The Birthday Tree

The Birthday Tree

There was a cherry tree in the front garden of the house in Cheshire where I grew up.  Every year in spring, when the delicate white blossom would appear suddenly, as if snow had fallen overnight, I would sense that brighter, longer days were on the way. It later succumbed to poisoning from a poorly sealed-off gas main. Continue reading “The Birthday Tree”

Jomon pottery: potter and clay endure

Jomon pottery: potter and clay endure

As far as exhibitions go, sometimes small can be beautiful.  Last week at the British Museum to see the Shakespeare: Staging the World exhibition, I happened to wander into a side room where an exhibition consisting of just three objects was on display. Flame and water pots: prehistoric ceramic art from Japan is a concise, yet revelatory display of three ‘flame’ and ‘water’ pots from ancient Japan.

The Museum owns one Jōmon pot (above) which was featured in the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects. That pot is accompanied by two pots on loan from Nagaoka City in the Niigata prefecture in Japan.  In themselves, these objects are fascinating to look at, but the wider story they tell is one that is both interesting and significant.

The earliest pots found in Japan date from around 16,500 years ago. Pottery was not invented in the Middle East or North Africa until several thousand years later.  The Jōmon people lived in the period between  12,500-1000 BC on the Japanese archipelago.  The term Jōmon means ‘cord-marked’ in Japanese, and is derived from the decorative markings on the pottery. The pots themselves were made for a number of reasons and are both functional and aesthetically beautiful, and open a window to mysterious culture from the distant past.

Jomon pots are the oldest pots in the world. For the first time, pots allowed people to boil foods such as nuts and shellfish to make them edible. As Neil MacGregor put it in A History of the World in 100 Objects:

It was in Japan that the world’s first pottery was born – and with it, possibly the world’s first stew. […]  The world’s pots are so ubiquitous that we take all of them for granted, but human history is told and written in pots perhaps more than in anything else; as Robert Browning put it: ‘Time’s wheel runs back or stops; potter and clay endure’.

The oldest Jomon pot (top) is pretty underwhelming to look at. It’s a cooking pot made about 7000 years ago –  2000 years earlier than the flame and crown pots displayed alongside it. The rim is decorated with marks incised with a stick or finger nail and the cord-markings are clearly visible. It was probably uncovered by a farmer in the 19th century and spotted by a tea master who thought it would make a fine water vessel (mizusashi) for a tea gathering. Gold leaf and lacquer was applied to the interior of the prehistoric vessel and a wooden lid was constructed with a snail decoration, alluding to the pot’s unearthing from the soil.

It’s made of brown-grey clay, a simple round pot about six inches high, six inches across at the top, with straight sides and a flat base, and it was made in Japan.  It was built up with coils of clay and then, into the outside, fibres were pressed, so that it looks and feels like a basket made of clay.

The protrusions on the the rim of the Jomon crown pot (above) may have been inspired by the architecture of Jomon houses. The crown pot appears rigid in comparison to the fluid form of the flame pot displayed alongside. These contrasting styles seem to have been important in Jomon culture and figured also in the arrangement of buildings and burials.

This flame pot is around 5000 years old, the same age as Stonehenge. It takes its name from the elaborate flame-like protrusions around the rim. The rims and mouths of these pottery vessels held special importance for the Jomon, as they would have been the focal point for the family gathered around the hearth.

Jomon pots were used as cooking vessels, often sunk into the hearth to aid heat convection. Cooking was an important activity for the Jomon people and they constructed elaborate fireplaces. The hearth gave warmth and light as well as providing a social focus for the family unit. Analysis of the carbonised remains found in many of these vessels show that the pots were used to make soups and Jomon ‘cookies’ made of nuts, acorns and animal fat. Apart from cooking, Jomon ceramics were also used for pouring, serving, storage, and sometimes for burials and other rituals.

