Posts Tagged ‘ Kinosaki ’

_Dancing Over Kyoto_ – A new, just published Ebook.

Friends and followers of this site know that this has been a work-in-progress for some time. A love letter, tribute, homage and tragicomedy.  Link to the Amazon purchase site below.


Available at  Dancing Over Kyoto:  A Memoir of Japan, China & India.


Omiyage ・ おみやげ: Gifts & Gift Giving.


Local pickled veggies & other omiyage-friendly treats. Kurama. 2011.

=  for more on Kurama, a small town just north of Kyoto, click here  =

Every culture has its gift-giving traditions.  A customary Russian, Slavic, welcome brings bread and salt with it. Gift-giving is a big deal in Egypt, too, when visiting someone’s home. One could write a book on gift-giving customs around the world.  I’m sure it’s been done, in fact.

Gift giving — when visiting friends or relatives, when going on or returning from a business trip or vacation, when coming back from a day trip to this or that tourist spot or hiking trip or most any leisure activity — is huge in Japan.  These gifts are calledOmiyage” (Oh・mee・yah・gay or おみやげ ).  There’s a whole industry, an entire economic sector, dedicated to making and selling gifts for travelers.  One just can’t visit Kyoto from Tokyo, or Hiroshima from Osaka, or Kinosaki from Yokohama, etc., without bringing back omiyage from family and friends and, if it’s a business trip, office colleagues.  There’s simply no counterpart in North America or any other Western country that I know of.

In the West we certainly have (cheap, plastic, crappy) souvenir and gift shops in abundance at all our amusement parks, ball fields, tourist destinations and the like.  And when it occurs to the U.S., one can pick up a Chinese-made Washington, D.C. snow globe, or Las Vegas key chain, but it’s just not the same.

Here’s some of what one site says about omiyage:

Any time you go on a trip or go to an unusual event, it is expected that you will return bearing gifts. However, most of these gifts are not things to be kept and cherished, but rather food to be quickly consumed and forgotten – space is at a premium in Japan, and so the best gift is something that takes up little space, preferably none. Sure, there is the odd ear cleaner for your grandfather or mobile phone strap for your girlfriend, but since you need to have something for everybody in the class or office, the most common item is a box of small confectionaries. Ideally these sweets are a local specialty of whatever place you travelled to, or otherwise represent that place in some way, but often they are just cakes or chocolates that some company has put in a shiny box.

In fact, the actual contents of the gift don’t really matter. In a perfect example of “it’s the thought that counts,” everyone will happily accept your gift and exclaim that it is indeed very delicious. It doesn’t matter that even though you went to Hokkaido, you actually bought your omiyage at Narita Airport. The point is, you went away and returned bearing a box of over-priced mochi.  

Every major train station is jam-packed with omiyage stores and kiosks, most of which are filled with beautifully-wrapped boxes of sweets (but not nearly as sweet as Western sweets), baked goods, rice cakes, local specialties.    The convenience stories in those stations have omiyage sections.  Many middle-sized and minor stations have their omiyage kiosks as well.  Of course all the tourist spots — the temples and shrines, the nature trails, the hot springs, the museums — have their in-house or nearby omiyage stores and souvenir shops, not unlike their Western counterparts, but moreso.

Omiyage & Souvenir Central. Outside of the Silver Pavilion, Kyoto. 2010.

Business travelers to Japan, and those who welcome business travelers from Japan, are disadvantaged compared to their Japanese counterparts.  For the Japanese can just pick up as much or many omiyage as they want at the airport on their way out.  Again, American and Dutch and British and Mexican and Canadian, etc. airports have their souvenir shops, but just not of the kind, nature or volume of Japan’s omiyage shops and stands and kiosks.

Omiyage (おみやげ) Store. Kinosaki Onsen (hot spring・bathouse town). 2001.

