Observing Beauty in a New Museum


The gray clouds thickened yesterday, giving some credence to the possibility that a monster typhoon was scheduled to hit Japan in the near future. As far as we could tell, no one in Kyoto, with the exception of ourselves, seemed overly concerned.  We vacillated between thinking we should get supplies and hunker down, to feeling like we were over reacting to the situation.  After hard boiling some eggs, and getting some bottled water, we grew restless.  I suggested we take a break from the uncertain storm watch and visit a new museum that had opened in Kyoto on Oct. 1.  It was a good decision.

The museum was unknown to our first cab driver.  He said no to our request because he couldn’t easily figure out its location.  Undeterred, we got into another cab.  We found the building  on the river bank in Arashiyama, a naturally beautiful area of Kyoto where aristocrats and nobility used as a retreat.  Now it is often overrun with tourists, but still beautiful.  The museum was an uncrowded  delight.

Continue reading “Observing Beauty in a New Museum”

What Goes UP, Must….


The hike from Kurama to Kibune is described in some guidebooks as “easy.” In a few others as “steep.”  There were just enough “easy “descriptions to tip the scales for me, thinking “I can do this!”

Time: 2 to 3 hours
Distance: 3.9km
Difficulty: easy
Start point: Kurama Station on the Eizan Train Line
Finish point: Kibune-guchi Station on the Eizan Train Line

Kurama and Kibune are two picturesque little villages in the Kitayama Mountains, a 30-minute scenic train trip out of Kyoto. On this hike, you walk from Kurama to Kibune via Kurama-dera Temple, a temple located atop the mountain between the two villages. If you want to get out of the city for a while and enjoy some beautiful hiking in the woods, this is the perfect trip.

The ease of getting to/from the hike is one of its main attractions. To get to the start of the hike, take the Eizan Line train that leaves from Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto (which is, in turn, at the northern end of the Keihan Line, the line that runs along the Kamo-gawa River in Kyoto). Be sure to get on a Kurama-bound train and ride it all the way to the last stop, Kurama. At the end of the hike, you’ll board the same train line at Kibune-guchi Station and take it back to Demachiyanagi Station. Easy, peasy. Inside Kyoto

I did do it, but counted down the last five final steps as if I were on my way to the execution chamber.  In this case though, it meant I’d survived, hadn’t twisted my ankle, and would survive for another day.  My thighs told me, on a steep downhill step, that they were no longer willing or able to promise me any support.  The walking stick, given to me by a kind hiker who obviously decided I needed it more than she did,  was a life saver going downhill, but my shoulder pain from leaning on the stick, told me it wouldn’t do much more.

We passed many people on the trail, all doing better than I did, of course.  One jovial blonde woman, who looked as if she could take on Mt. Everest, cheerfully admitted to me she was from Austria.

This time we researched our route thoroughly before setting out.  We did not get lost, nor could we have.  We just had to walk up up up and then down down down, the uneven stone steps through the mountains to get to Kuruma.

Autumn has not arrived here.  The weather is now warm and humid enough to break a sweat quite easily.

We entered a green world. A typhoon had passed through not long ago, uprooting giant cypress trees like matchsticks.  The ground was littered with the aftermath.  The trail had been cleared.  Most of the wildflowers were done blooming, but the air was fresh and hopes high as we started out. New growth, post typhoon , was firmly established.

fungi on downed tree

The operative word here was s l o w l y.  I know if I take it easy, pause to recover my breath, I can do it.  People with young children passed us by.  Family groups with grandparents along passed us by.  Teen aged young men flew past us, their feet barely touching the ground, and their attitude declaring they were indestructible.    Women would look at me and ask if I was ok?  I couldn’t tell if they had kindness or pity in their eyes.  Maybe a bit of both. I reassured several fellow hikers that I was OK.  “Daijobu!” (OK)I called out to them.  “Gambatte!” (take heart.)  they said to me in return.

The Crest!

