My first morning in Kyoto started with Daitokuji, a complex of 24 temples and sub-temples, featuring quiet Zen gardens and paths to wander down and around. It was a quiet and contemplative way to start the day.
And then the rain began. It made the gardens quite atmospheric. The rain allowed me to see one of my favorite sights: beautifully dressed women with umbrellas.
On to Nishijin Textile Center. Kyoto’s Nishijin district was the heart of the town’s textile industry. Nishijin woven textiles are intricate and complex, with ornate styling. It is totally the opposite of the Japanese textiles I am drawn to. I knew I was close to the center when I spied all the middle-aged women with giant shopping bags and vaguely-handmade clothing. (Textile women are the same the world over, I swear.)
From there: Nijo-jo. The castle was built in 1603 and was the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun. I especially enjoying the “nightengale” floors–designed to creak and prevent treachery. By the time I got back to the capsule, my sandals offered the same effect.
Friday, I headed to Tokyo to buy art supplies (katazome paper, thread, linen fabric to dye, etc). I took the train from Fujino station into Tokyo (about an hour, depending on the part of Tokyo you’re headed to) to go to Seiwa, where they teach dyeing classes and sell supplies. The French dancer Julie and I arrived and… it was closed due to Oban, the mid-August Japanese Buddhist festival honoring one’s ancestors. Officially Oban ended a day or two before, but some shops close the weekend after.
During Oban, people travel home (or to their ancestral homes) to honor their ancestors and spirits. On the mountain roads in Fujino this week, the little family shrines were tidied up and cleaned, and you could hear kids’ laughter as they played outside late into the night or spent time around a bonfire. (I heard a rumor than the “bon” of “bonfire” comes from this festival name, but I haven’t read up on that). My sense is that it is a ritual of family togetherness and a reunion of sorts for many Japanese.
With the shop closed, I headed to the Tokyo National Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese art. The museum is really easy to navigate and every sign is in multiple languages (thank you!). There were some beautiful textiles from the late Edo period on display, and some amazing things in the bookstore. (Sorry, credit cards, but I really needed that book on Happi coats!)
The National Museum is located in a museum-dense section of the city in Ueno Park near the zoo. Although the weather was hot and humid once again (as it has been every day here), it was a lovely day to walk around and eat popcorn. I walked over to the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the emperor who opened Japan to the west, but… it was closed due to renovations. It’s still a brilliant gold on the outside.
My third destination was Nippori, a quick train from Ueno. Nippori textile town is a mile-long section of shops selling all manner of sewing supplies and fabric. My goal was Tomato, which boasts six floors of every fabric imaginable. And I arrived, and it was… closed. All five locations. Luckily, there were a few shops open so I could buy some supplies. Sweet treats from the local mart, pizza in the park, and a train ride back to Fujino to round out the day.
While in Tokyo, I walked through Yoyogi koen (Yoyogi Park) on my way to the Meiji Shrine. It is one of the largest parks in the city, an oasis of green space with a million paths for running and biking. I arrived at the dog walking hour, so I got a chance to practice my baby Japanese with the middle-aged lades walking their long-haired daschunds. (So far, I’ve seen more daschunds than any other type of dog. Maybe it’s too hot for the shiba inus to be out?)
Meiji Jingu is dedicated to the emporer who opened Japan to the west. (If the shrine name sounds familiar, Hillary Clinton went there during her 2009 Sec of State visit as a way to honor the history and culture of Japan). It features 175 acres of evergreen forest plant species donated by people all over Japan. Huge wooden gates (torii) mark the entrance. I was there just as the apprentice Shinto priests were walking through the grounds. The space is clean and peaceful–it’s easy to forget you’re actually in the heart of the city. One cool thing is the wall of nihonshu–straw wrapped barrels of sake.