Circling Japan again

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.

20181113_122922OkayamaIt’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.

20181121_104734HiroshimaFor 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’.

20181109_155133OsakaThankfully, 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.

20181113_190720KotohiraSo 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.

20181120_102344MiyajimaAnd tell me, what country do you dream of visiting once life returns with some semblance of normality?

Categories: Design, Other, TravelTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Hi Colin, I adore Japan too and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who has stopped to photograph manhole covers. Are you familiar with the circular kamon or family crests? There are hundreds of them, with beautiful and unique designs. Gillian

    • Oh, those manhole covers! Normally I tell people to look up and they’ll discover new details of buildings but in Japan you have to look down, too. I’m pretty sure there are Instagram sites devoted to them… I was only vaguely aware of the kamon, usually from seeing them on prints. So you’ve opened my eyes to a whole new set of circles. Thanks, Gillian!

  2. What amazes me is how Japan has embraced so much of Western culture post-WW2. Especially considering that atomic bombs were dropped on them. They love rock and roll, jazz, jeans and tee shirts, American baseball , etc.

    • I guess the question is what country doesn’t? That it retains a Japanese slant, though, is what makes it so interesting. Although I was fascinated to discover in Hiroshima that it was only relatively recently that kids were being taught exactly why the Bomb was detonated.

  3. Beautiful images, thank you. I was having this exact discussion with friends the other day and I said Italy. Florence actually. I haven’t been there since I was 7! And it was the first time I’d been abroad. It made a big impression.

    • That’s a good point – perhaps it’s about returning to those places that we have always hallowed as safe, pleasurable and above the norm. Florence has a special place in my heart, too, but not for a 7-year-old’s reasons…

  4. Thank you for such a beautiful post and for transporting us.
    We have France in our sights – who’d have thought it1

  5. I found Japan a bit of an enigma, a wonderful temple would be surrounded by a city of very poorly designed and ugly modernism.
    I found it hard to believe that a country that has such a well developed aesthetic sensibility would build some of the modern buildings .
    Sadly , most young people wear USA preppy clothes, will the best bits of their culture survive?

    • You’re right, the contrast is perplexing – the mess of overhead wires, the use of cheap building materials – and yet they take such delight in packaging, in autumn leaves and cherry blossom, and in maintaining such stunning temples and their grounds. Not sure about the preppy clothes – conservative, certainly, but often with a Japaneseness in the cut and the colour. I feel it’s an enigma that is so deeply ingrained that Japanese culture will survive, into the near future, at any rate…

  6. Love this article so much – we were supposed to be going back in October 2021, but prob 2022 now…
    I love the fact that we were in the same places at the same time in late 2018 – and visiting Teshima is one of my fave memories of all time!

    • Wasn’t Teshima brilliant. I loved that whole region and I think we saw it at its best – sunshine, perfect sunsets, autumn colour. I’m sure that Japan will be one of the safer options when travelling opens up again. Count me in.

  7. Bonjour Colin,
    Merci pour cet article.
    Où avez-vous pris la première photo de votre article?
    Tout dans cette image rappelle le graphisme, le style des illustrations de JoFo (Joseph Duplantier), un artiste très sympathique et plein de talent et de générosité, (sa fresque à l’Hôpital des Enfants, son mural de remerciements aux soignants place de la Bourse pendant le confinement) de la région de Bordeaux
    Au plaisir de vous lire.
    Jean-François et Vonvon Clocheau de la Cité Frugès-Le Corbusier

    • Bonjour, Jean-Francois!
      Merci pour le lien. C’est pareil, n’est-ce pas? La qualité graphique est très japonaise, comme les dessins animés. La photo est une plaque d’égout à Himeji … Je vous souhaite à vous et à votre Vonvon tout le pari!

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