ArtWalk Post Mortem. Not Yet One for Me.

NOTESaturday, 19 September, I’ve updated the Gallery “Shizuka” ( 静か ).  You may click the link in the previous sentence, or at the top of this Front Page.  Please tell me if you like it.

On August 11th I received an email from the Executive Director of Birmingham’s ArtWalk 2009.  In it she informed me that my “body of work” had been chosen by The Judges for Top 25 status (out of 135? 150? participating artists, some professional, some professionally trained or schooled, and some, like me, sincere novices).  This past Friday and Saturday’s ArtWalk transformed Birmingham’s Loft District into several dozen galleries for local and regional artists where those Judges made the rounds of that Top 25 to distill that list further into Places 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Show. . .  and to select 3 additional “Judges’ Mention” awards.  Anyway, my photography was tapped as a “Judges’ Mention”, that is, in the Top 6, or, as I’d rather put it, tied for 4th Place with 2 others.  The ArtWalk Home Page (scroll down just a tad when you land on it) shows who won what.

Harajuku (Tokyo) Restaurant.  2005.

Harajuku (Tokyo) Restaurant. 2005.


The Risks of doing Art.

In the foreground is the bottom of the Hwy 78 sign I clipped.  The back of the car looks worse.

Foreground: bottom 1/3 of the Hwy 78 sign I clipped. The back of the car looks worse.

On Saturday morning while on my way to (and just about 1-2 minutes away from) my designated ArtWalk “gallery” set up at Wooster Lofts, I was — quite literally — blindsided by a woman who ran a red light with her Volvo/tank.  She rammed the back end of my car and sent me and my never-to-be-driven-again Lexus spinning and careening up 24th Street.  My car sheered a road sign in the process and I wound up facing the opposite way I had been going less than 10 seconds before.  I got twisted and torqued a little, but adrenalin was my friend and the hurts and such didn’t set in too much until yesterday, continuing somewhat today.  Have an appointment with a doc in the morning.  That said, my blood stayed in my body where it belonged.  The woman who hit me admitted fault many times over to me and the police officer who happened upon the scene within a minute of the collision.  She wasn’t trying to “beat” the light (it was solid red for her).  Instead, and according to her, she just “zoned out”.  After going through the Rites of Accident with the Birmingham police officer conducting services, the woman who ran the red light ended up driving me (naturally, her car remained drivable) to my gallery at ArtWalk.  After all, the show had to go on.

To those who purchased my photography during ArtWalk (or who had previously “invested” in it), you came close to seeing its value jump on Saturday (is that presumptuous of me to say, or just simple economics?).  Alas for you, my work remains reasonably priced.


After work : いざかや, ガード下, 赤堤灯。

A couple of friends are heading to Japan next month.  Their first trip.  I have some great restaurants and other places to recommend in Tokyo and Kyoto.  All sorts of cuisines and price ranges.  All in all, though, my favorite restaurants are the low key, working stiff, cheap, grilled chicken-on-a-stick-type joints.  You who travel around know that these are really the best places.

Most commonly, these cozy, friendly, local holes-in-the-wall are called “izakaya” and sometimes “akachochin” (“aka“/red + “chochin“/lanterns with whatever the specialty of the house is shine and advertise out front).  In Tokyo, behind the shockingly expensive Imperial Hotel, in Chiyoda Ward near Yurakucho Station, there are a series of pedestrian tunnels under an elevated section of the Yamanote train line.  Jammed into these tunnels are numerous akachochin, called “gahdoshita“, literally “under the overpass” restaurants.  Pictured above is one of them I frequented over the course of five or so days in Tokyo, almost two years ago to date.  That fellow in the foreground to the right is one of the cooks, taking a photo of some *Japanese* tourists . . . just out-of-frame to the left.

Yakitori with plenty of bainiku, shisomaki, gyuuroso, little grilled shishitou . . . and draft beer.  This is all good and simple and delicious and inexpensive fare.  I’ll be referring my friends — and in May taking a group of MBA students — to these kind of places, as well as to the more “refined” restaurants.  Count on that.

Motsuyaki "gahdoshita".  Under the Yamanote Line.  Tokyo.  2007.

Motsuyaki “gahdoshita”. Under the Yamanote Line. Tokyo. 2007.


