New York art book fair 2016


MoMa PS1, Queens


As a newbie to art book fairs, I had no idea what to expect at the New York art book fair hosted by Printed Matter at MoMA PS1 in Queens. I have visited the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 (there wasn’t one this year), but it was minuscule compared to the New York one. I was completely overwhelmed by vast size of the New York one, and I had to return again for a second visit. Yet, I still didn’t manage to visit all the stalls, but the experience was eye-opening, and judging from the crowds, I can safely say that book publishing is far from dead!






A former school/warehouse dating back to 1892, MoMA PS1 reopened as P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center after a $8.5 million renovation project in the late 90s. The center eventually merged with MoMA in 2000 to promote contemporary art to a wide and growing audience. 




NY ART BOOK FAIR 16  misaki kawai at NY ART BOOK FAIR 16

motto at NY ART BOOK FAIR 16


3rd right: Japanese artist Misaki Kawai‘s books and zines; 4th row: Berlin’s Motto; Bottom right: Ottographic from U.K.


The fair occupied two floors of the building and two outdoor tents, featuring over 370 booksellers, antiquarians, artists, institutions and independent publishers from twenty-eight countries, and was attended by over 39,000 visitors. I was glad to see many familiar booksellers and publishers, especially because I have been doing a lot of research on independent bookshops and publishers for our new theme lately. Yet, I was also thrilled to discover new booksellers and publishers from around the world. There was much to see and I had to resist the temptation of purchasing for my own personal interest.



 Onestar Press at NY ART BOOK FAIR 16

Ebecho Muslimova

Ken Kagami  NY ART BOOK FAIR 16  bread & puppet calendar


daido moriyama

Top left: Gagosian Gallery; Top right: KAWS‘ ‘Man’s best friend’; 2nd row: OneStar Press stand; 3rd row: Ebecho Muslimova at One Star Press; 4th left: Ken Kagami; 4th right: Bread & puppet calendar; 5th left: Marco Breuer; Bottom row: Daido Moriyama photography


Aside from artist books and zines, there was a strong focus on photography books, and some of best stands in the photography section were from Japan, including Goliga, Akio Nagasawa and Komiyama (specialises in vintage art and photography books). As a fan of photography, I finally succumbed to temptation and bought a book & DVD set called ‘Tokyo diaries’ at the Pierre von Kleist stand from Portugal. I spoke to its Portuguese  publisher and photographer André Príncipe and he told me about his project – how he encountered well-known Japanese photographers such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Hiromix, Kohei Yushiyuki and Kajii Syoin in Tokyo; and how the films were ruined by the x-ray machine during transit. André also signed the book for me, and I left the stand feeling quite satisfied with my purchase.








At my second visit to the fair, I decided to spare some time to see the exhibition on the top floor: VITO ACCONCI: WHERE WE ARE NOW (WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?), 1976′. The multidisiplinary artist’s solo exhibition showcased much of his early performance work through photographs, sketches, films and video footage. His radical and subversive explorations of the human condition, sexuality, voyeurism, identity are still provocative even in today’s standards. The exhibition also reinstalled his ‘WHERE WE ARE NOW (WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?)’, which is made up of a wooden plank surrounded by stools. The plank continues through an open window and becomes a diving board suspended over the traffic below.



NY ART BOOK FAIR 16  Wizard skull' 'Sexy Ronald'

Top & bottom left: The view from MoMA PS1; Bottom right: New York artist Wizard skull‘ ‘Sexy Ronald’ could be seen inside and outside of the venue


If I had more time, I would have paid a third visit to the fair because I reckoned I only managed to see 2/3 of the fair. As an art book fan, and a new bookseller, I thoroughly enjoyed the fair and its popularity indicates that independent publishing now is thriving and will continue to do so in the near future.



Books, zines and DVD I bought from the art book fair


Foyles & the comeback of bookstores

Living in this fast-paced world today, is there even time for nostalgia? Changes are inevitable in big cities, but not all changes are necessarily positive. In Hong Kong, I often complain to my local friends that 90% of the lovely spots that I discovered the year before are likely to disappear within a year, and most locals wouldn’t even notice it. One year is like eternity in Hong Kong. Now I feel like London is heading down the same direction, and people are becoming increasingly oblivious to these changes.

