Important Covid-19 Update. Our client’s safety is important to us, and travel will resume when the travel ban (including the 14-day quarantine) is lifted both in Japan and the United States. Next Spring, we will offer two “off the beaten track” tours to escape the large cities and to enjoy the rural parts of Japan. First, is Textiles of Kyushu, a unique opportunity to experience Japanese culture and textile in the southern island of Japan. Second is Edible Japan, which will be a modified version of the original Culinary Tour with an extra day in the Shinshu region with sake brewery tour, miso making and knife shop visits. Stay well and be safe.

The Art Island, Naoshima

The Art Island, Naoshima

On a beautiful early spring day, I took a 20 minutes ferry ride from Uno port to Naoshima in Setouchi inlet. Naoshima is an internationally recognized island for its unique role in showcasing artwork throughout the island and an advocate in sustainability by implementing a “zero-emission” initiative.

Naoshima Island is relatively small: 14.22 square kilometers or 3,500 acres with a population of little over 3,000.
Naoshima Ferry Boat

Our ferry carried both automobiles and passengers between Uno port, Naoshima, and Takamatsu (Shikoku). I paid 570 yen for a round trip (valid for two days) to Miyaura port, one of the main ports in Naoshima. In addition to ferry, there are passenger-only boats that run between Miyaura and Uno for the same price

The initial idea behind Art Island was first introduced by Mr. Mitaku, a mayor of Naoshima back in the 1960s. As the mayor of the island, he focused on improving the local economy by providing safe and open-air education to children, increasing tourism and preserving nature and the environment. He collaborated with local and international artists and architects to introduce projects throughout Naoshima. At the same time, the island contracted Mitsubishi Materials (located in the northern half of the island) to create a recycling facility to create jobs on the island. Together, they have provided a unique learning environment for locals and visitors via workshops and other initiatives such as “Fujita Deserted Island Paradise”, later known as Naoshima Cultural Village. As a result, in 2002, Naoshima was given an “Eco Town ” title under the Eco Town Program (zero-emission concept by Japanese Ministry of Environment).

Polka Dot Pumpkin, Naoshima

The 20 minutes ferry ride felt short as we passed small by the fishing boats, tankers, and other passenger boats. As we approached the port, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the famous red pumpkin designed by Yayoi Kusama on the embankment.

From the deck, I knew this is a small island when I saw a handful of bicycle rental shops across the street from what seems to be the main street with its mountainous hills in the background.

It was noon when I arrived, so I decided to grab something to eat from a handful of local restaurants within walking distance from the port. (F. Y. I. the majority of museums and restaurants on the island are closed on Mondays and holidays, and there is only one convenient store on the island. )
Grilled Snapper

My lunch at Shima Shokudo Miyanda was Grilled Whole Red Snapper in Vinaigrette, Nimono of simmered vegetables and mushrooms, slow-cooked beans, pickled cabbage and daikon, miso soup with dinosaur claws, and white rice. All for 1500 yen and delicious. (Just to let you know that I will be eating fish for the next three meals.)

Since the weather was nearly perfect, I decided to rent a bicycle and ride across the island. The bike rental owner highly recommended the electric motor-bicycle since the island has a couple of mountains, which I totally made sense to me later that day.
Rental Bikes in Naoshima

For 800-1000 yen, you can rent a decent bicycle for a whole day, but they must be returned by 6 pm. This seems to be a standard policy across all bike rental shops on the island. Also, make sure to rent them early as it’s not unusual for them to run out quickly. Naoshima does offer public transportation though the numbers are limited.

When you arrive at the port, get a map of art projects because there are so many you won’t be able to visit them all in a day. Also, there are pre-sold tickets for different projects throughout the island, so plan ahead.

Here are a few of the works of art I saw on this trip:

Naoshima public school

Naoshima Public School
In the 1970s, three schools located across the island, gymnasium, library and community center were gathered into one area to provide better learning opportunities. They also introduced early childhood education. The school building used symmetrical design to create aesthetic uniformity (also the angle of buildings parallels the mountain behind).

Art House Project

The Art House, Naoshima
The Art House Project was started in 1998 as a way to preserve the traditional buildings and historic structures on the island. The Art House Project is located in Honmura Area and currently, there are 7 buildings registered under “Art House Project”. One of the projects closest to the Miura port is The Dentist designed by Shinro Otake

Tadao Ando Museum

The Ando Museum
Tadao Ando is an internationally recognized Japanese architect. He started working on Naoshima Project in the 80s and he created numerous buildings across the island including Benesse House Museum and Chichu Art Museum. Tadao Ando Museum was his first project on the island.

