It has now been over 18 months since Steve released his photographic book, ‘through a quiet window’. It was an incredibly exciting time for those of us who had long wished for him to publish his photos. However, the fact that it is only available to purchase via artes publishing, has meant that there has been little mention of it, outside of the JAPAN FB pages and forums, which is such a shame, as it deserves a much, much wider audience. Here’s a review from ‘moving the river’ blog. If anyone has seen the book reviewed or discussed elsewhere, it would be great to know.
Mick Karn and David Sylvian, Stanhope Gardens, London, 1981
Ringo Starr was once asked: What do you remember about recording Sgt Pepper’s? His reply? ‘I learnt how to play chess on that album.’ Not to do Ringo down at all – he’s the reason this writer picked up the drum sticks – but the line does say something about the sometimes tedious nature of recording in the era of multi-tracking. The drummer may have laid down all his parts in the first week of a project, so he or she had better have a Plan B for when the rest of the band are tinkering endlessly.
Japan drummer Steve Jansen didn’t learn chess but he did use his time very productively while the band recorded their masterpieces, Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum; he developed his formidable photography skills, and now his work has been collected in a…
The Japanese edition of Anthony Reynolds’ beautifully researched, written and designed biography of the group Japan focusing on 1974-1984 has now gone to press!
Our friends at Shinko in Tokyo will be receiving finished copies back from the printer soon, and they will be available to order by the end of May. We’ll have a better image plus some insides to show you once we receive our advances.
The UK paperback (Japan – A Foreign Place: The Biography 1974-1984, published by Burning Shed) is of course available now.
18 months ago, when Steve released his book of photographs, ‘through a quiet window’, he kindly took some time to answer a plethora of questions, for this here blog. Alongside chatting about how the idea of the book came about, and his life-long interest in photography, he also went into incredible detail about how the images chosen for the book, were digitised, scanned and ‘dust-busted’, before finally seeing the light of day.
It was a long and laborious process, but one which he was not unfamiliar with, as he goes through a similar procedure, each time he sells a new print, via his ‘imageshop’. As he is keen to ensure that the images he sells to fan are of the best possible quality, Steve relies on the services of a professional print lab, who produce test-prints of the selected photograph. If all goes well, only one test is required, but sometimes additional adjustments are required. Only then, will the image be printed and mounted, ready to be sent out to its new owner.
Fortunately for us, Steve occasionally has a bit of a clear-out at Jansen Towers and offers these test-prints for sale, at incredibly affordable prices. This week, 9 such prints have appeared, and are currently available on eBay. The images on offer include some which will be familiar to most, but there are some other, previously unseen shots, which have caused a bit of stir – not least these 2 photographs of Steve & Richard in a cafe, overlooking the Ginza 4-Chome crossing in 1983.
These will now only be available for a couple of days, so head over to eBay if you fancy bagging one for your wall. (It is worth mentioning that Steve sells ltd. edition prints for £150, and a couple of these test-prints are already heading towards that figure. In which case, you are actually better just buying direct from his ‘imageshop’.)
Two and a half years ago, when I first started writing this blog, the former members of the band once known as JAPAN, were barely visible to their remaining fan-base. Steve intermittently uploaded photos and answered the odd question or two, on his ‘sleepyard’ page; David seemed to come and go on his FB page, with just occasional posts, here and there; Richard had a FB page and website, both of which seemed inactive, and Rob had a personal account on FB. There were, of course, official websites for both Steve & David, where news of releases and forthcoming projects would be announced, but it was all done rather formally and there was, seemingly, little chance for interaction with them, as individuals.
My, how times have changed!
Like the proverbial London buses, it felt as if Steve, Richard and Robert were just waiting for one of the others to make a move, before they all eventually decided to turn up at once. Firstly, Steve started posting far more frequently on ‘sleepyard’, and he suddenly seemed inundated with hundred of questions – some of them frankly quite bizarre – which he duly answered with good humour. He then appeared officially on Facebook, at exactly the same time as Richard re-jigged his own account, and they both started interacting more with their fans. Rob and Richard then joined a couple of the fan-run Facebook sites – namely Paul Rymer’s ‘NIGHTPORTER’, ‘TMK’ – and the ‘JAPAN’ page, run by the northern, comedy double-act of Hamlin & Carter.
