Tag Archives: Japan

Searching and questioning cultural authenticity at the top of the holiest Mountain in Japan.



Whilst seeking solitude and at the same time exploring Japan’s cultural authenticity, I ended up staying overnight in one of the Buddhist temples at mountain Kōya. Dramatic surroundings were hinting a phantasmagoric experience, however, soon I was brought back to a bitter reality: the village has slowly been changing due to visitors’ influx 


It’s a crispy cold morning and I am sleeping in a Buddhist temple at the top of the holiest mountain in Japan. My phone, which seems so out of place in this scarcely furnished room, sets off at 5a.m, and now, regretfully, I open my eyes. I start hating myself for staying up late last night, but I did it because I gave into the urge to take a natural hot spring (onsen) session entirely on my own. Just a little tip: tattoos and onsens are a big no go, so if you have any, you might be asked out. There’s a, let’s call it, recognition in Japan that only anti-social kind and members of illegal organisations would get inked. So I, the yakuza, am not ashamed to admit that I’ve been staking-out for at least an hour before taking a dip in an empty outdoor bath at a bedtime hour.

Anyways, now I roll out of the sheets onto tatami mat, Japanese-style woven-straw floors, and slowly but steadily start getting ready for the morning prayer ceremony.  But first, let’s get out the elephant in the room and let me tell you what brought me to the temple in the first place.



My younger self-had an amazing opportunity to do a 3-month internship in Japan with a lot of flexibility to travel at the same time. Once I finished the programme I decided to explore the country as much as I can. And when I travel,  I try to learn more about the really authentic aspects of culture in a subject. From hanging out with local people and learning about regionally spread cuisine, traditions, religions (or lack of) to losing myself within the public transport systems, staying in small villages and gesticulating my way out of the lost in translation situations. This search of authenticity took me to Mount Kōya where I stayed a night with monks at the Buddhist temple, Fukuchiin, on my own. And together with other guests…



I started the trip from Osaka, my love. I’ve purchased the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket and took the private Nankai line from Osaka’s Namba station towards Gokurakubashi. The train ride, especially at Koya-san’s base, left me glued to the window. With the train weaving in and out of the encompassing forest, you could see flashes of tiny rustic villages, forests and mountain streams below. At Gokurakubashi station, I transferred to the cable car which took all of the passengers on a steep, 5-minute thrill ride. Finally, from Mount Koya’s top station it was a ten-minute bus ride.

When I stepped outside the bus, immediately, I was hit by a mountainous breeze. I could only see the grey sky at the end of an empty street and when I started walking towards the temple, neighbourhood’s loudspeakers started playing folk music. It was already 5pm, and in Japan. Here they play music through speakers every day to test emergency broadcast system. Unofficially it’s called goji no chaimu, or 5pm Chime.


One of the highlights of visiting Mount Koya is staying at a temple lodging, shukubo. And, of course, here you shouldn’t expect to find conveniences of a modern hotel.  Silly me, I thought that natural and authentic are precisely the bait that lures people in.


My Japanese-style room had futon bedding and a minimalistic set of furniture. And it could totally pass as spartan and rustic temple lodging, if not another oddball besides me and the phone. That’s the TV, of course.


Even though fuming over a tiny a device with a screen for receiving television signals, doesn’t make much sense, but I guess for me it was more like the tip of the iceberg.

The TV was there, reminding me that my assumed needs are catered after. It was my totem, so everytime I looked at it, I knew beyond a doubt that in reality, I am a tourist.  And, like a lot of people, I try to escape feeling like one, when I’m abroad.

So this TV was grounding me to reality and not allowing me to fully immerse in the story-telling, in designing the architecture of my own real-time experience.

It was signalling the traces of altered infrastructure, compared to the past. Even though It’s also plausible that monks watch  TV nowadays,  I just couldn’t shake the fact that the temple village has now become altered to be more tourist-friendly.



