I’ve been a big fan of writer and illustrator Badaude aka Joanna Walsh’s work since I first stumbled upon her blog a few years ago. Her original style, clean lines and illustrations packed with lots and lots of words was an instant hit. I particularly love her fashion and style illustrations with her witty comments and her murals in Shakepeare & Co. Bookshop in Paris.

So it was with great excitement that I read her new book London Walks! crammed with lots of history, facts and observations about things to do in London, all done in her special style. There are 22 walks, 3 bus rides and 1 boat trip that covers London and lots of places I need to visit even though I’ve lived here for almost 20 years. Oops. But I have been to Highgate Cemetary and its environs and used to live near Tate Britain and Westminster, both lovely places to walk! I’m looking forward to exploring Wapping, the Necropolis, Waterloo and Spitalfields and the East End more.

It’s beautiful, clever, funny and chock full of information. I’ve already bought extra copies for my sister and friends. And I guarantee you will too.

I also went to check her out in person at Foyle’s where she did a talk and walk in celebration of her book’s publication. Here she is standing in front of her artwork.

I took along two of my schoolfriends, S & S, and we chortled our way through Badaude’s talk which was 1) brilliant and erudite, 2) had quotes from one of my favourite books, A Room With a View by E.M. Forster and 3) included a lobster vs. turtle race with audience participation. ‘Nuff said.

And after she explained what a flaneur was (i.e. an idler, someone who takes things slowly, hence the use of a turtle or lobster to set one’s walking speed, and whence she got the name Badaude), she took us on a little tour round the block to show us how to be a tourist in your own town.

Some brave volunteers agreed to dress like tourists (a policeman’s hat, a ‘London’ scarf and an ‘I Love London’ T-shirt were produced) and we began our tour outside Foyles, then down a dark little backstreet towards Soho Square, standing in the way of pedestrians to gawp at buildings and stare into a cafe to see whether we wanted to eat there. Then we took some photos of unusual things that we would never find where we live and then tried to get some GPS action (get out our phone and block out the sunlight) as it’s so easy to get lost in a foreign city.

It was a brilliant event and my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And badaude is as lovely and stylish as I imagined. I’ll leave you with some tourist snaps I took.

You can read Badaude’s post about the event here.

And do check out the mural she is drawing at the Tate Modern shop which should be up all Summer. And she’s sweetly agreed to draw me!

Favourite Writers: Manga

26 March, 2010

Asaki Yumemishi Tokimeki TonightYukan Club
(Covers: Asaki Yumemishi, Tokimeki Tonight, Yukan Club)

I’m half Japanese and the great thing about that is that I can read Japanese and have access to the world of Japanese manga without having to wait for a translation. It was also a great way to learn Japanese, and as my parents never limited the number of comics I bought when I lived in Japan it was a win-win situation. I was happy if I got my monthly comic magazine and a couple of comic paperbacks every three months. Of course, there is so much out there that if I wandered into a Japanese bookshop now, I wouldn’t know where to start.

It’s also a great conversation starter because all Japanese people grow up with manga. There is manga about every subject available and it’s a great way to learn. For example, take The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, the world’s first modern novel written by an 11th century court lady. The original is written in Heian court Japanese (which no one except academics can read). There is a modern version in 10 volumes by Tanizaki Junichiro which we have at home and which one summer I was planning to try but was told by my mother that it was still too difficult for me to understand. Luckily, there is a manga version, beautifully drawn and faithful to the story. The English version of the novel is over a thousand pages long and I would have to have the constitution of an ox and the patience of a saint to wade through such a classical text. I would try it, but reading Asaki Yumemishi was so much more enjoyable. You get the passion, the sorrow and the beauty. And you don’t mind reading it all over again when you’ve finished. So yay for manga! I learnt about the French revolution, the Cultural revolution, the Communist revolution, food, love, basically everything from manga. I even found a manga about the astrophysicist I was researching for my thesis! How cool is that?

I am aware that the manga you get in the west tends to focus on the extreme, but the majority of Japanese people don’t go for the hentai stuff (I didn’t even know they existed until I came to the UK), but the ordinary stuff about love, life, friendship and adventure. And there are some great manga out there for us normal folk.

Here are some manga I recommend:

20th Century Boys by Urasawa Naoki – part nostalgic/part futuristic mystery adventure charting the rise of a strange entity called ‘Tomodachi (Friend)’ who takes over Japan.

