Hello from Kyoto
Japan confuses the observer with contrasting cultures, cartoon kittens and rabbits – the fierce samurai theme – the controlled perfection of gardens, bonsai, rules of etiquette, the intricate details of a geisha’s outfit, and the art of folding paper, called origami.
For example here are some cute “bunny” traffic bollards used for road works …
Everyone rides bicycles, the girls wear gloves, slip on sleeves, large hats and visors, socks and stockings – presumably to protect from the sun. They must be so hot in all of that! The daytime weather is hot and steamy. The girls who are not on bikes hold umbrellas and parasols which are lacy and cute-sey.
There are old fashioned gardens and temples tucked away between modern buildings. It is a large city and neatly laid out. The streets run in square grids, houses are neat and clean, people are polite – you are not allowed jay walk, blow your nose, or smoke (except in designated spots). Even the second hand bookshop is the neatest second hand bookshop I have ever seen. They have shops that specialise in only one product, for instance the fan shop, the hat shop, the broom shop … etc.
This morning I saw a geisha shuffling across the bridge, flawless and beautiful, like a moving postcard. Her kimono was black and white, with red obi (belt) and red decorations in her hair. She had white socks and platform kimono shoes. She looked like she could hardly walk as a result of her outfit. Like a little doll inching along in a cocoon!
I couldn’t catch a photo of her but here are some later photos of Gion and geisha
and some beautiful Japanese ladies
You are not allowed to give tips. It is offensive. One of our group has a friend living here who is married to a Japanese lady, so we are learning all these etiquette things.
There are tiny little cafes and bars tucked in the little streets off the main road. Some of them only fit 3-4 people. Some are in little tiny rooms upstairs.
We found one such bar last night called “Blue Beat Rolling Stones”. It was upstairs and we all fitted into it. A fellow called Hirosh served us Sashimi and chicken and pork which was delicious, and then we proceeded to learn about sake. There are many types. I liked the type in the bottle with a picture of a wave on the front. Two of the other girls liked the type in the pink bottle which I thought was too sweet. All the bottles are written in Japanese so we have no idea what we are drinking. Hirosh’s bar is decorated with covers from old vinyls from the 70s, was pretty cool. The only one we didn’t recognise was “Derek and the Dominos”. Has anyone ever heard of them?
Hirosh himself favours the rock star look which is contrast with the neatly dressed, belted, ironed, shoe-polished, properly combed men who walk along the streets here.
Here is Hirosh … ( I don’t know what his T-shirt says) … and the very sweet sake.
(photos taken by a friend)
Do you remember Miffy?
When we were kids Miffy was a little white bunny who went on adventures. There was a series of Miffy books and merchandise. Miffy was very cute.
We have been mourning the loss of Miffy because here, in Japan, where Miffy should reign supreme – everything is not Miffy, it is ‘Hello Kitty’.
It is like time went by … and everyone just forgot all about Miffy. It is very sad.
(Miffy … from google images …)
Anyway, today Miffy went to the Lake.
Not really, it was us who went to the lake – (called Lake Biwa) – but at some early sleep deprived stage of the morning the topic of Miffy came up again, and it became one of those little jokes for the day … Miffy catches A Train, Miffy Changes Trains, – and so on
… (you sort of had to be there).
So Miffy found out what Japanese BBQ is like. We went with my friend’s friend, and his Japanese wife, and half a dozen or so of their friends. Here is a picture of a Japanese BBQ. You hire them there, buy charcoal, and meanwhile you have arrived with food, drinks etc. The others came from Osaka – over an hour on the train – all laden up with camping chairs, swimming gear, eskies. This is normal in Japan, and the lakeside was packed. Below you can see how they build up the charcoal fire, waving at it with Japanese fans. There is a photo my friend took of me trying to use one of the fans . … These fans are given out for free as advertising material. I have one somewhere advertising pizza.
We spent the afternoon eating and lazing around by the lake. Eating occurs with chopsticks, of course, but no plates. You chopstick the food off the BBQ straight into a little polystyrene cup containing sauce, dunk it, then eat. None of the food is seasoned or marinated – straight on the barbie and then dunk in sauce. Example of eating utensils below.
