Leaf Peeper
Project info

Leaf Peeper is a book about "Momijigari", the Japanese tradition of visiting scenic places in autumn to see the leaves of the trees as they turn red. Tim Bowditch's photos follows a Japanese man on the tourist trail around an Imperial villa in Kyoto as he takes endless pictures of the darkening leaves. A text by Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau responds to Bowditch's photos with a story of insight, ignorance and blocked sinuses.

I’ve not even been to Japan. Also, I don’t understand where his clothes came from. Like, where in my mind the idea for him being dressed like that would have come from. Though I think he looks pretty cool. Just not in a way I could actively visualise. It’s not like that’s some pre-existing idea I have of stylish dressing, and I haven’t seen it anywhere. I haven’t remembered it from somewhere and reproduced it, though I guess the whole thing would be an act of my subconscious anyway, so I wouldn’t necessarily know.

I’ve always had trouble with my sinuses - it’s not like recently it has been particularly bad. It comes and goes. The headaches were bad, but I honestly don’t think I’ve had one for maybe a year. I think I have small nostrils. Restricted air flow. Easily blocked. It is definitely worse when I drink alcohol. I think maybe just the sheer amount of liquid. You never think about that do you? But when you drink beer all night you’re ingesting like 10 pints of liquid. That’s mental. You wouldn’t sit down and drink 10 glasses of water in five hours. You’d die. Water on the brain like that pilled up girl in the nineties. I remember reading about that at the time and thinking that drugs were really scary and then later when I was older and doing drugs, thinking that her friends were morons for letting her drink all that water. Plus when you realise that almost all drugs are better when you're pissed then the idea of drinking water goes out the window anyway.

Now I’m thinking about how good it would be to have a suit like that. One you could wear all the time. Because in the dreams he is always wearing that suit, with the little hat, and then in the kebab shop he was wearing it too.

It could be something to do with the wheat or something - the wheat in the beer. Maybe that makes my sinuses worse. I always think that everyone probably has a bit of a wheat intolerance, and also maybe lactose. Cow’s milk is weird - apparently we just aren’t built for it. Come to think of it Japanese people don’t eat milk products do they? And apparently westerners smell of milk.

Anyway, I’m just not a hardy person. A weak stomach is a meaningful bodily metaphor for me. I understand it. Even as I’m writing this I’m feeling a bit jittery and nervous because I’m hungover and I’ve drunk some coffee, and it isn’t the caffeine making me feel weird, but the way my stomach reacts to the hot coffee. I can feel it, the metaphor, where it comes from. It’s not an analogy - it is just a straight description of a physiological state.

So when I’m drunk I’m sort of breathy. Not wheezing or coughing, just a mouth breather - maybe some sniffing. Specially in the cold - and then coming into the heat of the kebab shop so warm like that. My glasses would have steamed up, I’m sure of that - though I can’t remember it happening. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see him when I first walked in.

Because I would have recognised him, from the dreams. Definitely. He’s been there for years. Always the same, I follow him round these gardens. This old Japanese guy, and he is oblivious because he is taking photos of all the leaves which are all golden and brown which is beautiful but sort of morbid as well. The dream is really about the feeling - I have no idea why he is Japanese - the feeling that he is going to turn around at any moment and the situation is going to be embarrassing and hard to explain. Actually, maybe there is something about how I’m in his country and I’m acting wrong Like doing something that is customarily incorrect. I suppose maybe that fits with my sort of limited and stereotyped knowledge of Japanese culture. Like, it being a culture where social interaction is more strictly ritualised and you could definitely get it “wrong”.

It’s weird that idea, because in one way it would actually be a relief to know what is and isn’t socially appropriate. Like I hate how I’m never quite sure about the politeness of kissing - and my family is French, so I should know, which makes it worse. For a bit they did three kisses, which threw everyone. No one knows where it started but there was about a two month period where we kept getting it wrong because the three-kiss-meme had got in somewhere and no one knew if this was a temporary fashion to be endured, or a permanent paradigm shift to be embraced, or a just a mistake. Anyway so I find the whole thing awkward, and the handshake for the man and the kiss for the lady - that sets me off too. My inner teenager recoils at how conservative it is, but then if you do it wrong then everyone’s embarrassed - even if it’s through choice, i.e. you are actively not doing the appropriate thing because you feel like its inherently misogynistic or whatever, but actually you still come across as socially awkward.

But, if you had proper rules - not just expectation but like formal bullet pointed instructions - not written down or anything, but just understood as immutable laws, rather than just our wishy washy ‘oooh that’s a bit embarrassing that he didn’t shake his hand’ - maybe that would be better because you would have to do stuff, and not doing it wouldn’t be an option.

