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This book has been five years in the making. It is about all the gardens I visited in Japan from 2007 to 2013. It contains most of the photos I took in the gardens along with maps and other ephemera. I probably finished the text block in 2014 or 2015. Since then it’s been wrapped in plastic and sitting on a table in my workroom waiting for covers.

My first bad decision was making the word GARDEN in French knots. Sometimes I enjoy embroidery; too often it’s tedious and boring. So the fabric, thread and boards have also been sitting on that table for the last five years.

The book is huge. Two hundred sheets of paper 8.5 x 14 inches plus about 50 additional folded pages for the maps and stuff. Altogether it is more than two inches thick bound with three brass screw posts (Chicago posts). My second bad decision was to pad the covers using quilt batting. It only added a few millimeters of thickness but made it much harder to cut the holes for binding. I had to drill three 1/4 inch holes through the text and covers. I have a Dremel tool but it won’t hold the 1/4 inch bit. I improvised using a hole punch. It was an awful job.

This is book number 90.

Last days

We returned to Tokyo on Saturday. I immediately went to Beaver Bread for my bread fix. Much as I love being in Japan the food gives me considerable difficulty. Too much salt. After a couple of weeks I get waterlogged and my diet tends to regress to yogurt, bananas and good bread, if I can get it.

Effectively the workshop was finished, but we had a few more things to do. We were scheduled to go to an art show opening on Saturday evening. First we went to a special shopping area. On our way we saw this wonderful little parade, complete with drumming. This is the second one I’ve seen on this trip. Not sure what they are about. The first, which was at Sensoji Temple, clearly had something to do with sake, since there was a huge cask of it on the float. 

The art show was in a building that was formerly a middle school, now occupied by galleries and some tech start-ups. The opening was at the Mi-lab gallery, the people who ran our workshop. 

On Sunday I went to the Nezu Museum, which has a huge garden I had never seen. It was filled with trees, almost a forest but with many interesting stone lanterns. Although I enjoyed it, I would never have fallen in love with gardens had it been the only one I saw.

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I spent the remainder of the day wandering around Ginza and a little time in Ueno. 

Yesterday, Monday, was our last day. As a group we went to Team Lab borderless, a huge hi-tech installation. It was very exciting at first with all of the colored lights and movement, but somehow, after we were there for awhile, I wanted more from it.

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From there I went to another garden I had never been to: Kyu Shiba Rikyu. This was a truly special garden and I fell in love all over again. It was the perfect ending for my trip.

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Photomerge (Adobe Photoshop)

The blog has slowly been changing into a book. I got to March 27 and found five small images and the following: “The first sight of the park is jaw dropping. When I get back to my other computer I’ll try to put together the photos above to show the entire first view.” In the past I’ve done these merges manually. This time I decided to let Photoshop do it for me. To say I am excited by the result is an understatement. I can’t wait to find the next set of images I shot with a merge in mind.


Suizenji at Kumamoto

Suizenji at Kumamoto

Information about making a merge can be found in the tutorial section of Photoshop help under “Reshaping and Transforming”.

No communication

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

It has been a busy month; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’m waiting for that connection between my brain and the computer that Eli says will come, so my hands won’t be involved and the transfer will be instantaneous. Raja and daughters, on their way east to visit battlefields, stopped here last week; probably the best days all month. Two excellent Osher classes occupied my Wednesdays: “Memoir writing,” which I will probably never do but gave a lot of thought, and “The Written Word: The Vanishing Journalist” a kind of oral memoir of a retired journalist. Also took a movement class, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, four sessions at CMU. I can’t explain it, but it was fun.

My sister-in-law died of lung cancer. She looked awful when I saw her last month in Chicago, so I wasn’t surprised. Worse, has been watching my friend of some 50 years. who fell and is having a difficult recovery. Talking to her long distance is more troubling than visiting her. I will see her again in September when I return on my way to Door County.

I finally went to the doctor about my arthritic knees. They took x-rays then gave me a cortisone shot in each knee. I am happy to report I am now walking without pain and have started exercising again. That’s great. I am going to New York early next month and it would have been terrible if I couldn’t walk there.

Funny thing about blog writing. I really sat down to write about books and almost forgot after turning out the previous paragraphs. I’ve read several books this month, some I wanted to read, another forced on me from my funky book club. The best was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the only survivor of a Japanese work camp in Malaysia who feels compelled to make a Japanese garden in memory of her sister. Along with the great story and great characters are wonderfully clear and erudite explanations about Japanese gardens and a clear exposition of both the good and the terrifying in the Japanese character. Having fallen in love with some aspects of Japanese culture I often have trouble looking at their extremes of cruelty, xenophobia and kitsch. I have to keep remembering most of us are guilty of the terrible stuff, but few of us achieve the sublime.

