Mino washi museum & Akari Art Gallery


shared taxi mino  mino


One of places I wanted to visit in Mino was the Mino washi museum. Yet the museum is located about half an hour’s drive from the town centre, and there are no buses that could get me there. After enquiring at the tourist office (inside a washi paper stationery shop), the lady there told me that she could book a ‘shared taxi’ for me to pick me up and bring me back at the requested times. After lunch, I waited outside of the bank and a mini van showed up. To my surprise, this was the ‘shared taxi’ that was booked for me. This is a community shared taxi service called Noriai-Kun, and it reminded me of the Songthaews/ Red trucks in Thailand, but of course the Japanese version is more comfortable and safer. After the driver dropped off a few passengers, he drove along the river and I was able to enjoy the scenery outside of the window. When I arrived, I asked the driver about the cost, and I thought he indicated 1000 yen, but it turned out to be merely 100 yen!


mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

Mino washi museum


The Mino washi museum is a modern building with several exhibition halls, paper-making workshop space, a shop and a cafe. Aside from learning about the history and the making of washi paper, visitors can also watch the demonstrations of paper-making and then try it out at the workshops. Due to limited time, I did not do the workshop, but I enjoyed seeing a temporary washi paper art exhibition that showcased works by local artists.


mino washi museum

mino washi museum

mino washi museum

Mino washi paper products sold at the shop


In the town centre, a visit to the Mino Washi Akari Art Gallery is a must. From the outside of the building (a former Mino City Industrial Association Hall built in 1941) and even after I entered the building, I had no idea of what I was about to encounter. Yet as soon as I walked into the dark exhibition area upstairs, I was astonished by all the stunning washi paper lanterns on display.


washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery  washi akari art gallery 

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery  lantern

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery


Every year October, Mino City hosts an Akari Festival where washi paper lanterns are lit and displayed along the main Udatsu street at night, turning the town into a lantern wonderland. At the gallery, visitors can admire all the exquisite and delicate lanterns created by professional artists, students, and the prize winners of the lantern competition held annually at the festival.

I was completely blown away by what I saw. And I think the exhibition showcases not only the craftsmanship, creativity, dedication, but also great respect for the traditions by all the artisans.


washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery  washi akari art gallery 


washi akari art gallery

washi akari art gallery

2nd row right: winning work of 2010; Bottom two rows: Winning work of 2017



The art of shibori at Bunzaburo in Kyoto


Katayama Bunzaburo Shoten’s flagship store in Kyoto


When I was going through my pile of leaflets/ business cards that I picked up from my previous trips to Kyoto, one particular leaflet caught my attention. It was from Bunzaburo, a tie-dyed/ shibori (the term means “to squeeze or wring”)  company in Kyoto. Oddly enough, I couldn’t recollect much from my previous visit, so I decided to pay another visit to its shop while I was in Kyoto.

Opened in Kyoto in 1915 by Bunzaburo Katayama, Katayama Bunzaburo Shoten specialised in the manufacturing of high-end kimono silk fabric with shibori tie-dye decorations, especially Kyo Kanoko Shibori (tiny dotted pattern that resembles a young deer’s back). Although Shibori is often associated with Arimatsu in Nagoya (which I will write about in the forthcoming entry), the Kyo Kanoko Shibori technique was created in Kyoto and has been handed down without cessation for over 1,000 years by a number of craftsmen.




Unfortunately, like many of the traditional arts and crafts in Japan, the kimono industry is under threat in this and age, and many producers have to either adapt or face closure. At Bunzaburo, “Tradition exists in innovations” is the motto of their third generation president, Kazuo Katayama. For over 100 years, they have continued to innovate and merge traditional techniques with new designs; one of their design concept is “Wearable Art” – using bold designs to create a fusion of fashion and art. And in 1991, they won the Best Design Award in the Made in Kyoto Award (appointed by Kyoto Prefecture) for their creation, Aimu – a glass plate which allows a thin piece of Japanese indigo-dyed hemp fabric to be sandwiched in the middle.

When you step into their shop housed inside a traditional Japanese house through the shibori noren, you would be surrounded by beautiful and elegant shibori lighting and accessories. I literally felt a sense of exhilaration as soon I walked in.


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Having previously learnt some basic shibori techniques, I understand how time-consuming it is to create these work, though this may not be the case for the shop’s visitors. Hence, in order for customers to understand the processes, they have an area displaying and explaining various shibori techniques, which I think is fantastic.

When the friendly shop assistant came over for a chat, she was extremely thrilled when I told her that I will be doing a workshop on indigo dyeing and shibori. She started explaining their products to me, including a new range of leather handbags and shoes that feature shibori patterns (and she kindly modeled the shoes for me). I could sense the pride she felt for her company’s products, and she was more than happy to give me their brochures to take home.

