Caught in the Net

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 12 September 2019

To somewhat contribute to the kitty that is our mutual income I wear two hats:

From Monday to Wednesday I offer my services as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, from Thursday to Sunday I am available to work as a barista at Starbucks.

In my free time I write.



(Only the God of Christianity rests on Sunday.

This Jack is all work and no play.

A very dull boy indeed.)


Image result for all work and no play images


(I hope one day to wear a third hat – or to exchange one of the other two hats – as a paid writer, but for now this blog is unpaid practice.)


Image result for rich uncle pennybags images


I often wax poetically (i.e. write a lot) about Starbucks, but there are times, like now, where my teaching inspires a post or two.

As an ESL teacher I could be classified as an ESP teacher (English for Specific Purposes, not an educator with extrasensory perception) as I have been required to teach a plethora of topics where the students needed English for particular purposes.

I have taught English for:

  • A prison guard who needed English to work in a United Nations prison in Kosovo
  • A prospective sailboat buyer
  • The insurance industry
  • Pilots, cabin crew, aviation technicians and airline passengers
  • Legal students
  • Cambridge University examination candidates
  • Accounting and banking students
  • HR personnel and those seeking employment
  • Executives and admin staff
  • Customer service
  • Pharmaceutical students
  • Medical staff
  • Children
  • Theatrical staff (backstage and wardrobe)
  • Conversation and presentations
  • Business students and staff
  • Academics
  • Engineering students


Of course, I am not an expert in all of these subjects, so I have had to teach myself beforehand what the students expect to learn, or at least I had to learn enough of their subjects to provide them with the English they needed to function and achieve their desired goals.

Of all these subjects the most challenging for me to teach has been anything remotely technical, for I have never been of this bent.


(Which makes me an embarrassment to the family name as my father is a retired mechanic and my oldest brother a retired x-ray technician.)


Above: The family tartan


For example, I know nothing about cars and have never driven one.


401 Gridlock.jpg


I own a mobile phone, a laptop, a tablet and a desktop computer, but I use them at a far lesser capacity than my colleagues do, and I am easily frustrated by them.

I am more likely to use them to gather dust than to gather information.

I am forever forgetting passwords, to check my messages, to respond to emails, to save what I have spent many hours labouring on, to update, reboot, or whatever the hell my computer tells me to do.


Image result for dunce images


And that’s the thing.


More and more it seems to me that we don’t control technology.

It controls us.


Image result for technological dependence images


We have become an impatient species, cursing at unemotional screens that won’t show us what we want to see as quickly as we want to see it.

And our impatience with our incomprehensible technology – (most of us use it, but few of us understand it) –  extends to our relationships with other people.


Related image

Above: Alan Cumming as “Boris Grishenko“, James Bond film GoldenEye


Why can’t people be as fast and efficient as our machines?“, we complain bitterly.


I sent you a WhatsApp message or an email five minutes ago. 

Why haven’t you responded?


WhatsApp logo.svg


Why can’t machines be as fast and efficient as our desires?“, people cry.


I marvel at contact payment and tremble at the dystopian possibilities of a day when cards won’t be needed and our bodies become barcodes.


Image result for barcoded bodies images


I hate the increasing dependence on technology and find myself shocked by how pervasive it has become.


I am reminded of E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops…..


E. M. Forster, by Dora Carrington c. 1924–1925

Above: Edward Morgan Forster (1879 – 1970), best known for A Room with a View, Howard’s End and A Passage to India



The Machine Stops” is a science fiction short story by E. M. Forster.

After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster’s The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928.

After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories.

In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.


Image result for em forster the machine stops images


The story, set in a world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide its needs, predicted technologies such as instant messaging and the Internet.

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth.

Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine.

Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary.

Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.


Image result for em forster the machine stops images


The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world.

Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand ‘ideas‘.

Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel.

He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his room.

There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world.

He confides to her that he has visited the surface of the Earth without permission, and that he saw other humans living outside the world of the Machine.

However, the Machine recaptures him and he is threatened with ‘Homelessness‘: expulsion from the underground environment and presumed death.

Vashti, however, dismisses her son’s concerns as dangerous madness and returns to her part of the world.


Image result for em forster the machine stops images


As time passes, and Vashti continues the routine of her daily life, there are two important developments.

First, the life support apparatus required to visit the outer world is abolished.

Most welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of first-hand experience and of those who desire it.

Secondly, “Technopoly“, a kind of religion, is re-established, in which the Machine is the object of worship.

People forget that humans created the Machine and treat it as a mystical entity whose needs supersede their own.

Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed as ‘unmechanical‘ and threatened with Homelessness.


Image result for em forster the machine stops images


The Mending Apparatus—the system charged with repairing defects that appear in the Machine proper—has also failed by this time, but concerns about this are dismissed in the context of the supposed omnipotence of the Machine itself.

During this time, Kuno is transferred to a room near Vashti’s.

He comes to believe that the Machine is breaking down and tells her cryptically “The Machine stops.”


Image result for em forster the machine stops images


Vashti continues with her life, but eventually defects begin to appear in the Machine.

At first, humans accept the deteriorations as the whim of the Machine, to which they are now wholly subservient, but the situation continues to deteriorate, as the knowledge of how to repair the Machine has been lost.

Finally, the Machine collapses, bringing ‘civilization‘ down with it.


Kuno comes to Vashti’s ruined room.

Before they perish, they realise that humanity and its connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the Machine from being repeated.


Image result for em forster the machine stops images


In the preface to his Collected Short Stories (1947), Forster wrote that “‘The Machine Stops‘ is a reaction to one of the earlier heavens of H. G. Wells.”

In The Time Machine, Wells had pictured the childlike Eloi living the life of leisure of Greek gods whilst the working Morlocks lived underground and kept their whole idyllic existence going.

In contrast to Wells’ political commentary, Forster points to the technology itself as the ultimate controlling force.




Isaac Asimov’s second novel in the I Robot series, The Naked Sun, takes place on a planet similar to the Earth seen in this story.

On the planet Solaria human colonists live isolated from one another, only viewing each other through holograms and only have interactions with their robot retinues.

After several centuries the humans have become so dependent on this practice it has become taboo to even be in the presence of another human being.




The song “The Machine Stops” by the band Level 42 not only shares the same title with the story but also has lyrics that echo Kuno’s thoughts.

Image result for the machine stops level 42 images


Both George Lucas’s film THX 1138 (1971) and the original novel version of Logan’s Run (1967) by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson bear multiple similarities to “The Machine Stops“.



Logan's Run.jpg


Few people see the scenery with heads bent down over handheld screens.

And I am as guilty as they, for I like to compose my thoughts of the day on Facebook as I travel on the train.


Facebook Logo (2015) light.svg


I recall a visit to the Luzern Historical Museum where each visitor is handled a tablet, all the exhibited objects are barcoded, and information is gathered by scanning the barcodes.

Never have I ended a visit to a historical museum so quickly, for there was no sense of history or heritage felt by constantly staring downwards at a tablet screen.


Image result for luzern historisches museum photos


My wife constantly curses me for buying books for an already overexpanded library in our cramped apartment.

Get a Kindle!“,  she shouts.

Read books electronically, at a cheaper price and without all the space taken up.


I will not.



I am also reminded of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where information is altered to suit the government’s agenda in Orwell’s dystopia and books are burned in Bradbury’s hell.



This original game cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a fireman's hat made of paper while his left arm is as if wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. The title and author's name appear in large text over the images and there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".


A book is complete and unalterable once it is published and printed and purchased and collected and pondered and cherished.

An electronic book is never completely immune from alternation by those who desire we read only what they feel we ought to and not have thoughts that cause us to question the life that they control.



All of this comes to mind as I recall an old article I stumbled across in my post-bombing Dresden study about the World Wide Web and he who is called its father.



Now I am not a total Luddite when it comes to the Internet, for it truly has many positive aspects about it.


(The Luddites were a secret oath-based organization of English textile workers in the 19th century, a radical faction which destroyed textile machinery as a form of protest.

The group was protesting against the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices.

Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry.

Over time, however, the term has come to mean one opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation, or new technologies in general.

The Luddite movement began in Nottingham in England and culminated in a region-wide rebellion that lasted from 1811 to 1816.

Mill and factory owners took to shooting protesters and eventually the movement was suppressed with legal and military force.)



On the Net you can find the answer to any question (except maybe the meaning of life), shop the globe (caveat emptor), send documents worldwide in a flash, hear new music, dabble in the stock market, visit art galleries, read books electronically, play games, video chat with faraway relatives, make friends with similar interests, catch up on the latest hometown news, make phone calls, grab free software, manage your bank accounts – or just fritter away your free time surfing the almost infinite universe of the Web.

And the Net is not merely a toy, but it is a tool firmly entrenched in the workplace, including at Starbucks.



(Except in my classrooms where I remain an old-fashioned blackboard / whiteboard teacher who has yet to use electronics to teach.)


Classroom at a seconday school in Pendembu Sierra Leone.jpg


Millions of companies use the Net to promote their products (annoyingly so), take orders and support their customers (like an assembly line).

More business communication is done by email and instant messaging than via phone calls, faxes (remember those?) and printed correspondence combined.



Personally I prefer face-to-face encounters where we interact with one another as human beings rather than with words or pictures on a screen.


Put simply, the Internet consists of millions of computers connected via cables and radio waves.

At the core of this giant network are a series of computers permanently joined together through high-speed connections.

To connect to the Net you simply connect your computer to any one of these networked computers via an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The moment you do this, your computer itself becomes part of the Internet.


Visualization of Internet routing paths


Let the madness of the Matrix begin.


Ultimate Matrix Collection poster.jpg


Of course we are assured that the Net is not really about computers and cables and satellites that string everything together.

It is about people and communication and sharing knowledge.


(They chuckle over this in Silicon Valley.)


Above: San Jose, California


It is about people spending more time with technology than with each other, communication that is faster but less dignified or diplomatic, and an overabundance of information from which few can glean fact from fiction.


The theory with all new techno-toys, innovative inventions and dazzling discoveries is that our lives will be improved.

I don’t subscribe to this point of view.

Faster and more does not necessarily mean better.

It just means faster and more.



It was 1957 at the height of the Cold War.

The Soviets had just launched the first Sputnik, thus beating the US into space.

The race was on.


see caption

Above: Replica of Sputnik 1


In response the US Department of Defense formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to bump up its technological prowess.

Twelve years later, ARPA spawned ARPAnet – a project to develop a military research network, or, specifically, the world’s first decentralized computer network.


United States Department of Defense Seal.svg


In those days, no one had PCs.

The computer world was based on mainframe computers and dumb terminals.

These usually involved a gigantic, fragile box in a climate-controlled room, which acted as a hub, with a mass of cables spoking out to keyboard / monitor ensembles.

The concept of independent intelligent processors pooling resources through a network was brave new territory that would require the development of new hardware, software and connectivity methods.


The driving force behind decentralization, ironically, was the bomb-proofing factor.

Nuke a mainframe and the system goes down.



But bombing a network would, at worst, remove only a few nodes.

The remainder could route around it unharmed.

Or so the theory went….


Over the next decade, research agencies and universities flocked to join the network.

US institutions, such as UCLA, MIT, Stanford and Harvard led the way.


Harvard shield wreath.svg


In 1973, the network crossed the Atlantic to include University College London and Norway’s Royal Radar Establishment.


Flag of Norway

Above: Flag of Norway


The 1970s also saw the introduction of electronic mail, FTP (file transfer protocol), Telnet and what would become the Usenet newsgroups.


The early 1980s brought TCP / IP (Internet protocol), the domain name system, Network News Transfer Protocol and the European networks EUnet (European UNIX Network), MiniTel (the widely-adopted French consumer network) and JANET (Joint Academic Network) as well as the Japanese UNIX network.

ARPA evolved to handle the research traffic, while a second network, MILnet, took over US military intelligence.


Arpanet logical map, march 1977.png


An important development took place in 1986, when the US National Science Foundation established NSFnet by linking five university super-computers at a backbone speed of 56Kbps.

This opened the gateway for external universities to tap into superior processing power and share resources.

In the three years between 1984 and 1988 the number of host companies on the Internet (as it was now called) grew from about 1,000 to over 60,000.

Over the next few years, more and more countries joined the network, spanning the globe from Australia and New Zealand to Iceland, Israel, Brazil, India and Argentina.




It was at this time, too, that Internet Relay Chat (IRC) burst onto the scene by providing an alternative to CNN’s incessant, but censored, Gulf War coverage.

By this stage, the Net had grown far beyond its original charter.


Although ARPA had succeeded in creating the basis for decentralized computing, whether it was an actual military success is debatable.

It might have been bombproof, but it also opened new doors to espionage.

It was never particularly secure and it is suspected that Soviet agents routinely hacked in to forage for research data.

In 1990, ARPAnet folded and NSFnet took over administering the Net.


Flag of the Soviet Union

Above: Flag of the Soviet Union (1922 – 1981)


Global electronic communication was far too useful and versatile to stay confined to academics.


Big business was starting to notice.

The Cold War looked as if it was over and world economies were regaining confidence after the 1987 stock market savaging.

In most places, market trading moved from the pits and blackboards onto computer screens.

The financial sector expected fingertip real-time data and that desire was spreading.


Looking up at a computerized stocks-value board at the Philippine Stock Exchange


The world was ready for a people’s network.

And, since the Net was already in place, funded by taxpayers, there was really no excuse not to open it to the public.


In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee of CERN, the Swiss particle physics institute, proposed the basis of the World Wide Web, initially as a means of sharing physics research.


Logo of CERN.png

Above: Logo of the Conseil européen pour la Research nucleaire (European Organization for Nuclear Research)


By 1985, the global Internet began to proliferate in Europe and the Domain Name System (upon which the Uniform Resource Locator is built) came into being.

In 1988 the first direct IP connection between Europe and North America was made and Berners-Lee began to openly discuss the possibility of a web-like system at CERN.


Sir Tim Berners Lee arriving at the Guildhall to receive the Honorary Freedom of the City of London

Above: Sir John Timothy Berners-Lee


While working at CERN, Berners-Lee became frustrated with the inefficiencies and difficulties posed by finding information stored on different computers.

On 12 March 1989, he submitted a memorandum, titled “Information Management: A Proposalto the management at CERN for a system called “Mesh” that referenced ENQUIRE, a database and software project he had built in 1980, which used the term “web” and described a more elaborate information management system based on links embedded as text:

Imagine, then, the references in this document all being associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred, so that while reading this document, you could skip to them with a click of the mouse.

Such a system, he explained, could be referred to using one of the existing meanings of the word hypertext, a term that he says was coined in the 1950s.

There is no reason, the proposal continues, why such hypertext links could not encompass multimedia documents including graphics, speech and video, so that Berners-Lee goes on to use the term hypermedia.



In a list of 80 cultural moments that shaped the world, chosen by a panel of 25 eminent scientists, academics, writers, and world leaders, the invention of the World Wide Web was ranked number one, with the entry stating:

The fastest growing communications medium of all time, the Internet has changed the shape of modern life forever.

We can connect with each other instantly, all over the world“.


With help from his colleague and fellow hypertext enthusiast Robert Cailliau he published a more formal proposal on 12 November 1990 to build a “Hypertext project” called “WorldWideWeb” (one word) as a “web” of “hypertext documents” to be viewed by “browsers” using a client–server architecture.



Above: Robert Cailliau


At this point HTML and HTTP had already been in development for about two months and the first Web server was about a month from completing its first successful test.


This proposal estimated that a read-only web would be developed within three months and that it would take six months to achieve “the creation of new links and new material by readers, [so that] authorship becomes universal” as well as “the automatic notification of a reader when new material of interest to him/her has become available“.

While the read-only goal was met, accessible authorship of web content took longer to mature, with the wiki concept, WebDAV, blogs, Web 2.0 and RSS/Atom.


His goal was a seamless network in which data from any source could be accessed in a simple, consistent way with one program, on any type of computer.


Above: This NeXT computer used by Berners-Lee at CERN became the first Web server.


The Web did this, encompassing all existing infosystems, such as FTP, Gopher and Usenet, without alteration.

It remains an unqualified success.

As the number of Internet hosts exceeded one million, the Internet Society was formed to brainstorm protocols and attempt to coordinate and direct the Net’s escalating expansion.


Internet Society logo.png


(The Internet Society (ISOC) is an American nonprofit organization founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet-related standards, education, access, and policy.

Its mission is “to promote the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world“.

The Internet Society has its global headquarters in Reston, Virginia, United States (near Washington, D.C.), a major office in Geneva, Switzerland, and regional bureaus in Brussels, Singapore and Montevideo.

It has a global membership base of more than 100,000 organizational and individual members.)


Mosaic – the first graphical Web browser – was released and declared to be the “killer application of the 1990s”.

Mosaic made navigating the Internet as simple as pointing and clicking and took away the need to know UNIX.

The Web’s traffic increased by 25-fold in the year up to June 1994.


NCSA Mosaic Logo.gif

Above: Mosaic logo, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)


Domain names for commercial organizations (.com) began to outnumber those of educational institutions (.edu).


As the Web grew, so too did the global village.

The media began to notice, slowly realizing that the Internet was something that went way beyond propellor heads and students.

Almost every country in the world had joined the Net.

Even the White House was online…..



It was an auspicious start.

When Tim Berners-Lee, then an awkward 34-year-old coder from South London, wrote an document outlining plans for the World Wide Web and handed it to his boss three decades ago, it was eventually returned with three words pencilled in the corner:

Vague but exciting.


Today, Sir Tim, who has a tendency to talk in rapid bursts and skip over words, recalls how “nobody really did anything” after he wrote his proposal in March 1989.

It wasn’t until 18 months later that his boss at CERN agreed that Tim could work on his idea as a hobby, or sort of “play project” as he puts it.

The rest, as they say, is history and Sir Tim has never looked back.




The softly spoken computer scientist could not have imagined that this side project would later pave the way for colossal companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google.


It would connect billions globally, spawn the creation of entire new industries and serve as a growing bank for humanity’s knowledge.

But it would also give rise to fake news, political manipulation and Internet addiction on a terrifying scale….



As word of a captive market got around, entrepreneurial brains went into overdrive.

Canter & Siegel, an Arizona law firm, notoriously “spammed” Usenet with advertisements for the US Green Card Lottery.

Although the Net was tentatively open for business, crossposting advertisements to every newsgroup was considered bad form.

Such was the ensuing backlash that C & S had no chance of filtering out genuine respnses from the server-breaking level of hate mail they received.

A precedent had been sent for how not to do business on the Net.



Pizza Hut, by contrast, showed how to do it subtly by setting up a trial service on the Web.

Although it generated wads of positive publicity, it too was doomed by impracticalities.


Pizza Hut 1967-1999 logo.svg


Nevertheless, the ball began to roll….


“For me, I watched the Web grow from something where people had very Utopian dreams about it, to something where I had to point out to them that this is just a reflection of humanity., says Sir Tim, now 63, with a quick shrug of resignation.

The animated software engineer stepped off stage at the Open Data Institute, the organization he founded to promote the use of open data.


Image result for open data institute images


Sir Tim is eager to explain how the Web, just like humanity, encompasses the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sadly, in an intensifying battle between these different forces online, it is the latter two which have emerged as the clear winners in recent months…..


As individuals arrived to stake out Web territory, businesses followed.

Most had no idea what to do once they got their brand online.

Too many arrived with a bang, only to peter out in a perpetuity of “under construction” signs.


Image result for under construction image


Soon business cards not only sported email addresses, but Web addresses as well.

And, rather than send a CV and stiff letter, job aspirants could now send a brief email accompanied with a “see my webpage” for further details.


The Internet moved out of the realm of luxury into an elite necessity, verging toward a commodity.

Some early business sites gathered such a following that by 1995 they were able to charge high rates for advertising banners.


Above: Spanish language Wikipedia web banner


In late 1995 the backlash against Internet freedom moved into full flight.

The expression “found on the Internet” became the news tag of the minute, depicting the Net as the source of everything evil – from bomb recipes to child pornography.

While editors and commentators, often with little direct experience of the Net, urged that children be protected, the Net’s own media and opinion shakers pushed the freedom of speech wheelbarrow, claiming that the very foundations of democracy were at stake.


The Parthenon in Athens.jpg

Above: The Parthenon, Athens, Greece


At first politicians didn’t take much notice.

Few could even grasp the concept of what the Net was about, let alone figure out a way to regulate its activities.


The first, and easiest, target was porn, resulting in raids on hundreds of private bulletin boards (BBSs) worldwide and a few much-publicized convictions for child porn.


Circular icon with the letters "xxx"


BBSs were sitting ducks, being mostly self-contained and run by someone who could take the rap.

Net activists, however, feared that the primary objective was to send a ripple of fear through a Net community that believed it was bigger than the law and to soften the public to the notion that the Internet, as it stood, posed a threat to national wellbeing.


In December 1993, at the request of German authorities, CompuServe cut its newsfeed to exclude the bulk of newsgroups carrying sexual material.


Logo cs40.png


But the groups cut were not just pornographers.

Some were dedicated to gay and abortion issues.


This brought to light the difficulty in drawing the lines of obscenity and the problems of publishing across foreign boundaries.



Next came the US Communications Decency Act, proposed legislation to forbid the online publication of “obscene” material.

The Act was poorly conceived, however, and, following opposition from a very broad range of groups (including such mainstream bodies as the American Libraries Association), it was overturned, the decision later being upheld in the Supreme Court.


Coat of arms or logo


Outside the US, more authorities reacted.


In France, three ISP Chiefs were temporarily jailed for supplying obscene newsgroups.


Flag of France

Above: Flag of France


Meanwhile in Australia police prosecuted several users for downloading child porn.

New South Wales (NSW) courts introduced legislation banning obsence material with such loose wording that the Internet itself could be deemed illegal – if the law is ever tested.


A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Above: Flag of the Commonwealth of Australia


In Britain, the police tried a “voluntary” approach in mid-1996, identifying newsgroups that carried pornography beyond the pale and requesting that providers remove them from their feed.

Most complied, but there was unease within the Internet industry that this was the wrong approach.

The same groups would migrate elsewhere and the root of the problem would remain.


A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue


The debate was, and is, about far more than porn.


For Net fundamentalists, the issue is about holding ground against any compromises in liberty and retaining the global village as a political force.

One that is potentially capable of bringing down governments and large corporations.


Indeed, they argue that these battles over publishing freedom have shown governments to be out of touch with both technology and the social undercurrent, and that, in the long run, the balance of power will shift towards the people, towards a new democracy…..



When it comes to bad, cyberhacks have eroded people’s trust in online security and left millions exposed to fraud.

The growing use of smartphones caused a generation of children to become increasingly addicted, anxious and lonely.

Meanwhile, governments around the world stepped up efforts to monitor citizens through online tools that are often invasive and discriminatory…..


Image result for big brother is watching you poster


Another slow news day story of the 1990s depicted hackers ruling networks, stealing money and creating havoc.

Great reading, but the reality was less alarming.


Although the US Department of Defense reported hundreds of thousands of network break-ins, they claimed it was more annoying than damaging, while in the commercial world little went astray except the odd credit card file.


(Bear in mind that every time you hand your credit card to a shop assistant they get the same information.)


In fact, by and large, for an online population greater than the combined size of Calcutta, London, Moscow, New York and Tokyo, there were surprisingly few noteworthy crimes.

Yet the perception remained that the Net was too unsafe for the exchange of sensitive information, such as payment details.


Libertarians raged at the US government’s refusal to lift export bans on crack-proof encryption algorithms.

But cryptography, the science of message coding, has traditionally been classified as a weapon and thus export of encryption falls under the Arms Control acts.


Enigma machine typewriter keypad over many rotors in a wood box

Above: Germany’s Enigma machine (1922 – 1945)


Encryption requires a special key to open the contents of a message and often another public key to code the message.

These keys can be generated for regular use by individuals or, in the case of Web transactions, simply for one session upon agreement between the server and the client.

Several governments proposed to employ official authorities to keep a register of all secret keys and surrender them upon warrant – an unpopular proposal, to put it mildly, among a Net community who regard invasion of privacy as an issue equal in importance to censorship, and government monitors as instruments of repression.


However, authorities were so used to being able to tap phones, intercept mail and install listening devices to aid investigations, they did not relish giving up that freedom either.

Government officials made a lot of noise about needing to monitor data to protect national security, though their true motives probably involve monitoring internal insurgence and catching tax cheats.

Stuff they are not really supposed to do but we put up with it anyway because if we are law-abiding it is mostly in our best interests.


Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.svg


The implications of such obstinancy went far beyond personal privacy.

Businesses awaited browsers that could talk to commercial servers using totally snooper-proof encryption.

Strong encryption technology had already been built into browsers, but it was illegal to export them from the US.

At any rate, the law was finally relaxed in mid-2000…..


Then, in March 2018, things got ugly.


The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed how far political campaigners were prepared to go when it came to collecting user data to manipulate behaviour.

I think what happened with Cambridge Analytica, it was the tipping point for people on the street.“, says Sir Tim.

Before you would not have written about these things in the Telegraph, and now you do because people realize that there are big systems and processes at work that they are contributing to by giving their data, and those systems are being used to manipulate them.


Cambridge Analytica logo.svg


Born in Richmond young Tim showed a natural ability for computers.

By his own admission, he was hopeless at sports, instead preferring to spend his days trainspotting and tinkering with model railways.

After attending Emanuel, a private school in Battersea, the web pioneer studied physics at Oxford.

It was here where he met his first wife and built his own computer using an M6800 processor and scrap parts from an old television.

But it wasn’t until he joined the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) after graduating that his life really began to change.

His work led him to create the blueprint for the World Wide Web – a system designed to share data between nuclear scientists.


On 30 April 1993, Tim’s browser was placed in the public domain available for anyone to use for free.

It quickly took on a life of its own.


The “Father of the Web” tries to pinpoint the moment he realized his creation, which he has never profited from, turned against him.

I don’t think there was one particular place, but I remember there was the Twitter bombing of the Martha Coakley election, where people demonstrated how that election had been largely manipulated.

She was attacked using social media.


Twitter bird logo 2012.svg

Above: Logo for Twitter


Tim was referring to the 2010 Twitter bot attack on Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was running for the US Senate.

Within the space of 138 minutes, nine Twitter accounts spread misinformation designed to make users believe that Coakley hated Catholics.


Martha Coakley Suffolk Feb2014.jpg

Above: Martha Coatley


Today, the incident is regarded as the first known bot attack used to influence politics.


Sir Tim is clearly frustrated with the lack of progress from social media companies.

I think when you look at all of the issues of fake news, I think we do need to move quickly, because you never know how the next election is going to be.

It is important to try to make sure that the social networks and all the systems we have out there are ones that have been engineered as much as possible to produce constructive debate and to produce systems where people can be held accountable for things that they say that aren’t true.


But Sir Tim is, at heart, an optimist, and claims that Facebook has shown signs it is changing its ways.

That could be something to do with the fact that Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed up to Sir Tim’s Magna Carta for the Web – a contract that requires tech companies to respect data privacy and “support the best in humanity”.

It remains to be seen, however, how far the deal is upheld….


Mark Zuckerberg

Above: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg


Sir Tim is keen to emphasize that data is not a force for evil.

Used in the right way, it can have massive benefits.


He admits he is somewhat of a data addict himself:

I do like tracking myself, I do like to track where I have been, what I have been up to, what I have been talking to.


Like a parent who won’t give up on his child, Sir Tim appears hopeful the worst days of the Web are over.

I think the winds have changed.

We will get past this time.


"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.


Now that the people’s network has the globe in a stranglehold, you might assume that the wired revolution is as good as over.

Perhaps it is, but for those in the dark the reality is less comforting.


A passable knowledge of the Internet was enough to land you a job in 1997.

Today, in many fields, it is a basic prerequisite.

It is a case of get online or get left behind.


Still, like it or not, the Net is the closest thing yet to an all-encompassing snapshot of the human race.

Never before have our words and actions been so immediately accountable in front of such a far-reaching audience.

If we are scammed, we can instantly warn others.

If we believe there is a government cover-up, we can expose it through the Net.

If we want to be heard, no matter what it is we have to say, we can tell it to the Net.

And, in the same way, if we need to know more, or we need to find numbers, we can turn to it for help.


The problem with such rapid improvement is that our expectations grow to meet it.

But the Net is still only in its infancy.

So be patient.

Enjoy it for what it is today.


It is amazing it works at all.


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Peter Buckley and Duncan Clark, The Rough Guide to the Internet / Ellie Zolfagharifard, “Tim Berners-Lee, the “Father of the Web” talks about his plan to fight fake news“, World and Press, 2 February 2019












Swiss Miss and the Sun Chasers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Monday 9 September 2019

As summer becomes a memory and winter’s shadow is posed to pounce upon my wee corner of Switzerland with snow predicted soon, I find myself thinking of winter and the events of last January and next January.



Last January my friend Heidi Hoi (aka Swiss Miss) began travelling around Southeast Asia.


Asia (orthographic projection).svg


Next January (God willing) I will return back to Canada for reunions and rediscovery of a homeland not seen for seven years.


Projection of North America with Canada in green


This post is a continuation of the tales of Swiss Miss, which have taken readers along with her in Myanmar to Yangon, Mawlamyine and Mandalay.


Flag of Myanmar

Above: Flag of Myanmar


My adventures will appear as quickly as I can recount them next year (God willing) in this blog.


Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre



Bagan, Myanmar, 24 January 2019

Imagine a place where the white heat of the day dissipates into the dusk, as a city of more than 2,000 ancient Buddhist temples begins to glow a fiery red.

Just as they glowed last night.

Just as they have glowed every evening for centuries.


Temples in Bagan

Above: The plains of Bagan (Pagan)


Imagine all the medieval cathedrals of Europe sitting on Manhattan Island – and then some – and you start to get a sense of the ambition that drives kings.


Notredame Paris.JPG

Above: Notre Dame de Paris


Bagan, the heartland and capital of the first great Burmese Empire, is described by all the guidebooks, whether in Canadian English or Swiss German, as the real showpiece of Myanmar.

Bagan, where legendary temples blanket the scorched and scrubby plains in an astonishing profusion of Buddhist symbolism, scattered and half-shattered across an area of almost 70 square kilometres, constructed during one of history’s most extravagant building booms and almost destroyed during one of nature’s most devastating earthquakes.

The sheer size and density of Bagan’s monuments are guaranteed to overwhelm – a wealth so rich that many superb temples (which would be star attractions almost anywhere else) often fail to merit even a mention in most tourist literature.


Above: Bagan at sunset


Bagan’s architecture comprises an extended variation on a few basic themes, with a handful of recurrent styles and structures that have gradually evolved over time, but much of the pleasure of exploring the myriad temples is in unravelling the underlying motifs and meanings that underpin them.

In other words, what is this temple trying to say?



Officially known as the BAZ (Bagan Archaeological Zone), this 42-square-kilometre area, 190 km southwest of Mandalay and 690 km northwest of Yangon, is a massive area and thus no breeze to get to grips with.

The Ayeyarwady River drifts by the BAZ’s northern and western sides surrounding the plain where Bagan’s kings built as many as 4,400 temples over a 230-year period.

Neglect, looting, earthquakes, erosion and bat dung have done their part to undermine Bagan’s majesty, but nonetheless it still stands strong.


Image result for bagan archaeological zone


Originally this bend in the Ayeyarwady was occupied by a stable and thriving Pyu city-state.

According to the Burmese Chronicles, Bagan was founded in the 2nd century.

Excavations along the ruined city walls indicate that by 850 the city, under King Pyinba (817 – 876), had reached complex proportions.


Zatadawbon Yazawin.png

Above: The Zatadawbon Yazawin, part of the Burmese Chronicles


Bagan’s prime began with King Anawrahta (1014 – 1077) with his ascent to the throne in 1044.

At this time, Burma was in a period of transition from Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist beliefs to the Theravada Buddhist beliefs that have seen been characteristic of Myanmar.

Manuha, the Mon King (reigned 1030 – 1057) of Thaton, sent a Theravada Buddhist monk to convert Anawrahta.

The monk met with such success that Anawrahta asked Manuha to give him a number of sacred texts and important relics.

Manuba, uncertain of the depths of Anawrahta’s beliefs, refused the request.


Manuha Paya.jpg

Above: Manuha Temple, Bagan


Anawrahta’s reply to this rejection was straightforward.

He marched his army south, conquered Thaton and carted everything worth carrying back to Bagan – including 32 sets of the Tripitaka (the classic Buddhist scriptures), the city’s monks and scholars, and King Manuha himself.


(According to traditional belief, Manuha and his family along with some 30,000 monks and artisans, were brought back to Pagan (Bagan).

Between 1057 and 1085, Mon craftsmen and artisans helped to build some two thousand monuments at Pagan, the remains of which today rival the splendors of Angkor Wat.

Manuha asked and was allowed to build the Manuha Temple in Pagan in 1059.

Inside the temple three giant Buddha statues — two sitting, and one reclining — seem too large for their enclosures, and their cramped, uncomfortable positions are said to represent the stress and lack of comfort the ‘captive king‘ had to endure.)


Above: Buddha, Manuha Temple, Bagan


Immediately Anawrahta set about a great programme of construction and some of the greatest Bagan structures date from his reign.


Anawrahta at National museum.JPG

Above: Statue of Anawrahta


Thus began what the Burmese call the First Burmese Empire, which became a major centre for Theravada Buddhism and a pilgrimage point for Buddhists throughout Southeast Asia.



Anawrahta’s successors continued scratching this phenomenal building itch.

Over the course of 250 years, Bagan’s rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments (approximately 1,000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 3,000 monasteries) in an area of 104 square kilometres (40 square miles) on the Bagan plains.

From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the cultural, economic and political nerve centre of the Bagan Empire.

The prosperous city grew in size and grandeur and became a cosmopolitan centre for religious and secular studies, specializing in philosophical-psychological studies as well as works in a variety of languages on prosody, phonology, grammar, astrology, alchemy, medicine and legal studies.



Bagan attracted monks and students from as far as India, Sri Lanka and the Khmer Empire.

The culture of Bagan was dominated by religion.

Faith was fluid, syncretic and unorthodox.

Here Theravada Buddhism co-existed with Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, various Hindu schools as well as native animist (nat) traditions.

While the royal patronage of Theravada Buddhism since the mid-11th century had enabled the Buddhist school to gradually gain primacy, other traditions continued to thrive throughout the Bagan Empire.



Historians disagree (as they often do) on what exactly happened to cause Bagan’s rapid decline at the end of the 13th century.

The popular Burmese view is that Mongols sent by Kublai Khan (reigned 1260 – 1294) swept over the city, ransacking and looting.



Above: Portrait of Kublai Khan


Another view holds that the threat of invasion from China threw the ruler of Bagan into a panic.

After a great number of temples were torn down to build fortifications, Bagan was abandoned.


Map of Asia

Above: Mongol Empire at its greatest extent


In either case, invasion or threat of invasion, the Mongols took over the deserted city.

The city, once home to 200,000 people, was reduced to the size of a small town, never to regain its prominence.

Bagan formally ceased to be the capital of Burma in December 1297 when the Myinsaing Kingdom (1297 – 1313) became the new power in Upper Burma.


Myinsaing realm c. 1310


Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement and a pilgrimage destination throughout the imperial period.

A smaller number of “new and impressive” religious monuments still went up to the mid-15th century, but afterward new temple constructions slowed to a trickle with fewer than 200 temples built by the 20th century.



Bagan remained a pilgrimage destination, but pilgrimage was focused only on “a score or so” most prominent temples out of the thousands and a few other temples along an ancient road.

The rest – thousands of less famous, out-of-the-way temples – fell into disrepair.

Most did not survive the test of time.


Above: Bupaya Temple, seen here in 1869, was completely destroyed by the 1975 earthquake.  A new pagoda in the original shape (and now gilded) has been built.


For the few dozen temples that were regularly patronized, the continued patronage meant regular upkeep as well as architectural additions donated by the devotees.

These were repainted with new frescoes on top of their original ones or fitted with new Buddha statues.



Then came a series of state-sponsored “systematic” renovations in the Konbaung period (1752 – 1885), which by and large were not true to the original designs – some finished with “a rude plastered surface, scratched without taste, art or result“.

The interiors of some temples were also whitewashed and many painted inscriptions and murals added.


Flag of Konbaung dynasty

Above: Flag of the Konbaung dynasty


Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, has suffered many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 earthquakes between 1904 and 1975.

A major earthquake occurred on 8 July 1975, damaging many temples severely and irreparably.


Image result for 1975 Bagan earthquake aftermath photos


(The 1975 Bagan earthquake occurred on July 8 at 6:34 pm local time (12:04 UTC) in Bagan.

Many important stupas and temples were destroyed.

The strongest intensity was felt in the towns of Nyaung-U, Pakokku, and Yesagyo, and in the Myaing townships on the confluence of the Ayeyawady River.

It had a magnitude of 7.0.


Image result for 1975 bagan earthquake aftermath photos


Art historians rank the archeological treasures of Bagan (formerly called Pagan) with the renowned temple complex at Angkor Wat or with the European artworks of Venice and Florence.

The earthquake “irreparably damaged many of the great temples of Bagan, an artistic landmark of Asia and the center of the Burmese national culture.”

Burma’s Director General of Archeology said the earthquake was the worst in the last 900 years of recorded history.)


Image result for 1975 bagan earthquake aftermath photos


Today, 2,229 temples and pagodas remain, which doesn’t include brick mounds which would make the total 4,000.

Anything that was likely to fall down in an earthquake fell down centuries ago.



Nonetheless the number of temples keep growing.

With so many Buddhists looking to snare a little “merit” to ensure an upgrade in the next life, rich Yangon residents have built new stupas.

This leads many to shake their heads as they look upon new, obviously modern temples staining one of the world’s most impressive ancient cities.



Many of the damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination.

However, the restoration efforts instead drew widespread condemnation from art historians and preservationists worldwide.

Critics are aghast that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles and used modern materials.

The government also established a golf course, a paved highway and built a 61-metre (200-foot) watchtower.


Image result for bagan archaeological zone watchtower photos

Above: View of Bagan from the watchtower


Although the government believed that the ancient capital’s hundreds of unrestored temples and large corpus of stone inscriptions were more than sufficient to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bagan was not so chosen until July 2019, mainly on account of the ham-fisted restorations.

UNESCO now supports dozens of local artisans.

Although you certainly won’t see any modern construction equipment in Bagan, modern techniques are being employed as well.

UNESCO engineers are reinforcing some of the monuments by inserting iron beams into the masonry to preserve the structural integrity in case of a future earthquake.



Bagan today is a main tourist destination in Myanmar’s nascent tourism industry which has long been the target of various boycott campaigns.

On 24 August 2016, a major earthquake hit central Burma and again did massive damage in Bagan.

This time almost 400 temples were destroyed.

Visitors are prohibited from entering 33 damaged temples.


Image result for 2016 myanmar earthquake


Every year many tourists, trying to hurry past others, inevitably scrape their backpack or oversized camera bag against already-crumbling but priceless murals.

Don’t add to the problem.

It is generally safe to leave your backpack outside.



The BAZ is centred around Old Bagan, with Nyaung U in the north and New Bagan in the south, with the scrappy village of Myinkaba between, boasting a long-running lacquerware tradition.

The village that grew up in the middle of the walled area of Old Bagan during the 1970s was moved to the middle of a peanut field several kilometres away just before the May 1990 elections.

Old Bagan residents were given a week’s notice by the government to move and rebuild in the new location, known as New Bagan (Bagan Myothit).


Image result for bagan map


Old Bagan, in the heart of the old palace walls, is now high-end hotels on the River, but as part of the criteria for the UNESCO inscription of Bagan, the government of Myanmar has pledged to relocate existing hotels in the BAZ to a dedicated hotel zone by 2028.

Presumably with at least a week’s notice.


Above: Union Parliament, Naypyitaw, Myanmar


New Bagan is popular riverside restaurants and the biggest choice of midrange hotels.


Image result for new bagan photos

Above: Street Scene, New Bagan


Nyaung U, a typical dusty, noisy Burmese town, has the liveliest restaurant options, tons of shoestringer guesthouses and comfortable bungalows, though it is furthest from the bulk of the ruins.


Image result for nyaung u photos

Above: Market, Nyaung U


Bagan is unquestionably one of the world’s great sights.

A vast swathe of temples and pagodas rises from the hot, flat plains bordering the Ayeyarwandy.

It is a landscape bristling with shrines and stupas which carpet the countryside in a surreal profusion and stretch as far as the eye can see or the imagination fathom.



As an architectural showpiece, Bagan is rivalled only by the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but while the major monuments of Bagan’s Cambodian counterpart have all disappeared beneath a flood of coach parties, the temples of this old Burmese capital remain, by comparison, fairly uncrowded and retain much of their prevading magic and mystery.

For now.


Angkor (I).jpg

Above: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia


Bagan’s economy is based mainly on tourism.

Because of the boycotts against the military government, the region’s tourism infrastructure is still quite modest by international standards.



Nonetheless Bagan is accessible by air, bus, rail, road and river boat.

Heidi took a bus from Mandalay – a six-hour journey.


Image result for bagan bus station photos


Bagan has a few international standard hotels and many family-run guesthouses.

Heidi, having been thus far satisfied with the budget chain of Ostello Bello backpacker guesthouses, stayed at their branch (WiFi, 24-hour reception, AC, luggage storage, many dorm beds) in New Bagan.


Image result for new bagan photos


In describing all of this to me, Heidi was quick to criticize Bagan for being based on tourism, her argument being that only tourists can afford to visit.


This tourist versus traveller argument is one I have heard many times over the years from many people.

There are some who divide people who go somewhere for pleasure into travelers and tourists.

According to those definitions, tourists are shallow people who care more about boasting that they were in a place than actually experiencing it, while travelers are people who blaze new trails and experience a much deeper connection with a place by going to the exact same attractions that the tourists go to, but more deeply.


This is because the people who created this definition are all self-described travelers.


Tourism has gained a bit of a bad reputation.

Some tourists will go to places and become a nuisance.


For instance, in the United States, the Quileute Reservation was damaged by tourists, though that is an extreme example.


Image result for quileute reservation photos

Above: Map of Quileute Reservation, Washington State


Other people will act like the stereotype of tourists.


However, the majority of tourists do not.


It is just far more common to hear about the horror stories than about the people who don’t do anything worth complaining about.


Still, because of those people, some don’t want to be associated with the word ‘tourist’ even if they are doing the exact same things a tourist does.


It could be argued that the two words mean different approaches to travelling abroad:

Tourists want to have a good time with the “normal” travelling activities, while travelers have fun by experiencing the culture.

There’s nothing wrong with either mindset, because they’re just personal preferences.