Now, it feels like hardly a day goes by, without a new nugget of information, an amusing anecdote, or a never-before-seen photo being released to the waiting world, by one of them. And, it is quite frankly, wonderful. However, those people who choose to avoid the murky world of Zuckerbergland, are definitely missing out on a whole slew of goodies.
Richard, in particular, has been instrumental in releasing some incredible photographs, from his own collection – informal shots of his friends, just hanging around together; on tour, backstage, in Ryokans, outtakes from photoshoots – you name it, he has shared it. So, in response to a request from Seymen, and with Richard’s permission, I thought it would be good to share some of these fantastic photos with you here.
Now, I know that the minute a photograph gets published on the ‘net, it is shared and shared, to within an inch of its life, on tumblr, instagram, FB – all I ask is, if you do share any of these photos, please credit them to Richard Barbieri, as they are all from his own private collection. Thank you.
Steve Jansen: “I bumped into Mr Barbieri the other day (while he was having a day off from his usual circle of friends) and he showed me a collection of transparencies by Fin Costello and one of them was of my drum kit taken from the front, I think. Maybe ask him if he would kindly scan and post it online as part of his amusing library of snaps? To be honest, he does keep boasting that he’s taken some good photos of me but I never see them.” sleepyard 03/02/2017
Richard Barbieri: “Until Steve J admits that I have at least taken one good photo of him – namely the snooker room photo in Hiroshima that Victoria now has – I shall be withholding the drum photograph.”jansenphotographyblog 19/03/2017.
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
Well, I can indeed confirm that the photo of Steve with the snooker cue is fantastic – and those of you who have a copy of “JAPAN – A Foreign Place” will be familiar with the image, as it is published there. However, there are other photos, of Mr Jansen, taken by Richard, which are equally as good.
Like this one……. 😉
JAPAN were a much photographed band. We are so used to seeing their polished and perfect poise, in the formal photoshoots which appeared in so many magazines, and on record covers, that it warms the cockles of my heart, to see these lovely, informal images, of friends – just hanging out with each other. Whilst it is great to see the un-posed photos of them in restaurants and mucking about backstage, I am constantly fascinated by glimpses of them in recording studios. Steve has released quite a few from the ‘tin drum’ recording sessions, as well as JBK at Foel Studios – and thankfully, Richard seemed to take a fair number of photos during the Rain Tree Crow project.
Steve playing the big wheel
Mick plays, Steve & David listen
“Don’t press that button, Mick!”
Waiting for i-phones to be invented
These are only a handful of the images that Richard has shared with us, on the FB pages, over the last few months. There are many more, which I don’t have room for – and judging from his reputation as a mass-hoarder, I can only assume that there are many, many more to yet surface. So, my advice to those of you, who are not on Facebook is this – come and join us. You won’t regret it.
Many, many thank to Richard Barbieri for sharing these images and for permission to publish them here.
Those of you who do not use Facebook, will have missed this new photograph of Mick. Steve very kindly provided this previously unseen image, for the TMK ‘i’ll be here dreaming’ event, which is held every year to mark the occasion of Mick’s passing.
Richard, Rob & Debi Zornes also shared some of their private photos and memories of Mick.
As I type this, the sun is setting on a beautiful winter-solstice evening and it feels like I can start to look ahead to the new year and wonder at what the coming months may bring. As is appropriate at the year’s end, I thought it wise to cast an eye back over the previous 12 months and assess all the good things 2016 brought us. For, in between the seemingly endless stream of grim news, and the loss of artists who shaped our formative years and sound-tracked some of the most important moments of our lives, there have also been some moments of pure joy – well, for me at least. I hope for you too.