Each family group made its own ceramics. It is thought from academic studies that they were constructed by women,  though the museum’s interpretation suggests there is no concrete evidence for this yet. Jomon potters did not use a wheel but constructed the vessels by hand, coiling the clay and then paddling it to firm up the sides. Various types of cord were made from twisted plant fibres and they were used to impress different patterns on the vessel’s surface. The pots would then have been fired in wood-fed firing pits.

Jomon pottery is unique, not just because it is the oldest yet discovered, but also because they were made in a hunter-gatherer culture.  Pots are usually created by cultures only after they have made the transition from hunter-gathering
to farming, as it is very difficult to carry pottery and live a nomadic lifestyle. However, the Jomon were unique because although they foraged, hunted and fished throughout the year unusually they lived in semi-settled villages. They were able to do this because they lived in a particularly food-rich environment, as explained in this panel.

Pots enabled the Jomon to take advantage of these resources, as many of their key foodstuffs, such as acorns, were toxic unless cooked. Pots were also used to boil shellfish, forcing the shells to open and allowing access to the meat inside.

Finally, the exhibition tells how the rediscovery of the Jomon culture since the 19th century has played an important role in the evolving idea of what constitutes Japan’s cultural heritage.  Prior to the Second World War, the Jomon people were mostly viewed as a primitive aboriginal culture that was completely superseded by the arrival of rice-farming
Yayoi people from the Asian continent in around 300 BC .  This view changed significantly from the late 1940s onwards. Now many see Jomon material culture as a sophisticated artistic tradition in its own right and see  evidence for interaction between the Jomon and Yayoi populations.  More and more is being discovered about Jōmon origins and culture, and  the exhibition examines the imagery and symbolism on the pots, as well as showing how Jōmon pots have been an inspiration to modern Japanese culture – with references in music, manga, modern art.

As an example of this, music inspired by Jomon culture was played by Yamagami Susumu, who performs on a shakuhachi (traditional Japanese flute) and a tsugaru shamisen (three-stringed instrument).

See also

Summer grasses

summer grasses:
all that remains
of soldiers’ dreams

I wrote yesterday about meandering through summer grasses fives miles out from the city centre on Childwall Fields.  This morning, in Sefton Park, I gathered these grasses and brought them home.  I’m not sure what there is in there, but I hope there might be Sweet Vernal Grass and Dense Silky Bent, Meadow Foxtail or Tall Fescue, Yorkshire Fog or Squirreltail Fescue.

The haiku at the top of the post is by the 17th century zen master Matsuo Basho who once came to the site of a famous battle, where soldiershad been heavily outnumbered but fought bravely. The poem speaks of transience.  Wars may rage and lives be lost in battle, generals may want to conquer new territory, but all of this striving is no match for time, nature, and the inevitability of summer grasses returning.

Another summer grasses haiku, written at the dawning of the industrial age in Japan is this one, by Yamaguchi Seishi (1901 – 1994):

summer grasses:
the wheels of the locomotive
come to a stop

Fukushima and Chernobyl: why worry?

It’s notable that, since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, the most visited post on this blog has been one I wrote a couple of years ago about the film Heavy Water: a film for Chernobyl.  You’re searching, I guess, for information about that previous nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in 1986, anxious about the likely effects of the Japanese disaster and looking for facts.

Recently a torrent of condemnation has poured down on the head of George Monbiot who used his Guardian column a couple of weeks ago to present the astonishing argument that Fukushima had caused him to change his mind about nuclear power: in his piece – Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power – Monbiot wrote:

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation. […]

Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

The best response to Monbiot’s strange lapse of reason comes today from John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor.  In Nuclear’s green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril, he writes:

Every day there are more setbacks to solving the Japanese nuclear crisis and it’s pretty clear that the industry and governments are telling us little; have no idea how long it will take to control; or what the real risk of cumulative contamination may be.

The authorities reassure us by saying there is no immediate danger and a few absolutist environmentalists obsessed with nuclear power because of the urgency to limit emissions repeat the industry mantra that only a few people died at Chernobyl – the worst nuclear accident in history. Those who disagree are smeared and put in the same camp as climate change deniers.

