At one of my New York seminars, a soft-spoken Japanese girl (and if I am using those two adjectives together, you know I had to bend to hear her, and her English was rudimentary) gave me a slip of paper with an address of her grandparents’ shop in Kyoto.  Finding ourselves nearby Kaori and I toggle down the rainy pathways – it’s a walking street near the temple – to find it, more for something to do than any sense of obligation. – the street is full of kitsch and crockery, though we did find one place doing interesting reworks of obi silk.

But Yoshiko’s family shop was a bleedin’ revelation: the most exquisite pottery I have seen outside of a museum.  Step inside, dropping your umbrella (a sorry $3 special I stole from Michael in New York, very naff by Tokyo standards) in the stand, awash in a Mozart quartet, and then in Ravel’s Bolero to marvel at hand painted pottery with the precise detail of cloisonné, little flower vases of whimsical design but intricate coloring that has been polished to a matte smoothness that invites the hand to caress and the eye to fall in deeper, deeper…  The prices were a week’s wage, so I had to decline, and God knows we need more objéts like a moose needs a hatrack, let alone getting them home through 4 more flights and 3 hotels,but I was sorely tempted.  Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God, says Vonnegut, but this whispered invitation became an exquisite tango with consummate craft.

The temple itself was massive, with huge five story trunks (literally – five tall stories) holding up a balcony with a dizzying view of the mapled valley, but by this time neither Kaori nor I cared what it was for or another round of history, so off we went to pick up our bags and hustle downtown to the bullet train.

Obama actually went to Florida to celebrate the building of a speedy train (from Tampa to Orlando, for chrissake! – has he been on any of the eastern corridor trains lately?  I know Joe Biden has).  But nothing beats the lightening fast, clean, silent, punctual trains of Japan.  Never mind the rumors, the men in white gloves pushing you on are only for the rush hour subways in Tokyo, which I have avoided.  This was reserved seating, no smoke, no cell phones – and unfortunately no sun, so Mount Fuji passed in the rain somewhere, the mist poured off the hills in fine Japanese style, and Kaori and I poured out our family troubles on each other until we laughed them into perspective.

Coming into the central station, Tokyo and the New Otani Hotel were welcome familiarities. Taken altogether (although I loved the visit) Kyoto seems like the superannuated aunt you have to visit, whereas Tokyo is your young trendy friend you can’t wait to catch up with.  Let’s go Tokyo!


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