=  For more on Kinosaki Onsen, click here  =

One business innovation I’ve just recently discovered, after I received a traditional, multi-wrapped box of wagashi snacks (see photos below) from a Japanese businessman visiting from New York, are the Japanese omiyage shops stationed and staged round the world.  These are for Japanese business-types who are themselves posted or on assignment in cities around the world who are called upon to travel to other places in the country they’re based in.  What are they to do for traditional Japanese omiyage?  Now there’s an answer:  go to the traditional Japanese omiyage store in New York, or London, pick up the appropriate number of boxed and wrapped treats, and present them accordingly when visiting Birmingham, Alabama, or Birmingham, England.  It’s like staging blankets, tents and food in those areas of there world where you know an earthquake or hurricane will likely someday hit.

The aforementioned “Omiyage-Abroad” company is Minamoto Kitchoan and by visiting its website you can get a good idea of traditional omiyage.

Omiyage Unwrapped: made in Japan, purchased in NYC, given in Birmingham, Alabama.


In the photo below you can see Sunday afternoon tourists emerging from the maw of omiyage and souvenir shops that line the street on the way up to Kiyomizu-dera (temple) in Kyoto.

Kiyomizuzaka (with Kiyomizudera immediately behind me). May 2010.

Here’s another view of one of the approaches to Kiyomizu-dera, which is stiff with restaurants, tea houses, omiyage and souvenir shops –

Sannenzaka (pedestrian street). Nearing Kiyomizu-dera. May 2010.

=  For more photos from Kyoto, click here and here and here  =

Of course the Duty Free Shops, this one at Narita Airport in Tokyo, are good for buying “less traditional” omiyage (cigarettes and liquor).  Liquor used to be a very common omiyage among international travelers, but not so much these days.

Duty Free Shop. Narita Airport (Tokyo). August 2012.

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Bringing Omiyage to Japan, tips:

   * There are no hard-and-fast rules.

   * The more “local” the gift (from your city, your area, your state/province) the better.

   * Food is good, but it will need to travel well and some foods (meats, sausages, for example) are subject to Customs confiscation.

   * The gift should be wrapped.  I’ve started packing wrapping paper, cheap scissors and tape in my checked baggage and just wrapping gifts in my hotel room upon arrival in Japan.

   * Local “coffee table” books — with nice, scenic, historical, culturally-informative photos and simple explanations about where you’re from always make good gifts.

   * I’ve bought sheets of interesting U.S. stamps, have had them inexpensively framed, and have given them as omiyage. Their flat, light, not subject to breaking (if packed well) and unique.

   *  You should offer the omiyage with both hands, and accept omiyage given to you in the same way.  It’s just polite.

   *  For lots more on traveling to Japan, especially for the business traveler, please check:  “So you’re going to Japan.

15 random shots, and 2 short vids, from Japan over the years . . .

I was just going through some old photos.  I hope you like these.  Every picture’s got a story, you know.  A few of these go back, way back for me, to 1984 during my first living experience in Japan as a college exchange student at Kansai Gaidai, a foreign language university in Hirakata-shi, about halfway between Osaka and Kyoto.


Harvesting Rice. Tsuda (my little town near Hirakata, where I went to school). 1984. I lived with a "homestay family." Mom, Dad and Three Sisters. We stay in touch. Got an email from Yuko, one of my sisters, just last week. She was a just a kid way back then.


Graffit on the big rock that tops Katanosan (Mount Katano). Katano, 1984. My little town, Tsuda, abutted Katano, which was home to Mt. Katano. It was more of a big hill than a mountain and a rigorous 30 minute hike would get you to the top. I hiked this many times, often with my friend Lori, from Mystic, Connecticutt, who lived nearby.


The Maruyama River floods as typhoon sweeps through Central Japan. 1990. I took this pic in September 1990 when I was living in the community of Nii, town of Asago, in South Central Japan. My house was right near the river, but, fortunately, it didn't quite get to it. Twenty-one people were killed in this typhoon.


Senjokaku Hall. Miyajima Island (just of the coast from Hiroshima). 2008. Just a few moments before, or after, I can't remember, I took this pic I made a short vid. You can watch that at the bottom of this post.


