Friday Fictioneers – Oops!

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Oops 191218

Photo prompt © Dale Rogerson

Oops!

“I won’t have turkey,” said Kate to herself, “in fact, I’ll try and make the day as normal as possible. And I’ll start now by going for a run. Bah! Humbug!”

Snow gleamed and winter sunshine glinted on the icy lake. Despite Brad’s absence, Kate felt her spirits lifting as she ran lightly along the gritted pathway.

She paused, breath steaming, at the bandstand by the water’s edge, and smiled as she remembered Brad playing the saxophone.

Her phone chimed.

“Can’t do Xmas without you. On 14:15 from Delhi. Love, Brad”

“Heavens! Where can I buy turkey on Christmas Eve?”

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

 

Friday Fictioneers – Chance Encounter

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (Join the Party!) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Chance Encounter - 190619 PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Chance encounter

It’s lonely, being divorced, childless and forty-something. Still, at least I have the time and money to travel.

I was waiting for a plane when I met him. He was tall, and looked artistic, cultured – interesting.

“Is that seat taken?” he asked, pointing at the place beside me. His voice gave me goose-bumps. Hastily I removed my bags.

“Where are you going?” he said, sitting down.

“Cambodia.”

His eyes opened wide. “Flight EK222? Why, so am I!”

He pulled out his boarding pass. “Seat 27A”

“Mine is 27B! Looks like we’ll be sitting together a while longer.”

How very agreeable!

Join the Party!

I’m on holiday!

For the next two weeks I am on holiday in Greece.

DSC00359 2

I’m afraid that means I won’t be reading all the Friday Fictioneers stories, or the What Pegman Saw stories. I may post stories for both of them (I’m addicted, okay, I know that!) but if your reason for reading is purely reciprocation then apologies but I may not read your story.

Neither will I be posting about my progress on ‘The Dove on the Pergola’. I’ll be thinking about it, of course, but writing very little, so there won’t be much I can tell you! The next update will be on Monday 16th July, I hope.

If I blog anything beyond FF and WPS, it is likely to be a record of my holiday. Do feel free to join me if you wish!

There’s something about Japan…

Why did I visit Japan?

I expected to enjoy the food and the scenery; I anticipated seeing cutting-edge technology; I already knew from working with them that I liked Japanese people. The country seemed slightly exotic without being intimidating. A tour of Japan felt like a suitably ‘special’ holiday to mark my retirement, especially as we chose the cherry blossom tour which takes place around the time of our wedding anniversary.

Many Japanese celebrate cherry blossom season with a hanami party, which is a picnic under the cherry trees. On day two of the tour, our group was going to enjoy its very own hanami party! Unfortunately, the weather was poor, cold and wet, and we picnicked in the rain. Our tour guide had prepared copies of a traditional Japanese cherry blossom song for us to sing, and provided a recorded accompaniment. We sang it. It all felt a little silly.

Until the next day.

We took a boat trip on the Sumida River, and there, in the background, was the cherry blossom song, ‘Sakura, Sakura’, we had sung the day before. Suddenly, the symbolism of cherry blossom made perfect emotional sense. I don’t think I can explain it; it’s something you need to experience before you can even begin to understand it. It goes way beyond the obvious reading of the transience of beauty.

Then, a few days later, Mount Fuji. What is it about that peak that makes it so potent? I’m not Japanese; it’s not a national icon of mine; and yet seeing it evoked a sense of awe in me. And it wasn’t just my response. We were travelling by bus, and the whole busload of us  gasped (and I really mean that – you could hear the sharp intake of breath) as we first saw the mountain.

Mount Fuji 2 170413

In the afternoon, I walked a short way along the ancient Tokkaido highway, which is planted on either side with 400-year-old cedars. There was one especially majestic tree. I stopped and rested my hand against its trunk. Abruptly I felt…disrespectful. I felt as though it would have been more appropriate to have bowed to the tree.

The next day we saw the Miyako Odori. I have rarely watched a performance of such intensity. I understand some of the theatrical devices that made it so powerful, but there’s more to it than that. Once again, it leads back to cherry blossom, the exquisite beauty of the world that humans are privileged to share for a short period.

Miyajima 170413

This holiday has changed me. A small part of that change is that I feel more tranquil. I haven’t changed my religious belief; I’m certainly not a Shintoist, or an animist; but I’ve experienced emotional responses that go beyond my ability to understand or describe them more than superficially. I’m glad of those experiences; I’m the richer for them.

It was a good holiday. Thank you, Japan!

