Monday, August 31, 2015

Day 44 - Exploring our New Home

Every morning except Sundays we have breakfast served in our apartment complex' resident's lounge. A long buffet, where we certainly need to stifle our desire of trying everything, if we don't want to roll to Thailand after these four weeks. As today was very good weather for Singapore (no rain, blue sky), we took the elevator to the rooftop and enjoyed the view over the three high-rise buildings of our apartment complex. We even tried one of the two swimming pools - after some personal disagreements during our Japan stay, where I felt strange to wear a bikini among all the others in wet suits... And we had such a nice evening with a Colleague of my father and his wife.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day 43 - Bye bye Japan - Hello Singapore!!

Conclusion about Japan, especially about Kyoto:
  • Beautiful city
  • Very clean
  • Many temples
  • Romantic festivals
  • Everything very cute, sweet and much romance
  • Many kimonos
  • Extremely humid and hot
  • Extremely friendly and open Japanese
  • Always making presents
  • Many selfie sticks, many cameras, many photos
  • Very calm, small town feeling despite being a city of 1.5 million 
  • Majority of tourists speak French or Spanish
  • The center of traditional Japanese culture, and still very Japanese today (e.g., food)

Love that! Eating breakfast and watching planes in the Kansai Airport Lounge.

Campari Soda and Singapore Sling (first serving)
You certainly have to look up on Internet the Singapore Airline flight attendant uniforms! They look so wonderful, and each color symbolizes a certain status. Very surprising was that you do even in regular economy class not only get a menu card that explains food choices, but that they have two servings of cocktails before food is served...

First impressions about Singapore:
  • Many Chinese (70%), many Indians or Malaysians, dark-skinned
  • Mainly English spoken in public
  • Cheap public transport
  • An island full of high-rise buildings
  • Loud streets, much traffic
  • Very clean (heavy on-the-spot fines for chewing gums, littering, spitting, eating or drinking in public transportation). An extra post in the subway (MRT) makes clear that eating durians is also illegal
  • Anonymous feeling
  • Majority of tourists speak German or English
  • Escalators run really fast, the fastest I've ever seen
  • At least two different cultures at a glance
  • Culture mix and religion mix seem to work well!
  • Very international - after six weeks in Japanese supermarkets where you nearly get no non-Japanese food items, here you can get everything from Korean Kimchi over Vegemite and Aperol to Swiss Rösti and Swiss bread 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day 42 - Ikenobo: the Origins of Ikebana

Because we decided to do our washing yesterday not before late evening, we went to bed late and slept in today - missing our appointment at the Ikebana Museum this morning. The Ikebana museum is special in many regards. First it doesn't exhibit Ikebana displays, but instead documents and items related to the 1000-year history of Ikebana. You cannot just walk in, but need to apply for a visit and get an appointment. Because we did not want to miss this experience, we tried our luck in the afternoon.

Ikebana is strongly linked to the Rokkaku-do temple in Kyoto. From early traditions of flower offerings to Buddha in the 7th century, the art of flower arrangements was more and more formalized. About 1000 years ago, formal flower arrangements became popular not only at temples, but also in royal palaces and more and more private homes. The art of arranging flowers became codified by priests of the Rokkaku-do temple and other places in script rolls and was refined over the centuries. From an early, famous style in the 16th century, very formal and strict styles in later centuries developed, which are nowadays accompanied by more relaxed, flexible designs. Since it origins, Ikebana is related in Kyoto, and therefore the World Ikebana Headquarters and its Museum can also be found here, right adjacent to the Rokkaku-do temple.
The friendly staff at the Museum apologized because a manager couldn't greet us - which was of course our fault because our appointment was in the morning, not after lunch. It was so nice that they nevertheless let us in and opened the museum for us two, only. The museum is only one floor, but exhibits many significant historical artifacts, for example very old wand screens with drawings from Ikebana arrangements, Ikebana catalogues and guidebooks from the first headmasters centuries ago, or rare early vases.

In the temple next to the museum building, ikebana had its origin.

