Somehow surprises never stop in Japan. Or is it just in my life?
 Sights that surprise. Things never seen before. They keep you on your toes. If you close your eyes, you might miss something!
 A giant flaming Torii clad in brilliant copper in the new Suitengu Shrine compound soon to be opened in downtown Tokyo changes tone in the sunlight. The shrine compound is a miracle in contemporary architecture that preserves the masterful carpentry tradition of shrine architecture of old, built by Takenaka Corporation, a huge construction firm that builds super modern gigantic buildings while upholding its treasured tradition of shrine architecture – the most revered craftsmanship of all.  


A happy gentleman at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine was delighted to be complimented on his spiraling cap that he had knit himself, his first opus. At the first flea market of the year in Monzen Nakacho.


A droll red lacquer mail box in the shape of the legendary Kappa, a watery creature who eats cucumbers and lies in waiting for unsuspecting girls. What is the relationship between Kappa and mailboxes, I wonder. Of course I brought it home with me!

Whimsy sightings in the neighborhood are common: Cauliflowers being grown in planters by the Sumida River – will they be served with the fish men are fishing for nearby?




Or the whimsical bonnet on a passing dog walker dressed in chic Issey Miyake pleated pants with assiduously matching shoelaces – wherever did she find such a perfect color? Or did they come with the pants?
No outfit chic enough for a dog walk!


Roppongi is full of them. This cool woman, the height of style at Soft Bank, seemed to be just waiting to have her photo taken.


Kyoto too has its share of whimsy and surprise. My son had sent me this Kyoto photo and on I recent visit to Kyoto, I was determined to find it, though my only information about it was “Face House” and in time I learned that the architect was Yamashita Kazumasa, built in 1974. Was it still standing? I worried, in view of Japan’s system of disposable architecture? With a little help from a young tech savvy friend, I did find it and fittingly, it is now a toy store with only two telephone wires in front of its wide eyes. Whimsy is ageless!

We found a country cousin of Face House at Gungendo in Omori-cho in Shimane. An anthropomorphic outhouse, it sits next to the iconic Hinaya, the idyllic old Japan thatched roof farmhouse moved from Hiroshima and recreated by Tomi and Daikichi Matsuba in their charming village of 500 people that was recently made a World Heritage Site for its 16th century silver mine, Omori Ginzan. Their slow life philosophy is seductive and invites us to put away our microwaves and conbenis (convenience stores) and take time to enjoy life.



In winter when no flowers dare to bloom, lotus stems do a surprisingly elegant job of filling Abe House, the village chieftain’s house the Matsubas have restored, with wabi and sabi. Abe House welcomes guests all year round. A stay there can be life altering.


My blue and white heart jumped with surprise when I spotted this line of yuzu, a citron fruit so much more delicious and subtle than lemon, drying in bags of white cloth hanging from strips of yukata material. The Japanese tradition of preserving food relies heavily on miso, fermented bean paste, which in this case has been mixed with mochi rice, nuts and sake to produce a delicious savoury that, when cut into thin slices, marries beautifully with hot tea during the cold of winter.


Kyoto whimsy and surprise! Though after all these years, I shouldn’t be surprised to find Otafuku, and often her consort Hyottoko, who keeps her fires burning, smiling down from housetops and shelves, I am always filled with wonder when I find them in new places, this one in Uji a tea center, near Byoudoin, the ultimate in 13th century Japanese architecture. Her smiling chubby face reminds us to enjoy life and she blesses us and inspires us with her good humour. This country plaster Kotei, or wall frieze, is in the time-honored tradition of Japanese plasterers to protect a building with an invocation of good fortune as the final touch to their work.


Tokyo is a capital of surprises.
Chef in the sky! in Kappabashi, the supply area for cooking utensils.


In his cups! nearby.
Look for surprise! You’ll always find it in Tokyo.


Chef in the street. Surprise at suppertime, we chanced upon a chef grilling tai, red snapper, on an outdoor grill in an alley in the midst of central Ginza.

Look for the whimsy!
Don’t miss the surprise!


These small covered dishes were from a new blond lady dealer at the recent Tomioka Hachiman flea market who spoke excellent colloquial Japanese. When I asked her where she was from, she answered Turkey!

Wisely, she didn’t want to split the couple up. I bought the pair for ¥1,000. Surprise again!


Otafuku is everywhere in Blue & White, her international headquarters. Yesterday, February 3rd, was Setsubun, the beginning of spring in the old lunar calendar. The day marks the confrontation between the forces of good and the forces of evil, represented by red and blue devils who prance around shrines and villages where they celebrate by throwing beans to dispel the evil.

Otafuku dances in with her power of laughter and goodness. Large crowds gathered in Azabu Juban Patio, the small open space near Blue & White, to watch the bean throwing ceremony and jostled to catch the beans being thrown by the village elders.



Devils can have their charm, particularly these demons of antique cotton appliqued on old indigo by our star quilter Reiko Okunushi. She is particularly fond of Otafuku and portrays her in playful and original ways. Otafuku, our Blue & White heroine is the Goddess of Happiness and Whimsy. She is good fortune itself and never takes things too seriously, She laughs at whatever comes her way reminding us to enjoy life and see the funny bits.

Make sure you have them in your life. Otafuku too. She is whimsy. She brings surprise. She makes you smile. And Blue & White is her center of operations. 

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  1. Mari says:

    Amy—as always, a beautiful and illuminating post — thank you! More whimsy!

    While briefly in Tokyo, I stopped by your store on Jan. 26, but you were away at a quilt show/competition, I was told by the salesperson on duty. So sorry to have missed you, as it was my first visit to Blue & White in many, many years. I came away with several treasures, including a new, complete set of those small ceramic “chawanmushi” spoons and a gorgeous, capacious handbag of deep indigo. It was a delight to be back in Azabu-Juban and to revisit Blue & White — Happy Lunar New Year to you and your staff! I hope to catch you the next time I’m in Japan.

    • Oh Mari – sorry I missed you.
      Tokyo gets crowded with quilters in January and happily many come to Blue & White
      Glad to know you keep coming back and finding new pleasures.
      I’ll be waiting for you next time!

      • Mari says:

        I’m sorry that I missed you, too, Amy… and so happy with my treasures (including a quilted Otafuku zippered coin purse). A nostalgic return for me, and thrilled that Blue & White continues to thrive and bring pleasure to so many. I look forward to finally connecting!

  2. Kathleen Cintavey says:

    Thank you once again for bringing the delights of Japan to those of us who cannot be there in person.

  3. Carol Ann Eades says:

    Thank you for your words – I ache to return to this city of absolute delight Your pics open my heart x

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