Friends after work at an akachochin.  Tokyo. October 2007.

Friends after work at an akachochin. Tokyo. October 2007.


Friends at an akachochin in Kyoto.  2007.  That's the cook/owner in the background.

Friends at an akachochin in Kyoto. 2007. That’s the cook/owner in the background.


Izakaya, late afternoon before the evening rush.  Ueno, Tokyo. April 2008.

Izakaya, late afternoon before the evening rush. Ueno, Tokyo. April 2008.

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A few more photos from more recent times:

Harumi-ya. A great hole-in-the-wall. San-jo Street. Kyoto. 2011.


A friend’s mom looks on as another round’s poured. Ichi-ban Yakitori. Kyoto. 2011.


Fantastic sake bar (with owner, his granddaughter), Kiyamachi-dori. Kyoto. 2011.


Sparkle of Your China*.

July 2006.  On my second trip to China...

July 2006. On my second trip to China...


I first visited China in the summer of 2005 and ever since have been working on writing-up my experiences there and reflections of my various, weird things encountered and witnessed in Beijing and up north in Liaoning Province.

Delegation is the story.  Just click on the tab above, “Sparkle of Your China“.   As is the case with all of them, it’s quite true.  Except for a couple of name changes and a couple of strategic omissions.  For several years I started, stopped and started over.  No, I didn’t spend four years constantly writing less than 3, 000 words.  It’s just taken me four years to finally sit down and, over the course of a few weeks, assemble and flesh-out various little notes and vignettes into something I believe makes for a readable narrative.  I dedicate “Delegation” (again, by way of “Sparkle of Your China“) to Uncle Ron, whose deep knowleged of and enthusiasm for All Things Chinese influenced untold numbers of his students to eventually make the trip; for many, to make their life there.  Also for my father, who always told me, even when I was a kid back in the mid ’70s, “China’s the country to watch for.  This thing they’re doing with Communism?  It’ll never last.  They’re merchants.  They’ve always been merchants and they’ll always be merchants.”   That’s what my father would say, with no shortage of respect.  He was still with us back in 2005 and very much enjoyed hearing my story about “Practical Tim”.  He had, indeed, been right.

A note on the stories featured on this site: they’re in more-or-less finished form, but I’ve no doubt some editing is still in order for any of them.


*Steely Dan  fans assuredly “get” this right off the bat.  To those who aren’t familiar with the album “Countdown to Ecstasy“, I hope that that is something you’ll someday consider treating yourself to.

雨 . . . “rain”

Returning to my native village after many years’ absence,
I’ll, I put up at a country inn and listen to the rain.
One robe, one bowl is all I have.
I light incense and strain to sit in meditation.
All night a steady drizzle outside the dark window —
Inside, poignant memories of these long years of pilgrimage.

By Ryokan(1758-1831).

New gallery, Rain,  is up.   Please look for the kanji (Chinese character) for “ah.may“, rain, above —  atop this Front Page.  Also, please see and enjoy  Shapes & Shadows,  also a new gallery.

In front of Sutton Place hotel.  Tokyo.  2008.

In front of Sutton Place hotel. Tokyo. 2008.


Re:  a couple of emails received today concerning the Japanese Election.  In sum, it is a watershed event as turning out the (which was never “liberal” nor that “democratic”) in favor of the LDP.   The pressure’s now on for the DPJ (“Democratic Party of Japan”) as it has a lot to deliver and if it doesn’t begin delivering  —  on issues like unemployment, elder care, child care, farm issues — and delivering soon, the LDP would be poised to sweep right back in.  A friend of mine, a former U.S. Bureau Chief for a Japanese economic news wire service, wrote to me two days ago saying, in part:

“. . . but that doesn`t mean we trust 100 %  Mr. Hatoyama and DPJ led by him because their platform is too vague. . .”   They are promising to introduce new child benefit for all Japanese parents regardless of their income by just cutting waste of the central government budget.  They are also promising to abolish toll fee of expressway.   But they are going to finance it [by] cutting the waste. . .   They are promising many but are against tax increases.  In Tokyo, the DPJ will easily win the election.  I am not surprised at it.  In rural area like my hometown [  ], the LDP is likely to lose the election.  It is unbelievable because Japanese farmers had supported LDP for several decades.  DPJ pledges to gurantee farmers income and it is working.  You may have read a story  from Tokyo that Japanese people are hoping change and supporting DPJ.  That is overstated to some extent.  [Hatoyama] is no charismatic political leader . . .”

