There are many customs in Japan that I have been learning this week. In a previous post I mentioned about the variety of slippers you put on depending on the room you enter. Some other customs I have learned include
- When entering a home from the outside it is customary to first wash your hands.
- When paying for goods, it is impolite to hand money directly to the cashier. They will hand you a tray or mat onto which you place the credit card or money.
- When handing a card, gift, letter to another person or when they hand the same to you, you give/accept the item with both hands and gently bow your head to show appreciation of receiving the item.
- Before and after a meal you say a blessing, not unlike back home. Before you eat: ita daki mas After the meal: go chi so same deshta
On Tuesday I had a day to explore Kyoto on my own. After checking out of my hotel in the morning I grabbed a day bus pass and set off for Rokuon-Ji Temple to see the Golden Pavillion. Another of Japan’s World Heritage sites, it was built first to be a villa of Kintsune Saionji. In 1394, the 3th Shogun of Ashikaga, Yoshimitsu, began to the build the site taking special care to make it a site to behold. After his death it was made into a Zen temple per his will. The building consists of three types of architecture. The 1st floor is Shinden-zukuri, palace style. The 2nd floor in Buke-zukuri , samurai style and the 3rd floor is Karaky style or Zen Temple style. The 2nd and 3rd floors are covered with gold leaf on Japanese lacquer. A Chinese Phoenix sits atop the roof. Tis was one of favorite place to vista thus far on the trip. I enjoyed a cup of tea while sitting outside below tall trees and felt very at peace here. I was amused at the groups of school children stopping me to practice their English and take pictures with me. This has happened many times throughout the trip.
My next stop was Ryoanji Temple. Built around 1500 by a Zen monk, this temple houses a simple rock garden consisting only of white sand and fifteen rocks known to be one of the masterpieces of Japanese culture. The path leading up to the temple is beautifully landscaped. Every time I turned my head there was something else to see. Japanese landscaping evokes much contemplation and reflection on the viewer.
I travelled next to the Nishijin Textile Center and purchase some embroidered silk fabric for a friend back home and then stopped to visit the Shiramine Shine, which is dedicated to sports. Soccer balls, volleyballs, basketballs, baseballs, field hockey sticks another sporting equipment decorated each shrine. On this day there were a few athletes visiting and saying prayers at many of the small shrines spread throughout the grounds.
Continuing on, I found my way to the convergence of the Kamo and Takano Rivers and took some time to cross both. Large stepping stones in the shapes of turtles and birds created a path stretching from one bank to the other. Up river a series of waterfalls could be seen. Next up was a stop at the Shimogamo Shrine. This was a place of serenity and calm. I stopped for lunch at Hanaore Restaurant which specializes in Sabasushi. “Saba” is mackerel. To make Sabasushi, fresh mackerel from the Sea of Japan is soaked in a vinegar base sauce and them put onto sushi rice. It is then presses into a bar (know as Oshisushi, meaning pressed sushi). I was treated also to a small order of salted mackerel that had been preserved in salt 7-12 months which I was told is a nice compliment to the bottle of sake I had sipped on.
Near the restaurant I met my cooking instructor, Taro Sekei. Together with four other students, we walked a short distance to his home where we were greeted by his wife Yoshiko and daughter Karuko. We started class by going over the menu and learning about Japanese cooking ingredients. Below is a list of the dishes we prepared:
- Dashi : vegetarian and non-vegetarian (Japanese soup stick made from kelp and bonito fish flakes)
- Miso soup (two types: vegetarian and non-vegetarian)
- Yakinasu no Nibitashi (Grilled & simmered eggplant)
- Tamago yaki (Japanese omelet)
- Goma-ae (half cooked spinach)
- Tsukune (Japanese chicken meatballs)
- Ponzu Sauce (citrus and soy based sauced with dashi)
- Agedashi-tofu (fried tofu with ginger sauce)
- Tsukudashi (rice condiment)
The ingredients we studied included:
- Soy sauce (5 types)
- Miso (3 types)
- Sake (for cooking)
- Mirin (sweet sake)
- Kombu (kelp)
- Katsuobushi (dried and shredded fish flakes)
- Seasonal mushrooms
The tools we learned to use included”
- Cooking chopsticks (3 types)
- Square omelet pan
- Tofu pan
- Miso strainer
After cooking we sat down to enjoy the meal together and celebrate our new skills. We were served some Japanese sweets and green tea for dessert and parted ways shortly after. If you ever travel to Kyoto and are looking for a unique experience I highly recommend this class.
I made my way back to the hotel to meet Mr. Kusanagi. Together we travelled to his home; about 20 minutes away form Kyoto near Japan’s largest lake. There I met his wife Maki, and their three children, Yutakta, Yurika, and Kyoka. They treated me to a meal of shabu-shabu and sushi; yet another amazing meal. After dinner we played some game, Sequence and Spot-It, and then prepared for bed. I had my first experience sleeping on a traditional Japanese bed. With another full day of sight seeing behind me, I was ready for some sleep.
Tomorrow I will take the bullet train (Japan’s fastest) to Hiroshima, a two-hour ride southwest of Kyoto. Once there I will visit a flower shop near Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park the visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the museum. I will dedicate the flowers and 1000 paper cranes, which were folded by members of the Lawrence community this fall and shipped ahead of time. Afterwards, I will meet with a survivor of the atomic bomb blast and hear about his experiences.