sirisa clark

the things I do and the words I choose


Almost Wordless Wednesday: Composed

So, I have to confess that between finishing the scarf, Ben’s Supervillain-themed fancy dress birthday party (yes, I was Catwoman again, causing some discussion about the moral ambiguity of her character), and catching a filthy stinking cold, I have a) not been blogging much, and b) not had any time to take photos.

Which was a slight problem for this week’s homework: find an interesting piece of architecture, and practice the 6 basic types of composition on it: Thirds, Diagonals, Lead In/Out, Pattern/Detail, Framing and Straight On.

In a bit of a panic, I turned to the past and decided to rifle through my photos of India and Japan to find some decent shots. And you know what I found? I’m not very good at taking photos. Yes I know, I was shocked too.

After a couple of hours, several hundred photos and a serious dose of despondency, I selected a handful from my visit to Japan. I got them printed, took a deep breath and headed to class. Only to find there was no critique this week, we were heading out to shoot St Pancras station instead.

But hey, that doesn’t mean you guys can’t critique them! Here are my shots of Japan, focusing on Torii gates.

Bonus fact: just realised I took all of these on my old Olympus Mju, so actually kind of pleased with the respective quality



Lead In


Detail/ Pattern


Straight On





1 Comment

sayonara nihon

I’m home! It was a pretty taxing 21 hour journey from waking up at Yen and Ken’s in Tokyo, to meeting Ben at the bus stop in Walthamstow – the last bus journey being the most painful part by far.

I had such a brilliant time in Japan, but it’s really good to be home again. I’ve spent the day hanging out with my family and giving them presents. It’s pretty difficult to dredge up any stories that they hadn’t already read in the blog, but I did my best.

I’d like to thank everyone who read and followed the blog whilst I was away, and especially those who left comments or votes. I’ve got a little blog stats tool that tells me how many people view the site each day, and it makes me very happy to see the little chart shooting up to about 30 views on good days (although I sometimes suspect it’s just Ben visiting the site repeatedly).

BUT – just because my time in Japan is over, doesn’t mean that’s the end of my adventures! Tomorrow I’m off to enrol at UCL for my Masters in Linguistics and organising my first driving lesson;  then there’s Crunch next month and a whole bunch of performance dates coming up for the Roundhouse Experimental Choir, and hopefully some more poetry performances too.

So stay tuned, keep the comments coming, and I will try to keep my tales of syntax and singing amusing!

Leave a comment

siri sidesteps down the mountain

In many ways Thursday turned out better than I expected when I woke up covered in bites, and in other ways it was pretty disturbing.

I spent a rather mortifying half hour with a plaster stuck lengthways beside my mouth, in which time practically everybody in the youth hostel decided to talk to me and stare at my Quasimodo face. Finally, after struggling to open my mouth wide enough to eat breakfast, I decided to take the plaster off and just be really careful with the bite. My terrible fears of my face swelling up like a balloon came to nothing thankfully, although I spent the day unable to look top-left due to my puffed up eye.

My plans to spend the morning on Miyajima and the afternoon in Hiroshima were sent awry by one of the youth hostel staff telling me there’s a swimming beach on Miyajima. All thoughts of history and culture were pushed out of my head by the thought of swimming in the sea. Plus you know, salt water is really good for bites… I grabbed my swimming things and hopped on the ferry (the youth hostel is practically on top of the ferry terminal). On Miyajima, I made a beeline for the ropeway, and ascended to the top of Mount Misen. This ropeway ride was rather more impressive than the one in Hakone, I think in part due to the improved weather conditions. My cable car swung in mid-air and I looked out over the forest to the bay and the mainland beyond. I made a transfer and took another cable car which glided past an incredible view of the Inland Sea, with various other islands dotted in the mist, and a beach far below us that I was itching to get to.

