Category Archives: Japan


On this day ten years ago at 2:46pm, a giant megathrust earthquake of magnitude 9 struck off the coast of Tohoku in Northern Japan triggering a triplefold catastrophe – not only the mass destruction caused by the earthquake itself, the biggest tsunami ever to hit the country in its history, but also the subsequent nuclear meltdown at the reactor in Fukushima that threatened not only people living in the immediate area of the radioactive leak, but the population the country at large ; over 19,000 people buried, crushed, or swept out to sea – or still missing : a national trauma of an unprecedented scale that caused an immeasurable suffering that continues to this day.

We live about 300km to the south of the epicentre, but even in the Tokyo area, the shaking was strong enough to make you feel that you were about to die. I therefore can’t even begin to imagine the sheer extent of the violent devastation those up north had to withstand; the fear; the resulting giant waves that were big enough to wash away entire swathes of towns and cities along the coastline, desperate drivers of cars trying to outpace the waters, and those trying to flee on foot at the mercy of the sea as they were caught up in the mud and debris; unstoppable floods of boats, floating warehouses and bicycles and trapped families in broken buildings.

As well as the immediate carnage caused by the earth tremors and the waves ( I could not bear to watch any of it on TV at the time for self-protection but it was inescapable in the air around you), it soon became apparent after the initial shock, that a possible nuclear disaster on the scale of Chernobyl was about to ensue, with a large percentage of the foreign population fleeing the country as a result. I hadn’t realized until reading an article in The Japan Times yesterday that up to 30 million people might have been ordered to be evacuated from the Tokyo area if the winds had blown the radiation in the wrong direction: fortunately they blew in the other. It was difficult to handle: you were unmoored – the ground continually like liquid under your feet, intermittently swaying; the air itself felt hazardous to inhale. We were living in sealed up quarters to keep out the ‘nuclear rain’: you kept up with the daily atmospheric readings and wondered if it was safe to go outside. . The US military was potentially to be taken out of the country, leaving it unprotected – there were continual power cuts across the country : it was upheaval on an unimaginable scale.

I have started writing again about my own memories of that time; the other night I wrote as if in a trance, for hours, re-seeing myself walking home for three and half hours in a slow, dreamlike daze during the blackout, in darkness walking up the hill, not knowing what had happened to D: I have previously – several times on the anniversary – also put up a piece I wrote during the immediate aftermath, in this post from 2013 in which I detail our fears, frustrations, and dilemmas about what to do : the sheer heartbreak of imagining the levels of misery the people were going through in the freezing Tohoku region, where family members had disappeared, could not be found beneath the mud and the rubble, but who would sometimes be discovered later in quite macabre situations – in the branches of a tree, washed up on the beach, entangled in fishing ropes. It never occurred to us at the time to go up to the region to volunteer, as almost a million people did, including a lot of foreigners here as well as thousands of American soldiers (I think we made the excuse to ourselves that our insufficient language skills would have been a hindrance), but in reality perhaps we are not just altruistic, self-sacrificing, nor strong stomached enough. I don’t know. This now gives me a feeling of guilt.

But we didn’t flee either. We considered it – and were being urged to do so. By friends and family, by the British government. Yet somehow, the pull to stay was far greater. We live here. It is our second home. Our life is here. It is not perfect, but we love Japan. It would have felt like a betrayal. And once the aftershocks had diminished, and the threat of the reactors to cause cataclysmic damage had been curtailed, it was relatively easy for those living in this area to get back to normal. Spring came, summer came – you went on with the future.

For the traumatized people up in Tohoku, though, the situation was and is entirely different. Many were homeless – and have been living in makeshift shelters ever since that are not warm enough in winter. Although the government has put a great deal of money into the reconstruction of the region, it is insufficient, and many places are still like ghost towns – often literally. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, it is difficult to watch this documentary without coming away moved and profoundly disturbed by the pain and distress that is so visible in the faces and body language of those who survived: such was the immediacy and intensity of the deathly havoc wreaked on usually peaceful villages and towns that it seems, according to many locals, and usually implacable and sanguine taxi drivers who have chronicled passengers who disappear into thin air, that there are countless spirits still wandering around their old stomping grounds who just cannot find rest. A lot of young people, who weren’t ready to go and are confused about where they now are. I hope that they can, eventually, find some peace.

The tragedy of 2011 is indelibly carved into the souls of those who were here during that difficult time; it made you realize how precious life is and that it is always full of upheaval – you can be alive one minute and dead the next. It could happen at any time , to anyone – including another similar earthquake ( a couple of weekends ago there was a large tremor that shook Fukushima, announced by seismologists as aftershock from the earthquake in 2011). The plates below the earth are still rumbling, discontented. The danger has never gone away. And now of course the world is in the middle of a pandemic that soon will have killed almost 3,000,000 globally, which no one, besides epidemiologists, could ever have predicted: how quickly our lives were upended by a tiny, invisible lethal organism. It has been hard: internal, and insidiously different from the external physical jolting and violence of a major quake, the challenges of this new threat are nevertheless similarly psychologically exacting; the isolation of lockdown, the constant suppressed fear, the worry about loved ones; the terror of dying alone in an agonising manner; intubated, unable to breathe. It has been a new, and very different kind of challenge that has tested the resilience, and sanity of everyone. Hopefully though, once the tides have turned, as before, we will all get through it.