Heidi, like many other self-described “travellers“, feels that the distinction between tourist and traveller is defined by what one has brought with them on the journey, primarily money and the “toys” that money buys.



I believe that travellers are not defined by what they have, but instead by what they do.


Both tourists and travellers love to pay attention to the sights and sounds of the area they are in.

Both love to observe the differences in culture between where they currently are and where they are from.


The key difference is HOW they pay attention and WHAT they pay attention to.


Above: Reisepläne (Travel plans), Adolph Menzel, 1875


Tourists have a disconnect, a distance, from the place they are visiting.

They look at the sights and the people as alien.

A place is to be observed not participated in.

A place is postcards and photographs and a record of what they did.


Above: Postcard of tourists, High Tatras, Slovakia, 1922


Travellers are all about trying to find a connection, a link that binds our humanity to a place.


This connection is intangible yet significant, like befriending locals, crashing on couches, learning new languages, participating in local events, because you are keen to understand the place, rather than simply taking photos that say you were there.


Heidi certainly acts like the overwhelming majority of travellers who pack light and don’t buy tons of souvenirs, if any.

But this does not mean that travellers don’t make any plans at all or only act spontaneously.

Travellers, like Heidi, follow their own ebb and flow of travelling and are not bound prisoners chapter and verse to their guidebooks nor are they inescapably tied to an efficient time schedule written in stone.


Above: A Japanese tourist consulting both a tour guide and a guidebook, Miyako meisho zue, Akizato Rito (1787)


The primary difference is that tourists want to see while travellers want to connect.


But let us be fair to Heidi on two points….


First, it is hard to connect to a place when you are surrounded by people who are not from that place.

It is hard to quietly capture and absorb the awe-inspiring wonder of a temple if you are constantly asked to photograph tourists with their cellphones.


Above: Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy


Second, and this is where the travellers get their bad reputation as miserable misers, Heidi long ago learned that the longer travellers keep their money, the longer their travels can continue.

So you can imagine how Heidi protests when prices that tourists pay are not as low as what locals pay, even if by tourist standards the prices are affordable.


1000 Kyat .jpg

Above: 1,000 Myanmar kyat banknote


Before entering Bagan, if travelling by bus, the passengers are taken directly to a ticket booth, on the road between the bus terminal and the airport road junction, where they must present their passports and purchase a ticket to the whole BAZ valid for 5 days from the date of purchase.

As of June 2019 the price was 25,000 kyat (roughly €21).

Some people believe, and Heidi surely is one of them, that this money is not used to maintain the BAZ but instead goes directly into government pockets.



But you have come this far….


Though intersecting paved roads interconnect the towns that surround the BAZ, within the plains of temples are tangled webs of bumpy dirt roads.

There are a number of ways to explore the BAZ.


Personally I would prefer walking, even if I don’t necessarily want a guided tour that explains what I am seeing.

That being said, the BAZ is BIG.


The classic way to visit the BAZ and all the sights worth seeing is via horse and carriage, but Heidi‘s humane heart finds it cruel to harness horses to carriages overburdened with overweight tourists.


Image result for bagan archaeological zone


A bicycle is a good, inexpensive and a far-from-impossible way to see the BAZ but bikes have to compete with much vehicular traffic on the one-lane bumpy dirt roads, making cycling an harrowing exercise.

Still bicycling is still the best way to get where you want to go cheaply (roughly 1,000 kyat a day) and freely.

To be fair, most of the BAZ is flat and very easy to bicycle around, but it is best to do so in the morning before the heat of the day and before the bulk of late-rising tourists invade.

Touring early gives a cyclist a sense of an abandoned empire, a secluded sanctuary, a place of one’s own discovery.



What can said for bicycles could be said for e-bikes and Heidi opted for the latter, for e-bikes are better when it comes to heat, for they can go up to 80 km/h and as there is so much to see in the BAZ, getting around as quickly as one can is less exhausting and more efficient.


Image result for bagan archaeological zone


Let’s be blunt.

The BAZ is too damn BIG.

Nobody can be expected to visit more than 20 of these structures, let alone all 2,000.


One day in Bagan is enough (even with a normal bicycle) to see all desired temples and sights if one starts at sunrise and finishes at sunset.

A second day can be used to concentrate on specific outlying sites or activities, like Mount Popa, or a cruise upon the Ayeyarwady, or just relaxing and hanging around.



Most of the major temples have signs in English and are large enough to see.


Disgraceful tourist behaviour” is banned and officials are strict.


To the disappointment of many, climbing the “venerated” pagodas for terrific views of Bagan are prohibited.

As of May 2016, entry to the top of all but five of the many pagodas is restricted.

As a kind of compensation, large dirt banks have been constructed for tourists to climb to view sunrise and sunset.

And, of course, there is the aforementioned watchtower.



The three basic building blocks of typical Bagan temples are stupa, block base, and vestibule.

With a little practice, you can deconstruct the structures into their basic elements.


The simplest structure starts with a stupa shaped like a chess pawn.

It holds a tiny sacred piece of human remains, relics of the Buddha, or a simple commemorative votive piece.

Some stupas have a single pierced niche housing a Buddha icon, which can be viewed by the devotee from the outside.


Tuywindaung Pagoda.JPG

Above: Tuywindaung Pagoda, Bagan


As complexity increased the niches became bigger and no longer fit in the stupa, so a cube block base was introduced to accommodate the enlarged niche, which eventually became a cell.

With the cube block casing the cell now fully defined, the stupa became its topping.



Above: Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan


Then, the cube cell‘s entrance developed a vestibule, while the cell increased to two (back to back), eventually completing all the sides, one for each cardinal compass point (north-south-east-west), and eventually as it became bigger, a dark claustrophobic ambulatory connected all four cells.

Becoming more articulate and intricate, the cube‘s top taper into two to three tiers and are decorated with smaller corner spires on each, while the vestibule protruded further and further out, the doorways decorated with pediments, some with upturned, others with downturned, teeth-like decoration.

In others, the tiers became prominent to resemble a stepped pyramid.

Meanwhile the stupa became more elaborate as mouldings multiplied and sets of tiers and niches were introduced.

From a simple gourd-shaped stupa, it evolved into a complex structure.


Bagan, Hpaya-thon-zu-Group.JPG

Above: Payathonzu Temple, Bagan


What makes the temples look romantic is the process of graceful ageing.

There are no windbreaks and occasional whirlwinds spawn loose dust particles that sandblast the temples.

This has eroded the stucco coatings of the temples to reveal the underlying bricks, red and golden brown when bathed in sunlight.

Erosion is a significant threat to this area, not only the wind chipping away the buildings’ parging, but also water from the Ayeyarwady River threatens the riverbanks.

Strong river currents have already washed away half of the area of Old Bagan.

It used to be a rectangular-shaped piece of enclave protected by a perimeter wall.

Now the remaining triangular eastern half is exposed to the river.



Some things to know before you go exploring the BAZ:

  • The best footwear to wear is a pair of shoes that both offer a good foothold grip when climbing a temple or pagoda and also are easy to slip into and out of when visiting the interiors of these holy places.
  • Be careful when you climb the stairs of less-visited temples as hidden beehives just above your head can make Bagan a painful experience.
  • Headgear and sunscreen against the sun is very important.
  • Bring a bottle of water and refill it at the water stations (local ceramic jars) strategically placed all around the area.
  • Bagan is not for those with respiratory illnesses as the air is full of dust.
  • When using an e-bike, be careful of the sand, the cause of many a crash.
  • The souvenir vendors here are professional grifters, manipulating the heart strings of tourists using subtle, tried-and-tested psychological techniques, treating strangers like old bosom buddies, who will persist and pester you until you are parted from your cash.
  • Ask your accommodation what is normal taxi fare before accepting a fare at face value, or have your lodgings organize transportation for you.
  • Village children are more devilish than delightful and will try to sell you whatever they can, for the more you buy, the less time they will stay in school.
  • Many of Bagan’s less-visited temples are kept locked, particularly those containing delicate murals or valuale artifacts.  In most places, someone will magically appear to unlock the temple for you, but occasionally you might have to ask around to find the keeper of the keys.  A tip of 500 kyat generally opens doors.
  • A decent torch/flashlight is essential if you want to properly appreciate Bagan’s many remarkable temple murals.  If you don’t have one, you can sometimes borrow one from the temple key keeper or resident hawker.  A tip of 500 kyat is expected.
  • Note that photography of Bagan’s fragile murals is expressively forbidden inside the more popular temples.  In less busy temples you might be allowed to take photographs, although given the damaging effects of flash on the temple’s delicate, centuries-old paintings, the responsible thing to do is to keep your camera in your bag.


Above: Frescoes, Sulamani Temple, Bagan


According to Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and Wikivoyage, the following five sights are recommended to avoid the crowds but still have a lasting experience of Bagan:

  1. Law Ka Ou Shang Temple
  2. Old Bagan town
  3. Gawdaw Palin Temple
  4. Pathada Temple
  5. Myauk Guni Temple


The following eight sights are also worthy and beautiful Bagan sights:

  1. Sein Nyet Sister Temples
  2. Shwesandaw Pagoda
  3. That Byin Nyu Temple
  4. Ananda Temple
  5. Sulamani Temple
  6. Thambala Temple
  7. Dhamma Yangyi Temple
  8. Pyanthadar Temple


Let’s have a brief peek at each to tempt your curiosity….


Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple is great for sunrise and far less crowded than Shwesandaw, but this is changing as it has become more popular in the last years.

The second and third terraces lie beyond the tree line and you can easily spot Shwesandaw with its masses.


Image result for law ka ou shaung sunrise

Above: Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple, Bagan


Although Old Bagan is no longer inhabited (except by hotel and government employees), it represents the core of the BAZ and contains several of the main temple sites, city walls and a museum.

Old Bagan is best seen just after sunrise before the late-sleeping tourist crowd tramps in.

The monuments clustered within this ancient walled city are without a doubt the finest and remarkably diverse in the BAZ, covering all the various periods and styles of Bagan, from the historic Bupaya Pagoda and bunker-like Pahtothamya Paya through to the flamboyant Gawdawpalin Paya.



Above: Bupaya Pagoda, Bagan


Pahtothamya Temple

Above: Pahtothamya Paya, Bagan


Above. Gawdawpalin Temple, Bagan


There are several curiosities as well including the nat-inspired Tharaba Gate, the Indian-inspired Mahabodhi Paya, the Pitakat Library and the Hindu Nathlaung Kyaung Shrine.

And don’t forget the magnificent Thatbyinnyu Paya, one of Bagan’s greatest temples.


Tharaba Gate.JPG

Above: Tharaba Gate, the only remaining part of the old walls of Old Bagan


Bagan 121.jpg

Above: Mahabodhi Temple, Bagan


Image result for pitakat library bagan

Above: Pitaka Taik Library (library of Buddhist scriptures), Bagan


Nathlaung Kyaung Hindu Temple in Bagan Myanmar (Burma).jpg

Above: Nathlaung Kyaung Hindu Shrine, Bagan


ThatByinNyu Temple.jpg

Above: That Byin Nyu Temple, Bagan


Given the wealth of attractions on offer in Bagan, the Archeological Museum is both a disappointment and a very unsightly building.

Housed in an absurd, out-of-place, 19th-century temple, the Museum, built in 1996, features many fine pieces from Bagan and an unexpected room of modern art renderings of the temples.

Not many visitors go and those who do find themselves confused by the lack of a chronology to the collection.

The place is a mishmash of stone carvings, pots and Buddha images.

Entering the Museum, the main hall on the ground floor has some fine sandstone Buddhist carvings as well as a pair of fine pillar inscriptions.


Image result for bagan archaeological museum

Above: Bagan Archeological Museum


The attached Showroom of Bagan Period Literature is full of pillar inscriptions recording the various buildings donated by local nobles to Bagan’s monastic community, along with accompanying lands, slaves and the occasional cow.

Here you will find the Museum’s most important exhibit, the Myazedi Inscription.


Image result for myazedi inscription

Above: The Myazedi Inscription, Bagan Archeaological Museum


Also on the ground floor, the Bagan Period Arts and Crafts Showroom is worth a quick peek for its rare cloth painting and models of outlandish Bagan-era hairstyles.

Here there are so many Buddha statues that even the most devout Buddhist would concede is excessive.


Image result for bagan archaeological museum


Admission for locals is 500 kyat, foreigners 5,000.

If time and money are precious, give the Museum a miss.



For people, especially tourists who find all of this too alien to truly appreciate, come to Bagan to chase the sun, especially the sunsets.

Each dusk sees a great sunset chase, with scurrying tourists carrying cameras up pagoda stairways to watch the Bagan sprawl turn all shades of tangerine, lavender and rust.

Many leave once the sun dips behind the mountains, but the kaleidoscope of colours only start their show at that point.

Go, see, witness the scene from different angles, different spots.


Image result for bagan archaeological zone


Old Bagan is right on a bend of the Ayeyarwady.

Some time during your stay, wander down to the waterfront and watch the ebb and flow of the river trade.

You can take a boat across the river to the village on the other side.


Image result for ayeyarwady river crossing bagan


Within Old Bagan, the Gawdaw Palin Temple is a fusion of Burmese and Indian styles, with a beautiful courtyard, a medium-sized stupa and interesting bell hangers.

Gawdaw Palin is a symbol of modern Bagan architecture and possibly the second tallest temple in the BAZ.

At 60 metres, it’s hard to miss.

It was heavily damaged in the 1975 earthquake, but it has been reconstructed.

Gawdaw Palin‘s name means “Platform to which Homage is Paid“, but homage is not the only thing given to the place, as the visitor encounters a fair share of vendors and donation boxes.

Along the four walls are 10 Buddha images and some barely visible murals worth viewing, but here is not the place to catch the sunset as the stairs ascending through the walls to the top terrace are closed to visitors.

There is a great view from the small forgotten temple to the south across the road from Gawdaw Palin.


Above: Gawdawpalin Temple, Bagan


Along the southern Nyaung U – Old Bagan road (aka Anawrahta Road), 450 metres before the Junction towards New Bagan, Pathada Temple is one of the few temples with an outdoor Buddha.

Great pictures of Pathada as well as the nearby Sinmyashin Temple with its golden top, are appealingly possible from the opposite field.


Image result for pathada temple images

Above: Pathada Temple, Bagan


Just south of more famous Dhamma Yangyi Temple, Myauk Guni Temple is a smaller temple largely forgotten by tourists and hawkers and is often used a make-out spot for local lovers’ trysts.

If you can make it across the terribly battered road and past the writhing bodies, the temple terrace offers very peaceful and spectacular views of the sunset.

Look for the hidden passage that leads to the 7th floor.


Image result for myauk guni temple bagan

Above: Myauk Guni Temple, Bagan


On the road south, 500 metres before New Bagan, Sein Nyet Ama Pagoda and Sein Nyet Nyima Stupa, the “Sein Nyet Sisters“, are an impressive pair of contrasting structures standing next to one another close to the road.

The towering pagoda (the ama, or elder sister) is typically squared with entrances in all four directions and a fine curvilinear spire set atop four steep terraces.

The adjacent stupa (the nyima, or younger sister) is slightly smaller, with a massive conical spire decorated with deeply incised rings and traces of fine carvings and stucco guardian lions around the bell below, with Buddha statues sitting in niches on each side.


Seinnyet temple.jpg

Above: Seinnyet Nyima Pagoda, Bagan


Bagan’s most famous “sunset pagoda“, located roughly midway between That Byin Nyu Temple and Dhamma Yangyi Temple, Shwesandaw Paya is the graceful white pyramid pagoda with steps leading past five terraces to the circular stupa top.

The roomy top terrace teems with camera-toting travellers before sunset and offers a 360° look of Bagan, including the eyesore Archeological Museum.

Things get horribly packed before sundown.

Go before sunset and you are likely to be alone.

Built around 1057 during the reign of Anawrahta, the Shwesandaw Paya (“Golden Sacred Hair Relic”) was the very first of Bagan’s great monumental stupas.

It was constructed to enshrine a hair relic of the Buddha by the King of Bago in gratitude for Anawrahta’s military assistance in fending off a Khmer invasion.

The design of the stupa established a model subsequently followed throughout the BAZ. with a series of square terraces (decorated with rounded battlements) supporting a huge anda (bell-shaped stupa).


Shwesandaw Pagoda Bagan Myanmar.jpg

Above: Shwesandaw Pagoda, Bagan


Right next to the stupa, inside the temple compound, look out for the Shinbinthalyaoung Temple, a long, low, brick building housing Bagan’s largest reclining Buddha (18 metres long).


Image result for shwethalyaung pagoda bagan


Around 150 metres north of Shwesandaw stands Lawkahteikpan Pahto – a small but interesting place containing excellent frescoes and inscriptions in both Burmese and Mon.

It is usually locked.

Ask at Shwesandaw for the keymaster.


Image result for lawka hteik pan pashto

Above: Lawkahteikpan Pahto, Bagan


That Byin Nyu Temple, on the left side of Anawrahta Road, after entering the Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan, is the tallest structure in Bagan.

Built of two white box storeys, each with three terraces rimmed with spires

Thatbyinnyu means “omniscience“, which the Buddha is said to have attained upon enlightenment, yet there is a question whether the temple was ever actually consecrated, as a consecrated temple normally possesses plaques celebrating this event, which this temple does not.

On the northeast side of the temple, look out for the small gayocho (“tally temple“).

One brick out of every 10,000 used in the construction of Thatbyinnyu was set aside for tallying (counting) purposes and a whitewashed temple was constructed with the resultant tally.

The surprising scale of the gayocho gives a good idea of quite how many bricks were consumed by the mother temple.


ThatByinNyu Temple.jpg

Above: That Byin Nyu Temple, Bagan


Around 100 metres south of Thatbyinnyu, you should look out for the small surviving stretch of Old Bagan’s crumbling city walls which offer fine views over the surrounding monuments.


Image result for old bagan city walls images


If you see only one temple – and damn you for your laziness – make it Ananda Temple, on the left side of the southern stretch of the Bagan – Nyaung U Road before it heads to Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan.

Ananda is one of the finest, largest, best-preserved and most revered of all Bagan temples.

Ananda comes from the Pali word “anantapannya” which means “boundless wisdom“.

This terraced temple, with a corncob golden tower soaring 52 metres high, features four more gilded spires at the ends of a raised square platform.



Above: Ananda Temple, Bagan


The central square measures 53 metres along each side, which most visitors reach by wading through a sea of vendors on the temple’s northern side.

The entryways make Ananda a perfect Greek cross.



The base and the terraces are decorated with 554 glazed tiles showing Jataka scenes.



Huge carved teak doors separate the interior halls from cross passages on all four sides.

Facing outward from the centre of the cube are four 9.5-metre standing Buddha statues of solid teak.


Guides like to point out that if you stand by the donation box in front of the southern Buddha, his face looks sad, while from a distance Buddha looks amused.



If looked at from the right angle, the two lions at the eastern side resemble an ogre.


The small, nutlike sphere held between the thumb and middle finger of the eastern Buddha is said to resemble a herbal pill and represents the Buddha offering dharma (Buddhist teachings) as a cure for suffering.

Take two lessons and call the doctor in the morning?

Both his arms hang at his sides with hands outstretched, a hand position unknown to traditional Buddhist sculpture outside Ananda.



The west-facing Buddha features his hands outstretched in the gesture of no fear.



These four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions represent the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana.



A fifth, Maitreya, has yet to appear.


You can see Ananda shimmering from all over the Bagan plains and somehow it lends a feel of Disneyland to the BAZ.

Too many tourists, too many touts, a victim of its own success.


Above: Ananda Temple, Bagan


South of the main Old Bagan – Nyaung U Road, dead centre of the BAZ, Sulamani Temple is a magnificent monument and very popular in the dry season due to the road being more accessible.

Sulamani (“the gem“) has many frescoes and murals which are fairly well-preserved and worth taking a look.



Sulamani is not the biggest nor the tallest, but for many people it is the most beautiful of all Bagan’s monuments and the iconic example of the city’s architecture in all its flamboyant finery.

Sulamani, like a wonderous woman, is perfectly proportional, with two storeys of equal height each topped by three terraces, striking a delicate balance between the vertical and horizontal.

The graceful tower above is actually a reconstruction following the 1975 earthquake.

Like an aging supermodel who cleverly reinvents herself, close up you can see how much newer the tower’s bricks are, compared to the rest of the building, although from a distance she looks fine.

Sulamani’s exterior boasts fine plasterwork along with exotic green and yellow glazed decorative tiles.


Above: Sulamani Temple, Bagan


Inside, see the monks drawn on the walls on either side of the Buddha, praying in obeisance, pointing towards the Buddha, as if to say:

Don’t look at us. Look at him!



(In a sense this mural is a moral lesson of modern Buddhism.

So much attention has been drawn to the works of Buddhists that we have forgotten the lessons the Buddha actually taught.

Some might extend this to asking “Where has the original Christ of modern Christianity gone?

Neither Buddha nor Christ asked to be worshipped themselves.

Both spoke of redemption and simple living.

I cannot imagine Buddha at home in Bagan nor Christ comfortable in Vatican City.)


Above: St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City



Thambula Temple was said to be built by a queen and there is the sense of the feminine in the profusion of paintings held within.

This is a well-decorated delight of murals, which, unlike many of Bagan’s temples, does not require artificial illumination to be seen.

This is the interior of a woman’s imagination with densely detailed paintings covering virtually every surface, including floral decorations, miniature mosaic-patterned Buddhas and intricate inscriptions.

Especially intriging is the unusual painting of a boat race inside the south porch.


Image result for thambula temple bagan

Above: Thambula Temple, Bagan



Dhamma Yangyi Temple is a testimony to guilt, an attempt to avoid damnation through good works, the damned building a stairway to Heaven.


Dhammayangyi Temple at Bagan,Myanmar.jpg

Above: Dhamma Yangyi Temple


Dhamma Yangyi was commissioned by King Narathu to atone for the sins of assassinating his father, brother and wife.

He had his family killed so he could claim the throne of Bagan.

Godless Narathu had his wife killed for following Hindu traditions.

Definitely not a “live and let live” kind of monarch.


A book cover, in deep red. In large yellow / gold stylised type are the words "Live And Let Die". Underneath, in smaller type "by Ian Fleming, author of CASINO ROYALE".


The eccentricity of this King is reflected in the Temple’s finely set brickwork.

Narathu executed a bricklayer for his imperfect masonry and ordered that bricks should be laid such that there was not enough space for even a needle to pass through.


(Clearly it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.)



No one knows why the Temple was never completed, though it is known that the work was abandoned only two years later when the assassinating King was himself assassinated by a eight-man squad dispatched from India by the unhappy father of his murdered bride.


The inner vaults are large and entering Dhamma Yangi with all the bats that occupy the temple, the visitor feels like they left downtown Gotham City and entered Bruce Wayne’s batcave.



Some say Dhamma Yangi is haunted, but this has not discouraged the noisy nest of hawkers who have set up shop right in front of the Buddha and appear to live in the side passages.

I have no recollection of a Christian-like story wherein the Buddha drove merchants from a temple, but one hopes that such a parallel exists, for the turning of a place of worship into a house of merchandise just seems wrong.


Image result for christ drives the usurers out of the temple


Dhamma Yangi is instantly recognizable not only for its sheer size but also for its distinctive outline.

The temple is unique among Bagan monuments in that it lacks an upper storey, compensating instead with a series of no fewer than six steep terraces (rather than the usual three) placed on top of the shrine, giving it a unique ziggurat appearance.

The collapse of the original spire that formerly crowned the edifice further accentuates the temple’s pyramidal profile.


The bare melancholic interior is stark with few traces of murals.

The only sounds are fearful breathing, squeaking bats and cooing doves in the darkness overhead.


A pair of Buddhas guard the western entrance,

The historical Gautama and the future Maitreya are placed next to each other as Bagan’s only example of two major Buddha images placed side by side.

Could this be the message of Dhamma Yangyi?

The present is actually the past and the future side by side?




Pyathadar Temple with its huge hallways and beautiful spacious terrace is a sun-chaser’s secret.

In wet season, the road past Sulamani can be very bad, meaning that tour groups are generally absent and Pyathadar is peaceful.

If you get here in the early morning hours, the terrace view of all of Old Bagan is well-worth the mudslide road.

If you come in the pre-rainy season (May – June), you can watch the fascinating sight of farmers tilling the land in preparation for sowing, followed by flocks of crows.

Pyathadar is also great for seeing the sunset and drawing your explorations of Bagan to a close.


Image result for pyathadar temple bagan

Above: Pythadur Temple



As I have said, the BAZ is big and it is folly to try and visit all the temples contained therein.

Instead choose the sights you want to see and at what time you want to see them.



The BAZ is reminiscient of the folly of life.

We want to do and see everything, but time is friend to no one.

We can chase the sun forever and never catch it.



Focus on the few.

Try to forget the rest.


Perhaps this is what Bagan brought to Heidi‘s mind.

Find the focus.


Perhaps it was here that Heidi began to realize the impossibility of seeing everything in the span of a lifetime.

Perhaps Bagan began the journey of Heidi‘s considering life beyond the road.


As the sun sets in the evening sky we want to believe in the promise of tomorrow.

But tomorrow is promised to no one.


It is so easy to get lost in the BAZ.



Sources: Wikipedia / Wikivoyage / Google / Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) / Rough Guide to Myanmar (Burma) / Magnitude 6.8 earthquake strikes, damaging famed Bagan temples, police say“, Myanmar News, 25 August 2016 /


















Peach Pal and the Chrysanthemum Kami

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Friday 6 September 2019

There is a connectedness in everything, if one looks for it.


Queen visited the Isle of Mainau (Konstanz) on the occasion of the 25th anniversary


On Tuesday 3 September, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, the longest serving queen in Swedish history, visited the nearby German island of Mainau on the Lake of Constance to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Mentor Foundation for Young People, hosted by Count Björn Bernadotte and his sister Countess Bettina.


Above: Palace grounds, Mainau


Her husband King Carl XVI Gustaf is of the House of Bernadotte.


Crafoord Prize D81 9141 (42282165922).jpg


Queen Silvia established Mentor International in 1994 in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

Her vision was to offer mentoring as inspiration, empowerment, and motivation for young people to make healthy life choices and view their futures more positively.

Mentor’s work has been recognized by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, the Organization of American States, and the Council of Europe.

Her Majesty is now an honorary board member of Mentor Foundation.


Image result for mentor international images


She was also a co-founder of the World Childhood Foundation in 1999, having been inspired by her work as Patron of the first World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Stockholm.

Her Majesty has also been involved in the Global Child Forum, which she helped initiate, as a keynote speaker in several forums.


Queen Silvia of Sweden, June 8, 2013 (cropped).jpg


Her commitment to the work with dementia and the care of the elderly at the end of life is also well known and respected.

On the Queen’s initiative, Silviahemmet was established in Stockholm.

It works to educate hospital personnel in how to work with people suffering from dementia, and also initiates research in the area.


Image result for Silviahemmet images


Her Majesty was greeted by visitors to the floral island as well as by fans of the Swedish Royal Family who travelled to Mainau especially to meet the manor’s royal guest.


Image result for queen silvia visits mainau images


Charity work aside and celebrity glances notwithstanding, what role does a monarchy actually play in a democratic country?


Of the crew I knew when I returned back to Starbucks last year at this time, few of the crew I knew remain.

We that do (Elizabetta, Alanna and I) are anticipating with bittersweetness the departure of the fourth remaining quartet member Momo (aka Peach Pal) to a new life in Japan before this time next year.

I began to write last month of Momo‘s previous experiences in Japan, and with events such as the 2002 World Cup (co-hosted between Japan and South Korea), growing interest in Japanese pop culture and the rise in popularity of Japan’s thriving food scene, I feel that his experiences could contribute valuable insight for other curious overseas visitors destined to explore this cosmopolitan country for themselves, especially with the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.


On the left, a humanoid cartoon character with large ears whose body has blue-checkered patterns is pumping its fist. On the right, another humanoid cartoon character with pointy ears whose body has pink checkers is wearing a pink-checkered cape and also pumping its fist.

Above: Miraitowa (left), mascot of the 2020 Olympics, and Someity (right), mascot of the 2020 Paralympics


As I previously wrote in Peach Pal and the Shaman King, Tokyo is a monstrously large metropolis, technically spreading from the mountains in the north and west to a chain of tropical islands some 1,300 km away in the south.

As a working visa visitor Momo, like the average visitor to Japan’s capital, did not stray much beyond Tokyo’s most central municipalities, or wards (ku in Japanese).

Momo lived and worked in the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area from November 2017 to April 2018.


Clockwise from top: Nishi-Shinjuku business district, Rainbow Bridge, National Diet Building, Shibuya, Tokyo Skytree

Above: Images of Tokyo


He revisited Japan with his mother for three weeks from March to April of 2019.

During his working visa time I am uncertain whether Momo had many opportunities to play tourist, but I am fairly confident that together with his mother he visited central Tokyo.

I wonder if, during their visit to Tokyo, they pondered the necessity of Japan having an Emperor.


Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle[2]

Above: Flag of Japan


At the very heart of Tokyo sits the Imperial Palace, the city’s spiritual soul, home to the Emperor and his family.




Huge and windswept, the Imperial Plaza forms a protective island around the Imperial Palace, the site of which is as old as Tokyo itself.

This is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan, a country lacking an empire.



The Palace is a large park-like area and contains buildings including the main Palace (Kyuden), the private residences of the Imperial Family, an archive, museums and administrative offices.

It is built on the site of the old Edo Castle.

The total area including the gardens is 1.15 square kilometres (0.44 square miles).

During the height of the 1980s Japanese property bubble, the palace grounds were valued by some to be more than the value of all of the real estate in the state of California.



The wee socialist in my soul ponders how anyone can possibly live in such luxury.


Edo Castle was built here by Ota Dokan in 1457 and the Castle’s boundaries fluctuated through the following centuries.

At Edo’s greatest extent, the castle walls also surrounded what is now Tokyo Station as well as parts of the district of Marunouchi.



The Tokugawa shogunate came to an official end in 1868 with the resignation of the 15th Tokugawa shōgun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, leading to the “restoration” (Ōsei fukko) of imperial rule.

Notwithstanding its eventual overthrow in favor of the more modernized, less feudal form of governance of the Meiji Restoration, the Tokugawa shogunate oversaw the longest period of peace and stability in Japan’s history, lasting well over 260 years.


1867 Osaka Yoshinobu Tokugawa.jpg

Above: Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837 – 1913)


The Japanese knew that they were behind the Western world when US Commodore Matthew C. Perry came to Japan in 1853 in large warships with armaments and technology that far outclassed those of Japan with the intent to conclude a treaty that would open up Japanese ports to trade.



Shimazu Nariakira concluded that:

“If we take the initiative, we can dominate.

If we do not, we will be dominated.”


Shimazu by ichiki.jpg

Above: Daimyo (feudal Lord) Shimazu Nariakira (1809 – 1913).

This 1857 photo is the oldest surviving photograph in Japan.


This lead Japan to “throw open its doors to foreign technology.”


The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, acted in the name of restoring imperial rule to strengthen Japan against the threat represented by the colonial powers of the day, bringing to an end the era known as sakoku (the foreign relations policy, lasting about 250 years, prescribing the death penalty for foreigners entering or Japanese nationals leaving the country).

Text from the seclusion edict of 1636
No Japanese ship nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country.
Whoever acts contrary to this, shall die, and the ship with the crew and goods aboard shall be sequestered until further orders.
All persons who return from abroad shall be put to death.
Whoever discovers a Christian priest shall have a reward of 400 to 500 sheets of silver and for every Christian in proportion.
All Namban (Portuguese and Spanish) who propagate the doctrine of the Catholics, or bear this scandalous name, shall be imprisoned in the Onra, or common jail of the town.
The whole race of the Portuguese with their mothers, nurses and whatever belongs to them, shall be banished to Macao.
Whoever presumes to bring a letter from abroad, or to return after he hath been banished, shall die with his family.
Also whoever presumes to intercede for him, shall be put to death.
No nobleman nor any soldier shall be suffered to purchase anything from the foreigner.

Happily for Momo and his Mama sakoku no longer applies.


Image may contain: 2 people, including Mauritz Wallenstein, people smiling, eyeglasses, closeup and outdoor

Above: Mama and Momo


The word “Meiji” means “enlightened rule” and the goal was to combine “modern advances” with traditional “eastern” values.


On 30 January 1867, Meiji ascended the throne.


Black and white photo of emperor Meiji of Japan.jpg

Above: Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912)


This period saw Japan change from being a feudal society to having a market economy and left the Japanese with a lingering influence of modernity.


On 3 January 1868, the Emperor made a formal declaration of the restoration of his power:

The Emperor of Japan announces to the sovereigns of all foreign countries and to their subjects that permission has been granted to the Shōgun Tokugawa Yoshinobu to return the governing power in accordance with his own request.

We shall henceforward exercise supreme authority in all the internal and external affairs of the country.

Consequently, the title of Emperor must be substituted for that of Taikun, in which the treaties have been made.

Officers are being appointed by us to the conduct of foreign affairs.

It is desirable that the representatives of the treaty powers recognize this announcement.

— Mutsuhito, 3 January 1868

Golden circle subdivided by golden wedges with rounded outer edges and thin black outlines

Above: The Imperial Seal of Japan


After the capitulation of the shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, the inhabitants, including the Shōgun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, were required to vacate the premises of the Edo Castle.

Leaving the Kyoto Imperial Palace on 26 November 1868, the Emperor arrived at the Edo Castle, made it to his new residence and renamed it Tōkei Castle (Tōkei-jō).

At this time, Tōkyō had also been called Tōkei.

He left for Kyōto again, and after coming back on 9 May 1869, it was renamed the Imperial Castle (Kōjō).



On the night of 5 May 1873, a fire consumed the Nishinomaru Palace (formerly the shōgun‘s residence), and the new imperial Palace Castle (Kyūjō) was constructed on the site in 1888.



The present Imperial Palace encompasses the retrenchments of the former Edo Castle.

The modern palace Kyūden designed for various imperial court functions and receptions is located in the old Nishinomaru section of the palace grounds.


Above: Guard house and moat


On a much more modest scale, the residence of the current Emperor and Empress is located in the Fukiage Gardens.

Designed by Japanese architect Shōzō Uchii the modern residence was completed in 1993.


Above: Imperial Palace


Except for the Imperial Household Agency and the East Gardens, the Palace is generally closed to the public, except for reserved guided tours from Tuesdays to Saturdays, with admission to the Palace Grounds possible only by pre-arranged official tours, conducted in Japanese but with English-language brochures and multilingual audio guides.

Each 2 January and on the Emperor’s Birthday (23 February), the public is permitted to enter through the Nakamon (inner gate) where they gather in the Kyuden Totei Plaza in front of the Chowaden Hall.

The Imperial Family appears on the balcony before the crowd and the Emperor normally gives a short speech greeting and thanking the visitors and wishing them good health and blessings.



I sincerely doubt that Momo or Mama ever met the Japanese Imperial Family, but perhaps postcards of their photos surely must be prevalent throughout the country.


Every year a poetry convention called Utakai Hajime is held at the palace on 1 January.

The Utakai Hajime (First poetry reading) is an annual gathering, convened by the Emperor of Japan, in which participants read traditional Japanese poetry on a common theme before a wider audience.

It is held on 1 January at the Tokyo Imperial Palace and is broadcast live on the national television network, NHK.

The exact origins of the tradition are unclear, though it is known that the Emperor Kameyama convened a January poetry reading, at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, as early as 1267.

Sometime during the Edo period the practice became more regular, and since the Meiji restoration of 1869, it has been held almost every year.


Above: The Kokin Wakashu, the definitive anthology of Japanese waka poetry


Poems written by the general public were admitted for consideration for the first time in 1879.

Since 1946, any poet whose work is selected is invited to attend.

In 1957 American poet Lucille Nixon became the first non-Japanese person to do so.


Image result for poet lucille nixon images

Above: Lucille Nixon (1908 – 1963)


I wonder if Momo and his love of much that is Japanese has been exposed to Japanese poetry.

Perhaps in his Japanese language classes?


The Imperial Palace (Kyūden) and the headquarters of the Imperial Household Agency are located in the former Nishinomaru enceinte (West Citadel) of the Edo Castle.

The main buildings of the palace grounds, including the Kyūden main palace, home of the liaison conference of the Imperial General Headquarters, were severely damaged by the fire of May 1945.



Today’s palace consists of multiple modern structures that are interconnected.

The palace complex was finished in 1968 and was constructed of steel-framed reinforced concrete structures produced domestically, with two stories above ground and one story below.

The buildings of the Imperial Palace were constructed by the Takenaka Corporation in a modernist style with clear Japanese architectural references, such as the large, gabled hipped roof, columns and beams.


Takenaka Corporation.svg


(Takenaka’s website claims it to be the oldest firm of that type anywhere in the world, since the demise of Kongō Gumi which was substantially older.

Both companies originate from a family of architect-carpenters (Miyadaiku).

In 1610 Tobei Masataka Takenaka, a shrine and temple carpenter, started a business in Nagoya.

The business continued as a family business and built some of the first Western-style buildings during the last half of 19th century, most of them in Nagoya.

In 1899 Toemon Takenaka, 14th generation descendant of the original founder, established a branch office in Kobe and founded Takenaka Corporation as an official company.

The company grew more and more during the 20th century.


Nowadays, Takenaka Corporation is a multinational company with offices in 18 different countries.

Its president is Toichi Takenaka.


The company is now regarded in Japan as one of the “Big Five” contractors (ranked with Kajima, Obayashi, Shimizu and Taisei) and has a long history of designing buildings.

The firm has built some of the most important buildings in Japan, including the Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Dome (the first large-scale stadium with air-supported membrane roof in Japan), the Fukuoka Dome (Japan’s first large-scale stadium with retractable roof) and the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel among others.)



Above: Tokyo Tower


I am fairly certain that Momo would certainly of learned of Takenake Corporation within a very short time of his arrival and certainly would have seen Tokyo Tower (at least from a distance).



The Imperial Palace complex consists of six wings, including:

  • Seiden State Function Hall

Above: Houshun Yamaguichi’s Kaede (maples), Cedar door, East Corridor, Seiden


  • Hōmeiden State Banquet Hall

Above: US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend State Banquet of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masaka, 27 May 2019


  • Chōwaden Reception Hall (the largest structure of the Palace)

  • Rensui Dining Room

  • Chigusa Chidori Drawing Room

  • The Emperor’s work office


Flag of the Japanese Emperor.svg

Above: Standard of the Emperor of Japan


Halls include the Minami-Damari, Nami-no-Ma, multiple corridors, Kita-Damari, Shakkyō-no-Ma, Shunju-no-Ma, Seiden-Sugitoe (Kaede), Seiden-Sugitoe (Sakura), Take-no-Ma, Ume-no-Ma and Matsu-no-Ma.


Famous Nihonga artists, such as Maeda Seison, were commissioned to paint the artworks.


Seison Maeda 01.jpg

Above: Maeda Seison (1885 – 1977)


(Nihonga (“Japanese-style paintings“) are Japanese paintings from about 1900 onwards that have been made in accordance with traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and materials.

While based on traditions over a thousand years old, the term was coined in the Meiji period of Imperial Japan, to distinguish such works from Western-style paintings or Yōga.


Above: Rakuyo (Fallen Leaves), Hishida Shunso


Nihonga are typically executed on washi (Japanese paper) or eginu (silk), using brushes.

The paintings can be either monochrome or polychrome.

If monochrome, typically sumi (Chinese ink) made from soot mixed with a glue from fishbone or animal hide is used.

If polychrome, the pigments are derived from natural ingredients: minerals, shells, corals and even semi-precious stones like malachite, azurite and cinnabar.


Above: Madaraneko (Tabby Cat), Takeuchi Seiho


The raw materials are powdered into 16 gradations from fine to sandy grain textures.

A hide glue solution, called nikawa, is used as a binder for these powdered pigments.

In both cases, water is used.

Hence nihonga is actually a water-based medium.


Above: Jo no Mai (Noh Dance Prelude), Uemura Shoen


Gofun (powdered calcium carbonate that is made from cured oyster, clam or scallop shells) is an important material used in nihonga.

Different kinds of gofun are utilized as a ground, for under-painting, and as a fine white top color.


Above: Fruit, Kokei Kobayashi


Initially, nihonga were produced for hanging scrolls (kakemono), hand scrolls (emakimono), sliding doors (fusuma) or folding screens (byōbu).

However, most are now produced on paper stretched onto wood panels, suitable for framing.

Nihonga paintings do not need to be put under glass.

They are archival for thousands of years.)


Above: Enbu (Dance of Flames), Gyoshu Hayami


The Matsu-no-Ma (Pine Chamber) is the throne room.


The Emperor gives audiences to the Prime Minister in this room, as well as appointing or dismissing Ambassadors and Ministers of State.

It is also the room where the Prime Minister and Chief Justice are appointed to office.


Shinzō Abe Official.jpg

Above: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe


The Fukiage Garden has carried the name since the Edo period and is used as the residential area for the Imperial Family.



The Fukiage Ōmiya Palace (Fukiage Ōmiya-gosho) in the northern section was originally the residence of Emperor Showa (better known as Hirohito)(1901 – 1989) and Empress Kōjun (1903 – 2000) and was called the Fukiage Palace.

After the Emperor’s death in 1989, the Palace was renamed the Fukiage Ōmiya Palace and was the residence of the Empress Dowager until her death in 2000.

The palace precincts include the Three Palace Sanctuaries (Kyūchū-sanden).



(The Three Palace Sanctuaries (Kyūchū sanden) are a group of structures in the precincts of the Imperial Palace used in imperial religious ceremonies, including weddings and enthronements.

The three sanctuaries are:

  • Kashiko-dokoro  – the central shrine, enshrining a replica of the mirror Yata no Kagami, representing the mythological ancestress of the Imperial Family, Amaterasu.
    • Yata no Kagami is a sacred mirror that is part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan.
      • It is said to be housed in Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, although a lack of public access makes this difficult to verify.
      • The Yata no Kagami represents “wisdom” or “honesty” depending on the source.
      • Its name literally means “The Eight Ta Mirror” a reference to its size and octagonal shape.
      • Mirrors in ancient Japan represented truth because they merely reflected what was shown and were a source of much mystique and reverence (being uncommon items).
      • Japanese folklore is rich in stories of life before mirrors were commonplace.

(For the enthronements in Kyoto of Emperor Taishō in 1915 and of Emperor Shōwa in 1928, the mirror was transported by special rolling stock (freight train) known as the Kashiko-dokoro Jōgyosha from the name of this sanctuary.)