Himeji Castle, Himeji. 2008. When I lived in Asago in 1990-91, I was only 90 or so minutes from Himeji, by way of the Bantan Line. I've visited Himeji Castle many times. This time, in May 2008, as guide for a group of history students from UAB.


In 1986 and the first half of 1987, I worked for JVC Disc America Company in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I left to go to law school. In 1991, while I was again living in Japan I visited Kamakura, not too far from Tokyo, and met my former JVC boss, Mr. Hiramatsu, and Mr. Mochida, one of the Senior Engineers. We spent the day together, just whiling away the time. Wonderful gentlemen. And we visited the Great Buddha of Kamakura. I snapped this picture then.


Lantern. Pontocho, Kyoto. 2006.


Kinosaki Morning: A mom and baby. 2001. Kinosaki's a Hyogo Prefecture hot springs town up on the Sea of Japan. I used to go there quite often when I lived in Hyogo-ken back in 1990-91. This trip, in late September 2001, was with my then-spouse.


Kinkakuji, "The Golden Pavilion." A slightly different view. 2008.


Janitorial Workers. Shibuya Intersection. Tokyo. 2005.


Old house in Higashi-Ikoma (near Nara). 2003.


Shoes off before entering. Kurodani Temple. Kyoto. 2010.


On the Eizan Line, nearing Kurama (30 minutes north of Kyoto). 2009.


Girls on school field trip, Kiyomizu-dera. Kyoto, 2008.


From our window. Hotel New Otania, Osaka. 2002. Osaka Castle, far left.

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A couple of very short vids I took in 2008.  I had been hired as “guide” for a Japan History Class trip for the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) for this May trip.

At Gembaku Domu (Atomic Bomb Dome), Hiroshima.  2008.


Senjokoku (1,000 Mat Hall) & its 5-story pagoda, Miyajima Island.  2008.

Photo Technique Inspirations: Zen & Shingon Buddhism.

= I admit that the “Zen and Shingon Buddhism” angle on this didn’t occur to me until after-the-fact =

I like to take pictures.  Often I try to take an atypical approach to photographing this or that scene or moment or thing or person or group of people.  Actually, I hope to take atypical pictures most of the time, but only succeed occasionally.  I thought I’d post a few photos here — posted elsewhere on this site, either in one of the galleries or in a previous front page post — that illustrate this attitude and outlook of mine.

Street in Mirrors. Kinosaki, Japan. 2001.

Now I know that I’m not the first one to take a photo of a mirror, but it’s not something that’s commonly done by people snapping pics in Japan.  And, yet, it’s a common thing to see in Japan but which is rarely shared by those who live in or travel to Japan when they’re showing friends and family and colleagues “what I saw” when in Japan.

Perspective and Zen Buddhism.

Here’s a post I did several months ago on Josetsu’s “Catching a Catfish with a Gourd,” a 600 year old riddle and lesson in often-whimsical Zen philosophy and practices.  There’s no single answer to the riddle, but as I mention in that post, to me the most compelling — and sort of obvious — answer is bound-up in perspective.    When the moment’s right, or when I can make the moment, with a photo, I try to give a different or slightly off-center perspective on and with my photos.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that a photo will literally be “off-center” (though that’s often the case), as I like taking “straight-on” shots, too.  But I like a photo, like a good painting or film scene, to be balanced, even if asymmetric.

Sometimes I rotate or flip the photo to — literally — put a “spin” on it that was not there when the shutter clicked.  I like taking “Group Pictures” from the side, where the subjects are not looking at the camera (or, at least not my camera), either just before or just after the “primary” photo’s been taken.  Many times this perspective shift this is not overly dramatic or obvious or overt to the casual viewer . . . just a little off-beat.  See if you catch that in these.  Like a catfish.  Catching one.  With a gourd…

From the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. Tokyo. 2010.


Squid. Tsukiji Market. Tokyo. 2010.


Students. Ryoanji Temple. 2010.


Gallery. Kyoto. 2009.


