A couple of years ago I won some plane tickets to Japan, and went inter-railing around Western Japan with my friend Vicky. The whole trip was short notice and on a very low budget, but we had fun. When I came back I made a zine about the trip. The paper edition is still available here, but for the foreseeable future I can only send physical copies to the UK. So I’ve made a digital edition for people to read.
So I’ve finally put up all the photos I took in Japan. Below is a summary and links to each post. I have also created some designs for gifts and homewares over on Society 6 with my photographs from Japan. You can find them here.
Here’s a Spotify playlist I made while I was in Japan, of Japanese artists and music that matched my mood at the time. (All the Japanese bands are marked with a J).
One of our final stop-offs in Japan was Hiroshima. Hiroshima is most famous for being the first city (and so far 50% of all cities) to be nuclear bombed. Nearly everything in the city was destroyed, and at least 50% of the population died, with the survivors often suffering extreme health problems afterwards. Nearly all the buildings in the city are modern- the Atomic Dome pictured above was one of the few old buildings standing. Visiting Hiroshima has only increased my belief in nuclear disarmament. (And I’m for unilateral disarmament- something the UK government had the chance to do last year but didn’t, with choosing to renew the Trident missiles).
An important aspect of Japanese shrines and temples are ema plaques (the name 絵馬 literally means “picture horse”). These are small wooden signs with a picture on one side. You write a wish on it and hang it up (or take it home as a souvenir). Each site has its own design, so I made a collection of photos of different ones I saw in Japan. They are originally a Shinto tradition, but can also be found at Buddhist temples. At bigger sites you can find messages written in a lot of different languages.
While we were in Nara we also visited a traditional Japanese tea garden. Unfortunately the tea house was shut, and it was raining, but it was still a lovely garden.
Our final stop in Japan before flying home from Osaka was Nara. In the 700s it was the capital of Japan, at the time when Buddhism really became established in Japan. Nowadays as well as Buddhism, it’s known for the tame deer who live in the forest park surrounding the temples and shrines. We stayed in a hostel in the forest. It seemed a short walk from the train station, but we ended up walking along dark forest paths dragging cases seemingly forever, with deer staring at us accusingly like something out of Princess Mononoke. (The hostel turned out to be a pretty weird place too).
While I was in Japan we visited the island of Okunoshima. In the Second World War it was a top secret chemical weapons plant, but now is a nature reserve famous for its free-ranging tame rabbits, who are probably the descendants of the lab rabbits.
I have a zine of articles about children’s writer Diana Wynne Jones (of Howl’s Moving Castle et al) I wrote this zine in 2011, also managing to interview her before she sadly died (you can also read the interview online here). The original edition was 1/6 of an A3 sheet, made on a Risograph machine. This was great when I still had access to an A3 Riso machine, but after I didn’t it was very expensive and difficult to reprint, so it went out of print. Recently I did a new edition, with all-new illustrations, in a much more convenient standard A6 size
Benesse House on Naoshima doesn’t allow photos of their modern art collection, so here is a selection of works I like by some artists I saw there. I though the space of the museum was wonderful, but the fact that there was no information about the artworks was a letdown. If you didn’t know much about modern art already, you might not have got much out of the visit, which is a bad thing for a museum, seeing as one of the main reasons to go is to learn new things.
Naoshima is tiny idyllic island in the Seto Inland sea devoted to modern art. The opening of the Benesse modern art museum (owned by the same organisation as Berlitz language schools) revived the island’s fortunes, although it’s still a small and quiet place with only a few villages and a lot of old people.
Kyoto is famous for its Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, many of which are UNESCO world heritage sites. There are so many in the city that even though I spent a whole day walking round different sites, I only saw a small percentage of them. People place stones on these Shinto torii gates for good luck. You can also see my photos of ema good luck plaques here.
Here’s some more photos of Kyoto. I have split the pictures up into several entries. You can see more photos from Kyoto and other cities in the Japan category, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote. Kyoto is famous for its cherry blossom, but sadly we were there a couple of weeks earlier than it comes out in full bloom. You did see the odd bud here and there though.
When I was in Japan I went to the Studio Ghibli Museum just outside of Tokyo. Sadly pictures were not allowed inside, but I wrote about it in my zine of the trip. I highly recommend the museum, it’s magical. The bookshop was also stocked with Miyazaki’s own favourite books, as well as books related to the studio’s films. I didn’t buy anything, as they were all in Japanese, and it would take me forever to read anything, but I noted down a lot of less well-known books I saw in the shop to compile a reading list (helpfully the copyright tends to list the author’s names in roman text rather than try to make it fit katakana). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to write down the Japanese author’s names in most cases as reading unknown names written in kanji is very tricky. However Miyazaki made a list of classic children’s books (including a lot of the usual suspects like The Secret Garden) elsewhere which also includes some Japanese recommendations.
Here’s some photos of details of the Zen moss gardens of Kyoto.
Here’s some photos of Kyoto. I have split the pictures up into several entries. You can see more photos from Kyoto and other cities in the Japan category, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote. While I was there I also met up with local zinester and researcher Kiyoshi Murakami (村上 潔), who kindly took me to some of his favourite places in the city:
Here’s a selection of instagram photos I took in Tokyo. I felt I was giving it short shrift only having one post with a few photos. You can see more in the Japan category, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote.
I took a lot of photos in Japan, and it’s taken me a while to sort through them. I’ll be spreading out the posts over this week to avoid having one giant pile of photos at once. I wrote a zine (available here) about the trip to Japan as well, so I’ll save blog posts for the pictures (which you will be able to find under the Japan category).
These are from Tokyo. I didn’t actually take that many DSLR photos in Tokyo, mostly film and phone photos. You can see the phone pictures on my Instagram account, with all of the neon skyscrapers you’d expect from Tokyo. The gate above is in Taito, an area further out of town where we stayed.
So I haven’t updated here for over a month, and updates have been thin on the ground all year. That’s mainly because I spent most of January and February working in Austria, most of March in Japan without a computer, and have been busy since I returned just over a week ago.
This March I’m going to Japan for two weeks with my friend Vicky (also of Pen Fight zine distro), co-inciding with her 30th birthday.
A little while ago, I won a competition I’d entered at a food fair run by Japan Centre food halls.The top prize was two flights to Osaka courtesy of Air France KLM, five nights stay at the Hyatt hotel in Kyoto (way, way out of my normal budget), and a free tour of the Gekkeikan Sake Brewery. The runners up got free sake. I’ve entered this kind of competition before, but only ever won the free booze at best, so I was astonished to hear that I was the winner, and didn’t quite believe it was real until the whole trip was firmly booked yesterday. So a big thank you to Kim at Japan Centre (and also for the delicious free lunch at the company’s restaurant when I collected the prize).