Category Archives: Walks

Time Travelling on Gojō – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by Jennifer Louise Teeter

Gojo Pottery Fair - Click to visit the official site (Japanese)

Gojō Pottery Fair – Click to visit the official site (Japanese)

Gojō Pottery Fair, in which pottery stalls line Gojō street all the way between Kawabata and Higashioji, begins August 7th and continues to August 10th. Simultaneously, in nearby Rokudo-san temple, is Kyoto’s very own festival of the dead, the Rokudo Mairi spirit welcoming festival. Jen Teeter explores both of these events and more in her DKW essay “Time Travelling on Gojō”, so here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite…

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The evening before the festival, potters were meticulously assembling their stalls. Incorrectly, I assumed they were only preparing the skeletons of their tents and shelves so that they could quickly fill them up with their inventory the following morning. When I stepped outside again around midnight, hundreds of unguarded stalls, all filled to the brim with precious pottery, bordered the expanse of Gojō. The sense of trust that people can have for each other here can be so uplifting.

When I set off early the next day, the normally drab pavement had been transformed into a bustling pottery-lover’s paradise. Upon approaching a stall selling clay incense holders, I was astonished at how a piece that was surely worth 5000 yen was going for a mere 1000. The artisan explained how potters looking to clean out their inventories for the next season are willing to part with their creations for a fraction of the original price.

On a mission, I began to weave my way through rows of crystalline Kiyomizu-yaki kettles and charming Shigaraki chawan. My husband had been looking for large ramen bowls for ages, and I found the perfect ones- leaf-shaped and earth-rusted, the sparkling, aquamarine waves of Okinawa flooding the inside.

“If I buy four big ones and four small ones, can I get a discount?”
“No, but I can give you these four sauce holders to complete your set.”

Score! After collecting my winnings, I carried on up Gojō-zaka. At a small side street called Kaneicho, I took a right and it was just as if I had slipped through the rabbit’s hole. Amidst the forgetful cityscape, there stood the wooden self-built home of master potter Kawai Kanjirō.

Kawai Kanjiro's House

Kawai Kanjiro’s House

The unassuming home dressed with an arched, bamboo inuyarai to keep dogs from relieving themselves on the walls, was the first of a whole street of renovated machiya. Two unpretentious wooden rabbits kissing at the front entrance greeted me as I ducked in. Making my way down the hallway, I clumsily took off my shoes, and gave 900 yen to the woman at the counter, who I would later learn was the granddaughter of Kawai.

Wabi and Sabi:
The beauty of poverty,
Ordered poverty.

Kawai’s haiku radiates his artistry and appreciation of wabi – beauty in poverty, and sabi – elegance in simplicity, emphasizing the intertwining of the human spirit with the imperfection of “perfect” nature. The chestnut walls and chairs of his sturdy house give a sense of permanence, reflecting the strong influence of Kawai on his environment.

My eyes immediately turned to the hearth that dominated the center of the home. An image sprung to mind of Kawai and his fellow artisans gathering around the fire for tea on a frosty, winter day. Exemplifying his ability to lure the extraordinary out of the ordinary, Kawai had concocted the stout chairs around the hearth out of wooden mortars for pounding rice. Next to the hearth was a jolly two-faced wooden statue, and as I continued around the first floor, I kept meeting its Janus-faced relatives hidden in corners here and there. One of them was even posed to give me a peck on the cheek.

Around the house curious items are present in unexpected places. In the courtyard, a miniature stone monk collects meager offerings in front of his person, while a dog-sized, beckoning, stone cat balancing coins on its head welcomes guests at the entrance to the giant kilns. These kilns were once fired up several times monthly and shared by twenty different families in the community.

Kawai seemed to have an affinity for the human hand, the female hand in particular. A hand, which must have been severed off of the Statue of Liberty, adorned one of the shelves near the kilns; there were hands with fingers pointing up; and others were holding flowers. A turquoise ceramic figure, with its rising index finger, seemed to embody the potential of human expression.

Returning back inside, I climbed up to the second floor to find a yet another statue of two rabbits kissing, this time cast in bronze. In the drawing room was a giant tree stump-turned-table, its surfaced smoothed by human touch. Two wooden chairs with seats carved perfectly to support the human buttocks, kept the table company. The vitality of the tree from which this chair was forged emanated from the swirly tree rings carefully positioned exactly where the left and right buttocks hit the seat. After a momentary break in the chair, I headed back downstairs.

After bidding farewell to the granddaughter and the spirit of Kawai whose presence reverberated through the home, I headed to Toyokuni Jinja, dedicated to daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi . Taking a left I followed the street lined with pottery-filled machiya, passed the stone with the “Don’t pee on me” sign, and turned right at the dilapidated machiya at the end of the row. Down the hill at the next intersection adorned with cigarette machines, I headed south until I arrived at the wall which forms an impressive, stone perimeter around Toyokuni Shrine. Covered with moss, and almost twice my height, I could not imagine how people had managed to schlep the Goliath stones to the temple, let alone assemble them as if they had been forged together by fire. As I was about to ascend the stairs to the shrine, a huge, grassy hill crowned with a granite statue attracted my attention.

Children playing on teeter-totters ignored me as I pulled myself up to the sign in front of the hill. Mimizuka or “Ear Hill” (originally Hanazuka or “Nose Hill”). What on earth could that mean?

