Revamping My Travel Wardrobe – Part II

Part I of updating my travel wardrobe involved going through everything and sorting out what worked and what didn’t and removing or getting rid of items that I didn’t wear or want to wear, ones that didn’t fit any more, and things that gave out (like shoes).

Part II has been all about finding or replacing items with pieces that are more practical, fit better and are a bit more stylish.

Below are 15 new items being added to my wardrobe:

This wool-blend turtleneck poncho looks somewhat heavy in the picture but it’s actually fairly lightweight while being very comfortable and warm when it’s on. It will pop over a variety of tops that I already have. Before it arrived Brett was skeptical about me wearing a poncho, but he likes how I look in this one (so do I).

When we were in India, the other woman in our travel group had a couple of shawls (ruana) that she carried along – they were easy to pop on when she needed a little warmth. This lightweight one is the same idea, and is so comfortable and flattering that I bought a second one in a dark moss green.

This kimono-sleeved sweatshirt tunic is actually a dark indigo blue and white although it looks black in the picture. The big pocket in front is an added plus.

I love the length and pattern of this indigo swing-style sweater. It’s a fairly lightweight piece though, fine on its own for fall, but I’ll probably need a camisole underneath for a bit more warmth during the winter.

I found this sweatshirt cardigan on the sale rack at Muji in Sangenjaya while I was waiting for a dressing room. It’s very soft, and a great length.

I can never find jeans that fit comfortably these days (small waist, big hips), and don’t care for the feel of them anyway so when I found indigo leggings J.Jill I decided to go with them instead (I bought two pair). I love the weight of the fabric – they will be warm in winter without being overly heavy.  I was a bit nervous about wearing leggings as I have heavy legs, but a friend posted this on Facebook one day: Want a bikini body? Put on a bikini! and I decided I needed to wear what I was comfortable in and get over being disappointed in not having some sort of “perfect” figure. The dark olive Perfect Fit pants are also a nice neutral and a color I like much better than the gray or navy pairs that I previously had packed. New summer pants include a pair of white capri leggings and a pair of knit denim capris.

 This lightweight raincoat will be a bit more practical than the three other non-waterproof jackets I had been carrying along. Not only is it waterproof, but it’s roomy enough to go over sweaters and other layers. It doesn’t show in the picture, but the waist can be cinched for more of a trench coat look, and I love, love, love the big pockets in front.

The two pair of Skechers slip-ons I started out with last year were very comfortable at first, but ended up with the memory foam soles compressed to flat (I joked that I could step on a dime with them on and tell whether it was heads or tails) and they also started falling apart. The red slip-ons above are a much better quality walking shoe, and I wanted a pop of color this time around. Red is a great neutral that actually goes with almost everything. Because I will be wearing leggings, I thought the blue ankle boots would also be a fun choice. The boots have a thick sole so are great for walking. Both pair are lightweight, both are very comfortable and fit perfectly, but both pairs will have to be waterproofed before we go (the blue boots are suede and the red pair are nubuck leather).

I usually prefer to wear solid colors, but I fell in love with this traditional Maori-patterned tunic I found at a shop in downtown Rotorua. The shop was Maori owned and operated, and all items inside, from art to household goods to clothing, were designed and made by Maori artisans.This long-ish black linen swing dress is also from Muji. It’s loose and comfortable and I can’t wait to wear it this summer!

Finally, I found this beautiful leather tote at Goodwill and snapped it up. It’s a great color, it hangs comfortably on my shoulder, and it will easily hold all my travel stuff (and then some). It’s in like-new condition too, so should last a long time.

Except for the Maori tunic and black linen dress, every item I purchased was on sale or from a thrift store, with several of the new pieces at more than 70% off the original price. The raincoat came from REI; the shoes from Zappos; the dark olive pants from L.L. Bean; and the gray sweatshirt cardigan and the black linen dress were purchased at Muji while we were in Japan. Along with the tote, I bought the summer dress I wore to Meiling’s graduation and a black velvet tunic at Goodwill. Everything else was purchased from J. Jill, my very favorite clothing store.

