Some students wanted to see Byodoin and specifically the Phoenix Hall, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s difficult to not get accustomed to seeing these things and places on a frequent basis that have such great importance to the people of Japan and the history of the human race, since many of the Japanese UNESCO locations are in or around Kyoto. Byodoin has an amazing Buddha statue inside this beautiful Phoenix Hall that is in the middle of this little pond. It has a small museum that has many historic pieces related to this National Treasure. The Japanese also rank their museum pieces as either an “Important Cultural Item” or “National Treasure” depending upon the importance of the piece. Very few items receive this distinction and it’s always worth having a second glance at something that has the label that marks it as extra special. Many museum collection tea utensils and items associated with the tea ceremony have these distinctions.
Mid-May update, a Midorikai interlude
We had the annual tea plantation and manufacturing process field trip to Uji today. All the Midorikai students and second-year Japanese students woke up early to catch the train from Kuramaguchi station to Uji. We started at Marukyu Koyama-en for a tea plantation tour and fresh tea tasting. I’ve had their koicha before while studying in Portland and it is quite enjoyable and flavorful.
We took a tour around the fields where the tea bushes are growing and picked some new tea leaves under the watchful eyes of the tea plantation pickers (all older ladies). Then we were shown around the tea processing facilities and it was fascinating to see the traditional process as well as the modern adaptations. We ended the tour by drinking some bowls of excellent usucha with some matcha dango sweets. Our guide was Kiki, a Midorikai graduate originally from Chile.
The master taster of Koyama-en is selected at birth and therefore his pallet is kept “pure” with no strong foods: no spicy foods, no coffee, no garlic, etc…for his entire life! I don’t know if I could live without those three things. Not eating these types of foods keeps the pallet ultra-sensitive, they said. I bought some matcha soap since we can purchase their tea from their Kyoto shop.
Many people also wanted to stop by Nakamura Tokichi, so some of the students ate there during our lunch break. We had the prefix lunch menu of matcha noodle ramen and matcha powder sprinkled over rice. Dessert was matcha jelly. (Burp) It was all tasty but I was pretty burnt out from the matcha flavoring by then.
After lunch we walked down to Kambayashi Kinenkan and were served more tea and sweets before walking through the tea manufacturing museum they have there. The Kambayashi family has an excellent collection of famous tsubo (tea jars). Mr. Kombayashi himself gave us the tour. Makela-sensei did the translation for us.
Lastly we stopped by the Asahiyaki kiln. They create beautiful “fawn-spotted” pieces made from the very unique clay they have on the mountain next to the kiln. The new young master (the previous master passed away a few years ago and his son now runs the kiln) showed us the work room and the kiln. All the wheels are hand-turned while the potter sits on his knees at the same level as the wheel. The reason was, he explained, was so the body and hands stay still while forming the pieces, versus a kick wheel that moves the whole body. I would have loved to buy something there, but most of the tea utensils were in the $500+ league.
Today was Aoi Matsuri and so I spent most of the day on my bicycle travelling from place to place to see the procession. I’ve utilized some text from Wikipedia (for time’s sake) to highlight what the Aoi Matsuri festival is about:
The procession is led by the Imperial Messenger. Following the imperial messenger are: two oxcarts, four cows, thirty-six horses, and six hundred people, all of which are dressed in traditional Heian period apparel decorated with aoi leaves. The hollyhock (aoi) was thought to have been a protector against natural disasters. The festival originated during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (reigned CE 539 – 571) to appease the angered deities and pray for a bountiful harvest.
The event always falls on May 15 and we were lucky that this year it fell on a beautiful Sunday. At 10:30 am the parade/procession departs the Kyoto Imperial Palace heading east on Marutamachi-dori. It then heads north and crosses the bridge to it’s first appeasement stop at Shimogamo Jinja. After a few hours there, the procession heads west on Kitaoji-dori to arrive at Kamigamo Jinja.
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