Writers In Kyoto

English-language authors in Japan’s old imperial capital

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Teddy and Daruma (Weiss)

“Teddy and Daruma” by Allen S. Weiss

Like the shaman from his cave, Teddy (yes, Teddy, my teddy bear!) finally emerged, resurrected after a hibernation of forty years, with what particular wisdom I cannot say. I have no idea if Teddy is an adept of Zen, but I am sure that the roly-poly Daruma who now shares, alongside a bizarre pin-cushion doll, his tiny abode – a knitted ski cap full of embroidered galloons – knows by heart the famed kyōgen Jizō’s Dance, about a wandering monk who asks for shelter for the night, but is refused because of the strict interdictions against lodging travelers. After repeated pleading, the owner agrees to at least take in the monk’s large precious straw hat, and soon afterwards the monk appears, as if by magic, under the hat, arguing that as long as he stays beneath the hat, it is the hat that is sheltering him, and not the house, so no law is broken. The owner, amused, agrees to the arrangement, and in repayment for the kindness the monk does a dance that is the finale of the piece. In the manner of true Zen humor, Teddy’s compatriot Daruma relishes the fact of living not under a hat transformed into a shelter, but inside a hat. Superficially, it might seem easy to interpret a world where there are so few elements: a hat, three occupants, eight galloons. To describe it, one might think of a cheap magic trick, or the stage of a destitute childrens’ theater straight out of Dickens, or an addendum to Through the Looking-Glass, rather than of an entire world. But it is grandiose: heaven and earth transposed, a coincidentia oppositorum, a corpus hermeticum for our times. Teddy’s very eyes are an allegory of this primal conflict, one that sees straightforward and clearly with the acuity of an eagle, the other askew and askance; approbation and disapprobation in the crossing of the eyes, a perpetual double-bind that touches all that his gaze falls upon. Can one possibly attempt the interpretation of a world where everything is already its double, its opposite? The calculus is incomprehensible, and with just the thought of it I am already lost in the labyrinth of infinite semiosis!

I have no idea as to what is happening within the terribly confined quarters that house Teddy, Daruma and the disquieting pin-cushion doll whose identity and origin are a total mystery, just as I have little idea about what is going on inside Teddy’s mind. In fact, I even wonder about the reality of Daruma, he who at one point spent nine years staring at a wall in a cave, and, having briefly fallen asleep during the seventh year, immediately cut off his eyelids so as to prevent such an indiscretion from happening again. Is his presence yet one more incarnation of Bodhidharma, during yet another moment of his endless travels, having alighted here because he somehow sees interaction with Teddy as a path to the salvation of humanity? Or is he an emanation of Teddy’s mind, whether stemming from unconscious guilt at having slept so long, or from religious fervor at finding a compatriot who so complements, by sheer antinomy, his long-lived lethargy? Or perhaps Teddy has chosen, for simply pragmatic reasons, an adherent whose zealously wakened state will guarantee vigilance in case Teddy once again falls asleep for an extended period? Or is Daruma just a drinking buddy? As for the sinister pin-cushion doll, I won’t even begin to speculate, fearing what I may find.

Ultimately, it is impossible for me to tell whether Teddy’s domain – the world in a hat – is cosmos or chaos. But then, who can really distinguish ostensible accumulation from hidden organization, who can know object from allegory, reality from symbol? I even wonder what Teddy is to me, and me to Teddy.

[Excerpted from The Autobiography of Teddy, forthcoming.]

For more by Allen S. Weiss, please see the WiK piece about his 2016 book, The Grain of the Clay, or his Manifesto for the Future of Landscape where you can find an overview of his biodata and multifarious creations.  (His Author Page with amazon can be viewed here.)


Book announcement (Allen Weiss)

Allen Weiss book coverAllen S. Weiss is known to many in Kyoto through his books on aesthetics, and in recent years he has given well-received talks on the subject (see here).  His latest book has now appeared, and he has generously agreed for us to reprint the Preface below as well as providing samples of the always exceptional photographs that accompany his writing.  Unfortunately Allen won’t be making his annual visit to Kyoto this winter because of an operation on his eye, but he tells us that he has already made plans for the autumn of 2017 so we very much look forward to organising an event with him at that time (some will recall the wonderful talk in Robert Yellin’s gallery that he gave).


Koie Ryōji, “Night Snow” guinomi, detail

Koie Ryōji, “Night Snow” guinomi, detail

The Grain of the Clay: Reflections on Ceramics and the Art of Collecting [Reaktion Books, 2016] is simultaneously an examination of collecting as a form of autobiography, indeed occasionally as a form of art and an attempt to sharpen our perception, increase our appreciation, and augment our imagination of ceramics. I hope to accomplish this by stressing the sundry means of establishing deeper relations with ceramics in our everyday lives, notably linking the beauty of pottery to the pleasures of cuisine; by investigating the vast stylistic range of ceramics, so as to celebrate their aesthetic value and confirm their unique place in the history of our arts; and by attuning ourselves to the profound poetry of ceramics, especially in relation to the natural world. As Western aesthetic hierarchies are crumbling, works previously sequestered as “crafts” – notably ceramics and cuisine – are finding their rightful place in museums. This newfound engagement with finely wrought natural materials will hopefully foster an increased ecological sensitivity in these times of crisis. In other cultures, relations between the arts have evolved differently. For example, the tea ceremony at the core of traditional Japanese culture highly valorizes cuisine, and places ceramics alongside calligraphy and painting as the highest art forms. This suggests a valuable paradigm to guide our evolving aesthetics, and to elucidate the symbolic and poetic resonances between ceramics, cuisine, and landscape. Unlike the museum curator, the collector lives with the work of art, and thus learns to know its appearance in every lighting condition day and night, its every nuance of form and color, its varied relations to changing decor. This is why autobiographical forms are most appropriate to explore the passion for collecting. More complex, however, is whether an autobiography can be recounted through a collection. Such can be but a tale of idiosyncrasy, and sometimes even folly.