Beaches and Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

Between Honmura Area and Museum Area are beautiful beaches. Near Tsutsuji-so bus stop on the beach is the Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.
Naoshima Beaches

Naoshima Noren Project

Naoshima Noren Project
An Art project collaboration between textile designer and dyer Yoko Kanou, and local business owners to create a unique Noren (outdoor curtain) to showcase their business and family cress.

Rice-Growing Project

Naoshima Rice Project
It started in 2006 as a project to resurrect rice growing on the island.

Benesse House Museum

Benesse House Museum

Benesse is a Portugal word meaning “nothing in return”. The museum is designed by Ando Tadao with a concept of harmonizing buildings with nature. Exhibits include contemporary art designed using objects from the island. There is a hotel, Benesse hotel attached to the museum.

Public Bath, Airabuyu (I Love Bath)

Naoshima Public Bath

It is a still-operating public bathhouse near Miyaura port. Designed by Shinto Otake.

Shioya Ryokan

Shioya Ryokan
After biking for three hours, I headed back to Miura port and returned by bicycle to head to my hotel, Shioya for the night. Shioya Ryokan is located only a few minutes away from the port in a narrow alleyway. The ryokan also is a part of the Noren Project so all I had to look for was a beautifully dyed outside curtain, instead of a sign. It is a traditional ryokan, meaning you will have your room with tatami mats, shared toilet and bath with meals included.

My room was located on the third floor on a roku-jyo-ma (six tatami size room) with TV, free wi-fi, a table with tea and a dresser.


Dinner was served in a dining room on the first floor off the kitchen. My dinner was not only a tasteful combination of local delicacies but was beautifully decorated like artwork. The dinner consisted of braised yellowtail, sashimi of red snapper and clams, nimono- simmered root vegetables and shrimp, daikon, cucumber, and tuna in a vinaigrette with yuzu, sweet white miso-miso soup with oyster and yuzu, pickled daikon and napa cabbage with sesame seeds and white rice.

The inn owner kindly informed me that the Setouchi Ohashi (iconic bridge connecting mainland to Shikoku) and the red pumpkin will be lit up at night and worth the visit but I was exhausted from the bike ride so I decided to take a bath and went to bed early.

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of rain and thought about how lucky I was to have a beautiful day yesterday. Still full from the evening meal but excited for the breakfast, I headed to the dining room to find another deliciousness. The breakfast was Japanese style but I found more familiar dishes like eggs and bacon and freshly brewed coffee. I was also served a green salad with sesame dressing, fried mackerel marinated in vinaigrette, silken tofu, and blanched greens tossed in a light broth, sweet white miso soup with tofu and local seaweed, seasoned nori sheets and white rice.

Seaweed Boats Naoshima

Nori sheets and seaweed served during meal time reminded me that Naoshima is also known for farming nori and sea salt. Seaweed is often used for making nori sheets (for sushi making) as well as in salads and soups. On my way to the Benesse museum yesterday, I saw many buoys floating in the quiet water of the inlets which marks the nori farming. In some parts of the island, you can smell the seaweed and find washed up dried seaweed on a beach.

As I waited for my passenger boat to arrive to take me back to Uno (which is located away from the ferry port), I saw seaweed boats with workmen pulling in from morning’s work at sea, all wearing waterproof jumpers, and boots.

Yuzu Trees  Japan
Next time I come to this island, it will be all about deliciousness, fresh seaweed, yuzu citrus and locally-harvested sea salt which only can be found he

Matsumoto Day 3

Matsumoto Day 3 | Tanpopo Studio

Matsumoto and Yayoi Kusama

Click here for previous posts: Day 1& Day 2
Two hours before my departure from Matsumoto, I made my way to Matsumoto Art Museum exploring internationally acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama’s exhibits “All About My Love” and “Eternal Life”.

Matsumoto is the birthplace to many talented artists including Yayoi Kusama. How inspiring it was to see so many of her original artworks on display showing her devotion to art with her signature bright colors and repetitive patterns. You can feel the energy in her art. As I walked through the exhibits, I learned that much of her art is derived from years of her struggle with mental illness. It was heartbreaking to see some of her childhood drawing showing her mental struggle at very young age such as a sketch of her mother covered in black small dots.
Japanese Bakery, Matsumoto

Walking to the train station, I picked up Sakura Manjyu (a bun filled with sweetened red beans and topped with pickled sakura flower) and a Russian Piroshki made with buckwheat and stuffed with mushrooms and reflected on my two day visit to Matsumoto.