    • The Yasakani no magatama or Sacred Jewel, one of the Imperial Regalia of Japan, is also said to be housed in the Kashiko-dokoro.
      • Magatama are curved, comma-shaped beads that appeared in prehistoric Japan from approximately 1000 BC to the 6th century.
      • The beads, also described as “jewels“, were made of primitive stone and earthen materials in the early period, but eventually were made almost exclusively of jade.
      • Magatama originally served as decorative jewelry, but by the end of the Kofun period functioned as ceremonial and religious objects.
      • Archaeological evidence suggests that magatama were produced in specific areas of Japan and were widely dispersed throughout the Japanese archipelago via trade routes.
      • A noted magatama is the Yasakani no Magatama, one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan.
      • Swords, mirrors, and jewels were common objects of status for regional rulers in Japan.
      • The Yasakani no Magatama is stored at the Kashiko-dokoro, the central shrine of the Three Palace Sanctuaries at the Tokyo Imperial Palace and is used in the enthronement ceremony of the Emperor of Japan.
      • Daniel Clarence Holtom stated in 1928 in Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies: An Account of the Imperial Regalia that the Yasakani no Magatama is the only one of the three regalia that exists in its original form.
      • Post-World War II scholarship supports the claim.
      • Replicas of the sword and mirror were made as early as the 9th century, and the originals were entrusted to other shrines.


Above: The Imperial Regalia of Japan


  • Kōrei-den – the Ancestral Spirits Sanctuary, enshrining the departed spirits of the Imperial Family from one year after their death.
  • Shin-den – the Sanctuary of the Kami, enshrining the Amatsukami from Takamagahara and the Kunitsukami from Japanese mythology.)


Kami are the spirits, phenomena or “holy powers” that are venerated in the religion of Shinto.

They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express.

They can also be the spirits of venerated dead persons.

Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of entire clans.

Some ancestors became kami upon their death if they were able to embody the values and virtues of kami in life.

Traditionally, great or sensational leaders like the Emperor could be or became kami.




In Shinto, kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, and good and evil characteristics.

They are manifestations of musubi, the interconnecting energy of the universe and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards.


Kami are believed to be “hidden” from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own: shinkai (“the world of the kami“).


To be in harmony with the awe-inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi (“the way of the kami“).


Though the word kami is translated multiple ways into English, but no one English word expresses its full meaning.

The ambiguity of the meaning of kami is necessary as it conveys the ambiguous nature of kami themselves.



The East Gardens is where most of the administrative buildings for the palace are located and encompasses the former Honmaru and Ninomaru areas of Edo Castle, a total of 210,000 m2 (2,300,000 sq ft).

Located on the grounds of the East Gardens is the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Music Department of the Board of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household, the Archives and Mausolea Department Imperial Household Agency, structures for the guards such as the Saineikan dojo, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.


Above: Seimon Ishibashi Bridge, East Gardens


The Museum of the Imperial Collections was conceived during the change from the Shōwa period (1926 – 1989) to the present Heisei period.

The Imperial Family donated 6,000 pieces of art to the Japanese government in 1989.

Many pieces were created by Imperial Household artists.

The museum was opened in 1993 for the study and preservation of the art collection.

The collection was further enlarged by the donation of the art collection of Prince Chichibu in 1996 and the collection of Empress Kōjun in 2001.


Above: Museum of the Imperial Collections


The Tōkagakudō (Peach Blossom Music Hall) is located to the east of the former main donjon of Edo Castle in the Honmaru.

This music hall was built in commemoration of the 60th birthday of Empress Kōjun on 6 March 1963.

The ferro-concrete building covers a total area of 1,254 m2 (13,500 sq ft).

The hall is octagon-shaped and each of its eight outer walls is decorated with differently designed mosaic tiles.


Above: The Tokagakudo Music Hall


In Ninomaru Garden symbolic trees representing each prefecture in Japan are planted in the northwestern corner of Ninomaru enceinte (enclosure around a fort).

Such trees have been donated from each prefecture and there are total of 260, covering 30 varieties.


The Suwa no Chaya is a teahouse that was located in the Fukiage Garden during the Edo period, moved to the Akasaka Palace after the Meiji restoration, but was reconstructed in its original location in 1912.

It was moved to its present location during the construction of the East Garden.


Above: Suwano-chaya Tea House


Kitanomaru Park is located to the north and is the former northern enceinte of Edo Castle.


Kitanomaru Park 2.jpg


It is a public park and is the site of the Nippon Budokan Hall, an indoor sports and performance venue, the Science Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

This garden contains a bronze monument to Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (Kitashirakawa-no-miya Yoshihisa-shinnō).



Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (1847 – 1895) of Japan, was the second head of a collateral branch of the Japanese imperial family.

He was formerly enshrined in Tainan-Jinja, Taiwan, under the name Kitashirakawa no Miya Yoshihisa-shinnō no Mikoto as the main and only deity.

Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa was the ninth son of Prince Fushimi Kuniie (1802–1875) with Horiuchi Nobuko.

He entered the Buddhist priesthood under the title Rinnoji-no-miya.

He served as Abbot of Kan’ei-ji in Edo.

During the unrest of the Boshin War to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate, Prince Yoshihisa fled north with Tokugawa partisans of the following the Satsuma-Chōshū takeover of the city of Edo, and was made the nominal head of the “Northern Alliance(Ōuetsu Reppan Dōmei).

This short-lived alliance consisted of almost all of the domains of northern Japan under the leadership of Date Yoshikuni of Sendai.

Following the Meiji Restoration, in 1873 Emperor Meiji recalled all imperial princes currently serving as Buddhist priests back to secular status.

That same year he succeeded his younger brother, Prince Kitashirakawa Kasunari, as the second head of the new princely house of Kitashirakawa-no-miya.

In April 1886, Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa married Shimazu Tomiko (1862–1936), the adopted daughter of Prince Shimazu Hisamitsu of Satsuma Domain.

The marriage produced no children:

However, Prince Yoshihisa had five sons by various concubines, as was common practice for the time.

Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa became a professional soldier, and was sent to Germany for military training.

On his return to Japan in 1887, he was commissioned as a major general in the Imperial Japanese Army.

In 1893, as lieutenant general, he was given command of the 4th Division.

After the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, he was transferred to the elite 1st Division and participated in the Japanese invasion of Taiwan.

During the invasion, he contracted malaria and died outside of Tainan (although there were rumors that he was killed in action by Taiwanese guerrillas).

Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa is thus the first member of the Japanese imperial family known to have died outside Japan, and the first (in modern times) to have died in war.

Under State Shinto, he was elevated to a kami and was enshrined in most of the Shinto shrines erected in Taiwan under the Japanese occupation, as well as in Yasukuni Jinja.


Yoshihisa Kitasirakawanomiya.jpg

Above: Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa


As of 1 May 2008, the Kitanomaru Park area had a registered population of 598, of which 361 are male and 237 are female, although this population almost exclusively consists of serving members and dependents of the Imperial Guard of the National Police Agency.

Kitanomaru Park was originally the location of the northernmost section of Edo Castle, known as the Kitanomaru (northern enceinte).

It was used as both a medicinal garden and a secure residential compound for members of the Tokugawa extended family.

The park is almost encircled by deep moats and defensive fortifications from the original castle.


Prior to 1969, when Kitanomaru Park was opened, this district had been called Daikanchō (Town of Local Governors) because many daikan (local governors) lived in the place soon after the construction of Edo Castle.

Today, the name Daikanchō is known more commonly as the name of an interchange of the Inner Circular Route of the Shuto Expressway.


Two gated entrances survive from the time of Edo Castle: the Shimizu-mon and, further north, the Tayasu-mon.

The Tayasu-mon was the northernmost gate of Edo Castle and consists of both a Korai-mon style outer gate and a Yagura-mon style fortified inner gatehouse with highly stacked stone walls forming a narrow defensive courtyard between the two.

An inscription on the outer side of the Tayasu-mon states the gate was constructed in 1685, making it one of the oldest surviving structures of the original castle.



Nippon Budokan, often shortened to simply Budokan, is an indoor arena located in Chiyoda, Tokyo.

Budokan was originally built for the judo competition in the 1964 Summer Olympics, hence its name, which translates in English as Martial Ways Hall.

Its primary purpose is to host martial arts contests and for a time was a popular venue for Japanese professional wrestling.

It has hosted numerous other sporting events such as the 1967 Women’s Volleyball World Championship and other events such as musical concerts.


Nippon Budokan Hall Main entrance

Above: Budokan Arena


A number of famous rock music acts have played at Budokan, such as Tina Turner in 1985.


Tina Turner 50th Anniversary Tour.jpg

Above: Tina Turner


The Beatles were the first rock group to play there, in a series of concerts held between 30 June and 2 July 1966.

Their appearances were met with opposition from those who felt the appearance of a western pop group would defile the martial arts arena.


A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

Above: The Beatles

(Clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison)


Another big act to enter the stage at Budokan were ABBA.

They ended their last tour there, ABBA: The Tour.

Their final show, on 27 March 1980, also was the last live concert they did together.


ABBA - TopPop 1974 5.png

Above: ABBA

(Left to right: Benny Anderson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus)


Several live albums were recorded at Budokan, including releases by Bryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Cheap Trick, Dream Theater, John Hiatt, KISS, Mr. Big, Ozzy Osbourne and Journey.


The Nippon Budokan is located in Kitanomaru Park in the center of Tokyo, two minutes’ walking distance from Kudanshita Subway Station, and near the Imperial Palace and Yasukuni Shrine.

The 42 m (140 ft) high octagonal structure holds 14,471 people (arena seats: 2,946, 1st floor seats: 3,199, 2nd floor seats: 7,846, standee: 480).

The building is modeled after Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) in Hōryū-ji in Nara.


Above: The Hall of Dreams


Although it also functions as a venue for big musical events, its primary purpose is for Japanese martial arts.

The national championships of the different branches of the martial arts (judo, kendo, karate, aikido, etc.) are held annually at the Budokan.


Above: Kendo Competition, Budokan


The Budokan has also been associated with professional wrestling’s big shows, typically from All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah.

However, due to declining business following the death of Mitsuharu Misawa and the retirement of Kenta Kobashi, professional wrestling has ceased running regular shows in the Budokan.

During Wrestle Kingdom 12, New Japan Pro Wrestling announced that its yearly G1 Climax tournament’s finals would be held at the Budokan.


Above: G1 Climax Trophy


The Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki hybrid rules fight held at the Budokan in 1976 is seen as a forerunner to mixed martial arts. K-1, Shooto and Pride Fighting Championships have all held events at the arena.


Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki.jpg


In July 1973 Japanese television recorded the Santana performance at Budokan.


Santana 1973.jpg

Above: Carlos Santana


The Budokan gained worldwide fame when American artists Cheap Trick and Bob Dylan used the arena to record their performances, Cheap Trick at Budokan (1978) and Bob Dylan at Budokan (1979).


A profile view of Dylan's face


In explaining the popularity of the venue for live albums, Eric Clapton described the Tokyo audience as “almost overappreciative” in interviews promoting Just One Night (1980), his own live album recorded at the Budokan.


EC Just One Night.jpg


The record for the most Budokan music concerts is held by Eikichi Yazawa, 142 times as of 19 December 2017.


Image result for eikichi yazawa images

Above: Eikichi Yazawa


The National Memorial Service for War Dead is held with the attendance of the Prime Minister, the Emperor and the Empress annually in Budokan on 15 August, the day of Japan’s surrender.


Above: National Memorial Service for War Dead, Budokan, 15 August 2008


Budokan is famous as well for holding the Live Concert in appreciation of the popular anime series Lucky Star: Live in Budokan (Anata No Tame Dakara).


Lucky Star vol 1 manga cover.jpg


A concert was held in honor of Studio Ghibli’s 25th anniversary, at the Budokan, hosted by Joe Hisaishi.

It included repertoire from most of the films Hisaishi composed for Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli filmography.


Studio Ghibli logo.svg


Diana Ross performed and taped her “Here and Now” television special in 1991 to a sold-out audience.


Diana Ross 1976.jpg

Above: Diana Ross


The Japan Record Awards took place in the arena from 1985 to 1993 where all of the artists from around the country receive these awards.


Muhammad Ali won a unanimous decision over Mac Foster in their 1972 heavyweight boxing match.


On 27 August 2011, Japan’s three biggest professional wrestling promotions:

All Japan Pro Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah came together to produce a charity event titled All Together at the arena.


On 10, 11 and 12 August 2018, New Japan Pro Wrestling held the final 3 days of the G1 Climax in the Budokan, which marked the first time in 15 years that New Japan has promoted an event there.

New Japan once again returned to the arena for the final three days of the 2019 G1 Climax.


Professional wrestler and legend in Japan Kenta Kobashi wrestled his final match in Budokan on 11 May 2013, at an event titled Final Burning in Budokan.

Kobashi is synonymous with the arena along with fellow wrestlers Toshiaki Kawada and the late Mitsuharu Misawa.



Above: Kenta Kobashi


In November, the Budokan is a two day-venue for the annual Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) Marching Festival, a yearly tradition, and the nation’s military tattoo, first held here in the fall of 1963.

Aside from JSDF bands, foreign armed forces military bands are also invited to join the event.


Flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.svg

Above: Flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces


A fictional concert hall based on Nippon Budokan appeared in the music video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (2007) under the name “Kaiju Megadome“.

The Beatles’ appearance at Nippon Budokan was featured in The Beatles: Rock Band (2009).

Another fictional hall based on the Nippon Budokan appeared in the Japanese pro-wrestling video game Virtual Pro Wrestling 2: Ōdō Keishō (2000).


Follow the groups of local tourists struggling across the broad avenues to Nijubashi, one of the Palace’s most photogenic corners, where two bridges span a moat and a jaunty little watchtower perches on a grey stone pedestal beyond.

Though this double bridge is a late 19th century embellishment, the Tower dates back to the 17th century and is one of the Castle’s few original structures.

The present-day incarnation of the Palace is a long, sleek 1960s structure, built to replace the 19th century Meiji palace building, which burnt down in the 1945 bombing raids.


Image result for nijubashi bridge


His Majesty Emperor Naruhito, the 126th incumbent of the Chrysanthemum Throne, traces his ancestry back to 660 BC and Emperor Jimmu, the great-great-grandson of the mythological Sun Goddess Amaterasu.

Most scholars, however, acknowledge that the first Emperor for whom there is any historical evidence is the 5th century Emperor Ojin.


Emperor Naruhito (may 2019).jpg

Above: His Majesty the Emperor Naruhito


Until the 20th century, emperors were regarded as living deities whom ordinary folk were forbidden to set eyes on or even hear.

Japan’s defeat in World War II ended all that.


Two aerial photos of atomic bomb mushroom clouds, over two Japanese cities in 1945

Above: Atom bomb clouds over Hiroshima (6 August 1945) and Nagasaki (9 August 1945)


Today the Emperor is a symbolic figure, a head of state with no governmental power.

His Majesty Emperor Akihito, Emperor Naruhito’s father, had an American tutor and studied at Tokyo’s elite Gakushuin University, followed by a stint at Oxford University.

In 1959, Emperor Akihito broke further with tradition by marrying a commoner, Shoda Michiko.


Above: Wedding portrait (Left to right: Emperor Showo (Hirohito), Prince Akihito, Princess Michiko, Empress Kojun)


Following in his father’s footsteps, Crown Prince Naruhito married high-flying Harvard-educated diplomat Owada Masako in 1993.

The intense press scrutiny that the couple came under when they failed to produce a male heir (current laws prohibit a female successor) has been cited for the Princess’ miscarriage in 1999.

Two years later Princess Owada gave birth to a baby girl, Aiko, but has barely been in public since, suffering from a variety of stress-related illnesses.


Above: Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako


One piece of good news for the royal succession is that Princess Kiko, wife of Naruhito’s younger brother, gave birth to a boy, Hisahito, in 2006.

Prince Hisahito is 3rd in line for the throne after his uncle and father.


Hisahito of Akishino CROPPED.jpg

Above: Prince Hisahito


In August 2016, Emperor Akihito gave only his 2nd-ever televised address, mentioning his health problems and advancing age and hinting at an extremely rare Japanese abdication.


Emperor Akihito cropped 2 Barack Obama and Emperor Akihito 20140424.jpg

Above: His Majesty Emperor Akihito


On 1 December 2017, the government announced that Emperor Naruhito’s father, Emperor Akihito, would abdicate on 30 April 2019, and that Naruhito would become emperor as of 1 May 2019.

Following an abdication ceremony on the afternoon of 30 April, Akihito’s reign and the Heisei era continued until the end of the day.

Naruhito then succeeded him as the 126th Emperor at the beginning of the day on 1 May, ushering in the Reiwa era.

The transition took place at midnight.

Naruhito’s place as Emperor was formalized in a ceremony on the morning of 1 May.

In his first statement as Emperor, he pledged to reflect deeply on the course followed by his father and fulfill his responsibility “as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan“.

The tentative date of his enthronement ceremony is 22 October 2019.


Above: The takumura (Chrysanthemum Throne)


Naruhito was born on 23 February 1960 at 4:15 p.m. in the Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace.

As a prince, he later quipped:

I was born in a barn inside the moat.”


Above: Baby Naruhito


His Majesty’s mother is a convert to Shinto from Roman Catholicism.

Before Emperor Naruhito’s birth, the announcement of the then Crown Prince Akihito’s engagement and marriage to Michiko Shōda (later Empress Michiko) had drawn opposition from traditionalist groups, because Michiko came from a Roman Catholic family.

Although she was never baptized, she was educated in Catholic schools and seemed to share the faith of her parents.

Rumors also speculated that Empress Kōjun had opposed the engagement.

After the death of Naruhito’s paternal grandmother Empress Kōjun in 2000, Reuters reported that she had been one of the strongest opponents of her son’s marriage, and that in the 1960s, she had driven her daughter-in-law and grandchildren to depression by persistently accusing her of not being suitable for her son.


Empress Michiko's arrival in Manila - 2016 (cropped).jpg

Above: Her Majesty Empress Michiko


Naruhito’s childhood was reported to be happy and he enjoyed activities such as mountain climbing, riding and learning the violin.

He played with the children of the royal chamberlain, and he was a fan of the Yomiuri Giants in the Central League, his favorite baseball player being No. 3, later team manager, Shigeo Nagashima.


Yomiuri Giants logo.svg

Above: Logo of the Yomiuri Giants Baseball Club


One day, Naruhito found the remains of an ancient roadway in the palace grounds, sparking a lifelong fascination with the history of transportation, which would provide the subject of his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history.

He later said:

I have had a keen interest in roads since childhood.

On roads you can go to the unknown world.

Since I have been leading a life where I have few chances to go out freely, roads are a precious bridge to the unknown world, so to speak.


Image result for japanese roads images


In August 1974, when the prince was 14, he was sent to Melbourne, Australia, for a homestay.

Naruhito’s father, then the Crown Prince Akihito, had had a positive experience there on a trip the year before and encouraged his son to go as well.

He stayed with the family of businessman Colin Harper.

He got along with his host brothers, riding around Point Lonsdale, playing the violin and tennis, and climbing Uluru together.

Once he even played the violin for dignitaries at a state dinner at Government House hosted by Governor-General Sir John Kerr.


John Kerr 1965.jpg

Above: Sir John Kerr (1914 – 1991)


When Naruhito was four years old he was enrolled in the prestigious Gakushūin school system, where many of Japan’s elite families and narikin (nouveau rich) send their children.

In senior high, Naruhito joined the geography club.


Naruhito graduated from Gakushuin University in March 1982 with a Bachelor of Letters degree in history.


Gakushuin University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Gakushuin University


In July 1983 he entered a three-month intensive English course before entering Merton College, Oxford University, in the United Kingdom, where he studied until 1986.

Naruhito did not, however, submit his thesis A Study of Navigation and Traffic on the Upper Thames in the 18th Century until 1989.

He later revisited these years in his book, The Thames and I – a Memoir of Two Years at Oxford.


Image result for the thames and i naruhito


His Majesty visited some 21 historic pubs, including the Trout Inn.

Prince Naruhito joined the Japan Society and the drama society, and became the honorary president of the karate and judo clubs.

He played inter-college tennis, seeded number three out of six on the Merton team and took golf lessons from a pro.

In his three years at Merton he also climbed the highest peaks in three of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom: Scotland’s Ben Nevis, Wales’ Snowdon and Scafell Pike in England.


UK-2014-Oxford-Merton College 05.JPG

Above: Merton College, Oxford University, England


While at Oxford, Prince Naruhito also was able to go sightseeing across Europe and meet much of its royalty, including the British royal family.

The relatively relaxed manners of the United Kingdom’s royals amazed him:

Queen Elizabeth II poured her own tea and served the sandwiches.


Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II

Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


His Majesty also went skiing with Liechtenstein’s Prince Hans-Adam II, holidayed in Mallorca in the Mediterranean with King Juan Carlos I, and sailed with Norway’s Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Upon his return to Japan, Prince Naruhito enrolled once more in Gakushūin University to earn a Master of Humanities degree in history, successfully earning his degree in 1988.


Prince Naruhito first met Masako Owada at a tea for Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo, in November 1986, during her studies at the University of Tokyo.

The Prince was immediately captivated by her and arranged for them to meet several times over the next few weeks.

Because of this, they were pursued relentlessly by the press throughout 1987.

Despite the Imperial Household Agency’s disapproval of Masako, and her attending Balliol College, Oxford, for the next two years, Naruhito remained interested in Masako.

He proposed to her three times before the Imperial Palace announced their engagement on 19 January 1993.

The wedding took place on 9 June the same year at the Imperial Shinto Hall in Tokyo before 800 invited guests, including many of Europe’s heads of state and royalty, and an estimated media audience of 500 million people around the world.


Crown Princess Masako of Japan.jpg

Above: Her Majesty Empress Masako


By the time of their marriage, Naruhito’s grandfather Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) had died, and so on 23 February 1991, Naruhito had been invested as the Crown Prince with the title Prince Hiro (Hiro-no-miya).


Masako’s first pregnancy was announced in December 1999, but she miscarried.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako have one daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi (Toshi-no-miya Aiko Naishinnō), born 1 December 2001 at the Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace.


Princess Aiko cropped 1 Crown Prince Naruhito Crown Princess Masako and Princess Aiko 20160801.jpg

Above: Princess Aiko


Naruhito is interested in water policy and water conservation.

In March 2003, in his capacity as honorary president of the Third World Water Forum, he delivered a speech at the forum’s opening ceremony titled “Waterways Connecting Kyoto and Local Regions“.

Visiting Mexico in March 2006, he gave the keynote address at the opening ceremony for the Fourth World Water Forum, “Edo and Water Transport“.

In December 2007, he gave a commemorative talk at the opening ceremony for the First Asia-Pacific Water Summit, “Humans and Water: From Japan to the Asia-Pacific Region“.

Naruhito is an honorary member of the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century and patron of the Global Water Partnership, established by the World Bank, the United Nations, and the Swedish Agency of Development.


Image result for world water council images

Naruhito plays the viola, having switched from the violin because he thought the latter “too much of a leader, too prominent” to suit his musical and personal tastes.

He enjoys jogging, hiking, and mountaineering in his spare time.


The Crown Prince was a patron of the Japanese Olympic Games Committee.

In this regard, the Prince carried out representative duties in Japan and abroad.


1998 Winter Olympics logo.svg

The Prince was also a supporter of the World Organization of the Scout Movement and in 2006 attended the 14th Nippon Jamboree, the Japanese national jamboree organized by the Scout Association of Japan.


Scout Association of Japan.svg

Above: Logo of the Scout Association of Japan


The crown prince has also been an honorary vice-president of the Japanese Red Cross Society since 1994.


Japanese Red Cross Society.jpg

Above: Seal of the Japanese Red Cross Society


For two weeks in 2012, His Majesty Emperor Naruhito temporarily took charge of his father’s duties while he underwent and recovered from heart bypass surgery.


His Majesty Emperor Naruhito’s birthday (23 February) was named “Mount Fuji Day” by Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures because of his reported love of the mountain.


Mount Fuji Japan with Snow, Lakes and Surrounding Mountains.jpg


Naruhito’s place as Emperor was formalized in a ceremony on the morning of 1 May 2019.


The Enthronement of the Emperor of Japan (Sokui no rei) is an ancient ceremony that marks the accession of a new monarch to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the world’s oldest continuous hereditary monarchy.

Various ancient imperial regalia will be given to the new sovereign during the course of the rite this 22 October.


Above: Enthronement ceremony for Emperor Akihito, 1990


The Japanese enthronement ceremony consists of three main parts.


The first is the simplest, and takes place immediately after the death or abdication of the preceding sovereign.


The Heir Apparent is formally presented with boxes containing two of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan:

(1) a replica sword representing the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (“Grasscutter Sword“), though the original is allegedly enshrined at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya

(2) the Yasakani no magatama, a necklace of comma-shaped stone beads.

(3) the most important of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan is the mirror Yata no Kagami, which is enshrined in the Ise Grand Shrine as the go-shintai, or the embodiment of the Sun Goddess herself.

It is permanently housed in the shrine, and is not presented to the emperor for the enthronement ceremony.

Imperial messengers and priests are sent to this shrine, as well as to the tomb-shrines of the four emperors whose reigns immediately preceded his, to inform them of the new Emperor’s accession.


Geku Maine sanctuary Ise-jingu Grand Shrine 01-r.jpg

Above: Ise Grand Shrine


The Three Sacred Treasures of Japan were originally said to have been given by the Sun goddess, Amaterasu, to her grandson when he first descended to Earth and became the founder of the imperial dynasty.


Above: Amaterasu, emerging from the cave Ama-no-Iwato, to which she had retreated


Unlike other monarchies, Japan has no crown in its regalia.


In the 2019 enthronement ceremony, the treasures will be presented to the new Emperor on the morning of his ascension date.


The visits to the Ise Grand Shrine by Imperial messengers and priests, as well as to the tombs of the previous four late Emperors, will continue as in past enthronements.


The second part of the ceremony, called the “Sokui-no-Rei“, is the enthronement ritual itself.


The last such ceremony was held in 1990 for Emperor Akihito.


This ancient rite was traditionally held in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan.


Above: Enthronement ceremony for Emperor Taisho, 1915


Beginning in 1990, the Emperor was enthroned in Tokyo.

The 1990 enthronement of Emperor Akihito was the first to be covered on television and had Imperial Guards in traditional uniforms.

It was done indoors, with the elevated stand placed inside the Imperial Palace complex.



Above: Seal of the Imperial Guard


Only part of the ritual is public and the regalia itself is generally seen only by the Emperor and a few Shinto priests.


Above. Shinto priests, Miwa Shrine


An account in Time magazine from the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito’s grandfather Hirohito in 1928 reveals a few details:


First came a three-hour ceremony in which the new emperor ritually informed his ancestors that he had taken the throne.


This was followed by the enthronement itself, which took place in an enclosure called the Takamikura, containing a great square pedestal upholding three octagonal pedestals topped by a simple chair.

This was surrounded by an octagonal pavilion with curtains, surmounted by a great golden phoenix.


At the same time, the Empress, in full dress regalia, moved to a separate pedestal beside her husband’s.


Traditional drums were, at this point of the ceremony, beaten to start the proceedings.


The new Emperor proceeded to the chair, where after being seated, the Kusanagi, Yasakani no Magatama, privy seal and state seal were placed on stands next to him.

A simple wooden sceptre was presented to the Emperor, who faced his Prime Minister standing in an adjacent courtyard, representing the Japanese people.


The Emperor offered an address announcing his accession to the throne, calling upon his subjects to single-mindedly assist him in attaining all of his aspirations.

His Prime Minister replied with an address promising fidelity and devotion, followed by a “three cheers of Banzai” from all of those present.

The timing of this last event was precisely synchronized, so that Japanese around the world could join in the “Banzai” (“10,000 years“) shout at precisely the moment that it was being offered in Kyoto or in Tokyo.

Above: Banzai banner


This moment of the rite ends with the firing of a 21-gun salute by the Japan Self-Defense Forces.


Above: Emperor Hirohito on the day of his Enthronement, 1929


The Daijō-sai, or the Great Thanksgiving Festival, is the third and most important inauguration rituals, because it is the one in which the Emperor is united to the sun-goddess Amaterasu, in such a way as to share in a unique way in her divinity.


First, two special rice paddies are chosen and purified by elaborate Shinto purification rites.

The families of the farmers who are to cultivate the rice in these paddies must be in perfect health.

Once the rice is grown and harvested, it is stored in a special Shinto shrine as its go-shintai, the embodiment of a kami or divine force.

Each kernel must be whole, unbroken and individually polished before it is boiled.

Some sake is also brewed from this rice.

The two sets of rice seedlings now blessed each come from the western and eastern prefectures of Japan and the chosen rice from these is assigned from a designated prefecture each in the west and east of the country, respectively.


Above: Rice paddy scarecrows, Japan


Meanwhile, two thatched roof two-room huts are built within a corresponding special enclosure, using a native Japanese building style that predates and is thus devoid of all Chinese cultural influence.

One room contains a large couch at its centre.

The second is used by musicians.

All furniture and household items also preserve these earliest, and thus most purely Japanese forms: e.g., all pottery objects are fired but unglazed.

These two structures represent the house of the preceding Emperor and that of the new Emperor.


Above: Straw-thatched houses, UNESCO Village of Shirakawa-go, Japan


In earlier times, when the head of a household died his house was burned.

Before the founding of Kyoto, whenever an Emperor died his entire capital city was burned as a rite of purification.

As in the earlier ceremony, the two houses represent housing styles from western and eastern parts of Japan.


Regions and Prefectures of Japan 2.svg



After a ritual bath, the Emperor is dressed entirely in the white silk dress of a Shinto priest, but with a special long train.

Surrounded by courtiers, the Emperor solemnly enters first the enclosure and then each of these huts in turn and performs the same ritual – from 0630 to 2130 in the first hut, and from 0030 to 0330 in the second hut on the same night.

A mat is unrolled before him and then rolled up again as he walks, so that his feet never touch the ground.

A special umbrella is held over the sovereign’s head, in which the shade hangs from a phoenix carved at the end of the pole and prevents any defilement of his sacred person coming from the air above him.

Kneeling on a mat situated to face the Grand Shrine of Ise, the Emperor makes an offering of the sacred rice, the sake made from this rice, millet, fish and a variety of other foods from both the land and the sea, to Amaterasu.

Then he eats some of this sacred rice himself, as an act of divine communion that consummates his singular unity with Amaterasu-ōmikami, thus making him (in Shinto tradition) the intermediary between Amaterasu and the Japanese people.

This is followed by three banquets and a visit to the shrines of his ancestors.


Above: Emperor Akihito, Enthronement Ceremony, 1990


The Emperor of Japan is the head of the Imperial Family and the head of state of Japan.

Under the 1947 constitution, he is defined as “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people“.

Historically, he is also the highest authority of the Shinto religion.

In Japanese, the Emperor is called Tennō, literally “heavenly sovereign“.


Tennō Jimmu detail 01.jpg

Above: Emperor Jimmu, Japan’s 1st Emperor (660 – 585 BC)


Shinto is the ethnic religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past.

Shinto is the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of “spirits“, “essences” or “gods” (kami), suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations.

Practitioners express their diverse beliefs through a standard language and practice, adopting a similar style in dress and ritual, dating from the 8th century.


Above: Izumo Shinto Shrine


As much as nearly 80% of the population in Japan participates in Shinto practices or rituals, but only a small percentage of these identify themselves as “Shintoists” in surveys.

This is because Shinto has different meanings in Japan.

Most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional Shinto religion.

There are no formal rituals to become a practitioner of “folk Shinto“.

Thus, “Shinto membership” is often estimated counting only those who do join organised Shinto sects.

Shinto has about 81,000 shrines and about 85,000 priests in the country.


Above: Kasuga Shinto Shrine UNESCO World Heritage Site


According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008, less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organised religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shinto sects and derived religions.

In 2008, 26% of the participants reported often visiting Shinto shrines, while only 16.2% expressed belief in the existence of a god or gods in general.

According to Inoue (2003):

In modern scholarship, the term is often used with reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals and practices.

In these contexts, ‘Shinto’ takes on the meaning of ‘Japan’s traditional religion’, as opposed to foreign religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and so forth.


Above: Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine


Currently, the Emperor of Japan is the only head of state in the world with the English title of “Emperor”.

The Imperial House of Japan is the oldest continuing monarchical house in the world.

Since the enactment of the 1947 Constitution, the role of Emperor has been to act as a ceremonial head of state without even nominal political powers.


Flag of the Japanese Emperor.svg


Unlike most constitutional monarchs, the Emperor is not the nominal chief executive.

Article 65 explicitly vests executive power in the Cabinet, of which the Prime Minister is the leader.


Emblem of the Prime Minister of Japan.svg


The Emperor is also not the commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces Act of 1954 also explicitly vests this role with the Prime Minister.


Above: Japanese Ministry of Defense


The Emperor’s powers are limited only to important ceremonial functions.

Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the Emperor “shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government.”

It also stipulates that “the advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state” (Article 3).

Article 4 also states that these duties can be delegated by the Emperor as provided for by law.


While the Emperor formally appoints the Prime Minister to office, Article 6 of the Constitution requires him to appoint the candidate “as designated by the Diet“, without giving the Emperor the right to decline appointment.

Article 6 of the Constitution delegates the Emperor the following ceremonial roles:

  1. Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet (Japan’s Parliament).
  2. Appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.


Diet of Japan Kokkai 2009.jpg

Above: The National Diet Building, Tokyo


The Emperor’s other duties are laid down in Article 7 of the Constitution, where it is stated that “the Emperor, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, shall perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people“.

In practice, all of these duties are exercised only in accordance with the binding instructions of the Cabinet:

  1. Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders, and treaties.
  2. Convocation of the Diet.
  3. Dissolution of the House of Representatives.
  4. Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet.
  5. Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers.
  6. Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights.
  7. Awarding of honors.
  8. Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law.
  9. Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers.
  10. Performance of ceremonial functions.


Regular ceremonies of the Emperor with a constitutional basis are the Imperial Investitures (Shinninshiki) in the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the Speech from the Throne ceremony in the House of Councillors in the National Diet Building.

The latter ceremony opens ordinary and extra sessions of the Diet.

Ordinary sessions are opened each January and also after new elections to the House of Representatives.

Extra sessions usually convene in the autumn and are opened then.


Crown Prince Naruhito (2018).jpg

Above: His Majesty Emperor Naruhito


In Japanese mythology, the Emperor and his family are said to be direct descendants of the sun-goddess Amaterasu.

During World War II, the role of the Emperor as head of the Shinto religion was exploited, which resulted in the creation of State Shinto and an Imperial cult.

Following the end of the Second World War, the Allies issued the Shinto Directive which abolished the state support for the Shinto religion, leading to the Humanity Declaration of the incumbent Emperor which refuted the idea that the Emperor is a living divine being and dismissed the importance of “myths and legends” for the Emperor’s status.

However, the Emperors have continued to perform many traditional ceremonies privately.


Nihon Kenpo01.jpg

Above: The Constitution of Japan, emboding the separation of church and state


As of 2017, Emperor Akihito has an estimated net worth of US$40 million.

The exact wealth and expenditures of the Emperor and the Imperial Family have remained a subject of speculation, and were largely withheld from the public until 2003, when Mori Yohei, a former royal correspondent for the Mainichi Shimbun, obtained access to 200 documents through a recently passed public information law.

Mori’s findings, which he published in a book, revealed details of the Imperial Family’s US$240 million civil list (in 2003 values).

Among other details, the book revealed the Royal Family employed a staff of over 1,000 people.


Above: 1,000 Yen Banknote (1984 – 2004) featuring Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki (1867 – 1916)



In an ideal world the best that Momo could hope for in terms of working in Japan would be to become a member of the Emperor’s staff, but the odds of that happening are too low to calculate.


Personally part of me would find meeting His Majesty the Emperor Naruhito interesting.

His Majesty enjoys travelling, is an intelligent well-educated man, enjoys English pubs, remains fiercely loyal to his homeland, enjoys acting, loves hiking, is a romantic faithful husband, and has causes he is passionate about.

But the wealth and the power (symbolic or not) to which His Majesty has access to is intimidating to any commoner like Momo or myself, for this access is something the average man simply cannot relate to.


The monarchy is expensive, but many a nation still preserves their royal heritage, for the monarchy is symbolic, traditional, a reminder of the power and prestige a nation once wielded.


Next month, I, with neither power nor prestige, will try, via the Internet, to catch a glimpse of his enthronement ceremony.

The last enthronement of His Majesty’s father marked a 10-day national holiday for the Japanese people, so perhaps visitors to the Land of the Rising Sun might bear this in mind when booking a vacation this autumn.

22 October 2019 will be a Tuesday.

I will probably have to teach that day, Momo will feverishly work at Starbucks squirreling away his money for his move back to Tokyo and His Majesty will be officially become the new heavenly sovereign of the Empire of Japan.


We are who we are and we all have our roles to play.


All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII


Above: Torii, Itsukushima Shinto Shrine UNESCO World Heritage Site


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Rough Guide to Japan / Xenophobe’s Guide to the Japanese


Canada Slim and the Swiss Chameleon

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Monday 2 September 2019

Xenophobia is an irrational fear of foreigners, probably justified, always understandable“, so the Xenophobe’s Guide series jacket covers always begin.

Xenophobe’s Guides are an irreverent look at the beliefs and foibles of nations, almost guaranteed to cure xenophobia.


Image result for the xenophobe's guide to the swiss


I am a Canadian living in Switzerland.

For the Swiss I am a foreigner.


Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre


For me it is the Swiss who are foreign, for even though this is their land I see them from a Canadian perspective.

Perhaps I might not even consider the Swiss at all were not for the fact that I live amongst them.


Flag of Switzerland


The chameleon’s ability to change and blend into its surroundings illustrates how the Swiss are not seen by others.


Indian Chameleon (Chamaeleo zeylanicus) Photograph By Shantanu Kuveskar.jpg


The French-speaking Swiss are hard to differentiate from France’s French, the Italian-speaking Swiss from Italy’s Italians, and as much as this truly irritates them, for the foreigner, the German-speaking Swiss (a fate shared by Austrians) are indistinguishable from Germany’s Germans.

And until one has been settled in Switzerland for quite some time no one even knows the Romansch exist.


Image result for linguistic map of switzerland


The Swiss are so diverse that associations are made about them that are more accurate for their neighbours.


Orson Wells thought the cuckoo clock a Swiss invention.

It’s not.

It comes from Germany’s Black Forest.



It is true that the Swiss army is issued with knives.

But not the tourist version complete with scissors, tweezers, toothpick, nail file, corkscrew, horse hoof stone extractor and a kitchen sink.



The Swiss are very image-conscious and care passionately about how they are seen by others.

They firmly believe they are subject to constant inspection and criticism by the rest of the world.

The rest of the world struggles to find Switzerland on a map.


Location of .mw-parser-output .nobold{font-weight:normal}Switzerland (green) in Europe (green & dark grey)


The Swiss hate being mistaken for being French, Italian or German, especially the latter.


They are devastated when Switzerland is confused with Sweden in the same manner that Austria is not Australia and does not possess any kangaroos.


Flag of Sweden

Above: Flag of Sweden


Image result for no kangaroos in austria


Switzerland has more than one cheese, “Swiss cheese” is Emmentaler.


Emmental 015.jpg


More than one watch than Swatch.



More than one chocolate than Tobelrone.


Toblerone 3362.jpg


Much like the world thinks that Canada’s capital is Toronto and not Ottawa, so do foreign folks think Zürich is the Swiss capital and not Bern.


Above: Switzerland’s capital Bern


What does not help the Swiss brand recognition factor is the liberal use of the name “Helvetica“, causing confusion among coin and stamp collectors.

The roamin’ (what have they ever done for us?) Romans called the local tribes of Switzerland the Helvetii, thus Internet domain names and licence plates bear the initials CH for Confoederatio Helvetica (Latin for “Swiss Federation“) which is yet again the Swiss opting for neutrality rather than making a choice – in this case, one national language.


Above: Central Europe (14 AD)


Perceptions of the Swiss as being dull, ruthlessly efficient and untiringly hard workers surrounded by high mountains, watches, holey cheese, chocolate and gold bars are images hard to dispel.



Despite the recent publication of Why Do the Swiss Have Such Great Sex?.

A question I have never encountered anywhere except in this book.

The answer of which I remain sceptical.


Image result for why do the swiss have such great sex


Foreign perceptions of the Swiss run the gamut between Heidi’s tough, mountain folk, William Tell’s apple-atop-son’s-head target practicing, and Harry Potter Gringotts Bank of Zürich banking gnomes.


Heidi 2015 poster.jpg


But here’s the thing….

Every once in a while something happens to strengthen the stereotypes….


Teufen, Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR), Switzerland, Monday 6 May 2019

To comprehend the significance of the story I am about to relate, two background details need to be provided, both connected with Starbucks.


Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg


Once upon a time I worked at Starbucks St. Gallen Bahnhof, in the days when it was just off Platform 1 instead of half-hidden underneath the railway tracks where it is now.

Of my co-workers I became friends with lovely Nathalie of mixed Brazilian – Turkish heritage who found herself frustrated that Starbucks was not meeting her professional goals and has since found herself employment with a Swiss fashion company I have known precious little about:


As much as I care about Nathalie (and her husband Ricardo) – I attended both their city hall wedding in St. Gallen and their civil ceremonial wedding in Antalya, Turkey – we have kind of drifted apart since she left Starbucks and Ricardo left behind the field of gastronomy.

They both work at Akris and work very hard at their jobs, leaving a lot less leisure time than they once had – she in catalogue graphic design, he in photographic audiovisual organization.


Image result for akris images


Before I was transferred from Starbucks St. Gallen Bahnhof to Starbucks St. Gallen Marktgasse, I worked, and continue to work, as a part-time, freelance, English-as-a-foreign language teacher.

A fact of which the local Starbucks community is well aware.


The Abbey Cathedral of St Gall and the old town

Above: Abbey Cathedral and Old Town, St. Gallen


In April, Peter, resident in Appenzell, and thus a frequent visitor to our store in nearby St. Gallen, though he works at the Swiss Starbucks HQ outside of Zürich, asked me whether I would be willing to teach his beloved partner Jessica at their home in Teufen.



Above: Teufen (AR) in winter


I had never been to Teufen prior to our first appointment, except passing through as an Appenzell Bahn train passenger, so I thought a little bit of research and exploration of Teufen seemed to be in order.

What I discovered surprised me, not only for the connection between Akris and Teufen, but as well how this discovery reinforces the Swiss sterotype of being secretive even to the point of possible folly.



At first glance Teufen appears as dull as the reputation the nation sometimes has as a whole.



Above: Teufen


Teufen (Tiuffen)(in the deep) was first mentioned in 1272.

By 1300 the place consisted of only five farms.


Above: Countryside of Teufen


In 1525 the assembly ruled that each parish could decide whether or not to remain Catholic.

