Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kyoto Day 1: Johnnie's Kyoto Walking Tour

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Today I went on Johnnie's Kyoto Walking Tour, one of Kyoto's most famous English-language walking tours. For an economic—it costs 2000 yen (or a little over $20)—you travel with the group of whatever fellow foreigners gathered for that day, exploring the backstreets and sites of Kyoto for 5 hours in English. Part of the tour is a piece of freshly made inari-zushi, which is fast becoming my favorite kind of sushi. We were also treated to a cup of cold brown tea—few things are better on a hot Kyoto day—and a traditional Japanese pastry. Ours were pink and seemed to be made of rice wafers with red bean paste between them. Very tasty.

Is the walk worth it? Considering the sheer amount of cultural and historical information Mr. Hirooka shares on the tour, hell yes. It was an amazing compliment to basic knowledge I already knew, with some specific Kyoto-based details. Nice to hear it from a Japanese source, instead of reading it on wikipedia. Ooh history. You can breathe it in here--they have "new" temples that were built before my hometown incorporated.

I picked up a fan and a small glazed bowl. No, I'm not sure how to get either home given their relative fragility. (The bowl may be a gift for Yukiko when I go up to Isesaki next week.) Kyoto's economy is based on: Nintendo, prayer beads, fans, kiyomizu pottery...and tourists like me. All of the Buddhist prayer beads in Japan are made in Kyoto, as well as every Japanese fan. Both remain cottage industries—home-operated, family-owned. The exodus of young people from Kyoto to Tokyo, Osaka and other "modern" cities is threatening many of Kyoto's long-established artisan industries.

The fan is a cut design that shows off the bamboo in the grooves between the layers of paper. This shape/style of fan is used in the summer, and its long wooden handle can be tucked in the obi of a yukata for decoration/practical storage.

Kiyomizu pottery is famous throughout Japan for its quality. Some of Japan's most famous pottery artisans were/still are located in this area of Kyoto. This bowl has a summer design—hanabi (fireworks) against the night sky with a golden shimmer. The painter of this shop is one of Japan's famous pottery painters.

Proving the smallness of Kyoto, one of the people joining the tour today was Mirai, a Japanese teacher from Alice's district. We went to lunch with her after the tour ended at efish. I had the broccoli, cottage cheese and walnut warm salad. Which means, aside from breakfast, today was a vegetarian day (so far.) So Renee Sweet won't have to starve. I'd recommend efish for their amazing vibe. It's like a combination cafe/bar/gallery space. There are two clocks on the wall one with Kyoto's time and one labeled "San Fransico." Great ambiance and tasty food.

The efish cafe storefront.

The efish sandwich board, you can see the patio behind it.

Anyway, here's some photos from the tour:

A dragon guarding the hand/mouth rinsing station at a local Shinto shrine.

Outside a teahouse in a less prosporous geisha area.

The old Nintendo office building. There's a sign that says "Nintendo Playing Cards" and the address. Nintendo got it's start as a manufacturer of hanafuda (Japanese playing cards.)

The oldest Western-style home in Kyoto. Built around the Meiji Restoration. (Approx 140 years old.)

Gourd-shaped prayer plaques hanging at the Hideyoshi shrine.

A flora-tastic home along Alice's street.

Unglazed cups outside Kawai-sensei's home. (Not Kawai Kanjiro, he's dead.) Kawai-sensei is one of the current most famous potters in Japan. His finished pieces can only be purchased at exhibitions, where a single cup can fetch upwards of 100,000 yen. ($1000.) Kyoto city mandiated that pottery had to be done in electric or gas kilns, but this potter wanted to continue to use a wood-burning kiln. So he constructed one in the next valley over and transports all of his raw pieces there.


C. Leigh Purtill said...

Yay! Thanks for the pics - I feel like I've taken the tour too! :)

Rachel said...

That's a pretty fan, and the bowl is beautiful. Personally, I go for the folding fans. Easy fold and carry, and I'm hard on things.

Did they explain why the prayer plaques are gourd shaped? That's interesting.

I like the dragon.

JohnEvans said...

I did know that Nintendo started out with hanafuda. ;) It's cool that you got to see the office building, though.

And I've never had inarizushi but it sounds awesome.

Glad you're having such a good time!

Christina said...

Those pictures are great. How does the Gourd-shaped prayer plaques work? Are they verse prayer or individual prayers written by the people who leave them? Do people bring them and hang them or is it something that is only made by priests? (if that's what they are called)

Chandra Rooney said...

The prayer plaques are gourd-shaped out of respect to Hideyoshi. He was born a farmer, but he united Japan and ended the Warring States era.

You can purchase a plaque for 500 yen and write your prayer on it.

Rachel said...

That's cool!