A Birthday Trip to Hokuriku: Awara Onsen & Kanazawa

Saturday, October 31st, was Mewby’s birthday, so we took a birthday trip up to Hokuriku. As soon as I had finished my morning lessons, and pedalled back home, we made our way to Platform 0 at Kyoto Station (grabbing bento box lunches on the way) and jumped on the Thunderbird Limited Express bound for Awara Onsen!

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From the official Awara City website:

Awara Onsen opened in the 16th year of Meiji (1883).

The hot-spring spa’s birth goes back to 1883 when a farmer was digging an irrigation well in a reedy, swale swamp, and 80-degree hot spring with low salt content welled up. Next year in the 17th year of Meiji (1884), several onsen hotels opened and attracted visitors for toji (hot spring cure). LINK

We were staying at the Yuraku Hotel. Friendly service, lovely hot spring baths and great value for money. the meals were huge!

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I’m not sure why this hotel features a Roman soldier, but hey the local station features a dinosaur, so why not?

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The next day after a sumptuous breakfast…

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…we headed for Kanazawa. From the station we took the shuttle bus to Kenrokuen garden. We arrived at a little souvenir place, and stopping to use the conveniences, we found this odd little gallery. Everything on display here was made of candy:

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It seems Kanazawa is historically famous for its confectionary.

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Then onto Kenrokuen – one of the three great gardens of Japan. It might not look like much but this next picture is of Japan’s oldest fountain – all naturally powered too.

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Some more pictures from this beautiful private garden…








The statue of mythological figure, Yamato Takeru, above, was raised to commemorate soldiers from Ishikawa Prefecture who died in the Saga Rebellion of 1871.



The ropes being tied onto the trees, are called yukitsuru and are there to help protect the branches from Ishikawa’s heavy winter snows…

Then onto the castle!


This castle was first built in the 16th century, burned down several times and what we see now is largely a modern reconstruction.



After that we had a peak round Oyama Jinja Shrine. I liked this place.







We met a friendly crow here too.


After that we had a quick walk around some samurai houses…

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Before catching our train from Kanazawa Station….


Then back to Awara to jump on the Thunderbird, and homeward bound!

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The Best Horror of the Year – Seven

September 7, 2015
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I like to treat myself to a little horror every year…


He he he he he….

I love this series. And every year I tell myself I will have time to review this year’s anthology. But I never do. So I’ll just say that this series has reliably served up some cracking good stories from the darker side of literature for seven years now, and my anticipation for each year’s issue has never been disappointed. Judging by the first two stories in this issue, I won’t be disappointed this year either. All praise to the editor, Ellen Datlow, for her many good works!

Trip to the UK; July 2015

July 28, 2015
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Where many meals were eaten and walks were walked. I neglected to take any pictures of this part so am “borrowing” a couple.

Solihull by Mary M

This photo by Bernadette

Solihull by Miu

Walking with John in Solihull Park by Mewby


Mewby outside the house where Shakespeare was born.

Mewby outside the house where Shakespeare was born.

Mewby & my sister Christina waiting for their pub lunch.

Mewby & Christina waiting for their pub lunch.

Mewby outside the church where Shakespeare is buried.

Mewby outside the church where Shakespeare is buried.


A tour of impressively posh Stowe School with my sister Bernadette.

Mewby and Bernadette

Mewby and Bernadette

In the library

In the library

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Me & Bill Shakespeare at the Temple of Worthies...

Me & Bill Shakespeare at the Temple of Worthies…

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Two ladies in the Palladium

Two ladies in the Palladium



A whole lotta lamb

A whole lotta lamb


I spent a year in this town when I was 18. It felt a bit funny coming back here two decades after I last visited…

Me outside the Royal Oak pub in Oxford where I worked as a weekend bartender 1988-9. (This pic by Bernadette)

Me outside the Royal Oak pub in Oxford where I worked as a weekend bartender 1988-9 (this pic by Bernadette)

Lunch in the Royal Oak Oxford - I have to say it was very good!

