THE SLICK, THE BAD AND THE COOL

Tokyo can be overwhelming for a small town girl from Kyoto.  It’s big. It’s full of people. It’s sprawling. It’s an endless parade of new anonymous sky scraping buildings going up up up.

On a micro level, it can be pretty fascinating.  I’m now talking style, museums, architectural wonders and a lifetime of restaurants that can satisfy any glutton’s appetite!

It’s got a darker side too, which we inadvertently got sucked into while looking for some evening’s entertainment that would be fun for a 14 year old.

THE BIG CITYIMG_4180 IMG_4189

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THE STYLISH

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THE SLEAZY

We should have been smarter, but we easily got sucked into possibly the most advertised tourist trap in Tokyo. The ads were everywhere, and convinced me it would be a fun evening out for a multi-generational family. One Trip Advisor review promised “enthralling choreographic routines.”  That should have been the tip-off.  Not one mentioned feeling uneasy about the location of the venue!

Little did we know, the show would be two floors underground, in a basement performance space.  With each step we descended, my inner warning bells grew louder, but I didn’t want to play the role of a spoiler for the rest of our group.  My father’s sister had died in the infamous Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, and growing up, I’d learned the fire trap lesson well.  So well, that in looking back, I’m surprised I even took the first step underground!

There was only one exit up the staircase that quickly became blocked as the extravaganza began, on the basement floor which served as the stage.  My wise daughter looked distressed and soon announced that she was too uncomfortable to remain in this place and departed.

Below is a taste of the strange and garish show that unfolded before us. The scantily clad female performers worked very hard, but it was hard to find artistry or even entertainment in this dystopia. Sadly. I doubted that these women barely made a living for their performances, repeating three tiresome shows a night. IMG_4281 IMG_4296 IMG_4288 IMG_4289

If the club wasn’t such a fire trap, I possibly could have enjoyed the show as an example of ultra high camp and visual overload.  As it was, after a quick family discussion during a break to sell drinks and products, we beat a welcome and hasty retreat, climbing back up one step at a time, closer to freedom.  I could only shake my head in wonder that we were the only ones to leave.

Kyoto feels like a small town after visiting Tokyo. Riding the wonderful Shinkansen, we were “home” in less than 2.5 hours, covering a distance that’s the same as between Santa Barbara and San Francisco.  It’s a great and easy big city getaway.

History has been kinder to Kyoto. It was spared  the brutal firebombing of WWII that leveled Tokyo. I am grateful for the remnants of layers of Japanese history that are abundant here. They create a strong sense of place.  Although, ever evolving as it must.

CHAPTER ONE CONCLUDES

iris

The first chapter of Living Life in Kyoto came to a sweet conclusion yesterday.  Upon returning home after too many hours of travel, I immediately hit my bed.  Hours later, the sweet voice of my youngest granddaughter shook me out of my stupor to regain a few hours of daylight consciousness. Sleep called again as soon as it turned dark.

When I’m happy, I tend to gush.  My husband is typically more restrained unless he’s got a fishing rod in his hand with a big struggling fish on the end of it.  I held back from telling him how successful I felt our trial run in Kyoto had been because he rarely “feels it” like I do.  However, my need to share my delight got the best of me.

me:  Wasn’t it any amazing two weeks? him: Yeah, it was fun.

emotional options

Ok, that’s what you get when you marry two people whose emotional responses to events are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But, I’ll take it. From my point of view,  our Kyoto trial was a great success and the truth was, my husband seemed happy too.

kaiseki 2
kaiseki, the Ultimate in Japanese haute cuisine.
izakaya, Japanese pub cusisine.
izakaya, Japanese pub cuisine.

Dan takes his restaurant hunts and discoveries very seriously and I happily relied on him to find a place for us to eat each night.  With literally dozens and dozens of wonderful options right our our front door, he relished the task of checking out every restaurant entry we passed that looked intriguing. He made lists and even a map. That to me says, Engagement.

Kyoto is a gourmand’s heaven and our apartment is at ground central.  From tofu to soba to kaiseki to izakaya to french pastries, pizza and home made green tea soft serve, it’s all there at our eager fingertips.

Japanese French bakery
Japanese French bakery

Of course, enthusiastic indulging does have it’s downside.  blowfish

We did have a few challenges but nothing that wasn’t overcome with the help of some  very dear friends who remained close by to speak and translate Japanese and explain the system to us as needed.