This led to the division of Appenzell in 1597.



Above: Appenzeller Coat-of-arms


In 1841 Teufen offered their new school building as a present to attract the government of the Canton.

The Assembly refused the present.


Above: Dorfschulhaus (Village schoolhouse), Teufen


Weaving was important in Teufen.

Around 1820 a new satin weaving loom was invented by Johann Conrad Altherr in Teufen, allowing embroidery patterns to be woven in one go.

This led to a boom in embroidery, particularly between 1880 and 1890.


Image result for satin weaving loom images


Teufen has an area, as of 2006, of 15.3 km2 (5.9 sq mi).

Of this area, 55.4% is used for agricultural purposes, while 29.8% is forested.

Of the rest of the land, 14% is settled (buildings or roads) and the remainder (0.8%) is non-productive (rivers, glaciers or mountains).



Teufen had a population (as of 2008) of 5,766, of which about 10.0% were foreign nationals.

Over the last 10 years the population has grown at a rate of 6.8%.

Most of the population (as of 2000) speaks Swiss German (93.4%), with Italian being second most common ( 1.3%) and Spanish being third ( 0.9%).

As of 2000, the gender distribution of the population was 48.5% male and 51.5% female.

The age distribution, as of 2000, in Teufen was:

  • 409 people or 7.4% of the population were between 0–6 years old
  • 586 people or 10.6% were 6-15
  • 248 people or 4.5% were 16-19

Of the adult population:

  • 247 people or 4.5% of the population were between 20–24 years old
  • 1,544 people or 27.9% are 25-44
  • 1,430 people or 25.8% are 45-64

The senior population distribution was:

  • 751 people or 13.6% of the population are between 65–79 years old
  • 320 people or 5.8% are over 80


In the 2007 federal election the FDP received 72.9% of the vote.


Logo der FDP Schweiz


In Teufen about 79.7% of the population (between age 25-64) had completed either non-mandatory upper secondary education or additional higher education (either university or a Fachhochschule).

Teufen has an unemployment rate of 1.27%.

As of 2005, there were 136 people employed in the primary economic sector and about 66 businesses involved in this sector.

657 people were employed in the secondary sector and there were 79 businesses in this sector.

1,463 people were employed in the tertiary sector, with 266 businesses in this sector.

The last census in 2016 listed the population of Teufen at 6,182 inhabitants.


The Gmündertobel Bridge (shared with Stein, Appenzell) and the Wattbach Bridge (shared with Stein and St. Gallen) are listed as heritage sites of national significance.


Image result for gmündertobelbrücke images

Related image


Teufen is home to RC Tritec, a company that provides tritium and other radioactive isotopes to industry.

Until 2008 they provided luminous tritium compounds for the Swiss watch industry, but they have replaced radioactive tritium with non-radioactive Super-LumiNova.

Tritium emissions are tested every week and monitored by the Federal Government.

In 2010 the waste water radiation levels reached a high of 16 GBq, which is still below the 20 GBq limit, due to construction activities.

The 2011 waste water readings were only 2GBq.

Image result for rc tritec ag switzerland images

Tritium or hydrogen-3 is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen, with symbol T or 3H.

The nucleus of tritium (sometimes called a triton) contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of the common isotope hydrogen-1 (“protium“) contains just one proton, and that of hydrogen-2 (“deuterium“) contains one proton and one neutron.

Naturally occurring tritium is extremely rare on Earth.

The atmosphere has only trace amounts, formed by the interaction of its gases with cosmic rays.

It can be produced by irradiating lithium metal or lithium-bearing ceramic pebbles in a nuclear reactor.

Tritium is used as a radioactive tracer, in radioluminescent light sources for watches and instruments, and, along with deuterium, as a fuel for nuclear fusion reactions with applications in energy generation and weapons.

The name of this isotope is derived from Greek τρίτος (trítos), meaning “third“.


Above: Tritium gas-filled glass vial


Of the Teufen sites worth seeing are the Reformed Church, the Catholic Church, the Grubenmann Museum and the Wonnestein Monastery.


Above: Reformed Church, Teufen


Above: Catholic Church, Teufen


Image result for grubenmann museum teufen images

Above: Grubenmann Museum, Zeughaus, Teufen


The town promotes two walking tours of itself:

  • the Culture Path
  • the Audio Path


Teufen has recreational facilities, such as a sports field with a football pitch and a 400-metre long track, as well as an outdoor swimming pool with several other pools heated by solar thermal panelling.

In addition, there is a Vitaparcours (a fitness trail) between Teufen and the nearby town of Speicher.


Image result for vitaparcours images

Above: Vitaparcours signpost (Zurich, the insurance company not the place)


(A side commentary I cannot resist:

It is interesting to note that when I glean information about people and places from Wikipedia that not all articles are translated into all languages, including English.

As well, an article about a German-speaking area, for example, will be far more comprehensive about the place in German than in English.


An incomplete sphere made of large, white, jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each puzzle piece contains one glyph from a different writing system, with each glyph written in black.

Above: Logo of Wikipedia


So there are moments when I need to translate the longer article and here is where my other common resource Google Translate comes into play.

For a general idea of what another language is saying Google Translate does give the user the gist of the message being translated.

But as Google Translate is programmed by humans it is thus prone to human errors.


Google Translate logo.svg

Above: Logo of Google Translate


Take the case of translating from German into English.

Anyone who has studied the German language realizes almost immediately that nouns are capitalized, but so are place names.

So things can take an odd turn when the programme cannot differentiate between what is a name and what is a noun.


Above: Illustration from “The Awful German Language“, Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad


Google Translate gleefully informed me that there is a fitness trail between the devil (Teufel) and memory (speichen: to save into a computer’s memory).

Between the Devil and Memory….

Sounds like a great title….)



For me what makes a place interesting are its personalities, past and present, who have shaped and continue to shape that place’s role in our world.


The Grubenmann family of Teufen builders were responsible for the construction of many religious and secular buildings throughout eastern Switzerland and neighbouring countries in the 18th century.

Of these the Grubenmann who stands out most prominently is Johann Ulrich Grubenmann (1709 – 1783) who created a name for himself as being especially responsible for much of the reconstruction of the town of Bishofszell after its Great Fire of 1743.

Johann, along with his brothers John and Jacob, rebuilt 13 major buildings in Bishofszell.


Above: Johann Ulrich Grubenmann


His top claim to fame however was the 1754 construction of the Rheinbrücke Rhine River Bridge, which had been needed to replace the collapsed older bridge.

The story goes that at the bridge’s opening, Grubenmann had been so confident about his construction that he kicked away the Bridge’s central pillar to demonstrate the solidity of his engineering skills.

This Bridge was so renowned in its day that a model of the Bridge remains on display in the Irish National Museum in Dublin.



Grubenmann is also remembered as a church architect responsible for ten church buildings in Northeast Switzerland, some of which are the most important Reformed Churches in the nation.

On 5 March 2009, the Swiss Post Office released a stamp with Grubenmann’s portrait – a stamp that remains in circulation.


Image result for grubenmann postage stamp images


Johann Ulrich Fitzi (1798 – 1855) was a Teufen-born illustrator, painter, colourist, model-maker and drawing instructor.

He remains the best-known artist of Canton Appenzell Ausserrhodens of the 19th century.

Fitzi grew up in nearby Niederteufen as the 4th child of a weaver family of modest circumstances.

His talent was evident at a very early age when he was introduced to drawing and watercolour by the St. Gallen physician and botanist Caspar Tobias Zollikofer.

In 1818, Fitzi established himself in Trogen as an independent painter and he participated for the first time at a professional art exhibition in St. Gallen in 1823.



Domestically Fitzi was not as fortunate as he was professionally.

In 1824 he married Magdalena Zürcher.

The couple had six children, but they divorced in 1832 due to Magdalena’s mental illness.

His second wife Anna Maria Lendemann died in childbirth in 1840 shortly after the birth of their second child.

His third marriage with Anna Barbara Nänny ended after unhappy conflict.


Many of Fitzi’s illustrations were created for well-known people in his Canton whose tasks were intended to illuminate history or to carry out scientific research.

At an early age Fitzi served as an assistant to Zollikofer, contributing hundreds of drawings of flora on the Alpine floor.


Alpenrelief 01.jpg


A particularly important patron of the young artist was the historian and philanthropist Johann Caspar Zellweger, for whom Fitzi created drawings of house types, landscapes, coats of arms and captured flags.



Commissioned by Johann Conrad Honnerlag, Zellweger’s cousin, Fitzi created drawings of every one of Appenzell Ausserrhoden’s villages, including several images of Teufen.


Above: Mein Haus in Teufen 1834, Johann Ulrich Fitzi


Fitzi accompanied physician and naturalist Johann Georg Schlägfer on his travels in Switzerland and Italy, painting numerous landscape paintings with views of castles, bridges, cities and other sites.

For Schlägfer’s scientific treatises, Fitzi created 450 drawings of mammals and amphibians, including birds and fish.


Fitzi’s works testify to the versatility of this artist, his excellent powers of observation and his mastery of painting techniques that produced photographically exact reproduction in an age long before photography.

On his hikes through Appenzellerland, together with merchant and researcher Johann Martin Schumer, Zellweger’s son-in-law, Fitzi’s sketches of Alpine panoramas remain well-known today.

Fitzi was known in his time as “the Picture Reporter” as many of his subjects represent historically significant places and events in the Canton in the 19th century.

More than 40 of his works served as templates for prints for which Fitzi became known far and wide.


Image result for johann ulrich fitzi images


Arnold Roth (1836 – 1904) was a Teufen-born Swiss diplomat and politician best known professionally as an envoy to the German Reich.

In the course of his work, Roth was instrumental in the preparation of trade and settlement agreements with the Reich.

In 1889 he was involved in the settlement of the Wohlgemuth Affair.


Above: Arnold Roth


The Wohlgemuth Affair was a diplomatic conflict between Switzerland and the German Reich, which ultimately led to the introduction of Swiss state protection of an unsavoury nature.


On 21 April 1899, a Swiss police captain in Rheinfelden arrested German police inspector August Wohlgemuth on Swiss territory.

(There are two Rheinfelden cities: one in Germany and the other in Switzerland connected by a bridge over the Rhine River.)

Wohlgemuth was accused of persecuting and spying upon politically left-wing German immigrants who had fled the Reich to Switzerland.


Image result for august wohlgemuth

Above: Captain August Wohlgemuth


The Swiss Federal Council accused Wohlgemuth of working for the German government, which led to diplomatic upsets with German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Bismarck threatened Switzerland with economic reprisals and ordered strict controls over border traffic.

The Federal Council, through Roth, appeased Bismarck with measures against anarchists and revolutionaries, which would lead to the Fichenaffäre (Secret Files Affair).


Above: Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898)


The Secret Files Affair was a scandal which shook public opinion in Switzerland in 1989 when it was revealed that the Swiss federal authorities as well as cantonal police forces had put in a system of mass surveillance of anti-Swiss elements, targeting Eastern European nationals as well as Swiss citizens, organizations, firms and political groups leaning left.


Datei:Fiche Max Frisch - CH-BAR - 5294964.pdf

Above: Secret file on Swiss author Max Frisch


But Arnold Roth, though he was the standard by whom the reputation of Swiss professional diplomacy was established, captures my attention for the most human reason of all.


On Sunday 4 June 1899, Roth left his posting in The Hague, Netherlands, to identify the body of his 18-year-old daughter Fanny who lost her life in a railway accident in Vlessingen on Thursday 1 June.

Her body was not discovered until Saturday 3 June.



Arnold Roth’s 18 years younger brother Otto Roth (1853 – 1927) also served his country well, but in an entirely different fashion.

Otto Roth was a Swiss bacteriologist and hygienist, who gave lectures on a wide range of disciplines as a professor of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zürich.

Focusing on environmentally friendly living and working, Roth’s influence made possible significant improvements in the drinking water supply in major cities across Switzerland.


Above: Otto Roth


Teufen has its heroes, but, like any place where humanity abides, there have existed other personalities whose reputations are not as warmly embraced.


Alfred Vogel (1902 – 1996) was a Swiss phytotherapist, nutritionist and writer.

Alfred Vogel was born in 1902 in Aesch, Basel, Switzerland.

He was the youngest of four siblings.

As a child, he became familiar with medicinal plants through his father and his grandparents.

At the age of 21, he moved to Basel to manage a herb and health store.

He began to advise his customers on his philosophies of life and also began to prepare his own remedies to sell to his customers.


Above: Alfred Vogel


In 1927, he married Sophie Sommer.

Together they had two daughters.


In 1929 he started publishing a monthly magazine, Das Neue Leben (“the new life“).

From 1941 this became A. Vogel Gesundheits-Nachrichten (“health news“).


In the 1930s, Vogel relocated to Teufen in Appenzell.

He experimented further with herbal remedies and made the discovery that fresh herbs were much more effective than dried ones.


Vogel was an avid traveller and enjoyed visiting new countries and meeting new cultures.

He was especially interested in meeting primitive peoples in a close relationship with nature.

From the 1950s onward, he travelled extensively through Africa, North America, Oceania, and South America.


On one of his travels he met and stayed with the Sioux in the United States.

The story goes that he befriended Ben Black Elk, son of medicine man Nicholas Black Elk, who Vogel says, taught him about the Native American herbal tradition.

However, Ben Black Elk was known to be merely earning his bread as an actor by having taken pictures of him with tourists near Mount Rushmore for money, also starring in the 1962 film How the West Was Won.



Above: Mount Rushmore


Upon Vogel’s departure, Ben Black Elk allegedly gave him a farewell present:

A handful of seeds of Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower).




Back in Switzerland, Vogel began cultivating and researching the plant, eventually creating Echinaforce, that would become his flagship product.

In 1963, Vogel established Bioforce AG in Roggwil in Thurgau, Switzerland.


For years, Alfred Vogel was known as Doctor A. Vogel or Dr. Vogel.

Vogel allegedly received an honorary doctorate in botanical studies in 1952 from the California University of Liberal Physicians (CULP) in Los Angeles, allowing him to style himself  “Dr. Vogel“.

That institute was dissolved long ago and the legitimacy of its diplomas is disputed.

Nowadays, some blank CULP diplomas are on display at the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, the American Medical Association’s quackery museum.


Image result for museum of questionable medical devices images

Above: American Medical Association Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (aka Museum of Quakery), St. Paul, Minnesota


Because he was not a physician, but did sell ‘natural medicines‘, the title Dr. Vogel implied an invalid association.

After a complaint in 1981 at the Dutch Advertising Standards Authority (Dutch: Reclame Code Commissie), he and his products were gradually no longer called Dr. Vogel.

On 14 October 1982, Dutch teacher, presenter and comedian Ivo de Wijs published an article in the science section of NRC Handelsblad on this matter, in which he branded Vogel a quack.


Image result for nrc handelsblad images

Alfred Vogel was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Dutch branch of the company (Biohorma) was (at the time) in the hands of Dutch Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially the family of co-founder Bolle.

Vogel propagated some doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses in his book Der kleine Doktor (English title: “The Nature Doctor“).

In older editions, for example, one can read that God prohibited blood transfusion, and that applying this medical treatment could lead to a change in character.


Image result for alfred vogel der kleine doktor


During a November 2014 episode of the satirical television show Zondag met Lubach (“Sunday with Lubach”), Vogel’s “invention” of Echinaforce was criticised and mocked.


Zondag met Lubach.jpg


Vogel died in 1996 in Feusisberg at the age of 93.



Clearly Teufen, like anywhere else, can produce saints and sinners, heroes and villains.


Sue Schell is the American-born (1950) daughter of a Bernese woman and a Jewish doctor descended from an Austrian immigrant family.

Her father served as a medic during the Korean War (1950 – 1953).

Schell grew up with her mother in very modest circumstances in New York City’s Harlem district.

After the return of her father, her parents divorced and Schell moved at the age of 8 with her mother and brother to Bern.

Schell discovered her voice at age 14 while practising a song from the musical My Fair Lady.

In 1968, Schell met Marc Dietrich at a party where they spontaneously performed together music from the Bee Gees.

Dietrich was impressed by her vocal performance and presented her to his friend Peter Reber at an invitation to their home.

That evening the three sang together for the first time, thus founding the musical trio Peter, Sue & Marc.

Until the group’s dissolution in 1981, Schell travelled with Dietrich and Reber.


Above: Peter, Sue & Marc performing Djambo, Djambo, Eurovision Song Contest 1976


In 1981 she started a solo career.

With the song “Simple Things“, Schell reached #5 on the Swiss charts on 10 October 1982.

After the mediocre success of her second solo album in 1984, her producers felt they could no longer build on Schell’s earlier successes and gave up on her.

Schell self-published her third solo album in 1987, but again she did not achieve critical success.


Image result for sue schell friend to friend images

Above: First solo album, Friend to Friend, 1982


As a result, Schell withdrew from public life and spent several months in a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka.

She then lived in a flat-sharing spiritual community in Berlin for six years.

In Berlin. Schell again became socially active and campaigned for AIDS patients.

In 1998 Schell returned to Switzerland and lives in Teufen.

She sings contemplative, spiritual and esoteric songs and occasionally appears in church services or social events.

Often Schell is accompanied by her colleague Jutta Wurm.

Schell spends a lot of time with Buddhist meditation and yoga and goes to a Buddhist monastery in Germany for two to three months every year.



Sean Tyas is an American DJ and electronic music producer based in Teufen.

His production and DJ sets are mainly based upon trance music.


Sean Tyas (3495991089).jpg

Above: Sean Tyas in Melbourne, 2009


(Please don’t ask me to explain electronic or trance music.

It has to be experienced to be understood.)


American Sean Tyas was born in Massapequa Park, New York in 1979.

In Massapequa Park, Sean’s interest in electronic music began in 1991 when he heard a tape containing various electronic interpretations of “O’Fortuna“.

From then on, he began listening to techno music.

He took his first steps into music production in 2000/2001, using a software called Impulse Tracker on the Microsoft DOS operating system.

In 2004, Sean moved to Germany to begin work producing for DJ Beam, followed by a move to a more appealing set-up in Switzerland, where he produced several successful singles for Dave202.

He began his music career in 2006, after Dutch trance/electro house DJ, Sander van Doorn, selected him as the winner of the “Punk’d” remix contest.

Shortly after releasing his debut single and first #1 record “Lift“, Mixmag & Beatport named him “Best New DJ” and “One To Watch“, marking the beginning of Tyas’ journey to becoming one of the most celebrated names in trance music.


Live As... Vol 4 (CD, Album, Mixed) Plattencover


Throughout his 10-year career, he racked up a multitude of landmark achievements, including a much-lauded BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix to his credit — a rare feat by any trance artist.


BBC Radio 1.svg


His music is filled with 5 mixed compilation albums and an impressive amount of #1 hits, such as his unforgettable remix of Dash Berlin and Emma Hewitt’s “Waiting” and his groundbreaking single “Seven Weeks” which spent an astounding 12 weeks at #1.

Tyas is often known for turning a great track into a monster hit of ‘titanic‘ proportions, his remix credits include reworks for early Tiësto, Above & Beyond, Dash Berlin, Lange, Gareth Emery, and a co-production (Intricacy) with Armin van Buuren as well as others.


Tyas’ five recent consecutive high rankings within the highly coveted DJ Mag Top 100 poll are a result of his dynamic DJ performances at some of the largest clubs and festivals in the world, including Tomorrowland, A State of Trance, Ultra Music Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, Electric Zoo, Godskitchen, Gatecrasher, Ministry of Sound, Beyond Wonderland, Avalon Hollywood, Privilege Ibiza, and many more.


In 2013, Tyas released his two singles “Lose My Logic” and “Now You See“.

The latter reached #2 and dominated the Top 5 of the Beatport trance chart for six consecutive weeks.


In 2014, Tyas signed a highly exclusive multi-album deal with a well-known dance music label, Black Hole Recordings.

His debut LP was released on Black Hole in 2015.


In 2016, he established and owned a label called Degenerate Records, for a three-year period.


Image result for sean tyas degeneration album images

In 2019, he established and owned a label called Regenerate Records, along with British DJ Activa.


Sean continues to live in Teufen with his Swiss wife, Mirella.


Tyas presents an internet radio show entitled Tytanium Sessions (a rebrand of The Wednesday Whistle & Phased Out Phriday program) which airs on the first Monday of once a month on Digitally Imported’s trance channel

This show is also distributed via the iTunes Store in the form of a podcast.


Image result for Tytanium Sessions images


I somehow doubt that Schell and Tyas jam together.


But it is the following final personality of Teufen that brings home to me how the Swiss (or those who live among the Swiss) are true chameleons who invisibly blend into Switzerland.


Teufen-born Albert Kriemler (b. 1960) is a Swiss fashion designer and the creative director at the St. Gallen based Swiss fashion company Akris that specializes in luxury goods for women.


Image result for albert kriemler

Above: Albert Kriemler


Akris was founded in 1922 by Alice Kriemler-Schoch in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

The word “Akris” was derived from the letters of Alice Kriemler-Schoch’s name.

The company initially made simple, dotted aprons that were crafted by Kriemler-Schoch on a single sewing machine.

Each piece is still designed in Switzerland and the Swiss dot (polka dot) is still used by the company on gift boxes and tissue paper as well as the logo of the Akris Punto line 7.


Related image


In 1944, Kriemler-Schoch’s son Max Kriemler took over the business.

The company grew significantly and began producing ready-to-wear clothing.

Following the lead of Max Kriemler, Akris also produced clothes for French designers Givenchy and Ted Lapidus.


Givenchy logo


However, in 1980, Max Kriemler’s right-hand man died.

Though Max’s son Albert Kriemler had planned to travel to Paris to study fashion and apprentice at Givenchy, Max asked Albert to postpone his education for two years to assist in the company’s transition.

He agreed.

Albert would never complete his fashion education.

Within those two years, he had already begun to take over the company.


Image result for albert kriemler images


Peter Kriemler, Albert’s brother, joined Akris in 1987 after studies at St. Gallen University on law and economy to head its financial side.

Peter is now Akris’s global CEO, handling management and manufacturing.

Peter Kriemler is credited with bringing the Akris collection to Asia with subsidiaries in Japan and Korea, as well as developing the worldwide network of directly operated stores.


Image result for peter kriemler images

Above: Peter Kriemler


Since 2004, the Akris collection is shown during Paris Fashion Week – the only Swiss house in the Fédération française de la couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode.


Magdalena Frackowiak.jpg


Akris is a collection of sleek, refined, and versatile pieces, designed in clear architectural lines, with exceptional fabrics, body conscious tailoring and sophisticated colors.


Image result for akris images


Albert Kriemler has gained a strong following by creating a fashion collection for career-oriented women around the world.

Artists and architects have inspired his designs or have collaborated directly with him.


Image result for akris images


In 1996, Akris introduced a new line called Akris Punto.

The Akris Punto collection has an emphasis on “relaxed sportswear“.


Image result for akris images


In 2009, Akris expanded its Prêt-a-Porter offering with the introduction of handbags featuring animal-friendly horsehair textile, a woven fabric made from the tail-hair.


Image result for akris horsehair


In 1996, Akris was admitted to the French Chambre Syndicale, the governing body of the French fashion industry.

The company delayed participating in Paris Fashion Week until 2004, when it was able to secure a spot on one of the event’s most important days.


Image result for akris images


In the 2000s, the company was one of the world’s fastest-growing designer brands, selling at stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, where Akris shares floor space with brands like Bottega Veneta, Fendi and Lanvin.


Akris’s success is largely due to trunk shows and word of mouth.

The company does very little advertising.

Unlike other fashion houses, the company does not produce fragrances and does not license its name.


Akris has a reputation for working with artists.

Two notable examples have been a collaboration with the German photographer Thomas Ruff and separately the British painter David Wightman.

Renowned photographer Steven Klein has shot the Akris Collection for 15 years.


Image result for steven klein photographer

Above: Steven Klein


Akris is the largest Swiss clothing producer, though it does not disclose sales or profit figures.

Its value has been reported as approximately US$500 million.

The company has not disputed this figure, but the number may be an overestimate “judging from Albert Kriemler’s response when that number is tossed out“.


Image result for akris images


The brand is sold in more than 300 locations worldwide.

Approximately 40% of Akris sales are in North America.

Akris was first sold in the United States in 1988.

The brand can now be found in 70 U.S. stores, including over 20 Neiman Marcus locations and 30-some Saks Fifth Avenue locations, where Akris shares floor space with brands like Bottega Veneta, Fendi and Lanvin.

Freestanding Akris boutiques are located in Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Palm Beach, Bal Harbor, Dallas and Houston.

Akris Punto is sold in approximately 100 stores in the United States.


Image result for akris images


Several female celebrities are known to have worn Akris designs.

Nicole Kidman spotted a coat in a store window on a Sunday evening and ordered it the following morning.


Nicole Kidman Cannes 2017 2.jpg

Above: Nicole Kidman


Other fans include Amal Clooney, Charlene, Princess of Monaco, Tina Fey, Susan Sarandon, Doris Yaffe, Shakira, Alicia Keys, Angelina Jolie, Diane Sawyer and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among many others.


Condoleezza Rice cropped.jpg

Above: Condoleezza Rice


Actresses playing powerful women in major movies and groundbreaking TV series are being dressed in Akris, notably Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in House of Cards and Kerry Washington in Scandal, as well as Cate Blanchett in the award-winning Blue Jasmine.


An elegant blonde blue eyed woman, sunglasses on her head, looking to the left.


The company’s headquarters are located in St. Gallen, Switzerland with 200 employees, including my aforementioned friends Nathalie and Ricardo Utsumi.

The interesting thing about their involvement with Akris is how reminiscient their behaviour is with the guiding philosophy of the movie Fight Club.

The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.


"FIGHT CLUB" is embossed on a pink bar of soap in the upper right. Below are head-and-shoulders portraits of Brad Pitt facing the viewer with a broad smile and wearing a red leather jacket over a decorative blue t-shirt, and Edward Norton in a white button-up shirt with a tie and the top button loosened. Norton's body faces right and his head faces the viewer with little expression. Below the portraits are the two actors' names, followed by "HELENA BONHAM CARTER" in smaller print. Above the portraits is "MISCHIEF. MAYHEM. SOAP."


The design process begins with the fabric.

Kriemler then sketches his designs.

Akris fabrics are often custom-produced.

Sometimes, the development of a fabric may take years.

Most of the fabrics used in Akris clothing are produced in specialized mills in northern Italy.

Akris clothing is generally produced in ateliers in St. Gallen, Zurich and Ticino.

Kriemler has aimed to continue St. Gallen’s textile-based history by hiring local artisans.


Image result for alfred kriemler images


About half of the company’s 280 manufacturing employees are highly skilled artisans, so it is indeed a rare privilege and a mark of your quality if Akris engages your services.

Two years of training are required for a seamstress to master the hand-finishing of Akris’s double-faced cashmere jackets, each of which requires two and a half days to complete.

Work demands that Kriemler travels nearly four months a year, but his professional and personal base is still in St. Gallen.

Kriemler has collaborated with ballet choreographer John Neumeier by designing the costumes for the ensemble of Neumeier’s 2005/06 production with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Hamburg ballet’s 2008 production of The Legend of Joseph.


Image result for the legend of joseph hamburg ballet images


In his cohort are not many actresses or socialites, but a cultured mix of artistic personalities including architects Pierre de Meuron, Jacques Herzog and Sou Fujimoto, artist Thomas Ruff, who inspired the fall 2014 collection with his night photographs and many others.

In 2009, Kriemler created the brand’s first handbag collection of horsehair fabric.

Kriemler received the Grand Prix Design prize by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture in 2008 and awarded with the Swiss Design Award for his achievements as the “most important international ambassador for fashion creation in design”. 

He was named the honoree for fashion design at the 2010 Fashion Group International Awards in New York.




Akris’ quiet semi-hidden St. Gallen HQ is a mere 10-minute walk from either Bénédict Schule (one of the places where I teach) and Starbucks St. Gallen Marktgasse, but until the Utsumis began working at Akris and I researched Teufen as a possible topic in my English language instruction, Akris was a company I had never heard of.

And it is this Fight Club secrecy, this chameleon tendency, that makes both Akris and Teufen feel so very typically Swiss.


Image result for akris st. gallen images


Walking the streets of Teufen or unbeknowedly serving beautiful Akris models their Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks, there is no hint, no indication, of the hidden nature beneath the surface.

So often I have thought that the nation of Switzerland as a whole follows the Fight Club Principle.

The first rule of Switzerland is we don’t talk about Switzerland.



I returned back to another resource, Google Maps, to help me find my way to Jessica’s home.

Google Maps is distinctively unhelpful, for important details that are needed to navigate are missing.

And Google Maps is decidedly unliterary.


GoogleMaps logo.svg

Above: Logo of Google Maps


Nowhere is it said how magnificent the Alpine views, especially of Mount Säntis, are from the street where Jessica lives.



The Kulturpfad (path of culture) Teufen leads the pedestrian from the municipal hall, to schools, the old train station, factories and factory houses, churches, another schoolhouse, trading hall and villas,

But there is no sense of the personalities behind the place, the heartbeat within the homes.


Coat of arms of Teufen

Above: Teufen Coat-of-arms


And this is how it is so easy to be fooled into thinking that there is nothing of note worthy of noticing.

Every place worth remembering has a character, whether one speaks of small town Teufen or small country Switzerland.

Some places hide in plain sight.

Only the patient perceive the chameleon.



Sources: Wikipedia / Google / /










Two too big?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 29 August 2019

As I sit at my home computer after working yet another shift at Starbucks I must confess to feeling both saddened and frustrated.

The past year has been rather traumatic for the workers of my Starbucks store location, St. Gallen Marktgasse.

People have left we did not anticipate leaving and announcements were made we could not foresee.


Image result for starbucks st.gallen marktplatz images

Above: Starbucks St. Gallen Marktgasse


Of these announcements the most startling was the closure of one of the three Starbucks locations in St. Gallen (Arena and Bahnhof being the other two), effective in three days’ time, with the main body of the closed shop (Arena) coming to our location.

Stating the obvious and what is publicly known is not violating any secrecy protocols.


Above: Old St. Gallen


Winterthur has lost its Markgasse store and its employees are being merged with the Bahnhof store.

The Biel/Bienne location has closed.

This week the public learned of other Starbucks stores closing in Zürich.


File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg


Everyone is surprised and shocked, but we shouldn’t be.


On 19 June 2018, Starbucks announced the closing of 150 locations in 2019, three times the number the corporation typically closes in a single year.

Priot to 2008, the company opened an average of two new locations daily between 1987 and 2007.

As of January 2019, Starbucks operated over 30,000 locations worldwide.

As of April 2019, according to Wikipedia, that stat was 27,340 stores worldwide.


Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg


Despite this, Starbucks has expanded into two new markets in 2019 (Serbia and Malta) making the international chain a presence in 80 nations.

Overseas properties now constitute almost 1/3 of Starbucks stores.

The first Starbucks location (and rumoured to be the largest Starbucks location) outside of North America opened in Tokyo in 1996.



Here in Switzerland, as of April 2019, according to Wikipedia, there were 63 stores.

In the hinterland of information between rumour and reality, Heaven only knows how much lower that statistic will be by 31 December 2019.


To say that all these closures upset the corporate higher-ups is an understatement.

Rumours abound that close monitoring of sales has intensified from what once was casual financial reporting on a weekly basis to panicked pressuring of stores three times a day.


The question that must therefore be asked is:

What the Hell happened?

How did a company that was opening two new locations every day become an organization closing 150 stores this year?


Above: Starbucks, Chinatown, Manhattan, New York


Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz has talked about making sure growth does not dilute the company culture.

Schulz served as the company’s CEO until 2000.

In January 2008, Schulz resumed his roles as President and CEO after an eight-year hiatus, replacing Orin C. Smith (2001 – 2005) and Jim Donald (2005 – 2008) after sales slowed in 2007.

Schulz aims to restore what he calls the “distinctive Starbucks experience” in the face of rapid expansion.

Starbucks initially distinguished itself from other coffee-serving venues by taste, quality and customer experience while popularizing darkly roasted coffee.

Since the 2000s, competiting coffee makers have targeted quality-minded coffee drinkers with handmade coffee based on lighter roasts, while Starbucks nowadays uses automated espresso machines for efficiency and safety reasons.

Analysts believe that Schulz must determine how to contend with higher materials prices and enhanced competition from lower-priced fast food chains, including McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.


Above: Howard Schulz


Nonetheless, as of 2018, Starbucks is ranked #132 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by revenue.

In July 2019, Starbucks reported fiscal third-quarter net income of $1.37 billion, or $1.12 per share, up from $852.5 million, or 61 cents per share, a year earlier.

The company’s market value of $110.2 billion increased by 41% in mid-2019.

The earnings per share in quarter three were recorded at 78 cents, much more than the forecast of 72 cents.


bor c f uder

Above: New York Stock Exchange


So, the question is:

If Starbucks is actually increasing profits then why the store closures?


Are these store closures the reasons for the increasing profits?



Above: Starbucks Headquarters, Seattle, Washington


At your friendly neighbourhood Starbucks we serve hot and cold drinks, whole bean coffee, microground instant coffee, espresso, caffé latté, full-leaf teas, bottled juices, frappuccinos, pastries, snacks and seasonal offerings like the annual fall launch of pumpkin spice latté.

We also sell pre-packaged food items, hot and cold sandwiches, and drinkware including mugs and tumblers.


Above: Starbucks, Peterborough, England


Some select locations offer “Starbucks Evenings” with beer, wine and appetizers.

We are not one of those select locations.


Starbucks-brand coffee, ice cream and bottled cold coffee drinks are also sold at grocery stores, including Avec train station stores I have frequented here in Switzerland.


At first glance, Starbucks seems to be doing quite well in Switzerland.

But if our wee region of Swiss German Switzerland can be used as a microcosm of Starbucks as a whole, and if my limited experience and perspective as a mere barista is anything to go on, expansion and location have been the greatest errors the company has committed.


Swiss cantons

Take the Swiss city of Winterthur as an example.

Once upon a time there was only one Starbucks store at the Bahnhof in Winterthur, and God saw that it was good.

Then spurred by this success someone had the brilliant idea of building a second location a mere 10-minute walk from the Bahnhof to be closer to the city centre core.

That second location, after a few short years, closes its doors in three days’ time.


June 2009 view of the old town

Above: Winterthur


Yet our store in St. Gallen is also only ten minutes away from our Bahnhof location, but the key difference is the Bahnhof store closed for a time and was forcibly relocated by Swiss Federal Railways from the station’s ground floor location between the street and Platform 1 to a dark cavern locale in a tunnel that runs under the railroad lines.

To further complicate the Bahnhof store’s existence, the station allowed another coffee vendor, Germany-based Coffee Fellows to establish themselves directly opposite Starbucks in the same tunnel.


Coffee Fellows, München.jpg

Above: Coffee Fellows store, Munich, Germany


(They have since closed and will be replaced by Dunkin’ Donuts.)


Dunkin' Donuts, W Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Osceola County.jpg

Above: Dunkin’ Donuts store, Kissimmee, Florida


Our store has profited from our sister store’s closure and their relocation.


Bahnhof St. Gallen bei Nacht, Juli 2014 (2).JPG

Above: St. Gallen Hauptbahnhof


Meanwhile, out in the burbs of St. Gallen, our Arena shopping mall store location closes its doors in three days’ time as part of Corporate’s cost-cutting programme, citing various factors, such as rent, as reasons to wreck havoc on the lives of local Starbucks staff.

My Marktgasse team has quietly over the past year lost staff (again for various reasons cited by Corporate) while the bulk of Arena’s staff will descend upon our store like invading paratroopers.

The decision to close Arena was not the fault of our new colleagues, and we warmly welcome these brothers and sisters in arms, but the compassion that should have been shown to all affected staff of both stores was not as apologetic as it should have been.


Image result for arena st gallen images


My own store has, again for various reasons, had, over the past two years, three store managers come and go with such breathtaking speed that our sliding front doors should be replaced with revolving doors.

All these changes have left those that have remained with a common camarderie spirit of shell-shocked soldiers who, much to their own great surprise, have survived a war.

I wonder if full recovery is possible by rediscovering that “distinctive Starbucks experience“.


Above: Starbucks, Pike Place Market, Seattle, 1977


To a point, I recognize a certain wisdom in store closures with a focus on what had made Starbucks’ culture unique, but for those that remain the message received is less about a return to core values and a focus on core competences, as it is about the bottom line of the corporate balance sheet and shareholder dividends, at the expense of those who are asked to keep the Starbucks experience alive.


As a mere barista, possibly the oldest barista in Switzerland, there is little I can do to improve the taste or quality of the coffee I sell, except to make certain that when I am behind the bar making the drinks that I make the best damned drinks that I can.

What can always be improved by myself (for ultimately I have control only of myself) is the customer experience.

I cannot, nor will not, tell my competent colleagues how to do their jobs, for I respect them too damn much to do so.

I am not, nor do I desire to be, a manager.


Above: Starbucks Truck Shop, New Jersey Turnpike


But I think a possible key to our survival as a store is customer experience, showing compassion to our clients.

Even if it appears Corporate sometimes forgets to show compassion to those from whom they depend upon for their profits.


Above: Starbucks, Forbidden City, Beijing, China


Watching my fellow comrades I feel more and more confident that over the past five years I have worked at Starbucks, customer experience has improved in the stores I have known.

The friendliness and competence my colleagues show to our customers has been inspirational, even in the most challenging of customer situations.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for my fellow baristas and the shift managers that lead us.


Above: Starbucks, Lomas de Zamora, Argentina


My confidence is shaken the positionally higher I go in my analysis of the organization.


I find myself reminded of another brand name organization and I wonder whether their fate has lessons that Starbucks as a whole could learn from.


The F. W. Woolworth Company (often referred to as Woolworth’s or Woolworth) was a retail company and one of the original pioneers of the five-and-dime store.

It was among the most successful American and international five-and-dime businesses, setting trends and creating the modern retail model that stores follow worldwide today.


Woolworth Logo.svg


The first Woolworth store was opened by Frank Winfield Woolworth on 22 February  1879, as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York.

Though it initially appeared to be successful, the store soon failed.

When Woolworth searched for a new location, a friend suggested Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Using the sign from the Utica store, Woolworth opened his first successful “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” on 18 July 1879, in Lancaster.

He brought his brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, into the business.



The two Woolworth brothers pioneered and developed merchandising, direct purchasing, sales, and customer service practices commonly used today.

The F.W. Woolworth Co. had the first five-and-dime stores, which sold discounted general merchandise at fixed prices, usually five or ten cents, undercutting the prices of other local merchants.


Above: Woolworth, Providence, Rhode Island


Woolworth, as the stores popularly became known, was one of the first American retailers to put merchandise out for the shopping public to handle and select without the assistance of a sales clerk.

Earlier retailers had kept all merchandise behind a counter and customers presented the clerk with a list of items they wished to buy.


Sumner’s approach was different.

He worked to perfect the look and feel of his Scranton store.

It had mahogany counters with glass dividers and glass-fronted showcases.

The store was brightly lit, new, and the wooden floor was polished to a lustrous shine.

Each of the syndicate chain’s stores looked similar inside and out, but operated under its founder’s name.

Frank Woolworth provided much of the merchandise, encouraging his brother to work with him to maximize their inventory and purchasing power.


View of Woolworth Building fixed.jpg

Above: Woolworth Building, New York City, 1913


For many years the company did a strictly “five-and-ten cent” business, but in the spring of 1932 a 20-cent line of merchandise was added.

On 13 November 1935, the company’s directors decided to discontinue selling-price limits altogether.

The first Woolworths, with a black front sign that lacked selling price limits, was in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada.


The stores eventually incorporated lunch counters after the success of the counters in the first store in the UK in Liverpool that served as general gathering places, a precursor to the modern shopping mall food court.


Above: Lunch Counter, Woolworth, Bakersfield, California


Above: Food Court, Centre Eaton, Montréal, Québec, Canada


A Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina became the setting for the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins during the American Civil Rights Movement.



The Woolworth’s concept was widely copied, and five-and-ten-cent stores (also known as five-and-dime stores or dimestores) became a 20th-century fixture in American downtowns.

They would serve as anchors for suburban shopping plazas and shopping malls in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Criticisms that five-and-dime stores drove local merchants out of business would repeat themselves in the early 21st century, when discount stores became popular.

However, many five-and-dime stores were locally owned or franchised, as are many dollar stores today.



In the 1960s, the five-and-dime concept evolved into the larger discount department store format.

In 1962, Woolworth’s founded a chain of large, single-floor discount stores called Woolco.


Woolco Logo.svg


Some of these stores were branded as Winfields, after the founder’s middle name.

1962 was the same year that Woolworth’s competitors opened similar retail chains that sold merchandise at a discount: the S.S. Kresge Company opened Kmart, Dayton’s opened Target, and Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store.


Kmart logo.svg


A red bullseye with one ring.

Walmart logo.svg


The following year, in 1963, Woolworth expanded into the shoe store business with the purchase of Kinney Shoe Corporation, which eventually created the store that Woolworth would be taken over by, Foot Locker.


Foot Locker logo.svg


By Woolworth’s 100th anniversary in 1979, it had become the largest department store chain in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.


Guinness World Records logo.svg


During the 1980s, the company began expansion into many different specialty store formats, including Afterthoughts (which sold jewelry and other accessories for women), Northern Reflections (which sold cold-weather outerwear), Rx Place (later sold to Phar-Mor), and Champs Sports.

By 1989, the company was pursuing an aggressive strategy of multiple specialty store formats targeted at enclosed shopping malls.

The idea was that if a particular concept failed at a given mall, the company could quickly replace it with a different concept.

The company aimed for 10 stores in each of the country’s major shopping malls, but this never came to pass as Woolworth never developed that many successful specialty store formats.


Above: Woolworth, Seattle, Washington, 1984


Also attempted was a revision of the classic Woolworth store model into Woolworth Express, a small, mall-oriented variant which was dubbed “a specialty variety store”, stocked with everyday convenience items such as health and beauty aids, greeting cards, snack foods, cleaning supplies and school supplies (somewhat like the non-pharmacy, mall-based locations of CVS/pharmacy and other drug store chains).


The growth and expansion of the company contributed to its downfall.


The Woolworth company moved away from its five-and-dime roots and placed less emphasis on its department store chain as it focused on its specialty stores.

Still, the company was unable to compete with other chains that had eroded its market share.

While it was a success in Canada, the Woolco chain closed in the United States in 1983.


Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre


Europe’s largest F. W. Woolworth store, in Manchester, England, one of two in the city center, experienced a fire in May 1979.

Despite the store being rebuilt even larger and up to the latest fire codes, the negative stories in the press, coupled with the loss of lives, sealed its fate.