At the top of Mount Misen I took photos of the monkeys, trying not to make eye contact (apparently this makes them go berserk), and ate my lunch before attempting the hike down the mountain. I’m not going to claim that I’d really thought this hike through – it was about 30C and I was wearing slip on sandals – but all things considered it went pretty well. It was much cooler beneath the trees, cool enough for the mosquitoes to come out and bite me all over my arms. I suspect that some of the Japanese female psyche has rubbed off on me in the past three weeks, and made me believe that hiking in sandals was manageable (seriously, I’ve seen girls here hiking in 3-inch gold heels). My sandals held up okay, but weren’t too keen on the downhill action, so I spent the hour-long downward hike side-stepping gingerly, and did quite well, only falling over once.

And then I saw the snake. The sound I made was something along the lines of: “Aiiie-chi-cha-chi-cha!!!” I know, it’s not really the sound I expected me to make either…  It was only a small thing, and slithered away as soon as I saw it, but I’m pretty shit scared of snakes, and I spent a good minute standing on the track trying to calm my hyperventilation. After that I hurried a little faster down the track.

Once back in Momijidani park I sought out the Tsutsumigaura nature walk that would lead me to the beach. You have to understand that by ‘nature walk’, I understood something reasonably sedate and pleasant, something designed for the gold high heel girls who couldn’t hack the hiking trails. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t label it more appropriately, maybe “Impossible Mountain Trail of Doom and Terror” didn’t pass muster with the Tourism board? Who can say. Regardless, I started scrambling up a fairly steep incline that I assumed would at some point level out and widen into a nice stroll. Up and up I went, and as I went the path narrowed, until I had to start pushing through scratchy ferns that were doing their best to knit together across the path. My only company was the buzz of insects, and the rustling in the undergrowth that I told myself were lizards. I reached a kind of plateau and found a sign entirely in Japanese, with two arrows at the bottom, indicating the number 30 in either direction. Concluding that this meant 30 minutes and that I had reached the halfway point, I decided I was best off pushing on and hoping the path ahead would start descending. Reader, it did not.

Instead it continued to climb, and the undergrowth continued to grow denser. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the sign had been some sort of warning and whether I should call Yen and ask her to send a search party after me, another snake shot across my path. I decided the sign had said something along the lines of

“Watch out! The path ahead is riddled with deadly poisonous vipers with extremely aggressive and confrontational natures. They can smell fear and they have a particular hatred for foreigners. And they’ve got frickin’ lasers mounted on their heads!! Good luck, Gaijin*!

With this comforting notion pressed close to my chest, I discovered the spiders. Or rather, my forehead discovered their webs, several times. Now, I’m not too fussed by spiders. The little ones don’t bother me, and having encountered a few huntsman spiders in Australia, I don’t mind the big ones either. I’m just suspicious of the brightly coloured ones, the ones that are basically saying “don’t come near me, I can cause you a lot of pain and possibly make your arm fall off”. And these spiders looked like little deadly rainbows.

At this point, about an hour and a half into the “60 minute nature walk” and with no end in sight, I’m not ashamed to say that I stood on that path and bawled my eyes out. All alone halfway up a mountain, I wailed and sobbed and prayed for Ben to call me and find some magical way to get me out of there. Which is precisely when another tourist came pushing through the ferns in front of me. I asked him how much of this hell there was left, and he said about 15 minutes, mostly downhill, but with a lot of spiders still. I calculated this to be another half hour in slow, terrified, sandal-wearing Siri time, and steeled myself to push on.

And that is how I escaped the Impossible Mountain Trail of Doom and Terror and lived to tell the tale. By the time I reached the beach the sun was low in the sky and the beach practically deserted. I didn’t want to take a chance and discover it was a strictly no-swimming beach with waters full of manta-rays and jellyfish, so I continued walking to the ferry terminal and sailed back to the mainland. Exhausted and dehydrated, I decided I’d had about enough adventure for one trip, and spent the rest of my evening watching films on my laptop.