The shop offers a wide range of fashion items and accessories including wearable bracelets and rings, which are affordable and great as gifts. If you are interested in shibori, then this shop is a ‘must’ stop in Kyoto.




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221 Hashibenkeicho Takoyakusidori Karasuma Nishiiru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto


Gardens, temples, and zazen in Kyoto


A view of Tofukuji’s Tsutenkyo Bridge


It is on every tourist’s itinerary to visit at least one/two karesansui (dry landscape garden) in Kyoto, but during the peak season, it is best to avoid the famous ones and head for the less crowded gardens. A few years ago, I visited Kyoto in February and did an intensive garden tour (with less visitors) in the Northwest Kyoto and Arashiyama, hence I decided to focus more around the central area on this trip.

Before my trip, I started to read books on Japanese zen gardens, but I don’t think learning the symbols or trying to understand the layout and design make much sense until you immerse yourself in that environment. I started studying and practising Zen Buddhism about 4 years ago (after trying out different practices with various organisations for years); its teachings emphasise that Zen is not an intellectual practice, but something that one has to experience to understand. Meanwhile, if you try really hard, you are likely to fail, too. I feel that one has to treat zen/dry landscape gardens as abstract art/ sculptures, and it is up to the viewers to ‘feel’ and find their own emotional connections with these gardens.


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Tofuku-ji Temple and garden


My previous experiences at the extremely touristy and crowded Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkaku-ji temple and Ryoan-ji Temple were anything but tranquil, which is a shame because the essence of these temples and gardens are somewhat ruined by tourists who only more concerned with picking boxes on their packed itineraries.

Luckily, there are thousands of temples and gardens in Kyoto, so you are likely to find some off the beaten track spots that have not been invaded by package tour groups. Located in southeast Kyoto, Tofuku-ji Temple is extremely popular during the fall season for its stunning foliage, but otherwise it is fairly quiet. Founded in 1236, it is the head temple of the Tofukuji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, and one of the five great temples in Kyoto. The Sammon Gate from 1425 was designated as one of the Japanese National Treasure Buildings, and the gardens are designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty.




The Hojo gardens at Tofuku-ji Temple


The main building, Hojo, was was reconstructed in 1890, and has four gardens arranged around the building. These gardens were laid out in 1939 by the famous artist/landscape designer, Mirei Shigemori (who also created the gardens at Koyasan’s Saizen-in featured in my earlier entry), who intended to express the simplicity of Zen in the Kamakura period with the abstract construction of modern arts. The most unique and famous one has to be north garden featuring squared stones and moss arranged in a chequered pattern. It is intriguing and original; I love how moss is being used here, which creates a strong contrast against the solid grey stones.





Chishakuin temple and garden


Chishakuin Temple is another large temple complex that is visited more by Japanese visitors than foreign tourists. It is the headquarters of the Chisan School of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism, originally located in Koyasan.

This temple is best known for its mural paintings (National Treasures) and a beautiful garden that features a pond and artificial hills inspired by the area around Mt. Rozan in China. This temple was quiet and peaceful during my visit, and it was particularly interesting to see the monks playing musical instruments while striding towards the main hall.




Monks gathering and playing musical instruments outside of the Chishakuin temple


Although the Soto Zen school is the largest of three traditional sects in Japan, many of the well-known temples in central Kyoto belong to the Rinzai sect, and some of them also offer zazen sessions to the public. I wanted to attend a session at a temple, and even though I am a Soto Zen practitioner, I wasn’t too bothered about the lineage as long as it served the purpose.

I chose to attend an one-hour afternoon session at Shorin-ji Temple, a sub-temple of Tofuku-ji Temple. And to my surprise, the room was completely full with attendees including Japanese office workers, high school students, foreign visitors, and even young kids. It was especially encouraging to see young children sitting still for two 15-minute sessions. A monk priest conducted the session and gave instructions in Japanese, while foreign visitors were given some basic instructions on paper.





Zazen at Shorin-ji Temple


I have heard a lot about keisaku (awakening stick), which is a flat wooden stick used during periods of zazen to remedy sleepiness or lapses of concentration, but I have never been hit before ( nor did I want to). Here, it is possible to request the monk priest to hit your shoulder by putting the palms together, and then lowering the head and body forward slightly. I am no sadist, but I couldn’t resist my curiosity… when the priest struck me, it somewhat took me by surprise and all I could feel was pain. Then gradually the pain eased away and I felt more relaxed and alert at the same time. During the session, I asked to be hit twice (so did the young girl/kid opposite me) and did not mind it at all, which was quite a revelation to me. If you want to try a zazen session in Kyoto, I would recommend a visit to this temple.





