For those of you longtime readers out there, you may have noticed a method to my posting madness – today is indeed usually a Manhole Monday post. But, alas, I am starting to run short of manhole picture. (Must. travel. more. 🙂 ) What I am not running short of are reading materials dealing with Japan and while I have highlighted some of my favorite travel books, children’s literature and adult novels over the past two years, I’ve decided to flesh those posts out a bit with some longer reviews.
What prompted this (aside from the dearth of manhole picture, obviously) was en email from longtime Kyoto resident and fellow blogger Michael Lambe over at Deep Kyoto. He has, with the assistance and contribution of numerous writers (some of whom are extremely notable names in the Japanese expat community), recently published an unconventional “guidebook” to Kyoto and wondered if I might be willing to review it.
Ummm, yes!!!!!!! (Do I need more exclamation points to display my excitement?)
I’d actually wanted to buy a copy for myself anyway, but I’m not a fan or big user of e-books so I initially hesitated. While I’m still much more fond of hard paper and the tactile feel of turning pages, the medium didn’t detract in any way from my enjoyment of the book.
And yes, I did enjoy it. So much so that I began late one night promising myself to just read the intro and perhaps the first walk … but seven walks later, I grudgingly turned out the lights. Promising myself to savor the rest, I finished all sixteen walks by dinner the next day.
What was the appeal? For me, the devil was in both the details and the familiarity. Kyoto is a city I have been lucky enough to visit six or seven times in the last few years. Each time, I make new discoveries but also relish tramping down familiar paths – the cobbles of the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, the lanes of Arashiyama, the Philosopher’s Path. I could picture myself on location with the authors, noting the little temples peeking out of bamboo groves and wondering how I’d managed to miss certain things, like the mound of war trophies from Korea that Toyotomi Hideyoshi created not too far from the Gion District.
However, my favorite walks were those that stopped to let the reader smell the flowers with them, those that mentioned the hue of the sky that day, if there was the taste of rain in the air, which neighbor called out a cheery “hello” as they ambled past. These walks reminded me of the evening strolls I used to take with my daughter in Okinawa. Still in her baby carrier and not yet mobile, nevertheless we’d amble together around our quarter, meeting the friendly dog down the block, marveling over the ceramic shisa (lion dogs) on gate posts and stopping to watch the local kids practice their drumming for the August Obon celebration. I learned my 9 block neighborhood intimately. I loved how things both changed – like the flowers in bloom or the way the shadows of the winter sun played across the houses – yet remained static at the same time. Deep Kyoto Walks reminds me of those evening perambulations – the stories both relaxed me but also made me itch to get back to Kyoto again and make my own discoveries.
With 16 different writers, you’ll encounter a variety of writing styles and truthfully, I wasn’t enamored with them all. Some were too “big picture” and some too philosophical for me, but these are my own minor complaints. What was most enjoyable was being allowed a glimpse of their lives, learning what brought them to Japan (something I wonder of all the expats I meet, as our stories are so different) and seeing what part of Kyoto speaks to them the most. Will you enjoy this book if you haven’t ever been to Kyoto? I believe so – it’s a wonderful armchair journey, for sure. Maps are provided with the book but I’d sit down with a large map of Kyoto to get the full picture of the city and where the authors explored.
This isn’t a book to carry with you like a travel bible. It’s a book to read both before you visit Kyoto (if you have the chance), while you are there, and years later, when the memories of the city start to fade. Savor these stories with a cup of green tea and bring a bit of Kyoto into your life.
For full disclosure, I was given a free copy of Kyoto Walks by Michael, the editor of both the Deep Kyoto website and the book itself. However, Michael didn’t twist my arm to say nice things. 🙂 The opinions above are my own feelings on the book.