in the shade



















Time keeps slipping. I can’t believe I have been home now for two months. The days and hours have become amorphous and melt into each other; a week or ten days pass like a dream; it’s now July.

It’s strange having all this time off, taken only to get better and to recover from what in retrospect was much more major surgery than even I had realized or anticipated- the hospital I am going to now for extra physiotherapy ( because my leg muscles have atrophied; so much conflicting advice and perhaps I have been quite the lazy convalescent, I don’t know), doesn’t even offer double osteotomies – the new physio seemed quite shocked that I had gone through it. Wow, really, both?

It’s not always easy to measure your progress when it is yourself, your own body, and any changes are gradual and incremental. It has often felt like two steps forward and then one or two steps back, but despite certain setbacks, I am less tentative, more robust, coming out of pathetic patient mode and more ready to enter back into the outside world.


But not quite yet.


One thing I have really enjoyed, having limited access (I have to get taxis anywhere), is exploring my own neighbourhood. It’s almost as if I am seeing it all for the first time. I have lived here for twenty years and we have always gone for walks on Sundays and tried different streets, so of course I do know most of it quite well, but as this is the only place I can go to practice walking, now, I have gone much deeper into its detail within these hot, sunny, humid weeks: I have meandered, on my sticks, along these private, quiet residential streets punctured by the sound of cicadas and other flying insects, huge black butterflies, and the full-thirsted warbling of birdsong.












While down the hill, the valley road I can no longer walk up or down, towards Kita-Kamakura station there are the grand, solemn zen temples of Engakuji, Kenchoji, and many others- the famous hydrangea temple, Meigetsuin thronging with tourists, the tea shops, the history, up here is the quiet, more suburban area, formed in the late sixties and seventies, known as Imaizumidai. My home for all these years, it as at once completely familiar, and yet mysterious. Who lives here? What do they do? At night there is no noise.


Where we live is quite affluent, but curiously overgrown, unkempt, even deserted ( Japan has a big problem with abandoned houses due to the hassles of inheritance tax, or something) and there are some of them here; boarded up, but occasionally cared for, and yet not out of keeping with the general slow, natural flow of this area, where gardens are often left to grow wild ( our own house is getting covered with creepers and we love it) and many of the houses are starting to look a little frayed around the edges.


I have never liked neatness, though, especially in gardens. Growing up, we always had foxgloves and bluebells; delphiniums, sweet peas… it was a place I could dream in, read books, play with friends. Further down the road there would be the great big houses with their hideous, hideous competitive manifestations of rows and rows of illfitting, fluorescent yellow and bright orange marigolds, pansies, fuchsias, patterns of regimented plants as if chosen by the blind, but maniacally arranged in tight fitting clumps, as anally retentive, fierce, and obedient as Nazis, with no soul nor grace orany sense, really, even of nature; I personally like flowers free and overreaching, lilting, strangling,  as in Rome’s Villa Doria Pamphilii, where the grass grows long and is filled with wild flowers, daisies you can pick, the perfect backdrop to the beautiful, fading wedding cake palazzo of the villa itself,
(and the government is too lazy to do anything about it.)











Walking around and along these streets, I notice something similar. The local council is obviously not prioritizing the culling of weeds nor the purity of our pavements. Liana-Iike vines often gang down, the gardens have an indolence. It is a reserved place : people keep themselves to themselves, disperse silently in their own private directions when disembarking from the bus, but there is also something magical that happens when the monks come up from the temples and chant to purify the  neighbourhood, something binding, and then more so during the O-Bon festival held every August, when the spirits of the dead are said to come back to their homes to visit their relatives, and the people wear light cotton summer kimono and dance to old folk songs, let off fireworks, and people get drunk and quite animated and eat and drink in the streets, little children dart about, and teenagers crawl out from under their rocks and sprawl lazily, and you actually, for a day or two, get a glimpse of what has been hidden, the rest of the year, from view.


