Today, visiting my umpteenth Kyoto temple ( this time, Shoren-in )I thought how each time I reconnect with the places, things and people I love here, it’s like meeting an old friend after a long absence. You can’t explain its satisfaction and happiness, but you sure know it and feel it.
The delicate maple leaves in the temple gardens are certainly familiar as is the smile on a loved one’s face or the twinkle in their eye. The junction of wall and roofing always pleases too, not to mention the koi in the ponds, the stones, the quiet, the moss, the flowers, the mysteries hidden in the darkened sanctuaries. How wonderful to be reunited!
People often ask me, how many times have you come here? I truly don’t know, I stopped counting years ago. It’s irrelevant anyway. There’s always a First Time feeling to each visit. I revere the integration of Nature in daily life. The physical buildings of temples, generally hundreds of years old, are such a part of each temple landscape, looking as if they might have emerged from the earth itself. The carefully constructed gardens are often sublime. It’s easy to feel a part of them as they have become a part of me. As loved ones influence and mark our lives, so does this place for me.
Just about two years ago in 2016 BTA (Before the age of Trump), we found ourselves in Kyoto on Election Day. Anxious about the outcome of the election and not quite knowing what to do with ourselves, we headed for a museum for some much needed distraction, while waiting out news of the returns. While there, my husband glanced at his phone repeatedly. I didn’t pay much attention until his face grew darker. I mean on a scale of 1 to 10 it was a 10. I was afraid to ask him what he’d seen, but I had to. “It’s all over,” he announced somberly. Unwilling to comprehend what he was saying, I said “impossible.” There must be a mistake I insisted. Ah, denial! No, he repeated to me, Trump has an unbeatable lead. I could not detect any uncertainty in his announcement. End of story. End of so many things I held dearly. Continue reading “BTA (Before the Age of Trump)”→
Kyoto has three important matsuri during the year. JIdai matsuri is one of them. I’ve seen the other two, one in spring and one in the suffocating hot summer. I had not heard of the Jidai matsuri until a few days ago when a Japanese friend of mine confided that this was her favorite festival of the year. Given all that takes place here, that’s saying a lot. I decided to check it out.
The main attraction is the parade of over 2,000 people, all of whom are dressed in meticulously crafted costumes that represent each era of Kyoto’s 1,100-year history. The parade follows a reverse chronological order, starting with the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and working backwards to the Imperial Court of Emperor Kanmu’s reign, and includes members depicting famous historical samurai or politicians, as well as members of the merchant and commoner classes.
From an outsider’s point of view, I viewed the procession largely as a fashion show. I quickly lost interest in the boring narrative related to us by a Japanese woman reading.about the procession from a book in English. After a half an hour of trying to make sense of her narrative, I pulled the earpiece out and watched the procession in blessed silence, moved by the historical legacy of this city and the role it played as Japan’s capital for a thousand years!
I cannot relate to you who’s who or which historical period they represent. I hope you don’t care. There were a lot of warriors.There were lots of dressed up horses too. There were striking Shinto elements as well. There were dozens of men in the emperor’s retinue. Many looked tired of walking.
Much of Kyoto’s earlier history was about one war after another. Bloody times. (and don’t their shoes look surprisingly flimsy?) Life for commoners was challenging and short. Life for the aristocracy brought with it great privilege but seldom peace, except in certain periods.
I hope you enjoy the images and the pageantry I witnessed. All costumes are guaranteed to be authentic reproductions, right down to a specialist who just does the hair of the participants! I was amazed at the bright colors and patterns of the attire. Of course, this procession celebrated the who’s who of Kyoto over hundreds of years. The aristocracy and members of the court as well as the priests and warriors dressed to impress, no doubt!
I was grateful that the timing of this Kyoto visit coincided with this matsuri. It’s one of life’s experiences that I was delighted to witness, but feel no need to witness again!
It’s impossible to overstate the role that ceramics plays in daily life in Japan. It’s equally impossible to deny my obsession with it. Another impossibility is to give a comprehensive overview of the role ceramics plays in Japanese history and culture. There are books and experts on this subject. I consider my self an admirer. A slightly obsessed admirer.
