WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A PARASOL, OR WHEN IN ROME!

When out and about on the streets of Kyoto, my attention, in the summer, was quickly drawn to the myriad displays of fans and parasols that pop up in department stores and other retail spaces, as well as on women in the street.   I had thought these accessories were just a leftover affectation or vestige from ancient Japanese culture, used as elements and add-ons of intriguing design.  That was, until this summer’s visit to Kyoto, when the word ‘heat” took on a new dimension.

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Lolita parasols
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Schoolgirls with Parasols

The humidity in Kyoto ramped up suddenly towards the end of our visit.  Suddenly, I found myself having difficulty breathing, drenched in perspiration and chronically tired.  I immediately understood the necessity of having personal accessories, like a hankie, parasol and fan, in order to have a fighting chance of survival when venturing out-of-doors!  If possible, I would have had no objection to adding two sturdy men to carry me around,so that my exertion level could be reduced to zero.

Travel by kago
Travel by kago

I developed a new appreciation for hankies as well. In Japan, there are hundreds of choices available for that small square textile, from dainty to outrageous.   I had already learned to carry one in case there was no alternate drying method available after washing my hands, but I’d never had to rely on it to keep me from looking like I’d just run a triathlon! Now, they too became indispensable for coping with the heat.

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At the beginning of our trip, I’d purchased several paper fans that appealed to me for their seasonal beauty. I parked them in a bamboo fan stand right in the middle of our dining room table.  Their designs ranged from painted hydrangeas to blue and white gingham check, to cut outs of morning glories.

My morning glory ujiwa fan
My morning-glory ujiwa fan

They quickly became my first “don’t leave home without it” item.  I also recognized the importance of carrying a parasol and soon carried one without any degree of self-consciousness.    Unfortunately, being uninformed on the practice of buying a parasol, I bought an inexpensive one, which although pretty, didn’t do much to block the sun’s penetrating rays.

I’d met my match weather-wise and ultimately admitted that I was, for once, relieved to be leaving Japan and going home to Santa Barbara, to the land of perpetual low humidity, comfortable temperatures and endless blue skies.

The parasol, the hankies and the fans, were all put to rest.

The SUPERB SIMPLE JOYS OF SUMMER IN JAPAN

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If we were sweltering in the heat, our summer travels in Japan might not be as enjoyable.  As luck would have it, the heat has not been oppressive, nor has the rainy season rained on our parade.  There’s been just enough heat so that when I pass a seductive soft serve stand, there’s not a minute’s hesitation about buying one for immediate consumption.  My granddaughter is cut from the same cloth, I’m happy to discover.

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Yesterday, we discovered a 1950’s era small vintage amusement park in Tokyo.  It was a little shabby around the edges, but delighted me because of its total simplicity and easy charm.

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The kids were all having a wonderful time.  It brought back memories for me of Mountain Park, a long – gone amusement park in the foothills of the Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts.  I grew up idling away many a fine summer’s day there, neatly ramming other friend’s bumper cars and eagerly reaching for the golden ring on the carousel. Those pastimes provided hours of pleasure.

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The setting of the park in the center of Tokyo provided the same joy to a new generation of children as Mountain Park had done for me.  The playful and colorful surroundings shouted “summer!”

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The summers of my childhood seemed endless at the time, but in retrospect, it was fleeting and precious as is life itself.

For a brief time yesterday, I captured the intoxication, joy and squeals of a summer’s day.   

MY BLUE HEAVEN, aka A Flower orgy

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ~Basho

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There are two distinct  kinds of temple/shrine goers in Japan.  One type believes that if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all.  The other’s credo is that it is impossible to find a temple that doesn’t have something to admire.   I’m in the latter category.

There’s an affinity in temples and shrines for splendid gardens, sometimes grand, but often intimate.  For the temple addict, the beauty of the natural world is heightened by the artistry of the designed landscape.  The garden provides inspiration, while the temple or shrine set on site, provides the opportunity to give thanks.  It’s a perfect marriage.

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I gasped at the first sight of 10,000 hydrangeas simultaneously in bloom at the Mimurotoji Temple garden. I entered into a dream world of blueness, in delicious shades and tints of the blue spectrum.DSC03962

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An outdoor café sits in the center of the garden.  It’s a perfect place to indulge in a chilly green tea  shaved ice or a green tea parfait that helps to cool the summer heat.

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When I finally bid goodbye to the hydrangeas, I went to visit the temple.  I climbed three sets of very steep stone steps, discovering that this ancient structure was framed with hundreds of regal blooming lotus.  What a fine day!

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JAPANESE SUMMER

Welcome Summer
Welcome Summer

Rainy season delights

The rainy season in Japan has just begun. Although the season brings its discomforts, it also marks the appearance of mounds of blossoming sky blue hydrangeas (ajisai) that replace the blue of the sky for a few damp and misty weeks.  They are one of my favorite flowers and can push me to tolerate uncomfortable degrees of wetness just to take in their beauty in some out of the way soaking wet garden.  The displays of hundreds and hundreds of these plants seen in many temple precincts are dreamy and extravagant in their abundance, shape and colors.  Think flamboyant masses of every shade of blue imaginable along with occasional splashes of  pink and white .

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The Japanese indulge seriously in seasonal celebration and have specific customs that accompany every time of the year. The images of hydrangeas appear in seasonal candies, in the design of everyday fabrics, on ceramics and on kimono and accessories.

Bouquets or single stems of hydrangea are found in the windows of traditional shops.  The flower is celebrated nationally for its rainy flowering period, then replaced by other symbols of the season, as the rainy season ends and the summer heat becomes more oppressive.

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The exquisite craftsmanship of traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi)wagashi 1

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Japanese wind bells (Fuurin)

I became easily entranced with fuurin (Japanese wind chimes), another symbol of a Japanese summer. For hundreds of years, in the heat of the summer, they’re hung in the eaves or gardens of buildings to delicately announce the arrival of any passing breeze. Attached to most fuurin is a paper wind catcher that offers a prayer to the gods.

Just to show you how “coo coo for cocoa puffs” the Japanese can go with this kind of thing, I discovered that there is a very large market every year in July, just south of Tokyo, devoted only to the delights fuurin!  Can you imagine the sight and sound of 30,000 wind-bells made of either glass, ceramic or iron, gathered from all corners of Japan, displayed together?

It sounds like an irresistible fuurin-gasm.fuurin 3

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Hydrangea photo courtesy of photographer extraordinnaire, Robert Yellin

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