If 2015 was the Year of the Retrospective (think ‘through a quiet window’, ‘hypergraphia’, ‘japan – a foreign place’, ‘lumen’, Mick’s back-catalogue on vinyl, re-mastered ‘stone to flesh’, etc etc), then 2016 has been all about new releases and some rather marvellous live experiences. However, in this household, it shall forever be known as the Year of the Signed Items.
Live stuff: 2016 started in a pretty shoddy fashion, I think we can all agree. I don’t want to dwell on the constant losses we seemed to face, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the passing of the man who possibly had the greatest impact on our generation (and by “our”, I imagine that would include pretty much everyone who loves music) Without Bowie, I cannot imagine what the music scene of the mid 70s-80s would have sounded and looked like. Can you? You didn’t even need to be a fan, for him to have an impact. He was just there. So, January dealt a blow that many people I know, are yet to recover from.
However, January also happened to be the month when I had one of the most joyful and, quite frankly, surreal days of my life. For, on a damp Thursday afternoon, in a re-vamped church in an old Yorkshire mill-town, I witnessed Richard Barbieri delivering a masterclass to a group of music students, and a few dozen grizzled old fans. It was the most wonderful of experiences, with Richard gleefully describing how songs such as ‘visions of china’ and ‘life in tokyo’ had been created, in between playing tracks from his solo albums, and giving us some sneak previews of the material he was currently working on. He was charming, witty and amenable – so much so, he ended up coming to the pub with around 15 of us, chatting away and regaling us with some of his more hilarious Japan-era tales. Like I said; surreal. And, this was not the only performance he gave; with similar masterclass-style shows taking place in Southampton and Sweden, and culminating in his 3 appearances at the 7th Wave festival in Birmingham, which I wrote about last month. For a group of fans starved of the sight and sounds of our favourite musicians, these events were truly wonderful.
Steve also came of out hibernation in August, to perform a couple of shows in Kyoto alongside some of the musicians who had contributed to 2015’s beautifully unique ALMA project; ‘music for a dying star’. Having visited Kyoto myself for the first time only a few weeks earlier, I was absolutely gutted to have missed the opportunity of seeing these concerts, but my lovely friend Keiko Kurata was fortunate enough to attend both of the shows and kept me in the loop with all that I had missed. Steve also joined long-time friend, and frequent collaborator, Yukihiro Takahashi onstage at the World Happiness festival, with Meta 5.
Richard has already announced further dates in Birmingham, Exeter and London (in March 2017) with the promise of more to follow; and Steve has suggested the possibility of his new collaborative-project, Exit North, playing some live dates; so already 2017 is looking bloody marvellous to me.
Recorded stuff: Onto the actual music then. And where else can we start but with the release of Steve’s long-awaited 2nd solo album, ‘tender extinction? Initially only available on CD or digital download, the vinylcoholics amongst us were thrilled when it was announced that a 180gm double vinyl version was on the cards; (and yes, I think I may have just made up a new word?) Much has been written here about ‘tender extinction’, most notably by Shane McElligott (see link below) but suffice to say, it yielded two of my favourite tracks of the year, with the achingly beautiful ‘her distance’, and the hypnotically addictive ‘give yourself a name’.
Steve creates the most sublime of soundscapes; I don’t want my music to be ‘easy’, I want to explore and discover new layers, with each listen. I’ve said it before I know, but it bears repeating so; in a perfect world, (the one where my place is queen and everyone does as I command), Steve’s next move would be to release instrumental versions of ‘slope’ and ‘tender extinction’, as a double CD and exquisitely packaged. I shouldn’t complain though, as Steve has indeed released 2 additional tracks this year, which fulfilled my wishes absolutely. STER1 & STER2 were quietly put out into the world, via Steve’s bandcamp page, and are pieces of intricate, discordant beauty. If you haven’t already done so, check them out.
Speaking of bandcamp, were you lucky enough to get your hands on the other ‘new’ release of the year? I am referring (of course) to ‘breakable moons’. 10 whole inches of JBK loveliness; all swirly-vinyl and evocative imagery, it was limited to only 250 copies. Containing out-takes from the ‘_ism’ sessions, it gave us the one thing many of us had long hoped-for and didn’t really think we would ever get – some new JBK tracks. Wonderful.