As, to some extent, presumably, will those that remain, or have returned, to the stricken areas in Tohoku they were born, from a sense of loyalty or simply because they still felt in some way that it is still home. Eventually. The grief and inconceivable spiritual impact that those terrible days in March had on each individual living there, though, must make this very difficult. Possibly insurmountable. In today’s newspaper, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the disaster, a survivor, whose daughter was among the missing and who spent five months searching for her body, notes sombrely, that ‘contrary to popular belief, time doesn’t heal – you just get used to living with sadness.’


Filed under Japan







The day finally came yesterday and I went back to work. The Japanese government has lifted the state of emergency, and students have returned to their schools, meaning that there is no ‘legitimate’ reason to be refusing to go into the company buildings, even if the coronavirus is of course present (since the lifting of certain restrictions in Tokyo, there have already been new spikes this week). In truth, I feel far more compromised in terms of safety – we were so much better off being isolated here at home in Kamakura! – but a person needs to make a living. I sense that it would be futile to argue. I have good instincts about these things – usually I know how far I can push it. I have already had three months off, paid, albeit at reduced salary – but I am extraordinarily lucky compare to all those millions of people laid off around the world worrying about how to put food on the table – and I am grateful that they were flexible enough to let me go my own way by recording lessons at home which, one of the Japanese managers told me yesterday, many students had found enjoyable. Phew.




The day yesterday was fraught, hectic, and exhausting, but I have woken up today feeling revitalised. Something about just mingling with people, interacting, laughing, communicating and sounding off each other is energising for the human spirit even when there is concurrently a constant possibility of infection from a horrendous disease. Speaking Japanese again stimulated the brain; young people are automatically refreshing with their eagerness and energy; both lessons (90/100 minutes) got off to slow starts but were relatively ok by the end, even if I rushed outside at the earliest opportunity in order to rip off my mask and take a full breath. Panting at the exertion and the reduced intake of oxygen.







The positives:





  1. Precautions were definitely being taken. Although I do worry a lot about the proximity of students in some classrooms, they are still further apart than they usually would be. That aside, EVERYONE is wearing masks. Everyone. On the streets, in shops – all students must wear them, and teachers have to have THIS ensemble: 61JwgkohedL._SX342_





…obviously beyond uncool – try this with glasses; mine steamed up immediately; I couldn’t see, hear or respire at all and I had to rip it off like a panic stricken dork. Given the current circumstances, it is probably unwise to be talking about being unable to breathe – but  – I literally couldn’t breathe. As a claustrophe, this get up is simply not possible for me; like some other teachers, I wore it more as a bib around the neck which defeats the purpose really, maybe better than nothing but unfortunately, I simply won’t be able to teach like this, possibly putting myself at risk.




Still, everyone’s temperature is checked, both teachers’ and students’, the moment they set foot in the school with a temperature gun  – which looks very odd at first, like a horror movie;  : who is that about to be shot in the head over there?  but I was impressed that such a contraption can register your temperature so quickly (how?). Mine was 36.3. Normal (though warm for me – I tend to be more lizard-like, around 35.5). Anything 37 or over and you are not allowed to teach or attend lessons. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that there will not be asymptomatic carries, but thus far there have been no cases of any students or teachers being infected in the entire organisation – that is thousands of people if you think of all the schools – so it does at least give a small level of reassurance. Students disinfect their hands; there are plastic sheets over the teachers’ rooms windows where the students come to ask questions; no eating is now allowed in the school; lessons are temporarily slightly shorter.











2. I am delighted to have had my desk moved to its new location, which is a sociophobe self-isolator’s dream. I don’t have to stare uncomfortably into anyone’s face, awkwardly avoiding their gaze all day  – Japanese workers are usually placed opposite each other at a common table- , something that for me is akin to mild torture – as I am sat in the corner facing the wall (honestly, that might sound weird, but I find personally that even if you like someone, if they are facing you all day it is incredibly exhausting to the human spirit; conspicuously avoiding looking at someone, trying to get exactly the right balance of politeness but not intruding on them, is more fatiguing to me than I can even express here; I am so relieved I can sit where I sit now). There are empty classrooms I can go off to in that newer building where I can go and prepare and eat with the windows open when the mask wearing gets too much (my god it really does, doesn’t it? very quickly).  My colleagues there are people I like and who understand me ; no one was even slightly off with me among those I get on well with; I have a coterie of perhaps six or seven Japanese teachers I have socialised with in the past and got to know; we are all eccentric and actively like that aspect of each other so there is no pretending; I was having a laugh – thankfully, these people have a gallows humour so dark jokes about imminent death and so on are perfectly fine; my psychology needs that – I can’t do the ‘smile and pretend everything is happy’ thing as it alienates my consciousness- so that was a huge relief. . Admittedly, those people aside, some others in higher positions gave me a slightly condescending smile (Oh, you are back….), but who can blame them when I got special treatment and they had to toil at the height of the initial crisis trying to put lessons online and scrambling to make lessons there when I had the luxury of swanning about my bohemian house drenched in perfume in Kitakamakura.





