Natasha Norman Visual Artist

A quiet goodbye

Time has finally caught up with me as I write this last blog post about the MI-Lab residency in real time. It has been a gentle day of packing and gathering together for departure tomorrow. Various members are peeling away in taxis as their flights demand.

Charles and I had a final walk to the Forest Mall with a sparkling Fuji as our guide. We indulged in a doughnut seated on the DIY display outdoor furniture admiring the Fuji view.

The whole valley has been bathed in magical light today and I caught the last of it on my last run around the lake as the dust turned the valley pink and then blue. I followed the local Fish Eagle for a while and saw a Grey Headed Heron. Before heading home, I rang the memorial bell twice for a wish and listened to it echo my hopes across the silvery water.

What a magical moment this has been.

Residency portrait

Thank you to Hayato Fujioka for his photographic skills.

Washi paper light

This morning the sunlight making the washi paper screens glow in my room was of the South African kind. I almost thought I caught a scent of the coffee percolating on the stovetop and imagined that my housemate, Martin, was making scones today. The only thing missing was the sound of Steve whistling guinea fowl chants at the front door to announce his arrival with madeleines.

It was still a good day. I was welcomed by one of Charles’ sayings in the kitchen, “Ah, it is a good morning now that you’re here!” A shameless flirt but very endearing.

I spent the day finishing off some prints and then slowly wound up my workspace: packaging prints, sharpening and oiling my carving tools for storage, cleaning brushes and sweeping away stray wood chips as the warm afternoon light started to fall on the tatami mats. That amazing Japanese pace: a whole day for cleaning studio today and tomorrow a day for packing.

We all enjoyed a last meal together at the local restaurant, nicknamed The Village. Now I am wondering how I will fit everything into my bag tomorrow!

Breath Communication Etiquette

But is it toothpaste?

It’s peculiar to get used to the feeling of not understanding, of not knowing and having to explore, imagine or investigate. I think the basic curiosity of an artist is to look at the world as a place of fascination. I found this image on my phone while I was uploading pics and had a good laugh.

Keiko finished off the workshop today with some instruction on tool maintenance and information on kozo paper suppliers based both in Japan and America or Britain. It was a very useful last word. Some of the artists have started packing up their spaces. I so enjoy printing I’m going to indulge one last morning in studio tomorrow before clearing.

Some prints

A few examples of the prints I’ve pulled…

Zazen (Wave Function)
Zazen (Wave Function)

I have a deep love for the surface of a body of water. Based on some images of Lake Kawaguchiko, this block was a great place of learning for me.

Zazen (Wave Function)
Zazen (Wave Function)

I like the variations one can achieve in printing.

Lake Kawaguchiko Mist
Lake Kawaguchiko Mist

This was a very difficult print to get right and I’m still not satisfied with the final result, but I was trying a gomi effect in the foreground and softer tones in the background. A big learning curve.

Lake Kawaguchiko
Lake Kawaguchiko

This is the first version of this block. The colours are a bit clumbsy and I didn’t get the soft bokashi in the background.


I started to like the silkscreen-like quality of this print and tried to push that.


I like the brush-like marks in this print. It feels quite bold for a Mokuhanga work.

Ofuro progression
Ofuro progression


A bit of fun. Quickly carved and printed experimentally, I literally painted the block as I printed.


A selection of softer hues.

Tsuki Koi
Tsuki Koi

This is my final image and I had much more control over the medium.

Tsuki Koi
Tsuki Koi

Difficult to capture all the subtle tones in a photograph.


My first block

Printing Process

A few pictures of the printing process… this is a three block but five colour print.

Pulling the first colours: yellow and a hint of orange off one block
The worktop

Inks on the left, nori above block centre, baren for pressure

Second block is inked with two colours: blue and burnt umber
Final prints


At 5:30am the room shook. It carried on shaking in the way a wooden house would shake if the person in the room next door started doing starjumps. It was surprisingly unalarming for a level 6 earthquake, epicentre Tokyo. I confess I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Mount Ashiwada

The weather today was spectacularly summery and I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to be outdoors so I hiked up to Mount Ashiwada to get a view of the forests around the base of Mount Fuji and one of the other of the 5 lakes in the distance. It was a very pleasant hike under the shade of the newly green trees. The path follows the spine of the hill rising up to the peak such that one has excellent views of both sides through the trees.

