Kyoto Journal – An Elegant Appreciation of Culture and Creativity

I’ve read quite a few Japan-related magazines and I’ve always learned a little bit more about the Land of the Rising Sun from each one of Kyoto Journalthem but Kyoto Journal is the most insightful and beautifully presented magazine I’ve read so far. The stylish front cover, the glossy pages with stunning photographs and the thought-provoking essays, projects and reviews from a selection of writers, poets, artists, photographers, and designers from Japan and the Pan-Asian region will leave you spellbound. Each page really does give you pause for thought and contemplation.

It was very nice to see how every part of the journal had been brought together to make you feel like you’re making a personal connection with each one of the contributing creative individuals. There’s definitely a focus on Japan, and especially Kyoto, but the editors have also included works from all over Asia and this creates an even balance. After you’ve finished reading each page you feel like you’ve cultivated your mind, heart, spirit and soul. You’re left with a feeling of completeness, inclusion, and a better understanding of Kyoto and the wider world.

I’ve only ever lived in Tokyo and I’ve visited Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Osaka several times in the past but now I regret the fact I’ve never had the opportunity to live in the Kansai region, especially Kyoto. Frankly, I’ve always thought this ancient capital was a bit too mysterious and esoteric for my Western mind and nature. An enchanting place with a history I could never fully understand or appreciate because I wasn’t born in Japan. However, I now feel Kyoto is much more accessible after reading just one edition of Kyoto Journal.

KJ logo

Founded in 1986, Kyoto Journal (KJ) is a Kyoto-based non-profit, volunteer-driven quarterly magazine and the longest-established independent English publication in Japan. Every part of this journal is well-worth reading, even the advertisements and promotions are beautifully composed with stunning photos and images. Do take your time to appreciate each paragraph as you read each one. There’s a lot to take in and you’re bound to have more than one naruhodo moment!

I read the winter/summer 2018 edition with the theme “Old roads, revisited”. There’s a wonderful introduction to this issue on their website:

KJ’s 90th issue celebrates those roads that, since prehistory, have carried not only travelers and trade, but also the seeds of new cultural flowerings. Passing through both time and terrain, roads lead to that ongoing reinvention, the future—and back into the past.
Climb aboard; let’s make tracks…

I’d like to share with you some of the highlights of this journal. . .

I enjoyed reading the interview with the professional Noh actor, teacher and Noh mask carver Udaka Michishige (pictured below performing “Nonomiya” at Kyoto Kanze Kaikan Noh Theater wearing his Magojirō mask). He’s the only performer still making Noh masks in Japan. I now know the word Sarugaku is the ancient name for Noh (yes, even if you’re an expert on Japan you’re still going to learn all sorts of cultural titbits from this journal) and it was wonderful to read about the ways Mr Udaka is trying to transform the educational system in Japan. He believes in teaching children the importance of spirituality and philosophy. He says we should all question why we were born, live and die just as one does in Noh theatre. He insists these subjects should be taught alongside factual knowledge in order to create more well-rounded individuals and I agree with him.


There are also extracts in the journal from Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bird as well as a very well-written review of Pachinko by the author Min Jin Lee. I’ve read these two books and I recommend both of them but I thought Bird’s non-fiction account of Japan in 1878 was a bit tedious to read at times and sometimes it felt like the text was too heavy in its descriptions (I’m talking about the complete book, not these excerpts).

Back to the journal, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the extract from the travel journal The Kaidōki which was written by a 12th-century monk (name unknown) and translated by Meredith McKinney. The inclusion of tanka poetry and the photo (see below) of this monk in an area not far from Kamakura makes these pages a delight to read.

Yamabushi01 copy

The narrative of a Zen monk called Fukume on a mission from the Shogun in 1832 to deliver a white horse to the Emperor in Kyoto will also make you smile. What amused me the most was how Fukume and Hayashi were repeatedly trying but failing to recite a poem on their journey in just one breath because it was said if you could do this “while giving proper attention to its sense you would have happiness and success in love for the rest of your life”!

