Don’t let anyone kid you – the weather here in the summer truly is awful. But it’s still a great damn place to be.
With my first visitor from America (against my advice, in August) here, I spent much of the last week engaged as host and tour guide. Remarkably Kyoto is even more brutally hot and humid than Tokyo – I was skeptical, and how wrong I was – but it’s still Kyoto, so that was our big excursion for the week. Below is a sampling of pics from mostly old haunts, and a few new.
The first ones you’ll see are from Shinjuku Gyoen, a place that will be familiar to those of you who’ve seen Kotonoha no Niwa. I’ve visited the place three times and funnily enough, it’s been raining every time. It’s a great place to show visitors but I admit I had an ulterior motive, and that was to find the arbor where much of the drama takes place. I wasn’t too surprised to find it’d become a bit of a pilgrimage site – when I found it a young couple was already there, watching the film on an IPad and even re-enacting the scene where Takao traces Yukari’s foot.
Also from Tokyo, a couple of shots from a fabulous omakase sushi dinner at Sushi Taichi (my friend was generous indeed). Then on to Kyoto, where I visited some favorite spots like Kiyomizu and such, and happened upon the Uchouten Kazoku exhibition taking place at Loft. We also strolled through the Rokudomairi temples, where Obon ceremonies were taking place by evening. This area was once the dumping ground for corpses in Kyoto, and these observances have been held there for centuries – the incense and lantern light was thick in the air, as was the sound of the temple bells. Very powerful indeed.
The other two major sites of interest this time were ones I hadn’t visited before, Ryoanji and the Miho Museum. Ryoanji is legendary for crowds, but we arrived soon after the 8 AM opening and it was pretty tolerable. The Zen garden is strangely compelling, despite its simplicity – it’s hard to say just what it is that makes it exceptional, truly a “you have to be there” effect. As for the Miho, they have a fine collection of ancient and Japanese art but it’s the I.M. Pei design that really makes the place special. I’d thought that being up in the mountains it might be cooler, but no – I don’t want to repeat myself but it really is hard to overstate just how ghastly the weather was. 37-40 degrees with 85% humidity, and nights were rarely below 28 degrees.
There was one other odd moment while we were down there. Japan has an early-warning system for earthquakes now, one which among other things causes the trains to stop. As we were riding from Asuka back to Kyoto, there was suddenly a siren on the train, which ground to a halt as several passengers reached for their sumaho. Turns out the warning system had predicted a 7.8 earthquake was about to hit Nara prefecture – an earthquake which never happened. This is one instance where I’m glad my language skills were insufficient to understand what the fuss was about – I heard “jisshin” and just assumed there’d been a small quake we hadn’t felt because we were moving.
Finally, an encouraging development – an old ojii-san in Ohara, a mountain village near Kyoto, mocked me for my “Tokyo-ben”. That’s progress, and I’ll take progress any way I can get it.