Mimizuka

Mimizuka

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Text and photographs by Jennifer Louise Teeter. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Jennifer Louise Teeter
jen teeterJennifer Louise Teeter is lecturer at Kyoto University in Japan. Born in a suburb of Chicago and having lived in Japan for 12 years, she serves as the Media and Campaigns Coordinator for Greenheart Project which is developing an open source hybrid sail/solar cargo ship tailored to the needs of small island developing states while volunteering as an editor for the Heartwork section of Kyoto Journal (www.kyotojournal.org). She blogs with two other women at Ten Thousand Things (www.tenthousandthingsfromkyoto.blogspot.jp). She is also a “singer in a rock-and-roll band,” called the Meadowlarks.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Hiking Mount Atago – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by Sanborn Brown

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As the annual Sennichi Tsuyasai pilgrimage to the top of Mount Atago takes place this Thursday (July 31st), I thought I would post an extract from Hiking Mount Atago by Sanborn Brown. In this excerpt from our book Deep Kyoto: Walks, Sanborn describes his ascent with an eccentric tea ceremony master, and other pilgrims, to the top of Mount Atago, during this very special festival. For those who don’t know much about this festival, here’s a brief explanation from Sanborn’s excellent Cycle Kyoto site:

…on the night of July 31, Mount Atago witnesses a huge number of pilgrims. On that night, from roughly 9 pm, Mount Atago plays host to “Sennichi Tsuyasai,” a festival that is all about fire, both good and bad.

It is a holy and profound and magical night not to be missed.

The origin of the festival derives from the hope for a thousand days of flame (cooking, heating), and also for a thousand days without home-wrecking fire. From top to bottom, the hike is roughly four kilometers. Hikers gather in the village of Kiyotaki at the base of the mountain around dusk. To guide them, the city strings up lights from Kiyotaki to the very top at Atago Shrine. Families, couples, older people, and groups make the hike up a crowded and sociable affair. Once at the top, pilgrims can purchase good luck charms that are said to ward off fire and bad luck. [Click to Read More]

Picture 12 Mount Atago by Sanborn Brown (Medium)

Hiking Mount Atago

From the stone steps in front of the imposing gate of Ninna-ji Temple and its two wooden Nio-san deities protecting the walled compound, a Japanese friend who calls himself Amigo and I head west on squeaky single-gear mamachari bikes. It is 8 pm on a sultry late July night and a bright moon lights our way. After an up-down stretch along which homebound commuters in cars speed past us, Lake Hirosawa spreads out on our right. This manmade lake was dug out around 969 C.E. so that the monks at nearby Henjō-ji Temple would have a better view. Today it is popular for bird watching, strolling its 1.3 km (almost a mile) perimeter, or paddling about in a rental boat. On our left, in the darkness, the smell of farm fields is pungent. We continue on to the northern outskirts of Arashiyama. Panting our way up a narrow bumpy slope lined by traditional homes and buildings, we park beyond Adashino Nenbutsu Temple (once a dumping ground for corpses) in a bike lot set up every year on this one evening. The barely lit tree-covered lot is manned by a lone uniformed guard in reflective gear, and is already filled with hundreds of bikes.

From there, it is a fifteen-minute walk up and over a hill on an old mountain road. Normally, pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to make a white-knuckle trip through the 500-meter long single-lane tunnel once used by trains. On this night however only vehicles are permitted to enter. We are already coated in a sheen of sweat when we reach the top. In the distance below us, at the opposite end of the tunnel, there is lighting and people are milling about in hiking gear; some have finished, others like us are about to set out.

Kiyotaki

Here, at the foot of Mount Atago, we find our party waiting in front of the Toenkyo Bashi (“Monkey Crossing Bridge”) that spans the Kiyotaki River. Fellow pilgrims, they will hike with us to the top of the mountain tonight, returning in the early hours of the following morning. Like Amigo, they are all learning sado, the Japanese tea ceremony. After short introductions, the group forms a circle, and in the center our leader – the rotund, elephant-kneed, and blustery tea Sensei – does a quick head count. All incline toward him toward him; then, on his command, we set off.

Having proceeded 20 meters, Sensei calls us to an abrupt halt in the middle of the bridge that will take us into the village of Kiyotaki. We have to check for the legendary Japanese giant salamander, which is said to inhabit the cool and clear waters of the river below. Sensei gives a brief talk on the creatures while we peer into the darkness below…

…After the brief lecture concludes, followed by a thirty-second scan of the dark waters below for a possible sighting of one of the reticent nocturnal giants, Sensei orders us onward, “Let’s go, let’s go! We’ll find one on the way down.”

Sensei wobbles on in front, his two wooden hiking sticks flailing out on either side of his torso as we press through the village. His bulk heaves in syncopated locomotion. The village is thronged with hikers and nighttime activity, but we move through it quickly to the entrance to the trail – passing under the vermillion torii gate that signifies that we are entering holy ground – and begin the ascent of the 924-meter high mountain, the highest in Kyoto.

Sennichi Tsuyusai Festival

This nighttime trek up an ancient pilgrimage route is part of the annual Sennichi Tsuyasai festival, which is held at Atago every July 31st until the early hours of August 1st. It is a hike to the peak on which Atago Shrine sits.

Our ascent commences in the aforementioned Kiyotaki, a rural hamlet made up of an art gallery, several restaurants, and a handful of houses. On this night, a tent has been set up in the village; under it sits a cluster of firemen who will be there until morning ready to respond in the event of injury or an emergency. Kiyotaki is one of several entrances to the mountain but the main one for the festival (it is also the “male” entrance to Atago; a “female” entrance can be found near JR Hozukyō Station on the other side of the mountain). The distance to the top is marked in two ways: by Jizo statues, adorned with red bibs and spaced roughly 109 meters apart; and, more legibly, by umber-colored placards set up by the fire department. The latter breaks the hike into forty stages, and each of the forty signs has a hand-written fire prevention slogan.

