Alex Kerr is a well-known Japanologist and writer. He’s an expert on Japanese art and culture and the author of numerous books, including Lost Japan, a book I highly recommend.
There’s an interesting backstory behind the first few photos below, explaining why the Joshoko-ji Temple in northern Kyoto is a must-see attraction. . .
When Emperor Gomizuno-o visited this temple in the 17th century, he thought the cherry tree was so beautiful he ordered his palanquin to turn back so he could see it again. Since that time, it’s been known as the “Returning palanquin cherry tree”. It’s now a national treasure.
And in full bloom . . .
Below are five photos Alex took in Kameoka, a city in Kyoto Prefecture.
Alfie Goodrich is a highly-respected British freelance photographer and photography educator, based in Tokyo. In early 2015, Alfie was appointed official photographer for His Royal Highness, Prince William the Duke of Cambridge during his visit to Japan. He has recently started presenting a travel programme for NHK World television.
Please enjoy Alfie’s magnificent photos below. They are truly unique. It’s an honour for me to share these with you.
Junko Sophie Kakizaki is a master of tea ceremony and ikebana flower arrangement. She’s also a promoter of kimono culture and a jewellery designer based in Kyoto. Every one of Junko’s traditional cherry blossom photos is a sight to behold, as you can see below. Please follow this stylish lady on Instagram.
A lonely middle-aged man gets a surprise visit from a beautiful genie in Tokyo. This magical encounter changes their future in ways they could never have imagined!
It’s a story about selfless acts of kindness, love and hope, and an appreciation of the Japanese culture.
“You know what Hana, women are the cause of all the problems in life,” Taiki said to his Siamese kitten. “They fulfill every desire in your heart and soul and then they disappear. My mother left me when I was a teenager, never to be seen again, and my wife died after thirty years of marriage. You’re nearly as bad as them. I should have chosen your brother instead of you when I bought you from the pet shop. You’re always ignoring me.”
Hana turned her head away from Taiki and stretched out on the tatami flooring.
“See, you don’t want anything to do with me. It’s because you’re female. I feed and brush you every day but you don’t appreciate it. You still ruin my furniture. You don’t care about me at all.”
Taiki leaned over to the dresser and pulled a new microfibre cloth from the bottom drawer. He began to lightly polish the brass teapot he’d bought that morning in Kappabashi Kitchen Town. Its ornate etching and floral design had caught his eye when he was looking for a cheese grater in one of the many small shops in the area. It had cost 5,000 yen and he’d hesitated to buy it but the sales assistant had told him it was rare, a good purchase, and reasonably priced. After ten minutes of indecision, he’d bought it along with the grater. Returning home on the train, he’d berated himself several times under his breath for spending too much money.
Taiki sat cross-legged, warming his toes under his kotatsu heated table. The grandfather clock chimed and Hana suddenly jumped up. She crept towards Taiki and sat on the cushion next to him. Taiki looked down at her big blue eyes that changed colour in the light. Depending on the time of day, they were pale and iridescent or a pretty indigo hue, much like the hydrangeas that blossomed in the rainy season, beautifying the street leading up to his home.
He reached over and caressed his kitten’s back. “Okay, I forgive you. You don’t always ignore me and you can be very sweet sometimes.”
Hana purred and Taiki stroked her forehead.
“I bought this teapot hoping you don’t scratch it. Look at this apartment, Hana. It’s practically bare. If I buy anything expensive it always gets ruined. Either an earthquake will smash it or your claws will tear it to pieces and I’ll have to throw it away. All my wife’s precious belongings have been destroyed.”
Hana rubbed her head against Taiki’s right hand.
“Sachiko used to love shopping before her breast cancer took over her life. She filled this apartment with lots of trinkets but now they’re all gone.”
Hana turned her head to one side.
“I know you’re looking around too, aren’t you Hana? You can see I have nothing of value.”
Hana looked back and put her paw on his arm.
“Well, of course you’re important. I hate being alone. I’m lucky you’re here with me. Please don’t ever leave me, Hana.”
Taiki reached over to the plastic bag on his left and took out a tin of brass polish. He began rubbing the spout of the teapot with renewed vigour.
“I wish I could find another woman to love me as much as Sachiko did,” said Taiki, rubbing even harder.
