Kyoto toyshop

Shortly after an observation that the art in Japan often happens outside of the art scene, Felicity took me to a toyshop.

By that stage the conversation had moved on to architecture and the toyshop was to be an example of a building that, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t be around for much longer.


Yes the toyshop sold toys. But it also sold customised jeans.


It was a toys and jeans shop.

customised stuff

After purchasing a song book (from the toys and jeans shop) we were invited to have a look upstairs.


To what is the jeans customiser’s studio.


The previous owner had been in the building for 50 years and never used the upper floor. But the jeans customiser had cleared it out. The paper screens were brown with age, and there were ancient newspapers pasted onto the walls.

felicity absolutely categorically not looking down on anyone in the street

Bloody marvellous, but I bet it’s Baltic in the Winter.

[Oh, and recently the studio of the toys and jeans shop had also been turned into a tea shop.]

City Canal Tour

Having excused myself early from the last segment of Johnny Hillwalker’s walking tour of Kyoto, I made a (not so) quick dash over to the Shimogamo Shrine to meet artist Markuz Wernli Saitô.

The last time we’d met was on the Kamo Obashi bridge when, having randomly followed a link from this article, and discovering the momentarium website I thought it would be great to invite Markuz to be a starting point for the Peer-to-Peer Sketchbooks project.

This time, however, was to be much more involved…

Wednesdays in Markuz’s programme are city canal tour days where “surprises and wet feet are guaranteed”. Well, I certainly got both, starting with performing the opening ceremony!

A condensed version of the tour can be viewed here (Quicktime format), but the actual event lasted about 2 hours.

canalside futon clips

It was fascinating to peer into people’s gardens from what was effectively ground level, and there were some nice little discoveries within the limbo territory of the canal itself: sights, sounds and smells.

Mostly the people we saw did a double-take but recovered enough to give us a friendly “konnichiwa” or “kombanwa”. There were a few quality encounters though, such as the woman throwing food across the canal and two fences to a dog in a garden on the other side, and The Guy in the Red T-Shirt.

The Guy in the Red T-Shirt

I didn’t catch his name, but he just sort of appeared alongside the canal on his bike. After a brief introductory chat with Markuz, he left his bike propped up at the side and came down to join us. …but only for a few seconds before he started sprinting down the canal path!

He reappeared some time later completely out of breath and stopped to chat some more. We saw him a few more times after that as he cycled over various bridges and gave us a friendly wave. I wonder if he ever got back in touch with Markuz later by email?


I’m very much intrigued by how encounters like this can be documented. I was repeatedly amazed by the fact that, in Japan, Markuz has been able to leave his video camera set up on a tripod on the other side of busy bridges and in railway stations etc unattended and without fear that it would get stolen. How would you manage this in the UK or elsewhere? Some sort of hidden camera? An entourage of beefy cameramen?

Is there some other way of documenting the process besides video? Does the record need to be visual and time-based?

Maybe a more comforting way to regard my dozens of mosquito bites is as some form of alternative documentary record…


I’d heard great things about his tour, so when I got the chance I joined Johnny Hillwalker for a stroll around Kyoto.

Johnny Hillwalker's hat

After starting with the main Bhuddist (this-one-only-cares-if-you’re-dead) headquarters, where even the concrete looks good, we went on to visit a range of smaller shops and workshops that I’d otherwise have been completly oblivious to.

Folding-fans being assembled and pressed; sweet-makers making assorted things out of beans and sugar; and tatami mats being re-covered.

All this on top of the usual collection of lanterns, torii and prayer-boards that you’d expect from this corner of Japan.

Here’s his web page again in case you missed it first time around:

Kiyomizu dera

Kiyomizu: pure water.

Kiyomizu dera: temple complex built on the site of a mountain spring… and ultraviolet sterilizer

kiyomizu uv

Gion and Kodaiji

Garyoro (Reclining Dragon Corridor) and Otama-ya (Sanctuary):


Temple Garden:


Gion house:


Gion tree:


Shrine and cars:


Gion lanterns:


Iho-an (The Cottage of Lingering Fragrance, tea house):

tea house

Volume 17

This week I was due to meet up with a friend in Kyoto on Saturday, but I altered my plans so I could meet up with momentarium Markuz Wernli Saitô.

hostel baggage

This involved arriving a day early and spending the night in a youth hostel… and then oversleeping the next morning, trekking back to the station, faffing around trying to find a locker big enough for my bags, trekking to a different station and then arriving at Kamo Obashi Bridge 10 minutes after the scheduled bridge-sit was supposed to end.

Fortunately there was something of a crowd there and so I was still able to meet Markuz to invite him to take part in the project.

Markuz Wernli Saitô

Hopefully I will make it back to Kyoto next week to properly take part in one of the activities.

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