3. It is bizarre. The strict environment  you probably imagined Japan might have created straight away after the realisation that a pandemic was coming -: stringent controls, social distancing, all those drastic countermeasures, HAS come into effect, yet only now. ‘Social distance’ has become a word that everyone suddenly knows. At the beginning of June. There is plastic everywhere, alcohol sanitiser. The streets, I would say, are 80-90% reduced in foot traffic compared to usual. Coming back to Ofuna station last night I was amazed by how empty it was. It felt like the aftermath of the earthquake again, most shops and restaurants already closed. This does make me feel less nervous in many ways, as at least the policy of ‘jishuku’,or self restraint, is obviously being taken up by the people, which should help to keep huge levels of new infections at bay, and hopefully it also means that more of the students’ parents are telecommuting from home and the population generally is being very cautious (what is weird is: both the UK and the US took measures like these earlier, with much more strictly enforced lockdowns, and yet the deaths are incomparable. Japan has about a fiftieth of the number of deaths as the UK, with twice the population). Yes, I am naturally skeptical about all ‘facts and figures’ from any official governmental organisation, and there are different theories about possible cover ups and so on as there seem to be in every country, but the mortality rate has not increased; in fact some sources say it has decreased because the almost mandatory usage of masks has even had an effect on other illnesses such as seasonal influenza. Why then, are the numbers so much worse in the UK? I think we will be pondering this for some time. As for America……..I don’t know where to start and don’t even know whether I should. The Devil is obviously trying to start a civil war in his own country. His response to every crisis, particularly the coronavirus, has been disastrous. He has policitized a virus. The last thing the country needed, with all the mortalities and the rising risk of new infections was riots on the streets, but when people are so incensed by injustice they will react. He has made no effort to calm the country but has deliberately gone out of his way to do precisely the opposite. To deliberately pour gasoline onto the fire. All he had to do was say that the death of George Floyd was wrong and unacceptable (because it was; there is no excuse for a person being treated like that; I thought of him yesterday when I felt I couldn’t breathe; what if you literally couldn’t) ; that he understood the pain of the people, that measures would be taken to prevent this from happening any more and then you would not have the horrific conflagrations that are currently taking place. And what is all of it going to do for the coronavirus?….I will leave it there, suffice it to say that the situation is desperately worrying. It also made me realise yesterday that, yes, while Japanese people do suppress things for the greater good – the harmony of the whole – and that can definitely have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health at times, in other ways, the wonderfully civilized nature of the society; the graciousness, means that you are never going to have human rottweilers barking and gnashing their teeth and refusing to wear masks because they want to be ‘free’; people are extremely cooperative generally here right now; everyone has their mask on, head down, and is trying to get through the situation. America seems to just want to burn itself to the ground. Or at least a certain individual wants it to. There are no words.








The negatives: 






  1. Despite all the extra precautions, the fact is, students are physically coming together again after three months stuck at home. This is guaranteed to bring more virus into the shared space. I felt worried for them. I felt worried for me.




2. The classroom I was in yesterday was in the biggest one in the entire company because I wanted the students to be able to talk to each other, but safely, so I was given the ‘VIP’ treatment with the biggest conference room upstairs. . We had all the windows open (plus air conditioning; not good environmentally but at this stage it can’t be helped). I was at an acceptable distance from the students, and they from each other.


3. The school I am in today, however,  has no windows. Teachers are cheek by jowl in the teachers’ room. It is an epidemiological disaster zone. I am going to go there as late as possible to avoid having to be overly doused in the shared air, but god knows what is going to happen in the classroom today. I then have to get a guaranteed-to-be crowded – even if less so than usual – train back, commuters returning to their houses from downtown Tokyo in the direction of Kamakura. I have decided to go back home up the hill by bike, because I just can’t then face a crowded bus (last night I took a taxi, but it won’t be financially viable every night), even if my knee situation may not be able to take pushing my bike  up the very steep part of hill after an exhausting day on a regular basis.



4. If I am honest with you, having read about how horrific some of the symptoms of this illness are, and that it is not ‘merely’ a respiratory disease but also a vascular disease that affects blood flow, vessels and veins, from head to toe, destroying internal organs, and having heard about how long it can take to recover from it  – a friend of mine who always works in Fujisawa has had it and is now recuperating at home, very slowly (his university allows him to teache his lessons online – on the train coming home last night, though slightly exhilarated by the sheer energy required on my part to get lessons going – I felt all revved up -this is always the good part of teaching for me, the mutually energizing currents –  I also thought to myself: I am guaranteed to get this virus now. Am I going to die? Unless I just refuse to go to work and give up my job. And have no money (there are no jobs available here). And then what?





So, despite my renewed sense of vigour, a feeling of coming back into the world again, a reconnection, I can’t deny that at the same time, in truth I also feel an apprehensive,  quite fatalistic sense of pure terror.






