Kyoto you make me laugh

Every year I do a post towards the end of Shirleyfest with things that have amused me during my month. Kyoto provided plenty of material. Let’s dive right in.

Yes the Nara deer are cute, but really? I guess that’s why they have this sign in the road. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an exclamation mark on a road sign, but in this case it makes sense.

Speaking of signs, here are some very funny ones. The first one is in my neighborhood and it is letting people know all the things they shouldn’t do– do not touch the geishas, do not eat and walk, do not use selfie sticks, do not smoke, litter or lean on the fences. Apparently groups of men tourist were cornering the geishas for pictures.

This next sign is also in my neighborhood. You got to hand it to the guy, he is straightforward.

This one is funny but very very sweet. I saw it on Naoshima when I was down in the Art Islands.

This one is in famous Nishki Market. Instructions on eating the octopus stuffed with a quail egg are most appreciated.

Speaking of eating, please heed this warning.

I was also so amused by the trend in Kyoto to always give the peace sign when your picture is being taken. Here are a few examples.

There was a shop at the end of my street that was rarely open and I could not figure out from the sign what it sold. Can you? Then one day I walked by and these two young girls had made a purchase.

Taxis in Kyoto are amusing for two reasons. First, you never touch the door to open or shut it. It opens and closes automatically. Also the side mirrors are not located where ours are. When I first saw a taxi, I thought it was a police car.

Speaking of police, the first Saturday I saw all of these uniformed men near my place directing traffic. I thought a dignitary was in town.

Nope. I tried to go into the building they were “guarding” and they all stopped me and pointed to this sign.

Oh I see. It was off track betting. It has been this way every weekend since I got here. I love the name of the facility…WINS.

I was cutting thru a forest area in Nara and when I turned the corner I saw this run down house. But….apparently they love my favorite sport of basketball.

Also in the forest, but at the start of a trailhead , was this guy. Maybe it reminds some of you of someone

Most people who come to Japan are amused by the next set of pictures. Vending machines everywhere. There is a mentality of efficiency that makes these vending machines very popular. When I went to the movies the other night, everyone was in line to buy their ticket from a vending machine while a live clerk stood by also willing to sell but with no customers.

This street in Osaka made me laugh and it still does. How can you find anything?

The Kyoto Station has 11 floors of lights and at night people come and make patterns by zig zagging thru them with their friends. Here is my friend Sandy letting herself zig and zag. It sure made me laugh .

Yasakakoshido Temple has unique way to worship. Worshippers write their wish on colourful ball called “kukurizaru” and hang them at the site. Kukurizaru is the round, ball shaped talisman made of cloth, representing the good faith monkeys. It is suppose to look like you put your wish inside a monkey. It is believed that if you give up one of your greeds, your wish will come true. 

There is so much more, but let me leave you with this one. Koe makes fabulous doughnuts . They are a delight to eat. It makes me laugh to think that they need to gild the lily by adding a lemon meranguine topping. But then I saw the signs outside advertising what else they do with doughnuts. Now that’s funny.

So Kyoto you are an amusing place and you make us all laugh whether we are born here, the USA or in Austria but now call Japan home. Thank you Kyoto!

When life gives you a typhoon make typhood

A train ride away there is some great mountain hiking. I headed up to Karama to do the trail through the forest to Kibune. At several stops, ladies who were friends got on to make a day of hiking of together. As we started the trail I took their picture and then showed them how to use air drop to get it from me.Take a look at that neat Audrey Hepburn shirt.

