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Preparing for Gion Festival

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We were in Kyoto during Gion festival time.  The Gion festival runs over weeks and embraces two parades as well as numerous smaller events, nights of street carnival, days with observances to be made, blessings to be received, shrines to be moved from place to place–and so much more. Some of the preparations were of course mundane, as in the case of this banner, placed in preparation for a neighbourhood to build its float and then fundraise for the maintenance of its neighbourhood float and celebrate in style. One night we came past this banner and there were matching koi t shirts for sale as well as food and drink.

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These are not just any old floats.  They are kept in pieces in the neighbourhoods they represent throughout the year, assembled on the street and displayed, and then paraded through the streets. They are part of a tradition centuries long, and many parts of the floats, as well as the treasures that decorate them, have long histories. Many are assembled as they always would have been, with heavy wooden structures held together with ropes made of plant fibres.

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Some are very large and some relatively small, and almost all now dwarfed by buildings standing in the streets, while in photos I saw in museums–you can see these floats towered over the city buildings even at the time photography had come into existence.  Surely when these floats originated, they would have towered over every building in the city.

Because of the heat, I walked past groups of men building these structures and intermittently lying down in the shade to rest. Every single part of the float has significance–historical, local, spiritual, literary.  The interpretive signs that were eventually erected for the ignorant (such as me) offered a small introduction to stories about what the float represented and the way this might be changing though time.

The balcony you can see in each large float is a space for the Gion Bayashi musicians to sit and perform during the parade.  As we walked in the still very warm evenings, we came upon rehearsals of Gion Bayashi musicians which we could hear from the street and sometimes see through an upstairs window.  Eventually we came across a rehearsal in the float itself.

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And, all over Kyoto, an air of expectation.

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Kyoto Imperial Palace

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On one of my first few days in Kyoto, I went to the Kyoto Goen National Gardens and the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which is set within them. On my way there, I walked past the Goo Shrine.

At this stage I had not yet understood that I would see shrines everywhere I went. This one caught my eye because of all the statues of boar.  I was immediately puzzled.  Clearly in my mind a wild boar is only ever a threat.  I soon came to understand that fearsome, potentially lethal beasts can protect you from your enemies!  This was a whole new thought for me, generated at this shrine which commemorates a wounded warrior who escaped his pursuers with the help of 300 wild boar, and was healed by a miracle.

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I walked on to the Imperial Palace in its immense grounds. First there came the Muku Tree, beside which an ancestor was killed many, many years ago. I loved the fact that this tree was the thing being commemorated, and was astonished by the way the tree was being supported. And there it stands, right by the Imperial Palace.

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It was a punishingly hot day in which I took much less pleasure in this wide stretch of gravel with no sign of shade, than I might otherwise have done.  But the imposing scale of the Palace is undeniable.

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Some parts of the Palace were inaccessible because they were under repair or renovation. In Kyoto it was always evident that the past is constantly under repair. Nothing is exactly as it would have been hundreds of years ago.  In many cases entire buildings  have been completely rebuilt after fire, flood or war, in this country where fire has been such a major issue for so much of human history. When we were there flooding was extremely recent, with many loves and homes lost. Typhoons were coming, and we sat through a small earthquake in Tokyo.

The gardens were spectacular and so were the exteriors of the buildings, which eviently contain major works of art I didn’t have the chance to see.

The sculpting and protection of trees and shrubs was very striking here too.  In the image below right you can see a tree entirely supported by a circular structure. Should you wonder whether I come from a culture in which this is done–I cannot find an English word that could describe this structure and the closest practice to this I can think of would be espalier–or perhaps creating a hedge.

And there you have it–another world heritage listed site from Kyoto full of beauty and wonder.

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A short stop in Tokyo + Fast Train to Kyoto

I have belatedly realised that I didn’t start my account of our trip to Japan at the beginning.  We began with a day, just one, in Tokyo. Of course, we could see little in this time, but how amazing to be in Tokyo at all! My beloved’s internet hivemind of global travellers had said that the fish market was the place to see.  So we were booked into a hotel right on the edge of the market.  I didn’t realise my beloved had cunningly planned this, so was delighted and surprised when we came out of the hotel right onto the edge of the part of the fish market that was out on the nearby streets.

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Crowds of people, cooking on the street, and stalls with all manner of things from vegetables and pre-cooked food to knives and dishes.  And fish, of course. I even saw dried, smoked fish being shaved into bonito flakes.

I can see from my photos that I was taken by Japanese-style cuteness right from the start… and that I felt I couldn’t take pictures of all. the. things.  So many amazingnesses!!  I know what it’s like to have people photographing everything in the central markets in my home city. And a friend who grew up in Taiwan has since informed me that for any person from China, a fish market would be the obvious place to see in a new city.

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Eventually, we left the fish market and I followed my bold beloved onto the train system.  Needless to say, unfamiliar plants and places and things were everywhere.  I couldn’t get over these capsule stations, full of weird and wonderful things. This display was in a department store, in a stairwell or corridor.