Asaki Yumemishi by Yamato Waki – The Tale of Genji.

Bleach by Kubo Tite – about Japanese reapers who battle hollows (spirits without souls) and herd human souls to the Soul Society. It’s a very Japanese take on the after-life.

Candy Candy by Igarashi Yumiko – all Japanese girls in the 80s grew up reading this manga. Set in America, it’s a tale of a feisty orphan girl who grows up overcoming her problems to find love and happiness. I thought it was pretty dark in places, dealing with friendship, betrayal and loss, but it’s pretty amazing.

Chibi Maruko-chan by Sakura Momoko – a modern tale of a Japanese family told with comic touches (like Sazae-san – see below)

Crows by Takahashi Hiroshi – high school gang wars, scary but funny. The films Crows Zero I and II are based on this manga.

Dragonball by Toriyama Akira – I admit I haven’t read all of this but I bought it when it first came out and I’m a big fan of Toriyama who also wrote Dr. Slump.

Garasu no Kamen (The Glass Mask) by Miuchi Suzue – long-running series (20 years?) about a talented actress competing with her celebrity rival for a prestigious role. My mum and I have been waiting with bated breath for new volumes but at the moment it’s being published at a rate of one every two years (normally it’s every 3 months). What’s happening??

Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star) by Hara Tetsuo and Buronson – set in a post-apocalyptic world, a lone warrior with special martial arts powers helps people terrorised by monstrous gangs while looking for his lost love. The illustrations aren’t pretty and it’s very violent, but it’s also deep and philosophical. Just don’t watch the live-action movie.

La Maschera by Yoshino Sakumi – I just love Yoshino’s illustrations, they are so enchanting. This manga is an atmospheric murder mystery set in Venice during the Carnivale.

Oishimbo (The Gourmet) by Hanasaki Akira – I’ve learnt so much about the history, culture and preparation of food from this series about the adventures of a food journalist.

Peking Reijin Sho (An Actor’s Journal) by Sumeragi Natsuki – beautifully drawn and set in Peking on the cusp of revolution when the communists are just gaining power. Sumeragi shows a Peking that is slowly succumbing to modernity.

Rontai Baby by Takaguchi Satosumi – set in 70s Japan, this is a tale of two tough girls as they go through high school fighting and searching for love. You won’t look at Japanese high school girls in the same way again. It’s kind of a female version of Crows.

Sazae-san Hasegawa Machiko – a manga and anime that has been loved by generations. It’s a heartwarming traditional family comedy showing the everyday life of a post-war Japanese family.

Tenshi Kinryouku (Angel Sanctuary), Count Cain and Godchild by Yuki Kaori – Yuki is the queen of gothic manga. I first read the Count Cain series set in Victorian England with overtones of various European fairytales. Then I came across Angel Sanctuary which cemented her reputation about the war of the angels (which was quite difficult for me to understand in Japanese – with lots of references to Milton and the Bible). Her illustrations are gorgeous.

Tokimeki Tonight by Ikeno Koi – the first manga I fell in love with about a family of vampires and werewolves in which a vampire girl falls in love with her human classmate.

Vagabond by Inoue Takehiko – based on Yoshikawa Eiji’s Musashi about the life of Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s greatest swordsman. Violent but profound with a lot of references to Zen Buddhism and the search for the self.

Versailles no Bara (The Rose of Versailles) and Orpheus no Mado (Orpheus’ Window) by Ikeda Riyoko – legendary mangaka Ikeda always tackles epic themes. The first is about Marie Antoinette and the French revolution and the second is about Regensburg, music and the Russian revolution. They both made me cry.

Yukan Club by Ichijo Yukari – one of my favourite mangas about a group of six extremely wealthy high school students and their adventures. It’s very funny and with lots of cultural and historical references. Her illustrations are divine and she seems to have a fondness for food and the macabre.

Yume de Aetara and Yume no Hitotachi by Ogura Fuyumi – her love stories are still and beautiful.

The greatest draw for me is the beautiful illustrations. I cannot help but pick up a comic when the cover boasts such beautiful art.

Currently I’m making my way through Bleach, Vagabond, Crows, Fist of the North and Cesare by Souryo Fuyumi (about Cesare Borgia). As I don’t have access to Japanese manga, I’m reading them online as they get scanslated.

You can read translated manga online at One Manga, Manga Volume and Manga Fox and bookshops now seem to stock a wider range. And I know that in the States you can get Weekly Shonen Jump. I love my Archie and Asterix comics but for me, my first love will always be Japanese manga.

