I started April by travelling in Japan. I so loved seeing the country, strolling in glorious gardens under the cherry blossoms, and admiring the incredibly polite and nice people. However, I booked with the wrong tour company – Inspiring Vacations was anything but inspiring and the guide spoke such poor English as to be completely useless when it came to imparting information. That was a big disappointment and in future I will stick to superb tour companies such as ASA Cultural Tours.
Faced with such a lack of information about a very different land and culture, I turned to books and really enjoyed reading Liza Dalby’s East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons. She is a social anthropologist and underwent Geisha training as a young woman and wrote a book about the Geisha culture in 1983. She has also written Kimono: Fashioning Culture and The Tale of Murasaki a novel about Lady Murasaki, who some literary historians think wrote the world’s first novel in 1021. It all comes down to how one defines a novel, and personally, I think The Tale of Gengi is too autobiographical, too formless, and lacking in character and plot development to really qualify as a novel, but I do plan on reading Dalby’s fictionalised version of Lady Murasaki’s life.
East Wind Melts the Ice was a delight – an odd mix of gardening advice, cultural titbits (I was fascinated reading about Japanese mums and the time they spend preparing kids’ school lunchboxes), the importance of haiku (I learned a great deal about the importance of haiku to the Japanese, and also what haiku should contain), and the very different attitude to the seasons held by the Japanese. The book achieved some of what a good tour guide would have given the group, and was the perfect book to read while actually in Japan.
In spite of the lack of a decent tour guide, I did love visiting Japan. Seeing Mt Fuji on a perfectly clear day, with snow on the top and cherry blossoms at the bottom, was a dream come true. I also loved learning that Japan has a ‘Classics Day’, when everyone is encouraged to read the classics of their literature. I think personally we ought to have a ‘Classics Month’, but at least one day when some of the riches of our literature become required reading would be a good start. I came home feeling that we could learn many lessons from the Japanese.