Hiroshige print

Andrew Thomas moved to Kyoto after spending 15 years in Setagaya, Tokyo. Interestingly enough, I lived in Yōga in Setagaya when I was teaching English in Japan. If I’d continued my life in Japan I probably would have followed suit and moved to Kyoto myself. Don’t you think his photo below of the Shimenawa torii gate at Hibara Jinja, featured in Kyoto Journal, is absolutely mesmerising?

Haibara Shrine, Yamanobe Road by Andrew Thjomas

I very much enjoyed reading about how Yamada Akihiro developed the Kamo River Promenade in Kyoto. He embraced the concepts of continuity and unity in his designs because he wanted everyone in the area to enjoy the promenade. Now people can walk, stand, sit and lie down along the river bank and take time for contemplation thanks to Yamada’s well thought out designs. His philosophy in life is “kindness must be the basis for all human activity”.

If Yamada Akihiro happens to meet the photographer Yoshida Shigeru, whose ethereal photos also feature in this journal (see photo below), I’m sure they’ll get along. Yoshida began his photographic project ‘Border’ after visiting the area stricken by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. When he saw the people praying towards the sea he knew exactly what he wanted to capture in his photos and he remembered these words the Dalai Lama once said: “This place doesn’t need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” Inspirational words from both gentlemen, don’t you think?

Yoshida Shigeru

If you’re interested in Japan it’s more than likely you’ve heard of Matsuo Bashō, considered the most famous poet of the Edo period, but have you ever seen a picture of the man himself? You’ll have to order a copy of this edition of Kyoto Journal if you’re interested in seeing what is said to be the most authentic portrait of Bashō to date.

Nearly everyone who visits Japan is filled with awe by the beauty of the aesthetics which apply to design, physical objects or daily principles and they never forget the kindness they’ve received from the Japanese people. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the traditional culture is to stay at a ryokan inn or a hotel that prides itself on providing exemplary customer service. In ‘Going off road: a home away from home in Japan’ Lucinda Cowing introduces four hotels where omotenashi is a prerequisite for a restful stay. You’ll want to book at least one of these fine establishments after reading this and if you do I’m pretty sure you can look forward to being pampered and spoiled by their staff who all seem to understand the true meaning of omotenashi.

Although it’s a hotel rather than a ryokan, I’d love to stay at L’Hôtel du Lac which was highly recommended by Cowing. It’s situated on the shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. This retreat boasts both lake and mountain views, it sits in a forest thriving with birds and local wildlife, and in early April cherry trees stretch for 8km alongside the property (see photo below). The Director of L’Hôtel du Lac, Tanaka Hidekazu, explains why his hotel has so much to offer. “Our hotel’s location, together with its sumptuous cuisine, is the highlight of staying here. It is a special place, yet it is important to us to make guests feel that they are ‘coming home’ and to be an approachable and reliable presence for them.

L'hotel du Lac

There’s also a selection of poignant and very touching poetry throughout the magazine for you to read over and over again. One poem, in particular, really moved me from A House of Itself, Selected Haiku by Masaoka Shiki:

Autumn departs
for me
no gods no buddhas

yuku aki no ware ni kami nashi hotoke nashi
Masaoka Shiki

There was a lot to learn about Masaoka Shiki, pictured below (image via Wikipedia), in this journal. He was a traditionalist and an innovator in the Meiji period who wrote over 25,000 haiku poems in his short life. He used seasonal references as well as shasei (sketching from life) and makoto (poetic truthfulness) in his haiku but unfortunately he died at age of 35 from tuberculosis, a disease he contracted when he was just 13. As you can see above his poetry is deeply influenced by his sense of mortality.

I also want to draw your attention to the Hailstone Haiku Circle. I’d never heard of this club before but I discovered they have members all over the world. If you’re interested in joining this circle there’s no need to feel intimidated and you don’t need to be a haiku master to get involved. Their latest anthology Persimmon was reviewed by Susan Pavloska. The haiku below is a perfect example of what you can expect:

An orange colour
rises in the moonlight
ripe persimmons
Mayumi Kawaharada

The number of people who enjoy reading Japanese manga comics in the West, especially in Britain, has multiplied exponentially since the 1970s and now this art form has become a hugely lucrative export for Japan. Fumio Obata, a Japanese comic artist living in the UK, has been working on a 200-page graphic novel dedicated to comic reportages of the 2011 tsunami, earthquake, and the consequential nuclear accident in Fukushima. Kyoto Journal has dedicated four pages to her comics. Prepare yourself to be enthralled by Obata’s artistic accomplishments but also saddened by the subject matter.

