Kamakura is a small, ancient city an hour south of Tokyo. A centre of zen Buddhism and samurai history, it is a deeply appealing little place replete with temples, interesting shops and restaurants, a kind of mini-Kyoto.




Yet while Kyoto remains the ultimate traditional Japanese experience in grandeur, atmosphere and exquisite refinement, the temples atmospheric and impressive, a deeply mysterious place where you can still see geisha disappearing furtively behind doorways, I am still happy that I live in Kamakura. Kyoto is a landlocked city surrounded by strangely oppressive mountains, swelteringly hot in summer, frigid in winter, and while I love going there to visit, it ultimately remains, for me personally, a touch overimposing and eerie.




Besides, Kamakura is by the sea and you can feel it. And as a lover of Tokyo, which I can get to in about eighty minutes from our house, I feel that we live in the perfect location. I can immerse myself energetically in the packed, neon futurism of the teeming metropolis, a place I cannot live without but cannot bear to live in, and then come back home to Kita-kamakura (north Kamakura, our nearest station), wait for the train doors to open and let the beautiful smell of the air, the flowers and trees assail and refresh my senses; the very real darkness (no neon here) that is always such a soothing contrast after a day in the hustle and bustle of the city.




Most Japanese people like to live very close to the nearest station, understandable when they spend so many hours working and convenience and time cutting become an absolute necessity. We however, specifically chose to live where we do because of the hill you have to ascend to get to our neighbourhood, Imaizumidai, a quiet, residential area right at the top. I like a separation between work and home, and also like having the time to think. In fact, call me a sociophobe, but I deliberately take certain trains when I have left school, stand at certain points on the platform to ensure, wherever possible, a lone walk home. It takes about twenty five minutes to walk it, past some of the finest temples in Kamakura, including the famed hydrangea temple, Meigetsuin, and the sublime wooden structures of Engaku-ji and its gentle bamboo groves where in the afternoon you can stop and have cups of powdered, matcha green tea.





It’s just that because of the knee injury I have, this hasn’t been possible for over six weeks, and I have really felt the difference, always taking the bus on a different route to Ofuna, sedentary, no exercise, no flowers. It has been very frustrating. I am not a sports person by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like to walk, and having that removed from my daily pattern, the walk up the hill after an evening of teaching (my solace, my silence) has been deadening.





I was supposed to have had a torn meniscus in my left knee, according to one specialist, but the results of a recent MRI scan have shown, apparently, that in fact that is not the case and I don’t need an operation. Instead, it is a more complicated situation involving damaged cartilage, much more difficult to treat, and something I apparently just have to grin and bear for the time being. You can walk, though, says this new doctor: better to strengthen the leg muscles…





And so yesterday evening, at about 5.45pm, I set off down the hill for the first time in ages, delighted to find myself absolutely inundated with flowers. Small, alpine white ones; strange, blackened calla lilies; the small, delicate irises that grow in abundance in this vicinity. Violets, beautifully scented azaleas, decaying, grand camellias. These purple wild flowers I never know the names of……. it was so gorgeous to be walking there again, knee pain or no.




I was going to be meeting D after work to have some Chinese, our local near the station that does great gyoza dumplings, but it was closed for some reason and we decided to be extravagant instead and have dinner at the expensive Italian place (in a fully Japanese interior, but trust me, it works for some reason) just down the road.




There the flowers continued; white callas and narcissi in the bathroom, and then when we left, even the station car park attendant’s office had a vase of flowers on it: I approached, touching the petals expecting artificial plastic, but no, they were real, blousily fritillated peonies. We then walked back up the hill as well in the dark, the new green leaves gleaming and new…





Everyone loves the sakura, the cherry blossom season best (which has already peaked), a time when the parks are packed out with people having hanami (blossom viewing) parties under the trees, drinking beer and sake, having fun, but for me it simply isn’t warm enough by any means to be sitting outside, and anyway it all feels a bit preordained and set somehow. I myself always prefer the onset of colour that comes after, when the spring winds have blown all that pale pink confetti from the trees: when winter is finally definitively put to rest, and the earth becomes more loamy and pungent (jasmine, frangipani, vetiver in the rainy season), and I can just walk, put my head back, breathe.





























































































Filed under Flowers

24 responses to “THE KNEE AND LILIES

  1. Yay, no torn hibiscus 🙂 That said, grin and bear it just seems like a lame cop out comment. I do hope that you have ways to rehabilitate it without doing further damage to it and to the healthier knee if you overcompensate. Anyway, back to taxes and the stupid program that got hung up which I think now means I have to reboot.

