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.

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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

Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn

In Old School Gaijin Kyoto, Chris Rowthorn takes us on a hilarious tour of the bars and eateries of Kiyamachi as he revisits the haunts of his reckless youth with the ironic eye of experience.

Nagahama Ramen on Kiyamachi.

Nagahama Ramen on Kiyamachi.

From “Old School Gaijin Kyoto” by Chris Rowthorn

I first arrived in Japan in January 1992. I was a kid of 26. Green as a sapling. I had graduated from college a few years earlier and had worked a string of meaningless, poorly paid jobs, none of which advanced my ambitions of becoming a writer. I wanted out of that situation and out of the States for a while, but I had no idea where to go. The leading destinations for footloose Gen Xers at that time were Prague and Alaska, where you could drink coffee and can salmon, respectively. Somehow, I wasn’t drawn to either place. So, when I heard that my old college mate John was studying Buddhism in Japan, I quickly called him up to find out more (the only people who used email at that time were employed by NASA).

On the phone, John painted me a vivid picture of Kyoto: it was a city of temples and shrines, surrounded by mountains. There were shops that sold noodles that were good and cheap. There were these places called sentos where you could bathe in huge tubs of steaming water. And John said he lived in an old wooden house by a small river and spent his days studying ancient texts, slurping noodles, and soaking in these hot baths.

Needless to say, I was utterly sold, and my excessively romantic imagination conjured up something straight out of a Chinese ink painting: secret temples materializing out of the mist, surrounded by improbably steep mountains, populated by the odd hermit and dragon, and, conveniently enough, plenty of cheap noodle joints.

Best of all, John said, you could easily get a job that paid ¥5,000 an hour for sitting around and chatting to Japanese people who wanted to practice their English. At the time, that was about US$35 (the yen was weaker then), which was utterly beyond my comprehension, since I was accustomed to earning about US$8 or $9 an hour doing menial and tiresome tasks. I imagined that US$35 was about what brain surgeons earned. I figured that I could probably retire in two or three years on that kind of income. Surely, I thought, he’s exaggerating a bit, but even if they paid half that, I’d be on easy street.

A few short weeks later, I found myself in a Northwest Airlines 747 coming in to land at Osaka’s Itami International Airport (this was a few years before they built the fancy new Kansai International Airport out in Osaka Bay). As the plane taxied to the gate, I peered blearily out the window and was surprised to see Air Force One sitting on the tarmac. I didn’t know George Bush (the elder) was coming, too! It didn’t seem like a good omen (and it certainly wasn’t a good trip for the President, who later that evening vomited onto the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa).

I cleared immigration and customs and found myself in a world of sinister policemen – the place was thick with them on account of the President – and purposeful salarymen. I stumbled out of the arrivals hall and confronted Osaka. It was straight out of Blade Runner – enormous neon signs written in wild Chinese characters loomed over streets filled with warrens of shops and restaurants and a legion of strange people scurrying about speaking an incomprehensible language. Where were the temples in the mist?! Where was the old wooden house beside the small river?! This was not what I had in mind at all! My jetlagged mind recalled a line from the film Withnail and I: “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!” Only, this was no holiday – I had moved to an entirely different country by mistake!

Still, there was nothing for it, so I somehow found the bus to Kyoto and got on, with my old school suitcase (not even a proper backpack!). Things just got worse from there as we made our way out of Osaka and motored down the Hanshin Expressway. Every single inch of the place seemed worked over, modernized and transformed into some crowded futuristic jumble that eased neither the eyes nor the soul. The only thing that kept me from falling into a complete panic was sheer fatigue. Finally, as the bus made its way into the outskirts of Kyoto, I saw the illuminated pagoda of Toji Temple rising above the endless expanse of cheap concrete apartment blocks. Ahh…I thought, maybe there’s something here.

At that time, Japan was still high from the Bubble. It had burst a few years earlier, but most people hadn’t realized it yet. There was mad money in the air. All the Japanese seemed to have loads of it, and they truly seemed to be the supermen that books like Black Rain warned were about to take over the world. They were confident in their stride, everything they had and did was better, and the women were sexy as hell. I felt like some Okie hick pulling into Broadway circa 1925.

And, living in their midst, there was this gang of “gaijin” (foreigners) who were happy to pick up the generous crumbs that fell from the groaning table. And the Kyoto gaijin were a special breed. While Tokyo attracted serious business types who were strictly after the money, Kyoto got the culture vultures and the bohemians. Indeed, you could still sort of smell the patchouli in the air and hear the strains of the sitar in the distance. For Kyoto was one of the great K’s – a somewhat obscure member of the list that included Kabul, Kathmandu and Kuta. Kyoto was the place where you came to earn some money so you could get back out on the hippy trail – a few months teaching English and you could spend an entire year smoking hash in India or trekking in Nepal.