Recently in my neighbourhood, a beloved local newsagent has announced their closure, and all the locals are saddened by the news. I have known the family for years, and one day the owner said to me: “We are like families, I feel sad to go too.” Families? Would the guy who ‘mindfully crafts’ my coffee behind Starbucks use this word? Obviously not. I don’t think these locals are clinging to the past or are reluctant to changes, instead they value the relationships and trust built over the years. London used to be like a city with many small villages, and each village would have their small independent shops where locals would visit regularly. Now it is a very different story.



Foyles’ flagship store on Charing Cross Road 


Before Amazon, people used to linger in bookshops and I was one of them. Studying design and working in advertising, bookshops served as a main source of inspiration for me. The unfortunate demise of bookshops have prompted numerous independent and even large chain booksellers in the USA and UK to close down in the past decade. According to the Booksellers Association (BA), more than 500 independent bookshops have closed its doors in the UK and Ireland since 2005.

When I lived in New York many years ago, I used to spend much of my time lingering in independent bookshops like Rizzoli (which had to relocate from its beautiful 50-year old premises due to demolition of the building), as well as chain bookstores like Borders (now closed) and Barnes & Nobles (only a few left in the city). Being used to the traditional British bookshops (not bookstores), I was initially fairly gobsmacked by the size, late opening hours, and the variety of products (with huge magazine and music sections) available at these large American chain bookstores. Besides, Barnes & Nobles was the pioneer to incorporating cafes (or Starbucks) in their stores, and this proved to be a successful formula that would be copied by other bookstores globally.

The most successful ‘copycat’ is Taiwan’s largest bookseller chain Eslite, where customers can hang out all night long at their 24-hour Dunnan branch in Taipei (which I did when I was in town, and I loved it). Customers can browse books, shop for lifestyle products and enjoy coffee or light meals all within the same retail outlet. Another successful example is Tokyo’s Daikanyama Tsutaya Books (T-Site), a beautifully-designed concept bookstore that is open from 7am until 2am. These booksellers demonstrate that heyday of bookstores is far from over, all they need is to evolve and move with the times.


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In London, the best-known bookstore is Foyles founded in 1903. It was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest bookstore in terms of shelf area (30 miles/50 kilometres) and number of titles on display. Like many Londoners, I still have vivid memories of the old maze-like store where books were piled up everywhere, and occasionally had to climb or dig to reach for the books.

When the 111-year old legendary bookstore announced that they would relocate down the road to a bigger space (the former site of Central St Martins College of Art and Design), it probably startled many of their apprehensive and loyal customers. After visited the bookstore a few times since it reopened it doors in June, I honestly believe this change was long overdue. London needs a world-class contemporary bookstore like this and I more than welcome the change.


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A cafe & gallery space inside Foyles’ flagship store


Designed by London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, the new store has won several major architectural and retail project awards since its opening. With 37,000 square feet of retail space, spread across eight shop floors within the four storey building, and over 200,000 different titles on four miles (6.5km) of shelves, it is the largest bookshop to have opened in the UK in more than a decade.

The architects have done a tremendous job and have created a bright, practical and multifunctional space that would no doubt attract more footfall. And in order to survive in the 21st century, a bookstore can no longer be just a bookstore. Besides books, there is also a café, a gallery space and an auditorium, there is no trace of the past except for the posters/photos on the walls.

Elsewhere in London, booksellers like Waterstones and Daunt books (whose owner is now the MD of Waterstones) are also rallying and embracing changes in order to survive in a fiercely competitive market. Aside from book signing events, Waterstones have also installed free wifi and added Cafe W to more than 100 of their stores nationwide.


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Daunt books in Hampstead


But what about the independent booksellers that are rapidly vanishing from our high streets? How do they cope and survive in this day and age? What these bookshops offer that Amazon cannot is human contact, so aside from finding a niche and understanding the target market, factors like customer service and building relationships with the customers are crucial.

