Travelling

Images and reflections from travels in numerous countries of the world, along with their cultural, social, political and natural stories. Here you can find some extended series on major voyages, and below those, many one-off articles on Britain and Japan.

MAJOR VOYAGES

A) GUYANA (Mar.-Jul. 2010)
An intense experience of a complicated, diverse and utterly unique corner of South America - from the colourful towns and canals of the coast, to the lush rainforests and savannahs of the interior, all dominated by a mighty network of rivers.

An introduction, on why I set out from a country with which I did not identify and went to Guyana, and what I found there.

Most of Guyana is dense, pristine rainforest or open savannah. It is there, in the interior, that most of its indigenous communities live. This article discusses my experience working amongst them, along with the many lessons the world can learn from them.


90% of Guyana's population lives along the narrow coastal strip, hemmed in by the impenetrable bush on one side and the sea on the other. Celebrations, cricket, and difficult ethnic politics abound.





B) JAPAN: Hiroshima, Nagano and Nikkō (Dec. 2011 - Jan. 2012)
After moving to Tokyo, Japan in August 2011, my first major voyage around the country.

On travelling across half the length of Japan on local trains, and a most disagreeable experience of Christmas night on the freezing streets of Himeji.



An island in Hiroshima Bay that houses Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the famous "floating" torii considered one of Japan's three most celebrated views.


Hiroshima is famous for the most unenviable of reasons. A wander around the remnants of its horror, discussing its resurrection as a "city of peace" and why nuclear attacks are wrong under any circumstances.


3) Nagano - Snow Monkeys
In a deep, snowy valley in central Japan, wild Japanese macaques come down from the hills to soak in natural hot springs.



4) Nagano - New Year at Zenkōji Temple
One of the principal Buddhist temples in Japan, featuring a dark underground passageway with a secret, some unusual memorials, and interesting ways to bring in the new year.


5) Nikkō - Three Waterfalls
Above the historic and popular town of Nikkō sprawls a majestic wilderness of mountains, marshlands, rivers and lakes. Beneath a carpet of snow, it becomes a realm of serene and silent beauty.




6) Nikkō - Tokugawas For Sale
The shrines and temples of Nikkō proper, and how the shoguns who built them, despite their deceased condition and that of their shogunate, are still doing quite well for themselves.





C) JAPAN: Hokkaidō and Tōhoku (Aug. 2012)
An epic ten-article series from a journey to the cold, wild frontiers of the Japanese north, packed with history, culture, politics, breathtaking views and cute fuzzy animals. 

Introduction - Narrow Rails to the Deep North
An overview of the expedition, and a taste of images and themes from Japan's northern lands.





1) Akita - Legends of the Namahage
From the fields of western Tōhoku comes some of the best rice in Japan; and on the Oga peninsula, a unique and mysterious heritage of fearsome beings in masks and straw capes.
2) Sapporo - The Story of Hokkaidō
The principal city of Hokkaidō, a place which, until as late as the nineteenth century, was a separate realm from Japan with a separate story. This is the story of the collision of two lands: one of the Pacific, the other of the Arctic.

3) Shiraoi - Return of the Ainu
And this is the story of Hokkaidō's original inhabitants. The indigenous Ainu people experienced huge persecution when Japan colonised these lands, but at last there are signs of a slow but steady revival.

4) Furano - Flowers and Farms
The town in the very centre of Hokkaidō, set in a picturesque valley of flowers and farm fields, with the story of a lavender farm providing a case study of the dreams and hardships of frontier settlement.


5) Kurodake - The Pinnacle
Atop a high peak in the Daisetsuzan mountain range, spectacular landscapes unfurl as though crossing a threshold to realms immortal. Also, adorable chipmunks.



6) Asahikawa - More Fuzzy Animals
Asakihawa features Japan's most popular zoo, specially adapted for creatures of the icy north.





7) Hakodate - Beginnings and Ends
A city reverberating with history, at the southern tip of Hokkaidō where it served as the bridge for Japan's arrival into these lands, and played host to pivotal junctures in the stories of both.

8) Naruko - Kokeshi Road
The sulphurous hot springs of Tōhoku's inland forests, exploring the profound and perplexing wooden dolls of that region and tracing the footsteps of the travelling poet Bashō.



9) Sendai - Its Rise, Fall, Rise, Fall and Rise
The story of Tōhoku's principal city, and the warlord who oversaw its transformation from a fishing village to the grandest city in the northern Japanese mainland. A saga of collapse and rebirth spanning centuries: from the unification of Japan, through the devastation of World War II, to the ongoing recovery from the March 2011 Triple Disaster.


10) Matsushima - The Aftermath
260 haunting islands capped in pine trees lie scattered across a bay not far from Sendai, and make up another of Japan's three most celebrated views. Reflections on the Triple Disaster, the lands of the north, and the end of a journey.




