A Rare Privilege


A Rare Privilege

We wake at 06.15 Kev has to manipulate my back slightly, all this Japanese style sleeping on hard floors is beginning to take its toll. We intend to go to Kyoto today having been rained off yesterday and Isao has thoughtfully made us roasted sweet potato for lunch. We say goodbye and arigatou (thank you) to Shu and Isao and see you later to Maki-chan ( a Japanese term of endearment is to shorten a name and add chan which means friend).
Heading off down the mountain route we make good progress and because of Maki’s good directions to the one free bike park in town, we arrive at Nanzen-ji temple by 8.30am. It seems there is a bit of a do going on everyone is in their finery with lots of beautiful kimonos in evidence. We take a stroll up to the main hall where they are all gathered it turns out this is the tea ceremony and it only occurs in this temple once every five years. We are very privileged to encounter this rare event, we stand outside one of the entrances mesmerised by the ritual and haunting music. Eventually we drag ourselves away we have lots to see and this will be an all day event but it was an honour to witness some of it.
Heading off towards Heian-Jingu a shrine complex we pass by some very wide gauge railway lines heading straight into a canal intrigued we investigate. It was for a canal built from Kyoto to lake Biwa for trade and this is where the barges were put on carriages  to haul them up the incline, at the top they were put back in the canal. The entire project was a massive undertaking by a 23yr engineer/project manager and almost beyond the means of the Japanese technology at the time, in today’s money it would cost a trillion yen. It was started in 1885 and took four million workers five years to complete.
Heian-jingu is noted mainly for it’s torii (temple gate) which is enormous as is the shrine complex and sited 500m in front of the shrine in the middle of a road in the town itself. We walk the two blocks from the torii, nowadays the shrine is two thirds the original size but it is still massive.
We are now heading for Kiyomizu-Dera temple across town it is a scenic walk following the route Maki suggested via a park and Chawan-zaka (Teapot Lane) this is a twisty maze of pedestrian back streets with souvenir shops in the Japanese style it is a colourful walk with all manner of wares being sold. There is also a chance to sample some new foods as lots have tasters on trays we try a kind of sweet, seemingly raw dough pastry with sweet bean paste we both agreed would taste great if baked. In another some tiny whole fish no bigger than your fingernail a strange taste mainly crunchy and salty.
We climb the final steps on the steep approach to Kiyomizu-dera and enter via the veranda of the main hall. It’s only looking out at the magnificent view we realise how high we’ve climbed through the town. What makes this temple a bit special is that it is built into the rock face and thus over half is supported by hundreds of pillars just under our feet! The first incarnation was built 798 this is a reconstruction from 1633 hopefully they replace the rotting pillars every now and then. We stroll around the complex and a little further on we are able to look back at where we were standing, it is impressive to see how far the pillars go down it has to be over six stories high.
On our walk back through Chawan-zaka we encounter a wedding so take some photos of the colourful dress I also get a chance to try a new out a new word when sampling some seaweed tea Oshi (yummy) the lady looks amazed and pleased and tries in vain to sell me some at £15 for a small pack it’s not that Oshi. Wandering back through the park I spy some cats asleep on the roof of an unusual car and it’s a good photo opportunity.
We make it back to the bike mid afternoon our feet are aching and tummy’s rumbling we are grateful for Isao’s baked potatoes Oshi. The bike draws in the crowds and this time we get to hear some English from a Japanese man now living in America and no mistaking where these two guys are from as they greet us with an Aussie gday. We have a good social for about a hour with people coming and going but it’s time to head homeward. It is nice to know we have somewhere to return to tonight which allows us to travel home in the dark Maki-chan said to stay tomorrow as a typhoon is expected and we have seen the predicted course on Isao’s phone. It is a big one the second biggest since records began.(sorry all you facebook followers as you can tell the blogs are a bit behind. The reality is when there is a lot happening it’s hard to keep up but I have to try as Alex our webmaster has been working on a live trace on the website which should go live in New Zealand, then you will all know exactly where we are.)
Tonight we watch a film with Maki, she rented before we arrived and it needs returning but first we get to sample her bath. This is a fabulous deep bowl affair. When we first arrived it was not watertight as it is heated below by effectively a paraffin powered flame thrower and had rusted through so we just stood in it and tipped water over us from a container effective but not as good. Kev thought chemical metal would work as the hole is small so used some, it has had three days to cure so tonight we fill the bath! Oshi the verdict from all of us, lovely to to soak the whole body.
Typhoon day is dry, a little windy but nothing serious we use the time on Maki’s computer answering all the responses from NZ we are blown away by the offers of help/lodging and general enthusiasm, thank you everyone you have made us feel welcome before we even get there. We are looking forward to it already. We research shipping options and get some rough dates we need about 10days clear before shipment, 5 to clean all our belongings and the bike until they are spotless and the bike will have to go into customs 5 days before sailing. This gives us about 15-20 days to go south and explore. We can also ship from Kobe or Osaka both fairly near Maki, she has said we can stay here again. It makes sense not to travel back up to Tokyo, snow has already fallen in some of the places we have been in that region and Kev’s cousin is older than we first remembered she is in poor health and not up to visitors it is a shame but not everything works out as you plan.
The rain still hasn’t materialised and after Maki has tested us on sticky beans (95per cent of her European friends don’t like them) we are in the 5 per cent we have them with rice for a nice lunch. She is off to feed her horse (Shiro) so computered out we tag along. Sakashita san has a great little farm keeping hens, goats and  growing vegetables as well, Maki keeps Shiro here and is building her home in a back plot. They have a day home in a poly-tunnel with all the home comforts a woodburner, radio and sofas although you have to fight for a seat with four cats and two dogs we are instantly at home. We even get to join in feeding the hens and checking for eggs it’s hard not stand on a hens foot when there are hundreds around you clamouring for food. We head home via some more friends same feather Maki says, they certainly are we encounter them up the road looking for their 6 month old dog, a big bouncy Japanese breed very loveable. We enter their farmhouse a fabulous old wooden framed building with mainly stone floors through to the kitchen so unusually boots can be left on. In the kitchen area is the traditional raised fire pit with benches all around. They are a very able couple the husband makes beautiful pottery to sell, if I could manage to keep it whole I would have bought some it was so lovely and he also turns his hand to making wooden items. His wife is also an artist and  makes her own dyes out of natural sources, they also rebuilt the farmhouse whilst the kids were young so they had great fun mixing up a kind of wattle and daub to throw onto the walls. We both agree this is our dream house.
Back at Maki’s Roof makes spaghetti bolognaise which we all enjoy.
We see a weather forecast later, it seems that the typhoon moved east from its predicted course so it missed us. The southern islands and the east coast got it pretty bad though so we were lucky !
At about midnight Maki suddenly suggests I try on her Kendo outfit this is an ancient Samurai art of sword fighting, once I get the head piece on I am transformed it has grills in front of your face for protection and sits out over the shoulders. Roof does a little video clip of Maki and me and takes pictures whilst Maki describes some of the finer points of etiquette.
Karen looks scary in the outfit but Maki is the deadly one.

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