Ofunehoko

Yesterday, for the second year, I was working as a volunteer at the Ofunehoko, the last big float of the second Gion Matsuri Parade that is taking place on July 24th in the morning.

I felt a bit more confident this year, being there before and most of the things we had to do were the same. This year, the visitors to the second floor of the Ofunehoko house and the Ofunehoko itself had to take care of their own shoes, which was a great relief since this was a very stressful job last year. Also, every one of us could spend some time inside the Ofunehoko house, which meant: sitting down for a while! Even if it’s just sitting in seiza, taking the weight off the wooden geta and not having to stand for 6 hours straight is quite a relief.

Even though there were much fewer people this year (probably because of the bad weather), it was still fun to sell the chimaki and the upstairs tickets and the tenugui… Interestingly, most of the foreigners dropping by yesterday were Italians. Unfortunately, only a single one of my friends visited me, but it was the one who introduced me to the Miyakogusa group and made the whole thing possible in the first place. I felt quite honored that he would come and see me.

A chimaki from the OfunehokoAs a reward for our work, we all received a free chimaki upon leaving – the paper bag that goes with it is almost more interesting. A chimaki is a charm that is usually put up at the entrance door or in the genkan of a Japanese house to prevent evil from entering. Interestingly, there were even young Japanese people who asked about the meaning of the chimaki, which I found a bit odd – it seems such a fundamental thing here in Kyoto that I can’t believe this is not done everywhere else in Japan. I will investigate…

A Midsummer’s Equation

A Midsummer’s Equation
Keigo Higashino

Cover for A Midsummer's EquationHari Cove is a sleepy resort town that has seen better days. The most exciting thing happening at the moment is the plan for underwater mining just off the coast, which has divided the people still living there and has brought physicist Prof. Yukawa to the town. But then, after one of the mining company’s meetings, a man is found dead and is later declared murdered. He turns out to have been a retired policeman from Tokyo, and thus Yukawa is drawn into the case. He finds himself unveiling a well-kept secret and, against his usual inclinations, must consider protecting the guilty – not just of this crime, but of another one from many years before…

Another first class crime novel by Higashino. I loved the twists and turns that brought me from Hari Cove to Tokyo and back again, and back and forth in time for more than 20 years. As usual in a Higashino novel, what really happened is only revealed on the last few pages and comes as a surprise. However, when reading the novel carefully (or a second time), you cannot help wonder if Yukawa hadn’t figured out everything right from the start already.

Keigo Higashino was born 1958 in Osaka and started writing while still working as an engineer for a Japanese automotive company. Already his first novel won the prestigious Edogawa Rampo Award and he was able to write professionally. Since then he has written more than 60 novels and collections of short stories, his books have been made into movies and TV series, and he has won many more awards, mostly for his crime fiction.

If you’re keen on solving a Midsummer’s Equation in your own holidays – it’s available on amazon.

Gion Matsuri Shinko-sai

I actually made it to the Shinko-sai of Gion Matsuri last night! The Shinko-sai is the first part of Gion Matsuri (or actually, many of the shrine festivals in Kyoto and elsewhere), where first, the gods of Yasaka shrine are moved from their seats in the shrine to the portable mikoshi. Then, the mikoshi are paraded through the neighborhoods by enthusiastic people before they are placed in their temporary resting place, the so-called Otabisho. In Kyoto, the Otabisho for Yasaka Shrine is directly on the corner of Shijo dori and Shinkyogoku dori, which are both very popular shopping streets.

Yesterday, after my meeting, I went down to the Otabisho, where I arrived around 19:30. From 20:00, Shijo dori was closed for traffic (Shinkyogoku is a pedestrian area to begin with), and people were anxiously waiting for something to happen. Around 20:30, a parade arrived with musicians and gifts for the gods and people on horseback accompanying the chigo, a young boy who is representing a god or the gods during the whole of Gion Matsuri. He is the most important figure during Gion Matsuri with special duties and is not allowed to touch the ground or any woman, including his mother, for example.

Chigo on HorsebackAbout 45 minutes later, the first of three mikoshi arrived. In front was a group of children, all dressed up like the adults, and all happily yelling hotoi to cheer on those who would carry the mikoshi behind them.

Row of children in front of the mikoshiThen, finally, the first mikoshi arrived, accompanied by over 100 people who carried it on their shoulders. And, as if this portable shrine was not heavy enough as it is, it is very important to jump up and down with it, accompanied by shouts of hotoi throughout. The jumping looks almost choreographed with special steps, and the men carrying the mikoshi are changing all the time, which is also done very carefully.

