Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

I am so glad that the boys who have been trapped in the cave in Thailand are finally being rescued. I do admire the courage of the rescuers and my heart aches every time I think about the navy diver who lost his life during the rescue operation. I sincerely pray for all the people – the boys, the coach and the rescuers, to come out of the cave without any injury.

If someone asked me which street I loved the most during our road trip, I would answer Rue des Trois Faucons without hesitation. Avignon was such a charming city with many pretty streets and squares. However, I would recommend it because the street was free from chain stores. All the shops lining the street were unique and original.

A vintage book shop which was specialised in art.

Librairie Paroles was another vintage book shop specialised in history and literature.

Mum and I loved this boutique, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the most. I visited there alone first and returned with mum later because the shop was so pretty. We bought from them mainly jewelries – she bought a beautiful silver necklace and I bought five dainty bracelets which I wore them all at once.

Ahhh, how I wished if they were in my neighbourhood in London! I would shop there every week…

After loading laundry at the laundrette, I strolled up Place des Corps Saints to investigate the street. Further up, the street became Rue des Trois Faucons and I started to see more shops. ‘Shouldn’t I buy a notebook for mum?’, I thought when I walked past Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Why a notebook?, you may ask.

Well, mum and I had a tiny discord that morning and the tiff was about her notebook.

One of my mum’s personal traits was being a bit disorganised and it sometimes drove me crazy. Perpetually, she was looking for something which she mislaid and it caused a mini havoc. ‘Oh no! I can’t find it!!’, was the dreaded cue for her messy search which involved turning a room upside down.

Ever since I was a teenager, I had been witnessing mum going around like a mini-tornado, flipping everything in her path upside down and inside out while moaning how she could lose the sight of it – spectacles, keys, a receipt, a handkerchief, etc.

So that morning, when she started to turn our room over because she couldn’t find her notebook, I became a bit fed up and complained, ‘How can you be so disorganised all the time?’

The corners of her mouth went downward and she looked miserable. Oh dear, I did it. The room was filled with air silently screaming “AWKWARD!” so I grabbed a paper bag with our dirty laundry and left her in the room with her missing notebook.

‘You know she was always like that and shouldn’t have been annoyed.’, I talked to myself as I pottered down the street.

‘Bonjour, madam.’, I greeted a woman behind the cashier as I entered the boutique. By the till, there was a pile of small notebooks and they were very pretty, black and white stripes with gold lettering embossed on their covers. This will do, I thought and bought it for mum.

When I returned to the room with the gift, she was sitting on a bed with bags which were emptied. ‘I think the notebook was gone. I am such a silly woman.’, she shrugged her shoulders and smiled. ‘Then, use this.’, I handed her a new notebook. ‘And you are not silly but a little careless sometimes.’

Mum’s face lit up like a 100w lightbulb and all the awkwardness we had between us early on flew out of the window and gone. Phew!

‘Once the laundry is sorted, we are going out, mum. Let’s tidy up! On the double!!’ Mum and I picked up bits and pieces which were sprinkled by Mum Tornado…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Old & New @ Nagano

What a tempestuous weather looming over us right now. An image of stormy waves washing away railway tracks in Exeter area, shown repeatedly on various news channels since this morning, is so ghastly and depressing. Apart from those awe-inspiring spectacles, such as cliffs being pounded by humongous surf or banks awash with foaming sea water from all directions, there are people who are dog-tired of laying out sandbags and having to deal with the aftermath of flooding. I desperately hope the UK will be storm-free for the rest of the winter and it will give a respite to the long-suffering local people. Weather-wise, what an awful winter for so may of them so far.

My two years absence from Nagano brought me a few surprises. The emergence of new shops was one thing, the staying power of old shops was another. During my stroll, I was glad to find that the familiar shop fronts from my childhood were still gracing along the main street…

A fruit seller near the Niō-mon. The scale and appearance of the stall was virtually unchanged for decades…


I imagine their right to trade within the Zenkō-ji compound must be hereditary and protected from any new commercial development. Otherwise, who could survive this long without not selling much like this…

This shop in Daimon area sold all sorts of Japanese knick-knacks. Ceramic pots, cups, pitchers, dishes & plates, porcelain figurines in all sizes, materials & shapes, tea towels, woven baskets, iron kettles, wallets, small luggage, handkerchiefs, etc…


The shop would be a godsend for anyone who ran out of the idea for souvenirs home. They stocked a variety of cute Japanese things at reasonable prices.

