds, open areas and a pond make this an ideal location for a spot of forest therapy in the heart of the city.

It wasn’t the best season for a park with numerous plum and cherry trees, but it won’t be long until the weather warms up and we can enjoy their respective blossoms.

As well as the practicalities of the adventure ahead, I expect I’ll also be questioning my own beliefs. As it will also be a spiritual journey as well as a physical one yesterday’s walk included a visit to the Ryūsenji (瀧泉寺) also known as the Meguro Fudō (目黒不動, Black-eyed Fudō) Buddhist temple. According to the temple legend, Ryūsen-ji was built in 808 by Ennin to enshrine a statue of Fudō-myōō, while he was on a journey from Shimotsuke province to Mount Hiei.

Keeping my options open (I used to be a diplomat after all!) I then called in at the Otori Shinto Shrine, the history of which involved an emperor taking a rest stop after quelling some eastern barbarians.

Fortunately, this was something I’d never had to do during my previous career. But the thought of it was making me hungry. In Japanese, the character ‘wa’ (和) can mean ‘harmony or peace’ as well as ‘Japan’, and is often used as a prefix to a compound indicating a Japanese version of the word that follows. I’m familiar with its useage meaning Japanese-style, Japanese-clothes and Japanese-food but the following was new to me.

But my mackerel and tomato ‘wawich’ did the job and fuelled me for my walk home along the Meguro River.

Passing through Naka-Meguro the river pathway is lined with a motley collection of shops, galleries and boutiques, old and new, with a real international flavour to them.

Despite being in central Tokyo, I was still able to indulge in my ornithological interest as well.

/An excellent day’s walk which left me physically tired but spiritually refreshed and ready to face the next stage of my own life’s journey. As I got home, a quick glance at my step-count for the day even left me feeling slightly heroic.

Three more than was needed to have achieved ‘All the twos’! I’ve heard the call and I’m ready to respond

#1. Setting out

The start of the Shikoku Pilgrimage

The twelfth day of Christmas and I’ve just taken the tree down and packed the decorations away. Mind you, in Japan they often come down on Boxing Day to make way for the New Year celebrations which are more important in my host nation.

On New Year’s Eve, if you can avoid the interminable TV variety shows, it’s important to have a bowl of soba noodles which represent long life for the year ahead. Many people will head off to the country districts to visit family and having obtained a free covid test, courtesy of Japan Airlines, we decided to go to the southwestern island of Shikoku to see my wife’s family for the first time for more than two years  

As in so many cultures, food plays a large part in Japanese New Year celebrations the main feature being o-secchi ryori, a pre-prepared (or purchased) box with several layers of what we might call ‘finger food’ which will be grazed upon over the holiday period – using chopsticks of course! So, this formed the basis for our lunches and dinners for the first two days.

My in-laws live in the coastal town of Naruto, close to the prefectural capital of Tokushima, and their house is just a few minutes’ walk from the coast to where we were led by my father in-law. The main purpose of the trip was for us to visit the family cemetery to pay respects to the departed members of the family and more distant clan whose remains are interred in a lovely plot surrounded by trees and overlooking the Inland Sea. This year, the old chap was so proud to show us the tomb that he had prepared for his final rest which as a sprightly 90-year-old he doesn’t show ant signs of needing just yet.

The cemetery is in the grounds of a buddhist temple the religion under which most funerals take place. But, in a multi-denominational society it’s important to keep well-covered and another New Year tradition is to visit a shrine to give thanks to the Shinto Gods for the year just past and to pray for good health for the year to come.    For our own devotions we drove 10km to the Oasahiko Shrine in the Bando area of Naruto and enjoyed a long walk along the tree-lined approach to the shrine with other worshippers. Under Shintoism, gods also exist in nature especially trees, so as well as praying at the main shrine, we also did so at the 1,000-year-old, 22 metre tall, Go-shinboku camphor tree.

And for additional cover, the Oasahiko shrine is right next to Ryouzenji buddhist temple. This is famous for being the first stop on the 88 temple, 1400km o-henro pilgrimage trail which circumnavigates Shikoku.

Although I have ambitions to undertake the physical and spiritual challenge one day, for now I am making a different commitment: to post, throughout 2022, 88 blogs as part of my personal blogging pilgrimage.  The fortune o-mikuji slip I bought at the Oasahiko Shrine told me that this year my luck would be ‘very good’. So, maybe the Gods are smiling on me?!