The hike was really beautiful and I met many nice people with the same idea, including these two Austrian men. The photo at the top of this post is the start of the trail. I finished my hike with a nice lunch along the river and then made my way back to Kyoto. Tonight I will finally meet Gerhard who was introduced to me several years ago by my friend Amanda. As Gerhard grew up in Vienna, he helped me with that Shirleyfest in 2017. He lives in Tokyo so he was so much help on this current trip. He kindly stopped in Kyoto on a business trip to Osaka and we had a fantastic dinner and conversation at Maruhuku. The manager Yuki was a lot of fun and brought us lots of delicious sake to go with our sushi. My friend Momoko came by and introduced me to a new restaurant focused on locally sourced vegetables. It is called Izakaya Negiya. Negi means leek. We had a great lunch and then went gallery hopping. As an eye drop user, I was captivated by this one piece of art. Maybe I’ve been doing the eye drops all wrong.I took another cooking class recently. This time it was Bento Box cooking. It was great because once you learn the underlying basics you can apply them to lots of dishes. I even learned how to make sushi rolls. As the typhoon passed through Kyoto today I tried to use some of my newly acquired skills to make myself lunch at home in my little kitchen. I made my own dashi and that was the basis for home cooked miso soup, squash with plum topping and teriyaki chicken. Typhoon food!

I’m not sure I’m getting the high level of concern over this typhoon. It’s been raining today but I went out in it several times and it is no worse than a December California rain storm. They closed the Kyoto National Museum which seems odd as that is where people would want to go on a raining day. They even closed Starbucks early!This is what the sky looked like last night as I walked home from dinner. I always thought it was red sky at night sailor’s delight. Guess not. Tomorrow will be a beautiful sunny day here!

Catching you up on Kyoto

So much has happened in the last week ( broken up with my weekend trip to the Art Islands) that I thought I’d let the pictures tell the story.

First off I was fortunate that the Rugby World Cup was in Japan because it brought my friend Bob McNamara and his friends John and Mike to Kyoto. There was lots of laughter as we enjoyed Shabu-Shabu at the Restaurant Shabuzen in my neighborhood. That’s where the restaurant brings you 5 plates of wagyu beef and platters of vegetables and you cook them in the boiling pot of water at your table.

This is my new friend Jose from Arizona. We met at a coffee cart early in the morning that was blasting Ed Sheehan’s “What do I know?”All I know is Kyoto is amazing. We both realized that the iconic Kyoto pagoda was sitting picture perfect ready for us in the empty morning street.

This is the Heian Shrine near my apartment. The fortunes left on the tree look like snow. People make an offering and in turn get a fortune. If it is bad, it is the custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a nearby tree. The idea is the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach to the bearer. The shrine was built on the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto. This is the enormous kiln of the famous potter Kawai Kanjiro. His home is gorgeous and serene. So is his cat with his face turned to the sun. I visited here one afternoon and there was only one other couple there ( from Oakland!).I got up so early to go see Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I’m glad I did as it is stunning in the morning and I was nearly all alone wandering around the grounds.Now for some food pictures.

First is Hitami which the New York Times dubs the best yakitori restaurant in Kyoto. I went at 10:00 at night and tried every part of the chicken including chicken knees! They are crunchy. I didn’t love them. See the picture of the chicken for more info. The owner/grill master pictured here took a liking to me and pretty soon lots of chicken parts were coming my way. It would have been impolite not try them!

Next is a neighborhood restaurant Manzaratei with the nicest cooks and a bowl of what looks like French fries on the counter but is fish skin fried! I sat next to a young Chinese couple both dressed in kimonos. After a few courses they each left and came back wearing shorts and tshirts. Kimonos can be very restrictive– I know!

Then we have dango( sweet rice balls) from Ohagi no Tanbaya which is street food just up the block from my apartment. Very nice older women entice you as you walk by. I couldn’t resist.

Those are pork and leek gyoza. Whenever I can’t think what to eat, I just go get these and sit at an outside table with a Japanese beer and keep ordering these until I’m full. Yesterday I was there and a guy from Hawaii took a stool next to me and in the space of time that I finished two orders, he had had 4 orders and 3 glasses of sake. I need to get better at my gyozas.

The tea picture is from today. A friend told me to go to the flagship Ippudo tea store and have them instruct me on the whole tea ceremony. It was really fun and educational. I’m pretty wired from all that tea!

Finally I also went to the town of Uji today where matcha is from. Had matcha tea, matcha rice crackers, matcha buckwheat noodles and I finished with this matcha ice cream cone. Actually maybe that’s why I’m wired!

