A Travel Blog for Book Lovers: Part 1
Guest Blog by Mirah Welday
When Ericka first approached me about contributing to the Pretty Literate blog by sharing my personal experiences with literary travel, I immediately felt connected to the idea. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mirah Welday and I love to read and travel.
Yep, that’s me in a nutshell.
I am blessed to have been able to travel to some incredible places and I am continually amazed and humbled by the cultures and people of our world. I hope you will enjoy traveling with me this summer as I share A Travel Blog for Book Lovers here at Pretty Literate. I look forward to your comments and questions, so please feel free to leave them below!
First stop, Kyoto!
I’ll start with a little back story. Not long after I graduated from college (I’m guesstimating spring 1999), I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I was totally mesmerized at the time by the story of Nitta Sayuri and fascinated by Japanese culture. I couldn’t imagine that life or those choices. I won’t go into the storyline in case you haven’t read it and I would hate to spoil it for you. My paperback copy of Memoirs went on my ‘forever favorites’ bookshelf and is still there today and it is tattered, yellowed, and loved.
Memoirs of a Geisha combines two of my favorite aspects of reading: the historical fiction genre and a strong connection to location. I love books with locations that feel like another character to the reader. I felt Golden accomplished this masterfully with his novel set in Kyoto. The alleyways, teahouses, and gardens seemed to come alive; I could see them in my mind’s eye so clearly. The heartbeat of Kyoto was just as strong as the heartbeat of the human characters in Memoirs. I had only traveled outside of the United States once by the time I read Memoirs and I was craving travel experiences but going to Japan seemed like a distant dream.
In 2005, the movie adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha was released and it was visually stunning. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to find it, watch it, and love it with me. All of the colors, clothing, and locations I had imagined were vivid and beautifully represented. The scene with the main character running through all of the bright red orange torii gates was emblazoned in my mind after seeing the film. I yearned to get there.
Fast forward to late 2008; we are a U.S. Navy family and my husband receives orders for Misawa, Japan, a small, rural city far north on the main Japanese island of Honshu. One of my first thoughts- truly, one of my very first thoughts after we received word of our move- was ‘I can get to Kyoto’. We get packed up and moved to northern Japan in early 2009 and in October 2011, my husband and I travel to Kyoto to celebrate my 35th birthday seeing the shrines, temples, streets, and castles of Kyoto to live my Memoirs travel dream.
We started the trip by visiting Byodo In Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had moved to Japan from Hawaii and on Oahu there is a smaller scale replica of Byodo In. I loved to visit there when we lived in Honolulu to feed the koi and sit in the garden. I still have a framed painting by a local Hawaiian artist of the seated Buddha from Byodo In. Seeing the original temple was an incredible connection to Hawaii, the place I still call the ‘home of my heart’. Living there was a blessing full of wonderful memories. With May being Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I thought it made this Kyoto trip fitting to share with you in my first literary travel blog for Pretty Literate.
After Byodo In, we visited Fushimi-Inari to see all of the torii gates. I can’t quite express my absolute awe at seeing the thousands (literally, about 10,000) of torii gates within the complex, it was breathtaking. I wanted to take off running through the torii gates just like I was in the Memoirs film!
While Byodo In and Fushimi-Inari were the top locations I wanted to visit within Kyoto, we also visited Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes Nijo Castle, Ninomaru Palace and Gardens, and Honmaru Palace). My husband loves architecture so, for him, this was a highlight of the Kyoto trip.
The last stop within Kyoto for us was Gion, the Geisha District. The entertainment district is full of restaurants, shops, sake bars, and other nightlife. How could I go on a trip inspired by Memoirs of a Geisha and not go to the Geisha District?
We spent some time walking the Geisha District, enjoying the beautiful night and weather, and stopped for an amazing dinner. I know you’re thinking we ate at an incredible teahouse, complete with sake, lanterns and tatami mats but you’d be wrong. We relished our bangers & mash and fish & chips at an Irish pub! I know…how could we do that? I’m going to ask for a little grace. By this time, we’d been living in Misawa almost three years and there were very few (really, that means none) non-Japanese food restaurants there. During our visit to Kyoto, we visited Starbucks, Yak & Yeti Nepali Restaurant, Estrela (a Brazillian restaurant), and The Gael Gion (Irish pub). Having some international fare was a real treat so please don’t judge me harshly!
After dinner, we visited Yasaka Shrine. That night, there was a wedding at the shrine and the illuminated lanterns and guests in traditional attire made were magical and stunning and made for an incredible end to my Memoirs of a Geisha Kyoto weekend.
My trip to Kyoto was a memorable birthday adventure with connections both to Hawaii and to my incredible reading experience of Memoirs of a Geisha. Don’t you just love it when books touch your soul and you can’t forget them? Memoirs was a powerful read for me that spurred a dream of travel and when that dream came true, my soul was touched again by the beauty and dignity of Kyoto.
But Memoirs of a Geisha wasn’t my only literary connection to my time in Kyoto. Join me in another literary travel blog this summer to learn what souvenir I bought in Kyoto that has a connection to another favorite novel of mine. What could it be? I hope you will join me to find out….oh, the places we will go!
Where will we go next?
Mirah will be sharing again next month, so be sure to look for another Travel Blog for Book Lovers in June!
In the meantime, check out Pretty Literate's one-of-a-kind Summer Road Trip Book Box and enjoy a literary trip around America with author John Steinbeck's vintage-inspired 50th Anniversary edition of his classic Travels with Charley in Search of America - the author's creative accounting of his epic road trip across America with his four-legged friend, Charley.
Accompanying the classic are a handful of bookish souvenirs to help make your travel through the pages of the book as unique & memorable as the original.
Thank you for this! Gret memories of this book came rushing back and I think I need to read this fantastic book again! Looking forward to your next adventure and so happy I get to call you Daughter in law!
Hi Mirah! Thank you for sharing your book and travel adventures of Japan! I hear about a lot of things Japan from my daughter, it’s usually a new word she’s learned or all things anime. As much as I enjoy her excitement of anime, I might enjoy yours more! I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Memoirs of a Geisha but I have seen the movie and I love it! I’m excited to read more next month! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Pretty Literate and Mirah for sharing your amazing travel adventures in Japan and Hawaii. I loved that memoirs of a geisha when I read it years ago. Japan seems like a fairy tale adventure of so much culture and heritage. I always wanted to visit there. Maybe someday !!
Hi, Mirah! I enjoyed reading the first installment of your travel blog. It brought back memories to me too; during the 80s I toured with a couple of bands and one of the places we played was Misawa! I am a huge reader and have read many books featuring Japan and its culture. One of my favorites is Shogun by James Clavell.