Live to draw (for ryath)

You must have seen the above picture – it tends to be available from a rack of posters in shops all across the UK at least. Well – today I saw the original. Josie and used our day off to catch up on some sleep before heading to explore the small town of “Obuse”, just 8 minutes north of here by train..
(diary extract)
“Obuse is a gorgeous rural village/town with a heavy focus on art and beauty. Coming out of the station we were hit by the rare smell of flowers. It`s main claim to fame is that the famous artist Katsushika Hokusai spent the last portion of his life there, and left behind alot of original art work.(he did that famous “scared dudes in boat with big waves and mt.fuji in the background” poster you can get in Athena”.) We ambled into his museum to gaze in amazement at his work and watch a couple of slide shows (one of which had english subtitles) about the guy and his artwork.
Hokusai “lived to draw”, and this kept him going to a ripe old age even though he never had much cash (used to borrow money from people for even basic art supplies). His main patron, who was a significantly younger man called Kozuka, kept him going in Obuse and even occasionally collaborated with him on screen paintings. It is actually one of Kozuka`s descendants who got the collection together and the museum a good 127 years after Hokusai himself had passed on.
His art amazes me – everything is movement – and despite the simple lines and lack of excessive detail, he manages to capture life wonderfully well. As Josie pointed out, your mind picks up on the few visual clues and fills in the rest of the scene. Since my own artwork is quite simple lines, sketchy, lack of real background (especially the quick sketches) and certainly not with the rich detail and realism of older western painters, I find Hokusai`s work personally inspiring and encouraging. It reminds me I want to practice on drawing movement and feeling again…
The other interesting things is that this “woodblock” art, particularly Hokusai who experimented and published small books of prints using the recently invented press, is perhaps the fore-runner of modern manga. The line art, screen tones, wall scrolls, basic backgrounds and so on on is very reminiscent — at least, it is easy to see how one evolved into the other, perhaps with a heavy dose and influence of Disney-cartoon.”

Something great about a life with no TV, very little internet access, and only one or two books to read, is that it gives you time for other things. I have been using a fair bit of this time lately to draw again, draw in a way I`ve not done in years perhaps. You will have to wait till I am back with a scanner, but the pictures that are emerging, not many for sure, are filled with a sense of my own creativity. Often people say to me “I can`t draw. I can think of the picture clearly in my head, but I can`t get it down on paper.” Let me tell you a secret – I can`t do that either. Its not how I draw. Usually, I have no solid image in my mind, but more a concept, impression, mood. Often I find some external reference material, a photo, a manga picture that “resonates” a little with the character or feel that I want, and I build on it from there. Lately, my pictures have become a bit different, freer, as I stop trying to achieve “X” standard but rather just draw and see what comes out. It is almost like letting my mind become unfocused somehow. And then I look at the finished piece, and almost fall into it, like looking at some part of myself I`ve made manifest, however crudely, on blank paper. my creativity also goes in a rhythmn – sometimes flowing othertimes dry, rubbish, forced. I have found something out here in Japan – or perhaps built on something I rediscovered before I left, which is drawing just for the sheer fun and expression of it. Get your ego and sense of pride out the way. I love the art of people I know, no matter how crude or basic or flawed or perfect – simply because it is THEIR art. Why not apply the same to myself?


Hokusai himself had a pretty unusual and often difficult life – his peers must have thought him really odd with all his travelling. But his art literally kept him alive, an old man of 90 still at his workshop, trying to perfect his expression.
“From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.”
read more about him here

You know, I never understood art galleries. In the same way I didnt understand olives and pickle. But now, I find looking at original pieces of art a similar experience to wandering about the old castles and imaginging the ancient lives of those whose footsteps I follow. I looked at Hokusai`s art, and felt like I was touching on something personal – imagining his hand making that solid, definite brushstroke. This is sounding a lot more pretenious than I meant it to…but perhaps words simply are not enough or the right expression for everything.