It is the second of 3 national holidays in Japan so the lakes are filled with slalom skiers and jet skies. Families and friends played in the open parks and there was a distinct smell of braai on my decent from the mountain that made me homesick. The roar of motorbikes pervaded late into the afternoon. Engines are evidently a big hobby here too.

  • View of Mount Fuji from the top of Ashiwada peak
    View of Mount Fuji from the top of Ashiwada peak
  • Fuji view from Ashiwada hiking trail
    Fuji view from Ashiwada hiking trail
  • View of Kawaguchiko lake from top of Ashiwada peak
    View of Kawaguchiko lake from top of Ashiwada peak
  • Top of Ashiwada peak
    Top of Ashiwada peak
  • Ashiwada hike
    Ashiwada hike
  • Kawaguchiko village
    Kawaguchiko village
  • A curious woodcutter's cottage
    A curious woodcutter's cottage

    Note the large keyhole in the bottom half of the door.


The comes a time when the balance of becoming familiar with a place shifts to starting to say goodbye. It’s a bit like the number ‘12’ on a clock face: the chosen point from which it is either a quarter past or quarter to the hour. Well, returning from our visit to Tokyo felt like passing the 12 on that clock face. We are no longer a quarter past arriving but are approaching a quarter to leaving the MI-Lab experience.

Sitting on the verandah this morning, eating breakfast, Sari (from Finland) remarked how we’ve almost experienced an entire season’s change here in Kawaguchiko. The snow is thawing on the lower slopes of Fuji, the blossoms are finishing and filling up the lakes and rivers with their confetti while bright green and red leaves replace them on the maple trees.

We have 7 days left of studio time so despite it being a Saturday, most of us spent the day in studio finishing up our last blocks. It’s great to see how much we have learnt and how much that was strange is now familiar to us. I couldn’t help noticing on my evening walk down to the lake that the neighbour’s dog no longer threatens to break his chain, barking at me. I still get a suspicious look but I am now, evidently, a more familiar thing these days.

Magic Lantern along Lake Kawaguchiko
Magic Lantern along Lake Kawaguchiko

Sunset over Lake Kawaguchiko
Sunset over Lake Kawaguchiko


View of Fuji from my grocery store

Ocean greeting

It was the superstitious link to a Patagonia surf sticker (given to me by Paul Edmunds upon his return from Japan) that got me to this very experience. So it felt like good research to explore some of the surf culture in Shonan Bay. And it’s amazing how similar a particular sub-culture can be the world over.

Kugenuma Kaigan beach has large open spaces, which I presume are built to accommodate crowds in Summer, and ample Tsunami warning signage. It also boasts a peculiar black volcanic sand. Most surfers cycle across the broad concrete walkways with their boards housed in a special carrier fixed to the bike’s frame. Despite the howling onshore wind there were a number of people in the water so I hazarded a rental and caught a few rides. Hello ocean! I have missed you!

  • Shonan Kaigan
    Shonan Kaigan
  • surfer girl
    surfer girl
  • Kuganuma beach front
    Kuganuma beach front
  • Volley ball and surfers
    Volley ball and surfers
  • Kuganuma Kaigan
    Kuganuma Kaigan
  • Bicycle on beach
    Bicycle on beach
  • Tree in carpark
    Tree in carpark
  • Surf and Sun
    Surf and Sun



Just when the routine of residency life was threatening to burden, we are packed off for two days in Tokyo. The main purpose of our trip is to visit some of the main suppliers so that we can get stock of materials for our studios at home. We were introduced to the metro system and after a delicious sushi lunch (I am a huge fan of squid nigiri these days) we headed off to the Ozu paper company. This small washi paper company has been trading since the 1600s. Its 8m x 4m shop floor was a treasure trove of handmade paper and paper things. I was completely seduced by some printed papers but also ordered a selection of sized papers for Mokuhanga printing at home. They are launching their English website this year and do ship by EMS to South Africa (FYI).