Over the last week, we have been teased and prodded with snippets of lush sound and imagery from Richard’s new album, ‘planets & persona’ due for release on 03/03/2017. KScope released this montage and announced that pre-orders were now being taken for the vinyl and CD. Marvellous.
Signed stuff: Did you also clock all those signed CDs which Steve & Richard made available this year? As I said, 2016 will definitely go down as the Year of The Signed Item for me. The photo at the top of the page shows just how many bits I ended up getting a Jansen and/or Barbieri squiggle on. Steve & Rich had seemingly been clearing out their respective closets and decided to sell-off the last remaining stock from the old ‘medium’ days. Of course, being ridiculously generous types, they agreed to sign all the CDs and flog them on bandcamp for incredibly low prices (some of the CDs had been selling on ebay for 4 times the amount they charged) As if this were not enough, they also chucked in the footage of JBK which was filmed at the Astoria, which had never officially seen the light-of-day. It was like manna from heaven.
Steve also offered signed copies of ‘slope’ and ‘tender extinction’ (both vinyl and CD) and at Richard’s live shows, he was happy to chat with people afterwards and sign their goodies; so for those fans who like their items to have a more personal touch, it was a win-win.
And then, there were the auctions. Oh my. Suddenly, a whole host of unique memorabilia was on offer – all from the personal collection of Richard, and with a couple of Steve’s items thrown in for good measure. We had the opportunity to purchase test-pressings, signed promo photos & records, items of clothing, tour-passes and itineraries….the list was endless. It was a lot of fun, even if most of the items ended up going for silly money – and the best part was that all the funds raised went towards the costs of releasing new music.
I think 2016 will be a difficult one to look back on, because it was such a tumultuous year. Time to turn our focus away from the past few months and to start looking ahead.We already know that there is much to look forward to in 2017 – most notably from Richard Barbieri, with the release of ‘planets & persona’ and the already announced March shows. Who knows what else may follow……keep your eyes peeled, folks. It’s going to be a good one.
Two weeks ago, I witnessed something I never, ever thought I would see – and doubt I, or anyone else, shall ever see again. I actually saw (and heard, obviously) Richard Barbieri sing in public.
Yup, you read that right. Richard. Barbieri. Sang. In. Public.
Those of you who have followed Richard’s career, from the fledgling days of Japan, right up to his current incarnation of Most Accessible Musician Ever™ will be aware that this is not something he does often. At all, in fact.
Last year, someone asked Steve on his ‘sleepyard’ blog about this and his answer was pretty clear:
Did Richard ever sing on anything??¿
Not since turning professional !
So, for those of us lucky enough to get tickets for Richard’s sold-out shows in Birmingham this weekend, we witnessed something truly momentous. However, allow me to give you some context for this momentous occasion. This wasn’t actually Mr B belting out an acapella rendition of ‘Catch The Fall’ or ‘Cantonese Boy’; it was him merely singing a rather sweet and amusing version of ‘Happy Birthday’, to Tin Drum. Aaaaahhhhh.
For, on the very same day, exactly three and a half decades ago, that most masterful of Japan albums was released. Blimey.
How old do you feel, now?
35 years ago, I was a mere slip of a gal, but I was interested enough in Japan to have rushed out and bought Tin Drum when it still came replete with that gorgeous poster – and I had secured tickets to see their ‘Visions of China’ tour, at Lancaster University, the following month. Japan were finally finding favour in their home country, after years of trying and being unfairly maligned and mocked by the pompous British music press – and as Hansa tussled with Virgin for the glory of finally getting the band’s music into the Top 30, they once again confounded expectations by turning their backs on the lush and over-orchestrated sounds of Quiet Life and Gentlemen Take Polaroids, by releasing an album which fused sparse electronic elements with traditional instrumentation.
