Our little blue car was released from the car elevator this morning for the ride to Nagano via the coast road.

Kanazawa’s morning was wet and windy. By the time we pulled into a roadside lunch spot, the rain had stopped and there were signs of sun. Buying ramen by ticket can tend to be a guessing game, but you can’t go too wrong.

We stopped at a lookout to see the cliffs of Oyashirazu where story boards related the tales of this most dangerous part of the old Hokuriku (aka Koshiji) Road. The name Oyashirazu means “parents don’t know”. Travellers had to navigate their way through the waves to continue on the road.

A 12th century clan leader was defeated in battle and escaped. His wife followed him and penned this poem after their child was lost in the crossing.

The parents not knowing

on the waves of this shore, a child

vanishes in the foam along the Koshiji Road.


The clouds were low today and the rice fields were a mirror for the sky.


We arrived in Nagano and high-tailed it up to Zenkoji before it closed. The structure of the Hondo or Main Hall dates from 1707. Our ticket entry included going through a pitch black tunnel underneath the sanctuary with only our right hand to guide us along the tunnel wall until we reached the Key to the Pure Land, emerging to see ourselves reborn in a mirror. One touch of the key ensures eternal salvation, so we’re good to go.


We’ll head out to dinner soon in this Winter Olympics City (1998). Tomorrow will include a trip to see the Snow Monkeys.

Arishiyama is also the home of the UNESCO World Heritage temple, Tenryu-ji. This place was the site of the first Japanese Zen temple (in the 9th century) and in its current form continues as a temple of the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.



The 14th century designed Zen garden is, like the temple, set among the backdrop of the surrounding mountains. The designer was Muso Soseki and his approach of incorporating the external environs of the garden is called shakkei, which means borrowed landscape.


Muso Soseki (1275-1351) was hugely influential in establishing Zen Buddhism in Japan. As well as being a Zen Master and garden designer, he was a poet, teacher and calligrapher.

This poem (translated by American poet, W S Merwin and Soiku Shigematsu) appears in This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World, curated by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye.



At this time of year, a trip to Hokkaido is the only way to possibly see sakura or cherry blossoms. They are just starting to come into bloom and we are likely to miss them at their peak. Nevertheless, those early bloomers gave us some pleasure today in Sapporo.



This word is mono no aware (pronounced mono no ah-wah-reh) and its literal translation is “the pathos of things”.

More fully, it relates to the feeling of gentle wistfulness at the brief and transient nature of beautiful things and an awareness of the sadness of existence.

Hi ka raku you is another beautiful word meaning “blossoms fall and leaves scatter – the impermanence of worldly things”




today’s haiku

the coming of spring

beautiful, fragile, short

the blossom’s lesson


Tuesday 24 April.

Yes. It’s the start of another trip. We’ll be spending five weeks in Japan, eleven days in Mongolia and a couple of days  in Beijing (as we head homewards) to see what’s changed since we were there in 1994. We’re topping and tailing the Japan chapter of this trip in the capital, Tokyo.

I’ve been hitting YouTube, language apps and books for the past few months so as to, hopefully, give us a head start on day-to-day communication and help with the recognition of traffic signs and the like.

As far as the blog goes, this time I’m taking my old iPad2 to which I’ve added a cheap and cheerful bluetooth keyboard. The Sony A6000 (loaded with some new apps to try) will be the camera of choice, with Snapseed as the editing tool. And I’ve packed a small sketch book and a few pencils and water brushes just in case. Time and fatigue levels allowing, an occasional haiku may appear.

See you tomorrow in Tokyo.

I spent the first few days of November in the peaceful surrounds of Lake Kanuga in North Carolina at Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp. This inclusive, communal and creative gathering is now an annual must-be-there event for me. I always return home refreshed, encouraged and full of new insights, ideas and skills.


morning-on-lake-kanugalabyrinth-at-kanuga_fotorPoet, Glenis Redmond, shared her powerful words which now, more than ever, will be needed to jolt us out of systemic injustices that exist across the world.

Jonathan Santos sang songs of ancestors and breaking through.


We took a day trip on the water taxi to Stradbroke, armed with only an iPhone as camera.  Back to playing with haiku with these three photographs.


