Hidden Treasures in Arashiyama

About five weeks into our six week Japanese extravaganza, I hit a wall. I loved Japan, I loved being with my partner, and I loved being on holiday.

But…

I didn’t like not being able to understand the language. I didn’t like the overwhelming crowds. I didn’t like the uncomfortable futons. I didn’t like the never-ending culture shock. And I didn’t like living out of a backpack, week after week.

I was homesick, and it was making me grumpy.

The final straw came when we set off to visit the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street during our visit to Arashiyama, a short train trip from Kyoto, which had been described as a historic district in which traditional houses had been converted into shop and restaurants. It was quite a walk from the main tourist strip, and our feet were getting sore, but the area had good reviews, so we thought it was worth making the trek. For whatever reason, perhaps because it was the low tourist season, almost every single restaurant and shop along the entire street was closed. While it had been a beautifully scenic stroll, as far as I was concerned we had walked all that way out there for nothing.

I was just livid. I had had enough. I was tired of this country, and I just wanted to go home.

And that’s when we saw it.

A glass window box, filled with the most curious displays. Little dioramas featuring tiny recreations of buildings inhabited by tiny little figures made out of an unfamiliar material. There was a sign pointing up a walkway to an old house perched on a bit of an outcrop, with a few English words describing a gift shop. We looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to take a look.

Inside the shop two older women were sitting drinking tea and laughing. As we entered they stopped talking and welcomed us enthusiastically in haphazard English. They enthusiastically showed us the different items they’d handcrafted – tiny little figurines and intricate scenes carefully put together with the utmost care and love. The unfamiliar medium turned out to be empty silkworm cocoons! The silkworm cocoons are typically just discarded, but here they were instead turned into endearing little works of art.

I was drawn to a sweet little girl figurine decked out in a tiny kimono, and the delighted artisan encouraged me to pick out my favourite kimono colour, as well as an adorable little gift box in which to store my little cocoon girl. She then invited us to sit with them for a cup of freshly brewed green tea. My partner speaks a little Japanese, while I know a word or two, and our hostesses delighted in our enthusiastic if not grammatically correct efforts at conversation. One of the ladies then presented me with a little origami frog that she’d just folded, showing me how to make it leap, and laughing merrily.

When it was finally time for us to make our way back to the train to head back to Kyoto, our new friends stood at the door of their shop and waved and waved as we walked away, shouting “thank you” and “good bye” in both Japanese and English, as we happily bowed and waved back.

This strange, charming exchange was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. I left that tiny little shop with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. My passion for Japan was reignited, and my spirit was inspired. I was reminded just why I love travel so very much, and of the kinds of unexpected experiences that can make travel so incredible.

All of this just goes to show that when you leave yourself open to new experiences, you just might find exactly what you need. Despite what popular media might suggest, travelling isn’t always sunshine and roses – sometimes it’s sore feet, bruised backs and homesick hearts, and that’s OK. We all have our down moments, and we can all just hit that wall. But inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources, and can strike when you least expect it. And if you’re ever in Arashiyama, be sure to visit the cocoon shop and say hello for yourselves.

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26 Comments

  • Reply Kathleen Burkinshaw

    What an amazing unexpected surprise!😊

    May 13, 2017 at 11:13 pm
  • Reply Tabatha

    Love this post, Jane! It’s so true, all of it. And those cocoon scenes are amazing.

    May 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm
  • Reply Julz

    So so cute!!!

    May 14, 2017 at 12:55 pm
  • Reply Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    Oh, this is such a lovely story! I think it’s wonderful that these two women were able to lift your spirits so much just when you needed it. And I agree that those little cocoon scenes are adorable!

    May 15, 2017 at 2:55 am
  • Reply Christine | The Journey of Christine

    What a cute little shop! Those two ladies knew exactly what you needed 🙂 I sometimes get in a funk while traveling and it sucks cause you’re not in the comfort of your own home but it’s nice when you find comfort while away

    May 16, 2017 at 4:25 pm
  • Reply Garth

    We visited Arashiyama last year, missed this place! The Japanese are so nice, happy to hear you found these ladies, sounds like a nice surprise.

    May 19, 2017 at 9:19 pm
  • Reply Vanessa Brune

    Such a beautiful post, and so true! I know exactly what you. I think we’ve all been there at one point or another where we’ve just been sick of a place but all it takes is one encounter with a stranger who brightens up your day and all is great again 🙂 Travel isn’t always just about the places but also about the people!

    May 20, 2017 at 9:58 am
  • Reply Rhonda Albom

    The cocoon figures are adorable. I’m happy that you finally enjoyed your time in Arashiyama.

