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Zoned Out – Day 6

Zoned Out – Day 6

Today in Kyoto we had cloudy humid weather, light traffic around town and a radiation reading of — oh, wait, Kyoto isn’t even in the “zone”.   Every day in the Japan Times, on the second page I think, there is a map of about 1/2 of Japan with concentric circles radiating out (ha!) from Fukushima.  Today’s reading for Tokyo was .064 microseiverts per hour.   Today’s reading for Sendai was .074.   Today’s reading for Nagano was .041.    Today’s reading for Shizuoka was .040.   And that’s as far west as the circles go – they don’t go past Shizuoka (about 95 miles from Tokyo) to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Ise, Naoshima Island, Hiroshima, Miyajima and basically, over half of Japan to the west of Shizuoka.    The readings themselves, for the parts of Japan that are shown, with one obvious exception, are apparently the same or lower than many parts of the US; certainly lower than Mexico City and probably Denver, which have altitude. So instead of spending our days outside the zone, we spent today zoned out… at the Kamo Odori.   I would love to post a picture of this too, but cameras and videos are strictly forbidden.  So all I have is a picture of the curtain which I took before the performance started.   The Kamo Odori is one of several dance performance series put on by maiko (apprentice geisha); this one in May.   The other one is the Miyako Odori, which is in April.  If you’re in Kyoto during these months you can go to one of the shows. There were two parts to this event for us – the most hysterical part was the “tea ceremony” that preceded the show.   Our tickets included the “tea ceremony” – there is a reason I put it in quotes a lot.   This was the fastest tea ceremony ever – we laughed the entire time.   We were ushered onto an elevator, up the elevator to the fourth floor of the theatre building, into a room with about 5 long bench-like tables with small stools lined up in front of them.  In the front of the room sat a young maiko (I guess), perfectly made up with tea implements around and a second one doing something (don’t recall what, no time to observe).   The ushers pointed to us to sit down, one attendant went down the table placing a piece of paper, a small ceramic dish and a mochi with red bean paste inside on it.  Then out came another attendant and dropped a bowl of whisked tea in front of each person.   Then all the people around us either wolfed down the sweet or pocketed it, gulped down the tea, wrapped the dish in the paper and stood up and rushed out of the room.   We were just trying to figure out what to DO and the next group of people were rushed in and seated.   In the meantime, an attendant was scurrying along picking up the empty tea bowls – I’m sure I upset the plan when I didn’t finish my tea.  David ate the rest of my mochi…    All the while, the young ladies at the front sat motionless in some odd living still-life of a tea ceremony. After we were shooed out of the “tea room” they sent us down a flight of stairs, past the first shop of souvenirs.  Then down another flight of stairs, past another shop, this time with food souvenirs.  Then through a big...
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Festive Kyoto – Day 5

Festive Kyoto – Day 5

Today was an unusual confluence of festival events, with the annual Aoi Matsuri and the Mifune Matsuri both falling on the same day.   Matsuri is basically the Japanese word for Festival and Kyoto’s festivals are some of the most elaborate in Japan, with spectacular costumes, floats, horses, drums, and more.   They’re not festivals in the sense of all day eating. carnival booths, fireworks, etc.   The festival activities are, like much of Japan, quite structured and predictable.  We took in both in a whirlwind day. Starting at promptly 10:30, the first elegantly clad marcher in the Aoi Matsuri parade came around the corner of the Imperial Palace on a well-worn route.   Down the main road in front of the palace past first, a small band of adorable school kids (in assorted green, yellow and blue hats), then past those seated in the bright sunshine today, then on around a set course to the Kamigamo Shrine.   We got pictures of a wide range of horses in their finery, marches in assorted outfits, princesses under their gaily decorated umbrellas and a few floats being carried or horse-drawn.   We walked through the palace grounds towards the Shrine but the crowds got too thick, so we hopped a bus to western Kyoto, to Arashiyama. In Arashiyama the second festival was taking place just a little later in the day.  Again a parade from a shrine, only this one went to the edge of the water, where everyone boarded decorated boats and paddled about in the river.   Lots more picture taking opportunities.   One segment where they played traditional music and women danced on the boats.  There was  boat with a big drum; not sure what that was for.    We understand the various boating parties “paraded” around in the water for two hours. Both festivals had people lining the routes a few deep.   The weather was delightful, if a little hot when we were not in the shade.   Our guide was happy to describe some of the history of the festivals, they all harken back to some long-ago tradition but frankly I don’t remember which tradition and why so I’m not going to try to write it up like an expert.  Here is good information about the Aoi Festival and the Mifune Festival. Kyoto today was busy, happy and...
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Cultural Immersion Visits: Gold Leaf Artist

Cultural Immersion Visits: Gold Leaf Artist...

This is the first video we did, and still one of my favorites. This work is so amazing…
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Cultural Immersion Visits: Yuzen Dyer

The series of videos that we’ve been working on is starting to come together.  Here is the one from the November 2010 trip to Kyoto about a Yuzen dyer who is creating some amazingly contemporary pieces using traditional techniques.
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Stones out the Window

Stones out the Window

One of the really wonderful things about traveling in Japan is the sudden bursts of the Japanese aesthetic when you least expect it.   Because I needed to inspect a large number of hotels on a recent trip to Japan, I found myself going in and out of a wide variety of places, some of them quite simple and even some that westerners would consider tacky.  Not all the hotels in Japan are minimalist escapes from the day-to-day.   But there is one thing that I noticed on many of my inspections that I found quite charming – which is the unexpected and hidden gems that would be placed throughout the hotel to gently remind the traveler of life’s beauty.   I saw rock sculptures that were like micro-gardens, small stands of bamboo strategically placed to add some green and carefully lit ceramic pots nestled into small cubby-holes in hallways.   And each time I came upon one of these gems, especially in very prosaic settings, I was reminded again of the Japanese sense of...