There is something that touches your heart here; people and their stories, food, culture, history, nature and art that can not be experienced elsewhere. Deep down I hear my voices telling me to share my experiences with the world but another voice is telling me to keep it a secret. As I left the train station bound for Yamanashi, I made a secret promise with myself to return to this town many more times in the forthcoming years.

Yayoi Kusama Textile Art
Here are my favorite places in Matsumoto and also places where we will visit during our 2019 Spring Art Tour to Japan:

Matsumoto Castle
One of Japan’s historic premiere castles, also known as “Crow Castle” for its color.

Matsumoto Art Museum
Featuring Yayoi Kusama’s artwork as well as local and national artists. Only ten-minute walk from Matsumoto station.

Shioribi Book Store
A small independent bookstore located near Matsumoto Art Museum. A small cafe on the first floor offer drinks and pastries. Upstairs holds rare independent books and gifts. Next to Shioribi is a small art supply shop and Alps Gohan restaurant also recommended.

Nakamachi Dori
Old merchant’s street near Matsumoto Castle lined with art and crafts stores.

Chikiriya Folk Art Store (located on Nakamachi Dori, no website)
Mingei shop started by Taro Maruyama of the Matsumoto Folk Art Museum. Many selections on local and national crafts including Okinawa and Kyushu glassware, baskets, dishware and potteries.

Tabishiro Guest House
Guest houses are not only for budget travelers any more. Tabishiro offers an wonderful atmosphere make you feel like you are staying at your friend’s house. Wood burning fireplace in living area warms you up on chilly nights. Located near Matsumoto Castle and a popular destination among hikers and non-hikers alike.

Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum
Located in Utsukushigahara neighborhood next to famous hot springs.

Marumo Cafe
Located near Matsumoto Castle on Nakamachi Dori. This “Arts and Crafts” cafe was built in 1956 along with Marumo Ryokan (also highly recommended). The cafe is filled with folk art furnitures makes you feel as if you felt like going back in time

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum

Japan Folks Craft Museum | Tanpopo Studio

Japanese Folk Crafts Museum

After breakfast at my hotel, I set foot out the door on a beautiful early summer day to go visit the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum in Meguro, Tokyo. I transferred trains at the Shibuya Station to the Inogashira Line which took me to the Komada-Todai-Mae station. From the station, it’s a quick 10 minute walk across one of Tokyo’s residential neighborhoods. At ten o’clock, I arrived to The Japan Folk Crafts Museum to see a featured exhibit by Samiro Yunoki, a well known textile artists.

The two story Arts and Crafts building sits along the quiet street of Meguro-ku and was built in 1930’s by Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961). A well known philosopher and a the founder the folk art movement in Japan known as mingei. At the museum, you’ll be able to see has vast folk arts and craft collection from across Japan and Okinawa.

Exhibit at Japan Folk Crafts Museum

On the second floor is Samiro Yunoki’s textile exhibit. He is an dyeing artist and was greatly influenced by Soets Yanagi and folk art. He is known for his use of bright and lively colors combined with traditional styles and techniques.

With help of the Iwate Folk Textile Museum, the second floor has an extensive collection of breathtaking beauty of fabrics and textiles from the northern part of Japan. Many of Samiro Yunoki’s fabric were dyed with technique called katazome and feature unique geometric patterns.

Japan Folk Crafts Musuem
Their annual “New Works Competition Exhibition” in December is worth checking out as many of hand-made crafts become available to the public for purchase.

Japanese Folk Craft Museum
4-3-33 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

A Walk Around the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo | Tanpopo Studio

Meiji Jingu

I flew into Tokyo later than I expected and did not get to check in to my hotel until almost the next day. As with all my first day in Japan, jet lag woke me up early the next morning. So my morning started early, really early at 5. Knowing nothing else would be open, I started my path to one of the most visited Shrine in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu.

The shrine was built in 1921, after the death of Meiji Emperor followed by Empress to worship their spirits and to provide sanctuary in the community. It consists 170 acres of combination of fortress, shrines and other buildings as well as ponds and cafes and could easily take an hour to walk through.

Light at Meiji Shrine

The moment I stepped my foot in the forest surrounding the Shrine through an giant Torii gate, there was only the silence, peace and tranquility. It felt as if I “time-slipped” back into Meiji era. Aside from few morning joggers, all of the sudden I did not hear any modern “noise”. Instead of chaotic sound of modernize, all I heard was gardeners sweeping gravel path with long bamboo brooms in uniform motion and rhythm.

