Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 15 - Kyoto winter 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Getting Reacquainted 15 - Kyoto winter 2015

     The winter doldrums having set in around mid-January as usual we decided it was time for a change of scene.

 udon lunch in Uji 
lunch time
        Road Buddy, who is a big reader of MANGA (Japanese Comic Books), had been wanting to see an exhibition of original drawings by one of her favorite authors being held at the Manga Museum in Kyoto. The weather bureau was forecasting sunny days for a recent weekend and we took the opportunity for a getaway trip to include the 平等院 Byōdō-in Temple in Uji City (a 20-minute train ride south of Kyoto), a stay at a hot spring hotel on Lake Biwa (another half hour train ride northeast Kyoto), and the manga exhibition in Kyoto. The next day, on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a side visit to the Heian Shrine only a short distance from the Manga Museum by subway.

Uji City- Byōdō-in

Byōdō-in reflecting pond 
my copy
       After arriving at Kyoto Station on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) we boarded a local train to get to Uji, 20 minutes south of Kyoto. Before walking to the Byōdō-in we stopped for lunch to fuel up and energize. This city and its Byōdō-in Temple are associated with Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the early 11th Century novel the 源氏物語 – GENJI MONOGATARI (The Tale of Genji), said to be the oldest novel in the world. Murasaki Shikibu, a nickname, was a protege of the Fujiwara family who owned the property that was later remodeled into a Buddhist temple, the Byōdō-in. A Fujiwara daughter was one of the Emperor's official wives and Murasaki, who was admired for her erudition and writing talent, was invited to join her salon. The novel was written during the late Heian Period of Japanese history. How it came to be written is an interesting story in itself.


Murasaki Shikibu and Uji River
Sei Shonagon
       In the Heian Period the Emperor had more than one official wife (and probably several concubines as well). These wives competed for the Emperor's attention by attempting to divert and distract him from the tedium and boredom of the opulent life of the court (contradictory though that may seem—emperors didn't really have all that much to do). At any rate, these ladies held what would be known in European capitals as literary salons. The lady with the most popular salon would acquire the Emperor's favor. Two of the salons were favored with rival writers Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon. Shonagon wrote The Pillow Book (枕草子MAKURA no SŌSHI) which included essays, lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, interesting events in court, poetry, and some opinions on her contemporaries. Basically sounds like your average gossip columnist. Shikibu is thought to have written the Genji in installments presented in a series of readings at the salon.  Since Murasaki is better known to history, I suppose hers was the favorite salon of the emperor? It would have been mine at least. There is a sculpture of Murasaki Shikibu overlooking the swiftly flowing Uji River.

Lake Biwa – Ogoto-onsen

      We left Uji City around 3:30 in the afternoon and took a train to Ogoto-onsen near Lake Biwa northeast of Kyoto. We had reserved a room overlooking the lake with its own hot spring bathtub in the room that also had a jacuzzi. Except for an initial miscalculation about the heat of the spring water to fill the tub (it was way too hot) and slowly and gingerly immersing myself, the cool winter evening air soon cooled the water to a comfortable temperature and a bottle of warm rice wine proved to be divinely relaxing before dinner, and again after dinner, and again in the morning before and after breakfast. Japan's hot springs are, in my opinion, its greatest contribution to world culture.

"dressed" for dinner

hot spring jacuzzi - Lake Biwa in the background

Kyoto – Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine torii
just for the scale of the thing
     We returned to Kyoto without any solid plan in mind other than Road Buddy's visit to the manga exhibition. I have a limited interest in manga so I was planning to roam around the Gion district, once famous for its tea houses and Geisha entertainers, while she went to the museum. It turned out that the museum was only two stops from Heian Shrine on the train we took so we decided to drop in at the shrine and then go on together to the museum where I would have lunch while she saw the original cartoons. That is what we did.

main gate - typical vermilion trim and green tile roof
       The Heian Shrine (which was actually built at the end of the 19th Century) is a popular tourist destination for visitors to Japan and Kyoto. The shrine is a partial reproduction of the original palace of the Heian Period, built to a 5/8 scale of the original but in a different location. The complementary colors of red and green dominate at the Heian Shrine, mostly in the vermilion varnish on the trim and the green tiles of the roofs. The gigantic torii is startling both for it color as well as its size. Impressive as the shrine buildings are, however, I enjoyed a stroll through the landscaped garden that surrounds the shrine buildings on three sides.

Heian Garden - twisted trunk and branches
look sort of like a dragon to me

stepping stones across the pond

islands represent a crane and a turtle
representing longevity and happiness

bridge framed in dry pampas grass

pine needles are thinned out to maintain shape -
top of the tree has been trimmed, but not the bottom yet

exquisite landscaping of a Japanese garden with the basic elements of stone, water and trees

manga addicts
        When we left the shrine and headed for the Manga Musem I was very hungry. Happily the museum had a cafe that served simple fast food. I bought a hot dog and fries and a cup of coffee and she went to the exhibit. It's amazing how, when you're really hungry, such a simple lunch tastes like a gourmet meal. Road buddy had a hot dog when she came out before we returned to Kyoto Station and boarded the Shinkansen to return home. We made the mistake of stopping at the McDonald's in Okayama station and the less than fresh food was appallingly mediocre. It'll be a while before I go to even the local Mickey D's again!

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