The view from Mt Hiei north to Ohara.
Last year at a pub Christmas dinner I was introduced to Ted Taylor, a friend of friends and the co-editor of a book of walks around Kyoto. Learning I had recently published a book, he invited me to contribute an article to the collection, called Deep Kyoto Walks.
It turned out that Ted and his co-conspirator, Michael Lambe, writer on the great blog Deep Kyoto, had assembled an all-star line-up of Kyoto experts and I was sneaking in at the very end of the project. I was both honored and intimidated to be included in the company of well-known writers, artists and journalists. I don’t know everyone, but Chris Rowthorn was the first to help me get into travel writing and thanks to his counsel I was able to publish my first book last fall. Bridget Scott is an extraordinary dancer, a real expert on Kyoto and a dear friend. The headliner for the book is Pico Iyer, who is about as famous as it gets in the travel writing industry. I’m eager to read his piece about how he first came to Kyoto.
Ted remembered me from my very first published article (much to my shame and horror), a piece on The Kyoto Trail for Kansai Time Out, so he suggested I expand that theme into a full circumnavigation of Kyoto. It sounded good, except for being January. Nevertheless, I spent the next couple of weeks covering sections of the 69km route a bit at a time, even though it meant I needed to ski down part of Mt Hiei in my running shoes.
Walking around most of the city I have called home for eight years was a good chance to reflect on all the experiences I have had here. I was in conversation with a friend once and I said that Kyoto always felt big to me. If Canadian towns are all stretched out with nothing much in-between, Kyoto is corrugated with history. I don’t know how many times I have turned down a random side alley and stumbled into something wonderful. This is literally true sometimes: I once nearly got run over by a horse in a festival procession because I popped out of an alley too quickly.
In any case, the book, Deep Kyoto Walks, is out now! I hope readers unfamiliar with Kyoto will be able to see some of its sides through this diverse collection.
Well it ain’t pretty, but PL.com is getting fired up again! Two years of insane research have passed and the new National Geographic Traveler: Japan, 4th Edition is hitting bookshelves this September! The final haul to publication was exhausting so it has taken some time to recover my enthusiasm, but now that the book is a scant 4 months away and soon to be in front of the eyes of readers, I’ve decided to post several funny stories from researching the book, as well as some recommendations that I didn’t have space to include or more details on my favorite places.
A tea ceremony at Joukeian
I had the pleasure recently of helping out a student of mine, Soko, with her tea room. She and I have been working together to translate all of the polite phrases involved in a very formal tea ceremony and this photo is from the ceremony she put on for me and a couple friends. I just love the vibrant color of the tea—I haven’t adjusted the color saturation at all. Soko’s place really stands out because she is willing to put on a full tea ceremony, the four-hour spread including delicate dishes and multiple bowls of tea, and in English to boot. For more details on Soko’s tea room, see the Joukeian homepage.
A hush has fallen over the city of Kyoto: no buses rumble, no wandering masses tourists clog the streets, no tour guides spout history nor wave flags. The fall foliage season is over.
Kyoto is famous for its spring and fall, for the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves that is, and it seems that every year the television advertises more and more the secret places that only locals once enjoyed. This year whole busloads of gaping out-of-towners paraded through my neighborhood and gawked at the foreigner on his bicycle, all headed up to a tiny temple that is normally both quiet and pleasant but is neither once a thousand shutterbugs descend upon it.
That’s the problem with anaba, or secret places — once they are no longer secret they lose their hidden charm and become merely small and crowded. In any case, December is one of the best seasons for visitors to Kyoto as the city’s reputation for cold keeps most tourists away. At present it is sunny and 13 degrees Celsius — so if you can handle that much, you’ll love it.
Just stay out of my neighborhood.