Brush shop
Brush shop

From there we were taken a tiny brushmaker’s shop. The space was crammed with every conceivable type of brush (including those inconceivable types made from peacock feathers and deer hair). The brushmaker himself served us each individually (Hayato patiently translating). It was as magical as the wand store in Rowling’s books. Each brush was selected, combed, stamped, wrapped and packaged. I bought an old Mizubake (for water) and Dousabake (for applying size to paper). We were there a considerable time so those waiting outside ventured into the neighbouring café for some flapjacks and a slow brew (or fusion brew) coffee (produced in a kind of high school chemistry set).

Fortified by our caffeine we plunged into the metro again headed for Jimbocho where we were deposited at an art supply store and told to explore the many book shops that also house original Mokuhanga prints from the 1900s at affordable prices. Reeling from my spending I didn’t purchase a print but found some incredible works for only 12 000 Yen. Perhaps worth a return visit.

  • Jimbocho bookstore
    Jimbocho bookstore
  • Jimbocho bookstore
    Jimbocho bookstore

Back at the hotel for a 30min shower and relax, Charles and I sought dinner along the Ueno main street settling on a stylish rhamin bar that didn’t disappoint. We met the rest of the group at Keiko’s gallery space, the headquarters of MI-Lab or the Centre for the Science of Human Endeavor, a converted studio complex that used to be a Secondary School. We were not invited to the main lecture by Katsutoshi Yuasa as it was in Japanese for paying visitors but we caught the question-answer session. I was quite delighted to meet Katsutoshi who is a Tokyo based printer that I wrote about in my Masters thesis. He has an exhibition on at the Yokohama Museum that we were given free tickets to see. I asked him about the new direction his work is taking and he told me his thoughts about slowing down time enough to really look at the systems of sight our technology is engendering. I found him a profoundly interesting thinker.

With beer from our supper fuelling our resolve, Charles and I managed to convince a group to go to Akihabara district to see the streets at night and sing some more karaoke. It was truly memorable!


Shinto archery

Archer in action
Archer in action

With our weekend cut short to accommodate Hiroki’s lessons, we decided to take an extended lunchbreak today to wonder down to the lakeside and see some of the Samurai Archery festival. Hayato came with us and filled us in on various bits of local custom. Apparently this festival is very local to Kawaguchiko and is 900 years old. It is now supported by the local Arts and Culture Foundation.

I have to take back my words about shrines not being places of ritual after witnessing this event. Ritual seems to be embedded into the very fabric of life here which is probably why it was so difficult to identify initially. First the archers processed into the prominent local Shinto shrine with the priests and important local community members (a bit like the deacons, parish council members etc in a Catholic church context) where they received a formal blessing. The horses wait patiently in the forest around the shrine adorned with ancient saddles and tunic clad handlers like a fairytale. Around the shrine in a true festival fashion, booths sell local eats and treats including fresh fish on sticks around a little coal oven, candy floss and sweet cakes.

Shrine snack
Shrine snack

Down at the arena set up for the event by the lake, a large marquee serves delicious hot pork misu soup free to visitors. One could also get a cup of hot sake. My favourite were the cream buns (a kind of cream filled drop scone). The octopus cakes were also delicious (not octopus shaped, actually filled with octopus cooked in a kind of pancake batter).

During the Shinto blessing at the temple, a group of young girls performed a geisha dance in kimonos with bells and fans on the arena stage. Each movement was slow and gracefully executed to the haunting moan of a flute. An icy wind picked up and we were all getting very cold but then the archers appeared, processing on horseback with the priests in attendance down the street and through the arena. The course was about 200 to 300 meters in length and roughly straight. Two targets were situated along the gallop and an elevated platform enabled scorekeepers a clear view. Everyone involved in the event was in a specific attire. It felt a bit like a re-enactment of the English joust.

The skill of the archers was really startling. They had to steer their horse onto the course with one hand while the other clasped a bow the length of their bodies and an arrow. They would come thundering into the course, stood in their stirrups and delivered an arrow at the first target, then they reached for a second arrow and delivered it at the second target before having to slow the horse. Quite a few riders got a bulls-eye and when they made the target smaller for the second round, bulls-eye again.

The costumes were also beautiful: patterned prints on the tunics, feathers in their curved helmets and deer hide over their legs. It was simply spectacular.

