Archive for January, 2013

Nagisa Oshima: 1932 – 2013.

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Winston Saint takes a look at one of the Japanese film director’s greatest achievements – “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”.

Here.

Big Day Out in Kamakura

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Spent yesterday with Minako, Hugh Ashton, and John Talbot at Kamakura. We took the charmingly retro Enoshima Electric Railway (Enodoen) to Yuigahama station …

… and one of our destinations was the Kamakura Museum of Literature. This stately old building is part of literature itself, because it was featured in Yukio Mishima’s novel, “Spring Snow”.

Today, it houses the special exhibition “Japan’s Mystery Writers of the 20th Century”…

… and a show of photographs by an old friend, Yoshihiro Hagiwara.

A great day out was had by one and all!

“Voice of the Sword” – sample chapter

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NEW! Chapter 1 of the YA urban fantasy series, “Voice of the Sword!”

I HAVE TO WRITE IT DOWN. If I record what happened, the story becomes history, something safe, something we can learn from, and above all, something to remind me I’m still alive. The only question is where and when to start. Should it be when Susanoo killed the monster Orochi, at the beginning of time? When They- Who-Are-Hidden-By-The–Flames drew up their plans for the future of Japan? Or should it be with … Hideaki?
Yes, I think it should start with my boyfriend, Hideaki. Or maybe ex-boyfriend. And my name is Reiko, though the kids at school call me Rekijo. The History Girl.
So let’s start the story with Hideaki and I having a not-exactly-hot-date atvYanaka Cemetery,Tokyo.
Yanaka Cemetery has been a strange place for generations. It rests on a hill between Nishi-Nippori station and Ueno Park, a silent maze of ancient trees, stone lanterns, and wooden prayer sticks. In the summer, it’s more of a forest than a graveyard. Dragonflies hover above statues of Buddhist monks, pathways turn into leafy tunnels beneath thick elm branches, and the hypnotic drone of the cicadas shivers through the incense-heavy air from dawn to nightfall.
On that day, August 20th, Hideaki and I stood at the
cemetery gates, working up the courage to go inside. “Ready?” I asked.
Hideaki’s voice was flat but there was a weird look on his face.“Can’t you feel it?”
I hesitated.
“What? No. I don’t feel anything. Let’s just get it over with.”
Thinking about it now, everything came from that moment. The moment I lied to my boyfriend. Hideaki was right – there was an unpleasant, unreal edge to the stillness and quietness on the other side of the gates, but I refused to admit it. The Japanese name ‘Yanaka’ means ‘middle of the valley’, which is a good name for that place.The mid-point, where the world of concrete meets the world of the spirits.Where the neon meets the shadows.Where the living meet the dead.That day, we were already in the middle of the valley, even though we didn’t know what that meant, and the only thing to do was go forward.
Hideaki checked his mail one last time and put his smartphone back in his pocket. He looked fresh, even in the stifling, humid heat of mid-August Tokyo. His dyed spiky hair was even blonder in the bleaching sunlight, above his pale, compact face. He wore the baggy Tanizaki Twins T-shirt I liked, but I could have done without the tartan pants that clashed with everything else. My friends say he only wears things like that to see how far he can go. Maybe they’re right. There was something oversimplified about Hideaki, and that was something else I liked; when he made jokes in class, people thought he must be secretly clever, because only a clever kid could make jokes that stupid.
“Why did we have to get the spooky graveyard for summer homework?” he asked.
I shrugged and tried to look bored. “Mr.Akanuma said it was something to do with Tokyo’s cultural heritage. Pair up, go to the sites you’re given and make notes on what you find.”
“Yeah, but why did he give the Asakusa assignment to Chiaki?You can buy ice cream and hang out at Asakusa. It’s got …” he sniffed and looked around disdainfully. “Life.”
I gave him a smile and shrugged. He nudged me and pointed to the English-language signboards over to the left.

ANNOUNCEMENTS FROM YANAKA CEMETERY OFFICE
Every act that damages the sacredness of this cemetery is not allowed.
Do not enter another’s tomb without special permission
Do not stay overnight in this cemetery.