* Gaijin = foreigner

Leave a comment


Okay, how many of you know by now that I’m pretty much allergic to mosquito bites? A little bit of context for those who don’t – last week I got bitten on my finger and it swelled up like a sausage, I couldn’t straighten it or bend it properly. Most times when I get bitten the inflammation has the radius of a tennis ball or a mug, and the whole time I’ve been in Japan I’ve been taking antihistamines daily to keep the reactions under control, along with judicious use of plasters to cover the bite.

With all that in mind, where do you think would be a pretty terrible place to get bitten? How about the corner of your mouth? I woke up several times in the night to the sound of a mosquito buzzing around my head, a sound nobody wants to hear. I kept pulling the sheet up over my head, but I woke up at 6am with my head exposed and rubbed my face, only to discover an itchy lump next to my mouth. Doing the only thing I could think to do, I slapped a plaster over it.

Now I can barely open my mouth, and you can imagine how foolish I look. Actually I just pulled out my mirror to check and realised I must have been bitten on my eyelid as well, as one eye is huge and puffy and red. I feel a bit like the elephant man all of a sudden.

Today is my ante-penultimate day in Japan, and clearly it’s going to be a swell one. I arrived in Hiroshima yesterday, after a five hour journey from Shirahama. Having been up since 7am, all I wanted to do was get to the youth hostel and get a bed to have a lie down, but I was told they don’t open check in until 4pm, and asked to come back in two hours.

Not fancying the trip back into Hiroshima, I hopped on the ferry across to the island of Miyajima, which is truly as beautiful as everything I’d read and heard had suggested. I took a guide map and walked through the main shopping street to the five-storied pagoda, and on to Momijidani park.

Tame deer wander the streets pretty much all over the island, and are extremely curious about anything tourists might have to eat. One came up and licked my top, and another snuck up whilst I was having a sit down and got my guide map in its mouth. We had an all out tug of war from which we both walked away fairly happy – he had a tasty snack, and I had the useful part of my map, the deer having eaten most of the bay and the ferry terminal.

I toyed with taking the ropeway up to the top of Mt Misen, but realised I was just too tired, and killed time in the park instead. Back at the youth hostel I was given a fairly long list of rules and regulation to abide by, and shown to a massive dorm split into compartments. Two French girls later joined me in my area of the dorm, and the hostel manager invited us to join them in a movie night downstairs.

I headed out for some dinner and found an okonomiyaki place on the hostel manager’s recommendation. I ordered the standard and waited 10 minutes for it to arrive. It only occurred to me as I was tucking in that I’d neglected to ask what was in the standard, or to explain that I didn’t eat meat. My suspicions were confirmed a few minutes later, when I found a huge slice of what I think was bacon. Frankly though, I was so delighted to be eating something other than udon or tempura, I pushed the meat to one side and carried on.

Back at the hostel the movie was Dragonball Z, another truly terrible film (although not as awful as Replicant) that I watched with an aussie girl and two guys from Wales. Sometimes I think these films must be made specifically for the ‘bunch of strangers hanging out together in a youth hostel’ demographic, as they make perfect fodder for a bit of banter and camaraderie.

So, last two proper days in Japan. Today, a bit more Miyajima and maybe some ropeway, then Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Tomorrow, Himeji castle on the way back to Tokyo, and dinner with Yen and Ken. And Saturday I fly home!


shirahama: part two

Day two in Shirahama dawned bright and early with a phone call from Ben, and the realisation that I’m increasingly keen to get home – I’m still having fun, but I’m also looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, seeing my family and friends, being able to read and understand when people talk, eating something other than Japanese cuisine (I love it, but I could murder a good vegetable lasagne or fajita right now).

Still, I was determined to realise the vision that had brought me to Shirahama in the first place, namely of spending a day alternating between soaking in an open air onsen (hot spring bath), swimming in the sea and lying in the sun on a beach of pure white sand. Well the sun wasn’t showing its face and it was markedly cooler than when I’d been schlepping around Kyoto and Tokyo sightseeing (sod’s law). Not seeing an onsen immediately apparent on the beach, I figured there was more beach around the coast a bit, where my onsen would be waiting for me.