  2. I hope you get better very soon! I’m sad to hear that you can’t take your daily walks home. I’m a fan of walking myself, and much prefer it to being stuck on a crowded bus or the Underground. And the flowers are gorgeous! Really makes me want to visit Japan, it’s such a beautiful place!

  3. Holly

    Thanks for giving us another glimpse into your life. Visiting Japan is a dream of mine.

    I understand the knee dilemma, but I think it’s great you don’t need surgery. I’ve had similar problems over the years, and going for physical therapy was the best thing I ever did. If that would be possible for you to do, I highly recommend it.

  4. Sally M

    Huzzah that you don’t have to have surgery! Bugger that you have to “grin and bear it.” What drivel. I would certainly look into physical therapy – perhaps even hydro therapy/water exercises. Also cortisone shots might be very helpful – mind you, they wont repair the damage, but will reduce inflammation which allows for less pain.
    Here the flowers are glorious also. Big puffy cherry blossoms, fat green buds that literally seem to burst open before your eyes and weeds a-plenty 🙂 I spent most of yesterday mowing and raking and plucking after our looooong winter. It felt so good to be smelling the dirt, the sap, the grass. Your pictures are fab – I especially like the reflection of the trees in the water.

  5. Neil – that was a beautiful evocation of Kamakura, thanks! I visited a couple of times back in 1994 (20 years ago, oh jeez), once to the town, and once walking the hills round about. It’s a lovely, lovely place.

    Good luck with that knee – so glad to hear that you’re back to walking, even if recovery is a way off.

  6. RVB

    Hi Neil-I follow your posts with great enjoyment and have commented on a few.I am a bodyworker based in NYC with extensive experience with knee issues.I utilize the latest in fascial release techniques that can be self administered and would be more than happy to help you out.Just e mail me privately and we’ll take it from there.I’d hate to see a fellow perfume lover unable enjoy the rapture that a cool Spring evening redolent with blooming flowers can bring.I wish you the best-Robert

    • Seriously you probably can’t even imagine the joy that reading this gave me today.

      I am F***D! And really would like any advice whatsoever. I tried walking down, and up, the fabled hill today and it was so very much the wrong thing to do.

      Can you e-mail me first? (

  7. Those pictures of yours are just beautiful, and I am glad to hear that you are allowed to try walking again, though it must be painful to do so. Every time you post about where you live, though, I get intensely nostalgic about Japan, so reading about your walks gives me some pain too! I used to love making day trips down to Kamakura from Tokyo whatever the season.

    • For some reason, the few readers of this website who lived in Japan are strangely reticent about revealing anything about themselves. I would love to know more.

      How long were you here? Where were you ? What were you doing? What do you remember about the beautiful Kamakura?

      Go on, indulge me.

      • I lived in Tokyo for 5 years working as a lawyer. My favourite Kamakura memories are of the bamboo forest in Hokokuji, plum blossoms and seaviews at Hasedera, the serene Daibutsu, listening to musicians playing Etenraku at a wedding at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and eating pickles from Kamakura Tarushou.

      • It sounds so nostalgic, even though
        I still have it so close to hand. The
        Hasedera sea view, though ( the peonies !) truly is so lovely. Much as I never tire of the excitement of Tokyo, I think I could only ever really live in Kamakura or else Hayama- so gorgeous in the summer, or any season come to think of it despite its accessibility.

        Do you miss it all quite acutely? Most of my friends who have left have some kind of withdrawal syndrome that never entirely goes away.

  8. Lilybelle

    Oh, Mr. Ginza (sigh!) how lovely to read and to look at those photos! “Blousily fretillated peonies”… ♥ And that time to yourself to think on your walk…I know how you must have missed that. I’m very glad you don’t have to have knee surgery. I hope it will heal soon. Will glucosamine chondroitin help?

  9. For some reason I can’t reply directly to your comment above, but yes, I miss it all very acutely! Please enjoy it for the both of us (bad knees, crowded trains and perfume-free schools notwithstanding) and I will enjoy it vicariously 🙂