Japanese Spiders and fears (diary extract)

Saturday 25th September
“This morning, I stood trembling and shaking on the step ladder, trying to will myself to pick up one of the large spiders, hanging on a complex web between apples of the tree I was to harvest. Bright green and yellow body, black and yellow striped legs. Ok, so there ARE bigger ones, but this was more than enough to trigger my inexplicable phobia. `I must not fear, fear is the mind killer…` etc, the DUNE litany. I am fed up with my squeamishness, and all the things that I would rather run from than to face in life, and I decided today I had to move towards overcoming this. Started with a twig, feeling the solidity of her body from a distance – seperating and breaking the immensely strong web with some difficulty. Heart pounding, taking deep breaths.
I managed to get her on the stick, and found that she was avoiding climbing onto my hand, afraid it seemed, as much as I was of her.
This helped a lot, more than I expected. When I managed to get her on my hand, after some involuntary flinching and withdrawel, I found that those scary pointy legs were infinitely gentle, slow, careful.
I still squirmed and made noises when I felt her brush sensitive finger tips, or rub her solid body against my skin, but I managed to pick her up again and carry her across to a large apple tree. Those scary “fang” mouthparts were more like little hands, I discovered, feeling and stroking my skin, and the way she hit her abdomen against me was not in preparation for some form of attack but rather to attach the beginnings of a web.
It may have been a small step, but it was a positive one! I`ve been meaning to face my spider fear while in Japan, so it makes me feel proud to have done so.”
Nephila clavata (Tetragnathidae) [Japanese name : joro-gumo]

The insects here in Japan, as I`ve mentioned before, are huge. I am fine picking up any of them, incluing the enormous stag beetles, but spiders are different. I can deal with heights, darkness, dead rats, positively love snakes and bats, but spiders are different. I`ve been incrementally overcoming a phobia of them for quite some time – watching them make webs helped a lot, because I started to see those legs as delicate fingers, weaving. I have a lot of respect and amazement for these little creatures, but being close to them makes me shake. When I first saw the size of them here (a good couple of inches of body at least) I just stood and gaped. Josie told me “just don`t look at them”, but I did, over again, until I finally managed to hold one yesterday. It was really hard, and I still don`t feel comfortable with them, but as I said it`s a start. Why is all this important? Because it`s my belief that fear is one of the most withholding, destructive forces around when it comes to individual psyches – I`ve been saying this for a long time,carefully ignoring my own main phobia. I personally have yet to find any particular religion or belief structure to commit to completely, but I do believe that anyone who doesn`t just talk about, but actually LIVES their “hypothesis” on reality, whether I agree with them or not, is worthy of respect. In which case, time to walk my own talk perhaps? πŸ™‚

Apples and glowing mushrooms

5 minutes left at a net cafe so will be brief!

At the moment i am working on this japanese guys apple farm. Its really relaxing and we dont even have to cook! (though every meal = rice. tofu. miso soup. )Im listening to audio books as I do it in the morning, climbing trees and generally enjoying the fresh air. The guy is 40 odd, speaks hardly any enlgish, used to teach bioengineering, drinks a lot of shochou (vodka equivalent). He also has a mushroom producing factory, which we went to help him with some
research (putting earth in jars) he is doing into making luminous mushrooms!! they glow in the dark! we saw some it was amazing.. see here

this world never stops surprising me!

One of the best things is that my “sink/bathroom” is currently a small rock pool fed by an underground stream, where the water carries on to a huge beautiful koi pond. I get up for 6am to see the sunrising over mountains, and watch them set over the opposite side. Beautiful.

coyotepup – yep, no problem to add me as a friend, hope to talk to you more
holgerdansk – with the immeninant sadness/loneliness; I have quite a few thoughts and observations on this area which I hope to type up when I have a bit more computer time!


There rats running about this place, I can hear them scarpering about behind the walls. The other day we found a dead mouse in the bottom of a very large soup cauldron… all the japanese ladies were being very girly about it so I grabbed it by the tail and was told to throw it in the dustbin.

Today was slightly worse. Came into the restaurant kitchen as Josie made some loud the corner was a dead rat stuck onto some really really sticky cardboard that had presumably been laid there as a trap.

At least we thought it was dead, then it started struggling about (pretty futile because its legs and tail were covered in glue) which made Josie feel really sickened. The japanese people didnt seem too bothered by the fact there was a slowly dying rat in the corner stuck in its own poo and vomit.

So, in a free moment I took the rat-cardboard outside, round the back of the building into the forest and prepared to smack it with a shovel. I covered it with cardboard first. I`ve not intentionally tried to kill an animal before, and I have to say I did briefly consider trying to unstick the thing and let it go, especially when I saw its cute little black eyes. (I used to have pet rats as well which didnt help). Still, the gluey stuff looked pretty life-degrading and I didnt fancy its chances.