I followed the tourist map out of town and tried my best to stick to the shoreline, but it was increasingly dominated by private property. I found myself outside an onsen, but it wasn’t on the beach like the one I was looking for. After 40 minutes of walking along a road that was not friendly to pedestrians, I found myself at Senjo-jiki, or Thousand Tatami Mats, an outcrop of stratified rocks that are said to resemble a pile of tatami mats. I realised that there was no more beach to be had in this direction, and reached the conclusion that my walk had been in vain, that my onsen was waiting back at the beach I had just left and hiding somehow. Leaving the car park i saw a Nissan Figaro, which cheered me up as it always does.

Back on the beach I scanned every shack and shelter to see if I’d missed the onsen bath somehow, but nothing jumped out at me, so instead I turned my attentions to the last remaining shred of my vision: mother of us all, the sea. It looked pretty inviting, and there were people in the water so I wasn’t going to look like one of those nuts who jump in the sea in January. Still, there was a distinct lack of women in bikinis on the beach, and I felt very self-conscious in mine (I know, you’d think I’d be ready for a nudist beach by now, but no). I took the plunge, and it was bracing without being freezing, so I had a bit of a swim before realising that swimming in the sea if pretty boring on your own.

Disheartened, I headed back to my minshuku and promptly fell asleep. On waking two hours later, I flipped through my guide book and realised two important things: the minshuku had its own little onsen, and one of the guide’s recommended restaurants was on my tourist map. After a hot shower and a short soak in the very small hot tub, I headed out into the evening to find my restaurant.

I knew I was onto a winner when I arrived and there was a queue of about 10 Japanese people outside. Yes it meant waiting half an hour, but it was a balmy evening and I was quite content. Once inside I explained what I wanted with great difficulty to the waitress, and received a big bowl of excellent noodles, topped with prawn and vegetable tempura. I returned to the minshuku and readied myself for Hiroshima.

1 Comment


I wake up good and early, not wanting to be late for my geisha photoshoot. Jumi is still sleeping and I’m not sure about waking her. I ask Jinn before I leave but he says she’s still asleep, so I resign myself to going alone. Halfway down the street I hear footsteps running after me, and turn to discover Jinn is chasing me. Jumi has just woken up and needs to charge her camera battery, but will meet me at the studio, Maica. I do my best to explain where it is, but am none too sure myself.

I catch a bus across town and get a little lost in the backstreets of Gion, but eventually arrive 15 minutes late. I’m escorted upstairs and given a light cotton gown to change into, and a locker to put my stuff into. I’m then led to a room full of kimonos, and directed to select one from the rail set aside for my price plan. I notice these are all a bit shabby and some are torn in places, but I am on the cheapest plan. I select a turquoise blue number, covered in butterflies and flowers.

Next I am taken to the make-up room, where my hair is pinned back and white paint smoothed onto my back in the familiar arch shape. The make-up artist daubs it all over my face and rubs it in, before setting to work quickly and lightly to add the red, black and pink accents. I find the process immensely relaxing.

In the wig room, I get the first look in the mirror. Jumi is right, I do look like a totally different person, and as I suspected the look is slightly less flattering to a western face than it is to Japanese girls. I expect some sort of nylon wig and then to choose the hair accessories, but instead a massive structure that is predominantly metal is plonked on my head and tied on. I am instantly transformed into a geisha, but it’s very heavy and feels likely to topple off if I tilt my head too much.

Back in the kimono room, I am shepherded into another cotton gown with long kimono sleeves. Towels are wrapped around my waist and tied in place to achieve the desired straight silhouette. Having fake weight packed onto my waist to cancel out my hips and breasts goes against my notions of femininity and attractiveness, and I also notice they have thinned my lips by only painting part of them red. Curiouser and curiouser.