Hiroshima – War and Peace

On August 6th 1945, at 8:15 a.m. the world changed for ever. The Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There were nearly 400,000 people in the city. Nobody knows exactly how many were killed directly; the official estimate is that by the end of 1945 about 140,000 had died as a result of the bomb.

The city was laid waste, flattened. For a radius of 2700 metres scarcely anything remained standing. Men, women and children died in their tens of thousands, many burned alive by the searing heat of the blast, others shredded by glass blown from windows, still others with their internal organs destroyed by the shockwave.

The Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima are both a memorial to those who died, and a powerful political statement against the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

The devastation of the blast is symbolized by the gutted structure of the Trade and Industry Exhibition Hall, which has been left exactly as it was after the bomb had exploded.

Hiroshima dome 170409

The children who died are commemorated by a sculpture in the Peace Park.

Hiroshima children's sculpture 170409

They are also remembered by a place where visitors, especially children, can leave origami paper cranes. This tradition originates with a little girl named Sadako Sasaki. She suffered from leukaemia as a result of radiation left by the bomb. There was a popular belief that anyone making 1000 paper cranes would have their wish granted and be healed. She tried to make the cranes, but died before she had finished them. Her classmates completed the remainder so that 1000 cranes were buried with her. Since then, people from all over the world have left similar paper cranes in memory of her, and of all the children who died as a result of the bomb.

Cranes fly above the river next to the park.

There is a great bell, which any visitor may toll to affirm their desire for peace and an end to nuclear weapons. The reverberations sound in every corner of the park and maybe in every corner of the world, carried there in the recollections of those who have visited.

There is an eternal flame, which will be kept burning until every nation has forsworn nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima eternal flame 170409

There is a tree, which was half burned away by the blast. Astonishingly, the next year fresh branches sprang from the trunk, and the tree still survives, left there as a symbol of hope.

I have been convinced of the evil of nuclear weapons since my childhood 50 years and more ago. The more I think about the matter, the more strongly I feel that the only solution is to altogether repudiate armed conflict between groups. Anyone who serves in their country’s armed services must obey without question, which means that unscrupulous leaders can unleash war. We know it happens; we have seen it happen in our own lifetime in Iraq.

Please, if you are a man reading this blog, say no to service in the military, and teach your sons and your grandsons to do the same. And if you are a woman, encourage the men in your family to put aside thoughts of military service.

Unless we do this, eventually somebody will use nuclear weapons again, bigger weapons in greater numbers causing incalculably more casualties. And surely we none of us want that.

 

A rainy day in Kyoto

This is going to be a miscellaneous collection of thoughts and pictures; a portfolio blog post if you like. That’s what today has been like.

It was a “free” day, when we managed our own activities. Daphne and I decided that we would start by visiting the temple at Fushimi-Inari. We caught the first subway train and arrived at the station where we changed to another line. All well so far. We found the right part of the station for the next change, and, after careful study of the subway map we boarded a train. It wasn’t very full, and we wondered where everybody was. Then we realised that they were all on the adjacent platform piling into a train that was going in the right direction.

We leaped up, sprinted across the platform (insofar as two elderly ladies can sprint!) and just caught the train. The doors closed and we departed. It went straight through the first station – we hardly noticed – and stopped at the second, where we realised what had happened. “I hope it stops at our station,” said Daphne, as the doors closed. I suppose it didn’t actually take us that long to retrace our journey by four stations…

When we finally reached the right place it was raining. Never mind. The temple is renowned for its many torii gates, and they were spectacular, brilliant orange, which in some lights shone golden. They became closer and closer, until it felt like walking inside a great cathedral.

Kyoto torii bright 170408

Above the torii gates, on Mount Inari, we walked through a forest, a mixture of bamboo and cedar. It was wonderfully tranquil. The trees were reddish-purple and green.

Kyoto cedar and bamboo 170408

One final thought on the temple. It seemed to be much more of a working temple. There was worship and meditation taking place.

Kyoto pilgrim 170408

When we returned to the station, we needed the loo. Most stations have European style toilets. Fushimi-Inari station does not. It has Asian squat toilets. I squatted, and then it was time to stand again. My knees and quads told me in no uncertain terms what they thought of that manoeuvre – in fact, I reckon I was lucky to make it without falling over!

We went to the Philosophers’ Walk next, which is a path by a canal whose banks are planted with cherry blossom. It was raining heavily by now, and there were crowds of people being slightly less courteous than they would have been in the sunshine. Still, at least we saw the place, and it is indeed beautiful.