Sad saying goodbye again, this time from Kyoto. We stopped our bikes on one of the bridges crossing Kamo river that we often used to drive on during our four weeks here. Sunset in the background, very emotional again... So sad that we have to leave - on the other hand we need a change. Back in our rental home we started packing our things again - even now it seems to annoy me so hard........

What I learned? If you don't know a food item, never buy too much. Because I wanted to try these triangular shaped sweets so badly, I wanted to try different flavors for sure. So I bought the big pack with four flavors. Three flavors were not sooo delicious, but I recommend the green tea flavor (what a surprise, green tea...)...

Day 41 - Goodbye My Dear, and a Surprising Conversation

This was a really sad goodbye at the station today... Unfortunately my friend thought, I would return to Switzerland after my Japan stay and booked her Switzerland stay in the week when I would be home, too. So we don't know when we will see each other again - wonderful that Skype was invented! And there are so many nice souvenirs and memories :-)

Quite surprisingly, in the afternoon I had a long Skype call with one of my Dad's colleagues about what activities would be useful for me in Singapore. My heart sank to my boots, for sure -Talking for more than an hour in English with someone I didn't know before....The first thing I did after the call, was lying down on the couch and sleeping - too exhausted. 

Day 40 - Kaiyukan and Typhoon

Got a wonderful Japanese breakfast from my friend's mother! Actually we wanted to get up at 8:30, but slept until 10, so that we didn't have time anymore to go shopping in Osaka's Umeda quarter. We were driven to Shin-Osaka and found my friend's friend that I already knew from day 5 at the University - the one that speaks French. We had a great time in the Kaiyukan (Osaka aquarium) the biggest in Japan. And it really was so big! Many smaller basins with penguins, seals, otters and fishes, and a large basin in the middle of the building around which you could walk five floors downwards.

Unfortunately, when we left the aquarium, we we hit by the first (really light) remainders of the current typhoon - I think it was no 2015-15. In the train, probably half the way between Osaka and Kyoto, an announcement in Japanese made everybody immediately moan - I didn't understand anything of course... Fortunately this time I was joined by my friends and she translated that, due to the heavy rains, another train was cancelled and our train was downgraded from a "Special Rapid Express" to a "Local" train - which means that it doesn't stop only once between Osaka and Kyoto, but at every single bloody station. At Kyoto station we said goodbye to the French speaking friend, and drove by bus to a restaurant where we met my dad for dinner. Bad luck that we got off the bus one station too early, and that we first walked into the wrong direction because it was bucketing the hell out of the clouds due to the typhoon. Fortunately it was warm rain, but lots of it together with strong gusts. We were sopping wet when we arrived. The Indian restaurant owner immediately brought us a towel and a hot soup. The rain and wind even got stronger during the night, it sounded like the roof was nearly crashing.

What I learned? The German expression "muckimucki", to describe a muscly person, even exists in Japanese, exactly identically.

Day 39 - Queues and Crowds: Going on my own to Osaka - and Universal Studios Japan

Today was another very exciting day, because I went from Kyoto to Osaka alone and had to find the right train and car by myself the first time. So I finally figured out, where to queue on the platform. In Japan, people don't just wait somewhere on the platform and then scramble around doors of an arriving train. Everything is much more organized: On the display board you find along with the train info a symbol (a circle, triangle, or arrow) and two numbers connected by a wavy line (because a "-" is a Japanese character). The symbol tells you where to queue because on the platform floor, it is clearly marked which car of which train type (circle, triangle, or arrow) will stop where. And it is also important to check whether your queue is for the right car because some cars are only for women and not all trains have the same number of cars (1-12 is a full train, 2-10 a shorter train and 4-8 a very short train).
To further organize the waiting and boarding process, it is even marked on the platform floor where the fist persons should put their feet and that one should build two lines each. Guess why? The left queue will board from the left side of the door and the right queue from the other - and through the corridor in the middle arriving passenger leave the train. In order the system to work, of course the engineers need to stop every train at a certain position very exactly. It can get not more organized than that! It must be funny to watch a time-lapse video of a busy Japanese platform during rush hour when every two or three minutes one third of the queues board trains while constantly people arrive and constantly people queue somewhere. 