A stiff collar is added and tied on, and then at last the kimono is slipped over my shoulders, the inner robe’s sleeves tucked into those of the kimono. Now the belts are layered on, with cords being strapped across my chest and waist and then covered by a huge pink brocade obi. A huge bow is hooked onto the back, and the whole outfit weighs a tonne and has me sweltering.

I totter down the stairs and am delighted to find Jumi waiting at the bottom, who tells me I look fantastic. She watches as I have my two professional photos taken, and then we are ushered into a side room full of props, where we are free to take our own photos. I pose with a ceremonial tea set; in front of a folding screen; with a broken parasol; on my knees; standing up. Eventually it’s someone else’s turn to use the room, and a mother and daughter arrive kitted out in beautiful kimonos, giving me instant kimono envy. Jumi asks them if they will pose with me, and we take a succession of photos with the two of them, before leaving them to it.

We find another room with fantastic backdrops, an intact parasol and a bunch of fans. More posing ensues, and I practise looking less glum, whilst still trying not to smile enough to show my teeth (let me tell you, a white face and red lips are never going to make your teeth look sparkly white). Another mother/daughter pair arrive and we do more posing. Jumi asks if we can go outside for better light, but I have not paid for this privilege. Eventually the weight of the wig gets the better of me, and I go upstairs to change and be rid of it. Jumi takes the opportunity to go outside and photograph other girls dressed as geisha.

The widow’s peak of the wig is made of metal and has left a painful bruise on my forehead which lasts three days. Getting the white make-up off is a mission and the assistant deems my make-up wipes woefully inadequate, but with some effort they get the job done. I pay and receive my two inclusive photos, which have actually turned out pretty nicely.

Out in the street we review the photos on mine and Jumi’s cameras. In quite a few of them I look like a fat old woman, and I conclude that there’s a reason not many westerners try this particular experience. Still, there are some that are quite nice, and I’ve had a fun time trying it out.

Jumi heads back to the hostel, and I spend my afternoon following the directions of a Lonely Planet walking tour of the local area. I wander down old-fashioned streets full of Japanese tourists enjoying the public holiday. I spot a few geisha along the way having their photos taken by excited tourists, but having just been through the process myself, I suspect that behind the white make-up they are also tourists.

The final stop on my walking tour is Kiyomizu temple, which has a giant wooden veranda projecting out over the side of the hill on which it sits. Once again I am in the right place at the right time for sunset, and I watch the skies over Kyoto glow. Inside the temple is hung with huge ornate lamps, and the veranda and buildings are made of big pieces of solid, polished wood. It reminds me of Australia, and the stunning view paired with the beautiful buildings, make it my favourite temple to date. I exit into the night along a path lit with lamps, surrounded by Japanese families in a holiday mood.


Leave a comment

kyoto – manga and torii

Step two in learning to embrace public nudity – accept that your youth hostel has mixed dorms, and there’s no lock on the bathroom door. If this were a 12 step plan, I’d have some kind of chip by now, but I suspect step 12 would be walking down the street in my birthday suit. All I know is I went into the glass-fronted shower cubicle having shut the bathroom door, and when I came out it was wide open.

Other than this, my youth hostel in Kyoto is brilliant. On my first day I went to check out the Manga museum with two Australians I met at the hostel, following directions from the hostel owner Jinn. The place had exhibitions on the evolution of manga from newspaper comic strips; Mr Studio Ghibli Miyazaki’s vision of an ideal town in pictures; a visiting display of 3D models of female manga characters that bordered on the pornographic; a library of manga titles, and halls lined with 100 cartoons of maiko (apprentice geisha), drawn by famous manga artists. My interest was a little deeper than the Australians’, and we parted company early on.

I considered my dinner options, but realised I had no clue where any of the buses went, so gave up and went back to the hostel, where I discovered Jinn had made a huge curry for Troy’s birthday. I was delighted to receive a bowl of a vegetarian version, and six or seven of us sat around eating curry together. Troy arrived back very late, having been to a five hour long Noh performance, and proceeded to demonstrate the intolerable incomprehensibility and boringness of the noh, until we were falling about laughing.