I hoped to get a symbiotic experience, but it felt more like a nonorganic purchase. I mean, would you pay someone to hang out with you? Monks livelihood depends on visitors and I happily aided in financial support towards the maintenance of the temple village. However, a rough price tag on pretty much everything as well as seeing a few locals that didn’t seem too positive about the cultural exchange calmed down the philanthropic wishfulness.



Mount Koya is a remote, sacred mountain at almost 1km above sea level and temple village located in the wooded mountains of the Wakayama Prefecture. In Japan, they call it Koya-san! Here are the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism (or Orthodox Esoteric Buddhism) and a home to over 100 temples and monasteries.  As you can imagine, it’s an intensely spiritual and tranquil place which was originally established by the famous monk Kukai (or Kobo Daishi) in the 9th century.




Koyasan was originally a peaceful and spiritual monastery, but today it has evolved into a significant place for both local and international travellers. The number of visitors has been growing so rapidly that the demand and supply dynamic has been evidently affecting how the village operates.

In fact, Nankai Railway released figures on foreign visitors in 2016, which has jumped to 70,000 from 131 back in the 1970s. Which makes it around 534 times more visitors compared to 1970s! And both the foreign influx, as well as the incline of local visitors, have already left a huge impact: souvenir shops, vending machines, TVs in temples and Wifi hotspots keep popping up.

There are so many catalysts that impact the shift from authentic and so it seems that it’s quite impossible for places like Mount Koya to stay unaffected. Unless there’s a time capsule that someone knows off?



And now back to me getting ready. I leave my room and follow a small group of foreigners, all looking drowsy and heading towards the same direction, to join the morning praying ceremony. One of the monks offered this perk quite nonchalantly upon arrival. We enter a small room crowded with monks, incense, and candles. All co-existing in a perfect and holly harmony.

I can’t help it, but I feel like a big European eel on the shore, sticking out like a sore thumb. Actually, I feel like all of us, the observers, are just a school of fish in the desert of this small room. Gasping for air amongst the confusion. Suffocating by the intense mantra, the language and the religious practices we knew little off. Somehow It’s still overwhelmingly beautiful and intimate.


When chanting intensified, I closed my eyes and the sound, sometimes so quiet and at times punchy, left me in trance. My existence finally diffused with their sacredness and in the end, I blended in.

At the end of the ceremony, monks turned around and opened doors to the zen garden that was directly behind our backs: we were greeted by the rising sun. Everyone was quiet for a moment there: slowly taking in the view and truly living in the moment. And after this, I went to my room, packed and started my journey to discover Mount Koya.



Koya-san, in fact, is a perfect place for those who seek solitude, peace and at the same time would like to know more about Japan’s history, religion and spend time with monks. I think overall, the experience was quite intimate and unique, yet somewhat wrapped up in a gift bag.

I couldn’t help but feel strange buying a fragment of an authentic culture. One thing is clear – times change, people change, and it only makes sense that various locations will be affected by those changing factors.

Of course, this is applicable to many other beautiful and unique places in the world. Is the change good or bad? Depends on the person’s perspective.

I think it’s safe to say that authenticity is not static. It’s dynamic and evolving, (whether into something good or bad) so I think it’s the time to adjust my definitions of authentic and accept that time capsules just don’t exist. Yet.



like nothing, with a bit of salt.

There’s a girl sitting in the corner of this family run cafe that I am a regular at. The coffee here is really great. Ethiopian kind and always brewed to perfection with a refreshing acidity and sweet stone fruit undertones. I usually pop by to read a book and have a cup of espresso on sluggish Sunday mornings since my place is nearby.  And today I came with the intentions of carrying out the ritual, except, somehow… I very nearly failed to do so.

Well, first of all, It seemed that the typical, nonchalant atmosphere that filled the room was replaced with curiosity sparked by the corner girl instead. Her drink caught my eyes particularly. I took a notice of her at the moment when she started lifting a Bavarian teacup decorated with blue roses towards almost-inconceivably opened lips. I never saw anyone drink from such a peacocky tableware here, I swear, and that really started to rack my brains. So, as a simpleton that I am, I just decided to order what she’s having, hoping to feed my brains with some answers to vague and formless questions.

