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Travels with children in Japan, part 9, Kyoto

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This morning we explored the east end of our street and we were delighted to discover 3 temples in the same block. In the 2nd (Jakko-Ji) we fairly quietly explored the garden and stayed away from the closed temple doors. My daughter exclaimed that she had found the way so I turned to my husband and called that she had discovered the dharma. A movement to my right caught my eye and I discovered that we had disturbed a monk who was standing looking at me. We exchanged bows (me in embarrassment and him in confusion) and my family and I scurried away (me chuckling that perhaps he’d come out to discover the secret of the dharma).

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Our next stop was a local bakery with expertly created and packaged delicacies with impeccable displays. Being Easter Sunday we all chose a treat and sat on the bench seat in the shop to eat them. The choux chef made the sweets on location while we munched away.
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Contented we continued up the street and were unable to resist the lure of a much fancier looking sweets shop where we followed the same pattern except this time the shopkeeper brought us each a free bowl of mildly salty broth to drink with our divine sweet. In Kyoto the sweets (and meals) are strongly influenced by the season, so now everything is associated with Spring and there are cherry blossom ice creams, sweets shaped like cherry blossoms and wrapped in cherry leaves, salted cherry blossoms, and so on…

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Our next stop was the Murinan Garden which we assumed was open to the public so we tentatively walked in and were truly amazed by this most marvelous of gardens. It was designed by a master landscape gardener 100 years ago and it is in the grounds of a restaurant that was the location of the momentous decision to go to war with Russia. We happily explored the many views of the garden, used the toilets and then asked if we could be served tea in the restaurant to which we were told that it’s a restaurant not café. At that point it dawned on me that our intrusion may have been unwelcome and perhaps we shouldn’t have gone into the gardens. Aside from that awkward feeling it was a highlight of Kyoto for me to view that exquisite garden and I thought briefly of my landscape gardening friend in between shushing and trying to modify the raucous sugar-fueled behavior of my children.

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From there we rather excitedly entered Konchi-in Temple grounds which is famous for having the most important tea house in Kyoto with remarkable silk screens. The gardens were nice, especially the ‘ocean’ of raked gravel as was the sound of a monk chanting melodically while playing music. Unfortunately the reason for the chanting and music was a funeral so we did not enter the temple or tea house.

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We are relieved that rather than complain and drag feet our children are excited about every single temple and shrine because of the rituals of washing hands, ringing bells, lighting incense, and praying and sometimes push us to enter more temples after we have decided to stop. This is very important in a city like Kyoto! As an aside we don’t have a religion so it came as a surprise that our children would be interested but perhaps it’s because of our lack of religious instruction that they are open to the experiences. We have to check what others are doing to learn what steps to follow before ‘praying’. Next we went into the Nanzen-in garden which was not as good and left us feeling a bit ripped off especially because the temple was closed. I’m sure that if it was the only garden we saw this trip we would have been delighted but compared to the eye-popping splendor of others this one was just very good.

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In the Nanzen-ji temple complex we encountered many other tourists and felt repelled and opted not to pay and enter any of the 3 sites because it seemed expensive and hard to predict the value compared to what we have seen so far, even in our own street. Instead we wandered around the grounds and prayed and lit incense at the shrines that we could access for free (of course we paid for the incense and we make a donation whenever we pray as well).

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After a quick hanami (cherry blossom picnic) under a gorgeous sakura tree and next to the Biwal canal, we divided for the afternoon. My husband and son set off for a museum and tea ceremony then exploration of Gion (that left my husband sick of sightseeing). My daughter and I went to the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts. We arrived in time to see a Maiko show (Maiko are apprentice Geisha). The Maiko performed a sedate dance that involved a lot of looking from side to side and moving her fan and other arm. The adornments that the Maiko wear showcase the beauty of Japanese handicrafts, from ornamental floral hairpins (hana kanzashi) to Nishijin Ori woven textiles in the obi, to Kyo Yuzen dyed kimono fabric, to Kyo-kumihimo braid holding the obi in place to the Pocchiri buckle on the obi, and Kyo fans.

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Next we looked through a temporary exhibition of art by recent art school graduates, ranging from photos to paintings, Noh masks, pottery and other ceramics. The organizer took a liking to us and asked us to write our names in the guest book (turned sideways to accommodate our direction of writing and with a calligraphy pen). An elderly man encouraged my daughter to touch the ceramics I was warning that she shouldn’t touch and then chuckling away and chatting to us in Japanese. We greatly enjoyed wandering through this museum which has a comprehensive display of all of the types of handicrafts that are distinctive in Kyoto, from dyeing, weaving, braiding, tassels, prayer beads, wood working, lacquer work, inlaid work, metal working, cabinet making, candle making to many other types. For each art there was a explanation in Japanese and English of the history and significance as well as a stepwise list of tasks required to compete the finished product, examples of the different steps, and stunning examples of the finished products. Towards the end of the exhibition we watched an artisan performing his traditional craft, this month it was carpentry to make curved objects, like a cooper I suppose. At the very end of the exhibition was a craft activity station. Here we paid $6 to paint stencil designs onto a cotton handkerchief. The end product was lovely and my daughter did a great job with only minor help from me. The staff were very friendly. The man from the temporary exhibition (works for the museum) visited us a few times and when the Maiko finished her 3 shows and stopped to meet the carpenter he asked the Maiko to have a photo with my daughter.

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Back in our cosy traditional townhouse, our children decorated drawings of Easter eggs, my husband cooked us a tasty Japanese style meal and we adults sipped sake to bring to an end another enjoyable day in Japan. The sake I’ve had in Australia has been awful but we have enjoyed every type we have tried here in Japan and we realise that it’s as good and varied in terms of quality and flavours achieved as wine made from grapes.

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2 comments on “Travels with children in Japan, part 9, Kyoto

  1. Pingback: Family Top Three Experiences for Japan | strivetoengage

  2. Pingback: Walk – Lake Burley Griffin | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2014 by in Asia, family and tagged , , , , , , .
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