Otherwise, this site will steer mostly clear of politics.

Dear, Beautiful Kyoto . . .

Amid various emails and Memos to clients and necessary phone calls to make and receive I find myself thinking  about Kyoto this morning, and looking ever-so-forward to soon being there again, to just Be there…  I write this (as an update to this post) in mid-November 2009.  I returned from a business trip to Japan (which took me to Kyoto for a few days) less than a week ago.  I’m still jet-lagging somewhat.  In a way it was like going home and now I’m homesick for it.

Closing Time at Chion-in Temple. Kyoto.  2003.

Closing Time at Chion-in Temple. Kyoto. 2003..




Wall at Shinyodo Temple. Nov 2009.

The photo of Noh actor above, mid-performance at Heian Shrine, is from June 2003.   There is only one evening a year, in June, that Noh is performed at Heian Jingu, and I happened to be in Kyoto on that evening.  Only time I’ve seen this.


Next to Kurodani-dera. Okazaki. 2008.


Lanterns at Okazaki Shrine.  Kyoto.  2007.

Lanterns at Okazaki Shrine. Kyoto. 2007.


A side street off of Shirakawa-dori. . . in a mirror. Kyoto. 2007.

A side street off of Shirakawa-dori. . . in a mirror. Kyoto. 2007.


Kawabata Street. Looking North. November 2009.


Nanzen-ji Temple. From my hotel balcony. July 2011.


Sunset near Shoren-in, Jingumachi. November 2009.

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Neighbor Wars, or... it's not all Zen & Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto.  Rough translation:  ”Dog poo left behind! Poo MUST be picked up and taken with you.  If you can't do this, then don't bother walking (your dog) in the first place!

Neighbor Wars.  Rough translation:  ”Dog poo left behind! Poo MUST be picked up and taken with you. If you can’t do this, then don’t bother walking (your dog) in the first place!”   then… Angry face.

A few links to other (but not all) Kyoto-related posts here at LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com:

+ Kiyomizu-dera – (one of the “must see and experience” temples for first time visitors).

+ Okariba (a great, and atypical-for-Kyoto, restaurant on Marutamachi Street).

+ To-ji Temple (東寺 )Flea Market (Japan’s largest.  The 21st of every month).

+ Rain (A Photo Gallery.  Many images from Kyoto).

Where the Rivers Meet:  the Kamo & Takano.  (Post from August 2011).

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Gallery. San-jo Street. November 2009.

A Moment for Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Peace Park.  May 16, 2008.

Hiroshima Peace Park. May 16, 2008.

My first full day in my new town was on August 6, 1990.  The day before, a couple of town hall employees had picked me up in Kobe and together we had driven a couple of hours to the small town that would be my home for the next year, a small town, deep in the heart of Southern Japan’s Chugoku Mountains.  I was settled into my new home, a spacious, two-story house along side the Maruyama River.  That night teachers, administrators and PTA luminaries with the Middle School, where I would teach for the next year, threw a welcome party for me.  It was the first of several welcome parties.

The next morning another introductory whirlwind.  I was brought to the Principal’s office where I would be officially received.  The Vice Mayor and Superintendent of the Board of Education were there, too.  In the corner of the Principal’s office a television was on, showing the morning news.  Just as the initial introductions were made everything stopped.  It was as though the wind suddenly went out of the sails of a previously fast-moving ship.  It took me a couple of beats and a quick glance over at the television:   it was 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1990, 45 years to the minute that an atomic bomb had detonated over Hiroshima.  The television was showing the live service — then with everyone’s heads bowed for 1 minute — from Hiroshima Peace Park.  After that moment of reverent silence, we all went on . . .

Middle School Girl at Hiroshima Peach Park Museum, May 16, 2008.

Middle School Girl at Hiroshima Peace Park Museum, May 16, 2008.


I visited Hiroshima in the spring of 1991, and did not revist until last year, co-leading a UAB “Study Abroad” trip to Japan.

