Cherry blossom spoon eyes

The Weekly News
Cherry blossom, spoon eyes
2009-04-25 2:34

IT’S cherry blossom time in my Japanese garden. My sakura trees are showering the stream and the little red bridge which runs over it with a gentle blizzard of petals.

When I sit in this tranquil haven and meditate, my thoughts often carry me back to the family home we shared at the foot of Mt Fuji when our children were very young.

I often daydream of being in Japan in springtime — and when the chance came to lecture at a seminar in Tokyo this month, I leapt at it.

Japanese families throng the cities parks to see the blossom fall — it’s a joyous occasion, and one steeped in religious significance because, in the Shinto faith, the petals are a symbol of life’s perfect beauty . . . and its brevity.

For me, one of themost beautiful blessings in life are its synchronicities, those shimmering coincidences which fall like blossom out of the sky and add layers of significance to our existence.
My dearest friend in Tokyo is Masako, a sweet and kind woman who, unusually for Japan’s culture, is also a highly-successful businesswoman.

Masako happened to be in England almost a quarter of a century ago, when Hanna and I were house-hunting, and she joined us on our very first visit to the Thameside mansion that became our home.
As soon as she set eyes on the house, Masako declared it to be perfect for us, and pronounced an ancient Japanese ritual blessing over its walls.

The synchronicity is that when Shipi and I landed in Tokyo, Masako met us with the news that she had just purchased a building plot in the city — and she invited us to the blessing ceremony.

Cherry blossom in Uri’s hotel lobby in Tokyo

Uri’s Japanese gate (Torii) in his garden in England

Cherry blossom was scattered all over the soil, and even the priest’s blue robes appeared to have a design of sakura petals woven into them.

The Japanese are obsessed with cleanliness, an enthusiasm I share. I’m always intrigued to discover what fresh inventions their plumbers can install in modern Tokyo bathrooms, and I wasn’t disappointed with the SmartLoo.

In England, there’s always a teeth-clenching moment when we sit down on a cold toilet, but the SmartLoo features a heated seat. Better still, there are jets of warm water which cleanse the lower anatomy — every splash is perfectly aimed, because the SmartLoo can tell whether users are male or female!

Gentle wafts of warm air dry you — but the best part happens after you’ve left the bathroom. The SmartLoo performs a health analysis, checking for signs of illness before transmitting a full report to your doctor.

It’s ideal as an early-warning scan for incipient problems, and I understand it can also identify alcohol abuse, pregnancy and diet deficiencies. All that, and a warm bum too!
I’m writing this from Moscow where, although spring has finally arrived, I can promise you that the toilet seats are not heated.

There’s a choking layer of dust over the city, and nobody seems to know where it comes from — most of the time I am wearing a Japanese pollution mask, but it hasn’t stopped me from developing a sore throat.
My book tour is going well: I will need a couple of bestsellers, though, to cover the cost of eating out in Moscow, without doubt the most expensive city north of the equator (I’m told Luanda in Angola is even worse . . . the currency there is diamonds).
Last night Shipi and I joined four friends for sushi at Nobu, and the bill came to 1400 euros (£1235). As Shipi said, “Imagine how much it would be if they had cooked the fish!”

Between Tokyo and Moscow, I flew back to England as a birthday surprise for Hanna. To make the day unforgetable, I also arranged for our son, Daniel, to fly in from California. When Dan walked into the room, Hanna thought she was dreaming.

I was greatly saddened, as this column went to press, to learn of the death of my dear friend, Sir Clement Freud.

We were distant cousins, on my mother’s side, and it was Sir Clement who first encouraged Hanna and I to bring our family to England in the mid-Eighties.
I hope to pay full tribute to one of the wittiest and warmest people I have ever known, next week.


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