A Day in My Life in Kyoto

Truth be told, I was not feeling well last week. Since I’m prone to upper respiratory infections,  I travel with a stash of medicine to help insure I recover more quickly when illness strikes.  I saw a local doctor who added to my pharmacological intake, and confirmed that my lungs were clear, although I had a cough bad enough to rouse the dead.  That said, my energy was drained.  I  tired quickly so most days were spent close to my bed so I could lay down as necessary.  The good news is, I’m about 85% better today. Although I was a bit apprehensive I decided it was Time to leave the nest and head out for a while. If I ran out of steam, I could taxi home.

We’ve had a splendid run of great weather.  Some of the cherry blossoms have already peaked but the season is still in full swing with later blooming varieties taking the stage.  There are too many tourists in town, still searching for blossoms, so I decided to stick to the streets and find my visual satisfaction elsewhere.

First stop was the new Issey Miyake flagship store that opened around the corner from our apartment.  Miyake meticulously  restored an old machiya (townhouse)and kura(storage house) as the perfect elegant background for his goods.

His clothing is not wearable in my opinion, but his innovative use of textiles has been revolutionary. His bold graphic raincoats designed in collaboration with a graphic artist in the kura are an art installation and that’s enough reason to visit..

In order not to exhaust myself,  I easily decided it was time for a matcha latté at a small café overlooking a Japanese garden.

Restored, my feet knew the way to one of my favorite stationery stores in the Teramachi arcade. Kyukyodo. For Y100 each, I selected a handful of postcards that captured the spirit of spring in Japan. Stuck up on my office wall with washi tape, they’ll be an easy throw back to time spent here.  IMG_0306

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I had one more must -see-again visit to make before I returned home and that was to Gallery Kei. I met Kei Kawasaki several years ago while on a tour.  She owns a small exquisitely curated gallery on Teramachi dori.  She specializes in Japanese textiles woven before cotton was available in Japan.  Old farmer’s jackets, fragments of old kimono, boro, mostly all indigo. A solitary peach tree was in full blossom in front of her gallery.

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Entering her realm is practically a spiritual experience.  My eye was drawn to a fragment of textile laying on top of a basket of fragments. The pattern is layered and quite unusual, Kei-san confirmed.  I wonder what the woman  who made this would think if she knew it was about to find a home thousands of miles away?IMG_0309 (1)

 

 

My Piece of Heaven

 

Rokkaku-ji.  Rokkaku-ji.  Rokkakuji.  Bali Hai  Bali Hai.Bali Hai.

It’s become my neighborhood sanctuary. Simply walk through its ancient wooden gates into a small protected sacred space visited by neighborhood locals, bordered by high office walls and even a damn Starbuck’s.  No matter.  In my opinion, it’s a perfect retreat.

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I’ve entered a world of innocence where weeping willows spout bows and cherry blossom petals float in the gentle breeze as a young girl tries to catch them.  Pigeons do insistent but quiet courtship dances at our feet while worshippers say prayers and visitors take selfies next to stately swans and beside the effusive blossoms on ancient sacred trees.

I like to light an incense stick now when I first arrive, giving thanks to whoever for my safe arrival and return to Kyoto. I pray to be able to return again.  Another spring.

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The Kyoto Hospitality Hour

“Come to our apartment for a little sake and chit chat before we go out for dinner,” is how our invitation goes.  That said, we have easily pulled together a spontaneous series of Vapnek hospitality hours that we are very happy with.  Our guests seem delighted as well.  It could only happen here.

Our more frequent visits to Kyoto have coincided with a rise of Kyoto visits from friends and friends of friends of friends who are making first visits to Kyoto for a few days.  Invariably, we’re contacted for obvious reasons by folks just wanting to say hi, curious about how we live here as well as  looking for restaurant/sightseeing/shopping guidance.

We’ve gotten into the habit of inviting visitors over.  That way, we have a friendly social hour and can determine their interests and offer suggestions.  Generally, they’re visiting for a few short days and my main advice is not to expect to see it all on one trip! If the spark is lit, I assume they’ll return for a deeper exploration of this remarkable city.  We’ve acquired a nice selection of sake cups.  Our guest are happy to pick their own, which is a fun custom here.

Within a quarter mile radius of our apartment is a store in the Nishiki Market that has a wonderful sake selection.  (my husband’s job).  Then on to a pickle emporium grabbing some cucumbers, daikon etc.

Japanese cucumber pickles

A short walk follows to Daimaru food court for a bag of assorted rice crackers that always gather a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the first timers.

Japanese rice crackers

We bring some almonds and pistachio nuts from California each time we come so that rounds out the food tableau.