Here are some general, specialists and secondhand bookshops (I shall write about art/design bookshops in the future) that are worth visiting in the city:

Hachards booksellers (187 Piccadilly London W1J 9LE) – Forget Waterstones down the road, this is the quintessential British bookshop (even though it is owned by Waterstones). It is the oldest bookshop in the UK, and you can soak up the historical ambience while browsing inside. There are also many signed books available in store, and it is seldom crowded, so it is easy to spend a few hours here away from the hustle and bustle outside. 
hachardspersephone books waterstoneLondon review bookshop
Top: Hachards Booksellers; 2nd left: Persephone books; 2nd right: Waterstones; Bottom: The London Review bookshop
London review bookshop (14 Bury Place WC1A 2JL) – A much loved bookshop by the locals, and despite its touristy location (near the British Museum), it is not very touristy. There is a wide range of selection here, but the main focus is literary fiction, poetry, history and travel. The cafe is extremely popular too, as there are not many decent cafes nearby (P.S. I was told by the barista that they use Monmouth coffee beans, so coffee connoisseur need not worry here). 
Persephone books (59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB) – This small independent bookshop/publisher differs from other because it reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. Their collection of 112 books includes novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books, all reprinted in their signature grey covers. You can buy their books online, but I recommend a visit to their crammed but delightful shop. 
Stanford Travel (12-14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP) – I often drop by when I need to research or plan for a holiday. Established in 1853, this travel and map specialist bookshop stocks the world’s largest collection of map and travel books, as well as travel accessories and stationery. The small cafe at the back is also quite pleasant and relaxing if you want to get away from the crowded and touristy Covent Garden. 

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Top left: Skoob books; Top right, 2nd row middle & right: Housmans bookshop; 2nd row left: Karnac bookshop; Bottom left: The bookshop theatre/ Calder Bookshop; Bottom right: Judd books


Housmans bookshop (5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX) – London’s oldest radical and not-for-profit bookshop (since 1945) specialising in books (over 500,000 titles from their online shop), zines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics. Located close to Kings Cross, this hidden gem stocks the largest range of radical newsletters, newspapers and magazines in Britain. It is hard to find this sort of bookshop in London today, so we are lucky that this one is still going strong after all these years.

Calder Bookshop/The Bookshop Theatre (51 The Cut, Southwark, London SE1 8LF) – This is another unusual bookshop and theatre that started in 2011 by a collective of friends who wanted to create their own theatre to put on their own productions. Aside from regular theatre and a weekly cinema club, their not-for-profit shop has quality second hand books and literature on plays and performance art.

Karnac books (118 Finchley Rd, London NW3 5HT) – This small inconspicuous bookshop is located on the busy Finchley Road, yet many would walk by without taking much notice of it. This specialist bookshop is in fact dedicated to psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and related subjects. Established in 1950, Karnac is Britain’s only specialist psychoanalytic bookshop, and interestingly, it is located not far from the Freud museum. There are not only books by famous names like Freud and Jung, but also new and rare-to-find titles, and it regularly hosts events and seminars related to these topics.

Skoob books (66, Brunswick Shopping Centre, Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AE) – This basement bookshop is one of my favourites in the city because it feels like Aladdin’s cave for books. It offers over 55,000 different titles of second-hand academic books, including large collections of books in Philosophy, Psychology, Modern Literature, Art, History, Politics, Economics, Classics, Science and Technology. I often find books that I already own here for 1/2 the price I originally paid, so if you are looking for bargains, this is THE place to come. And you are quite likely to spend hours here and leave with a heap of books back home.