Baren leaves

We’ve all been working furiously to get the most of Hiroki’s insights. Today we were given invaluable demonstrations of tool sharpening, paper sizing (the Japanese use cow not rabbit glue) and changing the bamboo leaf on our barens (the tool we use to transfer the image from block to paper – a more sophisticated version of the smoothed wooden spoon common to Western hand-printing techniques).

There are two types of baren: beta and sumi baren. They were originally made from wound and knotted bamboo coiled on a flat surface and covered in a bamboo leaf that is oiled with Camelia oil when printing. A pure bamboo baren will last 3 generations of printers. The Grandson of the first printer will probably use an original sumi baren as a beta baren by the time he inherits it. A sumi baren is harder and used for pressure on fine lined blocks. A beta baren is better for soft flat areas of colour.

Our barens are made from coiled synthetic rope but still covered with bamboo leaf and oiled with Camelia oil. I am wondering what I’ll find to replace my baren with back in South Africa. I promised Hiroki I’d send him a picture of the banana leaf baren when I try it!

One of the most useful things I learned from Hiroki for my own printing is the application of thin layers of colour. I am getting a handle on soft, transparent gradations which is very exciting.

Sensei Hiroki

Today the new sensei arrived from Tokyo. His name is Hiroki Satake and he had us all spinning from his insights. He has been printing for a number of years and has extensive teaching experience as well (he teaches at the University in Tokyo). He is also familiar with Western print techniques such as silkscreen, etching and lithography and has some startlingly refreshing ideas about combining colliograph and Mokuhanga printing with some amazing results.

  • Hiroki Satake
    Hiroki Satake

We only have him for two days so the class time has been very busy. Our first demonstration was on different types of printing effect: goma-zuri (sesame printing), beta-zuri (flat colour printing), mokume (woodgrain printing) as well as ichimonji bokashi (1 colour gradation), isukeawase bokashi (2 colour gradation). He really illustrated that it is the subtle balance of water to nori when printing that radically changes the print result. In his own works, Hiroki is fastidious about the ratio of water to nori. He prints very large blocks and has to keep the printing room lightly steamed so that the inks and paper won’t dry out.

We all greatly appreciated his way of approaching teaching which was to visit each person, one on one, to find out their printing style and interests so that he could tailor the class to our needs as a group. He brought a lot of examples of plates, prints and materials. It was incredibly enriching!

Hayato has uploaded some images of our residency on the Endeavor Website.

Colliograph demonstration
Colliograph demonstration

Printed with a baren and inked with a silkscreen squeegee

An etching by Sataki
An etching by Sataki

Detail of a Mokuhanga replica print
Detail of a Mokuhanga replica print

An incredibly subtle Mokuhanga print
An incredibly subtle Mokuhanga print

Mos Burger


The warm weather has lingered. Hurrah! This afternoon I enjoyed short sleeves and an open window as the last of the day’s light filtered into the studio. I am carving a new block for class tomorrow.

It is Saturday night so Charles, Carol and I ventured to the Dream Café. The charming hostess spoke very little English and the menu was a bit beyond our skills to decipher so we finished our beers and headed to Mos Burger for a fast food experience. It was fast food, but not like anything I’ve experienced before. For a start the place was very clean and a gentle jazz pervaded the eating area that was styled in a slick Cape Town, hipster-type of laser cut plywood to suggest a forest. The fare was better than a MacDonalds but rather small in size – more like a streetwise burger.

Before the walk home I ventured to the loo and felt as though I’d eaten some cake from Alice in Wonderland. Everything was just a little too small. The space in front of the toilet bowl in which one has to lean down to raise trousers had shrunk such that I found myself face-in-the-door. I could barely fit my hands into the washbasin which was somewhere around my knees. To my complete surprise I found a fold down baby chair between the toilet and the basin so it was clearly designed to accommodate a mother and child.

I am prone to forgetting my height here but every now and then I get a startling reminder. I often feel the top hairs on my head brush a door lintel and consistently have a clear view of the driver over the heads of other passengers no matter how far back in the bus I sit.

