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”

Going the Tourist Route (for a few hours)

Today we merged with a few of the thousands of Chinese tourists who come to Kyoto to view the cherry blossoms. There are droves of Chinese tourists who flock here eager to shop and have fun. Young Chinese women dress up in brightly colored garish kimono, taking advantage of dozens of kimono rental businesses that have sprung up recently. These try-on opportunities are not regarded kindly by many Japanese, because,in their opinion, it cheapens and demeans the refined beauty of the kimono. I’ve noted that the women seem quite pleased with their transformation, snapping selfies and obviously oblivious to their host nation’s opinion of the practice. kimono rental Continue reading “Going the Tourist Route (for a few hours)”

In Search of Beauty

I awakened in Japan this morning to learn of the terrorist outrage in lower Manhattan.  It’s not the news any of us want to see wherever we are.  We live in times that can easily be called disheartening.  I have felt the encroaching darkness  for several months for reasons that don’t require illumination. Anyone with a functioning sensory mechanism has most likely felt a similar reaction to the political turmoil.

I looked forward to my Japanese visit as a way to reassure myself that there is still some semblance of decency and sanity remaining in the world.  One doesn’t need to come to Japan to find it, of course, but for me, it makes it easier.

Appreciation of nature’s  beauty is built into this culture and readily accessible. I am far from alone in my quest for distraction and sustenance.  In the popular gardens, hundreds of tourists armed with phones and cameras clog the pathways, searching for their own moments of inspiration.  Mostly, they seem preoccupied with taking selfies in front of a photogenic backdrop. I determine in the future  to avoid these congregations as much as possible and focus my attention on the less obvious, making a vow to avoid these over popular spots.

Yesterday, we went to Arashiyama, to show our house guest the Western foothills of Kyoto.  We visited Tenryuji, a world heritage site, and then wandered the bamboo forest, encountering some exuberant schoolgirls and many tourists along the way. Continue reading “In Search of Beauty”

The Foodie’s Heaven

Almost from the moment we set foot in Kyoto, my foodie husband is scouting for new restaurants in our neighborhood that have opened in our absence.  As hyped as I am to be sure to see the most intriguing gardens, sublime temples, cool museums and Japanese design shops, he’s on the edge of his seat to reconnect with the wonders and satisfaction of eating Japanese cuisine. He’s always on alert for the next culinary attraction. It could be a new sake bar, french bakery, izakaya, ramen, soba, steak place or hamburger spot. As long as it looks promising, my husband is eager to try it.  We have our food work cut out for us, and I’ve learned not to resist.  I simply try them all and go along for the great ride he pulls together and congratulate him on his finds.

If the place looks complicated, he likes to see if they have an English menu available. Given one, he’ll then bemoan the fact that not all of the items available in the restaurant are represented on the English menu. I remind him that there’s no way he could eat all the items even if they were listed, but he always want to see what he might be missing.  I’m always eager to follow along with his trailblazing food-related energy.  By myself, I’d never put in the effort he does.

Restaurants in Japan tend to be smaller than Americans are used to.  Reservations are a must, so the chef knows how much food to buy each day.  Once you understand their system, you respect it.  If you rely on a last minute casual walk up, you’re going to be out of luck for most serious restaurants in Japan.  And it’s remarkable how many restaurants are SERIOUS!  By serious, I mean chefs and underlings studying and honing their specific skills for years, always delivering to the best of their ability, constantly striving for perfection.

Tourists tend to strive to score a rez at a Michelin starred venue, but there’s really no need if it’s just a fine restaurant you want and not another notch in your belt. Continue reading “The Foodie’s Heaven”

The Butterflies of Arashiyama

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When we arrived in Arashiyama, the Kyoto landscape was still wearing its early spring colors, which is to say, mostly subdued monochrome gray.

 Arashiyama (嵐山) is a pleasant, touristy district in the western outskirts of Kyoto. The area has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185), when nobles would enjoy its natural setting. Arashiyama is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons.  japan-guide.com

There’s a festive atmosphere here, with food stalls, restaurants, many temples and shrines. I am drawn here repeatedly by the natural beauty of the setting of the area against the river and the mountains .  I particularly enjoy wending my way further into the hills, away from the crowds.  As is usual, in most tourist spots, tourists seem to congregate in certain places and with a little determination you can manage to get away from the crowds.

I was struck by the numbers of young people who enjoy getting dressed up in kimono to spend the day here. This being the twenty-first century, selfie sticks and iPhones were always close by. Overlooking that, they looked like brilliant butterflies against the relatively still somber landscape, which is waiting to explode in a few days once the cherry blossoms start firing, into a magical kingdom. Continue reading “The Butterflies of Arashiyama”