Outside of my pajamas, underwear, and socks, I now will be packing 35 pieces of clothing ranging from summer tops to a winter coat, as well as with three pairs of shoes, and two pairs of sandals. None of the new items are very bulky or heavy, including the shoes, and they should all fit into my big suitcase (especially since I’m no longer carrying 30 packages of CookDo and a bulk package of mugi-cha in the bottom of it).

Revamping My Travel Wardrobe – Part I

After nine months of travel, and living out of a suitcase at times, I developed a very solid idea of what worked and what didn’t with the clothes I had packed, along with a better idea what I liked and what I didn’t like.

I still like mostly everything I started out with but a pair of shoes wore out, some pieces were awkward to wear and pack, or turned out to be unnecessary, some were difficult to maintain, and other pieces of clothing made me feel frumpy and uncomfortable. It didn’t help either that I gained some weight over the nine months we were on the road (I blame the gelato). Except for one pair of pants everything I took still fits but some items became a little tighter and less comfortable than they were when we started out.

I thought carefully the past couple of months about what I didn’t want to carry along any more, and about replacing those items with ones that I think (hope) will be more practical, fashionable, comfortable and easier to maintain when we’re on the road and afterwards.

These are all the tops and sweaters that will be remaining behind. The denim tunic, the white cotton tunic and the black & white print shirt were difficult to maintain and required ironing after coming out of the suitcase or being washed, so ended up getting worn very little or not at all. The navy & cream striped sweater was just too bulky and heavy and took up too much room in the suitcase for something I didn’t wear very often. The black v-neck printed t-shirt is cute but a bit too low-cut – the first time I wore it in Japan my grandson asked me about my cleavage! I like the idea of the navy & cream striped shirt, but found too often that I had to make myself wear it. The black item in front is a long lightweight cardigan. It looks nice and fits well but was impractical for travel (and another item that took too much maintenance).

The navy blue and gray pairs of the L.L. Bean Perfect Fit pants are going into storage, not because they don’t fit but primarily because I always felt so frumpy whenever I wore them. I think I must have something against traditional navy blue, although I love indigo and denim blues, and I have an unhappy history with gray pants or skirts (high school uniform) and always found myself feeling uncomfortable every time I had them on, which was usually with a black top, a combination Brett was not fond of and found depressing.

I love the denim knit jacket but probably wore it less than five times, and it’s another item that just takes up too much room in the suitcase. The vest and black jacket pack down to nothing, but I rarely wore them; in fact, I don’t think I wore the black jacket even once.

I never wore the skirt or the black t-shirt; the cotton pants are way too tight now; I love the lightweight gray shirt but it’s another high-maintenance item; and I have no idea why I took along my pareo as I didn’t even pack a bathing suit.

I am not going to throw away anything, and the above items will go into storage for the time being. I did get rid of the black pair of Skechers I started out with – the memory foam soles had no more memory, the inside fabric was ripped and worn out, and the shoes had stretched out to the point my feet were sliding around in them making them extremely uncomfortable to wear. They went into the trash before we left Japan, but the blue pair is hanging in there, although they’re not very comfortable anymore for any kind of distance walking. The two pairs of sandals I pack got/get lots of wear, but I think I wore the pair of clogs I took along all of three times, so they will be staying behind as well.

I did a bit of online shopping in Japan and after we got to Portland, and bought some new items (all on sale, some with deep discounts) that I like and am excited about wearing. I am very pleased with everything I purchased, and as hoped for they are more practical, fashionable, comfortable and easy to maintain. I’ll post about those items next week.

A Visit to Portland’s Chinese Garden

The entrance to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in NW Portland. The garden is like an oasis in the middle of several large office buildings and busy streets, but views of the buildings were considered and incorporated into garden views.

