Thirteen Reasons I’ll be Returning

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05/08/2013

A Day in My Life in Kyoto

Truth be told, I was not feeling well last week. Since I’m prone to upper respiratory infections,  I travel with a stash of medicine to help insure I recover more quickly when illness strikes.  I saw a local doctor who added to my pharmacological intake, and confirmed that my lungs were clear, although I had a cough bad enough to rouse the dead.  That said, my energy was drained.  I  tired quickly so most days were spent close to my bed so I could lay down as necessary.  The good news is, I’m about 85% better today. Although I was a bit apprehensive I decided it was Time to leave the nest and head out for a while. If I ran out of steam, I could taxi home.

We’ve had a splendid run of great weather.  Some of the cherry blossoms have already peaked but the season is still in full swing with later blooming varieties taking the stage.  There are too many tourists in town, still searching for blossoms, so I decided to stick to the streets and find my visual satisfaction elsewhere.

First stop was the new Issey Miyake flagship store that opened around the corner from our apartment.  Miyake meticulously  restored an old machiya (townhouse)and kura(storage house) as the perfect elegant background for his goods.

His clothing is not wearable in my opinion, but his innovative use of textiles has been revolutionary. His bold graphic raincoats designed in collaboration with a graphic artist in the kura are an art installation and that’s enough reason to visit..

In order not to exhaust myself,  I easily decided it was time for a matcha latté at a small café overlooking a Japanese garden.

Restored, my feet knew the way to one of my favorite stationery stores in the Teramachi arcade. Kyukyodo. For Y100 each, I selected a handful of postcards that captured the spirit of spring in Japan. Stuck up on my office wall with washi tape, they’ll be an easy throw back to time spent here.  IMG_0306

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I had one more must -see-again visit to make before I returned home and that was to Gallery Kei. I met Kei Kawasaki several years ago while on a tour.  She owns a small exquisitely curated gallery on Teramachi dori.  She specializes in Japanese textiles woven before cotton was available in Japan.  Old farmer’s jackets, fragments of old kimono, boro, mostly all indigo. A solitary peach tree was in full blossom in front of her gallery.

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Entering her realm is practically a spiritual experience.  My eye was drawn to a fragment of textile laying on top of a basket of fragments. The pattern is layered and quite unusual, Kei-san confirmed.  I wonder what the woman  who made this would think if she knew it was about to find a home thousands of miles away?IMG_0309 (1)

 

 

I’m here to Celebrate Spring

Is this what getting old is going to be about?  I had an all day/almost all night coughing jag yesterday that wore me and my poor husband out.  You’re going to have to do something about that, he told me grumpily.  No dah, I replied with irritation.

I stopped taking a prescribed cortisone inhaler today which I decided was triggering the coughing fits, so today I am coughing less.  But before I became too frisky, the pain from my hip bursitis turned back on this afternoon as I was starting out for a walk in my Kyoto neighborhood.  Needless to say, my stroll was curtailed.

Time to get out the advil before my walk and stop talking about my complaints.  What smarty pants said to me “You can’t afford a negative thought”?  I had a few too many these the last two days. I’m here to celebrate spring and beauty in the city that has made an art out of it!

This afternoon we rolled smoothly into Kyoto on the bullet train after spending two nights in Tokyo.  I am always struck by the contrast between the new capital and the ancient one of Kyoto. There’s the obvious difference of size, but more than that, it’s about scale.  Tokyo is reaching for the sky these days, covered with new high rises being built just about everywhere you look. In Kyoto, (almost) the entire environment seems integrated and grounded.

Earthquake concerns are somhow overcome by state of the art engineering.   The huge buildings are impersonal, mostly office space, sometimes housing hotels as well, but with no distinctiveness that I could identify or admire.  Tokyo can be slick, cutting edge and fun, but after a few days I am generally relieved to pull out of it and head south to Kyoto.  The big city doesn’t feed my spirit except for it’s preoccupation with good design.  Flash is fun and youthful but grows easily tiresome.

Ginza scene
A beautiful but likely useless article for travel.

I know Kyoto  quite well now, so there’s no element of surprise when I arrive here as there used to be.  Rather, it’s a sense of comfort I feel upon entering. The small pots of seasonal flowers placed carefully at the doorways remind me that time is taken to appreciate nature here.  Once again, I am sure that scale plays a large role.  The city is mostly built of two story buildings with a few buildings, like errant toddlers, escaping those boundaries, but not very many and not by dozens of stories.

There’s  a strong sense of place here with temples and shrines appearing around every corner. Their significance plays a constant role in the events of the city.  They are power centers, no doubt, reminding me immediately that I’m no longer in the USA.  Japanese are said not to be religious but when you enter a shrine it’s easy to see that the ancient gods are respected and play a role in their contemporary life.

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The Japanese  people have a strong sense of purpose.  There’s not a lot of lolling about or screwing around. They all seem devoted to their jobs and determined to do the best they can in them. They walk quickly.  They listen intently when you speak to them. They are considerate and kind.  They do seem to embody a kinder, gentler strain of humanity, at least in this time and place!  It’s a welcome change from the nastiness rampant on the home front.

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As always, our dear Japanese friend has prepared seasonal welcome flowers to greet us when we open the door of our apartment. It’s these moments that mean the most to me and speak stronger than any words.

 

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”

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”