We catch the early JR Shinkansen (that means very fast train) to Kyoto. TIP #1: Buy a JR pass online before you come. Activate them at the airport station on the way into the city, this will save you lots of money. TIP #2: Commit to a Japanese breakfast and buy it at the station. I look for seaweed wrapped triangles of rice with various filling, traditional bento boxes and rice crackers. All local, all lovely, all easy to eat on the train. A cart does go around for hot & cold drinks and any additional snacks.
I have had book, Old Kyoto by Diane Durston in my possession for what could be 20 years and flipped through its pages waiting for the moment that I could visit all these old traditional craftspeople. The shops are mostly where the wares are made & sold in traditional lodgings that call from another time. Even if you don’t get to Kyoto, this book is a good read. I plan on visiting the indigo dyer, broom maker, tatami mat weaver & incense, stationary, lantern, umbrella & everything in between shops.
Before heading to the traditional merchant’s mansion that I’ve rented for a few days, we head for the hills via Nishiki market for some street food. It is early-ish so we try light omelettes with onions, fish on skewers and fresh pineapple chucks. To the train we go, a short ride (as long as you don’t get lost) takes you to Narashiyama, a quiet pocket of Kyoto at the foot of the giant bamboo grove that climbs up the mountains to the west. At the entrance a small temple with a scattering of shrines sits housing many offerings: hundreds of tiny paper cranes that hang in chains, paper knotted over rope fences, jangles of orange paper discs with prayers written and cedar plaques with messages amongst other things. I need the WC so I wander into Tenryu-ji temple. The gardens spill down the hill to a picturesque lake which is surrounded by low wooden buildings weaving around the gardens with undercover walkways.
Within the grove, the path is lined on either side with dried bamboo branches creating a layered bamboo effect. I’ll attempt to explain: two horizontal bamboo trunks created a sandwich for the top, very fine branches that have fallen to the forest floor and been gathered to make the brush fence. I’ve always been fascinated with the many uses of bamboo & recently read that 1400 (!!) have been listed. I included my own in Nomad. At the top of the grove, we found a dead movie star’s garden. All moss, stone paths, hidden places to discover, tea houses, an open bamboo pagoda that looked over all of Kyoto, dogwood, (Japanese for us) maple for them, fir, on a backdrop of mountains.
The streets of Western Kyoto are lined with noodle houses, sweet shops & traditional inns. Take your pick when choosing what to eat. We settled for udon noodle, cold with tempura seasonal vegetables and asahi. Time to discover the merchants mansion!
Hannah discovered this one. Back on Tominokoji-dori, Nobuko from IORI Co. shows us our temporary abode, a traditional wooden merchants mansion once owned by a red bean mogul. It’s deceptively huge with shoji screens, tatami mats, sudare blinds, floor seating, lots of corridors, a central garden with shrine, wooden soled slippers, a deep bath, smooth wood floors & stairs from years of socked feet, paper lanterns & plenty of beds over three floors. It is hard to describe the wonder when you slide open a small door and instead of the inside of a wardrobe you discover an entire other quarter of the house complete with a maze of sitting rooms, bedrooms, toilet, bath, attic and space in general. The area can be manipulated to suit your need according to the small boxes you section off. It’s like Chronicles of Narnia Japanese-style. If you closed all the light, sliding wooden doors, latticed with soft white paper, there would be a total of 25 rooms in the mansion.
If you are not aware, the size of rooms in Japan are measured by the amount of tatami mats that fit within them. Right now, I am writing this in a very generous eight-tatami mat tea room on a flat cushion with Leta, Hannah & Leah drinking G&T’s.
Ah what service! Talk about above & beyond. My room was created by the architects who redid CLASKA and turned it into the design hotspot it is today. On the second level resides the shop full of handmade ceramics, indigo coats, Japanese tools, furniture and a bag that I wanted so much & didn’t buy soon enough. It is a perfect edit of the lovely wares available and celebrated in Japan. Each morning I’d meet for breakfast with the team & we would get our energy for the day from make-it-yourself-granola and the big breakfast spread of four different types of bread (all too good to leave behind) with rhubarb and banana jam. They serviced our every desire with umbrellas in the downpours & bicycles when the sun was shining. Very recommended!
