Less nose-gazing (hana-mi), more flower-gaping (hanami)

Today was a beautiful one, with a high of 20 degrees Celsius. Walking along the street, I saw a parent and child coming up the opposite way. The child was blowing big, fat bubbles into the air, and the wind kept sweeping them back the way the child had come. Unfortunate for the child, but I got to enjoy the fruit of their labors–walking surrounded by bubbles that caught the afternoon light, reflecting the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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March-ing — to Kyoto Cryptids and beyond!

Plum blossoms are already a thing of the past this year, and cherry blossoms are hurrying on by without a backwards glance, too. People are telling me that certain places are already past their peak in Kyoto, to hurry to such-and-such a place to see them NOW while one still can.

And I look at the surging number of students on spring vacation out with their friends; at the retirement parties that aren’t supposed to be happening, yet still are; and at the droves of people determined to get spring shopping in, at any cost.

And smile and say, “I’ll try to get there before they leave.”

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A night to remember: Yoimiya and Motomiya Festival at Fushimi Inari Taisha

My first memory of Fushimi Inari Shrine is hiking up the mountain and getting so turned around that a wandering worker had to help me find my way back down it before sundown.

Since then, I’ve had a fondness for the winding torii gates, the little fox statues, and the views from the mountaintop. I guess you bond with a place when you get stuck for a few hours, huh? But over the years as it’s become more and more crowded, I’ve visited it less and less, reluctant to face the wave of humanity that hits it. And when I did visit it, it was purely to grab an omamori charm or to lead a visiting friend through. I didn’t visit it for myself anymore.

At least, not until I performed there.

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Luck Dolls and Trust Tests

We had quite a week here in Japan; on Monday the Kansai area experienced an earthquake that left several injured and at least 4 dead. I was fortunate in that I live in Kyoto and was not on a train or anywhere near the epicenter when it happened; the worst I endured was a sudden, loud BANG followed by the sudden rocking of my apartment building–though I will say, that left me huddled in my doorway for several minutes after, eyes wide, clutching my phone.

After that, getting out of the house and enjoying things to take my mind off of the potential for aftershocks was a necessity. So when a friend suggested that we go and check out Daruma Temple, I readily agreed to the outing.

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Kyoto Botanical Garden: Conservatory

It’s spring~!

Hi, guys. We’re finally getting into weather where I don’t have to bundle up under piles of winter clothes. And while the plum blossoms are still mostly thinking about blooming (but haven’t quite yet), it’s been too lovely out to sit around waiting on a single type of flower.

I’ve talked before about the Kyoto Botanical Garden. Located just outside Kitayama Station on the Kyoto Karasuma Subway, the gardens cost a ‘whopping” 200 yen to enter. They’re a great place to spend an afternoon in almost any season. There’s a playground for kids, a plum blossom grove, a rose garden, a European-style garden area–you name it, they have it. But today I want to talk about a specific feature: the conservatory.

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Let’s get traditional: Wagashi making class at Kanshudo!

Learning to make local food is always a highlight for me when I travel. In Korea, I learned how to make dukbokki and not only ended up with a heap of delicious food, but with the satisfaction that I had learned about new ingredients and how to use them.

So when my friend came to visit me, we figured that trying some traditional Japanese food would be a great idea. The question was: sweet, or savory?

…Actually, I lied. That wasn’t a question at all. We both have huge sweet tooths.

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Kyoto Artisans: Gold Leaf Stamping Workshop

Back in March, I participated in a writing competition through Writers in Kyoto. While I didn’t win, I was invited to take part in a local cultural event of some sort. There were two options to choose from: paper lantern-making, and gold paperweight-making. After choosing the latter, I arranged to meet a woman I’ll call Ms. S from the Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau at JR Yamashina Station. From there, she would make sure I made it to the workshop and, if necessary, provide translations.

While it was meant to be a group outing, it turned out to be just the two of us on a search for the home of an うるしさん (Urushi-san, someone who works with lacquer/gilding). Urushi-san are the people responsible for things like the gold you can see on Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto; they affix things like very thinly sliced gold to various objects (whether it’s magnets, toy cars, or anything else you can imagine). Of course, they do many other jobs as well, but this was particularly pertinent because the workshop centered around gold leaf stamping.

This was both my and Ms. S’s first time heading into this particular neighborhood of Yamashina. While only ten minutes by taxi from the JR station, we were in a very residential area where the streets had no names listed and the house numbers were all out of order. After the taxi drove off, we had no idea where to go, and unfortunately, neither did the neighbors we asked for guidance. Fortunately, Ms. S had a phone number, and after calling it, my teacher for the day came bustling out of a building from the end of a dead-end street.

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