Kimmel Blog entry for Friday, June 29, 2007
If only John Bukacek, Urasenke tea master, could have been with us today. We took tea on the 65th floor of Landmark Tower in Yokohama, said to be the highest tea ceremony room in the world.We could look out over Sakuragi-cho Station as we drank mattcha and ate tea ceremony sweets. I don't know what school of tea ceremony it was; but the lady who served it was graceful, exact, calm, welcoming, and sincere. Her face lit up each time we said we enjoyed it. She made it relaxing instead of tense, warm instead of formal. The sweets were of three shapes: purple spheres filled with anko that was said to resemble ajisai hydrangeas, pink nadeshiko blossoms, and green ovals with water rings represented on them.
Mrs. Shiikuma, the mother of Michiko, Laura's maid-of-honor, took us there after taking us to hear Mongolian musicians in Yokohama's Minato Mirai Concert Hall. Before that, it was a Kyoto kaiseki ryouri meal in Landmark Tower. The eggplant with two colors of miso was gorgeously delicious. It was particularly good because we'd hardly had time to eat while we were in Kyoto on June 27th and 28th.
We took the Shinkansen to Kyoto Wednesday morning, checking into a ryokan-ish place near Kyoto Station called Hatoya. It was a thoroughly modern concrete building with Japanese-style tatami guest rooms. It felt so odd, in contrast to Matsushima Ryokan in Maito-cho, Yokohama, which is the real thing.
Leaving our small bags there, we hopped a taxi to Nijo-jo. I insist on calling it Nijo Palace rather than Nijo Castle because it really had no military function, despite the impressive stone walls built around it. It was just the residence Tokugawa Ieyasu (and later his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu) established to make their visits to Kyoto comfortable.I wanted Chad and Laura to hear the real uguisu-bari, the nightingale floor. They saw the gilded Kano fusuma sliding door paintings (some with tigers, some with pine trees, some with willows) as well.Chad didn't speak much, but I found out that his eyes were taking everything in. Laura, we discovered, had never been to Kyoto before, despite all our trips to Japan.
Our next Kyoto stop was my favorite Kiyomizu-dera Temple, high on a hill overlooking the city. This site is said to pre-date Buddhism, in much the same way as some of the great cathedral sites in Europe pre-date Christianity. One seems to feel something profound coming from the configuration of mountain, water (there is "pure water" there, in the waterfall, for which the temple is named) and air.
After having climbed up and around various temple buildings, we stopped at a red-carpeted cantilevered eating place on the way down to have hiyashi doufu cold tofu, noodles, and kakegoori. We were surrounded by trees; and we could see both Kiyomizu-dera's scaffolded support beams above and the tree-filled gorge blow. Then, instead of climbing down the way we had come up, we turned right at the togarashi pepper place to descend sannen-zaka hill, with its picturesque old Kyoto-style houses and shops. Chad, is showing himself to be a remarkable photographer, taking many beautiful shots with the digital camera. [Laura, too, is remarkable in the way her Japanese improves by the hour.She is taking over more and more functions, especially when it comes to asking for information and directions.]
After our descent we limped over to Gion. I told Laura and Chad stories of having previously seen an occasional geiko (the word used in Kyoto, by those who really know, for what we call geisha, "art persons"). We didn't see any this trip, neither on the street nor in the heavy sedans where I caught sight of them in 2002. The many lanterns, both paper and metal, that light up the street at night help make it beautiful.
After that, it was back to Hatoya Ryokan, every bone aching. I fell asleep immediately after taking a shower in the tiny bathroom--no time for a real o-furo Japanese bath of the kind I take at Yokohama's Matsushima Ryokan.
The next morning, yesterday, we managed to get up and out to Nagoya, transferring to the Meitetsu Line to go to Inuyama-jou, my favorite castle. It was first built in the 16th Century, sengogku jidai in Japan, when the country was in chaos as daimyo feudal lords made war on each other. Chad, who has studied military strategy and history at U. of I., appreciated its superior defensive position above the Kiso-kawa River. We climbed all the way to the top of the donjon, climging stairs that were like ladders). From there, samurai look-outs could see in all directions. There was a shrine nearby, too.The Shinto priest there told me that the shrine was far older than the castle.
We ate lunch at restaurant across from the shrine. I had ayu (a trout-like river fish) for the first time in many years. Chad and Laura didn't like it; so I didn't have to share. They ate noodles dishes flavored by red miso that included boiled eggs. Regional specialty? We didn't know.
On a less exalted note, I can report that I've been watching interesting stuff on TV.There's been news about the Meat Hope (sic!) Company scandal. After getting caught illegally mixing beef and pork, in addition to recalling packages and re-dating them, the company has had to fire all its employees. An American named Hill has been trying to negotiate with North Korea. There was a biography of Shinran, the Buddhist priest who founded (New?) Pure Land Buddhism, the sect that believes in salvation by chanting the name of the Buddha, namu amida butsu.Then, to my surprise, the current geki-dan acting troupe playing at Miyoshi Engeijo theater appeared on Yokohama TV. At 8:15 in the morning, I've been watching the current NHK morning drama, called Don don hare, which seems to be about a ryokan traditional inn in Iwate. When we lived in Yokohama all those years ago, I made sure that we had a TV.It's invaluable for language lessons, in addition to all its other uses.