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Kyoto

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Even though I left Kyoto a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to post about the wonderful covered market that I visited. Nishiki is a traditional Japanese market in Kyoto that has been in operation as early as 1311. It originally started as a fish market, but now sells many traditional Japanese food items that are locally produced.

 

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Japanese pickles are a favorite of mine (above right). At first, being a picky eater, I assumed I wouldn’t like them. I avoided the small pile that comes with certain meals. Now, I’ve learned that chopped pickles and rice are a perfect combination. Pickled plums are my favorite. Small octopi are cooked and served (above left) and I’m not exactly sure what this is (below left). I think it might be eggplant covered in miso. A basket of cranberries (below right) is very tempting.

 

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There are also small cafes that line the narrow street (above).

 

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Krill (above left) is a common addition to salads and other dishes. It can also be eaten as a dried snack. There are a few souvenir shops in between the food stalls and I pause at the frog purses (above right). They would certainly make unique gifts! Rice (below left) and smoked fish (below right) are on display.

 

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Expensive pieces of grilled fish (left) and more krill (right).

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Kyoto can sometimes make me cranky because there are tourists everywhere, especially at the temples and shrines. It’s difficult to see something without someone holding up a camera in front of you. And of course, I freely admit, I’m doing the same thing! But when you do get that moment alone, and you’re confronted by the extraordinary beauty of this place, it’s sublime. I’ve visited quite a few temples on this trip and here are some of the highlights:

Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) is one of the most popular temples (above left). The temple and the grounds are said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. As you approach this majestic scene it’s truly an inspiring sight. The top two stories of the building are covered in gold foil on lacquer and contain relics of Buddha.

There is also a beautiful tea house. I sit in the open air space (below left) and drink matcha green tea with a traditional sweet (right).

 

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An easy way to get around Kyoto is by riding a bicycle. I rented one when I first arrived. I bike past this bridge, which is near the Path of Philosophy that leads from Nanzenji Temple to Ginkakuju Temple.

 

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Nanzenji is not as important as some of the other temples in Kyoto but the grounds are beautiful (above left and right). The pine trees tower overhead and humble your spirit.

Perhaps my favorite temple is Sanjusangendo. The outside is plain compared to most. It’s a long rectangular building (below left) made of wood, but what’s inside is a stunning achievement.

 

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1001 statues of the Buddhist deity called “Kannon” line the interior of the hall. There are 1000 standing statues and one large seated statue in the middle. They were made during the 12th and 13th centuries and it’s said that each one is unique.

You can’t take photos in the hall, but the view is so compelling, I found the above image online.

 

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Gingakuji, The Silver Pavilion (above right) was built in 1492 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of the builder of Kinkaku, The Gold Pavilion. Gingakuji is an interesting foil to the extravagance of The Gold Pavilion. Its restrained beauty marks a change in the aesthetics of the Japanese culture and it’s said to be the start of the Japanese modern lifestyle. Below right is a detail of the gardens at Gingakuji. Many cats live on the outskirts of the temples (below left).

 

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Kiyomuzu is located on Mt. Otowa, one of Kyoto’s east mountains. There are several ornate buildings that are part of the grounds (above right). From the top of this lush and green hillside is a commanding panoramic view of Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine sits on the base of Inari mountain. Inari is the god of rice and many merchants and manufacturers worship this god for wealth. The inner shrine is reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii gates (below right and left). You can walk through the torii to reach the shrine but it takes about two hours one way. I don’t have the time, but I’ll definitely be back.

 

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This is one of the outer buildings at Ninna-ji Temple. Ninna-ji was founded in the fourth year of Ninna (888). The temple is now headquarters of Omuro School of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism.

 

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Last but not least, I end my temple tour with Ryoanji. This temple is famous for it’s zen garden (above). The garden was created around 1500 and only contains fifteen rocks and white gravel. It’s a striking contrast to the greenery that surrounds the area (below left). I treat myself and stop for lunch at the restaurant on the grounds. They specialize in yudofu or  tofu in hot water (below right). This simple dish is the perfect zen meal for my last day in Kyoto.

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Karacho is a woodblock printing studio that was established in Kyoto in 1624. They have a collection of over 650 woodblocks, half of which were carved more than two hundred years ago. Karacho specializes in Karakami, handmade paper that is printed with the woodblock patterns.This is the only studio in Japan still practicing this hand-printed paper technique.

 

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The technique is fairly simple, but requires a soft touch. Paint is brushed onto a fine mesh sieve covered with gauze (above left and right). The paint soaks evenly through the guaze and is applied onto the woodblock (bottom left).  The washi, Japanese handmade paper (below right), is pressed onto the woodblock and then lifted off after a couple of paint applications.

 

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The finished results! My first attempt at printing Karakami paper.

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A friend suggests that I hang around Gion between 5-6pm because that’s when the Geiko (Kyoto’s word for Geisha) and Maiko (a young apprentice to Geiko) are headed to work. It’s the best chance of seeing one and hopefully taking a picture. As soon as I arrive, I’m excited that I see a Maiko smiling for pictures (left). Later I learn that she is a tourist who has paid to dress up as one. Geiko and Maiko don’t stop for pictures and almost run in the other direction when they see you. Geiko and Maiko work in traditional tea houses (above right) as hostesses providing entertainment.