Judd books (82 Marchmont St, Saint Pancras, London, WC1N 1AG) – Judd Books has a large stock of used and bargain academic books including Literature, Art, Film, Media, Architecture and Music. There are also bargain boxes outside where you can find new/like-new condition books for under a fiver.


black gull book shopblack gull bookshopword on waterword on water

Top left & middle: Black gull bookshop; Top right & bottom: Word on Water


Black gull bookshop (70-71 Camden Lock Pl, London NW1 8AF) Now that Camden market has become a major tourist trap (it didn’t use to be this way), I would avoid like the plague. However, there are still some gems to be found beyond incense sticks and greasy Chinese noodles, and one of them is Black gull bookshop. The secondhand bookshop stocks Fictions, Classics, Crime, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Mind Body and Spirit, Mythology, Occult, Art, Film, Music, Poetry, Drama and Cookery. I also discovered a few plastic crates of children’s books outside. Most books are in excellent condition, and the staff is friendly and helpful. The market is currently going through a major facelift, I just hope that this shop is here to stay.

Treadwell’s books (33 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS) – If you are into tarot and other spiritual-related matters, then a visit to the Treadwell’s is a must as it is an independent/alternative bookshop that specialises in esotericism, culture, religion and spirituality. There are also regular events, courses and workshops on related subjects, this is undoubtedly one of the most unconventional bookshops in London.

Word on Water (Located inside Granary Square) – The most unique bookshop in London is not on land but on water! Word on Water is a floating bookshop on a 1920’s Dutch Barge that offers a range of contemporary fiction, cult, art and photography, non-fiction and quality children’s books at reasonable prices. After losing their previous mooring in Paddington Basin last year, they have been offered a permanent residence on the steps at Granary Square in King’s Cross. These days, it is not easy to find space on land or on water in London, so let’s hope that this bookbarge is here to stay.


Art bookbenches in London

Theodor Seuss Geisel (artwork) Created by Jane HeadfordSir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment

Main: Theodor Seuss Geisel (artwork) Created by Jane Headford; Bottom: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment


If you have been out and about in London this summer, then you are bound to have come across one of the bookbenches somewhere in the city. There are 50 different benches designed by local artists and they will be exhibited until 15th September.

These art benches will be auctioned on 7th October to raise funds for the National Library’s Trust to raise literacy levels in the UK. If you want to find out more about the artists, designs, events and even download the trails, you can go to Books about Town website.


Ian Fleming's James Bond stories by Freyja DeanAgatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane by Tom Adams (artwork) and Mandii Pope Marple Helen Felding's Bridget Jones' diary by Paula Bressel

Top: Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories by Freyja Dean; 2nd row left: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane by Tom Adams (artwork) and Mandii Pope Marple; 2nd row right: Helen Felding’s Bridget Jones’ diary by Paula Bressel


P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster by Gordon AllumOscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest by Trevor Skempton Fiona Watt's That’s not my meerkat… by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hilborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane RichardsGeorge Orwell's 1984 by Thomas Dowdeswell

Top: P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster by Gordon Allum; 2nd row left Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Trevor Skempton; 2nd row right: Fiona Watt’s That’s not my meerkat… by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hilborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane Richards; Bottom: George Orwell’s 1984 by Thomas Dowdeswell


Navigating through the social media world

This entry is all about social media because I want to share my journey/ experience with those who are as overwhelmed, confused and sometimes fed up as me.

When this blog entry is being published, I will be ‘unplugging’ from the internet for a week in a remote and scenic part of Scotland walking, meditating and just being in touch with nature. This will be my summer holiday, completely cut off from the outside world for a week and I am very much looking forward to it!

If it wasn’t for work, I probably would not even want to maintain one account including my personal Facebook page, especially since I am only regularly in touch with less than 1/4 of my friends on it. I am not a fan of Facebook, but I love Pinterest, followed by Twitter.


the science of social media

One of the million books on social media…


In the world of social media, there is nowhere to hide, all information is ‘shared’ and made public including personal details that we would rather not share. I am aware that as a small internet-based business owner, social media is crucial as a marketing tool. I am not against it because I think it can be a very effective tool to spread messages, encourage transparency in companies and do good in the world ( including bringing down dictatorial governments). However, since technology world is forever changing and growing, it is almost impossible to keep up and often we become overwhelmed or information-overload in the process.

