Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15: Kyoto – Osaka – Kyoto

April 15: Kyoto – Osaka – Kyoto

Osaka spring song:
cicadas whir, the
sirens call

Osaka ni ikatai n desu gu
I want to go to Osaka

Pictures: The first one is the cantor in the foreground, the abbot in the back; second and third are of food signs, we had the soy donuts - hot and good, then off a the shrine above the town and cemetery below it (goes on for miles) with the crowds, including a before and after picture of the class of 2012 (or was that the class of 2012 and 1952?), and finally pictures of us with our afternoon hosts. The last picture shows you how someone from the US compromises with Japan design, you has pillows on the flor that also go up the wall for better support (finally!).

There is a Buddhist temple right across the street from the Hyatt Regency that has early morning services. There is a collective chanting, led by a “cantor” who kicks off the sections and plays a set of rings (sounds a bit like a tambourine) on a pole and a small gong. The chorus is made up of about 40 monks wearing black, maybe 10 wearing orange, and few wearing beige. The abbot sits up in front of the shrine, which takes up well over half the room. We are among a small group of worshipers: there is a middle school co-ed class of about 20 with 3-4 chaperones/teachers, and three other people besides us.

We are arriving with the class, at 5:45 am. The monk leading this group invites us to join and follow them. Of course, first thing we do is remove our shoes. Now we see how these kids in matching uniforms distinguish themselves: they are wearing different socks. Then we sit on mats in the front of the shrine, the abbot takes his spot right in front of the shrine, and the cantor and one other monk sit right in front us at the front of the shrine riser. To our right is the chorus in black and around the fringes are the beige and orange monks. This includes several female monks which we realize, by the soprano tones, when the chanting starts at around 6am, kicked off by some gongs struck outside this temple.

For approximately 30 minutes the call and response continues. Then two-by-two the worshipers move up to a position near the front of the riser, kneel and bow, take some incense and place it in a bowl to burn, bow again, and back to the original spot on the viewing mat (the monk that guided us in to the space comes and tells us when to go and do our part).

This service ends and we all file out and into another temple. Again the abbot takes his place in front of the shrine and the rest of us resume our place. There is a huge fire burning on the shrine. This time the chanting is started by one of the beige monks banging a huge drum. Ten more minutes of chanting and the service is over and we walk back to the hotel, in by 7am.

Then to the fitness center, once again I have the place to myself. After breakfast (I can’t resist the walk to Arizmendi and have a chocolate thing muffin), we walk over to another famous temple near us, a Buddhist temple that has a thousand statues, all of which are strongly influenced by Hindu deities (in effect, they ARE statues of Hindu deities that have been incorporated into this version of Japanese Buddhism). The statues are lined up on very long risers, maybe 150 yards long. In front of the risers, in this long corridor, there has been a history of archery contests. We see a picture taken recently of girls in their “best kimonos” partaking in the contest!

{Please note: The e-mail note referencing our refilling of the karma tank was sent before the rest of today’s events.}

Now we saunter over to another famous shrine that is next to and above a giant cemetery. This shrine is overrun with school field trippers. It is fascinating in the amount of people crawling all over the place, it’s like a national holiday. Near the top of the site you get a great view of most of Kyoto, which has kept to a height limit (which of course makes the town much friendlier for walking).

We are off to visit an Osaka-based ceramicist whose work we have seen outside the Chichu Museum on Naoshima and in the modern art museum in Kirashiki. Yasuko has arrived from Tokyo where M-san's (as I will call her here) main gallery, Gallery Nii, is located. The concierge at the Hyatt has coordinated this (a terrific service, stepping way beyond what you would find in a US hotel) with Tokyo. We are two hours from Tokyo by train, so Yasuko has already been on the road for a while!

Yasuko takes us to the local train station (these locals would be equal to our real train stations in the US, except they have several better levels above this one in Japan). We need to eat, so we first stop off in the basement of Takashima (some of you may recognize the name) where there is one huge fancy food market. Bento box for me and small set of sushi for DB, all veggie, and a soft drink: $15.

We hop on the train, eat in transit, the food is very good, and 40 minutes later we are in Osaka. And, this ticket was $4 each. Sort of like going from SF to San Jose on a train that made only 3 short stops. On a train that had plenty of comfort and seat warmers. That was clean and quiet. That the announcements were made clearly and concisely in two languages. Where no one talked on cell phones. Sort of like impossible in the US, so you have to imagine you’re in Japan.

