Hello again tonight I aim to finish up my talk about Kyoto.
BLOODY HELL THERE WAS AN EARTHQUAKE LAST NIGHT!
Alright fair game, it was a piddly little earthquake. It was a 4 on the ricter scale. To put that in perspective the earthquake in Lincolnshire earlier this year was a 5.0 on the ricter scale. The only damage I know was that my friend Laura’s chair fell over.
I mention it mostly because I’m annoyed. You see I slept through the whole bloody thing. This means I have slept through an earthquake and a hurricane and walked through a bloody tornado without noticing any unusual conditions at all. I’m a bit like Mr Magoo, blindly stumbling through a world of disasters.
Finishing up at Kiyomizu-dera me and Fran went into the main temple hall and onto the veranda to look at the views. Both Fran and myself have seen the temple hall before and it is largely unimpressive compared to some of the ones I have seen so it didn’t really draw much interest.
By far the most memorable part of the entire hall was this little chap, a picture I took on my last visit.
Isn’t he just adorable. Ah Japan, sometimes you’re so deliciously oblivious you make me smile. Actually he reminds me of Mr Popo from Dragonball.
Although apparently he isn’t even meant to be a black person. He’s modelled on one of the ancient Japanese deities, the one that’s in charge of wealth I think.
Leaving the temple we nipped into one of the tents at the approach to the temple and had some lunch. This was easily the classiest tent I have ever eaten in. For starters we had to sit on tatami in the Japanese sitting position (you know the one, on your knees with your bum on your heels). I had soba (buckwheat noodles) and Fran had udon (wheat noodles) and we both split some tofu.
Now a lot of people badmouth tofu and I’m here to defend it. Tofu is bland and flavourless, yes, I agree but that isn’t the point. It’s healthy and a good source of protein and has an interesting and delightful texture. You add flavour to it. It’s basically savoury jelly. Jelly is flavourless too until you add fruit but nobody ever complains about jelly. Well actually I do, never really did like it, or custard, or cream and I’m indifferent to sponge. In fact when it comes to desserts you could say I’m a trifle picky.
Anyway this particular tofu was great. It was served in a bucket of hot water. You sieved the tofu out of the water and put it into a bowl containing soy sauce, chilli powder and sliced welsh onions (negi). Good eating, actually it’s one of my favourite snacks.
Having gathered sustenance we had a flick through our lonely planet guide to decide where to head next and chanced upon a walking tour included in the newest edition. This promised to take us down some odd, old and interesting streets. Being a fan of winding ancient alleyways I jumped at the prospect and off we set. First stop teapot lane.
Teapot lane is so called because of the vast numbers of potters plying their wares along it. The entire street is given over to touristy shops but classy touristy shops. Cheap tat (which I am not criticising at all because Japan has the best and most interesting tat in the world) was prevalent on the parallel road but teapot lane is full of artworks, expensive but gorgeous teapots and cups, beautiful delicate fans, Yukata and all the other delicate works of art that people associate with Japan. It’s a fantastic place to wander and window shop and Fran was instantly taken with it.
We followed the advice of the guidebook and turned off teapot lane heading towards Maruyama-koen, a park which is famous in the whole of Japan for it’s sakura. The street we were headed down was amazing my dream Japanese street. Thin, crowded, twisty with ornate slated roofs overhanging into the street and everywhere dotted with sakura. Furthermore the shops continued in the same vein as teapot lane, quirky and very, very Japanese. It was bliss to stroll down it and it was very nearly perfect.
Then it got perfect.
As we started to reach Gion we spotted two geisha wandering down the street and after seeing a young Japanese couple get their photo taken with tme Fran plucked up the courage to do the same.
Geisha, sakura, slate roofs, twisty alleys, beautiful pots and a lovely sunny spring day. Perfect.
We paused in our advance to nip into a tearoom and partake of a parfait. A complex Japanese sundae-esque desert. Mine consisted of green tea ice-cream, milk ice-cream, anko (sort of a sweet kidney bean), brown sugar ice-cream, cinnamon biscuits, pudding and warabimochi. I removed the pudding (crème caramel, see “a trifle picky”) and dug in.
Mochi is a very, very sticky dumpling like confection made with pounded rice. Warabimochi was advertised as being “bracken mochi” which intrigued me. What it actually was, was bland jelly. I ate it but I wasn’t happy. The rest of the pudding was delicious though. Green tea ice cream is slightly bitter but fantastically refreshing, milk and anko are a nigh on perfect combination and I would kill for those biscuits again, particularly covered in brown sugar ice-cream.
Japanese people love their sweets, I love certain sweets but it seems that may tastes do not match up with those of the Japanese people. So until then I had never happily eaten a dessert in a Japanese restaurant. But, MY SWEET GOD was that pudding nice.
We ate happily, drank tea, people watched the young girls wandewring by in yukata and spotted more Geisha than I have ever before seen in my life.
Further sated we continued to amble through glorious scenery and eventually made our way to Maruyama-koen.
Hanami can be done in two fashions, we were trying to accomplish both in one day. The first is to amble along lanes underneath sakura looking at the trees. The second and more popular is to find a park and picnic in it sat underneath a sakura tree. And by picnic I mean drink copiously.
Maruyama-koen was packed by the time we got there, absolutely full to bursting with Japanese people of all ages partying wildly. Sitting, dancing, singing, running, playing games. Seldom have I ever seen a Japanese crowd so relaxed and free. Some students had set-up a mixing desk and some speakers and were running an impromptu disco. Well they were, until the police shut them down. Their fun and infectious tracks were then replaced with the same students singing (well, making a sort of noise anyway, an animalistic one) loudly to inaudible songs and inentionally badly, and off key. Nice one mister policeman, this is so much preferable than the music.
We made a circuit of the park to take a photo of the famous “weeping” sakura tree in the centre of the park and then headed off to go get food, drink and join in. Having procured some beers, chu-hi and tako-yaki we started looking for somewhere to sit. There were tarps everywhere but there were also people sitting on tatami and piles of tatami everywhere. I went to grab some tatami and was shouted at by a man.
“hey, hey you have to rent that.”
“oh, never mind.”
Sadly we were on a time-limit to get home and I wasn’t going to rent a tatami for an hour so I put it back.
He then started speaking in Japanese which Fran tried to translate. The gist of it seemed to be that he was inviting us over. We went over to see him and he explained that he rents the tatami and he was inviting us to use some of his for free.
So we sat and chatted (alas awkwardly) and generally had a pretty nice time. He and his friends gave us some free umeshu (a sort of plum wine/liqueur which you drink diluted in summer. It is delicious and Fran is mildly addicted). He also gave us free peanuts despite me explaining repeatedly that I a) had some takoyaki and b) didn’t really like peanuts. I ate some anyway to make him happy.
They were really, really nice people and I wish I could have stayed all night drinking and chatting. The whole thing reminded me of being a student, going to the green festival and just spending a day in a park getting hammered without a care in the world. But we were on a time limit, I had work the next day (in fact I needed to try and get back home before the dry cleaners closed so that I could retrieve my suit) and we needed to get a train back from Kyoto.
Before we left we were treated to one final absolutely magical sight.
I can honestly say that bar some of the stress of trying to get a train home in time (we didn’t manage it in the end and had to get a friend to pick up my laundry) this was one of the best days of my entire life. I will remember it fondly.