Filed under Japan

RUBY WOO by MAC (2016)




One of my most beloved childhood memories is staying up after all my family had gone to bed and watching 80s B movies on TV. Thrillers or horror were the main favourites, Fright Night, Fright Night 2 (even better!), Vamp with Grace Jones, anything with a darkness and whisper of sinister sex. But in particular, the best were movies set at night, hopefully in New York, especially ones which featured smoky clubs or taxis, lipstick and stockings, some venetian blinds, neon and blood. Daryl Hannah doing a strange performance art piece and possibly being an arsonist. Yes please. MORE please.
After Hours, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Desperately Seeking Susan, Something Wild, these made my childhood heart scream “ESCAPE!”
I wanted to be one of those women, I longed for an apartment with an outside metal staircase where I might escape near death from an intruder, I yearned to use my perfume or stiletto as a weapon.
As a performer, my persona as Belgium Solanas started incredibly specifically.
Red/ auburn hair: As soon as we could afford proper wigs, always.
Vintage dresses and furs procured at a cheap used shop in America Mura in Osaka, nothing over ¥400. (We got the most EXTRAORDINARY starter wardrobe, I’m still amazed.)
Coloured tights for every look.
Always an element which was a bit off, glamorous evening dress with a neck brace, a piece of some scrounged object or wig pinned to a shoulder, nerd spectacles and socks with silver platforms.
Multiple looks for each night out, I have no idea where the energy came from but it felt like so many years of ideas were finally able to be unleashed. We could do anything we wanted!
The first time I ever went out by myself in full drag (the day I christened myself) I had a taxidermy crow pinned to one shoulder of my purple dress. I was invincible (also HIDEOUS in retrospect, but still proud I didn’t go out in something off the rack or a studded Gaga bra or something).
It was the day my grandmother died, and I felt a tremendous guilt for not being able to be with my family. Her middle name was Belgium. And so Belgium I became.
The story when we started in 2010, was that I and Sasha Zamolodchikova were ancient cannibal witch shapeshifting man killers, in our current guise as Euro-supermodels.
Utterly evil, sinister and otherworldly. Our shows were violent, underground and wilfully anti-drag. No Katy Petty. No cute stuff. Ever. We used music by bands like Crystal Castles, Divinyls (the early, rocking, goddess version before I Touch Myself), Beach House, Phantogram, Velvet Underground and Nico, using overlays of dialogue from Picnic At Hanging Rock and screeching seagulls, patched together in the most ramshackle way but always taking the audience out of this world for a moment.
Strange, political, often shocking shows (I beat Sasha with a real fish on stage which exploded into guts over our black corsets at Diamonds Are Forever in Kyoto for our second show of two on our first night on the stage, in the first show we slapped each other in the face, progressively getting more turned on with the violence, a show which probably we could no longer do I imagine) that landed us on a proper concert sized stage in Osaka for our third show ever, where we ripped up a bible and threw pages of it into the frenzied crowd. This was real life.
Sasha left Japan a few months into the start of our newly formed art collective, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (eventually KKBB Colective), although we eventually went on to continue making films and doing shows internationally and made a long form film in 2013 Yūrei Ga Tōru.
Initially I was too shy to think to continue on my own, but somehow I did, more often than not finding people who had never performed before to take roles in these little cinematic moments in smoky clubs at 2AM in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya. I much preferred this energy to the desperation of people who were “performers” and who begged me to put them in shows. People who craved the attention and not the experience. NO.
The main thing was the energy. I wanted it to look like a story was unfolding on the stage. We practiced a lot, certainly, but it was mostly about finding moments in these shows, this will happen at this point in the track, this will happen here, the in between parts were where instinct and real life took over. Dreams.
My early obsession with movies was the greatest teacher. An education of composition, colour, movement, use of music. I always imagine myself to be in a movie onstage, even now. In real life too actually, I am a photographer and filmmaker at heart and often picture things happening in my head from the perspective of a lens, as if it’s not actually happening at all. And maybe it isn’t.
Drag, for me, has always been about EMOTION. Connection. Eyes.
A performer who can work their eyes and look like they are truly in the moment will always mean so much more to me than one who is studied and precise and practiced but cold. I don’t give a fuck about eyebrows or splits, I want something real. So often after a show everybody is gushing over some lace-fronted glossy statue, where I am mentally obsessing over the first time on stage stumbling mess who created a moment of magic, even if it was only for a fleeting few seconds. This is it. This is what I came for.
The evolution of drag into what is now, more or less, THE go-to hobby for queer or queer adjacent kids out to make friends or Instagram followings is a curious one, and ultimately mostly a positive one, but the true diamonds, the ones who NEED it still stick out. I’m always attracted to the quiet ones who live for 5 minutes on stage. The artist.
Anyway, to the perfume! Red lipstick has always been my go to. It evokes 80s to me, 80s horror and sex stars. Blood and limousines.
My favourite red will always be MAC Russian Red, a true, hyper pigmented blue-red which reminds me of 70s saturated screen blood, the sickly vanilla scent ALWAYS instantly takes me back to those early years of drag. I have lipsticks everywhere, I find them inside gloves, in pockets, in suitcase compartments.
 After a show I am often packing in a half euphoric daze and put things anywhere they will fit. About once a week I will open a tube, on the way to the bathroom perhaps, stepping over the corpse in the living room and passing my bikinied oran-utan named Linda Manz and sniff it, just for a moment of memory.
Red is such an evocative colour I think, instant cinema, I particularly love bright hyper red and blonde hair as a combo, the sex goddess Satanic look. I live for it.
I had no idea MAC had done a small series of perfumes based on their lipsticks. I had no idea MAC did perfume. I found a sample poring over yahoo auction listings in the witching hour one recent night.
The only MAC perfume I was aware of is the semi ubiquitous Turquatic, evocative of a certain culturally empty 2000s era of MAC store members asking me every time I went to buy some makeup “Who is this a present for?”
For ME darling. It’s for ME!
MAC’s Ruby Woo is a gorgeous SHADE of lipstick, but an utter nightmare to wear. It drags on the lips and has the texture of sand. I hate it. But it is an iconic red. THE red of the 90s. So that is the perfume I wanted to try. And I’m so glad I did!
It smells, to me, of second day tobacco (another illicit thrill of childhood, the smell of the downstairs rumpus room the morning after one of my parents parties, smokes and alcohol and half empty glasses of rum and coke and potato chips, vinyl records and a faint whiff of an Australian summer lawn and jacaranda, yum!), of cheap vintage leather and, yes, of cherries.
Fake cherries.
Bubblegum cherries.
It smells of an abandoned pinball arcade after a screening of Grease accidentally turned into an orgy and then everyone disappeared.
It evokes being in a half empty club at 4AM, after a show, half asleep but wanting the magic to last, on a cold leather sofa, watching people trying to make a connection to someone or something, and failing. Dancing to this.
I love it. Recently I always wear vintage Opium on show nights (a gift from the black narcissus himself!) and often Devil’s Nightcap by Gorilla perfumes which is vegetal, primordial and sex deep for my day to day. Sometimes Rentless also by Gorilla perfume which reminds me somehow of booze, occasionally with a squirt of Cardomom Coffee for sprightliness.
But this Ruby Woo is really truly delicious! A very happy discovery. And a true Belgium perfume, sinister, sexy, a bit silly and certainly quite the cannibal.