It was a walk down memory lane for Brett and I when we entered Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden this past Thursday. We made frequent trips to the garden when we lived here, both to visit and attend special events with the girls, to the point we purchased annual memberships for a couple of years. The classical Suzhou-style walled garden, which takes up a full city block, was designed by Kuang Zeng and constructed by 65 artisans from China, with completion and the garden opening in the fall of 2000. Over 500 tons of rock were brought over from China, including large scholar stones from Lake Tai, where the acid water of the lake carves stones into fantastical shapes. Located in NW Portland near the former Old Town Portland’s Chinatown, the Lan Su Chinese garden blends in among the modern buildings in the neighborhood. Suzhou is a sister city of Portland, and the name Lan Su means “Portland-Suzhou” as well as “Garden of the Awakening Orchids.”

A scholar stone from Lake Tai in China sit at the entrance to the garden.
Paths and courtyards through the garden are paved in designs created by Chinese pebbles inlaid on their sides.

The garden was carefully designed to express the elements and harmony of yin and yang, and can be enjoyed in any season or any weather. Spade-shaped drip tiles were installed so the sound of dripping water could be enjoyed while viewing the garden in the rain. The pointed tiles seen throughout the garden are decorated with five bats representing the “five blessings:” long life, good fortune, good health, a love of virtue and a painless death.

The spade-shaped tiles on the roof are drip tiles decorated with a design of five bats. The water running off them when it rains creates a pleasant sound.
Openings in the garden walls served as frames for the setting behind the wall, like viewing a painting. This view highlights a stone from Lake Tai, set in the back.

Lan Su Garden is made up of twelve vistas, each one expressing a separate element, with views designed to reflect nature’s harmony. Some of the views are from rooms that look out into the garden, such as the Reflections in Clear Ripples, the Scholar’s Study, or Hall of Brocade Clouds. Both interior and exterior doorways and windows throughout the garden frame views so that they appear like paintings that one can stop to admire and contemplate.

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Although it was rather chilly, and rain was imminent, we took our time walking through the garden. Besides the garden experience, Chinese-themed art works and prints were being sold (some from China), and there were also several other activities and displays throughout the garden, including a family altar with ancestor photos in one room and a chance to learn your fortune, Chinese style, in another. Although we didn’t go in, the two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflection contains a traditional Chinese tearoom, where one can sit and linger, enjoying views of the garden while sipping tea and nibbling on dumplings or other treats.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is the largest Suzhou-style garden in the United States, and contains over 100 different types of plants, with 90% of them indigenous to China (the actual plants didn’t come from China but were found in nurseries and gardens in Oregon, both public and private). Some of the plants in the garden are over 100 years old. The garden experience is truly one for all the senses.

Many of the old restaurant signs remain in the Old Town neighborhood although the restaurants are now all gone, either closed or moved to SE Portland.
Located at NW 4th Avenue and Burnside Street is the Old Town Chinatown Gateway, dedicated in 1986.

After we left the garden, Brett and I walked around Old Town Chinatown, coming upon many of the restaurants where we had dined that are now shuttered and closed, with only their signs remaining. We could remember eating at almost everyone of them, whether it was for dinner out, dim sum on the weekend, a banquet benefiting the Immersion program or some other occasion. Some of the restaurants moved to SE Portland, but most are now only a memory. Although the neighborhood has improved somewhat and new businesses have moved in, we could tell Old Town has we retained its run down feel, but we never felt unsafe and were glad for the chance to visit again.

On the Road: Patterns

Mosaic floor, Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral

Going through my photos the other day I was quite surprised by the pictures I had taken of the many beautiful and intriguing patterns we came across during our travels, both natural and manmade. Each picture brought on a rush of memories and I could clearly remember the place, the time and the day each picture was taken. I do have a favorite: the huge bowl of rose petals that were sitting across from the elevators on our floor at our New Delhi hotel. Besides the feeling of excitement that I was finally in India, the photo also evoked the wonderful aroma of the petals as we waited to go down to the lobby to meet our guide and start our tour.