Hotoi - Mikoshi amongst its carriersIn the end, the mikoshi made two full turns in front of the Otabisho on outstretched hands, which is quite a feat.

Turning the mikoshi around in front of the OtabishoFinally, the mikoshi was set down in front of the shrine next to the Otabisho. There, prayers were said – probably to welcome the kami to its resting place – and finally, everybody clapped happily for a job well done.

A last prayer for the gods before everything is over.While the first mikoshi was dismantled and put up in the Otabisho, the second one already waited a bit further down Shijo dori, but by now it was 22:00, and to be very honest, after more than 2 hours of standing on the hot asphalt, my feet hurt quite a bit. So I decided to go home, leaving the clapping and shouting for the other two mikoshi to the remaining spectators. Interestingly, also the men who carried the first shrine did not stick around. On my way back to my bicycle, I could see them walking home in small groups, obviously even more exhausted than me.

Gion Matsuri

gion matsuri gifGion Matsuri, probably the biggest party in Japan, is going on right now. Today is yoiyama, the night before the big parade with food stalls and music and fun throughout the inner city – and I didn’t go. I guess I’m getting old…

Or maybe it’s because I’m involved in the second half of the Gion Matsuri now myself, or because it really is so traditional that things don’t change anymore, or because I’d like to see a few things I didn’t so far and have to be careful with my work and free time…

However, I am planning to go to town tomorrow evening, when the shinko-sai is taking place and the gods of Yasaka Shrine will be moved to their temporary resting place in the Otabisho. I have an appointment nearby just before and if it is not raining, it will be fun to watch the people of the neighborhoods walking with the mikoshi and yelling “washoi” to spur each other on.

Tamayuran

This afternoon I had my weekly English class, and we usually meet in the shopping mall next door. As I mentioned before, the mall is being extended, and many shops are closed, even at parts of the mall that have nothing to do with the extension. They want to have the big “renewal open” in December, and I’m looking forward to it! At the moment the place looks like a ghost town with large parts dark and closed off. It’s not a nice place to have English classes …

Additionally, today it was very noisy, so we decided to go elsewhere. My student/friend suggested to visit the Tamayuran, a small cafe near Kyoto University. The owner rescues cats of all ages, and my friend picked up a 10 year old cat there a couple of months ago, which is how she got to know the Tamayuran in the first place.

So, we went to see cats. And: I’m in love! It is the season for baby cats, and there were six or seven in the cafe, from youngsters who are a couple of months old and very playful to a tiny little one that’s probably less than four weeks at the moment. Here is little “Kyoichiro Yoshida”:

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【たまゆらん保猫園】吉田 京一郎 生後3ー4日の仔猫がポトンと落ちていました。 周りに母猫や兄弟猫の気配もなく… 本当にポトンと… 保護し、お店に連れ帰ってます。 へその緒もまだついてる、目もあいていない子。 体温が低いので、かなり心配な状態です… 柄が独特。綺麗なアメショ柄になりそうな男の子。 吉田 京一郎くん。 今日からミルク頑張ります。 #京都カフェ #今出川通り #北白川通り #おうちごはんcafeたまゆらん #たまゆらん #看板猫のいるお店 #たまゆらん保猫園 #仔猫 #保護仔猫 #京一郎成長記

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He’s a bit bigger now, some two handfuls of kitten, but sooo cute and lovely and he was first sleeping and then crawling around in the big box he was in and when I picked him up he started crying but then he liked being stroked and got cuddly and he’s so tiny still with blue eyes and …

*cough* Sorry.

So yes, he’s very cute, but already spoken for! Somebody from Tokyo will come down next month and get him. Personally, I like cats of all sizes, but I think grown-ups are easier to care for, especially if they are potty-trained already. But since I’m not allowed to have cats here anyway, the point is rather moot.

Even without the cats, the cafe is definitely worth visiting. I had a wonderful milk tea and my friend and I shared a enormous peach parfait. It was delicious! The Tamayuran is open from 12:00 – 18:00, closed on Wednesdays. They serve a daily lunch, toast and sandwiches, and the seasonal parfaits are to die for (says my friend). I will definitely visit again, I think what the owner is doing is commendable and I’m happy to support her.

Find lots of pictures of the Tamayuran – with a certain focus on cats and food – on their instagram page above.

Recognition

Last Sunday, I had a fun work-related experience that I just need to share! So, I went to my monthly soroban class for foreigners at the Int. Community House and sometimes there are new people other than the usual suspects. That’s because my teacher is taking part in a “cultural experience” that allows people to come and try a variety of Japanese traditions, like wearing a yukata, or learning about tea, or doing soroban.

