Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Raining in Kyoto, Not Raining in Kyoto

(Hotel Unizo, Kyoto)

Fuck, I’m tired.

(a wet evening's walk in kyoto)

The performance I mentioned in the previous post was at the Gion Corner. 2800 yen for a 50 minute performance, which was like “JAPANESETRADITIONALENTERTAINMENT GOGOGOGOGO!” The tea ceremony and ikebana they melded with the koto music, all of which I’ve had the priviledge of witnessing before. This was followed by Gagaku, being traditional court music that remain exclusive to the Imperial Court and never became a popular form of entertainment taken up by the masses. This is because the masses would have none of that. My goodness, it was dire. After a while it acquired a faint hypnotic effect, but that may have been my ears protesting the shrill discord. Those priveliged with court life have too much luxury if they feel they have to do that to themselves.

(gagaku dancer who performed highly ritualised moves, and orchestra - the guy's expression is indicative of...indicatives.)

A short piece of Kyogen, comedic theatre, followed this. A most pleasant chaser. The acting and facial expresses were amusingly exaggerated as the basic plot unfolded; a lord is going to visit his warehouses, but is afraid his servants will steal his sake while he is gone. He comes up with a plan to tie them up, and goes. The servants still have their hands free, and drink his sake, becoming well plastered. The lord returns, and is appropriately outraged. He sneaks up behind them, and they see his face reflected in the sake bowl, but believe it to be a hallucination of drunkenness. The lord smacks them around, and all run off.

(tying up the first of his untrustworthy servants. the lord, the one on the right, reminds me of mister bean for some reason.)

Kyomai, a dance performed by geisha (or in this case, maiko, being apprentice geisha), was an interesting study. Each move was gracefully executed, and most were reminiscent of every day activities; brushing hair, applying make up, shopping. It added a thicker layer of voyeurism to the experience, which was then further compounded by a sort of punctuation move, of the maiko hiding their faces behind their sleeves and turning away.

The final act was far and away the greatest. Bunraku is a form of puppetry that involves large wooden puppets which require three people to operate. The sole puppet was manipulated so well, I was gobsmacked. It was brilliant! It made the whole night, it really did.

Afterwards, I wandered about the Gion district. I found dinner over looking the river (ETA: I remember this dinner being a demonstration ot the limits of picking your meal from photos; I thought I was ordering tofu and vegetables, I ended up with pork and omelette), and a craft shop where I accidentally spent money on things I most certainly don’t need.

(hand stitched sushi!)

I walked the length of Ponto-cho, a very narrow alley full of old buildings, restaurants and bars. I’ve done a lot of night strolling on this trip, it’s one of my favourite things to do. There has yet to be an instance where I’ve felt uncomfortable in my surroundings. Melbourne has more menace than all I’ve seen of Japan.

(this is not ponto-cho, this is an even narrower alley coming off ponto-cho, which probably leads to great food, but looks like it leads to certain terrible axe-murderer death.)

I have no idea how many of you watch anime. A couple, but not many of you. If you’ve watched Azumanga Daioh, you’ll remember a scene in which Yukari invades Nyamo’s house just to sleep as there are workmen at her building. She freaks out on discovering Nyamo’s funky new pillow. This hotel has that pillow! It’s a weirdarse shape and made of funkyarse foam and I <3 it. It’s the best pillow evah. In fact this bed is just fucking awesome. Didn’t sleep, but at least I was mighty comfortable.

Monday, I intended to start the day with one of Johnnie Hillwalker’s walking tours. I was prepared, with food and drink, and even found the meeting point on time. He never turned up. Various clueless travellers such as myself wandered and waited, till at last it was revealed that it was Autumn Equinox, which is a public holiday. No walking tour.

Erm. Quick change of plans. I jumped on a train to Saga Arashiyama, hoping that once I was there, I’d find my way. This was an area I’d intended to research before visiting, to at least refresh my memory, but oh well. As luck would have it, the connecting station for the ‘romance rail’ was right next to the JR station. Phew.