I took a deep breath and brought the shovel down on its head as hard and as definitely as I could. I`m fairly sure I killed it with the first blow or at least knocked it unconscious. I won`t go into details but I made sure it was thoroughly dead before digging the hole to bury it in. I think you can tell immediatly when something is dead, the eyes loose something; and then it becomes no more than meat and is easier to deal with. When it came to unsticking the rat from the cardboard it turned out the skin peeled off the rat rather than the rat from the glue; at which point I was REALLY glad I didnt try doing that when it was still alive πŸ˜›

I don`t mean this to sound melodramatic or anything, but just to make a note. This trip has been the first time I`ve had to deal directly with animal death, particularly because of human choice – either as pest control in this case, or to eat the chickens we killed at fuji eco park. I`ve handled corpses and buried them, or turned them into fried food, but this rat is the first time I`ve made the choice to do the killing part.

Japanese are weird about animals. They keep dogs in these tiny cages but the flip side is that they are not too hot on the concept of “mercy killing” or “putting an animal to sleep”, mostly because of buddhist influences around the idea of “harm no living thing”. This is why they have these crazy “fly whisks” designed to carefully waft flies out of your room. They obviously never had to deal with many mosquitos.

Josie thanked me for dealing with the rat, as I said it disgusted her to see it in that state. I didn`t have a problem with killing it or dealing with dead animals, but thats not because I am cold or just detach from it. I certainly didn`t enjoy doing it. However I feel that avoiding and ignoring death means avoiding something important about life. I have also found that seeing the full on “choose a live chicken, make it a dead chicken, turn it into dinner” routine really brings it home what actually goes into the food you eat. It doesn`t put me off so much as make me value the food more. It also made me realise just how removed most of us western “food comes from the supermarket” brigade are from what goes into supporting our lives.

This whole trip is definitely changing me. And its given me some really weird perspectives on the culture and lifestyle I left behind…


I had a great adventure today that I`d like to share but i:ve spent all my time this evening looking at stars, talking with a swiss guy (whose life story makes mine feel slightly meagre and is the second person i:ve met who has to do compulsory military service) and then sitting at this computer talking to Josie about religion. I will have to try and find some time another day.

in a sentence – I spent a day with a group of japanese workmen, wearing one of those nifty green helmets and messing about with trees and cranes. Basically a day in the life of Zak, and of everyone he is the one I really wish had seen my antics today.

What I really wanted to say before heading to bed is that I really appreciated all the kind comments and emails that people have dropped me, I:m sorry I have very little time or access here to respond to them all individually but I wanted to say thank you. It means a lot to hear from other people when you`re in a country far away!


Finally, some bad Catkin analogies for you. I noticed in my last post I was starting the whole livejournalling worrying-tearing things apart and sounding all confused about who/what/where I am. ARGH! I really want to break that habit, because this trip so far has been cleansing and rejuvinating and all kinds of good things. So it`s time to move on, get a new approach. Otherwise its like weeding a garden and then doing nothing with it and then wondering why the weeds are back again in a few weeks. Also, I have managed to finally get over/let go/move on from a lot of the darker things – thats what most of the last few years have been about for crying out loud just LOOK at all that angsting! What I need to do now is just let things settle and I reckon the good stuff will rise to the top. (makes me think of brewing – if you keep on shaking that damn bottle, keep on trying to use force when force is not required , then its always going to appear cloudy and muddled.) Need a bit more listening and a bit more trust. (AND A LOT MORE SLEEP: go to BED!!)

PS (coz i wont get round to writing it else: I asked if i could be hoisted up by the crane (around 30meters) and after a lot of japanese jokes about how only “smoke and stupid people want to go up high” they let me. right above the pine trees, I could see the japanese alps and all across the plains. woo! its always worth asking)

Matsumoto and Typhoons

Josie and I had a day off yesterday and decided to go on a mini adventure to the nearest city, Matsumoto. It started feeling like a REAL adventure when we realised the only way to get to the station was to hitch a lift down the mountain. Luckily no problems as we were picked up by a Japanese sculptor student who obviously had some interesting stories if only I could actually say more than “I am a foreign person who only speaks a little japanese”. Never hitched before so feeling pretty good that it went ok.