“Go on ahead! Go on, go on, don’t wait for me; it will take me hours to get to the top,” barks an out of breath Sensei after the initial climb. This is the first of his many breaks along the route. “Besides, we have all night, and someone has to keep an eye out for Tengu!” The mythical Tengu, the legendary long-nosed creature in Japanese folklore, is thought to have resided at, among other locations, Atago since ancient times.

The first nineteen stages are a steady climb, busy with colorfully dressed pilgrims in every manner of hiking gear. From that point, the trail becomes less severe, even flat in places. At one rest place, near the 20th stage, we take a break. From here, the lights of Kyoto twinkle far below in the distance through an opening in the trees…

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Text and photographs by Sanborn Brown. To read the rest of this story (and learn more about giant salamanders!), download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Sanborn Brown
Sanborn Brown teaches at Osaka Kyoiku University, and writes for www.CycleKyoto.com and www.JapanVisitor.com. He also has a blog, Miyako on Two Wheels at www.cyclekyoto.blogspot.jp. He is from Philadelphia, USA, and has lived in Kyoto for more than a decade.

Author photo by Stéphane Barbery.
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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Into the Tumult – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by Pico Iyer on BBC Travel!

This weeks extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks is brought to you by the BBC! We are all very pleased that BBC Travel have used a version of Pico Iyer’s article “Into the Tumult”, to launch their new Words & Wanderlust site. The version published on the BBC site differs mainly in the second half, though there are numerous small changes throughout. To read the original, download our book!

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The BBC version of Pico’s article is entitled “The walk that made me love Japan” and is splendidly illustrated by wandering artist, Candace Rose Rardon. A big thank you to both Pico Iyer for his continued support for this project and also to BBC Travel for referencing our book with the article. Here is an extract:

My favourite Kyoto walk begins at a half-hidden temple called Gesshin-in ­– two-storey, white-walled, eminently missable – on a lane dominated by huge Buddhas, high towers on either side, and shops selling exquisite prints of kimonoed women and samurai warriors. It’s in the very centre of Japan’s ancient capital, between the can’t-miss sights of Maruyama Park and Sannenzaka, just next to the steps leading up to the temple known as Kodaiji.

As you stand on this narrow street, Nene-no-michi, looking west (downtown happily obscured by low bamboo fences and thickets of flowering maples), you’ll see scores of visitors surging past you, south, to climb the narrow sloping streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. Glamorous Japanese couples linking arms, foreigners with Nikons around their necks, chattering matrons and (in the daytime, at least) school groups – all are hurrying towards one of the last pilgrims’ districts in Japan, leading up to the legendary Temple of Pure Water, Kiyomizu.

Sannenzaka is golden in the late afternoon, and though it’s full of souvenir shops crammed with Hello Kitty key chains and posters made for Bieberites, though its lanterns sometimes come with outlines of Mickey Mouse’s ears on them, it’s still quite magical, with its walkways between shops selling dark blue Kiyomizu pottery, its tatami tea-rooms, the sight, as you ascend the steep paths, of slanting grey roofs extending below you towards the city. At the top, behind Kiyomizu, you come to a waterfall surrounded by hills that take you back to the world that might have been here before a soul had seen it. The temple itself was in place two centuries before the second millennium began.

But even as the crowds throng toward these postcard vistas, I recommend you move in the other direction, towards what ultimately looks like chaos. Turn right, and start walking towards the Gionkaku Tower at the end of the street, beside a modern temple. If you want to absorb Kyoto, you have to head into the clamour of downtown and find those graces that are not incidental to the place, but at its very heart. Both shopping streets and templed hills, after all, glow in the late November light with a magic-hour sharpness that deepens the blue above even as it catches the leaves whose turning speaks of coming winter and coldness and dark.

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To read the rest of this story, visit BBC Travel’s Words & Wanderlust, or download the book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Pico Iyer
pico-iyerAcclaimed travel writer, Pico Iyer, is the author of two novels and eight works of non-fiction, including The Lady and the Monk describing his first year in Kyoto. He has been based around Kyoto and Nara since 1987.

You can find more of his articles online at http://picoiyerjourneys.com
Follow his travels on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/PicoIyer
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This is actually not the first time Deep Kyoto has been featured by BBC Travel! See also this article from 2012: Living In: Kyoto.

To learn more about our book please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Gods, Monks, Secrets, Fish – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Ashburne

Today John Ashburne takes us on a mouth-watering tour of Nishikikōji market and along the way adds a sprinkling of zen spice from the Buddhist teacher Dōgen Zenji…

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Daiyasu

Maintain an attitude that tries to build great temples from ordinary greens, that expounds the buddhadharma through the most trivial activity, handle even a single leaf of a green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf.

Two and a half decades ago, I would have read the above, and dismissed it out of hand. Buddhist transubstantiation? Temples made of lettuce! Bah humbug! I would have snorted. Not anymore. When the missus announced the other day “If a person is unhappy inside, you’ll taste it in their food”, I just nodded in silent agreement. Reverence. Awareness. Cooking as meditation. Sounds good to me. And I reckon if Dōgen had lit out for Venice Beach, he’d have made a killing.

Whilst you’re in Kyoto, you should push the boat out once and eat at one of the great restaurants. Sakurada is one of the best. Here’s a tip. Reserve a table for lunch. It’s the same with all the ryōtei, you still get the fabulous cuisine they serve in the evenings, just at a third of the price.

