Kansai: Writing Travel Books

Lunch and an Informal Talk with Judith Clancy


Date: Sunday 11 May 2014
Time: 13:30–16:00 (Judith’s talk from around 14:30)
Place: Machiya restaurant Soiru (5 minutes’ walk from Subway Marutamachi Stn)
Address: 京都府京都市中京区室町通夷川東入ル鏡屋町50-3 (Map)
Lunch: Curry, temakizushi, or soba lunch sets (880 yen) + drink (100 yen); or tempura (prawn or fish) lunch set (1,500 yen) (Menu; pre-tax hike prices)
Talk Fee: 500 yen SWET members, 1,000 non-members
Reservations: SWET Kansai by Friday May 9th. Please specify 1 of the 4 lunch sets above when reserving. 

Note: The restaurant is very kind to let us stay after lunch, outside their business hours, for Judith’s talk. Participants who cannot attend lunch but would like to hear Judith speak are very welcome, but must buy a drink. As a courtesy to the shop, if you will only attend the talk, please do not arrive before 14.30.

Judith Clancy taught music in New Jersey schools before coming to Japan. Fed up with U.S. politics and the Vietnam War, she went to South Korea and served as a paramedic in the Peace Corps from 1967 to 1969. In January 1970, she arrived in Japan, a country she was enthralled with as recounted by an elementary school classmate's businessman father.

Clancy began writing walking tours almost 30 years ago for the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide, then edited by John Benson. She later cobbled together the walks and started applying to different editors. Weatherhill picked up the manuscript, and Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital was published in 1997, the last in their line of guidebooks on Japan. “No one had attempted to write about Kyoto and I was too innocent to even realize what I was taking on and too stupid not to attempt it.”

After a second printing, Weatherhill was starting to sell off its titles as it was transformed into a publisher specializing in furniture. The title went to Shambala, which did nothing with the book, so Weatherhill’s editor introduced her to Peter Goodman at Stone Bridge Press. By this time, Exploring Kyoto, with a cover price of $19.95, was selling used for over $200.00 on Amazon. Peter changed the cover and Clancy did an almost complete rewrite, updating prices and addresses, a full year of work on top of the initial 6 years to write and research it. While in Berkerley, she whimsically mentioned wanting to do a restaurant guide to the Stone Bridge Press staff, who replied, “That sounds nice.” Taking that as a given, she started collecting data.

As temporary chairman of Kyoto Mitate International for one year, she became involved with different preservation and renovation groups, which turned out to be an exciting introduction to seeing many newly renovated restaurants and shops. She felt she had to share these virtually vanishing architectural icons with others, so after another 5 years of eating and writing, the Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide was published in 2012.

Ben Simmons, a photographer and Tokyo resident who admired her guidebook, called Clancy one day asking her to write something with him about Kyoto for Tuttle where his Tokyo Megacity with Donald Richie was a bestseller. She recalls blanching at the thought of following that twosome, but being the gentle southern gentleman that he is, Simmons persuaded Clancy to do Kyoto: City of Zen. This was released in 2012 and is now going into a second printing.

Nine years ago, Clancy bought and renovated a 130-year-old obi weaving studio on a tiny alley filled with other weaving studios, of which all but two of its former obi-weaver residents are retired now. Amid hundreds of traditional homes in the Nishijin district, she continues to write, inspired by the lives of those around her.

During her talk for SWET Kansai, Clancy will discuss the perils and occasional pleasures of publishing and try to bolster those whose dreams are leading them down the perilous path of penury.


Read the most recent SWET interview with Judith Clancy here.