Everyone is talking about the typhoon headed our way. It suppose to be a doozy and hit in Saturday. But tomorrow is predicted to be sunny and warm so I am going hiking in the mountains.

Ki wo tsukete

Naoshima and Teshima: Art heaven from once abandoned fishing villages

Shirleyfest followers know that mid-month I leave my host city for one or two nights to find a special experience in the host country. Until now I would have said flying from Melbourne Shirleyfest to the island of Tasmania to visit the MONA ( Museum of Old and New Art) was my most extreme mid-month excursion. My last two days in Naoshima and Teshima have set the bar even higher.

I’m on the train at the moment heading back to Kyoto. By the time I’m back at my apartment, I will have taken 8 trains, 5 ferry boats, rented two different electric bikes and walked for miles. And it will all be worth it.

I arrive Saturday morning at Uno Port and walk three minutes to the stunning Airbnb I had rented. It is called Uno Nido and I highly recommend it. h ttps:// Yumi, the owner meets me and shows me the place I will be staying, designed by her architect husband. If it wasn’t for the ferry beckoning me, I would have just stayed there the rest of the day. I hop on the ferry which is 5 minutes away and we sail along the Seto Island Sea.

I get the first of my electric bikes and start my pilgrimage to the amazing art sites. It is the Setouchi Triennial while I’m here so in addition to the permanent installations there are lots of special exhibits. It’s a gloriously sunny day and I would be content to just be riding my bike around the island, but art beckons. I stop first at the Bernesse Art Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, an unorthodox, iconic, self-taught Japanese architect whose presence is felt all over the islands (and globally).

My favorite piece at this museum was the Jennifer Bartlett triptych painting Yellow and Black Boats with two objects in front in the form of the boats. When you turn around from the painting and look out the window to the Seto Island Sea you see the actual black and yellow boats. Do you see the boats? I also loved these three chattering men.

Back on my bike, I pay homage to the famous Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin, which has become a symbol of Naoshima. I’m off to the Lee Ufan museum. It’s an underground house designed by Tadao Ando with the art work of Korean artist Lee Ufan. While all the rooms in this museum speak to me, I absolutely adore the art in the Silence Room called Relatum Silence. I am frozen in front of it.

No pictures were allowed in this museum so the snap above is from a postcard I bought. There is a projector and the pool in front of the stone goes from solid to a hole to water crashing on a beach. I know– hard to explain but trust me it was cool.

After viewing the house, I walk down to the beach below. Surprise! There I find the black and yellow boats from the painting! I’m so happy that I sit in the black boat and snap a selfie. Now I am off to see the Chichu Museum where I had to buy a special ticket online weeks ago. This is also a Tadao Ando museum. It is subterranean with only three rooms. One contains Monet’s water lilies , one has an experience art by James Turrell and my favorite is the third room: Walter de Maria’s exhibit Time/Timeless/No Time of a black ball surrounded by 27 sculptures of gold painted pillars. How did they get that ball in the room? ( I’m curious. I have to know, so I find someone and ask. The art went in first and then they built the roof. Wow!)

Now I just drift around the island admiring the beautiful waters. Finally I lock my bike up and take the ferry back to Uno as the sun is setting. Yumi has suggested a sashimi restaurant nearby for dinner. The fish couldn’t be any fresher with the sea right here. It’s a husband and wife operation and I enjoy watching the sashimi being prepared right before me. Also, sake goes very well with sashimi!

The next day I want to get the early boat to Teshima because I was unable to rent a bike ahead of time and also I was unable to buy a ticket online to the Teshima Art Museum which I’m dying to see. I grab a coffee and catch the boat to the small island. Luckily when I get off the boat a young Japanese girl tells me about a place to rent a bike about a half mile away. I sprint off and they have one for me! Off I go, heading straight for the Teshima Art Museum. More luck! I can get a ticket to the museum in one hour. With the hour available, I pedal to the “Les Archives du Coeur” by Christian Boltanski exhibit. There are three rooms. In one you can hear thousands of recorded heartbeats that Boltanski has collected since 2008, in the next you can go to a registry and pick out a specific person’s heartbeat to listen to and in the third you can elect to have your heartbeat recorded and added to the registry. I pass on the last one as I go off to claim my museum ticket. However, I couldn’t resist stopping at this multiple basketball hoop installation and watching people having fun.