I felt immediately relieved when we reached the crest.  Danny reminded me that it’s generally more difficult going downhill than up.  Correct again.

Would I do it again?  Probably.  I did feel a bit of pride at having completed the hike.  I refused an out to dinner request from my husband, just too  damn tired. I wanted nothing more than to lay down.  KIndly, he made a quick run to the food basement of our nearby dep’t store and returned with warm and very tasty gyoza, shu mai, pork buns, and a yummy strawberry pudding.  I wolfed it down, then at 7:30 pm went to bed for the night.


When Traveling, Go With the Flow

You can set out with the best of intentions, while in Japan, thinking you know what you’re about to do.  Many times it works out that way, but often, things don’t go exactly the way you expected them.  I’ve learned to roll with the misunderstandings, because if you don’t it’s your loss.  There’s almost always something that redeems a plan gone wrong.


Kyoto celebrates its traditions.  The temples and shrines (over 2000 of them)have hundreds of special events throughout the year, some major, not-to-be-missed and others not so important or not so interesting to a foreigner. I usually attend one or two of the more interesting events while here.

Side view of Kitano shrine

Yesterday I read about the Zuiki Festival (matsuri) happening at and around the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.  It has been happening for over 1000 years to give gratitude for a successful harvest.  It goes on for several days.  When reading the schedule, I did not realize that most times given were approximate!  Not a minor detail when making plans. As you might expect, we got off to the festival just behind the beat.  It took us most of the afternoon to catch up.

It was a case of learning that we’d just missed the parade and it had moved on to other neighborhoods and shrines.  So began the chase. My husband Danny, was determined to catch up and intersect the celebrants who walk through local neighborhoods. We taxied to another shrine only to be told it had all ended there a little while earlier.  We were told to head to the railway station, but never found the station. Between our limited Japanese and others’ limited English I am sure something might have gotten lost in translation. Or, in the case of many when giving directions, they don’t know what they’re talking about, but don’t want to look uninformed!

Kitano shrine guardian dogs

Deciding that we should head back to our first stop at Kitano shrine, we taxied some more only to find we were hours too early for the procession to return.  Our thirsty eyes landed on an air conditioned Portuguese bakery/coffee shop and eagerly went in for cakee set time.  Iced tea and Portuguese pastry  cooled us down., Slightly restored,  my husband found someone who gave him new directions to find the parade. I suggested we walk through the shrine garden, small but attractive.  We passed many people who were waiting as we were, but no one was able to tell us when the procession might pass by.

The Main Float! vegetarian.
For good luck, the dragon will bite your finger.

We did intersect with one beautiful float decorated for the fall harvest, pulled by many tired young men who had to rally themselves to pull it up a small incline.  We then sat down in a little square, joining a few dozen locals who were waiting too. Suddenly Dan spotted signs of actiivity and I was motioned to join him across the intersection.  At last!


It was a tired, and a bit bedraggled group we found, but interesting nevertheless.  Those on horseback were as erect as ever, those walking were wearing out.  The young children , attired in resplendent period costumes, were charming.  They still had a long ways to go.  I guess you have to build up the endurance necessary for these parades, not only to participate in them, but to find them as well!

Now and Then

A few days ago, as I realized my packing for my upcoming travel to Japan was taking entirely too long to pull together, I began to think what it must have been like just a few generations ago to undergo travel across the country by wagon train. Now I realize that has nothing to do with travel to Japan .  In that era, it was practically impossible. However, that’s where my mind went. How the hell did they pack for a trans continental trip by covered wagon? A few cute prairie dresses and a pair of sturdy boots.  I guess you couldn’t bring prescription drugs along. Nor protein bars. No music to plug into.  No wifi either. NO podcasts to break the tedium or distract from the monotony.  No cell phone call along the way to assure loved ones, you’re still alive and kicking. No Departure Lounge to sate oneself on food and drink before hitting the road.

Heaven help me, if the dust and horse dander had  brought on an asthma attack. I’d have been buried by the side of the road, probably a mile out of our first town.

