Japan – Food

I loved the food in Japan, I was even converted to eating Japanese breakfast every day instead of toast or a croissant. So I was eating fish at three meals per day. I also walked a great deal, more than 85 miles in 12 days, with no pains in my feet, I think the reported benefits of fish oil are indeed true.

Japanese food is very much based around Dashi, which is a stock made from dried fish flakes – usually tuna and kelp – large leaves of a particular kind of seaweed. Also Miso paste which is made by fermenting beans.

A stall selling dried fish flakes of many varieties. You can of course buy ready-made dashi but its not hard to make and has a far superior flavour. The smell is quite hard to get used to, so I didn’t get too close.

Rice crackers with seaweed

 

Mung beans I think
Bunches of very fresh herbs are everywhere, these are coriander.
Or maybe these are!
Little flower stalks are often laid on top of cooked food or sushi as decoration but are eaten too, they’re quite perfumed and have a slightly medicinal taste. As I understand it, they are flowers from a kind of mint or basil known as Shiso, the leaves are also used and are put on the plate, before the food.
Shiso leaves
Wasabi roots sitting in water to keep fresh and cool. Their amazing flavour evaporates(?) extremely fast and in the best restaurants, its not only grated fresh every day but fresh for each served dish.
I think these are a type of Okra, sadly I didn’t get to try them.
Two varieties of aubergine than are readily available in the UK. Tiny deep purple ones and plum light mauve ones, used for different reasons, I suppose.
The head of that day’s tuna, being kept on ice, to show how fresh the stall’s wares are.
Asparagus, lovely fat spikes, at the height of the season in early October. Delicious as Yakatori, wrapped in bacon (very thinly cut Japanese style) and cooked on skewers over a charcoal grill – with a beer of course.
Wooden spoons in a huge range of sizes
Japanese cooking knives, a famous shop where they make the knives themselves and sharpen right before you buy it, to make sure it is ultra-sharp.
All sorts of small china tableware, mostly chopstick rests and tiny dishes for wasabi, grated daikon, pickled ginger  or soy sauce.
A sushi and sashumi banquet, glorious. Three or 4 types of fish, mackerel, prawns, salmon roe, omelette and pickled ginger
Another fabulous meal or raw tuna decorated with cucumber and Shiso leaves and flowers, wasabi and radish, a bowl of miso soup waiting with its lid on to keep warm. Soy sauce and pickled plums in the dishes at the back. Pickled plums are a revelation, so delicious.
Horribly out of focus, maybe beer had been taken already. A massive dish of minced raw tuna, of the best kind, there are three types, the basic tuna which is most likely cooked, the middle tuna which can be eaten raw or cooked and the best kind which is much higher fat content and most usually eaten raw. Then a large dollop of salmon eggs plus the usual decorative edible additions. There is some rice under there somewhere too.
An unusual restaurant in Tokyo in that everything is specifically organic, free range, all sources known and a high proportion of vegetables. Here are tofu, toast with pate and fried sweet potato, as well as couscous with herbs and mixed salad of lettuce, beetroot and chicken.
Part of a 7 or was it 9 course banquet at a hotel in Hakone in the mountains. Sadly I didn’t keep the printed menu (in English) so I don’t know exactly what any of it was. There were some gloriously unexpected tastes, not all of which were palatable but mostly they were utterly delicious. I can recognise raw tuna, raw white fish, maybe sea bream, cucumber, radish (the red slice under the tuna), wasabi paste, a daisy? the white rectangles are bamboo shoots, I think and theres a Physallis in its papery outer layer at the back.
Another banquet at the restaurant used in the filming of Kill Bill. A huge noisy, crowded, theatrical place with excellent food cooked to order on massive grills right in front of us (to the right in this shot) We saw a famous Sumo wrestler there, he needed four chairs, two at the back and another one under each leg.
And finally – street food, there are tiny kitchens all over Tokyo and Kyoto serving first quality rapidly cooked to order food of many types. In this one you can sit at the bar and in others you just take away. Also no-one throws away any rubbish, the packaging/containers are either left at the stall or taken home. Public waste bins are few and far between, as it is understood that each person deals with their own waste. It makes for incredibly clean streets.

