Shuffling Tokyo into Kyoto-More Than Just a Word Scramble

While a simple shifting of letters can transform Tokyo into Kyoto, the experience of these two Japan’s is vastly different.

river walk with umbrellas
over Kamu river.Kyoto

Go to both but soon you will realize once is not enough.

at nijo temple carving kyoto blog
above the gate at Nijo

Initially, let the overwhelm guide you. Succumb to the mechanics and efficiency of the pavement and population. Be hypnotized by politeness. Be patient in chaos. It is our chaos, not the chaos of being here.

train line sign kyoto blog
one of various subway line guides
density of language
you can find it if you can name it
tstutura bookstore
we understand english kyoto taxi
outside Kyoto station

Meander narrow streets. Absorb the density of an unfamiliar alphabet. Adapt to ways of every day. Drown in this landscape of people and place.

kyoto morning2
kyoto from the Miyako hotel

Kyoto. Go. Once is not enough. Return to unwrap its veils. Get closer to its soul.

faces woman shop streetcleaner in morning kyoto blog
Early morning shopkeeper
bellringing kurama
At Mnt. Kurama
traffic cone in bamboo blog pic
Dressing a road bumper
morning run over kyoto bridge kyoto blog
Morning run over the Kamu

Packing up from TABF and leaving Tokyo allows us to deflate.

TABF closing day

Visiting Kyoto, for me, is like seeing a movie, a play, reading a book over and over. Each visit I see through a different lens. I hear different sounds. Feel different moods even though I walk the same streets.

temple field trip
Field trip on Mnt. Kurama
sculptures in nijo garden kyoto blog
In the gardens of Nijo Castle

monks in starbucks

faces mom and son on train kyoto blog

There are over 1800 shrines and temples in Kyoto. We have seen the ones you’re supposed to see. Ones we researched. Ones we learned we missed. Ones we stumbled upon. For gardens. For Buddha’s. For reflections on water. For gates. For climbs. For meditation. For sounds. For trees. For monks. For a Shojin meal. To light candles

staues children at kurama
Mnt. Kurama
reflection atmoss temple
Saihi-ji.The moss temple
mnt.kurama roof blog pic
Mnt. Kurama
lighting candles blog pic jpg
For special souls. Mom.Dad.Ari.Sophie.Hedy

We approached our fourth trip to Kyoto casually, quietly. Other than Sao-ji , the “moss temple” which requires advance tickets, we left our five days fluid.

advance ticket saoji kyoto blog

Maybe we’ll do this. That would be nice. If we have time. Should we go there again? That sounds interesting. We don’t have to do that again. Let’s find something new.

Maybe we’ll bike along the river. Let’s plan food a little better. Let’s connect with friends we don’t know of a friend back home.

Let’s see what we find. Let’s move slower. Maybe visit one thing each morning. Walk the afternoon. Be together. Be light. Appreciate. Try to calm. Be aware. Breathe.

river walk

kyoto gate for kyoto blog

mezzuzah on door kyoto

lantern path at kurama kyoto blog
The path up Mnt. Kurama

And so we welcomed Kyoto and Kyoto embraced us.

paper mache dog kyoto blog

mnt kurama entrance statue kyoto blog

faces matcha maker


frog coin pond

While I reference and share some of the places we visited, I devote this post to the feeling of Kyoto. Share the faces. Things I felt and saw. Hope they magically pop out from a two dimension presentation to stir up joy and spirit and appreciation.

toga explaining chant

monk closeup starbucks sign

faces child on scooter kyoto blog

It was an odd time to be away from home. Fires raging to the north, south and east of us. Friends and family scurrying in the night to evacuate. Our little main street in Gualala becoming a safe haven for people fleeing with perhaps one suitcase. Without a plan. Fear and sadness filling a crowded space between passengers in cars. Families broken apart by death. Unknown future. A world-class industry devastated. Communities that look like the one outside your window annihilated. Singed animals. Loyal pets who ran in fear leaving owners to make hard decisions. Puppies waiting, standing guard in piles of ash. Falling trees engulfed in fire stopping cars, people trying to escape. Frenzied wildlife, an audience, and symphony to our coastal town governed by Mother Nature frantically searching.  A new-found sense of caring for helpless foxes and bobcats and creatures of the nocturnal looking for water, food, and cover. Familiar kennels under mandatory evacuation.

The safety net of Gualala, CA. October 9.