I’d already ordered my kebab and sat down and was waiting for it. The kebabs are served in naan bread and are really weird and definitely only an option when you’re pissed, but they are ok. Like the meat isn’t so ugly, though it is from a spinning doner meat hulk. And the salad is good and the chilli and garlic sauce is good and they are nice guys who run the place.

And maybe I was making a breathy noise or sniffing or something but suddenly I look up and he is right in my face saying ‘Do you have trouble with your breathing?’ and this is where perhaps I agree with my friends that maybe it didn’t really happen because he had a Geordie accent, which is obviously incongruous with him being Japanese. It could happen I suppose. But what was a Japanese Geordie doing in London? I suppose that isn’t the issue. It's just his age. He must be a first generation migrant, but if he was first generation then his English would have a Japanese accent, not a Geordie accent. Wouldn't it?

He was really pissed, but in the dreams he isn’t , he is just taking photos with his digital camera in these gardens and I’m following him round the gardens and he is very still and quiet and just concerned with the photos he is taking. Part of me, in the dream, is wishing that I was doing a task that took concentration and was meditative in its repetition and in how much attention it requires, instead of following this guy around which is worrying and tense and could at any moment turn into something really embarrassing if he turns round and spots me.

His kebab was open, on the counter, and the guy is waiting for him to make his sauce choice. The shop is tiny. There’s like a counter, and a plastic chair, and a sofa and a table. So how I missed him when I walked in I don’t know.

But then after asking me whether I have trouble with my breathing, and me sort of looking taken aback but nodding or at least giving some sort of positive physical signal that yes, I did have trouble with my breathing, he takes both hands and pushes his thumbs onto the bony bit of my cheeks below my eyes, with his fingers wrapped back below my ears and pushes really hard with his thumbs and sort of shouts “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” at me. The timing of each “Breathe!” is such that I am obviously meant to breathe in when he says it. Also he isn’t really shouting but in the context of the small kebab shop with its restricted space and its warmth and the overall quietness of the place, it feels very loud. Commanding, at the least. Definitely not an offer you could refuse. Though I stress that it didn’t feel intrusive or violent, although when I’m drunk I tend to enjoy any sort of physical contact. And I’m aware of how strange that sounds but I’m not going to explain it further if you don’t already know what I mean.

The dreams come and go. But they always inspire that same feeling of potential embarrassment. But in dreams these psychic-states are like, pure and are not so directly linked to the context of what is happening. So it’s not like I could pinpoint the exact reason for the connection between the feeling and the Japanese guy. Now the more I think about it, the more morbid it is, him taking these pictures of the dying leaves. Which I suppose the trees aren’t dying, but it feels morbid still. Also, dying leaves always remind me of the smell of cum, when they are piled up on footpaths and decaying. Bleach and cum. But maybe in Japan it doesn’t smell like that. The dream feels crisp and cool, but not cold. And dry, not wet. Not mouldy like in England. Clear cut. I don’t look up but if I did the sky would be pale blue and empty.

It worked. He takes his hands away and suddenly my nose is clear and I can breathe and I just sort of stand up and point at my own face and breathe in and out proudly. He steps back as if to admire his handiwork. He puts his hands behind his back and nods towards me and smiles and turns to the counter. He sorts his sauces out for his kebab I suppose, but I don’t notice because I’m too busy breathing and shaking my head in disbelief. Which, again, don’t get me wrong, my nose is occasionally clear, but I suppose I’d never thought that you could just clear it like that with a physical action.

I’ve tried it since and it hasn’t worked. But, there is quite a good thing where you tilt your head back and hold your breath and that does work sort of. But anyway, like I said it isn’t a debilitating condition so it's not like I’m desperately searching for some way of clearing my nose.

But is it more morbid that I’m following him while he does it? Like watching someone capturing death over and over, but my feeling is not of death or fear about death, but fear of embarrassment. What does that say about someone? That when confronted with death all they can worry about is the possibility of a socially awkward situation? But then I’m following him, so I must be fascinated by death too, just not brave enough to look at it directly.

But the leaves aren’t actually dying, they are just falling as part of the life cycle of the tree, so at best it is a metaphor for death, rather than an actual presentation of mortality. I am worrying about the embarrassment of being caught watching someone else taking pictures of a metaphor of death. Which is either not so bad or much much worse.

I don’t know. I didn’t see him leave. I think I just got my kebab and went home and by the time I got home my nose was blocked again. I told all my friends about it and they sort of thought the story was funny until I started talking about the dreams and then they looked more dubious, then when I said about the Geordie accent I basically lost them completely.