43

Higashiyama

k intro

 

Seeing as it was my birthday this week I thought why not live dangerously and do what every tourist who comes to Japan does – visit Kyoto and make a beeline for its famous pretty bits.

Crazy right? If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know this project is all about the ‘unfamous’ and having to search for beauty (well, okay, the Marais in Paris wasn’t exactly a challenge, nor Trastevere in Rome, but otherwise…).

It started well with a fun trip on the shinkansen, AKA bullet train, but I had a minor wobble as soon as we arrived when I spied the crowds of tourists and, yes, queues. I am not good at queues.

But it turned out that 99% of the tourists were Japanese. And call me something or other but I don’t mind hanging out with other tourists if they’re from their own country. Then it’s more like observing locals at play.

Oh, whatever. It was weird doing the ‘famous’ but it felt even more odd not to see it and not to show you.

The only real hiccup was that having decided to play tourist, I didn’t actually act like one – I was hopelessly under-researched and had no Top Ten list in my back pocket. Instead, we did what we normally do – chose one area to explore and no more. As a result, this is very much, here’s one part of Kyoto with a few shots of Japan’s most famous temple from another part thrown in.

I hope you enjoy our two-and-a-half-days-in-Kyoto-but-it-looks-like-one tour…

 

Part 1: Day two – the morning

First there was the train. Well, more like a plane really. Travelling at 300km an hour, the Nozomi shinkansen 700 series delivered us from edgy Tokyo to ancient Kyoto in just under 2.5 hours.

 

 

this is your captain speaking - the shinkansen

this is your captain speaking – the Nozomi shinkansen

 

 

 

 

just landed - arriving at Kyoto Station

just landed – arriving at Kyoto

 

 

 

 

travel back in time at 300 miles an hour

travel back in time at 300 km an hour

 

 

 

 

from Tokyo's man-made mountains to Kyoto's high-rise

from Tokyo’s man-made mountains to Kyoto’s high-rise

 

 

 

 

2. Day one – the afternoon

All year we’ve rented apartments. Most fine, a couple great, one woeful (when the cockroaches started walking across my computer it was time to go).

But we were only going to be staying in Kyoto for two nights and, you know, it was my birthday. So I managed to wrangle a swish hotel room for the two nights at ‘media rates’.

The hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was beautiful and really, who doesn’t love having their bed and breakfast made for them. But what made it extra special was that they organised for us to hang out with Tsubo-san. Job description – driver. But as I said, we didn’t do much dashing around. Instead Tsubo-san walked around with us for the afternoon, playing games with Coco at the same time as enlightening me about all things Japanese.

We spent most of the afternoon visiting Kiyomizudera Temple in Higashiyama, the old part of Kyoto. Just us and a zillion Japanese, keen to see the autumn leaves before they took to the ground.

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 1

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 1

 

 

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 2

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 2

 

 

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 3

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 3

 

 

 

 

Subo-san and Coco

Tsubo-san and Coco

 

 

 

 

After Kiyomizudera Temple we headed north to Kinkaku, the Golden Pavillion, also known as Rokuon-ji Temple. But with night falling as well as rain – and Coco tired and cold – we only stayed for a second. Just long enough to wonder how much the pure gold foil that covers the top two stories must be worth.

 

 

Kinkaku-ji in the rain

Kinkaku in the rain

 

 

 

 

Kyōko-chi  - mirror pond

Kyōko-chi – mirror pond

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Day two – Gion

Aside from being peak Momiji-gari (autumn leaf viewing time), it also seemed to be peak wedding shots time in Gion, the famous geiko (geisha) district that’s part of Higashiyama.

Tsubo-san had told us about the white wedding hat women traditionally wear the day before. So when we pitched up in Gion and spied 26 year old Asami in her wataboshi, we knew why she was wearing a large white envelope-type covering over her head. Because she had horns – all women do – and she needed to hide them.

 

 

pre-wedding photography session in Gion

pre-wedding photography session in Gion

 

 

 

 

a little to the left please

a little to the left please

 

 

 

 

Asami

Asami

 

 

 

 

an iconic shape - the fan

an iconic shape – the fan

 

 

 

 

Being kimono mad, I loved the wedding version. But I really love the head gear. When the photographer’s assistant helped Asami take it off, I spied the mechanics – the white material is held up by a simple wire structure that fits around the head like a halo.