The place was packed. Don’t do this on a public holiday, okay?

There was also no English signage, so some wingage was required. A one way ticket on the rail was 600 yen, all seats reserved. After watching the people around me, I figured that it was possible to buy a ticket for the return river trip there as well. There was some entirely unclear process of people filling out little cards before going to the ticket desk. I winged it again. The staff are accustomed to clueless gaijin, I suspect, as most spoke English. Although my receipt and all the signs stated the trip was 3900 yen, for some reason I was charged 4200 yen. Hmm. Too tired and bewildered and language challenged to question it. 300 yen won’t kill me.

My seat wasn’t a great one, but the rail trip was pleasant regardless. The carriages were open to let the air in, and the train wound its way along the gorge over bridges and through tunnels. The valley cut by the river is very pretty. For some reason, there was a man dressed up as an oni prancing up and down the carriages, who was hugely popular. Everyone wanted a picture with him, especially when he held up a Thomas the Tank Engine mask.

At the end of the ride everyone piled off the train, rushed through the station and out to the parking lot, where several buses were waiting to take us to the docks. Bus ride not nearly so pretty.

At the dock I handed over a slip of paper that had my name and country on it, and they called people one by one as it was time to take their seats. The boats were fibreglass models of traditional wooden river boats, manned by three people; one at the rudder, one rowing on the starboard side, and the third using a large pole to alternately assist in moving the boat by pushing along the bottom and nudging the boat away from rocks.

(one of the few 'rapids' along the river, which the two boatmen take as a breather.)

It was a lovely, lovely trip. The river goes through some beautiful mountains. The trees are just beginning to turn. In a month, the place will look entirely different.

That said, two hours is an awful long time to sit on a bench. My butt has awesome sitting stamina, and it hurt.

Towards the end, a shop boat pulled up along side, and sold food and drinks. I bought some freshly grilled squid, very tasty.

Once back on land, I had intended to do a walk of the area, but that was not to be. The sky cracked open and shat down all this wet stuff. This was the sort of rain that could not be fended off by umbrellas or rain coats or standing under shelter. This was the sort of rain that would go on for hours, relentlessly. No exploring to be done. The walk back to the station saturated me. Guess what shoes I was wearing? Yeah, the pair I’ve already scrubbed mould off. Ick.

A real pity. I was looking forward to walking through the bamboo groves, and there was one temple that was just for the bones of destitute paupers that I specifically wanted to visit. Oh well.

Aside from the squid and a roll for breakfast, I hadn’t eaten. And I’d forgotten to drink. This is not a good behaviour pattern of mine. The rain kept on coming for the whole train ride back to Kyoto, and after I’d spent some time hunting dinner in the basement of a department store, it was still there when I surfaced. It was still shitting down when I left the subway to walk to my hotel.

There’s a threadless t-shirt I have that involves two ronin going at it.

The design is called ‘no more bento’, and now I get it. I must confess, I’m sick to death of bento.

I must also confess, I love bento. It’s just so…pretty. All the neat little compartments with lots of different bits and pieces to try, it’s like the ultimate play food. It’s too interesting to leave alone.

This morning I had a date with the Imperial Household Agency, for a tour of the Imperial Palace. Places on the tour need to be applied for early, as in, best not leave it to fate and just rock up. I left with plenty of time to get lost. Is it sad that I budget my time for getting lost? I didn’t need to in this case; the palace grounds are hard to miss, and there are good maps all over the place.

The tour was kind of meh. The palace itself is quite plain, after everything else I’ve seen. It was interesting to learn the purposes of the many gates to the palace grounds, and who can enter via what, (we came in through the servant’s entrance). The roofing on some of the older established buildings was also unique; made of up to 80 layers of bamboo and cedar sheets, the ceilings allowed for great ventilation and kept cool in summer. They also burnt very easily, which is why the palace has burnt down so many times. In fact, the current Imperial Palace isn’t the Imperial Palace at all; due to the number of times the damn thing burnt down, it became a custom for the Emperor to stay with various aristocrats (I can’t remember the name of this custom, and of course I shoved the flyer in the parcel I sent home this morning). What currently stands in the palace grounds is one of these houses, as they just didn’t bother building the palace again.