Astro Boy ("Tetsuwan Atomu"). Kyoto Station. 2009.


A different perspective of and on the Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2007.


Note:  I took this photo from about 15-20 feet away.  The mask laid in a box which itself sat on a table of brick-a-brack.  I just cropped the photo and enhanced and softened the color a bit to make this into a photo entirely different from a piece of cast-off theater-ware at a flea market.


Yamanote Line. Station. Tokyo. 2010.


One remove's one's shoes before entering. Ryoanji. Kyoto. 2010.

Note:  more traditional photos of Ryoanji Temple tend to look more like this.  Here’s my more comprehensive post on Ryoanji Temple.

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Depth of Field/Focus (and my twist on it) & Shingon Buddism.

In the commentary track to his 1998 film Ronin (a favorite film which, ironically enough, was shot in France, not Japan), late, great director John Frankenheimer talks about his use of and love for “Depth of Field,” (generally, keeping things in both the foreground and background in focus).  Quoting Frankenheimer:

[I use] a lot of wide angle  lenses that give you a great depth of focus. . . It’s particularly effective [in film] when you’re working with groups. . .  I’ve always been an advocate of depth of field.  I love what depth of field gives you.  Which is the fact that you have something going on in the shot at all times….

This also, perhaps especially, works well for still photography, providing the photo’s viewer various ways and options to see the shot.  Different little micro-stories can often be told in such a shot, various interpretations can be made in and of the photo.  Thus the viewer’s invited to be more engaged with the photo and makes a static thing —  a 2-D photo  — into a “world” in which the viewer can enter.  In Tantric/Shingon Buddhism it’s called “Entering the World of the Mandala,” to wit:  “This mandala, like the painted mandalas found on the walls of all Shingon temples, is a symbolic representation of reality. Just as a priest in meditation may “enter” a visualized mandala to venerate the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas depicted on it, priests and laypeople can visit Koyasan and enter the mandala.”

Often, though, I do a slight twist on, a variation on the theme of, Depth of Field in that I’ll leave the background (and sometimes foreground) out of focus, yet will have that scene be just as interesting or engaging to the eye, and sometimes more intriguing, as the presumptively “More Interesting Thing” in focus and in the foreground of the shot.  Again, this compels the viewer to be more engaged, which is what I’m looking and hoping for.  See what you think about “various stories” and how Depth of Field (or variations on it) is used in the following photos:

Tiennamen Square, Beijing 2006. Photo of former Ala Gov Bob Riley (being briefed by our guide, "Charlie"), or Steve in background?


Mumbai, India. 2007. Mixing foreground and background...


Priests at Kurodani Temple. Kyoto. 2009.


From the Taj Hotel Business Center. Mumbai. 2008.


Middle School Student. Hiroshima Peace Park Museum. 2008.


My homage to both dualing points of focus and to a oft-used technique of John Frankenheimer’s:

Dan Rather. Denver. August 2008.

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Kinosaki Onsen 城崎温泉 – Updated, 2012.

Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉) is located in the Southern third of Japan’s main island, Honshu, on the western, Sea of Japan, side.  Onsen means “hot springs” and the small, coastal town of Kinosaki is full of them.  I’ve been to Kinosaki more times than I can count because it’s a Hyogo Prefecture town and I live in Hyogo years ago.  It’s been over ten years since my last visit to Kinosaki, though, having traveled and stayed there with someone I used to know back in early October 2011.  I introduced her to Kinosaki.  If, after learning about Kinosaki below, you want to read a harrowing tale of our first night in town, I invite you to read this original and true tale:  “K i n o s a k i.”

Willows along the Otani-gawa (Otani River) in central Kinosaki. October 2001.

The ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) we stayed in Mikuniya (see my own photos below), though, as mentioned, my memories of Kinosaki predate that experience by more than ten years.

