Japan 2016

DSC00817.jpgYayoi Kasuma’s ‘Visionary Flowers’ in the forecourt of Matsumoto’s art gallery.


Four weeks. Great weather. Wonderful. Anything else? Let’s see …

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 3.08.07 pmWe got off in Tokyo, bought Pasmo cards to get around, got on a Yamanote Line train and suddenly everything fell into place. Like we’d been here before. A couple of days were spent investigating Issey Miyake’s clothes, art ancient and modern including a Caravaggio exhibition, one of those cobbled together ones where the audience was as interesting as the art. We worked our way through Yanaka and Fabric Town in Nippori, the commercial and art palaces of Roppongi Hills, the shopping malls and oddities of Odaiba, the izakaya (pubs with food) of Ueno — and marvelled again at Tokyo.

DSC00804We went east to Matsumoto (its fort is above) and spent a couple of very satisfying days there, the highlight of which was an exhibition of Yayoi Kasuma’s art at the city’s Museum of Art.

I wanted to go back to the Japanese alps for another look, just a look. So we got a train and bus to Kamikochi, one of Japan’s ‘Natural Cultural Assets’ and spent a day walking up the Azusa valley with snow-topped mountains either side.

We moved on to Kanazawa on the west coast. Once a major city, in fact the wealthiest city in Japan outside the capital in the 17th and 18th centuries, it seems to have missed the post-war industrial revolution (and the bombing) and remains a centre for crafts with more gold leaf manufactured here than the rest of the world combined! There now; sit back and marvel. It also has Kenrokuen, one of the ‘three great gardens of Japan’, and so they were. Japanese people spoke of Kanazawa with great fondness and an intimation that something different and delightful was contained there. Everyone’s second favourite team. I felt right at home.

From there we took the train to Kyoto. Why did we go to Kyoto? It was on the way to Shikoku. We climbed Mt Daimonji the difficult way, found the Tiger Gyoza Hall and consumed its products two nights in succession, investigated the Disneyland that much to our surprise is Arashiyama, bought some walking gear, watched a film called ‘The Eichmann Show’ which, despite starring Martin Ferguson and Anthony LaPaglia, will be very little seen. Kyoto. It might be important to go there once, perhaps for a week. After that not so much.

This is likely to be my only chance to include a photo of the Japanese synchronised swimming team with whom we shared the Kyoto Aquacentre twice. They’re clothed and not even doing their tricks — which were completely amaaazing.DSC01022Then the reason we went to Japan, and unquestionably the highlight, a 10-day walk following some of the Pilgrim’s Trail on Shikoku to see how just how Myrna’s three month-old hip was. Great seems to be the accepted answer. Taken in entirety, this walk of 1200 (or 1600) km. (which includes a lot of possibly boring kilometres) would be sacrificial. We did about an eighth of that and Oku Japan had exercised its usual skill in picking out excellent bits. Are Buddhist temples still interesting after the 25th time? And how steep were those hills? You’ll just have to read on to find out. I will reveal that on Shikoku buses don’t necessarily run on time, that there is both rubbish and rubbish bins, and that there is very little Romanised signage and very few willing English speakers, but a truck load of charming and helpful people.

We came back to Tokyo via Naoshima, the ‘art island’, located conveniently for us between Shikoku and Honshu’s railway stations which would take us firstly to Osaka and then back to Tokyo. I’ve got a lot to say about Naoshima some of which runs against the grain of prevailing opinion. That may be because of the juxtaposition of that experience with the walk. Or it might all be a bit of rip-off. Just a bit. IMG_0315It does have its Kasuma pumpkins and we did have a swim in the Inland Sea that was lovely.

Osaka is a bustling thrill-a-minute city where we could have spent much more than two days. A bit less stitched-up than the rest of Japan? Another highlight was seeing a major retrospective of Yasumasa Morimura’s work which I would have difficulty explaining but which I found conceptually and in craft terms as interesting as anything I’ve ever seen. In the same gallery at the same time was a collection of Ikko Tanaka’s graphic art which in any other circumstances would have been a top 50 lifetime art experience.