Lunch in the Royal Oak Oxford – I have to say it was very good! (this pic by Bernadette)

The streets were packed!

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So it was a relief to get up in the clouds by climbing the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate.

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We did a bus tour as well, but I think we enjoyed it more than that grumpy looking lady behind us. This pic by Mewby.

We did a bus tour as well, but I think we enjoyed it more than that grumpy looking lady behind us. This pic by Mewby.


One day only we escaped to Cambridge. Apologies to my friends there who I didn’t have time to see. Next time!

The Backs...

The Backs…

Punting with Jasper…



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A picture postcard view of King’s College…

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Perfect light on Parker’s Piece…

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The wonderful Botanical Gardens…

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Up in the clouds again at Great St Mary’s Church tower…



The Senate House

The Senate House

That there in the distance is the University Library. Looks like a penis, eh?

That there in the distance is the University Library. Looks a bit phallic, eh?

A bunch of old buildings...

A bunch of old buildings…

Market Square

Market Square



Great St Mary's

Great St Mary’s


Walking on Mersea island with the Readers

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Hannah and Joe

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And then it was only a 30 hour journey to get back here! All well worth it though. Many thanks to all my family for putting us up, cooking great meals, showing us around and generally showing us a great time. I am missing you all already…

Spreading My Wings ~ My Writing in 2014

December 29, 2014
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2014 was the year I woke up to the fact that the best way to get yourself published, is simply to try. Oddly enough as soon as I had resolved to do that, writing opportunities (and some of them paid) seemed to start falling into my lap! Thus began a flurry of articles in the latter part of the year, most of which I am very pleased with, not least because of the wide variety of subject matter.

Earlier this year I had already written two pieces for Guide Advisor on Matcha Tea and Machiya Houses. Many thanks to Ted Taylor who got me the opportunity to write those.


In October, however, my writing career began in earnest when I was commissioned to write a piece on Kyoto for the British lifestyle magazine The Simple Things. To my surprise they wanted to use my pictures too! Read more here: My City: Kyoto.

inside kyotoThat month I also wrote a piece for Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto site on the new Heisei Chishinkan wing of the National Museum: A New Home for Ancient Treasures. All being well, I should be writing regularly for Inside Kyoto in the coming year.

In November my article on the Manga Faculty at Seika University appeared in Korean Airlines’ inflight magazine Morning Calm. It’s not a long piece but a lot of work went into it. Read more here: Cradle of Creativity.cradle

And Japan Today were kind enough to post my piece on marriage equality in Japan: New NPO brings same-sex marriage equality into Japanese public debate. I was very proud to add my name to this worthy cause.jtoday

kojikiIn December I wrote a guest post for John Dougill’s Green Shinto blog on the Kojiki exhibition in Nara. That was actually one of my favorite pieces to research and write, as I find all that ancient mythology fascinating…

And my review of Christine Flint Sato’s Sumi Workbook is in the latest issue of Kyoto Journal: The Unexpected Delights of Brushed Black Ink.kj

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalOf course in May, I also published an ebook: Deep Kyoto: Walks.

It’s been a good year, but it’s just a beginning. Next year I plan to spread my wings still further. I have one regular writing gig decided, and would obviously like more. I would also like to continue to diversify, by getting articles into more publications and on a wider variety of subject matter. And finally Ted Taylor and I will crowdfund an updated print version of Deep Kyoto:Walks next year with extra features, artwork and contributors. Here’s to 2015 and all the writing challenges and opportunities it may bring!


December 26, 2014
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I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage “to swim against the tide”. And also have the courage to be happy.
— Pope Francis (from his address to the volunteers of the 28th World Youth Day)

Of course this is somewhat taken out of context, but even so… There’s no denying, this current Pope, he’s a bit odd, isn’t he?