Fumio Obata_cartoon_010

If you’re a foodie you’ll also enjoy ‘Gourmet Biking in Tohoku’ by Lianca Van Der Merwe, if you’re a fan of kimono you’ll be interested in the article explaining how the textile artist/kimono-maker/tonya (creative director) Tange Yusuke is exhibiting artwork alongside his stunning kimono dyed with the same imagery, and if you’ve ever lived in suburban Nara in Japan or Oxfordshire in England you’ll relate to Pico Iyer’s ‘The Gingkos along Park Dori’.

There’s also a heart-wrenching but life-affirming short story called ‘Mother beyond the border’ by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan (with wonderful artwork by Venantius J Pinto) that needs to be read to be believed. I can assure you it will leave you with eyes wide open.

Just as springtime is drawing to a close in Japan this edition of Kyoto Journal ends with a very sweet haiku:

High on the cherry tree—
one last blossom

I wasn’t brought up to be a Buddhist or a Shintoist (although I agree with some of the principles from both religions) so I tend to believe we only have one life and this life passes incredibly quickly. Following this train of thought, we only have a certain amount of time to do what we wish to do, absorb ourselves in our passions, and follow our dreams. I’m really looking forward to reading more editions of Kyoto Journal in the future. I feel that the content in this magazine will accelerate my understanding of this ancient capital and many other facets of the Japanese culture.

I now feel like I can enrich my knowledge of matters I once thought were incomprehensible and when I return to Kyoto I’ll have a much better understanding and appreciation of this captivating city and Japan as a whole. Reading personal accounts from both Japanese and Western people, past and present, who now live or have lived in Kyoto, I really feel drawn towards this area of Japan. You can certainly feel the warmth, kindness and compassion for others when you read the contributions from those who have a real connection with this charming city.


A Few of My Favourite Cherry Blossom Photos on Twitter in 2018!

Obviously, I love cherry blossoms, so every year I look forward to admiring their fleeting beauty. I’m actually brimming with excitement when photos of these beautiful blossoms start to appear on Twitter and other social media platforms.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know my husband and I visited Japan last year in September and you’re probably wondering why we didn’t go to Tokyo in March/April this year to see my favourite flower. The truth is I used to live in Japan and I’ve travelled to Japan many times in the past for short periods so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the cherry blossoms on quite a few occasions. Another reason we went in September is that my husband wanted to travel to Japan when the weather was still warm. We also thought there would be fewer tourists and I was doing research for my writing and we didn’t want to wait for several hours to get into an attraction or a well-known restaurant.

We discovered later we were right! The number of tourists visiting Japan in the last couple of years has increased dramatically thanks to international media coverage and promotions by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). Apparently, there were long queues and crowds at customs, all over Tokyo, and especially at Ueno Park, which is one of the most popular destinations to see the pretty pink and white petals. According to Euronews, 85,000 people a day visit this 540,500 square meter park (133 acres) over the nine days when the cherry blossoms bloom. So, if you’re planning to visit Japan during hanami (flower viewing) season be prepared to face huge crowds or do what we did and admire them on my blog or on Twitter!


