Daijoubu! Photography & Kansai’s International Portrait Project

kansai-int-projectsmallA message from Javier Montaño of Daijoubu! Photography:

Are you a foreigner living in Japan? Would you like to have a professional take your portrait for free? Then this may be your chance. Three people from Kansai will be selected based on an interesting photo idea they submit.

Just imagine a place where you would like your photo taken, decide what kind of clothes you would wear in the atmosphere of your choice. If you are selected we will work it out to make your dream a reality.

All you have to do is send your information and explain your concept in 50 words or less by using the form at the end of this page. The better the idea the greater the chance to win!

Submissions will be accepted until July 31, 2014. The winners will have their portraits taken somewhere between August and October.

For full details and an application form please visit http://www.javiermontano.net/kp/

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)

Talk and tea tasting with Jeff Fuchs @ Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery, July 10th

From Kyoto Journal:
tea horse road

A Kyoto Journal Hosted Event: THE TEA HORSE ROAD
Talk and tea tasting with explorer Jeff Fuchs
10 July 2014 @ Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery
Session One: 1pm
Session Two: 6pm
Maximum of 12 participants per session. RSVP REQUIRED: feedback[at]kyotojournal.org
Entry: ¥1,000

The ancient origins of tea and the present hotbed of the rapidly rising Puerh teas, southern Yunnan was for centuries the remote base from which the green stimulant made its way along the famed Tea Horse Road. A look at the most ancient tea tree forests on the globe and what is left of one of the most daunting trade routes in history. For much of history southern Yunnan’s minorities have cultivated teas that were largely items of trade and tribute. Puerhs from the ancient forests now command enormous prices amongst collectors ironically because of the fact that their production techniques have remained largely unchanged and the raw materials unequalled. Ancient medicine, panacea for the masses, and a fuel and food of timeless vitality.

Award-winning explorer, author and tea procurer Jeff Fuchs presents the origins and routes of Asia’s eternal green. This will also be opportunity to sample Yunnanese tea.

ABOUT JEFF FUCHS:
North Face Ambassador and award-winning explorer Jeff Fuchs, was the first westerner to have travelled by foot the legendary Tea Horse Road over the Himalayas – a journey that took over 7 months. He followed that up with becoming the first documented westerner to journey along and document ‘Tsa-Lam’, The nomadic ‘Route of Salt’ through the eastern Himalayas, a month long foot journey. He subsequently won an ‘Explorer of the Year’ award for “sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes”. He most recently completed 36-day expedition along the Route of Wind and Wool through the Himalayas.

Fuchs is a ‘Scholar-in-Residence’ with the prestigious ‘East-West Center’ in Hawaii, counseling and mentoring on the Himalayas’ and advocating a more full understanding of Asia. He is fluent in Mandarin, French, and Tibetan and has counseled PhD students from 22 different countries during his time at the East West Center.

Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories and an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications, UNESCO, The Huffington Post, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others.

Fuchs has spoken to institutions, universities and schools around the world on the importance of oral narratives and sustainable exploration and tea culture. His work and life have been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post and the Financial Times.

He is an admitted ‘tea addict’ who never journeys without an assortment of green leaves to fuel him and is the co-founder of JalamTeas. When he isn’t sipping tea or exploring, he’s based in Shangri-la, northwestern Yunnan, where he’s been for the past 10 years.

Please remember to direct all inquiries to Kyoto Journal at feedback[at]kyotojournal.org!

John Dougill’s Book ‘Japan’s World Heritage Sites’ to be Launched @ Tadg’s Gastro Pub, Kyoto, July 11th

jwhsFrom our friend & fellow DK Walker, John Dougill:John-Dougill-2-242x300An invitation to the book launch of John Dougill’s new publication, ‘Japan’s World Heritage Sites’, which involved him travelling the length of Japan, from Shiretoko in Hokkaido to the Ryukyu ruins of Okinawa.

It’s a large format richly illustrated book, with over 150 photos by John himself supplemented by Picture Library items.
Place: Tadg’s Restaurant just north of Oike Kiyamachi.  (Tel. )
Here is a MAP.
Date: Friday, July 11th.
The event will take place from 6.30 pm to 8.00 pm.  Free buffet and a cash bar.   There will be a lottery to give away free copies for marketing purposes, and books will also be on sale at a substantial discount price (they make excellent
gifts!).
For more about the book, see the Amazon page.
There’s also an early review at GoJapan.

Japanese Kanji & Kana – A Review

kanji and kanaJapanese Kanji & Kana
A Complete Guide to the Japanese Writing System
Authors: Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn
Paperback: 424 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Revised edition (April 10, 2012)
Price: $24.95

Order direct from Tuttle Publishing here:
Tuttle Language Books

This book is designed to help students of Japanese learn the first 92 basic kana characters and the 2,136 standard jōyō (officially sanctioned “daily use”) kanji characters. Clearly it is meant to be a study aid for the complete spectrum of ability from true beginners to advanced. The book is divided into two main sections: the introductory chapters and the kanji listings. I will review each in turn.

Part 1: The Introductory Chapters
The first section of the book consists of 60 pages that give a thorough explanation of the development and organization of the Japanese writing system. A lot of the information given here is interesting but fairly academic, so after you read it once you may not need to refer to it again. There are some sections that are worthy of note though, both here and in the study tips given at the end of this section.

