Journey to Japan

mountain and pine night landscape with haiku

“the time we are given” is 11×14, painted with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on paper. © Annette Makino 2014

Well, I’ve been back from Japan for almost a month now, and I still can’t begin to describe this heart-expanding trip. Much as I had planned and anticipated the journey (see my last post, Eastward ho!), it was even better than I could have imagined.

Over three weeks in June, my family and I explored serene Zen gardens and bustling city streets. We spent one day hiking the ancient Nakasendo trail between post towns, and another day hiking through ten thousand vermillion torii gates at a shrine in Kyoto.

We climbed to the top of a 400-year old castle and we soaked in mountain hot springs. We shopped in glitzy malls, a temple flea market, and a tiny paintbrush store founded in 1863. At an alley bar with just nine seats, we heard a Japanese duo play American jazz. Inside the moat of a wooden castle, we happened on a free concert by a popular boy band. We hiked through bamboo forests and flew past rice paddies on bullet trains.

Vermillion gates line a trail

There are about ten thousand gates at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.

We were mystified by the high-tech toilets with explanatory signs only in Japanese—a member of our party, who wishes to remain anonymous, learned the hard way that the big red button is not for flushing, but to call an attendant in case of emergency! One day at a busy Kyoto subway station, we encountered about a hundred massive sumo wrestlers, all wearing colorful summer kimonos and top knots.

We were amused by the odd English translations, like the restaurant offering “pig hormone soaked in a pot.” At the Meiji shrine in Tokyo, among the hand-lettered prayers for good health and high exam scores, we found one we could relate to: “I pray that America doesn’t elect Donald Trump.”

Japanese garden with purple irises

Kenroku-en garden in Kanazawa is considered one of the top three gardens in Japan.

Our 19-year old daughter Maya, whose main exposure to Japan had been the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, kept exclaiming, “This is so frickin’ dope! It’s like anime, only real life!”

Our 14-year old son Gabriel ate everything in sight, from breakfasts of grilled fish and pickled vegetables to chunks of battered octopus passed among bar patrons. But he passed on the sardine tea offered at one ramen joint, even though the sign promised, “Tastes like a junior high student.”

Tombstones at ancient Japanese cemetery

A Makino family cemetery in Kurabuchi, Gunma prefecture, goes back ten generations.

We also visited with my relatives, enjoying their warm hospitality and hearing about the Makino family’s samurai ancestry.

A highlight was spending a day at Makino Brewery in the mountains beyond Takasaki, a business run by my second cousin which has been making award-winning sake for 320 years. Near the brewery, by a bamboo grove, is the Makino temple and a family cemetery where ten generations of Makinos are buried.

woman on bench in Japanese garden

Annette Makino takes in the peaceful garden at the Nezu Museum in Tokyo.

The beauty of Japan flooded my mind and heart. I’m sure I will draw inspiration from this trip for years to come. It was a great blessing to celebrate Makino Studios’ fifth anniversary with this “bucket list” family adventure. Thanks to all who made this trip possible by supporting my artistic journey along the way!


the time we are given . . .
sparks rise through darkness
to join the stars

(tinywords 14.2)

Family at Japanese water wheel

Annette Makino surrounded by husband Paul, daughter Maya and son Gabriel in Tsumago at the end of a day of hiking the Nakasendo trail.

Makino Studios News

More Japan photos: If you’d like to see more images of our trip to Japan (mostly shot on my iPhone 6S), I’ve temporarily made this Facebook album public.

Summer retreat: The week of July 30-August 7, I’ll be relaxing and painting at a cabin on the Klamath River. If you would like to place an order through the MakinoStudios Etsy shop, please do so before or after that week.

North Country Fair: Humboldters, mark your calendars for the 43nd annual North Country Fair on the Arcata Plaza September 17-18! I’ll have paintings, prints, cards and new 2017 calendars at the Makino Studios booth on G Street near 9th.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted July 24, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Japan. Your mix of words and pictures are always exquisite. I always enjoy reading your blog and getting your newsletter.

  2. Sarah Harrison
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Annette, is the “sparks rise through the darkness” haiku on a card or print?

    • Posted July 25, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Hi Sarah,

      Yes, it is available as a card:
      And there was one available at the Ukiah Coop three days ago, though you have to look through three card slots to find it. Three Sisters on School Street also carries some of my cards, though they have not yet ordered that one.

      You can frame the card in a standard 8×10/5×7 mat or frame (or I can mat a signed card for $18 or mat and frame for $45, plus tax and shipping).

      Another option: I could have an archival 11×14 print made (that’s the original size) for $40. And the original painting is also for sale.

      Happy summer!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>