In Kyoto, it was expected that you’d live cheap. People boasted about how small their rents and rooms were, like hippie versions of Monty Python’s old men: “My place is three tatami mats and costs ¥20,000…So, my room is one-and-a-half tatamis and I have to sleep standing up, but it’s free and all I have to do is water my landlady’s bonsai.” This sensibility immediately appealed to me, since I was used to thinking of milk crates as furniture and US$10 as a lot of money. And everyone – the gaijin that is – was from somewhere else. Sure, there were plenty of Americans, but we also rubbed shoulders with exotics like Kiwis, Aussies, Israelis, and Swedes. And everyone had been everywhere: They tossed off names of Thai islands and Delhi bhang shops like they were local convenience stores.

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Osho – Chinese food

So, intending to stay a year, I stayed 18. I came with a suitcase and I left with a wife, two children, and more stuff than you can cram into a shipping container. While we now spend much of the year in Bangkok, Kyoto still feels like home. I cannot walk a single street downtown that does not have some memory attached to it, some ghost waiting to ambush me. Despite myself, visiting these streets brings forth an unbearable sense of loss: for the years gone by, the people who are no longer there, and the young man I once was. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good, but it’s always there.

So, the other day, in a fit of extreme nostalgia, I decided to retrace my earliest steps in Kyoto, starting from the place I spent my first night, and ending up where I spent most of my time in those early days: the bars of Kiyamachi.

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Text by Chris Rowthorn. Photographs by Michael Lambe. To read the rest of Chris Rowthorn’s Kiyamachi adventures, 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.

About Chris Rowthorn
Chris Rowthorn in BhutanChris Rowthorn was born in England and raised in the United States. In 1992, Chris moved to Kyoto, and started studying the Japanese language and culture. After the mandatory stint as an English teacher, Chris started writing for the Japan Times in 1995. In 1996, Chris was recruited by Lonely Planet Publications to work on their guidebooks to Japan. Since then, Chris has written over 25 books for Lonely Planet Publications. He is the sole author of the Lonely Planet Kyoto City Guide, and has been the lead author of the last seven editions of the Lonely Planet Japan country guide. He’s also written guidebooks about several other countries and articles for National Geographic Explorer, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, BBC Online, and many more. Chris runs Chris Rowthorn Tours (www.chrisrowthorn.com), which offers private tours and consulting about Japan, and InsideKyoto (www.insidekyoto.com), an online guidebook to Kyoto.
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See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
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)

Deep Kyoto: Walks in the Japan Times

jtMany thanks to Pat McCoy for his kind review of our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks in today’s Japan Times! Pat writes,

“Deep Kyoto Walks” edited by Michael Lambe and Ted Taylor is the perfect guide for anyone who wants to get off Kyoto’s beaten tourist track. With personalized views of what to see and do in Kyoto — by people who have lived there for extended periods of time — it essentially offers a curated guide to one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Essays by a host of Kyoto residents (16 authors in all, including renowned travel writer Pico Iyer), cover various fields such as poetry, pottery, butoh dance, tea ceremony, art, travel writing and food writing…

To read the rest of Pat’s review click here: The Japan Times.
To learn more about the book and read extracts click here: About the Book
To read more reviews click here: Reviews
To order the book click here: Deep Kyoto: Walks
To read Kindle books without a Kindle, download a free app below:

Yak & Yeti – Nepalese Curry in Kyoto

Yak and Yeti is a restaurant we go back to time and time again for two reasons. One is the super friendly staff who never fail to put a smile on our faces. And the other is their legendary Vegetable Phuraula, Nepali style spicy vegetable tempura. It’s amazing. This restaurant is super popular with vegetarians for the range of tasty vegan options they have on their menu but you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy them. They are soooo good. And of course they have plenty of carnivorous options too. We usually share one curry and a naan bread and get a range of their fantastic appetisers. Here’s what we had last time.

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Generally, they have two Nepali beers available, Mustang, which has a subtle but musky flavour, and Nepali Ice which is crisper and lighter on the tongue. The spicy papadums were a special treat from the restaurant, and went so nicely with that first beer. Continue reading

Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor from Deep Kyoto Walks

Ted Reading (Medium) (Medium) (Small)On Wednesday evening we held our second Kyoto Bloggers meeting at the very excellent Impact HUB. I will write more about the event and about Impact HUB itself later, but today I want to share with you a short video of Ted Taylor reading from our ebook, Deep Kyoto: Walks. Ted gives a brief explanation of how and why he wrote the piece and then a reading from the piece itself. I have posted the text of the excerpt below.


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Honke Owariya with Sean Lotman

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On Sunday Mewby and I had the pleasure of lunch with writer/photographer Sean Lotman. Sean’s wife manages the Honke Owariya soba noodle business, a family company which is pretty famous in Kyoto.  The business actually dates from 1465, though they “only” started making noodles Sean told me about 300 or 400 years ago, as they were originally a confectionary business.  They still make confectionary but it is the noodles that have made it famous. We met up with Sean at the main branch of Honke Owariya, a delightful old traditional Kyoto building for a stimulating lunch of hearty food and good conversation in beautiful surrounds. Continue reading

Machiya Stay in Kyoto: The Matsui House

Matsui House Facade

Matsui House Facade

Today we have a guest post from Lucinda Cowing.

