Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Japan 2013: Shrines & Textiles

 We've reached the part of the trip where laundry has reared it's unattractive head. We decided that it really doesn't make sense to spend half a day in Kyoto at a coin laundry, so we decided to hand-wash undies, socks, & tenugui towels (little handkerchief-shaped towels that are an important part of Japan in summer- as there are usually no paper towels or dryers in the public restrooms & the 100F temperatures make anything a sweaty venture... but I digress) & then- eek!- send everything else out to the hotel laundry.

 Fortunately, the large shower room makes the little clothesline at least half again as long as the ones in normal hotel bathrooms...

Once laundry & breakfast were sorted, we took a taxi to the Kamigamo Jinja, along the Kamo river.

It's one of the oldest shrines in Japan, dating from the 800's. It's dedicated to a god of thunder, born to a goddess who found a spear in the river while bathing, took it home, & then found herself with child... there's a lot of arrow imagery there
, including omamori, which had Brendan giggling :)

The shrine has a tributary of the river running through it, which is used for purification by the Shinto priests. The water makes it feel much cooler, especially under the trees. Charlie particularly enjoyed being by the water :)

There are a bunch of different buildings there, all beautifully decorated.

There are 2 cones of sand representing the mountains where the thunder god makes his touchdown on earth:

 And, as it's the Year of the Snake in the Chinese zodiac, a snake statue:

 This shrine is one of the few that offer omamori for save air travel (probably because a thunder god can provide this) so we made sure to buy one:

 I got an arrow, too :) And a little ceramic crow that has an omikuji (fortune) inside. There are lots of crows around the shrine & they are huge!

The shrine complex is pretty large, so we wandered around for a bit, until we came across a "Beware of Monkeys" sign:

 This made us decide it was time to move on!

We had made lunch reservations at a restaurant near another shrine about 20 minutes walk from here, but it was so hot we decided to hop a cab instead.

Within minutes we arrived at the Otagami Jinja:

This is a much smaller shrine, not even mentioned in lists of shrines in Kyoto, & it's considered part of the Kamigamo complex. It has one outstanding feature in that one of it's functions is the protection of children, & so it's the first shrine we've ever visited that has a playground at the entrance :)

 It's quite lovely & a bit austere. A pleasant, cool place to walk.

 Right to the left in this picture is a path with a building where you can buy omamori. They feature irises because the shrine is known for them. The priest who sold us the omamori asked where we were from & we got to chatting, so he gave us a postcard of the irises for free. We reciprocated with a postcard of Highland Park (from the Lilac festival).

 We had a few minutes before our lunch reservation, so we walked a bit to a special place Charlie had read about in our Old Kyoto guidebook.

 This is a really, really old camphor tree, like the one in the Miyazaki film My Neighbour Totoro. This picture shows the canal side, but the street was actually diverted on the other side to keep the tree safe. It's another lovely little spot in the middle of Kyoto :) The canal is actually more of the Kamo River water. It runs alongside the traditional homes of the Shinto priests & they have pools in their yards where they can purify themselves in the river water before ceremonies.

We hiked about 10 minutes back to our lunch restaurant (next to the Otagami) & were very sweaty indeed when we got there! Charlie had read about this restaurant, which is in an old sake warehouse that originally was in Nara, scheduled for demolition, but saved by a man from Kyoto & transported piece & piece to this neighbourhood in Kyoto & reassembled. It was a traditional noodle restaurant until around 2000, when his son turned it into an upscale Italian restaurant :) Charlie had read that they will do a vegetarian version of the set meal, so we decided to check it out.

 It's quite a complex of buildings, & like many hotels & large restaurants in Japan, does a huge wedding business. (They gave us the folder with the wedding info when we left because it has so many beautiful pictures of the place, & I would love to have an event here! It gorgeous!!!) There was actually a little building as you enter with a young woman who greeted you & informed the restaurant that they have a guest (everyone was fitted-out with headsets, giving it a rather urban feel in the midst of a bamboo forest :). We were greeted at the restaurant door by our waitress & led to our table. The restaurant is very spacious & wasn't very busy, which made it nice & quiet. The ceiling beams go up & up & up:

 The waitress spent some time with us determining the extent of vegetarianism & what meat I can & can't eat (I can eat fish & seafood but no meat at all due to an allergy- & Japan takes allergies very seriously). Then we started with beverages & a lovely, fresh soup:

There were edamame in the soup, & when I mentioned that Brendan loves edamame, the waitress sweetly brought this out to him:
Edamame on a nasturtium leaf :)

There was a bread course, then the main course. Charlie & I had salmon in a lovely sauce over home-made pasta:

And for Brendan they put together a lovely vegetable topping for his pasta:

We thoroughly enjoyed it!