Filed under Cherry, Japan, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Rare






I had promised myself I wouldn’t write anything today as I am feeling mind-wiped, but seeing this just-out-in-Nippon release in Takashimaya ( a take no prisoners, self confidently fresh and sharp mandarin tuberose neroli that she would never wear in a million years though I might ),  I am simply putting this up to pique the amusement of my best friend Helen – who is anything but heartless










– though she can be severe and cut to the core and tell it like it is because she seems to understand me better than possibly anybody else: a soul twin, telepathic understanding that, though we speak far too little ( as we are both lazy and crap ) we know, as long as we remain intact, we will always have.







( the picture above is H giving me a pep talk before my Perfume Lovers London talk of 2014 ….. god how time so quickly flies……)









Helen has talked me through many a difficult situation: like my mother (in the earthquake, my operation, both were amazing ) they tell me just the right combination of reality and boost. A hotwire to my sensibility;  fraternal umbilical straight to my fevered, potholed  brain.













We are also both hypochondriacs. So god knows how she would feel being here where I am today, in Yokohama,; the biggest China Town in all of Asia, where a cruise ship is quarantined off shore walking distance from where I have lessons with passengers coming down like flies with the coronavirus, and where, as you can see, masks are selling out and there is a very uneasy feel in the air – as there is globally – as people are wondering what to believe, and whether they are over or underreacting; where being on packed trains feels unpleasant and dangerous, and where tempers get frayed —





– —- my ragged own, especially ( I had an argument with my closest Japanese male friend on the bus earlier this afternoon. about a common colleague who was espousing theories the other day about only the ‘weak’ being in danger of contracting the virus and being very arrogantly ‘unconcerned’ about the illness –  —- so would that include me, then?  having had very serious pneumonia in my left lung twice before ; I didn’t like the almost Nietzschean Ubermensch implications of what he was saying (and what of the immune stressed sleep deprived students, just before the most important exams of their lives ?); my friend said it was a linguistic misunderstanding: I responded with something below the belt about the man’s appearance…., oh when I get on the defensive I can be very venomous ; bile slips from my tongue with slippered ease.,..  …. never mind Heartless Helen; it is more like Noxious Neil (so should I wear the partner in the set, then  : the devilish and dastardly woody tobacco scent, Terrible Ted? )






No : I think Helen would suit me much better : we need proud nosegays in these pestilential times; bright flowers (Penhaligons calls this a ‘fearless conquistador’), and everybody knows that I love oranges.  don’t think about it, H would say, rationalize, hone in to the very best perspective; reverse or brake my hysteria  —-   ———- or at the very least, just try and  steer me towards a more pacified lucidity










































Filed under art and politics, autobiography, B0RN TO BE TROPICAL, Bitch, Flowers, FUCK EVERYTHING, I really do have a bad feeling about all of this, incomplete perfume reviews, inexplicable happenings, Japan, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, LUXURIANCE, Neroli, neurotic meltdowns, occasionally sickening scents, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE, postcards from the edge, pretentious aesthetes, Psychodrama, Rare, religious hatred and death, SCANDAL, SELF-OBSESSION, this is not a perfume review, Tuberose, Uncategorized, Urine, Vietnam travelogue, when an artist spins in his grave, Writing









I find myself this morning, after over two weeks of ‘hibernation’ doused in rich perfume, waking up. It is a bright, cold, sunny morning, and we might head into the big city this afternoon to get some needed things now that the work term approaches and we need to slough off this sleepy languor (it is strange up here without neon; our neighbourhood is quite dark at night, which I love; in many ways cut off…..if you stay here long enough being back in the unstoppable electric vein of the metropolis comes as a jarring shock). Perhaps I will peruse some of the new fragrances in Isetan or Nose Shop.