I plan to supplement this post — with history, reminiscences, information — here and there.  For now, though, I just wanted to post some Kinosaki photos from 2001, and share a Kinosaki story from back in late 1990.  First, though, two maps to orient you to Kinosaki Onsen, first a national map, then a close-in view of Japan’s Kansai Region, where you can see Kinosaki Onsen in the upper left:

More photos from Kinosaki:


We hiked up this mountain, turned around and saw this view of Kinosaki. Oct 2001.

We hiked up this mountain, turned around and saw this view of Kinosaki. Oct 2001.

Kinosaki Onsen. Morning Walk. October 2001.

Bathing Procedure
The public hot springs all have separate bathing sections for males and females. One can change out of their clothes and leave their possessions and drying towel in the dressing room lockers. Usually no bathing suits are worn in the bath. One should first cleanse and rinse oneself off at the showers or faucet, away from the bath itself. Be careful to have rinsed away all soap and shampoo before entering the hot spring bath. Enjoy!

Note:  a pretty good (and oh-so-true-and-autobiographical) communal bath-and-what-happened-afterwards scene in China in this story, Delegation.


Students Sketching on Bridge over the Otani. October 2001.


Stamp from Kinosaki Station, October 2001. Many train stations have their own memento stamps for travelers and tourists to use.


Different view, looking down on Kinosaki while hiking up the mountain. October 2001..

Kinosaki Outskirts. October 2001.


Students on their way to school. Kinosaki. October 2001.


Mirror, Mirror… Yes, that’s a reflection. Kinosaki. October 2001.


Train noodles through Kinosaki. October 2001.


Mikuniya ryokan (traditional inn). October 2001.


Our first night in Kinosaki we had dinner in our room.  Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), a favorite .  .  .

Shabu-shabu at Mikuniya. October 2001.


Family out for a stroll. Kinosaki Onsen. October 2001.

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A Short, True Kinosaki Story

– Originally told in this post on Sake –

There’s a word in Japanese, YukiMiZake (雪見酒), made by the characters for Snow, See or View, and Sake.  It means to sit and sip (hot) sake while watching the snow fall.  Once, on an ice-cold, moonless evening in December 1990, when I was living in rural Hyogo Prefecture a couple of friends and their wives bundled me into one of their cars and we all drove up to Kinosaki, the onsen, or hot spring, town up on the Sea of Japan.  It was just a little over an hour’s drive from the little town where we lived.  One of my friends was very well-to-do.  He and his wife owned a vacation home on the sea.  When we arrived at this beautiful log home the first thing we did was build a little fire in the pot-bellied stove (imported from Vermont) in the center of the living room, while the women unpacked groceries and began preparing dinner.  They told us, the three guys, to go ahead and get in the onsen while they cooked.  Along with my two friends, I did as I was told.  The onsen was just out back, connected to the house.  The house itself was built on a bluff above and facing away from the sea, so that the back of the house overlooked the churning waves below.  The onsen, a large hot tub fashioned into the rocks and boulders behind the house was on the receiving end of pipes sunk deep, bringing steaming water up into it from below the earth.  It seemed to be clinging to a ledge above the surf, who knew how far below.  As it was night I couldn’t see out into or down towards the water.  The lights from just inside the back alcove lit the onsen area.  We stripped to our natural selves, and got in the scalding hot water, feeling the energizing, and somehow relaxing contrast, between the steaming water and the frigid air.  A few moments later one of the wives brought out a tray on which was a well-warmed tokkuri (ceramic flask) and three sake cups.  Only a moment after sake pours were exchanged and toasts were made (“Kampai!”  乾杯!  –  To the bottom of the cup!), and the first sips of delicious atsukan (hot sake) were taken, we each sat back against our respective sections of onsen, sighed with contentment and, then, watched the snow begin to fall.

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Route 11 runs south between Kinosaki and Takeno.  Small villages and stunning views in between . . .


One of many scenes off Route 11 between Kinosaki & Takeno. Spring 1991.


Another scene off Route 11 between Kinosaki & Takeno. Spring 1991.

Nearby, a little over 10 years later . . .

Nearby, just off Route 11 between Kinosaki & Takeno. October 2001.