Tin Drum was a jaw-dropping release, at the time. Nothing else sounded like it, and as Richard quite rightly stated a couple of Sundays ago, nothing has sounded like it since. Which is odd really, isn’t it? He spoke at length about how they developed the sounds for the album, with Mick and Steve building up the rhythm-parts, whilst he and David programmed the synths. An album with such an obvious sound, which has been an inspiration to so many other bands over the years, and yet no-one has ever tried to replicate or reproduce most of those sounds.
And so, a mere 35 years later, I once again find myself sitting in a room, listening to one of the men who sound-tracked my teenage years, talking about his life and career – and singing ‘Happy birthday’ to one of his finest creations. It was slightly surreal, if I am honest. Even more so, when he appeared on stage, resplendent in an ABBA t-shirt and uttered the words; “knowing me, Richard Barbieri; knowing you, the audience. A-ha!”
Richard’s recent outings, where he has introduced the audience to snippets of his new material, explained how he constructs his pieces, and chatted informally about his extensive career in music, are an absolute joy to attend. You don’t have to be a synth geek to get it, you just have to have an appreciation for the music. I have no idea what a flange is, nor can I tell a Roland V-Synth from a Moog Micromoog (and yes, I did have to just look those up) but watching & listening to him explain how he layers sound upon sound, working his magic upon samples which he seemingly turns inside out and upside down, to create the most atmospheric of soundscapes, is simply fascinating to me.
We were played some tantalising new pieces, from his up-coming ‘planets and persona’ album (due for release in March 2017) and a spine-tingling version of The Experience of Swimming, which pretty much floored the whole room. Richard also answered a series of questions from the audience, with good humour and grace, and regaled us with the story of the ‘C-shite minor’ (or was it major?) chord.
There are apparently plans in place for a series of shows throughout 2017; with additional musicians from the new album being added to different bills, so each show will be unique – and tickets for the Birmingham dates in March (with the wonderful Grice) are already selling like the proverbial hot-cakes. Go and see him. You know you want to.
With thanks to Debi Zornes for the photo of Richard in Birmingham.
Prints of Steve Jansen’s photos are available to buy, directly from his website.
One of the absolutely best bits about writing this blog over the last couple of years, has been trying to think up amusing and relevant titles for each post. Of course, the main aim of the blog, was always to luxuriate in an array of Steve’s photos, but the bonus was mulling over the content and trying to link it to a Jansen/Japan related song title, where possible. The only rule I ever set down for myself was that I would never, ever, EVER use ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, (or any variant of that over-used song title), as it was just too obvious. Growing up as a teenaged-Japan fan, back in the early 80s, every magazine article used cliched and lazy headings, which always annoyed me; “Cantonese Boys”, “Looking for a Quiet Life”, “Turning Japanese” etc etc etc. I always thought I could do better, and I sincerely hope that I have done. Sometimes, the subject matter, or the slant I choose to take when discussing Steve’s photos, immediately suggests a title; other times it can create a bit of brain-freeze and I have to call upon the help of my trusty sidekicks for inspiration. There have been a couple of times when I have laughed myself silly when a title has popped into my head, but I don’t always use those ones – I think my favourite ‘one that got away’ was when I wrote a piece about Steve’s early forays into photography, and the inspiration and support he found in Fin Costello. As hilarious as I thought it was, I wasn’t quite sure everyone else would get the reference, had I titled it ‘A Batt & Costello’.
I still laugh at that, though.
There have been a couple of ones which I wish I had thought longer and harder about. Last year, I wrote a piece about Steve’s preference for his Canon A-1, but also included shots taken with a range of other cameras. It was called ‘Optical Alternatives’ which works – sort of. The following day, I kicked myself when I realised I should have called it ‘Camera Obscura Alternatives’. …but then, hindsight is a wonderful thing, innit? My absolute favourite though, which did make it, was one which popped into my head whilst I was reading a post Mischa had written, about the infamous 1982 Zig Zag interview and photo session with Mick & Steve; what else could it be called, other than ‘Beginning to Meltdown’?