Saturday I dedicated to checking out temples and shrines. I was dubious of becoming shrine-weary, having visited various shrines in Tokyo, Kamakura and Nagoya, but I was keen to check out Kinkakuji, known for its gold-covered pavilion overlooking a pond, and Ryoan-ji, with its traditional zen rock garden. On top of this, yen recommended I visit Fushimi-Inari, just out of town and famous for its torii-lined paths. Kinkakuji and Ryoan-ji were beautiful but crowded, so I made plans to head off for Fushimi-Inari. My afternoon unfolded something like this:

2:05pm – decide to leave Ryoan-ji and head for Fushimi-Inari

3:30pm – bus arrives at Kyoto station

3:40pm – board train to Nara to stop at Inari station

3:50pm – realise am on express train to Nara and have skipped over Inari station. Get off train and catch a local train back 5 stops. Overhear a French couple who have clearly done the same thing (“evidemment, je suis bête”).

4pm – arrive at Inari and head into shrine. Find start of torii-lined path and am delighted by the vermillion posts, the corridors of red and the glimpses of forest beyond. Late afternoon light is golden and makes the forest feel enchanted.

5pm – continue deeper into the forest of torii, finding small shrines dedicated to the fox, Inari, and small white cats wandering between the trees. Marvel at miniature torii and fox-head shaped prayer tablets.

5:30pm – realise I have been walking uphill for quite some time. Am hot and sweaty and wondering when the path will start heading downwards to lead me back to the start.

5:45pm – reach an observatory platform with views over Kyoto, and three torii lined paths leading away. Pick a path and continue walking.

6pm – notice that the light is becoming less golden and the forest more gloomy. Number of other visitors seems to have declined, and torii also seem to be thinning out.

6:15pm – enchanted forest seems to feel slightly sinister. A fox-shaped fountain drips water from the fox’s mouth, but the red of his bib refracted through the water makes it seem like blood. See an old woman sweeping a shrine, the first person I’ve seen in 10 minutes. Light is failing, begin to despair of ever escaping.

6:20pm – cats crying in the woods. Begin to have dark fantasies that the miniature torii and foxhead prayer tablets are scrawled with the last messages of visitors forever lost in the forest, and that cats are the wandering souls of the lost.

6:30pm – retrace steps and return to observatory in time for stunning sunset. Place is still full of people and am heartened, but still desperate to find exit. Thoroughly sick of the sight of red torii everywhere. Overhear an English couple talking and walk in the same direction as them.

6:45pm – finally pluck up courage to talk to English couple and find out if they are as lost as I. Discover they are Jish and Lucy, from London and Wales respectively. Dark fears recede as we work on finding an exit together.

6:55pm – have been walking in the forest for three hours, up and down steps, and legs are starting to shake uncontrollably. Jish and Lucy do not have accommodation for the night, so suggest they check out my hostel.

7pm – escape shrine by retracing steps to start. Conclude Fushimi-Inari is not the loop shape I had assumed it was…

My torii nightmare over, I caught the train back to Kyoto with Jish and Lucy, and took them back to Sandal Wood, where fortune was smiling and Jinn had two beds left for the night. Jish and Lucy were massively grateful for saving them from the street, and I didn’t want to explain that they had saved me from losing my mind in the forest. Troy has rented some ghastly B movie called Replicant on DVD and we all sit around drinking beer and laughing at the ridiculous acting.

On my way to bed I see Jumi, the other member of staff at the hostel, and recount my nightmare for her amusement. I tell her that I’m off to dress up as a geisha the next day, and she tells me she’s done it before and it’s fun, and says if she’s up in time she’d love to come with me and take photos with her digital SLR. Suddenly I feel much better about my geisha experience, with the prospect of having somebody to share it with.