Evening walk
Evening walk

Nenba Heritage Village

This morning it was 8:22am exactly when Carol knocked on my door to say we had the day off, owning to the good weather, and did I want to come to the craft village in Nenbo. I was calculating the most efficient way to deal with my morning procrastination from the warm bedclothes (was it to be a new personal best? Shower, dress and breakfast in under 30min to be in class by 9am?). At 9:05am we headed out the door (in short sleeves!) on a 2 hour walk to the historic village which is situated along the neighbouring lake, Saiko. It was a beautiful walk, with lots of photo stops and a coffee and cake pause at a family run establishment.

Lake Saiko
Lake Saiko

Fishing on Lake Saiko
Fishing on Lake Saiko

The Nenba village is a reconstruction based on centuries old houses that were destroyed in a typhoon in 1966. Today the thatch houses contain local arts and crafts including a Washi paper maker. The houses have unique rooflines that mimic the helmets of Samuari warriors and the whole village looks out at the beautiful Mount Fuji.

Nenba 1938
Nenba 1938

Photographed by Koyo Okada

Mount Fuji from Nenba Village
Mount Fuji from Nenba Village

A group of loud but good natured American tourists were making full use of the 500 Yen dress up option and started a mock battle with some Japanese tourists also in Samuari gear. It was amusing to watch while Charles finished a sketch. I was more taken with the giant fish kites that hung over the river. They are a colourful local tradition around the lakes.

Fish Kites and Nenba

Charles and I were the last to leave after some tasty ice-creams squeezed from frozen tubs. We were not prepared for a 2 hour walk home so, armed with instructions from a helpful tour guide who gave us free entry to the village (owing to the fact that we are visiting artists) we headed down the river track to the main road to catch a 16:14 local bus home.

We were met with the conundrum of 3 bus stop options less than 100m apart. I had a suspicion we were at the wrong one so we asked the help of an elderly farmer. She didn’t speak a word of English but managed to decipher our needs from the bus timetable and the note in Japanese given to us by the village tour guide. At 16:14 exactly, a bus emerged from nowhere. Grateful for a helpful driver we were able to comically work out the ticket system and get home in less than 20min for 450 Yen. High 5s all round. It’s amazing the sense of achievement that even the little things can give you in a foreign country.

1 Hour of Politeness

1 Hour of Politeness Performance
1 Hour of Politeness Performance

Image Credit: Brenda Petays

Today I took part in a performance piece after studio time. Brenda Petays, a Canadian artist, is part of a performance collective that meets once a month and does a performance for 1 hour. It doesn’t matter where in the world the group members are, the performance takes place on the same day and time and guests are invited, so Carol Justin (UK) and I volunteered for ‘1 hour of politeness’ in which we wore the paper face masks that we see so many Japanese wearing in public.

The mask has many connotations. To a Western gaze it looks like a precaution against an epidemic and indeed the popularity of the mask did reach a pitch with the outbreak of Bird flu in 2012. Today, according to our Japanese staff at the residency, it is worn to keep a cold or flu virus contentiously to oneself (so out of respect for the community at large) or as an aid to hayfever sufferers (poor Hayato is suffering from hayfever to such an extent that he has gone to Tokyo to see a doctor). But both Keiko and Hayato agree it can also be read as a sign that someone is being a bit of a hypochondriac.

Outside of the society of extreme politeness in Japan, it would be difficult to read the mask as anything other than a plague warning. So we decided (under Brenda’s guidance) to don the mask and venture into a public space. We were met with little to no reactions – as is the Japanese way – so we were left to consider the affect of the mask on ourselves. Carol noted how comforting it felt: a way of keeping one’s face warm in the chilly afternoon air and an excuse not to have to engage too much with passers-by. It was disconcerting, for me, to have to engage with my company given only their eyes as expressive markers.

When the hour was up we parted ways at the Fuji View Hotel, so named for its incredible view of Mount Fuji from the hotel entrance - the peak framed by road and garden so as to finish the point perspective. I went inside for my second hot springs bathing experience and returned completely blissed out. I had the mineral baths all to myself and a dreamscape walk back to the residency through a lamp-lit blossom tree avenue. Top that off with ginger, spring onion, soya and sake fried fresh salmon and I think I could get used to life here.