The ocean opening its unconditional cool and freshness beneath vapored skies. And the wind, most times a drama to watch now an apocalyptic slide show.  I read about this from a distance,  on a device as if it was removed like the hurricanes in the Caribbean and states out of familiarity.  And I am at a distance from my neighbors and cousins and friends and places I buy fresh fruit and vegetables and my mother-in-law helpless in a home in her own world of Alzheimer’s. And the kennel Woof! goes to evacuated on our first day in Kyoto with staff members who lost their homes.  Eerily, we made a different decision for this trip and he was safe in Virginia.

The blue spot between the smoke cloud cover-home.

How do I put my footing in Kyoto make sense? I hope that Kyoto in its magical way helped me find that resolution. I hope in some way it helps anyone in turmoil of questions without answers, priorities and lifting heaviness.

morning run
An espresso and iced-tea  run through Kyoto
moss temple buildings

mezzuzah on door kyoto

Kyoto. October 2017. Intentionally, without much narrative for you to interpret in a time when we need to make sense of our own stories or create them, inspire our thoughts and feelings and see what we can with our own eyes.

calvino and coin laundry
Brain and laundry on spin cycle

Maybe that is the reason we were in Kyoto.

nijo reflection kyoto blog
Reflections and light installation

and all the reasons to come back home and be grateful.

journey home faces billymark
Long journey home begins with Shinkansen Train from Kyoto to Tokyo
Woof! First night in Alexandria home

Because we do not know about tomorrow.

weeping cherry
Kyoto. October 13.
burningtree santa rosa
Santa Rosa. October 13th.




tokyo v4 + tokyo artbook fair II-2017

2017. October. Again, we are in Tokyo.

tokyo metro mapThis post is not meant to be a guide to or review of Japan.  Well, not the kind with opening hours, must-sees and landmarks.  What has struck me this time is the beauty in diversity.  In the space between language barriers. In the beauty of creating.

scatf maker at tabf

Perhaps, the streaming of daily news and events over the past year, fears and insecurities that wake us before morning have made me seek remedies from being kind, aware and mindful. Recognizing beauty in front of me, around me.  An increased sense of obligation to create and share. Recognize overt and hidden talents of people across a spectrum of skills and choices. Acknowledge. Encourage. Appreciate. Inspire. This is in our power.  This is how we medicate helplessness from headlines and backstories.

making naan

boardwalkstillI am not running from shrine to shrine.  I am not navigating mechanized crowds through stop lights and cross-walks.  I am not searching for restaurants.  No subway stop sampling of neighborhoods. I am satisfied being absent of must-see lists or 72 hours in Tokyo recommendations letting my own awareness guide me through the hours.

faces cirle dress

tokyoumbrellaandbikeThe first time I visited, Tokyo was overwhelming. In a way, disappointing.  I was looking for ‘authentic’ Japan, not avenues lined with generic signs of luxury. Eating was challenging. Fish stock in one form or another is often the first ingredient in dining options. Not good for vegan life or if bending the rules, vegetarian.

upon at dusk
later the same day-pushing through the call of sleep

The language is difficult to interpret.  In other tongues, I mumble sounds or see hidden words in different arrangements of familiar letters. Add my own pronunciations and use hands to translate”this is deliciousoso, scuz-a-me, where is subwayo or choo choo?  Me, vegan, make a fish face and use my hands to say no.

uhm…doesn’t look like breakfast
breakfast foreign language decipher
figuring it out

With a different alphabet, I stare at phrases thinking they will focus into a phrase I can understand. I  rely on images . On packages of sealed food, pictures of berries and nuts mean a better selection than pictures of a smiling chicken or fish. I learned to take a couple of zeros off currency and figure out a short taxi ride is not $1000. I hold loose coins in an open palm and slide my hand over to cashiers. At ATM’s I look for an English text box but often withdraw too much or too little. I learned not to open the door of a taxi. The driver does it from a control on his dashboard.


breakfast of champions-tokyo version

indian restaurantAfter a few days of my Tokyo #1 visit, 2008, I began to understand the magic of the city but too close to departure.  Magic tied into the way the city operates.  The politeness. The patience. The attention to detail. Big animated smiles that monopolize faces. Organization and cleanliness. An absence of American urban rush hour havoc. A politeness that glides people through the day.

