Cleanliness Redefined

If there was a competition for the world’s cleanest country, I have no doubt that the Japanese would win it hands down, or clothes off.

We just visited the venerable Kinosaki Onsen about a two hour train ride from Kyoto on the West Coast. We traveled with two of our grandchildren, uncertain whether or not they would be up for naked bathing in a crowd. One bravely ventured in and the other declined for the obvious reasons.

The self consciousness that American women feel about their bodies is no where evident in a Japanese bath. It’s liberating.

It took me years to get to the point where I too am not self conscious. Maybe it was just a question of letting go of my foolish pride in my younger dancer’s body. Of course it all passes sooner or later, so to expect otherwise is just a delusion. At some point I realized that no one gives a damn what I look like without clothes other than myself. Bodies come in all shapes sizes and conditions and here there is no judgement by other bathers. If there is, I don’t detect it and cannot understand Japanese, so it’s not an issue!
I have come to accept and be grateful for my relatively functional aging body as is at this time in my life.

The canal running through town is bordered by willow trees just leafing out, and festooned with cherry trees, illuminated at night. The iconic scene is punctuated by the high Japanese bridges periodically crossing the river.

bridge

KInosaki is an old onsen town that has 7 public baths. I’m not sure how the Japanese go from bath to bath to bath because I’m happily cooked well done after one round of bathing. Nevertheless, visitors in small groups of families or friends. promenade in their yukata(cotton bathrobe) through town, clip clopping in their geta sandals on the stone sidewalks, visiting one onsen after another. The sounds lend a timeless sound track to the setting.

Visiting Kinosaki Onsen makes for an enjoyable getaway and a dip into another facet of Japanese culture not to be missed nor forgotten.

Almost Never Enough PINK

Since I was a bit long-winded in my last blog, I decided to cut to the chase today.  As I mentioned in my last blog, one reason I’m in Japan now is to celebrate spring in Japanese fashion.  The arrival of the cherry blossom season here is feverishly anticipated for weeks before the actual blooms appear. Forecasts for every part of the country tell the Japanese public exactly where and when to go to the sights with the most bang for the buck.  I pay attention to these forecast and follow the festive crowds, or more pleasurably find an off the beaten path spot to witness the extravaganza.
It’s a wonderful tradition and everyone gets swept up in it.  Year after year.
Pink swatches

Pink is a combination of the color red and white, a hue that can be described as a tint. It can range from berry (blue-based) pinks to salmon (orange-based) pinks. Its symbolism is complex and its popularity is subject to so many influences.

We can begin an analysis of pink by looking at natural and contemporary sources of this delicate color. First, regardless of your skin color, some part of your body is pink. So are sunsets, watermelons and Pepto Bismal. Depending on your age and culture, you may remember pink Cadillacs, pink flamingos (once considered in bad taste in American culture but now retro-chic), Pink Floyd, the Pink Panther, and the pink triangles of the Third Reich (which were used to identify male homosexuals).  colormatters.com

 

Today I took photos of only things that were pink.  I hope these photos give you a taste of my pink drenched day.  The blooms for the weeping cherries are mostly peaking, many other later varieties to follow over the next week.

Pink Encounters:  From first to last

  1.  Easter bunny in bakery counter of Daimaru Dep’t store
  2.  Ema votive tablets wishes and prayers written by visitors at Kodaiji Temple.
  3. The magnificent weeping cherry tree in splendid solitude at Kodaiji in Kyoto.
  4. More delectables in pastry case
  5. Alstromeria pink
  6. Folk art yarn ball (temari)
  7. Do you need a new purse?
  8. 9.  Better not miss out on Easter

IMG_0133IMG_0135and best of all:IMG_0139

I’m here to Celebrate Spring

Is this what getting old is going to be about?  I had an all day/almost all night coughing jag yesterday that wore me and my poor husband out.  You’re going to have to do something about that, he told me grumpily.  No dah, I replied with irritation.

I stopped taking a prescribed cortisone inhaler today which I decided was triggering the coughing fits, so today I am coughing less.  But before I became too frisky, the pain from my hip bursitis turned back on this afternoon as I was starting out for a walk in my Kyoto neighborhood.  Needless to say, my stroll was curtailed.

