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August 2005

21st century tea ceremony

August 31, 2005

I’m travelling in mainland Japan with no job to go back to, and no time limit. Okinawa is still a shade hotter than is comfortable, but here in Honshu it’s just about right, in that you can move around and carry bags without sweating too profusely.

On Thursday I spent the afternoon with K, before heading over to Kyoto. There, I stopped a girl to ask for directions, and she walked me half an hour in the wrong direction before looking at my map again, apologising profusely, and insisting she walk me back the right way again. In the course of our wanderings, it was decided that she would practice her English by emailing me, so every evening since then I have received an eccentric email to my phone telling me that I will become fat if I eat ice cream before I sleep, or that I look like the Buddha. I approve of this, and I encourage it.

The reason I actually came to the mainland (at least, the reason I came now rather than some other time) was to meet Graeme and go to the Ryoondo-Tea event that he went to last year. It’s an evening of experimental electronic music and tea ceremony, in a temple in Kyoto. As I understand it, the reason this unlikely combination exists is that the bloke who runs this small Kyoto record label has an interest in the tea ceremony, and wants to create a new, relaxed, 21st century tea ceremony.

It was an amazing event: the whole temple was surrounded on the outside by beautiful tiny lights of shifting colours, and inside filled with warm-coloured paper lanterns. As well as Graeme, his girlfriend and brother, K’s little brother – who I originally met last November – came across from neighbouring Osaka.

Drinking the frothy green tea-ceremony tea while listening to electronic music and watching the lights scattered round the temple garden and the people walking past in yukata gowns (tickets were half-price if you wore one). It was a completely unique event, and tantalisingly brief: starting at 6, finishing at 9, and leaving me wishing that it had gone on all night.

Incidentally, I’m writing this in an all-night ‘manga kissa’ (manga cafe) in Nagoya. I have a 6am train to catch, and partly to make sure I get there, partly because being unemployed I’m hesitant to fork out for a hotel that I’ll only have about four or five hours to sleep in, I decided to find a place where I could wait out the night. This is the first time I’ve spent the night in one of these places, and I’m quite taken with it. It’s a manga library with dozens of booths to sit and read in, each booth containing a big comfortable chair, an internet-enabled computer, a tv and video, and a playstation. I’m paying about five or six pounds to sit in it for four or five hours, and that allows me unlimited free drinks from the drinks machines. There’s even a shower. It’s half-three in the morning and the place is packed.

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August 25, 2005

I left the island on Monday of last week, but have been unable to update this site until now due to the internet connection at my new flat being destroyed by lightning last week. Oddly enough, the last (and only other) time I was inconvenienced by lightning was just over two years ago – the week before I arrived on my island. Being inconvenienced by lightning again the week after I leave the island is just one more of the odd pieces of symmetry that seem to surround my time here.

Leaving the island after two years was very strange. Pulling out of the harbour is so familiar that it was hard to believe that this time my ticket was only one-way. In fact – gothic and melodramatic though it might sound – as the boat pulled away and the island began to dwindle, it felt strangely like dying must sometimes feel: a stream of realisations that things I’d been meaning to do some day will now probably be left undone. Never did climb that hill over there; never did swim round that peninsula, go down that path, explore that piece of woodland; never did make it out to those tiny islands on the edge of the reef. Still, I suspect that feeling is probably to some extent inevitable and I’m currently too excited about the afterlife to miss the island much yet, though I’m sure I will when I get back to the UK.

I’m now in my new flat in Naha, the prefectural capital, on the Okinawan mainland. I am also, for the most part, now a man of leisure: I will be based here until October, during which time I will be studying Japanese, planning my travels in China (which is where I will be going in October), and hopefully doing some more diving before I leave for lands with colder, dirtier seas. I will also be doing a bit more travelling in Japan. In fact, as I write this, I really should be packing, because I have a one-way ticket to Osaka, leaving tomorrow morning. Probably for a week or so, but I’m going to play it by ear. I’ll be meeting k in Osaka, then Graeme in Kyoto. In the last few days I’ve managed to discharge almost all remaining responsibilities, and I’m excited to finally have a bit of time to make it up as I go along.

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trouble leaving

August 8, 2005

Leaving the island is proving more difficult than I expected. Not ‘psychologically difficult’, or any such soft nonsense – it’s just that events seem to be conspiring to keep me here. Although my job finished last week, I was going to wait until today to move to Naha, because the weekend just gone was meant to be this island’s biggest festival of the year. However, a typhoon intervened, and the festival was postponed to next weekend, which means I am still on island, and will be for another week. Not having any particular commitments, it makes more sense to stay on island and get a bit more taiko practice in than to rush off to the mainland just because I’ve now got a flat there. On Thursday night, though, I am playing an acoustic set at a live house on the mainland with members of the ripping Okinawan metal band Tetsukabuto, so I’m going to move my stuff over on Thursday, then come back on Friday for some final taiko practice before the festival. On Monday – barring further typhoons / acts of God, I will leave the island properly, and move to the mainland.

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the distant, the beautiful

August 1, 2005

Look! There is new, free music at This time it’s a whole album of electronics by a thing called Sleepy Rabbit entitled “The Distant, The Beautiful”. I would recommend it for listening to as you cross silent sugarcane fields beneath the blazing white afternoon sun, or for watching cells quietly expand and divide in a dish of warm nutrients.

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biding my time

I have exactly a week left here, and I have caught the worst cold. Shivering in the 30 degree Okinawan summer humidity, and my voice is just the hissing sound of rattling husks. Packing can wait – for the time being am biding my time with vitamins, caffeine and basking on flat surfaces while my immune system deals with the intruders. It’s going to be a busy week – apart from preparing for leaving, I’m practicing taiko every evening, ill or not ill, for the year’s biggest festival at the weekend. Tomorrow, I’ll be walking round an uninhabited island. (cancelled at the last minute by my bosses. Balls.)

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