Like many other designers and practitioners I have spoken to, we want to concentrate our time in developing our work and grow the businesses, yet we are constantly obliged to manage and keep up to date with all social media at the same time. I thought our lives are supposed to be made easier with the advance of technology? Yet why are we all more stressed than ever? The constant need to ‘share’ can also be addictive ( I am sure most of us have had to eat with friends who are constantly tweeting or posting during a meal), so in order to stay ‘sane’ in our instant gratification-driven society, we need to gain control over it instead of being controlled by it.

Since I started my social media journey for work almost 2 years ago, I have attended workshops, talks and even bought a book on it (see above). I have had my ups and downs, experienced excitement, surprises as well as stress, pressure, anxiety and frustration because I felt that I was not doing enough, or not seeing immediate results, or simply overwhelmed by all the new tools that are supposedly the next big thing!

Here I have drawn a ‘rough’ diagram of my social media timetable and journey:




At the beginning of my journey, I had no idea that I could link my different accounts and use tools to manage all of them. Since I discovered these tools, yes, it has made my life slightly easier but I still have to come up with contents that are fresh, engaging, informative and interactive across all social media sites on a weekly or even daily basis!

Before I started writing the blog, I was worried about not having enough interesting topics to write about, but since I am often out and about and doing different activities, I somehow manage to find new materials for it. I can’t recall ever writing as much and as regularly since my school days! I have never considered writing as my strong trait, but since I started this blog, I find joy in writing and it also acts as a platform for me to express my opinions that I feel strongly about.

Recently I have also been asked by a business consultant about my social media marketing strategy? I said “none” and he said “you are not the only one but we can help you to set daily tasks and plans etc.” This made me panicked for about 2 weeks, I was feeling the pressure… eventually I had to tell myself to step back and not let it get to me. Yes, perhaps I could have a solid strategy and plan in place to help me reach a wider audience or hire a marketer to do all the work for me, but I also view it as a learning process, it’s about trial and error.

We have all heard stories about tweets or posts going viral, creating some kind of social media frenzy; but honestly, how frequent does it happen to new and small businesses? And even if it does, how long will it last or will it increase help long term sales? Social media is a tool that is supposed to help businesses, but if the products or services are not up to scratch, the effect of social media will not be sustainable in the long run. To me, as long as the products are selling, I don’t care about the number of ‘likes’ on the Facebook page because I know it does not reflect the sales volume.

There are many strategies that are recommended by books and experts in the field but at the end of the day, like most small business owners with limited resources, time and budget, we can only do what we can within our limitation. My experience has taught me to not let it take over my life, and I will continue the cycle of ‘try, test and give up’ ( and back to trying again), hopefully, I will eventually get better at it one day.


Hong Kong’s secondhand bookstores

While poverty is a growing issue in Hong Kong, it is still a city of plenty for many. Consumption is a way of life, but the mindset for recycling is still not very popular nor widespread.

A few years ago, I started to change my buying habit and cut down my consumption on non-essential items like fashion, dvds, cds and books. I started to rent films from online film rental company or the local library, downloaded music from itune, sold unwanted fashion items, books & cds on ebay and Amazon, and even joined book exchange clubs. Instead of accumulating more things, I am finally getting rid of them, slowly but surely.


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Top left, bottom left & middle: Flow books; Top right & bottom right: The Book Attic


In Hong Kong, it is not easy to run secondhand bookstores especially because of the outrageous property rental prices; hence, it is almost a miracle to find these bookstores still around! But thanks to the persistence and passion of their owners, these bookstores are attracting more supporters and making people become aware of the importance of recycling and living with ‘less’!

Here are some that are making a difference in this city:

The Book Attic ( Cockloft, 2 Elgin Street, Central) – I first visited The Book Attic when it was still located in Wan Chai, but sadly it had to move because of regeneration in the area and the landlord took the opportunity to increase the rent outrageously. The owner, Jennifer ( a passionate book lover and collector) told me that the landlord would rather have the space empty than to settle for a lower amount ( which is surprisingly common in Hong Kong). It took her a while and help from her loyal customers to find this new upstairs location in SoHo.