D) THE PHILIPPINES: Ifugao (May 2013)
A field research visit to the heartland of the Philippine indigenous peoples in the mountains of northern Luzon, and the story of their tenacious and resilient rice terrace communities.


Introduction - A Journey to Ifugao
On the remarkable complexity of the Ifugao rice terrace systems and communities, the reasons I travelled there, and the long transit north across the Philippines.




1) Kiangan - At the Epicentre of History
The old capital and cornerstone of the story of Ifugao, spanning its mythic origns, its resistance against three colonial empires, the climax of the Pacific War, and its challenges in the age of "international development".


2) The Enduring Terraces
On the rice terrace systems that form the basis of life in Ifugao, and the stunning balance of agricultural, scientific, ecological, climatic, social, economic and spiritual forces that drive them.




3) Tourism Comes to Ifugao
On Ifugao's meteoric rise as a tourist destination since the 1970s, and the opportunities and challenges alike this has posed for its ways of life.



4) Pangagawan Cave - The Heaven Below
Ifugao's ancient secrets in a subterranean world of darkness and limestone, a hundred metres beneath the earth.



5) Epilogue - Pampanga
The return journey, with a stop in a culturally and historically vibrant province just outside Manila. 







E) JAPAN: Aomori (Sept.-Oct. 2015)
A retreat to the northernmost frontiers of Japan proper: a fresh and breathtaking land not as remote as it seems. This series explores the culture, nature and stories of a part of Japan less travelled by those from outside.


1) The Shimokita Peninsula - A Bridge Between Worlds
From the top of Japan extends an axe-shaped peninsula of cold mountains, dark forests and relentless winds and waves. But there is much more to Shimokita than that.

2) Osorezan - Mount Fear
At the heart of Shimokita, a place of strange and ancient power. One of the holiest sites in Japan, and a place which brings together the heavens, the hells and all of nature into a singular landscape of unmatched peace and beauty.

3) Aomori City - Rassera, Rassera: The Story of the North
The capital of Aomori Prefecture, joining the long threads of an intertwining diversity of histories and cultures. A story of indigenous peoples, the conquests and rivalries of Japanese warlords, and the area's destruction and rebirth in the twentieth century.

4) Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada - Colourfully Lurking
A violent ancient volcanoes has created a picturesque realm of forests, rocks and river currents in Aomori Prefecture's mountainous south. Now one of Tohoku's prime destinations.


5) The Hakkoda Mountains - The Wind Rages
The mountains in the centre of Aomori are a wild place of rugged peaks, untamed weather, and eruptions of flaming colours in the marshes and wetlands. One of the most beautiful places in Japan - and a deadly piece of its history.




INDIVIDUAL ARTICLES

A) BRITAIN
The country of my birth, and of my profoundest alienation. It is a land of conflict, of prejudice, division and struggle; but as in all such lands, one may find examples of inspirational dreams and courage too.

London - where dreams go to die
A reaction to the 2011 England Riots - and on the even more deplorable response to them. The reflections on which this blog was launched.


Skeletons All The Way Down: why the EU matters
In the ongoing debates about membership of the EU, including Britain's, there is rare mention of why it is truly so vital. Here is some perspective about why the alternative Europe, of soverignty and national pride, is horrific - and how it has no excuse to forget it.

"Green and Pleasant Land"?
On my first occasion in the UK after two years away from it, some reflections on its slow descent into madness from atop the Malvern Hills.




The Clouds on the Tyne
England's northeast was once an industrial heartland of coal mines, ironworks and shipyards. A story of pain and courage, of the struggles between the British establishment and its regions and labourers alike - and now, perhaps, the northeast's rebirth upon visions of a low-carbon future.

Bristol - To Bear an Unbearable Burden
From southwest England, the tale of a bright, fresh city, built on the most terrible of secrets, and the ever-painful challenge of coming to terms with the past without injustice to those in the present.



Rhossili, Gower - Ancient Winds of Wales
'Britain' is not 'England'. Some images from Wales's beautiful west coast, along with discussion on its struggles - and the struggles of other old peoples on those isles - against British, or rather English, oppression and colonialism.


Secrets of the South Downs
A walk of special personal significance atop the ancient chalk hills of south England, near the town of Steyning. Sheep and cattle, haunted hill forts, and local reflections of some of England's bloodiest wars and persecutions.
On "British Values", the Conservative Party and Crimes Against Humanity
A look at what "British Values" really mean and the terminal corruption of the party of British conservatism on the eve of the UK's June 2017 General Election.





The Grenfell Tower Disaster: the Noble Idea and the Non-Society
Some historical reflections on how a society that tried to abolish society brought fiery death to North Kensington in June 2017.
On the Lamentable Condition of Public Toilets in London
And the politics of their disappearance in austerity Britain, the human rights and public interest case for their return, and a few efforts underway to bring it about.


Commuting Will Ruin You
On the Horror of Horrors known as the London Underground.