kids with accordian zine 1It’s not that Tokyo is my favorite place to visit over and over again.  The first two trips were to visit friends who hosted and chauffeured us inside and outside of the city.  I learned the metro system from taking trains in wrong directions. Getting stopped at turnstiles. Figuring out underground mazes. Tokyo started to make sense.  The third and fourth trips were for the Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF) where billy was juried into the fair and welcomed into the international section.

set-up, 2017!-warehouse terrada, shinagawa

stupidhairluckymove1Tokyo started to come together. The fair, four days, brought us into a Tokyo different than before. Rather, TABF brought Tokyo to us. A destination where local Tokyo and visiting foreigners spend time with artist made books and the artists who create them.  Where language needs little translation. “How much? ” “How do you do this?” and “Where are you from?” start slow conversations that find a way to connect, not frustrate.

bambiislandandartist A ubiquitous visual language taking place on multiple floors up and down rows lined with tables of vision and product executed by passionate and humble art-makers.

faces family of 3

There is no interruption or impoliteness from cellphonespeak.  Giggles and clapping hands of enjoyment animate communication. Misunderstood or not understood words don’t matter. Art is the subject.  Art is the understanding.  Fingers pointing to pages and flipping through books. Gently handling a fabric button. T-shirts and bags with simple illustrations. Explanations that transcend language barriers. Viral passion for art, and words. The individuality that brought people together shlepping weighed down with suitcases and duffel bags. From Germany, Korea, Singapore, America, Norway, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Paris, London and throughout Japan.

Art-makers morphing into a single we make art culture.

To share–to have a purpose–to bring boxes and bags and hooks and tape to show vision in three-dimension. Helping visitors experience art in traditional forms and new forms. To inspire. To spread a contagious mood of creativity, confidence in individuality.  To remind us of the beauty inside of us and inside others. Or simply to enjoy an autumn afternoon on the way to or from somewhere.

tabf outside crowd

free bike

faces elevator girl


There is no language barrier to smiles and sharing of art.

I observe. As I scan the flow of participants and visitors it reminds me that art connects people. How important this is now, more than ever.  When asked where are we from there is no reference to politics. No snickering. No judgment. We don’t ask questions of our artist neighbors from Korea. There is the only curiosity of the art and appreciation for the artists who have traveled here.

Finding the unexpected on the anniversary of my mom’s death.  My mom who built a menagerie of Bambi relics over 70 years.


The venue, a warehouse set-up is different from last year’s open campus forum.  Creating some challenges in getting in and out and intermittent rain heighten Japanese patience, its own art form filling the canvas of the street.

tabf outside line 1

people on bikeWhat has struck me this trip is the beauty of diversity.  Of foreigners bringing art for people to absorb. Dynamic and in-the-moment sites rather than checking off have-to-see sights from stickie-note tabbed pages in guidebooks. I have seen those sights in past trips, not all of them but that’s okay. Still, I take short escapes to see the Louise Bourgeois “Spider” and a visit to our favorite ceramics gallery.

spider at roppngi hills
the beauty of the ceramics at this shop and the beauty of you-can-only-get-it-here

Food has been better this year.  It still takes planning but the expansion of fresh salad restaurants and vegan cafes gives us default. Fruit stands and natural food markets are not as spread out as before. Yes! to the Happy Cow app and pocket wi-fi.

8ablishIt has been a difficult year for us. Not for “us” as in “us” but from events that are part of “us” being “we.” Primarily, billy’s mom with advancing Alzheimer’s forcing her move from our home after four and a half years.  billy’s half-day visits with her every other day stir up anxieties that play into decisions for us to travel, be away. And the unexpected interruption from discovering and treating a Melanoma billy identified on the side of his face. billy’s prep and production for new work and inventory and collaborations fill days and nights. Travel to and from our remote home extends the travel. We navigate doubts and concerns like everything else that makes us “we.” Plus, the “woof!” who is glorious and unconditional but requires extra effort and coordination while we are gone.

woof going to sitter
woof! off to sleepaway camp aka babysitter

billymark tokyo 2017

billy umbrella 1And here we are, Tokyo v4. I hope the photos and words bring you to into this world of beauty and kindness and inspire you.  For now, more than ever it is a time to make art and create…to see beauty and happiness in faces.

Join the faces.

We are all artists with our own stories and vision. We all have something to share, to connect to soothe our fears. Pick up a pen.  Grab a brush. A bottle of glue. A recipe. Tape. A piece of chalk.  A sharpie.  Leave your doubt at the door. Create!

and when the day is done…..

faces child asleep

folded book dream

From Please Touch to Don’t Even Think of Touching… hello b’AH’sel

-basel #3

INR White Banners

kid with rainbow zine on floor

art basel courtyard

basel entry ceiling 

Note:  B’ah’sel for the purpose of this blog series always refers to “the main fair at Art Basel.”

