Sunday, November 13, 2005

hangin' tough at the giant torii

hangin' tough at the giant torii
hangin' tough at the giant torii,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Kate didn't really make it to Japanese breakfast on Sunday morning. Let's face it, what is breakfast without coffee anyway? Surprisingly, it was quite a search before we found an open cafe to get the day started.

Kyudo girls going through the motionsOn our way to the Heian Shrine, we stumbled into the Budo Centre. This particular Centre in Kyoto is the oldest martial arts exercise hall in Japan and has some of the youngest people fighting and training. A couple of teens were beating each other up in the Kyu-Butokoden building. We moved down to watch the graceful archery (Kyudo). With 2 metre long bows, you will need a Zen state of mind to master "the way of the bow". big boy versus not so big girlSeeing kids sumo is pretty funny... The bouts are quite quick and after each, many boys return to their seat and resume training (a.k.a. eating)!

Wandering around to the Heian Shrine, the incredible kimono and make-up on 7, 5, and 3 year old girls, and boys clad in formal suits is quite... outrageous? no kids, no problemPerhaps more amusing are the couples without children who arrive with their pet micro-dogs. Not in a handbag this time, but a pram! - I wonder if they prey for the health and good fortune of the dogs. By chance, we picked probably the busiest day of the year to attempt visiting this shrine. We really couldn't be bothered joining the bus loads of people queued up.

showing off in GionA little market stall selling great souvenirs near the shrine, and Autumn maple viewing in the beautiful gardens with a busker strumming at Maruyama park all make pleasant distractions. With little planned, it was easy to fill the day (and a few more) with interesting and funny things in Kyōto. With luck, you too can spot a few apprentice geisha fluttering around the cobble-stone streets of Gion. Either sponge off another photographer, or it might be worth your while to learn the phrase to ask. Elaborate kimonos, fancy hair-styles, neat accessories; these are only what they wear. Mastering all the get up is just one of many things an apprentice must accomplish to become a geisha. I dread to even contemplate walking in those shoes!

Sunday crowds streaming inWe were soon joined by the mob of people flowing into the famed Kiyomizu temple. This temple features very high on my tick list for Kyōto visits. As you can see, it is high on lots of other people's list too! Even young teens who are dressed in today's standard equipment are strolling the walkways of this grand temple complex. As Thom Gourley put it:
standard equipmentFunny how American pop culture spreads like an oil slick on the youth of the world! Of course, the Japanese have managed to add their own spice to the themes...

spiritual water falls 滝Kate had run out of time and needed to be heading for the bus. We passed the Otawa-no-taki, leaving the believers to drink and wash in the therapeutic waters and that was Kiyomizu-dera. After some confusion, being lost at the north side of the enormous Kyōto station, we end up back where we started this weekend: eating uncultured in the culture capital! The Princess Line came and went. Then Kate boarded her bus back to Hiroshima.
I went back to Kiyomizu-dera, along with a gathering crowd...
清水寺 Kiyomizu-dera instantly populated

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the Japanese breakfast 朝食

the Japanese breakfast 朝食
the Japanese breakfast 朝食,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Options of 7:00, 7:30 and 8:00am for breakfast, you can guess which time we chose! In the end, my only problem with the Japanese breakfast served in our ryokan, is that coffee is not included. Yes, I am addicted. Not really a problem in Kyōto however as there are 100s of cafés and 1,000s of vending machines - no exaggeration there!

We made our start at Ginkaku-ji, a Zen temple situated at the north end of the Path of Philosophy, established by the 8th Muromachi Shogunate. The grounds contain a rather large raked stone garden, some Very Important Moss, and a pathway through some beaut garden/forest.

Back out on the street, we spotted the future of Japan's culture, some prospective geiko. Then, some sandwiches for lunch. Why is it that we often eat more while on holiday? Kate, what are you doing?Next, the cheap-skate's view of San-mon Gate. Just a quick taste of the gardens and architecture here at Nanzen-ji temple, (I re-visit on Monday) as we were pushing to make it to the dance show in Gion. Briefly stopping in the 7-eleven I spotted some Men's chocolate!

The last shows of the Annual Gion Odori Dances were on that day (Saturday 12th November 2005) at 1:00 and 3:30pm. It was getting close to 3:30pm when we thought we'd better catch a taxi to make it in time. In eastern Kyōto the traffic is always sluggish - I doubt the streets were designed to carry such a variety of transports, let alone simultaneously. People were walking faster alongside the cab! Just about to ditch the taxi and our driver announced we are here, at the Gion Kaikan theater.