For more (experience, photos, etc.) from Hiroshima, please see this page, posted here a few weeks ago.

Spring ’10 Trips. C’est la Soul Sonic Boogie.


Sign at Heian-Jingu (Shrine).

Sign at Heian-Jingu (Shrine). Kyoto.


For the past week or so I’ve promised various people that I would be posting additional Spring ’10 Trip Information, including pricing and trip package details, “withing the next day or two”.  I’m talking about the group trips here:  the ~ 2-week  “Cherry Blossom Spring”  and the ~ 1-week  “Kyoto Sojourn”  trips.  General itineraries for each are, in fact, up (see top of this page) and anyone who’s emailed me with any questions, including pricing, has received a prompt response.  At any rate, I’m still not quite ready to publish all that to the world at large, but almost there.  I will have that information up before the end of THIS week.  Promise.     Ishi no ue ni mo san nen.

Kotowaza are Japanese proverbs, “wise sayings”.  I use one just above: Ishi no ue ni mo san nen.   The literal translation is “Sit on a rock for 3 years”.  Loses something between the Japanese and the English, indeed.  It means:  “Have patience. Patience.  Patience…”  I think of this one a lot.

Other favorite kotowaza of mine, which can sum-up an emotion, nail a situation, or remind me of an attitude or outlook I need to adopt — and to which I posit you can, or will, relate — include:

Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai. There’s no medicine for (to cure) a fool.

Kaze no naka de sodatta ki wa ne ga tsuyoi. A tree that’s grown up in the wind has strong roots.

Chi mo namida mo nai. [S/he has] neither blood nor tears.

Heh o hitte shiri tsubome. [No use] scrunching-up your bum after the fart.

Saru mo ki kara ochiru. Even monkeys fall from trees.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out their respective “inner meaning”, though I believe each is rather obvious.  If you want to guess or have a question, please feel free to comment below.  I’ll be incorporating these and others into one of my stories — it’s a work in progress.

.  .  .

Taikai no itteki . . . Just one drop in the ocean.    Only a moment in time.  C’est la vie . . . C’est la Soul Sonic Boogie.


Gion in July

Gion is Kyoto’s “Geisha District”.  There’s another, older, one — so I’ve been told — now defunct, and one can still see Geisha and Maiko-san (Geisha Novices) aplenty in Ponto-cho, just across the Kamo River, behind where this photo was taken — during one of my early morning strolls around Kyoto.  In it I’m facing east, looking down “Shi-jo Dori” (4th Street) towards one of Japan’s most venerated Shinto Shrines, “Yasaka Jinja”.  Just to the left of me, out of (the picture’s) frame is Nawate Dori (“dori” is one of the words for “street”, by the way).  And just about 60 feet down Nawate Dori on the left, just past “Bali-Bali” (surprisingly, a Balinese restaurant) is “Cafe Terrace”, a favorite little coffee shop.  This was taken in July 2004.  The banners all along the street on the left-hand side proclaim that it’s “Gion Matsuri” (Gion Festival) time, held throughout July, but culminating with a grand parade of huge, multi-storied, wheeled shrines,  since 1533, but whose origins go back to the late 9th Century.

Early Morning.  Gion Matsuri.  July 2004.

Early Morning. Gion Matsuri. July 2004.


ノート … Back to the Front Page, April 5, 2011

Notebook.  Sept. '03

Notebook. Sept. '03

Whenever I travel I keep a little notebook.  A log, journal, diary, whatever you wish to call it.  The pages above are typical.  They’re from September 1, 2003.  I wrote-out the north leg of the Karasuma Line of Kyoto’s the only-2-line (Karasuma and Tozai) subway system just to help me memorize the stops and their order.  On the left-hand side I note about a bidding incident at the Ozawa Auction House (just a few-minute walk from Kokusai Kaikan Station, Exit No. 3).  I and my former wife had put in a pre-auction bid of  ¥22,000 on a bronze “koro” (antique incense burner) and, after the live bidding was done (and the silent bids opened), another dealer came away with the koro for ¥21,000.  That’s the only time I recall being screwed-over at any of the auctions I participated in over a 3 year period (and it was the only, and to my recollection last, time I did a “silent” bid).  But small and large nefarious things happen in the world of antiquities, among dealers in both old and contemporary art and antiquities.  About this I am very well aquainted.

Anyway, as I write and publish stories about experiences in Japan I often refer to my notebooks to remember the name of a street, the dish we ordered, or the month that I and another danced at a little bar called “Motown” (now defunct) whose large windows looked down on Kyoto’s Kamo River at the intersections of Sanjo Dori and Kawabata Dori (4th and Kawabata Streets).  I go to my notebooks for general story ideas, too.

So, to let you in on a few, out-of-context glimpes of my reference material, other than the month and year, in the hope that you’ll find it at least mildly interesting and at the most maddeningly tantalizing, I offer you the follow.  Some of it is very personal.  It is what it is.


Kita-san's little garden.  Yagi Nishiguchi.  Sept 6, '03.

Kita-san's little garden. Yagi Nishiguchi. Sept 6, '03.


My Japanese handwriting is embarrassingly poor.  But given that it’s mostly for my own reference, I don’t sweat it too much.


Late Dec, Early Jan 1990-91.

Late Dec, Early Jan 1990-91.


I’m living in Asago, Hyogo Prefecture when the then-Love of My Life visits for a couple of weeks.  Here one can see me recording mundaneities (I consider this a word, whether or not the reader does), mentioning a spat over “pressure”, archiving bad movie rentals, and admitting to the cliche of cliches:  Shogun while in Japan (along with Brave New World).  And recording our New Year’s kisses for posterity.


"Something Stupid".  October 29, '03.

"Something Stupid". October 29, '03.


"Akafuji" from the air.  August 2002.

"Akafuji" from the air. August 2002.


Here I will provide a little context here, regarding the “Mt. Fuji” sketch immediately above.  Written on a plane as we leave Japan.  The Japanese (in hiragana) says “besou”, which is a mis-spelling of “bessou”, meaning vacation home or summer home.  “Akafuji” mean’s “Red (Mount) Fuji” and is one of famed woodblock artist Hokusai’s oft-reproduced and world renown images of Japan’s sacred Mount Fuji.  See here (from “36 Views of Mount Fuji”):  Akafuji.

Side trip to India…

As Secretary of State Clinton woos India during her trip there I feel compelled to take a “side trip” there, too.  I’ve been to India four times over the past three years, although it’s been since April 2008 since my last visit (for one week).  My first there was for three weeks in May 2006 and that was pure fun, but subsequent trips have all been for business, although they’ve been quite enjoyable (for the most part), too.

I was ripped apart last Thanksgiving Weekend when I watched the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on fire, burning out of control.  I’ve stayed at the Taj and during my April ’08 trip there, although I stayed at other accommodations about a five minute walk away (“The Radio Club”), I had all my business meetings at the Taj.  Leopold’s restaurant and bar, also attacked by terrorists last November, was a nightly haunt of mine:  good, honest food, cold Kingfisher or Foster’s beer, and always interesting patronage from around India and around the world.

Back in February 2007 I traveled to India for a couple of weeks with a “trade delegation”.  While in New Delhi I traveled out to Gurgaon, a district outside of New Delhi, for a business meeting.  The experience took me back to some of my adventures in Japan when I was a college exchange student there in 1984:  I quickly found myself the naive American trying to maintain some semblance of composure and confidence during a serious of circumstances I had never quite navigated before.  I had to remind myself that I was the “fly in the ointment”, that I was the “odd man out” and anything that may have struck me as out of whack was, in fact, quite normal and that I was (literally) the foreign element in an otherwise harmonious landscape.

If you read my (another very true) story, “India Brain Game”, you’ll note that in the latter part of it circumstances take a turn towards the scatologic, as they did in my story “Obligation”.  I promise that this is not a recurring theme or thread that will pop up in every third or fourth tale of mine.  Chalk this up to coincidence only.

Again, as with all my stories, everything that you read in “India Brain Game” was as it occurred (or, at least, as I remember it occurring).


Me with Mumbai Businessman and Part-time Gandhi Impersonator, Mr. Mohan Jhangiani.  April 24, 2008.

Me with Mumbai Businessman and Part-time Gandhi Impersonator, Mr. Mohan Jhangiani. April 24, 2008.