Head up Karasuma, across the busy Karasuma-Shijō crossing, until you reach Nishikikōji-dōri and turn right. Head past the Christian off-license advertising ‘Wine for Mass’ and Trappist Butter, and where the proprietors never, ever smile. If you’re hungry but the budget doesn’t stretch to Sakurada, try Eitarō, the noodle shop underneath Irish Pub Field. Their yuzu ramen with Japanese citron is excellent, especially on a cold winter’s day when the aromatic fruit are at their freshest. Or you can just wait till you hit the market. We’re nearly there now.

As you enter Nishiki from the Western entrance, notice the fabulous paintings of cockerels by the market’s most famous son, Itō Jakuchū who ran his father’s grocery, Masuya, before becoming one of the Edo period’s most celebrated artists. Jakuchū’s ‘Colourful Realm of Living Beings’ is a masterful collection of paintings of the very highest level, and it always puzzles me that he hasn’t achieved the fame in the West accorded to the likes of Utamaro and Hiroshige. I’d put him up there with the Old Masters. Not bad for a grocer’s lad from Kyoto.

Known nationwide as Kyō no Daidokoro, ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, the Nishiki market has existed here since the 17th century. Back in the day, the market specialized in footwear for samurai, and was known as Gusoku-no-kōji, ‘army footwear alley’, but the locals abbreviated it to Kuso-no-kōji, the rather less flattering ‘shit alley’. Its current name – Silk Brocade Street – was bestowed upon it by Emperor Go-Reizai, in 1054, and the market has been pandering to Imperial appetites, and basking in the approval of the upper class and the wealthy, ever since. And rightly so. Nishiki rocks.

The market is in fact a long, narrow, covered arcade, the 130 or so stores facing each other across a paved walkway of ishidatami ‘stone mats’. As you enter Nishiki from Takakura-dōri the smell of charcoal and roasting shellfish draws you immediately to a perennial favourite, Daiyasu.

Picture 9 Nishikikoji Market View by John Ashburne (Medium)

Nishiki Market View

‘Daiyasu-san’, the old man hauling oysters from a crate, greets me with a warm smile. “This foreigner knows his Japanese food, all right” he tells two young Japanese tourists. They look more bemused than impressed. The phrase Daiyasu-san uses is washoku no tsu, washoku meaning Japanese cuisine, and tsu a cross between gourmet and expert, but not at all snotty unless you use it of yourself. I wish we had a word like that in English. I can’t stand the self-congratulatory element of ‘foodie’, and ’maven’ sounds like a witch. ‘Gourmet’ too posh. I reply with sono koto nai, the diffident denial expected on such occasions, but secretly I feel pretty chuffed.

Those of us long enough in the tooth remember when Daiyasu was just a regular, unassuming fishmonger. Now it’s turned into a fish shop-cum-izakaya, the in-place to eat fresh magaki oysters from Toba, Mie Prefecture, oasari giant venus clams from Aichi, fresh hotate scallops and sazae turbo. The latter are cooked in the tsuboyaki style, ie roasted in the shell directly over a flame. Watch out for their super bitter wata intestines and reproductive organs, the Japanese gourmet’s delight and very much an acquired taste. As a good friend succinctly put it, “Like a shit bomb going off in your mouth”. When I reported this to another mate, he replied “Well actually, in gastropods, the anus is located on the head”. For once, I didn’t know what to say.

At Daiyasu I usually content myself with Toba’s finest, and a cold beer. “Shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle” harrumphed Pliny the Elder, clearly not a fan. Jonathan Swift deemed oysters cruel and uncharitable. Not these, they are superb.

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Text by John Ashburne. Daiyasu photograph by Michael Lambe. Nishiki Market View by John Ashburne. To read the rest of John stroll through Nishiki Market download Deep Kyoto: Walks here: LINK.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

John ASHBURNE for Canon 1About John Ashburne
John writes on Japan, and in particular on its Food Culture, for a host of publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Japan Times, etc. He is guest editor for the Fall 2014 Kyoto Journal special issue, ‘Food’. He has lived in Japan for 27 years, and calls Kyoto home. His hobby is extracting ‘dashi’ from a variety of seaweeds, fishes and certain mystical mushrooms that you’ll only find growing half way up a mountain in Gunma.

John blogs at www.johnashburne.com/
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See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn
Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt by Bridget Scott
Blue Sky – An Excerpt by Stephen Henry Gill
Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor (VIDEO)
Kamogawa Musing – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Dougill

Kamogawa Musing – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Dougill

In this extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks, John Dougill walking by the Kamo River, the nature reserve that cuts through the heart of Kyoto, muses on history and literature…

Leisure activities on a cloudy day at the meeting of the Kamo and Takanogawa

Leisure activities on a cloudy day at the meeting of the Kamo and Takanogawa

“The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same. The bubbles that float in the pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not of long duration. So in the world are man and his dwellings.” – Kamo no Chomei in Hojoki (tr. Donald Keene)

Kyoto ranks among the world’s great cities. What other town can boast of 17 different World Heritage properties – and it could have been so many more! One only has to think of the places left out: Fushimi Inari, with its seductive tunnel of torii; Daitoku-ji, home to Zen and the making of tea; the Former Imperial Palace and detached villas, including the exquisite Katsura estate.

To live in such surrounds is to be blessed indeed. I’m reminded of this every single morning as I open my curtains to gaze onto the great Dai of Daimonji and the thirty-six peaks of the Eastern Hills. I live next to one World Heritage site (Shimogamo Shrine), and I work next to another (Nishi Hongan-ji). From my writing desk I look up towards holy Mt. Hiei, ‘mother of Japanese Buddhism’. Culturally, one could hardly ask for more; it’s like living in a treasure box.