Reikan-ji Temple


Along the Philosopher’s Path, there are some beautiful lesser known temples and gardens that offer serene settings with few visitors. Honenin temple (see my earlier post) is one of them and the other is the charming Reikan-ji temple, which is only open only for 2 weeks in spring and 2 weeks in autumn. This temple is famous for its camellias, and I arrived at the right time for it.

Reikan-ji is a monzeki (abbess-princess) nunnery of the and part of the Nanzen-ji School. It was established in 1654 for the tenth daughter of the retired Emperor Go-mizunoo. The temple houses screen paintings by Kano Eitoku and Kano Motonobu, numerous treasures related to the Imperial family and a collection of traditional Kyoto dolls (Gosho Ningyo). Yet  it was the wonderful garden that captivated me most. Not only visitors could admire camellias in full bloom, but the grounds were also covered in petals from the cherry and camellia trees. The sea of pink petals looked almost like snow in winter – it was a mesmersising sight. This is one of my favourite gardens on this trip.








Reikan-ji Temple


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Eikando Zenrin-ji


At the southern end of the Philosopher’s path lies Eikando Zenrin-ji temple, the head temple of the Seizan branch of Japan’s Jodo-shu Buddhist sect originally founded in 853. The temple has a long and complicated history, and houses many National Treasures including a famous Amida statue and Buddhist paintings since the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

The temple is famous for its autumn foliage, and it is less busy at other times. Nestled in Kyoto’s Eastern Mountain, Higashiyama, parts of the temple offer a nice view over the city. I was too exhausted to climb up to Tahoto, the pagoda that offers the best view at the compound.



Yudofu Hitotori (Boiled Tofu Set) lunch at Okutan in the grounds of Nanzen-ji Temple




Nanzenji Temple


Next to Eikando Zenrin-ji is Nanzenji Temple, the head temple of the Nanzen-ji branch of Rinzai Zen. This large complex contains many temple buildings including multiple sub-temples. Founded in the 13th century, the temple was burnt down and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Its famous Sanmon gate was originally constructed in the 13th century, destroyed in 1369 at the order of the government, and reconstructed in 1628. The hojo garden is considered to be one of the best examples of karesansui gardens, and was created by the notable feudal lord/gardener and tea ceremony master, Kobori Enshu, in the 17th century.

After a long day of visiting various temples and gardens along the Philosopher’s Path, I was feeling exhausted and templed out by the time I reached Nazenji. As much as I wanted to visit its famous garden, I decided to skip it (the crowd was also a bit off-putting) and headed straight to my last temple visit of the day – Konchi-in, a small sub-temple at the Nanzenji temple complex.





Why Konchi-in? While I was planning my trip, the “crane and turtle” garden at Konchi-in was mentioned in my Zen garden book and praised by various articles as one of the best examples of shakkei (borrowed scenery) in Kyoto. Also, the temple’s tea ceremony room is one of the three major tea rooms in Kyoto. And unlike Nanzenji temple, there were only a few visitors when I visited this temple and garden, so it was a refreshing break from the crowds.

Founded in the 15th century, this temple was relocated and made the residence of the Nanzenji’s Abbot, Ishin Suden, in 1626. As a connoisseur of the tea ceremony, he built a new hojo and created a new tea room. He commissioned Kobori Enshu (who was also responsible for the hojo garden at Nanzenji) to design a new garden that payed homage to the Tokugawa dynasty, which resulted in the “crane and turtle” garden.





Kochi-in Temple and its famous “crane and turtle” garden


I sat quietly opposite the garden to look for the crane and turtle but failed. However, it is a beautiful and tranquil garden, so even if you can’t read or understand the symbolic meaning of the garden, you could still appreciate its picturesque and relaxing setting.








Situated near Nanzen-ji temple, Murin-an is not a popular destination for tourists because it is not within a temple compound. It is a Meiji period strolling garden built between 1894 and 1896 by Yamagata Aritomo, a former two-time Prime Minister of Japan. He was a keen gardener, and worked with Japanese master gardener Ogawa Jihee on this plot of land bought from Nanzen-ji. Interestingly, it is in an East-meets-West style that is influenced by English landscape gardens and Western architecture.

The garden uses the eastern hills of Kyoto as a viewpoint, adopting the technique of shuzan – so that it appears as an extension of the mountain scenery. There is also a small stream that is fed by the waters of the nearby Lake Biwa, Japan’s biggest lake. I particularly liked this garden because the scenery is perpetually changing as you walk further away from the building. There is always something unexpected hidden from your view as you walk forward, and it gives you a sense of exploration and anticipation.


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There are two buildings here, and one of them is a Japanese style wooden villa with a tea room where visitors could rest and have tea opposite the scenic garden; the other is a Western brick building where meetings of foreign policy took place before the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5.