“Can I have one of those?” I tried subtly pointing towards the lady when Luke, the barista, asked for my order.

“Sure” he only lukewarmly smiled, almost as if he knew what I was up to.

He took off right away and I just went back to investigating the stranger. When the peach-coloured pillows of mouth reached the riff – she stopped for a millisecond and then proceeded to carefully sip from the, what it seemed to be the most fragile, porcelain cup.

She, and now I, are having “salted sakura tea”, as Luke points out while putting down the same flashy cup on my table a few moments later. “Wow,” I think out loud, and by the way, that’s the irony in me reacting. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was just a tiny, pinkish petal drowning in a cup of boiling-hot water. And here I am, still staring at the mysterious woman. I guess by doing that I’m hoping to figure out the taste of the pretentious tea before going in for the kill. Can’t explain the precaution, though, as I am a bit of a daredevil by a rule of thumb. It’s just something’s off with the cup and with the colourless tea and the girl too.  All of it feels like a flaky love letter to 80s.

What mostly throws me off is that this unfamiliar corner habitat seems confused or rather unfocused (you see I’m terrible at recognising other people’s emotions) on the taste of the tea. She has her gaze locked on the greenery in the opposite corner of the coffee shop instead.

“Is she seeing something that I’m not?” I attempt to take a better look at the flora…

The harmony of the greenery and the shadow-striped floor fabricated by the window jalousie stops my thoughts for a moment… For a brief second, or perhaps even longer, my entire body – limbs, knuckles, nerve system, and soul (if you believe in one), gets swallowed by the overwhelming calamity and nothingness… I dissolve within the scene.

Then a life or a few minutes later,

I’m being brought back to senses and back to my consciousness by a very light and fragile, almost cherry-like fragrance coming from the direction of the cup. I look down and the sakura petal is somewhat obscurely fluttering within the crystal clear water. As if it is about to reach a metamorphosis, a transcendence of some sort. Perhaps it is diffusing too? Or… Am I witnessing a teacup storm here?

The corners of my mouth go up. I chuckle on my own like a proper cuckoo case. On these rare occasions of the cognitive shift, when the dialogue between my conscious and unconscious minds change and when the triple threat – ego, id, and superego – disappear… I become part of something bigger, or rather, I understand the smallness and precious ridiculousness of ‘myself’. “Was I experiencing an ‘overview effect’ just now? Was that… the aroma of the tea?”

Suddenly, I knock out of it to realise that I’m still looking at this sakura-tea girl. I catch her watching me watching her. Well, my eyes are open and it seems that I’m looking her way when in ‘reality’ I was looking at the entire universe just now.

She timidly smiles and goes back to analysing the flora and fauna of the cafe.

“Were there actually two of us fusing into space?” I mutter to myself.

Fuck, I wonder why these days every stranger clouds my mind with stardust?

I decide to finally try the salted sakura tea and It tastes like nothing, with a bit of salt.

Before opening my book and landing back on the planet, I ordered a cup of espresso.


Time is fluid: unstoppable, running, melting and diffusing


Hey. It’s been awhile. Yes, yes I know… We said we’ll keep in touch. But having in mind our past cases – we already could foresee what’s going to happen for us. In fact, it wasn’t even that hard, predicting the cards, I mean. I guess my dream of becoming a freelance-fortuneteller has somewhat worked out, right? (millionaire freelance-fortuneteller is the next title I’m working on)

I want to see how long did your hair grow? I cut mine entirely. Can you imagine? Just chopped it off… Like That!

Do you know I have two alien tattoos now? The first one… Well, I was kind of a-little-perhaps-a-lot drunk for the first one, but can you imagine that the second was planned? Yup, Intentional, with the capital I, where the I in it was maybe a little tipsy the night when the decision was made. I’m still full of surprises… And, of course, alcohol. Nothing’s changed in that department. Good old whiskey, gin & wine recruitment agency is busy as ever.