Had a beautiful swim. The water is clean and lovely. Devoid of life, which is interesting; ie no seaweed or fish, but the good news is that it was devoid of eels. The ‘beach’ was popular – here are some photos.
A huge black butterfly went past. It was one of the largest I have ever seen, the size of a small bird, and seemed coal black – no patterns or colour. There were also these birds that looked like hawks and made whinnying sounds like a horse. We thought there was a horse nearby until many hours later when Miffy twigged that it was the birds.
Then we came home on the train.
Here is a gorgeous statue. Not sure the name of the deity, but it is apparently there for safe water travel.
Lazy day for me today – the others went to Hiroshima and I wandered around Gion and paid my respects to St Paddy at the Irish pub in Kyoto; drinking Guiness and listening to a little tiny tape recorder playing Irish jigs. It is true, Guinness really does make you smile and relax, must be all that vitamin B.
This evening we ate in the Pontocho district, which is the same district where I saw the little Geisha crossing the bridge a couple of days ago. In medieval times it was one of the main entertainment districts (the other being Gion) of the ‘Floating World’, or the watery nighttime world of arts entertainment and pleasurable pursuits. So far it has been my favourite area in Kyoto. I loved it when I first saw it in the daytime, quiet, with the little stream bubbling away under a lazy canopy of indulgent trees and little wooden bridges crisscrossing the stream every few metres. I also love it at night, when it becomes so cheery and fun, full of lights, yummy food, throngs of people in their best going-out clothes (both western style and kimono style). Great atmosphere.
We went to a stonegrill restaurant this time – they have sizzling hot lava stones and you choose your meat and they cook it for you. Not sure what all the flavours and seasonings were, but just stunning. Ate everything, even the cabbage. One new flavour for this evening was this spicy lime condiment which looked like wasabi in texture but tasted a bit like Indian lime pickle. Served with chicken breast. I ordered saki and it came in a bamboo ‘jug’ which was just a bit of bamboo pipe turned into a jug. They apparently never clean it, they just wash it out with saki in between uses. It is never used for anything except saki and they don’t even put water in there – ever. The saki flavour gradually seeps into the bamboo and adds to the taste. The jug I was served saki in was given a nod of approval from the chef, it is a very old saki jug. That explains the taste … Below is a blurry photo of me with the bamboo saki jug.
Also some photos of the nightlife in Pontocho, including an example of one the cabs about here. The cabs either have love hearts, stars, crescent moons, or shamrocks on their rooves. Go figure!
I went to the Ise-Jingu, “Naiku” shrine. Quite a trek, 2 hours and a bit on a train, then bus, then all the way back to Kyoto again. Still don’t know why I was so drawn there, but I think it might be the highlight of the Japan trip for me – which is a hard call because everything has been so great.
It is not easy to explain Ise-Jingu. Partly because in real life I really don’t know what it is.
It is all secret.
On the internet it says it is a Shinto shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess Ameratesu, and only the Royal Family are allowed there. They demolish and rebuild the shrine every 20 years or so. People are only permitted to see the fence outside. So why would I, and droves and droves of people, be mysteriously drawn here without knowing why.
The place has presence, you can feel it from the bus station, and a sense of anticipation even while you are still on the train.
It is within an area of very old forest that is populated with shrines and memorials. The trees are gigantic of width and stature, silent and dignified like old scholars and wise grandmothers. They were so beautiful, it was a privilege to walk beneath them. I can send you photos and they will just look like trees. But to walk into that forest, underneath the trees, was really amazing. That was more amazing than anything else.
The surrounding buildings look like cubby houses. They are ‘empty’, simply made, and all screened within the forest so you have to follow the paths to discover them.
Children seemed happy and relaxed here, bouncing about, running up and down the stairs, touching the trees. One cried everytime her parents tried to take her away and chuckled off every time she was allowed to run back in the direction of the shrine.
Here are some photos, including some water bubbles in a forest pool that look like a heart.
19 to 23 July 2012, Kyoto – Japan
(this is a compilation of a few emails from that trip to Kyoto)