This time, there were two students from Italy who are spending a month in Kyoto, and I asked how they knew about the soroban class and if it was because of the cultural experience thing.

What's up in Kyoto square logo“No, we found out about the class on the internet.”

“The internet is pretty big, you know…”

“Oh, there is this site, it’s called What’s up in Kyoto…”

*joyous squeal*

In that moment, I felt so good. Finally I could see that all that work has some benefit for somebody! And when she said that she loves the calendar because there are all those events where there are barely any tourists, and that she’s checking in “religiously”, I was over the moon. Totally.

So yes, it’s always nice to hear from a happy customer, especially from one you didn’t even know you had. More reasons to keep it up! I just found a few regular zazen classes that I entered into the calendar, and today I have written a small piece for the experiences page about sento and onsen that I’ll put online within the next days. And then, maybe and finally, I’ll get over my inertia and get the page on vegetarian/vegan restaurants up that I have been planning for ages already…

Words for Each Day

On Friday, I went with a friend to Daisen-in, a subtemple of Daitokuji in the north-western part of Kyoto. We got a special tour through the grounds, and  apparently, the current abbot of Daisen-in is quite a famous figure in Kyoto or Zen Buddhism. We were both deeply touched by his  “Words for Each Day”, so I’ll give them to you and wish you a nice Sunday!

 

Each Day in Life is Training
Training for Myself
Though Failure is Possible
Living Each Moment
Equal to Anything
Ready for Everything

I am Alive – I am This Moment
    My Future is Here and Now

For If I cannot Endure Today
When and Where Will I

Soen Ozeki

 


KimOhNo!

As you probably know, a certain self-absorbed woman (whom I shall not name) from the US has recently announced a new line of underwear that she wanted to name “kimono”, of all things. I’m definitely not one who’s waving flags on the “cultural appropriation” bandwagon, but even I would say that was a bad idea to begin with. And as if it couldn’t get worse, said self-absorbed woman from the US had plans to get the name trademarked. Don’t even get me started on that one…

Anyway, the idea caused a veritable shitstorm on the internet, and many of the people involved were Japanese, who otherwise let foreigners get away with murder. But not with naming stuff “kimono”, apparently. The outcry was bad and loud enough that even Daisaku Kadokawa, the current mayor of Kyoto got involved in the issue. Even though modern Japanese don’t wear kimono in their daily life anymore, and many of the cheap summer kimono are now made in China, Kyoto is still the main producer of high-end kimono in Japan. As in former days, the Nishijin district where kimono are painted and obi are woven is still a major part of Kyoto’s industry.

So, it is only natural that the mayor of Kyoto got involved, I think. Especially since he is one of the few men who are still wearing a traditional kimono every singe day. And in the end, he – and all the other Japanese who complained – won an earned victory. Of course, part of the appeal of modern society is that you do things publicly, and therefore, he posted a number of letters pertaining to the affair on his facebook page. Here are four letters, in English, and in chronological order, the last one a letter to the League of Historical Cities, which is interesting in itself.

Ms. Kim Kardashian WestKimono Intimates, Inc.I am writing this letter to convey our thoughts on Kimono and ask you to…

Posted by 門川大作 on Friday, June 28, 2019

Ms. Kim Kardashian WestKimono Intimates, Inc.Dear Ms. Kim Kardashian West,I greatly appreciate your decision that…

Posted by 門川大作 on Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Dear all Kimono lovers around the world,I heartily thank all of you who love Kimono and its culture for your great…

Posted by 門川大作 on Tuesday, July 2, 2019

About our message to the LHC member citiesconcerning” KIMONO” trademark issueThe City of Kyoto has served as the…

Posted by 門川大作 on Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Impulse

Last Saturday, I took a trip down to Takeda, south of Kyoto station. It takes quite a while to get there from my place, and it’s not really the nicest part of town to visit, so I waited for the perfect timing to go to three events and not just one.

First, I visited Jonan-gu Shrine. It has a beautiful garden in two parts, and last weekend was the Nagoshi-no-Harae summer purification. Usually, this ancient event takes place only on June 30th, but Jonan-gu is one of the few shrines where they have a hitogata ceremony the week before. The ceremony is easy and DIY: you take one piece of paper in human shape, touch your body with it (left shoulder, right shoulder, then blow on it) and then you set it afloat in the shrine’s stream. The idea is that all your illnesses of the previous six months will be taken down to the sea together with the paper.

