Last week four Navy spouses met at 6:30 a.m. for a road trip to Lake Kawaguchiko to visit the Kubota Museum. In June, some of my students had brought me to this museum and I was blown-away by the kimonos that Kubota-san created. They are breathtaking. The exhibition rotates and I couldn’t wait to get back to see more of these amazing kimonos, so when the email went out asking who was “in” I was quick to respond. We made good time and with only one misstep in the directions we arrived right as the museum opened – well, should have opened. Unless you’re visiting December–March and then the museum is closed on Wednesdays, and unfortunately for us, we were visiting on … Wednesday. Big Bummer.
Instead of throwing in the towel and turning around and driving back home to Yokosuka, I mentioned that when I had been here in June I had also visited another museum – “It’s a doll museum, but that word does not do it justice, they’re more than dolls.” Everyone was game, so we arrived at the Yuki Atae Doll Museum, the only visitors at the time. The display changes, so I was able to see a different collection from my previous visit. The dolls are charming, meticulously handcrafted, the details and expressions of these small figures draw you in to the scenes the artist has created. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, but if you go to http://www.musekan.net/exhibition.php you can click through the left menu bar and see some of Atae’s creations. If you visit the museum there is also a video inside the exhibition where you can see how Atae creates the dolls. Well worth watching.
On the way out of the museum there was a display stand with flyers from area attractions. I spied the Jizai Glass Bead Studio flyer, I had picked this flyer up when I was up in June but we had taken a bus to the Lake Kawaguchiko area and had no way of getting to the bead studio. I’m not sure what attracted me to this place, I have no experience in glass beads, but I was curious – maybe the picture of the beautiful glass beads sold me. My fellow traveler’s were game to try and find the studio, so we set off with a map and some pretty vague directions from the staff at the museum – they were very gracious and did try to help us, and I’d bet that being from that area it was all quite obvious to them how to get from A to B but an hour plus later we still had not found the studio. Thank goodness one member of our group speaks Japanese (she spent time in Japan as an exchange student) and was our designated translator as we flagged down an elderly gentleman on the side of the road to try and help us, we also stopped and asked a worker at a factory for directions, then utility workers who had walk-talkies as there was a mad flurry of Japanese back and forth – but they were unfamiliar with the studio. We stopped in at a tiny little office on the side of the road and Cory emerged with a hand drawn map … but still we did not get any closer. We stopped at the information center, and we ended up backtracking … and basically coming full circle with no studio in sight. Driving in Japan is an adventure – even when you have someone who can speak the language! I was ready to bag the idea but Lydia, our trip coordinator, was not willing to give up. We decided to go back to the beginning and start over from square one – finally, we started to pass landmarks on the map and we knew we were getting closer. As we came around a curve, Fuji-san appeared above us like a beacon and there on the side of the road was the elusive Jizai Bead Studio. What a treat! I am so glad that we persevered in our quest. The studio is lovely, eye candy everywhere and the artist welcomed us … in English! Yeah!! It turns out she has studied in the U.S. at the Pilchuck Glass School - http://www.pilchuck.com/. As we looked around, picking up various items to tempt us to part with our precious Yen she asked if we would like to see a demonstration. I’ve never seen glass beads being made and it was soooo cool. Even better is that if we decide to come back to this area, the studio offers mini-workshops. We asked, “Would you be willing to teach a group of American women how to make these?” … another road trip was being planned before we’d even left the studio.
It was now way past lunchtime and with a recommendation from the artist we headed off in search of a quick meal. We found the restaurant after a few more driving missteps (how else do you get anywhere in Japan?) and I had a wonderful lunch set … pasta with shrimp and cabbage. Not a combination I would ever put together but it worked and it was delicious.
A road trip in Japan should always be filled with the unexpected. Of course we were all disappointed that the Kubota Museum was closed but if it hadn’t been we may never have ventured to the Jizai Studio. What’s the saying from the Sound of Music “one door closes and another one opens?” … you have to be open here, open to new experiences (like the culinary combination of shrimp and cabbage) and new opportunities, like seeing the glass beads being made. Yes, I parted with my Yen that day, I have a lovely pendant that will remind me whenever I wear it to be open to the adventures life throws your way, and to persevere even when you’ve been driving in circles for over an hour … because a new experience may be just around the bend, and that of course is … inspiring.