Stairway, Lemarck-Caulaincourt Station, Paris
Tree bark, L’Orangerie Park, Strasbourg
Cobblestones, Petit France, Strasbourg
Interior columns, the Duomo, Siena
Inlaid marble floor, the Duomo, Siena
Roman mosaic floor, Vatican Museum
Ceiling, The Pantheon, Rome
Tiled building, Lisbon
Sidewalk, Lisbon
Rose petals, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi
Antique Kashmir silk rug, New Delhi
Marble inlay, The Taj Mahal
Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong
Manhole cover, Napier, New Zealand
Roof tiles, Imperial Palace grounds, Tokyo
Cup noodle sale, Sangenjaya, Tokyo

Homes On the Road, Part II

Our Portland Airbnb for the summer is already our favorite!

One of our favorite things about the nomadic lifestyle we’ve been living for the past several months has been the homes we’ve stayed in along the way and their hosts. Thanks to Airbnb we’ve been able to enjoy not only having our own place from time to time, but also the pleasure of staying as guests in others’ homes, the perfect arrangement for shorter stays in places like Lucerne last fall, and during our road trip around New Zealand earlier this year.

The kitchen and living and dining area of our Portland apartment. The mid-century decor is minimal, but very stylish and extremely comfortable.

Our Portland apartment for the summer is currently at the top of our list of favorite Airbnb rentals. The price, the size of the apartment, the minimal but very comfortable mid-century furnishings, the kitchen and location are all just about perfect. Two other notable favorites along the way on Part II were our rooms in Napier and Wellington in New Zealand, although every place we stayed in Australia and New Zealand were very, very nice and helped make our visits there great ones.

The view while we ate breakfast on the terrace at the home we stayed at in Napier.
The stunning view from our room in Napier.

I wish I could link to our place in Japan, except that they are currently not listed with Airbnb. While the location of the apartment building was superb, the price very affordable for Tokyo, and the hosts wonderful to deal with, we did not get the apartment we had requested which made that stay a bit of a disappointment, especially since it was for three months. The kitchen was wonderfully equipped, and the bed was comfortable, but the furniture in the living and dining area was not. There was also no balcony (highly unusual in Japan) so we always had to dry our clothes indoors (we were thankful to have a washing machine though).

Our bright, sunny, and extremely comfortable room in Wellington – I was sick for a day and this was a serene place to rest and recuperate. We also had a huge, deluxe bathroom and breakfast was provided in the morning.
Our apartment in Perth was very comfortable and in a great location – just a 10-minute walk one direction to the station to ride into downtown Perth, or catch the Indian-Pacific for our journey across Australia. Ten minutes in the other direction took us to a grocery store, great shops and restaurants.
The Perth apartment had a fantastic kitchen including a washer AND dryer, much appreciated after our India tour and Hong Kong stay.
Our Sydney apartment in the vibrant Potts Point neighborhood was a short walk to the train station, and a fairly easy walk from the harbor as well. We would stay here again in a heartbeat!

Overall we have had a great experience using Airbnb, saved quite a bit over staying in hotels, and met some truly wonderful people along the way. If you haven’t used them before, I strongly recommend giving Airbnb a try. Michael and Debbie Campbell’s (The Senior Nomads) book, Your Keys, Our Home, is a great overview on how to make the most of an Airbnb experience, from choosing a house or room to interacting with the host to how to be a great guest.

The inviting entry to our Auckland backyard cottage.
I don’t think we were ever so happy to check into an Airbnb as we were when we arrived at the one in Auckland. After an exhausting day of driving we so appreciated this comfortable and peaceful room.

Below are the links to the Airbnb homes and rooms we stayed in on Part II of our Big Adventure:


Beside our room and sparkling clean bathroom, our stay in Rotorua also included a large breakfast in the morning, freshly prepared by our hosts.