I found the right track and train and queue and car, and was very happy to finally arrive in Shin-Osaka. This is the new Osaka station and very big. There are probably 20 floors with train tracks or shops or offices, and I had to find this H&M-like clothing shop UNIQLO..... As you can imagine I felt pretty lost among all the crowds streaming through the station. And as if it wasn't depressing enough, I didn't even find a station map! After 20 minutes (really, 20 minutes!) I finally found a man in an uniform, a ticket staff that helps you buying subway tickets, whom I asked whether he knew where I would find UNIQLO. He laughed, because he probably thought I would ask him to go shopping. Actually I had no intention to buy clothes, but my friend thought that shop would be a good meeting point. Fortunately he could tell me the way and I was so relieved and pretty exhausted when I found her.....

It was USJ-day: Universal Studios Japan! At the entry we first of all got a Hello Kitty sticker for some reason, we took pictures with Shrek and Marilyn and rode a rollercoaster. So cool that you can choose a personal song you want to listen during your ride! We certainly needed a refresher and bought frozen fruit - iced pineapple and mango. After we've seen a really cool performance of four African Americans for a stronger Hollywood feeling, we nearly melted in that heat and my friend brought some so called deodorant refreshing tissues that you wipe on your skin and if wind blows, cools you down a little with some fresh peppermint smell. Nice.

Because it was vacation time in Japan, USJ was very crowded so that you had to wait in a queue for about 5 minutes to get a drink from the beverage vending machines. Fortunately we did not die of thirst, but nearly became deaf because of that "funny" photograph at the Jaws White Shark that screamed raucously after every shot..... Two times we had to quit the queues after thirty mins or even one hour of waiting, because we had to get to Hogwarts in a certain time frame. The first time a mother with her daughter came, from Thailand, and asked whether we could change tickets because they had to leave before they even could go in (as soon as you get into USJ, you have to take a ticket to get to Hogwarts, so that it doesn't get overfilled, because everyone wants to see it, because there are only two Harry Potter theme parks in the world). So we exchanged our tickets and decided to go to the Spiderman attraction, where we made 2 of 5 queues in one hour - omg. 

Hogwarts castle (miniature)

Hogsmeade with different shops like Honey Duke's...
Funny that they created the houses with snow and
icicles, matching the 34 degrees weather very well.

In the evening, we counter-invited my friend's family to a German restaurant in Osaka. When my friend and me got there, my father was already waiting - angrily: they had kicked us out from our reserved table for a bigger group! Unbelievable. Because it is the only German restaurant in whole Kansai area, we had no alternative and ended up at a micro table for five persons. Because we ordered about 15 beers in the end, the table was quite overfilled with plates and food and drinks. After all, it was a nice and funny evening, mainly due to the many German beer brands we had to try ;-)

My father then returned to Kyoto by train. Me, my friend and her parents drove to their place by car. We took a quick shower because the grandmother was waiting for us to try yukatas!! (summer version of kimono). I didn't know that this takes so many efforts! Mother in the front, grandmother in the back, cooperating to wrap me in this wonderful looking traditional dress. First a rope to define the yukata length, then a tape to tighten the taille and to set the arrangement, then a quite solid form and the final decorative tape with the (already defined) ribbon. I really felt wonderful in that beautiful fabric, and I loved these special sleeves so much! 

