‘Balade Zen’, Artistic Wanderings

This travel journal, with a mix of poems and watercolours, allows readers to discover the Japanese zen tradition through temples and gardens.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Éditions Akinomé

Balade Zen (‘Zen Walk’) invites readers to discover Japan through the eyes of illustrator and watercolour artist Michèle Adaoust and author Anne Terral, whose work includes novels released by Stock Publishing and audio fiction produced for France Culture. The pair draw readers into the world of Japanese traditions, and particularly those relating to zen culture. Through short poems and watercolours, the reader wanders through the country’s largest cities, discovering their temples and gardens.

Overviews or details are presented delicately on the paper, like Otoyo-jinja temple in Kyoto and the extremely popular Silver Pavilion. Senso-ji, an iconic Buddhist temple in Tokyo, located in Asakusa district, is also featured, as is the temple of moss, a garden that houses over 120 species of this plant that appear in various colours as the seasons pass, situated in the former imperial capital, Kyoto.


Wandering into the heart of Japanese beliefs

But beyond strolls around religious buildings, Balade Zen also takes the reader into the world of kami, Japanese spirits that usually take the form of elements of nature or animals, but that can also be the spirits of people having passed away. Unlike yokai, spirits that are often mischievous, if not evilkami do not commit any misdemeanours against those who cross their path. Anne Terral and Michèle Adaoust also examine the range of beliefs that run through Japan, as well as the various rituals linked to nature that are practised there.  

Balade Zen is therefore a poetic inventory of the zen universe that surrounds Japan when enthusiasts or prospective travellers imagine themselves there. It is a fragmented view, no doubt, but one that nevertheless touches on a real facet of the belief system at work in the Land of the Rising Sun. 


Balade Zen (‘Zen Walk’) (2021), a book by Anne Terral and Michèle Adaoust, is published by Editions Akinomé (not currently available in English).