One Journey Ends, Another Begins

I awakened from my sleeping pill slumber as we were an hour out of LA.  Relief that the long flight was nearly over flooded my consciousness. Awareness dawned that I hadn’t eaten dinner or breakfast, falling asleep early in the flight and blessedly remaining asleep for most of it. Gratitude.  I’d eaten more than enough while in Japan to tide me over. I was returning to the land of my birth, the seemingly now crazy, angry and often chaotic place that I hardly recognize is my real home.  I am returning home to take the next steps in my new role as retiree.  I like it!

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After stumbling in and out of bed for two days, waking to help celebrate my granddaughter’ s 7th birthday, and then losing myself in slumber again, today I seem to have my wits about me. Small blessing!  Life can resume.

The Basquiat Show at the Mori Art Museum

Kyoto has truly become a second home to me.  Familiarity has bred comfort in this case.  I no longer walk around like other tourists I see, looking as if I’d landed on the moon unprepared. In fact, I generally now know where I’m going, secure in the fact that I’m not going to fall off the edge of the earth. Secure in the fact that people are kind in Kyoto and if a problem occurs, they’re only too happy to help me.  musing:  I wonder if Kyotoites identify me as simply “other” or as “other” with a quality of belonging somehow to their culture rather than just a passing tourist.

The Fun Loving Cats of Japan

Not as much seems surprising anymore. When I first came to Japan I couldn’t take more than three steps without stopping to gape at something that I’d never see at home. No longer.  I’ve upped the ante I guess and become more discriminating. The cutsey stuff has become cliché.  The bakeries and food quality remain at the top rung of the ladder. As do the temples and nature. The fear of being rejected when making a dinner reservation  has dimmed.  Of course the fact that my husband does this, is quite helpful.  Nothing much from fear of the unknown deters me anymore, except large crowds.

The Splendid Gardens of Kyoto

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We have a marital division of labor that works pretty well.  I run the washing machine and my husband does the scheduling, which I’ve not done well at (to put it mildly).  I find the intriguing places and events to track down, he finds the way to get us there. Generally good-naturedly.

The Spiritual Edge

So now I’m back, newly retired.  I’m loving the new found freedom to make it up as I go along.  I’m also loving that it’s a sure thing I’ll be back in Japan come Spring!

Japanese Landscape Dreams

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a sure sign of fall, berries demanding attention.
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After he rains, water is flowing in the run off ditches alongside the temple walls.

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osmanthus, should be scratch n sniff!

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fungi on downed tree

In review, I’m posting a few of my favorite things from this trip.  Thanks for coming along for the ride with me.

 

 

 

 

Dipping a To(e) into Tokyo

Tokyo is huge.  It’s exciting  and exhausting! The motherland of sushi?  The boldest of buildings?  The best of art collections?  A shopper’s paradise?  A non -shopper’s idea of hell?  A business man’s playground?  Definitely a city with an underbelly, often visible, of pimps and prostitutes and the mob. A pamperedpoodle’s place to live an overly indulgent life? For sure all of the above.

I spent a few days there investigating small areas of the city and having a fine time before meeting one of my daughters and heading back to Kyoto.

Must Be Seen to be Believed

I’d read about a book store complex that when visited, astounded me. Definitely in the category of Must Be Seen to be Believed. The Japanese seem to have the amazing ability of bringing big dream projects to life. I don’t know the history of this project, but I think  Tatsuya Books, in Daikanyama (Tokyo neighborhood) must have been some powerful and influential person’s dream.

Not to be missed is the Tsutaya Books bookstore itself, a literary enclave that features elaborate interior design. The modern complex includes a lounge, café, upscale convenience store and one of the busiest Starbucks joints. Comprised of three interconnected buildings, the bookstore has a seemingly endless offering of books, periodicals, English-language titles, DVDs, stationery, and movies. I can spend hours perusing their vintage magazines from the 60’s and 70’s on their 60-yard long “Magazine Street.” savvyTokyo.com, Nanno Betts

 

Don’t expect to spend less than half a day in this book complex. There is sooo much to investigate. Here are more examples of what caught my restless eyes!

Art works intertwine with books and books and books!

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My daughter Joined me as we joined the long lines visiting the new Basquiat exhibition at the Mori Art Museum.  Short on context, but deep on his vivid, quixotic paintings.  It’s an intense show and a lot to take in.  I did my best.  So fortunate to see it here.

Finally to round to round out the day, it was time for a cocktail.

Between Heaven and Earth

After recovering from three somewhat harrowing days driving a rental car on the road in Japan, we learned , despite the high points of the trip, not to do it again.  I also relearned that there is a very small margin of error between life and death on a snake like one lane curving  road where a head -on collision could catapult you from one world to the next and was possible at any time.

At Koyasan, while walking through the cryptomeria pathway lined with tombs of the dead, I learned again to value the time I have left, before I rest for eternity with the millions who have passed before us.

 

 

 

 

On the far too narrow one lane road leading us out of Koyasan, I learned that beauty can exist in unlikely circumstances. The road really should have been just a pathway along the small river, but it actually was chosen by Google maps as our way to get down the steep mountain.  It even had a route #!