After my friend had been dressed, we went to the rooftop and made some fireworks together with her younger brother and her mother! For that I got some wooden slippers that were waaaay to small for my broad and size 40 feet. But they made the same sound that you hear sometimes in the streets from traditional wooden slippers. You feel a little like a penguin, because you cannot move your feet more than a distance of 30 cm from each other... Wonderful Osaka skyline in the background with shiny lights from our fireworks - amazing.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day 38 - Buddhas Happy and Buddhas Sad

Today we explored the far Northwest of Kyoto where the main attractions are two very different Buddhist temples. Both of them are built on hills, both of them display hundreds of small Buddha sculptures and both are situated on the same old road. But one is a very happy place and the other one is very sad.
For reasons I explain later, we started with the happy place. This temple invited believers in the 1980's to carve little Buddha sculptures. People were given quite a lot of artistic freedom and were not restricted to the traditional appearances of Buddha sculptures. As a result, one Buddha takes a photo with a camera, one has a cassette player (yes, the 1980's), one holds a tennis racket, and one even wears boxing gloves. If you're very attentive, you will even discover an Easter Island's moai sculpture who found its way into the temple. Because there weren't so many people visiting as it used to be in the other temples, I dared taking a seat on the outside veranda of the temple. How wonderful and peaceful! Rills gurgling, cicadas chirping, trees rustling. 

From Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, the happy temple, we walked on Toriimoto Street, an old road lined with old, sometimes even straw-roofed houses to our next destination. The whole village seemed to be busy with final preparations and arrangements for their evening showtime. Lanterns painted by children in every size and color with different motifs (especially the o-bon mountain fires) were spread all over the place. Of course the village festival was connected to the two biggest days of the year in the other temple, the sento kuyo ceremony. Because we had an hour before the the other temple opened for the ceremony, we killed time by having zvieri (meaning a small afternoon snack in Switzerland) in a little café. 

The other temple's name is Adashino Nenbutsu-ji. Legend says that it was built at a remote site where poor people who couldn't afford a funeral, were just dropped and rotted. Around the year 800 a famous Buddhist monk started to build a temple and placed little Buddha sculptures there to honor the nameless dead. Today, on August 23 and August 24 of each year at dawn the sento kuyo ceremony starts with prayers, and then all visitors are asked to put a candle to one of the 8000-10000 Buddha sculptures. A nice gesture to remember the dead and an impressive sight.
Twenty minutes before the opening, we only were about the fiftieth in the queue, and it quickly grew. Thousands of people, mostly local, want to attend the ceremony. But visitors are welcome as well to attend and place their candle at a nameless grave. Fortunately we snatched a good photographing place at the wall in front of the field of Buddhas. Over the centuries, the sculptures' contours had vanished more or less - but that added to the morbid charm of that special place. I think we were standing at the same place for about one and a half hour. I nearly cooled my heels until it finally darkened. Of course, an extensive prayer and a procession were first. As people started to place their candles, the place gradually lit up - a very special atmosphere. Then we lighted two candles ourselves - for our dead ancestors. Although I watched people lighting their candles and praying all the time, the moment of my own candle in the dark was indeed deeply emotional.

After leaving the ceremony, we enjoyed all the lanterns along Toriimoto Street. With some emergency snack from the convenience store, we then walked to the riverside near the Arashiyama bamboo forest and monkey park. Luckily we were able to watch the last minutes of today's cormorant fishing (ukyo) on Katsura river. Cormorants are used by fisherwomen to catch fish and deliver it at the boat. Fish are lured with quite big bonfires on the boats. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Day 37 - Sunset and Sea of Lights

We spent the afternoon working at the Philosopher's Path again. But today no conversations with friendly pensioners, but instead two salespeople - one with painted stones and one with figs from Kyushu. Fortunately no big discussions if your're not interested - maybe because we don't speak Japanese. The fig seller approached a woman after us that already went past him, but he didn't stop talking. To avoid being impolite, she stopped and even turned around - and lost the game. The seller knelt down to fully convince her and she really bought some figs! Amazing spectacle...

Because the stone benches at the Philosopher's Path become uncomfortable after some time, we left ca. 40 minutes before sunset - and spontaneously decided to watch the sunset from the Daimonji-hill behind our house, where we enjoyed the view at lunchtime a few days ago. Yes, Daimonji is also the hill where the big "dai"-fire burned, the o-bon highlight. We hurried up, only stopping shortly to watch a Buddhist pilgrim who descended drumming and chanting.