As I briefly wrote the other night as the decade ended (although I thought the pictures told the story better), we went to Engakuji Shrine, a few minutes down the hill by bike for hatsumode, the traditional ceremony of good luck that a large percentage of Japanese people participate in every year. The monks made no differentiation between the few foreigners present and the others; all were welcome. It felt sanctified, serene. Genuine. You felt the ancient tradition and precinct surroundings in your cells. Part of something.



An hour before this we had been expecting to go to what we thought was the only place open near the station, Wabisuke, an atmospheric dive bar where well to do locals sip whisky and smoke, and they play jazz but also unexpected music too, and where the somewhat sullen proprietor has somewhat gotten used to the presence of non-Japanese over the years with our infrequent drop-ins; there is always a ripple of cognisance whenever a non-Japanese person enters a place –  as there is anywhere here – but it is muted.



It was closed. But it was too cold for us to stand outside at the temple waiting for midnight, no matter how beautiful and diamond cut the constellations above in the indigo black sky. We wanted a drink. So in vain, we thought, we cycled along a bit aimlessly thinking we would just kill some time before returning to Engakuji but then came across a place that was open – you could tell it was one of those really ‘local’ local places where the mama-san hosts regulars who practically live there; no airs and graces; no attempts at beautification; almost like someone’s living room, a place for salarymen to crash after work to avoid their grateful wives; or for the single to work up a bar tally in order to escape from their daily loneliness; or else just a gathering of people come together to watch the Kohaku yearly music show which is a staple of O-Shogatsu, unchanging New Year celebrations.



This tale has no dramatic denouement in case you were expecting one from my build up. But the fifty minutes or so we spent in there – gingerly opening the door, as I rolled my eyes in anticipation of the kerfuffle and psychological mayhem our entrance as Europeans would cause; so predictable, so tedious, if somewhat amusing – are quite emblematic of many of the fundaments of the heart and soul of this country we live in, the profound lack of internationalism despite the fact that Tokyo is to be hosting the Olympic Games in 2020: an absolute segregation, at the marrow level, of the Us, and The Other.



I have to clench myself in these situations. I become defensive inwardly, which probably exacerbates the tensions in advance: a vicious circle. D is always more sweet and personable and likeable: he always says I put up barriers. But what I would like, ideally, is just to be able to walk into a place and be welcomed just like any other customer – I would expect some curiosity perhaps, but not the fucked up Muppet Show that was the result instead on New Year’s Eve (loose translations coming up….)’ What?!’ ‘WOW!’ (said in English); enforced high fives (YEAHHHH!) – some customers openly panicking about not being able to speak English to us; what were they going to do?!) I felt like Ringo Starr coming to Japan for the first time and being surrounded by Beatlemaniac fans screaming and reaching out….all we wanted was to sit down, and yes, it was all super ‘friendly’ in a hysterical sort of way (about 10 middle aged people sat around the bar acting as though they had a mental age of about 6), reduced to gestures and a bastardised mix of Japanese and English (though one more laconic person on the end said ‘they speak Japanese, you don’t need to keep talking to them like that…)



As I say, at least it is ‘welcoming’, and not overtly aggressive  – you are not being thrown out or attacked, as you might be in other countries as the whole world gets steadily more xenophobic- no; this is an entirely different and more complicated kettle of fish that I don’t have the time to go into right now in detail; to do with wanting to be kind and welcoming but panicking about not speaking the language (even though we are in Japan), but not being able to at all because the entire English education system is structured in order to make students understand labyrinthine reading passages that a large percentage of British or American high school students would not be able to answer (honestly), and yet not be able to string a sentence together or answer a question like ‘Where do you live?’ because they don’t have any speaking practice but don’t let me go there because there is a whole book in this and I am already writing it : I know that I am right about this point though as I am bang in the middle of the education system here but THIS; this childish stupidity, is the direct result of it.



Essentially, what it boils down to, even though they calmed down after a bit and we drank some beers and I gave my opinions about some of the pop stars on the TV screen (“What?! You know Sheena Ringo? You recognise Seiko Matusda and Arashi?!!!!!!!” Can your green Caucasian eyes distinguish between Japanese differing faces?!!!!! (They didn’t say that last part but that was the inference………of course they knew all the UK pop bands and the drunken man sitting closest to us, very sweet actually and well meaning, was a drummer in a rock band that covered the Beatles and other songs, but they also presumed that we would know nothing about the artists in this country, even though we  live here…)




But anyway. I can feel myself getting roiled up just thinking about it: thank god, as the minutes passed by on the clock on the wall, we knew we had a good excuse to get out of there and amusing though it was in a way – the energy was ultimately positive and interested and the woman who ran the place was quite friendly – the sense of being ‘Othered’ to the point of cartoon dehumanisation was so strong that it was a great relief indeed to be away from such laughably low levels of sophistication and be plunged into the profound austerity of the temple grounds and the chanting monks who were seemingly – but who knows – beyond such risible nonsense.