After some wandering about in a shopping district, we took a break in a beautiful park.

We had to investigate what “pachinko and slot” was (as it is advertised all over the place and in very big buildings).  I have since read Pachinko by Min Jee Lee, which is more of a multi generational account of Korean immigration in Japan than it is an account of pachinko–but pachinko is a low-end form of gambling that is a little like pinball.  It is very loud and accompanied by the smell of cigarette smoke, so far as we could tell at first sight, and apparently a predominantly a male occupation.

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We had a very funny experience of being in a shop in the geek district of Tokyo and being hailed by an Australian friend of my beloved.  Just so we’re clear–Tokyo itself has a population almost the size of the entire country of Australia.  And–the pictorial signs of Japan were gratefully received by me with my pitiful Japanese, but they also have a very different aesthetic to Australian signage.  This one I especially enjoyed. I held onto my hat.

And then we had to travel to Kyoto. There had just been major flooding in Japan, not far from Kyoto, so we were lucky to be able to catch the train at all.  Some of my beloved’s students had arrived early and been evacuated along with locals, and others had struggled through travel rearrangements made necessary by damaged rail lines and roads.  While we didn’t catch the fastest train Japan has to offer, it was still very fast by Australian standards.  And very clean and lovely too.  All the signage inside the carriage (about the next stations and such) was in at least three languages–more gratitude from me.

I spent the time taken to travel out of Tokyo marvelling over its size and density. Oh, and knitting a sock.

Once we left Tokyo and were in more rural areas, I was amazed to see rice growing all the way up to the train line.  I don’t know why, exactly, as wheat grows up to the train line in Australia.  But even seeing rice growing is pretty amazing to a person from such a dry place.  People live right up against the major inter city train lines too, and there were market gardens all the way to the train line that we passed.  We passed Mount Fuji in the distance too.

Even just being on the train made vivid why so many lives and homes are lost in floods, typhoons and mudslides in Japan–people live very densely by comparison with Australia.  The heartbreak and trauma of the flooding just before we arrived was plain even through the language barrier on Japanese TV news each night. And for the train buffs, here is a view of the train from the front, most unlike any Australian locomotive I’ve encountered. Much faster and much quieter too!

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Nijojo Castle, Kyoto

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Nijojo Mae (Castle) is a World Heritage Site in Kyoto.  As it happened, it was walking distance from the place we were staying, so it was my first stop in my walking tour of Kyoto. I live in a country where people have been living for thousands and thousands of years. Yet they lived lightly on the land, and in ways that shared resources far more equally than the historical powers of Asia and Europe.  So, to me, it is always amazing to be in a bus travelling along a big street in a modern city and encounter a massive monument dating back hundreds of years (in this case, to the 1600s). This watchtower (above) stands on one corner of the Nijojo Mae.

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The Castle has a long and complex history both in terms of the flows of power that led to its creation and subsequent modifications, and of the nature of its buildings. It has two immense circles of fortification–two moats, two circles of earthen walls with supporting structures of wood and stone.

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In addition, it has beautiful and extensive gardens, some of which would have been for practical use–cherry groves and other fruiting trees–as well as pleasure- and beauty-gardens.

Even the gates were astonishing and beautiful. I spent hours wandering around the outer area of the mae and then more time inside, and being a little lost at times.  As usual, I founds myself fascinated by the scenery and the buildings but also focused on the very small things. Trees sprouting with other plants.  Gingko trees hundreds of years old–and vast in size, much bigger than an I had ever seen. Roof end-tiles. Staking and rope-typing strategies for coaxing wisteria into becoming tree-shaped. Moss and lichens and fungi.

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Even buildings with apparently everyday uses were beautiful to my eye–this is an earthen rice storehouse.

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How important it must have been to keep rice safe in any year, let alone one in which a siege was possible.

The inner moat had a sloping wall and there were koi (carp) swimming in the moat. Carp are a pest species in Australia.  It was so interesting to see them where they belong, have profound cultural and aesthetic meaning and are venerated.

Eventually I decided I needed some downtime and found a teahouse in one of the very splendid formal gardens, where I had an extraordinary dish of fruit with ice cream and bean paste and saw other people eating ‘snow mountain’, which seemed to be shaved ice with syrup poured over it, served in a  bowl with a bamboo grate in the bottom, to prevent the whole thing descending into a puddle. There were at least fans in the tea house on this 39C day!

While I was wandering, to my surprise my phone rang, and it was my sister-out-law.  I’d posted her a bag I made before we left Australia and it had arrived on her birthday (which I have to admit was a complete accident, and had I tried to arrange it, surely it would have arrived a day before or a day after!)

I was entirely struck, looking at these gardens–by their beauty and by the care that had been lavished on them, in some cases over hundreds of years.  There were explanatory signs about specific trees and their lineages.  There were accounts of the restoration of buildings and gardens after natural disaster, fire or conflict.  But I was also struck by the evidence that they were organised by principles that I have read about but do not understand in any deep way.  That they arise from a different attitude to nature and plants, to history and scenery, than any I have ever inhabited. So–a place of mystery in the company of others’ cultures and traditions.

