Wednesday, 30 September 2009

'Lost in Kyoto'

According to our son Mike, there is a song called 'Lost in Kyoto' ... we have been lost a couple of times but have always been helped out by a local more than willing to oblige us and point us in the right direction. Most Japanese (in Kyoto anyway) seem to know English ~ even if it's just a smidgen. We try and speak what little Japanese we know when we can.
So we have been literally lost in Kyoto, but figuratively not so much, feeling 'at home' here from the start. Having family here adds a certain element of familiarity. However yesterday's news of a tsunami hitting Samoa and the loss of life there, with threats of high waves on NZ's coastline made home seemed very far away, and I did feel a little homesick for familiar faces and locales.

Some dancers I went to see with K, whom we got to know when she came over to NZ for S&E's wedding. She was able to translate for me the information about the beautiful costume's ornamental details and history. It was great having my own personal translator!

A tree covered with paper fortunes. This is one of the many temples (Bhuddist) and shrines (Shinto) we have kindly been taken to visit in Kyoto ~ 'temple city'.

Our friend adds her fortune to the tree.

This is a prayer request that had been hung on another notice board ~ we thought it was rather cute. And it was in English too, which helps!

Outside the temple I have dubbed 'the temple on the hill.' Great views over South Kyoto. When we were there with Steve, there were hordes of school students on a school visit, which I guess could have been annoying but I actualy found their excitement and energy only added to the enjoyment of the visit. They sure were noisy! But it was a happy noise.

In this photo you can see how crowded it was. Steve took this ~ we are there somewhere in the front right by the rail. You can see my red top.

Steve also took us around his old hood in the Gijo district. He has written an interesting blog about it as among other things, it is where the Japanese mafia hang out. I am standing in front of the many 'tea houses' (which is a euphemism.)

This is called Kyoto Kitchen by the tourists and is a long, long line of stalls full of food.

I wonder what they sell here?

This guy bakes biscuits as you watch, using a toaster / hot plate apparatus to bake them on.

Any account of Japan wouldn't be complete without mentioning the funny and quirky (to Westerners) things you see here.

... like branch proppers ...

... mannequins to show how smart your trousers can look while deep bowing! ...

... fair enough too I say! ...

... Steve said that paper v scissors settles many scores with his students and is accepted without question as a way of settling dilemmas or conflict ...

And everywhere you go there is always a 'Pig and Whistle' somewhere for ex~pats to meet up and have a beer and play darts.

One of many delicious Japanese meals we have enjoyed. This is at a vegan restaurant. We are being very spoilt. When we don't eat out, we get to eat E's fabulous cooking (and Steve's a pretty good cook too ~ must be in the surname!)

We are off to Hiroshima today ~ a trip on our own. A litle nerve wracking to go without our guides and interpreters.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Crickets the Size of Birds

Today (Saturday) I hit the wall and needed just to sleep. So I stayed behind with my d~i~l and granddaughter at home (S was working) while Robert went off on his tod to explore Kyoto a bit more, as well as catch a Louvre exhibition at the Kyoto Museum.
He took the camera and some of the shots featured came back with him. I looked at them a little woozily as I was still in recovery from a nightmare about being on board a jet that because of some runway emergency situation, had to take off suddenly just after landing. I think the dream was telling me that today my exhaustion was a form of jet lag ( a little latent, but real enough for all that.)

One of several Kyoto bridges that span the river ~ this is the most famous one (the name of which I haven't remembered, and as everyone else in the house is asleep, I can't ask them.) It's where people (usually couples) sit quietly together on the bank at night and reflect on things (or whatever it is couples do quietly murmuring together on a riverbank) as the water wanders past. We first experienced this area on our first night here (a public holiday night) when it was a lot busier, with an atmosphere of history, anticipation and peace all rolled into one.
At the moment here, the autumn weather is warm and mild and the air at night velvet-soft. On holidays and weekends, the calm, mild weather is conducive to strolling along the bank, eating out at the many restaurants that line this part of the river, and generally meandering, or sitting and watching the water.

