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Soari: arts and disability or Disability Arts? / 14 April 2011

photo of lines of raked gravel

The amazing raked gravel at Ginkakuji. Photo © Gini

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The morning looks sunny and bright, I have promised to try the stewed root vegetables for breakfast, and I do, but won't be doing it again!

We plan another bus journey today; Ginkakuji, the garden with the raked silver sand, is on my wish list. I wait in the queue while SP buys our tickets so that we can be first in the new queue. It doesn't help. The driver ignores us and loads up the bus. They come every ten minutes, so we wait.

The next bus is no better. We notice that it has steep steps to board and realise that the wheelchair symbol on the outside has no real meaning. The only accessible buses are those with the symbol in the destinations window. We ask when the next accessible bus will arrive, but no-one knows. We wait.

The next bus is equally inaccessible, but buses to Ginkakuji go from three different points at this terminal, so we decide to try for one of the others. The wait here is twenty minutes, so we decide to give it one more shot. The bus is not accessible. We head for the train station.

Ginkakuji itself does not disappoint and I'm thrilled to be in the fabulous garden. The sand is actually a fine gravel, and although the "Gin" part of the name means silver, the sand is pale grey in the bright sunlight; very difficult to photograph.

Thank goodness for digital cameras, I can take as many pictures as I please and I do. The garden is so beautiful. Again, this is somewhere I do not wish to leave, but there is still more to see. We are going to follow the Philosophers Path, a long winding route beside a narrow stream lined with cherry trees.

People are promenading in traditional Japanese costume with summer umbrellas. The blossom is just going over and petals are falling like snow; it's all amazingly beautiful. We stop in the warm sun for something called "apple and cinnamon cake sand" and are definitely amused.

The wheelchair's skinny wheels have given me some hairy moments on the uneven surfaces, but SP has been on hand to prevent me ending up in the river. I have used up one battery and am glad of the spare. We change them over at the station and then dawdle our way back via Gion.

This is where I discover Soari.

A shop with gloriously beautiful, woven cloth hanging in the window, transfixes me. There is a step, but SP gets me in. Two smiling women hand me a paper in English: it explains Soari, a project to bring dignity and purpose to the lives of those who have been deprived of it.

Its mainly about disabled people, but does not exclude; its a project which allows people to freely express themselves through freestyle weaving. I attempt to communicate and the ladies are thrilled that I love all of the garments displayed.

I buy a scarf with all the colours of the cherry tree in spring, and wear it; it's delicious. I would love to know who made it and ask if it was one of the two smiling, helpful ladies. They back away from me. No, not them. Certainly not them.

Back in the hotel I wear my new scarf like shawl for our evening meal and feel fabulous.


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