Of course, I’m in charge of set up and flowers.IMG_0158

Almost Never Enough PINK

Since I was a bit long-winded in my last blog, I decided to cut to the chase today.  As I mentioned in my last blog, one reason I’m in Japan now is to celebrate spring in Japanese fashion.  The arrival of the cherry blossom season here is feverishly anticipated for weeks before the actual blooms appear. Forecasts for every part of the country tell the Japanese public exactly where and when to go to the sights with the most bang for the buck.  I pay attention to these forecast and follow the festive crowds, or more pleasurably find an off the beaten path spot to witness the extravaganza.
It’s a wonderful tradition and everyone gets swept up in it.  Year after year.
Pink swatches

Pink is a combination of the color red and white, a hue that can be described as a tint. It can range from berry (blue-based) pinks to salmon (orange-based) pinks. Its symbolism is complex and its popularity is subject to so many influences.

We can begin an analysis of pink by looking at natural and contemporary sources of this delicate color. First, regardless of your skin color, some part of your body is pink. So are sunsets, watermelons and Pepto Bismal. Depending on your age and culture, you may remember pink Cadillacs, pink flamingos (once considered in bad taste in American culture but now retro-chic), Pink Floyd, the Pink Panther, and the pink triangles of the Third Reich (which were used to identify male homosexuals).  colormatters.com

 

Today I took photos of only things that were pink.  I hope these photos give you a taste of my pink drenched day.  The blooms for the weeping cherries are mostly peaking, many other later varieties to follow over the next week.

Pink Encounters:  From first to last

  1.  Easter bunny in bakery counter of Daimaru Dep’t store
  2.  Ema votive tablets wishes and prayers written by visitors at Kodaiji Temple.
  3. The magnificent weeping cherry tree in splendid solitude at Kodaiji in Kyoto.
  4. More delectables in pastry case
  5. Alstromeria pink
  6. Folk art yarn ball (temari)
  7. Do you need a new purse?
  8. 9.  Better not miss out on Easter

IMG_0133IMG_0135and best of all:IMG_0139

I’m here to Celebrate Spring

Is this what getting old is going to be about?  I had an all day/almost all night coughing jag yesterday that wore me and my poor husband out.  You’re going to have to do something about that, he told me grumpily.  No dah, I replied with irritation.

I stopped taking a prescribed cortisone inhaler today which I decided was triggering the coughing fits, so today I am coughing less.  But before I became too frisky, the pain from my hip bursitis turned back on this afternoon as I was starting out for a walk in my Kyoto neighborhood.  Needless to say, my stroll was curtailed.

Time to get out the advil before my walk and stop talking about my complaints.  What smarty pants said to me “You can’t afford a negative thought”?  I had a few too many these the last two days. I’m here to celebrate spring and beauty in the city that has made an art out of it!

This afternoon we rolled smoothly into Kyoto on the bullet train after spending two nights in Tokyo.  I am always struck by the contrast between the new capital and the ancient one of Kyoto. There’s the obvious difference of size, but more than that, it’s about scale.  Tokyo is reaching for the sky these days, covered with new high rises being built just about everywhere you look. In Kyoto, (almost) the entire environment seems integrated and grounded.

Earthquake concerns are somhow overcome by state of the art engineering.   The huge buildings are impersonal, mostly office space, sometimes housing hotels as well, but with no distinctiveness that I could identify or admire.  Tokyo can be slick, cutting edge and fun, but after a few days I am generally relieved to pull out of it and head south to Kyoto.  The big city doesn’t feed my spirit except for it’s preoccupation with good design.  Flash is fun and youthful but grows easily tiresome.

Ginza scene
A beautiful but likely useless article for travel.

I know Kyoto  quite well now, so there’s no element of surprise when I arrive here as there used to be.  Rather, it’s a sense of comfort I feel upon entering. The small pots of seasonal flowers placed carefully at the doorways remind me that time is taken to appreciate nature here.  Once again, I am sure that scale plays a large role.  The city is mostly built of two story buildings with a few buildings, like errant toddlers, escaping those boundaries, but not very many and not by dozens of stories.

There’s  a strong sense of place here with temples and shrines appearing around every corner. Their significance plays a constant role in the events of the city.  They are power centers, no doubt, reminding me immediately that I’m no longer in the USA.  Japanese are said not to be religious but when you enter a shrine it’s easy to see that the ancient gods are respected and play a role in their contemporary life.

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The Japanese  people have a strong sense of purpose.  There’s not a lot of lolling about or screwing around. They all seem devoted to their jobs and determined to do the best they can in them. They walk quickly.  They listen intently when you speak to them. They are considerate and kind.  They do seem to embody a kinder, gentler strain of humanity, at least in this time and place!  It’s a welcome change from the nastiness rampant on the home front.

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As always, our dear Japanese friend has prepared seasonal welcome flowers to greet us when we open the door of our apartment. It’s these moments that mean the most to me and speak stronger than any words.