Yet for me, Kyoto wouldn’t be the city I love unless it were for the life-sustaining river that runs through its heart, forming a sliver of greenery and wildlife within the concrete city. I walk the river almost every day, for I live next to the lower reaches of the Takano where it merges with the Kamo to flow southwards towards Osaka. Most days I walk down to the Starbucks at Sanjō (Third Avenue) to set up office in the basement, but today I’m heading all the way down to Shichijō (Seventh Avenue), before turning west along the thoroughfare to my university.

The walk offers ‘time out’ from the daily round of urban life, a place for solitary contemplation of the larger matters. Here the spirit swells and relaxes. Here the mind can think in centuries. Here immersed in the rus in urbe I lose myself in observation of the wild life and muse on the seasonal round. There are fish that flash silver in springtime, large funa that glide improbably in the shallow water, even the occasional carp let loose in the river water and looking lost.

But this is not so much a river of fish, as of birds. Birds that swoop, scavenge and shriek in sheer delight at the oasis of water and greenery. Kamogawa translates as Duck River, and along with the duck varieties are pigeons, sparrows, cormorants, herons, wagtails, egrets, hawks, Siberian seagulls, crows galore, even the occasional kingfisher. These are my companions on my solitary walks. And the wonder is that you get all this while passing through downtown Kyoto. It’s almost miraculous.

The things I’ve seen on these river banks. A trumpeter sounding the Last Post on one long blood-red sunset; the cherry blossom delight of merry picnickers stretching away into the northern hills; the sad, sorry sight of flooded cardboard boxes belonging to the homeless; hawks snatching rice balls out of the hands of the unsuspecting. Strangest of all, one January dusk I saw a group of people in the river immersed to their waists like frozen statues. A trick of the eyes? A joke? An art performance? No, it turned out to be a karate club performing winter austerity rites. Walking this river can be an education too.

For it’s not just wildlife that enjoys this strip of water and greenery – it’s a vital playground for humans too. This is where people take time out to stretch and play, eat their bento or strip off to sunbathe. Old folks do gateball, youngsters play American Football. This is where musicals are rehearsed, Noh verses recited, tunes learnt, haiku composed, and dogs walked by dogged owners. Foreigners practice tai chi here, prompting children to tug at their parents in wonder, while TV crews add Kyoto glamour to their documentaries and celebrities pose for fashion magazines.

For me personally, the pleasure of a city like Kyoto derives from the way physical space is enhanced by the patina of time. ‘No city or landscape is truly rich unless it has been given the quality of myth by writer, painter or by association with great events,’ wrote V.S. Naipaul. In this sense Kyoto is rich indeed, for every corner of every street is fraught with poetic or historic significance. Here passed a poet, here martyrs were sacrificed, and here stood the palace of a shogun.

This walk along the river is thus about much more than physical movement. It’s about the passage through time and how the past has shaped the present. And there’s a personal dimension too, for the surrounds give me pause to reflect on the curiosity of my own life. Kyoto was founded in 794, and as it happened I first came here to live in 1994. For the city, the 1200th anniversary was a cause for celebration; for me, it marked the beginning of a whole new era.

An egret rests on one-leg, determined not to stick its neck out.

An egret rests on one-leg, determined not to stick its neck out.

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Text and photographs by John Dougill. To read the rest of John Dougill’s Kamogawa Musing, download Deep Kyoto: Walks here: LINK.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

John-Dougill-2-242x300About John Dougill
John Dougill is the author of Kyoto: A Cultural History, Japan’s World Heritage Sites and In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians. He also keeps a blog, Green Shinto (www.greenshinto.com). Born in the UK to a Czech mother and a Yorkshire Viking, he studied Russian and Slavic Studies at university. However, a lust for wandering took him to the Middle East, where he married a Yemeni, before travelling around the world for a year. He set up house in Oxford, but fate intervened to send him to Kanazawa where he was a lone gaijin on the backside of Japan, dreaming of one day teaching in Kyoto. Now he has to pinch himself every morning as he looks up from his bed at Daimonji. When not playing chess, writing haiku or walking along the Kamogawa, he works as professor of Cultural Studies at Ryukoku University.
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See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn
Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt by Bridget Scott
Blue Sky – An Excerpt by Stephen Henry Gill
Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor (VIDEO)

The 2nd Kyoto Bloggers Meeting @ Kyoto’s Impact HUB

Impact Hub Kyoto strives to be a place where people with a strong desire to change society and the world can gather, learn from each other and find new solutions. We believe, however, that in order for sustainable change to come about, we must first embrace change in ourselves…
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Impact HUB Kyoto

Last Wednesday (June 18th) we held our second Kyoto Bloggers Meeting at a new location: Kyoto’s Impact HUB. Many thanks to Impact HUB for hosting our event and to their global communications co-ordinator Lisa Allen for arranging it. It turned out to be the perfect venue!

Two of our speakers, Akiko Morita and Hugo Kempeneer chatting by the interior garden.

Two of our speakers, Akiko Morita and Hugo Kempeneer chatting by the interior garden.

Housed in a lovely traditional wooden Kyoto residence, with a gorgeous bamboo thicket in the interior garden, the main hall is very spacious  and they were able to provide us with a computer, projector and screen so we could look at each other’s blogs. The HUB ordered in drinks for us, all at cost price, and Obento Waka provided a sumptuous feast of vegan nourishment at 800 yen a head.

I didn’t take a head count but at a guess I would say about 20 people attended. After mingling, meeting old friends and new, and enjoying some dinner and drinks it was time for our presentations. Each talk was followed by a question and answer session. Lisa Allen spoke first on her role as Global Communications Coordinator for the Kyoto branch of the HUB.