What’s next… Oh, a smiley piercing. Yup, that too. It’s such a teenage rebellion cliche, but I guess my age nullifies the whole banality thing. I’m still a cool cucumber. (as cool as a person that uses ‘cool cucumber’ in a sentence gets),

Physical changes aside, did I tell you about my shifting locale? I lived in Japan for awhile and officially became a Buddhist there (they gave me a diploma).

My Sweet baby ramen, I miss you. 

Stayed with monks and climbed many many mountains… It was breath-taking and sometimes lonely (climbing in silence with no one around can be intimidating) but most of it was adventurous. I would love to tell you more about it, but it deserves a whole another story. I’ll keep it for later. For that wine & cheese night that we usually do. I mean did… But maybe will do once again too?

And what did I tell you? The recruitment agency always means business. CHINK

How much time has passed already?

I forgot to count. 1 time, 2 times, 3 times… Well, logically and grammatically this sentence does not even make sense. One does not simply count time in units. But whatever the case – it still feels like it’s at least 100s times passed the last time I saw you.

I remember saying goodbye. In fact, we didn’t do much. It was more like an exchange of a couple blinks, smiles, fluctuating voice tones and hand waves. This lame order finalised our many years together. We should be more dramatic, that way I could at least squeeze up a good story to tell. With what we have I can only scrape an ‘end’ and a ‘story’. NUTTIN MUCH, YA KNOW.

Seas, mountains, hair, tattoos and loads of other stuff are becoming part of an evidence that I will be held against you. Evidence of time passing. Because I told you, it’s uncountable. Time is fluid. Unstoppable. Running. Melting and diffusing.

So I thought, maybe… Maybe, at least, I can show you.

Hey, it’s been awhile.



How less can be more

Tatsuro Kiuchi is an artist born in Tokyo, Japan in 1966 that is well known for his first-class skills in the “bloodthirsty” field of illustration. Instead of taking undersized steps on the career’s ladder, he took a shortcut and, let’s express the situation in a creative turn of phrase, utilized a lift in order to be able to reach the finish line faster. Some might feel cheated or even start protesting this injustice (him taking a shortcut); nonetheless it is nothing but a natural outcome, since T. Kiuchi was born with the talent which later he enhanced before and after graduation with distinction from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. So, the game of reaching for the top is fair and square – no tricks, and then automatically the protests that I’ve mentioned are just imaginary friends of mine.

Tatsuro’s first picture book The Lotus Seed (text by Sherry Garland / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) has sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide, which pretty much describes on which floor the doors of the lift have already been opened for him. If you, dear readers, are lost with the numbers (not all of us are good with maths) let me drop you few names instead of figures… Does Royal Mail, Starbucks, New York Times or Washington Post ring a bell to you?

Yes, you are right or another option would be that you are wrong, which would say a lot about your intellect capacity! Tatsuro Kiuchi probably no longer has a fear of heights, if you know what I mean. Well, not like he was ever scared or not like I have proficient information to cover this subject, most importantly the point that I am hiding in this jungle of metaphors is that he is doing very well.

Originally and surprisingly, the illustrator was a graduate in Biology at International Christian University in Tokyo, however he made the change to an art career. At the beginning of career as an illustrator for the most part he illustrated children’s books with several publishers in US and Japan. Eventually, Tatsuro Kiuchi branched out into editorial work in magazines, advertising commissions and book jacket illustrations.

His work is a perfect amalgamation of simple and sparse colours. Without doubts there is something heartwarming about his work that just reaches out to the ones exploring it. That’s why his work has been recognized by Communicatin Arts, American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Art Directors Club, 3×3, The Association of Illustrators Images and Design Week Award. Less being more at least works for T. Kiuchi’s case.

More of his works can be found here.