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.

Deep in the Heart of Summer.

Gee 1.3

I met Gechiya-san (his nom du cartoon) at a crafts market near Kyoto University in March of 2007.  I bought a few of his post cards.  He also puts his close-to-self-portrait images on T-shirts, hats, wrist bands and the like.  I wish he’d really “pitch” his work to Cartoon Network.  He could be “the new thing”.

Tomorrow morning I’m posting I’ve just posted a new story:  “Canadians Do Kobe”.  It involves an old friend, a long night or two in Kobe, sake, more sake, dancing shrimp.  That sort of thing.  It’s R-rated, sort of.


July 16, 1945.

The site was called “Trinity”

At 5:29:45 am Mountain War Time on July 16, 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb exploded one hundred feet over a portion of the southern New Mexico desert known as the Jornada del Muerto – the Journey of the Dead Man. On seeing the fireball and mushroom cloud, J. Robert Oppenheimer recalled a passage from the Bhagavad-Gita: “I am become death the destroyer of worlds.” Trinity Test Director, Harvard Physicist Kenneth Bainbridge, had a less ethereal reaction, saying, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”


Three weeks later, at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the bomb called “Little Boy”, the first of two atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities within a 72 hours, detonated about 2,000 feet above Hiroshima. . .

Middle School Student at Hiroshima Peace Park Museum.  May 16.1945.

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


In May of 2008 I and Dr. John van Sant (Professor of Japanese History) lead a group 9 UAB students to Japan for a 10-day culture and history trip.  Besides Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Himeji, we visited Hiroshima for a couple of days.  I believe all of the students were moved by their time in Hiroshima.  It was only my second visit.  I was glad to see that the Museum had been updated dramatically since I first went there in the spring of 1991:  it included extensive information about Japan’s road to war and imperial dreams, which were all but missing in the earlier incarnation of the Museum that I had seen.  Nevertheless, to see all the children there and to know . . .

As any American who’s visited Hiroshima will tell you, there is simply no city with kinder, more gentle-souled people than Hiroshima.  The warmth (or even nonchalance) with which they treat Americans is beyond humbling.


"Gembaku Dohmu" (Atomic Bomb Dome).  Almost directly beneath the atomic bomb's blast epicenter. It's been preserved.  May 16, 2008.

"Gembaku Dohmu" (Atomic Bomb Dome). Almost directly beneath the atomic bomb's blast epicenter. It's been preserved. May 16, 2008.


Contemporary Hiroshima Street Scene.  Gembaku Dohmu just to the right.  Baseball stadium just out of frame to the left (for the Hiroshima Carp). May 16, 2008.

Contemporary Hiroshima Street Scene. Gembaku Dohmu just to the right. Baseball stadium just out of frame to the left (for the Hiroshima Carp). May 16, 2008.



Teacher and students on field trip.  Hiroshima Peace Park. Where they're sitting is within the area of devastation visible in the top photograph.  May 16, 2008.

Teacher and students on field trip. Hiroshima Peace Park. Where they're sitting is within the area of devastation visible in the top photograph. May 16, 2008.

True Stories. Also, Trip Info.

Several people have emailed me and, yes, with one exception, these stories are true (or as true as I can remember them).  I plan on posting about 1 or 2 a week.  They’ll cover things such as hot springs, trains, country auctions, unspoken apologies, quirky inn owners, “syphon coffee”, nitrous oxide, (the?) one that got away, neighborhood eateries, karaoke, police boxes, Noh plays at sunset, my Japanese family, Kyoto side streets, and, of course, Lucky Cat Boppers.



Additional trip information for all (including costs and deadlines) will go up within the next couple of days, too.

R Newton

New story up. Also, possible Fall trip to Kyoto.

This story (click on Page Link above for “Story… ‘Enlightenmen'”) is the first of several I plan to publish here.  Am working on a book that will be a compendium of adventures and experiences arising from 25 years of visiting and sometimes living in Japan.

Regarding the Spring 2010 Trips.  Please note Itineraries are now up.  Within the next week or 10 days I’ll be posting sign-up deadlines and other “nuts and bolts” information.  Also, a few people have inquired about a Fall 2009 trip to Kyoto.  That IS do-able and, if we bring it off, will follow the same, 1-week itinerary as the Kyoto Sojourn trip slated for April 2010.  However, sign-up and deposits will have to be done by the end of July (as in within the next 3 weeks).  Email me for details…