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HUB headerShe spoke about the HUB’s role in fostering local community and of the many upcoming events that would be hosted there. One blogger, Gary Bloom, wrote to me later about how impressed he was by this:

A big thanks for putting the Impact Hub bloggers gathering together this month.  Not only was it a great evening, but it was a great introduction to that space! …I was blown away that that sort of space has been there, right under my nose, without me knowing about it! I just joined, so I’m a member there now and am looking forward to enjoying the space and the people there.

Next up, was Hugo Kempeneer, who introduced us to his blog Kyoto and Nara Dream Trips.
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kndtThrough his blog, Hugo shares his twin interests in photography and Japanese culture. His blogposts on the not so well-known temples, shrines and gardens in our region are very thorough and an excellent introduction to local festivals, ceremonies and traditions. Hugo has been living in Kyoto area for 20 years and so knows the area inside out! He writes: “Here you will find information on popular tourist sites of Nara and Kyoto and also the not-so-popular sites which are often equally rewarding. You can also find information posted on the wall about famous Japanese peoples’ birthdays, famous historical events, and different odd and widely unknown traditions. Discover a side of Japan which you never knew existed, here at Kyoto and Nara Dream Trips!”

Garden photographer, Akiko Morita then introduced us not only to her blog but to her secret recipe for success!

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In her blog, EdenWalkers, Akiko photographs and writes about the most beautiful gardens of Japan and the U.K. She writes,

edenI love gardens and photography! When eyes meet at a garden, people smile at each other for no reason and start talking. Do you know why…? We experience love within, not necessarily love to someone or something, but deep within. A specialness of visiting gardens is to experience beauty. Beauty is something which connects us to a deeper part of ourselves. Knowing beauty is instantaneous because it is beyond words and more than the mind’s understanding. When mind meets beauty, our mental activities are highly reduced. We feel connected, centred and fulfilled.

Akiko told us how her love of gardens led her to photography and how she became a professional photographer just 18 months after first picked up a camera. Her secret was simply to live in the present moment and put herself forward as a professional photographer right from the word go – even when she only had one lens! The difference she told us between an amateur photographer and a pro, is simply that the amateur always says they will have the perfect pictures ready later on, when their skills have improved. But a professional has the photos ready right away. She told us the difference is simply one of attitude, so if you have the right attitude you can achieve anything and be exactly what you want to be!

After that inspiring talk, I got up and talked to the gathering about our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks. In some ways this book could be seen as a model for future collaborations between local bloggers, as several of our Kyoto Bloggers are also contributors to the book.

Michael's talk 1 (Medium) (Medium) (Medium) (Medium) (Medium) (Medium) (Small)
Mostly though I spoke about how the motivation for the book evolved from simply wishing to write something with my old pal Ted Taylor, to an idea for an anthology of meditative walks.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalLast spring I was practicing a kind of walking meditation – which is simply walking around your neighborhood and paying more attention to the details around you: to the quality of the air, the wind on your face, the sounds, and the smells and the people; to look down and notice the things at your feet and also to look up at the roof-tops. At the same time though, you are also paying attention to your own mind. For just as your body wanders, so does your mind. And when you know a neighborhood well, walking around it brings up all kinds of associations and memories. And I thought it would be interesting to combine this kind of external and internal wandering into one narrative. That would make for a very unique guidebook. Not a typical guidebook of directions and simple nuggets of historical and architectural information, but a book that actually gives you a taste of life in this city when it is lived in. When it is your home.

I spoke of how I had envisaged a book of meditative strolls, but how everybody involved interpreted the original idea in different ways. Some walks were more meditative, and some less so, and in addition to strolls, the book now contains meditative hikes, meditative bar crawls and even a meditative protest march! And I spoke of how our list of contributors expanded beyond my initial list of people I knew to writers like Judith Clancy and Pico Iyer – who were both amazingly, very keen to take part! The lesson learned: if you have a good idea and follow it through, it will grow – and often into something beyond what you originally imagined.

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Finally Ted Taylor introduced his own walk from the book with a preamble about how the idea for it developed and then gave a fine reading from it. There is a video of that reading, which I have previously posted here: Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor from Deep Kyoto: Walks.

Each of these talks was followed up by lively question and answer sessions and all in all it was a fun, entertaining and often inspiring night. We will have our next meeting sometime in the autumn and no doubt we will continue to use the fine Kyoto Impact HUB venue.

If you would like to join our Kyoto Bloggers group then please drop me a line in the comments with your email address and I will send you an invite to the Google Group.

If you are interested in learning more about Kyoto Impact HUB and their various community orientated activities then please check out their site here: http://kyoto.impacthub.net/

You can find out more about hiring the HUB for your own events here: KIH SPACE.

And here is a list of upcoming Impact HUB events:

July 2nd: 11:30am – 1:30pm – Sexy Salad:
Members: Free+ favorite salad ingredient
Non-members: 500 yen + favorite salad ingredient
July 4th: 6-9pm – HUB Drinks
Members and non-members FREE/Donations of drink & food
July 12th: A special talk on Gion Festival by Catherine Pawasarat
Part 1 – 5-6:30pm Talk
Part 2 8-9.30pm Festival Tour
More details here: LINK
July 16th: Sexy Salad
(time and details as above)
July 26th: Community Gathering
An event exclusively for members to connect, network and make a delicious dinner together.

Kyoto Impact HUB is located a short walk south of Kuramaguchi Station (JR Subway) on the east side of Karasuma Street. Here is a MAP.

