Day 19: The Final Observation: 16th May 2017

I am writing this on the plane home. It is a long flight, almost, 12 hours. So I thought I would offer some final observations and conclusions.

Before this visit to Japan my impressions, for what they were, came from James Clavell’s novel, Shogun, which I read a very long time ago. This and listening to and seeing the Opera Madame Butterfly when I was a teenager! Not much to go on really.

I really did not know what to expect. And yet many of the experiences we had were unexpected. Probably the most striking was the simplicity of life in rural Japan. The dwellings, by and large, are very small. Most have no gardens. Some dwellings do have nice arrangements of potted plants around the entrance, many do not. Because of the cramped nature of the houses, much of the bric a brac of their lives is kept outside. The only place we saw, what I think of as traditional Japanese gardens with stones or sand and winding paths, was in the big formal gardens surrounding shrines or temples. In the cities the dwellings are even smaller.

Because of the cramped nature of the accommodation and the density of the population Japanese people have worked out a way of avoiding each other in the most polite way.

We spent a lot of time on trains so we feel somewhat expert in the Japanese railways system. It is absolutely superb. From the tiniest two carriage local train to the twelve carriage Shinkansen bullet train, they were always on time. They were spotless. The railway staff, without exception, were helpful and smiling. Even if you had exited the station and were standing looking lost someone would come out of the station to try to help. The smallest station has an indicator on the ground of where the carriage door will be. People waiting for the train queue up one behind one another at these points. When the train arrives those boarding move forward and stand to one side of the door until those alighting have departed. This even in Tokyo!! We never saw anyone push or queue jump. Of course, we did not travel in any of the big cities at rush hour, but even at busy times and places, like the famous five way street crossing in Shibuia, the thousands of people seem to manage. The only time we experienced any issues was when young men were moving around together, like many young people today, they tend to ignore others especially older people.

So, even though the politeness is very obvious, maybe it is changing.

I think we are all aware that bowing is extremely important in Japan. But the whole ritual is fascinating. On the trains, for example, the guard exited the carriage backwards and once outside the carriage door he bowed deeply to all the passengers. Airline staff arrive at the check-in desk and turn towards those waiting and bow. Try getting Iranrod Eireann staff to walk up and down the train instead of sleeping in the first class carriage!!! Our host in Togura, the seven foot American, had perfected this art of exiting backwards while bowing, he needed to do it carefully, being his size meant all doors, exits and entrances are a challenge. Leaving wherever we were staying each morning involved several bows. I just love this custom. It is so respectful.

Talking of respect, people respect one another. Each person seemed to take pride in their work. The lowliest of jobs, like cleaning the train station, was respected. The staff member had a sparkling clean uniform. His or her implements were spotlessly clean. In every occupation this appeared to be the case.

As I have indicated throughout this journey cleanliness is a priority. Hence the ritual before using the onsens (hot baths). The onsen itself can be any size or shape. Some are round and some rectangular. Some are small and some are quite large, some are indoors and some outside. But whatever the size or shape the pre usage washing ritual is the same. You don the Yukata to visit the onsen. Before stepping into the hot bath you sit on a low stool in front of a shower. You wash every part of your body, including your hair, thoroughly, using foam soap or shampoo and rinse. Every sud must be washed off! Then you wash down the area where you have just showered including the stool. The towel situation is a bit like the slippers… There is a special small rectangular towel for use in theo nsen. We really enjoyed this experience each day and have never been so clean. I cannot imagine what Japanese think when they come to Europe.

All of these are very personal observations and yours might very well be different. But in conclusion Japan is a really interesting country to visit. It is not at all difficult to get around even if you do not speak Japanese. The people are delightful. We feel very privileged to have had this experience. The one absolute necessity is to get a rail pass before you go, they are not obtainable once you arrive in Japan. The pass gives enormous freedom to come and go and you see a lot more of the real Japan.

We found the food to be a little bit hard to fathom. Like many foreign foods, the exported version is not quite the same as what is available on the ground. Sushi is everywhere in bewildering varieties. However, there are a myriad of other dishes, soups, noodles, fish in profusion, but also, the inevitable McDo, pizza and French specialities. The influence of French cuisine really surprised us. There are boulangeries everywhere.

One disappointment, in Tokyo airport this morning, the shops were only the well known, expensive, stores, Bulgari, Hermes, Rolex, etc. It is not representative of what you see on the streets, there are millions of big and small shops selling everything you can imagine, as well as the big names. But none of these small traders are present in the airport.

Day 6: Leaving TOKYO 3rd May 2017

We rose very early this morning, a little too early due to misreading of watch. But this proved to be a blessing. We ate what we had left in the studio, one piece of bread between the two of us, and washed it down with tea/coffee. We had been advised to return to Tokyo main station to board the Shinkansen bullet train, even though it stopped at a station nearer to us. It was a great piece of advice. We arrived at the main station about 6.45a.m. The place was already totally manic. Of course today is one of the biggest holidays in the Japanese calendar. Despite the throngs of people, everyone was moving calmly but smartly. There were dozens of railway staff to help with directions. We were told what gate and what platform to proceed to.

The 7.03 train was standing in the station. We knew we had to board carriages 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1. I tell you this in reverse order as everything in Japan reads from right to left and mostly up and down. Takes a bit of getting used to!!! We were somewhat puzzled as there was a number of small groups of people queuing either side of the open doors. So we bowed to all and sundry on either side and stepped on to the train. We worked our way up to carriage 1 without finding a single free seat. Of course this is why those lovely calm Japanese people were queuing. They were waiting for the next train!!!! We disembarked, red faced, and joined them. This time we were fourth in the queue. The bullet train to Kyoto runs every 30 minutes, bang on time, every time. Our 7.33 train rolled into the station and we quickly found a seat.

Bullet trains resemble the TGV in France but they are longer and the seating is much more spacious. The train quickly filled and off we went. At the first stop, which was the one near our studio, those getting on had to stand. The trip takes 2.45hr. Even small children stood quietly. One hears about how spoiled Japanese children are but this has not been our experience. They are delightful. One strange custom is that one is expected to stand up for children on the metro. Men do not stand for women unless they are old or infirm. 

The trip from Tokyo to Kyoto passes through very flat land, with mostly rice crops, backed by mountains. We flew by Mt Fugi in the blink of an eye. I had just time to ‘snap’ it in a “we were here” type photo.

There is no food served on the bullet so on arrival we sought and found a nice cafe in Kyoto station and ate the biggest sandwiches I have ever seen.

Our landlady, Jasmin, had furnished us with detailed directions to our studio. We were disappointed to find that our JR Pass did not work on the Kyoto metro. We are staying only 4 stations from the centre. It is like a village within the city. Kyoto is so calm and serene after Tokyo – then anywhere would be! In Tokyo there are so many people moving about that on some footpaths, there is an arrow for the direction in which one is expected to walk.Also one ascends and descends stairways in predetermined directions. These are sensible precautions as one could be mowed down with the volume of people.

We found our studio which is on the 6th floor of a block. It is even tinier than the one in Tokyo.

In fact our Tokyo accommodation now seems palatial! But the quality is several rungs higher. In fact there are a lot of house rules to be followed. Two pairs of house slippers were sitting neatly at the entrance. Strange though, despite the higher quality, there are no knives. But there is a washing machine and a balcony with two bars on which to dry the clothes.

view from apartment

In fact one person and these bars fills the balcony completely. After a rest we set off to explore our surroundings and get some provisions. All the information was supplied with our paperwork so finding things was easy. Streets are on grid system so it is a little like a maze. Everything looks similar.

There are many more old wooden houses here, unlike Tokyo which is all modern and shiney. We took one of the recommendations, from our info, for a restaurant. We, and a single man, were the only guests. Because of the holiday most people seemed to be eating with their families. It was a delicious meal, cooked in front of us.

I had ordered a soup with ‘stringy’ eggs but it resembled closely, an omlette! My main course was veggie in a sauce. Delicious. We had a lot of bowing with the man eating alone until he took upon himself to teach us some Japanese much to the amusement of the two chefs. It was a lovely evening.

This morning we decided to visit the Imperial Garden Park which is within walking distance of us. At least it would have been if we had not taken off in the wrong direction! It was a lovely walk and, as usual, once we produced our useless map, a young girl jumped off her bicycle and came to our rescue.

The park is wonderful with a couple of old tea houses and temples which can be visited. The Imperial Palace is not open. The tea house, on the side of a very still pond, was such a place of peace and meditation.We sat there quietly for a while and allowed the atmosphere just washover us.


We had bought sushi for a picnic lunch which we ate in the park. Many families were having picnic lunches on the grass.

After a rest we set off for down town Kyoto. It is so calm compared to Tokyo. However it is holiday time. We visited a lovely garden in the city. Kyoto is the place to see Japanese gardens, a real treat.

Dinner was partaken in a city restaurant. Good but not brilliant.

Graduate exhibition on Sherkin Island: Uncover

This BA degree in Visual Arts is an outreach course which takes place on Sherkin Island off the south west coast of Ireland. It is the only outreach degree of this kind in the country and has been running for many years.

The idea of the course is to give students, especially islanders, who missed out on a university education when they were younger, the chance to return to college to pursue a degree qualification in the arts. Because of their diverse backgrounds the students bring a wealth of talent and experience to this course. The competition for places grows year on year. The resultant standard is extremely high.

Seventeen students submitted their final degree projects this year. The students present their work in various locations around the island.  This exhibition is open to the public. The 2016 exhibition is entitled Uncover.

I was unable to visit every student’s work so apologies to those whose work I was unable to see.

Much of the work is concerned with conceptual art. I have rarely been so moved by work as I was by that of Lesley Cox. She investigates the connection we all have to the uterus.

Lesley Cox
Lesley Cox

Lesley Cox
Lesley Cox

Other work, which I found outstanding, was Imagination-Emigration by Philomena Smith. The work represents this idea by linking Philomena’s life in the textile industry to her sense of misplacement or not belonging.

Philomena Smith
Philomena Smith

Detlef Schlich’s work, also struck me as very professional. It consisted of a film installation in three parts. The work is concerned with developing an alter ego. His work can be seen here

Deidre Buckley Cairns was a stained glass artist before she started her A Visual Arts course and this influenced her final project. This is about the link between colour and memory.

Deidre Buckley Cairns
Deidre Buckley Cairns

Other beautiful work included Brigid Madden’s project on the invisibility of displaced people in our world

Bridget Madden
Brigid Madden

Bridget Madden
Brigid Madden

Although many students used photography in their exhibits there was only one photographic project and this was the work of Jean Dunne which was truly stunning.

Jean Dunne
Jean Dunne

Since much of the work was conceptual it was tricky to photograph. One such project was Whispers by Daireen McMullan.This was about how the wallpaper is a witness to our secrets and our hidden lives. the room was dark with only a single lamp. It made me shiver to enter this space. The silhouette of the child struck me as meaningful so I left him in as he is not recognisable.


Lucy Cox’s work is concerned with environmental, political and spiritual elements.

Lesley Cox
Lucy Cox

Some of the images I made did nto do justice to the students work so I have not included them – for that I apologise.

Heurquehue Park near Pucon

Pucon is situated on another beautiful lake with its very own volcano. This volcano spat out red flames during the night. I tried to photograph it but did not have the correct lens nor a tripod so the result was unsatisfactory but I’ll show it anyway in another blog.

For this blog I want to show images of the park we visited about twenty kilometers from Pucon

If you cannot see the slideshow click here