Kyoto Out of Tokyo-More Than Just a Word Scramble

Mount Kurama, Photo: Mark Gross
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While a simple shifting of letters can transform Tokyo into Kyoto, the experience of these two Japan’s is vastly different.

river walk with umbrellas
over Kamu river.Kyoto

Go to both but soon you will realize once is not enough.

at nijo temple carving kyoto blog
above the gate at Nijo

Initially, let the overwhelm guide you. Succumb to the mechanics and efficiency of the pavement and population. Be hypnotized by politeness. Be patient in chaos. It is our chaos, not the chaos of being here.

train line sign kyoto blog
one of various subway line guides
density of language
you can find it if you can name it
tstutura bookstore
we understand english kyoto taxi
outside Kyoto station

Meander narrow streets. Absorb the density of an unfamiliar alphabet. Adapt to ways of every day. Drown in this landscape of people and place.

kyoto morning2
kyoto from the Miyako hotel

Kyoto. Go. Once is not enough. Return to unwrap its veils. Get closer to its soul.

faces woman shop streetcleaner in morning kyoto blog
Early morning shopkeeper
bellringing kurama
At Mnt. Kurama
traffic cone in bamboo blog pic
Dressing a road bumper
morning run over kyoto bridge kyoto blog
Morning run over the Kamu

Packing up from TABF and leaving Tokyo allows us to deflate.

TABF (Tokyo Art Book Fair) Closing Day

Mount Kurama, Photo: Mark Gross

Visiting Kyoto, for me, is like seeing a movie, a play, reading a book over and over. Each visit I see through a different lens. I hear different sounds. Feel different moods even though I walk the same streets.

temple field trip
Field trip on Mnt. Kurama
sculptures in nijo garden kyoto blog
In the gardens of Nijo Castle

monks in starbucks

faces mom and son on train kyoto blog

There are over 1800 shrines and temples in Kyoto. We have seen the ones you’re supposed to see. Ones we researched. Ones we learned we missed. Ones we stumbled upon. For gardens. For Buddha’s. For reflections on water. For gates. For climbs. For meditation. For sounds. For trees. For monks. For a Shojin meal. To light candles

staues children at kurama
Mnt. Kurama
reflection atmoss temple
Saiho-ji.The moss temple
Mnt. Kurama
lighting candles blog pic jpg
For special souls. Mom.Dad.Ari.Sophie.Hedy

We approached our fourth trip to Kyoto casually, quietly. Other than Sao-ji , the “moss temple” which requires advance tickets, we left our five days fluid.

advance ticket saoji kyoto blog

Maybe we’ll do this. That would be nice. If we have time. Should we go there again? That sounds interesting. We don’t have to do that again. Let’s find something new.

Maybe we’ll bike along the river. Let’s plan food a little better. Let’s connect with friends we don’t know of a friend back home.

Let’s see what we find. Let’s move slower. Maybe visit one thing each morning. Walk the afternoon. Be together. Be light. Appreciate. Try to calm. Be aware. Breathe.

river walk

kyoto gate for kyoto blog


lantern path at kurama kyoto blog
The path up Mnt. Kurama

And so we welcomed Kyoto and Kyoto embraced us.

paper mache dog kyoto blog

mnt kurama entrance statue kyoto blog



frog coin pond

While I reference and share some of the places we visited, I devote this post to the feeling of Kyoto. Share the faces. Things I felt and saw. Hope they magically pop out from a two dimension presentation to stir up joy and spirit and appreciation.

toga explaining chant


faces child on scooter kyoto blog

It was an odd time to be away from home. Fires raging to the north, south and east of us. Friends and family scurrying in the night to evacuate. Our little main street in Gualala becoming a safe haven for people fleeing with perhaps one suitcase. Without a plan. Fear and sadness filling a crowded space between passengers in cars. Families broken apart by death. Unknown future. A world-class industry devastated. Communities that look like the one outside your window annihilated. Singed animals. Loyal pets who ran in fear leaving owners to make hard decisions. Puppies waiting, standing guard in piles of ash. Falling trees engulfed in fire stopping cars, people trying to escape. Frenzied wildlife, an audience, and symphony to our coastal town governed by Mother Nature frantically searching.  A new-found sense of caring for helpless foxes and bobcats and creatures of the nocturnal looking for water, food, and cover. Familiar kennels under mandatory evacuation.

The safety net of Gualala, CA. October 9.

