Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Maps of two places I love

Tea’s post about a serendipitous road trip in the Pacific Northwest and her discovery of what home looks and feels like and Plum Tree’s post about a fairytale cottage in her neighborhood made me ponder my favorite places in the world and what it is that I love about them.

Like Plum Tree, I also have a fairytale cottage. It looks nothing like one in Plum Tree’s neighborhood; it’s the humble but beloved house we live in. These days I find myself just wanting to stay here, but I remembered that this is not the only place I love. In my list of favorites, Hawaii and Ashland, Oregon, were close runners-up, but here are my top five places in the world (in no particular order):

To be specific, I could say “Paris” for its neighborhoods rich with art and history, the Seine snaking through its center, the flaneurs, and the city lights at night, for I love all those things and a thousand more about Paris. But it’s not just Paris. It’s also Giverny, home of Claude Monet and his magical gardens, an hour from Paris in a tiny village of stone buildings surrounded by poppy fields. It’s that village and a thousand others. It’s the austere landscape and architecture of Mont St. Michel and a thousand other abbeys, chapels, and cathedrals. It’s also the language, airy and flowing and poetic.

I remember the cherry blossoms, the gingko trees, and the rice paddies of Yokohama as much as the cosmopolitan pace of Tokyo and the quaint World World II-era neighborhoods surrounding the city. Sometimes I miss the formality, tradition, and hierarchy that so structure Japanese society, but mostly I miss the little things: charbroiled sweet potatoes, grocery-store sushi, New Year’s postcards, and traveling everywhere by bicycle, bus, or train.

Napa Valley, California
In the spring, the mustard blossoms carpet the valley. In autumn, the tangy scent of crushed grapes flavors the air. All along the valley are the little restaurants at which my husband (then boyfriend) and I used to eat on our student budgets, our favorite ice cream shop in St. Helena, the stone church where I imagined getting married, the roads on which I learned to drive. Whenever I return to Napa Valley, I feel as though I’ve come home.

Lake Tahoe, California
At Lake Tahoe, we usually stay in a little cabin on the north shore of the lake, and the soothing rhythm of lapping water resets our technology-gorged, calendar-driven lives to the natural rhythm of our bodies and hearts, or so it seems. We have traditions at Tahoe: we eat at the same Chinese restaurant and sushi bar, we go to the Christmas Shoppe in Incline Village to buy an ornament, and we dream about moving to a little cabin on the lake. (We won’t do it, of course–moving there, that is. It’s always spring when we go to Lake Tahoe, you see, and beautiful as it may be, it’s still a little too cold for me.)

Victoria, British Columbia
Apparently, Victoria has a disproportionately retiree population and is known to be for “the newly wed and nearly dead.” We went there on our honeymoon, as it were, and fell in love with this elegant international city. Though it was the season of rain, it was uncharacteristically sunny and warm during our trip. We visited all the tourist places–Butchart Gardens, the Royal BC Museum, and even a petting zoo where a goat stood on my husband’s back–but there’s so much more of Victoria for us to discover still.

For me, my love for these places has everything to do with landscape and memories. There is a backdrop in each of these locales, whether the outline of Mt. Fuji against the Tokyo sky or the bluest mirror of a lake at Tahoe. Into these backdrops, some of my fondest memories weave delicately, one by one, trip by trip. And so, as much as the memories themselves, the places themselves become unforgettable.

What about you? What are your favorite places? What draws you to them?

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Cherry blossom floating candles

These cherry blossom floating candles, tiny and sweetly-scented, arrived in a package from my very dear friend in Japan. She and I have been friends since high school, and as the years pass, we’ve only grown closer in spirit. She is my “all-weather, all-season friend,” and someday I would like to live next door to her in the Napa Valley so that we can have tea and conversation together every afternoon. For now, from time to time, we send each other packages filled with loveliness from our respective corners of the world.

She sent me so many beautiful gifts in shades of pink and lavender this time:

Gifts from Japan

The coin purse is from Kazurasei in Kyoto, established in 1865 and most famous for artfully-crafted combs and hair ornaments to wear with kimono. The moment I saw this coin purse, I knew what I wanted to do with it. When the rain stops, I’m going to carry some loose change in it and walk to Starbucks for a cup of tea. I’ll wish my friend were with me, of course, but at least I’ll have these books and magazines to keep me company:


I’ve already started reading the little book on the left with its title that translates to something like Thinking of a Gentle Spring. My friend first introduced me to its poet-author in the early days of our friendship, and this volume opens with a simple, sweet tale of a friendship between two young girls named Milk and Cocoa.

One of the gifts came in this packaging the color of cherry blossoms. Like a fortune cookie, it reads, “If you understand nature, then you’ll be able to live a long happy life.”

Thank you, dear friend, for knowing me so well.

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