25 September 2009

Kyoto Day 5, Arashiyama Bamboo grove

Walking through the bamboo grove

My husband and I had the opportunity to spend five days in Kyoto in May, 2009. This blog post continues my attempt to share some of that journey. Unless noted, we took all the photos, which are just our snapshots, minimally processed.

Following our activities in Ohara, (see Kyoto Day 5, Ohara and indigo dyeing) Jay and I raced back to the hotel, dropped off the scarves we had dyed, and trotted down to the lobby, where I asked a nice desk associate to write in my journal book that we wished to be dropped off near the entrance to the Arashiyama Bamboo grove. She kindly called us a cab, and the black vehicle arrived, shiny and immaculate as always. By this time, we had learned not to touch the rear passenger door, as this door is automated and slides open by itself. We showed the driver, in his standard uniform and white gloves, the Japanese instructions. Well, it sort of worked - we got to Arashiyama, anyway, and were dropped off, not near the bamboo grove, but by the picturesque Togetsuo-kyo bridge. Close enough, and probably more convenient for the driver, or perhaps he wanted to ensure we saw this famous bridge.

We walked along the main street in this district, located to the southwest of Kyoto, past many shops selling items for Japanese visitors, to the main gate of the Tenryu-ji temple complex. Knowing that there was an entry to the bamboo grove at the north gate of the temple, and not sure if we could find this entrance from the street (again, not much Western language signage around) we chose to pay the admission fee for the temple, and strolled through the garden. We were on a mission, though, so onto the grove.

Cool and quiet in the shade

Walking through the grove is like being 2" and walking through tall grass. Jay reached over the railing a one point, and pushed one of the tall shoots. It oscillated, like a thick, plucked string, and one second later water droplets, from the leaves far above our heads, rained down. Bamboo dew.

Leaves, way up at the tops of the stalks

Strolling from one end of the grove to the other takes about fifteen to twenty minutes; be sure and complete your stroll by 4 pm if you want to ride the narrow gauge railroad, or Romantic Train, back to town. To get to the station, turn right upon exiting the bamboo grove. Surprisingly, there's little info on the Torokko train, as it is called on the Kyoto map, in the Lonely Planet guide.

Unfortunately, we saw the last train depart as we reached the end of the grove. We visited the station anyway, which was all closed up and with no easy-to-decipher information on scheduling. It was clear enough, though, that the train had stopped running for the day.

Missing the Romantic Train, or Torokko, was bit inconvenient, as the narrow gauge train takes you to Saga Arashiyama, the train station on the JR San-in Sangano Line, which will get you back to downtown Kyoto with the fewest number of transfers. The subway in Kyoto is wonderful but unlike the lines in Boston and New York, where all lines are under the umbrella of one authority, the Kyoto lines are administered by different entities, so it can be more confusing when you transfer from one line to another. For more info on transportation, some nice photos and a map diagram, see http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3912.html
So, we had rather a long walk back through the residential area of Arashiyama, to our train station, but it was worth it to have seen the bamboo. For dinner I introduced DH to the Kuchi-hachi grill restaurant, and then home to pack for our return to the States the next day.

Looking back down the walk through the grove

13 September 2009

SOWA street market, South End, Boston

Sunflowers for sale at SoWa market

"Skirt" of handbags for sale, SoWa Market

On a warm, sunny afternoon in late September, DH and I took ourselves to an outdoor bazaar in the South End. This is actually three markets, in locations along Harrison Ave. The largest outdoor section is at 540 Harrison Ave., and includes about forty juried vendors selling everything from macaroons to jewelry to dog apparel.

Lucky dog selecting new collar

Need a Peace on Earth serigraph?

Stuffed animal toys, for the modern child or child-at-heart

Spreadable fruit display, Deborah's kitchen

This army marches on its stomach, so we purchased some nice chocolate macaroons from Klara's Gourmet Cookies, www.klarasgourmetcookies.com, and jars of Wild Blues and Mango Sunshine jams from Deborah's Kitchen, www. deborahskitchen.com. I've had Deborah's products before, which I like as they are made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.

Check out the antiques market just to enjoy the soaring spaces of these old brick buildings

In the brick buildings behind these vendors there is an antique market; one of the more interesting vendors sells restored vintage radios.

A reminder of the days when radios where like pieces of furniture

Eye-catching shopper, amid flea market finds

A short walk brought us to 500 Harrison, with a small farmer's market and a few non-profits selling artisan-made items - including these beautiful necklaces of beads made by women in Uganda.

Beads made by Ugandan women, from recycled paper

Pumpkins and Hubbard squash, at produce section of market

To find out more about the market, including hours and days of operation, check out http://www.southendopenmarket.com.