I was a little afraid of filming him from the front...

We arrived at the "dai" just minutes before sunset, and enjoyed the dawn while cooling down (= stop sweating heavily). After around 45 minutes, the city in front of us turned into a sea of lights. Amazingly beautiful. The only problem was that we had to descend in the pitch-black - our pocket torch still sitting on the kitchen table because we left in a hurry not to miss the sunset. Fortunately iOS now comes with a flashlight. It is bright enough to prevent you from falling, but small enough for uncomfortable "Blair Witch Project" feelings.....

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day 36 - Eat, Pray, Shop (To-ji Temple Market)

Another variety of bunnie and froggie construction
fences: Bowing workers (even with different
haircolors), to say sorry for the roadworks
As today was August 21st, the temple market at To-ji (near Kyoto Station) was the place to go. The temple, by the way another World Heritage Site and filming location for many movies including Kurosawa's Rashomon), opens every month on the 21st, because the temple's founder died on a 21st. This market is not only one of the oldest and biggest, but also one of the most famous in Japan. To-ji's five story pagoda is the highest one in Japan, just to add another record.
We walked along the many market stalls in the heat of the day, so we deigned ourselves a grape-flavored shaved ice -yum. Among others you could find used kimonos for 1000 Yen or nice antiquities. I liked that you can take your time and look around without being chatted up by the sellers.

Green Tea Panino
For those tired of browsing and negotiating (or just exhausted from the heat), there were many food stalls and even more handy opportunities for a short prayer. As the market is in the temple grounds, there were many shrines open and even praying monks standing around.
After the old-fashioned market, 15 minutes away we explored the seven-storied tech stores. There you can find everything from washing machines to cosmetic items and camera equipment. Even buying little things becomes a challenge if you can chose among ten thousand different headphones and various sorts of selfie sticks.....

In the evening we had Indian food for dinner in a very cute restaurant. Since the air conditioner froze me to death, we changed seats. After we denied being students (because the restaurant was located in the Kyoto University area), we were asked the first time, if we were parents of a student then ..... As if we looked like a couple, my father and me.....

To-ji temple market, with the five-storied pagoda as a backdrop

A temple pond full of blooming Lotus! 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Day 35 - Obanzai

Very funny that my ikebana teacher from Day 27 was our cooking class teacher today as well. So together with her, her assistant, a couple from Paris and a guy from Belgium, we made obanzai. Obanzai is the Japanese name for Kyoto Home Style Cooking. We learned about the seasonal ingredients and the thoughts behind the several dishes. There are many 5s in Obanzai: You prepare five dishes (rice, main dish, soup, two side dishes), based on five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami), five colours (yellow, red, green, black, white) to indulge our five senses (smell either way, look, touch, hear). By the way, in addition to the four well-known tastes, umami is a special basic taste that could be translated with "savory" - which is a subjective thing, of course.

Today's dishes: 
  • Gohan, boiled rice
  • Dashimaki Tamago, rolled omelet with Japanese broth
  • Sanshoku Sunomono, salad with Japanese vinegar sauce
  • Nasu no Okara Nikuzume An-kake, Eggplant stuffed with minced chicken in ginger sauce
  • Manganji Togarashi to Oage no Taitan, Manganji peppers with fried tofu

Decorated with seasonal flowers or herbs, or made from seasonal vegetables, to let the eaters feel the nature and the nature's spirit while eating.

Very challenging: You have to roll up and extend a Japanese
omelette four times to create a compact, cube like shape 

Fancy Japanese cedar cutting boards.
Available in bunnie, fishie and kitten shapes.

Dish arrangement (all self-cooked including ingredients like dashi):
You take place in front of your chop sticks. The rice bowl is placed directly left above the chop sticks. Usually the soup comes to the right - but in this case it's the filled eggplant in ginger sauce. Above this two plates, the main dish is usually placed - but in this case not a fish or a slice of meat, but the biggest of the three complementary dishes. Usually the two side dishes are placed above the main dish - but for aesthetic reasons, the arrangement is made to look like the Olympic Rings.
Some cold green tea, and plum pickles with honey.