Carol Justin
Carol Justin

Image Credit: Brenda Petays

Brenda Petays
Brenda Petays

Image credit: Brenda Petays

Natasha Norman
Natasha Norman

Image Credit: Brenda Petays

Evening Run

I had the most beautiful evening run today along Kawaguchiko Lake. A few pictures…

  • Sunset
  • Lake Kawaguchiko is a very popular recreational fishing place.
    Lake Kawaguchiko is a very popular recreational fishing place.
  • Lined with blossom trees
    Lined with blossom trees

On my way down to the lake I passed a friendly neighbour who chatted away inquiringly in Japanese. I told her I was going for a run and made swinging motions with my arms to indicate as much (amazing the new heights of body language). She looked particularly interested and smiled broadly which I thought a little strange. As I hit my stride on my regular route along the lake’s edge I noticed ribbons at various intervals with the logo “Ultra Trail Mount Fuji.” The sweet neighbour had mistaken me for a trail runner! My illusions were soon shattered by a pair of Spaniards that came thundering towards me in fancy lycra running gear but they seemed to be the only other runners that evening.

Park Girl Fashion

“We offer the highest cute fashion
To you who are wonderful
At a yasukawa value price
It is POP and ARK that designed

Today I did some retail therapy after a day in studio. It was pouring with rain but I needed groceries so I decided that if I had to brave the rain I may as well go to the Forest Mall and peruse the DIY, Daiku and Fashion One stores too. Both shopping options are about a 20min walk from the residency.

The DIY store is a treasure trove. Placed somewhere between a Timbercity and Builder’s Warehouse it is a warehouse sized shop full of the best stuff from Linden plywood to brush pens and Sumi ink as well as house fittings, suitcases, camping equipment and dog tents (no jokes!).

Armed with some Japanese stationary I ventured into the Fashion One store and, after carefully placing my wet umbrella in a long thin plastic bag provided at the entrance, I found a ridiculous English slogan T-shirt: “I am pleased with this. It is so Humble though. Searching for a Dream.” I couldn’t resist! The bazaar Park Girl label was an added bonus.

I was frustrated to find that the Forest Mall Value Mart doesn’t stock my favourite rice crackers. With an entire aisle to choose from, it seems ridiculous that they were out of stock. Oh well. I did score on some excellent sushi at 30% off. After 5pm items whose sell-by date is that day, get radically reduced. The store stays open to 11pm so late shoppers can get some amazing bargains.

There were a lot of jingles, little sound boxes and small TVs trying to sell meat, juice and rice. It made a strange frenetic pitch to an otherwise completely noiseless group of shoppers.

The Kirin beer was a bit heavy in my backpack on the walk home but proved to be a welcome refresher to recover from the rain.

Post Script

Watched Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation again and recognised parts of Tokyo.

Left Cheek Teeth

We haven’t seen Mount Fuji for four days now. An icy mist seems to be keeping it from our view. There was a light rain in the day so I pulled an experimental print. Rainy weather is best for printing, according to tradition.

Having been for a laborious early morning run in which it took at least 20min for my legs to warm up, I opted for a short stroll to the Convenience Store to buy another Royal Meiji (a yogurt dessert) for breakfast. My potluck buy had proven delicious this morning so I thought a repeat was be in order for tomorrow.

On my way home, I was hailed by a friendly local who insisted on collapsing into conversation with me. He luckily had enough potted English words in his Japanese to ask why I was here and where I came from.

“You staying hotel?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m at the MI-Lab. Keiko’s place.” It’s a small village and the neighbours all know each other.

“Ah yes. ‘me’ lab,” he replied giving me a broad smile that revealed the fact that he only had bottom teeth on the left-hand side of his face. His crinkly eyes were shining and he nattered away in Japanese for a bit until he looked at my blank face.

“You rent there? I am (couldn’t catch the name but I presumed it was our landlady he was referring to) cousin.”

“Ah!” I nodded, indicating I understood.

“Which country you from?”

“South Africa.”

“Africa!” He looked completely incredulous. “Which country? Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria?”

“South Africa,” I replied. He looked confused so I persisted with, “Mandela?”

“Ah Mandela!”

I had to laugh. Our first democratic president is more widely known than the name of our country.

“I live in that house,” he whisked round and sucked on his left cheek teeth a little, pointing to a jumble of wooden beams and an old-school Japanese roofline. “One with blossom tree. This,” he gestured to a yard full of junk, which on closer inspection could be second-hand goods, “this is my business.”