 

Japan – People

I am always nervous of photographing people, it seems so intrusive. I do sometimes ask and I’m happy to not take their photo if they say no – of course. But actually asking can be awkward, embarrassing and often just too late, the moment has gone.

This little girl was part of a wedding – she wanted to be in the bridal procession but was not allowed to be. Her mother and grandmother spent quite a few minutes trying to restrain her, but she eventually escaped. There was a big crowd watching!
Here she is – running for freedom.
Here are the bride and groom with their families having formal photos taken.
She looked so sad but such an enigmatic face and expression, i daren’t ask, I knew she would say no. I tried to look as though I was photographing the shrine buildings but I think she saw me, I feel sorry for that.
What a distinguished looking gentleman, i think he might have wanted to be photographed, he wandered around in the temple grounds, adopting rather posed stances. i was too slow for tis one, its slightly out of focus.
Peaceful moments in the grounds of Odawara fort in the late afternoon sun.
These two spent quite a long time trying out different poses with their stuffed rabbit, trying to get just the right selfie. I deliberately caught them between poses.
A school group were practising and then performing a song with actions, to make a video at Odawarra fort, – they were accompanied by 4 volunteers dressed in traditional costume. The teachers welcomed us to take photos. The children were thrilled and wanted to see the images we took.
In the street where people go to parade in costumes (Cosplay)I saw her and I asked if i could take her picture, she was terribly shy but her friends encouraged her, then she broke into this gorgeous smile, and performed the ubiquitous hand gesture.
This lady seemed reluctant to believe she was no longer 20 but kudos for the style!
The Beatles got everywhere didn’t they?! Loving the matched colours though.
Shibuya station, one of the busiest in Tokyo, there’s a bus station right outside where guys in uniform with LED lighting tracks in their jackets and red sabres, orchestrate the passengers into queues and then usher them onto the buses, finishing with a bow to the bus driver!
I came across this man in a side street in Yanaka, Tokyo, he seemed to be making a plan of street services, he spoke no English but I managed to ask Shashin? which is Japanese for photo! He happily agreed, whilst fighting the wind from whipping away his drawing.
This girl was absorbed by her mum’s phone, she had just a minute before, been taking a selfie, big grin on her face. Sadly I was too slow and also a bit reticent to photograph a child.
I asked her just as she moved the poster from in front of her face, held up my camera and pointed, she nodded, I clicked!
I took this in Odawara at the fort. He had dip-died his dogs ears! One pink one orange, he turned away and took up the exact same pose as the dog – irresistible.
On holidays and weekends lots of young people wear full kimono clothes and visit their local temple.

 

Our group waiting for the tutors to arrive with the hire cars. Shades of the “Usual Suspects” A bit of attitude going on as well though.

JAPAN

It’s not really come as a surprise to me as I have heard so many people’s stories of how  Japan is marvellous.

So I am really pleased to report that I totally concur, in fact there is so much I like about Japan, I’m not sure where to start.

I was there for just  two weeks and every moment of every day was a joy, from the most mundane things right through to the most important and significant are just so good.

In corner shops you can withdraw money, buy socks, or a white shirt, delicious tangy sweets, or chocolate coated macadamia nuts.  Half a bottle of white wine in a bottle-shaped can for £1.95! All manner of snacks, treats and drinks all new and wonderfully surprising.

I am glad to have experienced the calm meditative space of a Buddhist temple prayer led by a monk, whilst sitting on tatami mats. Even for non-believers it’s a deeply moving experience, a chance to meditate and understand how lucky we are.

Japan  – for a visitor, is an incredible safe place, I have wandered the streets at night with my camera, taking photos and not once felt in the slightest bit anxious or out of place.

I have travelled here with a group of amateur photographers, guided by two tutors who are ready and willing and expert at advising on settings and opportunities. As well as leading us to the most amazing places, organising transport, tickets, hotels, everything.

We visited a tiny family run Sake factory to taste their wares and see the extraordinary equipment dating from more than 50 years ago. And we’ve been to the tech area of Tokyo to buy the latest gadgets. We’ve had hot baths in the open, with expansive views, eaten banquets whilst seated cross legged on tatami mats and sipped cocktails in a bar on the 34th floor overlooking Tokyo.

The food is extraordinary and of such incredibly good quality and freshness, lots of raw fish and pickled plums and rare beef, bean curd, edible flowers, all sorts of new flavours. And plenty of Japanese beer and Sake.