Despite the knowledge that each curve or one wrong turn of the wheel could presage our final moments, I could not get over the thrill of being in this beautiful area.  The intense beauty overcame my fear. The foliage lining the river’s path was at its peak of fall color.  The river itself, about 25 feet beneath the road, was populated by beautiful boulders and rocks, the river, crystal clear, running a path between them. It invited me to linger, but my husband had a sense of urgency to get us to a wider and undoubtedly safer road. Some bikers rushed past us, but other than that, we’d meet one or two other motorists about every 20minutes, which is to say, we were mostly alone in this splendid landscape on this treacherous road.

the river below.

 

Then, suddenly this journey into an alternate universe was over.  We welcomed the first houses that appeared and celebrated escaping alive.  Maybe I’m being overly melodramatic, but I don’t think so!  Soon, the junk big box architecture that is too prevalent outside of most cities took over our visual field.  We’ve lost so much of the natural world.

The sacred place of Koyasan was meant to celebrate nature, as is Shintoism. I am grateful we got to participate in the celebration, somber as it could be at times.

Life is precarious and glorious.

Aging Gracefully Off the Beaten Path

Since I learned to drive, I’ve always had the urge to explore places off the beaten path.  I love to follow an unknown road deep into the countryside.  The same impulse still resides in me today.  Yesterday, it took me and my husband on a wonderful detour just on the city’s edge.

Following a recommendation in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide, we set out for the Oharano Shrine which is known to have maple trees that explode with fiery color in the fall.  Unfortunately, we were about a week too early to see the color as described, so we moved through the shrine rather quickly.  Pausing for tea in a small café, the owner knew a little English, just as I know a little Japanese.  We both enjoyed ourselves patching a conversation together that each mostly understood, or pretended to, if we didn’t.  The fruit hanging in the background is kaki (persimmons) going through the traditional process of drying, out-of-doors in the shade of eaves.

My instincts told me there was more to see beyond the shrine.  We followed a steep pathway, towards a promised temple we knew nothing about.

It was a haul for me, but after a quarter mile of huffing and puffing, we arrived at the ancient temple, Shojiji.  Danny led the way.

There were only one or two other visitors on the grounds.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale setting.  The beauty of the stones, buildings and grounds  were enriched by the eager plant life, which had taken over in places , encouraged by meandering streams.  Certain areas were almost hidden by the lush gloom, adding to the solemnity and mystery.

The history of Shoji-ji temple predates that of Kyoto itself. Founded in the year 686, it is known for its feeling of remoteness, as well as the hundreds of cherry and maple trees in the gardens, which are a photographer’s delight in both spring and autumn.  Bonson Lam, Japan travel

Shojiji wears her age well and proudly.  There are no attempts to hide her age.   Nature is allowed to encroach but hasn’t taken over.  The temple’s worn features are dignified and strong.  She played an important role in early Kyoto history that is still respected.  Yesterday, I became a fan.

 

Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch

Many years ago I was too intimidated to walk into a high end NYC department store such as Berdorf Goodman. My mother favored Saks Fifth Ave when we made our annual visit to NYC. Particularly their pocketbook sales. My guess now is that Berdorf’s intimidated her too. The somewhat haughty “May I help you?” used to make me think that they somehow knew just by looking at me that I couldn’t afford anything they were offering.

My shoes are a better quality now. So is my attitude. Somewhere along the line, maybe when I got older than the sales persons, I stopped feeling intimidated. Maybe it was moving to CA that made me feel and think I looked more or differently sophisticated and could therefore feel ok in this status conscious temple. I know that, at some point, the Upper East Side look,which initially fascinated me and seemed unapproachable started to look conforming and dated. Nothing to fear here, for sure.

Today I wandered into the store needing a new lipstick. NO problem. It was near lunchtime so I made my way to the top floor to find a seat at their restaurant Bg. I took a seat in the lounge, because they told me there was no space in the restaurant itself. I had a perfect vantage point by the entrance to the restaurant to watch the arrival of the Ladies who Lunch. and even surreptitiously take a few photos for this blog.

“Look how gorgeous you are!”exclaims one socialite to another. “I didn’t recognize you in this fabulous color!”

It’s a chic timeless room with a green canopy of trees from Central Park visible from the windows. The  upholstered small tables for two by the windows are understandably coveted. A place to see and be seen.

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“A glass of white burgundy and ice water with a straw,” the woman seated next to me briskly instructs her waiter.

I easily broke the diners into categories. (90% female)
A. Those dressed all in black with and without a reservation, looking quite comfortable and more than pleased to grab a seat in the lounge when told there was no room in the restaurant itself. They know their way around here.
B. Those who step off the elevator looking uncertain. They are doomed to remain on the outside of this clubby enclave. Treated kindly as far as I could tell, but quickly turned away. The woman in the center of this photo epitomizes this look.

C. Young, polished, self-assured  creatures who were there to attend a private party in the curtained off back room.They swept right through the door by passing the hostess. No one dares to question their right to be there.

D. The impeccably dressed and coiffed single female guests, greeted with a hug and large smile by the maitre d. He is positioned discreetly across the door from the hostess whom most check in with, for such an occasion when someone of “import” arrives and needs to be fussed over and ushered into the inner sanctum. Maybe there’s always a table waiting for this kind of guest? Too obvious and too close to even attempt a photo here.

I couldn’t help noticing the power shoes that came through the door. It was easy taking the photos of feet.

 

LOoks like the afro is back.

The people watching was great here. Probably unchanged for the last century. I think the only thing that fortunately has changed is my frame of reference!