– Allen S. Weiss


Kamo by Allen Weiss

Kamo by Allen Weiss

Book announcement (Allen S. Weiss)

News of a forthcoming book by WiK member, Allen Weiss, who was recently in Nice at the time of the terrorist atrocity there.  Luckily he was nowhere near the events, though he witnessed some of the great commotion going on.

Meanwhile, Allen’s latest book is making its way through the final stages of the publishing process (though not available yet)…

Jacket Image

216 × 138 mm
224 pages
60 colour illustrations
01 Sep 2016
  • £18.00

The Grain of the Clay Reflections on Ceramics and the Art of Collecting Allen S. Weiss

People collect to connect with the past, personal and historic, to exercise some small and perfect degree of control over a carefully chosen portion of the world. The Grain of the Clay is Allen S. Weiss’s engaging exploration of the meaning and practice of collecting through his relationship with Japanese ceramics. Weiss unfolds their world of materiality and pleasure and the culture and knowledge that extends out of their forms and uses.

Japanese ceramics are celebrated for their profound material poetry, especially in relation to the natural world, and they maintain a unique place in the history of the arts and in the lives of those who collect and use them. The Grain of the Clay deepens our appreciation of ceramics while providing a critical meditation on collecting. Weiss examines the vast stylistic range of ceramics, investigating the reasons for viewing, using and collecting them. He explores ceramic objects’ relationship with cuisine as an art and as a part of everyday life. Ceramics are increasingly finding their rightful place in museums and Weiss shows how this newfound engagement with finely wrought natural materials might foster an increased ecological sensitivity. The Grain of the Clay will appeal to the collector in every one of us.


Allen S. Weiss teaches in the Departments of Performance Studies and Cinema Studies at New York University. He is the author and editor of over forty books in the fields of performance theory, landscape architecture, gastronomy, sound art and experimental theatre, most recently Zen Landscapes (Reaktion Books, 2013).

Allen S. Weiss: Manifesto for the Future of Landscape

Manifesto for the Future of Landscape (photos by Allen S. Weiss)

Ryoanji2 The dry garden of Ryōan-ji is one of the most analysed and photographed works of art in the world. Thus, well before my first visit in November 2006, I felt I knew the garden intimately, and was thoroughly prepared to elaborate on the knowledge I had attained from dozens of books and hundreds if not thousands of images. As soon as I stepped onto the veranda of the temple overlooking the garden, I was stupefied, first by its sublime beauty and soon afterwards by the fact that it hardly corresponded to any description I had read of it. How could this be? Could all previous commentators have been so wrong? Could I have been so blinded by my own prejudices and paradigms? Could I have fallen into the textual trap of confusing image and description for the garden itself? Certainly my attraction to Japanese dry gardens (karesansui) stems from the fact that they corroborate my aesthetic principles, wishes and utopias. But might this passion, hitherto untested against its objects, have falsified my vision? I immediately suspected that my disorientation went far beyond mere culture shock. With each discovery about Japanese culture, my bewilderment seemed to multiply even as my knowledge expanded, and I felt myself further from aesthetic enlightenment than ever, as Ryōan-ji led me to consider other art forms and other viewpoints: the stones had their antecedents in Chinese and Japanese painting; the surrounding walls evoked unglazed pottery surfaces; the stone borders hinted at the complicated issues of inside and outside in Japanese architecture; the sparse moss suggested the need for water in an otherwise dry garden, thus pointing to the essential role of atmospheric effects in Japanese art; the raked gravel stressed the role of stylization and stereotype in image and word; and the overhanging cherry tree evoked the crucial Ryoanji3interpenetration of art and world. I was to discover that these correspondences were not mere free associations, but are deeply ingrained in Japanese aesthetics. After nearly two decades of meditation on Western gardens and landscape from the Baroque through the modern and postmodern eras, I realized that I had to reorient my ways of seeing completely in order to be able to elucidate my initial astonishment before Ryōan-ji. As a result I offer here a certain number of principles, composed in the form of a manifesto, to give a sense of my attitudes and hopes – often against the grain of contemporary theory and practice – regarding landscape creation, appreciation and conservation.

  1. The garden is a symbolic form, which suggests that symbols are as important as images to guide appreciation as well as restoration. The garden is earthly, but it also reaches to the heavens, and occasionally to the underworld.
  1. The garden is never merely a picture, and the ground plan is usually misleading. The spatiality of gardens is plastic and dynamic, such that movement is of the essence. The garden is thus a synaesthetic matrix.
  1. The garden is a Gesamtkunstwerk (a total work of art), a web of correspondences, a site that should encompass all the arts. Consequently, every garden must be continuously reinvented as a scene for contemporary activities.
  1. The garden is simultaneously a hermetic space and an object in the world. Thus the ‘formal’ garden must remain open to the ‘informality’ of nature. Garden closure is a sociological and psychological phenomenon, not an ontological one.
  1. The garden is a paradox, necessitating that complexity and contradiction should not be avoided, since the finest metaphors are often unstable and equivocal.
  1. The garden is a narrative, a transformer of narratives, and a generator of narratives, such that a garden is all that it evokes. Consequently, tales and symbols are an integral part of gardens.
  1. The unpeopled garden is either an abstraction or a ruin, suggesting that all aesthetic value has a use value that must be respected. The most complex landscape is the one most closely observed.
  1. The garden is a memory theatre, which must bear vestiges of its sedimented history, including traces of the catastrophes that it has suffered. In the history of   landscape, accidents are not contingent, but essential.
  1. The garden is a hyperbolically ephemeral structure. Anachronism is of the essence, since a garden is all that it was and all that it shall become.