cherry blossom 6 @hawaiimomtravel

Photo by @hawaiimomtravel

Cherry blossom 1 @erikochiai

Photo by @erikochiai

cherryblossom 3 @erikochiai

Photo by @erikochiai

cherry blossom 5 @HTravelism

Photo by @HTravelism

cherryblossom 6 @namasteablend

Photo by @namasteablend

cherry blossom 4 last of cherryblossoms @tcmyles

Photo by @tcmyles

Cherry blossom sho

Photo by @ShoFrex

Cherry blossom 10 @Tokyonobo

Photo by @Tokyonobo

cherry blossom 12 @Tokyonobo

Photo by @Tokyonobo

Sarah Hodge 1

Photo by @MRGSuperfan

Sarah Hodge 2

Photo by @MRGSuperfan

JOnelle 2


Jonelle 1


Toshi 4


Toshi 3


Kazuhiko 2


cherry blossom local


cherry blossom 7 @centauri333

Photo by @centauri333

Below are a few 2017 cherry blossom photos taken by one of my favourite photographers Nathalie April Lim

cherry blossom Nathalie 3

cherry blossom Nathalie 1

Cherry blossom Nathalie 2

Treat Yourself to Unique, Delicious and Trendy Japanese Food and Lifestyle Products from Tokyo Direct

I live in the UK so sometimes I miss all the delicious Japanese food I could eat to my heart’s content when I lived in Tokyo. There are a few Japanese food suppliers in England so now and again I can get my Japanese food fix through their home delivery services but they all seem to offer the same items and I never get the chance to try anything different, that is up until now, thanks to Tokyo Direct. This is a new company in the UK offering unique and high-quality Japanese food and sweets, kawaii goods and lifestyle products.

I love the fact I can finally get my hands on delicious and unique Japanese food items that are trending in Japan right now. I can order instant ramen from Tokyo Direct that tastes better than some of the ramen noodles served in restaurants in Japan. I can now get Japanese cereals that are so delicious I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I can also order new varieties of chocolate biscuits or other snacks imported straight from Japan that go perfectly with a cup of PG Tips tea or Earl Grey if I’m feeling fancy!

The Managing Director of Tokyo Direct is Mr. Akira Soeda. He has been living in the UK for many years and he too was disappointed with the limited range of Japanese food and sweets available in the UK. He was also quick to recognise a lot of the food available here was outdated in terms of popularity and quality so he decided to start his own import company. Mr. Soeda knew from the get-go he wanted to introduce the finest Japanese food and lifestyle products. He also knew, right from the start, these products had to be unique and a cut above the rest when compared with the items offered by his competitors in terms of taste, quality, and packaging.

You really need to visit the Tokyo Direct online shop to see what’s available. While you’re there make sure you check out each and every page. There’s a selection of general food, ramen, sweets and snacks, matcha and tea, sake, stationery, and also kitchen and lifestyle products. Don’t be put off by the prices. You’re not buying your average ramen or curries from Tokyo Direct. You’re buying high-quality items that are incredibly tasty and a lot more delicious than any other food products you’ve tried before. If you do have a limited budget you can still afford the less expensive items such as the Ginza Curry for £4.50 or the Raoh Ramen Noodles for just £2.50.

I was lucky enough to try four different products sent directly to my home from Tokyo Direct. Everything was packaged really well and I was honestly blown away by the superior quality and taste of all the items I received.

1. Raoh Tonkotsu Ramen Noodles 1pcs 日清ラ王 豚骨 1袋 (£2.50 per packet)

Tonkotsu Ramen

I’ve never tasted ramen noodles in a packet that have been so good. I added some pork and sliced spring onions and each mouthful was divine. I’ll definitely be ordering some more of these Raoh ramen noodles in the future for quick and easy meals.

2. Matcha Granola (500g) 抹茶グラノーラ (£12.00 per packet)

Matcha granola

This packet is huge so you won’t have to buy cereal for a couple of weeks as long as you don’t end up eating this granola for breakfast, lunch, and dinner which you may very well do when you taste this variety. The granola is crunchy but it’s really fresh so it won’t break your teeth. I would never have thought a matcha-flavoured cereal could be this tasty but it really is! It’s like having a Zen moment in the morning with its subtle matcha flavour and of course, there are the health benefits because it contains wheat, milk and soybeans. Honestly, you have to try this cereal. You’ll love it and even if you’re not a matcha fan I promise this granola will convert you.