April 21: Another flea market and window shopping

I have reached the end of my garden viewing. I’m sure there is something I am missing, but it is becoming too difficult to find. The gardens I haven’t seen require more travel time and much more walking. So, today and tomorrow, my last day in Kyoto, will be shopping days.

I started back at Toji Temple for Kobo-san, the mother of all flea markets. It was hugely crowded with people just pouring in. I’ve been at markets at Toji before but I don’t think I have ever seen so many vendors. There were produce stands, food stalls with places to sit while the food cooked, and even a flower and plant market in addition to all the antiques, kimonos, clothing, bags and lots of other stuff. The food intrigued me; many are things I can’t identify and would love to know about.

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When I finally had enough (I never bought anything) I went to the main Kyoto shopping area to visit paper stores. Much as I love Japanese papers (washi) nothing intrigued me enough to cope with getting it home. The sheets are usually about a square meter, which means carrying a tall roll and making sure it doesn’t get bent. I did it in 2007, but the papers aren’t as interesting this year and I am not prepared to deal with it. I will just have to bind my books with the stash I have at home.

April 20: Hokongo-in, Daikakuji, and Matsuno’o Shrine

Another cold, warm day; less wind, but less sun. Late day rain was predicted; I got back to the hotel just as it began. I had a bad night, first time since I arrived. Pain in my legs woke me up and kept me awake. Decided not to do so much walking today. Hokongo-in was just off the bus stop. Good for my legs, but traffic noise never left the garden. This temple is famous for its lotus flowers, which won’t grow until later in the year. The roots were soaking in pots of water in several places in the garden.

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And the waterfall stopped flowing right after I took the picture. I almost had the feeling it started flowing just because I walked toward it.

I got back on the bus and went to Daikaku-ji, another of the large temples near the mountains west of Kyoto. It was not a great garden and I’m not sure how it got on my list.

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Then a different bus and south to Matsuno’o Shrine, famous for its clear spring water used for making sake. I particularly liked the tortoise sculpture in the garden and the little girl feeding the fish.

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April 19: Three more gardens and an unexpected lunch

As hot as it was yesterday, today had sunshine and a bitter cold wind. No wind, you were hot, wind or shade, very cold. I always feel like I have dressed the wrong way; today there was no right way.

i bought a book about Kyoto gardens that lists them by area, making it easy to figure out where to go. First on my list for this morning was Ryoan-ji, a famous zen dry garden. Although I saw it years ago, and I don’t especially like dry gardens, I decided it would be good to see again. Never know when you can learn something new. I arrived to find mobs of school tours and immediately decided to leave.

The next place on my list was Tojiin. I looked for a bus stop and found a sign for a train that stops at Tojiin. I never found the train but finally found a large sign with directions and continued walking. Tojiin was a wonderful garden. No surprises but the usual beautiful, peaceful scene.

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I had no clue about where to go when I left Tojiin. I started walking, looking for a bus stop again. I have a good bus map, so given a stop, which always has lots of info, I could figure out where and how. I continued walking, finally finding a busy street as opposed to the lovely residential neighborhood of Tojiij. The wind was blowing very hard and I was tired, cold and needed to sit down.

I walked into a small restaurant, where no one spoke English except for one customer. He helped me order and get lunch and then sat with me and talked. He is a part-time lecturer at a local university but his primary interest is photography. He is using an old Rollei, shooting 120 film and doing his own darkroom work. He gave me a copy of a beautifully printed brochure showing his work. It was probably done for a show. Nice work, very subtle. After lunch he walked me to Keishun-in the next garden I wanted to visit. I’m sure I never would have found it without him. I almost never found my way to the bus stop afterward.

Keishun-in is one of about 50 sub-temples of Myoshin-ji, which also includes the more famous Taizoin-en I visited earlier in this trip. Kaishun-in is the only other sub-temple open to the public on a year round basis. The garden was pleasant but doesn’t come close to the spectacular Taizoin-en.

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My lunch companion gave me casual directions to Taizoin-en, which would have made leaving easy, but I was not able to follow them and spent an enormous amount of time trying to leave the temple complex. Finally got to the bus and decided to visit one more garden: Shinsen-en, a small urban garden connected to a shrine, with entertainment provided by fish and ducks competing for food thrown by visitors.

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April 18: Shopping and Anrakuji

I planned to go to three other gardens, but couldn’t find them. As I walked sort of aimlessly, trying to figure out where to go next, I passed a shop that sold some lovely scarves, aprons, which I don’t normally wear but these looked so nice, and yukatas. I bought  2 scarves, 2 aprons and a yukata for myself. Most of the other stuff will be for presents. At that point I returned to the hotel, not too far away, to get rid of my heavy package.

It was a very warm, sunny day, not the kind of weather I thrive in, so I hung out at the hotel for a couple of hours figuring out where to go next. Finally got back on the bus and went to Anrakuji, one of the few gardens I never visited on the eastern edge of Kyoto.