Day 33/34 - Drums and Beats and Patience

Day 33
For a break from our somewhat dizzy living room (traditional Japanese houses have only little windows in the front and in the back), we decided to take our daily work outside. My father with his laptop and me with my Italian language course booklet needed a little to secure one of the few benches along the Philosopher's Walk, close to our rental house. After some time, while I was shortly speaking to my father, an elderly Japanese man walked by and I saw from the corner of my eye that he turned towards us - Hello! How are you? - and another warm conversation started, mostly about the past folk festivals, especially the Daimonji-fire, about culture, shodo, seasons, people... Before he left, he surprised us with a little gift, two origami cranes in blue and pink that his wife had folded.

In the evening we attended one of the "temple dances" that are held from time to time at local shrines.

Some impressions of the "temple dance" which was only to a small extent a dance, but mostly music performances by local groups. It might be compared to our church's organ concerts or children's choir performances.

Very interesting that the performances were working like a conversation between two pairs of musicians, combating with different drums, or four musicians harmonizing in a circle - accompanied by flute whistles and plate bells. The second group seemed to follow old religious patterns that are unknown to us.  

This is a section of a spiritual "battle" that took quite a while until all the ten persons had finished their personal solo part of about two mins... As mostly, for ritual things, a lot of patience is needed.

Day 34

- LOVE -
The first item on our shopping list today was an additional left-hand hand splint. After having asked in a couple of smaller shops that looked like pharmacies or drug stores (who knows what kind of shops that really were), we came across the information desk of one of the bigger department stores in Kyoto. I didn't even know that something like an information desk in a department store even existed. Very kind women in colorful uniforms (that looked like flight attendants') lead us to the sports section - stoke of luck, finally. And we even bought a calligraphy set for the both of us, to practice at home ;-)

It really seems easier than it is! For example you need a support that keeps your ink from running over the entire paper... And you have to invest lots of time and be very patient to produce good, deep black ink - and not some watery liquid in various shades of dark blue to grey. It certainly was less satisfying than in our calligraphy class, because we needed to make our own ink, and not just use ink from the big bottle...

By the way, this ink has a special smell that makes you some kind of high. Our teacher mentioned that this helps to better concentrate on your work, and become more attentive to your surroundings (feel the wind, hear the sounds)...

For any teach-yourself wannabe-calligraphers, you might enjoy this youtube channel.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Day 31/32 - Daimonji gozan Okuri-bi and Calligraphy Workshop

Day 31

A Japanese cemetary in the front
Although we only stay four weeks in Kyoto altogether, we are lucky enough to attend two of the four most important annual events. After Matsuri in mid July, "Daimonji gozan Okuri-bi" is the final day and highlight of the o-bon festival week in mid August. In five minute steps from 8 p.m. on in the evening, five big bonfires were set on top of five mountains in Kyoto's northwest, north and northeast. Big means really big - the bonfires are about 70 meters wide and long. The biggest one is the one on Daimonji mountain, that we climbed on day 29. The picture was shot with a telephoto lens (very far away), the big fire in the middle must have been about five meters high! The Japanese character "dai" was explained in the post "Day 25". Together with three other characters or symbols (the dai is displayed twice), the bonfires shall guide the spirits of the dead back to the Buddhist Pure Land. As mentioned earlier, o-bon is the week of the dead spirits, where the graves are cleaned up and families come together to visit the graveyards.

Day 32
After a night of very heavy rain, my father and I biked to the same workshop organisation to attend a calligraphy class, where I attended an ikebana (or kado) class on day 27. We arrived a little early, but the lovely woman from my ikebana class invited us in, and introduced us to our calligraphy teacher. I certainly was impressed about Japanese thoughts behind shodo again. Shodo, the way to write. Japanese is written in kanji, hiragana or katakana. Kanji are about 2500 different characters from traditional Chinese, that are used very often in newspapers or if you just want to save space. Hiragana is the regular Japanese syllable character writing manner (ca. 60 symbols), and Katakana is a phonetic syllable alphabet that is used for non-Japanese words (ca. 50 symbols). Usually, calligraphy is done with kanji characters. For western names there is either a direct translation, or characters are chosen that sound like a syllable of the western name sounds - which means that a western name translated into Kanji might mean something complete different to a Chinese or Japanese.  