So much more to tell but here are some photos to suggest some of the wonder of Japan.

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Makers marks in the huge stones of the ramparts in the Imperial Palace Garden
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A screen in a first floor dining room in Kyoto, bamboo mesh with a delicate carved wood surround
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Noren were originally used to protect a house from wind, dust, and rain, as well as to keep a house warm on cold days and to provide shade on hot summer days.They can also be used for decorative purposes or for dividing a room into two separate spaces.
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Ancient pine woods in the mountains near Hakone
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Dining rooms in Kyoto are often protected by wood and paper screens. So tempting to peek in!
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Bamboo woods outside the perimeter of an elaborate garden full of bonsai, streams, raked gravel and perfect traditional wooden houses.
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A great exanmple of a wood panel on an old house in the Edo district of Tokyo, the wood would have been flamed to remove the softer less waterproof areas, leaving a long lasting weatherproof finish. Traditionally called Shou-sugi-ban
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I came across a carpenter working on some large trunks of wood, I asked him what he was makig, he took some spare wood and a red felt-tipped pen and drew this, its a traditional temple gateway.
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Exterior walls of traditional houses are often covered with split bamboo panelling as a way of weatherproofing.Take a large diameter bamboo pole and split it in many sections along its length, flatten it out and nail it to a wall, so simple but probably requires great skill.
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The inclined roadway outside our hotel in Shibuya district in Tokyo, I think it is concrete poured in situ and moulded with these indented circles to afford grip in icy or wet weather.
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Bamboo fencing around an ornamental garden
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Narrow lengths of bamboo latticed together to form a screen within a restaurant.
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The oldest temple in Kyoto dates back to the Chinese influenced style. This wooden handrail has been worn away by the people coming to pray.
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Everyone lights a length of incense to leave in the sand tray outside the main entrance to the temple.
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We visited a great many stations in transit during our time in Tokyo, so I can’t recall which one this is but it perfectly captures the speed of commuters and great design so often seen in the vast transport network.

Low Relief Construction

A whole series of my work has been inspired by a drawing of my father’s from 30 years ago. His original was based on visually extracting shapes from a classic Tumbling Blocks schema used in drawing, painting, patchwork and many other formats.

This is his drawing on paper in ink and two thicknesses of line.

I have made a number of drawn versions of my own.

A sketched and cut version in heavy water-colour paper.
A sketched drawing in white crayon on water-coloured paper.
After many other versions in drawing, painting and cutting I have now embarked on a low relief version in painted plywood. The pieces were cut out usung a tiny reciprocating jig-saw that my mother owned from the mid ’80s.

Here are some of the stages I have passed through. Hopefully tomorrow it will be finished.

Drawn out with pencil and set square, then cut out with the jigsaw
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The complete design incised into the backboard
Laying out the pieces and deciding how far away from the surface they should sit.
Some of the pieces with spacers glued to the back
Painted and ready for assembly

Architecture of Toulouse and Castres

Toulouse Blagnac airport, new terminal. Ingenious wood slats behind the glazing panels filters the sun but lets in plenty of

 

light.

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The approach from the plane into the terminal, none of that grey bland utilitarian style here, it is perfectly functional and the yellow is joyous.
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From the outside you see the slatted wood but not the coloured glass dots that are placed at crossing points.
Architecture, France, Airport
Simple glass barriers along the walkways are half-painted in a delightful maritime blue, a sort of abstract beach scene perhaps!
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None of those hideous hard plastic chairs here, just soft red comfort.
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Even on the sunniest of days the light inside is soft with no glare – a calm space, just right when waiting to board a plane.
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Vertical tube lights hanging over the stairwell
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Wooden slats punctuated by circles of coloured glass at the crossing points. A subtle reference to stained glass windows maybe?
corten
An unusual gateway to a school, water-jet cut out lettering in Corten steel.

Castres

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The weir in the river, looking like an abstract oil painting
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River-side living – cantilevered balconies at every level

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Classical references in this old chapel.
corten steel
Some more Corten steel cut-out lettering, this time the letters have been fixed on supports in front of their corresponding gaps.
gardens
Ripe for an abstract linocut print maybe? The formal gardens at the Bishop’s Palace by the river