It finally closed in 1986.

During the rebuild and partly as a result of the bad press, the British operation was isolated from the parent company as Woolworths plc.

This proved fortuitous as the brand subsequently lasted a full twelve years longer in the United Kingdom than it did in the United States.


A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue


On 15 October 1993, Woolworth’s embarked on a restructuring plan that included closing half of its 800-plus general merchandise stores in the United States and converting its Canadian stores to a closeout division named The Bargain! Shop.


The Bargain! Shop logo.jpg


Woolco and Woolworth survived in Canada until 1994, when the majority of the Woolco stores there were sold to Wal-Mart.

The Woolco stores that were not purchased by Wal-Mart were either converted to The Bargain! Shop, sold to Zellers, or shut down.


Zellers logo.svg


Approximately 100 Woolworth stores in Canada were rebranded as The Bargain! Shop, and the rest were closed.


Amid the decline of the signature stores, Woolworth began focusing on the sale of athletic goods.


On 30 January 1997, the company acquired the mail order catalog athletic retailer Eastbay.

On 17 March 1997, Wal-Mart replaced Woolworth’s as a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Analysts at the time cited the lower prices of the large discount stores and the expansion of supermarket grocery stores – which had begun to stock merchandise also sold by five-and-dime stores – as contributors to Woolworth’s decline in the late 20th century.


A historical graph. From its record low of under 35 in the late 1890s to a high reached above 14,000 in mid-2011, the Dow rises periodically through the decades with corrections along the way eventually settling in the mid-10,000 range within the last 10 years.

On 17 July 1997, Woolworth’s closed its remaining department stores in the US and changed its corporate name to Venator.

By 2001, the company focused exclusively on the sporting goods market, changing its name to the present Foot Locker, Inc.


Above: Foot Locker, Tower City Center, Cleveland, Ohio


When I consider the Woolworth model and compare it to modern Starbucks, I find myself wondering if Howard Schulz may be onto something true, amidst all the greed and choas that seems to dominate Starbucks corporate philosophy lately.

Growth and expansion will eventually contribute to Starbucks’ demise if it fails to rediscover that “unique Starbucks experience“, if it does not return to its roots.

Return the focus away from the shareholders’ greed back to the high standards of taste, quality and customer service that made a visit to a Starbucks a unique experience.

Motivate your people by showing them the compassion that you wish our customers find in our stores.

Get out of HQ and roll up your sleeves and show us by example not by directive how to make each and every customer’s experience a unique Starbucks experience.

Bigger is not better when core values are forgotten.



Sources: Wikipedia / Google







On the verge of beauty

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Wednesday 21 August 2019

These places are everywhere, part of everyone’s geographical routine.

I cannot count how many I have seen in a lifetime of travelling, but I do know I see at least two of these places everytime I simply walk between the St. Gallen main train station and Starbucks St. Gallen Marktgasse.

The one of the pair that I see is dependent upon the path I choose to traverse between these two points in the city.



These kinds of places are easily ignored but once you start noticing any particular one – while waiting for a traffic light for example – it starts to exert a queasy fascination.

The bigger the city, the more of these places exist.

When you finally notice these places it is as if you are seeing a landscape that is invisible to everyone else.

A secret and intimate kingdom surrounded by unseeing people.


Image result for traffic island images

Above: Traffic Island, Birmingham, England


Alistair Bonnet describes one in his native city of Newcastle, in the northeast of England, on the motorway A167(M), which opened in 1975.

The A167(M) is a testing drive, even for those who know the city.

Around the triangular island cars nudge from slow slip roads into dense traffic travelling at up to 70 miles (42 km) per hour.

Some of the merging vehicles then have to cross three lanes of traffic to get to their exit, a mere 100 yards away.

It is a landscape of clamped teeth and grim intensity.

There is no time to see anything other than what you might hit or what might hit you.

The triangle is a remnant.

While roads were thought about, carefully plotted and justified, the island simply happened.


Image result for A167(M) Newcastle traffic island images


There is an absence of any discernible will.

Abandoned yet independent.

A free thing of nature and yet a prisoner of human civilization.


My triangles never get mentioned in the St. Galler Tagblatt or even the local edition of 20 Minuten.

There are trees and shrubs here, but only the jaywalking pedestrian attempting to cross against oncoming traffic notices them.

My triangles, though flourishing with fauna, are dead zones, nameless spaces, blank entities, urban voids, vague terrain.

A weary destitute Traveller could go and conceal himself here and snatch snippets of slumber here in the hours between nightclub closings and daybreak when prehistoric garbage trucks have the city to themselves.


Your latest trick.jpg


Concrete scars the city yet the islands endure.

One could almost imagine them being micro-arable and semi-inhabitable.



J.G. Ballard wrote a novel about such a traffic island as Bonnet described.

Ballard tells a tale of a man called Robert Maitland who, after a car crash, finds himself marooned on a traffic island.

Maitland saw that he had crashed into a small traffic island, some 200 yards long and triangular in shape, that lay in the waste ground between three converging motorway routes.

Concrete Island is Ballard’s journey into the psychological damage and opportunities of the contemporary landscape.

It does not matter that Maitland’s would-be rescuer, Jane Sheppard, has no trouble clambering away.


Image result for j g ballard concrete island


Maitland is stuck because the Island induces in him an ever more desperate desire to create meaning out of placelessness.

He has to stay in order to create rituals, naming the separate “regions” of his new domain like a “priest officiating at the Eucharist“.



Maitland declares:

I am the Island.


I Am A Rock 45.jpg


Elsewhere Ballard writes:

Rather than fearing alienation, people should embrace it.

It may be the doorway to something more interesting.


Image result for open doorway images


Yet, nonetheless, we fear alienation.

Traffic islands are places empty of history, devoid of humanity, mutilated remnants of a wilder time before time.

Best to look away, to ignore them, to refuse to acknowledge their existence.

Yet they serve a purpose beside dividing a road in twain.

They are alive, defiant, diverse.

Man may have inadvertedly created them but nature has claimed them.


Image result for traffic islands images


From The London Times, 3 January 2019:

The 14-lane highway that sweeps through Atlanta is called the Downtown Connection, though it is also referred to, less charitably, as “the car sewer“.

Built in an age when many American cities were bulldozing neighbourhoods to make room for cars, it is no longer regarded locally as a gorgeous testament to social progress.


Image result for downtown connection atlanta images


Now Atlanta and dozens of other American cities are pondering a solution to the motorways that divide them.

Proof that such a thing is possible is to be found in Dallas, where the city authorities have constructed a deck garden park on top of a motorway and should already have completed another by mid-summer.


Image result for woodall rodgers freeway park


Jim Burnett, a landscape architect, who may be the most prolific highway park builder in America, said the park that lies over part of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Dallas has less than a foot of topsoil on the deck that spans the road, but the structural engineers who made the deck strong enough to hold large trees also built “pockets which trees could drop into“.

It feels like you are walking through a park with big trees everywhere.


Image result for woodall rodgers freeway park


Concerts are staged above the roaring freeway, there is a children’s playground and an area for quiet reading, not many feet above the speeding cars.

The 5.2 acre park cost $112 million, which was supplied by the City, the Texas Department of Transportation and some private sponsors.


Flag of Texas


A similar trick was pulled off in Manhattan with the aid of a disused elevated railway line that snaked up through the west side of the city.

It was marked for demolition but two local residents, noting that a carpet of wildflowers had grown over the tracks, proposed that it be turned into a park.


Image result for high line park new york images


The High Line, which opened in 2009 and grew by four blocks in 2014, is now one of the most popular parks in New York and has spurred the transformation of a once semi-derelict tract of the city.

At its northern end, a new neighbourhood of skyscrapers and parkland is being laid above a 28-acre stretch of railyards.


Image result for high line park new york images


Burnett’s company is working on the second highway deck in Dallas.

We also have one in Kansas City in planning, we are in the preliminary stages for one in Cleveland and we have a few others that are confidential.

Burnett has also been working with a group called Central Atlanta Progress, which is seeking to create 14 acres of parkland above the highway that weaves through the city.


Image result for Central Atlanta Progress images


Francesca Ammon, a historian at the University of Philadelphia, said highways were laid through American cities after the 1956 Interstate Highway Act gave federal funding to city councils, which saw a chance to bulldoze blighted (black) neighbourhoods and bring in (white) commuters from the expanding suburbs.



Today cities are more popular in the US and we can see the short-sightedness of these developments.

The displacement of communities was a series of grave injustices, she added.

This is a step in righting these wrongs.



Nature doesn’t need to be the enemy.

Nature doesn’t need to be alienated, alienating.

Planned oases of nature, even in the midst of traffic, improve the quality of the air and lend a psychological sanctuary in the centre of an urban dystopia.

Perhaps the Garden of Eden was never lost.

Perhaps it was just waiting to be built.


Image result for paved paradise images


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island / Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us about the World / Dire Straits, “Your Latest Trick” / Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi” / Will Pavia, “Americans plot garden highways to entice people out of their cars“,  Times of London, 3 January 2019 / Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, “I Am a Rock






The carrot and the stick

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Wednesday 21 August 2019

This is an opinion piece.

Not about politics, not about travel, but about work.


Image result for modern times chaplin images


Too often too many good people hate their jobs and the reason that they do is that their employers often have no idea how to lead their charges.

The phrase “carrot and stick” is a metaphor for the use of a combination of reward and punishment to induce a desired behavior.


Image result for carrot and stick images


The carrot-and-stick principle is this:

A stick is tied to the bridle of a mule or donkey, or held by the human rider or cart driver so that it extends above and in front of the animal’s head, and the carrot hangs on a string from the far end of the stick, just out of reach of the pack animal’s mouth.

Attracted by the sight and smell, the donkey steps forward to bite at the carrot, but of course, as it is attached to the stick, the carrot also moves forward and remains out of reach.

Not especially brilliant, the beast repeats the same ineffective strategy ad infinitum, thereby pulling or carrying whatever or whomever it’s laden with, until the poor animal collapses from exhaustion.

Thus, the metaphor can serve as a visualization of what can sometimes happen in corporate and other settings, with executives “dangling” a promotion, for example (the “carrot“) in front of the rank and file in order to get massive amounts of work out of them in exchange for very little reward.



In general usage, any promised reward that is really a tease may be referred to as a “dangling carrot“.


In more contemporary times, the phrase has been broadly amended to “carrot or stick“, an illustration of an authority figure holding a reward (the carrot) in one hand and a punishment (the stick) in the other, to signify a no-brainer of a choice presented to the other party.


Image result for carrot and stick images


For example, in politics, “carrot or stick” sometimes refers to the realist concept of soft and hard power.

The carrot in this context could be the promise of economic or diplomatic aid between nations, while the stick might be the threat of military action.


Image result for carrot and stick images


The earliest English-language references to the “carrot and stick” come from authors in the mid-1800s who in turn wrote in reference to a “caricature” or cartoon of the time that depicted a race between donkey riders, with the losing jockey using the strategy of beating his steed with “blackthorn twigs” to urge it forward, while the winner of the race sits in his saddle relaxing and holding the butt end of his baited stick.

In fact, in some oral traditions, turnips were used instead of carrots as the donkey’s temptation.


Image result for carrot and stick images


Decades later, the device appeared in a letter written by Winston Churchill dated 6 July 1938, worded in such a way as to possibly bolster the “carrot or stick” side of later debates:

Churchill writes:

Thus, by every device from the stick to the carrot, the emaciated Austrian donkey is made to pull the Nazi barrow up an ever-steepening hill.


Churchill wearing a suit, standing and holding a chair


The Southern Hemisphere caught up in 1947 and 1948 amid Australian newspaper commentary about the need to stimulate productivity following World War II.


A map of the eastern hemisphere centred on Australia, using an orthographic projection.


The earliest uses of the idiom in widely available U.S. periodicals were in The Economist‘s 11 December 1948 issue and in a Daily Republic newspaper article that same year that discussed Russia’s economy.

In the years leading up to World War II and during the war itself, Joseph Stalin applied the “carrot or stick” principle among the nations of the Soviet Sphere of Influence in order to establish tighter control over them.

For example, in 1934 Stalin reversed his decision to attack the Socialists of the region, instead allowing them to join the “People’s Front Against Fascism and War“.

Despite this alliance’s limited success when it came to strategies against the fascism of Nazi Germany, Stalin had effectively replaced the “stick” of aggression he had been using against the Socialists with the “carrot” of a better deal for them: membership in a more sweeping system of Popular Fronts against the Axis.

Stalin’s use of reward and punishment, as described above, has not been unique in the world arena.


Stalin Full Image.jpg


A casual survey of international news confirms that the tactic is still in common use today, by people in power up to and including the presidents of the USA and NATO.


Flag of NATO.svg


Following are the implications of the Carrot and Stick Approach:

(i) An overdose of ‘carrot’ element, in the system of motivation, invites laziness and fewer attitudes towards work on the part of individuals.

This happens, specially, because many times, people get carrot (i.e. rewards) regardless of their performance, e.g. salary increase, seniority based promotions, etc.


Image result for carrot and stick images


(ii) An overdose of ‘stick’ element, in the system of motivation leads to retaliatory behaviour on part of people, strong organisation of labour unions against management atrocities, poor quality workmanship, etc.


Image result for carrot and stick images


The carrots our employers dangle before us?

  • Wages
  • Regular payment
  • Cash awards
  • Allowances
  • Bonus payment
  • Paid leave
  • Profit-sharing schemes
  • Pensions
  • Incentives
  • Travel expenses
  • Reimbursement of medical expenses
  • Subsidized food or transportation
  • Free uniforms
  • Free or subsidized education
  • Job security
  • Promotions
  • Empowerment of employees
  • Assignment of challenging work
  • Certificates of merit
  • Status symbols


The sticks our employers threaten us with?

  • Loss of job
  • Fines
  • Penalties
  • Withholding of salary
  • Demotion
  • Transfer
  • Lack of empowerment
  • Not allowing workers to participate in decisions


Image result for carrot and stick images


Sadly, I feel that the stick is employed far more often than the carrot in “motivating” employees.

Too often changes are made in the workplace that affect the workers, but the workers are not consulted nor are they privy to the reasoning behind the changes.

There seems to be an overriding assumption that you must be less wise if you are an employee, otherwise you would be an employer, therefore you cannot be trusted with any real responsibility.

Employees are chess pawns to many employers who will close job sites that they were too incompetent to maintain and cast the future of their workers into the wind with the attitude that the workers who don’t desire to be transferred don’t deserve to work.


Image result for chess pawns images


The Peter Principle, wherein a person is promoted to their level of incompetence, is quite prevalent in many industries, but it is a rare employee (and especially employer) who once promoted will accept demotion as deserving when the Peter Principle applies to them.



Withholding of salary is especially cruel as most workers are highly dependent upon the salaries they obtain, but the intention to motivate the salary-deprived into better job performance generally backfires and has the opposite effect.

Penalties and fines, though less dehabilitating as salary withholding, also have the same tendency to backfire.


Image result for salary images


The threat of firing is truly a powerful fear used by employers, but it is questionable whether everyone who gets fired always merits their dismissal.

If an employee is fired then the onus is on the employer, for most of the time the employer failed in their roles of properly maintaining all their team members in regards of confirmation of expected standards, of proper training, or supervision of morale.


Image result for you're fired images


If an employee lacks motivation it is usually because the employee has not been given a reason to care and doesn’t know why they should.


Image result for unmotivated worker images


We all have to earn money to maintain our lives, but money, as motivating as it can be, is not enough to encourage whole-hearted dedication from an employee, especially if the salary received is far lower than the salary received by those above.

What especially galls employees is how much better rewarded employers are for their efforts when much of the company’s success is achieved by the employees.


Image result for wage inequality images


How few employers put themselves into their employees’ shoes and pitch in where needed.

How few employers truly understand what it is like to be an employee.

How few employers consult their workers when introducing new policy that they expect the workers to blindly follow, regardless of how unfeasible or impractical these policies might be to implement.

How few employers can see beyond the bottom line and realize how truly dependent they are upon employees to achieve desired results which employees themselves rarely benefit from.


Image result for blind leading the blind images


Employees are a company’s most valuable assets, for it is they who deal with customers who finance the company.

Employees will not be motivated if they are inadequately paid.

Employees will not improved if they are not mentored.

Employees will not be motivated if they are not challenged.

Employees will only appreciate and thrive in promotion if they have been made ready for promotion and not just promoted for simply surviving at that company for a certain length of time.

Employees will not be motivated if they are not involved in the decisions that affect them.

Employees will not be motivated if they feel they are unappreciated, if they feel more criticism than praise.

Employees will not be motivated if they don’t feel valued by the company, value that is not only shown by salary.


Image result for unmotivated workers images


Employees need to feel that they share the company’s mission and profit from it, rather than being simply a cog in an uncaring machine designed for only profit-garnering for the highest levels.

Employees need to feel empowered, that their individuality is appreciated and encouraged, and that initiative is welcome.

Employees need to feel trusted rather than as potential thievies seeking any opportunity to steal resources (including time) from the firm.


Image result for surveillance at workplace images


Too many companies pay the barest minimum they can, even if they can well afford to pay more.

Too many companies expect excellence from their workers, yet fail to provide leadership that shows what the company’s ideal of excellence is or how that ideal can be achieved.

Too many companies fail to challenge their workers, but instead expect contentment from them even in the most mundane tasks they assign them.

Too many companies promote their people to positions that they are woefully unprepared for, simply because they need to show that promotion is possible in the company.

Too many companies promote their people and then harass them for not doing a job well for which they have prepared them poorly.

Too many managers make decisions with little thought of how these decisions will affect the employees or customers.

Too many managerial decisions are made in the interest of cost-cutting and then wonder why employees don’t feel appreciated for the job they do, knowing that a fit of cost-cutting will overnight render their job obsolete.


Image result for cat as workers images


I will be blunt.

Not only won’t management read this post, but I daresay if they did, it won’t matter to them.


The hardest part of being someone else’s employee is the acceptance of powerlessness.

Regardless of how they should change, they won’t.

So the only room for change has to be from the individual employee, regardless of reward or punishment that may follow.


Image result for man in the mirror images


The only true power we have is over ourselves.


The first piece of advice I give to my fellow workers, my fellow sufferers, is:


Find yourself and be yourself, not expecting the company to create that someone.

Life is what we make it and nobody is so miserable as they who long to be somebody and something other than the person they are.


Image result for finding yourself images


I will quit my employer in a heartbeat the day I feel that my personality does not fit the company’s desired image, the day the company does not fit my personality.


Take This Job and Shove It (film).jpg


I think this honesty with oneself begins even before a job starts.

The biggest mistake people make in applying for work is in not being themselves.

Instead they offer answers they think the employer wants to hear.


Image result for begging for a job images


They forget that not only should they fit in the company, but as well the company should fit them.

When we act against who we are, against who we want to be, then we can only offer a fraction of our potential.


For example, I will never be able to write like Shakespeare, but I can write like myself and that’s OK.




I compare myself to my counterparts at Starbucks.

I will never be like them, but they will never be like me, and that’s OK.

I can learn from them, and they from me, but it is idiocy to expect us to be copies of each other.


Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg


Let us not imitate others.

Let us find ourselves and be ourselves.


If it fits a company’s philosophy, great.

If it does not, then we need to seek out a place where our personalities are viewed as assets and not liabilities.


To help prevent fatigue and worry in the positions we are in, we need to learn how to:

  • Deal with immediate challenges at hand.
  • Do things in order of importance.
  • Avoid delay when dealing with a problem.
  • Learn to organize, delegate and support each other as a team.


Image result for baton racing team images


One of the chief reasons many of us return home utterly exhausted from work is boredom.

Boredom with our work.

Boredom with our lives.


Image result for bored images



Perhaps the solution is do our best to make our dull job interesting.

Perhaps if we make up our minds to do our jobs as if we really enjoyed them then perhaps this determination to amuse ourselves will give us the energy, the zest and zeal to survive that job and lend to the happiness we find in our leisure hours.


I remember a bus driver in Montréal who would sing as he drove and greet his passengers as if they were the most important people on the planet.

He did this for his own amusement and his amusement made riding with him an enjoyable experience.

The funny thing is his amusement in the job made the job amusing for him.

Driving the same route day after day, year after year, cannot always be amusing, so there must be times the bus driver acted as if the ride was amusing, until he felt it was amusing.


Image result for muctc bus images


If we do our jobs as if we really enjoy them, then we do enjoy them to a certain extent.

If we determine to make the job interesting we will find what is interesting about the job.


For example, as a Starbucks barista (the oldest barista in Switzerland) I have basically three jobs:

  • Sell the drinks.
  • Make the drinks.
  • Clean.


Image result for starbucks barista images


How can I make selling drinks interesting when the process is fairly repetitive?

I seek to amuse myself with the customers, I seek amusement from the customers, I seek what is interesting about each and every customer.


How can I make drink production interesting?

I amuse myself by singing as I make the drinks.

I present the drinks with different remarks as individual to each customer as I can imagine.


How can I make clean-up interesting?

I ask the customers how they are enjoying our wondrous creations.

I greet them as I clean up after them.

When they are gone from the store I try to find a way to make my co-workers laugh as we, yet again, clean the store in a manner identical to so many days repeated before.


I may not always enjoy every customer but I act as if I do.

I may not always enjoy making drinks but I act as if I do.

I may not always enjoy cleaning up but I act as if I do.


I do this not for promotion, not for the company, but to amuse myself.

Often to my surprise I find myself being complimented by my co-workers for my remarkable energy when within myself I am feeling utterly exhausted.

My energy springs from my amusement, my amusement is deliberately cultivated.


Image result for ferris wheel images


Part of the struggle of being human is that we all have our problems.

The challenge is in remembering our blessings.

Yes, I am working at jobs beneath my potential, but I am working while others cannot.

My left knee is in constant pain, but I can walk while others cannot.

I need glasses to read, but at least I am not blind.

Life is not always a parade of roses but at least I am alive to appreciate what roses there are.


Image result for tournament of roses parade images


Life is so damned short.

If we don’t find joy within it, then we will have wasted that life.


There will always be toxic people who will seek to humiliate and block you, but they act in this manner not because you are deserving of their rage, but because they are undeserving of your success.

The only defence is to keep doing the best that you can.

Those who criticize, condemn or complain about you are only revealing themselves to be interested only in bolstering their poor self-image by attacking your character.


As Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”


Ralph Waldo Emerson ca1857 retouched.jpg


Be better than they are by refusing to act like they do.

Instead, with everyone, seek out something to give honest and sincere appreciation about.


Motivational writer Dale Carnegie had an old saying that he cut out and pasted on his mirror where he could not help but see it every day:


Dale Carnegie.jpg


I shall pass this way but once.

Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any being, let me do it now.

Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.


Forget flattery.

Give honest, sincere appreciation.

Become genuinely interested in other people.

And you in turn will receive appreciation and will find people genuinely interested in you.


We cannot change the socioeconomic society we live in overnight, but we can change ourselves.

We need to stop beating ourselves up for who we aren’t and instead praise ourselves for who we are and believe in ourselves for who we can be.


There is more to life than work, but, in this expensive age we live in, we devote 80% of our adult lives to work.

Shouldn’t our jobs give us the joy of living since we devote so much of our lives to these jobs?


Let us not make the mistake that a job or life itself gives us happiness but rather let us bring happiness to that job and to our lives.


It is not the job that gives a person dignity.

It is the person that brings dignity to the job.


For too long we have been our own sticks.

It’s time to grow our own carrots.


Image result for carrot and stick images


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Dilbert: The Joy of Work, Scott Adams / How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job, Dale Carnegie / Achieving Excellence, Robert Heller / The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, Daniel H. Pink / Top Performance: How to Develop Excellence in Yourself and Others, Zig Ziglar















Swiss Miss and the City of Immortality

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday 18 August 2019

Consider the elephant.


Elephas maximus (Bandipur).jpg


Elephants, the largest existing land animals, are mammals of the family Elephantidae.

Three species are currently recognised: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant.

African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, whereas Asian elephants have smaller ears, and convex or level backs.


A female African bush elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania


Distinctive features of all elephants include a long trunk, tusks, large ear flaps, massive legs, and tough but sensitive skin.

The trunk, also called a proboscis, is used for breathing, bringing food and water to the mouth, and grasping objects.

Tusks, which are derived from the incisor teeth, serve both as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging.

The large ear flaps assist in maintaining a constant body temperature as well as in communication.

The pillar-like legs carry their great weight.



Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts and marshes.



They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible.

They are considered to be a keystone species, due to their impact on their environments.

Other animals tend to keep their distance from elephants.

The exception is their predators such as lions, tigers, hyenas, and wild dogs, which usually target only young elephants (calves).



Elephants have a fission–fusion society, in which multiple family groups come together to socialise.

Females (cows) tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring.

The groups, which do not include bulls, are led by the (usually) oldest cow, known as the matriarch.

Males (bulls) leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males.

Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate.

They enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance over other males as well as reproductive success.

Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years.

Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild.



They communicate by touch, sight, smell and sound.

Elephants use infrasound and seismic communication over long distances.

Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans.



They appear to have self-awareness, as well as appearing to show empathy for dying and dead family members.


African elephants are listed as vulnerable and Asian elephants as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


IUCN logo.svg


One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks.


Group of men holding elephant tusks


Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people.


Elephants are used as working animals in Asia.



In the past, they were used in war.



Today, they are often controversially put on display in zoos, or exploited for entertainment in circuses.



Elephants are highly recognisable and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature and popular culture.


In Myanmar, a country of 60 million people, there remains 2,100 wild and 5,000 Asian elephants.

It is estimated that by 2030 there will be no more wild Asian elephants in Myanmar, which has the world’s 2nd largest wild Asian elephant population in the world after India.

It is estimated that there are more elephant experts in Myanmar than anywhere else on the planet.

Of the tame or semi-wild Asian elephants in Myanmar, most are employed in one of the 16 teak lumber camps scattered across the country, owned and operated by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, responsible for 75% of the world’s teak supply and for employing 60% of the Burmese population.

So, despite decreasing numbers of elephants in Myanmar, chances remain quite strong that the Traveller will stumble across one or many in their journey….


Image result for elephants myanmar photos


I am not a jealous guy.


Jealous Guy single.jpg


Though I will confess to harbouring envy from time to time.

I don’t envy those with fame, for fame carries a price of the loss of anonymity and privacy when attempting to move about the world.

I don’t envy those with love, for love with another person is something I possess, imperfections notwithstanding.

I don’t envy those with power, for with great power comes great responsibility, at least for those burdened with conscience.

I don’t envy those who travel, for I have done some travelling as well, and while my health lasts I intend to travel more.

I don’t envy those with wealth, for wealth carries with it the paranoid worry of losing that wealth, and a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

I envy some of my enemies and some of my friends for a commodity that is too easily taken for granted.

A commodity when witnessed makes this grown man cry inside mourning its absence from my life.

A commodity that, despite the many places she visited, Swiss Miss / Heidi Hoi has never forgotten ….




Mandalay, Myanmar, 14 – 18 January 2019

In Swiss Miss and the Centre of the Universe, I wrote of Mandalay, with its rampaging buses and exhaust belching pick-up trucks, with the world’s largest book and a wish-granting temple, with awful zoo and awesome Palace, markets and pagodas.

Mandalay, the city itself, is a relatively recent arrival on the historical scene and despite the unpromising first impression that the city gives, it boasts numerous attractions both religious and secular.


Mandalay street.jpg


Mandalay would change Heidi‘s life as early as her first day, for it was there she was reunited with two Swiss friends and one Brazilian friend (Paolo) she had met in Yangon.


Downtown skyline during sunset, April 2010.

(Please see Swiss Miss and the Three on the 19th.)


It was on her first day in Mandalay Heidi would meet a soulmate, Emily, resident in Mandalay.

It was on her first day in Mandalay Heidi would learn of the death of her paternal grandfather Opa (94) back home in Switzerland in distant Chur.

It was on her first day in Mandalay, at an anonymous road crossing, Heidi would see an elephant calf lovingly following an elephant cow.


Image result for mandalay elephant photos


But it was the sights and sounds of the Mandalay area that would inspire her to have a cow with calf elephant tattoo inked upon her person in a Mandalay tattoo parlor.

Because, in many ways, it is the area around Mandalay which is the real highlight with its myriad memories of former glory.

Mandalay’s good, but it gets better just outside its doors.

What you read made you and Paolo eager to explore the region, but who wants to be pushed and prodded around by tour groups?

So a taxi was hired for the day and your own itinerary (similar to that promoted by your hostel’s tours) formed at your own pace.


Image result for mandalay taxi photos


In centuries past, four ancient cities (Amarapura, Inwa, Mingun and Sagaing) set up shop at (or near) various points along the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River.

They comprise some of the more compelling images of Myanmar.


Flag of Myanmar


To fully comprehend the significance of these ancient cities, the Traveller needs to remember that Burmese history is old.

Kingdoms have risen and fallen, each with their own capital or, in some cases, capitals.

As well, both the British and Japanese Empires controlled Burma until Myanmar rose triumphantly independent in 1948.

In quick succession, there was:

  • the Pagan Kingdom (849 – 1297) (Capital: Pagan)
  • the Myinsaing Kingdom (1297 – 1313) (Capitals: Myinsaing / Mekkhaya / Pinle)
  • the Pinya Kingdom (1313 – 1365) (Capital: Pinya)
  • the Sagaing Kingdom (1325 – 1365) (Capital: Sagaing)
  • the Ava Kingdom (1365 – 1555) (Capital: Ava)
  • the Prome Kingdom (1482 – 1542) (Capital: Prome)
  • the Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287 – 1539 / 1550 – 1552) (Capitals: Marthaban / Donwrin / Pegu)
  • the Mrauk U Kingdom (1429 – 1785) (Capitals: Launggyet / Mrauk)
  • the Toungoo Dynasty (1510 – 1752) (Capitals: Toungoo / Pegu / Ava)
  • the Restored Harthawaddy Kingdom (1740 – 1757) (Capital: Pegu)
  • the Konbaung Dynasty (1752 – 1885) (Capitals: Shwebo / Sagaing / Ava / Amarapura / Mandalay)
  • British Burma (1824 – 1942 / 1945 – 1948) (Capital: Yangon)
  • Japanese Burma (1942 – 1945) (Capital: Yangon)
  • Myanmar (1948 – Present) (Capitals: Yangon / Nay Pyi Taw)


In many ways the myriad sights scattered across the countryside around Mandalay – including a trio of former royal capitals and a gigantic, never finished, stupa – are more interesting and enjoyable than Mandalay itself.


WikiProject Myanmar peacock.svg

Above: Peacock symbol of Burmese royalty


From my notes from interviews with Heidi, I believe that her taxi tour took her to Amarapura, Inwa (Ava), Sagaing and Mingun.

Her behaviour during this tour has made me more respectful of her than I already had been and more envious of a privilege she still enjoys that sadly not everyone does.


Just 11km south of central Mandalay is the small town of Amarapura (from the Pali, meaning “City of Immortality“, and pronounced Ah-ma-RA-poor-ah).

Nowadays a rather sleepy suburb of Mandalay, the area has substantial historical pedigree, having twice served as Myanmar’s royal capital (1783 – 1821 / 1842 – 1859).



Amarapura‘s name, City of Immortality, does beg the question:

Why is it so named?


To the Traveller, the aforementioned succession of kingdoms is further confused by the right royal merry-go-round of capital city moves that occurred.


From the mid-14th century until the British arrived half a millennium later, Mandalay and its surrounding area played host to a curious travelling courtly circus – (much like the travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg that occurs for the European Parliament every week) – as the Burmese capital regularly shifted from one part of the region to another.


Coat of arms or logo


The first royal capital in the area was established by King Thihathu (1265 – 1325)(ruled 1313 – 1325) at Pinya, one of the minor states which emerged in northern Myanmar following the collapse of the Pagan Kingdom.



(Thihathu was a co-founder of the Myinsaing Kingdom, and the founder of the Pinya Kingdom in Myanmar.

Thihathu was the youngest and most ambitious of the three brothers that successfully defended central Burma from Mongol invasions in 1287 and in 1300–01.

He and his brothers toppled the regime at Pagan in 1297 and co-ruled central Burma.

After his eldest brother Athinkhaya’s death in 1310, Thihathu pushed aside the middle brother Yazathingyan and took over as the sole ruler of central Burma.

His decision to designate his adopted son Uzana I heir-apparent caused his eldest biological son, Saw Yun, to set up a rival power center in Sagaing in 1315.

Although Saw Yun nominally remained loyal to his father, after Thihathu’s death in 1325, the two houses of Myinsaing officially became rival kingdoms in central Burma.)


Pinya Kingdom c. 1350


In 1315 Thihathu’s son, Saw Yun (1299 – 1327)(ruled 1315 – 1327), set up a rival kingdom in Sagaing, with the two kingdoms collectively controlling parts of central and northern Myanmar.

Athinhkaya Saw Yun was the founder of the Sagaing Kingdom of Myanmar.

The eldest son of King Thihathu set up a rival kingdom in 1315 after Thihathu appointed Uzana I as heir-apparent.

Saw Yun successfully resisted two small expeditions by Pinya by 1317.

While Saw Yun nominally remained loyal to his father, he was the de facto king of the area roughly corresponding to present-day Sagaing Region and northern Mandalay Region.

After Thihathu’s death, Sagaing and Pinya formally went separately ways.

Saw Yun died in 1327.

Saw Yun had four children, three sons and a daughter.

All of his sons became kings of Sagaing.

His only daughter was the mother of Thado Minbya, the founder of the Kingdom of Ava.


Ava c. 1450


The two kingdoms were eventually unified in 1364 by Thihathu’s great-grandson, Thado Minbya (1345 – 1367)(ruled 1364 – 1367), who set about building a new capital at Ava (present-day Inwa).


Ruins, Innwa, Mandalay Division, Burma.jpg


Thado Minbya was the founder of the Kingdom of Ava.

In his three plus years of reign (1364–67), the King laid the foundation for the reunification of Central Burma, which had been split into Pinya and Sagaing kingdoms since 1315.

He also founded the capital city of Ava (Inwa) in 1365, which would remain the country’s capital for most of the following five centuries.

The young King restored order in central Burma, and tried to stamp out corrupt Buddhist clergy.

He died of smallpox while on a southern military expedition in September 1367.

The 21-year-old king left no heirs.

He was succeeded by his brother-in-law Swa Saw Ke.



Despite fluctuating fortunes, Ava would become the longest lasting and, intermittently, the most important centre of political power in Myanmar right up until its final abandonment in 1838.

The Kingdom of Ava survived under Thado Minbya‘s successors until 1527 when it fell to a Shan confederacy, continuing as the capital of the north until 1555, when it was captured by the Taungoo dynasty.


King Bayinnaung (1516 – 1581)(ruled 1550 – 1581) succeeded by force of character and fighting prowess in rising through the Taungoo military ranks from his lowly origins.

Following the assassination of King Tabinshwehti (1516 – 1550)(ruled 1530 – 1550), Bayinnaung succeeded in beating off a series of rivals, ultimately claiming the throne.

Bayinnaung Kyawhtin Nawrahta was king of the Toungoo Dynasty of Myanmar from 1550 to 1581.

During his 31-year reign, which has been called the “greatest explosion of human energy ever seen in Burma“, Bayinnaung assembled what was probably the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia, which included much of modern-day Burma, the Chinese Shan states, Lan Na, Lan Xang, Manipur and Siam.

Although he is best remembered for his empire building, Bayinnaung’s greatest legacy was his integration of the Shan states into the Irrawaddy-valley-based kingdoms.

After the conquest of the Shan states in 1557–1563, the King put in an administrative system that reduced the power of hereditary Shan saophas, and brought Shan customs in line with low-land norms.

It eliminated the threat of Shan raids into Upper Burma, an overhanging concern to Upper Burma since the late 13th century.

His Shan policy was followed by Burmese kings right up to the final fall of the kingdom to the British in 1885.

Bayinnaung could not replicate this administrative policy everywhere in his far flung empire, however.

His empire was a loose collection of former sovereign kingdoms, whose kings were loyal to him as the Cakkavatti (Universal Ruler), not the Kingdom of Toungoo.

Indeed, Ava and Siam revolted just over two years after his death.

By 1599, all the vassal states had revolted, and the Toungoo Empire completely collapsed.

Bayinnaung is considered one of the three greatest kings of Burma, along with Anawrahta (1014 – 1077)(ruled 1044 – 1077) and Alaungpaya (see below).

Some of the most prominent places in modern Myanmar are named after him.

He is also well known in Thailand as Phra Chao Chana Sip Thit – “Victor of the Ten Directions“.




Anawrahta Minsaw was the founder of the Pagan Empire.

Considered the father of the Burmese nation, Anawrahta turned a small principality in the dry zone of Upper Burma into the first Burmese Empire that formed the basis of modern-day Myanmar.



Historically verifiable Burmese history begins with his accession to the Pagan throne in 1044.

Anawrahta unified the entire Irrawaddy valley for the first time in history, and placed peripheral regions such as the Shan States and Arakan (Rakhine) under Pagan’s suzerainty.

He successfully stopped the advance of the Khmer Empire along the Tenasserim coastline and into Upper Menam valley, making Pagan one of two main kingdoms in mainland Southeast Asia.


Anawrahta at National museum.JPG


A strict disciplinarian, Anawrahta implemented a series of key social, religious and economic reforms that would have a lasting impact in Burmese history.

His social and religious reforms later developed into the modern-day Burmese culture.

By building a series of weirs, he turned parched, arid regions around Pagan into the main rice granaries of Upper Burma, giving Upper Burma an enduring economic base from which to dominate the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery in the following centuries.

He bequeathed a strong administrative system that all later Pagan kings followed until the dynasty’s fall in 1287.

The success and longevity of Pagan’s dominance over the Irrawaddy valley laid the foundation for the ascent of Burmese language and culture, the spread of Burman ethnicity in Upper Burma.



Anawrahta’s legacy went far beyond the borders of modern Burma.

His embrace of Theravada Buddhism and his success in stopping the advance of Khmer Empire, a Hindu state, provided the Buddhist school, which had been in retreat elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia, a much needed reprieve and a safe shelter.

He helped restart Theravada Buddhism in Ceylon, the Buddhist school’s original home.

The success of Pagan dynasty made Theravada Buddhism’s later growth in Lan Na (northern Thailand), Siam (central Thailand), Lan Xang (Laos), and Khmer Empire (Cambodia) in the 13th and 14th centuries possible.



Anawrahta is one of the most famous kings in Burmese history.

His life stories (legends) are a staple of Burmese folklore and retold in popular literature and theatre.



Tabinshwehti was king of the Toungoo Dynasty of Myanmar from 1530 to 1550, and the founder of the Toungoo Empire.



His military campaigns (1534–49) created the largest kingdom in Burma since the fall of Pagan Empire in 1287.

His administratively fragile kingdom proved to be the impetus for the eventual reunification of the entire country by his successor and brother-in-law Bayinnaung.

Based out of their small landlocked principality in the Sittaung valley, Tabinshwehti and his deputy Bayinnaung began their military campaigns in 1534 against the Hanthawaddy Kingdom, and had conquered the wealthier but disunited kingdom by 1541.

He then leveraged the coastal kingdom’s wealth, manpower and access to Portuguese mercenaries and firearms, and extended his rule to the ancient capital of Pagan (Bagan) in 1544.

However, his attempts to build an East-West empire fell short in Arakan (1545–47) and in Siam (1547–49).

He actively courted the support of ethnic Mons of Lower Burma, many of whom were appointed to the highest positions in his government and armed forces.

His chief Queen was a Mon.

He moved the capital to Pegu (Bago).


Bago-Rundblick von Mahazedi Paya (4).JPG


The King was assassinated on his 34th birthday on the orders of Smim Sawhtut, one of his close advisers.

The kingdom he had built up fell apart right after his death, which Bayinnaung had to restore in the next two years.

His premature death has been called “one of the great turning points of Southeast Asia’s history“.

He is one of the most celebrated kings in Burmese history.


Tabinshwehti Nat.jpg


Briefly stripped of its privileges, Ava returned to preeminence in 1599, becoming capital of a reformed Taungoo empire until 1613, and again from 1635 to 1752, when it was sacked by forces of the Hanthawaddy Kingdom, with a little help from the French.



A new dynasty, the Konbaung, emerged soon afterwards at nearby Shwebo under the formidable King Alaungpaya (1714 – 1760)(ruled 1752 – 1760).

Alaungpaya was the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty of Myanmar.

By the time of his death from illness during his campaign in Siam, this former chief of a small village in Upper Burma had unified Burma, subdued Manipur, conquered Lan Na and driven out the French and the British who had given help to the Mon Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom.

He also founded Yangon in 1755.

He is considered as one of the three greatest monarchs of Burma alongside Anawrahta and Bayinnaung for unifying Burma for the third time in Burmese history.




The Konbaung capital was moved briefly to Sagaing in 1760 – 1763, only to be moved back to the old imperial capital of Ava – only for it to be devastated by an earthquake in 1838, whereupon the capital was shifted back to Amarapura.

This capital lasted less than 20 years and in 1857 King Mindon Min (1808 – 1878)(ruled 1853 – 1878) established the new city of Mandalay, Burma’s final royal capital.


Mindon Min was the penultimate (next-to-last) king of Myanmar from 1853 to 1878.

He is one of the most popular and revered kings of Burma.

Under his half brother King Pagan, the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 ended with the annexation of Lower Burma by the British Empire.

Mindon and his younger brother Kanaung overthrew their half brother King Pagan.

He spent most of his reign trying to defend the upper part of his country from British encroachments, and to modernize his kingdom.


King Mindon.jpg


Amarapura is a former capital of Myanmar and now a township of Mandalay.

Amarapura is bounded by the Irrawaddy River in the west, Chanmyathazi Township in the north and the ancient capital site of Ava (Inwa) in the south.




Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar twice during the Konbaung period before finally being supplanted by Mandalay 11 km north in 1859.

It is historically referred to as Taungmyo (Southern City) in relation to Mandalay.

Amarapura today is part of Mandalay, a result of urban sprawl.

The township is known today for its traditional silk and cotton weaving and bronze casting.

It is a popular tourist day-trip destination from Mandalay.



Amarapura was founded by King Bodawpaya of the Konbaung Dynasty.

He founded Amarapura as his new capital in May 1783.

The new capital became a center of Buddhist reforms and learning.



Was it Bodawpaya who named Amarapura, the City of Immortality?

Did he believe that the City would last forever?


I wonder, as Heidi walked the streets of immortal Amarapura, was she quietly mourning the loss of her grandfather and thinking about mortality?

It was Heidi‘s first real experience in memory of a person she had known dying.


Image result for chur friedhof bilder


Opa had always wanted to travel, but he had been a good man, a responsible man.

