Japan: Memoirs of a Gaijin

There are many ways to enjoy the daily pulse of life during visits to Tokyo and Kyoto.. If you've got a sense of adventure tempered by an appropriate sense of respect, you'll be able to glimpse snippets of what it must be like to live in this singular place.

I enjoy visiting temples and shrines, with their overwhelming sense of heritage, history and faith—a few deep breaths are enough to slow the pulse and open the mind. Also on display is the architectural craftsmanship that created elegant gardens centuries ago. But what makes me feel a simple kinship is the process of water purification, the lighting of incense and sometimes using the fortune-telling sticks. Geisha for a Day

Because ceramics are a passion of mine, I was happy to stumble upon an informal studio with a wheel in the corner of one of the many art shops in Kyoto. I've since thrown several vessels, including a traditional tea-ceremony bowl. When I look at them, I remember the conversations I had with the artist about her family's generations of creating art and showcasing it for visitors.

Hungry Friends

Many visitors flock to the historic town of Nara. They're there for the history and the temples, of course, but I like to think they are visiting the deer, too. You can buy bundles of wafer-thin crispy senbei (crackers) prepared especially for the resident deer. Snap the circular senbei into smaller wedges to parcel out to your growing cluster of deer. Keeping a brisk walking pace is also a good idea, in case one of the deer gets impatient and nips your shirt when it gets tired of waiting for a treat.

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