Finale: The song of Gion-HigashiThe very last 2 tickets we bought and filed into the theater. Quite good seats in fact, but Kate and I were just 2 seats away from each other. The elaborate kimono draped around the make-up clad maiko and geiko girls, came out for 6 songs accompanied by some drums, 3 shamisen players and 3 singers. A little Japanese language up your sleeve helps, but interpretation is not overly difficult given the costumes, action, body language, colours, lighting, sets and the mood of the music... And a brief sentence written in English about each song! A fantastic performance and an easy way to enjoy some of Japan's most reverred cultural traditions.

Queue here to wish for luckA quick stop in at Yasaka Shrine, we joined the queue (always neat queues in Japan) to throw a coin, ring the bell and wish/pray for luck, health, a new lover, a bright orange Lamborghini or whatever it is you may want.

Yasaka-no-to (pagoda)Wandering around Gion we decided it was time to eat again. Following yesterday's theme of eating uncultured, tonight's fill was provided by the Ajanta Indian Restaurant. If you didn't pick up (or steal) a copy the Kyōto Visitor's Guide, it's the restaurant with the big neon India flag out the front. Some great curries before we made tracks for the hotel, exhausted. Utilising a neighbourhood vending machine, we'd stocked up on a couple of half-price beers before changing into the hazardous slippers, entering our ryokan hotel well before the 11pm curfew. The hot bath is a welcome relief to tired leg muscles. Wow, what a day!

Friday, November 11, 2005

going to Kyōto

going to Kyōto
going to Kyōto,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Punctuality is something I've learned to expect of Japanese, but perhaps I shouldn't. Kate and I nearly had a heart attack when our bus was late last Friday morning.

Including us, a grand total of 5 passengers on the bus and in true Japanese style, the heating is cranked far beyond sitting comfortable in a T-shirt. I was about to ask the driver to turn the heat down, but thought I'd check with the other passengers if they agreed or not. I ended up telling a young female passenger that I'm hot while Kate laughed at what looked like I was trying to hit on this girl.

coffee!I'm sure we've all seen coffee vending machines before, but for the benefit of those who haven't travelled in Japan, it truly is something to be experienced rather than dreaded. How about this book vending machine in Barcelona? I'm sure the world is full of wierd and interesting vending machines. Have you experienced any recently?

Upon arrival in the cultural capital of the country, we had the most uncultured lunch that's possible: McDonald's!

the ryokan slippersA ryokan is a Japanese style hotel. A completely new experience for me, and I love the small amount of English that the reception staff come out with, like pay cash now. Those dastardly slippers you have to wear inside are constantly slipping off - I guess they're called slippers for a reason! We also get to wear a yukata (a Japanese style robe) for cruisin' around within the hotel.

Our ryokan is within the same grounds as the temples and cemetery known as Shinnyo-do. The cobble-stone lanes through the temples are frequented by taxis and Japanese tourists - it is quite strange for me to see tourists visiting their own country...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

quick Kanji

kanji on pinkQuick Kanji - Say It in Japanese - Kids Web Japan might be designed for kids, but that's more than how I feel with my Japanese language ability. In fact I have solidly missed classes for about a month now. You know you're turning into a bad student when one of the sensei sends an email asking why you haven't been to class.

Free translation tools are out there on the internet and vary somewhat in quality - they are free though! Anyone with enough brains to be using the Firefox browser can also get the awesome Moji extension.

Best gadget I received as a gift from one of the students at work today, an old Canon 2-way electronic dictionary. Now that's what I call the freeway to learning Japanese! Thanks a million Megumi.

fun Japanese

fun JapaneseAuthor/Inventor Mike Ellis brings you Fun Japanese. He's erasing Japanese and replacing it with English words enabling anyone to speak Japanese. Berlitz, Inlingua and Scholastic, it's just a matter of time before you're out of business!

The Fun Japanese phrases below only need a simple set of directions. Say each phrase quickly and smoothly with equal emphasis on each word. The translation is found underneath. That's all there is to Fun Japanese. Folks in Tokyo, or Japanese anywhere, will be thrilled to hear you try some Fun Japanese.

Good morning (informal)

Ohio Goes Eye Muss
Good morning (more formal)

comBun Wah
Good evening (informal)

Doe Moe
OK or alright or thanks

Doe Moe Oddy Got Toe
Thank you very much



Toe Moe Dutchy

Tie Hen Joe Zoo
Super or talented

Me Zoo

Me Zoo Oh Cuda Sigh
Please bring me some water

Sue She Oh Cuda Sigh
Please bring me some raw fish



Mushy Mushy
Hello (on the phone)

Doze Oh

Need a Japanese phrase translated into Fun Japanese? Email it to the author. See it updated here tomorrow with pictures and sound bytes!