I began 2014 having been awake until wholly inappropriate hours on New Year’s Eve. I woke up early(ish) to meet Chisato and her family at the Kamigamo Shrine. Praying may not seem like the best hangover cure to you but it seemed to do the trick, or maybe it was the scrumptious treats that Chisato had prepared us for lunch. At the Kamigamo shrine we fed a horse (being the year of the horse), wrote prayers on wooden boards to be burned, and Chisato got her fortune – she’s very lucky this year and almost got the best one. The fortunes come in different levels from great luck to awful and they set a forecast for the whole year – I wasn’t brave enough to get one – what if I got told I was going to have an awful year?? I was entrusted to tie the fortune up with other peoples as you can see below. They look a bit like Christmas trees don’t they.
At the shrine you can also purchase mini bows and arrows which are symbolic of the new year, and you can also buy charms and get some calligraphy done. Next stop was a temple which is important to Chisato and Hiro’s ancestors, we spoke with the head monk for a time and drank matcha tea. He asked if I was one of those crazy people he’s seen on tv who are obsessed with Japan, funny guy. Anyway I guess I convinced him I was ok because I was invited to return whenever I like. This particular temple isn’t open to tourists which is a shame in one way because it’s such a treasure but I understand and respect their reasons for doing so – it’s not Disneyland it’s a spiritual place where people reflect and pray and pay respects to their deceased.
On that note; one of the stereotypes re Japan is the uniformity and ceremonial traditions, everyone following the same line. Yes it does happen, there are traditions and ways of doing things that people follow unquestioningly but I believe it’s a misunderstood concept. Personally when faced with some public situations I can feel awkward and I don’t know the right things to say etc, many people feel uneasy with death for example. Think then how reassuring it is to be told that there’s a way of dealing with it, one way that is acceptable and solves awkwardness. You deal with x by doing y – everyone does it that way. Of course it might not leave room for individuality in a historic sense but I’ve seen little evidence of people being unwilling to accept individuality in today’s Japan. I’ve seen tonnes of personality and creativity here, and I’ve also seen any ways that people rely on a ‘way of doing things’ that follows rules. It’s ok not to follow the traditional way, and it’s ok to do so.
A huge thank you goes out to Chisato and Hiro for showing me a beautifully traditional New Year’s Day.
Couchsurfing.com has given me lots of opportunities for me to see new things in Kyoto with other travellers, I like showing people this city that I love and it gives me time to be a proper tourist. Last week I went to Arashiyama with an Australian and adopted a Belgian who we’d happened upon up in the monkey park. At the beginning I found the monkey park quite scary, I’d heard personal accounts of the intimidation and violence of the monkeys that live in the mountains around us. It’s a shortish fifteen minute hike up a mountain, and in the last stretch I heard screeches and braced myself. As soon as I saw the first monkey my excitement (and “awwww” factor) took over, they are pretty adorable wee things. From there we were steps away from the park where lots of monkeys were hanging around for treats (don’t take food up there, duh). There’s a warm hut with plenty of seating and large windows of wire mesh that prevent accidents but maintain a friendly contact between sapiens and simia, we fed the fuzzy cute things for a while and admired the view.
Next was a walk through Arashiyama’s bamboo cove. With a sure breeze the bamboo tap against one another creating this sort of rain like sound. With no pandas around to gobble it up the bamboo grows thick and ever so tall. There are apparently bears that live in Kyoto and Tom tells me they’ve been spotted in Arashiyama! I do plan to adventure into the mountains at some point but maybe not before finding someone with a map and bear wrestling qualities.
Phew, this is a long one isn’t it!! Finally two more things, yesterday we went to Sanjusangen-do temple to watch the annual Toh-Shiya which is an archery competition. This is a tradition which goes waaaay back to the 12th century during the Edo period. Part of the tradition is a coming of age right of passage for girls, and they are absolutely astoundingly beautiful to watch – all in their best kimonos demonstrating impressive strength. It’s not just girls though, we watched older men and women plus some very impressive young lads who I’d say provoked the most reaction from us – in the crowds watching from an unsafe distance. I took some snaps but they’re not so good, my camera broke and my ipad lacks a good zoom.
Today I made the expensive decision to buy a violin. I couldn’t bring mine with me to Japan in fear of it getting smashed up on the journey so apart from the short time when someone very kindly lent me one I’ve been without a violin. It may not seem like a pain to you, but playing music with people transcends all kinds of language barriers and lets me communicate on a whole different level. I don’t mean to sound so profound about the whole thing, it just comes down to wanting to have fun playing music with people. So I found a great violin shop near Demachiyanagi station and managed to tell the shop keeper that all the violins I’d seen were too expensive and I needed a cheap one – in Japanese no less. Of course he replied in wonderful English clearly recognising my struggle, and guided me to my final choice: a second hand Suzuki violin made in Nagoya. Great shop, wonderful guy, happy Rachel. I was also given a free case, quids in!
If you’ve made it this far well done. I think that’ll be it for today.
Thanks for reading, all the best.
Ps I lied, there’s MORE. I ate a sweet pancake type treat called Taiyaki which is shaped like a fish, squid balls called Takoyaki, and drank a slightly alcoholic rice drink called Amazake which is also sweet, yum yum in my tum.