1. CIVILITY. Everyone is NICE ! Customers are always cordially welcomed and greeted when they enter a store or restaurant. They are always thanked for coming as they leave. Politeness simply makes the world a nicer place. (So true. Makes me nicer too.)
Saying goodbye at Abeke House in Omori-cho.
2. TEATIME. The abundance of cool cafes and charming teashops demand attention and always call for a mid-afternoon break that makes for a better day. (I’ve had to put limits on this enjoyable habit. The cakes all come with too steep a price not mentioned. In a new list I might be forced to omit the teatimes, for obvious reasons. I did love them dearly.)
3. TEMPLES AND SHRINES. I am magnetically drawn to the architecture, the gardens, the exotism, the mystery and the imagery of these places of worship. With approximately 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto alone, there’s a lifetime left for exploration! (Still going strong and still discovering fascinating temples I hadn’t seen before. This Spring, the Obai-in Temple got my award as most unforgettable.)
4. GARDENS. Japanese gardens reveal their wonders to me season by season, place by place, turn by turn. They are places of refuge, dreams and restoration. The sights and sounds of water, stone, gravel and sculptured plants as manipulated in a Japanese garden can be revelatory. (After pulling up my backyard lawn, I’m now in the process of trying to put a Japanese influenced garden in its place. You’re right to laugh!)
5. SERENDIPITY. You just never know what will cross your path in the course of a day in seemingly the most unexpected places and moments.
6. ATTENTION TO DETAIL. Few aspects of the visual world is are overlooked. Sophisticated packaging, graphic design, and presentation constantly delight and astonish. (I’m awed by the way the Japanese aesthetic raises the bar for graphic design.)
7. Beer and Sake and Udon and Soba and Tofu and Tempura and Confections and Sushi and Ramen and Tonkatsu and Milk Pudding and Toast Sets and Cake Sets. All in one day?! (Gastronomic delights truly never end.)
8. FRIENDS. There’s nothing better than reconnecting with friends whom I’ve met through my travels to Japan. They not only enrich and enliven my visits, their patience, generosity and kindness enrich my life as a whole.
Robert Yellin, of Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery
Sculptor, Matsuzaki Katsuyoshi and Personal Tour Guide Yamanaka Harumi. Missing, her husband, Yamanaka Akihiko. Also missing and missed, Steve Beimel of Esprit Travel!
9. SAFETY. Never a worry. Great drivers, immaculate taxis, theft practically unheard of! (Forget your purse in the middle of a department store? No problemo! Your camera? Your glasses? I have a 100% rate of return, and those of you who know me know that if it’s not attached, I’ll lose it.)
10. ESCAPE FROM THE NEWS. The language barrier provides a perfect opportunity to tune out. (More important than ever.)
11. SHOPPING OPPORTUNITIES. Constant over-stimulation. Tiny shops! Department stores with entire floors devoted to food and art? Textiles? The world’s best Ceramics? Clothing that’s actually comfortable? Regional folk art? Entire department store basements of all kinds of high-quality food? (I’ve actually come to understand “enough. ” Also, the object of my attention that first appears as irresistible, ultimately can become trite or cheesy. Ex: the first time I visited Japan, I was fixated on their covers for kleenex boxes that were in soft velour made to look like kittens!)
12. EVERYTHING DONE WELL. Never an attitude of “I’m too sexy for this job.” ( Every kind of work is respected. So much so that everyone seems to take pride in their work and does it as well as possible, be it cleaning person, server, salesperson, ticket taker, bank teller, etc. It’s in the dna, I think.)
14. NATURE CELEBRATED. Unfortunately, lots of the untouched natural beauty of Japan has disappeared to development, particularly in the cities. However, the Japanese inherent reverence for nature permeates all aspects of the culture, from design to food to art. Great trees are enshrined. Cherry and maple trees are illuminated and celebrated at the height of their beauty, and even as their beauty fades. Seasonally fresh flowers and branches can be found sitting in traditional shop windows and on front doors at the holidays. There’s never a question about rushing a season. Each is paid its proper tribute.
(A local flower shop receives fresh flowers that change by the day. From buds to entire branches. It’s pure pleasure.)
Just realized that I could almost sum it up in one word: “INSPIRATION!”
(Living part-time in Kyoto is an experiment that’s worked out better than I could have imagined. I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange land, although there’s enough contrast to my everyday life in CA that I never tire of the experiences presented. I’m making another attempt to learn the language, for my fifth or sixth time, ever hopeful that a breakthrough lies just around the corner. )
One of the best parts of living part-time in Kyoto, is that when it comes time to leave, I know I will return again. The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.