M-san is awaiting us when we get off the train. She is in her late 70s (we guess) and is 4’6” tall (at most, she could easily be shorter because she hunches from a back problem) and has a handshake that would get her into the finals of an arm wrestling contest with any of the teenage boys we see in Japan (mudwrestling clay for a living will do that). She and Yasuko have limited English, though both are willing to give it a go with us. We walk to M-san’s house and small studio and spend an hour looking at some of her small work, discussing prices, maybe commissioning a piece. Of course we get tea and chocolates (we have brought cake, we can’t figure out how the artists stay thin, the amount of food delivered by guests is prodigious! They must give it away as fast as they can).

After an hour of lively conversation, we have given our gifts, agreed that Yasuko will send us prices and had many pictures taken (us with M-san, Yasuko with M-san, us with Yasuko, the four us together), some with Yasuko’s camera, some with ours. Then lightning strikes! I am wearing my A’s hat and of course (well, maybe not of course, but pretty much most of the time) the locals have shown interest in my interest in baseball. Some of M-san’s work is silk screening onto clay, much of it using newspapers. She decides to give us a small piece which is from an US paper with baseball headlines (hey, the sports section, that’s what they call that thing). Yasuko goes a bit wan. M-san is gifting a piece that sells for about $1500 in the gallery. And, here I was just doing the normal blog jesting about our karma tank being replenished at the morning chanting. DB thinks I’ll be going every morning to services, and chanting too, and buying those good luck papers, and paying for everyone’s candles, and putting monks through Sunday school! This is like a visit set up by someone that does not know the artist to, say, Robert Arnesen or Peter Voulkos, and after an hour of chatting (and in this example not knowing English), the artist drops a brick or small bowl they have laying around on the guests. Oh, and the guests have show up with a box of Sees chocolate, maybe the quarter pound box. With the price tag still on it.

Yasuko recovers quickly and offers to carry our piece back to Tokyo and we’ll pick it up at the gallery. At least we’ll have a second conversation about a commission, she hopes. M-san then escorts us back to the train station. On the way, we play “who else do you know” and it turns out that she has worked in the past with Jun Kaneko. We own a (great) piece by Jun. We are seeing Jun as part of an Oakland Museum trip in the fall! We can say hello to Jun for M-san. (M-san also has is part of a group show coming up in DC, which will be on just after we’re there in early June).

Yasuko has offered to lead us to our next stop, a visit to a local jewelry artist, Liisa, who runs a gallery called Hinge. DB found her through an international forum. Turns out she grew up for a time in Texas (when her name was Lisa), went to school in New Hampshire, and speaks English better than we do. DB buys a few pieces (one wearable and one not) and offers to show her work around in the US. More tea and sweets (of course), upstairs in her loft. She and her husband and 6 year old live in a house that was clearly designed by someone knowledgeable in Tadeo Ando’s work, lots of concrete. And, pillows that lean up against the wall, a very welcome sight!

Liisa gives DB a collector’s discount and they swap gifts: a book on art jewelry for Liisa and DB gets a gift wrap set (how appropriate!). Then Liisa offers to ship the non-wearable piece home to us. Again, this is unexpected, unnecessary, and very generous! And, like M-san, she walks us back to the train station. Much turning and waving again (with smiles and laughter, Liisa understands we aren’t used to this).

Yasuko now offers to head back to Kyoto with us and take us to the door of the fancy restaurant we’ve booked for dinner. Yasuko goes to buy our first set of subway tickets when a minor screw up occurs with the automated machine. She bangs for a second on a small panel next to the ticket machine and a few seconds later the panel opens and someone sticks his head out!!!!! And all this time we thought the idea of an automated system was that no humans are involved. In Japan there must be someone available at all times to take care of glitches. I am in hysterics, this is like the comics I used to read as a kid when vending machines were novelty items and some midget hid inside to take care of providing services.

As you have noticed, Yasuko has been amazing, it’s like we’ve hired a private guide for the day. She didn’t know us ahead of time, and has basically done a 3 hour commute EACH WAY from Tokyo to make sure we get around and to help with our time with M-san. Are we going to buy a piece? She doesn’t know, she has no idea who we are. The concept of hospitality here is not same-same to US.

We make it back to Kyoto and are now in a fancy French place serving Japanese style (i.e., small plates). We thought it was going to be Japanese food served French style. It is a big difference, not same-same! Meal is quite good, all French (e.g., fois gras, French cheeses, crème brullee, anchovies in puff pastry, etc.). French wine delicious, the chef (who came out to greet us at end), very ebullient and clearly Japanese. However, coming to Japan to eat French food was a bit bizarre! Total $400. Total number of diners (that we could discern), four. Double the total of the night before.


  1. wonder what would have happened if you bourght a mariner's hat?

    man, i remember those cemeterys. it's one of my strongest memories. tell mom.

  2. We needed to be wearing combo Yankees/Angels hat, they luvvvvvvvvv Matsui