: the parking directions on the website, as of our visit, 9/21/09, are not correct. There is no public parking at 500 Harrison Ave. for market go-ers. A blue-jacketed parking attendant told us that there used to be public parking at this surface lot but not any more. The public garages can be accessed from Albany St., one block south of, and parallel to, Harrison Ave.

Bright banner marks the territory

03 September 2009

Kyoto Day 5, Ohara and Indigo dyeing

My husband and I had the opportunity to spend five days in Kyoto in May, 2009. This blog post continues my attempt to share some of that journey. Unless noted, we took all the photos, which are just our snapshots, minimally processed.

Stone infant and small shrine, Sanzen-in temple

This was the best day overall. Right after breakfast, DH and I joined the Kyoto Kimono travellers, piled into two taxis and were whisked off to the farming town of Ohara, in the Kitayama Mountains, to the northeast of Kyoto. After just about twenty minutes we arrived. The total taxi fare was under $100, for the eight of us, so Nancy was smart to ignore the advice to take the bus, as the bus ride would have taken about an hour and cost about $6 each. While it's fun to take buses in different countries - you really get more of a feel for everyday life - we arrived refreshed, and had more time in Ohara, so it was worth it to take the taxis.

Shorin-in temple, in the rain

Brightly-colored combination map-aerial view, typical guide to temples
Alas, no leaflet or signage in English

In a light rain we walked past the main gate of the major attraction in Ohara, the Sanzen-in temple complex, to a wonderful little temple, Shorin-in. The Lonely Planet guide says "This temple is worth a look...to admire the thatched roof of the main hall." Well, this sells it a bit short - the roof is a wonderful, expansive structure, but the whole place is just a gem, nestled into the hillside, with beautiful carving, a bell, and a pond complete with frog serenading us in the rain. And we were the only people there, apart from the caretaker, an elderly woman who answered questions from Nobuku, the lovely Japanese-American woman in our group.

Nobuku-san, right, and caretaker, left, in front of Buddha

A better look at the Buddha

The caretaker noticed me photographing the roof brackets, which were masterfully carved and pierced, and told us, if I'm remembering correctly, that such work is called basket-style carving. The name suggests that the pierced carving allows light through, like the open weave of a basket.

Carved brackets, Shorin-in temple

We back-tracked to Sanzen-in, entered through the Goten-mon gate, and more or less wandered on our own, keeping one eye out for leader Nancy - the day was a nice combination of structure and freedom, as DH and I balanced the inevitable push-pull of following our interests with the dynamic and needs of the group.

School group posing in front of Goten-mon Gate, Sanzen-in temple

There is a handy leaflet in English and we followed the route for visitors through the Kyakuden (guest hall) and Shinden (main house), viewed various gardens, went around the Amida hall and past the garden statues.

Pocket garden at Sanzen-in

Garden, viewed from veranda

Detail, drip edge of temple structure
Pebbles prevent erosion as water drops off gutter-less roof

Umbrella-toting vistors circle Amida hall. For more images, including beautiful seasonal color: http://www.taleofgenji.org/sanzen-in.html

Up the steps, lined with bright red banners, to the orange-and-white Kannon-do, and the odd (to us) sight of the Sho-Kannon-zo, rows and rows of miniature bodhisattvas. These small figurines, resting in what DH, rather irreverently, described as Buddhist condos, were dedicated by people whose wishes have been fulfilled.

Banners along path, and statue of bodhisattva

Kannon-do, houses a golden figure of a bodhisattva
credited with the power to grant the wishes of visitors


We also stopped by a small pavilion where Nancy and Christine were sipping an herbal infusion with gold flecks, sold by two nice elderly ladies. We brought a packet of the tea to bring home, although I should also have asked for brewing directions. Well, there's always trial-and-error.

Back down the path

Statues of children, in the garden moss

We didn't have time to see everything in this large, historic complex, as we were due for lunch at a local restaurant. On our walk to the restaurant we passed a pickle merchant - Ohara is known for pickled products. The pickled cucumber on a stick was nice and crunchy and not too tart.

Pickle on a stick - delicious!

Ohara is also known for a tradition of women carrying bundles of firewood, and other items to sell, atop the head. There is still an annual festival with re-enactors: http://www.japan-photo.de/e-ohara.htm

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Figure in traditional pose

We did indeed have a good time at the restaurant - delightful presentation of food - and spent a bit of time in the upstairs boutique.

DH in front of restaurant, main street, Ohara

Close-up of entry to restaurant
, or door curtains, in the boro tradition -
using up scraps of cloth, often indigo

Boro literally means "tattered rags"

Long-suffering DH, in front of yummy lunch

We were really out in the country
Field of purple shiso, the leaf that is found under a serving of sushi

Then on to our dyeing workshop, at a small organic farm run by a man and his family, whose names all remain a mystery, as we simply called the artist Sensei, or teacher. Nancy is a bit casual with names of people and places or perhaps didn't want to overload us with info.

