The career counselor of Kyoto 

Twenty minutes ago, walking to the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts seemed like a good idea. Google Maps had told me it would take 52 minutes to get there, a time length I  have easily walked back home in Edmonton. 

But somehow I  forgot that Edmonton summer days don’t get to 34 C with 90% humidity. Unlike Kyoto, it  doesn’t sit in a valley, hemmed in by mountains on three sides. So now,  I’m pouring sweat and feeling as though I’ve bitten off more sidewalk than my feet can chew. What to do? Walk back to the hotel? Flag down a taxi to take me the rest of the way to the museum? Find a place for lunch and decide later? What I need is a sign.

ask me! cafe

9:00-16:00 sometimes 18:00 

Tues, Sat, Sun close

Ask Me! anything about our city Kyoto

With selected coffee and cake

 light meals

Today’s Lunch

Spaghetti tomato & basil

As I  step inside the air-conditioned cafe, the coolness makes me close my eyes in grateful relief. Quiet classical music drifts among the empty tables and book-lined shelves.

 Hi, there,” I say to the steely-haired man behind the counter. “I’m trying to walk to the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts. Can you tell me how long you think it’ll take me from here?”

He reaches behind him for a map and unfolds it to show me the route. “At least half an hour. And see those clouds?” He points over my shoulder at a towering white mass on the horizon. “We’ll have rain, maybe heavy rain, in the next hour.”

Well, then, I guess I’ll order your lunch special,” I say, taking off my hat and sitting at a table near the window.

As he cooks, we chat. He asks what brought me to Kyoto. I tell him about my university job at Wakayama. He tells me he did an architecture degree at Kyoto University and went on to a career as a Kyoto urban planner for more than 30 years, while maintaining his interests in arts and culture.

 “Oh, so you’re retired now,” I say.

Thoughtful pause.

“I think I’ve started the next phase of my life now,” he says, smiling.

This resonates. As I sneak up on 60, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the next phase of my life. I’m not ready to retire, but the thought of doing something entirely new with my work life, possibly even transitioning my education background into the tourism sector, has been increasingly on my mind.

“So how long have you owned this cafe?”

“Two and a half years. And after I close for the day, I lead walking tours.”

“Walking tours? I  love walking tours! Are you doing one tonight?”

” Well, yes, but this one is for Japanese people who already know about Kyoto. I’m not really a tour guide. I’m more of a city interpreter.”

This catches my ear. A friend who owns a travel agency told me that walking tours are hot in the tourism sector right now and suggested this might be a way to marry and monetize my educational background with my interest in tourism and my status as a lifetime Edmonton resident.

” Well, how about tomorrow after you close?”

“Unfortunately, this is the only day this week I’m open. This month is the Gion Festival in Kyoto and I’m helping to build our community float for the parade next Monday. I also host a local radio program so….”

I’m beginning to see why my host doesn’t define himself as retired. This isn’t the first time I’ve run across this attitude to continued meaningful work in Japanese society. I took a walking tour in Kyoto when I  first arrived where we peeked into shops owned and operated by artisans well into their 70s and 80s.

By this time, my lunch is ready and my host leaves me to eat in silence. I take a look at his little advertising handbill to see what else I  could learn about how he does business. Two phrases catch my eye :

I can serve you some special stories with our select coffee and meals.

Serving up stories is one of my passions too.


Akihiro
Yamada –  Chief of shop

Chief of shop. After a lifetime of working for other people, that title attracts me.

As Mr. Yamada clears away my now- empty spaghetti bowl, I  compliment him on the al dente texture of the pasta and order dessert. He tells me he also does all the cafe’s baking. “Making a cake is like designing a building,” he says. “You have to consider how all the ingredients will go together.”

” And make it user-friendly,” I add.

As I  tuck into the chocolate cake, I realize that Mr. Yamada’s talents extend beyond storytelling, walking tours, and user-friendly meals and desserts. Our conversation helped me to think differently about the next phase of my life, and consider the diverse ways I could put its ingredients together.

5 comments

  1. well wow, everything in this story says you were meant to stop there and have this interaction. powerful!

  2. True. Even that he was open on Tuesday, which was one of his usual days to be closed, was serendipitous. I looked him upon Google and he’s also a menga artist, born just 8 months before I was.

  3. Thinking about the next phase of your life is a sign you are beginning to see the end of your (paid) working career. You might have more time for meaningful interactions.

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