Thanking the couple and the photographer – who was patient enough to have me shoot around him for a few minutes – we wandered off. Then around half an hour later, to their horror I’m sure, we ran into them again – there’d been a ‘costume change’…

 

 

umbrellas

umbrellas

 

 

 

 

like dolls

like dolls

 

 

 

 

After leaving them for the final time we met several other wedding couples, all dressed in their finery. Kyoto was clearly the city of lurve.

 

 

city of love

city of love

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Day two – Geisha dress-up

There’s one street in Higashiyama where people hang around in the hope of seeing a real geisha (called geiko in Kyoto, or maiko if they’ve got their L plates on) fly into a taxi or nip into a restaurant.

But knowing it was hit and miss and with so little time, I didn’t even try. And really, I was almost just as happy snapping the ‘geisha tourists’ – Japanese women who generally were spending just a day in Kyoto, paying up to 10,000 yen (around AUD$120) to be made up and dressed in geisha style.

Like the woman below, whose name I couldn’t get because I had precisely two seconds to shoot her before she was dragged off by her small team – I assume they get a lot of people mistaking them for the real thing and they’re over being bothered.

 

 

tourist geisha

tourist geisha

 

 

 

 

With Yuika and her friend, Hitomi, I had a few minutes more before their two assistants ushered them off.

 

 

visiting from Tokyo to play dress up - Yuika

visiting from Tokyo to play dress up – Yuika

 

 

 

 

last light

last light

 

 

 

 

setting sun

setting sun

 

 

 

 

On our last morning we met the sweetest geisha tourists, Emi and Kazumi, who’d left their home town in the early hours of the morning and had travelled five hours in a bus to get to Kyoto just for the day. Why? “It feels very good to wear traditional Japanese dress.”

Unlike the others, they didn’t have any assertive assistants hanging around them. They were quite happy wandering around by themselves, taking their own snaps.

 

 

"We left our home town at 3am and travelled 5 hours in a bus to get here" - Emi and Kazumi

“It feels good” – Emi and Kazumi

 

 

 

 

patchwork

patchwork

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Short and sweet though it was, I loved our few days in the ancient capital. I know there are those who criticise the Japanese government for not keeping more of old Kyoto – aside from a few other famous bits, Higashiyama is really it – but at least they kept what they did. It was enough to provide a break from full-tilt Tokyo.

Many thanks to the Hyatt Regency too, not only for providing a lovely room in a very stylish hotel, but for introducing us to Tsubo-san, a lovely man with a great sense of mischief and a mind full of fascinating facts.

But it was quick. So much so that when we got back, Coco told me she thought Kyoto seemed like a dream.

 

 

'mum, Kyoto seems like a dream'

‘mum, Kyoto seems like a dream’

 

 

 

 

I’m not so sure though – even if we’d stayed much longer, it might still seem like a dream. Especially during Momiji-gari.

 

 

mesmerised, again - Coco in the hotel room

mesmerised, again – Coco in the hotel room

 

 

 

 

On the home front

Dream or not, it was a lovely way to celebrate a birthday – although my actual birthday was spent back in Tokyo, wandering around Shimokitazawa again and eating cheap but excellent Indian at Spicia.

Now, the next post is going to be an even shorter one and it’s going to be very soon! Like tomorrow or so. Just that I have nine more neighbourhoods/suburbs to do and not that many weeks before I’ve got to get Coco back home and into school.

And yes, there’s that small thing called a budget too. It’s getting smaller by the minute.

This suburb has been brought to you by Anna Capron

See you very soon.

 

42

Kagurazaka

K intro

 

Oops.

I had planned to show you a younger face of Tokyo this week but ended up yet again being totally seduced by the old. I just meant to pop my head into Kagurazaka, a neighbourhood on the edge of Shinjuku, because a blog follower who’d lived there said it had “old, cobbled lanes running off of the high street and is one of the remaining areas in the centre of the city that you can still navigate using an Edo-era map” (thanks Laura B!).

Five minutes and then we’d be out of there. Ha. No such luck. Like a moth to a flame I was drawn in once more by those who float down the street, hair upswept, torsos bound and feet sheathed in white.

Ya. Kimonos. I cannot resist them, especially when they’re gliding around an older neighbourhood like Kagurazaka.

I was also sucked in by some beautiful wagashi – Japanese sweets – and the chance of spying geisha (they still frequent the area).