Those thoughts quickly put everything in perspective.  I wrapped my preparations up quickly, boarded a 787 and gratefully flew to Japan, glad that I”m living in the 21st century. I could be certain there’d be no gangs of marauding  angry Indians. What did one wear for that terrifying event?

As for now, my computer was safely tucked along in my carry – on luggage, as were my Bose headphones.  I was prepared as I could be and happy to be on the road to my favorite place.  All I hoped for was a smooth flight.

After an hour long taxi from the airport to Kyoto, I tore off my clothes in the entry way of our apartment and made a b line to my unmade bed. Who cared if there were sheets, as long as I could be horizontal, had a pillow for my head and could just let go to sleep. And sleep I did.

This morning, as we ventured out to find breakfast, I felt myself opening to my alternate world. Little moments, that I hadn’t experienced since leaving Kyoto last May, now were in my sight lines again.  The carefully tended flowering plants that stand in front of most buildings bring nature up close.  The antique machiya that still remain standing, testaments to the important role Kyoto played as the cultural heart of Japan for hundreds of years, never fail to catch my breath.  The smiles on most people’s faces in daily interactions warm my soul.  I feel sadness too at the loss of buildings taken in the rush to provide more hotel rooms here to meet the demand.   The smorgasbord of enticing baked goodies displayed  at the local coffee house/bakery where we like to have breakfast  is a strong source of temptation this morning, but displaying newly learned and probably fragile self control, I manage to overcome.  Just say no.


Crisp noren at entry of store. Note protective figure (almost hidden) above doorway.


Welcome flowers at the entrance of my favorite grocery emporium.

The weather is still warm here.  I won’t be needing the warmer clothes I brought along for a while.  The leaves are all green too.  We need a cold snap.

One hundred years from now, what would someone make of this blog?  No answers there, but surely time marches on.  My twelve hour  journey across the Pacific will probably seem primitive.


Flea Market Thrills

As a born and bred New Englander, I come easily to the flea market bug.  The thrill of the hunt, the opportunity to learn a little history, and the satisfaction of a good deal, all join forces to raise my adrenalin and put me in high spirits.  There’s also some pleasure of imagining that there just might be a treasure  waiting for me to uncover at the next booth.  It’s what keeps me going usually far longer than common sense would dictate.

I  love a good flea market.  Kyoto scores highly in fulfilling that desire; there are at least two monthly shrine markets that always hit the mark.  Also, since the markets seem a bit exotic to the Western eye, it’s intriguing.  There are food vendors, plants, some temples or shrines to explore, lots of vintage textiles, some ceramics, some collectibles, some shmatas(look it up), some crafts, etc. etc.

Sunday was Tenjin San, always on the 25th of the month. It was oppressively hot, and with my somewhat impatient, but not yet balky, husband joining me, we moved through the aisles pretty quickly.  No spectacular finds, but still lots of goodies  to check out along the way.  There was even a performing monkey, which I found archaic and unpleasant, yet fascinating despite my disapproval.

Some of the hundreds, thousands? of vintage textiles for sale are staggering in their beauty.  Most are quite ordinary, if you can ever call a kimono ordinary, but when you hit a standout because of pattern and color, it’s like running into a sublime Monet or dazzling Kandinsky. Ok, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but you get my drift!  My mind always spins for a few minutes when I hit a patch of vintage kimono, but then I calm myself down and admire them for the moment, knowing  if I brought one home, I wouldn’t know what to do with it and would never have the heart to cut it up.  Rather than a source of pleasure, it could easily become an object triggering guilt that I’d put away on a high shelf.

kimono pattern

IMG_4945A kid in a candy store.  All at just her height.

Boy lost in thought.

More textiles.

KImono sold by the bag full!
Pokemon’s friend
Autumn leaves and grape vine for autumn kimono

So, if you’re hanging out in Kyoto on the 21st or 25th of the month without much to do, get thee to a flea market for a day of discovery, and just plain fun.

silk kimono sleeve