Physically, my biggest challenge is the development of painful blisters on my feet that begin to plague me after a few days of heavy duty walking.  This unfortunate situation happens a lot to me.  This trip, I broke down and bought myself a pair of crocs, but even that didn’t prevent the blisters from getting worse.  I’m going to have to find a solution for that somehow, because by the end of these last two weeks I was walking  like a VERY old woman.  I’ve got about one month to heal and locate a better pair of walking shoes until my feet will be put to the test on a return visit yo Japan in mid-June!  Bring it on.old woman walking

Coming to Terms with a Memory

Renge-ji temple is a small out- of -the- way Buddhist temple in Kyoto that has resonated in my memory for several years.

flowers

In typical Japanese fashion, the garden doesn’t appear to the viewer immediately. The simple unassuming entrance reveals nothing until you turn and enter into the quintessential “room with a view.” Here is a garden that asks nothing more of the viewer than to sit down and open your pores to the scene before you.

sugar egg

For me, viewing this garden is similar to the feeling I’d get as a child when looking into a snow scene in a glass ball , or peeping inside the magic world  hidden inside a fanciful sugar Easter egg.

snow globe

It was raining on my first visit here.  The sight and sounds of the rain falling on the pond were mesmerizing.  I could feel the earth breathing with me.

On my second visit, it was autumn, under a crystal blue sky.  The Japanese maples set the vista aflame with color, reflected brilliantly in the pond water.

fall 2 at rengenji fall at reen-ji

On my most recent visit, nature was not showing off, at least not at first glimpse. Now, the young maple leaves spread a chartreuse green swath across the garden.

tree and temple

Although beautiful, the garden didn’t have the same punch for me as it had on earlier visits. I felt mildly disappointed. Then, I was disappointed that I was disappointed. I sat with that disappointment and allowed myself to take in the garden as it was NOW.  I watched my disappointment gradually dissipate.

thinking reflections temple testure bridge

When I lit a stick of incense within the temple, a profound sense of calm had replaced my earlier unease.

buddha

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

You know the overwhelmed feeling you can get when you have to master a new technological device?  All of that paled on move in day in Kyoto when we were confronted with the latest array of Japanese  home technology.

We screwed up royally and instantly as soon as someone rang our doorbell.  Not knowing which button to push to allow someone in, Dan made a wrong guess and set off a very loud alarm that we could not cancel.  Within minutes, a worried building superintendent was at our door  probably prepared to put out a fire. I controlled my impulse to take his picture.

Everything you need to turn on the lights anywhere in our apartment.  All labels in Japanese, natch!
Everything you need to turn on the lights anywhere in our apartment. All labels in Japanese, natch!
Remote control for air conditioner.  I am happy to report we can turn it off and on and raise and lower the temperature.  It's anyone's guess what all the other buttons are for.
Remote control for air conditioner. I am happy to report we can turn it off and on and raise and lower the temperature. It’s anyone’s guess what all the other buttons are for.

The person who had rung our bell  delivered the first of several unexpected impressive gifts from the people who had done our renovation.  Gift giving is taken seriously in this country.

From our contractor.
From our contractor.
From our carpenter.
From our carpenter.
Gift from the contractors boss of  an enormous bottle of sake
Gift from the contractor’s boss of an enormous bottle of sake.
Ikebana arrangement created onsite by our architect.
Ikebana arrangement created onsite by our architect.

Our new oven is truly a master of everything.  If and when we are capable of differentiating the myriad of choices it allows, we will be able to use it as a microwave, steam oven, standard oven, baking oven with choice of which direction the heat shall come from, broiler, and last but not least, rising bread.  Until that day arrives, we’ll probably be eating most meals out!

After several hours of instruction by our architect, our architect’s assistant, the carpenter, the contractor, and the contractor’s boss, it seems it was decided that we’d gone as far they could take us.

We all sat down in our new dining room and made small talk, exchanged gifts and drank tea together. In spite of the fact that we have less understanding than a toddler for the technology that surrounds us, we were thrilled with the quality of work done.  All in just two months time.  And all within budget!

Drinking tea together.
Drinking tea together.
Everyone is very happy!
Everyone is very happy!