[Joint post by Dad & Dave]
We continued the theme of continuous food on Monday when we started by going out to breakfast, before visiting the farm property where David?s mother & father borrow a bit of space to lovingly maintain their vegetable patch. They grow pretty much the same things that we would grow in a summer vegetable garden. Plus watermelons. Their current challenge is to keep the crows (karasu) away after the vegies have grown all big and strong with the recent heavy rains.
The property is owned by an elderly man who is now in a nursing home. The farm house was built 200 years ago and, to us, is quite historical. None of the doors are higher than 5 feet in height. The house sits on a large piece of land, and has a courtyard at the back of the house – all within the walls of the property. Almost everything that had been used on the farm was stored in one of the barns which were built at right angles to the house. Hanging in the loft in one of the barns was an old sedan chair that had been used by the old gentleman?s mother at her wedding. It was a real insight to an old Japanese farming culture.
Before lunch, we were taken for a tour of Tenri, the next city down from Nara.Â Tenri is the home of Tenri-kyo, a religion created in the 1800s, and is a mix of teachings from Buddhism and other religions.Â The architecture of many buildings in the town owned by the church, including the main Tenri-kyo church, is unique and consistent.Â We visited the main building, and saw followers wearing Tenri-kyo black “happi” coats going about their daily prayers.
From there it was on to lunch and after that we were dropped off at the Kintetsu Line Station to catch the train to Osaka. Kintetsu Nara station is in the middle of the city and the map below shows some of the main attractions close to the town and Nara Park.
We went to one of Osaka’s main districts, Namba. The trip by train took 50 minutes and we exited into a station complex consisting of a maze of subways and shopping malls. The characters for “Namba” literally mean “difficult wave”, and although the sea is not nearby, it certainly is difficult to weave through the wave of pedestrian traffic that is constantly moving along the streets and shopping malls.
Dad’s impression is that this area is a large city without any real ?stand-out? features. Nearby Shinsaibashi is however the Osaka centre for teenage fashion and it was interesting to do a bit of people watching and seeing strange (to us) fashions & hairstyles. We got the impression that these kids needed to spend a lot of money to look cool and ?grungy?.
Seeing that Japan is the world?s centre of technology, we thought that we should spend a few hours in some of the electronic shops. We found one like a department store that was 6 stories high, and bought a couple of small gadgets that we could easily carry. From there, we walked along a number of the very long shopping arcades and ended up at Dotonbori with the big crab landmark. Dotonbori is a neon lit street along a river, famous as an entertainment area and for its restaurants.
Regional food diffences are important in Japan, and this area is famous for its seafood – especially its octopus dumplings (takoyaki). These are made by vendors who magically create little dough balls with octopus in the middle on a hot plate with a moulded tray, who rotate the dumplings into shape with a metal skewer.
By contrast to Osaka, the city of Kyoto, which we visited on Tuesday, is charming and genteel. It is the home of many famous temples, art galleries, and little back streets straight out of the set of the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. (Funny that – the movie was set in Kyoto after all.)
However, before we hit the old world of old Kyoto, we took time to explore the new Kyoto Station building. This is an architectural marvel, or monstrosity, depending on your point of view. It is all steel and glass, bold lines and grand spaces, but built in the heart of a charming ancient capital. It was built about 10 years ago, and is across the road from the hotel in which we stayed during the terrible 1995 Kobe earthquake. They’ve fixed the broken windows since then! Seeing this building again brought back some memories of our last trip to Kyoto.
And, just like the day of the earthquake, we walked about 4 kms from Kyoto station up to Kiyomizudera, one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. The main hall of the temple is built on the side of one of the moutains lining Kyoto’s eastern border. It has a grand wooden balcony built up on stilts looking over the valley below. It is surrounded by deciduous trees, and in autumn would be quite spectacular. Presently, in summer, it’s very green, especially during the present humid rainy season.
From there, we had lunch at a small café £alled “White Lover” (make of that what you will) before walking back through the district of Gion (an old part of Kyoto) where the guidebooks say that if you are lucky, you can occassionally get a glimpse of a geisha stepping out into the street. We weren’t lucky and it was probably too wet for anyone but mad tourists to be out on the street anyway.
Finally, we headed back to the subway station through the Shijo retail district. Preparations are under way for the annual Gion Festival, which will take place over the next week or so. This area is full of hustle-bustle.
Today (Wednesday), we’ve had a much slower day. We met Deno-san and Kobayashi-sensei, two of David’s old high school teachers, for lunch in Nara. We also had a look in the Nara City Museum of Photography, which currently has an exhibition of Yaikichi Irie’s photos. He was a well-known Nara photographer, who took beautiful photos of the Nara area and its historical buildings.
Tonight, we are staying at David’s host sister Akiyo’s house in Takarazuka, because it is close to Osaka Airport, from where we fly out tomorrow morning for Niigata, and then Vladivostok. The Japan part of our trip is nearly over, and we’re looking forward to going to Russia.