Fields at the organic farm, with misty hills

Postcard of farmhouse, with hand-dyed skeins

The farmhouse was wonderful, with its sweeping gable roof, and, as the workshop evidently grows its own dyestuffs, there were about 4 acres or so (I'm guessing here) of various dye plants, although I did see bags of imported cochineal too.

Herbs drying

Our Sensei

The interior was a mix of display, storage and work space; it's always a treat to visit a busy artist's work space.

Yarn and looms

We clustered around a low table in one room and were shown several types of white scarves or other items we could select to dye. DH chose a silk scarf, shot with gold thread, that we hoped daughter would like, and I selected a sheer window pane weave.

Pots of color

We donned aprons and boots, and moved into a covered area in front of the farmhouse where the dyevats were and, after a bit of an introduction by our sensei, began dipping our scarves into the vats, using lengths of pipe which looked like the same electrical metal tubing I use to hang my quilts. I was on a mission at that point, and followed Lynn to another indigo vat when the first one proved too weak.

Cher and helper dyeing scarf

This vat was in-ground, of undetermined depth - don't drop the scarf - but good and strong. DH used a weak rose madder dyebath, and after 40 minutes had a pale apricot colored scarf. I wasn't going home, though, without a deep, dark indigo pigment, darnit, and at that point would have pushed my grandmother out of the way to get depth of color. Single-mindedness rewarded, my scarf emerged a beautiful dark blue after being mordanted and then processed by one of the sensei's young female helpers.

Finished scarves, drying
My scarf is the dark blue one

We all hung our scarves up to dry, then the sensei's mother, who seemed like a very nice, practical kind of person, ironed them for us and another helper did the inevitable lovely packaging job the visitor receives with every purchase in Japan.

DH's scarf is the pale apricot one in the middle

The dyer does not have a website or even email, so this is another experience that requires a Japanese-speaking intermediary.

Nancy had arranged for more taxis to meet us after the activity, so we returned to Kyoto in style and good time, new accessories in hand. The sensei was quite effusive in his good-byes; maybe it was the gift of Crown Royal Nancy brought him.

Statue of tanuki, translated as raccoon-dog, welcomes diners to a restaurant
He knows how to have a good time

02 September 2009

Kyoto Day 4, Flea Market and Yuzen workshop

Shibori shawl, purchased at Kobo-san flea market

Kobo-san flea market, 21 May
Top left: flowers and plants
Top right: pine boughs, used in ceremonies
Bottom left: plants and bonsai
Bottom right: candy

On the fourth day of our stay in Kyoto I was up at 5:30 am, which wasn't so early as I was having trouble sleeping past 3 am anyway, with the jet lag. I met the Kyoto Kimono group in the hotel's Compass Room, a nice amenity with a bar, stools, tables, chairs and shelves of books, mostly in English and Japanese. This is a nice touch for travellers, and the room is also used for functions. We had already discovered this special area in the hotel, as this floor also housed the laundry facilities, and the beverage vending machines. Japanese vending machines are amazing, for choice and variety, and they are everywhere you look.

Japanese vending machine by LHOON.

Japanese vending machine
Photo courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhoon/289722629/

Since it was well before breakfast, Nancy and her sister Christine had kindly brought some wrapped, packaged breakfast items from a convenience store. We briefed for our morning at the Kobo-san flea market, then piled ourselves, and our empty suitcases ready to be filled with goodies, into two taxis. Nancy times her trips to coincide with two big flea markets - the Kobo-san, which is held on the 21st of each month, and the Tenjin-san market, held on the 25th of each month, and shops to restock her online store.

We arrived at the north gate of the Kobo market to avoid the crowds, but it wasn't too busy yet, which may have been due to the damp weather or H1N1 flu or both. This market is huge - the sheer size reminded me of Brimfield, the multi-day event with acres of stuff, held in Western Massachusetts three times a year. At Kobo there is quite a variety of stuff - no large items like furniture, but heaps and racks of textiles, small items like dolls, fresh produce, wooden and bamboo items and new merchandise, like socks. Unlike Brimfield however, or the Portobello market in London, for that matter, this market is not organized along a central roadway but fills the space of the Toji temple complex, so the layout is much less cognitively clear. I was quite disoriented, especially as we had entered from a secondary access point. It would have been nice to have had even a rough sketch plan, with some landmarks and our meeting place indicated.

The market is cash and carry; Nancy tried to give us a crash course on bargaining, but what worked best for me was writing my counter-offer in my ever-present notebook, since everyone can read Arabic numerals. According to Nancy, there's not much cheating as the Yakuza is somehow involved in this market, but maybe she was just giving us a bit of a thrill with that tale.