The next day we saw in the newspaper that Carlos Ghosn, the disgraced former executive of Nissan who had been arrested on charges of embezzlement and been detained for long periods of time and was currently under house arrest before his trial, had escaped in a musical instrument case after a Christmas concert at his residence and somehow been smuggled to Istanbul and then to Beirut, where he triumphantly told the world that he would not be held hostage by the intrinsically unfair Japanese justice system with its notorious 99% conviction rate that has been condemned by human rights groups worldwide, and though from the very first time I saw his face I instinctively knew I didn’t like him and suspect that he probably might be guilty as charged, I also don’t think for a moment that he is the only person high up in the Japanese establishment guilty of corruption; in fact such scandals appear with yawn worthy frequency (I find ‘scandals’ like that extraordinarily dull; I can’t even follow the Trump Ukraine details; ultimately I just don’t give a shit); for me it is a given that power corrupts and that people abuse it: call me cynical, but that is just how it is.




What is different though is that I felt sure that Ghosn was being made a scapegoat. A real whipping boy. The levels of vitriol and intense fascination with his case – misusing his funds – reek of racism to me; of nationalistic outrage focused on one person. I don’t believe for one second that if this had been a Japanese man he would have received the bilious fury that Ghosn has. And I don’t believe that he would have had a fair trial, and so I, like many other people, were secretly – no openly – delighted that he had the audacity to plan an escape that would seem farfetched in a film script and get away with it and I will tell you why.





What I am about to tell you is a true story. I will corroborate with the friend in question when I come to write about it in more detail as I want every fact to be precise before I do so, but three years ago, when we were filming Girl Goned, one day our German cameraman didn’t turn up to the location for the shoot; unfathomable, as he is an extremely reliable and trustworthy person who would never do that. Working for Reuters, he is a great photographer who has travelled the world in all kinds of dangerous places for reportage with a rebellious spirit and sense of humour now living and working in Beijing, and he had done some really good work with certain scenes that we were very pleased with. But on the day in question he wasn’t there. We couldn’t contact him, and we didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks. We were very worried.




About thirteen days later, while on the train back from Tokyo, D suddenly got an email. ‘Sorry guys, but I have been in jail’. Astounded,we soon met up with him a few days later once he had begun to recover and listened incredulously as he told us the tale of being thrown in prison for two weeks in heinous conditions with unrelenting fluorescent light together with yakuza gangsters, unable to take a shower (which in itself, when he finally was put in front of some kind of legal panel, was so debasing to his sense of self that he could hardly speak – it was in summer time here which is extremely hot); fighting to get his ‘case heard’ and hiring a lawyer used up all of his savings, and shortly after this he decided to leave the country – unsurprisingly.




So what had he done? NOTHING. Coming home after work one night, ladened down with camera equipment as all such people are, dressed in black, coming down the street where he lived and having a cigarette on the street, he had been approached by a drunk old man who, when seeing his bulky back pack and all his equipment, assumed – ridiculously – that he was a ‘terrorist’ and accused him as such. T is a very world-savvy person with a great sense of humour so didn’t pay this idiot much attention but he kept being harangued by him, trying to get away until they had some kind of altercation during which the bigot called the police and my friend was subjugated to a claustrophobic hell hole that any lesser person would find traumatic and which could affect their whole life terribly.




T was able to laugh it off: it will make great anecdotes, and a good chapter in my book, as an example of how little most foreigners here trust the justice system. In his case, because there was literally no foundation for the charges, although the police here routinely confine people for up to 26 days I think it is (without allowing you to call anyone – you just disappear) and under lightbulb interrogation force a confession out of you – there are many famous cases like this here, even those on death row – T was released, but he was one of  the very lucky 1%. I was enraged to hear his story, though, so you will see why, even if Ghosn was involved in some financial wrongdoing, I would be quite delighted for him escaping in a cello case and sticking his middle finger up to a red-faced country that accuses him of being ‘cowardly’ (what? you are joking! this is a Steve Mcqueen like escape that is quite brilliant, I am sorry – he would not have been entitled to a fair trial and would have been convicted no matter what so of course he had to jump bail and be received like a hero by the people of Lebanon): in many ways he is the ultimate symbol of Othering right now and I am glad that he has had a way to highlight that to the world.




The purpose of this post, which I just had to get out of my system, is not to vilify Japan. Whichever country you are living in reading this, look at your own institutionalised racism, your own prison populations and unfairnesses. This is a problem at the basic human level: we are terrified of people different from ourselves. At the same time, though, while Japan may be famous for and touting its beloved omotenashi, or selfless kindness and impeccable service, I just hope that, when the hordes of foreign visitors that will be invading the shores this coming July and August are hosted in restaurants, hotels, eateries, inns, that they are not treated as though they were aliens from outer space – unfathomable, bizarre – as we were the other night at the bar near the station: but just like regular, normal, human beings.






















Filed under Japan, MUSINGS

More Seasons Greetings from Japan













Christmas Eve party with our neighbours at their house ( two doors down ).


Scent of the Eve :


Guerlain Heritage.



I am in LOVE with this at the moment.





Hope you are having fun also whatever you are doing,
















Filed under Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Cosy Comforting Orientals, Japan






























It is with great pleasure and delight that I can announce that from next year I will be writing about perfume for Vogue Japan.