As you approach the mountain, the green smell is intense: steamy, teeming with undergrowth, mosquitoes, wild lilies; the air thick, the shadows looming, inviting, like portals to a subterranean world. Sometimes I go into a drowse state in these conditions, as if I were not quite here: somewhere dense and close, between reality, and a dream. This is how I would be as a child: where I dwelled.


I have always loved summer, I feel full, present, unmelancholic, alive :there is a deathless infinity to it: a respite from analysis; all of nature teeming with life and the virulence of chlorophyll, the rapacious need of the cicadas to procreate and die as they whirr from tree to tree and then to a standstill: their sarcophagi lining along the pavements when their tiny engines have somehow stopped; the swallows swooping joyfully down onto their telephone wires: I am a person who can laze for hours by the reeds of a river and watch the water go by, just lying on the grass and watching the clouds drift above me in the sky, and while my friends in Tokyo complain incessantly each year about the heat, up here it is a couple of degrees cooler, and I just bathe in it.



Japanese children don’t get a summer holiday. For them, this is the most tiresome and tiring time of the entire year: interminable homework, assignments, club activities, cram school seminars; they are mere husks when they go back to school in September. In England, we did nothing, or we did what we wanted( time passed slowly, and I loved it. Two weeks or so by the beach somewhere, Bournemouth or Newquay, and the rest of the time just free; away from schedules and school bells and uniforms and timetables and just the garden, the woods, the late summer light…..


Now, unable to really go anywhere beyond my own back yard I feel that I am experiencing similar sensations. In life, as working adults, we rarely get the chance to just do nothing, unwind; break free, stand back, breathe; and while my time is often painful, doing my exercises, riding the exercise bike or going for a ‘stroll’;  my joints seize up or my legs start to swell, I feel some of my childhood’s long summer reverie coming back. As though you were suspended in the liquid of time itself, interior.













Filed under Flowers

18 responses to “in the shade

  1. emmawoolf

    Lovely writing, as always. You’ve still got it x

    • Thanks E. I have loads of pictures too but my iPhone is hell on earth and won’t let me. All of my friends here truly hate this weather – I am the weird, odd one out. I just love the almost oppressively alive atmosphere of summer.

  2. MrsDalloway

    Sounds and looks amazing, though I would hate the heat too. I grew up in Scotland and like weather to be breezy and changeable. Will you stay in Japan for good, do you think?

  3. What a beautiful commentary on summer. How I wish I too could see your
    neighborhood, it sounds mysterious, lush and elegant in all its disarray and
    neglect. You are really brave in your endeavors to heal. It is just so hard to exercise through pain. Don’t give up, everything works given the time and
    the supreme effort…wishing you well and wellness…sylvia

  4. I loved this beautiful post. Some people have traveled all over the world but do not know what’s beyond their own street. I am glad your recuperation is coming along.

  5. jennyredhen

    there are many abandoned houses where my son lives in Matsudo as well.. such a shame.. something about the access lanes not being wide enough for emergency vehicles to get down. I would like to go onto the property and look at them but he wont let me.. says the neighbours will see and it will be a scandal.

    • It would be!
      I have a friend who lives in Matsudo, actually – he is always complaining about it

      • jennyredhen

        Your friend complains about the abandoned houses or foreigners nosing around them?. Theres one street in Matsudo that goes down to the river that is so creepy Theres a large abandoned building covered in vines and creepers with an abandoned overgrown bus or similar in the yard A lot of the houses seem boarded up. some have old cars parked outside them and there are lots of yowling cats skulking around.. Its not a very long street then you come bursting out into the hustle and bustle of Matsudo.. such a relief!

  6. jennyredhen

    and especially when there are all those homeless people living in tents

    • Absolutely: but in practical terms I don’t see how owners/ families would let the homeless enter these properties; they themselves might not want to either – the homeless here have a lot of pride and don’t even beg

  7. Oh Neil, your writing is just sublime; I really am hoping for a book one of these days. The way you describe everything makes me just long to be there with you walking through your neighborhood. It really must be such an exquisite experience to just meander through the streets there, even in your delicate condition. I do hope the legs will really start to make progress, now that you are doing a round of physio again.
    Wishing you all the best and wishing I was visiting you.

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