Japanese and American women finding treasures

The scene at the market

Piles of kimono - happy hunting!

For about $20 I purchased an old yukata (cotton summer kimono) that had some minor damage, which meant I could pick it without guilt, to reuse for a future quilt project. A piece of it forms the header for this blog. One yukata yields about 10 yards total of 14" wide fabric. Other purchases include a shibori shawl, which everyone encouraged me to buy as being quite complimentary to my reddish hair, an interlocking wooden puzzle for son Dan, a bag of kasuri (like ikat) scraps and two lucky cat figurines.

Shibori silk shawl, detail
Beads (American) show scale of thousands of small knots

Shibori is a resist technique in which small bundles of fabric are knotted, so that when the fabric is dyed, the tied areas remain white. All textile techniques could be found at the market - embroidered kimono, rolls of e-gasuri, which is kasuri with representational motifs such as cranes or turtles, wonderful woven obi, heaps of cotton yukata, and on and on.

Surprisingly, I didn't see vendors with woodblock prints, or anyone selling old stencils called katagami. There were a number of Western tourists and also the largest number of elderly people I'd yet seen in Kyoto- perhaps with their pensions purchasing even less, older folks find the flea market the best place to stretch their yen. The street food looked interesting and delicious, but it was too awkward to juggle purchases and eat.

I was too shy to haggle, until I started running out of money - I didn't bring enough to begin with - and then I bargained for this pair of lucky cat items, which cost $40. Frankly, for all I know they could have been manufactured in China last year, but they are special to me, and I normally don't go in for totchkes or knick-knacks.

Lucky cat keeps an eye on lucky cats

It was fun to shop with my group, as we could compare purchases and point to vendors we'd found interesting. Nancy and Christine were busy making multiple trips back to the hotel with their major hauls, but intrepid shoppers Ann and Cher helped me find the lucky cat vendor, and in return I lugged some of their purchases back to the hotel with me while they kept on the chase.

I'd had enough of the market, but had to return to prep for my afternoon activity, which Junko, our Japanese liaison, had so kindly set up for me. With my email print-out of the address in hand, a taxi took me a lovely old machiya, a long, narrow wooden row house, or traditional style dwelling. This houses the Marumasu Nishimuraya workshop of Yuzen dyeing, as well as a children's boutique and a cafe. Yuzen is a stencil technque similar to American-style stencilling a la Adele Bishop. Again, the workshop is set up to provide a programmed, no-fail experience for school groups or the occasional American tourist.

Wonderful old machiya, home of Marumasu Nishimuraya

According to the Lonely Planet guide, machiya are now being preserved. High time - these are enchanting buildings.

Entry to workshop

A nice young woman was assigned to this American tourist. I selected my item to stencil, a banner, and my stencil, a fish, and my teacher showed me how to pin down each stencil for correct registration, and how to apply the paint. When done, another helper applies the top and bottom rails for hanging, accounts are settled and my teacher took a photo of me holding my creation. All in all, about $25 and 45 minutes.

My work station
On the right is the banner before stencilling,
on the left the stencils and color chart,
in between the paint pots and brushes

I've just finished stencilling the blue body of the fish
Vertical sticks at 11 and 3 o'clock are special pins to hold the stencil in place

School group having fun stencilling

My finished fish banner, ready to display
Five colors in all - blue, black, purple, yellow and brown

Info on Marumasu Nishimuraya can be found at http://kyo-komachi.com/koubou/english.html
Evidently they do offer workshops in which you can stencil your own original design, but a Japanese liaison is needed to help with communication and really explain your goal.

Even with a liaison, the visitor should go with the flow. When planning this activity, for example, I thought I was signing up for a workshop to do a resist paste stencil on fabric, followed by an indigo dye bath, but ended up with a nice stencilled fish instead. At least I got to visit a machiya.

That night we all went out to eat at Kushi-Hachi, a restaurant where anything that can be skewered on a bamboo stick - chicken, veggies, octopus - is grilled in a method called kushiyaki. Energetic, uniformed young chefs flip the sizzling skewers at long, narrow, and very hot grills, put on quite a show, watched by patrons at the counter, as we sipped our chilled green tea or beer.

Our group gathers outside Kushi Hachi
You wouldn't know these cool, calm, collected ladies
had shopped 'til they dropped that morning

A laminated menu in English makes ordering less random; it was easy to be vegetarian here, and we are only surprised that this concept hasn't made it to the states yet. I'd much rather eat this style of cuisine than sushi, any day. You can get some idea of the eatery here: http://www.kushi-hachi.at/en/philosophy.htm

Kobo-san Flea Market
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