Kyoto the Opaque

Uwe and I visited both China and Japan on a trip. We were startled when Japan felt  much more foreign than China. For a First World country, Japan is opaque and surprisingly difficult to grasp.

Huh?

Huh?

We made sure we had plenty of time in Kyoto, traditionally Japan’s cultural heart.* Tokyo is modern and young and moves swiftly. Ancient Kyoto also seemed to have an older population, although the Kyoto train station was by far the most wonderfully futuristic we’ve ever visited. Our autumn visit coincided with the Jidai Matsuri, or Festival of Ages, held every year on October 22nd.

For a millennium Kyoto was the country’s capitol. In 1868 the emperor moved his imperial court to Tokyo. The Kyoto Prefecture was afraid that Kyoto’s thousand years of history would fade from memory. To make sure this didn’t happen they built the Heian Shrine to house the spirit of Emperor Kammu, who founded Kyoto in 794. The Jidai Gyoretsu, a parade for the Jidai Matsuri, was first staged in 1895.

Chairs are set up along the parade route and reserved well in advance. The parade  started at noon at the Imperial Palace. We positioned ourselves on the grass 4.5 kilometers away, not far from the giant red torii gates of the Heian Shrine where the parade would end.

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D30_8390_DxO8The parade commemorates the continuous ages of Kyoto history with truly spectacular costumes and objects. It begins with participants dressed in the styles of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and then goes back in time to the Heian Era (794-1185). Musicians and buskers, riders on horse back and flag carriers all march.

D30_8375_dxoThe outfits are accurate from the samurai warriors’ headdresses and armor down to the last dot of face make up. Every detail has been researched.** Over 2,000 people take part in the parade.

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D30_8295_dxoThe procession lasted for hours and Uwe took hundreds of photographs. Occasionally I made a run for bottles of water and snacks. We fell in love with onigiri, an ingenious salmon and rice treat wrapped in seaweed. It comes in a deceptively simple looking package that holds all of the ingredients separate until you open it.

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D30_8404_DxO8I’ll need a separate post to talk about the shrines and temples we visited and the geishas we saw. Or to describe the cloths and scarves I bought, each with its special weaving technique and materials. Or the lacquerware bowls I fell in love with, first developed by monks as the perfect receptacle for rice…

NOTES: *Kyoto contains 17 World Heritage sites and is a UNESCO World Heritage City.

**The methods used to make the costumes are traditional, too.

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier post 8:15 A.M.to read more about our visit to Japan.

Additional information: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/travel-tips-and-articles/77406#ixzz2zEtAXf7i

http://www.kyotoguide.com

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Steamy Rotorua!

Most of our time in New Zealand I felt the landscape was alive. Especially on the North Island, I had the eerie sensation of standing on a very active volcano. The ground steams in places, thanks to the underground hot springs everywhere.

Three things remain fresh in my memory: Maori culture and architecture; the crisp Sauvignon Blancs that were all we drank; and the utter alive-ness of the nature.

The charming city of Rotorua contains all three.

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Maori kapa haka performance

Whaernui

Wharenui

We could view the wharenui (meeting house) of the Māori people from outside. I was taken by the use of local materials, symbolism, and the symmetry and beauty of every traditional building.WR_05_04_095

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The Kiwis make great wine. When it comes to bottled grapes, I’m amused by the jargon. My own descriptions used to run to statements like, “A naughty little vintage. If this was a small child, I’d spank it and send it to bed without supper.” I loved it when I discovered that New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs are described as releasing a heavy whiff of cat pee when you first open the bottle. (I’m not making this up. Wine expert Jancis Robinson remarks, “Indeed one branded Sauvignon Blanc on sale in Britain is actually sold under the brand name Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush.”)* Yuck! If that’s the first impression you get from a wine, what could make anyone want to go past just opening the dang thing?

It was worth the adventure to try one.

We bought a bottle and opened it in our hotel room. Phew-ee! Sure enough, there was a heady stink of feral cat which thankfully faded immediately. I dared to fill a glass, took a sip… and was greeted by an explosion of quince, green apples, citrus fruits, kiwis and gooseberries. Those Sauvignon Blancs are so delicious that I never even bothered trying any other grape varietal while we were there. Why mess with kitty litter box perfection?

And then there is the natural world.WR_05_04_064

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We visited parks where everything burbled, bubbled, exploded or engulfed us in clouds of steam. WR_05_04_072We did all of the hiking loops and were wowed by the spectacle of shooting geysers, blubbering springs, and mineral ponds containing colors I had no idea normally appear in Nature. WR_05_04_077

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WR_05_04_082In one park gift shop I purchased mud for facials that someone dipped out of a pond on the park grounds. No small feat as most of the park waters are at boiling point!

Seriously. Someone was dumb enough to want to find out, "Just how hot is this spring?" The park has to post signs warning people not to step here.

Seriously. Someone was actually dumb enough to want to find out, “Just how hot is this spring? Can I really cook my ankles in it?”

The park had to post signs warning people not to step in the springs. I say, let Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Nature take their course…

NOTES: *http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/jrs03406

http://waiotapu.co.nz/

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from New Zealand and Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.