Here is Yasumasa, being Frida Kahlo. What can I say?IMG_0349Back in Tokyo we stayed on the other side in Shibuya, mooched around, looked for presents, went to the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, explored Daikanyama and Shimokitazawa (the South Yarra and Fitzroy of Tokyo) and found a very good place to eat on our doorstop. We also saw ‘Deadpool’ in a theatre (monster Japanese sound and screen) with 800 or so others, maybe 20 of whom had a chance to get the verbal jokes. We celebrated our departure by revisiting where we’d been on the first day walking through Yanaka and Ueno Park, coupled with a visit to the National Museum in which every exhibit is a treasure and where the bento boxes are a feast.

How do you tell that story successfully? I think, in bits.

We met dozens, scores of people, who contributed in various ways to making the trip memorable. Till just now I had forgotten the pilgrim who accosted us on the descent from Kakurin-ji who was thrilled to discover we were from Australia.


‘Murray Rose. He still alive?’ Murray Rose, six Olympic medals, 15 world records, but in 1956-60, plus he went to live in America. Still … ‘Died quite recently. He was nearly 80.’ [Actually 73, but that’s okay. We’d been walking for several hours up a steep hill and then down most of another one.] ‘Sorpo. Jan Sorpo!’ ‘Ian Thorpe? Thorpedo? Still going.’ ‘Morgan Freeman?’ ‘Mmm…’ ‘At the Olympics!’ ‘Oh yes. Cathy.’ ‘Kenneth Rosewall?’ He was casting through as many possibilities as he could to make points of connection. So many people were.

DSC00923Then there was the landscape. I started thinking about it on the train to Matsumoto, when only after 50 minutes of high speed travel had we come to anything I’d think of even vaguely as countryside. Again at Kamikochi where all the prizes of natural Japan were on display. Again from Mt Daimonji where we could see the flood pour of the vast Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe conurbation, defined almost exclusively by a contour line. And then the conceived, constructed landscape — gardens, private and public, traditional and contemporary. There is a story about relationships with nature there.


We were wandering through the temples of commerce in Harajuku and ran into a long queue standing quietly in light drizzle and we wondered why and decided to investigate. The answers prompted thinking about markets and marketing, in Harajuku, in Naoshima and in life more generally.


I mightn’t get round to writing about this but I also thought about the Japanese notion of kawaii, which can be translated as ‘tiny’, ‘cuddly’, ‘sweet’ or often, with pop world overtones, ‘cute’. IMG_0473 Like this (above) is soap and these are girls. She’s a pop star and she’s a pilgrim. It’s on the T-shirts; it’s everywhere. It has an unparalleled place and life in Japanese culture. And I think it helps a great deal in explaining the strange notes in Haruki Murakami’s novels. This last was a revelation if one that I could have trouble persuading other people to be interested in.

But we started with Issey Miyake or really Miyake Issey, and we stayed with him as a representative of Japan’s inventiveness for all sorts of things but straying constantly into engineering and infrastructure. I’ll see if I can explain what I mean.

And the walk. People want to know about the walk. It needs some narrative as well as how, and why.

Let’s finish with another Yayoi. I am standing in a closed mirrored room ‘Filled with the brilliance of light.’DSC00834

The Darling Downs, New Year 2016

DSC00369Main Street, Clifton, with a message for you all.

The Darling Downs are a plateau in southern Queensland, beginning 120 or so km west of Brisbane.

We arrived the most common way, through the Lockyer Valley one of the ten most fertile places in the world according to list makers with such things as an interest, and scene of extraordinary floods in 2011. The scarp at the end of the valley takes you up 650m quite promptly and the temperature falls 5 degrees which was one of the reasons why we were there. The road up the scarp was swarming with police. A big arrest had been made in the Valley: drugs, guns, money, etc. That was not one of the reasons why we were there.

It’s fertile on the Downs as well. Beef, pork and meat packing once, sheep a bit further out; these days more corn syrup and sunflower and safflower oil. But a lot of money was made and some of it at least was spent in Toowoomba.DSC00296

It has snowed in Toowoomba when I’ve been there in the past, a distinct oddity for Queensland, but precipitation could be a theme. Some say the name ‘Toowoomba’ is a corruption of the Aboriginal word ‘tchwampa’ meaning ‘water sit down’ an idea I like. The big town (110,000 souls, second biggest inland Australian city) sits on and around swamp drained by the East and West Creeks.

