We may be in the full flush of spring in Sydney but my mind keeps thinking of autumn in the northern hemisphere. It’s hard-wired into my British bones, I suspect, and comes with an expectation of autumn leaves and sharp, golden light when what I’m getting is flowers and bright, bright sun. In recent years, we’ve travelled to Japan for a dose of autumn and never been disappointed, the colours of the leaves beyond beautiful. We were due to go again around now, but 2020, or The Year of Endless Travel as we thought it would be, has turned into its opposite, the year of none.
It’s why I relish the trips to Japan that I have made already. I smile at the memories of hot springs and meals that nearly always exceeded expectations, even the simplest ones. Despite its huge population and packed cities, Japan is such a relaxing place to be. I know there may be oodles of stress bubbling beneath the surface for those who actually live there, with that well-known trait of conformity and not losing face keeping everything hidden away, but it makes Japan a dream for travellers. It’s so organised and welcoming, not just fastidiously polite but genuinely friendly. It’s no wonder I’ve always left the country feeling a better person.
For me, it’s as much about the architecture as the landscape. I admire the clever way space is utilised, how wood is revered and expertly crafted, and how one happens upon numerous little details that make life more bearable. I adore the temples, especially those that seem to grow up in the middle of forests. I even love the shops, from the sumptuous food floors of department stores to those corner shops seemingly everywhere, the life within them beautifully portrayed in Sayaka Murata’s stunning novel, ‘Convenience Store Woman’.
Thankfully, life is circular. What is closed now will open again. The travel restrictions will be lifted eventually. The skies – poor planet, notwithstanding – will again be filled with planes. And I know I will one day be free to visit Japan again.
So I thought I’d share a few images of this lovely country, each of them with a circular theme, from the playful manhole covers found in most cities to the simple circular patterns in fabrics, stone and metal. Circle of life, wheel of fortune, as the song goes. I hope they take you to another place for a moment or so.
And tell me, what country do you dream of visiting once life returns with some semblance of normality?