Additionally, I changed my intention and will not chronicle day by day, booth by booth, genre by genre, period by period, available or not available, opinions on where an artist is taking their work artistically, who are the rising galleries to watch, why and what collector bought what for what reason, where to be seen and where not to be seen, who to see and who to miss, where to be and where not to be, and which are the coveted invitations?

I leave this to those with press passes hanging from chains around their necks, curator ID’s flashed from wallets and whatever else authenticates opinions.  Those that are far more experienced and diligent than me or have had  credentials bestowed upon them for reasons or no reasons.

Given this is art focused I take liberty to perhaps use terms inappropriatly. I decided that I am an impressionist and an abstract writer.  I write more like Jackson Pollack paints not Vincent VanGogh.  Documenting and rendering things for me is just getting words out of my brain.

While identifying my days and relevant experiences of my time here the tales will come from an eyewitness to contrast. Highlighting the people not being covered by anyone tethered to the floor plan of B’ah’sel or everything going on inside the electric fence protecting the ego of the privileged from those on the other side.

We were set up and now at I Never Read and it was the only time to make our visit to B’ah’sel.  Starting at 6PM tonight and for the next three and half days if either of us were not at our table there would be no one to show Billy’s work.


We were now headed about six blocks from the passion driven art fair to the price driven one. For us, sorry Chelsea, B’ah’sel was a satellite fair.

One question asked two ways with only a subtle variation of one noun drives the selling intensity and attitudes at B’ah’sel or for that matter the other ‘significant’ fairs including the Armory in NY and Art Basel Miami.

“Where is the artist work going?”  “Where is the artwork going?

While sounding similar perhaps the same to some depending on how each is answered can make careers, millionaires and put images into history books.

Simply said,  1. what is the artist making and planning to make?

2. most important, who is buying it aka where is it being placed?

Unless, you are one of those “real collectors” who came through two days before the fair opened as one gallerist hound told me as she sniffed my potential you might as well as come off a cruise ship.  No doubt she already decided from my shorts, t-shirt and cheap faded red canvas shoes that I’d best be off to Ikea to buy a print.

I love this and am offended by it at the same time.  What she did not know was that I already owned a piece from the artist she was sold out of.  My t-shirt came from a Guggenheim exhibit that in-the-knows traveled from around the world to see.  (I only came from San Francisco). It had no logo, just a simple sketch of the installation blueprint on it.  To her it might have just as well said Hard Rock Some City.

The shoes?  They came from the vendor just outside of the tenement from where my mom had grown up in the lower east side.  She had died recently and I wanted to visit this place down the block from Whole Foods which had now stood on the ground where some remade shtetl village shops probably stood which is a good idea maybe for an Art Basel installation next year..

The shoes were $9 and sold to me by the grandson of the immigrant shopkeeper who worked there when my mom played in the streets and my grandmother probably yelled “Ruchel” out the window telling her it was time to set the table.  For me the comfort they provided was far greater than any of the ones on the Prada parade going on in around me.

The gallerist with her double definition plastic smile had no idea of this. No interest.  So, I showed mine intentionally.

“How’s the fair going for you, “ I asked.

Totally not wanting to talk even though I was the only one in the booth except for one woman talking on her cell phone not quite in or out of the booth  probably checking on her little moppy type of dog back at the hotel doggy daycare.  The “dealer”  replied with “Well the real collectors all came through already.”

Since I knew of the 115 private jets flying in on Sunday carrying representatives from the wealthiest 1% in the world, maybe with their consultants, I continued with,  “Wow, that must’ve been crazy since the fair is only open for an hour!”

She hmphed somewhere from inside her neck which was mismatched with the lack of wrinkles on her face even though she was maybe 20 years younger than me.  “Oh. Not today, today is for the public.”

So, my story on B’ah’sel is not about the art hanging on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, sticking up from the floor, locked in showcases, playing on video, installations mimicking rooftops and storefronts, concrete piles.

I loved and engaged with a lot of it.

