Osaka and Kyoto

Konnichiwa – We arrive in the sprawling city of Osaka early on Anzac Day morning which would have been Dad’s 101st birthday. Viking have acknowledged this day by supplying poppies for the Kiwis and Aussies to wear and they have a beautiful display on the large screen in the atrium on the ship. We are making our way to Kyoto today to enjoy some ancient traditions of that city which used to be the capital of Japan until 150 years ago. At the port here in Osaka there is a huge garbage incineration centre which was designed by Hunterwasser so the building is colorful and interesting and we recently visited the Hunterwasser Museum in Whangarei. He has designed many buildings in this city. There are many very interesting bridges and our bus drives onto a spaghetti junction that has many layers to it. 400 years ago this city of Osaka was under the sea and was a fishing village. Now on this huge area of reclaimed land is a bustling city with a population of 2.7 million and motorway systems going in every direction. On large parts of the motorways you cannot see the traffic on the other side because of high screens.

Eko is our lovely Japanese guide today and she, like others, talk about the pandemic. On the subject of that it may interest many of you to know that many many people we have spoken to here from the US, Canada, Australia, UK, Scotland and Ireland have huge admiration of Jacinda Arden and what NZ did to protect its citizens during the past three years. Without exception they are all sorry she has stepped down. You may not all agree but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that she is admired as a world leader by people from other countries.

Onto Kyoto we go and it is interesting that Osaka just merges into Kyoto as we pass suburban houses and large agricultural plots growing rice and vegetables. There are also high crescent shaped screens at the sides of the motorway by the suburban areas to stop the pollution. It is interesting to note that Osaka is the home of the 2-minute noodles because they were founded here by a man named Mamofuku Ando who owned a company called Nissan Food Products and passed away in 2007. The HQ of Panasonic is also here in Osaka and the HQ of Nintendo is in Kyoto. Eko tells us she is friendly with the boss of Panasonic and she recently asked him how many people worked there. His answer was “about half”!

Kyoto is a very old city where the ancient traditions are still part of everyday life. For example, we see many women in kimonos (which, by the way, add 8 kg of weight to these slim women) and men wearing the hakama pants and the haori shorter kimono tops and the wooden geta flip flops.

Our first stop is at the Kinkaku-Ji Golden Pavilion which is a Zen Buddhist Temple set over water in the most beautiful gardens. When this golden palace was founded it was the centre of politics and culture and was used to welcome the Emperors of Japan and trading partners. It is covered with 2 million pieces of gold leaf measuring 10 cm square and even some of the interior rooms are lined with gold leaf. It is exquisite and the reflections in the pool beneath it are glistening. The garden has wide paths where you can admire the trees and flowers and quietly trickling water from the waterfalls. There is also a 100 year old pine tree known as the “yacht” which is a bonsai – not all that small but definitely small for a 100 year old pine!

On this tour I got a promotion to Tour Leader (some of my relatives will not be surprised because they actually call me TL) but basically all this meant was I got to hold the sign for Eko for a short time for the less than obedient bunch that we are with today!

Next stop is the lunch stop at a lovely resort a little further on where we are welcomed in the lightly falling rain to the restaurant which is located down a cobbled path through a bamboo forest. Here we are served another beautiful lunch all set out in the bento box with other little dishes either side. Once more, everything is exceptionally tasty little bites. This is followed by the arrival of two Maiko – trainee Geishas. One is 17 years old and the other is 20 and they are beautifully dressed in the kimonos with their hair decorated with symbols of the season – spring and so the decorations resemble wisteria and cherry blossom. After their performance there is question time and they tell us they have their hair done once a week and it must stay like that until the next appointment with the hairdresser! So how do they sleep – well it is almost sitting up actually. They are very disciplined – it costs $US100,000 to train a geisha. The cost goes towards their education where they must learn to sing, dance and converse on all sorts of subjects and, of course, their kimonos and hair. You can start to train at 15 when you are an apprentice and you can leave, if you wish, after you turn 20. Firstly, you are an apprentice, then a Maiko and then a Geisha. You are interviewed, along with your parents, to see if they approve (often they don’t) and at the end of your training you are either retained or it is suggested you look for something else to do! The oldest geisha here in Kyoto is 95 – can you believe that she still works.

