More Japan

Dear friends and family,

I’d kind of forgotten how much I love Japan; it was Don who was really pushing to return here, anxious to get back to his papermaking roots and his opportunity to make handmade paper at Awagami.

Thanks to all of you who have replied to my posts; it's so gratifying to feel that someone might be reading and perhaps enjoying these.

The next day we decided to go to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. You either have to make reservations months in advance or you go in the morning and try to get into the tours for that day. As it turned out, they let a good deal of people into the tour, and there is no charge. So we had no problem getting into the morning tour. Well, slight problem, I couldn’t find my passport. I had it on me, but in a different place, so I gave them my driver’s license number instead and they fortunately didn’t ask for my passport, just Don’s.

A little too staged for my taste, but still impressive and grand. It didn’t have the warm, lived-in and loved feeling of many of the temples. But I guess the intention is to awe and inspire feelings of obedience and reverence. 

I think if they had not taken the trouble of getting every bit of old paint off these columns and doors, it would look a lot better, less Disney-esque.

The tour we took was given in English.

The old emperor’s residence.

Some of these buildings are sites where famous treaties were drawn up, important meetings of shoguns and heads of family dynasties, treachery, murder and famous love scenes, but as we are not very knowledgable of Japanese history, they didn’t mean much to us.

A section of roofing. The roofs are made from many, many layers of the outer bark of special cypress trees which are harvested without permanently damaging the trees. We seem to recall the harvest is once every decade.

I think where the Imperial Palace really shines is the garden; exquisite.

We crossed the vast Imperial Palace grounds and down little streets, looking for a particular restaurant, which perhaps had moved. We ducked into a little restaurant with all signs in kanji, so we were pretty certain they didn’t speak English. The soba was great. 

Another cute Japanese product; provided in our hotel room, a single-serving portable coffee packet.

Next day another adventure. We had to make our way down to Shikoku. We could take a bus for 3 hours, or a train for about 3 hours which took a long detour, or we could take a train south to Wakayama and a ferry to Tokushima on the island of Shikoku which took about 4 hours. We decided on the ferry.

We were directed to Japan Tourist Info, which was great. They were so helpful. The women there spoke varying degrees of English and kindly printed out exact instructions of which train to catch when on what platform. They also recommended a great noodle place for lunch. 

Kimono rental shop across from Tourist Info. You can rent your kimono, your geta, your old clocks and other props, then you can strut around the streets and gardens of Kyoto or attend your cousin’s wedding or bar mitzvah.

Delicious lunch at the recommended restaurant: cold soba noodles, tempura and the soba broth. 

Train to Wakayama. The Tourist Agency wanted us to get off and transfer a couple times to catch the faster trains, but we elected to stay on this one, even though it stopped at every town. No transfers necessary. Everybody was so solicitous and concerned for our welfare. When the train split up and part of it went to the airport, the conductor came by to make sure we didn’t want to go to the airport.

Wakayama Castle; looks great on the outside, disappointing ‘fifties interior.

Another lovely garden.

A covered foot bridge

Wakayama Castle originally housed an order of warrior monks who were allied with Tokugawa Ieyasu. They were overcome by Totomi Hideyoshi (“the great unifier”) in 1585. 50 monks led a final suicide charge against Hideyoshi’s army. Seems it changed hands through the ages, pretty bloody history. Finally, bombed to smithereens during WWII, and rebuilt in the ‘fifties. Hence the ugly interior.

I suspect this rock foundation is original, or at least very old.

Wakayama below; also bombed heavily during World War II.

The path up to the castle. Apparently there used to be Fushimi Inari type rows of Torii gates going up the hill.

A dull street was once a vibrant market.

Nature will prevail, or at least we hope it will.

Found a lovely bar where we had a cold delicious craft beer, Shiga Kougen.

The bar owner, his whole body relaxed when Don posed him for this shot.

Caught the little train to the port, hopped the ferry, and sailed off into the sunset. 

Love from Japan,

Era and Don