Now we must pack. We’re off to Hiroshima in the morning, to see the Peace Park. That’s a serious business, and I shall blog about it tomorrow.

Haiku, faith and symbolism

For a few short days

Cherry blossom blooms then falls,

But the tree still lives.

We have seen many temples and shrines on this holiday. They are colourful and crowded. Many have been destroyed at some time and then rebuilt. They are often of great beauty. They celebrate important aspects of the natural world; for example, the temple that we visited today is called Kiyomizudera, which translates as “Pure water temple”. This particular temple has stood for 1200 years. It’s massive, it’s constructed of wood, and it is built entirely without using nails. The grounds were absolutely thronging with people.

Kyoto water temple 170407

This is the waterfall that gives the temple its name.

I have increasingly wondered during this visit about the extent to which Japanese people believe the teachings of these temples, and, so far as I can make out the answer is “A lot” and, simultaneously, “Not much at all”. In fact, I think it’s probably a meaningless question.

Kyoto throng 170407

The throng of visitors close to the temple.

There is, apparently, a Japanese joke that says that each Japanese is born Shinto, and dies Buddhist, which seems to mean that when you are young you are seeking to influence the world around you, and when you are old you are more concerned with a tranquil acceptance of death.

Many significant life events are recognised in a religious sense, to a much greater extent than in the UK. For example, graduation, or the start of your first job might well be celebrated with some form of blessing. People go on pilgrimage and collect stamps from the holy sites that they visit – there are thirty-three such sites in western Japan, I’m told.

Kyoto just married 170407

What comes across strongly is the extent to which symbolism is important. Children who have died young, or been stillborn, or been miscarried, are publicly remembered in wayside shrines. Houses often have symbols for protection or prosperity outside the front door.

And, of course, there is cherry blossom. Life is beautiful if brief – but there is continuity through our family. I have tried to capture a little of this with a haiku at the top of this blog post.

Kyoto cherry blossom 170407

 

Tokyo – Meiji Jingu shrine

Tokyo has some pleasant parks, and the closest to our hotel is the Yoyogi park. We approached from the north, and came first of all to the Meiji Jingu shrine. This is a Shinto shrine, one of the most important in Tokyo. In the early twentieth century, Emperor Meiji created a garden in the shrine complex, which, according to the various information boards, was greatly enjoyed by the Empress Shohen. One of the boards solemnly told us that the Empress liked fishing, and often went fishing from this specially constructed fishing point. Somehow I just couldn’t visualize her cooking and eating her catch! Nowadays, anybody can walk in the gardens for 500 yen (it’s a standard admission fee presented as a donation for upkeep – fair enough, I think), so we paid up and followed the path to the iris garden.

Tokyo Meiji garden teahouse 170330

The photo shows the teahouse constructed by the Emperor for Empress Shohen

Of course, at this time of year, all you can see of the irises is the green shoots, but it was clear that in the flowering season (June) it would be a spectacular sight. Despite there being no flowering irises, we had the pleasure of the deciduous trees just barely coming into leaf, giving a mist of colour around the nearly bare branches. In any case, all excellent gardens are beautiful in every season and this was no exception.

The photo shows the torii at the entrance to the Meiji Jingu shrine.

Tokyo Meiji Jingu shrine 170330

At the Meiji Jingu shrine itself there was a place for people to write their prayers and place them with a donation in an envelope to be presented in the shrine. You could buy all sorts of pre-printed messages, like “I pray to come back to Japan.” It would be easy to make fun of the practice, but as we passed a middle-aged woman got up from where she had been kneeling. Her face was quietly desperate, with an expression of desolation mingled with a forlorn hope. Real people pray here, with real needs. I hope she found comfort.

We spent so long enjoying the tranquil gardens that we never made it to the Yoyogi park itself. Never mind – there’s always tomorrow!

 

 

Autumn Leaves and Cherry Blossom

Hiroshima torii 170326

I am delighted to invite my family, my friends and all those who follow my blog to come with me in spirit as I visit Japan. The itinerary includes Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto and Hiroshima. I expect to blog pictures of Mt Fuji, cherry blossom, the Golden Pavilion, Ryoanji Zen garden, the bullet train, Miyajima Island, and the Peace Park in Hiroshima. There will also be pictures of food…

I don’t expect to be writing any fiction unless the muse becomes very insistent.

Normal blogging will resume w/c 17 April, with the first post planned for Tuesday 18th April.

Hiroshima cherry blossom and A bomb ruin 170326