Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Amazing Japanese Summer Vacation with Mom: Kyoto!

The Lord is good! That is what has become so real to me these past few days as I have struggled with whether or not to take the publishing contract, emailing other authors, praying, reading the Bible, through tears and sleepless nights to come up with a decision. The publisher said they would allow me to make any changes I want, and all my published author friends told me to go for the deal as it seems like a reputable publisher, one that has won awards and all that. One of them said "writers are like hookers. We stand on the street corner and when someone calls us, we go, as long as there's money involved." He's a Christian, so I'm really shocked that he would use such a metaphor. My other friends, however, have suggested I go with my instinct. God has blessed me so much. There have been times in my life when I felt God was telling me to wait, when I wanted something so bad and he said, "No," and I just frankly hated Him for it for awhile. But He was always, always right. Whether it was in relationships or travel or business, He's never been wrong. I definitely don't want to lock myself into a five-year contract with this sick, nauseating feeling in my stomach the whole time, feeling like I failed before the book is even published. So I will hold off on a contract for now. When I get back to America, that Christian agent said she’ll probably be interested in helping me, and if all goes well, we can strike a deal with a traditional publisher together. It feels good to know I’ll have a mentor helping me along. Of course I’ve had plenty of amazing teachers at the University of Tulsa and Night Writers and Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc, but now I have someone who really shares my vision, loves my stories and can stand beside me, helping me hone my craft to the best of my ability.

Now, back to my amazing adventures with Mom in Japan! Monday, July 26 we woke up bright and early so we could leave Kayoko`s house before she and her mom had to go to work, ate custard and bread for breakfast, and headed out at 7:15 to catch the bus for the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji). Kayoko showed us which bus to take on the way. We got there about 8:00, but it didn`t open until 9:00, so we spent the time wandering around the grounds and deleting bad pictures off our memory cards so we`d have room for more! When 9:00 came and the gates opened, we got our first look at the beautiful temple:

You can`t quite see the golden phoenix on the top, but it`s there. It was originally built in the late 1300s as a retirement villa for shogun, but after his death he requested that it be converted to a Zen Buddhist temple.

At the temple, we saw a really big, beautiful butterfly. Japan has a lot of these:

The gift shop was a good place to buy souvenirs. I got a gorgeous calendar full of traditional Japanese art (only a little more flashy) and a book about a modern day apprentice geisha.

After the temple we had lunch at the famous parfait place Kayoko took me once, karafuniya, that sells over 99 different types of parfait. The name sounds almost Spanish, and ironically, we met some Spaniards on the bus who decided to come by the restaurant later. It was sooo good! I got the cheese sandwich for lunch and the strawberry cookie chocolate parfait for desert. Mom, still craving American food, had the hamburger patty and chocolate/raspberry parfait. For two people, it was about 25 dollars, very cheap for Japan! Here’s a picture of the parfaits:

Then we went on an English tour of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace. I gotta say, not much there. Just a lot of staring through gateways we couldn’t go in on an ugly gravel lawn in 100 degree heat and 100% humidity. I can think of a lot better ways we could have spent the time. The one and only cool thing (figuratively and literally), was the Japanese pond park the Imperial family kept to remind them of the ocean:

It seems to me that at least Japanese citizens should be able to go into the actual palace. They pay taxes to maintain it, and it's not like anyone lives there anymore. But the guide told me the precious artifacts inside are in too much danger of being damaged by tourists.

"So why not encase them in glass or put them in a museum for people to enjoy?" I asked. After all, what good is art if it just sits there without being enjoyed by anyone?

"We can't," was all the tour guide said.

She also told us the palace burned down at least three times while the emperor lived there.

“Then why did they keep rebuilding it out of wood?” I asked.

“Because it’s cooler,” the tour guide replied.

Ha, ha, I thought. She doesn’t live in a wooden apartment with rice paper walls. The Japanese have no concept of proper insulation.

I bit my tongue and said instead, “You’d think they would be more concerned about protecting the royal family than staying cool. After all, he was considered a deity.”

“Coolness is most important,” she replied seriously. As if that really answered the question.

I found out later from a much wiser tour guide that the real reason is because Japan doesn’t have stone. Just a lot of wood. Now that makes a lot more sense. I know from experience that the Japanese are not so stupid as to keep doing the same thing wrong over and over again at risk to their own lives. They are always changing and adapting, whenever possible.

But a little advice: don’t visit Kyoto in summer. It’s much hotter than the rest of Japan because it’s in a valley and the sun beats directly on it. Also extremely humid. So why build the capital there? Valleys over good protection, and the river decent trade. Plus the winters are a lot more tolerable.

If you must visit in the summer, a good place to go is kyomizudera (water temple.) It’s up in the mountains and as the name suggests, there’s a lot of water. Here’s a picture of the temple in the late afternoon sun:

The view of Kyoto and the surrounding woods from the top was spectacular, It’s a lot more colorful and decorative than most Japanese temples, reminding me of the temples I saw in China. The architecture was also similar. Here’s a belfry:

And here's a bunch of cute little Buddha statues (or maybe Ebisu; it's hard to tell the difference sometimes since they're both fat and happy) decked out in red robes:

We rested under the shade of a giant wisteria bush, about 500 years old and so big that it covered four lattices like giant tree roots. But I’ll wait to show you the one in Nara, which was about 1,000 years old.

This is the highlight of the temple, the sacred springs. You’re supposed to take the cup on the long pull, get the water, and drink it, but Mom and I aren’t into the ritual purification thing, so we just filled the cups, poured out the water and put them back in their ultraviolet sanitation lights. Here's me:

In ancient Japan, people who visited the temples must have gotten sick a lot, because thousands of people shared the same cup and they were rarely cleaned. Maybe that’s what caused the great plague in Kyoto 1,000 years ago, the reason for the Gion festival these days.

After that, we went to a fifty minute geisha show in Gion Corner. They demonstrated koto (Japanese harp), ekebana (flower arranging), traditional court music and dance (very atonal, and esoteric), meiko (apprentice geisha) dance, Japanese traditional comedy, and bunraku (giant puppet play that requires three men to control one puppet). Everything was…strange, but interesting. The least strange was probably the comedy, very similar the Western comedy, a story about two servants who tried to steal their masters sake and ended up getting drunk and beaten up. Also interesting, just as Greek drama always consisted of several tragedies and one comedy, so it was with traditional Japanese theater. A very long Noh play would be accompanied by a short comedic piece.

Here is the meiko dance:

And part of the bunraku play. The story is about a girl who fell in love with a temple page boy but her parents won’t let her marry him. Her love is forced to leave with his master because the master lost a very precious sword. Then the girl finds the sword. But the gates of the city are closed; no one can come out or go in, and the master and her love will leave first thing in the morning. This is the portion of the play where she is trying to decide what to do:

She finally decides to strike the fire bell to bring her love out of the city. She fears punishment, but bravely goes on with her plan.

We got home about 11:00. I immediately stuck in the rest of the Tai chicken for dinner while Mom turned on the air conditioning. Oops! Everything switched off. Neither of us knew what had happened. With no light and no cooling, (not to mention no way to call my landlord so late), we decided to get up at 4:45 the next morning to pack and prepare for Mount Fuji. The bus would come at 6:30am! Suffice it to say, in the unbearable heat and worrying about things, I didn't sleep much that night. Then how did I manage the great Fuji-San? Find out in my next post!

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