Having spent almost 4 years living in Tokyo I adore so many things about Japan – the food, the beautiful lanterns, the (red) teaspoons, the waiter’s aprons, the list goes on. On this page you’ll find my musings on all things Japanese.
Like many stylists I love typography and I have various random letters and words scattered around our house and once I even picked up a very large discarded letter ‘U’ during an early morning walk!
But it isn’t just the alphabet that fascinates me, I also love shodo – the Japanese art of calligraphy. I was lucky enough to study this while living in Tokyo and find it a very peaceful way to relax. I’m not normally one for rules, but I really appreciate the strict rules that govern the pratice of shodo – once you commit your brush to the paper there is no going back, if you make a mistake you start all over again. Of course I could break that rule but somehow I never want to. The end of each stroke and how you finish it is very important and it can be so frustrating when you have almost completed a complicated, multi-stroke kanji only to mess up the very last flick! Sadly white-out is not an option!
As a leaving Tokyo present, my shodo teacher, Waka had my own personal ‘rakkan-in’ made for me. This is essentially my signature on a stamp. Every Japanese person has their own personal hanko (stamp) which they use in place of a signature in everyday life and shodo artists have their own too, but it is called a rakkan-in rather than hanko. They use it to ‘sign’ their paintings. If you look at a piece of shodo you will see, usually on the bottom left and usually in red ink, a square containing some characters. This is an artistic interpretation of their name. This is mine:
My friend Jane Lawson (cookbook author and fellow Japanophile) asked me to do some shodo for her latest Japanese cookbook and although the thought terrified me, I felt an amazing sense of achievement when I finished those six kanji. I shalln’t tell you how many pieces of paper it took to get the six, but it was worth it!
Although I don’t get much chance to practise my shodo at the moment, I recently themed our book club evening to the Japanese book I chose and along with preparing Japanese food I also wrote everyone’s name in Japanese and then got them to try and pick their own name. Every time I take the time to do some shodo I realise how much I love it and think I should do more!
To see more of Jane’s stunning cookbook/seasonal food journey Zenbu Zen here.
Along with my thing for Japanese spoons, I also love Japanese lanterns. I was fascinated by them from the moment we first arrived in Japan and was desperate to read the beautiful Japanese script written down the length of each and every one.
We moved to Tokyo in 2008 for The Rock Climber’s job. It was never somewhere I had ever had much desire to visit, but having lived there for almost 4 years it is somewhere I still think of daily and think everyone should visit if they get the opportunity. I am always hard pressed to describe what it is about Tokyo and Japan in general, that I love so much as it is a difficult place to describe. For me it’s a visual thing, but much more in the detail rather than as a whole. It’s what’s happening at street level. So for me when I think of Japan or am asked to describe Japan, it is the exotic paper lanterns that are foremost in my mind.
The script on this vibrant lantern says that this is a hand-made soba restaurant “te uchi soba”.
It was the lantern I spotted outside this udon restaurant in Kyoto that made me go inside and have dinner and very delicious it was too.
While in Kyoto I was lucky enough to see a geisha (or geiko as they are called in Kyoto), walking passed this enormous lantern!
A red lantern outside a restaurant generally indicates it is a cheap and cheerful restaurant. But there are millions of lanterns all over Japan in a multitude of sizes, predominantly coloured red, black and white. Traditionally the lanterns are made of washi paper, so to protect them from the rain they are often covered in plastic. It doesn’t make them look quite as beautiful but it’s practical.
Early on in our time living in Tokyo I found a shop that sold old Japanese lanterns and decided that I would buy one when we knew we were leaving – I thought it would be strange to have a restaurant lantern in our house while we lived there. So more than three years later, when I found out our time in Tokyo was drawing to a close I headed back to the shop all set to buy a lantern, accompanied by my Japanese friend Yuko. I had re-visited the shop many times over the years just because I loved the shop so much. Even though I had mastered a fair bit of Japanese I decided that I’d let Yuko do the talking and that’s when I found out that all these beautiful old lanterns weren’t actually for sale – even though they all had price tags on. They were simply examples of what you could buy BRAND NEW! I was devastated, but the shop keeper thought it highly amusing that some crazy foreigner wanted to buy some raggedy old, torn paper lantern. In the end I settled for this new black and white one and much to the amusement of my Japanese friends, I proudly displayed it at home for our final weeks. And what does it say – ‘eigyo cho’ which translates as ‘open for service’!
This lantern is another treasured possession that I found in an antique shop. The script on it is very old and even my Japanese friends couldn’t read it, so I shall never know what it says.
In our Sydney home my lanterns sit on an old red Japanese cupboard but when we eat outside I take all my lanterns and hang them in the trees, I’m not sure what I’ll do if a Japanese person walks by and thinks we’re ‘open for service’! ***
I’ve been writing the food pages for marie claire magazine for several months now and am loving the creative team I’m working with.
The August issue is in the shops now. Inside you’ll find 4 of the best Asian soups. Perfect for chilly southern hemisphere winter evenings.
Yet again I got to indulge my love of all things Japanese and used one of my gorgeous old sake bar aprons as a background.
Photography copyright Louise Lister.
Some are cute, others are stylish and some I just had to have but I can’t explain why.
I didn’t even realise I had a thing for small spoons until my husband suggested I use them as the design for my new business card. So I entrusted my collection of spoons to a local designer and she created the most beautiful image, one that is commented upon almost every time I hand over my card.
What I do know is that I have a strict morning ritual when it comes to my coffee and my spoons! It’s a short black (or espresso to the rest of the world outside of Australia) with half a sugar and I can only use one of my lovely teaspoons to stir and they mustn’t be put in the dishwasher.
My collection isn’t enormous and I don’t seek them out nor do I buy every one that I see, but I do love my spoons. Sadly my lovely red teaspoon is starting to shed its lacquer – I have a sneaking suspicion someone has been putting it in the dishwasher!