New Zealand:

We were surrounded by nature at the Mangorei Airbnb. The house had decks on three sides, with gorgeous natural views from each one, including a view of the ocean in the distance. Breakfast was provided, and we greatly enjoyed chatting with the host, George – a very interesting man!
Our three nights in the Sellwood Airbnb studio were the perfect way to decompress after our long journey from Japan.


Although we’ve enjoyed some of our Airbnb rentals more than others, we have yet to have a bad experience. We like having our own place with a kitchen, where we save by preparing most of our own meals, and also like getting to know the neighborhoods. We’ve made friends with a few of our hosts as well, another added benefit to traveling with Airbnb. Finally, Airbnb offers $40 off your first booking with them if you spend more than $75 – just go to the site and set up an account and start looking for a place to stay!

Sleepless in Portland

We’re surrounded by nature in our comfortable Airbnb. It’s a wonderful place to relax and decompress.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. this morning . . . again. If today is like tomorrow I’ll be able to stay awake until around 4:00 in the afternoon, then sleep until 9:00 p.m. Brett is on a similar sleep pattern so we’ll eat dinner again at around 10:00, fall back asleep at around 11:00 and then repeat the cycle all over again. Hopefully.

So far though our jet lag isn’t quite as bad as I imagined it would be and we’ve been awake enough to get up and out to do errands during the day. Yesterday we shopped at Trader Joe’s and New Seasons Market, and I bought a pair of trail shoes at a local store for hikes and walks here and when we’re in England. Today we’re going to Costco, Winco Foods, and Target, and will stop by a local clinic to get one of my prescriptions refilled. Tomorrow morning we will load up the car and take everything over to our summer apartment on the other side of the river and get settled there for the summer. We’ll have to somehow stay awake tomorrow evening too because YaYu arrives late at night.

I enjoyed one last bottle of mugi-cha, my favorite Japan beverage, on the train out to Narita. We brought home loads of tea bags to make our own this summer.

Leaving Tokyo wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, at least the physical part of it. Our taxi arrived on time and got us to the train station where we got our NEX tickets out to the airport, arriving there with plenty of time to check our bags, have a light lunch and buy just one box of KitKats (Tokyo Banana flavor). Our flight left on time. The seats were very cramped though and it was impossible to sleep, but there was a wonderful selection of movies (yes, I watched Crazy Rich Asians again and loved every moment). The food was actually good too – for the second time on a flight we had perfectly cooked chicken breasts along with great salads and side dishes. We also received a small container of Haagen-Daz ice cream mid-flight, and had a nice ham and cheese croissant sandwich along with fresh fruit for breakfast before landing.

We’re always glad when we get our big suitcases checked in. Brett’s suitcase weighed in at 22.9 kg (limit was 23kg), probably because he carried all of our dirty laundry. Mine weighed just 20.75kg.

The layover in Seattle was a hot mess though. Our flight was delayed, and they changed the gate which required us to walk a long distance through the terminal – not fun when you haven’t slept for nearly 24 hours. But, we eventually got on a plane and the flight to Portland was short and easy, our luggage was waiting for us, and in no time at all we had our rental car and were on our way to our Airbnb where we immediately fell asleep.

We splurged on fresh Northwest cherries from New Seasons Market yesterday, and are looking forward to the arrival of Oregon berries and other summer fruits which will soon be available.

Portland is so green right now! And so wet – it’s raining, of course. I had forgotten how beautiful spring is here, but up in our Airbnb we’re surrounded by big, leafy trees and it’s very relaxing and calming. The apartment is one of the nicest Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in too. It’s beautifully decorated, and has a fantastic, gourmet kitchen, a big, luxurious bathroom and a very comfortable bed. There’s also a full-size washer and dryer. We’re actually going to be a tiny bit sad to leave tomorrow, although our next apartment is pretty nice too.

We miss Tokyo deeply and would turn around and go back if we could. We especially miss seeing the grandkids every day, and connecting with our son and daughter-in-law. We miss all the walking we did and the daily rhythm of life we established there even though it could be stressful at times. We miss the food. We know we’ll be going back in the not too distant future though, and for now we have this summer in Portland to enjoy and next fall’s visit to England coming up as well. We are blessed.