A list of manga authors can be found here.

(Covers: Vagabond, Bleach, Angel Sanctuary)

Last week I toodled along to the Royal Academy to see the Van Gogh exhibition that everyone is talking about. The queues were incredibly long and by the time I went in, I think they were only selling tickets for the next day. Plus it was half-term, so you get the picture.

Van Gogh is one of those artists whom I didn’t get at the beginning. Of course I grew up reading all three volumes of the Ladybird Great Artists series by Dorothy Aitchison and illustrated by Martin Aitchison as well as all the other art books we had lying around the house when I was a child and knew his story. I sneered at his brightly coloured paintings, pontificating to my mother (who is a Nihonga artist) that anyone could draw like him. They were just childish dabblings and I couldn’t see why he was considered one of the greats. That was before I discovered Impressionism and was still a vulgar and unenlightened person. I stand corrected. One day I stood before a painting by Van Gogh and was transfixed by its beauty, depth and intensity. And that was what struck me at this exhibition: the sheer energy inherent in his work.

Titled The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters, the exhibition also featured letters written by Van Gogh to his brother Theo detailing the progress of his work including drawings and sketches that were to become formal paintings. These were exhibited alongside the paintings and illustrated how deeply he thought about each of his paintings. What first struck me was his beautiful and measured handwriting. I was expecting frenzied scribbles, but no, there was nothing of the sort. It shows how much I was influenced by the one-dimensional image of Van Gogh as a tortured genius when in fact he was a sensitive and cultivated soul grappling with mental illness.

And did you know Van Gogh was also a great reader, reading books in four different languages including Zola, Balzac and Dickens? There were a number of paintings featuring books that would bring a smile to all book lovers that I don’t recall seeing before, but alas, no postcards were available.

I came away from the exhibition with renewed admiration for one of our most beautiful, complex and tragic artists. Not only for his intensely textured and energetic paintings (the gold and yellow of the hay fields he painted are still shimmering before my eyes) but also for the kind of man he was. If you have a chance to go and see this exhibition, do so. Otherwise you can always go to Amsterdam and visit the amazing Van Gogh Museum.

You can read about the exhibition and the artist here and here.

And for those of you who may like an extra dose of Van Gogh, you may want to check out Irving Stone’s Lust for Life (a brilliant fictional biography of Van Gogh), art historian Sheramy Bundrick’s debut Sunflowers (which I haven’t read yet but about which I have heard good things) and The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin and nine turbulent weeks in Provence by art critic Martin Gayford.

I was all set to talk about my favourite shrine in Nagoya, Atsuta Jingu, when I reread the December mini-challenge for Hello Japan! and realised I had to write about temples and shrines in Kyoto. Kyoto is one of the places that all Japanese people would have visited at least once in their lives as it is a popular destination for school and family trips. My family and I used to visit Kyoto when we lived in Japan and although I was young and uninterested in temples at the time, Kiyomizudera with its beautiful wooden structure is one of my favourite temples in the world. However as it is so famous, I decided that I would choose another temple for this task and who better to ask than my mother.

One of her favourite temples is Nanzen-ji with its beautiful zen garden where one can contemplate the nature of life and the universe. Although I don’t remember much of the temple when we visited over twenty years ago, I do however remember the garden with its carefully placed stones representing the islands and the precisely raked gravel representing the sea that surrounds them.

The Zen Garden (photo by Dao-hui Chen at Sacred Destinations) and Sanmon Gate (photo from Wikipedia)

Nanzen-ji was built during the middle Heian period in 1291 by Emperor Kameyama on the site of what used to be an imperial palace.

A famous story attached to Nanzen-ji is that of Ishikawa Goemon, a legendary hero and thief reminiscent of Robin Hood, who was famously boiled alive in a cauldron for attempting to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the sengoku or warring states period in 16th century Japan. Goemon is the subject of many kabuki plays and in the most famous one, in an act titled Sanmon Gosan no Kiri, sits on the roof of Sanmon gate smoking a pipe and enjoying the view.

Apart from plays, there are numerous stories and films about Goemon, and he is even credited as an illustrious ancestor of Ishikawa Goemon XIII in one of my favourite anime series Lupin III by Monkey Punch which I used to watch as a child. A re-imagined historical fantasy film Goemon directed by Kazuaki Kiriya was recently released in Japan.