 

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There is an evening walking tour through Gion, so I decide to join the group and learn more about these seemingly allusive women. Our tour guide (above) is filled with interesting stories about Geiko and Maiko. She describes the differences between the elaborate kimonos that they wear. A clue to identifying a young apprentice is that her kimono and obi are more decorative than a Geiko. She wears a lot of red and a flower hair pin that moves in front of her face, making her appear more beautiful. In her first year, she is only allowed to wear red lipstick on her bottom lip. The more experienced Geiko is confident in her skills, singing, playing musical instruments, dancing and playing games, so she doesn’t need to impress with her dress in the same way.

 

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We walk around Gion and our guide shows us several authentic teahouses. She also walks us past a few of the boarding houses (above right) and the girl’s school with a chalkboard listing available classes for the week (below left). At one time, there were over 2000 Geiko living in Kyoto. Now there are fewer than 200.

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Aizenkobo is Utsuki Kenichi’s home and indigo dyeing workshop. I don’t have an appointment, but Mr. Kenichi is welcoming when I arrive. I explain that I’m in Japan for textile research and he immediately begins talking about indigo. He repeatedly says that he uses a natural process for dyeing indigo and that this is the only way to maintain the true blue color. Using chemicals can achieve a dark blue, he says, but it fades over time and begins to look grey. He’s adamant that his products are different because of the all-natural dye and the consistency of the blue color.

 

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He leads me to his showroom in the back of the house and says that I can’t take any pictures. I’m frustrated by his request because there are so many great photo opportunities! I manage to sneak a couple of photos in, but I feel a little guilty. There are racks of winter and summer jackets hanging (bottom right). They are dyed a deep blue. He says that I’m a small size, but I shyly let him know that the jackets are far too expensive for me. He leaves the room and returns with a shibori dyed scarf (bottom left). He says that he will sell it to me for a good price because of the small line that runs through part of the pattern. I can’t help but to take him up on the offer.

He also explains that he’s strictly an indigo dyer. He doesn’t tie the shibori fabric or make katazome stencils. He works with shibori artists who are trained in a specific design in order to create the patterns. He shows me a sample of the fabric tied with string before it’s dyed (above left). He says that a shibori artist will spend a lifetime tying the same string pattern onto the fabric. Each pattern has a name like “Spider Web” or the one that he sells me is called “Beating Heart”.

 

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Mr. Kenichi (above) brings me into another room and pulls out several photo albums. The first album has pictures of the entire indigo process. There are photos of the seeds being planted and the plants growing tall. He says that the flower isn’t needed for dyeing, but the seeds are required for next year’s crop. The indigo is harvested and then fermented. There are many pictures of the labor-intensive process that is eventually completed in November or December. After this, the dye must be made. There are several steps to creating the dye so you must know what you’re doing in order to achieve a successful batch.

He has a small ashtray on the table and takes a piece of indigo dyed cloth and sets it on fire. The material burns, but leaves an oily resin behind. The indigo will not burn, which is why old firemen’s jackets and hoods were made from indigo dyed material. He pulls out an example of a fireman’s coat to show me. Indigo is also thought to be a type of insect repellent. Mosquitoes and bugs don’t like it, so they won’t eat it.

 

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He finally takes me outside to the indigo vats (left). He gives me some of the dried fermented indigo (right) and tells me that I can take it home with me. He warns me not tell customs about it because they will think it’s marijuana!

 

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He has been living in this house for his entire life. He says the house and workshop are very old and that he has lived here for 65 years.

 

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As I’m leaving he points to a small statue perched above the door and says that he protects the house from evil.

http://web.kyoto-inet.or.jp/people/aizen/

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Today is my first full day in Kyoto and I’m out the door at 7am to visit the flea market that’s held every month at Toji Temple. “The flea market is affectionately known as “Kobo san,” in honorable reference to Kobo Daishi. Since his death occurred on the 21st day of the month, it has become a tradition to hold a memorial service for him on the 21st day of every month. Eventually, merchants appeared to cater to the many pilgrims who flocked to the temple at these times and before long this evolved into the flea market we see today.”

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/07/15/travel/on-the-trail-of-treasures-at-toji-temple/#.UZthvIWCgy4

The market is interesting because of the wide range of stuff that’s for sale. There are vintage textiles, ceramics and hair combs, but also new merchandise and trinkets for those looking for a deal. Pickled vegetables are piled high (bottom left) and a piles of fabric fill the pathways (bottom right).

 

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Red silk (above left) is very expensive. I manage to find a good size piece for 400 yen. To the right of the market, there are flowers and plants for sale (above right).

 

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I stop for some sugared dried fruit (left) and I’m also tempted by the roasted garlic (right). It smells delicious and mixes with the incense in the air.

 

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There are many stalls selling bundles of pine (bottom left).

 

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I’m shocked by how inexpensive things are. I realize that the markets that I’ve been going to in Tokyo are extremely overpriced. I find some good examples of boro fabric and I imagine that one piece will be priced at 13,000 yen like I’ve seen in Tokyo, but when I ask the seller, she says it’s 2000 yen and the other 1000! That’s about $30! I take both! My booty pile from the market (left) and details of the boro (right).

 

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