No Morality in Prejudice - or Beneath the Schoolgrounds, It Lies Dreaming
On how hostility to sexual diversity, as virulent as anywhere in the world, still lurks in the depths of Britain; this article is a warning to those who would waken its supplicant forces.
There are, admittedly, a few things Britain does well. Near the top of that list would have to be its publi museums. Here is one of its most excellent, offering as potent a collection of stories as may be found in any one place about the common humanity of us all.





 

B) JAPAN
The land where I sought a way forward till it became clear there was no place for me. A country of beautiful and terrible things, into which these articles might offer some insights. For much more on Japanese mountains, forests and natural scenery, be sure to check out the Hiking tab as well.

Earthquakes are Political
Some reflections, one year on from the March 2011 Triple Disaster, on the relationship between natural disasters and human socio-political upheaval - and what this means for Japan.



The Yasukuni Problem
The Yasukuni Shrine commemorates Japan's war dead - including fourteen class-A war criminals - and is hugely controversial for its visiting politicians and its war museum's nationalist approach to history. Impressions from a visit, and on issues more complicated than most of the debate's parties tend to acknowledge.
The Blazing Gentleman of Shinjuku - or What Next for Japanese Pacifism?
On 29th June 2014, a man set himself alight atop the busiest station in Tokyo over fears of a re-interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution, which bans it from possessing a standing army or taking part in wars. A discussion on why these fears may be quite justified, and on the prospects for a peaceful Japan in changing and dangerous times.



The Strange Case of Sex Segregation in Japanese Hot Springs
Separation of the sexes in Japanese onsen, a crucially important institution, is often taken for granted. But in fact, men and women bathed together for hundreds of years, until only recently. Why did this change? And why is it a problem?
Aizu - The Other Fukushima
A look at mountains, autumn forests, villages and rich local heritage in southern Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture. A region with a proud identity and a distinct, sometimes tragic history.


Tokyo National Museum
A look at the collection of art and artifacts in Japan's oldest and largest museum, in Ueno Park, Tokyo.






Ueno Zoo
A discussion on the ethics of zoos, and the inhabitants of the principal zoo in Tokyo.





Tokyo Homestay
Some images from an early homestay experience with a Japanese family, featuring the Imperial Palace gardens, the site of the old Edo Castle, and Zōjōji Temple.



Climbing Mount Fuji
Japan's highest mountain at 3,776m and foremost cultural icon. An account of a night ascent, along with detailed information and guidance for anyone who wants to do it.


Hakone - The Volcano With Thousands of People In It
A massive complex of calderas and lava domes has become one of Japan's most popular resorts. An extended discussion on its multitude of highlights: suplhurous springs, spectacular scenery and some very unexpected museums, among other things.


Kawagoe
In Saitama, north of Tokyo, a city where a lot of Edo-period heritage has survived intact. An exploration of castle remnants, fireproof warehouses, sweet potatoes and a streetload of Japanese traditional sweet shops.


Odawara
A city in western Kanagawa, just outside Tokyo, with a castle, cherry blossoms, and much more historical importance than its modest appearance today may suggest.


Institute for Nature Study, Meguro
A lush oasis of woods, lakes and life hidden in plain sight near the centre of Tokyo.




Cherry-blossom viewing (hanami)
2012 and 2013
For about two weeks every spring, Japan's sakura trees erupt in an explosion of gorgeous white and pink, one of the country's most iconic cultural phenomena.


On Kabuki
The surprisingly gendered story of kabuki theatre, one of Japan's most recognisable art forms.

Japanese Robots!
A visit to the Miraikan, or National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba, Tokyo, providing a glimpse of state-of-the-art Japanese robotics and some thoughts on one of its conceptual emergents, the "uncanny valley" hypothesis.


'Rabbit and Grow Fat'
A 'rabbit café' in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, where you can drink coffee while interacting with some extremely fluffy companions.






Fujino - Transition Town
The foremost of Japanese communities in the international Transition Town movement, an attempt to develop a sustainable way of life in response to peak oil, climate change and economic instability. A look at some of Fujino's intriguing and innovative measures.
To understand a country, you must look at its prisons
A visit to Fuchu Prison in Tokyo, in a wider discussion on themes and problems in the role of prisons in human society.



Sumitomo Chemical Factory
Reflections from a tour of a chemical plant in Chiba, owned by one of Japan's mightiest business conglomerates.



Kanamara Matsuri - 'Festival of the Steel Phallus'
A religious festival in Kawasaki City, celebrated with symbols of exactly what the name implies. But its background in folklore and spiritual dimensions are deeper than they may look. Also, cute turtles. 




C) CHINA

An Intermission to Beijing - and, with sadness, some reflections on Tokyo after five years living in it
Thoughts from a visit to the Chinese capital in September 2016, and a look back, with a heavy heart, at five years in the capital of Japan.

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