After my first two trips to Kyoto, which were essentially identical since I had visitors with me the second time and felt the need to take them to the most well known sites like Kinkakuji, Kiyomizudera, Ginkakuji, etc. It was on the most recent trip two years ago when I realized that I would need to visit many time to see all that is worth seeing there. So Deep Kyoto Walks (2014) edited by Michael Lambe and Ted Taylor is the perfect guide for someone like me who wants to know about things off the beaten track, since it gives personalized views of what to see and do in Kyoto by people who have lived there for extended periods of time. In a sense, it offers a personalized curated guide to one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world. Full disclosure, I am friends with the editors, but the contributions in this books come from a variety of informed viewpoints and expertise. As pointed out in the forward by Lambe, the size and layout of Kyoto make it perfect for walking and exploring and as Taylor mentions in the introduction most of Asian life is lived out of doors, so there is much to take in while out exploring in the city. There are useful interactive end notes throughout to explain aspects of Japanese culture or history and other digressions, links to places mentioned, as well as 12 maps with links to Google maps. Thus, it is very user friendly guide.
"Time Travelling on Gojo" by Jennifer Louise Teether is unique in her exploration of her neighborhood through a Gojo Pottery festival co-mingled with musings on Japanese aesthetics in general and pottery in particular. Lambe contributed two essays in the collection and the first, "Red Brick & Sakura: A Walk in Modern Kyoto" was of particular interest to me since I also enjoy seeking out notable architecture. Lambe is particularly interested in the Meiji (1868-1912) era architecture. But he also discusses some of the more controversial buildings in the city, like the Kyoto Tower (1964), which Alex Kerr describes as a "symbolic stake through the heart of the city," but contrarily, Lambe accepts it as a Kyoto landmark. However, he agrees with Kerr, unlike me, with the assessment of Kyoto Station as being out of place and garish. Lambe's second essay, "Up and Down the Ki,'" is a meditation on the drinking culture of Kyoto. He recounts a 10 bar crawl with a local musician duo playing for an hour at each location that he took on November 30th in 2103, the 9th such event. Bridget Scott contributed to the collection with "Ghosts, Monkeys, & Other Neighbors" and brings thoughts on her expertise in butoh to light in her essay about her neighborhood. A more personal account of a place is found in Miki Matusmoto's musings on her many memories related to "Climbing Mount Daimonji." Cultural and historical references abound in Robert Yellin's essay "Not Sure Which Way To Go" on the Philosophy Path route. Perhaps, the best known writer in this collection is Pico Iyer, author of several books on travel and other subjects, who praises the melding of the new and old in Kyoto in his essay "Into the Tumult." Chris Rowthorn's essay, "Old School Giaji Kyoto" is personal look at old Kyoto haunts on a return to a city he had lived as a young man arriving in 1992. It seems that not all of his remembrances are happy ones, but it also seems that he has since come to terms with these demons. History and poetry are at the forefront of John Doughill's "Kamogawa Musing." John Ashburne's (a noted food writer) essay "Gods, Monks, Secrets, Fish" is notable for a focus on the food based culture of Kyoto including a detailed look at Nishikikoji Market, and a map of some of the noteworthy stalls discussed in the essay is provided in the maps appendix. Co-editor Taylor's first of two essay is "Across Purple Fields" which is a personalized account of typical walk he takes with his young daughter in his neighborhood and includes musing about zen philosophy. His second essay, "A Long March" broaches the political with the personal as he recollects a protest march he participated in after the 3.11 tsunami caused the nuclear accident in Tohoku. Stephen Henry Gill also brings an unusual perspective to his essay, "Blue Sky" seeing that he is a conservationist and poet-so both of those aspect get their due in the account of his walk near Mt. Ogawa and the splendid Arashiyama area. An event is at the heart of Sandborn Borwn's essay, "Hiking Mount Atago," a group event that takes place every summer. This essay was informative in that I learned about the Giant Salamander and 10 cm poisonous centipedes that inhabit those parts. I am now interested in visiting both Koto-in and Shodenji after reading Joel Stewart's descriptions of them in his essay on his walk in North Kyoto, "In Praise of Uro Uro." Izumi Texidor Hirai has also piqued my interest in her subject with her lively descriptions in "The Botanical Gardens." Perrin Lindelauf's final essay, "Rounding Off: The Kyoto Trail" is fitting since this 75 km trail encompasses most of Kyoto. According to the essay there are four sections: Higashiyama (25km), Kitayama East (18km) and Kitayama West (19km) in the north and Nishiyama (12km) in the western Arashiyama district. I found his four day-69 km walk inspiring. "The Epilogue: On Foot in the Ancient Capital" is provided by 40 year resident Judith Clancy, author of several books on Kyoto, in which she discusses the small changes and details she has observed over the years in the ancient capital.
I think this volume is indispensable for short term, long term, and repeat visits. There is wealth of suggestions for a prolonged visit. And it can also provide assistance for a short time visit; in that it provides local knowledge for that day or afternoon when you want to get off the tourist trail. The amount of incidental information about Japanese history, culture, and society collected in these essays is invaluable in itself. For people like me, who live in Japan and have the opportunity for repeat visits, it provides inspiration and a variety of courses for exploration deep in the heart of Kyoto.