This compilation is offered not so much as a corrective to my initial perplexity, but as a spur to new intuitions and as a conceptual guide to the seemingly disparate, but in fact crucial, relations between gardens and the other arts. Ultimately, every artwork bears its own phantasmic ontology, which must be distinguished from the cultural forms and symbols that ground the work. Throughout history and across cultures, the forms of and relations between representation and vision are constantly changing. Our ways of seeing must be no less adaptable, subtle and inventive.

[This text is excerpted from Allen S. Weiss, Zen Landscapes: Perspectives on Japanese Gardens and Ceramics (London, Reaktion Books, 2013) and appears, in a slightly altered version, by permission of the publisher.]



Photo by Chantal Thomas

Allen S. Weiss is a writer, editor, trans­lator, curator, playwright and photographer, and is the author and editor of over forty volumes in the fields of art history, performance theory, landscape architecture, gastronomy, sound art and experimental theater. He lives in New York, Paris, Nice, and spends a month or more every Autumn in Kyoto. His work on Kyoto includes the literary anthology Le goȗt de Kyoto (Mercure de France) and Zen Landscapes: Perspectives on Japanese Gardens and Ceramics (Reaktion), as well as Radio Gidayū, a soundscape of Kyoto (Deutschlandradio Kultur). Among his theoretical works are The Aesthetics of Excess (SUNY); Phantasmic Radio (Duke); Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia (Wesleyan); Feast and Folly: Cuisine, Intoxication, and the Poetics of the Sublime (SUNY); Varieties of Audio Mimesis: Musical Evocations of Landscape (Errant Bodies), as well as two culinary autobiographies: Métaphysique de la miette (Argol) and Autobiographie dans un chou farci (Mercure de France). He is committed to interdisciplinary research and experimental performance across the media, and his creative work includes Theater of the Ears (a play for electronic marionette and taped voice based on the writings of Valère Novarina), which premiered at CalArts ended its tour at the Avignon Off Festival; Danse Macabre (a marionette theater for the dolls of Michel Nedjar), which premiered as part of the Poupées (Dolls) exhibition that ASW curated at the Halle Saint Pierre in Paris, and was subsequently shown at the In Transit festival at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin; and a novel, Le livre bouffon (Seuil). His radio productions include L’Indomptable (with Gregory Whitehead) for France Culture; the Hörspiel Glissando for the Klangkunst program of Deutschlandradio Kultur, and Carmignano, an essay on wine for Radio Papesse in Florence. His most recent project is Poupées des ténèbres / Dolls of Darkness, a documentary film about the dolls of Michel Nedjar and the Holocaust. He has been the recipient of Fulbright, Étant Donnés and Japan Foundation grants, and teaches in the departments of Performance Studies and Cinema Studies at New York University.

Amazon page for Allen S. Weiss.  Contact: allen.weiss[at mark]nyu.edu




Echoes: Writers in Kyoto Anthology 2017

Echoes: Writers in Kyoto Anthology 2017 now on sale from Lulu for $14 (less during Lulu’s frequent discount offers)
(See also the Youtube video by Amy Chavez)

The anthology collects writings by established and new writers associated with Kyoto. The contents range widely from fiction to non-fiction: an extract from a novel, a short story, and a fantasy; articles on child-rearing, ceramics, the tokonoma, and the spirit of rocks; contemporary free verse, poetry with a Taoist flavor, and new translations of Basho. Also included are three winning entries from the Writers in Kyoto Competition, and two longer pieces about that giant of Japanology, Lafcadio Hearn, who continues to cast a shadow more than a hundred years after his death. Rounding out the anthology is an essay by Alex Kerr, leading commentator on present-day Japan, together with photographs by award-winning designer, John Einarsen.


About Writers in Kyoto

Preface (Alex Kerr)

Three Poems (A.J. Dickinson)

On Childraising in Japan: Expanding into Interdependence (Karen Lee Tawarayama)

Dateline: Kyoto – Western Journalism from Japan’s Ancient Capital (Eric Johnston)

Poem: At Koryu-ji (Ken Rodgers)

Lafcadio Hearn and Basil Hall Chamberlain (Joseph Cronin)

Hearn, Myself and Japan (John Dougill)

Haiku Cycle (Mayumi Kawaharada)

Three Old Men of Kyoto (Alex Kerr)

Sprawling City, Sacred Mountain (David Joiner) 

Writers in Kyoto Competition: 2017 Winners
1) The Joys of Silence and Bewilderment (Jane Kramer)

            2) Palm of the Hand Story (Mark Cody)
3) Yamaguchi-san (Florentyna Leow)

Basho’s Appreciation for Women: 15 Poems of Female Experience (Jeff Robbins)

Tokonoma Lessons (Paul Carty)

Pride of Place – Saké Vessels (Robert Yellin)

Equivocal Ceramics (Allen S. Weiss)

Chieko’s Story: First Love at Daimonji (Isil Bayraktar)

Under the Light (Edward J. Taylor) 

Six Poems (Mark Richardson)

Return to Goat Island (Amy Chavez)


Please see Writers in Kyoto Anthology “Echoes” 2017. Youtube video by Amy Chavez


WiK bonenkai (year end party) (Dec 17)

Writers in Kyoto will hold a year-end party to celebrate the launch of this year’s Anthology at Tadg’s Gourmet Bar on Dec 17, 6.00-9.00. Hopefully we’ll have copies of the WiK Anthology 2017 available for viewing, though we will not be able to offer any for sale. This is for paid-up WiK members only, and we’re hoping that many of the 19 contributors will be in attendance to celebrate the successful launch of the publication (those who live in or near Kyoto at least – we’ll excuse our overseas members!).