Looking for an authentic, conveniently-located, quiet Kyoto accommodation? Travelling on a budget?

The Matsui House is a 100 year-old machiya townhouse in Nishijin, the old textile district of Kyoto. It is the family home of Mrs Matsui, who resides there with her husband. The house was previously a workshop for making kimono and obi (Mrs Matsui tells me the pieces she inherited, sadly, were sold long ago to the Boston Museum of Art). With the decline in the demand for kimono beginning in the post-war era, the weaving industry here has consequently suffered a huge decline, and the sounds of the looms no longer reverberate through the streets as Mrs Matsui recalls well. The Nishijin neighbourhood nonetheless remains one of the most well-preserved in Kyoto. Several years ago, after having restored the main building with the help of the Machizukuri Fund, the Matsuis decided to rent it out as a sharehouse. They also welcome short-term visitors to Kyoto to stay in their guest room.

The guest room

The guest room

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Kyoto City has designated the Matsui house an important historical building

The Matsui House guest room is a large 12-tatami size room, accommodating max. two people. The room is actually their ozashiki or main reception room — as such it is the loveliest in the house, with a view out to the gorgeous garden. Guests sleep in the traditional Japanese style, on futon bedding, which most people find very comfortable. Mrs Matsui can find you an extra one futon for more “support” if you need. Continue reading

Bias in Japan’s Media – A Free Lecture by Eric Johnston @ Kyoto University

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Eric Johnston, Deputy Editor of the Japan Times, will be speaking on media bias at Kyoto University on July 3rd. The talk will be in English but the subsequent Q & A session will be in English and Japanese.

Date: July 3rd
Time: 2:30-4:15 p.m.
Place: Kyoto University

The event is open to the public but please RSVP Eric Johnston if you wish to attend: erichartley1964[at]gmail.com

Click here for a pdf of the flyer.

Blue Sky – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks

Rakushisha

Rakushisha

Today I am posting another in a series of short excerpts from our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks. In Blue Sky, the poet Stephen Henry Gill acts as a guide to the Saga & Arashiyama area for a young visitor who has come to learn more about the conservation NPO, People Together for Mt. Ogura. Stephen whimsically names his visitor Blue Sky, because that was the first thing he saw that fine autumn day. We join them mid-way through the tour…

On our left is a tilled field, in which the raggedy, nondescript greens are straggling. Going down this near side of the field, we soon come to the rustic gate of Rakushisha, the ‘House of Fallen Persimmons’, the thatched cottage once owned by Mukai Kyorai (1651-1704), and where his haiku master, Matsuo Bashō (1644-94), once stayed. Here, Bashō wrote his Saga Nikki, the ‘Saga Diary’. Another story for Blue:

One day in autumn, a merchant from Osaka passed the house, which was then located in an orchard of persimmon trees. He went in and negotiated with Kyorai to purchase the entire crop, paying him an advance and telling him he would come back the following day to harvest the glowing orange-coloured fruit. Kyorai went to bed feeling pleased with himself, but awoke in the night as a storm set in and proceeded to shake all the fruit down onto the ground. The crop was ruined and, the next day, when the merchant finally appeared, Kyorai had to hand back the deposit he’d received. From that day on, he would refer to himself ironically as ‘The Master of Persimmons’.

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Gion Festival: Where Spirituality Meets Sustainability – A Talk by Catherine Pawasarat

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Gion Festival images from Catherine Pawasarat

This from John Einarsen,

Did you know that the Gion Festival is one of the world’s oldest and most successful experiments in spiritual sustainability? This year the Great Ship Float (Oofune Boko) destroyed by fire in 1864 is being relaunched along with pre- and post-festival processions on July 17 and 24. Let spiritual teacher, environmental journalist and Gion expert Catherine Pawasarat guide you through the intricacies of the festival’s fascinating spiritual legacy and its latest iteration bringing together 1100 years of tradition with contemporary Japanese technology and sustainability practices.

Day: Sat, 12 July, 2014
Time: 17:00-18:30
Location: Impact HUB Kyoto. Access details and map here: http://kyoto.impacthub.net/access/?lang=en
Entrance Fee: 1500 yen per person

CataIndigoKimonoKitaKannonYama16Jul2008_0194PctclrdDgmrkdSmallProfile:
Catherine Pawasarat is the creator of gionfestival.com. Catherine’s lifelong love affair with Kyoto began right after she graduated from Columbia University in 1989. With over two decades living in Japan as a journalist, writer, editor and intepreter, Catherine lived in the heart of the Gion Festival neighborhood. Her reporting on the Festival has focused on everything from the role of women in the festival to the heritage textiles that first piqued her interest in one of the world’s oldest living cultural legacies.

See also: Gion Festival – The Best English Language Resource on Facebook!
Gion Festival in Literature & Memory