It’s all my mother’s doing. She loved dishes! She loved good china and antiques. One of the strongest memories of my childhood is going antiquing with her while we were away at the beach on a rainy day.. She came across an antigue epergne made of cranberry glass in a small antique store. It was instant infatuation but very expensive for an independent grocer’s wife. No Matter. She bought it and made me promise never to tell my Dad what she paid for it. It graced every special dinner table at our home for the rest of her days. I doubt that my Dad who had little interest in such things, even noticed it. Her secret was safe.
If only she had been set loose in Japan. the land where dish mix and match has been raised to an art form! Today’s young people might go in for only one set of matching dishes now, but they’re missing out,in my opinion. Many districts in Japan have their own style of pottery, some adorned and some extremely simple. It’s a matter of local tradition, clay and taste. There are pottery traditions within families that go back a dozen or more generations! It’s quite remarkable.
You could spend a lifetime studying Japanese ceramics, but I don’t have that sort of brain. For me, it’s just like my taste in wine, I know it when I taste it, but don’t ask me for its provenance.
With all this in mind, I made my way to a pottery sale yesterday, astonished at the low prices and feverish with desire to try to make a ceramic sculpture. Kyo-yaki (pottery made in Kyoto) can be quite decorative, some to my liking, some not. Most of what was on sale was functional. There was a fine selection at the sale and I left feeling very satisfied with myself (yet again). Nothing that seemed of collector’s quality, but ceramics I can use daily with no qualms. Or experiment with (see above).
Prices are often high here for high quality ceramics. A lot of thought goes into choosing ceramics for dinners and tea ceremony Serious students of ceramics apprentice and study for years and years.
I think a lot on sale was surplus stock, but there were bargains to be had, for 200-300-500 yen. My mother also taught me to like a bargain. That’s approximately $2-$5 per dish for pieces that originally sold for up to $200 each.
Judging by the pride I felt, you might have thought I’d just recited the US Constitution by heart in five different languages. As it was, I spoke one short sentence in Japanese to a woman who works in our apartment building in Kyoto. I’d been practicing the phrase for weeks. I wanted to be able to express my pleasure in seeing an acquaintance or friend upon return to Japan.
Since my visit last spring I have become a relatively serious student of the Japanese language. Relative to my earlier lazy dazy style, when I’d pick up a word or two per visit. When my 10 yr old granddaughter began to study the language weekly, my competitive nature took hold and I quickly decided that if she could do it, so could I. So we now share a teacher, if not the same class. I’m enjoying it and there’s no pressure if I haven’t studied.
Obviously some phrases I’m learning seem more useful than others to me. I’ll never have to learn to say please hand me the wrench. I’m concentrating on what I am likely to use. I couldn’t wait to try out this one phrase in particular. Mata aete urushi desu! or in English, So nice to see you again!
I reviewed it several times and tried it out on my teacher in Santa Barbara when she came to my door a few weeks ago. She always acts delighted if we learn anything, and this was no exception. I reviewed it several times on my way to our apartment in Kyoto knowing the time for its use was approaching. Sure enough, I quickly encountered the woman I was previously only able to say good morning to. I was now able to express my pleasure at seeing her again. When I greeted her she looked shocked, then delighted and bowed deeply! I then asked her if she was well? Genki desu ka? (I’d known that one.) Jai, genki, she happily told me. Watashi mo, I easily told her. Me too! That was a new one for me. I was thrilled with myself.
My small talk now consisted of more than one sentence. Feeling brave and building upon my success, I then saw the manager of the building, a serious man who always seems to want to avoid me because he speaks very little English. It might be for other reasons, but I’ve convinced myself it’s because of the language barrier. Boldly I called out to him. Sumi masen! Excuse me. He had no choice but to look in my direction. I said the same four word sentence to him I’d used a few minutes ago. His face brightened immediately and he broke into a huge smile that I honestly did not think he was capable of.
Seeing his smile, I think I must have smiled just as broadly. Deciding not to push my luck, I moved on saying, Ja mata (see you later) , hoping he never asks me anything more in Japanese until my next visit when I might be more capable.