For right now all I’m hoping is that our current sleep pattern doesn’t morph into something more insidious and instead segues into something realistic and sustainable. A girl can wish, can’t she?

Our Least-Favorite Travel Tasks

Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again . . .

Without beating around the bush, our absolute least favorite travel chore is the process of getting us and our suitcases out to the airport (or train station) for departure. The reason this has become our least favorite is because:

  1. We first have to figure out transportation to the airport (or train station). This can be by bus, taxi, train or even walking, but it always involves having to wrangle our big suitcases and it almost always costs us something (the only airport/station we could walk directly to was in Florence).
  2. Our suitcases are heavy.
  3. Once we get to an airport there is often a long walk to our check-in counter, which may be hidden or difficult to find.
  4. There is sometimes no elevator or even escalator to get the bags to another level within the airport (we have a system for this though: Brett carries the first bag to the bottom or top of the stairs while I remain with the other; when he gets to the bottom we each leave our respective suitcase and run to switch places, then Brett carries the second bag to the where the other bag is. Yes, it’s exhausting.).
  5. There is always a slow-moving line at the check-in counter, or a long wait before we can begin check-in, and by the time we get this done we’re usually hot and thirsty.
  6. Once we get our bags checked, our departure gate often turns out to be an immense distance from the ticket counter and we still have our carry-on materials to haul. And, we have to go through security which is never pleasant.

Any or all of these situations can and have occurred on our travel days, which means that while we’re excited to go to a new location we know we’re going to have to work for it. We try to stay cheerful or at least even tempered, but it’s not always easy. I am already dreading next Tuesday’s ordeal, most especially because we really wish we weren’t leaving Japan.

Our second least favorite travel chore is packing, always a bittersweet task. You might think we’d feel happy to do this because it means we’re going somewhere new, but the truth is it also means we’re leaving someplace we’ve come to enjoy, or haven’t seen enough of, or never want to leave.

While I don’t enjoy living out of a suitcase, I also dislike trying to fit everything back into my suitcase when it’s time to leave a place we’ve stayed long enough to unpack. While Brett can get his stuff ready to go in a few hours, these days it takes me more than a few days to figure out what can go in early and what needs to stay out until the end, to get it right and make sure everything fits in the end. For example, right now we’re between seasons and from day to day it’s been hard to know whether I need to wear something warmer or something more summery, which is making my current sorting task a bit more difficult. Thankfully I don’t need my heavy coats any more so those are vacuum-bagged along with my heavy sweaters. But should I leave out summer clothes for the next few days (it’s very warm in Portland now)? Will it be too cool on the plane for summer things or should I wear something warmer? Or will it be hot here in Tokyo tomorrow or cool again and what should I leave out for the next few days? Temperatures have been on a roller coaster and we’ve been surprised (and miserable) on more than one occasion recently.

On the plus side, we’ve done a good job using up lots of stuff while we’ve been in Japan. This has cleared out room in our suitcases, but we’ve also picked up more things than usual during our stay here. We bought dishes at Kappabashi, and those will be going onto the plane with us in our travel tote bags to fit under the seat in front. We’re also taking back food items – the bottom of my suitcase is already lined with several packages of CookDo sauces. I bought two more pieces of clothing here that I need to make room for, Brett bought calligraphy supplies, and there are also other little odds and ends we’ve accumulated.

Hopefully we can get it all to fit into our trusty bags. Brett used to be in charge of packing his squadron’s cruise boxes whenever they went to sea and I’ve always said he can get a baby grand piano into a carry-on bag if he has to – I am depending on him to make sure everything fits and goes with us next week.

In the meantime, we’ve got four days to take care of our second least-favorite travel task and then face our least favorite once again. Wish us luck!

A Walk Around Old Tokyo

An old corner building has been renovated and repurposed into a small shop and workshop.

