2019 BLOG VI: And Yet More Kyoto

A thing I forgot. In many public toilets you hear the sound of running water. There’s a button on the wall that turns this off. The purpose, I presume is to encourage you to pee. When I was training my son from diapers to toilet my mother suggested I run water in the sink. The autosuggestion worked beautifully. But, an entire nation who has been taught such intense control that they need autosuggestion to pee? Or maybe the men’s bathroom doesn’t have this aid and it is only the women who have been taught such intense control? This is beyond control freakiness.

I started my day by going to the Textile Institute. I didn’t have high hopes of discovering anything interesting, or in particular the blue and white printed fabric I have been trying to find. On the walk I passed a nice looking dress shop and as I went by the window the young owner, in very round glasses, smiled and waved. The Textile Institute was full of loud Russians and garish kimonos. There was a museum on the top floor, a small one, displaying fabrics used in Noh plays. These are quite breath taking; one was covered with embroidered butterflies on the wing.

On my way back to the subway I stopped at the dress shop. With the help of Google translate I was able to tell the round-glassed-proprietress that I was looking for fabric by the yard. On her phone she brought up a shop, Noruma Tailor. It turned out to be on the same street as Takashimaya.  That was convenient. I headed there by subway.

Coming up to street level I had no idea where I was or what direction to walk in. I went into an attractive shop, saw a nice poncho, and went into conference with a clerk and her phone. They pointed me along Shijo-dori. Takashimaya she said was further along the same street but across the street.

Not very far along I came upon a place with a sign reading, Noruma, but it was obviously a stockbrokerage firm. I shrugged mentally and thought, “Oh well it must be some kind of glitch. I’ll go on to Takashimaya.” Walking further I came to a store with fabric piled up outside. I looked at the sign, Noruma Tailor.

As I walked in I could feel the blast of female energy. It was great. At the foot of the stairs was a limp, weary looking Australian man. I congratulated him on his stamina.  He said that if his wife didn’t come down soon he was going to become a skeleton. I met her upstairs with several rolls of fabric tucked under her arm.

I found some cheap and charming linen. They had Liberty cotton at a good price. The linen and cotton was excellent, the silk good but practically no wool, after all it is the beginning of summer.

There was a long-bearded Finnish man buying black linen for a Japanese outfit for his son. I could not get him to understand “course” and “fine” as it pertains to fabric. He wanted to buy something for his wife but was a bit lost.  I suggested the Liberty cotton but could see the idea of choosing a color and a print was too emotionally stressful.

I walked on to Takashimaya where I had a lunch of tempura and curry over rice. Okay but not thrilling. They did have in the basement food department excellent Viennese coffee. There is wonderful food of every description here but it was all take away and I had nowhere to take it away to.

The other fascinating area is on the top floor where works of art, small lacquer pieces, paintings, carvings, ceramics, clay figures, and tiles are displayed for sale. They are intended for the home and would grace any house but the prices are commensurate with the artistry.

I walked back to the first shop where I had asked for instructions and bought the poncho I had seen. Out the window I saw the 12 bus that stops across from my hotel, stopped across from the shop. I took it home feeling very accomplished.

The next day was one of the two most fabulous days I have had in Japan. I went to the front desk for instructions. The receptionist flurried by my request, explained first I must take the Keihan train line, change to the Eizan train line, take a cable car. “Then,” she said, a bit desperately, “Ask.”

At the Eizen train a uniformed woman offered me a package for 3,000. I would have tickets for all cable cars and buses plus free entry into all temples. I did it. It left me short of money but I had no time to walk to an ATM. I just made the train.

The train went above ground through landscape hovering between suburban and rural. When I got off it I followed my fellow passengers who knew what they were doing to the first cable car. Men gave me their seats on this ride, which was quite unexpected. After the second cable car, these rides were scary-spectacular looking down the mountainside, there was a bus but I saw a sign giving the kilometers to To-do Temple. I decided to walk the two kilometers. Others also decided to walk but they quickly passed me and I was alone on the root-riven, gravel path passing into a deep silence under the enormous pines that made dancing shadows with their branches in a gentle wind.  The air was clear; there were views up and down the mountain. The mountain’s name is Hiei and there are a number of temples on it.

Two kilometers is a long way on an unknown path but there were lots of signs at sensible intervals. I stopped at a cliff- edge-viewing place, as well as at occasional bits of statuary, a stray Buddha, another with a bright red bib around his neck. I arrived at the tiny ticket office with upturned eaves and showed my ticket.

The first buildings at To-do, the Amida-do and the Hokke-ji, are pink, which is striking but inside there is nothing that excites the Western eye. At the Amida I could hear a deep bell being struck as people finished their prayers and a raven calling. Down a steep stair is the Dai Kodo with paintings of the founders of various sects. I managed to miss the other temple of importance here but did have a good talk with a striking looking young black woman from LA.

I then wandered off to try to find Sai-to. There were signs but they were all in Japanese. I walked further up hill among stone lanterns and other small structures under the great pines. Finally I stopped an intently earnest young man with walking sticks and backpack. He took out his phone and compass to set me straight in minutes.

