All Children Are Poets 所有的小孩都是詩人

"Things," said film director Robert Bresson, "are made more visible not by more light, but by the fresh angle at which I regard them." It doesn't matter if those are created by Albert Einstein, written by James Joyce, or fashioned by Alberto Giacometti, things are merely alternative versions of the same hologram. Thus, altering our particular personal construct requires a substantial leap of imagination as we need to see things from a new angle.

We have been told that all children are poets, and through the children's bright eyes, the world throbs with life and is inhabited by all manner of beautiful, powerful folk. Ever since I started documenting the sublime beauty of Kyoto through my Cannon camera, I have been wondering what this city would look like to its children.

Children drawings are the poetic recording of the facts of childhood. Miho, a seven-year-old Kyotoite girl, presented to me her art project using nothing but colored pencils. In her manga-styled drawing, Miho's Kyoto story goes like this –

The little Miho: Let's go. Guys.
The boy in the middle who is leaning over a pond: Ah. Look at the Koi fishes. Are they friends?
The boy on the right who just fell from his bike:
Oooouuugh! it hurts.
The Koi on the left: W-A-I-T.
The Koi on the right: Here. Here.

*The tower on the upper left corner is Toji temple.

Picasso says, "Every child is an artist. It's a challenge to remain an artist when you grow up". I am not sure if I am an artist to Picasso's standard, but I believe that even when I turn 100 years old, there will always be a child in me who will believe in the wonders and magic of life and of living, who will marvel at the unknown and yearn to satisfy my curiosity, who will still dream and look at the world with child-like innocence....


Aimai (曖昧), the Ambiguous Mind

Ambiguity is the hallmark of Kenzaburo Oe (大江 健三郎), Japan's second Nobel Laureate in Literature. He defines ambiguity as “vague, obscure, equivocal, dubious, doubtful, questionable, shady, noncommittal, indefinite, hazy, double, tow-edged”. In Japan, aimai (Japanese: ambiguity) permeates art, culture, literature and even the language.

The Japanese consider ambiguity a virtue; however, it can cause a great many problems in cross-cultural communication. Unlike Western people strive for certainty and clarity of understanding in everything, the Japanese think that it is impolite to speak openly on the assumption that the party knows nothing; therefore, it is unnecessary to speak clearly as long as the other is knowledgeable.

In Japan, life often has the quality of compromise, and people use many roundabout expressions to decline offers. They take care to maintain a friendly atmosphere and express themselves indirectly. Ambiguity is part of being polite, of maintaining a harmonious ambiance. Saying “no” is considered impolite, so saying “yes” doesn’t really mean “yes”. That is the essence of “aimai na gengo” (Japanese: ambiguous language).

Linguistic ambiguity is the source of friction and misunderstanding, but also a trigger for the creative mind. Unveiling the metaphor of a piece of poetry or of a movie requires a lot creative effort. Interpreting the artist’s mind through the lens of personal thoughts and experiences gives rise to new ideas that were never intended by the original author.


Kyoto in Colors

In Kyoto, I noticed that I associated colors with some of the things I think about:

To wash my hair, take my bath, and put on a scented yukata is lavender purple in a sunny field.

To take a stroll around Kennin-ji at midnight is hazelnut brown with an enchanting quietude.

To wait under the latticed roof for the sun shower to stop is gold mixed with a rainbow color.

To sleep in a tatami room where some pure and clean incense has been burnt is sage green in the moonlight.

To listen to the sound of cicada on the veranda in the temple where I lodged is white of nothingness.


What Makes For a Bad Cover Design? 是啥弄壞了書本封面設計?

I like to hang out alone at the Strand Bookstore in lower Manhattan. Although Strand is well known as one of the busiest bookstores to entice the crowd of book bargainer hunters, I find that loitering around the congested passageways between its imposing shelves is peaceful and quiet. I appreciate the chance of being away from computers and conversation, and taking pleasure in a single activity – browsing the shelves for good book cover designs. As Strand call themselves the home of 18 miles of books, there are sure to be some hidden treasures.

A good cover design not only requires a smart title that delivers a purposeful message, but also an appealing visual that catches the reader’s attention. Once the reader lays eyes on the cover, there must be something to make him want to pick up the book, such as a clean distinctive typeface, a stunning image, an interesting texture, or contrasting colors on the cover. A good cover hooks the reader, but a bad cover makes him think twice.

But what makes for a bad cover design? In my humble opinion, the following are some crucial ingredients:
1. Too literal: I dislike an excessively descriptive graphic element alluding to its plot or character. For instance, using an image of a white tower for a book called “The White Tower”.
2. Too cliché: My heart sinks when I see a graphic element such as women with painted faces in traditional East Asian dress, Asian women with long straight black hair, dragon, lotus, chopsticks, and Buddha heads, on many Asian-themed book covers.
3. Trying too hard: I don’t like a book cover laden with too many images, types and colors to explain the details of the book. I'm drawn to the design principle of “less is more”.
4. Not approachable: Adding frills like a flap, elastic band, or button might convey a more “designed” or “artsy” look, but it can be a turn-off if the reader has to make too much of an effort to open the book and flip through it.

In the reality of the publishing world, an author has little say about the cover of his creation. Therefore, I was thankful for the constructive exchange with my own publisher and their in-house designer, and to be able to defend my book “KyotEau: Bottled Memories” against the above temptations. After all, we do judge a book by its cover.



We think about each other, and when we are apart we remember each other’s smell.

When I’m away, he misses the smell of my hair.

When he’s not with me, I like to smell the pillow that he sleeps on.

I love you, my Bjoern. As you know, I never think of you as just my teddy bear…


Simplicity – An Extract from "KyotEau: Bottled Memories"

What is simplicity?

For the Italian scientist, engineer, painter, and polymath Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

The Polish musician Fredric Chopin (1810-1849): “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

The Japanese architect of botanical gardens Koich Kawana (1930-1990): “Simplicity is the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means."

And to the Japanese tea master, Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), the simplicity of the tea ceremony comes through in his poem:

Tea is naught but this;
First you heat the water,
Then you make the tea.
Then you drink it properly.
That is all you need to know.

In the Japanese tea ceremony, many objects made from bamboo are used, and the mystery associated with the material contributes to the inner meaning of the proceedings. The shape of the bamboo flower holder, cylindrical in shape, is often nothing more than a chopped-off piece of stalk. Such simplicity is an important element of Japanese design. The concentration of perfect workmanship in a simple object is a design principal that has influenced many Japanese craftsmen and can become an article of faith.

This Japanese simplicity is the appreciation of a single flower, exquisitely arranged and presented, as opposed to a large bouquet, where it is quantity that counts. It might value the importance ascribed to the act of creation rather than to the object manufactured. It might focus on the intimate, organic qualities of structures built on a human scale, in contrast to those emphasizing the façade.

Simplicity seems natural, almost obvious, in its final form, but getting there takes experience, talent, and patience. Design for simplicity cannot be successful unless it is supported by perfect execution.

Simplicity isn’t simple.

* Photo by Manfred Koh