When the Lockyer Valley flooded so did Toowoomba, but the water didn’t rise with the sullen inexorability that flood water so often does. imagesIt rose in a blaze of furious anger, a two metre wave from nowhere in ten minutes. The ground was completely sodden when the town got 70mm of rain in an hour, 150mm on that day. At least partly for the commentary, this is the clip of the event I like the best. DSC00349

The two people who died were washed off the bridge to the left. It scarcely seemed possible when we were there.

The eastern edge of the scarp is also the absolute defining point of the Great Divide. None of this water contributed to the floods in the valley below. It will all have run off into the Condamine, a river with folkloric resonances, before finding its way to Lake Alexandrina not so far from Adelaide 2500km away.


The strip shops in the main drag are being cannibalized by two giant shopping malls at its western end and three or four others plopped where cars can get to them.DSC00330

It can feel a bit like it looks above. But for all that it’s a university town and you can find areas with a bit of groove. A lane decoration for example.DSC00338

It has Queens Park. In fact it has 150 public parks and gardens including the all star rose gardens which were well past their best when we were there.
DSC00343Old Toowoomba has wonderful plantings more generally — plane trees, camphor laurel, crepe myrtle, jacaranda, European species, everything seems to grow here — providing plenty of shade on a hot Queensland day. New Toowoomba (below) not so much.DSC00362






And it has some of its built heritage. They seem to be more respectful of that, in some parts of Queensland at least, than in other parts of the country.


DSC00340In 2015, the Vault was designated Australia’s best adult nightclub, possibly supplanting the city’s 2008 win as Australia’s Tidiest Town.

We left Toowoomba and drove south ambling over the Downs deviating via Nobby and Clifton to Warwick, and then east to the coast through Legume, Woodenbong and Beaudesert, a very fine drive.

Three food photos.

Ordering at Jilly’s, ToowoombaDSC00294

After 45 k.s. 9am Saturday Morning, Cherry Tree Cafe, WarwickDSC00378DSC00381



Fishburger at Carole’s Arts and Crafts, Woodenbong

220px-Steele_RuddONOURSELECTIONFLYER4‘Steele Rudd’ (Arthur Hoey Davis) wrote On Our Selection (the original Dad and Dave stories) while living in this area. He was born in Drayton, the original site of Toowoomba and now a suburb. I was pleased to discover that he ‘detested his struggling but admirable family being made into comic yokels, and had nothing to do with the radio program. Davis had a profound respect for the pioneering Australian woman, and he was particularly incensed by the use of ‘Mum’ when referring to Mrs Rudd.’ Hoorah.

This might be like Rudd’s Pub in Nobby. Mr Davis may or may not have sat at a table here writing.DSC00365And Jackie Howe who once shore 321 sheep in 7 hours, 40 minutes, using hand shears (October 1892, at Alice Downs Station near Blackall Qld) is commemorated in Warwick because it is near where he was born. It is important to scrape things like that into a pile which over time will take form.

Glorious Mt LindesayDSC00390

And the purpose of our visit. This is how Australians celebrate 70th birthdays.DSC00396• • • • • • • • • • •

DSC00346Back to Toowomba, one of the really remarkable things about it is schools.

As you enter Toowoomba from the road up the scarp there is no choice but to veer right or left around the two kilometre perimeter of Toowoomba Grammar and its vast grounds.

Should you choose to do so, you can stay at the Grammar View Motel and what you will see when you look, as of course you must, is this (below) … and a great deal more. The ‘more’ that I could see that day included a groundsman mowing patterns into the turf of Old Boys Oval in front of the agapanthus display.

DSC00347Unlike the built cacophony of somewhere like the University of Melbourne for example, it is all of a style. And that style is palatial. And it is not alone in that regard. Concordia (Lutheran), Fairholme (continuing Presbyterian), The Glennie School (Anglican) and Downlands (Catholic) have equally sumptuous facades.

But they are just plums in a much bigger pie. Toowoomba has 32 schools educating primary students and 21 for secondary students. Certainly they collect students from all over the Downs, but this would still appear to be a surfeit.