It is back on ze Number 14 bus to visit Ryozen Kannon, a somber temple topped with an 80-foot statue of the Goddess of Mercy commemorating those who died in World War II. Here we observed the “Way of Tea” – a ceremony involving the preparation and presentation of a Matcha – a powdered green tea. This is followed by the traditional tea ceremony where we are given the bowl of tea which, interestingly, is frothy. After this we get to experience Zazen, a form of Japanese meditation. We are sitting on little stools and the master informs us that yesterday, during the meditation, a person fell right off ze stool! Heaven forbid – let us hope that ze deep breathing with ze eyes half closed does not cause the boss or I to end up on ze tatami mat! The meditation finishes with us almost floating back to ze bus – but first we visit the souvenir shop and some are eager to walk in the drizzle to the shopping street. This daily event results in two ladies not making it back to the bus and we wait and we wait. Dear Eko trots off to find them, a man trots off because he saw them in a shop, Eko comes back without them, the man comes back without them, Eko goes again and finally after about 25 minutes the two ladies climb onboard but Eko is missing! Heaven forbid – who would want to be a tour guide – and, by the way, the two ladies were carrying the bags full of the shopping and said not one word of apology for holding up ze bus which is now going to get caught up in the rush hour traffic on its way back to ze boat! Unbelievable.

I have to finish by reporting on a piece of Japanese design that takes my fancy. It is to do with the bathroom and the fact that all the toilet seats are heated. Now frankly I could sit there for an hour, enjoy a cuppa, contemplate, do meditation or whatever but it is very nice indeed. A few years ago we visited some friends in LA and when I entered the bathroom the seat lifted to welcome me. I got the fright of my life actually. Anyway, I was there for some time because it was the first time I had seen the menu selection panel on the side of a toilet and I thought I would try the variety on offer. I tried to get the one in charge of the bathrooms to go and have an experience but he wasn’t keen on the idea but I can tell you that I came out of that bathroom with a new lease on life. But in Japan I have not dared to press any button in case I get a surprise I do not want because I cannot read the menu!

As I write this we are sailing now in the Pacific Ocean. It is blowing 30 knots and the seas a a tiny bit rough with a 3-4 meter swell and we are headed for Shimizu.

It is Anzac Day and Viking have acknowledged it with a beautiful image on the large screen in the atrium of the ship
Got the promotion – Tour Leader for five minutes!
A group of High School students at the Golden Pavilion and very interested to speak English. So immaculately dressed in their uniforms, so courteous and friendly
The exquisite Golden Pavilion – 2 million sheets of gold leaf and in a peaceful setting over the pond and surrounded by lush gardens
And this is how the Golden Pavilion looks in the winter – sitting on a frozen pond and the trees dripping in snow – still magnificent
Just a small picture of some of the lunch. Japanese food is always served in very small helpings on separate little dishes chosen to best display the food that sits on the plate. They say that 30% of the area of the dish should be left empty so as to create space around the food.

The walk to the restaurant was through mature stands of bamboo

The lovely young Maiko doing a performance for us
These kimonos weigh 8 kgs and the obi at the back is 6-8 meters in length
The back of the kimono
The 100 year old bonsai pine tree named “yacht” because the tall part of the tree resembles the sail and the lower part on the right (supported by a bamboo trellis) is the hull
The garden at the Golden Pavilion
Garden at Golden Pavilion
We line up with the Maikos – no comparison at all! Should have gone to the hairdresser!
The preparation of the matcha – a powdered green tea …..
and the offering of the bowl of tea
The master of the meditation – we are told that it is OK to meditate for even a few minutes every day – doesn’t have to be a long time – but you should never meditate while you are driving or cooking!
The 80 foot high statue of the Goddess of Mercy in the grounds of the temple commemorating those who died in World War II

2 thoughts on “Osaka and Kyoto

  1. Christine Jack

    Japanese traditional culture as we know it revealed in Osama for you Shannon. A pace of life & a philosophical outlook few of us truly relate to. So good to take time out to meditate even for a few minutes each day slowing down to count the daisies. Osama very uplifting after the sombre Hiroshima experience I should think. Shannon loved the fact you got to be tour leader for a moment in time!!! The job certainly suits you!!😘
    Thanks for sharing & for your wonderfully descriptive photographs.
    Smiles Chris 🙂 xo


  2. Lynley Schierling

    So many wonderful experiences! Who would believe that so many ‘foreigners’ actually revel in Japanese culture. How far we have come in our narrow appreciations of the ways of ‘others’. Its a good time in history to be alive. Xx


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