Hideaki was like, “Oh no! Reiko, we can’t stay overnight in the cemetery.We’ll have to party somewhere else.”
I smiled and joined in the joke. “Yup, we can’t go knocking on doors from tomb to tomb either.Where do you think we get that special permission from, anyway?”
He swept his stiff blond fringe over his eyes and hunched over, holding his arms out straight, shuffling his feet. “You must … ask… the dead…” he said in a deep, croaky voice. I hit him lightly with my tote bag.
We started walking. To the left and right graves stretched away, a man-made petrified forest beneath the boughs of elm, oak and cherry trees. Freshly cut flowers and half-burnt incense sticks stood in metal holders in front of some of the tombstones, but there was no sign of the people who left them there. Beyond the trees and the brick cemetery walls we could see the sloped roofs of cheap-looking two-storey houses. The residents had hung their futons out of the windows to air in the sunshine, the mattresses dangling limply like tongues lolling out of open mouths.
“You know how some kids dare each other to walk through a graveyard at night?” I said. “They’re all scared, but they’re trying to show they’re cool? Well, maybe it’s like that. Mr. Akanuma’s testing us to see how brave we are.”
Hideaki hid his smile but I could hear it in his voice. “Yeah, I wish they gave marks for bravery in the exam grades. He said there are over seven thousand graves in here – he could have given us a map.”
Mr. Akanuma had assigned a different site for each group to research for the summer homework – a Shinto shrine, a Buddhist temple, a hanging scroll in one of the museums – but for lucky Hideaki and I, it had been the tomb of Shinkai Kanemune, a sword-smith from Japan’s civil war period.
“The legends say that every Kanemune sword has an evil spirit inside it,” Mr. Akanuma had said with relish. “I’m not saying I believe in that, of course, but … it could make the homework more interesting. Part of your assignment is to go to the Kanemune tomb inYanaka cemetery, and make notes of the inscriptions you find on the stones. I think you’ll find them fascinating.”
“Oh, a cemetery, gross,” Hideaki had whispered to me in class.“What do we know about swords? Cursed or otherwise?”
“I know my grandpa likes falling asleep in front of the TV samurai dramas,” I whispered back. “Maybe I should ask him.”
“Not much point if he sleeps through them.”Then he turned and looked at me again, his eyes wide. “Oh, I get it! We got this because you’re the class Rekijo!”
I just shrugged. Yes, the Rekijo, the History Girl, a contraction of the Japanese words Rekishi (history) and Joshi (young girl) to make Rekijo.A young lady who’s a maniac for Japanese warlords, samurai, stories of bravery. Or that’s what the trendy magazines say; the truth is, the girls who call themselves Rekijo just watch the TV historical dramas to see which hot idol is playing the young Tokugawa or whatever. As for me? I just have a good memory for dates and names and places, I like a good story, and I’m kind of interested in the difference between life now and life then. It’s no big deal. I’m only half-Japanese, and I haven’t even been in Japan for most of my life. Some History Girl.
And here in the cemetery, we had more history than we could deal with. Gravestones with the names of the dead in ancient Kanji lettering. Buddhist saints with stone faces blackened with age and licked by moss. Modern Tokyo, our families, our school seemed to belong to a separate world, a world that we had forfeited by walking through the gates. Cemeteries weren’t exactly new to me; every year, for the three years I’d been back in Tokyo, I would visit the family plot in Iriya with Mom and Dad to clean the gravesite, offer fresh flowers, light incense, and say prayers for our ancestors. Japanese graveyards weren’t supposed to be scary, but even so …
Nope. I’m sorry, but every graveyard is scary.
Hideaki fidgeted with his hair and then suddenly grabbed me round the shoulders. He’s done that kind of thing before, but still – I couldn’t help flinching. “When I go,” he said, “I don’t want to go like this.”
“Like what.”
“Put in a jar and stuck underground.When I go, I want someone to take my ashes to the top of Mount Fuji, and scatter them from the top. My ashes will drift across the Pacific Ocean for, you know, forever.”
“Mount Fuji is nowhere near the ocean,” I told him.
“Yeah, well, some other mountain near the sea.” He gave me a weird look. “You’re not very romantic, you know that?”
“It’s kind of hard to be romantic when you’re standing in the middle of a cemetery.”
It wasn’t his fault. I was getting fed up with the heat, the unforgiving sunlight, the endless graves that stretched away in all directions with nothing to show who was buried where, and the headache-inducing drone of the cicadas.
“I got a mail from Shunsuke this morning,” I said, trying to change the subject.“The class council wants to put on a play for the School Festival. A new version of Cinderella.”
“What’s new about it?”
“They’re going to call it Junkorella.”
“After Junko the head girl? Oh, please.”
“Junko says it wasn’t her idea and she hates it, but nobody believes her. See, the story is that Junkorella lives in this big Tokyo housing complex with her …”
“Look, whatever. Let’s talk about something else. Junko will be going on about this all the time when term starts again, so … yeah.”
We walked up to an intersection of paths that crossed each other beneath a massive paulownia tree, and Hideaki stopped, mopping his face down with the towel-hanky slung around his neck. He waved at me to stop.
“Listen, Reiko,” he said, “maybe it’s best if we split up.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin.“What?”
“No, sorry, I mean … go our separate ways. No, wait! Don’t hit me! I mean, search in different directions. You go that way and look for the tomb, I’ll go this way, and we meet up again in an hour!”
“You did that deliberately, didn’t you?” Despite myself, I was starting to laugh.That’s the thing about Hideaki; you couldn’t get angry with him. Not for long.
“It’s too hot to walk around here all day,” Hideaki said,“and we’ve got more chance of finding this thing if we go in different directions. So let’s scoot through the place as quick as we can, then go shopping in Shibuya.”
I looked around. I wasn’t too happy about it, but I knew he was right. “Okay. But I can’t take an hour of this.”
“Forty-five minutes?”
“Forty minutes.And the ice creams are on you.” “Done.”
Walking away, I looked over my shoulder and saw him under the trees, giving me a broad smile. He waved and turned away into the undergrowth.
That was the last time I saw the Hideaki I used to know.