Some background: Kagurazaka is one of the few areas that wasn’t bombed in WWII. We’re talking Tokyo so that doesn’t mean they kept all the old stuff. But there’s more of it than in your average neighbourhood, as well as a cluster of very atmospheric cobbled lanes that Laura had mentioned. There’s also a distinct French presence with lots of little French eateries and, bizarrely, French music being piped down the main street.

Now glide…

 

Part 1: Kimonos in Kagurazaka

I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I’m so taken with the whole kimono look, more so than say with the Indian sari. I think it’s because while saris are extremely beautiful they’re part of the 21st century, still worn by millions of women on the Indian subcontinent as an everyday garment. The kimono on the other hand is a glimpse into the past – most modern Japanese women don’t wear one, and if they do, it’s usually for a special occasion only.

Which is why I love meeting those for whom it’s a passion. Like Emiko, a kimono hobbyist, and Kazuko, a kimono teacher, in the images below. Visit any city in the First World and really, we all look pretty much the same. But not these women. They’re committed to the process of assembling the 12 or more pieces that are required to put together a typical kimono outfit, mixing and matching the various bits in such a way that’s pleasing to their eye and reflective of their personality, and then securing them in the same way Japanese women have been doing so for centuries. One quick glance at an obi and you can tell – there’s no zipper there.

The other reason I’m so drawn to them is because most of them are such beautiful prints. They are moving artworks that literally dress up and enhance what can often be a fairly uninspiring urban landscape – even in Kagurazaka, where there are more old interesting buildings than usual as well as some appealing modern ones.

Anyway, I hope that explains why it’s week four in Tokyo and I’m still photographing kimonos – and as much as I’m trying to limit myself, may continue to do so until the day we say, see ya’ Tokyo.

 

 

straight lines - Emiko in her mother's kimono

“it’s my hobby” – Emiko in her mother’s kimono

 

 

 

 

salmon pink

salmon pink

 

 

 

 

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 1

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 1

 

 

 

 

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 2

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 2

 

 

 

 

ideal for winding your way to the mountains

ideal for winding your way to the mountains

 

 

 

 

patterns a plenty - Hatue

patterns a plenty – Hatue

 

 

 

 

infinite variety

infinite variety

 

 

 

 

We ran into Emiko and her friend, Yasuko, again at the end of the main road in Kagurazaka where modern Tokyo takes over once more. I loved watching their ancient shapes disappear into the crush of any-city garb.

 

 

heading home -Yasuko and Emiko :: 1

ancient in the modern  :: 1

 

 

 

 

heading home -Yasuko and Emiko :: 2

ancient in the modern :: 2

 

 

 

 

No sooner had they left than another group of kimonos turned up, with Kazuko, a kimono teacher, leading the charge.

 

 

Kazuko, kimono teacher

Kazuko, kimono teacher

 

 

 

 

a work of art

a work of art

 

 

 

 

my assistant - Coco explaining the project

my assistant – Coco explaining the project

 

 

 

 

fans

fans

 

 

 

 

As beautiful as Kazuko’s kimono was, it was the end of another exhausting day – time to do battle in the subway.

 

 

day fades quickly into night

day fades quickly into night in the Japanese autumn

 

 

 

 

rush hour on Tokyo subway

rush hour on Tokyo subway

 

 

 

 

The Japanese are expert at napping on the subway – Coco, absolutely tuckered out by a day of chasing kimonos in Kagurazaka, joined them.

 

 

turning Japanese

turning Japanese

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Coco in kimono

You know how in each city we do a little shoot with Coco dressed in something appropriate? Well, a kimono was the obvious choice for Tokyo but rather than do the whole kid-kimono thing, she wanted a kimono with a twist. So we bought a AUD$10 (cheap!) adult kimono jacket, stripy socks and added pink blush under her eyes, a look you see a fair bit around Tokyo.

Took a few shots of her down a lane – and then ducked up to the temple on the main road where there happened to be some sort of matsuri (festival) going on, to hand out our own offering… 

 

 

half anf half

half and half

 

 

 

 

with the temple dudes

with the temple dudes

 

 

 

 

mini kimono ladies

mini kimono ladies

 

 

 

 

would you like one? :: 1

would you like one? :: 1

 

 

 

 

would you like one? :: 2

would you like one? :: 2

 

 

 

 

would your dog like one?

would your dog like one?

 

 

 

 

what about you, would you like one?

what about you, would you like one?

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Sweet things

After the temple, we went and visited Hisae whom we’d met the first day we arrived in the neighbourhood at her shop, Baikatei, to admire her beautiful sweets once more.