See also: Introducing the Kyoto Bloggers Support Group for Information Exchange, Community & Collaboration

What is Deep Kyoto: Walks?

This from the Foreword may give you some idea:

Though there is much to learn about Kyoto in the pages that follow, this is not a typical guidebook, with a simple set of directions to sites of historical or architectural import. It is an anthology of meditative walks that expresses each writer’s deeper relationship to the area in which they live. All of the writers in this book have lived in Kyoto long enough to put down roots and call this city their home. They know their neighborhoods with the familiarity of old friends. In the walks that follow they will wander through Kyoto’s streets encountering old and intimate memories, and making new discoveries too. For this old city is alive and ever changing. And in walking these streets and recording their thoughts and feelings, these writers are reaffirming their personal relationship with Kyoto and creating a fine tribute to the city that we love.

More excerpts will follow in the coming days!

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-final

Deep Kyoto: Walks
Publisher: Deep Kyoto; 1st edition (May 18, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
ASIN: B00KFM2J0C
URL: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KFM2J0C
Price: $7.99 (811 yen)

Editors: Michael Lambe & Ted Taylor

Authors: Jennifer Louise Teeter, Bridget Scott, Miki Matsumoto, Robert Yellin, Pico Iyer, Chris Rowthorn, John Dougill, John Ashburne, Stephen Henry Gill, Sanborn Brown, Joel Stewart, Izumi Texidor-Hirai, Perrin Lindelauf and Judith Clancy.

If you don’t have a Kindle reading device, simply download one of these free Kindle reading apps for your computer, smartphone or tablet: FREE KINDLE APPS.

See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk

Deep Kyoto: Walks ~ Released on Amazon!

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-final

Deep Kyoto: Walks
Publisher: Deep Kyoto; 1st edition (May 18, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
ASIN: B00KFM2J0C
URL: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KFM2J0C
Price: $7.99 (811 yen)

Editors: Michael Lambe & Ted Taylor

Authors: Jennifer Louise Teeter, Bridget Scott, Miki Matsumoto, Robert Yellin, Pico Iyer, Chris Rowthorn, John Dougill, John Ashburne, Stephen Henry Gill, Sanborn Brown, Joel Stewart, Izumi Texidor-Hirai, Perrin Lindelauf and Judith Clancy.

Includes:
18 walks
16 photographic illustrations
A specially commissioned woodblock print by Richard Steiner
12 detailed maps
Links to all locations on Google Maps
Cover Art by internationally acclaimed artist Sarah Brayer

I am very happy to announce the release of our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks on Amazon.com.

Just a little over a year ago I began to send out tentative proposals for the first Deep Kyoto publication. The book would be about walking in Kyoto. But it would not be a typical guidebook, with a set of directions and little nuggets of historical and cultural information. Each walk would be a meditative stroll around an area the writer knew intimately and would explore that writer’s personal relationship to the city. The book would be both a literary tribute to the city as home, and a testament to the art of walking for its own sake.

To my delight our writers responded with great enthusiasm to this proposal, and in their walks they have taken my initial idea into areas I could never have imagined. In our book we have neighborhood walks, mountain hikes, bar crawls, backstreet rambles, philosophical wanderings and strolls down memory lane. And we have gathered a fantastic group of writers too, from established Kyoto experts like Pico Iyer, Judith Clancy and John Ashburne to newer talent like Bridget Scott and Izumi-Texidor-Hirai: all of our contributors have written superb accounts of walking this city and I want to thank them all for their participation in this project.

I would also like to thank our artists: Sarah Brayer for her wonderful cover art, and Richard Steiner for his beautiful print illustration of Daimonji in flames.

Profound thanks also to Yutaka Nakayama for his design work on the cover and for his super detailed maps. And to Rick Elizaga who stepped in to take care of the formatting, and who has done a truly splendid job of it, many many thanks indeed.

Finally I would like to express my eternal gratitude to my co-editor and very best walking companion, Ted Taylor (1). From the beginning of this project to the end, he has been a great ally, and a source of encouragement, energy and inspiration.

This has been a great collective effort and together we have made a wonderful book of which we can be hugely proud. I look forward very much to our next collaboration.

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Note (1): Other than Mewby of course!

See also:
Introducing the Writers
Meet the Artists

Deep Kyoto: Walks ~ Introducing the Writers

The editors...

The happy editors…

We are now one week away from the release of our ebook, Deep Kyoto: Walks! Here at last we reveal the full list of writers! You may be pleasantly surprised at this happy mix of fresh faces and seasoned hands…

There are 16 writers in our book and 18 walks. For your convenience the main chapters of the book with the writers names are listed below, along with the corresponding times that they are mentioned on the video.