Interior Colour: coming up with your palette
TUESDAY 26 JUNE, 6.3o-8.30PM
I believe that every person has their own colour palette. It can be found by looking carefully at the things you surround yourself with: your clothes, the invitations & ephemera you keep, patterns you buy, jewellery you wear, even your teacups & plates! If you put your favourite things together you notice the same colours are repeated again & again. From this you can discover the colours that make you happy, how they can sit together & be applied into your interiors.
In this workshop I will build an entire set based on a colour palette, demonstrating how you translate colour on a large scale. We’ll chat about how you come up with your own palette and the applying it into your own home or space. Watch me as I start with a box of my favourite things and end with an interior space that reflects the colour palette in real life. Lots of Q&A! Buy tickets here.
Non-refundable; Tickets available online only
@ Sun Studios, 42 Maddox St, Alexandria 2017
When I was travelling in Japan a couple of years ago, our guide was a guy named Bodie. He gave us each a copy of a book he had translated called ‘Lost Japan’ by Alex Kerr. I read the book and even listed it in the reference pages of Nomad. Kerr owns a company that restores and treasures traditional houses in Kyoto which you can rent out for your stay. There are many to choose from, of different shapes, sizes and locations. We stayed in an old Kyoto mansion. Originally owned by a ship designer and after that a lumber dealer, it has had many incarnations, the final being a soybean merchant. The house fronts the street with a wood façade. You enter into an open room on street level dedicated to the wheelings & dealings, (& bean counting) were conducted. This is where our bikes lived. TIP #1: Kyoto is lovely & flat & easy to get around. Rent a bike form J Bikes and have it delivered to your door. 1000 yen plus delivery.
Into the shoe removal room, up two stone slabs with your slippers on (preferably leather ones from Truck) and into the eight-tatami matted room that overlooks a shrined & mossy garden. Timber framed glass sliding doors for access. This is where our wheelings & dealings went down, we lounged on the floor drinking brown rice green tea n the low tables & mapping out our bike route.
Shoji and bamboo screens manipulate the space by closing in areas to create corridors and rooms and change the function of the space. This must have been a technique to manage the weather in summer and winter. The kitchen spills into a dining area with a beautiful lacquer ware cupboard. A wooden slatted board sat at the bottom of a huge, deep sink as a simple staircase led upstairs to the servants quarters, sight unseen. The downstairs bathroom is set up as a traditional bathhouse on a mini scale. Fill the very deep, rectangular, straight sided bath of stone right up to the brim & sink in after a long day bicycling. The taps are bamboo.
Seeing as we’re not staff, access the second level via the main stairs. Soft wood under bare feet, preferably small as the stairs are very narrow and extremely steep. These are fun! Each staircase has a beautiful round wooden bannister, brass-capped, sitting horizontally at the top of the stairs for a safe descent. The upstairs space is broken into seven rooms. I stayed in the tatami mat room set with two futons and marshmallow quilts overlooking the garden. It could have slept many more. The smell of tatami mats is a combination of toasted brown rice, hay, tea- a lovely scent to fall asleep to. I’m putting it in my fragrance range. Floor lanterns made of paper & bamboo created beautiful light. Even overhead was soft, flattering & romantic. Above the stairwell was lit with pressed glass lights that hung from cloth covered cords.
From my room, a passageway created by shoji screens and sudare blinds leads to the old servant quarters. Up another steep wooden staircase are two small rooms, simple & almost puritan. It was unusually airy and light for an attic space, more of a mezzanine as there was an open space from here all the way to the kitchen. Perhaps this was so servants would hear if they were summoned.
Soft bamboo blinds hang on the exterior of the building to filter the morning sun & prying eyes. There is something lovely about these blinds being fixed only at the top. When the wind blows the whole house sways and trembles as if it is alive and breathing.
All spruced up (not really) and ready for a night out on the town. We jump in a cab (my suggestion of course, and the first of many) and head to 21_21 Design Sight, a design museum instigated by the likes of Issey Miyake and Tadao Ando (also the architect). I visited here a couple of years ago with the Anthropologie team, while shooting for my book Nomad (Nomado in Engrish and a very kuerr term at present). I saw the ‘Post Fossil’ exhibition here which I loved and have often referenced since. The current exhibition ‘TEMA HIMA: the Art of Living in Tohoku’ did not disappoint. We walked through beautiful condensed gardens full of in-season irises and hydrangeas to reach the museum. It glows like sails and is built like an iceberg. The tip is angular glass and pressed concrete in true Ando style. When dusk falls (TIP#4: Go at dusk) you access the lower galleries by descending stairs and moving through several spaces. It has great height & light even though it is not on ground level. This is achieved by the feeling that a meteorite has torpedoed into the earth into the middle of 21_21 creating a fission with glass walls that reach from underground to the sky.