Bluebottle poses

(with tassels tucked underneath)

as a small pillow.


Scattered randomly,

beach obstacles in the sand,

– driftwood as sculpture.


Skipping over waves,

a kite surfer grabs cross-winds

for the love of speed.


Folded pieces of paper tucked into books can reveal themselves decades later. In this case, a poem by Judith Rodriguez. I liked this poem when I wrote it down some decades ago. I still like it.


talking of people

Talking of people I love

I grope for traits

to dignify and endear them, move

you nearer my place

where it’s a celebration to forgive.


And I always fail. I’m staggered

when I start cads,

bigots, hypocrites, blackguards

with my unwary words.

Phrasing all of anyone’s a hazard;


their music comes so varied

it takes thousands

of listening moods to be married

or related. Vows and

gene-sharing have miscarried


oftener, worse than fetuses.

Though you sometimes purchase

illusion, weeding a field that has

upstanding virtues,

there’s a hardy strain in weaknesses


at least for loving: they’re funny

they last. Classic

folly – perhaps too many

for most – emphatically

disgracing us graces the randy


centuries that, hot after living,

warm immortal

gossip, and our rage for believing.

May I glow gaudy

in the spate of a friend’s forgiving!

Judith Rodriguez



purple rose







on a day when a friend left us

There is comfort in routine.
Familiar repetition,
the reassuring deja-vu
of an ordinary activity.
It speaks
as if everything will be alright,
that this will always be here,
building in the memory bank.
Yet it won’t. It really won’t.

Perhaps the so-called ordinary
calls for a response that sharpens senses,
as if to see and hear it for the very first time,
every time.

Yet seemingly repeated actions
are different every time.
They diverge from the norm
with nuances large enough for us to notice,
if we care to notice.

For instance:

when hanging out the washing,
soak in the sunshine’s warmth,
peg slowly, pay attention.

when pouring milk in coffee,
inhale the aroma,
dip your finger in the crema.

when waking to soft bird sounds,
differentiate them,
lie still and breathe the morning in.

This mortality of ours demands
sparklers and laughter,
not ennui and weariness;
mindfulness and regard,
not lethargy and indifference.

It feels as if it will always be here
yet it won’t, it really won’t.

It feels as if we will always be here
yet we won’t, we really won’t.

Lynn Buckler Walsh

In 1966, this anthology of stories, poems, photographs and illustrations was published by Jacaranda Press in Brisbane. It would have cost you $3.95 back then to become its owner.

under twenty-five

In the introduction, the editors (Anne O’Donovan, Jayne Sanderson and Shane Porteous) wrote

Young writers face one serious obstacle. They cannot find publishers unless their work is already known. Their work cannot become known until it is published. This paradox is often a daunting if not impenetrable barrier for the would-be author.

With UNDER TWENTY-FIVE we hope to break down this barrier. We advertised for material in October 1965 and by June 1966 we had received many thousands of contributions. This, our final selection, represents the best of young Australians’ writing, photography and illustration. And yet for most this is their first time in print.

JacarandaJacaranda Press was an exciting publication house in its infancy, before the inevitable absorption into bigger companies took place. Under the stewardship of founder Brian Clouston, these junior editors, also under the age of 25, curated a solid collection that includes early work of some of Australia’s most established and recognised authors. You may recognise Shane Porteous (actor, writer and animator) from this photograph on the inner sleeve. Anne O’Donovan went on to establish her own publishing company.

In this collage the detectives among you will spot Peter CareyRoger McDonaldRhyll McMasterAllan BaillieMurray Bail and Susan Geason.

Image 1These are excerpts from the biographical notes.

Peter Carey discovered at Monash University that science was not his career and has since worked in advertising. He … is working on a second novel. 

Murray Bail … writes every day and says that writing is his only real interest.

Allan Baillie is a twenty-three-year-old journalist from Melbourne, born in Ayrshire, Scotland. His ambitions lie in the world of newspapers. For some time now he has been in remote parts of Afghanistan en route to Europe.

Roger McDonald is twenty-five. … [He] joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission to produce radio and television programmes for schools. … He has achieved both publication and encouraging rejections from literary magazines.

