Thursday, July 16, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 8: Gion Matsuri

I was looking at my facebook page & noticed that most of my posts appear to feature food, because they use the first photo on the post, I guess. It made me think about how important the food is to our travels in Japan. Like, really important! I have loved Japanese food for years, & thanks to Momo & Shizuka have cooked everything from home-style Japanese food to more exotic stuff, like shrimp tenpura onigiri and casetela cake & mochi.  But there's nothing like eating it here, in Japan :)

On this note, we had purchased breakfast pastries in Takeda Station yesterday, before being picked up & transported to the house. Charlie had sugary, triangle doughnuts with cream filling & my melon pan, although nearly day-glo green on top, was filled with orange melon creme & quite yummy. I made tea & we shared a bottle of mango juice.

Such a nice way to start the day! Especially after having a nice night's sleep in our new beds. Brendan is on a futon on tatami mats & Charlie & I have the western-style room. All are, fortunately, air-conditioned. In Japanese older homes they do it room by room & then just keep the sliding doors shut. There's nothing like walking our of an air-conditioned room into a hot, humid hallway- nostalgically Japan :)

The hamsterbeans, Beanie & Tomo, are happy to hang out on a fan:

Charlie did some internet research to track the typhoon heading our way & it looks like it'll hit tonight & really be bad tomorrow. I emailed Momo, because she, Hiroko-san, & the kids planed to arrive Friday afternoon & that might be a really bad time to be traveling here. She replied & asked to skype, so we chatted about it all by skype & decided it would be best for them to come Saturday. This way Hiroshi will be with them as well.

The other decision we made was that, if we wanted to see any of the Gion Matsuri (festival). we'd better do it today. The first big parade is tomorrow but they may have to cancel it because of the expected rain & winds.

The Gion Matsuri originated more than 1000 years ago, when Kyoto was experiencing a terrible plague. The Emperor offered up prayers at the Yasaka Shrine (formerly the Gion Shrine) and had omikoshi (remember them?) sent out on carts all through the area, in order to purify them. It worked, & Kyoto has been celebrating every year ever since. To commemorate the omikoshi, they make 33 floats on carts, some of which carry enshrined gods & some which depict scenes from history or folklore.

Charlie & I walked to the Takeda subway station around mid-morning (after I got a load of laundry going) to ride to Shijo Station, where we knew some of the floats would be located, on the city streets outside. It was a quick, 10-minute trip & then we were up & out in the humid, windy, Kyoto streets. Folks in yukata were handing out uchiwa fans near each of the floats as souvenirs.

The crowds were pretty amazing. When we got to the first nearby float, we noticed that it had a bridge across from the second or third floor of the building it was next to, & you could buy a ticket to go up, climb into the float & have your photo taken. They were also selling mascots, omamori (good luck charms). & tenugui (pretty lengths of cloth) near the floats. On the side streets there were festival vendors & games.

We got to see 3 of the floats (not inside- it looked pretty difficult to climb in there). Using the guidebook we have at the house we identified them as the Tsuki Hoko (moon float):

 the Niwatori Hoko (chicken float, yes chicken :)

 & the Kikusui Hoko (kiku= chrysanthemum, sui=water, & Kikusui is the name of a well):

We also bought some taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes with red bean paste inside) & casutela (little cakes that are kind of like pound cake), all cooked on site.

Then we found a restaurant near the station & had a lovely lunch. Mine was all veggie!

 Charlie had tonkatsu, which is panko-fried pork. Then we hopped back on the subway for home, after buying some lunch for Brendan, who wasn't up for crowds today :)

After a rest & cooling off we decided to go back out to look for a supermarket, for when the families arrive, & to buy supplies for the next couple of days, as it won't be fun going out in a typhoon. The rain had mostly held-off in the morning, although the clouds were rolling in & the sky was looking impressively grey. The owner of the house we rented came by to batten down the hatches, so we confirmed the locations of the bus stops & the supermarket (or thought we had...). We found the bus stop easily & waited no more than 10 minutes for a bus to come. Charlie had us get off at where he thought we should be, but it didn't look quite right, so instead of consulting the map we had (duh) we walked on... for about 15 minutes before realising we really didn't know where we were. So we looked at the map & were way too far from the supermarket. So, after at least half an hour of walking, we found it. Shopped for 2 days of meals, packed them up & walked out into... rain. Sigh. It let up by the time we got to the bust stop, the bus came within 7 minutes or so, & we were on our way home. The sky over Kyoto kept getting more & more impressive:

I spent the evening dealing with semi-dry laundry (which is now festooned around the place- good thing it's windy) from the combo washer/dryer, which just kind of segues from washing to drying, takes forever, & leaves the laundry dampish. But hey- clean clothes! I also skyped with Momo again to confirm that their travel plans are shifting from Friday to Saturday. And we also skyped with our friend (& very first Japanese teacher) Tomoko, who lives near Fukuoka City, on the southern island of Kyushu. We've stayed with Tomoko & her mom a few times on trips to Japan, & although we were hoping they would join us in Kyoto, they weren't able to. So it was great to chat with them for a while & catch up.

Then we ate some of the goodies we bought this afternoon at the matsuri :)

Tonight the typhoon should really pick up. The wind is already pretty amazing out there. Tomorrow will be a good day to stay in & play games, watch movies, & stay dry!

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