I prefer the words of Alexey Yablokov, member of the Russian academy of sciences, and adviser to President Gorbachev at the time of Chernobyl: “When you hear ‘no immediate danger’ [from nuclear radiation] then you should run away as far and as fast as you can.” […]

Five years ago I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on 26 April 1986. I challenge chief scientist John Beddington and environmentalists like George Monbiot or any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, the scientists, the mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident.

Vidal notes that, though a great number of studies into the health effects of radiation from Chernobyl have been carried out, only a very few have been accepted by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, and estimates of the damage to health from Chernobyl vary wildly.   A study by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded that only 57 direct deaths and 4,000 expected cancers could be attributed to Chernobyl.  But the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), estimate that more than 10,000 people had been affected by thyroid cancer alone and a further 50,000 cases could be expected. Vidal continues:

Moving up the scale, a 2006 report for Green MEPs suggested up to 60,000 possible deaths; Greenpeace took the evidence of 52 scientists and estimated the deaths and illnesses to be 93,000 terminal cancers already and perhaps 140,000 more in time. Using other data, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences declared in 2006 that 212,000 people had died as a direct consequence of Chernobyl.  … [Another study]… factoring in the worldwide drop in births and increase in cancers seen after the accident, estimated … that 985,000 people had so far died and the environment had been devastated. Their findings were met with almost complete silence by the World Health Organisation and the industry.

Vidal concludes:

So who can we trust when the estimates swing so wildly? Should we believe the empirical evidence of the doctors; or governments and industrialists backed by their PR companies? So politicised has nuclear energy become, that you can now pick and choose your data, rubbish your opponents, and ignore anything you do not like. The fact is we may never know the truth about Chernobyl because the records are lost, thousands of people from 24 countries who cleaned up the site have dispersed across the vast former Soviet Union, and many people have died.

Fukushima is not Chernobyl, but it is potentially worse. It is a multiple reactor catastrophe happening within 150 miles of a metropolis of 30 million people. If it happened at Sellafield, there would be panic in every major city in Britain. We still don’t know the final outcome but to hear experts claiming that nuclear radiation is not that serious, or that this accident proves the need for nuclear power, is nothing short of disgraceful.

The latest news from Fukushima seems to bear out Vidal’s case – radioactive water has been found leaking into the sea through a crack near the sluice gate of one of the damaged reactor units at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

Also in The Guardian today is an article by Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author of the first book to warn of climate change back in 1989 – The End of Nature. In his esssay, ‘Natural disasters?‘ (the question-mark is significant), McKibben argues that, after a an era of relative stability, the earth is now moving into a new geological epoch:

a world remade by man, most obvious in his emissions of carbon dioxide. That CO2 traps heat near the planet that would otherwise have radiated back to space – there is, simply, more energy in our atmosphere than there used to be. And that energy expresses itself in many ways: ice melts, water heats, clouds gather. 2010 was the warmest year on record, and according to insurers – the people we task with totting up disasters – it demonstrated the unprecedented mayhem this new heat causes. Global warming was “the only plausible explanation”, the giant reinsurer Munich Re explained in December, of 2010’s catastrophes, the drought, heatwave and fires across Russia, and the mega-floods in Pakistan, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere were at least plausibly connected to the general heating. They were, that is to say, not precisely “natural disasters”, but something more complex; the human thumb was on the scale.

McKibben concludes on a positive note:

Not every natural disaster is unnatural now, and we may be able to fool ourselves a little longer. But these days it’s the climate deniers who act like the pious of yore, unable to accept the truth. I was surprised, and impressed, to read a poll of Americans taken recently. By healthy majorities, this most religious of western citizenries said natural disasters were more likely to be a sign of climate change than of God’s displeasure.

Which is good news, because for the first time in human history we can prevent a great deal of unnecessary cataclysm in the years ahead. Not all of it – there will always be earthquakes and hurricanes. But every bit of carbon we keep out of the atmosphere is that much less extra energy we add to the system. It’s that much less disaster waiting to happen.