Star in the Night (1945)

December 24, 2014
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Riding through the night, three cowboys are led by a flashing star to Nick Catapoli’s Star Auto Court…

Don Siegel’s debut feature, this short film won an Academy Award in 1946 for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel). High on Christmas sentiment, it is a retelling of the nativity story with Mary and Joseph reimagined as Mexican migrants Maria and José Santos. On a cold Christmas Eve they take shelter at desert motel in the Southwestern US, run by Nick Catapoli, a man disillusioned by the selfish behaviour of the people he encounters day in and day out. For him the whole idea of Christmas spirit is a meaningless hypocrisy, with people only smiling because they want something… Well, the arrival of the two migrants and Maria’s sudden labour brings out the good in people as his guests rally round to help the young couple in any way they can and Nick’s belief in the goodness of human nature is restored. It’s a short but sweet retelling of the Christmas tale, with obvious influences from A Christmas Carol, and it works. It certainly jerked the tears out of me tonight. Merry Christmas everyone, and enjoy this one.

News from Ireland…

December 15, 2014
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news from Ireland:
this year from the apple trees
plentiful haiku

I wrote this haiku for David O Riordan, an artist and poet who posts on Twitter under the moniker: @Batuphonos. David writes haiku in English and Irish, using the traditional 5-7-5 syllable structure. I find his poems crisp and evocative and I always enjoy them.


Snow Lion

November 26, 2014
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through white mountain squalls
glimpse the turquoise mane he shakes:
Snow Lion dancing

prancing snow lion

By chance I came upon a song today,  that I thought was very beautiful. The song is by Tenzin Choegyal and it is called Snow Lion. How is it that an air sung in a language so far beyond my ken, can make me feel: an inexpressible yearning, a deep separation, an intrinsic emptiness deep in the belly of my soul?

Following Tenzin Choegyal’s brief description, and encouraged by his smile, I imagined the snow lion and its elegant steps over snow topped peaks. What would it be like to be deep in those mountains and hear that Śūnyatā roar, that thunderclap cry, that silent yet deafening call to awakening? Would you cover your ears as dragons topple from the sky?

In my mind’s eye, as I listened to the song, I saw a foolish traveler, lost, and snow blind, stumbling through a blizzard on a snow covered plateau. His hands are raised over his face against the flakes that fly into his eyes, when he glimpses, hears, perceives, a snorted breath of steam. There amidst the endless white and through the swirling flurries, a hint of turquoise mane. The great white weight of it turns about: wonder made manifest. The snow lion tosses his mane and stomps. The snow lion is dancing

The white snowlion, with its turquoise mane (seng dkar g.yu ral can), is the famous Tibetan emblem representing the snowy ranges and glaciers of Tibet. It symbolises power and strength and has served as a unifying national symbol for Tibetans during the modern era… Many Tibetan folk songs and proverbs mention the snowlion as inhabiting the highest mountains since he is the “king of beasts” (ri dwags rgyal po), towering over less powerful animals…Two of the most famous Tibetan culture heroes, Mi la ras pa and Ge sar, are said to have been raised by a white snowlioness, the queen of beasts, who also brings prosperity…
~ Mona Schrempf: “The Earth-ox and the Snow Lion

The Snow Lion resides in the East and represents unconditional cheerfulness, a mind free of doubt, clear and precise. It has a beauty and dignity resulting from a body and mind that are synchronized. The Snow Lion has a youthful, vibrant energy of goodness and a natural sense of delight.
~ Rudy Harderwijk: “The Four Dignities

The lion’s roaming free over the mountain peaks show that the yogin has gained the realm of absolute freedom.
~ Robert Beer: The Handbook of Tibetan Symbols

Snow Lion sung by Tenzin Choegyal:

Following the expulsion of all Chinese nationals from Tibet after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the Dalai Lama felt a need to create a new flag that represented his country’s aspirations for the future… The single snow lion was replaced by a pair of snow lions in front of a triangular white mountain. They hold aloft three blazing jewels representing the Buddha, his teachings, and the Buddhist monastic order. Below them is the swirling jewel of perfection. The rising golden sun symbolizes Tibet’s bright future, and the six rays of light radiating from it refer to the six tribes that originally constituted the people of Tibet. These splay across a blue sky that stands for the equality of everyone under heaven.
~ John Powers, David Templeman: Historical Dictionary of Tibet.