  10. ninakane1

    Glad you don’t have to have an op, but sorry to hear that the problem with the knee will take some time to heal. I go through phases of not being able to walk on my left knee having broken a bone just below it in a car accident 15 years’ ago, and being left with a bizarre crush injury of muscle that sits peculiarly in front of the shin bone. For some reason this sometimes just presses in a weird way and I’m suddenly hobbling for days and can hardly get up and down stairs. There’s nothing that can be done about this – other than perhaps some hideous operation cutting the muscle open and somehow squidging it back round to the calf where it belongs which I’ve been told by doctors would only be cosmetic at the end of the day and would probably cause more complications than it’s worth. So I just hobble on and then it seems to just fix itself and I’m back to the usual wear n tearing around (life-modelling in draughty rooms, running up and down staircases at rail stations dragging suitcases full of workshop materials… I could probably have taken better care of my body but have always come a cropper trying… neck injury the time I tried football, hypnotic floating / inability to think of anything the rest of the day when I devoted myself to daily yoga… and just middle-aged embarassment and scorn when I tried to resurrect my long-lost clubbing years …! In truth I think the best thing you can do with bodies is just live your live through them the best way you know how and let time dictate their progress without too much sweating it out in activities that don’t come easily). And knees are a complete bastard. However, it’s good to hear you have been advised to walk on it, and I love what you’ve written here. It’s got a beautiful, ponderous, walking pace to it…somehow the smells come through more intensely…and sounds.. I can sort of hear Kamakura through it which is strange. You’ll always have this deep embodied relationship to smell Neil, however many of your limbs fall off or go awry (!), and I ultimately think that will heal you quicker than any op or drugs.. (but the latter may help too… on that note – try Glucasomine Gel – this is the only thing that works with my knee). Can you get in the bath comfortably? If so, perhaps try some black pepper soaks… Perhaps also a trip to the waters of Atami…? x

    • You know… all these things Nina, and thanks for talking about it all. It was really painful today, but there are much worse things in life, and I love the attitude towards it all you adopt here. It makes sense to me.

  11. Holly

    I hope you will find something that helps you! Like everything else in life, it’s often difficult to know when to push through something difficult, and when to accept a condition with grace. You’ve gotten some great suggestions here, and I hope adding a bit extra won’t push you over the edge. ..

    Take your preferred NSAID as it will alleviate the pain to a small degree, but more importantly reduce inflammation caused by your muscles and tissues compensating for how you’re getting about. If one area is wonky, you’re not moving in your normal fashion and it puts strain on areas that aren’t used to it. I would recommend taking the maximum dosage at the stated intervals regardless of your activity for 2 weeks and then consider whether it’s helping or not. That old maxim an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Or something like that.

    I have no idea what you have access to there in terms of medical care, out-of-pocket costs and the like, so please forgive the following:

    Acupuncture, physical therapy, shiatsu, orthotics for your shoes, wet heating pad, Epsom salt baths, knee brace, cortisone injections.

    My personal opinion is that perhaps walking up and down hills at present is not good as that puts a lot of strain on your knees. Walking itself is probably good, as it will build up muscles that will take the new strain off your knees. That’s why physical therapy is so good: you will be guided by someone who knows what would be best for you in terms of activity, treatment and expectations.

    Best of luck and I look forward to reading in the future that you are recovering.

    • This is all brilliant advice and I am extremely grateful for it. Thank you so much. I am going to look into all of these suggestions seriously, and think you might really be right about the hill. It has NOT done me any good at all this week (except in my soul….)


  12. jennyredhen

    Hi Black Narcissus I adored reading about your town. I was recently in Japan for 2 weeks We went to Kyoto which was a madhouse and we got ripped off by three taxi drivers because we were in a hurry and didn’t know the three separate destinations were all 5 minutess walk of each other!!! Oh well tourists have to expect to be fleeced. Taxi drivers hate those small fares dont they!!! They have to make a living somehow. My son lives in Matsudo in Tokyo which I found to be a nice little place between Kita senju and Kashiwa. I travelled to a few destinations in japan… thank you japan rail pass… I would love to explore your town it sounds divine. I went to the Salvation Army Op shop in Tokyo that you have mentioned in your blog and that was worthwhile.. The Op shop crowd is the same the world over ! Immigrants were over represented … All in all it was a great morning out We had lunch at a fab sushi shop between Salvation Army and the Station.
    I am writing about your knee. I have had knee problems off and on over the years. I had a problem that sounds very similar to yours. I went to many physiotherapists etc .to no avail. In the end I just accepted my knees were stuffed and gave up all rehabilitation. After a few years they came right. Rest and convalescence are very underrated in this fast paced world we live in. That knee injury has been sent to you to tell you to slow down..
    Eat more fresh fruit and vegies
    Best wishes jenny

  13. jennyredhen

    Ps massage is excellent for all injuries as it increases the blood flow to the affected area. I also found Arnica cream rubbed in helped… Maybe taking Arnica as well might be good. Homeopathy can be a miracle cure when the practitioner gets it right!!

  14. De

    Lovely perfection.

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