The Walks:
(0.28) Time Travelling on GojoJennifer Louise Teeter discovers the Gojozaka area in the August heat offers portals through time and into other worlds…
(1.15) Red Brick & Sakura: A Walk in Modern KyotoMichael Lambe explores alternative visions of modern architecture in eastern Kyoto…
(1.51) Ghosts, Monkeys & Other NeighboursBridget Scott meditates on her personal connection to her neighborhood on a well-worn stroll from Shisen-dō to Manshu-in…
(2.24) Climbing Mount DaimonjiMiki Matsumoto considers our relation to the natural world while climbing this iconic mount
(2.41) Not Sure Which Way To GoRobert Yellin encourages us to seek chance and adventure along the Path of Philosophy…
(3.09) Into the TumultPico Iyer on a favoured walk from Gesshin-in to Sanjo Bridge reflects on how he first fell in love with this city and what it has taught him…
(3.38) Old School Gaijin KyotoChris Rowthorn tours the haunts of his reckless youth with the ironic eye of experience…
(4.07) Kamogawa MusingJohn Dougill walking by the Kamo River, the nature reserve that cuts through the heart of Kyoto, muses on history and literature…
(4.50) Gods, Monks, Secrets, FishJohn Ashburne on a mouth-watering tour of the Nishikikoji market with a sprinkling of zen spice…
(5.43) Across Purple FieldsTed Taylor walks to his corner store for a beer and on the way encounters the world…
(6.30) Blue SkyStephen Henry Gill takes us on an expert guided tour through the poetic and historical landscape of Saga and Arashiyama….
(7.34) Hiking Mount AtagoSanborn Brown joins an annual summer pilgrimage with an eccentric tea ceremony master…
(8.05) In Praise of Uro UroJoel Stewart, on a walk from Daitoku-ji to Shōden-ji, views the eclectic architecture of his neighborhood with the unique eye of an artist…
(8.45) The Botanical GardensIzumi Texidor Hirai walks through the seasons and through personal recollections in her favourite city park…
(9.20) A Long MarchTed Taylor joins a nuclear protest demo from Maruyama Park to Kyoto City Hall, and reflects on ideals and reality…
(9.39) Up & Down the Ki’Michael Lambe follows troubadours Mark Dodds and Ryotaro Sudo on a ten-bar musical bar crawl of Kiyamachi…
(10.21) Rounding Off: The Kyoto TrailPerrin Lindelauf walks the entire circuit of the hiking trail around Kyoto’s surrounding mountains
(10.55) EpilogueJudith Clancy reflects on how long years in Kyoto have changed her way of seeing…

In addition the book has a Foreword on the topic of walking by myself, and an Introduction by Ted Taylor: Afoot in the Old Capital. It is also illustrated with photos from our contributors, plus a wood block print from Richard Steiner, and is completed by 12 detailed maps to help you find your way around!

Deep Kyoto: Walks will be released on Amazon DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalon May 21st 2014!

See also:
Joel Stewart & Ted Taylor: Two Friends Deep Kyoto Walking
Ted Taylor on the Trail of Toyotomi Hideyoshi: A Deep Kyoto Walk through History
Judith Clancy in “Deep Kyoto: Walks” ~ An Exclusive Extract
Deep Kyoto: Walks ~ Meet the Artists
Coming very soon, the first publication from Deep Kyoto

Joel Stewart & Ted Taylor: Two Friends Deep Kyoto Walking

Though this piece from Ted Taylor’s blog is not included in our upcoming Deep Kyoto: Walks anthology, I think it aptly illustrates what our book is about. It features another of our contributors too, in the person of local artist Joel Stewart. What Ted says about Joel viewing Kyoto’s roads with an artist’s eye also gives a good idea of what to expect from Joel’s own Deep Kyoto Walk!

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From “Journey to the West” first published on December 31st 2013 on Notes from the ‘Nog
(photo and text by ted Taylor)
journey
The chill hit my cheeks the moment I left the subway station. I was retracing the steps I’d taken the previous day, though now I was walking on the opposite side of the street, where the sun was striking. And today the rhythm of my footfalls along the Saigoku Kaidō was echoed by those of Joel Stewart, friend, local artist and wearer of good hats. While I tend to prefer walking these old roads alone, I appreciated Joel’s company, and his perspective. Where I’ve often walked with mountaineers, or history buffs, or those versed in indigenous spirituality, I had yet to walk with an artist, and Joel’s eye helped shape a different type of day.

It began nearly immediately, at Tōji. I noticed the way the fresh morning light was playing upon the wall along the temple moat, but Joel noticed what the light was doing to the color. I envied him then his medium of expression, as he can do in paint what I’ve tried and failed for a decade to do with words, in trying to capture my obsession for light and the form it takes.

Yet Joel’s interest today was less visual and more temporal, and as we walked we discuss the history of our adopted city, not just on what happened say, a thousand years ago, but touching on the fact that so many others have walked these streets since. And traces of this overlap of time were ever present through the day. The ruins of the Rashomon gate brought up of course Kurosawa and his famous eponymous work. Nearby Saiji exists merely as a small mound in a park, where the rays of this new morning were imprinted upon the trunks of the massive enoki trees atop, as a reflected heat that warmed the hand. Leading away were the row houses now empty but for the vines growing up behind window panes still intact. The banks of the Katsura river carry the scars of recent typhoon damage. Upon one remaining tree sat a shrike, looking into down into the water with a predator’s gaze, in that identical way Miyamoto Musashi captured his own bird with a deft stroke of the brush.

To read the rest of this article click here: Journey to the West

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Incidentally, Joel Stewart recently sent me a link to this BBC article on “purposeless walking” that reflects on the value of walking for its own sake – something we are very keen to celebrate in our own book. This quote in particular, from Henry David Thoreau, resonated with me:

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

The pathways described in Deep Kyoto: Walks are also ones with which our writers are intimately familiar… Here are the BBC’s tips for good walking if you would like to give it a try:

  • Walk further and with no fixed route
  • Stop texting and mapping
  • Don’t soundtrack your walks
  • Go alone
  • Find walkable places
  • Walk mindfully

LINK TO BBC ARTICLE

See also:
Ted Taylor on the Trail of Toyotomi Hideyoshi: A Deep Kyoto Walk through History
Judith Clancy in “Deep Kyoto: Walks” ~ An Exclusive Extract
Deep Kyoto: Walks ~ Meet the Artists
Coming very soon, the first publication from Deep Kyoto