Returning to Chernobyl: sometimes we need poetry as well as science to help us understand.  Lyubov Sirota was director of a writing project for children in the city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  On 25 April 1986 she went out on to her balcony seeking a breath of fresh air in the night and saw the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explode in front of her. In the days that followed, she and her son grew gravely ill from heavy doses of radioactive contamination. To express her grief and rage, she turned to writing poems, and collected them in a small book entitled Burden.  As the months went by, Lyubov developed cataracts and a brain tumor as a consequence of her exposure to radiation.

Burden

How amazing
in my thirtieth year
not to live
but instead
stumble along –
all bygone years
both happy and deadly,
heavy, wet, like logs,
crowd in the soul
as if in a tomb!

The soul does not sing
but rather becomes mute;
ails
rather than aches . . .
So it is harder to breathe.

I am not to fly!
Though the shallow edge
of heaven is over my porch.
Already the roads have tired me,
hobbled me so –
I can no longer soar!

Faces reflect in the heavens.
faces of those
to whom I have said farewell.
Not one can be forgotten!
No oblivion!

The soul, it seems –
is a difficult memory.
Nothing can be erased,
nothing subtracted,
nothing canceled,
nothing corrected!

Even so, the burden is sacred,
the heavier
the dearer!

To Pripyat

1.
We can neither expiate nor rectify
the mistakes and misery of that April.
The bowed shoulders of a conscience awakened
must bear the burden of torment for life.
It’s impossible, believe me,
to overpower
or overhaul
our pain for the lost home.
Pain will endure in the beating hearts
stamped by the memory of fear.
There,
surrounded by prickly bitterness,
our puzzled town asks:
since it loves us
and forgives everything,
why was it abandoned forever?

2.
At night, of course, our town
though emptied forever, comes to life.
There, our dreams wander like clouds,
illuminate windows with moonlight.

There trees live by unwavering memories,
remember the touch of hands.
How bitter for them to know
there will be no one for their shade
to protect from the scorching heat!
At night their branches quietly rock
our inflamed dreams.
Stars thrust down
onto the pavement,
to stand guard until morning . . .
But the hour will pass . . .
Abandoned by dreams,
the orphaned houses
whose windows
have gone insane
will freeze and bid us farewell! . . .

3.
We’ve stood over our ashes;
now what do we take on our long journey?
The secret fear that wherever we go
we are superfluous?
The sense of loss
that revealed the essence
of a strange and sudden kinlessness,
showed that our calamity is not
shared by those who might, one day,
themselves face annihilation?
. . . We are doomed to be left behind by the flock
in the harshest of winters . . .
You, fly away!
But when you fly off
don’t forget us, grounded in the field!
And no matter to what joyful faraway lands
your happy wings bear you,
may our charred wings
protect you from carelessness.

Links

The Great Wave and its aftermath

Hokusai, The Great Wave

It’s a different sort of wave, but Hokusai’s print, The Great Wave, inescapably comes to mind as we follow the terrible events in Japan.  It’s an image that speaks to the present, because, as Neil McGregor explained when he introduced the print in the radio series A History of the World in 100 Objects, it’s an image ‘not of timeless serenity, but of instability and uncertainty’:

This best-selling woodblock print was made around 1830 by the great artist Hokusai, as one of his series of 36 views of Mount Fuji. At first sight it presents a beautiful picture of a deep blue wave, curling above the sea, with far in the distance the tranquil, snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji. It is, you might think, a stylised, decorative image of a timeless Japan. But there are other ways of reading Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’. Look a little closer, and you see that the beautiful wave is about to engulf three boats with frightened fishermen, while Mount Fuji is so small that you, the spectator, share the feeling that the sailors in the boats must have as they look to shore: it’s unreachable, too far away, and you’re lost. This is, I think, an image not of timeless serenity, but of instability and uncertainty.