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This temple is actually at the foot of the mountains, requiring a walk from the bus stop. The temple looked closed and I was disappointed until I saw some other people open a door in the gate and walk in. So, I followed. I don’t know if any of us were supposed to be there, but we weren’t thrown out, and I was able to walk around as long as I wanted.

I am writing this on Friday evening, morning in the US, and just heard, on NPR, there was an earthquake near northern Japan. I never felt anything and don’t expect any consequences in this area, so don’t worry about me.

April 17: Samboin, Kaju-ji and Zuishin-in

This was a gray, warm, muggy day when I needed lots of help and everyone I met was wonderful to me. I just missed the bus as I got out of the subway. The next one was scheduled for 40 minutes later. I decided to walk; probably less than a kilometer. The trouble with walking is figuring out the starting point. I stopped a young couple and asked for directions, which they gave me with some difficulty, but enough information for me to start walking. I knew it would be a straight shot once I had the correct road. After I had gone about 200 meters a car stopped and the young man offered me a ride. Since the road was beginning to climb (most temples are on or near mountains) I happily accepted. Help #1.

Entry courtyard, Samboin

Entry courtyard, Samboin

I paid my 500 yen admission and was told no photographs. At that point I was wondering why I had come. Then I had to go into a building, first removing my shoes. The two steps leading into the building were extremely high and, as usual, there were no railings. Help #2 arrived in the shape of one of the men who worked for the temple. After the steps I was summarily urged toward the garden and  continued to wonder why I had come.

Samboin is absolutely the most fascinating garden I have visited and they don’t allow photographs. I could cry. There seems to be only a few images on the internet. Three guards are posted to make sure you don’t take photos. I could understand if they were selling good photos, but they aren’t. I bought two postcards with lousy pictures.

Diagram of the garden

Diagram of the garden

It is a pond garden with a mountain as backdrop and all of the usual elements, islands, lanterns, pine trees. It’s the details that count and there are amazing details. Two islands, covered with pine trees, and representing tortoise and crane, are the unusual part of the garden. One has a pine tree purported to be 600 years old. This is a small tree, almost a Bonsai, with a huge, thick trunk, and represents the quietness of a tortoise. The other island has a stone bridge on its left side that represents the neck of the crane.

I stood and looked, trying to memorize the scene, as long as my legs allowed. Again, no place to sit except the floor. When I finally left the same old man helped me down the stairs, after having a considerable conversation with me. Help #3 and he was cute.

I walked back to the subway; much easier going downhill and went one stop to visit two other temples. I tried to follow the map in the subway and went off in the wrong direction. My intention was to visit Zuishin-in first. I asked several people and got directions in Japanese that were meaningless. Finally asked another man who indicated he would take me there. We stopped at the first temple where we each rang the bell and prayed. I don’t know what he prayed for: I just asked to find Zuishin-in. He probably thought I was a follower because I am wearing a good luck bracelet that was put on me at the temple on Koyasan.

We finally came to a large temple with no signage, he assured me was Zuishin-in and help #4 left. The sign at the entrance indicated it would cost 400 yen. I paid and found out I was at Kaiju-ji. The lady at the window showed me a diagram of how to get to Zuishin-in and I walked into a wonderful garden at Kaiju-ji and was enormously pleased I had made this mistake.

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When I finally left the garden I thanked the woman and indicated how much I enjoyed it. She gave me this hand drawn diagram of how to get to Zuishin-in. Help #6.


The only trouble with these kinds of directions is where do they really begin. Do I turn right immediately after I leave the temple of is there another right and a left first? I finally figured it out and got to Zuishin-in, which turned out not to be nearly as wonderful as Kaiju-ji. Also needed a hand getting up and down their railingless steps; not a boost this time, just a hand for balance.That was help #7 and #8.

Finally it was time to return to the subway that was a long way underground. I knew I had come up in an elevator but couldn’t remember where it was. Help #9 guided me across the street and into the elevator. And I was able to buy cooked broccoli for dinner, making it a great day.

April 16: Two more gardens and an adventure

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I couldn’t resist: a trip down the Hozu River with, as the brochure says, “raging torrents and breathtaking ravines, at times dousing you with water, at others passing in calmness.” It wasn’t quite like that. There were rapids and we did get splashed occasionally, but the adjectives didn’t quite match the reality. It was fun, squeezed in with 24 Japanese who were out for a good time. I went for the great scenery that was not easy to photograph. Several women next to me spoke English so I got some translations. And they were very nice and helpful. I couldn’t get in or out of that boat without help. The hard part was sitting for two hours.

The boats took us to Arashiyama, an area filled with temples. The first one I passed, Hogonin Temple, had a lovely garden and the stillness to enjoy it, which I did.

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Hogonin is a sub-temple of Tenryuji, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a lovely, unfortunately crowded, garden. Visiting here on a previous trip I walked quickly past the pond and climbed away from the temple where there were fewer people. This time wasn’t as bad. I got to see the pond and was mostly alone when I climbed.

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