There is a winding path thru the woods to get you to the tunnel opening of the Teshima Art Museum. It is a concrete shell resembling a water droplet with two oval openings. You take your shoes off and go in and sit and you see water droplets forming everywhere and moving along the concrete floor and forming puddles and you hear the wind and the birds and well…’s meditative and mesmerizing. No one talks and some people lay down and others walk among the droplets. I just watched and I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the time and 45 minutes had passed. I took the picture below when I left. No pictures allowed inside so the inside one is from the museum.

I do a few other art installations on Teshima. One that I’m sure American safety and accessibility folks would have a fit over was the Storm House. We all crowd into a dark house, with only one small exit up a flight of stairs and then the show begins with violent rain, thunder and lightening with the experimental work using light, movement of water and sound from speakers to recreate a storm approaching and then retreating. It was fun, but growing up with 5 siblings in a small house in Indiana where we experienced rainstorms pretty often…not such a unique experience for me.

After downing a bowl of ramen at the port in a cute cafe from the nicest old lady, I ferry back to Naoshima and get my bike there again. Now I head to the other side of the island to see the Art House Project. Artist have taken empty houses scattered around the residential area and turned the spaces into works of art. One is actually an old Eno Period shrine. You get a flashlight and tunnel underground to see this glass staircase that the artist Hiroshima Sugimoto designed to link the above ground temple to an underground stone chamber thereby uniting the worlds below and above. I couldn’t take pictures of the below ground part but here is the above ground part.

After that I get in line for the ferry with everyone else including this cute girl. Tonight I’m going to try the Japanese Onsen baths for the first time. I walk over to the Onsen under a beautiful night sky.The Onsen is separated by men and women, each side has 5 different types of baths and saunas. I try them all. It is pretty cool to be sitting in the Japanese bath looking at the Seto Island Sea and gazing at the moon. Some of the baths are filled with peonies, hydrangeas and irises. Afterwards dressed in the lounging kimono and pants provided to each guest, I have dinner in the restaurant. I order the local sea bream two ways– sashimi and then diced into a dashi broth and poured over rice, called Tai-Chazuke.

I’m really glad I made the effort to make this excursion. The ambiance of the islands was soothing and relaxing. I really want to return again to this special place in Japan.

Nara, Ohara, Sake and Sukiyaki

The featured image is from a ceremony I observed at Nanzen Temple. There was chanting, incense and a Buddhist leader praying for the many attendees by holding a card to his forehead and meditating for a short while. I was also lucky enough to see in my neighborhood two beautiful geishas on their way to an appointment.

Since I last posted I have been a busy gal. I went to the ridiculously picturesque town of Nara via a one hour train ride. It was easy enough with only one transfer. Nara was Japan’s first capital in the 8th century and has many significant temples and shrines. First though, I headed out of the station to see the beautiful Yoshiki-en gardens.

Interestingly entry is free for foreigners. The nice man asked to see my passport ( which of course I don’t carry with me) and when I said it’s ok, I’ll just pay, he said, no it’s ok you won’t pay. Next to the gardens is the famous Todaiji Temple which houses one of the largest bronze statues of Buddha.

But the real reason to go the Nara is the deer! The deer roam wild in Nara– over 1,000 deer. Everywhere you look there are deer.

But the cutest deer are those up by the Kasuga Grand Shine that roam the stone lanterns. I turned around while walking up the hill to the shrine and there was this trio just looking at me. Overloaded by all that deer cuteness, I head to a brewery called Harushika Sake Brewery. Oh yes please I’ll try the six sake tasting with these two gents from Osaka. I actually know very little about sake but I learned a ton and by the time I left ( actually they poured me seven tastings since I was enthusiastic) I knew enough to know I like it and want to drink more of it.Home in Kyoto that night I followed my Melbourne friend Eugene’s suggestion and headed for a local Izakara called Yururi for dinner. So glad I did. Tobe, the owner who loves Hawaii and has Hawaiian music playing and surfboards for decoration was so attentive and fun, plus the food was excellent! He and I really bonded. I loved this place so much that when new friends from California came to town, I suggested we go there for lunch. It was late afternoon and the 3 of walked in to find they had closed until dinner. I accepted that, but Tobe, said “no Shirley-San, I will make you and your friends lunch”. He reopened just for us. He called in two helpers and we had a beautiful private lunch.

The next day, I decide to go to the little mountain village of Ohara. It is a rural town straight out of a timeless bubble, nestled at the foot of Mt Hiei with great hiking and a beautiful temple. I hop on the bus and I’m there within an hour and set out on foot up the path. There are streams and waterfalls and little family run 3 seat cafes on the path. The Sanzen Temple there is beautiful. I sit at this tiny window in a small room with flowers, incense burning and candles lit, overlooking the forest and then when I’m ready I go thru a small door outside and look back through the same window– magical what I can see from that side.

Farther up the mountain, I meet Kimichi who makes her own matcha tea and sells it. She let me try a cup of it as well as a cup of tea made with dried seaweed, Kombucha. I purchase some of her tea. I got to get back because I signed up for a cooking class at 2 pm. Running back down the path, I come to a screeching halt and snap this shot!

I go straight to the class and find it is 6 guys and 2 other gals. The people are from Australia, England, South Africa and Ireland. Right away we fire up our individual stoves and the teacher guides us through making dashi from scratch and then 5 different recipes. I am amazed how well we all do.At this point, out comes the sake. We drink it “sake in a box style”. That means you fill the glass to the brim while it is sitting in a cedar box. You drink your glass and naturally some spills into the box. Then after you are done with your glass, you pour that back into the box and realize the cedar has given it a new twist.


A Bamboo Grove and a Kimono of My Own

Wednesday was my first solo day in Kyoto, as the last of my visiting siblings and friends left that morning. We had such fun together ( more on that later) but now it was time for me to do what I’ve been itching to do– get up at the crack of dawn and go out to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. An hour bus ride and a quick walk in the woods led me here and it was magical. There is such a strange quality to the light. Later there would be hordes of people but for now it was all mine. I took quite a few pictures as I just could not believe my luck to be alone in such a gorgeous place.

After a meditative walk in the bamboo grove, I headed down to the river to see the boats slowly go by. Later I visited the Tenryu-ji-Jim Temple with its beautiful gardens ( and more bamboo).

Once again I was asked by a student to be interviewed about my stay in Kyoto. Returning to Kyoto, I met up with a new friend Gaji, who invited me for drinks at the Kawa Cafe overlooking the Kamogawa River. Gagi took this picture.After drinks, we headed for a secluded restaurant, called Yamabun, in Gion where Gagi is friends with the chef, Aoki. What a meal! Course after course. Three different kinds of sake and loads of fun as Aoki conversed with us while we ate and drank.

You would think the night would be over at that point, but no….we needed to go to one more place. A sushi bar in a back alley called Tomizusi, run by the talented sushi chef Nobuo. We sat there while he took a knife and made art work of a cucumber. Such a fun evening.

Despite all the sake and food, the next day I’m excited to meet another new friend Momoko. A post-grad student at Kyoto University, I met her like Gaji through my “lines in the water” before leaving home. She arrived at my apartment with the idea that we should rent beautiful kimonos and spend the day doing what we want but dressed in our finest. Why not! We head to a lovely kimono shop, Kinhare, where Mr and Mrs. Akiyama proceed to help us choose our finest. Mrs. Amiyama then carefully designs our hair style to go with the Kimono we have chosen.

This is the finished look but you probably can’t imagine all the layers and ties and hairspray that went into this! We take off in our kimonos and Momoko takes me to lunch at a place near my apartment called Wabiya Korekidou that only has one thing—Oyakodon. The dish translates to “mother and child” because the two proteins are chicken and eggs. Depending if you like raw egg or cooked egg, the server presents the dish and then stirs and stirs the egg into the hot broth until you are happy.

