So it’s been an appallingly long time since my last post about Japan. Let me then wrap up my adventures in Kyoto.
The first thing that struck me about Kyoto was that it seemed much older and far more traditional than Osaka and Tokyo. There were trees and streams and old buildings and, most delightfully of all, there were people wearing traditional Japanese clothes (similar but probably distinct from kimono). They strolled around like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. For instance, when we were at McDonalds a guycollected his meal and left, left, clutching his purse in one hand and his paper bag full of tiny burgers in the other. And while it wasn’t that common (maybe one in a hundred people), I immediately donned my yukata and hit the streets to see if I could pull off the same nonchalance. Incidentally, this ratio went up to maybe one in thirty when we were at the temples. And oh, the temples.
One ambitious morning, Craig and I set out on the Philosopher’s Path, starting at the very famous Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavillion). It was relatively quiet (something I’m told is uncommon, and due to the winter weather), and Craig and I took our time soaking it in. One of its most beautiful attributes was the meticulously sculpted representation of Fuji-san. Long did I spend in those quiet gardens, contemplating the nature of life and existence, appreciating the most wondrous and delicate moments of beauty in a world of perfect chaos. The walk back was serene as we trailed through temples and walked the ancient stone pathway.
Of all the temples we visited (sadly, tired as we were I can count them on one hand), my favourite by far was Kiyomizu-dera, the Temple of Pure Water. It was pouring down on the day we visited, and I found it delightfully symbolic as we tossed money into wells, shook our fortunes from a tin and drank from the three streams of the waterfall. It was only after I returned that I discovered that they are meant to improve your longevity, success and love, and that to drink from all three might be considered greedy.
Yet as wonderful as the it was, my favourite memory of Kyoto is immersed in the sprawling streets and market stalls that surrounded the temple. Wandering from stall to stall to buy a belt, or a coin purse, or a shuriken (which customs promptly confiscated), we treated ourselves to chocolate pancakes and ice cream and other disastrously messy sweets. For lunch, we stopped in a beautiful teahouse where we ordered amazing food with matcha and sweets – an experience I treasure deeply.
Along with my time in the ninja museum, one of my favourite parts of Japan was learning the art of kenbu, or the performance art of katana and fan. I had the best time ever taking a private lesson with the teacher, Houga-san, who taught me how to perform Hachimanko. I picked up the basics very quickly, though there were a few differences between iaido and kenbu, and I requested to incorporate the fan if possible. Eagerly he brought one out for me and showed me how to open it with just the right amount of force –crack! I was surprised at how complex the performance was for such a short piece – less than a minute in length, there was so much to remember. Even the minutest intricacies were considered, such as holding the fan so that the pin did not reflect light into the eyes of the audience, and covering the mouth of the sheath so that rain did not get in. In his masterful performance afterwards, Houga-san demonstrated how the fan could represent anything from the wheel of a carriage to a bow and arrow. I was spellbound by his aptitude. So inspired was I that I went out and bought a mae-sen (performance fan) so that I could continue practicing at home.
And so ended our time in the Land of the Rising Sun. I miss it so, so much, and talking to friends who have recently been (to enjoy the cherry blossoms that we missed) has made the longing all the greater. I can’t wait to go back again, and inevitably I will as I continue to improve on my Japanese language skills and appreciation of culture.
All the best my friends. Jaa, mata!