My journey to the Japan’s ancient capital city, Kyoto, was a feast for the senses. In my mission to uncover the hidden gems of this enchanting city, I embarked on a cultural adventure that led me to the several museums, many temples, a Palace and a hidden gem art gallery – not to mention numerous fresh fish stands and eclectic shopping. Each experience unfolded before my eyes like a mesmerizing tableau, leaving an indelible impression and much inspiration. I’ve long been fascinated by this town – and even named one of my scarf designs for this beautiful place.
Streets of Kyoto
Part of the magic of this city was simply walking around, as the streets melded from modern to ancient. Peaks of temples amidst contemporary arcades, visions of women in kimonos nearby neon lights.
Kyocera Art Museum
The architecture of this stunning modern art museum alone was worth the visit, situated right across from an orange-colored “gate” and amidst a few other museums. Photographs were not allowed in the primary show I saw, called “Fascinating Showa Modern”. The show reflected in artwork the evolving times in the mid 20th century, as the Japanese culture increasingly embraced industrialization while ancient customs persisted. The artwork expressed the tensions between tradition and modernity. I loved the depictions of women in stylized kimonos doing non-traditional activities.
A second exhibit in the same museum fascinated me for its incredible creativity. This show explored the “Visionaries” whose work has “energy that leaps toward creation” – an idea that these artists and designers are innovating a new path for humanity through their imaginative use of raw materials.
Kyoto is known for its handicrafts, and I was drawn to a tiny new museum devoted to a particular craft of silk. (Later I learned that Museum is a loosely used translation, for what might also be called a Center or Gallery.) At the Shibori Museum, I did not know what was in store for me, as (shoeless) I was directed to first watch a film describing Japanese techniques for silk: shibori and shiori. The first is a sort of threading, which combined with shiori dying and other time-honored methods, creates texture and pattern on silk. I was led into the gallery area, where a symphony of colors, textures, and patterns formed landscape scenes. The museum’s founder and silk artist for generations explained to me that it took over 40 people to realize the works that were displayed. The simplicity of the scenes was deceiving. Looking closely at either the smaller works or two oversized “mural” works, the subtlety of the texture, the varying threading and color work was a wonder. In a further area, I was permitted to try on a handmade silk kimono whose every inch had been carefully created. Of course the hand-dyed silk held my attention, and I likely went through each piece of fabric in the entire collection. They were so kind and allowed me to ask a million questions, and shared their gorgeous artwork with me.
Kyoto University Art Gallery
Next on my artistic itinerary was the Kyoto University Art Gallery, eager to see student work and fresh concepts. I delved into a thought-provoking exhibition that melded the worlds of science and art, blurring the boundaries between the observable and the abstract.
The Imperial Palace
Around the corner from the Kyoto University, the Imperial Palace transported me to a bygone era of royal grandeur and refined aesthetics in pure Eastern style. From ornate porcelain vases adorned with delicate cherry blossom motifs to meticulously crafted lacquerware gleaming with golden accents, silk painted panels in zen-line rooms lined in tatami – the palace atmosphere emanated a profound sense of spaciousness and beauty. The vast gardens and interior lake echoed this abundant sense of calm order and richness.
I was determined to find +81 Gallery where I knew the work of one of my favorite artist/designers was on display: David Carson. Off the beaten track, and adjacent to the “philosopher’s walk”, this sweet spot is a kind of haven for graphic design lovers. Besides the cool show of Carson’s Nu collages, there was a wonderful library of design books, which gallery manager Toshiki Okazaki generously allowed me to peruse. I bought the latest print edition of the +81 magazine, a souvenier I truly cherish. Toshi pointed me in the direction of a nearby temple…. one that turned out to be a world heritage site.
Kyoto is known for its temples, it’s the home of some of the most iconic (and photographed) locations. My own itinerary was not purely touristic, so the temples I saw were ones I happened upon mostly. I was relieved when a Kyoto native told me he had not seen all the temples in his city – much like the churches in Rome, there are countless options. Nudged by my new friend Toshi, I visited this Ginkaku-j aka the Silver Pavilion, at the pinnacle of the city. Unbeknownst to me in the moment, this is one of Japan’s gems! The moss gardens, and sculpted bonsai, the carefully placed flowers and colored maples were mesmerizing to me without a label, I was immersed in the pure beauty of this iconic place.
As I bid farewell to Kyoto on my way to Fukuoka, I carried with me the memories of these remarkable sites, tastes and feeling in my heart – ready to be unpacked at any moment. Kyoto has etched its own indelible imprint on me – soon to be revealed how it expresses itself in my future work.