 

 

 

sweet - Hisae outside the 80 year old shop she's had for 45 years

sweet – Hisae outside the 80 year old shop she’s had for 45 years

 

 

 

 

Hisae explained that what makes her sweets so special is the type of sugar they use and the way they process the beans that go inside the sweets. That and the skill of her main man, who makes hundreds of tiny, edible artworks every day…

 

 

from this to...

from this…

 

 

 

 

to this - Camelia Princess

…to this – Camellia Princess

 

 

 

 

I wanted to photograph some of his creations on something that was equally special. So we bought a few and wandered through the back streets of Kagurazaka to find another shop we’d spied earlier that had beautiful hand-made plates amongst other things.

Now, I’m not easily impressed and I’m not much a retail queen, but if I had the moola, I would buy every single item at La Ronde D’Argile. And I’d like to live in the building too, a tiny old house with tatami mats and the most wonderful feeling.

I don’t think the shop’s owner knew quite what to make of us – a kid in a kimono jacket and me, carrying a tray of Japanese sweets, pointing wildly at her plates – ‘Can I please take your plates outside and photograph these sweets on them?’

 

 

anyone?:: 1

anyone for a Camellia Princess?:: 1

 

 

 

 

anyone?:: 2

anyone for a Camellia Princess?:: 2

 

 

 

 

snowmen and Santa :: 1

snowmen and Santa :: 1

 

 

 

 

snowmen and Santa :: 2

snowmen and Santa :: 2

 

 

 

 

After I’d finished snapping the sweets, I couldn’t help taking a few shots of the shop’s interior. Actually, I think it was partly that we just didn’t want to leave. Coco made herself at home on the tatmi mats, drawing and playing a game of rock, paper, scissor in Japanese with a new found friend, while I floated around, uplifted by the tiny house’s good energy.

 

 

the work of 'up and coming Japanese artists'

the work of ‘up and coming Japanese artists’

 

 

 

 

a customer scrutinises the wares

a customer scrutinises the wares

 

 

 

 

while Coco plays with her new friend

while Coco plays with her new friend

 

 

 

 

The only feature of the place I wasn’t fond of was the staircase. Vertiginous in a word.

 

 

scary steep stairs

scary steep stairs

 

 

 

 

drat it, I didn't write down her name - but she's the owner

drat it, I didn’t write down her name – but she’s the owner

 

 

 

 

At some point while playing inside, Coco remembered we’d brought chopsticks to put in her hair and stuck them in. She had the kimono, the napping on trains, the playing rock, paper, scissor in Japanese and the chopsticks. All she needed now was…

 

 

doing the peace sign thing - the transformation is complete

doing the peace sign thing – the transformation is complete

 

 

 

 

I do not know why all Japanese – aside from the kimono women – do the peace sign thing when being photographed. But they do. And now Coco does too.

As we were leaving the neighbourhood for the last time, we ran into Hatue again, an older lady we’d met on a rainy, cold day during the week. Hatue was always in a rush and looked slightly peeved that I was taking up her time. But this time Coco, enlivened by her new Japanese-ness, launched herself at Hatue and gave her an enormous hug. Suddenly Hatue wasn’t in a hurry anymore.

 

 

 

hug

hugging Hatue

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I loved all the kimonos of course but what about Kagurazaka itself? Well, it was probably the most manicured, upmarket neighbourhood we’d explored so far and at one point I wondered if the people that lived or hung out there were less open, more remote. But a kid in a kimono, a tray of tiny biscuits and a hug were all it took to bring out the best in the Kagurazaka-ites.

As for the built environment, amongst the usual Tokyo low rise there were those few lovely old lanes, some sweet older houses and a few more modern numbers with nice clean lines. And like all of Tokyo – at least the bits we’ve seen – there were no hovels nor no mansions, and no pavements (I get it – not enough space for pavements – but it always surprises me.)

And the French thing? Distracted by all things Japanese, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But that piped muzak, it’s really gotta go.

 

 

 

French? un petit peu

French? un petit peu

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco’s had a ball this week. Dressing up, meeting new people, playing new games. She’s loved it. And that kimono jacket, well, it hasn’t left her side…

 

 

 

it's amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 1

it’s amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 1

 

 

 

 

it's amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves ::  2

it’s amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 2

 

 

 

This suburb has been brought to you by Andrew Leslie

See you next week.

 

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