An eye doctor until he retired, Opa remained in good health until an accident required hip surgery.

Surgery is never something to casually do, but at 94 the risks are greater.

Surgery was successful, but on the third night after the procedure Opa had a heart attack.

A week later Opa passed away.



Heidi remembers that Opa had always wanted to see elephants live, outside a zoo, and he was very encouraging when she said that after her visit to Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India, she planned to visit Thailand with its world-famous elephant sanctuary.

Opa would have loved Myanmar and the myriad of elephants Heidi photographed there.

Opa would especially have loved the elephant cow and calf Mandalay photo, and though Opa was a human bull he was in many ways much like an elephant cow:

Very supportive.



It is said that we can choose our friends but we can’t choose our families.

Families are not always easy.

Opa may not have been a very emotionally expressive man, but the bond between Heidi and Opa was pure and strong and he was a rock of sanity and safety at times of familial difficulty.


Rock of Gibraltar northwest.jpg


In the weeks that Heidi toured Myanmar it never rained, but sometimes she wished that it had.

Some of us do our crying in the rain.


Everly Brothers Crying in the Rain.jpg


Bodawpaya (1745 – 1819) was the 6th king of the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma.

Born Maung Shwe Waing and later Badon Min, he was the 4th son of Alaungpaya, founder of the Dynasty and the Third Burmese Empire.

He was proclaimed King after deposing his nephew Phaungkaza Maung Maung, son of his oldest brother Naungdawgyi, at Ava.

Bodawpaya moved the royal capital back to Amarapura in 1782.

He was titled Hsinbyumyashin (Lord of the White Elephants), although he became known to posterity as Bodawpaya in relation to his successor, his grandson Bagyidaw (Royal Elder Uncle), who in turn was given this name in relation to his nephew Mindon Min.

Bodawpaya fathered 62 sons and 58 daughters by about 200 consorts.


Statute of king Bodawpaya.jpg


Heidi doubted Bodawpaya was such a great parent, but she did think “Lord of the White Elephants” was a great title that obliquely fit Opa.



In 1800, Buddhist clergy from Sri Lanka obtained higher ordination in this city and founded the Amarapura Nikaya (Amarapura sect).


Above: Buddhist divisions in Asia


In 1810, Amarapura was estimated to contain 170,000 inhabitants, the year it was destroyed by fire.

Bodawpaya’s grandson, King Bagyidaw moved the court back to Ava in November 1821,

In 1827 the population of Amarapura was estimated at only 30,000.


Bagyidaw (1784 – 1846) was the 7th king of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma from 1819 until his abdication in 1837.

Prince of Sagaing, as he was commonly known in his day, was selected as Crown Prince by his grandfather King Bodawpaya in 1808 and became King in 1819 after Bodawpaya’s death.

Bagyidaw moved the capital from Amarapura back to Ava in 1823.

Bagyidaw’s reign saw the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826), which marked the beginning of the decline of the Konbaung dynasty.

Bagyidaw inherited the largest Burmese empire, second only to King Bayinnaung’s, but also one that shared ill-defined borders with British India.

In the years leading to the war, the King had been forced to suppress British supported rebellions in his grandfather’s western acquisitions (Arakan, Manipur and Assam), but unable to stem cross border raids from British territories and protectorates.

His ill-advised decision to allow the Burmese army to pursue the rebels along the vaguely defined borders led to the war.

The longest and most expensive war in British Indian history ended decisively in British favour and the Burmese had to accept British terms without discussion.

Bagyidaw was forced to cede all of his grandfather’s western acquisitions and Tenasserim to the British and pay a large indemnity of one million pounds sterling, leaving the country crippled for years.

Devastated, Bagyidaw held out hope for some years that Tenasserim would be returned to him and paid the balance of indemnity in 1832 at great sacrifice.

The British redrew the border with Manipur in 1830, but, by 1833, it was clear the British would not return any of the former territories.

The King became a recluse and power devolved to his Queen Nanmadaw Me Nu and her brother.

Bagyidaw’s brother Crown Prince Tharrawaddy raised a rebellion in February 1837 and Bagyidaw was forced to abdicate the throne in April 1837.

King Tharrawaddy executed Queen Me Nu and her brother. but placed his brother under house arrest.

Bagyidaw died on 15 October 1846 at age 62.


Above: King Bagyidaw’s Tomb, Amarapura


Who says the Burmese are vastly different from the Swiss or Canadians?

Challenging families are universal.


Bagyidaw’s successor King Tharrawaddy Min again moved the royal capital back to Amarapura in February 1842.

Tharrawaddy Min (1787 – 1846) was the 8th king of the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma.

He repudiated the Treaty of Yandabo (it ended the First Anglo-Burmese War) and almost went to war with the British.

Tharrawaddy was born Maung Khin to Crown Prince Thado Minsaw (son of King Bodawpaya) and Princess Min Kye on 14 March 1787.

When his elder brother Bagyidaw ascended the throne in 1819, Tharrawaddy was appointed Heir Apparent.

As Crown Prince, he had fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War.

In February 1837, he raised the standard of rebellion after escaping to Shwebo, the ancestral place of the Konbaung kings.

Tharrawaddy succeeded in overthrowing Bagyidaw in April and was crowned King.

Princess Min Myat Shwe, a granddaughter of Hsinbyushin, whom he married in 1809, was crowned as his chief queen (Nanmadaw Mibaya Hkaungyi).


Above: King Tharrawaddy’s Tomb, Amarapura


In 1841 King Tharrawaddy donated a 42-ton bell called the Maha Tissada Gandha Bell and 20 kilograms (44 lb) of goldplating to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.



Tharrawaddy’s reign was rife with rumours of preparations for another war with the British.

It was, however, not until 1852, after Tharrawaddy was succeeded by his son Pagan Min, that the Second Anglo-Burmese War broke out.


In February 1857, King Mindon Min began building Mandalay as his new capital city, 11 km north of Amarapura.

With the royal treasury depleted by the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, Mindon Min decided to reuse as much material from Amarapura as possible in the construction of Mandalay.

The palace buildings were dismantled and moved by elephant to the new location, and the city walls were pulled down for use as building material for roads and railways.

Part of the moat is still recognizable near the Bagaya Monastery.



Amarapura officially ceased being the capital on 23 May 1859 when Mandalay took over that role.


The construction of Mandalay using the deconstruction / destruction of Amarapura somehow seemed symbolic to Heidi, for is this not how humanity builds itself a future on the remnants of the past?



The ruins of the Amarapura city wall show it to have been a square with a side of about three-quarters of a mile in length.

At each corner stood a solid brick pagoda about 100 ft. high.

The most remarkable edifice was a celebrated temple, adorned with 250 lofty pillars of gilt wood and containing a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha.


Above: Amarapura Royal Palace interior


The Buddha never wanted to be worshipped, never desired to create a religion with himself as the primary icon, but this is how he is remembered and immortalized.


standing Buddha statue with draped garmet and halo


Heidi wondered how would Opa have liked to be remembered.

Would Opa be thought of as she thought of him?

How would she herself be remembered?



Two kilometres north of Taungthaman Lake, the Bagaya Kyaung is a modern government-built reconstruction (1996) of a monastery (and a museum) built here during Amarapura’s first stint as a royal capital 200 years ago.

Based on a still-standing predecessor in Inwa, the first version of the Bagaya Kyaung dates from when King Bodawpaya built it after moving the capital to Amarapura, but it was destroyed by fire in 1821.


Inwa -- Bagaya Monastery, front.JPG


A second version, built in 1847, was again burned down in 1866, leaving only eight brick stairways.

These were gradually overgrown until the Myatheindan sayadaw (master teacher) built a two-storey brick building in 1951, in which he deposited 500 Buddha images and 5,000 sets of pe-sa (palm leaf manuscripts) from across Myanmar.

The project to rebuild Bagaya Kyaung was based on ground plans and drawings found at the Kyauktawgyi Paya.

The pretty wooden exterior features a couple of steeply tapering towers.

(Ask the caretaker to open the Museum as it is usually kept locked.)

Bagaya Kyaung is located just off the Mandalay Road, 1km northeast of Pahtodawgyi.



Coming south from Mandalay, Pahtodawgyi – a giant white, bell-shaped stupa rising from the flatlands – is the first hint that you are almost at Amarapura.

Completed in 1820 at the beginning of King Bagyidaw‘s reign, this well-preserved paya, near Taungthaman Lake, almost 2km north of U Bein Bridge, stood outside the old city walls.

The lower terraces have marble slabs illustrating scenes from the Jataka (stories of the Buddha’s past lives).

An inscription stone within the temple precinct details the history of the monument’s construction.

Male visitors can get a great view of the surrounding countryside by walking up to the stupa’s upper level.


Image result for pahtodawgyi pagoda amarapura


I write “males” as sadly, women, such as Heidi is, are not allowed.

(The #MeToo movement seems quite distant from Myanmar’s current realities.)


Image result for #metoo movement images


Today Amarapura is best-known by Mandalay’s many daytrippers for its 1849-completed, 1.2km-long, curved pedestrian bridge of 1,086 teak wood (and some concrete) posts.

The U Bein Bridge is a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura.

The 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi) bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest teakwood bridge in the world.

Construction began when the capital of Ava Kingdom moved to Amarapura.

The construction was started in 1849 and finished in 1851.

Myanmar construction engineers used traditional methods of scaling and measuring to build the bridge.

According to historic books about U Bein Bridge, Myanmar engineers made scale by counting the footsteps.


U Pein Bridge by AIT (Mandalay) Students (2012).jpg


The Bridge was built in curved shape in the middle to resist the assault of wind and water.

The main teak posts were hammered into the lake bed seven feet deep.

The other ends of the posts were shaped conically to make sure that rain water would fall down easily.

The joints of the bridge are intertwined.

Originally, there were 984 teak posts supporting the bridge and two approach brick bridges.

Later the two approach brick bridges were replaced by wooden approach bridge.

There are four wooden pavilions at the same interval along the bridge.

By adding posts of two approach bridges and four pavilions, the number of posts amounts to 1,089.

There are nine passageways in the bridge, where the floors can be lifted to let boats and barges pass.

There 482 spans and the length of the bridge is 1,209 metres.



The Bridge is used as an important passageway for the local people and has also become a tourist attraction and therefore a significant source of income for souvenir sellers.

It is particularly busy during July and August when the lake is at its highest.

The bridge was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa.

Though the bridge largely remains intact, there are fears that an increasing number of the pillars are becoming dangerously decayed.

Some have become entirely detached from their bases and only remain in place because of the lateral bars holding them together.

Damage to these supports have been caused by flooding as well as a fish breeding program introduced into the lake which has caused the water to become stagnant.

The Ministry of Culture’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library plans to carry out repairs when plans for the work are finalised.

From 1 April 2009, eight police force personnel have been deployed to guard the bridge.

Their presence is aimed at reducing anti-social behaviour and preventing criminal activities, with the first arrest coming in September 2013 when two men were reported for harassing tourists.



The U Bein Bridge (commissioned by Mayor U Bein) has a setting that is one of Myanmar’s most photogenic sights upon gorgeous Taungthaman Lake (named after an ogre who came to the former capital in search of the Buddha) ringed with an impressive series of stupas.

Still strong after 200 years, the world’s longest teak span sees a lot of life:

Fishermen casting their lines upon the water.

Locals walking their bicycles home to Taungthaman Village across the Lake.

Monks in saffron robes carrying alms bowls between the monasteries on both sides.



The best times to visit the Bridge are just after sunrise or just before sunset when hundreds of villagers (and probably the world’s longest unbroken line of tourists) commute back and forth across it.

It is quite a spectacle to behold when the colours of everyone’s shirts burst into splendour in the sun’s first / last rays.

A popular sunset activity is hiring paddle boats (around 10,000 kyat for 45 minutes) to get close-up looks of the Bridge from the water.

If the Traveller ever wonders why the Bridge was built so high above the Lake, then the visitor is clearly visiting Myanmar in the dry season as the water level is substantially higher when the water sometimes rises above the walkway.

Most visitors like to walk the length of the span, but not everyone wishes to walk it twice, so they often hire a driver to meet them at one end of the Bridge.

There are five shaded rest areas on the Bridge, including (at times) a couple of places to sample fresh palm toddy.

During the dry season, a cement stairway halfway across leads down to a small island with a single teashop unmarked by any signage.

Near the start of the Bridge (Amarapura side) are a few food stalls where one can feast on noodles, imbibe tea or beer, and enjoy the view.



Just west of the food stalls is the huge, nationally renowned Maha Ganayon Kyaung, home to several thousand young monks.

Mahāgandhāyon Monastery is the country’s most prominent monastic college.

The monastery, known for its strict adherence to the Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic code.

The monastery was first established by Agatithuka Sayadaw, a Thudhamma-affiliated monk around 1908, as a meditation monastery for forest-dwelling monks.


Mahagandhayon Monastery, Amarapura, Mandalay, Myanmar - 20141207-09.JPG


(Thudhamma Nikaya is the largest monastic order of monks in Burma, with 85-90% of Burmese monks (250,000) belonging to this order.

It is one of nine legally sanctioned monastic orders (nikaya) in the country, under the 1990 Law Concerning Sangha Organizations.)



The monastery gained further prominence under the leadership of Ashin Janakābhivaṃsa, who began living there in 1914.


During the 1970s, Ne Win, the country’s leader, sought advice from Shwegyin monks at the monastery.

Ne Win (1910 – 2002) was a Burmese politician and military commander who served as Prime Minister of Burma (1958 – 1960 / 1962 – 1974), as  President of Burma (1962 – 1981) and Burma’s socialist dictator (1962 – 1988).

Ne Win founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and overthrew the democratic Union Parliament of U Nu in the 1962 Burmese coup d’état, establishing Burma as a totalitarian, one-party socialist state under the Burmese Way to Socialism ideology.

Ne Win was Burma’s de facto leader as chairman of the BSPP, serving in various official titles as part of his military government, and was known by his supporters as U Ne Win.

His rule was characterized by isolationism, political violence, sinophobia (fear of China), economic collapse, and is credited with turning Burma into one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

Ne Win resigned in July 1988 in response to the 8888 (8/8/1988) Uprising that overthrew the BSPP and was replaced by the military junta of the State Law and Order Restoration Council.

He held minor influence in the 1990s until being placed under house arrest and died in 2002.


President Ne Win Portrait.JPG


If you visit Mahaganayon at around 10 am to 11:30 am, you, along with swarms of tour groups, can watch the whole monastery eating silently – a lot like feeding time at a human zoo.


Image result for mahagandayon monastery amarapura images



Please don’t thrust your camera into the monks’ faces as too many visitors rudely do this.


At other times the monastery is an enjoyable place for aimless wandering, with a tree-shaded and wonderfully peaceful sprawl of monastic halls, although surprisingly few religious buildings or Buddhist iconography on display, lending the place the atmosphere, a look and feel, of a rather idyllic university campus.


Image result for mahagandayon monastery amarapura images



North of the Maha Gandayon Kyaung, the Kyaw Aung Sandar Pagoda sees few foreign visitors, but it is well worth a look for its seriously wacky array of statues.

These include a pair of absolutely gargantuan Buddhas, one sitting and one reclining, a golden hall full of seated and standing Buddhas, with assorted animals outside, and a large green circular shrine guarded by a pair of giant owls.


If you cross U Bein Bridge….

And you should, considering the views to be had of Padtodawgyi Stupa and the Lake….

You will come to Taungthaman Village and Kyauktawgyi Paya (about 2,000m – a short walk – from the Bridge).

Constructed in 1847 by King Pagan Min, this paya is said to have been modelled on the larger Ananda Pahto at Bagan, but Kyauktawgyi’s five-tiered roof gives it more the look of a Tibetan or Nepali temple.


001 Pagoda (8946290829).jpg


Pagan Min (1811 – 1880) was the 9th king of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma.

Born Maung Biddhu Khyit, he was granted the title of Prince of Pagan by his father Tharrawaddy in August 1842.

Pagan Min became king when Tharrawaddy died on 17 November 1846, with the formal title of His Majesty “Sri Pawara Vijaya Nanda Jatha Maha Dharma Rajadhiraja Pagan Min Taya-gyi“.

He married 18 times.

Pagan Min won the power struggle to succeed his father by having his rival brothers killed.

His chief ministers Maung Baing Zat and Maung Bhein enriched themselves by executing rich subjects.


Image result for king pagan min images

Above: King Pagan Min’s Tomb, Mandalay


The Second Anglo-Burmese War broke out during the reign of Pagan Min.

In 1851 the governor of Pegu, Maung Ok, charged the captains of two British merchant ships with murder, embezzlement, and evasion of custom duties.

He fined them 500 rupees and required their debts be paid before being authorized to return to Kolkata.

After receiving their complaints, James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, Lord Dalhousie (1812 – 1860), the Governor General of British India, sent Commodore George Lambert to the king requesting a compensation of £920 and the dismissal of Maung Ok.

(Previously to his appointment as Governor General of British India, Dalhousie was Governor-General of Canada from 1770 to 1838.)




Pagan complied by replacing Maung Ok.

But on 6 January 1852, when the new governor declined to meet with a British delegation because Lambert had seized the Burmese Royal ship, all British subjects were evacuated and the coast of Rangoon was blockaded.

Within days, British warships were bombarding Yangon.

On 7 February, Pagan wrote Dalhousie to protest against the acts of aggression.

On 13 February, Dalhousie sent an ultimatum to the King, demanding an equivalent of £100,000 as compensation for “having had to prepare for war” to be paid by 1 April.

The ultimatum expired with no reply, and a few days later, British troops invaded the Burmese territory.

Britain annexed the province of Pegu in December.


Flag of British Burma (1939–1941, 1945–1948).svg


Pagan Min’s half brother Mindon Min opposed the war.

He fled with his brother Kanaung to Shwebo and raised the standard of rebellion.

After a few weeks of fighting, Pagan’s chief minister Magwe Mingyi went over to Mindon’s side and Pagan Min abdicated on 18 February 1853, in favour of Mindon.

Mindon allowed Pagan to live and released all the European prisoners.

Mindon sued for peace with the British, but refused to sign a treaty ceding Burmese territory.


Location of Myanmar


While Kyauktawgyi doesn’t have the perfectly vaulted roofs or finer decorations of Ananda, it does have an excellent seated Buddha image and well-preserved frescoes.

Check out the entry ceiling murals to see some suspiciously English-looking figures in bamboo hats, looking a bit bossy despite their smiles.

The atmosphere around Kyauktawgyi is very serene and shady.

This is a good alternative place to hang around at sunset.

There are a couple of traditional outdoor teashops, serving tea and snacks.

You can catch boats back across the Lake to Amarapura for about K1,500.

There are several smaller overgrown stupas to be seen in the vicinity, including a unque honeycomb-shaped stupa covered with Buddha niches.

Lay people often come here to practice meditation.


Image result for kyauk taw gyi pagoda images


Just off the Yangon – Mandalay Expressway, 6km by road from Amarapura en route to Inwa, the kitsch Werawsana Jade Pagoda, completed in late 2015, was the brainchild of gem dealer U Soe Naing, who spent 25 years amassing over a thousand tonnes of the precious stone in order to build the world’s only Buddhist temple constructed entirely out of jade.

The sickly-green structure is perhaps stronger on novelty value than aesthetic merit, by day at least.

When illuminated after dark, Werawsana is weirdly impressive with its 22m high stupa – decorated with around 30,000 miniature jade Buddhas plus Jakata carvings – glowing luminously beneath the lights.


Image result for werawsana jade pagoda images


Most of the tour taxis and motorbikes stop at the village of Paleik, 18km south of Mandalay, famous for one thing and one thing only: the “snake temple” of Hmwe Paya.

It is an unassuming little place that has earned its fame thanks to a clutch of resident pythons whom have made the temple their home since 1974 despite efforts from the monks to keep them out.

Eventually the monks decided that the pythons must be holy and allowed them to settle at Hmwe Paya permanently.

There are usually two or three pythons in residence at any one time, coiled in corners or wrapped around pillars.

Most people visit at 11 am, when the snakes are washed in a bath filled with petals and then fed a mixture of milk and raw egg.

A cluster of several hundred stupas, some of them ruined and covered in picturesque layers of vegetation, stands a few minutes’ walk south of the temple.


Image result for hmwe paya images


Southwest of Mandalay, a few kilometres from the international airport, Pinya is the oldest and most obscure of the region’s former royal capitals.

Pinya was founded in 1313 by King Thihathu.

Little remains, save a brooding trio of almost windowless Pagan-style temples, built of red brick and still preserving traces of old murals and glazed tiles decorated with Jataka scenes.


Cut off from roads by rivers and canals, the sleepy rural village that was once the ancient city of Inwa (the City of Gems / the Mouth of the Lake) served as capital of the Burmese kingdom for nearly 400 years, longer than any other city.



It is touristy.


The only way around the scattered sites is via horse cart, but this mode of transport offers a more revealing glimpsed into thatched hut village life than the other ancient cities.

The carts make a clockwise loop through the old gate and past a handful of sites.


Image result for inwa horse and cart


Heidi found there was no other way offered to take a tour of Inwa, but she hated how the beautiful horses were forced to be working animals, beasts of burden, much like most of Myanmar’s elephants.


One can eat in Inwa, but tourists generally don’t stay.


It is almost impossible to imagine today that Inwa once was the headquarters of a mighty empire as you ramble between fields along the dusty lanes.


Within Inwa a stone marks the site of Let Ma Yuan (“no pulling punches“) Prison where American missionary Adoniram Judson was incarcerated during the First Anglo-Burmese War.



(For the story of Judson, please see Swiss Miss and the Land of the One-eyed.)


The massive old city walls can easily be traced around Inwa.

The best preserved are near the northern Gaung Say Daga (Hair Washing Gate), facing the Ayeyarwady.


Image result for gaung say daga inwa


Beside the road, villagers till the soil where the royal palace once stood.

Others fish and bathe in inland ponds near ruined stupas.


Inwa – known as Ava to the outside world until relatively recently – is reached by ferry, from the Mandalay side of the Ava Bridge, a few kilometres southwest of Amarapura.


On the south side, the Myittha Canal connects the Myitnge and Ayeyarwady Rivers, making Inwa an “island” – a good place to base a kingdom.


Related image


One of Inwa’s finest attractions is the happily unrenovated Bagaya Kyaung monastery, built of teak and supported by 267 teak posts (the largest measuring 18 metres in height and 2.7 metres in circumference).

The cold dark interior is ancient and compelling.

It is still a functioning place of worship, residence and study, as proved by the globes placed in the lecture hall to help young monks with their geography skills.

The main hall is decorated in an elaborate profusion of carved peacocks, lotuses and other motifs.

The small adjacent lecture hall is even more striking, set on a high stilted wooden platform and topped with a soaring seven-tiered roof.


Bagaya Monastery (Bagaya Kyaung) in Amarapura, Myanmar (Burma)


Outside stands the Keinayi peacock – half bird, half woman – and a small sign in Burmese at the entrance warns:

No footwear.

If you are afraid of the heat on the floor, stay in your own house.


Image result for Keinayi peacock images


The 27-metre high masonry watchtower Nanmyin is all that remains of the palace built by King Bagyidaw.

The upper portion was shattered by the 1838 earthquake and the rest has taken on a precarious tilt – making Nanmyin known as “the Leaning Tower of Inwa“.

Safety measures mean you can no longer climb the Tower yourself.


Image result for nan myint tower inwa


The first sight you will reach approaching from the ferry is the imposing Maha Aungmye Bonzan monastery (also known as the Ok Kyaung or the Me Nu Ok Kyaung), a brick and stucco place of worship commissioned by Meh Nu, the chief Queen of King Bagyidaw, for her royal abbott U Bok in 1822.

The monastery is unusual in being built of brick.

Monasteries were generally built of wood and were prone to deterioration by the elements or destruction by fire.

This monastery’s masonry ensured its longevity.

The interior is largely bare and somewhat dilapidated, with a split-level wooden floor hall and musty cool cellar below, whose thick pillars provide useful cover for love-struck local couples.

The 1838 earthquake badly damaged it, but it was restored in 1872 by one of King Mindon’s queens.


Image result for Maha Aungmye Bonzan monastery images


Nearby, the Htilaingshin Paya dates back to the Pagan period.

In a shed in the compound an inscription records the construction of the wooden palace during the first Inwa dynasty.


Image result for Htilaingshin Paya images


Visible from the tower and from the ferry, the British-engineered, 16-span Ava Bridge (aka Inwa Bridge or Sagaing Bridge) dates to 1934.

It was the only structure that crossed the Ayeyarwady River until 1998, when a new Chinese-engineered bridge was completed at Pyay in 2005.

In 1945 the British demolished two spans of the Bridge to deny passage to the advancing Japanese.

It wasn’t until 1954 when the Bridge was repaired and put back into operation.

It carries two lanes of traffic and a railway line.

Photography of and from the Bridge is forbidden.



The low-key city of Sagaing, just 25km south of Mandalay, on the opposite side of the Ayeyarwady River, as with nearby Inwa and Amarapura, formerly served as Burma’s royal capital, though Sagaing’s stint was by far the shortest of the three, lasting just four years.

Sagaing was also the centre of a Shan kingdom during the 14th century and is now the capital of Sagaing Region, which stretches way up north, almost to Tibet.

Home to 500 stupas, a multitude of monasteries, and some 6,000 monks and nuns, lovely Sagaing is where Buddhists in Burma go when they are stressed.


The Yadanabon Bridge on the Irrawaddy


(Unlike the Swiss who simply go to a bar.)


Set on the riverbank across the Ayeyarwady, Sagaing’s peaceful pace – led by a lot of local meditation – is welcome to visitors as well.



The main reason to come here is Sagaing Hill, a modest incline bristling with so many Buddhist spires that it resembles some sort of Burmese porcupine, while numerous – to the naked eye, innumerable – further pagodas and stupas dot the landscape.

The view from either of the bridges into Sagaing (the first built by the British in 1934, the second completed by the Chinese in 2005) is among the most magical in Myanmar, with rolling lines of tree-shrouded hills decked in an extraordinary profusion of snow white, gold-nippled stupas with the boat-strewn Ayeyarwady River sliding lazily between.

Around 250 metres high, splendid Sagaing Hill pokes a multi-spired head out just north of the city centre.

The views are fantastic, though for some the walk up the hill (a 25-minute ascent) is the best part of the experience.



Tilawkaguru, near the southwest base of the hill, is an impressive mural-filled cave temple that dates from 1672.


Image result for tilawkaguru cave monastery


Though much was damaged by fire 80 years ago and frisky bats hang out in some chambers, a walk-through can be superb.

Monks from the outside monastery may turn on the electricity, but it is best seen by candlelight, where colourful murals slowly reveal themselves in the dark hallways.


Image result for tilawkaguru cave monastery


Other sites around the Hill include:

  • Padamya Zedi, which dates from 1300
  • Umin Thounzeh (30 Caves)

This covered pathway starts from One Lion Gate (boasting a solitary beast rather than the customary duo) and gets steeper as you climb.


If you can make it to the top without pausing for a breather you are officially in decent shape.

Heidi is.

I am not.


Trees overhang stone steps that lead past stupas, monasteries and nunneries to a glorious apex.


The Sone Oo Pone Nya Shin Pagoda crowns the summit of the hill with a 30-metre stupa seductively decorated with colourful tiling and rich turquoise and green tessellated glass.

A pair of large seated Buddhas sit in shrines inside.

Note the quirky donation boxes next to the Buddhas, including two in the form of a frog, plus another of a carrot-munching rabbit.

The views from the Pagoda of the River are quite superb from here and on a clear day one can see Mandalay’s grey sprawl to the north.


Image result for sone oo pone nya shin pagoda


There are several other religious structures upon Sagaing Hill, the most interesting of which is Umin Thounzeh, a curved chamber containing 43 seated and two standing Buddha images, a 20-minute walk from Sone Oo Pone Nya Shin.


Image result for umin thonze pagoda


Some way to the northwest of Sagaing, but easily visible from a distance, Kaunghmudaw Paya is the town’s most interesting religious monument.

Looking somewhat like a whitewashed, 50-metre tall, woman’s breast, Kaunghmudaw was completed in 1648.

It is decidedly non-Burmese by design as Kaunghmudaw is based on the Ruvanvalisaya stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

Like Anuradhapura, Kaunghmuda is said to house a number of relics of the Buddha, including a tooth and several strands of hair.


Image result for kaunghmudaw paya


Trials in Burma is a memoir by Maurice Collis, an Irish author who served in Burma in the Indian Civil Service under the British Empire written in 1937 describing events in 1929-30.

After postings at Arakan, Sagaing and elsewhere, Collis was district magistrate in Rangoon in 1929-1930, a period when relations between Burmese, Indians and British became particularly difficult.

In Trials in Burma he gives special attention to the political trial of J. M. Sen Gupta, mayor of Calcutta, for sedition in impromptu speeches made during a brief visit to Rangoon in 1930 and also to two criminal trials which became politically charged because they brought to light underlying attitudes of British merchants and army officers to Burmese people (the same attitudes that were soon to be exposed in a fictional context in George Orwell’s Burmese Days).

Collis’s judgments were (according to his own analysis) too independent to be pleasing to the then British Government of Burma, arousing the particular disapproval of his superior, Booth Gravely, Commissioner of the Pegu Division.

After giving judgment in the last of these trials Collis was hastily moved to the post of Excise Commissioner.

Trials in Burma was reviewed by Orwell in The Listener, published 9 March 1938:

This is an unpretentious book, but it brings out with unusual clearness the dilemma that faces every official in an empire like our own.
Mr. Collis was District Magistrate of Rangoon in the troubled period round about 1930.
He had to try cases which were a great deal in the public eye and he soon discovered the practical impossibility of keeping to the letter of the law and pleasing European opinion at the same time.
Finally, for having sentenced a British Army officer to three months’ imprisonment for criminal negligence in driving a car, he was reprimanded and hurriedly transferred to another post.
For the same offence a native would have been imprisoned as a matter of course.
The truth is that every British magistrate in India is in a false position when he has to try a case in which European and native interests clash.
In theory he is administering an impartial system of justice.
In practice he is part of a huge machine which exists to protect British interests, and he has often got to choose between sacrificing his integrity and damaging his career.
Nevertheless, owing to the exceptionally high traditions of the Indian Civil Service, the law in India is administered far more fairly than might be expected — and, incidentally, far too fairly to please the business community.


A new edition of the book was published in 1945.

It contains an introduction written by the author dated 14 May 1945, and commenting on events in Burma since the book was originally published.


Image result for trials in burma


Some kilometres north of Mandalay, the village of Mingun would be virtually unknown and would go unvisited were it not for Bodawpaya, who in 1790 chose Mindun as the site of a gigantic pagoda, intending it to be the world’s largest.

All that was completed by the time of his death, 29 years later, was the bottom portion:

A colossal cube of bricks on top of a terrace.


Image result for mingun pagoda images



King Bodawpaya was one of the most powerful and longest-serving monarchs in Myanmar’s history.

Popularly known as “the Grandfather King“, on account of his 200-plus wives and concubines and 120 children, Bodawpaya’s lusty appetites did not prevent him from proclaiming himself the next Buddha-in-waiting or from taking a keen interest in religious matters, as well as setting up an observation post on an island near Mindun to personally supervise a grand project.



Heidi found herself thinking she was glad that Opa was nothing like Bodawpaya.


What a narcisstic person to think of himself as the next Buddha!


Various legends try to explain why Bodawpaya’s supersized monument never got finished.

Perhaps construction work was taking such a heavy toll on the state that a prophecy was needed in order to halt the project.

Complete the Mingun Pagoda and Burma will fall.

Finish the stupa and the King will die.

To avoid this prediction coming true, Bodawpaya ordered a deliberate go-slow.

Work continued, but at a snail’s pace.

It was abandoned entirely as soon as the King expired, never to be resumed.


Image result for mantalagyi stupa


Often described as “the world’s largest pile of bricks“, it is hard to imagine how majestic a sight Mingun Pagoda would have been if finished.

Constructed using thousands of prisoners of war and other slave labour, Mingun Pagoda was originally intended to reach a final height of around 150 metres.

Though only 1/3 was completed, Mindun Pagoda is still an astonishing sight, made more dramatic by the jagged, lightning-bolt-like fissures created when earthquakes hit in 1819 and 2012.

A staircase on the right of the Pagoda leads up to the summit of the monument where the views over Mingun and the Ayeyarwady are worth the climb.


As well as the planet’s biggest pile of bricks, Mingun Pagoda boasts one of the world’s largest functioning bells: 5 metres wide at the base, 97 tonnes heavy.

Duck inside the bell then get someone to clang the bell with a wooden beater, which is the done thing to do here, but the bell ain’t particularly melodic nor sonorous and the layers of graffiti – Where is Banksy when he is needed? – scribbled inside the bell don’t enhance the experience.

Pray the bell doesn’t fall off its supports while you are underneath.

The time it was knocked off its perch (by the 1839 earthquake), it took 57 years before finally being rehung.


Image result for mantalagyi stupa images


Most visitors arrive by boat from Mandalay, drawn to Mindun for a mix of historical attractions, a taste of rural life and the Ayeyarwady River excursion.

Vast flocks of tourists descend on the place when the government ferries arrive in the morning, diminishing the charm of Mindun.

But visit after midday – either by road or ferry – and you will largely have the place to yourself.



On your right, just before you reach the ticket booth and enter the village, look out for the small Pondow Pagoda, a scale model of what the Mingun Pagoda was intended to look like upon completion.

Pondow gives a dramatic sense of how absurdly huge the actual stupa would have been, with even the gargantuan base of the monument (which was built) dwarfed by the large stupa (which wasn’t) sitting on top of it.


Pon Daw pagoda.jpg


Just north of the ticket booth is the Settaya Pagoda, a brilliant white cube of quasi Pagan style, with steps leading down to the River.

Inside Settaya is a representation of the Buddha’s footprint, a metre-long indentation decorated with shells on the toes and a flower on the heel.



Standing opposite the steps up to Mingun Pagoda is a pair of huge, semi-ruined chinthe – mythical creatures, part lion, part dragon symbolically guarding the gates of pagodas across Myanmar.

The Mingun chinthe were constructed on a grand scale, considering the size of the shrine they are guarding, and, despite having literally lost their heads, are still impressively huge.


North of the Mingun Pagoda is the whitewashed Hsinbyume Pagoda.

Extravagantly designed to represent Mount Sumeru – the mountain at the centre of the Buddhist cosmos – and the seas that surround it, Hsinbyume represents this reality by a central stupa and seven terraces upon which it sits.

Like Mingun Pagoda, the views at the top of Hsinbyume of the river and the countryside beyond are superlative.


Mya Thein Tan Pagoda, Min Kun.jpg


Opa was much like Mount Sumeru – a silent mountain at the centre of Heidi‘s cosmos, a rock despite seas that surrounded it.

Opa always wanted to travel.

He would have loved holding Heidi‘s hand as they crossed U Bein Bridge watching the sun set over Lake Taungthaman.

Opa would have marvelled at the spectacle of the Werawsana Jade Pagoda, wondering at the obsessiveness and expense of 25 years and over a thousand tonnes of jade to build a temple.

Opa too would be discomfited by Inwa carts of overweight tourists being transported in carts pulled by suffering horses.

Opa might have wondered as I do just how many hair follicles and teeth did the Buddha actually have and whether he had any left when he died as almost every Buddhist temple in Burma has these relics.



Despite her travelling companion’s comforting presence on their taxi tour day, Heidi‘s mind saw little of it.

Opa and the Mandalay elephant crosswalk dominated her thoughts.

Soon after Heidi would find a Mandalay tattoo parlour and request the elephant cow and calf tattoo she still wears.

Opa never saw the world’s largest pile of bricks, the leaning towers of Pisa or Inwa, Burmese stupas, teak wooden bridges or the City of Immortality.

But while Heidi lives, her elephant tattoo reminds her of Opa.

While Heidi lives Opa remains immortal.


Image result for elephant cow and calf tattoo images


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Myanmar / Rough Guide Myanmar






Peach Pal and the Shaman King

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Wednesday 7 August 2019

Bruce Springsteen said it best when he sang “everybody’s got a hungry heart“.

Everyone does.

But we are hungry not for the same things.




My own obsession is walking and if I had the money, stamina and time I would throw a rucksack on my back and would walk the world until I could walk no more.

Age and responsibility temper that impulse, but that impulse still remains nonetheless.



I have noticed, in my limited experience, that like-minded wanderlust-filled individuals such as myself who still possess some money, stamina and time often seem to congregate in three establishments:

  • They sleep in youth hostels.
  • They drink in Irish pubs.
  • They work in gastronomy.


Of the latter, Starbucks, for example, often hires on foreign soil many foreigners not native to the land upon which the store sits.


Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg


In the Starbucks stores in Switzerland where I have worked in the past four years I have seen come and go and remain: Algerians, Americans, Australians, Bosnians, Brazilians, Brits, Canadians, Croatians, Ecuadorians, Ethiopians, French, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Japanese, Mexicans, Macedonians, Moroccans, Serbs, Swedes, Turks and Ukranians, and, of course, but often the minority in their stores, native Swiss.


Flag of Switzerland


In my own regular store of Starbucks St. Gallen Marktgasse, we are one Brazilian, two Canadians, one Ecuadorian, two Germans, one Italian, one Jewess, one Swiss, and one Turk.

The Brazilian, both Canadians, the Ecuadorian, one of the Germans, the Italian, the Swiss and the Turk all have built lives and relationships here in Switzerland and it is fairly certain that they will remain here indefinitely.


Image result for starbucks st gallen marktgasse images


Our beloved Jewess is a world wanderer who seems unsettled and uncertain as to where the wind will take her.

Though she is worthy of a large number of blogposts, this is not her story here.


Star of David


Instead I want to share with you the story of our German shift manager, a young man whose destiny lies far beyond the confines of our little shop of caffeine in the centre of the quiet city of St. Gallen.

Whose greatest wish is to live permanently in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun.


Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle[2]


Our friend and colleague, Mauritz Wallenstein (age 26), is best known by his nickname “Momo“.

Momo is close to the Japanese word for peach, so, forthwith, Mauritz, within the series of posts that will sporadically follow in this blog, shall be called “Peach Pal“.


Illustration Prunus persica0.jpg


He has already spent six months living and working in Tokyo and has also done some exploring outside of the Japanese capital.

So what follows is a series of stories about the places he has visited and the experiences he has had.

I write of Momo’s adventures for the same reason I have written about both my own experiences and those of our mutual friend Swiss Miss:

To give the reader a sense of place and a feeling of wonder for this world.


Welcome to Japan.
Nihon e yōkoso.


Japanification (日本化) is the process of becoming or wishing to become a member of Japanese society.

It most commonly refers to expats living for an extended period of time in Japan, though it may also be used to describe persons living outside Japan who have a certain affinity to some aspect of Japanese culture.

Cultural assimilation could include adoption of Japanese mannerisms, style of clothing, taste in entertainment, and sometimes aspects of Japanese language.



In expats this process often occurs because of a feeling of isolation or desire to conform, whereas outside Japan it may occur because of an especially strong interest in some kind of fan culture based in Japan, e.g. anime, manga, television dramas, music or fashion.



Japanese culture has had a strong influence on American popular culture dating back to Japan’s defeat in World War II and to the early 1950s when children of the United States were first introduced to Japanese popular culture, such as Godzilla.


Gojira 1954 Japanese poster.jpg


The Japanese culture also presented itself in popular video games such as Jet Set Radio, a game that has evident references to Japanese manga and graphic novels.




This trend of Japan influencing children’s popular culture continues with well-known icons such as Astro Boy, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, and Hello Kitty.


Hello Kitty Animation Theater screenshot.jpg


Japanese media is commonly described as Kawaii, a Japanese term meaning “cute” and “comfortable” in English.



As more and more people became interested in Japanese society, the numbers of students and individuals learning the Japanese language increased.

At its height of popularity there was a 10.3% increase in Japanese language enrollments in U.S. colleges and universities between 2006 and 2009, 66,605 in 2006 to 73,434 in 2009.

However, the Japan Foundation statistics indicate that the number of people taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been steadily declining since the peak in 2009.

This temporary increase in Japanese language learners in the early years of the 21st century was unusual given Japan’s economic gloom and turmoil in the last two decades, but it could be explained by the rising popularity of manga and anime around 2009.


Manga and anime were seen by some as a leading factor in reasons why the number of Japanese language learners was increasing.

Over 50% of Japanese language learners surveyed by the Japan Foundation in 2009 cited wanting to learn how to read manga and anime as a key reason for studying Japanese.


Page from the Man'yōshū


Today, we see what many consider is a rapid decline in the global popularity of Japanese manga and anime.

To be clear, for older folks like myself, manga is comics and anime is animation.

Anime eye.svg

Some praise the 10% of high quality manga and anime for its initial popularity, and blame its recent decline in popularity on the 90% of low quality material that has been released in recent years.



Another possible reason for the decline in sales could be the increase in “scanlations“, which are described in a statement by Japan’s Digital Comic Association:

The 36 publishers in Japan’s Digital Comic Association and several American publishers are forming a coalition to combat the “rampant and growing problem” of scanlations — illicit digital copies of manga either translated by fans or scanned directly from legitimate English releases“.



Japanophilia is the appreciation and love of Japanese culture, people and history.

In Japanese, the term for Japanophile is “shinnichi” (親日), with “親” “shin” (しん) equivalent to the English prefix ‘pro-‘ and “日” “nichi” (にち), meaning “Japanese” (as in the word for Japan “Nihon” (日本)).

The term was first used as early as the 18th century, switching in scope over time.



In the early 2000s, derogatory slang terms were created to demean those who appreciated Japanese popular culture.

The term wapanese (from white Japanese, or possibly also wannabe Japanese) first emerged in 2002 as a derogatory term for a white person who is obsessed with Japanese culture, which includes anime and manga.

The term weeaboo came from a comic strip created by Nicholas Gurewitch in which the term had no meaning other than it was something unpleasant.

According to an unpublished MA thesis, 4chan quickly picked up the word and applied it in an abusive way in place of the already existing wapanese term.


4chan main page 2 january 2018.png


(4chan is an English-language imageboard website.

Users generally post anonymously, with the most recent posts appearing above the rest.

4chan is split into various boards with their own specific content and guidelines dedicated to a wide variety of topics, from anime/manga to video games, music, literature, fitness, politics, and sports.

4chan users have been responsible for the formation or popularization of Internet memes such as lolcats, Rickrolling, “Chocolate Rain“, Pedobear, and many others.

The site’s “Random” board, also known as “/b/”, was the first board to be created, and is the one that receives the most traffic.

The Random board has minimal rules on posted content.

The site’s anonymous community and culture have often provoked media attention.