This is a turn of events that is extraordinarily exciting for me. I am daunted, but cannot wait. Frothing like a latte. Just call me Anne Hathaway, clutching her cappuccinos hysterically on her way to the offices in Shibuya to meet Meryl Streep. A rabbit in the headlights. Absorbing all the glitz. Smelling all the fumes. Foaming at the gills. An amazing way to start the new decade. Because although I have always thought that fashion is a double headed beast, at once nothing (it can be foolish, vacuous, pretentious, elitist; passive aggressive; ridiculous; disastrous for nature), and everything (profoundly influencing all the things I love most in the world – music, cinema, perfume; literature; the visual universe around us, the people on the street, how we present ourselves, the smell of the city; the tip of the iceberg)  – to a person to whom aesthetics matter almost more than anything else in this life –  the visual, the sensory, art, basically – creativity is of the most fundamental and sacrosanct importance. ‘Beauty’. I suck it up with continuous pleasure. We both do. Urban creatures. Living near the biggest city in the world (in the nature-surrounded refuge of zen temples, Kamakura where we cool off and gain calm) but I adore Tokyo. We are there all the time.I am addicted. I love the extremes. The quiet ancient beauty of this restrained, austere, but atmospherically profound place I live in, and the constant stimulation of the great metropolis of thirty three million people under an hour away that provides, constantly, never-ending, exhilarating stimulation and energy and is the coolest place I have ever known. It is beautiful to be there. Busy, crowded, maddening, but simultaneously serene. Gliding through neon at night; swimming in it; I love to watch people, photograph them, thrive in the energy. The gender blasting, outlandish and creative ensembles worn by people on the street; the sleekness; the style. Because although I am not such a fashion horse myself (as you know, the money goes on perfume)  I have always kept on eye on what is happening, in magazines and on television, since I was old enough to think. ‘Fashion’ leaves a vivid, temporal stamp on any given month or year…….it marks our passage. Without it, where would the pleasure be in dipping back into past decades, whole time periods? The beauty of an old zeitgeist captured eternally in celluloid? In a pop video, a film, a photograph, a news reel, all captured in the current…..









As teenagers, Helen and I would leaf through Vogue at her house, marvelling at the bewildering, almost alien beauty of the models (we could never quite get over the beauty of Christy Turlington and Karen Mulder; the supermodel years of Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell – we would stare into the pages, feasting on it). My younger sister Deborah and I would rip out pages all the time and plaster them over our bedroom walls.  And the perfume adverts. The mystery and delirium of a new ad campaign (Coco, Poison, Anais Anais…..which are your most pungent memories?); the sealed enticement of the late 80’s scent strips you could rip open like glued velcro on the bus and release the latest fragrant sensation into the collective air….these were all very formative influences on my life. The photo shoots, the fashion stories, the faces, presented an almost obscene unattainability of covetable desire; I would buy Vogue Hommes, and Uomo Vogue when I lived in Italy; obsessed with this picture or that; pasted on my university bedroom walls……it always seemed like the apex of a rarified world that was in another stratosphere. Until now.
























Madonna. When her single Vogue came out in 1990, after the complete transformation of Like A Prayer, and yet another vampiric, chameleonic shift into the gay underground world of Paris Is Burning and its ravishing capturing of larger than life queens and their vogueing balls in NYC, just the word Vogue itself is now synonymous with something fantastic and shimmering; we danced that entire summer to that song, my sister and I, like a million other people around the world mimicking the video, striking poses (: ‘on the cover of a magazine’), and to think that I might now actually be part of all that from next year is almost absurdly stimulating (feel the exclamation marks exploding in my mind and bloodstream…D and I went out to have a celebration dinner last night). It will give me great new challenges as this decade comes to an end and we enter the 2020’s; present opportunities to flex my flexibility as a writer. I am in the mood for versatility. My book: ‘Perfume, In Search Of Your Signature Scent’, is what got me into this position, and I have come to feel quite proud of it in many ways despite its flaws and lacks – I feel it is a moment in time; frozen in binding,  a diary that has been confiscated. I put my absolute heart and soul into that tome – my blood, sweat and tears if you like –  and I hope that it in some way inspires people and lets them dream a little; it was designed to be very immersive. At the same time, I relish the opportunity to be able to smell brand new things and report on them, to revel in the now, and to try my hand at different kinds of writing. The Black Narcissus will always still be perfume + , because I can’t help myself; I cannot be limited to a scent flacon. To me, perfume has always meant much more than that – it leads to so many other things; memory, life, experience, other art forms, culture, people and how I interact with them, politics, everything – to me it is inherently psychological. Having said that, a more society-wide olfactory objectivity based on what is going on in the higher echelons of commercial creativity is also appealing to me from a different angle – I will definitely be meeting a lot of new people through this venture – and since I plan at some stage ( I have already written several chapters) to publish an autobiographical book on my years spent in this fascinating, vexing, unleavable place full of the most superb contradictions, I cannot possibly say no to this new adventure.









Japan Vogue here we come!!



















































PS. D and I first properly laid eyes on each other when dancing, extravagantly, in tuxedo and bow tie to Vogue at a summer ball…..











“Beauty’s where you find it……”






Filed under Flowers, inexplicable happenings, Japan, LUXURIANCE, New Beginnings, operatic, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCEN, pretentious aesthetes, Psychodrama, SELF-OBSESSION

a cup of tea on a sunday








Filed under Flowers, Japan, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Last Sunday in Tokyo





Filed under Japan, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Masculines














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February 26, 2019 · 11:47 am