I walked back down to the tiny ticket house, along the road, across a bridge, then down a very steep stair where a huge white azalea was blooming at the bottom. Jodo-in is the mausoleum of Dengyo Dashi (died 822). It looks like a delightful little house, however. It has a dragon drinking fountain. The building is painted with soft turquoise accents. As I walked around it a Japanese couple came up behind me. When we returned to the gate we found we could not walk the direct way to Sai-to. I asked them to ask the workmen how we should go. They did. I followed them, praying they wouldn’t walk too fast. The woods were silent; sometimes on the side of a hill, in brilliant sun, I could see a huge arch of bamboo. There were stone lanterns under the trees.

We came out at Ninai-do. There two temples, Hokke-do and Jogyo-do, make a magnificent architectural statement in rectangular shapes on various levels. Their faded red paint against the forest’s green was both beautiful and vitally alive. Then further on the path we came to Shaka-do. There is a famous statue of Sakyamuni but I was not taken by it.

My companions were going on to Yokawa but though I would have loved to go it was two pm and I had reached the end of my 82-year-old energy. It was going to take a long time to get home. We parted at the bus stop.

The woman and I talked easily. The man though had his dignity and had trouble unbending, although I think he was very nice.  He just keeps his soul in his briefcase and doesn’t know how to get it out.

And it was a long journey home—bus, cable car one, cable car two, got a bit lost here by following the wrong people, train one, train two, subway. I went to a restaurant with a moving track on which there are plates of sushi. These include horsemeat sushi, roast beef sushi, ham and cheese sushi and eggplant sushi.

I walked 12km and climbed 20 flights of stairs.

I had read and been told about a flea market at a temple. It took me an hour and a half to get there by bus; I got off before I should have, so had to get back on to get to Kitano Tenman-gu temple. The grounds were full of stalls—some looked and smelled good, but some of it was scary—shaved ice with lurid colored syrups on it—clothes, gambling and a performing monkey dressed up in children’s clothes.

At this temple you pray before a series of ropes; when you finish you pull on the rope that jangles a great big jingle bell overhead.

I took a bus and subway to the Noh theater, opposite the Imperial Gardens that I never visited. I bought a 60US ticket, raced down the street to the Hieisen Hotel and had a fast, not at all bad, lunch.

The theater is small and arranged in an L around the stage that represents a temple. The audience, unlike European opera audiences is not entirely grey-haired. There are young people, many college-aged. It is, however, obviously the refined thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. Some well-dressed ladies have tea in the teashop but never seem to make it to the performance. I sat next to a woman from St. Petersburg who lives in Corvallis, Oregon. It was her second Noh, my first. It had been advertised as having English subtitles. There was a pamphlet telling the plot in English of the two plays and explaining very well the costumes and who wears what mask and the importance of the mask.

Before the play there was a lecture by an elegant small man in a kimono.  The play is titled Kamo, the name of the shrine it takes place in.

The four-man orchestra came out—three drums, one played with something on your finger that makes a clack sound, and a flute. Another drum was held at shoulder height. The orchestra also “sings”, not words but sounds. The primary sound was “Yooouuu.” This sounded like a howl to my Western ears. The flute often made the kind of sound that Western flautists avoid except in very modern music, shrill shrieks. Next a chorus of eight men identically dressed in blue tops and grey trousers came out. They sang, chanted words. What and how they sing was very similar in sound to Western music. I found it quite lulling. As in Western opera the voice production is stylized, not so obviously in the chorus, but in the characters. However there is less distortion of the voice and emphasis on volume than in opera. The walk of the actors is also stylized. If you don’t look at their feet, they appear to float.

The story is a religious one about priests going to a shrine where they meet deities. It made me think what opera might have been like if the early religious plays about Herod and Everyman had acquired music.

All women characters are played by men in masks.  You have a pretty, very white face above a big chest and broad shoulders. There is no attempt to feminize the voices. The fabrics of the costumes are magnificent, brilliant and exceedingly stiff.  Nothing flows.  The colors are forceful—orange, green, yellow.

I am not musically adept enough to explain this, but even to me it was obvious that there was what I would call an over and under movement in the music between the soloists and the singing of the orchestra. They were patterning in some way off each other. I hope that makes sense.

There was a messenger with a bearded mask. A very exuberant and large Mother Goddess who danced with a fan. Her mask had dangles around the face. The last character was, for me, the best, Wakeikazuchi, a god wearing a long red wig, a black lacquer crown with gold foil strips that represent lightning. He carried a wand decorated with white paper strips. His mask was gold with shinning bulging eyes. He had a deep voice and made me think of the Balinese Barong, fascinating and scary because of the sense of power.

There was more but I couldn’t have absorbed any more so I bid my Russian seatmate farewell. I would do it again but it was a bit overwhelming. So much to take in that was totally alien.


3 thoughts on “2019 BLOG VI: And Yet More Kyoto

  1. Delighted you are enjoying Kyoto as much as I did as a language student. The musical, beyond complex toilets make sounds because the Japanese are embarrassed if others can hear them pee or defecate – it is all about muffling the sound of excretion so the person is not embarrassed when they return to their friends in public.


  2. I think you final comment sums it up: So much to take in that is totally alien. But also magnificently laid out for beauty and pleasure of the mind and spirit, Perhaps just letting oneself get lost in the differences can be frustratingly nourishing. It might take another lifetime to connect all the dots. But who cares?


  3. Wow! So much in this one. The musical sequencing sounds interesting as do the larger than life Noh characters. A true feast for all the senses, the spirit of adventure and the soul.


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