Kites and Kimonos, an obscure children’s book published in 1936, describes a fictional family in pre-war Tokyo. I remember reading it around age 8, and in spite of the pedantic text, I was enchanted by its description of a culture so different from my own. A lifelong interest in Japanese culture took root. While studying Japanese art and traditional textiles in college, I purchased the same book for a quarter at the library’s discard sale. Now, thirty years later, it rests beside the keyboard as I reflect upon my recent trip to Japan. Zen philosophy offers that “every step of the journey is the journey.” From the first page of Kites and Kimonos to landing at Narita Airport on October 27, 2010, the route was long and full of unexpected detours, making the destination more valued as a result.
The final impetus for this trip comes from a professional project. Currently, I am engaged in a long term plan to renovate the grounds surrounding the Palmer House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian masterpiece. Inspired by their travels, Billy and Mary Palmer’s garden reflected a Japanese sensibility. Unfortunately, the property became overgrown over the past decade and threatened by invasive species. Although some details of the garden have disappeared, the majestic trees and layout remain. My time in Japan focused on visiting gardens, experiencing the spaces with an eye to restoring the Palmer House garden’s Japanese aesthetic.