|Kyoto is the cultural centre of Japan and thus was left unbombed during World War II. After breakfast in a revolving restaurant on the 14th floor, with a good view of the mountains with wispy mist ( just like the paintings of Japan), we left on a tour. Sunny and very hot.
We visited Nijo Castle which is about 400 years old. The planks of the wooden floors are very wide and no shoes are allowed. It has a “Nightingale floor”, with the flooring nails set to rub together to warn of assassins, so it’s squeaky (not creaky!) The only floor that’s quiet is where the shogun slept. The sliding rice-paper doors are kept shut in order to preserve the murals, painted in gold. All the window panes are made of rice paper too. All rooms are in the middle of the building with walkways on the outside i.e. no passages. We walked in the beautifully restful garden – no flowerbeds, just rock formations, evergreens, blossoms and carefully swept gravel.
Then onward to Kinkaka-ju (Golden Pavilion), which was under renovation, so we walked in the gardens past ponds, small waterfalls and many Japanese firs. Then to a Buddhist temple with much incense, and a slot machine for fortunes ( i.e. answers to prayers !). Many people throw away their strip of “fortune paper”- if you don’t like your future fortune, get rid of it and begin again!
We continued to the Heija (Shinto) Shrine of Peace and Tranquility, a park with many paths and steps and pools and streams, where we used large round stepping stones to cross a lily pond. Further on, we fed large koi and turtles – symbols of long life – with a baked flour mixture that looked like sugar cane. There were red and green temples all around a huge gravel square, and way down the street was an enormous red-pillared Shinto “gate”.
Thence to the 7-storied Kyoto Handicrafts Centre and watched craftsmen doing e.g. woodblock printing, damascene work (using tiny pieces of gold and silver to make pictures), doll-making, cloissone work (a process of enamel painting onto wire pictures. The basic ingredients being silica, saltpetre and red lead, with other things added to make various colours. We spent 2½ very interesting hours there.
From there we visited a “middle class home”. Our shoes were left at the entrance to the short front passage (about 1¼ m) into the 2m square livingroom. The floor was covered with mats and there was a square table in the centre, and a T.V. and family shrine on the side. The hostess wore a kimono and obi (i.e. wide sash). All or sat on the floor, while imbibing small cakes and tea, which tasted as though we were drinking cigars! Then the ladies dressed in a beautiful, highly-embroidered wedding kimono for photos. There was one other small room, then an even smaller kitchen, lavatory (a pan on the floor), the washroom, with a small, deep stainless steel bath. In Japan, one soaps outside the tub then washes off, then soaks – so that one doesn’t wash in dirt (!) There was a short flight of very steep stairs, leading to 2 small rooms and a “garden” (1m x 1½m).
Thence out of town through paddy fields and bamboo plantations. Some bamboos are made square by tying planks around them. Men and boys were fishing in small squares of water; get a prize for catching a fish, and then throw the fish back into the water. To a farmhouse with a long-thatch roof and into the kitchen, which smelt just like our farm kitchens!
Back in town, we were taken to a “rich man’s house”. Of course we left our shoes at the door; the dark, highly polished wooden floors had no shine but were very slippery. We stayed in the livingroom, which was a fair size, and were regaled with ghastly tea and soya bean squares – most undelicious to our Western palates.
In the towns some robots play a tune, which helps the blind; pavement corners and railway stations have rows of raised coasters embedded in the concrete.
We were allowed an hour back in the hotel to freshen up, then left at 6 p.m. for a Japanese braai, where we sat on wheeled pouffes around a very large hollowed- out log with a gas braai in the centre. We enjoyed plum wine with ice blocks (very tasty), corn soup (ditto)’ salad bowl, rice bowl, and thin slices of meat which we braaied ourselves. This was followed by ice cream and coffee – a good Western-style meal (!)
Thence to the Samurai Nippon Theatre, in an old castle on similar lines to Osaka castle, as they had the same builder. There were coloured fountains and floodlit steps – very pretty and impressive. We saw a Japanese culture show viz. tea ceremony, koto playing (like plucking a type of zither), Geisha girls dancing with fans and parasols (by the way, they are high class hostesses, not common prostitues), karate dems, a “marriage ceremony” where a couple from the tourist groups dressed in traditional costume, Samurai sword play. Tom lay on his back with a small watermelon on his tummy, held his breath and prayed, the Samurai prayed too, then cut the melon in half with one swoop of the sword – his 450th melon !! and nary a scratch on his victims (dunno about the practices though!)