After lunch we go to a beautiful temple and have matcha and sweets.

Everywhere we go we get stopped and people ask to have their picture taken with us. It is such a fun experience. We really hated to return our lovely kimonos at the end of the day.

Before I end, I want to shout out to John, Virginia, MJ, Angela and Jim who were visiting here before my kimono days. We had so many great meals and fun times. This is one of our first meals together at Tenyu, a 10 seat Michelin one star tempura restaurant. So many small tempura dishes and all of them perfect. My birthday dinner before they left was celebrated at Mamechu in a private dining room on tatami mats. Many courses, some of which we knew and some we did not, but all delicious and loads of laughing

Kyoto Arrival: Friends, Family, Food

I arrived in Kyoto to a delightful apartment, called the Gion House in Kyoto’s old historic district. My Shirleyfest home is over 100 years old, filled with antiques and before it was converted to a residence was a “ochaya”, or tea house where geishas entertained.

A beautiful flower arrangement from the owner overlooking my private Japanese garden greeted me.

I quickly unpacked as my friends Sandy and Harvey were in town and were bringing by champagne to kick off the trip.

We head out to dinner and are fortunate to see a geisha heading to an appointment.

The next day a walking tour of the Gion area reveals lots of information about the history and training of the geishas. Surprising they start their apprenticeship at 15 and for 6 years earn no money.

Our tour ends after the iconic pagoda of Kyoto.

I head home, go to the wine shop to stock up for friends’ visits and get ready for a birthday dinner on the 11th floor of the Kyoto Station overlooking the Kyoto tower.

After playing around at the Kyoto station with my friends, I head home to await the arrival of family and friends tomorrow. In the morning we decide to take the train to Fushimi Inari-Taisha temple with its magnificent gates and hiking trails. It is beautiful and mysterious and I love it! 

Meanwhile my sister has arrived so after the shrine, I head out to her hotel for a drink and we take a cab ride out to a restaurant I had learned of that specializes in ” burnt ramen”, Kyoto Gogyo. The ramen is not actually burnt. It’s called that because the miso or soy based broth is heated to 300 degrees C. It consistently is ranked as one of the best ramen experiences in not just Kyoto but in Japan.

Heading back to my cozy apartment that night I realized how much I will learn during this Shirleyfest. When I stepped off the plane I felt illiterate in that I could not read or write in Japanese. Then I felt mute and deaf as I couldn’t speak or understand Japanese. I’m starting to realize after this first 72 hours that instead of that being a hinderance, it is a blessing. I’m forced to use my intuitive senses and look for non verbal clues to understand my new home. One example of this– I noticed so often in these three days that young children were trudging off to school unaccompanied by an adult. I’m starting o understand that this culture does not embrace the “helicopter parenting” style you see elsewhere. I’m coining the term “slingshot parenting” to describe what I see as parents releasing their children into the world in a trusting manner. I’ll continue to observe and see if this is borne out during my stay.

Shirleyfest 2019 is coming!

When I think of the Fourth of July, the first word that comes to mind is “freedom”, so it seems like a perfect day to announce my next Shirleyfest location. People who know me well, know that I believe that life’s essential three ingredients are health, love and freedom. Freedom can mean many things to people, but to me a big component is the freedom to travel the world. I don’t take it for granted and I’m grateful that this freedom is part of my life.

Now it’s time to reveal this year’s Shirleyfest. Can you guess from the photo?

That’s right–beautiful Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan, it’s famous for its numerous Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple precise dishes, and geisha often found in the Gion area. ( I’ve rented a beautiful place in the Gion area)

As usual, I look forward to publishing posts of what I find there and I hope you will follow along with me. Any suggestions are welcome in the comments to this post.

By the way, speaking of the freedom to travel, I just returned from Scotland. If possible I will do a post soon about this amazing trip. The people were so welcoming and believe it or not the weather was sunny every day but one. Maybe I’ll add a Scottish city to my potential Shirleyfest list! Until then, here’s a toast to my readers from a Glasgow pub!