I seem to always go off topic, but I love to hear stories that are attached to monuments and buildings which bring their history to life.

A Tale Within A Book

24 November, 2009

I found this amazing video by the New Zealand Book Council on BOOKLUST. I don’t normally condone defacing books, but this is just too beautiful. Enjoy!

Death of Vali

A few months ago I caught sight of a dazzling poster in the tube station which stopped me in my tracks. It had loads of elephants running around in luscious green countryside flanked with wild, exotic plants and splashed with monsoon rain. I love elephants, they are my favourite animals. Big, gentle and with loooong memories. I’m always amazed when I see programmes about them returning to their elephant graveyard when they’ve never been before. Some kind of primordial collective memory lodged within their DNA…who knows?

So, it turns out the poster was for an exhibition at the British Museum of paintings from the palaces of Jodhpur which have never been seen abroad. I confess I’ve never been an afficionado of Indian art, although I’ve been to several exhibitions at the British Museum and the V&A over the years and am familiar with the Indian artistic style. But the image in the poster (see above) wouldn’t leave my mind, so I dragged my family to see it.

And it was just gorgeous. The artistic sensibility, style and fresh colours used were so different to what I’ve always assumed was Indian art (but then India is a nation with a vast history and many different artistic traditions so I shouldn’t really have been surprised). What really struck us was the similarities in composition and aesthetic to Japanese prints and paintings, especially ukiyo-e and nihonga. You would never think to compare the two culturally and aesthetically diverse countries. India always seems so vibrant, noisy and colourful whereas Japan sits back in quiet contemplation with sombre and mute colours. A step back as opposed to India’s rushing forward. But every single picture resonated with similarities, for example the way the waves in the Indian Ocean was represented was exactly like the stylized patterns often used in kimonos and chiyogami. It was unbelievable and made me feel that art and beauty truly is universal.

Chiyogami Red

The exhibition has been extended to 11 October 2009 so you have no excuse to miss it. Go and see it now!

A Mermaid by J.W. Waterhouse St Eulalia

I nipped into the Royal Academy in Burlington House at lunch time to get my quick fix of J.W. Waterhouse. They have on a retrospective with quite a large number of his paintings brought together from all over the world. Of course included were my favourites The Lady of Shallot, A Mermaid and St. Eulalia (see above). Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

I’ve always felt that there is a melancholic air pervading most of Waterhouse’s paintings. His use of muted, dusky colours coupled with flashes of peacock blue, pink and white pulls you into the cold, dark, snow-filled and windswept landscapes in which his paintings are often set. Although Waterhouse appeared many years after the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was established, his romantic subject matter and natural settings place him firmly within their aesthetic.

I left the exhibition, walking through the courtyard of Burlington House and peering into the windows of the Royal Astronomical Society to try and catch a glimpse of their gorgeous library, feeling uplifted especially since I bagged myself an exhibition catalogue, some postcards and a fridge magnet. Well, what was I supposed to do? Come away empty handed?


Ever since I first stepped into the Tate Britain on Millbank, I have been under the spell of the Pre-Raphaelites. It has been almost 20 years since I first glimpsed J.W. Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott but I still slide into a mini trance when I look upon her face. I am also captivated by Edward Burne-Jones’ Beguiling of Merlin and go crazy over anything William Morris.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Their manifesto was to reject the classical artistic style and aesthetic of the last three hundred years and return to the style prior to that of Raphael – hence their name. They focused on nature, capturing the brilliant colours and detail they found around them together with complex poses. Millais’ Ophelia is such a study of death surrounded by the beauty of nature. ophelia Who could resist the romance of the stories their painting told and the allure of their muses?

I have often wondered whether the Pre-Raphaelites were only a small, local group, as there were hardly any exhibitions, articles or programmes about them in the last twenty years. But 2009 seems to be all about the Pre-Raphaelites. BBC4 aired a three part documentary about them in June this year and is followed by a six part historical drama series Desperate Romantics on BBC2 in July. The cast is luscious and the script is spot on, drawing out the excitement and energy of the young artists.

And to top it all, this summer there is J.W. Waterhouse – the Modern Pre-Raphaelite, an exhibition at the Royal Academy. I know, I know, Waterhouse, Burne-Jones and Morris weren’t original members and are only loosely connected to the brotherhood, but they embraced the aesthetic and are generally included in the movement. Right now, I feel like I’m drowning in Pre-Raphaelites. Definitely worth waiting twenty years for.