Cost ¥2000.  Flow of events:

6.00- 6.30 – assemble.

6.30 short talks by John D and others involved in the Anthology

6.45 buffet

7.30 onwards socialising and mixing

Those attending….

John D.
Paul C.
John E.
Eric Johnston
Mark Richardson
Karen Tawarayama
Joe Cronin
Ken Rodgers
Isil Bayraktar
Mayumi Kawaharada
Robert Yellin
David Duff
Esme Vos
Malcolm Ledger
Bernie MacMugen
Mark Hovane
Simon Rowe
Andrew Sokulski Zozaya


About Writers in Kyoto

Preface (Alex Kerr)

Three Poems (A.J. Dickinson)

On Childraising in Japan: Expanding into Interdependence (Karen Lee Tawarayama)

Dateline: Kyoto – Western Journalism from Japan’s Ancient Capital (Eric Johnston)

Poem: At Koryu-ji (Ken Rodgers)

Lafcadio Hearn and Basil Hall Chamberlain (Joseph Cronin)

Hearn, Myself and Japan (John Dougill)

Haiku Cycle (Mayumi Kawaharada)

Three Old Men of Kyoto (Alex Kerr) 

Sprawling City, Sacred Mountain (David Joiner)

Writers in Kyoto Competition: 2017 Winners
1) The Joys of Silence and Bewilderment (Jane Kramer)
            2) Palm of the Hand Story (Mark Cody)
3) Yamaguchi-san (Florentyna Leow)

Basho’s Appreciation for Women: 15 Poems of Female Experience (Jeff Robbins)

Tokonoma Lessons (Paul Carty)

Pride of Place – Saké Vessels (Robert Yellin)

Equivocal Ceramics (Allen S. Weiss)

Chieko’s Story: First Love at Daimonji (Isil Bayraktar)

Under the Light (Edward J. Taylor)

Six Poems (Mark Richardson)

Return to Goat Island (Amy Chavez)

Shikoku pilgrim Edward J. Taylor

Pilgrim relief

The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, expected to be released in 2017.  Edward J. Taylor will thus become our second WiK member to have a book published about the famed 88 temple pilgrimage, following the release of Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage (2013) by Amy Chavez.

We spent the morning walking a long straight line across Marugame. At the far end was Temple 78, Gōshō-ji, a small hilltop temple with very clean grounds. A trio of men was busy trimming the pines, one of them lying prone across branches that looked too weak to support his body weight. The man’s position reminded me of some of the aerial antics of the shugenja, who dangled themselves off precipices, climbing one-handed along chains over empty space.   In fact, this very temple had once been a center for the mountain ascetics who had fled the usual centers of a more orthodox Buddhism, seeking a life closer to the earth, closer to the truth, or at least whatever particular truth had animated them.

As we walked back down the hill, a man pulled up and handed us a tiny pair of waraji, with the Heart Sutra written inside on a small piece of paper, wishing us luck. There was an interesting, though unintended pun here, in these woven straw sandals representing the outward ritualized practice of the pilgrimage, and the attached sutra the inner. As Richard Payne wrote, “Where sutra is a thread used to string or sew things together, and also the warp on a loom (the lengthwise threads), tantra identifies the weft (also, woof, the crosswise threads) on a loom. As religious texts, sutras and tantras string together teachings.”

We spent the rest of the morning walking another long straight line across Sakaide. At the far end was Temple 79, Tennō-ji. Along the way, we watched an old man slowly bike up the road, stop suddenly, and put his hand over his mouth in reaction to something. He was watching a house being torn down, and I could almost see his mind running through memories he associated with the place, memories of people now moved on. A childhood friend, a high school crush. What was for the workmen just another job was for him the end of a history.


Tennō-ji was a small temple that had been nearly engulfed by the neighboring shrine. Now shaded by many pine trees, Emperor Sutoku had once been exiled here a millennium ago, his body kept in the pond so as to preserve it until news of his death reached the court in Kyoto.   The lotus stems in the water looked equally lifeless. This was the only temple on the pilgrimage where Miki and I were completely alone, not another henro in sight. We sat awhile, enjoying the peace. I could imagine the loneliness that the wandering poet Saigyo had found when he came here to pay homage to his lord, a loneliness broken when the dead emperor’s ghost arose to engage the poet in debate. The nōkyō-jō was in a different part of the grounds, but even here there was no one but a single monk.

As this region was once known as Sanuki, we very much looked forward to the famous, eponymous Udon. We saw on our map that there was a shop along the trail, but were disappointed by the “On holiday” sign hanging from the door. (Ironically, the three times that we tried to eat Sanuki Udon in Sanuki, we found the shop closed.) In the next town was a supermarket just off the trail. Leaving our bags hidden behind an abandoned house, we walked the short distance to the store, but found it had little in the way of ready-to-eat stuff. We had a poor lunch and stocked up for an equally poor dinner and breakfast to eat later on in the mountains. Ever since leaving Matsuyama, we had found restaurants and shops to be plentiful, food and baths easy to come by. Now we faced a sudden return to the insubstantial diet that we’d had in Kōchi, along with a tough climb ahead.

