Utsuwa: a Machiya-Style Designer Hostel in Kyoto

unless otherwise noted, all photos by Kai Nakamura / Tsubame Architects

If you’re looking for an affordable and authentic stay in Kyoto, check out Utsuwa, a new designer hostel that opened last year. It’s centrally located — a 15 min walk or a 5 min cab ride from Kyoto station — and was designed to give visitors an authentic, local experience.

Tourism to Kyoto is on the rise and fancy new hotels are popping up here and there, explains Tsubame Architects, who designed the hostel. Meanwhile, Kyoto us suffering from an aging local population, just like all of Japan, which leaves many homes vacant.

So an appropriate strategy for building tourist accommodations would be to use old Machiya-style homes that meld into the environment. Not only does this add to authenticity, it creates better harmony between the locals, who see that the tourists are living just like they are.

Utsuwa, meaning vessel in Japanese, is meant to be a serve as just that: a place where travelers can come and feel at home. Created with an abundance of local cedar, the 2-story structure has 35 capsule-style booths and a communal courtyard, bathrooms and showers. What’s more, small artworks are scattered throughout the space, creating magical discoveries when you least expect them.

Rates start at 3200 yen (about $29 usd) per night and is perfect for travelers on a budget.

photo by Wataru Suzuki

A Brief History of Japanese Baseball’s Ceremonial Opening Pitch

photos by Yoshiki Yamada / Sankei Photo

Today — May 22, 2019 — in Japan, at a baseball game at Koshien Stadium between Hanshin and Yakult, a maiko-san threw the opening pitch. It was a dreamy scene as her light orange kimono fluttered through the air. The ball bounced once and landed in the catcher’s mitt. The batter swung and a strike was called. As the crowd cheered on the apprentice geisha I was reminded of the history behind Japan’s ceremonial opening pitch.

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The Hyper-Colorful, Retro Illustrations of Kyoko Nakamura

If you think there’s something new and old about Kyoto-based illustrator Kyoko Nakamura’s work, then she’s been successful. Using a combination of digital tools like Photoshop and analog materials like acrylic gouache, Nakamura creates colorful, neon illustrations inspired by her modern and traditional surroundings.

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Music Monday: Ray Kunimoto

This week’s Music Monday pick is a softer, more contemplative tone than usual. Ray Kunimoto is a sound artist who has primarily been creating acoustic sounds to accompany art installations at museums, galleries and other spaces such as this digital greenhouse in Tokyo. Currently based in New York, the artist has recently put out his first solo EP titled Amane.

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Arisa Kumagai’s Masterful Realism Depicts Life & Death; Rich & Poor

“Single bed” (2018), oil on panel, 195 x 97 cm © Arisa Kumagai / Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi

Arisa Kumagai is a Japanese artist who lives and works in Kyoto. Using primarily oil paints, and still in her late 20s, she’s developed a style of masterful realism that deftly balances black, negative space to create solemn scenes of life & death, rich & poor.

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Wasabeads: the Hot, New Condiment in Japan

Wasabeads have been called ‘green caviar’ and ‘wasabi pearls’ | all photos courtesy Tamuraya

Dubbed ‘wasabi pearls’ and ‘green caviar,’ Wasabeads (わさビーズ) have become one of Japan’s most sought-after condiments. They were developed by Tamaruya, a 140-year old producer of wasabi, as well as various wasabi-related products like wasabi salt and salad dressing. Wasabeads, which hit the market in December of 2018, are the company’s latest and are shaping up to be one of their most popular.

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Koe Donuts Brings Ethical, Artisnal Donuts to Kyoto

koe donuts kyoto
the new Koe Donuts in Kyoto that opened in March 2019

Donuts are having a moment in Japan right now. In a land that’s been dominated by Mister Donuts for as long as I can remember, the country is suddenly seeing a numerous artisnal donut shops, both domestic and from abroad, pop up in major cities. The most recent is Koe Donuts, which opened in Kyoto in March.

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The Quirky, ‘Futile’ Art of Gendai Bijutsu Nitohey

the Daruma is typically a symbol of good luck, but in the hands of Gendai Bijutsu Nitohey it becomes the anti-daruma with greased-back pompadour and facial hair

In the world of Japanese snacks there are kashi, and dagashi. The latter are the cheaper, penny candies; the lesser yet equally beloved snacks that can be bought with pocket change. Dagashi is derived from the Japanese words da (駄, meaning ‘futile’).  Japanese art duo Gendai Bijutsu Nitouhey create dagashi of the art world – what they call, dabijutsu.

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Planetario: a Series of Leather Bags that Mimic the Surface of the Moon

The complex lunar surface was formed over billions of years and through a combination of volcanic activity and meteorites slamming into the moon, which created craters of all shapes and sizes. The result is an exquisite, one-of-a-kind surface that tells the story of the history of our solar system.

That complex surface has now been faithfully replicated down to the finest detail in the form of leather clutch bags that can be carried in our hands.

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120 Koinobori Flutter in Sabagawa River

photo courtesy Sabogawa Koinobori Kawanagashi Association

In early May, Sabagawa River plays host to an unusual yet exquisite tradition. Colorful koinobori, which usually flutter in the wind, are placed back into the river where they belong.

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