The visit was such a treat as I struggle with jet lag and try to adjust to the busy week ahead in Tokyo. I now go walk back to hotel to take a short nap before afternoon visits to notable arts and crafts museums.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Jingu
1-1 Yoyogikamizomecho, Shibuya, Tokyo

Visiting Matsumoto Day 2

Matsumoto, Tanpopo Studio Art Trip

On my second day in Matsumoto, I woke up early due to jet lag, or perhaps I was too excited about the hotel’s award winning breakfast. Japanese people take breakfast seriously and so do I. A well-dressed Japanese salaryman beat me to the breakfast line this morning but I was only the second person there. This hotel serves mainly western style breakfast along with a few Japanese dishes.  Starting out with a good cup of strong black coffee, I loaded my plate with fresh mizuna salad, local apples, sauteed broccoli with bacon, an omelet, sweet raisin bread and vegetable soup. As I finished my breakfast, a Japanese phrase came to me, “haraga hetteha ikusawa dekinu-One shall  not go into battle on an empty stomach”, and that was exactly how I justified my big breakfast.

My to-do list for was long for the day. Feeling stuffed, I walked along the river viewing sakura blossoms before my visit to Matsumoto castle – one of  Japan’s most scenic castles. It was built in 1504 and is a considered national treasure. Matsumoto castle is a spacious six story black and white castle with an inner and outer moat and  a beautiful view of the Japanese Alps. It attracts many tourist form within Japan and well as across the world.

On the other side of river outside of the castle, I found Marumo, an “arts and crafts” cafe my artist brother in London recommended. Marumo Ryokan and Cafe was built in 1956 by Sanshiro Ikeda, a founder of Matsumoto Mingei Furniture who was highly inspired by Yanagi Muneyoshi, a philosopher and a founder of the Japanese Folk Art movement.  The cafe was filled with local antiques and folk art inspired furnitures and I felt as if I fell back in time.

Traditional Wooden Japanese Shoes

Later, I walked along Nakamise Dori an old merchant and warehouse street filled with local craft shops.  One should not miss Chikiriya, a well known Mingei shop started by Taro Maruyama of the Matsumoto Folk Art Museum.  Beautifully arranged on the store shelves are local ceramics, colorful glassware and toys made with wood and bamboo.  It’s a perfect place to get gifts for friends and family back home.

I enjoyed strolling around this small castle town as it’s filled with nostalgic folk art, culture, crafts, music, hotspring and more.  No wonder why people have been coming here for an artistic inspiration and relaxation, just what we need for our next “Art and Culture Tour of Japan”.  By the mid afternoon, I enjoyed meeting and finalizing plans with our partners in Matsumoto, and they are all very excited to be a part of this upcoming tour.

Visiting Matsumoto

Matsumoto Day 1 | Tanpopo Studio

Journey to Matsumoto for the Art & Culture Tour, Day 1

After watching movie 42 grams with a glass of Prosecco and chicken dinner on my flight from Mpls to Haneda Japan, my attempt to fall asleep failed. It was a full flight but nothing out of ordinary, but you know how it is, the anticipation keeps you awake (and in my case, a gentleman who wrapped himself in toilet paper in his seat during the flight!!) .

On this trip, I was headed to art and craft city of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture to make arrangements for our upcoming Art & Culture Tour. The town was carefully selected because we were looking for non-traditional tourist towns with an emphasis on the arts, like back home in Mpls. Sometimes tourism becomes focal point for large historical towns and this can make it difficult for creativity, new ideas, and smaller businesses. But here in Matsumoto, slightly off the beaten path, people are hungry for new inspirations, they are friendly people and there is beautiful landscape and natural hot springs. This town is also home to many famous artists.

Nakamachi, Matsumoto, Japan

I will be spending one and half day with 4 appointments, photoshoots, and places to check out. Slightly overwhelmed by number of appointments and places to visit, I was humbled for this opportunity as I have been simmering this project on the back burner for a while.

I arrived in Matsumoto city in the evening after 12 hour flight and three hour train ride. As soon as I settled into a comfortable seat by the window of an express train bound to Matsumoto, I set an alarm so I could dose off for couple of hours. But despite my well calculated plan, my excitement about the trip kept me awake. I have visited Matsumoto before but very briefly and always looked for another opportunity to come back.

Manhole Cover, Matsumoto

My hotel was nestled in between restaurants only five minutes away from the train station. Tired and hungary, I settled for a quick bowl of soba (regional buckwheat noodles) with spring vegetables and headed back to the hotel to (unsuccessfully) catch up on my sleep.

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