Kyoto, Friday 28-Oct

The plan for the day was to do things which would work in the rain since that was the forecast. We continued our walk around Higashiyama and ended up our evening at a demonstration of several forms of Japanese performance art.

The room we're in has a bathroom in it, which is quite small. The sink is right next to the shower/tub, and there's only one faucet. It's actually just like the shower control we've seen in other places, where there's a valve on the left to control temperature and one on the right which you push down to control the flow of the lower tap or pull up to control the shower head (handheld one hooked onto the wall). In the outer bathroom, the lower faucet goes to the sink (or can be swung over to fill the tub) and it also connects to the shower head.

It was another laundry day so we started that, got breakfast, then did things in the room until it was time to move things to the dryer, then back down when things were ready for us to retrieve. That done, we went out to continue our walking tour from the day before. There was supposed to be rain in the morning, so we hoped to not hit the worst of it.


First stop was the Kyoto National Museum. Ends up they were only showing a special exhibit, with the rest of the museum closed. We decided to move on to the Kawai Kanjiro Memorial House. Kanjiro was a potter, but he also made much of the furniture in the house. He had two kilns, the larger one built on a slope with many shelves to fire his pottery. The house itself was very interesting, with a second floor arranged like a mezzanine. There was a bit of sprinkling, but it never got very heavy.

We then skipped forward to where we had left off on our tour, heading to Kodaiji Temple. This one had a completely different feeling than others we had seen, being very light, open, and airy. The gardens were vast, with a lot of water and a bamboo forest.

Next door to Kodaiji is Ryozen Kannon Temple, with an 80-foot white statue dedicated to unknown soldiers who died in World War II. We didn't go into that one, but it's hard to miss the statue.

As we wandered from the temples, we figured it was time for lunch. There was a small kiosk where we got takoyaki and curry udon with tempura vegetables. While we were there, a group of three people sat down, got an order of takoyaki, had two each, then the two women both indicated the man should have the last one, and he quickly complied. 

Nearby was Maruyama Park, which includes one of the oldest cherry trees in Kyoto. It was, indeed, massive. Not much further was Yasaka Shrine, which has stone torii considered among the largest in Japan. But, as you probably guessed, they were under renovation, so we couldn't see them.


We walked the few blocks to Gion and walked down Hanamikoji Dori, known as Kyoto's geisha district. We walked up and down, taking a look at the architecture of the homes there. We knew we wanted to see a show in the area in the evening, so we went over to have coffee and a snack and hang out for a couple hours. While we were there, it started to rain, and was heavy enough for us to put our hoods up as we left.

Tickets for the show we wanted to see went on sale at 5:30, so we headed to a ramen shop at about 4:45 to grab an early dinner. The room was very nice, with huge walnut slabs for tables. Melody got ramen with chicken broth, and I got ramen with shoyu broth. Both were really good; I'd say it was the second best bowl of noodles I've had here.

After dinner, we went back down Hanamikoji Dori to Gion Corner, and suddenly, rushing the other way was a geiko (geisha from Kyoto) on the way to an engagement. I didn't get a good look, but she did look like a geiko rather than a maiko (an apprentice). I had my camera in my bag at the time, so didn't get a photo of her, either.

At Gion Corner, a small crowd was already in line. Even so, we were still near the front. The show was an introduction to a variety of Japanese arts, but most people go there thinking they'll get to see geisha perform. Technically, she's not a geisha, but an apprentice. But more on that later.

We ended up in the midst of a group of almost a couple dozen, and the started moving in front of us to try to stay together as a group. The leader suggested that we go ahead of them since the two of us weren't going to impact where they sat, but the large group of them would put us quite a bit further back in line. Ends up they were Canadians, so it all added up.

The first art demonstrated in front of the stage was Chado, the tea ceremony. A couple volunteers from the audience sat at a small table while the woman serving the tea began her ritual. During that, two people began playing the Koto (Japanese harp) onstage, and another woman demonstrated Kado (flower arrangement) next to them. People started taking lots of pictures and videos, which was expected, but some people were holding their phones over their head to video the whole act, including the guy in front of me. Fortunately, Melody was able to still see, and I was able to look around him for the most part.

After that was all complete, the next demonstration was Gagaku, court music. In addition to a small group playing the music, another person came out in an elaborate costume, dancing all around the stage. Like the tea ceremony, harp, and flower arranging, its roots come from China but have evolved into Japanese art forms.

Next was a Kyogen, a play of the kind which normally would have been performed as interludes during Noh plays and spoken in the everyday language of the time. This particular one had a lord who was worried that his two servants would steal his sake while he was out, so he tied them up. After he leaves, the servants realize they can still use their hands, so they come up with a way they can use a large cup and work together to start drinking the sake, much to the surprise of their lord when he returns. The lord gets angry with the two servants and starts to chase them as they all ran offstage.

Following the play was the Kyomai or the Kyoto-style dance. This was performed by a maiko and one which seemed to be early in her apprenticeship. There were several cues that she was maiko rather than geiko: she had elaborate hair ornaments, her face makeup didn't go all the way to her hairline (geiko use a wig, so you don't see the gap), her eyebrows had a red tinge, her upper lip didn't have lipstick, her kimono had sleeves that hung down very low, the obi was very wide, and her collar was not white. The cameras were out in force again, but I was able to work around the guy in front of me again (at one point, I snuck shots between his head and his arm).

The last performance was Bunraku or a puppet play. The puppet is extremely intricate and manipulated by three operators (only one whose face you can see). The play, first performed in Osaka in 1773, was based on a true story. A girl, Oshichi, was the puppet on stage. She was in love with Kichiza, a pageboy, but her parents wished her to marry Buhei, who had loaned a lot of money to Oshichi's parents. Kichiza has to sacrifice himself because his master couldn't find a valuable sword entrusted to the master by the shogunate. Oshichi finds out it was Buhei who has the sword, so she retrieves it, but the city gates are closed at night, so she can't get the sword to Kichiza. She climbs the fire watch tower and rings the bell. Kichiza arrives to receive the sword.

The performances were all very interesting, the two plays being my favorites. We had to rush out since our show ended only a few minutes before the next performance was to begin.

The rain was gone as we caught a bus back to the hostel and settled in for the night.