Being Saturday, there were kids playing Saturday sports - in this case, baseball. Steve told us that grassed playing fields are very rare. He made the wry comment that playing rugby on gravel is a little painful.

We are going everywhere by train - Robert was taken by this one; a double-decker train if you please. The train service is immaculate and precise.

This photo is from Friday when we visited Uji, the place where the classic story 'Tales of Genji' was partly set (the last ten chapters.) This is the Uji Bridge which features in the story. This story was written by a woman in the 11th century and is about a 'playboy character' as E described him ... which isn't far from the truth. I couldn't begin to try and explain the very convoluted plot (even the potted version is extremely complicated). It features beautiful illustrations that are typical of classical Japanese art.

And this is why Japan is the origin of haiku - everywhere, nature's small moments are there for the capturing among the hustle and bustle and everyday cares of the world, there are butterflies ...

and herons (on Kyoto city river).

Look closely - there's a brown bird sitting beside this heron - yet to be identified by me (anyone know what it is?)

... and dragonflies ...
And today on a walk, E and I saw a HUGE green grasshopper - unfortunately I didn't have the camera with me (smack hand.) The crickets here chirp like birds, and apparently are the size of birds too.

As well as Uji museum on Friday, we went to the golf tourni. Well, I actually spent most of the time sleeping under a pine tree, listening to the crows go 'Cor!' after every good shot I was missing.
Note the towel around my neck - a great Japanese trick for humid days. A small, soft towel is SO good for keeping the neck and face dry. (You also discover that paper fans are more than just pretty souvenirs.)

Note our son Steve asking a traffic director for directions. We were put wrong in which shuttle bus to catch in order to go to the museum from the golf, and ended up walking for twenty minutes out of our way in the humidity. I was very grateful for the umbrella E had sent me off with. "It's for both rain and sun," she told me. I didn't feel odd because every other woman seemed to have a black umbrella too. Back home in NZ it would be considered strange having an umbrella up on a sunny day (but I don't know why as it is extremely practical and effective.)

Tonight we went into Kyoto city again for dinner and to visit the Gion district where there is a famous shinto shrine. At the station these buskers were playing Irish jigs. Very surreal. With supple hand movements, the guy in the green t-shirt was making a see-through sphere appear as if suspended in mid-air. You could get your palm read - if you understood Japanese.
Another great day in Kyoto. Tomorrow I plan to have coffee with a friend (yes! even over here it's become possible!) and shop and take in some more of Kyoto's rich classical beauty, small moments of nature, its quirkiness, its craft, its history ...

Friday, 25 September 2009

My impressions of Japan continue to build. Very favourable ones so far, of a country teeming with a population of millions, yet somehow able to provide a strong sense of personal space despite this fact.

Most photos here are from from a visit on the cable car up to Mt Hiei where of all things, there is a garden based on French impressionist paintings. Very surreal. Lovely, but surreal. It's just weird to be on the top of a Japanese mountain in a manufactured European setting.

This hoop is for you to throw clay tiles through (after you've written your wishes on them.) If they go through, your wish is sure to come true! None of ours made it. Good thing we're not superstitious or in S's case the All Blacks may now lose! (again).

Dahlias as big as a baby's head.

On the walk from the bus~stop home, we were treated to a dramatic sunset among cloud.

In Steve's hood, there is a canal on the way to the bus stop where it's possible to see heron (grey and white).

E gets her groceries delivered by van. A great way to do your shopping I think.

Today we are off to an international golf torni in Uji, as well as a visit to the Tales of Genji museum. (Would it surprise anyone to know that it is the latter that I am most looking forward to?)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A few Sights, Sounds, Reflections ...

This is our home in Japan for the next three weeks ... (behind the middle door)

So far, among other things, we've visited a temple on a mountain

with water features

ancient temples and gardens



and hungry carp.
Rice paddy fields can be found just around the corner ...

and playing fields in the middle of Osaka (taken from the train window on our way to Kyoto from the airport.)

She loves the view from Grandpa's shoulders

and keeping Dad busy ...

(More to follow. Experiencing, doing and seeing, doesn't leave much time to report. Funny that!)

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...