The schools are often almost cheek by jowl. For example, Glenvale Christian School and Darling Downs Christian School sandwich Glenvale State School almost sharing fences. Glenvale Christian School, ‘Kindy’ to Year 6, has an enrolment of 97, while Darling Downs Christian School (which is not Christian Outreach College Toowoomba or Toowoomba Christian College) and is designed to promote ‘a redemptive relationship between each student and Jesus Christ’ has an enrolment of 184 Years P-12.

This is the growth area: not the schools that charge you $30 grand to get in the gate, but the ones which charge $5 grand and then get topped up by the Commonwealth Government. And in some cases, too often, who ‘teach all their subjects from a Biblical worldview’ which may inter alia indicate that the earth is 6031 years old, that Adam (930) was outlived by Noah (950), and that the sentence ‘Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran’ (Genesis 11:26) suggests that at the age of 70 Terah had triplets, and that that is worth arguing about. I saw all this on a giant wall poster, 20m long by 2m high, called ‘World History’ at a school in the Riverina not so long ago. It made me deeply uneasy.

Of the 21 secondary schools, six are government schools. I could work out the proportionate enrolment but suffice it to say Toowoomba provides more than a hint of the new world of fully privatised school education. It will of course never be fully privatised because, if you have a choice, you don’t want yobbos, tarts, oddballs, noisy kids, blacks*, druggies, and ones who don’t know what the right thing to do is. You don’t want unnecessary trouble. So there will always need to be a home for the residualised unless you want them on the streets, and the shopkeepers don’t fancy that.

[* ‘The College is all inclusive and inter-denominational. We also welcome students from indigenous backgrounds.’ So blackfellas as well as everyone. Splendid.]

I began my secondary schooling in Hamilton (Victoria) a town not unlike Toowoomba in some ways: a regional centre of a very wealthy grazing area. The bottom hasn’t quite fallen out of its economy but its population has been static for a long time — it could never quite crack 10,000 — and the principal of the school I visited there recently described the current social bifurcation: ‘The town is splitting in two: the ones who are going okay and the ones, more of them everyday, who are stuffed.’

It was always a bit like that. My father was never going to be invited to join The Squatters’ Club. But the school — a government school — I went to was excellent. Very strong in science, history and art, but good across the board. Solid, orderly, well administered, excellent morale, it had 890 students. Over the road was the Tech School, another government school, all boys, again very good at what it did. It had about 400 kids. Monivae, a Catholic secondary school then just for boys, which had been recently established, had around 200 (including Pat Dodson who I remember playing football against). Hamilton and Western District College (private, boys) and Alexandra College (private, girls) had about 400 between them and across primary and secondary years. Note that as happens today these kids were being collected from all over the place. Lots of bus travellers; and Pat was from Broome.

I had reason to visit one of these schools recently. Unsurprisingly things had changed. Monivae had girls and 608 students. The Colleges amalgamated years ago. The new institution has an enrolment of 477. A new Lutheran school has a P-12 enrolment of 199. (In what respect is that viable?) I can’t find the enrolment of the new Plymouth Brethren school, Glenvale. It could be 50-80 (and it could be a sister school of Glenvale school in Toowoomba which has as part of its mission statement: ‘With humble reliance upon the grace of our sovereign God, in order to assist Christian parents to fulfil their educational responsibility, and complementing the work of the Christian Church, to nurture our students in the fear and admonition of the Lord.’)

And my alma mater? Amalgamated first with the Tech School and then with a primary school, it now has a total enrolment across Years P-12 of 487 and a fragile reputation. That’s what two decades of neo-con thinking and sleight of hand distribution of federal funds has achieved.

Free? No not really. Secular? Increasingly less so. Compulsory? Absolutely. Trouble? In due course, nothing surer.

Warwick High looked like I want my schools, across the board, to look like. Confident, stable and proud.DSC00377

• • • • • • • • • • •

As you’d expect the edge of the scarp provides much-coveted building sites. Kara View Court had just been opened up. Big blocks, big houses, several of them far more interesting than these.DSC00353

But going back to the highway we drove past a gated community.