    May 20, 2017 at 10:34 am
  • Reply California Globetrotter

    I understand how you feel when after sometime in a country, you’ve just had enough of not understanding the language or why things are the way they are, like constantly being closed on a Sunday or shops closing at 2pm on a Saturday! Then something happens to remind you why you’re there in the first place! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    May 20, 2017 at 11:50 am
  • Reply Tracy Collins

    What a lovely shop – and lovely ladies! I adore the little doll in the kimono! Glad you said they were silkworm cocoons i would never have guessed!

    May 20, 2017 at 3:12 pm
  • Reply Anisa

    It is funny how you always get what you really need, things just work out. I do feel you though, Japan is not an easy place to get around when you don’t know the language. Thanks for sharing your experience on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    May 20, 2017 at 4:21 pm
  • Reply galanda23

    I would imagine there must be a big culture shock going to Japan. I’ll be in Asia for the first time in my life this coming fall and I wonder if I’ll like it or not. I like little shops like the one that you found here. Those handcrafted tiny figurines are adorable! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    May 20, 2017 at 7:51 pm
  • Reply Katy

    Aww I bet you treasure that origami frog. What a lovely and serendipitous experience. I am so looking forward to visiting Japan. Thanks for joining #FarawayFiles

    May 21, 2017 at 9:34 am
  • Reply Shona @ paraphernalia.co

    Very cool. Such a simple exchange can change your whole outlook. I’m glad it did.

    May 21, 2017 at 10:42 am
  • Reply Clare Thomson

    Aren’t these wonderful and isn’t this just the best travel story about finding that special place just when you were least expecting it! We all get disheartened at times, even when travelling, and these moments are those perfect pick me ups. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    May 21, 2017 at 12:59 pm
  • Reply Jim ~ Reflections Enroute

    Japan can be overwhelming! I’m so glad you bounced back. Thanks for the travel inspiration! #wkendtravelinspiration

    May 21, 2017 at 4:08 pm
  • Reply Kat

    Oh yes sometimes these things do happen…there have been numerous times when I just felt fed up and missed home terribly and then something magical happened, it reignited my joy for travel again 🙂 I remember watching a travel program on Japan years ago and there was a short clip about the cocoon shops – truly incredible – leave it to the Japanese to make a little thing into a beautiful art 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

    May 22, 2017 at 8:22 am
  • Reply Trippin' Turpins

    Interesting post. I remember hating Bali the first two days I was there. I didn’t understand how anyone liked the place. By about the third day I was in love with the place and the people!

    May 23, 2017 at 2:42 am
  • Reply budgettraveltalk

    I love it when something happens to lift spirits and save the day. I loved Japan too but we were only there (Kyoto) for two weeks. Good on you for being able to speak a little Japanese.

    May 23, 2017 at 4:23 am
  • Reply oregongirlaroundtheworld

    I still have days like that living in Denmark for 2.5 years! I’m frustrated and feeling isolated and lonely and I have an amazing interaction or discover a new street to explore or learn a new word in Danish and I’m right back around. What a charming story – thank you for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    May 23, 2017 at 10:23 pm
  • Reply daisythebus

    This is brilliant. Not only a truly unique shop and travel experience, but an excellent piece of travel blogging too. Truly personal stories like this are what travel is all about, and you captured that wonderfully. I loved reading this – bravo!! Greetings from Luxembourg #FarawayFiles

    May 24, 2017 at 4:28 pm
  • Reply PackYourBaguios

    Some of our best travel experiences have been when we looked at each and said, “Why not!”

    May 24, 2017 at 10:38 pm
  • Reply Travel Lexx

    Great example of how travel and unique experiences can drag you out of a rut, I completely understand and have had a similar experience just this week and travel dragged me out of a bit of a hole. I didn’t get to see this shop when I was in Arashiyama but I will keep a look out if I ever go back!

    May 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm
  • Reply aholeinmyshoe (@a_holeinmyshoe)

    Great story and I love that you highlight travel does has its ups and downs… I love the upside of your trip with the visit to this little store. I hope we find it when we visit next month.

    May 25, 2017 at 1:40 pm
  • Reply Laura Shovan

    Thank you for sharing the ups and downs of travel in this post. This was an amazing find! One of those little surprises that you remember forever. The silkworm people are beautiful.

    May 26, 2017 at 12:16 am
  • Reply travelsewhere

    What a great read and it’s so true that one authentic moment can totally transform your travels. I remember feeling considerable culture shock when I first visited Japan too. Would love to go back! #wkendtravelinspiration

    May 26, 2017 at 12:21 pm
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