Good points in Part 1:

  • Table 16. This is a list of the 214 traditional radicals (the common elements that are used to classify the kanji) and their meanings. This is probably the most important thing in the book. You should photocopy these pages, blow them up large and pin them up over your desk. They are invaluable.
  • Table 12. Punctuation Marks & their explanations on pages 34-38. It’s amazing but I have never formally studied Japanese punctuation before! This helped clarify a few things for me, and there were some I was unfamiliar with. This will be a useful reference tool in the future.
  • Tips on Learning Kanji. There are some good tips here. For example, I wish someone had told me to prioritize and not to overload myself when I first started to study kanji. Too often in the early days I felt overwhelmed by what seemed like the endless readings for some kanji (the kun and on readings for 上 and 下 for example). The authors of this book suggest however, “it can make sense to learn at first only one on reading and one kun reading… Trying to take in too much information all at once can detract from concentrating on what is important”. Wise words.
  • Another tip I agree wholeheartedly with is to learn the appearance, readings and meanings of a character together. This runs counter to the Heisig method which demands that you learn only the meaning of the kanji first and their readings later (in a second book). I never liked that method as it seemed to double the length of the learning process, and  I have always found that studying the meanings and readings together strengthened my own learning process.
  • Finally, it’s not really a strong point as such but I rather liked the fact that the old Iroha syllable order was listed. The Iroha is an ancient poem which contains every character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once, but the poem also means something of course and the English translation is also given. It’s nice to see that included in the book, but ultimately it probably won’t help you with your studies!

Potential weak points in Part 1:

  • At a couple of points in the book the writers encourage students to use the game “Kanji in Motion” and the web-based kanji dictionary “KanjiVision”. To date, a full two years after this edition of the book was published, both of these web-based learning aids are listed on Hadamitzky’s website, but neither are available for use.
  •  We are encouraged to use writing practice manuals to practice the correct stroke order. However, though useful at the beginning of your kanji studies, I don’t believe that this is necessary for the full 2,136 kanji listed. Although many Japanese swear blind by this method, because it is the one they are familiar with, it does take them the full 12 years of elementary and high school education to learn kanji this way. Most foreign students would like to pick up the pace a bit! At some point you will need to move on from simply repetitive writing and use flash cards and some form of mnemonic system. But more about that later.

Part 2: The Kanji Listings
The bulk of the book, the second half, consists of a little over 300 pages of jōyō kanji listings. The individual kanji therein can be looked up via three indexes which are organized by radicals, stroke counts and readings. With each kanji, are presented its meanings, readings, stroke-count, radicals and example compounds. This is the most practical part of the book which can be used either as a reference tool or simply as a course book of kanji that can be studied and memorized from start to finish.

Strong points in Part 2:

  • It contains a complete and up-to-date listing of the jōyō kanji and these are listed in a sensible fashion: from the simplest and most frequent kanji to those that are more complex and less commonly used.
  • The example compounds given for each kanji always consist of characters that have been listed before, so if you work through the book in the order it is presented you will be reviewing previous kanji as you go.
  • In the index by readings, kanji with the same on reading are grouped together by common components. For example kanji with the on reading SEI and the common component 生 are listed like this 生、姓、性、星、醒、牲. This is fairly standard practice but the really good part comes next. At the end of the list those kanji that contain the same component, but have a different reading are also listed with their correct reading given in brackets: 産 (SAN). Trust me when I tell you that this will be a really useful tool to help you find a kanji when you recognise its components but can’t remember how to pronounce it correctly!

Potential weak points in Part 2:

  • There is no mnemonic system in this book. If you wish to learn and remember the kanji at a reasonable pace, then a mnemonic system is essential. To be fair though, no given mnemonic system is perfect, and you might be better off using your own creative imagination to make up a personal mnemonic system. You can use the meanings of the kanji radicals and components listed in the book and build memorable but simple stories from them. For examples of how to do this I recommend following Hiroshi Kawada on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KawadaHiroshi. He posts simple yet memorable mnemonics on a regular basis. This one for example:

hiroshi

  • Japanese grammar guru Tae Kim, in his own review of this book, suggests that it has no real value as a study aid, because a lot of the material in the introductory chapter is available online (on Wikipedia for example) and you can also find a lot of free kanji dictionaries online that could be used instead of this book’s kanji listings. He has a point. Personally though I find the internet such a constant source of distraction that when I study, I prefer to turn my computer off and simply focus on my books. It really does depend on how you personally prefer to study, so I would encourage you to read Tae Kim’s review and think hard about your own preferred method before you buy this book.

How I would use this book to study kanji:
Everybody has to find the best way to study for themselves and the only way you can do that is by trial and error. However, based on my own experiences of studying Japanese I would focus on the kanji listings in the second part of the book, and work through them in the order prescribed.

To practice writing the kanji according to their proper stroke count, you can download writing sheets for the first 300 kanji from author Hadamitzky’s website here: Writing Templates. Beyond the first 300 kanji you can purchase writing manuals. However, I believe beyond the first 300 kanji, further writing drills are unnecessary as you are likely to start feeling frustrated by your slow progress, and some kind of mnemonic system will become essential to aid your memory retention.

Word cards in the convenience store! 130 yen including tax!

Word cards in the convenience store! 130 yen including tax!

If you are in Japan you can buy blank flashcards in any convenience store or even 100 yen shops. You should write the kanji according to its correct stroke order on one side and its readings, meanings and a simple mnemonic sentence on the other. Mnemonics can be built up using the radical meanings listed in Table 16 (see above) of this book.

Overall I think this is a good book and could be a useful study aid for a student of Japanese kanji. If you wish to order it, you can do so directly from Tuttle here: Japanese Kanji & Kana.

I am about to embark on a summer of intense study so be prepared for more Japanese language textbook reviews over the coming months!

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.

IMG_6331 (Medium)
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.
IMG_6333 (Medium)
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!

IMG_6350 (Medium)
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.

Ted Reading (Medium) (Medium) (Small)
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.


Continue reading