I had taken some time looking over our maps, and after judging distances both vertical and horizontal, decided to climb up to Temple 81 first, continue to the higher Temple 82 and spend the night nearby, then drop down to Temple 80 in the morning (Armin Howald jokingly compares the Shikoku Henro to the Tour de France, with its various mountain stages.) Most of the ascent up to Temple 81, Shiromine-ji, was along a winding road. A school must have been having a field trip of some sort, for a few hundred kids were now approaching from the opposite direction in small groups. Many yelled out the obligatory ‘Harro!” as they passed, to which I’d raise my hand and respond, “Henro!” Miki grew tired of this by the twentieth exchange or so, but the kids and I still laughed every time.

The final push was up an incredible flight of wide stone steps. They were a cliché out of a kung fu film, and I half expected to see Shaolin monks with buckets balanced across their shoulders, carrying water up and down, with a harsh and painful punishment awaiting any who spilled a single drop. The temple grounds themselves were equally magical, with many nods to esoteric Shugendo practices as well as references to Taoism and shamanism. A single building would be standing atop its own individual flight of steps, or at the end of a trail in the forest. A bus group from Kyushu was in front of the Hondo, singing more than chanting, resonating a beautiful energy that took both Miki and I in. It is said that the Heart Sutra’s 260 characters encapsulate the essence of Buddhist scripture, and here we felt it in the rise and fall of every syllable. We chatted with them on the way down, and found in them the only real spiritual feel out of the dozens of bus groups we’d thus met. Yet again, when Miki and I have grown most jaded, and begun to wonder if any of the purity has survived the commercialization, we meet people who set us straight.

Leaving Shiromine-ji, we climbed again, arriving at a saddle where a large statue of Kōbō Daishi sat at the confluence of trails to Temples 82 and 80. Images of the Taishi are easily recognized, and may even contain unintended Chinese elements. As Baquet has noted: “We’re told that on the pilgrimage, we should hold our beads in our left hand when we pray, without being told why.  A cursory inspection will show that statues of the Daishi always show him with a circle of beads in his left hand.  (A circle–remember that.)  In his right, he usually has his vajra if sitting, and his staff if standing. Freud calling.  The circle is feminine, the staff or vajra masculine.  The feminine symbol is in the left (yin, receptive, passive) hand, the masculine in the right (yang, creative, active) hand.”

Ted's Buddhist statue

After a short rest we climbed again. Where Shiromine-ji had exuded its power in spaciousness and light, Temple 82, Negoro-ji, was more severe. It too had all the feel of a shugendo training space, with darkened grounds and halls, and even the figure of a slain ox-demon back in the trees. Baquet again: “In the 16th-century an ox-headed demon was terrorizing the people of the Go-shiki-dai.  A samurai killed him with one arrow, cut off his Bull-headed gods–a motif from time immemorial. […]  This moon-connection runs deep.  A folklorist might look at the slaying of a cow-figure, representing the moon, as a triumph of a sun religion over a moon cult.  And in Shingon Buddhism, Dainichi–“Big Sun”–is the primary Buddha.”

To enter the Hondo, one had to walk through a series of long dark corridors, lined with barely visible Kannon. Chanting in front of the Hondo was a man dressed in black monks robes, carrying the ringed Shakujo staff of a shugenja, and chanting in a powerful voice. We’d met him and his wife a few times during the past few days, he never failing to greet me warmly in English. Here for the first time I saw his full power. We all left the Hondo at the same time, his voice strongly muttering a mantra, punctuated by the sound of his shakujo hitting the floor with a loud ‘Thwack!’

Miki and I moved back into the forest, the darkness pressing in. We had contacted a man about zenkonyado, and he’d offered us free lodging at a former Kokuminshuku. These were once quite the thing during the bubble years, a place where company workers could go to stay and play. This particular one had belonged to the Kawasaki corporation, so we were expecting a huge luxurious hotel that we’d have all to ourselves. Except that there was no one there to let us in. We rattled some doors and banged on some windows, then finally gave the man a call. It seemed like he’d forgotten about us entirely, and quickly came over in his car. There had been a sudden cancellation, so with some space available back at his lodging, he invited us to stay there. A few minutes later, we entered and saw about a dozen people sitting around a low table, waiting to eat. Oryoki style. We’d unwittingly come to a Zen Temple. I suppose the name, Kappa Zen Dojo should’ve been a clue, but as we’d found it on our list of zenkonyado, hadn’t really expected this. The temple was unique, isolated well out of sight upon the mountain, and used predominantly as a place to rehabilitee hikikomori shut-ins in order for them to return to being productive members of society. The meal was more casual than at other temples where I’d done Zen training, and it was followed by a half-hour of the residents talking about their day. Midway through, my hips were screaming as I sat cross-legged on the floor, having immediately come off a 30-plus kilometer day, over two high peaks. After dinner, the top monk explained the schedule, which we were expected to follow. Despite Zen being my primary Buddhist practice, one I’ve committed thousands of hours to, not one part of me wanted to be here. I was exhausted, my backs and legs sore, and I was being denied my own recuperative rituals of writing and reading.   For the walker, self-care and rest are crucial, and I began to worry about the following day. As my fatigue-fed frustration grew, I found myself nearly in tears.

Then I accepted defeat. This acceptance began to build, and I found the zazen that followed surprisingly relaxing. Breath following breath, step following step. Meditation wasn’t that dissimilar to walking in that you could rely on the repetitive rhythm, get lost in it. One could walk for hours in a semi-blank state of mind, and being well conditioned to weeks of that, here on the cushion it was easy to drop in.  Don Weiss wrote about emptiness in his great “Echoes of Incense.” “Hundreds of books have been written about sunyata (emptiness), but all of these books put together teach less than walking the pilgrimage day after day or sitting in meditation every morning. The intellect cannot grasp this idea. But to the heart, it is simple.”