The exhibition showcases an appreciation of the craftsmen and artisans who live in Northern rural Japan and produce handmade wonders that are used in everyday life from apple pruning shears by a blacksmith to silver birch woven plates by a basketweaver and natural rubber boots, gluten bread, rice cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves, lacquerware, apple boxes (more than you could ever imagine stacked high like skyrises) and cedar barrels with plaited bamboo trim. You are introduced to the people behind these crafts through video documentary that is breathtakingly shot exposing their life’s work, the landscape which they live in and determines their traditions, and the way that their hands are shaped by their craft, like a portrait. The winter stories suggested that when it wasn’t snowing, these artisans would be farmers or fishers, their craft being a seasonal trade.
Once we had watched every last story, we entered the exhibit where the produce was displayed in a no-frills style with an emphasis on the beauty on the wares themselves. From salted fish, preserved daicon, traditional soy bean sweets, lacquerware, ceramics, woodwork, bread, woven baskets, chopsticks, tofu and more. We pulled ourselves away from the exhibition and popped into the giant Muji store across the way to stock up on my favourite pencils & pens before heading to dinner.
I had a new level of appreciation at this traditional Japanese house, Inakaya in Roppongi, where we dined & drank. I felt like I had walked into the exhibition with the long wooden serving paddles that dived for the food and passed us our Asahis, the woven plates in silver vine that offered the salted fish, eggplant & everything else, sake porcelain spouted pots, chagrin to grate horseradish, wooden sake dove-tailed boxes, cotton striped napkins and indigo weaved coasters. To know the origin of these pieces made the dinner so much more special and to understand that these are things that people make for themselves to use, out of necessity, in the winter months & by hand for the coming year. Japan is not a buy & throw out supermarket society.
I’m here with the whole team, the girls: Leah & Hannah and my editor Leta, in Tokyo & of course not a minute to spare! Starting with an early morning breakfast make-it-yourself granola and coffee with a special Japanese froth design (Hannah got a teddy bear) at our Hotel Claska. TIP #1: Japanese are not big on breakfast. We later found out that Claska offer the best breakfast in town. If you are caught out, grab a perfectly replicated french croissant and a green tea from no name bakeries spotted around town (with a discerning eye).
Off to navigate the metro system and meet with the publishers who are translating Etcetera into Japanese. Although the Japanese consider my books ‘kuerr’ (this is ‘cool’ in engrish) in English, we can’t wait to see it full of characters this October 2012.
We decided to get all real work out of the way in one day and head to Big Sight Tokyo, for the Lifestyle Trade Show. The highlights were in the ‘Made in Japan’ section, although Campland continued the theme I found in Milan. Things we loved: beautiful towels (one side cotton, other side terry-towelling & so soft), super cool utilitarian dustpans & brooms, numbered stamps, beaten metal containers, porcelain sticks & leaves and so much more (all information safe & sound on business cards). TIP #2: Take business cards. Even if you don’t normally have business cards, it is as if it is part of the Japanese custom. It happens when you are talking business or making friends. The two-handed pass of the card and bow of the head makes the experience particularly genuine.
Despite not physically feeling like we could walk any further, the promise of a donut store just-up-the-road from Claska saw us shuffle on. Along the way we distracted ourselves by looking in the many vintage/homewares/furniture stores. You could dedicate an entire day to between Meguro Station, along Meguro-dori and the tiny streets in every direction (much like shattered glass) that lead to Gakugeidaigaku Station. We got our sugar rush on donuts & ice cream. Look up at the numbered staircase on the LHS of the cafe. TIP#3: Don’t forget your supportive shoes. Even if you think your birkenstocks don’t go with all your outfits – put them in anyway. The time will come when the birkenstocks take precedence over that ‘kuerr’ outfit you just bought.
Back to the Claska to freshen up for our evening adventures. Stay tuned.