The book shop is bright, tidy, quiet and specialises in English books. Most books are in excellent and like-new condition, and donors would get discounts when they purchase books here. Not sure if it is a coincidence or it is related to Jennifer’s Buddhist background, but there is very good selection of books on Buddhism and spirituality here (* Update: the book shop closed in Feb 2014 and there is no further notice on when or if it will reopen again).

Flow books ( 1A Wing On building, 38 Hollywood Road, Central) – Flow has been in business for over 12 years and has moved from Lyndhurst Terrace to Hollywood Road ( twice) recently. Although more cramped and less organised than The Book Attic, Flow sells a wide range of books and dvds ( slightly more mainstream and with an emphasis on fiction), and provides free dvds and books rental regularly to their customers.


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Top left & main: Books & Co.; Top middle & right: Collectables


Collectables ( 2/F, 11 Queen Victoria Street, Central) – When I first discovered this secondhand books and music shop, I was quite stunned by its record collection and its hidden but central location ( in the middle of Central)! This shop has been around for 21 years and has the largest vinyl collection in town. There are also a wide range of classical, jazz, soundtracks and world music cds, art house and foreign language dvds and even old magazines. The book selection and condition is also very good with both English and Chinese books available.

Coffee books/ Books & Co. ( G/F, 10 Park Road, Mid-Levels) – this rather unknown secondhand bookshop and cafe is one of a kind in Hong Kong. It feels like it could be in Europe or U.K. because of its laid back and low-key atmosphere. The selection of books here is wide, ranging from educational to cookery, travel, fiction, non-fiction, hobbies and children, with cds and dvds available as well. Aside from coffee, tea and cakes, the cafe also serves simple dishes at lunch time ( catering mainly for students nearby). It is so rare to find a quiet and ‘slow’ place in this city these days, so this cafe is ideal for those who want to relax, read, linger, and pretend that you are sitting inside an antique bookshop in Europe rather than a fast-paced Hong Kong.


Kyoto temples & gardens ( Part 1)

Okochi Sanso Villa

Okochi Sanso Villa


Ever since my parents brought me to Japan at the age of seven, I became fascinated by this country, its culture and the people. Over the years, I continued to visit this country and I became even more intrigued. When I was younger, I was more interested in the aesthetic and design aspects of the Japanese culture, but in recent years, I developed an interest in Zen Buddhism and the philosophical aspect such as wabi sabi. I also wanted to understand more about rock gardens, so Kyoto seems to be the perfect starting point for a beginner like me.


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Books on wabi sabi, Japanese aesthetics and gardens in Kyoto


During my short stay in Kyoto, I visited about 14 different temples and gardens ( I skipped some famous ones as I have previously visited them before). Since each one has its own characteristics, each touched me on different emotional levels. Some famous temples, like Ryoanji ( or Kiyomizu-dera Temple) was so touristy and packed that I could hardly enjoy what was on offer. Hence, the ones that I really enjoyed were the lesser-known or less touristy ones.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

Okochi Sanso Villa (Arashiyama)

For some unknown reasons, I felt profoundly peaceful and blissful at this villa/ garden. There was only one other visitor when I was visiting, and I spent most of the time wandering on my own in this beautiful villa and garden built by the famous silent actor, Denjiro Okochi. The view here is stunning, but it is also tranquil and calm… I even spent some time meditating alone in the Myohkohan, where the actor’s wife lived after his death. All I could feel was palpable peace here and I did not want to leave at all. The site also has a semi-outdoor museum exhibiting photos and memorabilia of the actor. The entrance fee also includes green tea and a Japanese confectionery in their tea house.


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Okochi Sanso Villa 


Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple (Arashiyama)

This small temple up on the top of the hill in Arashiyama is a bit out of the way, so I had to take a bus ( a wrong one… but I eventually got there thanks to a kind bus driver). Like many temples in Kyoto ( or Japan even), it was rebuilt many times and eventually moved to the current location in 1922. The attraction here is not the temple itself but the 1200 carved Rakan figures made between 1981 to 1991. Each figure is different and many of them are quite humourous. Although these figures are relatively new, they merge so well with the surroundings that they don’t seem out of place at all. A fun and unusual site that is worth the track.