Available here.

“Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” – Sample Chapter

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Dr. Hall blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision. He became aware of his own body – he was sitting on the cold stone floor, his back against a pillar, one leg crooked painfully beneath the other.A white circle dabbed with black bobs swam in front of him, then began to resolve into a face …
But not a human face. Surely the face of a statue, a grotesque sculpture – a death mask …
And then the face opened its mouth and spoke. Dr. Hall could not help himself; he screamed in sheer terror.
“Forgive the rudeness of my entrance, sir,” continued the soft voice,“and permit me to introduce myself.”
The Dean lowered his shaking fingers, daring to look at the four nightmarish figures standing over him. Surely they were not human; they were specters from the delirious visions of Archbishop Blake, fallen angels from Milton’s Paradise Lost come to gloat over human frailty.
The figure who had spoken stood in front of him in a long riding coat of olive green. His face was pale and slender, but thick black goggles covered his eyes, and his shaven scalp was crowned with an extraordinary affair of wire tendrils in place of hair, that were beaded with tiny round pellets of metal. Hall could see the livid red scars around the skullcap over his head, and realized with a sick feeling that the device was bolted onto the man’s skull.
Equally astonishing was that one of the attackers with him was a woman. She wore a drab workmaid’s dress and bonnet, and stared at Hall with undisguised hatred. Her features, Hall noticed in his confusion, could almost be attractive – if not for the pockmarks scarring the left side of her face, the relics of an old, nameless disease.
Just behind this woman stood a freakish individual whose entire head was enclosed within a wooden box, three glass lenses jutting out of the front. A huge, billowing cloak concealed the rest of his body, except for two painfully thin legs and the sharp metal tip of some kind of walking stick.
But the most uncommonly dreadful figure of all stood in front of the chapel’s Apprentice Pillar. It towered above its three comrades, almost seven feet tall, encased in a leather and plate metal suit that recalled the armor of the ancient knights. Its head was a bulbous, reddish iron globe with a grill in its centre – and behind the metal bars, Hall could make out a pair of human eyes, glitter- ing with unmistakable suffering and rage.
Hall tried to speak, but only croaking noises came from his throat.
“He’s thinking of Paradise Lost.” Although it was the young woman who spoke, the voice was of someone much older – the scratchy, creaking voice of an old crone.
“That’s a good one!” said the wire-headed man.“That poem is one of my favorites. But actually, sir, we are not angels, we are not devils …”
He leant down and grabbed the Dean’s chin.
“But we are not exactly men and women. Not any more.” He pulled the Dean to his feet. Hall coughed, almost doubling up in pain. When he lifted his hand to his mouth, it came away dabbed with fresh, bright blood.
“What are you?” he managed to utter.
The creature gazed at Hall with his twin black lenses, and a thin smile flickered across his lips.“I am one despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” he sighed.When he spoke, the thin strands of metal shook with the slight movements of his head.
Hall immediately recognized the quotation: Isaiah 53:3.“You are soiling the good word of the Scriptures,” he said, with effort. The thing grimaced and shrugged. “Well, let me put it in other words. I am not simply a man of sorrows. I have renounced my former name and titled myself the Squire of Sorrows, your Grace. I am so well acquainted with the pain of the world, not simply suffering it …” he looked down at Hall and leered,“but also giving it.”
“What are you doing here? Why this violence?”
The Squire waved an arm to indicate the chapel around them. “We have been sent, your Grace, to take that which has been buried here for centuries. For now, you see, the time has come for that treasure to see the cold light of day.The bold cold light of day.”
“Never!” Hall cried.“I’ll never tell you where it is.”
The Squire began to laugh. “Tell us? My dear sir, you won’t have to.We know where it is.”
The metal giant suddenly clanked forward and reached out with its brutish arm. Hall flinched away, but the gauntlet caught him painfully by the shoulder and pulled him forward. Hall yelped in pain, but could not help being dragged across the nave, the three other demons following him, as they entered the place he and Sutherland had tried to protect.
“Rosslyn Chapel is not exactly a chapel,” the Squire said, indicating the profusion of carvings on the walls and pillars sur- rounding them. “It is more like a book – no, an entire library – carved out in stone. Words, ideas, pictures …” he pointed upwards,to the roof. “And music.”
Hall didn’t have to follow the Squire’s gesture. He had hoped that they had come for something else, for gold, for silver, even out of misguided religious bigotry. But no; they knew of the secret, and they had come to collect it.
The woman reached down and roughly grasped Hall’s chin, jerking his face upwards. He was forced to look at the roof of the Lady Chapel, and the dominant feature that outsiders had puzzled over for centuries – the hundreds of small stone cubes carved into the ceiling, emerging from musical instruments played by angels running along the top of the pillars. On each of the exposed faces, the cubes carried tiny, delicate patterns.
“Now, sir, the average person might wonder, how could those odd little things have any relationship to a secret key? Or how could they be used to hide something important? The answer is, as I said, this is not architecture. This is music. Music, frozen in time and space, and made solid in stone. A lock that can be charmed open by the right notes. Have you heard of the Music of the Spheres?”
Hall refused to answer, and the giant shook him until his teeth clacked together.“Yes!” he spat.“Of course I have!”
“I think Cicero put it best, when he wrote the fable Somnium Scipionis,” the Squire continued. He put out his arms in a gesture encompassing the whole of the chapel.“Cicero wrote that every planet, every star, every moon in the sky sings as it moves on its circular path through the heavens, filling the void with the most perfectly beautiful music. We mere humans, our ears are filled with the sound, but we cannot hear it.We have been deafened by the roar of this petty world, the shouting, the laughing, the rumble of carriages.”
The Dean moaned.
“What we have forgotten, you see, is the human body is also part of this music.The body is a musical instrument – and it can be played, by someone who knows the tune. Music mundana becomes music humana.”
The Squire opened the collar of his coat, and Hall could now see a thick leather band around the man’s throat – with a short metal tube positioned at the front.The man’s hands reached up to gently touch two levers on either side of the tube.
“Music humana, your grace. Otherwise known as sympathetic resonant frequencies. Allow me to play for you.”
The Squire turned to look up at the roof of the Lady Chapel, and with his fingers on his throat, he opened his mouth and be- gan to sing – just one long, single, extended note.
The sound made Hall feel even more nauseous. His teeth were on edge, and his ears burned as the sound penetrated his head like an iron spike.The glass of the stained glass windows vibrated in complaint.
As Hall fought to keep his eyes open, he saw the wire tendrils on the Squire’s head, beginning to rise, until they extended out in perfectly straight lines, surrounding his singing face like a glittering sunburst.
When Hall thought he could bear the sound no more, a dreadful, deep crack echoed through the whole building, breaking through the Squire’s unearthly song.The floor of the Lady Chapel had split in two.The tiles retreated, sliding back into the walls, and from the charcoal-black hollow beneath, the sound of grinding clockwork gears rattled and clanged, as a dark wooden chest, roughly the size of a man’s head and ornately carved with archaic symbols, rose slowly into view on a brass platform.
“No!” cried Hall, his eyes almost bulging out of his skull, as the Squire closed his mouth and brought the dreadful sound to an end. He struggled in the grip of the iron titan behind him, but it was no use; the creature was as immovable as the stone angels that populated the walls. “No, for God’s sake, you don’t know what you’re dealing with!”