The most famous (touristy) thing to do in Matsumoto is check out its amazing castle. This particular castle was notable in that its still standing, having been designed for a battle in mind which never materialised. Check out this picture and picture me wandering along that bridge thinking to myself “I can`t believe this is real and I`m really standing here”. We went all the way to the top, finding hidden floors, arrow and gun holes, places to drop rocks down, ladder-like steps designed to be tactfully laborious to climb up, samuri armour, and at the very top a shrine to a goddess believed to protect the castle in exchange for rice every 29th of each month. (I loved seeing some teenagers clapping hands and bowing briefly) πŸ™‚

An interesting point about Japanese castles that got me thinking…you see that big pile of rocks at the base? Well *that* is technically what counts as the “castle”: not the building on top. The Japanese are big into the idea of change – the buildings may burn down but the castle is still there..the foundations, that nondescript pile of stone that is -actually- the most vital bit of the castle`s defence when you think about it .(well, maybe that AND the moat)

I think part of the reason this struck me is that, for me, this whole trip has been and is a bit like burning the buildings and seeing what`s left. Also maybe gathering some new rocks? In many ways I haven`t felt like I do now since I was a child. Ideas and possibilites are coming into my head and the voice that criticises and chides is getting quieter.. wolf is still here, in dreams, in moments. but it needs a lot of work, i still feel like I`ve drifted so far from what`s important and its hard to know how to get back. Though I have a few ideas..I am also more scared than ever because I`m realising that the dreams and inspirations that I was writing off as impractical fantasies are real and happening around me – which means there is no easy get out excuse! I`ve gone too far now to ever be happy with a respectable office job.

Something else notable about Japan – the respect/awarness of the weather. Possibly because it still regularly kills people. It really comes as no surprise that the native shinto religion here ties god up with nature all over the place. I`ve found shrines in mountains, lakes, rice fields, forests, ice caves. As I type this, wind is picking up gradually but unstoppably outside – another typhoon is on the way. This is, maybe, the 17th or 18th this season? They start in Okinawa in the south and work their way up to Hokkaido in the north. What really makes them stand out in my mind is that you *know* they are coming. Days before they hit, the wind becomes strange and animals get odd. The wind starts building up, strange and strong gusts run through the trees. Last time I spent the night before running through rice-field land, full moon, feeling the wind and dancing with it – really exhilerating. Here, we have spent the afternoon clearing everything inside that might get blown away, laying statues down, getting ready. It is unlike anything I knew in england – adjusting your life around the weather in such a way. And to fear it too – because when the wind hits you in the middle of the night, howling amongst the torrential almost seems arrogant -not- to be afraid!

yuka o haku

Nearly two months here, and it feels like Japan is infusing its way into my soul. It has got to the point that the strange has become familiar, and I know when I return to england there will be odd things that I miss.
Like, the stretches of bicycles that line the outside of train stations. Like, the way the houses, factories, fields mingle together and fill up all the flat space, right up to the edge of mountains. Like, the dangly plastic things school girls attach to their phones. Like, the strange sense of security and insular “the world stops at those mountain ranges” and the repeating russian doll feeling of being inside a box inside a box.

I miss the sea, and being able to wander freely. That and baked beans on toast with decent cheese on top.

The people here are different, and lately I feel I`m blundering my way through social conventions like the big clumsy gaijin I am. I feel TALL here. I have also realised how incredibly self-obsessed and generally selfish I was in the uk. The people here have work ethic to stupid levels and a wonderful sense of aesthetics and doing things -quietly- which I:m happy to pick up… but then end up running along the streets under full moon light dancing like a loony in order to correct some inner balance.

Josie and I have moved from fuji eco park (see last few posts). We spent a week in rural japan in a traditional thatched house helping with a garden… I felt like I was living in a “studio ghibli film” if that means anything to you… I also felt like a child full of amazement at the fantastically huge insects and brightly coloured frogs everywhere I went. (flourescent pink moths?!).

Now we are working in a restaurant on a self sufficient type place I will need to write more about another time because its getting late and sleep is required! At the moment I am being woken every morning by a cockeral, and while that may SOUND wonderfully rustic, the damn things don:t have a “snooze button”, you can`t turn them off and go back to sleep, and they live outside my window.

I may have some photos soon, though not sure where to upload them (ideas?).

There was an earthquake last night, big out to sea but not much more than a tremor here. Enough to shake the lights and rattle the windows. Josie and I looked at each other and just started to giggle πŸ™‚

Have been keeping paper notes and diary so there will be a lot more coming..but just to say that I am still alive and well! Been thinking, and dreaming about a lot of the friends back in the uk, hope you are all good.