Otagi Nenbutsuji TemplekyotoOtagi Nenbutsuji TempleOtagi Nenbutsuji Templekyoto

Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple


Taizo-in  ( within the Myoshin-ji complex)

This small temple near where I was staying has two famous landscape gardens designed by the Zen master and painter, Kano Motonobu and Nakane Kinsaku. I was slightly overwhelmed by the ineffable emotions that I experienced here. I could not explain it, but I was close to tears here for no particular reason. Perhaps the hospitable gardener could sense this from afar, so he waved me over and showed me the ‘secret magic’ in his garden despite our language barrier. It was a very touching moment, and I left the garden smiling and filled with gratitude.


taizo intaizo intaizo intaizo intaizo in



Jojakkoji (Arashiyama)

This secluded temple does not look very spectacular from the entrance, but it has an amazing view of Kyoto and is also a well-known site for autumn foliage. The temple has a Taho-to pagoda, an important cultural property built in 1620, and the atmosphere is particularly subdued here.





To be continued…


The skin we live in

I walked past Neal’s Yard Remedies last week and saw them promoting their paraben-free week. Potential customers were encouraged to swap their skincare products with parabens for 20% off the store’s non-paraben products. It’s not a bad way to promote their products and ethics, as well as raising awareness on an issue that are not so welcomed by many cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies.

Even though I have always been careful with my skincare and cosmetic products, to my surprise, I still managed to find some products that contain parabens… in a hand cream and a hair product. But what’s the fuss about? Parabens are actually chemical preservatives that have antibacterial effects and are widely used in the beauty, drug and food industries. They can often be found in shampoos, makeup, hair gels, skincare products, toothpaste and even food. Although some can be found in plants or fruits such as blueberries, there are increasing concern over their potential health risks on humans. Researchers have found a link between parabens and cancerous breasts tumours, though they may not be the causes, it is best to take precautions and avoid these chemicals altogether. Besides, many people are allergic to parabens without realising it, so why take the risks?

Sometimes brands may claim to be organic or natural but this may not be the entirely true, so it is important to check the ingredients beforehand. Since I have highly sensitive and dry skin, I am not very adventurous when it comes to skincare products. I sometimes would react after facials at spas, so I am careful with what I put on my face. Apart from Neal’s Yard, I have also been using several French skincare brands for some time that are high in quality, reasonably priced, and mostly paraben-free.

Nuxe – This French brand is one of my favourite and I especially love their moisturisers. They are slightly above mid-range (cheaper if you buy them in France), but I have never had problems with their products because they are mostly organic, mild and not heavily perfumed.

La Roche-Posay – a pharmaceutical laboratory originating from a small French village, this has become more popular outside of France because of recommendations by dermatologists. Most of their products are fragrance-free, soap-free and paraben-free, I especially like their Anthelios XL SPF 50+ tinted cream, which is the best facial sunscreen in the summer.

Bioderma – Similar to La Roche-Posay, Bioderma is also a laboratory that is popular within France, but not as well known in the U.K.

Besides these French brands, Ren from the U.K. and Dr Hauschka from Germany also sell natural products free of chemicals, my only complaint is that prices for Dr Hauschka are much higher here than in Germany! Recently, many cosmetics giants have also launched new paraben-free lines, so it’s likely that there will be more choices available in the market soon.

For those who don’t trust these beauty brands (personally I think many are rip-offs where most of what we pay end up going to their marketing and retail rentals), an alternative is to create DIY products at home. Years ago, I bought ‘The world beauty book‘ which contains a collection of natural and secret recipes gathered from women all over the world. From avocado hair mask to banana and butter hand cream, the book is packed with ideas that are not only cost-effective but healthier and probably more effective on the skin! The downside is that you can only make a small batch for immediately use, which also means it is guaranteed to be fresh each time! However, at the end of the day, I think it is more important to have an overall healthy and balance lifestyle than what we put on our faces!

There is a lot of information online about parabens, and here is one article regarding parabens and breast cancer.