All posts in Travel

Kashiya Kokonotsu

Kokonotsu-2-WEB

Kashiya Kokonotsu is a tea and confectionary studio based in Taito-ku, Tokyo. Owner Miho Mizoguchi is a seasoned tea master who leads saryo tea ceremonies at Buddhist temples regularly and is quite possibly one of the warmest individuals I have ever known. Upon meeting me at her studio, she took my hands in hers and thanked me for this “go-en,” or personal encounter.

The tea room interior, which I had the distinct pleasure of shooting, is a tranquil, womb-like space. Charcoal-laden wood shelves house a curated collection of delicate tea ceramics. White linens draped over the windows gently diffuse the midday light. In the center of the room is a long table with six chairs. “I offer one-hour tea room sessions when I am not working at the temple,” Mizoguchi-san tells me. “There are usually about 5-6 people. No words are exchanged. Just an hour of sipping tea, eating wagashi, and reveling in each other’s presence.”

Kokonotsu-6-WEB

Kokonotsu-15-WEB

Kokonotsu-16-WEBIndeed, Mizoguchi-san created Kokonotsu to offer busy minds a place to rest, to indulge in her nationally-acclaimed handmade wagashi sweets and the quiet company of a few others. Her tea preparation is nuanced, meticulous, elegant. Her wagashi is light, minimal, nourishing. Every minute detail in Mizoguchi-san’s studio is a quiet contemplation of pathos and wabi-sabi aesthetics.

Kokonotsu-4-WEB

Kokonotsu-8-WEB

Kokonotsu-10-WEBThe structure embedded in these sessions ironically allows the recipient a beautifully expansive tea experience, reaching far-flung corners of the mind. After a short shoot in between saryo sessions Mizoguchi-san kindly offered me her latest wagashi creation made of a type of kankitsu citrus called Haruka – a sweet coincidence that I will remember for the rest of my life. Thank you Mizoguchi-san for a truly restorative experience.

Kokonotsu-9-WEB

Kokonotsu-20-WEB

Kokonotsu-18-WEB

Kokonotsu-5-WEB

Kokonotsu-21-WEB

Kokonotsu-24-WEB

Kokonotsu-11-WEB

Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Two Wheels Down: Oregon Coast

BikeTrip2016-1-sm

My first time riding on the back of a motorcycle was when I was seventeen years old. A friend of a friend – a burly yet soft-spoken Belgian man – took me on his Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 through the Scottish Highlands. As I felt the deep rumble of the engine in my belly for the first time, I was certain that this would not be my last time on a bike.

Cut to: present. I am sitting here with dense matted hair and a sweltering patch of wind rash on my face after a 500-mile ride over the past weekend. I am dirty. I am grimy. I am tired. Yet I have a shit-eating grin on my face. Last night my body ached in places I never knew existed – yet somehow, I’m dying to be back on the road again.

BikeTrip2016-8-sm

BikeTrip2016-13-sm

BikeTrip2016-2-smMy long-time travel companion/biker extraordinaire Neil insisted that we wing it, that we go without a plan. I, on the other hand, had a Google doc on the ready.

Me: “We’ll have lunch in Astoria – I found this microbrewery on Yelp – then maybe head over to Fort Stevens at around one o’clo-”
Him: “We’ll go south.”

We ended up doing it his way. We simply went south.

BikeTrip2016-11-sm

BikeTrip2016-12-sm

BikeTrip2016-3-smFrom Seattle we made our way down to South Bend, Long Beach and Manzanita with a couple of detours in between. Unlike Southern California, the 101 on the North Coast is incredibly lush with majestic pine trees hugging the marred coastline. The temperature gently fluctuated as we wove in and out of deep forest enclaves; in the meanwhile, the Great Pacific kept a watchful eye on us beyond the trees. Along the way, we passed fellow bikers, boogie vans, decked out aluminum buses with a coffin on top. Oregon, you keep it weird. I like that.

BikeTrip2016-4-sm

BikeTrip2016-22-sm

BikeTrip2016-5-smThough we only had one full day of riding, the moments spent on that bike have been forever lodged into my bones. As we ripped down the sun-bleached highway through pristine beaches and pine tree groves, we were curiously suspended in time and space. Itineraries and future projections fell to the wayside as my immediate senses emerged to the fore. Life was pared down to its very essence – the engine growling underneath me, the sun beating down on my shoulders, the occasional whiff of kelp and ocean spray, the sweat beads forming on my skin. If freedom were a feeling, this would be it.

BikeTrip2016-7-sm

BikeTrip2016-6-sm

BikeTrip2016-15-smOregon, you were good to us. We will be back soon.

BikeTrip2016-17-sm

BikeTrip2016-14-sm

BikeTrip2016-19-sm

BikeTrip2016-9-sm

BikeTrip2016-10-sm

BikeTrip2016-16-sm

BikeTrip2016-20-sm

Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Takachiho Gorge, Japan

takachiho-cover

previously published on Need Supply Co.