As Japanese calligraphy is a traditional form of art, there's a lot more background as you expect when you see the persons doing shodo. Click here to see a clip about a local Kyoto shodo artist or an article about her, Tomoko Kawao. For novices, her act might seem a little exaggerated - but I might have looked equally focused and exerted in today's lesson. There's so much concentration needed, because once you started a stroke, there's no way back. You need a lot of background information, how to hold the brush, how to make the ink, which tools to use, how to start and finish a stroke. After each stroke I was so exhausted, because all my sense capacities were used up. You have to feel the wind, every sound, the temperature, have to look at your paper and move the body with the brush, all together. The feeling you get after each stroke is breathtaking, because while moving, you never know what will happen, you never know how the result will look like. So many feelings come up, from disappointment and embarrassment or pure happiness and pride. A very meditative effect that could help as a hobby after a long working day. I certainly have to buy a shodo set to practice!

First line from left to right:
- our teacher's step by step instruction, stroke order and direction for a character meaning "Japan" or "circle" (formal style)
- My version of "peace" (formal style)
- My version of "wind" (relaxed, fast style) - quite relevant for a fan
Second line from left to right:
- My very first character "river"
- My version of "Japan" or "circle"
- My version of "winter"
- My version of "Aurelia" (sound character order: right top - right bottom - left top - left bottom)
My feet for size comparison

My father's and my fan with relaxed / fast style "wind" character

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Day 30 - Arashiyama: Of Bamboo and Various Sorts of Apes...

Arashiyama is one of the first Google tips for 'bamboo forest Kyoto'. That's why we visited it as well, together with crowds of Japanese and foreign tourists - including some Italians raving of beautiful Japanese women... Once again, the forest saved us from the heat - in contrast to some poor guys that earn their living by as rickshaw runners - notably running and not just walking.

After this stunning beauty of nature, we hiked up to the Iwatayama hill, the site of Arashiyama Monkey Park in Kyoto's northwest. A exhausting business, but again it was worth it. There was a special installation where the humans had to enter a cage for feeding the apes that scrambled on the grids. A nice contrast to regular zoos where the humans are free and the animals sit in cages.
Relieved from the burden of searching for food, most of the apes were busy with delousing each other. After feeding time between 15 and 16 o'clock, where dozens of apes came very close to their human visitors, we even spotted two baby apes!
Since the apes can be nasty at times, you shouldn't approach them closer than 2 meters, should never stare them in the eyes, should never crouch down and, of course, never touch them. I became a little afraid of one ape with some sort of wart in his face which was quite aggressive and was looking for trouble. It seemed to be an alpha animal and again demonstrated that apes and humans are biological relatives...

One of these little apes tried to scramble on the grids of the human's cage but couldn't manage to descend. That's why his mother came to rescue him. Such a cute situation, really!

What I learned? The most musculus male body doesn't cover an bad character. I cannot believe someone even dares walking around topless in Japan. And as if this disrespectfulness wasn't enough, he took ape selfies for about ten mins! Okay, selfies are common in Japan, but not too selfish, please. And if this wasn't enough now, he randomly asked a couple if they wanted a picture of themselves, he would make the beeestest picture of your entireeee vacaaaaation! Go back home, please.

Day 28/29 - Nighttime Impressions

Day 28
After we cleaned up the entire mess in our house, we had to see something different than our quite windowless living room. We visited the Honen-in temple in our neighborhood and ate a fantastic, home-cooked Thai Curry.

Day 29
Today my parcel arrived from Switzerland - after less than a week. I forgot my hand splint and was sent some more pills to help my tendonitis. After having climbed up the mountain behind our rental house and enjoying the fantastic view over Kyoto up to Osaka at the horizon, we had a wonderful Risotto. 