(this huge board is the emperor's yearly planner, i kid you not. it's all the festivals, rites, anniversaries and the like that he must acknowledge and or participate in. from memory, he has less than 10 days off in the year.)

The emperor does not stay at his quarters in the Imperial Palace when he stays in Kyoto. Aside from the large tour groups going through, his residence also has no modern conveniences, like, power, water, or a decent bathroom.

(if mobs like this were tramping through my yard every day, i'd move too. for this reason, i don't have many photos of the imperial palace.)

Happy chance, there was a monthly market on in the area, at Kitano Tenmangu Temple. It was only a short bus trip from the Imperial Palace. The bus system is more comprehensive than the train network in Kyoto, which I’m only just beginning to realise.

I spent a lot less at the market than I’d assumed I would. There was a lot to gawk at. Apart from acquiring some presents for my family, I was good, although I still spent a couple of hours just looking around.

Being as I was in the area, I decided to visit Kinkaju-ji, the Golden Pavilion. Another short bus trip, 500 yen admission, and ding! Golden Pavilion indeed. There’s an apartment block on the Docklands in Melbourne that appealed to asian investors while being built, with promises that the building would look like gold, a lucky colour of wealth and fortune. It turned out a rather drab brown. The Golden Pavilion is gold, very very gold. It’s a bit of a shock, and very striking (although the ground floor isn’t gold-coated).


Because there were buses linking the two, I figured, why not? Another bus took me across town to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. Like Pokemon, you gotta catch ‘em all.

(the path up to ginkaku-ji. i find i like these ordinary photos best of all. wish i had taken more of them.)

Another 500 yen admission fee, and no ding. The Silver Pavilion is most certainly not silver, although it once was. The uninspiring pavilion was totally outshone by the amazing garden around it. The ground was full of maple trees, and everything was covered with moss. Moss! I’ve heard of moss-covered forest floors before, but like flower-filled meadows, I scoffed at them. But moss! There is so much water in this country, moss just grows on the ground! I have rather a lot of pictures of moss, as you can imagine.

(Look at it!)


(the green, it burns mah eyes!)

The Path of Philosophy starts at Ginkaku-ji, so in a moment of ‘what the hell’, I started down it. This was not a reprise of the Old Tokaido Highway, thank goodness. It’s a quiet walk through the trees by the old canal, and it’s very peaceful, and there is no threat of death or broken bones involved. Anywhere. Fishies live in the canal, carp behaving like real carp, and munching on the ground like bottom feeders should. There are plenty of temples along the way, but I think I’m all templed out. It was an easy afternoon stroll.

I thought I’d been good today. Plenty of drinks drunk, and I’d remembered to eat something around lunch time (mostly because there were those fish-shaped red bean pancake things right in front of me), but what with all the walking, my stomach started yelling. Tomorrow, I swear, I will eat a proper lunch.

The subway station isn’t as close to the end of the Path of Philosophy as maps would have you believe. Not far, just not that close.

I pottered around my room for a little while – it’s a mess – before hunting dinner. There was a place on Ponto-cho I’d noticed last time, with a menu that offered duck and ‘english speaking stuff’. However, I was distracted by another place offering seasame sea bream on rice with soup. Alas, they were sold out of that, so I settled on chicken and udon noodles in soup. Meh. I make that at home. Hell, I make that at work. Not a food adventure. But migosh! I don’t make it like that. They used some incredible soup base which I couldn’t in the slightest identify, but man it was tasty.

I’m tired, it’s taken me too long to type this. Every sentence begins with ‘I’ and we hates it.

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