Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Daniel McKeown, Japan guide extraordinaire

Walking around the garden in Ryoan-ji temple with Joe, I recalled that I had fed him a bit of misinformation a few days earlier: I had claimed that traditional Japanese gardens always dumped chemicals in the pond to make it offer a more beautiful reflection, an unfortunate consequence of which was that it killed all the fish.

I thought I'd best disabuse Joe of this notion before he asked our guide about it, or similar. Joe took the revelation with his customary good humour, calling me a twat and asking me why I always had to lie about everything.

A fair point. Certainly, Japan is a country where you can get away with lying to newbies more than most, full of customs, contradictions and quaint mannerisms as it is.

In fairness to Joe, he had seen right through me when I'd told him that most newborns in the 50s were fitted with pacemakers at birth, in order to revive the Japanese economy and boost productivity. I'd thought this to be a pretty plausible yarn and certainly no less implausible than some of the things in the country which I now know to be fact. What had undone me was my face: Joe told me that he always knew when I looked really, really sincere I was definitely lying.

Can't win them all, I thought, as we trooped up to the temple. We shed our shoes in the entrance to the main hall; I noted Joe's socks.

"Purple socks? Er, actually purple is considered a really inauspicious colour in Japan..."


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