Temples, shrines, castles, kimono man, sushi experience and the Y100 shop.
10.04.2013 15 °C
It's late and it's been such a long day. I want to write a lot but the bed beckons.... I shall try to be concisely descriptive.
Breakfast was not great. Tomorrow we will BYO fruit. Why don't they out out fresh fruit?! Grrrr!
Today we had 8h with our own private guide at our disposal. We didn't know really what to do. We took the bus to see the Nijo Castle. It is old like Versailles, but completely different of course. The highlight was most definitely walking on the nightingale floor. Just like in the book Crossing the Nightingale Floor! It doesn't squeak, no, this floor chirps and tweets like birds. It was designed to warn the emperor and those inside if there was an intruder. Some very magnificent large rooms and corridors here. It is on the world heritage list along with
After this we had a reservation at a kimono design and dyeing office. We had a personal presentation, just us! The entire process was explained, how they come up with designs, how they are at the beck and call of the "Producer" who is the middle man between customer and designer. The design is transferred from small scale to full size by the hand of a talented human, no machines, computers or lasers etc are used. The silk panels are then dyed by hand using a deer hair brush on a stretched out frame. The deer hair was plucked in spring apparently when very soft.....
They use a resist method, much like batik but using gum instead of wax. Then the gum is washed away so that the white areas can be hand painted in a gradual manner. I really wish I could try this. Kimono-san was getting more and more animated and excited, spurred on by my intelligent and arty questions no doubt! LOL!!! I spotted a mistake and he laughed and made a comment. I told the interpreter to tell him that my job as a QA Manager is to spot anomalies and mistakes. He thought that was hilarious. Me too.
We were given tea and a Japanese sweet (the red bean pastry in a variety of shapes did colours). Mr Kimono showed us photos of Elton John wearing several of the outfits he had commissioned from them. So this guy was no small fish. His art is one of the last of its kind in Kyoto. He showed us books containing woodcuts of the kimono designs from a hundred years ago. These were preserved for generations to come. Fascinating.
When he finally stopped talking and demonstrating, he drove us to a place to eat lunch, then said goodbye. The experience was not only interesting for what it was but also culturally and socially appreciating the way Japanese people respect the past and each other and aesthetics. Certainly western people could learn a lot from that. They have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for fine things and take time to sense the quality and think about meanings, rather than rushing and grabbing and being superficial. I had that feeling again, that I am living in the wrong place.
So to lunch. In a very small restaurant, we ate noodles, rice and pickles and bean curd. We have our own hashi (chopsticks) supplied by the tour company. They always draw a comment!
Next on the itinerary was another series of temples and shrines. And to be honest, I was starting become a bit shrined out by now. They are all starting to look alike. We saw a real zen garden and learned how to properly appreciate this. We also saw the golden pavilion which is just a stunning idea. Lets just gold plate the top 2 storeys of a 3 storey Japanese villa with 24kg of pure gold! It was another historical place and this is where the guide is handy. She had the inside info and anecdotes so it is was an altogether worthwhile thing to do.
We returned to the hotel after 5pm. Ad after a brief rest and Paul working out a route for dinner, we headed off to the Karu sushi. This is a sushi train special. It's a chain of sushi eateries, but the experience is like no other you may have ever had. Firstly, nothing is in English, so starting at the beginning, we had to suss out the touch screen waiting and choice ticket machine. Randomly guessing worked and after a brief wait with all the young uni students and families, we heard the number called out and found our booth at number 7. The sushi goes by like any other keitan sushi except they have special lids that you press to release the plate on the conveyor belt. Each plate costs only $1!! Who said Japan is expensive? You can do a special order using another touch screen in your booth, but there was no need with the choice on offer on the conveyor. To make tea, you stir green tea powder into hot water you dispense into a cup from a hot water dispenser at your booth. Here is the best part - when you are finished, you put your plate down a chute also conveniently located in your booth, and they get counted. After every 5 plates the touch screen displays a chance to win a prize..... A bit like playing at the casino. Paul is now the proud owner of a plastic sushi trinket thing to dangle from his iPhone.
The noise in this place was something else, plates going down chutes, people eating and talking, the staff yelling all the time, music, ding doing doorbell sounds and general clatter.
After this supreme cultural immersion, we headed next door to the ¥100 shop which is akin to the tacky red dot stores in Perth. The music here was mad, like a deranged David Lynch score that made you want to turn tail and leave as soon as you stepped inside... Plenty of tacky plastic crap to be had here, but also some nice socks and silly stationery.
We walked home, feeling safe in Kyoto. We are foreign, we don't understand, we are bewildered often, we have never been here before, we are nearly run over by cyclists every 30 seconds, but it is nice and we feel comfortable, never threatened or unwelcome. Te best part of travelling in japan is to try the unknown, eat that weird thing, try to communicate, get on the bus and hope it's going your way, wear yukata dressing gowns, bathe, use chopsticks, marvel at the efficiency and cleanliness, the friendly people, the old buildings and the history I've never been taught and will try to learn soon.
More than half way now, we only have 8 full days left.