It is not about what’s cutting edge. It’s not about the art “in your face” as much as for me it is the art “in the faces.”   Everyone squeezing through the mazes crowded with  the “open-to-the public” types.  This is the “art” that blew me away.  The contrast in culture.  The profiling. The assumptions. The attitudes. The selected who can buy or who cannot buy because of who they are or who they are not.  It is a performance of contrasts and metaphors and I soaked in it, participated in it and played with it while getting angry at it, humbled by it and “excitigusted” by it.

is it art-balloon

is it art-jacket

is it art-holding up

I am sure the folks peering over the top of their bifocals at stripes never before painted “this way”did not find the time to mingle with the folks 10 minutes away on Saturday at the flea market in the park where “the public” rummaged for their ‘find’ through socks and lunch boxes for their kids from vendors selling from blankets on the grass to wobbly tables supporting used dishes and silverware.

basel flea market 1

A suggestion I would have to the B’ah’sel architects is to use the city planners of the city, Basel.  If the event was planned the same way pedestrians, cyclists and trams navigate seamlessly though-out the city and integrated with each other then maybe the crashing into people, the squeezing through out of synch floor plans on pamphlets with floor plans on feet could be avoided.

I saw contrast everywhere.

If I were recognizable,  wearing shorts would be fine.  Sellers looking for a bulge in my pocket not being of the erotic kind.  Maybe if I had tattoos where the storytelling continued on my nicely trained and toned arms out from below the cuff of my D&G black crew neck shirt would get buying potential attention.  Maybe if I was traveling with a translator.

is it art-cement

it is art-hanging indian

It is also sad in a way are some of those that surround the artist think they have the right to be the artist or worse yet interpret the artist success as their own.

I like art.  I even buy some when I can. I’ve been lucky to acquire some works at a time when it was easy to  talk with the artist at their group shows.  The emerging artist world is a small community and when the few do emerge they don’t forget you and find it refreshing when you say hello to them with no agenda.

I introduced myself  differently than from in my earlier emails.  A big so-what expression responded.  I asked about the current work.

She replied not surprisingly.  I told her that I try and buy work by this artist.  This is where I get offended and hold back spontaneous words  following her  “Oh, many people say they are collectors of this work but it is very hard to get” probably thinking that what I had was a Xerox copy of something.

It is important to know that the art world in this context especially  is driven by supply and demand of an artist.  However, what I find not typical  in the usual model of supply and demand found in basic consumer transactions where lower supply means higher price here  I see the lower supply means  higher  attitude.  Availability is not given to the first in line but to those  and who may actually be “selected” or “should” by the work pushing  demand even higher.  B’ah’sel

This is what I mean about assuming success or assuming the brand of someone or something else.  I learned this when I started my professional career.  Having the good fortune to “sell” for iconic brands I was always reminded that I was not the brand.  Once through the doors that the brand name opened I had the privilege but more importantly the responsibility and humility to represent my company  well and make the passion contagious.

Unless you ARE the artist, you are NOT the artist.  The way I look at things is that there is nothing that I must have that makes me want to fund the attitude of a seller. I since learned the preferred name of art dealer is gallerist.  It’s not even a word in spell-check.

While I was standing up and eating my $20 cheese sandwich watching the panorama around me suddenly I chuckled to no one as I had my epiphany for the day.

The reason people in these situations kiss once on one cheek and then on the other is that each time they look over the person’s shoulder it is so they can see who is coming down the hallway behind them .  Kissing each cheek doubles this opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong.  I had fun but after two hours navigating Halls 1.0, 2.0, 2.1 and A-1-20-Z1-20 cubicles, the side installations, stairways and going in what I thought was the right direction, the art was becoming white noise.  The crowds increasingly unaware of the etiquette of people traffic flow with head on preoccupied cell phone conversation collisions and swinging backs packs like airbags in my chest from gawkers stopping short in front of me had become enough.

is it art-rag

isit art-green

is it art-sushi phones

It was nearing 4PM.  We wanted to see Max speak from Printed Matter (side story to follow).  At 6PM we needed to be back at I Never Read for our showtime where it didn’t matter if you were public or not, just as long as you come.  But it was not on the agenda of the crowd I was engulfed in and “being seen” did not include being seen at the I Never Read Fair.  Not quite a 10 minute pleasant walk away this was way to far for this population even though by 6PM, mostly everyone here would be clinking glasses from their hotels or bistros much further away than the fair we came to Basel to participate in.

My companion in the bus back after B”ah’sel summed up the experience best.

art critic dog 2

Is it art of the day?

robot mower

No, it’s the robot grass mower at bnb sevgelhof.

next up: Opening Night at I Never Read