Time to get out the advil before my walk and stop talking about my complaints.  What smarty pants said to me “You can’t afford a negative thought”?  I had a few too many these the last two days. I’m here to celebrate spring and beauty in the city that has made an art out of it!

This afternoon we rolled smoothly into Kyoto on the bullet train after spending two nights in Tokyo.  I am always struck by the contrast between the new capital and the ancient one of Kyoto. There’s the obvious difference of size, but more than that, it’s about scale.  Tokyo is reaching for the sky these days, covered with new high rises being built just about everywhere you look. In Kyoto, (almost) the entire environment seems integrated and grounded.

Earthquake concerns are somhow overcome by state of the art engineering.   The huge buildings are impersonal, mostly office space, sometimes housing hotels as well, but with no distinctiveness that I could identify or admire.  Tokyo can be slick, cutting edge and fun, but after a few days I am generally relieved to pull out of it and head south to Kyoto.  The big city doesn’t feed my spirit except for it’s preoccupation with good design.  Flash is fun and youthful but grows easily tiresome.

Ginza scene
A beautiful but likely useless article for travel.

I know Kyoto  quite well now, so there’s no element of surprise when I arrive here as there used to be.  Rather, it’s a sense of comfort I feel upon entering. The small pots of seasonal flowers placed carefully at the doorways remind me that time is taken to appreciate nature here.  Once again, I am sure that scale plays a large role.  The city is mostly built of two story buildings with a few buildings, like errant toddlers, escaping those boundaries, but not very many and not by dozens of stories.

There’s  a strong sense of place here with temples and shrines appearing around every corner. Their significance plays a constant role in the events of the city.  They are power centers, no doubt, reminding me immediately that I’m no longer in the USA.  Japanese are said not to be religious but when you enter a shrine it’s easy to see that the ancient gods are respected and play a role in their contemporary life.

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The Japanese  people have a strong sense of purpose.  There’s not a lot of lolling about or screwing around. They all seem devoted to their jobs and determined to do the best they can in them. They walk quickly.  They listen intently when you speak to them. They are considerate and kind.  They do seem to embody a kinder, gentler strain of humanity, at least in this time and place!  It’s a welcome change from the nastiness rampant on the home front.

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As always, our dear Japanese friend has prepared seasonal welcome flowers to greet us when we open the door of our apartment. It’s these moments that mean the most to me and speak stronger than any words.

 

Back at it in Japan! Come Along!!

I’d hate for you to miss a blog from my upcoming visit to Japan again during cherry blossom season.  I promise wonderful photos and a glimpse into the Japanese obsession with sakura (cherry blossoms.) Not to mention other fascinating stuff that catches this visitor’s eye and often makes its way to her digestive system.IMG_0298

 

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“If there were no cherry blossoms in this world, how much more tranquil our hearts would be in spring.” 
— Ariwara no Narihira 

Please, come back soon!

Gone! A Farmer’s Market without flowers. No gifts from nature patiently waiting to be arranged, put in water and bring a room to life. Half of the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market had no stalls today. The 101 is still closed, so there is no access to Santa Barbara from the South.

Buying flowers is a Saturday morning ritual for me. I have been over the holiday look for several weeks now, looking forward to refreshing my vases and angling towards spring. When it’s over, it’s so over.  The available flowers change with the season, of course. A few people like the diehard,  people- pleasing sunflowers that smile back at them all year-long. You can find these flowers in any grocery store. But those year-round blooms long ago became boring for me. I no longer smile back.

Living in Japan part – time has accentuated my appreciation for the seasonal. Year-long availability for a flower or a fruit makes it much less interesting to my eye. Each season has its long-awaited seasonal celebrity appearances. There are the first flowers of spring. The cheery yellow forsythia branches are not particularly beautiful, but they have the honor of announcing that spring has arrived. A few weeks late the pinklicious Japanese magnolias demand attention. Sweet peas follow soon. In Japan, they sell them with long curling tendrils. So much lovelier than just the straight stem.  Let’s not forget ranunculus, flirty and fabulous and overwhelming in its choice of colors and its lighter than air texture.  Continue reading “Please, come back soon!”