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

Japan: Through A Child’s Eyes

One way we can recall what it’s like to be a child again, is to travel with children. It’s good if they’re thoughtful and curious.  It’s an added bonus if they have a good “eye” and catch sight of things you might overlook.  A willingness to try new things including unusual looking foreign food is a bonus.  A sense of adventure comes with the territory.

A little back story. Remarkably similar to their grandmother’s penchant for sweet things, both children became initially fascinated with Japan because each time I came back from Japan, I brought back Japanese KitKats for them. The delightful flavors are unseen in the USA.  (See original post.)  The Japanese love of sweet things seems to surpass that of any other country I’ve visited.  Kids pick up on this candy heaven quickly.  It goes without saying they can become easily distracted by what adults think of as junk, but that’s part of being a kid too.

In just a few days, they’ve wandered with us by the small shops, the food stalls and the trinket shops that lead up to the Kiyomizaderu Temple.  I find myself suddenly playing the role of tour leader, expounding on Kyoto history, which they’re not that interested in and do not yet feel they have to feign interest.  I’ve learned to direct my lectures to their parents, who at least appear interested!  It’s a fine line from informing to information overload. Continue reading “Japan: Through A Child’s Eyes”

Just Another Day in Tokyo

I usually judge my “amazement” temperature by the number of photos I’m inspired to take.  A trip to Japan usually means hundreds and hundreds of snapshots.  Thank God for digital.

 The wonders of this remarkable city began appearing soon after we left our hotel.  In looking over my stash of photos from the day, I thought it might be best to do a chronological rerun of our day in Tokyo, beginning at the reasonable hour of 10:30 AM when the National Art Center opened its doors.  No pictures taken of my 4:30 AM awakening.

A Day in the Life of a Tokyo Visitor

10:45 Yayoi  Kusama retrospective, My Eternal Soul, at the National ArtCenter.  Just a short walk from our hotel to arrive at this display of fabulousness in this large architectural gallery displaying the investment in the arts that Japan understands as essential!  Weather: sunny but windy.  Spirits:  high.

The approach to the building features trees whose trunks are wrapped for the show, setting the mood perfectly. Continue reading “Just Another Day in Tokyo”

I Like Ca(u)ndy Too!

It’s fun and tough to shop for our five granddaughters when we’re in Japan.  We try to find small transportable items that they’ll find intriguing and exciting and perk their curiosity about this place we visit so often.

Two of my grandchildren were very specific about what they wanted me to bring back from our last trip.  KitKats, made and sold only in Japan.  To be clear, the Japanese have taken ye olde KitKat candy and turned it from a grocery store staple into a sophisticated and quality driven product. The  300 Flavors change regularly and the most popular ones sell out. I’m not sure how my grandkids knew about this, but they were in the know before I was.  We were happy to find a KitKat Chocolotory, located only in certain department stores. After several minutes of confusion, we finally settled on a few flavors that we deemed child friendly and purchased several packages  for them.

Their younger three year old cousin was with them when we distributed the gifts.  She watched the distribution carefully, noting that she was not part of the KK hand-out, but had received something else.  Obviously, in her mind,  not as desirable.

Looking disappointed, but being the sensible and diplomatic child that she is, she looked at us and said evenly, “You know, I like candy too.!” (pronounced, cundy.)



Lesson learned.  Guess who else will be getting some Kit-Kats too?

Monkey Business Trip


I’m back in Tokyo.

In spite of all my preparation, I showed up at the airport prepared to fly the wrong airline.  As soon as the woman behind the desk at ANA began tsk tsk tsking, I knew I had a problem.  She could not find a  record of my reservation, then looking further, noted that the reservation had been canceled weeks earlier.  I, on the other hand, only held a preliminary reservation I had printed out months ago, put in a folder and carried with me,  confidently presenting it to her at check-in, without checking it over myself. It was worthless.    Upon closer inspection, in small print it read, “preliminary reservation.” It turned out I was supposed to fly JAL, but hadn’t seen the email my husband had sent to me weeks earlier noting the change in airlines.  Fortunately, I got on the ANA flight.

The missteps continued.  I noted a little while after I went through customs, that I no longer had one of my carry on bags.  A quick telephone call by a woman working at the information desk, located it immediately for me.  It was found in customs and they were holding it.  Ms. Lovely-as-can- Be left her desk, walked me back through a locked door into customs and quickly located my bag.  Only in Japan would that have been handled so efficiently and with such nice, understanding smiles.

I’m so used to losing things that I no longer get very upset about it.  I figure I’ll be able to work it out one way or another, but of course this time, I was quite relieved to have my carry on safely at my side again. It did turn out my credit cards had migrated to that bag, but don’t tell my husband. The fact that I’d had two close calls in one day sent up a red flag for me to be more cautious.

I did as I’d planned today and spent several hours browsing at my favorite Japanese department stores.  Feeling somewhat jet lagged I didn’t want to take on anything too taxing.    I headed as usual to their higher floors where the most interesting Japanese products are displayed and there’s a good likelihood of discovering a wonderful artistic exhibit. It made for a fine intro back into the many layered world of Japanese consumerism.


It astonished me to find, on an exhibit dedicated to mingei,  several pieces of ceramics by the legendary master Kawai Kanjiro, openly displayed and actually for sale.  This small display was the Thrill of the Day.  His pottery was shown adjacent to the this broom maker, another mingei product, painstakingly hand crafted.

img_7724 img_7722One of my favorite paper/stationery stores, Itoya, was remodeled in my absence, from head to toe.  Below is a small sample of the colored washi they carry,


After completing my rounds in Itoya, the clouds began threatening rain.  Sated, I happily returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the day researching my plans for tomorrow.