Snapshots of Summer in Japan

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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.

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  1. e

    Green! So much of it! And in more ways than one too, ahah.
    I don't think we reached 85% humidity where I live but in Celsius terms we're on par. And some nights were spent at 32° C in the loft with no breeze… Kudos to both of you for managing not only not to collapse but to actually move around so much and visiting places – Taichi is an awesome name for a sushi place btw – in spite of such trying weather. Thanks for sharing a bit of what you saw, as usual. I bet your friend loved it in spite of being there during the worst season of the year for visiting.

    Now, the juicy bit. And Im not even talking about the two Gendous or the Zen garden observer. Or the delicious sushi morsel. Or the mightily fine statuette. Or that amazing nymphaeas lake carpet.
    ' 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. ' In spite of onlookers? Ah, that's some love.

    Tangentially, I keep staring at the random Kyoto couple in the foregrounds of your Kyoto obon lantern pic. The lady has a remarkable face.

  2. i

    Japan really is a beautiful place. I can't understand how people would rather live in a tiny Tokyo apartment than amongst all these wonderful nature. If I get a holiday long enough in the next two years, I'll definitely fly in for a tour, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, I'll conquer Japan like Oda Nobunaga.

    It must really be great to work in a country as diverse in both old and new culture, that has both nature and technology side by side like that bridge with forests on either side.

  3. H

    "which ground to a halt as several passengers reached for their sumaho" What exactly is a sumaho, I've never come across that word before.

  4. e

    @Helen: 'Smartphone', apparently.

  5. Z

    When in crisis your sugoi smartphone will save you!

  6. K

    So stunning! I was in Japan for the first time back in end May/early June, and seeing your Japan updates really makes me want to revisit Japan! I visited Shinjuku Gyoen the day after I watched Kotonoha no Niwa in the cinema, and it was quite surreal seeing it in real life. It wasn't raining (unfortunately, or fortunately?), and overcast so the weather felt a little dreary, but I guess it was the same time of the year as the movie, which was some consolation.

    Keep up these updates, I love reading about your day-to-day life in Japan. Sounds kind of weird, but I looked up your Japan Diaries as part of my research before I visited Japan.

  7. Wow, that's flattering, thanks. And a little scary.

  8. K

    Haha sorry that sounds kinda freaky huh? I tried to get my hands on as much info as I could, and I frequent your blog on a regular basis already, so I added it to the list of things I read up about before I went.

  9. Nah, honestly, that's one of the reasons why I do the snapshot posts and I'm glad you found them helpful. It's just a lot of responsibility.

  10. F

    Wow … the Ryoanji gardens look beautiful in summer too. I was there in Spring, with trees in full blossom.

    So … why did your friend insist on visiting in August again? ^^

  11. Who knows. Time off work. American "summer vacation" mentality. Traumatic brain injury.

  12. R

    "Tokyo-ben"…! That's quite an accomplishment to be "mocked" by a local…happy for you, Enzo.

    I have been to Kyoto twice but unfortunately had to give up on visiting Ryoanji both times. The Zen garden in your photos feels calming — as if I could just sit there and be absorbed in thought. I have also been to Shinjuku Gyoen. It's beautiful, but through the lens of Shinkai Makoto, it suddenly feels more romantic. Looking at your photos makes me want to watch Kotonoha no Niwa again. Happy to see Uchouten Kazoku appear off-screen, and Sushi Taichi…! I am drooling…

  13. Y

    Have you ever been to the temple at Arashiyama? Can't think of the name right now but it's the main one there so it should be pretty easy to find. If you've never been, you should definitely check it out… It's in my humble opinion one of the most beautiful in Kyoto… Although Ryoanji is amazing too!

    I looooove Ohara! I was actually fantasizing about buying a second house there when I visited 😛

  14. I did spend some time in Arashiyama and saw a few temples, very beautiful but the details are elusive. Actually the most beautiful temple I've visited was Ishiyamadera, in Otsu.

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