So, all of this is a rather roundabout way of explaining the glaringly obvious title of today’s post. The minute I saw the photos that Steve recently posted on his ‘sleepyard’ blog, it sprang straight to mind. It is possibly the least creative and laziest caption yet, but it absolutely sums up the images and it brought to mind some strange idiosyncrasies that I had noticed on my recent trip to Japan.
I have no idea if this is the same for young people these days, but for those of us who came of age in the 1970s/80s, Japan seemed like country from another planet; a planet from the future where people lived a completely different existence to ours. We would watch TV programmes like Tomorrow’s World, where they would showcase the new technologies, and our minds would be filled with images of bullet trains whizzing past Mt Fuji at incredible speeds, looking like something out of Space 1999; we were told of magic, spinning-discs which held hours of music, and would still play after a full cycle in the dishwasher – and they would never scratch, regardless of what you did to them (lying bastards!) Japan seemed to come up with every new, hi-tech invention; CDs, Polaroid cameras, robots, capsule hotels – it all seemed incredibly glamorous and not that far removed from science fiction. In my imagination, the country was full of cities which were shiny and white and clean and immaculate and a little bit scary. Fast-forward 35 years and I finally find myself wandering the streets of Tokyo with my friends, and beyond the obvious, “blimey, it’s a bit humid and aren’t there a lot of people” observations we made to each other, the one thing that seemed to occupy our middle-aged brains more than anything else was; “oh, aren’t there a lot of wires everywhere, and doesn’t it look a bit – erm – untidy?” Over a few glasses of Asahi, we decided it was probably something to do with the risk of earthquakes, but we never quite got over the sight of seemingly dozens & dozens of random wires, tangled and snarled, snaking from building to building, across alleyways and roads.
This was not the slick and sleek world we were expecting. In fact, on the original ‘sleepyard’ post, someone from Chile commented that he too was surprised to see such a sight in ” a first-world country”. It really does seem to be completely out of synch with our view of such a technologically advanced country, doesn’t it? It isn’t just Tokyo, either. I took similar photos in Kyoto. Steve also explained that images of “Tokyo power lines were the inspiration for the ‘Lumen’ vinyl cover. It’s a very familiar sight if you’re not too busy dodging people to look up.”
The theme of combining Japan-related song and album titles with photography, is one which is in full flow on Paul Rymer’s ‘Nightporter’ fb page at the moment. If you aren’t a member, I would encourage you to nip over there and join, as there is rather hilarious competition running at present – Richard Barbieri has been having a bit of a clear-out and has some spare photographs he is offering as prizes, for the most creative and amusing photographs, inspired by Japan songs. There have been some great entries so far (I like to think that mine have been particularly marvellous. Obviously) but the more the merrier. The rules are simple; the photos must be your own work and they must have been inspired by a song or album title – it can be Japan or any solo effort. Pop over to the ‘Nightporter’ page for more details…….
It’s all been a bit quiet on the blog of late, hasn’t it? In fact, it’s been a lot quiet (not sure that is grammatically correct, but I’m going with it as it seems to work) and I place the blame for that firmly at the feet of a certain Mr Jansen. Since he bowed to public pressure, and finally released his beautiful wee tome of photography last year, the thrill of seeing new photos and discovering treasured snippets of background information about certain shots, has pretty much gone out of the (quiet) window. Now, don’t get me wrong; I was one of the people calling for the book to see the light of day, and I am completely thrilled that it has finally been published; but its appearance has somewhat robbed me of my momentum for this blog.
However, all is not lost and over the last few days, Steve has posted some beautifully intriguing shots from his recent trip to Japan – where he appeared alongside his old mucker, Yukihiro Takahashi, at the World Happiness concert in Tokyo, before heading on to Kyoto to perform a brace of concerts at the Okazaki Loops orchestral event – ‘Music For A Dying Star’. Held over 2 consecutive days, the concerts featured Steve playing his own composition ‘the blossoms close at sunset’, as well as accompanying a range of musicians (but NOT Masakatsu Takagi, as it turns out – oops!) on their own pieces from the ALMA Music Box project.