As it was, it was a bit surreal to be sitting in the middle of this meditation hall, with black robed figures sitting completely still on one side and fidgety kids on the other, as if in detention. From somewhere within the hall a girl was crying, and the slumped, seated postures of the kids betrayed a defeat far greater than my own.

All photos courtesy Edward J. Taylor




Relief of pilgrims

WiK Anthology launch party


A convivial round table talk and discussion, with the spotlight falling on Eric Johnston (third left), who steered the anthology through the production process at very little cost to WiK. A triple toast of thanks to him!


David Duff, posing as poster boy for WiK’s very first anthology.


As the evening wore on, there was animated talk between different groups and folk who had never met before…


A great setting for a large group, with space and good service. Cafe Maaru, near Gojo Kawaramachi.


Peter Mallett, winner of WiK’s first writing competition, came all the way from Kobe to collect his copy of the anthology.


Pray silence for chief editor, and the man responsible for the successful launch of the anthology, Eric Johnston….


Food, drink and bonhomie.


In the foreground Jeff Robbins, Basho expert and WiK resident of Fukuoka, looks over the contents of the Anthology. Eleven different contributors in all, with work ranging from contemporary poetry to whimsical fiction.


The first WiK anthology has now been successfully launched.  Every WiK member will receive a free washi-covered copy, and other copies are being sent out to publishers, media outlets and people of significance in the literary world.  For those in Kyoto there are free copies in Maruzen, so if you would like to obtain one please look out for them when perusing the English book section.

The editors were most pleased with the quality of the contributions, and these were complemented by the line drawings of Oxford artist, Wendy Skinner-Smith.  The content (48 pages in all) is surprisingly varied, covering a range of fiction and non-fiction interspersed with poetry and whimsy.  We are very keen to get feedback, and hope to build on this pioneering project in the future.  We’ll be discussing in the autumn which direction to move in future, particularly in terms of ISBN, amazon, ebook, online publication and POD, etc. For the moment, should anyone have suggestions about how to further publicise or distribute the present anthology, please pass along your ideas.  And should anyone wish to be involved with the next anthology, please get in touch with John Dougill or other members of WiK.

The contents of the first WiK anthology are as follows:

Poems by Mark Richardson
The Oiwa Mystery by John Dougill
The Adventures of Inspector Ashidori by H.L. Stone
Musings by A.J. Dickinson
Juliet is the Sun by Genma Nishiyama
That Most Metaphysical of Objects by Allen Weiss
Kimono Memories by Peter Jonathan Mallett
The Island of Serow by Amy Chavez
The Perfect Sento by Chris Rowthorn
Japanese Pottery 101 by Robert Yellin
It Ain’t No Yellow Fever by David Duff

WiK winter event report


Allen Weiss extols about collecting ceramics before an array of precious pottery pieces in the Yakimono Gallery

A talk on collecting and cataloguing ceramics in a leading pottery gallery, complemented by shakuhachi and saké – WiK’s winter event was an early solstice celebration and the perfect launch into the festive season.  It highlighted three members of Writers in Kyoto, each an accomplished author and each a master of their chosen field.

A packed house at Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery listened carefully as noted aesthete and art academic, Allen Weiss (of New York University) spoke of the joys and quandaries of collections.  How far do they reveal the autobiography of the collector, and how exactly does one go about cataloguing a collection that may have been assembled in an entirely unsystematic manner?  As he ranged over the permutations, it raised thoughts about the sometimes inappropriate categories we impose on objects.  Juxtapositions can prove particularly fruitful in suggesting associations, giving rise to listings based on colour, shape, texture, material, date – or a whole range of other groupings as mentioned in an imaginative Chinese catalogue that Allen cited.  Those who attended Allen’s talk two years ago will be aware of his stunning book on Zen Landscapes, and the reading he gave last night was based on a forthcoming book on collecting which should be no less compelling.  (For his amazon author page, click here.)

Afterwards saké was served in precious guinomi cups, while shakuhachi master Preston Houser played some haunting tunes, two of which were improvised.  One was allegedly by famed Zen eccentric, Ikkyu Sojun, though Preston assured us it was a later composition written to honour him.  (For a youtube video of Preston’s shakuhachi, please click here or here. For his Kyoto Meditations, click here.)

Preston Houser

Preston Keido Houser playing shakuhachi to an appreciative audience (all photos courtesy of Robert Yellin)


Preston and Allen in discussion

Question and answer session following the presentations (photo Decke-Cornill)

Photo Gallery

Book launch for Dougill's book at Tadg's Bar in 2014

Book launch for Japan’s World Heritage Sites at Tadg’s Bar in July 2014.  Fellow authors Preston Houser, Eric Johnston, Robert Yellin and John Einarsen can be seen amongst the guests.


John Dougill signing Japan's World Heritage Sites

John Dougill signing a copy at the book launch




Amy Chavez

Amy Chavez, guest speaker at the launch of Writers in Kyoto on April 19, 2015


Richard Steiner, Eric Johnston and others listen to Amy explaining how she managed to make a living being a freelance writer in Japan – by no means an easy option.


Members of the audience at Amy Chavez's speech. Terry Futaba, the earth pilgrim, in the foreground, with Michael Lambe of Deep Kyoto behind him taking pictures.

In the foreground Terry Futaba, an earth pilgrim, with Michael Lambe of Deep Kyoto behind him taking pictures.  The left of him Mark Richardson, poet and scholar, is distracted from Amy’s talk by the intrusive camera.


