I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve taken up ballet.  I never did is as a child as I was just slightly too old to start it when my sisters did, and the only reason they started was because the podiatrist recommended it.  I didn`t mind though, I was happy with my Irish dancing, which comes in handy when you`re asked to teach an Irish dance at an International Festival.

I was persuaded to start a class by my friend Liz who took it up as an adult some years back and is now able to do the splits both ways.  I can hardly touch my toes.  She found a dance studio in the centre of town which is just around the corner from her house and she convinced me to come along with her.  The studio is state of the art with mirrors everywhere and the instructors are really lovely and helpful.  We`re quite lucky in that we take the adult beginners class which has at most five people and sometimes it`s just the two of us getting taught by professional dancers.  Of course it`s hard not to feel like a turkey, waddling around ungracefully as I try to mimic the movements of these petite Japanese dancers, but it`s enjoyable nonetheless.

It`s quite a serious ballet school in comparison to what my sisters went to, and girls as young as ten learn to dance en pointe.  The advanced class is on before ours and it`s amazing what these girls can do.  The school put on a show on Sunday with the real dancers, and Liz and I got free tickets because we took classes at the school.  It was incredible the level of their students, even the `babies` of four or five years old were able to memorize their steps and move in sync, instead of getting stagestruck or distracted by their families in the audience.

My camera has a very good zoom for a compact camera and we were sitting so far away from the stage that it`s only by looking at my photos (which I took sneakily in case it wasn`t allowed) that I can see the detail of the people and costumes.  It was strange, and culturally significant I think, that when I was watching them dance, even though I knew they were Japanese, I could only imagine them as Western ballet dancers.

While the lighting of this modern ballet dance was very dramatic, it made me laugh because it reminded me of Riverdance. When the lights went up they one-two-three'd around the stage to an epic drum-fuelled melody.

I've never seen a curtain like this in real life. It was like caramel dripping down onto the stage.


The season is slowly but gloriously changing to Autumn in Japan.  The deciduous trees are turning scarlet and vermillion, and are beginning to overshadow the pines.

Three weeks ago I went to Natadera, a Buddhist temple complex in the south of Ishikawa, which is one of the best places to experience the Autumn colours in the prefecture.  It was still a little early though as the first few leaves were only just starting to turn.

It rained continuously all day so it was probably not the most spectacular time to visit it.

I liked the rain though.  Japan has the most amazing moss, it’s everywhere, growing amongst the grass, clinging to trees and to the craggy rocks that are scattered everywhere.  The grey light on a rainy day makes it seem so green, and the wet air smells of soil and vegetation.  I’m glad I had my wellies.

Natadera is a park nestled into the foot of the mountains, containing both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.  It has its origins in the 8th C, but like most places in Japan, it suffered destruction many times throughout its history.  It was built to its present form in the 17th C by the Maeda clan, although it was restored in the 20th C.

I’m very ignorant as to the religious meanings and nuances of the place, but I really did get a sense of the religious tradition there.  Catholicism has churches and shrines, and even though an unfamiliar visitor mightn’t believe or understand the significance, they can surely feel the weight of history and faith around it.

Rock carved with a haiku composed by the 17th C poet Basho after visiting Natadera