The tsunami wave hits Miyako City in northeastern Japan on Friday

If the devastating sequence of events in Japan – earthquake, tsunami, nuclear disaster – had been the scenario of pulp fiction or a Hollywood disaster movie, it would not have seemed credible.  As I write this, news sources report that engineers are struggling to regain control of the Fukushima nuclear plant following another explosion and a fire that caused a spike in radiation to harmful levels.  Amid growing fears that the situation is heading for catastrophe, 70 technicians are still battling to cool reactors at the Fukushima plant.  Those are extraordinarily brave individuals.

Mario Petrucci’s award-winning book-length poem, Heavy Water: a poem for Chernobyl tells the story of the people who dealt with that disaster at ground-level: the fire-fighters, soldiers, ‘liquidators’, and their families. This is ‘Miners (Chernobyl, 1986)’ from the sequence:

We worked naked. The old way.
A shovelful – sometimes a handful
at a time. Every mineshaft pisses itself.
But this – this one stank. Something
wrong in the water. And that heat.
As if there was more Earth above you
than below. We came out fainting
like girls. Our black wouldn’t wash.
We knew this was no ordinary ore.
That each grain we dug was worth a life.
We lived for morning. How it gave
delicate colour to the walls of our tunnel.
They filled it with mercury-water –
it thrashed at the sides as Holy Water
in some vein of hell. Liquid air
they said. Or this Reactor will sink
like Atlantis. And now there are those
who will not stand near us. To them
I say – How will you bury us? And so
we are all agreed. All we brothers –
from Kiev. Moscow. Dnepropetrovsk.
We vow to bury one another. This
is impossible they tell us. It cannot
be done. It can. We are miners.
We know how to dig.

Smoke billows from an oil refinery in Tagajo following the tsunami

The apocalyptic images from Japan bring to mind a poem that Byron wrote in July 1816, the year known as the Year Without a Summer. Following the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies the previous year, so much ash was blasted into the atmosphere that the light of the sun was blocked and abnormally cold weather ensued across much of the  northern hemisphere.  This is how Darkness begins:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires – and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings – the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire – but hour by hour
They fell and faded – and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash–and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept…

The Hare With Amber Eyes

The Hare With Amber Eyes

Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost.  People have always given gifts.  It is how you tell their stories that matters.

At primary school, I remember, we would be set a writing exercise such as, a day in the life of a penny.  People would say of  inanimate things that had been around for longer than a child could conceive of: ‘the stories they could tell!’  The Hare With Amber Eyes is a magnificent  work of  memory recovery – a family memoir, but also a voyage into the dark recesses of the twentieth century. Continue reading “The Hare With Amber Eyes”

Murakami: After Dark

Tokyo night

‘Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. You can’t fight it.’

I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s After Dark. It’s a shorter work than previous novels but with passages that are just as atmospheric  – particularly the wonderful evocation of night-time Tokyo.

Just before midnight, we meet a young woman, Mari, smoking and reading a book in a coffee shop. Before dawn she will have met a trombonist, Takahashi, as well as Kaoru, the tough blond manager of a local love hotel, where a Chinese prostitute is beaten up by a mysterious man. Meanwhile, Mari’s sister Eri is asleep, as she has been for the last two months, and something very strange is happening in her bedroom. An unplugged television set sparks to life, showing a room where a man sits wearing a cellophane mask. Later, Eri will be sucked through the screen and trapped in that room. As usual in Murakami, the uncanny is juxtaposed with exquisite ordinariness.

‘The ground we stand on looks solid enough, but if something happens it can drop right out from under you. And once that happens, you’ve had it …’

Writing in the Guardian, Steven Poole observes that:

After Dark is perhaps the closest Murakami has yet come to composing a pure tone-poem. Aspects of his earlier styles – the dark, surreal farce of A Wild Sheep Chase, the mournful realism of Norwegian Wood, the supernatural yearning of Sputnik Sweetheart – here intermingle in a story that spells out less but evokes as much if not more. Exposition is set to the minimum, while the mood-colouring is virtuosic. Morning, at the end of the novel, is an extraordinary blend of the hesitant blossoming of romance and an ode to renewal. The novel could be an allegory of sleep, a phenomenology of time, or a cinematic metafiction. Whatever it is, its memory lingers.