4chan users have been instrumental in pranks such as hijacking Internet destinations to cause images of Rick Astley to appear in place of their content (Rickrolling), coordinating attacks against other websites and Internet users, exposing animal abuse, and posting threats of violence in order to elicit individual and public reactions.

The Guardian once summarized the 4chan community as “lunatic, juvenile, brilliant, ridiculous and alarming“.)



(I wonder if the 4chan Guardian adjectives have been used to describe Momo’s plans….)


Image may contain: 2 people, including Mauritz Wallenstein, people standing and indoor


It is debatable whether weeaboo has the same meaning as the Japanese term otaku (people with obsessive interests) as weeaboo has been used as a blanket term that implies a connection.


Kim Morrissy of Crunchyroll wrote that the meaning of the word otaku is hindered by cultural appropriation and that some westerners believe that it can only refer to a Japanese person.


Crunchyroll Logo.svg


(Crunchyroll is an American distributor, publisher, and licensing company focused on streaming anime, manga, and drama.

Founded in 2006 by a group of University of California, Berkeley graduates, Crunchyroll’s distribution channel and partnership program delivers content to over 35 million online community members worldwide.

Crunchyroll offers over 900 anime shows, more than 200 Asian dramas to users, and 50 manga titles, although not all programming is available worldwide due to licensing restrictions.

In February 2017, Crunchyroll passed one million paid subscribers.

Crunchyroll also selects some anime titles for release on Blu-ray/DVD through its distribution partners.)



Otaku (おたく/オタク) is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, particularly in anime and manga.

Its contemporary use originated with Akio Nakamori’s 1983 essay in Manga Burikko.


December 1984 issue of Manga Burikko


Otaku may be used as a pejorative.

Its negativity stems from a stereotypical view of otaku and the media’s reporting on Tsutomu Miyazaki, “The Otaku Murderer“, in 1989.


Tsutomu Miyazaki.jpg


(Tsutomu Miyazaki (宮﨑 勤 Miyazaki Tsutomu, 1962 – 2008), also known as The Otaku Murderer or The Little Girl Murderer, was a Japanese serial killer, cannibal, child rapist and necrophile who abducted and murdered four young girls in Saitama and Tokyo Prefectures from August 1988 to June 1989.

His crimes included vampirism and preservation of body parts as trophies.)


According to studies published in 2013, the term otaku has become less negative, and an increasing number of people now self-identify as otaku, both in Japan and elsewhere.

Otaku subculture is a central theme of various anime and manga works, documentaries and academic research.



The subculture began in the 1980s as changing social mentalities and the nurturing of otaku traits by Japanese schools combined with the resignation of such individuals to become social outcasts.

The subculture’s birth coincided with the anime boom, after the release of works such as Mobile Suit Gundam before it branched into the comics market.




(Mobile Suit Gundam (Japanese: 機動戦士ガンダム ) is a televised anime series, produced and animated by Sunrise.

Set in the futuristic calendar year “Universal Century” 0079, the plot focuses on the war between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation, with the latter unveiling a new giant robot known as the RX-78-2 Gundam piloted by the teenage civilian mechanic Amuro Ray.

The series is famous for revolutionizing the giant robot genre due to the handling of mobile suits as weapons of war as well as the portrayal of their pilots as ordinary soldiers, as opposed to the previous style of portraying hero pilots and their giant super hero robots.)



The economic impact of otaku has been estimated to be as high as ¥2 trillion ($18 billion).


10000 Yenes (Reverso).jpg


In a blog post on Anime News Network, Justin Sevakis gives a difference between the two, saying that there is nothing wrong with loving Japanese culture.

He points out that a person only becomes a weeaboo when they start to be obnoxious, immature, and ignorant about the culture they love.


Anime News Network logo.png


(Anime News Network (ANN) is an anime industry news website that reports on the status of anime, manga, video games, Japanese popular music and other related cultures within North America, Australia, Southeast Asia and Japan.

The website offers reviews and other editorial content, forums where readers can discuss current issues and events, and an encyclopedia that contains a large number of anime and manga with information on Japanese and English staff, theme music, plot summaries, and user ratings.

Founded in July 1998 by Justin Sevakis, the website claims to be the leading English-language source for news and information about anime and manga on the Internet.

The website has separate versions of its news content aimed towards audiences in four separate regions: the United States and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia and France, and a international version.)


Matt Jardin from the Alaska Dispatch gave an opinion on the definition saying that weeaboos blindly prefer things from Japan while looking down on anything else despite obvious merit.


Rocket News 24 did a number of interviews with Japanese citizens asking them what they thought of “weeaboos“.

A “general consensus” was that they felt that any foreign interest in Japan was a good thing and that ignorance might over time become understanding of their culture.

Image result for rocket news 24 japanese images

The itch to visit Japan, began when Momo (17) stumbled across the anime series known as the Shaman King.


Shaman King 25.png


Anime (Japanese: アニメ) is hand-drawn and computer animation originating from or associated with Japan.

The word anime is the Japanese term for animation, which means all forms of animated media.

Outside Japan, anime refers specifically to animation from Japan or as a Japanese-disseminated animation style often characterized by colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastical themes.

The culturally abstract approach to the word’s meaning may open up the possibility of anime produced in countries other than Japan.

For simplicity, many Westerners strictly view anime as a Japanese animation product.



Some scholars suggest defining anime as specifically or quintessentially Japanese may be related to a new form of Orientalism.



(In art history, literature and cultural studies, Orientalism is the imitation or depiction of aspects in the Eastern world.

These depictions are usually done by writers, designers, and artists from the West.

In particular, Orientalist painting, depicting more specifically “the Middle East“, was one of the many specialisms of 19th-century academic art, and the literature of Western countries took a similar interest in Oriental themes.


Colour illustration of the Polo brothers arriving at Bokhara


Since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978, much academic discourse has begun to use the term “Orientalism” to refer to a general patronizing Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian, and North African societies.

In Said’s analysis, the West essentializes these societies as static and undeveloped—thereby fabricating a view of Oriental culture that can be studied, depicted, and reproduced.

Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.)


Orientalism, first edition.jpg


(In my conversations with Momo, at no time have I felt that he views Western society as better than Japanese society, nor Japanese society superior to our own, merely that they are in many ways different.

What I admire about Momo is his refusal to accept the notion that the Orient is “inscrutable“.


We are all human wherever we may be and it is his willingness to discover that mutual humanity that makes me respect him.)



Anime is distributed theatrically, by way of television broadcasts, directly to home media, and over the Internet.

It is classified into numerous genres targeting diverse broad and niche audiences.


Anime is a diverse art form with distinctive production methods and techniques that have been adapted over time in response to emergent technologies.

It combines graphic art, characterization, cinematography, and other forms of imaginative and individualistic techniques.

The production of anime focuses less on the animation of movement and more on the realism of settings as well as the use of camera effects, including panning, zooming, and angle shots.

Being hand-drawn, anime is separated from reality by a crucial gap of fiction that provides an ideal path for escapism that audiences can immerse themselves into with relative ease.

Diverse art styles are used and character proportions and features can be quite varied, including characteristically large emotive or realistically sized eyes.



The anime industry consists of over 430 production studios, including major names like Studio Ghibli, Gainax, and Toei Animation.

Despite comprising only a fraction of Japan’s domestic film market, anime makes up a majority of Japanese DVD sales.

It has also seen international success after the rise of English-dubbed programming.

This rise in international popularity has resulted in non-Japanese productions using the anime art style.

Whether these works are anime-influenced animation or proper anime is a subject for debate amongst fans.

Japanese anime accounts for 60% of the world’s animated cartoon television shows, as of 2016.


A-1 Pictures Logo.svg


Anime are often classified by target demographic, including childrens’ (子供 kodomo), girls’ (少女 shōjo), boys’ (少年 shōnen) and a diverse range of genres targeting an adult audience.

Shoujo and shounen anime sometimes contain elements popular with children of both sexes in an attempt to gain crossover appeal.




Adult anime may feature a slower pace or greater plot complexity that younger audiences may typically find unappealing, as well as adult themes and situations.

A subset of adult anime works featuring pornographic elements are labeled “R18” in Japan, and are internationally known as hentai (originating from pervert (変態 hentai)).

By contrast, some anime subgenres incorporate ecchi, sexual themes or undertones without depictions of sexual intercourse, as typified in the comedic or harem genres.

Due to its popularity among adolescent and adult anime enthusiasts, the inclusion of such elements is considered a form of fan service.



(Thank you?)


Some genres explore homosexual romances, such as yaoi (male homosexuality) and yuri (female homosexuality).

While often used in a pornographic context, the terms can also be used broadly in a wider context to describe or focus on the themes or the development of the relationships themselves.



Anime‘s genre classification differs from other types of animation and does not lend itself to simple classification.

Gilles Poitras compared the labeling Gundam 0080 and its complex depiction of war as a “giant robotanime akin to simply labeling War and Peace a “war novel“.


Mobile Suit Gundam 0080 War in the Pocket DVD vol 1.jpg


Science fiction is a major anime genre and includes important historical works like Tezuka’s Astro Boy and Yokoyama’s Tetsujin 28-go.

A major subgenre of science fiction is mecha, with the Gundam metaseries being iconic.


(Astro Boy, known in Japan by its original name Mighty Atom (Japanese: 鉄腕アトム ), is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka.

The story follows the protagonist, Astro Boy, an android with human emotions who is created by Umataro Tenma after the death of his son.

Eventually, Astro is sold to a robot circus run by Hamegg, but is saved from his servitude by Professor Ochanomizu.

Astro becomes a surrogate son to Ochanomizu who creates a robotic family for Astro and helps him to live a normal life like an average human boy, whilst accompanying him on many adventures.

Astro Boy has been adapted into three anime series produced respectively by Mushi Production and Tezuka Productions, with a fourth series in development.

The manga was originally produced for TV as Astro Boy, the first popular animated Japanese television series that embodied the aesthetic that later became familiar worldwide as anime.



(This series I saw in snippets growing up in Canada.)


The series was also among the first to embrace mass merchandise including action figures, collectible figurines, food products, clothing, stamps and trading cards.

By 2004, the franchise had generated $3 billion in merchandise sales.

Astro Boy has become one of the most successful manga and anime franchises in the world.

The combined 23 tankōbon (graphic novel) volumes have sold over 100 million copies worldwide making it the 10th best-selling manga series of all time.

Astro Boy has been praised for its importance in developing the anime and manga industry.

It has been featured on numerous greatest anime of all time lists and has partially inspired other authors in the creation of influential manga.

Astro Boy was an early star of both anime and manga because of its deceptively deep and often dark stories.)


Astro Boy-08.jpg


(Tetsujin 28-gō (Japanese: 鉄人28号 , “Iron Man # 28“) is a 1956 manga written and illustrated by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who also created Giant Robo.

The series centers on the adventures of a young boy named Shotaro Kaneda, who controls a giant robot named Tetsujin 28, built by his late father.

The series is credited with featuring the first humanoid giant robot controlled externally via remote control by an operator.)


Tetsujin 28-go.jpg


The diverse fantasy genre includes works based on Asian and Western traditions and folklore.

Examples include the Japanese feudal fairytale InuYasha, and the depiction of Scandinavian goddesses who move to Japan to maintain a computer called Yggdrasil in Oh My Goddess!


(Oh My Goddess! (Japanese: ああっ女神さまっ ) is a Japanese seinen (adult young male) manga series written and illustrated by Kōsuke Fujishima.

The series follows college sophomore Keiichi Morisato and the goddess Belldandy who moves in with him in a Buddhist temple.

After Belldandy’s sisters Urd and Skuld move in with them, they encounter gods, demons and other supernatural entities as Keiichi develops his relationship with Belldandy.)


Oh My Goddess Manga cover.jpg


(Inuyasha (犬夜叉), also known as Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale (Japanese: 戦国御伽草子 犬夜叉 ), is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi.

The series begins with Kagome Higurashi, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from modern-day Tokyo who is transported to the Sengoku period of Japan after falling into a well in her family shrine, where she meets the half dog-demon, Inuyasha.

When a monster from that era tries to take the magical Shikon Jewel embodied in Kagome, she inadvertently shatters the Jewel into many pieces that are dispersed across Japan.

Inuyasha and Kagome start traveling to recover it before the powerful and evil half spider-demon Naraku finds all the shards.

Inuyasha and Kagome gain several allies during their journey, including Shippo, Miroku, Sango and Kirara.

In contrast to the typically comedic nature of much of Takahashi’s previous work, Inuyasha deals with a darker and more serious subject matter, using the setting of the Sengoku period to easily display the violent content while still retaining some comedic elements.)




Genre crossing in anime is also prevalent, such as the blend of fantasy and comedy in Dragon Half, and the incorporation of slapstick humor in the crime anime film Castle of Cagliostro.


(Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (Japanese: ルパン三世 カリオストロの城 ) is a 1979 Japanese animated action-adventure comedy film co-written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki as his feature film debut.

The Castle of Cagliostro follows gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III, who successfully robs a casino – only to find the money to be counterfeit.

He heads to the tiny country of Cagliostro, the rumoured source of the bills, and attempts to save the runaway Clarisse from the Count Cagliostro’s men.

Lupin enlists his associates, Jigen and Goemon, and sends his calling card to the Count to get Inspector Zenigata, his longtime nemesis, to the castle.

After becoming trapped in the dungeon under the castle, Lupin and Zenigata form a pact to escape and foil the Count’s counterfeit operation and save Clarisse from her forced marriage to the Count.)


Castle of Cagliostro poster.png


(Dragon Half (Japanese: ドラゴンハーフ ) is a manga created by Ryūsuke Mita and serialized in Monthly Dragon Magazine from 1988 to 1994.

It was adapted into a two episode anime series in 1993.

The story follows Mink, a half human/half dragon teenage girl on a quest for a potion which will turn her into a full human so that she can win the love of the legendary dragon slayer/crooner Dick Saucer.

In the manga, in order to get the potion, she must slay Azetodeth, the greatest demon in the land.

The story is very tongue-in-cheek, and pokes fun at a number of anime clichés, including the overuse of super deformation, across a wide range of genres,

Much of the manga contains references to role-playing games and occasionally either other manga, or anything that begins with the word dragon.)


Dragon Half manga vol 1.jpg


Other subgenres found in anime include magical girl (which features girls with magical powers or who use magic), harem, sports, martial arts, literary adaptations, medievalism (use of the medieval period as a model or inspiration for creative activity), and war.


Princess Knight-1.jpg


Japanese animation began in the early 20th century, when Japanese filmmakers experimented with the animation techniques also pioneered in France, Germany, the United States and Russia.

A claim for the earliest Japanese animation is Katsudō Shashin, an undated and private work by an unknown creator.


A film still of a black, white, and red drawing of a boy wearing a sailor suit and cap; he is grasping the cap


In 1917, the first professional and publicly displayed works began to appear.

Animators such as Ōten Shimokawa and Seitarou Kitayama produced numerous works, with the oldest surviving film being Kouchi’s Namakura Gatana, a two-minute clip of a samurai trying to test a new sword on his target only to suffer defeat.



The 1923 Great Kantō earthquake resulted in widespread destruction to Japan’s infrastructure and the destruction of Shimokawa’s warehouse, destroying most of these early works.



By the 1930s animation was well established in Japan as an alternative format to the live-action industry.

It suffered competition from foreign producers and many animators–like Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata–still worked in cheaper cutout animation rather than cel animation.

Other creators, Kenzō Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo, nonetheless made great strides in animation technique.

They benefited from the patronage of the government, which employed animators to produce educational shorts and propaganda.



The first talkie anime was Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (The World of Power and Women) produced by Masaoka in 1933.


Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka screenshot.jpg


By 1940, numerous anime artists’ organizations had risen, including the Shin Mangaha Shudan and Shin Nippon Mangaka.


The first feature-length animated film was Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors directed by Seo in 1944 with sponsorship by the Imperial Japanese Navy.



The success of Walt Disney’s 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs profoundly influenced many Japanese animators.


Snow White 1937 poster.png


In the 1960s, manga artist and animator Osamu Tezuka adapted and simplified many Disney animation techniques to reduce costs and to limit the number of frames in productions.

He intended this as a temporary measure to allow him to produce material on a tight schedule with inexperienced animation staff.


Three Tales, aired in 1960, was the first anime shown on television.

The first anime television series was Otogi Manga Calendar, aired from 1961 to 1964.

The 1970s saw a surge of growth in the popularity of manga, Japanese comic books and graphic novels, many of which were later animated.


The work of Osamu Tezuka drew particular attention:

He has been called a “legend and the “god of manga“.

His work—and that of other pioneers in the field—inspired characteristics and genres that remain fundamental elements of anime today.

The giant robot genre (known as “mecha” outside Japan), for instance, took shape under Tezuka, developed into the Super Robot genre under Go Nagai and others, and was revolutionized at the end of the decade by Yoshiyuki Tomino who developed the Real Robot genre.


Osamu Tezuka 1951 Scan10008-2.JPG

Above: Osamu Tezuka (1928 – 1989)


Robot anime like the Gundam and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross series became instant classics in the 1980s, and the robot genre of anime is still one of the most common in Japan and worldwide today.


Macross Original Logo.jpg


In the 1980s, anime became more accepted in the mainstream in Japan (although less than manga), and experienced a boom in production.

Following a few successful adaptations of anime in overseas markets in the 1980s, anime gained increased acceptance in those markets in the 1990s and even more at the turn of the 21st century.


In 2002, Spirited Away, a Studio Ghibli production directed by Hayao Miyazaki won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and in 2003 at the 75th Academy Awards it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.


Chihiro, dressed in Bath House work clothes is standing in front of an image containing a group of pigs and the city behind her. Text below reveal the title and film credits, with the tagline to Chihiro's right.


Anime differs greatly from other forms of animation by its diverse art styles, methods of animation, its production, and its process.

Visually, anime is a diverse art form that contains a wide variety of art styles, differing from one creator, artist, and studio.

While no one art style predominates anime as a whole, they do share some similar attributes in terms of animation technique and character design.

Anime follows the typical production of animation, including storyboarding, voice acting, character design, and cel production.


(Shirobako, itself a series, highlights many of the aspects involved in anime production).


Shirobako Promotional Poster.png


Since the 1990s, animators have increasingly used computer animation to improve the efficiency of the production process.

Artists like Noburō Ōfuji pioneered the earliest anime works, which were experimental and consisted of images drawn on blackboards, stop motion animation of paper cutouts, and silhouette animation.


Cel animation grew in popularity until it came to dominate the medium.

In the 21st century, the use of other animation techniques is mostly limited to independent short films, including the stop motion puppet animation work produced by Tadahito Mochinaga, Kihachirō Kawamoto and Tomoyasu Murata.

Computers were integrated into the animation process in the 1990s, with works such as Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke (Spirit Monster Princess) mixing cel animation with computer-generated images.




A young girl wearing an outfit has blood on her mouth and holds a mask and a knife. Behind her is a large white wolf. Text below reveals the film's title and credits.


Fuji Film, a major cel production company, announced it would stop cel production, producing an industry panic to procure cel imports and hastening the switch to digital processes.


Fujifilm logo.svg


Prior to the digital era, anime was produced with traditional animation methods using a pose to pose approach.

The majority of mainstream anime uses fewer expressive key frames and more in-between animation.

Japanese animation studios were pioneers of many limited animation techniques, and have given anime a distinct set of conventions.

Unlike Disney animation, where the emphasis is on the movement, anime emphasizes the art quality and lets limited animation techniques make up for the lack of time spent on movement.

Such techniques are often used not only to meet deadlines but also as artistic devices.


Anime scenes place emphasis on achieving three-dimensional views, and backgrounds are instrumental in creating the atmosphere of the work.

The backgrounds are not always invented and are occasionally based on real locations, as exemplified in Howl’s Moving Castle and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.


Film poster depicting Howl's castle on its chicken legs against a sunset, with the title in kanji characters


Haruhi book 01 s.jpg


Anime is one of the rare mediums where putting together an all-star cast usually comes out looking tremendously impressive.


The cinematic effects of anime differentiates itself from the stage plays found in American animation.

Anime is cinematically shot as if by camera, including panning, zooming, distance and angle shots to more complex dynamic shots that would be difficult to produce in reality.


In anime, the animation is produced before the voice acting, contrary to American animation which does the voice acting first.

This can cause lip sync errors in the Japanese version.

Body proportions of human anime characters tend to accurately reflect the proportions of the human body in reality.


The height of the head is considered by the artist as the base unit of proportion.

Head heights can vary, but most anime characters are about seven to eight heads tall.

Anime artists occasionally make deliberate modifications to body proportions to produce super deformed characters that feature a disproportionately small body compared to the head.

Many super deformed characters are two to four heads tall.

Some anime works like Crayon Shin-chan completely disregard these proportions, in such a way that they resemble caricatured Western cartoons.


Crayon Shin-chan vol 1 cover.jpg


A common anime character design convention is exaggerated eye size.

The animation of characters with large eyes in anime can be traced back to Osamu Tezuka, who was deeply influenced by such early animation characters as Betty Boop, who was drawn with disproportionately large eyes.

Tezuka is a central figure in anime and manga history, whose iconic art style and character designs allowed for the entire range of human emotions to be depicted solely through the eyes.

The artist adds variable color shading to the eyes and particularly to the cornea to give them greater depth.

Generally, a mixture of a light shade, the tone color, and a dark shade is used.


Cultural anthropologist Matt Thorn argues that Japanese animators and audiences do not perceive such stylized eyes as inherently more or less foreign.


However, not all anime have large eyes.

For example, the works of Hayao Miyazaki are known for having realistically proportioned eyes, as well as realistic hair colors on their characters.


Kaze Tachinu poster.jpg


Anime and manga artists often draw from a defined set of facial expressions to depict particular emotions.



Hair in anime is often unnaturally lively and colorful or uniquely styled.

The movement of hair in anime is exaggerated and “hair action” is used to emphasize the action and emotions of characters for added visual effect.

Poitras traces hairstyle color to cover illustrations on manga, where eye-catching artwork and colorful tones are attractive for children’s manga.


Despite being produced for a domestic market, anime features characters whose race or nationality is not always defined, and this is often a deliberate decision, such as in the Pokémon (Pocket Monsters) animated series.


International Pokémon logo.svg


Anime and manga artists often draw from a common canon of iconic facial expression illustrations to denote particular moods and thoughts.

These techniques are often different in form than their counterparts in Western animation, and they include a fixed iconography that is used as shorthand for certain emotions and moods.

For example, a male character may develop a nosebleed when aroused.

A variety of visual symbols are employed, including sweat drops to depict nervousness, visible blushing for embarrassment, or glowing eyes for an intense glare.

The opening and credits sequences of most anime television episodes are accompanied by Japanese pop or rock songs, often by reputed bands.

They may be written with the series in mind, but are also aimed at the general music market, and therefore often allude only vaguely or not at all to the themes or plot of the series.

Pop and rock songs are also sometimes used as incidental music (“insert songs“) in an episode, often to highlight particularly important scenes.



Where my first exposure to anime was seeing Astro Boy on TV, Momo‘s was his discovery of Shaman King.


Image result for shaman king images


Shaman King (Japanese: シャーマンキング ) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Hiroyuki Takei.

This manga follows the adventures of Yoh Asakura as he attempts to hone his shaman skills to become the Shaman King by winning the Shaman Fight.

Takei chose shamanism as the main theme of the series because he wanted a topic that had never been attempted before in manga.


Image result for shaman king images


The Shaman King manga was originally serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump between 1998 and 2004.

The individual chapters were collected and released in 32 tankōbon volumes by Shueisha.

An animated television series was co-produced by TV Tokyo, NAS, and Xebec, which aired on Japan’s TV Tokyo network from 2001 to 2002.

The manga has also been reprinted in a kanzenban edition, and has spawned video games, a trading card game, and many types of Shaman King-related merchandise.

Exclusive video games were released by 4Kids Entertainment in North America and Europe.


Image result for shaman king images


In Japan, the manga has been popular, selling over 26 million volumes.

Both the manga and anime have been featured, at various times, in “top ten” lists of their respective media.

The Shaman King anime has been watched by a large number of television viewers in Japan.

Publications about manga, anime, and other media have commented on the Shaman King manga, with positive comments on the series.


Image result for shaman king images


I don’t know whether Momo discovered Shaman King through the German-language comic book company Carlsen or online.

Nor do I know whether Momo felt the same way the abovementioned reviewers did.

What I do know is that he cites Shaman King as the first spark that lit his fiery passion to see Japan.



Around the world, manga and anime have become an accessible gateway to Japanese culture.

They draw in readers with wildly imaginative characters and amazing stories that unfold over weeks and years that a series goes on.


A popular manga can take on a life far beyond the pages of its original comic magazine.

Die-hard fans always want to know more about their favourite characters and the worlds they live in, so hit series can end up inspiring adaptations in all manner of forms.


Manga usually begins life as serials in long anthology magazines like Weekly Shonen Jump – the origin of series like Dragon Ball, Naruto, Death Note, Haikyuu (the story of a high school volleyball team), and My Hero Academia (a Japanese twist on American superhero comics).



Boku no Hero Academia Volume 1.png


The chapters are then collected and published as tankobon (book volumes).

Popular manga, such as Naruto, are then adapted into anime, reaching new audiences both in Japan and abroad.


Naruto Uzumaki doing a hand sign while there is a scroll in his mouth.


Stores like Animate sell official merchandise for legions of eager fans to add to their collections.


Image result for animate store akihabara images


As the series builds momentum it spawns multiple animated films, both long and short.


Dragon Ball manga 1st Japanese edition logo.svg


Video game tie-ins are released for various consoles, with mobile gaming more popular than ever.


Hokuto no Ken tankobon.jpg


Serving up exclusive merchandise and themed menus, cafés are a fun way to enjoy a series with friends and fellow fans.


Image result for anime cafe images


Live-action versions bring a series to the mainstream media, appealing to viewers way beyond the original fanbase.

Despite the complicated special effects, no series is too daunting for a live-action stage version.


Image result for live action anime stage images


Super-popular series inspire attractions at theme parks such as Universal Studios Japan or Fuji-Q Highland.


USJ 5years.JPG


Live-action Hollywood versions bring in new audiences.


Ghost in the Shell (2017 film).png


Momo knew that he had to see Japan for himself, so in November 2017 he obtained a six-month working visa and managed to obtain work in the field of gastronomy wherein he is experienced.

He worked for one day as a cook in a luxury bakery, one month in a smoked / cooked meat restaurant, and 4.5 months in a small basement restaurant where he served, cleaned and prepared meals and drinks.

He lived in Saitama Prefecture and worked in Shibuya Ward in Tokyo.


Clockwise from top: Nishi-Shinjuku business district, Rainbow Bridge, National Diet Building, Shibuya, Tokyo Skytree


Tokyo is an overwhelming place, even for the Japanese.

The city itself – officially known as Tokyo Metropolis – contains over 12 million people.

The commuter region immediately around it is home to almost 44 million.

In the era of megacities, Tokyo is the biggest of all.


Location within Japan


What struck Momo about Tokyo is that nearly everyone he saw in Tokyo was Japanese.

This may sound obvious, but the level of diversity one gets accustomed to other major metropolises in the world – aesthetically, culturally and ethnically – is comparatively absent in Tokyo.

At least at first glance.

Chinese cities may come close in such racial homogeneity, but in Tokyo, the visual uniformity swallows you up, especially during the busy commuting hours.

There is a sense of claustrophobia on a grand scale.



And this is the first paradox of Japan:

What appears to be the same can be very different in millions of not so obvious ways.

Diversity is deep and subtle.



Tokyo is a relatively young city.

It was established in 1603 as the village of Edo as capital city of the Tokugawa Shogunate – a new military government – while Japan’s emperor remained in the former capital of Kyoto.

Edo flourished, with major civil engineering improvements, such as land reclamation, the redirecting of major rivers, and aqueducts serving the growing population.

However Edo, and later renamed Tokyo, also suffered several fires, earthquakes and carpet bombing during WWII.



Tokyo is essentially the world’s foremost scrap-and-build city.

Tokyo Tower, the city’s most iconic postwar building, an orange-coloured Eiffel Tower lookalike, 332.9 metres high, was built with the scrap metal from Sherman tanks used in the Korean War which the Americans didn’t bother to ship back home.



And here is another paradox of Japan:

In Japan, what appears old is new and what appears new is old.


Of course, Tokyo is only one part of Japan.

Over 70% of Japan is mountainous and 2/3 is covered in forest.

If you take a bus or taxi around Tokyo, you can see that it is built on an area that consisted of marshy swamps at the mouths of several major rivers that form the plains of the Kanto region and flow into Tokyo Bay.



Many Brits say London is not Britain.

Americans say New York is not America.

However, Tokyo will always be Japan and it will always lead, wherever Japan is heading.


With its sushi and sumo, geisha and gardens, neon and noodles, Tokyo is in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own stereotypes.


Asashoryu fight Jan08.JPG


Ordered yet bewildering, Japan’s pulsating capital leads you on a merry dance.

This is Asia at its weirdest, straightest, prettiest, sleaziest and coolest.


Step back from the frenetic main roads and chances are you will find yourself in tranquil backstreets where dinky wooden houses are fronted by neatly clipped bonsai trees.

Wander away from the neon and the hi-tech emporia and you will discover charming fragments of the old city such as temples and shrines wreathed in wisps of smoking incense.



Tokyo is bigger than you might think, bigger than you can imagine, bigger than I can adequately describe.

Technically the urban sprawl that is Tokyo spreads from the mountains of the northwest down to a chain of tropical islands 1,300 km away in the south.

However the average tourist is unlikely to stray outside Tokyo’s most central municipalities, or wards (ku, in Japanese).



Much that is described as “Tokyo” is enclosed by the Yamanote Line, an overland train loop that connects most points of interest to visitors.




At the very centre of Tokyo is the Imperial Palace, the city’s spiritual heart.



East of the Palace, the wider Ginza district forms the core of downtown Tokyo, functioning as the capital’s main shopping and financial centre.



Directly to the north of Ginza lies Akihabara, a tech-lover’s paradise and home to most of the city’s famed maid cafés.



North of Akihabara, the parks, museums and zoo in Ueno make for a great day out.



East of Ueno towards the river, spellbinding Asakusa is Tokyo’s most traditional district, with temples and craft shops at every turn.



A boat ride down the Sumida-gawa River brings you to Bayside Tokyo where skyscraper-filled islands rise from the sea.


Image result for bayside tokyo images


Back inland are the neighbouring districts of Akasaka and Roppongi, the latter particularly notable for galleries and nightlife.



South of central Tokyo, Ebisu is home to some of the city’s main hipster hangouts.



North of Ebisu, the action takes a turn for the hectic in Harajuku, Aoyama and Shibuyu before going all Blade Runner in Shinjuku, the very epitome of rushed-off-its-feet Tokyo.


Skyscrapers of Shinjuku with Mt Fuji in the background


Lastly, north of the city centre is the busy Ikebukuro district with some nearby diverting sights.



What attracted Momo most, up the tracks from the Ginza district, that blaze of adverts and cacophony of competing sound systems, Akihabara.



Akihabara (Japanese: 秋葉原) is a common name for the area around Akihabara Station in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, Japan.

Administratively, the area called Akihabara mainly belongs to the Sotokanda (外神田) and Kanda-Sakumachō districts in Chiyoda.

There exists an administrative district called Akihabara in the Taitō ward further north of Akihabara Station, but it is not the place people generally refer to as Akihabara.

The name Akihabara is a shortening of Akibagahara (秋葉が原, “autumn leaf field“), which ultimately comes from Akiba (秋葉), named after a fire-controlling deity of a firefighting shrine built after the area was destroyed by a fire in 1869.

Akihabara gained the nickname Akihabara Electric Town (秋葉原電気街 Akihabara Denki Gai) shortly after World War II for being a major shopping center for household electronic goods and the post-war black market.

Currently, Akihabara is considered by many to be an otaku (people with obsessive interests) cultural center and a shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.

Icons from popular anime and manga are displayed prominently on the shops in the area, and numerous maid cafés are found throughout the district.

The main area of Akihabara is located on a street just west of Akihabara Station, where most of the major shops are situated.

Most of the electronics shops are just west of the station, and the anime and manga shops and the cosplay cafés are north of them.



(Cosplay restaurants (コスプレ系飲食店 Kosupure-kei inshokuten) are theme restaurants and pubs that originated in Akihabara around the late 1990s and early 2000s.

They include maid cafés (メイドカフェ Meido kafe) and butler cafés (執事喫茶 shitsuji kissa), where the service staff dress as elegant maids, or as butlers.

Such restaurants and cafés have quickly become a staple of Japanese otaku culture.

Compared with service at normal cafés, the service at cosplay cafés involves the creation of a rather different atmosphere.

The staff treat the customers as masters and mistresses in a private home rather than merely as café customers.

The popularity of cosplay restaurants and maid cafes has spread to other regions in Japan, such as Osaka’s Den Den Town as well as to places outside Japan, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines.)



Akiba, as it is popularly known, is renowned as Tokyo’s foremost discount shopping area for electrical and electronic goods of all sorts, and is famed as the spawning ground for the aforementioned maid cafés, but, more importantly for Momo, it is also a hotspot for fans of anime and manga.

Though Akiba’s buzzing, neon-lit streets are almost entirely dedicated to technological wizardry and pop culture, there are sights to be seen, including the lively Shinto shrine of Kanda Myojin and the austere monument to Confucius at Yushima Seido and Sumo central, Ryogoku.


Image result for kanda myojin shrine images

Image result for yushima seido confucius images

Image result for sumo stadium tokyo images


But Akiba is a district in which travellers actively avoid the sights, because contemporary culture is Akiba’s exclusive drawcard.

The influence of otaku culture has shaped Akiba’s businesses and buildings to reflect the interests of otaku and gained the district worldwide fame for its distinctive imagery.

Akiba tries to create an atmosphere as close as possible to the game and anime worlds of customers’ interest.

The streets of Akiba are covered with anime and manga icons, and cosplayers line the sidewalks handing out advertisements, especially for maid cafés.



The idol group AKB48, one of Japan’s highest selling contemporary musical acts, runs its own theater in Akiba, from which the group’s name is derived.


Ax10akb18 (cropped).jpg


Release events, special events, and conventions in Akihabara give anime and manga fans frequent opportunities to meet the creators of the works they follow and strengthen the connection between the region and otaku culture.

The design of many of the buildings serves to create the sort of atmosphere that draws in otaku.

Architects design the stores of Akiba to be more opaque and closed to reflect the general desire of many otaku to live in their anime worlds rather than display their interests to the world at large.

Akiba’s role as a free market has also allowed a large amount of amateur work to find a passionate audience in the otaku who frequent the area.


Doujinshi (amateur or fanmade manga based on an anime/manga/game) has been growing in Akiba since the 1970s when publishers began to drop manga that were not ready for large markets.



Part of the UDX Building, a mainstay of the local IT industry, the Tokyo Anime Centre features displays on recent anime and hosts a regular feast of fun activities.


Image result for tokyo anime center images


Momo must have had a marvelous time discovering Akiba and perhaps it was here that he was tempted to learn Japanese.


I wonder if he stumbled across 3331 Arts Chiyoda, an institution where parents can take their children to a workshop, eat and drink in a café-bar, buy arts and crafts in a large number of shops, purchase cameras in the Lomo shop, look at exhibitions, browse around a few galleries of contemporary art, walk past offices for design, architecture and urban planning and software companies, discover a gym and finally learn how to cultivate organic vegetables in small beds in a roof garden.


Image result for 3331 arts chiyoda images


Why the number 3331?

In Japan, when a job is finished and the results are celebrated, or at the end of the year in a company, or after a traditional festival, a ritual is held.

Everyone claps hands, not anyway they please but together:

Three claps in succession three times, followed by one clap of release. (3-3-3-1)

And that is the philosophy of it all.


Just as, in a school, everyone learns something new, but in each 3331 Arts Chiyoda classroom something different is learned.

At 3331, everyone produces something new and creative and joyfully presents the results when the work is done.


I know that this would appeal to Momo.


Image may contain: 1 person


Anime drew Momo to Japan but the seduction blossomed into love for the land itself.


In one of his YouTube videos – (Yes, Momo is a vlogger.) – he tells of some things in Japan that he misses and that he cannot find in Switzerland:

  • melonpan (a type of bun)
  • microwaves in supermarkets
  • Japanese rice
  • convenience stores open 24/7
  • Akiba
  • crane games (claw games)
  • Harajuku fashion
  • Japanese alcohol (sake / omishu / Ahashi beer)


He loves Japan so much he wished to share this love with his beloved mother whom he treated to a one-week vacation in Tokyo.

(The video is really quite charming.)


Image may contain: 2 people, including Mauritz Wallenstein, people smiling, eyeglasses, closeup and outdoor


Perhaps you, my regular readers, might be curious to follow some of Momo’s adventures via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube.

Check out or or follow him on YouTube or Facebook by typing “Mauritz Wallenstein“.


Image may contain: 1 person


I cannot claim to completely comprehend Momo nor can I say that he completely understands me.


I do worry that his uniqueness, which makes him feel somewhat alienated from his native German society and causes him to sometimes feel quite unwelcome in very conservative Switzerland, might not bring him the serenity of acceptance in the land that he has embraced.

The homogeneity of Japanese society and its pressure to conform makes it difficult for some people to find a suitable niche for themselves.



Five-sixths of Japan is uninhabitable, so mountainous that it is only suitable for pine trees.

No room for roads, houses or factories.

The remaining one-sixth of Japan, mostly on the coast, is nothing but roads, houses and factories.

So the Japanese live on top of each other, resulting in ideas of individuality, that freedom from reliance on other people, as being alien to the Japanese psyche.



The Japanese are gregarious by nature – which for Momo certainly is a welcome change from the serious sourness of Germany and Switzerland – but this gregariousness, though crucial to their homogeneity, has created a society that views the world as either uchi (inside)(we Japanese) or soto (outside)(them gaijin – not Japanese).

To the Japanese, foreigners are soto most of the time.


Projection of Asia with Japan's Area coloured green


To be fair, westerners are exonerated from following Japanese ways and even the most blatant misconduct will be forgiven on the grounds of them being a gaijin.


Perhaps those Japanese Momo encounters do not speak their minds, and they do not say to his face:

Poor Peaches, he is not Japanese.

He will never be able to be Japanese, no matter how rich, smart or good-looking.

Poor Peaches, we have to treat him kindly.

What an unfortunate handicap not to be born Japanese.


Image result for japanese baby images


Japan is convinced that the soto will never know them, but if the Japanese suffer long enough, they will know the gaijin.

In the strongly community-oriented society of Japan, individuality is difficult to maintain, in the workplace, school or any other social arena.

Unease with these circumstances, the inability to truly become part of modern Japanese society, the isolation from normal social discourse and intercourse may leave a gaijin feeling left behind.


Image result for tokyo subway rush hour images


I see within Momo a mirror projection of aspects of myself.


How easy it is to reject interaction with others, to keep only minimalist contact with the outside world, to lose oneself online where presence and personality are easier to manipulate on the Internet than in the real world.

And, for myself (and perhaps for Momo as well) there is a danger of being seduced by the alienness of foreign lands.

It is true that as a gaijin in Japan one can be completely oneself, for there are no fellow countrymen to tell you what the standards are by which one should live.

But no man is an island.

Eventually the ex-pat is forced to “go native” or remain isolated inside his own ex-pat community.

As I have said, Japan isn’t easy to “go native“.

It is not a place that readily recognizes a gaijin as uchi.


Furthermore, and this is a lesson I have had to learn for myself, wherever you go, there you are.

Happiness does not come from without, but rather from within.


True permanent happiness is not found in an arcade game of League of Legends, in an issue of Shaman King, in a Harajuku fashion shop, in a bowl of sake or a glass of China Blue served in a maid café, or found at the end of a claw in a crane machine.

At best, these are snatches of joy, moments of distraction.


My sincerest hope for Momo, my peach pal, is that the happiness he so richly deserves will be found within himself wherever he may be.

That the Japan he seeks to discover is a Japan that he himself makes.



Image may contain: 1 person, indoor


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Rough Guide to Japan / YouTube / Be More Japan: The Art of Japanese Living (Dorling Kindersley) / Christine Izeki and Björn Neumann, 111 Places in Tokyo That You Shouldn’t Miss / Sahoko Kaji, Noriko Hama, Robert Ainsley and Jonathan Rice, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Japanese / Ben Stevens, A Gaijin’s Guide to Japan: An Alternative Look at Japanese Life, History and Culture / Yutaka Yazawa, How to Live Japanese / /






Canada Slim and the Valley of Bones

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Sunday 28 July 2019

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

(Psalm 23: 4)


In German the inability to get a song out of your mind is called an Ohrwurm (earworm) and as I write these words – and as I walked from the Berit Klinik to a distant bus stop between Speicher and St. Gallen last week –


Image result for berit klinik images


One song remains and repeats its refrains:

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,

Now hear the word of the Lord.


The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone

Foot bone’s connected to the heel bone

Heel bone’s connected to the ankle bone

Ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone


Shin bone’s connected to the knee bone

Knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone

Hip bone”s connected to the back bone


Back bone’s connected to the shoulder bone

Shoulder bone’s connected to the neck bone

Neck bone’s connected to the head bone

Now hear the word of the Lord.


Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Now hear the word of the Lord.


Dem Bones” (also called “Dry Bones” and “Dem Dry Bones“) is a spiritual song.

The melody was composed by author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) and his brother, J Rosomond Johnson.

It was first recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928.

Both a long and a shortened version of the song are widely known.

The lyrics are inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the prophet Ezekiel visits the “Valley of Dry Bonesand prophesizes that they will one day be resurrected at God’s command, picturing the national resurrection of Israel.


(A foreshadowing of the Holocaust and the founding of the modern state of Israel?)


Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians recorded the song on 30 April 1947 and released it on the 78 rpm record Decca 23948.

It is used in the 1986 BBC television serial The Singing Detective.

A recording of the song by the Canadian vocal group The Four Lads was featured prominently in “Fall Out“, the final episode of the 1967-68 science fiction series, The Prisoner.


The Prisoner (logo).jpg


I first heard the Four Lads version of this song working as a teen-aged farmhand, listening to the small vinyl record collection of my deceased employer Irving Conway of Grenville, and it is often recalled whenever a visit to a hospital is required.

Having lost my foster parents to cancer, my being married to a medical doctor, my having once been employed as a hospital security guard, and my being accident prone (shoulder, hand, foot, both wrists, elbow – all injured in a series of incidents over the course of my lifetime) – my body is less of a wonderland as it is a battlefield – hospital visits are more commonplace for me than I have ever wanted.