If you are planning a trip to Kyoto, I urge you to look for some lesser-known temples and gardens where you are likely to be pleasantly surprised. And best of all, you could take your time and enjoy the garden quietly with very few visitors.





Kaikado tea caddies shop & cafe in Kyoto

Since I only had four days in kyoto (including a day out at Miho museum with my friend), I didn’t manage to fit much shopping in. Hence I targeted a few shops either close to where I was staying or near a sight I wanted to visit. One of the shops that was high on my agenda was a small tea caddy shop near my lodging in the Kawarmachi district.

Kaikado is a traditional tea caddies maker established in 1875, which makes them the oldest handmade tin tea caddies maker in the world. And it all started from the tin plates imported from Cornwall of all places!





Using imported tin from England, the company’s founder, Kiyosuke kaikado, designed the first generation of tin tea caddy. His aim was to provide a well-designed, functional tea caddy capable of storing the type of tea leaves commonly sold by tea dealers and merchants. His successors later added copper and brass to their collection, developed a two-tiered design, whilst still maintaining the traditional techniques and basic shapes. Their iconic Chazutsu (the standard Kaikado Tea Canister) involves a 130-step fabrication process, and are still being produced and used across Japan including the Japanese Imperial household.


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Their small shop near the canal is easy to miss, and I had to walk back and forth a few times to check the number. Also, I wasn’t sure if it was opened either, and I hesitated a while before entering inside. Once inside, I felt as if I had walked into a craftsman’s workshop and mini museum… there are tools on display and lots of beautiful tea caddies everywhere, including labels that indicate how long it takes for the colours of the metals to change. It is the changes of metal colours that make these caddies so unique. Since the philosophy of wabi sabi is deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture and aesthetics, it enables them to appreciate the beauty of rustic objects, imperfection, and embrace the state of impermanence. Hence, these tea caddies are not just about good design and craftsmanship, they also embody the essence of the wabi sabi philosophy and aesthetics.



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Located not far from the shop is their spacious cafe housed inside a restored 90-year-old listed building that used to be a garage and administration office. Opened in 2016, the cafe was designed by Thomas Lykke from Danish design and architecture studio, OeO. The tea caddies are displayed on shelves and behind the glass cabinet, and they blend extremely well with the Nordic/Japanese style decor.

The simple menu offers snacks, cakes, as well as coffee from Japanese roaster Nakagawa Wani Coffee, black teas from Postcard tea London, and green tea from Rishouen tea Uji. I had their Ice matcha latte and it was very good. Prices here are not cheap, but I liked the relaxing ambience and decor, and best of all, it wasn’t packed with tourists even during the peak tourist season. Believe me, tranquility is worth the extra two hundred yen!


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Kakaido shop: 84-1 Umeminatocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto

Kakaido cafe: 352 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shimogyoku, Kyoto


Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum in Kyoto

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I have wanted to visit Japanese potter, Kawai Kanjiro‘s former house – now his Memorial Museum for a long time. Yet for some reason, I never made it until this trip… it was a timely visit as the museum was like a quiet sanctuary compared to hassle and bustle in the centre of the city.

Born 1890, Kawai Kanjiro was a prominent figure in Mingei (Japanese folk art) movement founded by Japanese philosopher, Yanagi Soetsu, in the 1920s and 30s, as well as the studio pottery movements led by Bernard Leach. According to Yanagi, everyday and utilitarian objects made by the anonymous craftsmen are ‘beyond beauty and ugliness’. They are inexpensive and functional ware made for ordinary people, rather than ornaments to be placed on shelves as decorations.

Kawai acquainted and collaborated with British potter, Bernard Leach (who founded Leach Pottery with another well-known Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada) throughout his life, hence he often combined English with Japanese elements together to create pottery pieces that are asymmetrical.



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Luckily, Kawai‘s beautiful wooden farm house seems to be under the tourists’ radar, so I was able to wander and absorb the subdued and tranquil setting. Designed by Kawai and built by his brother in 1937, the house had been left untouched since his death in 1966. It is not hard to see the influence of Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of wabi sabi (the aesthetics often associated with ‘imperfection’) at this house, in particular when he talks of ’emptiness’ in the his essay titles “We Do Not Work Alone”:

“When you become so absorbed in your work that beauty flows naturally then your work truly becomes a work of art… Everything that is, is not. Everything is, yet at the same time, nothing is. I myself am the emptiest of all.”





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One of the most impressive sights at the house is his huge kiln at the back, which has been well preserved. Beside pottery, Kawai also did wood carving, furniture design, metal casting and calligraphy, and these works can be seen around the house/museum. I found the museum and his work utterly inspiring, and I think it is possible to imagine the kind of person he was from his craft, designs and writings. The aesthetics of this house is so sublime and understated that it would take some time to grasp it, and you may need to return again to appreciate it fully.



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