The ocean opening its unconditional cool and freshness beneath vapored skies. And the wind, most times a drama to watch now an apocalyptic slide show.  I read about this from a distance,  on a device as if it was removed like the hurricanes in the Caribbean and states out of familiarity.  And I am at a distance from my neighbors and cousins and friends and places I buy fresh fruit and vegetables and my mother-in-law helpless in a home in her own world of Alzheimer’s. And the kennel Woof! goes to evacuated on our first day in Kyoto with staff members who lost their homes.  Eerily, we made a different decision for this trip and he was safe in Virginia.

The blue spot between the smoke cloud cover-home.

How do I put my footing in Kyoto make sense? I hope that Kyoto in its magical way helped me find that resolution. I hope in some way it helps anyone in turmoil of questions without answers, priorities and lifting heaviness.

An espresso and iced-tea  run through Kyoto
moss temple buildings

mezzuzah on door kyoto

Kyoto. October 2017. Intentionally, without much narrative for you to interpret in a time when we need to make sense of our own stories or create them, inspire our thoughts and feelings and see what we can with our own eyes.

calvino and coin laundry
Brain and laundry on spin cycle

Maybe that is the reason we were in Kyoto.

nijo reflection kyoto blog
Reflections and light installation

and all the reasons to come back home and be grateful.

journey home faces billymark
Long journey home begins with Shinkansen Train from Kyoto to Tokyo
Woof! First night in Alexandria home

Because we do not know about tomorrow.

weeping cherry
Kyoto. October 13.
burningtree santa rosa
Santa Rosa. October 13th.




tokyo v4 + tokyo artbook fair II-2017

2017. October. Again, we are in Tokyo.

tokyo metro mapThis post is not meant to be a guide to or review of Japan.  Well, not the kind with opening hours, must-sees and landmarks.  What has struck me this time is the beauty in diversity.  In the space between language barriers. In the beauty of creating.

scatf maker at tabf

Perhaps, the streaming of daily news and events over the past year, fears and insecurities that wake us before morning have made me seek remedies from being kind, aware and mindful. Recognizing beauty in front of me, around me.  An increased sense of obligation to create and share. Recognize overt and hidden talents of people across a spectrum of skills and choices. Acknowledge. Encourage. Appreciate. Inspire. This is in our power.  This is how we medicate helplessness from headlines and backstories.

making naan

boardwalkstillI am not running from shrine to shrine.  I am not navigating mechanized crowds through stop lights and cross-walks.  I am not searching for restaurants.  No subway stop sampling of neighborhoods. I am satisfied being absent of must-see lists or 72 hours in Tokyo recommendations letting my own awareness guide me through the hours.

faces cirle dress

tokyoumbrellaandbikeThe first time I visited, Tokyo was overwhelming. In a way, disappointing.  I was looking for ‘authentic’ Japan, not avenues lined with generic signs of luxury. Eating was challenging. Fish stock in one form or another is often the first ingredient in dining options. Not good for vegan life or if bending the rules, vegetarian.

upon at dusk
later the same day-pushing through the call of sleep

The language is difficult to interpret.  In other tongues, I mumble sounds or see hidden words in different arrangements of familiar letters. Add my own pronunciations and use hands to translate”this is deliciousososcuz-a-mewhere is subwayo or choo choo?  Me, vegan, make a fish face and use my hands to say no.

uhm…doesn’t look like breakfast
breakfast foreign language decipher
figuring it out

With a different alphabet, I stare at phrases thinking they will focus into a phrase I can understand. I  rely on images . On packages of sealed food, pictures of berries and nuts mean a better selection than pictures of a smiling chicken or fish. I learned to take a couple of zeros off currency and figure out a short taxi ride is not $1000. I hold loose coins in an open palm and slide my hand over to cashiers. At ATM’s I look for an English text box but often withdraw too much or too little. I learned not to open the door of a taxi. The driver does it from a control on his dashboard.


breakfast of champions-tokyo version

indian restaurantAfter a few days of my Tokyo #1 visit, 2008, I began to understand the magic of the city but too close to departure.  Magic tied into the way the city operates.  The politeness. The patience. The attention to detail. Big animated smiles that monopolize faces. Organization and cleanliness. An absence of American urban rush hour havoc. A politeness that glides people through the day.