Rhyll McMaster of Brisbane is eighteen. She is working at the University, and studying Arts part-time. Several of her poems have been published in the Bulletin. …. “Today It Rains” won first prize in a Queensland high schools competition. She intends to continue writing poetry.


In the minor book culls (perhaps trims is a better word) that take place at my place from time to time (almost never) this now historic volume will always be a keeper.

Saturday supermarket

the young man working the express checkout lane

is up for a chat with his customers

what’s wrong with your wrists?


what caused it?

R S I says the man a little louder than he wants to announce

oh not arthritis, RSI, he repeats

it stands for Repetitive Strain Injury

says the man through his white beard

tiring of the inquisition

do you know what caused it?

playing cricket says the man

the boy persists with his cheerfulness

compounding the lie

the Michael Clarke of your day eh?

yeah, says the man

next up

a woman’s product selection is under review

are these any good?

I don’t know says the woman

hoping for a quiet and quick transaction

let me know what they’re like next time you’re in

I will says the woman

hurrying to meet her companion

my turn

did you mean to buy all those things when you came in?

he’s noticed I have no basket

I did

I didn’t know we sold these

he says as he scans the chocolate-coated ginger

notice he said we not they

he is loyal to the corporation

most people buy more than they intend

notice how observant he is

notice how he loves his job

notice him

Lynn Buckler Walsh

In 2008 Stephanie Dowrick wrote a doctoral thesis entitled Rainer Maria Rilke: Bearing Witness. Around the same time she completed In the Company of Rilke: Why a 20th-century visionary poet speaks so eloquently to 21st-century readers yearning for inwardness, beauty and spiritual connection.

I would not have known this had I not been hovering around the number 831.912 in the local library. German poetry is not my usual go-to shelf. I do, however, own several works by Stephanie Dowrick so when I spotted her name on a book spine I was curious enough to add the book to my underarm clutch.

So how does a not particularly religious person get drawn to the writings of an Interfaith Minister? In my case, I think it’s due to the absence of dogma in her work on spirituality and the human condition. Over the years, Dowrick has explored such topics as resilience, solitude, forgiveness and intimacy. Her words are both accessible and deeply thought provoking.

Dowrick’s thesis description begins thus.

This study of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) explores both epistemological and ontological themes, explicitly asking what readers may “bear witness to” within themselves, as well as on the page, through their reading. The primary question of the study comes from Martin Heidegger’s essay on Rilke when (quoting Hölderlin) he asks: “What are poets for (in these destitute times)?” and whether this has genuine significance beyond entertainment or diversion.

The book written alongside her thesis incorporates biographical and theological elements. Dowrick expresses impatience and disdain for Rilke the man which contrasts greatly with her response to his work.


Dowrick spends time exploring the accuracy of translated poetry, noting that the translators of Rilke’s work from German to English often created very different interpretations. So it is, with all readings or listenings to poetry in one’s own language, Dowrick argues. We are all translators. The poem becomes what we make of it in the reading, much like our individual responses to spirituality.

The writer’s history shapes what sits on the page; the reader’s own history and conditioning are also inevitably present, shaping the encounter and limiting or delimiting comprehension and appreciation.

Dowrick talks about what she describes as ‘surrendered reading’,

a way of ritualising the meeting point between the writer and the reader that requires a willing letting-in as much as a letting-go. Reading then becomes a brave and profound experience of being, not simply of ‘doing’.

For the reader, Dowrick argues, finishing a (polished) work is the beginning of ‘complex processes of engagement’

The sparks that lit me up in the reading In the Company of Rilke were not necessarily the biographical details of Rilke or the theological elements, although they provided great context. It was about the exploration of the processes of reading and writing.

Reception is critical in reading: I make this point repeatedly. It is no less critical in writing.

Dowrick goes on to quote the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel.

What Rilke teaches us better than anyone, and what I think such writers as Neitzsche or Kierkegaard have generally either never known or in the end forgotten, is that there exists a receptivity which is really creation itself under another name. The most genuinely receptive being is at the same time the most essentially creative.

If the success of a book or poem is that the reader begins a ‘complex process of engagement’ once the ‘reading’ is over, this book has worked a treat.