We live in a surprising universe

November 7, 2014
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My impatience has been rewarded.

buddhOn the assumption that we had just come from elsewhere into our universe, who looking at the yolk of a pheasant’s egg would predict pheasant feathers? Who looking at an eight-legged, bald, green cabbage caterpillar would predict a white butterfly? Who looking at an anthropod’s jawbone would predict an acoustic bone that enables us to hear Handel’s ‘Largo’? Who looking at the nebula out of which our solar system condensed would predict a honeybee collecting pollen from a harebell or the Mandukya Upanishad?

We live in an evolving universe, in a surprising universe, and it would be stupid not to predispose ourselves accordingly.

…Reconfiguration whether anatomical or mental or both simultaneously isn’t outlandish to life. Indeed, the entire universe might one day spin a cocoon for itself and who, looking at it now, can say what it will metamorphose into?

From Night Journey to Buddh Gaia by John Moriarty, a wonderful and massive doorstep of profundity which arrived at my own doorstep earlier today.

The Wolf of Vacancy

November 5, 2014
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Click for legend

From Wikipedia: “Wolves were once an integral part of the Irish countryside and culture…

…Wolves feature prominently in Irish mythology…

…The last reliable observation of a wolf in Ireland comes from County Carlow when a wolf was hunted down and killed near Mount Leinster for killing sheep in 1786.”

Excerpt from Wolf-Time:

“Why is it that Irish historians will not talk at this level about Irish history? Why will they not ask the big questions?

Here, for example, is a big question: the shot that rang out one night in Maam Valley in Connemara? What, compared to it, is the sailing away of the Irish chieftains from Ireland?

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea and the destructive sword are portions of eternity to great for the eye of man.

There it is: one night in the Maam Valley we killed a portion of eternity.

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

…Megalithic language, or languages we silenced; Bear language we silenced; Boar language we silenced; Wolf language we silenced.

Our history if the history of our success in making ourselves and our world unreal.

Mostly, it is from unreality that we suffer. From that and from the wrong kind of man-made reality.

…Sadly, we haven’t yet seen that prospering man-made unreality is, if anything, more dangerous to us than prospering, primal reality was.

Better Céol Cúaine(1) than the ever-hungering, ever unhappy, ever-unsatisfied, inaudibly howling vacancy we have replaced it with.

…Better any day our chances with a real wolf than with the Wolf of Vacancy.

In Nordic myth this Wolf of Vacancy is called Fenris Wolf or, as commonly, Fenrir. In order for our world to be at all possible, so the story goes, Tyr, a great and mighty god, had to bind him, had to lay him up in chains in an underworld. But everyone, including Tyr himself, knows full well that Fenrir will one day slip his chains, he will emerge and run free. Opening his mouth, he will advance his lower jaw under the earth and his upper jaw over the sun. Sun and earth and all in between he will swallow, and for Fenrir that is just a mouthful.

Ever since we first set foot in Ireland we have been creating our own Fenrir, our own Wolf of Vacancy, our own Apocalyptic Wolf of Apocalyptic Vacancy.

What we would see if we lifted our eyes from our ledgers is that at this stage there is no binding him, no laying him up in chains, out of sight, in an underworld.

So here it is, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn(2):

Lights gone out in Ireland’s last wolf are lights coming on
in a not inconsiderably larger wolf,
are lights coming on
The Wolf of Vacancy”

invokingFrom Invoking Ireland: Ailiu Iath n-hErend by John Moriarty, the best book I read last year. Indeed the best book I have read in many years. What is it? It’s a book about landscape, history and myth, but also a book about the hunger we all feel for something more than the shabby world we have created. It is a re-awakening of the world’s soul. Hungering still for more soul-sustenance, I recently ordered this book: Night Journey to Buddh GaiaAnd I am impatiently waiting its arrival.

1. Céol Cúaine = The music of wolves
2. Foras Feasa ar Éirinn = History of Ireland