Like to read more? You can find it here …

Brighton Photo Album Volume 2

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The Royal Pavilion, the former seaside residence of England’s crowned heads, built between 1787-1811.

Brighton Palace Pier, built between 1891 and 1899.

A pub with an intriguing name – “The Mesmerist”.

This strange Steampunk-esque vessel stood just inside the front gates of Brighton’s Sea Life aquarium – one of Captain Nemo’s prototypes?

Brighton Photo Album – Volume 1

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Enclosed are some shots taken from the venerable Victorian city of Brighton, December 2012.

The exterior of the Grand Hotel, built in 1864, with modern Christmas illuminations.


The interior staircases of the Grand Hotel.

A couple of sketches and paintings of Victorian scenes; I recognized some as being from the Crystal palace, opened in 1851.

More tomorrow!

Steam Days

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On Boxing Day, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting some friends of my sister, who own their very own personal steam traction engine. Their names are John and Sylvie Mann of Hardwick, Cambridge, and they belong to the Bedford Steam Engine Preservation Society. Here is a shot (taken from a greeting card they had printed) of their engine.

Below are some paintings they had commissioned of machines from the steam age. I do apologize for the quality, because it was a bit dark in there (they only had the Christmas lights on). Bonus points, however, for the fact that the paintings were done by an itinerant artist who goes by the name of “The Crowman”.

More details can be found on the website – here.

Happy New 2013!

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A very happy New Year to all readers! I’ve been away in Cambridge, London and Brighton (see pic below, of the Victoria Memorial). Now I’m back, watch out for a major revamp of this website – coming soon!

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