So I went there for the purification ceremony and it was easy and fun to watch the paper dolls float down the stream. They would never make it to the ocean though since they were fished out at the end of the garden. The paper will then be dried again and ritually burned, so there is some ceremony involved in their disposal. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of this. Although I brought my camera, I had a scatterbrained moment and didn’t load the SD card…

flyer of picasso exhibitionAt the next stop, photos were not allowed anyway. I went to the Kyocera gallery were they had an exhibition of their Picasso collection. In summer 1968, Picasso made 347 prints featuring women and sex, and the Kyocera gallery owns a full set (the second printing out of 50). Even though at this time there was only the second half on display (Japanese museums often change their exhibits midway through an exhibition), I found the images very interesting. They were numbered chronologically and you could see the shifting interest of Picasso throughout these months.

In the second floor of the Kyocera building there is the Kyocera Museum of Fine Ceramics, but you will not find many vases and tea bowls there. Fine ceramics are industrial type ceramics used for example in cars, rockets, solar panels etc. Making them requires high precision and more knowledge of chemistry than the regular potter will ever need. Since I am a science nerd, I loved the exhibition. There was so much to see – including a full-time line of Kyocera – that I was overwhelmed quickly and had to leave. I will come back though, promised!

My last stop was at the Kyoto Antique Fair. I love browsing through the many different stalls and looking at (if not for) things. I have been there several times, and it seems that there are some sort of waves as to what is for sale there. This time, I found a huge number of cloisonné items, something I only now recognise after I did the piece on the Namikawa Cloisonné Museum for What’s Up in Kyoto. And, wouldn’t you believe it, there was even one booth selling pieces made by Namikawa Yasuyuki!

Seeing them up close in all their glory was mind-boggling! How did he manage so much fine detail 100 years ago? The seller said that they didn’t really know, and that even nowadays, his art is unmatched. Of couse, since Namikawa Yasuyuki was the Japanese cloisonné artist, his pieces were completely out of my price range. Just to give you an idea: the smallest vase they had, about 5 cm in height, went for 1.6 million yen. Not just pocket money, is it…

Well, I did not come home empty-handed after all. There were a few things that tempted me and that were still within my price range. And I went for something unusual. For me, at least. But, I mentioned it before somewhere, I am fascinated by shakuhachi, traditional Japanese bamboo flutes. And, so I bought a very cheap second-hand one for just 7000 yen.

My shakuhachi.I have heard that playing the shakuhachi is extremely difficult, and indeed, I am trying to get a sound of this thing since last Saturday. Sometimes it works, and then I try to cover a single hole and then I have to start again. Fun fact: I am not a very musical person, the only thing I am good at playing is CDs. Also, one of my friends once called me tone-deaf. Which is not going to make things easier. But hey, what is life without a good challenge every now and then. So, let’s try this and see what happens!

Encounters With Kyoto

I have reason to celebrate: I can now call myself a “published author”. Yay!

As I mentioned before, since last November, I am a member of the group Writers in Kyoto, as the name suggests, a small group of writers who live in (or around) Kyoto or have some other connection to Kyoto and who write in English.

This year, for the third time altogether, the group has put out an anthology to which the members of the group were invited to contribute. There was also a writing competition that was free for everybody to join. About half of the Writers in Kyoto members have sent in short stories or poems or non-fiction essays – and I’m one of them!

Cover of Writers in Kyoto Anthology, Vol. 3And, our book “Encounters With Kyoto – Writers in Kyoto Anthology 3” is now available on amazon in paperback! An e-book version is in preparation and there’s lots of fun stories to read. For example, there is a very interesting non-fiction piece on ropes made with human hair that were used to lift the wooden beams of Higashi Honganji Temple – some of the ropes are still on display there. Or the lovely poems full of childhood memories by a local Kyoto lady. And then there’s my essay about a Japanese garden I was not supposed to enter… My personal favourite is a fun piece on an encounter with yakuza – in the sento to boot!

Last Saturday the group met for the official book launch in Umekoji park near Kyoto station. We had sake and local and international snacks and then some of the authors went on to read their pieces from the anthology. It was my first time at a group meeting, so I decided to read my piece by way of introduction. People seemed to like it, or at least the liked my reading, so we had something to talk about afterwards, thank goodness.

It was fun to meet other English speakers in Kyoto, some of whom have lived here for decades, some of whom have just arrived; some of whom I have heard about from friends, others I would have never known otherwise. And it was fun to meet so many different people – and to find out interesting things we have in common regardless.

I realise that this self-promotion is a bit of an unusual book post for a Sunday, but I really enjoyed working on my essay and reading the other contributions. If you’d like to check it out – and I promise there are better writers in it than me –  as I said, it’s available internationally on amazon.