I’ve always felt that any time you go out in Tokyo you can expect an adventure. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve walked to your neighborhood station, or over to the supermarket, or to work or wherever. There is always something new to discover or learn. Turn down a new street and who knows what you’ll find?

This old building now houses the Yanaka Brewing Company.
The Yanaka’s former neighborhood bathhouse is now an art gallery.
Old doors bearing the family or business crest.

It was with much anticipation that Brett and I visited the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo last week. Yanaka was brand new territory for us, which guaranteed an adventure.

The Tsukiji-bei Wall. Made from stacked mud and roof tiles, the wall is over 200 years old, and often used as a backdrop in period movies and television shows.
Detail of the wall’s roof design.

The Yanaka neighborhood did not disappoint.

The massive Himalayan cedar was originally brought in a pot by the grandfather of the current owner of the tiny Mikado Bread Shop. It burst from its pot back before WWII and rooted itself into the corner and has continued to grow, grow, grow.
The full size of the cedar can only be appreciated from a distance. The tree has also been featured as a backdrop in television shows and movies.

Yanaka is unique because not only did the neighborhood survive the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the subsequent fire that destroyed most of Tokyo, it was also spared during the Allied firebombing of Tokyo during WWII. Brett and I marveled at the many old, original buildings we came across, and were impressed with how many had been preserved, renovated and repurposed. There were plenty of new buildings and modern architecture too, but the neighborhood seemed to have maintained the feel and spirit of old Tokyo – there were no high-rise apartments or office buildings, and newer buildings blended in well with the old. We were especially awed by the large, old trees seen everywhere we walked, including several huge cherry trees that must have been magnificent in bloom, and one massive Himalayan cedar tree.

The Yanaka Cemetery is filled with lovely, large old cherry trees. It is a popular spot for hanami (flower viewing) picnics.
The grave of a notable someone stood out from all the others.

Yanaka is also the sight of the largest cemetery in Japan. Established in 1874, the cemetery covers over 1,000 acres and many artists and feudal leaders (including the last shogun of Japan) are interred there. A large street bisects the cemetery and is lined with huge cherry trees. One of the most famous places to see in the park is the foundation of a former five-story pagoda. Built in 1791, the pagoda stood in the center of the cemetery until 1957, when a pair of lovers committed suicide by burning down the pagoda with themselves inside. Their ghosts are said to wander the area near the foundation.

Yanaka was also originally a temple town on the outskirts of Tokyo (temples could also be used as forts in case of attack), and the neighborhood was absolutely filled with temples and shrines, more than we could count, and we eventually gave up trying to keep track of them all.

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We had originally wanted to do the pilgrimage to the seven temples of Japan’s seven lucky gods, but learned that pilgrimage is only done during the first 10 days of a new year. The pilgrimage route also had us missing several other things we wanted to see such as the Tsukiji-bei Wall and the giant Himalayan cedar so we ended up using a map we found online along with a paper map of the neighborhood we picked up while we were there.

The old Yoshidaya Sake Store is now the Shitamachi Museum annex.
. . . and contains many sake-related artifacts from the old store.

In spite of the heat we encountered that day we both felt it was one of the most interesting places we had visited, and perhaps the ultimate Tokyo adventure. We will definitely be returning as our walkabout only scratched the surface. There are lots of arts and crafts shops we would love to investigate more, more temples to investigate, and other lanes we would like to turn down just to see what’s there.

An old Yanaka home, lovingly renovated to maintain its character.

The Most Beautiful Museum

The entrance gate to the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum.

Even in the rain, the Itchiku Kubota Museum in Kawaguchiko was the most beautiful I have ever visited.

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The museum grounds were equally as beautiful as what was displayed within.

Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003) was a fabric artist and dying expert who created deeply gorgeous, beautiful kimono, each one a work of art in its own right. Inspired by the lost Japanese dying art of tsujigahana seen on a visit to the Tokyo National Museum when he was 20 years old, Kubota studied and worked to figure out how it was accomplished, and then created a contemporary style of the technique now known as Itchiku Tsujihanan. Along with other dying techniques such as shibori (tie dye), resist dying, and layered dying along with embroidery and other fabric techniques, each one of the kimono he created is a unique work of art. It took nearly a year to make each kimono (with the help of assistants), and while almost all are individual works, some are parts of a larger work when placed together.

Mt. Fuji was a frequent theme in Kubota’s art. (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?
Thousands of tiny knots were made in the plain white silk fabric he used for all kimono, then dyed to create intricate patterns and intense depths of color. (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?

Kubota designed the museum himself, and set up his studio there. Located on a forested hillside just outside of the city of Kawaguchiko in the Fuji Five Lakes district, the museum experience begins at the front steps where visitors pass through a large wooden gate surrounded by a swirling bronze sculpture. A path leads visitors up through a large garden filled with ponds, waterfalls, benches and seats where visitors are invited to stop and reflect. The museum building itself is very organic, constructed of chalk and covered with limestone, and built partially into the hillside. The actual kimono gallery is a large pyramid, built from over 1,000 ancient cedar trees chosen by Kubota. The pyramid allows light to stream in (even on a rainy day) making it possible to view the kimono in natural light.

Entrance to the museum building
A large pyramid created from cedar beams forms the kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?
The kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?
The kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?
Natural light streams through the top of the pyramid into the kimono gallery. (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?
Detail of the above kimono (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?

None of the kimono on display are behind glass; visitors are encouraged to get as close as they’d like to inspect the kimono (without touching, of course) and see how the different techniques come together to create the larger images on the kimono. Visitors are also shown a short video about Kubota before entering the gallery to understand some of his technique (some of it remains unknown) how the kimono are made.

Museum interior leading to the kimono gallery (photo credit: Is Japan Cool?
Kubota’s former studio is now a tea room.
This large circular design is etched into the wall of the former studio.

The entire experience left Brett and I speechless and filled with wonder, and we both agreed that it was the most beautiful of any museum we had ever visited, both inside and out. Whether you are interested in fabric art or not, the experience of seeing Kubota’s work and visiting his museum is worth the effort. To reach the museum from Tokyo, take the JR Chuo line limited express train from Shinjuku station to Otsuki station; change to the Fujikyuko line to Kawaguchiko Station. The museum is a 10-minute taxi ride from the station. The entrance fee is currently ¥1300 per person.

Closing Out the Books on April

We’ve set aside all of our 1¥ and 5¥ coins while we’ve been in Japan for our granddaughter – we jokingly call is “K’s trust fund.” I think there’s over 300¥ in there now – around $3.00 (but I also spy a 50¥ coin right on top in the center).

After a couple of months of being slightly over-budget, we made up for it in April and came in well under our daily goal – yeah us! Brett totaled up everything for the month, and our daily spending average for April was just $38.56! Our 74-day average daily spend for the time we’ve been in Japan also came to $46.65. These really are amounts I wasn’t sure we’d be able to achieve.

Our son’s generosity has helped us immensely, especially this past month – besides covering all transportation expenses involved in picking up our grandson, in return for our time watching the grands they covered everything except souvenirs on our getaway last weekend, and also for meals out together this past month. We have offered to pay for things, or at least for our expenses, but they have refused.

We have 11 more days left in Japan beginning Friday. We are eating down our food supplies, and are for the most part done with sightseeing (we’re visiting the Yanaka neighborhood on Friday, but that’s the last outing). We plan to make one last trip into Yokohama to pick up a couple of food items at the Sogo department store (bird cookies!), but other than that we’re done with spending except for transportation and items that are absolutely necessary.

Tokyo (and Japan) has a reputation for being expensive, and definitely can be if you’re not careful, or like me want to buy everything because it’s Japanese and cool and/or beautiful. Still, I’m very happy and satisfied that we’ve been able to spend three months living here for less than we thought was possible, and without sacrificing anything.