A few puffs of lilac smoke spat from the spout of the teapot and dissipated into the air. A thicker purple cloud emerged. It cleared in just a few seconds to reveal a young and attractive Persian girl with exotic features.
Taiki squinted, blinked three times, and looked up, mouth wide open. Hana sat up in a crouched position. Her eyes were alert. Now a shade of periwinkle. She raised her right paw in the air as the last of the purple haze disappeared.
The Middle Eastern girl looked at Taiki and his cat. Her large almond-shaped eyes were gentle and soft, despite the heavy black eye-liner. She was scantily dressed in pale pink harem pants and a silver crop top. A transparent silk veil covered her mouth and nose. This vision of loveliness fell to her knees and bowed before Taiki until her forehead was almost on the floor.
Teriyaki is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine. The word teri refers to the glossy lustre the sugar creates and yaki means it’s grilled or broiled.
The Japanese began using this teriyaki method of cooking in the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868). It became popular in America when the Japanese settled in Hawaii in the 1960s.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably tried teriyaki chicken in Japanese restaurants and now you want to make it at home. Traditionally, only three ingredients are used: soy sauce, mirin and sugar. But I prefer my recipe below. It’s not as sugary and sweet as the bottled teriyaki sauces you can buy in supermarkets, thanks to the added garlic and ginger.
You can marinade chicken wings or thighs in this teriyaki sauce overnight or you can add it straight to a stir-fry.
1 tablespoon of grated ginger
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of mirin
2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
2 tablespoons of brown sugar or demerara sugar
1 heaped tablespoon of cornstarch
3 tablespoons of water
Add the chopped garlic, grated ginger, soy sauce, mirin, honey, sesame oil, and brown sugar to a saucepan at medium heat.
In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with water and stir until smooth. Add this cornstarch mixture to the teriyaki sauce in the saucepan. Keep stirring until boiling point then remove from the heat.
Pour the teriyaki sauce onto your stir-fry and use tongs to mix it through the noodles and vegetables until everything is completely coated. Keep stirring for an extra five minutes before serving. Alternatively, take it off the heat and pour the teriyaki sauce into a bowl with chicken wings or thighs, making sure they’re completely covered with the sauce. Marinade overnight in the fridge for grilling the next day.
If you want a thicker and glossier teriyaki sauce, bring the sauce to the boil in the saucepan. Turn down the heat and stir while it simmers for about 10 minutes until you’ve reduced the sauce by half.
This has been a very difficult year for all of us. We’ve faced fears we could never have predicted before 2020. It has been emotionally draining knowing so many lives have been lost and millions of people have been gravely ill from Covid-19. On a much brighter note, I’ve received incredible support from people all over the world this year and if you’re reading this now that means you’re checking in to see how I’m doing and that’s wonderful! I’m so grateful for this. I hope you’re well, too!
There’s a Japanese proverb “Adversity is the Foundation of Virtue” (困難は徳の基) and this year I’ve witnessed extraordinary kindness, courage, patience and friendliness in real life and on social media. This has encouraged me every day and kept me positive.
I’d like to thank everyone for helping me to get through 2020. I hope 2021 brings you lots of happiness and good health.
Thanks for visiting my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog!
In Japan, cherry blossoms represent the fleeting nature of life which is characteristic of many Japanese traditions. Their striking beauty appears, lasts for a couple of weeks, then swiftly fades away.
The transient nature of the cherry blossoms teaches us to appreciate and celebrate our time on this magnificent planet. This sensitivity towards ephemera is called mono no aware (物の哀れ) in Japanese. I think this is a very interesting theme and I've tried to weave it into my novels and short stories. You may have also noticed cherry blossoms are a key feature on the cover of all my books.
I try to post at least once every couple of months and I usually write about Japan, especially Tokyo. I will share with you my thoughts on Japan-related fiction as well as a variety of other subjects linked to the Land of the Rising Sun. I also feature exclusive interviews and articles on well-known people who are movers and shakers in Japan and I run competitions now and again, giving you the chance to win signed copies of my books and other cool prizes!
Thanks for stopping by and if you enjoy reading my posts please subscribe to my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog at the bottom of this page.
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If you love Japan and the Japanese culture you'll really enjoy Tokyo Hearts, Tokyo Tales, and Tokyo 2060.
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