kids with accordian zine 1It’s not that Tokyo is my favorite place to visit over and over again.  The first two trips were to visit friends who hosted and chauffeured us inside and outside of the city.  I learned the metro system from taking trains in wrong directions. Getting stopped at turnstiles. Figuring out underground mazes. Tokyo started to make sense.  The third and fourth trips were for the Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF) where billy was juried into the fair and welcomed into the international section.

set-up, 2017!-warehouse terrada, shinagawa

stupidhairluckymove1Tokyo started to come together. The fair, four days, brought us into a Tokyo different than before. Rather, TABF brought Tokyo to us. A destination where local Tokyo and visiting foreigners spend time with artist made books and the artists who create them.  Where language needs little translation. “How much? ” “How do you do this?” and “Where are you from?” start slow conversations that find a way to connect, not frustrate.

bambiislandandartist A ubiquitous visual language taking place on multiple floors up and down rows lined with tables of vision and product executed by passionate and humble art-makers.

faces family of 3

There is no interruption or impoliteness from cellphonespeak.  Giggles and clapping hands of enjoyment animate communication. Misunderstood or not understood words don’t matter. Art is the subject.  Art is the understanding.  Fingers pointing to pages and flipping through books. Gently handling a fabric button. T-shirts and bags with simple illustrations. Explanations that transcend language barriers. Viral passion for art, and words. The individuality that brought people together shlepping weighed down with suitcases and duffel bags. From Germany, Korea, Singapore, America, Norway, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Paris, London and throughout Japan.

Art-makers morphing into a single we make art culture.

To share–to have a purpose–to bring boxes and bags and hooks and tape to show vision in three-dimension. Helping visitors experience art in traditional forms and new forms. To inspire. To spread a contagious mood of creativity, confidence in individuality.  To remind us of the beauty inside of us and inside others. Or simply to enjoy an autumn afternoon on the way to or from somewhere.

tabf outside crowd

free bike

faces elevator girl


There is no language barrier to smiles and sharing of art.

I observe. As I scan the flow of participants and visitors it reminds me that art connects people. How important this is now, more than ever.  When asked where are we from there is no reference to politics. No snickering. No judgment. We don’t ask questions of our artist neighbors from Korea. There is the only curiosity of the art and appreciation for the artists who have traveled here.

Finding the unexpected on the anniversary of my mom’s death.  My mom who built a menagerie of Bambi relics over 70 years.


The venue, a warehouse set-up is different from last year’s open campus forum.  Creating some challenges in getting in and out and intermittent rain heighten Japanese patience, its own art form filling the canvas of the street.

tabf outside line 1

people on bikeWhat has struck me this trip is the beauty of diversity.  Of foreigners bringing art for people to absorb. Dynamic and in-the-moment sites rather than checking off have-to-see sights from stickie-note tabbed pages in guidebooks. I have seen those sights in past trips, not all of them but that’s okay. Still, I take short escapes to see the Louise Bourgeois “Spider” and a visit to our favorite ceramics gallery.

spider at roppngi hills
the beauty of the ceramics at this shop and the beauty of you-can-only-get-it-here

Food has been better this year.  It still takes planning but the expansion of fresh salad restaurants and vegan cafes gives us default. Fruit stands and natural food markets are not as spread out as before. Yes! to the Happy Cow app and pocket wi-fi.

8ablishIt has been a difficult year for us. Not for “us” as in “us” but from events that are part of “us” being “we.” Primarily, billy’s mom with advancing Alzheimer’s forcing her move from our home after four and a half years.  billy’s half-day visits with her every other day stir up anxieties that play into decisions for us to travel, be away. And the unexpected interruption from discovering and treating a Melanoma billy identified on the side of his face. billy’s prep and production for new work and inventory and collaborations fill days and nights. Travel to and from our remote home extends the travel. We navigate doubts and concerns like everything else that makes us “we.” Plus, the “woof!” who is glorious and unconditional but requires extra effort and coordination while we are gone.

billymark tokyo 2017

billy umbrella 1And here we are, Tokyo v4. I hope the photos and words bring you to into this world of beauty and kindness and inspire you.  For now, more than ever it is a time to make art and create…to see beauty and happiness in faces.

Join the faces.

We are all artists with our own stories and vision. We all have something to share, to connect to soothe our fears. Pick up a pen.  Grab a brush. A bottle of glue. A recipe. Tape. A piece of chalk.  A sharpie.  Leave your doubt at the door. Create!

and when the day is done…..

faces child asleep

folded book dream


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