The placard says “From proper-fat, semi-fat to semi-skinny, we provide for all sizes”…


This clothing shop on Chuō-douri, I had never seen anyone in there. The items on sale were perpetually the same, targeting local old people who would clad in subdued tones of browns and murky greens. I guess they must own a shop plot for generations. How do they make enough profit to keep this shop stay opened, I have no idea.

This shop by the west entrance of Gondō was filled with toys for kids of all ages…


Their shop window was covered with their merchandise. From Japanese anime figures to posters of nostalgic American silver screen stars, the items on offer were diverse. The shop reminded me an Otaku (おたく/オタク)’s bedroom.

When it came to traditional toyshops there were a couple of them near Gondō arcade.

This shop was specialised in Igo (囲碁).


The game was invented in China more than 2500 years ago and has many enthusiasts, especially amongst retired Japanese men. Those wooden game tables were surprisingly pricy – costed between ¥65000 to ¥190000.

Now, I know what they are made from!
Their display showed what how the game chips were made…


They were made from shells of giant clams. No wonder they were so expensive!

The next door was Japanese doll shop…


About these attractive objects on display with hanging figures, I had no idea what they were for. I guess they were for babies? They may be meant to amuse them while they lie in cots?

There were also a few new addition to the vicinity of Zenkō-ji.

A monument for Nagano Olympic Game stood rather forlornly…


The XVIII Winter Olympics which was held in Nagano 1998. What it brought was not only worldwide attention to this quiet city for two weeks but also an enormous change which ended up altering the way local people lived forever. By motorway and bullet trains, the distance between Tokyo and Nagano was significantly shortened physically and mentally. However, the process made Nagano more or less like one of Tokyo’s satellite cities and diluted the city’s identity.
In a few days time, Sochi 2014 will light their cauldron. I wonder what effect will Sochi bear as the result.

Another new business I noticed was Jinriki-sha (人力車) – a rickshaw operated by two persons…


While one rickshaw driver pulled the cart, his partner pushed it from the rear. Since the streets around Zenkō-ji were all uphill and downhill, having two personnels would make the ride more comfortable and safer. A 40 minutes ride for ¥4500 doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Yureki-Shobo @ Kanematu

When I bid farewell at Hana Chouchin, one of the sisters recommended another vintage bookshop, Yureki-Shobo, in the neighbourhood.
On my way to the bookshop, I came across Nishinomiya-jinja, a Shinto shrine, celebrating “Ebisu”,the Japanese god of fishermen and workingmen, as well as the guardian of the health of small children…


It was a very cold day and a shimenawa, a think straw rope adorning the gate of shrine was swinging lightly in the wind time to time. By the way, the rope is believed to act as a ward against evil spirits…


From Nishinomiya-jinja, the bookshop was a stone’s throw. On the side of a light-grey building with old-fashioned sliding doors, I found a sign with their logo on…


The building used to be a disused factory. It was renovated in 2009, as a shared office space, a cafe, multi-purpose hall and a bookshop…


I slid open a wooden door and found myself in the cafe. The smell of kerosene heater in the middle of the cafe was a welcoming scent for my frosty cheeks. A girl with an apron on approached me with smile and asked if I was here for coffee…


The cafe was dotted with comfortable furnitures, such as Kotatsu. A kotatsu is a domestic heating device often laid out during Japanese winter time. A low, wooden table frame with a built-in electric heater is covered by a quilt, and on top of it, a table top is placed…


Most of the guests sank themselves cozily in plush sofas placed in front of the bookshelves…


In the showcase, a few buns were left but no cake…


The bookshop I was after was to be approached through the cafe. Beyond another glazed sliding doors, there was a multi-purpose hall and the bookshop was adjacent to the hall…



On the ceiling, there was an art-deco style lighting…


And a globe in the middle of the shop floor.
All four walls, except around the door frame, were clad with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. This windowless square space, completed with the lighting and the glove in its centre, created a curious other-worldliness…