 For dessert there was a gorgeous jelly in 2 layers, a slightly sour peach puree on the bottom with a lightly sweet tea-based jelly on top:
It was so exquisite Charlie & I were trying to figure out how to make it at home. Then they served us our choice of iced or hot tea or coffee/espresso.

When we were all done, we asked them to call a taxi & then had about 15 minutes to wander around the gorgeous grounds.

This is just a sample. We also chatted a bit with the young woman at the outside entrance, who took this picture of all 3 of us:

It occurs to me here that I may be giving the impression that our chats with various folks on our travels are occurring in English... but although all Japanese middle & high school students study English, it's fairly rare to find anyone who can speak it fluently (we've read that, in a pinch, you can write things down in English & the average Japanese person can read it, since everyone reads & uses Roman letters here, but they may not understand all the words...). With our waitress today, she had some key words in English & then we filled in the gaps with our Japanese. The kiosk woman had a bit more English & was really keen to chat with us (most folks who have some conversation skills love using them- just like us :). It really stretches me to do this chatting, because I don't always have all the vocabulary I want/need, but most of the time folks understand what I'm telling them & I am sooooo enjoying being able to communicate well this time! It's making me feel so much more adventurous, & the result is so many more interesting meals & places visited than before.

As it turns out, our taxi driver was not only a (rare) talkative driver, but also wanted to practise his English, so we had a lively ride home :) The Gion festival takes place all month, although the main events occur next week after we move on, but he told us about the float-building & where you can see it. Charlie & I had found a map of the events online, so we put this on the list of things to check out.

After a short rest & rehydration at the hotel, Charlie & I decided to head to the Nishijin Textile Centre, which is about a 15 minute walk from out hotel. We had visited it briefly on our first trip to Kyoto, 6 years ago, & were keen to see it again. The Nishijin area of Kyoto used to be the weaving & dyeing centre of Japan. Now the Nishijin Centre acts as museum, school, & marketplace for weaving & other textile crafts. You can make a reservation to actually weave something there, or to dress in  kimono for a special event, & they have kimono fashion shows about every hour as well. We were mostly keen to do some gift shopping :) The walk there was a warm one, but we enjoyed seeing more of our neighbourhood. And the textile centre is a really wonderful place to end up! Charlie got a couple pics of a fashion show:

You can see a loom in the background, too :)

On the way back to the hotel we went into a very interesting little shrine with a 5-pointed star prominently displayed everywhere:

 And some very cool guardian animals:

 I bought some omamori, too, including one specifically for Tanabata:
When I got home I did some research (thank you google map app!)  & discovered that this was the Seimei Jinja, which was built in the early 1000's on the site of the recently-deceased Abe no Seimei, a wildly popular & famous Onmyoji from the Heian era. Onmydo is a system of magic & divination that appears to have it's roots in Chinese Taoism, & was an essential part of life here 1000 years ago. Onmyoji (practitioners of Onmyodo) were protectors of the city & the Emperor from baleful influences & illness. Abe no Seimei also further developed the practice of Onmyodo & the 5-pointed star represents his contributions to Onmyodo. The bellflowers on the fan are also an important symbol of his philosophy, & while we were at the shrine there were people planting scads of bellflowers in bloom everywhere. Abe no Seimei is a popular character in manga & anime, so it was very cool to have found his very own shrine just by accident!

Also on the way home we stopped by a 7/11 to get dinner. It's the first time we've done this so far this trip & was somewhat nostalgic, since we often end up at the conbini (convenience store) for meals when we visit Japan :) And- bonus- they had some sort of promotion going on, so I was asked to pick 3 cards out of a box, & 1 of them was lucky & we got a free bag of potato chips!

After dinner Charlie & Brendan took the shuttle bus to the subway station, just to look for a bakery or something for breakfast food & beverages. They also looked for some floats being constructed for the Gion Matsuri, because the map said they should be near there, but they appeared to have moved on.

So- tomorrow is our last full day in Kyoto & we hope to find a famous sweets shop. Stay tuned...


  1. Hi Lisa!

    It's been so much fun reading all about your trip! Looks like you guys are having a great time. :)


  2. Thanks so much for commenting, Silvia! I'm glad you're enjoying my ramblings :)