Tuesday, August 10, 2010

from Kyoto: settling in

Well, I know the answer to the weather question of last night: that was some rainstorm we had!

I wouldn’t have noticed or minded – I am this week enveloped by my teaching duties here which start quickly enough (Wednesday). Downtime will come soon – next week the university is on holiday and so I have many days off, waiting for the final week of teaching to come after. But I did mind the rain and here’s why.

In the morning, I broke away from my computer and books to find coffee and a pastry. It was easier than I thought: two blocks down the road is a lovely home that has opened its doors to the public as a café (and gallery).

I had a cup of coffee and a cheesecake, all very artfully presented...


...and I was sorry to see a sign that appeared to indicate that they were taking a holiday for most of August. I wondered who came here and kept this place afloat – we are rather far from the downtown commercial or central tourist areas. I suppose I got my answer when a truck pulled up and a local worker came in for his brew. A good cup of coffee here is valued by so many, that even a quiet neighborhood can sustain a coffee shop.

The break took less time than I thought and so I decided to extend it by walking to the local grocery store. Hot as it was. You learn to appreciate why women and girls especially, carry little towels (and umbrellas of course) with them: to dab at the brow every now and then.


At the store, I tried not to stay with the running theme of -- I can’t believe how expensive fresh food is here, but it was hard. $6 for a slice of watermelon. $3 for an orange. And so on. I bought a lovely peach for $4 and felt decadent, considering what peaches are going for back home right now.

I could go back to the other theme of “they love sweets here." A love acquired at an early age.


I passed on the sweets for myself, but I studied the wines. I have no interest in drinking imported wine in Japan. A beer works well with most dinner foods. But I have read that recently, Japan has embarked on growing their own grapes for wine. And so when I saw this shelf...


...I hesitated. Very inexpensive by any standards! But which one do you pick? I chose the one that had 100% scrawled over the label, in thinking that it is at least 100% something worth bragging about. I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll let you know.

In the late afternoon, I was to go to the Law School to get keys, sign more papers, and pick up the wee honorarium for my work here. [I am, as of this year, only employed at UW for nine months of the year, with negative salary adjustments, but with the freedom to do other things – such as taking this teaching position – during the summer months.] And this is when the rain came down.

We realized it was pouring when we came out of the subway. Some of us hesitated.


Me, I had no fine robes to worry about. I hurried forth.

But when I reached the Law Building, I learned that I needed a detour to the cashier on the other side of campus. And I had fifteen minutes before they closed. And I had no other money in my pocket. And there aren’t many ATMs here that accept foreign credit cards.

I tallied forth.

I have never been so wet. When I returned to the Law School offices, I benefited from the generous offers of the hand towels that people carry. I have often thought that if there is a way a Japanese person can offer help to a visitor, they will do it and delight in it. It is a remarkably courteous nation.

The rain subsided and I was ready for at least a short walk. I had given the commercial areas a good fly through yesterday; I wanted to at least begin seeing the other, even prettier side of Kyoto. No gardens or temples yet, not this evening anyway, but at lest a walk by the Imperial Palace Park...


... past the Goo Shrine (where it's all about having healthy legs and where you may pray for a life of safe journeys, free of mishaps -- the sign tells me).


Ah, yes. Kyoto deserves its reputation of having more restful places for contemplation than perhaps any other town its size.

Now, in the matter of dinner: on this night I want to eat somewhere. Not at the apartment in front of the screen with the Japanese weather lady telling me something I cannot begin to understand. I choose Kyoto’s old noodle place, Honke Owariya (because it’s close by and so very reasonable and so fitting for a wet day, and because I love buckwheat noodles).

There isn’t English on the outside...


...but there’s English on the inside. I sit on a mat and look at the menu and think – I could eat anything and everything here right now. My soba combination plate is exactly what I need. A stack of noodles dishes, with broth and trimmings. And a beer.


After, I forget about the dampness. On the walk home from the subway, the night air feels pleasantly warm, the cicadas are loud as ever.