After Dark

Here is the memorable opening passage:

Eyes mark the shape of the city.

Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature—or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old. To the rhythm of its pulsing, all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm. Midnight is approaching, and while the peak of activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city’s moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.

Our line of sight chooses an area of concentrated brightness and, focusing there, silently descends to it—a sea of neon colours. They call this place an “amusement district.” The giant digital screens fastened to the sides of buildings fall silent as midnight approaches, but loudspeakers on storefronts keep pumping out exaggerated hip-hop bass lines. A large game centre crammed with young people; wild electronic sounds; a group of college students spilling out from a bar; teenage girls with brilliant bleached hair, healthy legs thrusting out from microminiskirts; dark-suited men racing across diagonal crossings for the last trains to the suburbs. Even at this hour, the karaoke club pitchmen keep shouting for customers. A flashy black station wagon drifts down the street as if taking stock of the district through its black-tinted windows. The car looks like a deep-sea creature with specialised skin and organs. Two young policemen patrol the street with tense expressions, but no one seems to notice them. The district plays by its own rules at a time like this. The season is late autumn. No wind is blowing, but the air carries a chill. The date is just about to change.

As Steven Poole notes: ‘the narrative voice is a mysterious first-person plural. Often the use of “we” is merely a formal way to solicit the reader into sharing a particular point of view, or following a train of thought. But something more peculiar is going on here. The narrators inveigle you into imagining yourself as a swooping night-bird or a TV camera, whispering softly for you to join the “we”, but they also drop subtle hints of a collective identity that you do not share: they have sets of “rules” and “principles”. One gradually comes to suspect that the narrators are not even human.’

The novel closes in the same vein:

Allowing ourselves to become pure point of view, we hang in midair over the city. What we see now is a gigantic metropolis waking up. Commuter trains of many colours move in all directions, transporting people from place to place. Each of those under transport is a human being with a different face and mind, and at the same time each is a nameless part of the collective entity. Each is simultaneously a self-contained whole and a mere part. Handling this dualism of theirs skilfully and advantageously, they perform their morning rituals with deftness and precision: brushing teeth, shaving, tying ties, applying lipstick. They check the morning news on TV exchange words with their families, eat, and defecate. With daybreak the crows flock in, scavenging for food. Their oily black wings shine in the morning sun. Dualism is not as important an issue for the crows as for the human beings. Their single most important concern is securing sufficient nourishment for individual maintenance. The garbage trucks have not yet collected all of the garbage. This is a gigantic city, after all, and it produces a prodigious volume of garbage. Raising raucous cries, the crows soar down to all parts of the city like dive-bombers.

The new sun pours new light on the city streets. The glass of high-rise buildings sparkles blindingly. There is not a speck of cloud to be seen in the sky, just smog hanging along the horizon. The cresce takes the form of a silent white monolith, a message floating in the western sky. A news helicopter dances through the sky like a nervous insect images of traffic conditions back to the stat trying to enter the city have already started lining up at the tollbooths of the Metropolitan Expressway. Chilly shadows still lie over many streets sandwiched between tall buildings. Most of last night’s memories remain there untouched.

Our point of view departs from the sky centre and shifts to an area above a quiet suburban residential neighbourhood. Below us stand rows of two-storey houses with yards. From above, all the houses look much alike – similar incomes, similar family make-up. A new dark blue Volvo proudly reflects the morning sun.  A golf practice net set up on one lawn. Morning papers freshly delivered. People calling out to each other. Here, too, a brand-new day is beginning. It could be a day like all the others, or it could be a day remarkable enough in many ways to remain in the memory. In either case, for now, for most people, it is a blank sheet of paper…

The night has begun to open up at last.  There will be time until the next darkness arrives.

Tokyo sunrise