Monday, August 23, 2010

from Kyoto: golden day

The days of rambles up and down mountains with a traveling companion, crossing the city in every which way, looking for quiet spots in a steamy, sizzling, crowded landscape come to end.

It’s Monday. I’m back at the cafĂ© for a pre-work breakfast, only Ed is with me and his influence is still felt: I get the scones (his favorite), not the cinnamon toast (my favorite).


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The Japanese vacation isn't over for everyone, but for some students, classes and club activities are in full swing.


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Ed and I meet up again in the late afternoon, after I’m done with teaching. [An answer to an earlier commenter question: I’m teaching Japanese law students, but ones who speak English fairly well so that I can do this without an interpreter. The subject is American Family Law, but in a comparative context, as we’re also looking at various provisions in the Japanese Civil Code addressing problems faced by families in crisis.]

I have a walk in mind for us – one that takes us into the often ignored north west corner of the city. This is where you’ll find a concentration of Japanese textiles.


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... and perhaps the best place to see the work of the artisans who design, weave and otherwise create the fabrics and kimono obi, is at the Nishijin Textile Center -- where you can even join a small crowd of Japanese kimono admirers and watch a kimono show.


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...and after, wander around the upstairs rooms, where weavers and designers are plugging away at their art.


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As the afternoon rapidly slides towards its final minutes, I realize that I’m hungry enough to interrupt our stroll with a coffee moment. With green tea cake.


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Then it’s back to our preset path. I want to end our Kyoto sightseeing with a look at the Golden Temple. Ed, I know, would just as soon skip anything with crowds. Indeed, he stalls during the walk. We watch a man in a shop sifting and sorting grains of rice...


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...then we wander into the grounds of Kitano Tenman-gu – another “lesser” temple, where Ed wants to know why this is a lesser temple given that it is so much more pleasant -- quieter, more fitting for a contemplative mood.


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I tell him he has to see Kyoto’s piece de resistance. I tell him I really want to get to it with him there, by my side. I tug at him, prod him, urge him to hurry up. It is now 4:40. Kinkakuji (the Golden Temple) is still a bit of a stroll away and it closes at 5. Ed's an agreeable type and so we pick up the pace.

We enter the grounds at 4:58. The guards hurry us along to the ticket counter. Two minutes! – they shout, two minutes!

And I have learnt this much about Kyoto temples. The very best time to enter is two minutes before they close. Because unlike, for instance, at the Kanazawa Gardens, where they stop selling tickets a half hour before closing, in Kyoto, they’ll sell until the final minute. And believe me, just about no one (except you) is trying to enter then. And here’s the best part – once you’re in, you’re in.

It’s about as empty now, at 5, as it will ever be, all summer long.

There are many ways to photograph the temple. The best photos are probably ones where the waters reflect a blue sky and the gold leaf used in abundance here shines and glitters like... well, like gold. That is not to be on this day. The sky is overcast and still hazy hot. So let me just offer this – Kyoto's gem, peaking from behind a garden tree.


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...as it does again and again as you stroll the lovely grounds.


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So, one last temple, one last photo taken by my occasional traveling buddy...


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...and one last dinner together here, in Kyoto. We decide to eat at Kushikura – a place where fresh, seasonal ingredients plus pieces of tasty chicken are served, mostly on skewers.

We sit at the counter and watch the chefs work their magic.


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We eat tofu, then a salad, then hen drumsticks, followed by six skewers: with the ever popular here chicken and leeks, chicken sausage, chicken with plum sauce, fried gluten on skewers, chicken livers, more chicken on skewers, okra on skewers. A seasonal dish of veggies in jelly. And finally, the favorite close to any dinner here: rice, miso soup and pickled veggies.


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The dinner is in a haze of smoke from the hardwood fires before us...


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...and with rapid banter of Japanese to my side (between two men who surely must be taking their work to dinner with them), and a hovering staff of kimonoed servers shuffling behind, appearing with this dish or that glass of beer.

It’s such a fine closing meal! We ride the subway together one last time and walk back in the still warm night air. On Tuesday I’ll be heading back to my class of Japanese students, he’ll be heading back home.



It’s morning now. We carefully divide our Very Expensive Peach into bite size pieces. Don’t forget this, please remember to do that. Travel well, see you in a week.