3. Shiroi Koibito -white lover chocolate cookie 白い恋人 (were £13.00 but now just £11.00 on sale)

These cookies are for the ladies! When I used to visit the homes of my Japanese friends in Tokyo they’d serve me English tea in Wedgwood cups and saucers with a dainty biscuit on the side in the most exquisite packaging. These cookies remind me of those times. Enjoy a sliver of white chocolate placed between two slices of langues de chat (light but crunchy French biscuits). It’s a winning combination and something you’ve probably never tried before so do yourself a favour and order these for sure. They’re the perfect accompaniment for a more refined afternoon tea with your Japanese or British friends and your Grandmother will love them as well!

4. KitKat Matcha (12 pieces) 抹茶キットカット 12枚 (were £10.00 but now just £5.00 on sale)

Matcha kitkat

There are lots of Kitkat lovers out there who have already tried this matcha flavoured variety but if you haven’t then you’re missing out. This lovely chocolate snack just melts in your mouth, they’re really creamy, and you’re going to find it difficult to eat just one so it’s lucky you get 12 small individually wrapped Kitkats in one packet!

Make sure you visit the Tokyo Direct online shop on a regular basis because new and exciting products are being added every day. You can also put in a request for any items you’ve seen in Japan that you’d like to enjoy in the UK and Akira Soeda will go above and beyond to get these for you and have the items delivered straight to your home.

Tokyo Direct

Louboutin Manicures and Lobster Medallions at the Luxurious Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Tokyo is a fast-paced city, a place where excitement and exhilaration breed and embrace a complex culture that allows tradition and modernity to merge and flourish. Every transaction, bow, smile, human connection and act of service in Japan’s capital is delivered with a selfless willingness to make you feel comfortable and at ease as you navigate this awe-inspiring metropolis. The hotel that provides better customer service than any other is, in my opinion, the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo.

Mandarin Oriental

In September last year, my husband and I celebrated my birthday at the Oriental Lounge on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Oriental where we enjoyed the Golden Fan Afternoon Tea “Escoffier”. We’d thoroughly enjoyed afternoon tea at Claridge’s in London a few years earlier and the food and service there had definitely been first-class so we thought this experience would be hard to beat but we were wrong — the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo went above and beyond anything we were expecting.

I can’t say enough about the great customer service we received at this five-star hotel in Nihonbashi, a district famous for textiles and kimono. As soon as you enter the Mandarin Oriental you quickly discover nothing is too much trouble, nearly everyone speaks English extremely well and the staff all have a sincere commitment to providing their guests with an outstanding level of service that is truly memorable.


We were shown to our seats as soon as we entered the Oriental Lounge. My husband and I love a good cup of tea so we sipped and sighed in comfort as we enjoyed the refined flavours of a couple of blends on offer and gazed down upon the streets of Nihonbashi and the surrounding business and shopping districts. Unfortunately, the cumulus clouds that afternoon prevented us from seeing Mount Fuji which would have been a sight to behold from our excellent vantage point next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. However, the picture below shows just how clearly you can see Mount Fuji in the distance on a winter’s evening.

As we waited for our food, we noticed the staff seem to effortlessly float across the room and even though they were entirely non-intrusive they were ready to serve you with a confident smile at a moment’s notice.


It didn’t take long for the food to arrive, all beautifully arranged on a three-tier afternoon tea stand. My heart fluttered when we noticed the staff had thoughtfully placed a chocolate plaque on the top wishing me a happy birthday! It’s the little touches like this that give a five-star hotel the human touch. We started with the savoury assortment and I was pleased to discover every bite was delicate but rich in flavour. This was followed by mouth-watering lemon and cheese scones and exquisite petits-fours. The sweet but subtle tastes of the Caramel Pudding with Guerande Salt, the Fuji Apple Tartlet, the Chestnut Honey Madeleine Glazed with Lemon as well as the Nelly Melba Peach, created by August Escoffier in 1893, were all scrumptious.

afternoon tea

The highlight of the afternoon tea for both my husband and me was definitely the Lobster Medallion and Cauliflower Coulis with Caviar that simply melted onto our taste buds. We both reacted with oohs and aahs. We couldn’t hold back our delight and appreciation.

We were very impressed with the afternoon tea and luckily for us our experience was enhanced even further when we met the concierge, Tomoya Mori, in the Main Lobby adjacent to the Oriental Lounge. Tomoya was very friendly, he spoke fluent English and he was able to answer some of our questions about the rooms at the hotel and all the five-star facilities the guests could enjoy.