Steve’s return to form on his ‘sleepyard’ blog this week has given me the much-needed impetus to crack on and breath some life back into this old girl; and so it seems as if now is as good a time as any to continue where I last left off, and complete the travelogue about my own trip to Japan, earlier this year. For, our next stop, was indeed, the magnificent city of Kyoto.
We left Osaka still on a high from our meeting with Keiko (and her gloriously grumpy dog, TT) and boarded yet another Shinkansen for the short trip to the “heart of Japan’s ancient culture”™, as every guide book on the planet seems to refer to it. We had booked a ‘traditional’ house for 3 days, and were a bit giddy at the prospect of having our own space to relax and unwind. Finding it though, was akin to Indiana Jones’ search for the Ark of the Covenant, as our ridiculous attempts at Japanese, coupled with our taxi driver’s inability to understand the detailed map and instructions written in his mother-tongue, (which had been provided by the Japanese owners) meant we drove around the maze of tiny backstreets, for ages. However, we finally arrived and once we had got our bearings, realised that we were within walking distance of some of the most amazing sites we have ever seen.
Kyoto is an astonishing city. After spending 3 days there, I am now pretty certain that it is possible to expire from ‘temple fatigue’; every street seems to have a least one, if not more, hidden Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, practically one on every corner. We had been advised to visit one of the famous ‘blood temples’, so-called because the wooden beams in their ceilings are stained with the blood of the garrisoned troops of Fushimi castle, who committed sepukku some 400 years ago. The floor-boards were removed from the destroyed castle and preserved, later being incorporated into the ceilings of 7 temples across Kyoto. We visited one of the temples, only to find that the main hall was closed, for renovation work. We did try to glimpse inside and take a couple of cheeky shots of the roof beams but we to no avail. Bugger.
However, the temples we did manage to visit were so mind-staggeringly beautiful, that all was not lost. We walked up the 4km pathway to the summit of Inari-yama, which was lined with hundreds of red torii gates, passing by umpteen graveyards and miniature shrines, along the way. We relaxed in the zen gardens of Tenryu-ji, before heading into the cool shade of the bamboo forest. A night-time walk into Gion lead us to the beautiful oasis of calm of Yasaka Shrine, its floodlit gateway dominating the horizon as we walked up Shijō-dōri (Fourth Avenue).
Kyoto, and Gion in particular, comes alive at night. We walked along the river, glimpsing into the vast array of restaurants and bars, desperately hoping for a sneeky-peek into the seductive and secretive world of the city’s famous Geiko culture. We had been told that we were unlikely to see geisha simply walking around in the streets, but just wandering around the small backstreets and knowing that we were passing through the historical geiko-district, was thrill enough.
On our last full day in Kyoto, we headed north on the train out of the city, to Arashiyama; home to the famous bamboo forest and some of the tamest monkeys on the planet. More temples and shrines, more noodles and beer, and another day being slightly mind-blown by the absolute beauty of the area. The bamboo forest proved to be a cool and welcome break from the fierce heat; it was 29 degrees and 90% humidity. I must confess, whilst I was walking beneath the towering canes (more like trunks, such was their size) I had one of those moments of pure and absolute bliss. Here I finally was, after some 34 years of longing, walking through scenery which had always felt so familiar, yet so very distant. Snippets of music buzzed around in my mind; ‘forbidden colours’ and ‘a foreign place’, tinkling and shimmering in the green haze; the perfect aural accompaniment to the amazing landscape.
I am still a bit peeved at having missed seeing Steve perform in Kyoto, by a matter of weeks, but nothing could dampen my enthusiasm for the experience I had whilst visiting this most beautifully cultured of cities. It feels as if I merely scratched the surface and I hope that I will the chance to dig a bit deeper into the history & culture, on another visit in the not too distant future.
Many thanks to Keiko Kurata for the photo of Steve at the Okazaki Loops concert.
Steve publishes his photos and answers questions here: