Peter Mayle had his love affair with France. Bill Bryson is enamoured of the British Isles. Me? Me, I love Japan. I’m not quite sure when it started. Perhaps it has something to do with Clive James’ late night television shows about the Japanese game show ‘Endurance’. Perhaps it was Graham Norton’s trip to Hello Kitty land but my love is there and last month I was able to thoroughly indulge it.
It started with an exhibition of photography at Tate Modern on London’s South Bank by Daido Moriyama. Moriyama is an obsessive photographer of Japanese street life and I studied his work when I lived in Singapore a few years ago.
The exhibition was enormous. And magnificent. Moriyama’s images capture something so magical and fleeting about the minutiae of everyday life. From the cramped living conditions of young Japanese salarymen to the street life of Shinjuku district. I found myself sitting in front of a slideshow of his images with tears rolling down my face.
A video documentary that included an interview with the man himself at the end of the exhibition showed him, a non-descript middle aged man – wandering the streets of Shinjuku, holding up a compact camera and shooting above people’s heads into barbers shops and restaurants.
“My approach is very simple – there is no artistry, I just shoot freely.”
There were no piles of expensive equipment, just a compact camera – and a breathtakingly expert eye.
Later in the month a taste of Japan arrived – quite literally – in Newcastle with the showing of the film ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ at the Tyneside Cinema. The film tells the story of the 85-year-old Michelin-starred sushi chef, Jiro Ono, and his lifelong quest to make the perfect piece of sushi.
Working at his restaurant ‘Sukiyabashi Jiro’, which lies beneath the Ginza subway station in Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Jiro has been declared “a national treasure” in Japan. The film features scenes from the incredible Tsukiji fish market in Central Tokyo, shows the months and years of training that goes into each piece of sushi that is served in his restaurant and follows Jiro’s two grown sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi, as they attempt to follow in their father’s footsteps.
I visited Japan in 2007 and was swept away by the beauty of the place. Not just in the hills around Mount Fuji but in the everyday. The stuff of Moriyama’s photographs: the signage in backstreet restaurants, the attention to the seasons – even the packaging of the wet wipes that accompanied our traditional breakfast. And, Oh! What a breakfast…
Just writing that has made me miss it all over again. Time to turn on the rice cooker and pull out my rolling mat and soy sauce. “Itadakimasu!”
by Katherine Wildman © 2013
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