In the afternoon we decided to visit Sanjusangen-do, another famous temple also known as the temple of the 1001 Buddhas. As people are not allowed to take any pictures inside the hall, I've only got this photograph from the outside with me for comparison. Click here for Google indoor pics. Very impressive that these statues are from the early middle age and that they are so different in detail. It is said that every Japanese can recognize him- or herself in one of the Buddhas.

The great hall of Sanjusangen-do is 120 meters long - the longest temple hall in Japan

After have been shopping at Teramachi-dori and its parallel shopping streets, we sat down at the wonderful Kamo riverside, watched the people passing by and eating in one of the riverside restaurants.

Today was the first of only three night openings of the Kiyomizudera temple. It was even more impressive than it was at daytime. Through loudspeakers monks prayed very loudly and monotonously, only accompanied by bell sounds. Even one of the pagoda Buddhas was presented to the public, as well as other sanctuaries that are usually hidden.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Day 27 - First Workshop: Ikebana

Yesterday's jogging wasn't as sweaty and exhausting as the last time, because the weather chilled a bit down (to the low 30ies) due to showers. And I even saw a shooting star in the sky - not a big surprise though it's shooting star season (Perseids meteor shower).

Today was the first time I had to set the alarm, because my ikebana class started at 10 a.m. I found the place on third attempt, and was welcomed so nicely! The manager of these different classes invited me in and we spoke a little about us. Her English was perfect, due to her 15-month stay in Sydney some years ago! After some minutes, a couple from Turkey joined us who celebrated their second wedding anniversary today! As an introduction to this ikebana class, our teacher told us about the history and the Japanese thoughts behind. Ikebana isn't just a flower decoration, it is an expression of the Japanese understanding of nature. Because of their Buddhist religion, Japanese are very bound to nature, and as a result, they want flowers to bring nature into their house. Of course ikebana changes from season to season, and you cannot find all flowers all the times. To underline this seasonal feeling for the observer, you should choose the flowers and plants that are seasonal: cherry blossoms in spring, wonderful red maple in autumn, pine tree branches as a symbol for the special o-bon festival season (in August, our current theme) and special yellow flowers to "show respect". Another trick, especially for summer and winter is to use plants that grow near water to let you feel cooler by observing, or plants that have an especially warm color to warm you up.

There even exists some sort of philosophy behind older ikebana or kado styles: the ikebana is constructed from three branches, the highest, lowest and middle one, representing heaven, earth and creatures (i.a. humain beings). But the main thing in kado is to imagine the flower's life while you observe it. From the bud to blossom to death - yes, even dead plants find its place in kado.

What I didn't know is that you fake the stability by a circle of spikes and try to hide it behind some ikebana flowers... So that's why my earlier ikebana didn't work too well, eh.

We spontaneously decided to visit the Eikan-do. We'd never thought that this temple would be this big! Accompanied by deep bell sounds we walked through the wonderful garden, and even saw some red maples, the one's that are red all year, at least. And we saw a monk cutting the moss with a trimmer - I didn't even know moss has to be cut at all.

As we are at the peak of the o-bon festival season, the Kodai-ji temple we visited this evening illuminates its big garden, not only the temple itself. A highlight of this evening certainly was the (small) bamboo garden. There even was a light show in a Zen garden - like the one from day 24 at Nijo Castle, but not as impressive. The music wasn't loud enough to "feel" it and the clip a little too short, but anyway.

What I learned? If I should become a postman, I wouldn't go to Japan - every delivery person constantly runs (instead of walking) to demonstrate his/her commitment to the job! Very sporty job here, though. Even gas station attendants must be cool, because the fuel pumps hang down from the ceiling and need to be grabbed and put down to the car. And I wouldn't ever become a cab driver. It must be very stressful job because they constantly cut the way of bikers that they seem to generally dislike - a biker's life doesn't seem to be as important as a client appointment or a good rank in the cab queue...