Mr.Miyajima, the owner of the shop, working behind the till…


He backpacked after graduating a local high school. During his wandering years, he encountered books left behind by fellow backpackers at youth hostels he stayed and by reading them, he found his journey even more enjoyable as well as reflective…


Every single book on the shelves was handpicked by Mr.Miyajima at various book auctions all over Japan, reflecting his diverse interest and expert knowledge of each subject. He certainly was a concierge for any book lover.
A magic carpets in the shape of book is available at Yureki-Shobo. Just tell Mr.Miyajima where you want to travel to and he will pick the best book for you from the shelves…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Hana Chouchin @ Higashinomon

After visiting Niō-mon, I sauntered eastbound, leaving Zenkō-ji behind. Tiny snow flakes were dancing in the afternoon sunshine and I could see my breath rising like mist in the air. The street leading towards Zenkō-ji Shita station was sloping downward and icy, therefore, I trod tentatively with a mincing gait.
Then, I came across a half-opened threshold with an easel, displaying a shop sign “Hana Chouchin”…


From the door way, I could see bookshelves filled with intriguing looking books and prints. So I entered the shop, uttering ‘Gomenkidasai!’ – ‘Hello, is anybody there?’
Upon hearing my voice, an old lady appeared from behind the Shouji-sliding door and greeted me with a warm smile.

The shop was an Aladdin’s cave for retro toy fans and vintage print collectors. The lady explained to me that most of the vintage books and prints were her father’s and they were passed down to her upon his death.
I kneeled down in front of the shelf and flicked through them. Despite their old age, they had no musty smell of old prints and the conditions were very good.
Then, another old lady emerged from behind the door, holding a cup of coffee for me. Those two old ladies turned out to be sisters and were running the shop together.
The latter lady used to work for a children’s book department and the items on sale were her collection which accumulated over the years…


Oh, I do remember them!
I spotted some of my favourite stories straightaway amongst the books on display…


The shop was overflowing with old-fashioned toys and playthings made from timber, fabric & paper…


These toys were uncomplicated and tangible yet sure to fuel a child’s endless imagination and creativity…


This shelf was laden with traditional toys which generations of Japanese children played with them during New Years holiday. Kites with samurai warriors, card games with old-style illustrations, a Hagoita – Japanese badminton with a wooden rackets & shuttlecock, retro comic books…


The shop was a treasure trove for children and children at heart. For grown-ups, it would be a reunion with childhood memories. And for real-time children, it would be an eye-opening experience…


The sisters explained that they had no intention of starting the business when they initially rented this space. They needed some room to sort out their overflowing collection of old books and toys. However, the property they rented used to be a shop and gave them an idea that they could start a book/toy shop for local people…


At the time of my visit, the shop’s open time was limited to weekend only and the shop had no website. However, it is definitely well worth seeking out this discreet gem near Zenkō-ji…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Window Shopping on Broadway Market, E8

December dusk comes very quickly, doesn’t it? I was on Broadway Market, East London, to meet up with my acquaintance at 17:30. And the street was already cloaked in the darkness when I arrived there 30 minutes earlier.

A Christmas tree stand by the street corner…


More than a few shops were still open for Christmas shoppers. Their windows glowed in the darkness like Chinese lanterns in the sky.

The shop drew my attention was Kate Sheridan


Leather bags on sale were unique and beautifully made.

The Broadway Bookshop


The bookshop was small but the books on the shelves were well-selected and would be a godsend alternative if one was bored with family friendly Christmas TV listings.

Or for more art-minded bookworms, Artwords Bookshop


My brand’s occasional stockist 69b


A fishmonger, Fin & Flounder


Christmas trees on sale…


Donlon Books. For art book lovers with vintage twists…


The 30 minutes of window shopping passed surprisingly quickly and I headed to l’eau à la bouche where I was to rendezvous with Emilie…


After a cup of latte and chat, we wished each other a very happy Christmas & new year and went separate ways.
As I waited for a bus home, I gazed at the twinkling lights spun across branches of the tree, wondering how pretty they were…


The Christmas lights appeared even lovelier because of the quiet darkness on the streets…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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