As we arrived in Kyoto, so did the outer bands of a typhoon. The rain poured down with little relief with the result that our planned visits to some of city’s exquisite shrines and temples were put aside for indoor activities.
Our visit to Kyoto had been timed to view the impressive annual Jidai Matsuri parade in which locals parade in the costumes worn during Kyoto’s 2,000 years of history. Unfortunately the rain forced the parade’s cancellation. Phooey!
Still, we had three outstanding experiences we’ll never forget; experiences that justified every moment of our stay in the city.
First of all, we enjoyed a private visit with Robert Yellin, an engaging American who has lived for 30 years in Japan and is considered an expert on Japanese pottery (see www.japanesepottery.com). We began our day at his fascinating museum-shop which displays both contemporary and classic pottery — we have enclosed a couple photos. While most of us are trying to downsize our homes and furnishings, many of the pieces were very tempting. After an interesting introduction, Yellin took us to the studio of one of Japan’s foremost contemporary potters. While not everyone is intrigued by pottery, this visit gave us special insight into an important aspect of Japanese culture.
The next day we began (In sunshine!) with a walk through the city’s oldest district known as “Gion”. In addition to the historic homes and buildings lining the narrow lanes, this is the district where apprentice geishas (called ‘maikos’) train during the day and where geishas and maikos entertain during the evening. While walking through the district, we caught sight of one of the silk-clad maikos en route to her class.
That evening the ten of us enjoyed dinner at a delightful private restaurant in Gion together with a ‘maiko’ and a ‘geisha’. The 18-year old maiko was actually dressed the way we would expect geisha to be dressed and the geisha was attired in less formal wear. Together with our guide, Yumi, we could ask our questions about the training, the life and the duties of a maiko and geisha. The two women were utterly delightful. They poured our sake or beer or cola, the maiko performed classical Japanese dances while the geisha played a guitar-like instrument and then we played games with them – that was fun. Once again this gave us an intimate insight into Japan’s rich (and often hidden) culture.
The following day our itinerary called for a visit to Nara, one of Japan’s ancient capitals. But first we stopped at a tea plantation. There we were, out in the fields, picking the tender leaves of green tea. We brought our (rather skimpy) harvest to the plantation’s office where the company’s delightful Vice President gave us an introduction to the many styles of green tea. As we tasted the five varieties of green tea, an apprentice roasted and kneaded (almost as she would a loaf of bread) the leaves we had picked. This was a lengthy and tedious 2-hour process. We concluded our morning with a delicious ‘bento’ luncheon highlighted by cups of tea and even tea leaves in our food. One more insight into Japan.
Our next destination is Japan’s largest southern island, Kyushu, where we’ll journey high into the mountains and stay for a day or two in a traditional Japanese inn. That will be interesting. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile we’re all well and enjoying just about every moment. Even the rain has not dampened our spirits.
Wish you were here!
Paul and Christine