I got another toothless grin and a handshake. “Pleased to meet. I see you again.”

The Spirit World

The spirit world in Japan is disarmingly parallel to the human world. All along the lake, in the forests on the surrounding hills or interspersed between the houses are Shino temples or shrines. Marked by a lintel gate that indicates one is entering the spirit world, these houses are simply that: houses for the kami. Unlike the Western Christian tradition of a church being a house of God to accommodate the community, local Shino temples are not entered. One passes a fresh water basin in a separate pavilion near the gate to wash hands and mouth and then one stands in the shallow portico of the temple building to ring the bell, bow, clap and bow respect to the spirit housed within. Sometimes the wooden and glass screen reflects the outside world back at you. One is not presented with a spectacle of holiness, just a place.

It was a completely different way for me to spend Easter Sunday, the most celebrated day of the Catholic calendar, alone in a spirit world forest (every shrine and temple is housed in a wooded area, it is easy to find a temple in a built up area by the tale-tell clump of trees). After a slow morning recovering from a night of sake, Kirin beer and karaoke with Charles and Hayato, I ventured up the low mountains around Lake Kawaguchiko to seek the shrine and temple on the hilltop over looking us. We’ve had moody, misty weather the last few days that has hidden Mount Fuji from us with the forecast for snow tomorrow (it’s been freezing cold too!). If you’ve ever played the computer game, Riven, they you’ll have a sense of my experience today. A clearly marked and well-kept path running the ridge of the hill, the subtle sound of birds, curious Shinto buildings with tools stored out in the open (no fear of theft) as though the occupants have momentarily vacated the place and a surreal wondering past a wood cutter’s house back into the village.

Hayato explains that the shrines are Shinto and the temples Buddhist. Some temple complexes, like the Meiji Jingu in Tokyo or the Fujiomurosengen Shrine complex near us in Kodachi, seem to house a kind of monastery with monks in attendance. In my limited experience they are places of peace, places of spirit but not necessarily of ritual activity.

As in African culture there seems to be only a thin veil between the spirit world and human world, in fact, just a simple lintel gateway. The first emperor of Japan was said to have married the goddess Otohime, daughter of Ryojin; the dragon deity of the sea. Ryojin lives on in the contemporary Manga movie culture - the boy-dragon of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away - and in the food offerings left at little kami houses safe in their forests alongside the human world.


Karaoke night!

Charles Coates and Hayato Fujioka

Good Friday

There was an earth tremor today. A very slight one. Felt like someone was jumping up and down in the room next door.

Rain and mist meant it was an excellent printing day. I went for a short walk over lunch and rang the bell that echoes over the lake to mark Good Friday. It was eerie and beautiful.


The blossoms in Japan are quite possibility the most ridiculously beautiful natural event I’ve ever witnessed. Linear winter trees are suddenly covered in white, pale pink or sometimes bright pink fluff like they’ve been spun in cotton candy-floss. Beneath their bows slips of confetti shake free in a gentle breeze. It’s magical.

I sneaked out of class time today for an extended lunch break with my sketchbook, headphones, ink and brush to wonder through the Fuji View Hotel’s incredible garden of blossoming trees. I shared the experience with a busload of Japanese tourists. I’ve finally managed to shake the Western habit of waving at people and now nod or bow slightly in greeting. Through the hotel and down by the lake I found a sort of grove that I settled in to draw for an hour. The Japanese are so polite that I was quite undisturbed. The odd pedestrian made the effort to walk around me so as not to disrupt my gaze.

Some fishermen sat in the shallows of the lake to catch, what I presume would be, a kind of carp. Behind them in a shallower reed bed was a lot of activity. Some kind of fish (perhaps a catfish?) in only half a foot of water, was thrashing around the reeds, feeding on something. Their fins stood clear of the water in most places but failed to attract the attention of the fishermen. As I watched the scene an eerily pale yellow koi fish swam next to the shoreline like a mythical moon spirit.

My prints have been more successful than I had dreamed possible at this stage of the workshop. The bleeding inks and bokashi moments are nicely timed in my image of Fujikawaguchiko lake’s surface at dusk.