Tomoya later introduced us to the Assistant Public Relations Manager, Chie Kuno, who proudly showed us around this magnificent hotel. Chie explained how the hotel is like a tree and all the rooms, with either a prime view of Tokyo Skytree or Mount Fuji, are the leaves. The forest and water symbolisms continue throughout the hotel from the rugs in the rooms to the furnishings in each of the twelve restaurants and bars including the gourmet shop.


But it’s all the five-star extras that make this hotel so great.

For example, an invisible butler will pick up your dry cleaning and polish your shoes!

Mandarin closet

The spa at this hotel is also world-class. It was named as one of the top 25 spas in the world by Condé Nast Traveller in 2011, follows the same philosophy as the rest of the hotel with a dedication to peace and serenity and finding the optimal balance between mind and body. Skincare and wellness products produced by Subtle Energies, an Australian skincare brand, are gently applied in treatments to soothe and de-stress every muscle in your body so you look and feel fantastic every day during your stay and even after you’ve checked out of the hotel.


We all know Christian Louboutin is a brand synonymous with style and opulence but at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo you can enjoy a Louboutin nail treatment for a fraction of the price you’d pay for a pair of those famous Louboutin shoes. Think sassy, sexy and eye-catching nails that will make you look like a million dollars or in this case a million yen!

Christian Louboutin

You can also dine at Sushi Sora or sit counter-style at the pizza bar that was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2018. Don’t worry too much about the calories, the pizza dough here is 80 percent water. You can even make reservations for the Chef’s Table in the private wine cellar for two to eleven people.

This luxurious hotel also boasts three restaurants with a Michelin star. For something different, chat with fellow guests as you enjoy the molecular menu at the eight-seat tapas bar or dine on Cantonese cuisine at Sense, the Chinese restaurant offering panoramic views of Tokyo and tea tastings at any hour of the day. Signature (pictured below), their contemporary French restaurant with its ornate décor, offers an impressive dining experience. It’s the perfect place for a romantic dinner or a group celebration.


The Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo is superbly located on the top nine floors of the 38-floor Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower. Sit back and relax in style as you sip on a Negroni Sbagliato cocktail in the Mandarin Bar or enjoy the best the hotel has to offer while you unwind in the marble bath in the Presidential Suite.

So, if you’re flying to Tokyo for work or as a tourist or if you’re thinking of attending the 2020 Olympics (in which case you should think about making a reservation as soon as possible) I highly recommend the Mandarin Oriental. It’s one of the best five-star hotels in Japan where you’ll feel very welcome and extremely comfortable and you can rest assured every single staff member will go out of their way to ensure your visit or stay is one you’ll always remember.



This spring, cherry blossoms are featured in promotions throughout the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. The cherry blossom season is celebrated in the Sense Tea Corner on the 37th floor and Sakura Dim Sum Afternoon Tea is served on weekdays only from 15 March through to 27 April (4,800 yen per person).

Interesting fact: In 1598, feudal leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi hosted a cherry blossom viewing at Kyoto’s Daigo temple. Preparations began well in advance, with delicacies brought from throughout the land. During this era, lavishly decorated tiered lacquer boxes became popular among the upper classes and box lunches prepared for flower-viewing excursions were truly extravagant creations. Warlords and nobility alike seemed “to prefer dumplings to flowers”.

During the period 15 March through 27 April, chefs and bartenders at venues throughout the hotel will also present artistic gourmet indulgences based on a cherry blossom theme. At night, the Zen Garden pop-up bar features highly original cocktails. Enjoy cherry blossom viewing in the spirit of the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo with cocktails from 2,300 yen.

Don’t miss the areawide Nihonbashi Sakura Festival (16 March – 15 April) featuring food stands offering local delicacies near Fukutoku Shrine on 31 March and 1 April. In shades of pink, “Sakura Lightup” brings new beauty to Nihonbashi after dark. Experience an exciting fusion of dining, art, and cherry blossoms in springtime Nihonbashi.