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Over the past several months, since I began self-publishing some of my short stories, I’ve received some encouraging responses from both long time friends and  (former)  strangers.  Some have commented at the end of the stories, some of my “Facebook Friends” have written complimentary things through that conduit and a few people have just sent nice emails.  Thank you.  Currently, several more stories are “in the works”.  I plan on beginning to post those over coming weeks.  And still more are “in development”, as they say.  Stay tuned.

Anyway, I thought I’d pause and run through the list (see atop this Front Page) and give a line or two synopsis of each story, for those who either haven’t even thought to check them out, or for anyone who wants to know what they’re all about before diving into any of them.

Along the Sea of Japan


Estuko,my short epic.  A love triangle/quadrangle that plays out over the course of a year, from rural Japan to Deep South America, and eventually reverberates though almost two decades.  Obligation: a conversation between me and a Japanese Teacher-of-English about the word “Obligation” (or, “Duty”), its use on a nationally broadcast radio program the night before, and how an otherwise culturally pitch-perfect American expat mortified listeners throughout Japan (or made them die laughing, whichever may be the case).  Sparkle of Your China (actually, this story’s named “Delegation”, but I like linking via “Sparkle of Your China”) —  A small group of “local delegates” from Alabama learn some of the business, cultural and political ropes over the course of several days in Northern China.  Canadians Do Kobe, wherein my Cunuck friend, Lois, and one of her friends from “back home” enjoy Kobe.  The story ends with a couple of twists, and pretty much fails to answer the question:  “How do you apologize to someone for something you dare not discuss with or admit to them?”  If that sounds confusing, just read it and you’ll understand.  India Brain Gametells of my serial misadventures in an attempt to meet a prominent neuroscientist on behalf of a client.  From masala chai on the side of the road, to armed guards, to botched translations (entirely my fault, of course, as I’m on their “home turf”), to Hindware.

In the small town of Iwai-cho, an hour or so outside of Kyoto.


A Night in Kyoto—  I and someone I used to know savor a low-key night on the town.  We eat, drink, argue, laugh and love against the backdrop of beautiful and ever-quirky Kyoto.  Enlightenment,  wherein I’m invited to meditate with several of “the guys” at my neighborhood Temple.

.  .  .

Please feel free to stop by my Photo Galleries, too, also accessible by just clicking the gallery link atop this page.  As a an invitation and for your information, I should also mention that if you go to the bottom of this page you’ll see where you can click a tab for “Older Entries”, which go back to this previous autumn, summer and late spring of ’09, when I started-up this whole thing.  Enjoy.

Kinosaki Onsen.  Autumn 2001.

どうぞごゆっくり . . .

LetsJapan Announces 2 Spring ’10 Trips to Japan

LetsJapan announces it will offer two guided tours of Japan in the Spring of 2010!


NOTE:  Cherry Blossom Spring has been put off ’til 2011.  “Kyoto Sojourn” remains “on” for April 2010.  See below or click on the Kyoto Sojourn link in the preceding sentence or at the top of this page.


Cherry Blossom Spring  (coming in Spring 2011)

Our “Cherry Blossom Spring” trip will run from March 29-April 11, with 13 days and12 nights savoring the glories of Cherry Blossom time in Kyoto, Himeji, Nara and along the Sea of Japan.  The trip will be limited to 9 guests, departure from Birmingham, Alabama.

We are scheduled to spend 2 nights at a traditional inn in Kinosaki

We are scheduled to spend 2 nights at a traditional inn in Kinosaki


Kyoto Sojourn

The “Kyoto Sojourn” trip will run from April 14-22, with 8 days and 7 nights in Japan’s ancient, wondrous capitol, Kyoto.  Day trips to Osaka and Nara and nearby hot springs will be included.  Kyoto Sojourn will be limited to 9 guests, departure from Birmingham, Alabama.

Stone Buddha at Kurodani Temple, Kyoto.  A favorite place of mine.

Stone Buddha at Kurodani Temple, Kyoto. A favorite place of mine.

For either/both trip itineraries or questions please contact: