Party Time in Kyoto

What better time or place to throw a party than in the spring at our apartment in Kyoto?  We had friends CA friends visiting Kyoto for a few days, my more-than-able-son-in-law visiting and several Kyoto friends we were eager to see again. At the suggestion of a friend, we easily decided on a party.  We even have a ceramic party dog whose always ready for the next shindig.


Japanese ceramic party dog

My husband and I have a pretty good division of labor for this kind of event. Basically, he prepares the food, and I prepare the decor.  We’ve worked this arrangement out over 50 years of marriage and it’s still working, although the days when everything my husband cooked was made from scratch have shifted slightly towards the ready-made as long as the quality meets his high standards! Kyoto makes this sort of entertaining easy and fun.

For several days before we host a party, we both discuss the food plan and arrive at a mutual agreement on where we’re headed.  Finger food?  Drinks? etc.  On the day of, or one day before, we begin to really concentrate and gather our non perishables.  Here in Kyoto, the land of small dishes, we needed small plates.  After a brief search in department stores, we located the perfect ones to serve a crowd at the local 100Y store.  We’d gotten some wonderful serving platters and dishes of Shigaraki ceramics when we initially moved in a few years ago.  We ended using every dish we had. Dollar store plates mingles easily with the plates of a contemporary Japanese ceramicist.

our Shigaraki dishes

Continue reading “Party Time in Kyoto”


If you’ve seen me recently you might have noticed a new twinkle in my eye and a new springy rebound in my step.  It would have been most noticeable if you had also seen me a few weeks ago when I was felled by a nasty respiratory infection and spent practically two weeks vegetating in bed,   Progress was measured in small victories.  I actually was happy to congratulate myself if I could take a shower without getting out of breath.   My self-image was hit hard, but it’s now returned to positive territory. The body wants to heal itself, I’ve read.  The body wants to heal itself I want to believe.  The body, with the help of drugs, did indeed heal and the miracle of it all is that the years, in the last few days, are just peeling off of me.  It’s quite a sight to behold.

What’s transformed me into a leprechaun, or maybe I should say ninja,  other than a course of drugs,  is the anticipation of my upcoming journey next week when I return to Japan for a month’s stay. In my mind’s eye, I can see the buds of the cherry blossom trees swelling in anticipation of our mutual reacquaintance. Continue reading “Rebounding!”

Kiku: Understanding the Significance of the Chrysanthemum

White chrysanthemum

before that perfect flower

scissors hesitate. 

Buson 1716-1784

A few days ago, I found my way to another celebration and exhibit of chrysanthemums (kiku) at a shrine in Tokyo.  Taken at a superficial level it was proof to me that when the Japanese decide to explore the limits of anything, it usually goes way beyond what I’ve come to expect from the western world.  This world of chrysanthemums, displayed at the shrine, felt as chrysanthemummy as it could get in terms of extravagant blooms and displays.


Digging deeper, I listened to poet Jane Hirshfield speak about the deeper meanings chrysanthemums hold in Japanese culture.  They are long lasting autumn flowers, in contrast to the now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t ephemeral state of plum and cherry blossoms. They announce the arrival of spring, but we enjoy the luxury of looking forward, after their blossoms drop, to a long summer ahead.

 Chrysanthemums are an emblem of transience as well, but they tend to be long lasting, poignantly holding off the dead of winter.  Their explosion of beauty and their stillness serves in Buddhism as a reminder of a spotless open heart and an awakened mind.img_8563

Thank you, Jane for the poetic enlightenment!

It seems to me that many of the Japanese celebrations that include seasonal flowers, serve as a reminder of life’s duality between beauty/grief.  The beauty assuages the grief we all must feel at the transience of life, but it also serves to reinforce life’s brevity and compels us to notice what’s before us in the moment.

shrine entrance




The lanterns lit

The color of the yellow chrsanthemum



Hail the Chrysanthemum


Had I visited Daikokuji before? Though I’ve visited dozens of the thousands of temples that remain in Kyoto, I’m often guilty of forgetting their names.  Once I’ve visited, I remember it on sight, but often before I go, I’m not at all certain. I’d read a listing in the helpful Kyoto Visitor’s Guide that captured my attention about an annual chrysanthemum exhibit held at this temple in the Western section of Kyoto.  I quickly decided it was worth a visit.


I’m fond of saying that I enjoy revisiting the temples, gardens and shrines I’ve seen before, but today’s discovery of Daikokuji made me admit that the first visit is the most thrilling.

The transition from the mundane to the sublime happens dramatically.  Wave a magic wand, travel a few blocks towards the looming green hills that surround Kyoto, and you travel from an ordinary, cluttered and modest 21st c. urban setting to a place of ultimate refinement, grandeur and artistry.  Welcome to a time and place where the beauty and wonders of the natural world were celebrated and exalted.  At Daikokuji, some of the finest artists of their time painted the vibrant paneled doors that enclosed their living spaces with so much vitality that the trees, birds, flowers and animals, practically leap to life.  Centuries later, they’re as engaging as I imagine they were meant to be originally.




The floors and walkways are polished by the footsteps of centuries of visitors and inhabitants.  There is no detail left untouched, but somehow nothing feels overdone.


I am left wondering how did these people who lived centuries ago, in relative but splendid isolation, get it so right, at least from my point of view and taste in design?  Gardens enhance the structures and turns in the covered walkways, always indicating the season by a pine, maple or cherry tree, or  rocks that are placed just so. It is for me an idealized example of ultra early modernism, always acknowledging the proximity of the natural world and blending the distinctions between indoors and out.

I came to this ancient temple today to view their annual chrysanthemum display.  Originally an Imperial Villa, built about 1200 years ago, today the compound belongs to the Shingon Buddhist sect.  If I understood it correctly, chrysanthemums grew wild here.  Their stylized image became the crest of the villa.  I had expected to see a variety of mums, but surprisingly, everything displayed, all 700 individual plants, were of the old, wild antique variety.  They were just starting to blossom, colors intense, but flower size modest.  Their tall slender stalks lined the pathways and outlined the buildings.  It was an elegant tribute to a beloved fall flower.



I can almost feel myself get a new power of sensation when I come to places like this.  It’s as if my pores open, and I soak it all in, in a state of heightened awareness.  I know immediately that this is the place I’m meant to be at this moment.

The seasons are turning, there’s a nip in the air and it won’t be long before winter descends.  I can only imagine how cold it was enduring the winters in these places, despite their luxuries. I am grateful that this setting has endured and that I get to be a part of it for a brief time, to dream and to appreciate its timeless beauty.

The large ancient pond adjacent to the temple has a tinge of loneliness and a gentle abstract beauty. It’s not the main attraction here at the moment.  A few small shrines still stand at the edge of the pond, but are not kept up.  The leaves of the last summer’s lotus leaves are shriveled, brown and withering, but not without beauty.  The reflections of the clouds mix with the fallen debris in the water, create images of mystery, bowing to the laws of nature.


An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

– Matsuo Bashō

Nothing But Flowers!

When I was in my early 30’s trying to figure out what to become in my life, I had a brief flirtation with the idea of opening a store called Nothing But Flowers.  Even before David Byrne wrote the song.  In my 40’s, still a bit adrift, I traveled to Surrey, England to take a month long course designing flowers at the Constance Spry School of Flowers deep in the lush and lovely English countryside.  Following that, I worked for a time in a few flower shops but realized  that it wasn’t an ideal fit.  However, my love of flowers is always simmering on a front burner.


Imagine my pleasure when I unexpectedly walked into a blockbuster ikebana flower show at a department store just a few blocks from my hotel in Tokyo.  It was mobbed with hundreds of very excited, chattering  women, but I had a decided height advantage for a change, so I was able to take it all in, with just the slightest bit of pushing.


The Sogetsu School of ikebana is pretty wild, using natural and artificial materials, wild colors and a seemingly take no prisoners attitude.  Some astonishing arrangements can be large enough to fill a hotel lobby. They can be loud and theatrical, and unrestrained, but also fabulous.  This show  of what seemed like over a hundred arrangements, pushed me to think of using different materials when I try this at home.  Most likely on a more modest scale, unless someone wants to help me gather branches and palm tree debris.

I’m posting just a “small” number of the photos I took .  Hard to believe all this material was gathered, transported and made its way to the 8th floor of a central Tokyo department store and  assembled on site!  This was the 90th Anniversary show, so I guess they went all out.  I found it only by chance.  How lucky!

img_7775 img_7780 img_7793 img_7796 img_7797 img_7814 img_7800.