Sei-jyaku is a quintessentially Japanese sentiment connoting poignant silence. Neither positive nor negative, it signifies willful inaction, a deeply restorative and brimming silence that is as life-giving as it is all-consuming and melancholic. It is what one feels when locking eyes with a stranger, when staring up at the surface while drifting underwater. It is what one feels when walking through a torii in Takachiho.

takachiho-5Nestled in the lush mountains of Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, Takachiho is known as the “village of the gods.” Numerous jinja shrines dating back 1,200 years ago dot the region. Some are surrounded by thick cedar groves; others are found in damp caves. Many have played a crucial role in the inception of Japanese folklore and serve as the idyllic “sato”—or village—backdrop for the gods’ and goddess’ playful antics.

takachiho-8One such temple is Amanoiwato, where Amaterasu, the sun goddess, hid after being taunted by her brothers. This deprived the world of her life-giving light. To lure Amaterasu out of the cave, a group of gods and goddesses got together and held a banquet, complete with uproarious laughter and sake. This effectively lured the sun goddess out of the cave and restored life back into the region again. The divine spirits of Shintoism are just as human, if not more human than mortal beings. They are guided by neither conscience nor moral principle—they are, in essence, a diverse cast of id-driven sprites inhabiting and characterizing the prolific landscapes of Japan.

takachiho-4A rugged trail behind another shrine, aptly named Takachiho Shrine, winds down to the Takachiho Gorge. The path is densely forested with puddles of sunlight filtering in through the canopies above. The quiet burbling of water can be heard in the distance as the steep incline opens up into a clearing. To the right appears a beautifully marred gorge containing dark, strangely stagnant water. It sits in stark comparison to the gnarled igneous rock formations twisting and turning up the mountain face, scathed from the cruel passage of time.

takachiho-6A mile or two south along the gorge, the inky water becomes clearer and animated, with silver crests shimmering along the rugged basin. One eventually comes to Manai Falls, a thin, majestic waterfall descending the jagged precipice and feeding crystal clear life into the gorge below. A landmark full of contradictions, Takachiho Gorge cradles sojourners with a deep sense of spiritual fulfillment while leaving them bewildered by the poignant and crudely arbitrary narratives of nature.

Sei-jyaku, at its finest.

takachiho-2

takachiho-1

takachiho-3

Homes in the Badlands

trona-5

previously published on Need Supply Co.

Far beyond the desert chic glamor of Palm Springs stretches miles upon miles of “uninhabitable” desert. Summer temperatures reach a blistering 120F while nighttime temperatures dip down to a bone-chilling 40F. The clay-based soil yields little more than arbitrary dust storms and the occasional sagebrush. Here, the roads come to an end and the sun reigns. One cannot help but feel like a small and insignificant blemish in the middle of a rogue and silent universe.

trona-1Despite all of this, there are settlements here in the badlands. Not RV parks or tidy groupings of campers parked along the side of the road — but permanent, standalone houses. Many are located in desolate company towns clustered around salt beds and mineral deposits. Behemoth factories spout billows of steam into the air as these humble settlements scatter on the wayside, like a hastily made diorama of clapboard houses.

trona-4Aside from the towering smokeshafts and ridiculously dense distribution of Christian churches (there are 5 churches in Trona, a town with a population of 18), these settlements resemble a poorly executed post-apocalyptic American suburb. Chain link fences indicate property lines. Dirt road “ boulevards” branch off into dead-end cul-de-sacs. Pillbox houses congregate in grid-like format. It is a crude manifestation of the virtues of suburbia: privacy, order and isolation. These makeshift settlements populate the soulless vacancy that is the desert landscape — a uniquely and quintessentially American backdrop for Freedom.

trona-3

trona-6

trona-7

trona-2

trona-8

trona-9

Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Winter in Montauk

montauk-12

Empty streets. Empty sidewalks. Empty beaches. Winter in Montauk is like an abandoned beach town diorama, a smattering of boxy shacks and piles of discarded plywood scraps. The many surf shops are boarded up until summer; locals gather instead at the Shagwong Restaurant, where the beer flows freely and the radiator is on full blast at all times.

montauk11We headed out to Montauk in search of quiet and isolation, hopefully to see a die-hard surfer or two. There were none. It was 22F. I also had some adolescent fantasies to indulge, having been obsessed with the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind throughout my early teen years. During the train ride up I could hear an orange-haired Kate Winslet whispering surreptitiously in my ear — “Meet me in Montauuuuuk.”

montauk-2We were spit out at Montauk station, which we’d assumed would be close to the city centre. Not a chance. We ended up hooking up with an equally confused Swiss traveler and hailing down a taxi. Our driver was a chatty Dominican with a ponytail — “I’m Leo. 10 bucks each,” he said. “How far is downtown?” we asked. “About a mile away.” “You’re charging us $30 for a mile?” “Exactamente,” he said with a sh*t-eating grin. Oh jesus, here we go.

montauk-6Downtown Montauk is comprised of bars and surf shops, the unlikely yoga studio and organic coffee shop, a large roundabout where you can see the shoreline on both sides. That’s right. Often referred to as “The End,” Montauk is located on the easternmost tip of Long Island, a mere strip of land extending defiantly out of New York state into cold Atlantic waters. You could walk from the northern shoreline to the other in about 7 minutes flat.

montauk-4Despite the brutal cab fare, Montauk was a dream. The beaches were incredibly pristine and housed the most beautiful abalone shells I’d seen in a long time. The beach houses hugging the shoreline were quintessential beach houses — sharp A-frames, pastel beadboard, sun-bleached decks and all. I could spot a local in the distance, emerging from his cozy home out into the rugged coastline. He released his dog to run about freely as he stood idly, staring out into the vast ocean. Happy dog, happy human. There’s something so effortlessly timeless, so complete about that picture.

montauk-9After wandering around in the biting cold for a few hours, soaking up the shimmering, life-giving light molecules of magic hour, we ducked into a saloon and celebrated over luxuriously thick, creamy clam chowder and Guinness. I succumbed to a deep, liquid sleep on the train ride home — my first good sleep since I’ve returned to NYC.

montauk-3

montauk-8

montauk-5

montauk-7

montauk-1

Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.