Bernie McMugen and Kevin Ramsden in bibulous discussion


A.J. Dickinson and Mark Richardson


Amy signs a book for Michael Lambe, editor of the e-book Deep Kyoto Walks


Amy hands over a book while Ken Rodgers of Kyoto Journal discusses coming issues

Amy hands over a book while Ken Rodgers of Kyoto Journal discusses the coming issue

















Two Friends – Poetry Reading by Mark Richardson and Mark Scott (At The Gael on June 21, 2015)

Mark S. reading at the Gael

Mark S. reading from one of his published collections


Mark Richardson gives a reading

Mark Richardson gives a reading

Following the poetry, there was a musical celebration of the solstice

Following the poetry, there was a musical celebration of the solstice

Meanwhile, in the street outside the pub an anti-fascist demonstration was calling for peace to go along with the poetry

Meanwhile, in the street outside the pub an anti-fascist demonstration was calling for peace to go along with the poetry

WiK Policy Meeting June 2015 at Tadg’s Restaurant

The WiK open policy meeting held at Tadg's on July 5, 2015

The WiK open policy meeting held at Tadg’s on July 5, 2015

The Two Davids: presentation at The Gael Oct 12, 2015


John Dougill introducing David Duff

John Dougill introducing David Duff


David Duff presenting at ‘The Two Davids’ event on Oct 12, 2015 at the Gael. His talk featured his current project on Japanese cats.

David Joiner talks of his experiences putting together a promotion tour for his debut novel

David Joiner talks of his experiences putting together a promotion tour for his debut novel and the valuable lessons he learnt.  For those concerned with marketing their books (which sadly means nearly all writers nowadays), this was an excellent talk and we’re grateful to David for having travelled down from Kanazawa for this.

Dinner with Karel van Wolferen at the Mangebien Restaurant on Nov 8, 2015

van Wolferen dinner

Dinner for ten WiK members with Karel van Wolferen (centre left), whose thirty-minute talk provided much food for thought. Seated from the left are A.J. Dickinson, van Wolferen, Eric Johnston, Bernie MacMugen, Chris Rowthorn, Mark Richardson and Gordon McClaren.  (WiK treasurer Paul Carty kindly took the picture.)

Wik dinner with van Wolferen

Van Wolferen held the group mesmerised as he delved into his personal involvement with political developments in the postwar period and the changes that had taken place. His close association with leading Japanese politicians allowed him a unique insight into the workings of big power politics, and some of his revelations were fascinating.

WiK Winter Solstice Event at Robert Yellin’s Gallery featuring Allen Weiss and Preston Houser (Dec. 18, 2015)


Allen Weiss speaks to a full house in the atmospheric setting of Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery


Allen extols about collecting ceramics in front of the display of precious pottery pieces assembled by Robert Yellin


Preston Houser

Preston Kaido Houser provides the perfect shakuhachi atmosphere for contemplation of the surrounds and the sipping of saké (this photo and the two above courtesy of Robert Yellin)

TALK ON ZEN TERRORISM IN THE 1930S BY BRIAN VICTORIA (At the Gael, on Feb 28th, 2016)

Brian Daizen Victoria giving his talk about Zen terrorism in the 1930s, with material from his forthcoming book

Brian Daizen Victoria giving a power-point presentation about Zen terrorism in the 1930s, subject of his next book

David Duff with Paul Hays, intent on the talk

David Duff with Paul Hays, intent on the shocking revelations

WiK treasurer, Paul Carty, with other members of the audience

WiK treasurer, Paul Carty, pen in hand to take notes as others listen eagerly

Lawrence Barrow and other members of the audience listen to the wartime words of Zen masters

Lawrence Barrow and other members of the audience listen to the wartime words of Zen masters




Eric Johnston of the Japan Times, whose contacts in Tokyo enabled the visit of Robert Whiting to Kyoto


Robert presents to an audience of some thirty people at the Gael


Robert chats with Amy Chavez, our previous year’s speaker

Whiting talk on writing

Robert tells one of the many engrossing anecdotes about his life as a writer, both in terms of the baseball players he’s known as well as the gangsters he’s encountered


Following the talk, WiK held a dinner party at which Robert regaled members with further anecdotes and, in true journalist style, consumed a fair amount of alcohol.


WiK’s first Anthology launched…   June 12, 2016


Bernie MacMugen talks of the new publishing venture he is launching for handmade books.  Fifteen people turned out on a rainy evening for a convivial evening at Cafe Maaru near Gojo Kawaramachi.


Chief editor of the anthology, Eric Johnston, announces the launch of the publication and its distribution to publishers, magazine editors and reviewers.


In the foreground Jeff Robbins looks through the contents of the Anthology. Jeff, who writes pieces about Basho for the website, came all the way from Fukuoka.


Peter Mallett, winner of WiK’s first annual writing competition, came all the way from Kobe to collect his copy.


Food, drink and bonhomie.


David Duff proudly shows off his copy of the Anthology. David was in high spirits after winning a contract from Tuttle for a book about Japanese cats.


As the evening wore on, the conversations became more animated and people broke up into groups. Some of the discussion looked forward to next year’s anthology and how we can build on what we have learned from this year. The future is very much open and input is welcome.


Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson at The Gnome Irish Pub, July 1 2016. About 25 people gathered to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and to remember the sacrifices of WW1. Mark read poems from Thomas Hardy’s ‘Moments of Vision’, pub. 1917

Ist session:
John D. (brief introduction)
Lawrence Barrow (Wilfred Owen)
Mark Richardson (Thomas Hardy)
Araki sensei and Paul Carty (Japanese nurses)
Ken Rodgers (maternal grandfather’s personal account)
Preston Houser (Frank Scott, Villanelle)
Felicity Greenland: singalong medley of WW1 songs

2nd session: 8.30-9.00
Felicity Greenland (song: Willie MacBride)
Gordon Maclaren (John McCrae/Canadian involvement)
Bridget Scott (Vera Brittain)
Preston Houser: (Dylan Thomas)
Kev Ramsden (African-American involvement)
Eric Johnston (US politician/Brit journalist)
John D. (Siegfried Sassoon)
Felicity Greenland: singalong medley of WW1 songs


2016-07-01 21.21.12

Bridget Scott, whose great aunts suffered personal losses in the Great War, reads from Vera Brittain’s touching poems. The writer whose experiences in the war turned her into a pacifist suffered the loss of both her brother and her fiance, as can be read about in Testament of Youth.

2016-07-01 21.01.07

Gordon Maclaren, a trained historian, gives an overview of the Canadian involvement in WW1, including the complicated situation with Quebec which still has repercussions today. He ended with a reading of the Canadian poet, John McCrae.

2016-07-01 20.59.56

Felicity Greenland led two wonderful singalongs of World War One medleys she had put together, which included old favourites and some that were new to many people. She also did a fine solo rendition of Willie MacBride, the song by Scottish folksinger Eric Bogle about the grave of a young Irishman he happened to chance upon .

2016-07-01 20.02.37

Ken Rodgers does a reading from his maternal grandfather’s diary about his firsthand experiences at the front, all the more moving for being so matter of fact. There was humour too in the unexpected appearance of Winston Churchill in French uniform.

2016-07-01 20.00.17

Paul Carty reads a translation done by Araki sensei (pictured stage right), who uncovered the little known story of Japanese nurses sent to help with the casualties in France. Their observations contained some wry comments on the differences between nationalities in the attitude to suffering.

2016-07-01 21.26.26

Kevin Ramsden enlivened the evening with an impassioned plea to remember the minorities involved in the war, since the images we are familiar with are all almost exclusively white. He talked in particular of African and African-American involvement, noting that the latter in particular excelled in bravery yet were despised at the time and subsequently overlooked.

2016-07-01 21.41.51

Eric Johnston, whose idea the whole event was, brought wartime copies of the Japan Times, from which he read an extract, together with the speech of an anti-war US Senator whose sterling words are sometimes still quoted in opposition to recent foreign adventures by the USA.



A packed house listens to Kathy Sokol explain about how the book evolved over twelve years in all


Alex Kerr makes a point in his presentation about aspects of Kyoto aesthetics


Gary Tegler (of Core Kyoto fame) takes a video of the event, which has been posted on youtube (search under ‘Another Kyoto book launch’)


John Dougill as WiK chairman looks on while Kathy introduces the making of the book, whereby she recorded the words of wisdom that Alex offered on their outings to different places in Kyoto. It gives the book a conversational feel.


One of the many rooms in the machiya that belonged to a geisha for many years until she died at the age of 102. Thanks to her, the machiya has been preserved in more or less its original state, with some fine fusuma paintings and decorations. Here we can see a tearoom, with tokonoma to the right, a split roof above (for server and guests) and an intriguing square patterned fusuma.



Speakers: Stephen Gill on ‘Basho: A Self-Portrait’; Robert Wittkamp on ‘Reading Oku no Hosomichi as a literary work’; and Jeff Robbins on ‘Humanity in Basho’

Stephen Gill

Stephen Gill reads from his paper on Basho’s self-image as a traveller and ‘a wandering crow’

Robert Wittkamp

Robert Wittkamp makes a point about the deliberate fictionality of Basho’s Journey to the Far North, not so much a travel account as a consciously crafted piece of literature

Jeff Robbins

Jeff Robbins quoting from his own self-published material about the humanity behind Basho’s writings in his renku and private letters

The audience, prior to moving on to a nearby hostelry afterwards for socialising and further discussion

The audience, prior to moving on to a nearby hostelry afterwards for socialising and further discussion


Bernie MacMugen talking about publishing matters at a WiK event held in Cafe Maaru on Sun Dec 11, 2016, attended by 10 people in all.



  • Robert Yellin kicks off WiK’s third year with an inspiring talk at The Gael. He talked of his personal journey into the world of Japanese pottery and his passion for the beauty he found there.



FOR A REPORT OF THE TALK, PLEASE SEE THIS LINK.http://www.writersinkyoto.com/2017/04/of-poetry-and-pottery-robert-yellin/






With Eric Johnston, David Duff, Tadg McLoughlin, Ted Taylor, John Dougill, Karen Tawarayama, Masumi Kawaharada, Paul Carty, Mark Horvane, Josh Yates, Gordon MacLaren









held at Cafe Rokujian on Nov 18, 2017

Book launch of the Zen book – a good time was had by all

Preston Houser in a Zen moment near the bar

Top notch jazz by improv maestros Gary Tegler and Quin Arbeitmann

WiK member Preston Houser engages in conversation on the left, while member Ken Rodgers gazes curiously towards the camera and over the shoulder of fellow WiK member, James Woodham

Two of the guests at the party, not twins in fact but Preston Houser and Charles Roche

In one way or another there was a lot of networking…

Author at work!

On the left of the picture WiK members Paul Carty and Jim Woodham engage in banter with Justin Giffin

A Kyoto Journal intern with books to sell. All 30 copies were snapped up at the event.

Photographer John Einarsen, whose photos are exhibited on the walls of the cafe, here for once on the other end of a camera

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