Though it has been more typical for me to be a patient visited rather than my visiting a patient, on Saturday I learned that my Starbucks counterpart in our St. Gallen Bahnhof store, beautiful and competent American, Margo Steiner was a patient in Speicher’s Berit Klinik.

So, after my Saturday middle shift was completed at my St. Gallen Marktgasse store, I walked to the train station florist, bought some flowers and rode a bus out to Speicher.


Skyline of Speicher


Speicher is linked to the city of St. Gallen by the Appenzell–St. Gallen–Trogen railway, a narrow-gauge road-side railway line.

The line operates two trains per hour throughout the day, with four trains per hour during peak periods.

The journey from Speicher to St. Gallen takes 28 minutes.

(Normally one takes a train to Speicher, but railways in Switzerland are state-controlled and are given an annual budget, so knowing that their budget must be fully spent each year or the following year’s budget will be lower, the rail lines are often in a state of construction and renovation.

Such is the case of the train lines between St. Gallen and Trogen upon which Spiecher lies and between St. Gallen and Herisau where I occasionally teach.)



As the leading specialist clinic in Eastern Switzerland for orthopedics and spine surgery, the Berit Klinik offers surgical, nursing, therapeutic and rehabilitative quality of service at the highest level.

In a picturesque location, proven specialists work hand in hand.

High-tech medicine and a personal environment create security and confidence.


Related image


In discussion with Margo about her knee operation and my own ailing knee problems, she asked me – I supposedly wiser being older – where the femur and the tibia of the leg skeleton were.

Despite my best efforts to remember….


The human skeleton is the internal framework of the human body.

It is composed of around 270 bones at birth – this total decreases to around 206 bones by adulthood after some bones get fused together.

The bone mass in the skeleton reaches maximum density around age 21.

The human skeleton performs six major functions: support, movement, protection, production of blood cells, storage of minerals, and endocrine regulation.

The human skeleton can be divided into the axial skeleton and the appendicular skeleton.


The axial skeleton is formed by the vertebral column, the rib cage, the skull and other associated bones.



The appendicular skeleton, which is attached to the axial skeleton, is formed by the shoulder girdle, the pelvic girdle and the bones of the upper and lower limbs.



Now if you have ever wondered how we know what lies beneath our skin then a consideration of the history of anatomy and a visit to the Basel Anatomical Museum is in order.


Image result for basel anatomisches museum images


Basel, Switzerland, Easter Sunday 21 April 2019

I married a doctor and as such my wife possesses a morbid fascination with the human body in both life and death conditions.

A typical visit to a new city will invariably find us investigating local hospitals, cemeteries and any tourist attraction connected to the human condition and/or medicine.

Basel, our destination for a minor Easter weekend break, was no exception.

Basel holds a special place when it comes to medicine beyond the pharmaceutical companies that employ many Baselers.

And the Anatomical Museum is a reflection of some of these aspects.


View from the Rhine


The history of anatomy extends from the earliest examinations of sacrificial victims to the sophisticated analyses of the body performed by modern scientists.

The study of human anatomy can be traced back thousands of years, at least to the Egyptians, but the science of anatomy, as we know it today, did not develop until far later.

The development of the study of anatomy gradually built upon concepts that were understood during the time of Galen and slowly became a part of the traditional medical curriculum.

It has been characterized, over time, by a continually developing understanding of the functions of organs and structures in the body.

From a period spanning the time beginning at about 3100 BC to the finish of the 2nd century AD, anatomical studies were foremost within the ancient Egyptian nation, than within other parts of the world, according to archaeological evidence.



People of the ancient Egyptian civilization initiated an independent practice of anatomical study, which represented the first movement within humanity toward the development of an understanding of anatomy.

Egypt is where the study of anatomy historically first developed.

People belonging to the Egyptian nation were the first to make a written record of anatomical studies.

Manetho is thought to have recorded the work of an early anatomist.

In his work History of Egypt Manetho states the Pharaoh Djer to have been the first to have made a written work on the study of anatomy, entitled Practical Medicine and Anatomical Book.


Tomb stela of King Djer


Nomenclature, methods and applications for the study of anatomy all date back to the Greeks.

The early scientist Alcmaeon began to construct a background for medical and anatomical science with the dissection of animals.

Others such as Acron (480 BC), Pausanias (480 BC), and Philistion of Locri made investigations into anatomy.


The Parthenon in Athens.jpg


One important figure during this time was Empedocles (480 BC) who viewed the blood as the innate heat which he acquired from previous folklore.

He argued that the heart was the chief organ of both the vascular system and the pneuma (either breath or soul; considered to be distributed by the blood vessels).

Empedocles (494 – 434 BC) was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Akragas, a Greek city in Sicily.

Empedocles’ philosophy is best known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements.

He also proposed forces he called Love and Strife which would mix and separate the elements, respectively.

These physical speculations were part of a history of the universe which also dealt with the origin and development of life.


Empedocles in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy.jpg


Hippocrates of Kos (460 – 370 BC) was a Greek physician of Classical Greece, who is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine.

He is often referred to as the “Father of Medicine in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine.

This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields with which it had traditionally been associated (theurgy and philosophy), thus establishing medicine as a profession.

Hippocrates is commonly portrayed as the paragon of the ancient physician, and credited with coining the Hippocratic Oath, which is still relevant and in use today.




(Below is a modern version of the Hippocratic Oath:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not.” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.

Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death.

If it is given me to save a life, all thanks.

But it may also be within my power to take a life.

This awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability.

My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter.

May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.)


He is also credited with greatly advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Corpus and other works.

Many medical texts by various authors are collected in the Hippocratic Corpus, none of which can definitely be ascribed to Hippocrates himself.

The texts show an understanding of musculoskeletal structure, and the beginnings of understanding of the function of certain organs, such as the kidneys.



Hippocrates is credited with being the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally, not because of superstition and gods.

He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.


The Hippocratic School achieved great success by applying general diagnoses and passive treatments.

Its focus was on patient care and prognosis, not diagnosis.

It could effectively treat diseases and allowed for a great development in clinical practice.



Hippocratic medicine and its philosophy are far removed from that of modern medicine.

Now, the physician focuses on specific diagnosis and specialized treatment.

Hippocratic medicine was humble and passive.


The therapeutic approach was based on “the healing power of nature“.

According to this doctrine, the body contains within itself the power to heal itself.

Hippocratic therapy focused on simply easing this natural process.

To this end, Hippocrates believed “rest and immobilization were of capital importance.”



In general, the Hippocratic medicine was very kind to the patient.

Treatment was gentle and emphasized keeping the patient clean and sterile.

For example, only clean water or wine were ever used on wounds, though “dry” treatment was preferable.

Soothing balms were sometimes employed.


Hippocrates was reluctant to administer drugs and engage in specialized treatment that might prove to be wrongly chosen:

Generalized therapy followed a generalized diagnosis.

Generalized treatments he prescribed include fasting and the consumption of a mix of honey and vinegar.

Hippocrates once said that “to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.”

However, potent drugs were used on certain occasions.

This passive approach was very successful in treating relatively simple ailments such as broken bones which required traction to stretch the skeletal system and relieve pressure on the injured area.



One of the strengths of Hippocratic medicine was its emphasis on prognosis.

At Hippocrates’ time, medicinal therapy was quite immature, and often the best thing that physicians could do was to evaluate an illness and predict its likely progression based upon data collected in detailed case histories.

Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice.


The Hippocratic work On the Physician recommends that physicians always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious.

The Hippocratic physician paid careful attention to all aspects of his practice:

He followed detailed specifications for, “lighting, personnel, instruments, positioning of the patient, and techniques of bandaging and splinting” in the ancient operating room.

He even kept his fingernails to a precise length.


The Hippocratic School gave importance to the clinical doctrines of observation and documentation.

These doctrines dictate that physicians record their findings and their medicinal methods in a very clear and objective manner, so that these records may be passed down and employed by other physicians.


Hippocrates made careful, regular note of many symptoms including complexion, pulse, fever, pains, movement, and excretions.

He is said to have measured a patient’s pulse when taking a case history to discover whether the patient was lying.

Hippocrates extended clinical observations into family history and environment.

To him medicine owes the art of clinical inspection and observation.

For this reason, he may more properly be termed as the “Father of Medicine“.


He is often quoted with “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” and “Walking is man’s best medicine.

Hippocrates is widely considered to be the “Father of Medicine“.

His contributions revolutionized the practice of medicine, but after his death the advancement stalled.

So revered was Hippocrates that his teachings were largely taken as too great to be improved upon and no significant advancements of his methods were made for a long time.

The centuries after Hippocrates’ death were marked as much by retrograde movement as by further advancement.



In the 4th century BC, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and several contemporaries produced a more empirically founded system, based on animal dissection.

Through his work with animal dissections and evolutionary biology, Aristotle founded comparative anatomy.

Aristotle’s biology is the theory of biology, grounded in systematic observation and collection of data, mainly zoological, embodied in Aristotle’s books on the science.

Aristotle’s method, too, resembled the style of science used by modern biologists when exploring a new area, with systematic data collection, discovery of patterns, and inference of possible causal explanations from these.

He did not perform experiments in the modern sense, but made observations of living animals and carried out dissections.

He names some 500 species of bird, mammal and fish.

He distinguishes dozens of insects and other invertebrates.

He describes the internal anatomy of over a hundred animals and dissected around 35 of these.



Diocles of Carystus (375 – 295 BC) was a well regarded Greek physician.

His most important work was in practical medicine, especially diet and nutrition, but he also wrote the first systematic textbook on animal anatomy.

According to a number of sources, he was the first to use the word “anatomy” to describe the study.

Diocles insisted that health requires an understanding of the nature of the universe and its relationship to man.



Herophilos (335–280 BC) was a Greek physician deemed to be the first anatomist.

He was the first scientist to systematically perform scientific dissections of human cadavers.

He recorded his findings in over nine works, which are now all lost.

Celsus in the 1st-century medical treatise De Medicina and the early Christian author Tertullian state that Herophilos vivisected at least 600 live prisoners.

Herophilos was a teacher, and an author of at least nine texts ranging from his book titled, On Pulses, which explored the flow of blood from the heart through the arteries, to his book titled Midwifery, which discussed duration and phases of childbirth.

In Alexandria, he practiced dissections, often publicly so that he could explain what he was doing to those who were fascinated.

Herophilos was the first scientist to systematically perform scientific dissections of human cadavers.

Dissections of human cadavers were banned in most places at the time, except for Alexandria.



Herophilos also introduced many of the scientific terms used to this day to describe anatomical phenomena.

He was among the first to introduce the notion of conventional terminology, as opposed to use of “natural names“, using terms he created to describe the objects of study, naming them for the first time.


Herophilos believed that exercise and a healthy diet were integral to the bodily health of an individual.


Herophilos once said that:

When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless, and reason is powerless.”



Erasistratus (304 – 250 BC) was a Greek anatomist and royal physician under Seleucus I Nicator of Syria.

Along with fellow physician Herophilus, he founded a school of anatomy in Alexandria, where they carried out anatomical research.

He lived for some time at the court of Seleucus I Nicator, where he acquired great reputation by discovering the disease of Antiochus I Soter, the king’s eldest son, in 294 BC.

Antiochus fell violently in love with his stepmother, but did not disclose his passion, and chose rather to pine away in silence.

The physicians were quite unable to discover the cause and nature of his disease, and Erasistratus himself was at a loss at first, till, finding nothing amiss about his body, he began to suspect that it must be his mind which was diseased, and that he might perhaps be in love.

Erasistratus confirmed his conjecture when he observed that the skin of Antiochus grew hotter, his colour deeper, and his pulse quicker whenever Stratonice came near him, while none of these symptoms occurred on any other occasion.

Accordingly, he told Seleucus that his son’s disease was incurable, for he was in love, and that it was impossible to gratify his passion.

The king wondered what the obstacle could be, and asked who the lady was.

My wife,” replied Erasistratus.

Upon which Seleucus began to persuade him to give her up to his son.

The physician asked him if he would do so himself if it were his wife that the prince was in love with.

The king protested that he would most gladly.

Upon which Erasistratus told him that it was indeed his own wife who had inspired his passion, and that he chose rather to die than to disclose his secret.

Seleucus was as good as his word, and not only gave up Stratonice, but also resigned to his son several provinces of his empire.

Erasistratus is said to have received one hundred talents for being the means of restoring the prince to health, which would amount to one of the largest medical fees upon record.


David-Antiochus et Stratonice.jpg


The final major anatomist of ancient times was Galen.

Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus (129 – 216), often anglicized as Galen and better known as Galen of Pergamon was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire.

Arguably the most accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, Galen influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic.




Galen saw himself as both a physician and a philosopher, as he wrote in his treatise entitled That the Best Physician Is Also a Philosopher.

Galen was very interested in the debate between the rationalist and empiricist medical sects, and his use of direct observation, dissection and vivisection represents a complex middle ground between the extremes of those two viewpoints.


In medieval Europe, Galen’s writings on anatomy became the mainstay of the medieval physician’s university curriculum, but because of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West they suffered greatly from stasis and intellectual stagnation.

However, in the Eastern Roman Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate they continued to be studied and followed.



Some of Galen’s ideas were incorrect, as he did not dissect a human body.

Galen compiled much of the knowledge obtained by previous writers and furthered the inquiry into the function of organs by performing vivisection on animals.

Due to a lack of readily available human specimens, discoveries through animal dissection were broadly applied to human anatomy as well.


Galen served as chief physician to the gladiators in Pergamum.

Through his position with the gladiators, Galen was able to study all kinds of wounds without performing any actual human dissection.



His study on pigs and apes, however, gave him more detailed information about the organs and provided the basis for his medical tracts.

Around 100 of these tracts survive and fill 22 volumes of modern text.

His two great anatomical works are On anatomical procedure and On the uses of the parts of the body of man.


The information in these tracts became the foundation of authority for all medical writers and physicians for the next 1,300 years.



Greek and Roman taboos had meant that dissection was usually banned in ancient times, but in the Middle Ages this changed:

Medical teachers and students at Bologna began to open human bodies, and Mondino de Luzzi produced the first known anatomy textbook based on human dissection.


Mondino de Luzzi (1270 – 1326), also known as Mundinus, was an Italian physician, anatomist and professor of surgery, who lived and worked in Bologna.

He is often credited as the restorer of anatomy because he made seminal contributions to the field by reintroducing the practice of public dissection of human cadavers and writing the first modern anatomical text.

Mondino was the first to incorporate a systematic study of anatomy and dissection into a medical curriculum.




It was common practice for the professor of anatomy to sit in a large, ornate chair elevated above the dissection proceedings, reading from an anatomical text and providing commentary, while a demonstrator, or surgeon, physically performed the dissection.

Additionally, an ostensor was present to point out the specific parts of the body that were being examined.

Mondino’s teaching methods were unique because he often performed dissections in person and served the role of demonstrator himself, carefully studying the cadaver and incorporating this personal experience into his text and teaching.

Mondino’s major work, Anathomia corporis humani, written in 1316, is considered the first example of a modern dissection manual and the first true anatomical text.

The earliest edition of the work was printed in Padua in 1478, and more than 40 editions exist in total.

By the 14th century, the practice of anatomy had come to refer to the dissection of a cadaver according to prescribed rules.

Anathomia was intended as a handbook to guide this process.

Anathomia remained the most widely-used anatomical text for 250 years (through the 16th century) because it clearly and concisely provided the important technical indications involved in the dissection process, including the steps involved and the reasoning behind the organization of these procedures.

Unlike his predecessors, Mondino focuses specifically on anatomical descriptions rather than engaging in a larger discourse on pathology and surgery in general.

Anathomia opens with the assertion that human beings are superior to all other creatures because of their intellect, reasoning ability, tool-making abilities, and upright stature.

Because he possesses these noble qualities, man is worthy to be studied.

He made lasting, even if not entirely accurate, contributions to the fields of anatomy and physiology.

Anathomia quickly became a classic text and, after his death, Mondino was regarded as a “divine master” to such an extent that anything differing from the descriptions in his book was regarded as anomalous or even monstrous.

For three centuries, the statutes of many medical schools required lecturers on anatomy to use Anathomia as their textbook.




Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was trained in anatomy by Andrea del Verrocchio.


Francesco Melzi - Portrait of Leonardo.png


In 1489 Leonardo began a series of anatomical drawings depicting the ideal human form.

This work was carried out intermittently for over two decades.

During this time he made use of his anatomical knowledge in his artwork, making many sketches of skeletal structures, muscles and organs of humans and other vertebrates that he dissected.

His surviving 750 drawings represent groundbreaking studies in anatomy.

Leonardo dissected around thirty human specimens until he was forced to stop under order of Pope Leo X.

As an artist-anatomist, Leonardo made many important discoveries, and had intended to publish a comprehensive treatise on human anatomy.

He was the first to develop drawing techniques in anatomy to convey information using cross-sections and multiple angles, although centuries would pass before anatomical drawings became accepted as crucial for learning anatomy.

None of Leonardo’s notebooks were published during his lifetime, many being lost after his death, with the result that his anatomical discoveries remained unknown until they were later found and published centuries after his death.



The Galenic doctrine in Europe was first seriously challenged in the 16th century.

And it began in Basel.



There was a great deal of coming and going in the sick room at Totengässlein, a narrow street in Basel.

Johann Froben (66)(1460 – 1527) was lying in bed, his face distorted in pain.

His right leg had been causing him a lot of trouble for months.

Doctors were treating him, but they only made the matter worse, being divided in their opinions about the kind of disease and each recommending a different cure.

Some of them were even in favour of amputating the foot.“, an acquaintance wrote.

Not a great prospect for the famous book printer and humanist, who was to be found in his workshop every day despite his age.

Over the past ten years, about 300 books had been printed on his presses in the Haus zum Sessel on Totengässlein.

But now the doctors were muttering something about gangrene.

The operation would be very painful, without anaesthetic, and subsequent infections could not be ruled out.



Then a saviour unexpectedly appeared in the form of a doctor from Strasbourg.

The stranger’s diagnosis differed completely from those of the Basel doctors:

Paralysis inferior: a ciruclatory disorder.

The treatment he recommended took effect immediately.

Soon afterwards, Johann Froben was up and about again and heading for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

And his friends in Basel were full of praise.

The saviour was not altogether unknown to them.

They had common acquaintances in Strasbourg, who had recommended him.

The name of the magician?

Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493 – 1541).

Years later, far away from Basel, he would write medical history under his newly adopted name, Paracelsus.


Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus). Wellcome V0004455.jpg


The drama of the successful cure was due not so much to the special knowledge of Paracelsus as to the incorrect diagnoses of his Basel colleagues.

But that is incidental for the progress of history.

The decisive thing is that Paracelsus arrived in Basel at the right time and met the right people.


In those decades, the city on the Rhine was considered to be one of the continent’s leading publishing and printing centres and one of the centres of European humanism.

The Haus zum Sessel, where Froben lived and worked, hosted numerous grandees of the late 15th and early 16th centuries:

Writers like Sebastian Brant (1458 – 1521) and Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536).

Artists like Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 – 1543) and Urs Graf (1485 – 1528).


Image result for haus zum sessel basel images


Erasmus in particular was impressed with Paracelsus.

He later asked the Strasbourg doctor for advice about his own poor state of health, thanked him for the reply and expressed his hope of being able to enjoy his company for a longer time in Basel in the near future.

Other members of the humanist circle had the same wish, so a few months after Froben’s recovery, they persuaded the Basel Council to appoint Paracelsus as city physician.



Paracelsus got off to a very promising start in Basel, but difficulties were not long in coming.

As city physician he was also appointed professor – without the University directors’ having a say in the matter.

And because Paracelsus failed to have himself officially entered as a member of the University, they only permitted him to use the lecture hall under pressure from the government.

It was also claimed that he was not entitled to practice as a doctor.


University of Basel logo.png


Paracelsus took up the position, demanding that apothecaries (pharmacists) be monitored at regular intervals and that the teaching of medicine undergo a general reform.

On 5 June 1527 he had a printed flyer distributed in the city.

It set out his lecture programme and made a clear challenge, demanding an end to the outmoded faith in traditional authorities among medical men.


The only thing that counted was the experience physicians gained at patients’ sick beds and in the laboratory.



He also promised to elucidate his own tried-and-tested teaching materials publicly for two hours every day – for the first time in German instead of Latin, and not in the arrogant red official garb of a university professor.

This was an incredible novelty.

And as if that were not enough, on 24 June 1527, Paracelsus organized a spectacular burning of books, despatching the once pioneering teaching material of Avicenna (Persian Muslim intellectual)(980 – 1037) into the flames of the St. John’s bonfire.


Avicenna Portrait on Silver Vase - Museum at BuAli Sina (Avicenna) Mausoleum - Hamadan - Western Iran (7423560860).jpg

Above: Avicenna


The innovator aroused great interest among his audiences – attracting not only registered students, but also as yet non-licensed barber-surgeons, alchemists, surgeons and humanists.

At the time, medicine in Basel was still rooted in the medieval tradition:

One read the classic writings of Galen and Hippocrates.

Surgical operations were relegated to barber-surgeons, stonecutters and eye lancers, who were regarded as unworthy of the rank of physician.

His opponents ridiculed Paracelsus as the “physicians’ Luther“.

Paracelsus agreed:

For truth has but one enemy, the liar.”


Whoever seeks truth must defy the authority of his predecessors and reject their writings.



Paracelsus thus made powerful enemies.

Although by 1527 the City Council and large sections of basel’s citizenry were amenable to the new ideas of the Reformation, the University was a papal foundation and a hive of opponents of the Reformation in the turmoil of the early 16th century.

They regarded Paracelsus as a double heretic:

A scientific subversive and a partisan / protegé of the Protestants.

Envy of his successful publications also played a role.



Initially, Paracelsus was able to assert himself, but in October 1527, while he was in Zürich, his friend and patron Johann Froben died suddenly.

This time he would not have been able to help them, as the book printer had a stroke, fell from a ladder and died after a long period in a coma.

Then, one Sunday morning in December 1527, unknown persons pinned a note to several church doors:

Not a catalogue of demands for reform like Martin Luther, but a cruel diatribe in Latin in which the anonymous author derided the teachings of Paracelsus.

Paracelsus suspected three of his disciples of having been goaded into spying on him by the other Basel physicians and he requested that the Basel Council initiate an inquiry and impose sanctions.



Shortly afterwards Paracelsus had cause to make another complaint.

The Basel canon Cornelius von Lichtenfels was suffering from a serious chronic stomach ailment and sought his advice.

The doctor also helped him to a swift and complete recovery.

But this time Paracelsus received no recognition.

Instead Lichtenfels argued that Paracelsus had merely given him three pills made of mouse droppings he sent him just six guilders, whereas the doctor had expected a fee of a hundred.

Paracelsus’ s legal action was disallowed.

In his anger, the doctor accused the city judges of ignorance and showered them with insults, thus attacking the force that until then had supported him.

Offended, the Council decided to have him arrested, and in the face of this threat, Paracelsus fled Basel in February 1528, secretly and as swiftly as he could.

He never returned.



Nonetheless, Paracelsus’s short stay in Basel was not without consequences.

Only a few years later, his call for medical theory and practice to be linked would be fulfilled by another scholar, Andreas Vesalius.

Vesalius’s famous lecture on human anatomy in Basel in 1543 lasted several days and involved practical demonstration on corpses.

Vesalius’s work on the structure of the human body was printed in Basel – by Johann Herbst (aka Oporinus), once an employee of Johann Froben and assistant to Paracelsus.

In the wake of Vesalius’s work, medicine, and anatomy in particular, blossomed in Basel in the late 16th century.

Even more consequential was the later Paracelsus approach, which regarded medical phenomena as an expression of clinical processes.

This revolutionized the whole of medication therapy and decisively influenced the further development of medicine and pharmacology.


Vesalius Portrait pg xii - c.png


Thanks to the printing press, all over Europe a collective effort proceeded to circulate the works of Galen and later publish criticisms on their works.

Vesalius openly denied Galen’s anatomical teachings that is based on observations of other mammals, not human bodies.


Andreas Vesalius, born and educated in Belgium, contributed the most to human anatomy.

Vesalius’s success was due in large part to him exercising the skills of mindful dissections for the sake of understanding anatomy, much to the tune of Galen’s “anatomy projectinstead of focusing on the work of other scholars of the time in recovering the ancient texts of Hippocrates, Galen and others (which much of the medical community was focused around at the time).



Vesalius was the first to publish a treatise, De humani corporis fabrica, that challenged Galen “drawing for drawing“.

These drawings were a detailed series of explanations and vivid drawings of the anatomical parts of human bodies.


Vesalius traveled all the way from Leuven to Padua for permission to dissect victims from the gallows without fear of persecution.

His superbly executed drawings are triumphant descriptions of the differences between dogs and humans, but it took a century for Galen’s influence to fade.

His work led to anatomy marked a new era in the study of anatomy and its relation to medicine.


Vesalius Fabrica p174.jpg


Under Vesalius, anatomy became an actual discipline.

His skill in and attention to dissection featured prominently in his publications as well as his demonstrations, in his research as well as his teaching.


In 1540, Vesalius gave a public demonstration of the inaccuracies of Galen’s anatomical theories, which are still the orthodoxy of the medical profession.

Vesalius now has on display, for comparison purposes, the skeletons of a human being alongside that of an ape of which he was able to show, that in many cases, Galen’s observations were indeed correct for the ape, but bear little relation to man.

Clearly what was needed was a new account of human anatomy.


Vesalius Fabrica p194.jpg


While the lecturer explained human anatomy, as revealed by Galen more than 1,000 years earlier, an assistant pointed to the equivalent details on a dissected corpse.

At times, the assistant was unable to find the organ as described, but invariably the corpse rather than Galen was held to be in error.


Vesalius then decided that he will dissect corpses himself and trust to the evidence of what he found.

His approach was highly controversial, but his evident skill led to his appointment as professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Padua (the 2nd oldest university in Italy and the 5th oldest in the world).


University of Padua seal.svg


Vesalius published his first anatomical text, Tabulae Anatomicae Sex, in 1538.

Previously these topics had been taught primarily from reading classical texts, mainly Galen, followed by an animal dissection by a barber–surgeon whose work was directed by the lecturer.


No attempt was made to confirm Galen’s claims, which were considered unassailable.


De humani corporis fabrica (27).jpg


Vesalius, in contrast, performed dissection as the primary teaching tool, handling the actual work himself and urging students to perform dissection themselves.


He considered hands-on direct observation to be the only reliable resource.


Vesalius created detailed illustrations of anatomy for students in the form of six large woodcut posters.

When he found that some of them were being widely copied, he published them all in 1538 under the title Tabulae anatomicae sex.

He followed this in 1539 with an updated version of Guinter’s anatomical handbook, Institutiones anatomicae.


Vesalius Fabrica p178.jpg


In 1541 while in Bologna, Vesalius discovered that all of Galen’s research had to be restricted to animals.

Since dissection had been banned in ancient Rome, Galen had dissected Barbary macaques instead, which he considered structurally closest to man.

Even though Galen produced many errors due to the anatomical material available to him, he was a qualified examiner, but his research was weakened by stating his findings philosophically, so his findings were based on religious precepts rather than science.


Macaca sylvanus.Mother and baby.jpg


In 1543, Vesalius conducted a public dissection of the body of Jakob Karrer von Gebweiler, a notorious felon from the city of Basel, Switzerland.

He assembled and articulated the bones, finally donating the skeleton to the University of Basel.

This preparation (“The Basel Skeleton“) is Vesalius’ only well-preserved skeletal preparation, and also the world’s oldest surviving anatomical preparation.


Image result for basel skeleton images


It is still displayed at the Anatomical Museum of the University of Basel.


In the same year Vesalius took residence in Basel to help Oporinus publish the seven-volume De humani corporis fabrica (On the fabric of the human body).


At about the same time he published an abridged edition for students, Andrea Vesalii suorum de humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome.

That work, now collectively referred to as the Fabrica of Vesalius, was groundbreaking in the history of medical publishing and is considered to be a major step in the development of scientific medicine.

Because of this, it marks the establishment of anatomy as a modern descriptive science.

Though Vesalius’ work was not the first such work based on actual dissection, nor even the first work of this era, the production quality, highly detailed and intricate plates, and the likelihood that the artists who produced it were clearly present in person at the dissections made it an instant classic.

Pirated editions were available almost immediately, an event Vesalius acknowledged in a printer’s note would happen.

Vesalius was 28 years old when the first edition of Fabrica was published.


Vesalius Fabrica fronticepiece.jpg


Vesalius was going up against the towering authority of a tradition stretching back to the ancients—here specifically the work of Galen — with only his experience on his side.

He knew what his eyes saw and his hands felt, and concluded that traditional belief was wrong.


In his publications we see Vesalius doing everything he can think of to bolster his authoritative image:

  • publishing a huge monument to himself, but presenting the work using Galen’s own flowchart
  • presenting himself as personal physician to the emperor and having himself depicted in a commanding position on the title page of the book
  • augmenting his words with illustration after illustration and recommending the experiential road to all his students far and wide.


His guarantee:

If you doubt what I say and show here, do your own anatomy, see for yourself.



The study of anatomy flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the use of dissecting human cadavers influenced anatomy, leading to a spike in the study of anatomy.

The advent of the printing press facilitated the exchange of ideas.


Because the study of anatomy concerned observation and drawings, the popularity of the anatomist was equal to the quality of his drawing talents, and one need not be an expert in Latin to take part.

Many famous artists studied anatomy, attended dissections, and published drawings for money, from Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) to Rembrandt (1606 – 1669).

For the first time, prominent universities could teach something about anatomy through drawings, rather than relying on knowledge of Latin.



Contrary to popular belief, the Church neither objected to nor obstructed anatomical research.


Only certified anatomists were allowed to perform dissections, and sometimes then only yearly.

These dissections were sponsored by the city councilors and often charged an admission fee, rather like a circus act for scholars.

Many European cities, such as Amsterdam, London, Copenhagen, Padua, and Paris, all had Royal anatomists (or some such office) tied to local government.

Though it was a risky business to perform dissections, and unpredictable depending on the availability of fresh bodies, attending dissections was legal.



The supply of printed anatomy books from Italy and France led to an increased demand for human cadavers for dissections.

Since few bodies were voluntarily donated for dissection, royal charters were established which allowed prominent universities to use the bodies of hung criminals for dissections.

However, there was still a shortage of bodies that could not accommodate for the high demand of bodies.

Until the middle of the 18th century, there was a quota of ten cadavers for each the Royal College of Physicians and the Company of Barber Surgeons, the only two groups permitted to perform dissections.


During the first half of the 18th century, William Cheselden challenged the Company of Barber Surgeon’s exclusive rights on dissections.

He was the first to hold regular anatomy lectures and demonstrations.

He also wrote The Anatomy of the Human Body, a student handbook of anatomy.


William Cheselden.jpg

Above: William Cheselden (1688 – 1752)


In 1752, the rapid growth of medical schools in England and the pressing demand for cadavers led to the passage of the Murder Act.

This allowed medical schools in England to legally dissect bodies of executed murderers for anatomical education and research and also aimed to prevent murder.

To further increase the supply of cadavers, the government increased the number of crimes in which hanging was a punishment.

Although the number of cadavers increased, it was still not enough to meet the demand of anatomical and medical training.

Since few bodies were voluntarily donated for dissection, criminals that were hung for murder were dissected.

However, there was a shortage of bodies that could not accommodate the high demand of bodies.


To cope with shortages of cadavers and the rise in medical students during the 17th and 18th centuries, body-snatching and even anatomy murder were practiced to obtain cadavers.

Body snatching‘ was the act of sneaking into a graveyard, digging up a corpse and using it for study.

Men known as ‘resurrectionists‘ emerged as outside parties, who would steal corpses for a living and sell the bodies to anatomy schools.

The leading London anatomist John Hunter (1728 – 1793) paid for a regular supply of corpses for his anatomy school.


John Hunter by John Jackson.jpg

Above: John Hunter


During the 17th and 18th centuries, the perception of dissections had evolved into a form of capital punishment.

Dissections were considered a dishonor.

The corpse was mutilated and not suitable for a funeral.


By the end of the 18th century, many European countries had passed legislation similar to the Murder Act in England to meet the demand of fresh cadavers and to reduce crime.

Countries allowed institutions to use unclaimed bodies of paupers, prison inmates, and people in psychiatric and charitable hospitals for dissection.

Unfortunately, the lack of bodies available for dissection and the controversial air that surrounded anatomy in the late 17th century and early 18th century caused a halt in progress that is evident by the lack of updates made to anatomical texts of the time between editions.

Additionally, most of the investigations into anatomy were aimed at developing the knowledge of physiology and surgery.

Naturally this meant that a close examination of the more detailed aspects of anatomy that could advance anatomical knowledge was not a priority.



The British Parliament passed the Anatomy Act 1832, which finally provided for an adequate and legitimate supply of corpses by allowing legal dissection of executed murderers.


The view of anatomists at the time, however, became similar to that of an executioner.

Having one’s body dissected was seen as a punishment worse than death:

“If you stole a pig, you were hung.

If you killed a man, you were hung and then dissected.


Demand grew so great that some anatomists resorted to dissecting their own family members as well as robbing bodies from their graves.



Many Europeans interested in the study of anatomy traveled to Italy, then the centre of anatomy.

Only in Italy could certain important research methods be used, such as dissections on women.


The rise in anatomy lead to various discoveries and findings.


In 1628, English physician William Harvey observed circulating blood through dissections of his father’s and sister’s bodies.

He published De moto cordis et sanguinis, a treatise in which he explained his theory.


William Harvey 2.jpg

Above: William Harvey (1578 – 1657)


In addition, during the 17th century, Galileo Galilei introduced the experimental method to scientific research.

This led to innovation and change in anatomy.


Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636.jpg

Above: Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)


In the 18th century, Giovanni Batista Morgagni related pre-mortem symptoms with post-mortem pathological findings using pathological anatomy in his book De Sedibus.


Giambattista morgagni.gif

Above: Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682 – 1771)


This led to the rise of morbid anatomy in France and Europe.

The rise of morbid anatomy was one of the contributing factors to the shift in power between doctors and physicians, giving power to the physicians over patients.


With the invention of the stethoscope in 1816, René Laennec was able to help bridge the gap between a symptomatic approach to medicine and disease, to one based on anatomy and physiology.

His disease and treatments were based on “pathological anatomy” and because this approach to disease was rooted in anatomy instead of symptoms, the process of evaluation and treatment were also forced to evolve.


Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec.jpg

Above: René Laennac (1781 – 1826)


From the late 18th century to the early 19th century, the work of professionals – such as Giambattista Morgagni (1682 – 1771), Matthew Baillie (1761 – 1823) and Xavier Bichat (1771 – 1802) – served to demonstrate exactly how the detailed anatomical inspection of organs could lead to a more empirical means of understanding disease and health that would combine medical theory with medical practice.

This “pathological anatomy” paved the way for “clinical pathology that applied the knowledge of opening up corpses and quantifying illnesses to treatments.”



Along with the popularity of anatomy and dissection came an increasing interest in the preservation of dissected specimens.

In the 17th century, many of the anatomical specimens were dried and stored in cabinets.


In the Netherlands, there were attempts to replicate Egyptian mummies by preserving soft tissue.

This became known as Balsaming.

In the 1660s the Dutch were also attempting to preserve organs by injecting wax to keep the organ’s shape.

Dyes and mercury were added to the wax to better differentiate and see various anatomical structures for academic and research anatomy.



By the late 18th century, Thomas Pole published The Anatomic Instructor, which detailed how to dry and preserve specimens and soft tissue.


Above: Thomas Pole (1753 – 1829)


Anatomists began exploring and pushing for contention that the study of anatomy could contribute to advancing the boundaries of natural philosophy.

However, the majority of students were more interested in the practicality of anatomy, and less so in the advancement of knowledge of the subject.

Students were interested in the technique of dissection rather than the philosophy of anatomy, and this was reflected in their criticism of professors such as Girolamo Fabrici.

Anatomical theatres became a popular form for anatomical teaching in the early 16th century.



The University of Padua was the first and most widely known theatre, founded in 1594.

As a result, Italy became the centre for human dissection.


People came from all over to watch as professors taught lectures on the human physiology and anatomy, as anyone was welcome to witness the spectacle.

Participants “were fascinated by corporeal display, by the body undergoing dissection“.


Most professors did not do the dissections themselves.

Instead they sat in seats above the bodies while hired hands did the cutting.

Students and observers would be placed around the table in a circular, stadium-like arena and listen as professors explained the various anatomical parts.



As anatomy theatres gained popularity, protocols were adjusted to account for the disruptions of students.

Students moved beyond simply being eager to participate, and began stealing and vandalizing cadavers.

Students were thus instructed to sit quietly and were to be penalized for disrupting the dissection.

Moreover, preparatory lectures were mandatory in order to introduce the “subsequent observation of anatomy“.


The demonstrations were structured into dissections and lectures.

The dissections focused on the skill of autopsy/vivisection while the lectures would center on the philosophical questions of anatomy.

This is exemplary of how anatomy was viewed not only as the study of structures but also the study of the “body as an extension of the soul“.



The 19th century eventually saw a move from anatomical theatres to classrooms, reducing “the number of people who could benefit from each cadaver“.


Medical museums provided examples in comparative anatomy, and were often used in teaching.


Anatomical research in the past hundred years has taken advantage of technological developments and growing understanding of sciences such as evolutionary and molecular biology to create a thorough understanding of the body’s organs and structures.


Disciplines such as endocrinology have explained the purpose of glands that anatomists previously could not explain.


Illu endocrine system New.png


Medical devices such as MRI machines and CAT scanners have enabled researchers to study organs, living or dead, in unprecedented detail.


UPMCEast CTscan.jpg


Progress today in anatomy is centered in the development, evolution, and function of anatomical features, as the macroscopic aspects of human anatomy have largely been catalogued.

Non-human anatomy is particularly active as researchers use techniques ranging from finite element analysis to molecular biology.


To save time, some medical schools have adopted prosection where a demonstrator dissects and explains to an audience, in place of dissection by students.

This enables students to observe more than one body.


Improvements in colour images and photography means that an anatomy text is no longer an aid to dissection but rather a central material to learn from.


Plastic models are regularly used in anatomy teaching, offering a good substitute to the real thing.


Use of living models for anatomy demonstration is once again becoming popular within teaching of anatomy.

Surface landmarks that can be palpated on another individual provide practice for future clinical situations.


It is possible to do this on oneself.

In the Integrated Biology course at the University of Berkeley, students are encouraged to “introspect” on themselves and link what they are being taught to their own body.


Seal of University of California, Berkeley.svg


Donations of bodies have declined with public confidence in the medical profession.


In Britain, the Human Tissue Act 2004 tightened up the availability of resources to anatomy departments.


The outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE)(“mad cow disease“) in the late 1980s and early 1990s further restricted the handling of brain tissue. BSE 3.jpg


The controversy of Gunther von Hagens and public displays of dissections, preserved by plastination, divide opinions on what is ethical or legal.


Image result for body worlds images


There are a number of good reasons to visit the Basel Anatomical Museum, besides the aforementioned Jakob Karrer, the oldest anatomically prepared skeleton in the world.

The visitor learns how bodies are prepared for display.


Image result for basel anatomisches museum images


For example, Felix Platter, one of the first physicians in Basel, prepared bones by cleaning them manually, soaking them in water, bleached them in the sun and then removed any fatty substances still remaining.

In 1573, Platter presented the University with a female skeleton.

In his autobiography, he describes how bodies were stolen from cemeteries and convents and then dissected.

Like Vesulius, Platter used the skeleton of a monkey to compare its anatomy with that of a human.


Image result for felix platter images

Above: Felix Platter (1536 – 1614)


The visitor learns through models of embryos all the phases of prenatal development.


Image result for basel anatomisches museum images


Wilhelm His, Sr., contributed greatly to the understanding of prenatal development with fundamental work in the domain of embryology.

Displayed here are wax models and His’s specially designed microtome that measured and produced microscopically fine slices of embryos in a continuous series all of the same thickness.


Wilhelm His.jpeg

Above: Wilhelm His, Senior (1831 – 1904)


In 1894, His was asked to resolve an interesting anthropological problem.

While renovating the Johanniskirche in Leipzig, the bones of an elderly man were found, thought to be those of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750).

His was given the task of identifying these bones.

He had measured the thickness of soft tissue at numerous points on the skulls of 37 adult corpses and had observed that the average thickness was similar for normal, healthy, nourished adults depending on their age and gender.

Displayed is a portrait bust of a two-faced man made by Professor Karl Seffner, a Leipzig sculptor, using Wilhelm His’s measurements and modelled on the assumed skull of Bach.

The first model is very similar to different known portraits of Bach.

This technique was copied and used throughout the world until it was abandoned in the computer age.


Image result for carl seffner bach


Within the walls of the Anatomical Museum, we see how bones are constructed and structured: skulls, vertebral columns, trunks, ribs, sternums, upper limbs, pelvises and lower limbs, false and true semi-mobile and mobile joints, and muscular systems.

One can examine the human digestive system, the respiratory system, urinary and genital organs, the circulatory system, the glandular system, the skin and mammary glands, the central nervous system, topographical anatomy and prenatal development as well as the history of the Museum.


Image result for basel anatomisches museum images


I was left with several impressions:

  • How beauty truly is only skin deep, or phrased another way, how beautiful and mysterious we are beneath our skins
  • How complex the human body truly is
  • How fragile the human body truly is
  • How remarkable the human body is
  • How similar we are to each other
  • How mortal we all are


I have never been comfortable with the topic of death and dying, and essentially an anatomical museum is death on display.

But there is some wisdom to be had in acknowleging death for a fuller appreciation of life.


Related image


The greatest paradox for me about humanity is how we are all so similar and yet simultaneously so diverse from one another.


I share the same basic structures as all my fellow human beings and yet no one in the history of the world, in the diversity of the present, or in the prospect of tomorrow, is ever exactly like myself.

My DNA, my fingerprints, and my life experience make me unique.

If this is so, then the individual person is truly special, truly worth appreciating for their uniqueness, truly wonderful and worthy of love.

And so, as chilling and morbid a display of death that an anatomical museum is, it is simultaneously an affirmation of life.


Image result for basel anatomisches museum images


What Shakespeare’s Hamlet said in sorrow, I sing out in celebration:

What piece of work is a man,

How noble in reason,
How infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
How express and admirable in action,

How like an angel in apprehension,
How like a god!


Image result for alas poor yorick i knew him horatio images


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Holy Bible / William Shakespeare, Hamlet / Anatomisches Museum Basel: An Illustrated Guided Tour, / Matthias Buschle and Daniel Hagmann, How Basel Changed the World / Helen and William Bynum (editors), Great Discoveries in Medicine / Steve Parker, Medicine: The Definitive Illustrated History