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I kept finding myself checking my own assumptions about the cultures from which I’ve arisen.  In a place that is so fully fortified it speaks to an expectation of conflict and even war everywhere you turn, there were carvings of peacocks and butterflies that seemed to me so different to anything that might have been associated with warriors in Anglo Australian history. That had me remembering the Wars of the Roses and the association of warring families or tribes in English history with plants and even with flowers.

Near the end of my journey around Nijojo Mae, after I spent a lot of time watching an eagle or hawk gliding over the castle right in the heart of Kyoto, I came upon a tree that had descended from those exposed to the atom bomb, planted here so that it might be remembered in hope of peace.

 

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Waste and avoiding waste in Japan 2

The Japanese wrapping cloth or Furoshiki is sold all over Kyoto as a souvenir and there are simply gorgeous prints available all over central Kyoto. Less often, indigo or other plant dyed furoshiki are available.  the furoshiki is the kind of multi purpose staple item surely basic in many cultures where once, having a piece of fabric to use would have been so significant it would have had many uses. The furoshiki is still in use and maybe even having a resurgence in Japan. See one tutorial about how to wrap your lunch box here. I did not see them in use a great deal while in Kyoto, but I did see them being used: most notably one evening when I saw a middle aged man riding his bicycle in a yukata, with two packages the size and shape of framed paintings wrapped in furoshiki in the back basket. I went to one shop several times where the charming and generous  woman who was serving in the shop had an extraordinary show and tell, demonstrating how to use furoshiki. She said she had made YouTube videos and I hope this one is her!

One day my friend was trying to explain something she wanted to buy in a chemist and I spent that time roaming around looking at all the things. Wondering over depictions of Japanese manly attractiveness and womanly attractiveness, for instance. Wondering what it is like to live in a place where cosmetics are advertised with pictures which include the good looking young woman whose appearance is being improved by the advertised product (I’m guessing) playing violin (top right image in the right hand photo below).

Imagine my surprise (because a lifetime living in Australia) to discover that in Japan, cleaning your ears doesn’t necessarily involve cotton buds (Q tips). Here are two different models of ear pick.  My eyes popped out!  But once I knew what they were I realised I was looking at bamboo ear picks as a low price point item in a knife shop. Then I saw them in the museum of traditional arts and crafts, complete with a silky tassel.

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Yes, I brought one home. Yes, I’ll be careful.

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Silkworms: 6 week update

We still have a few silkworms.  28, to be exact.  The largest are now 7 cm or about 2 3/4 inches long. It’s hard to make photos of silkworms exciting, but here they are:

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Here is a picture of one silkworm starting its cocoon, or to put it the way we’ve been putting it around here, ‘becoming silk’.

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We have cocoons in two very distinct colours.  Mysterious.  All of the cocoons last year began pale and became golden very quickly–within the first 24 hours.  Not these.  Some are pale silver-white, with a slightly green hue in some cases. This is the view from above, looking down on a tray of paper and cardboard tubes.

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We have quite a few.  And about 28 still to add!  Luckily, I gave away about 70.  Some of which have been delighting schoolchildren, apparently.

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I am feeling deeply grateful to the friend who told me there was a mulberry tree behind the Japanese garden in the parklands.  It turned out there were three trees, two varieties of mulberry, and one of them was trailing leaves on the ground and down at head height across a path.  Begging to be pruned when I happened to pass with secateurs and a big bag, I tell you! I even ate a couple of mulberries that were almost ripe.

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Pecan leaf print bag

Pecans do grown in this part of the world, even if they are not terribly common.  A long while back I wrote about leaf printing with pecan leaves from our friends’ tree.  I have had it in mind all the while to make them something from those leaf prints.  Finally I have made good on this idea.  In fact, my beloved saw one of our pecan-growing friends yesterday and told her I’d made them a gift… so this bag is destined for the post sooner rather than later.

I started out with this sun-faded linen frock–the shades of colour you see are not effects of the sun falling on the fabric but the impact of fading.  I think I paid $2 for the frock at a red cross op shop.

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The lining has a pocket from a recycled ramie shirt, and a patchworked panel of leaf printed silk offcuts from another recycled frock.  Here are the inside panels ready to be stitched to the rest of the lining.

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The remainder of the lining is yellow.  A  long time ago there was shop in our neighbourhood that just sold offcuts from a sheet manufacturer, and having made entire quilts, bunting and bags from those offcuts I still have some left!  Here is the finished item on top of my madder patch.  The madder is appreciating the warmer weather–at least until it gets too hot for it to enjoy, and I am hoping my friends will like their present.

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Cortinarius Archeri

The gifts of mushrooms continue!  My neighbour the mycologist came around with a gift of Cortinarius Archeri in many shades of purple.  He had heard they could be used for dyeing, would I like to try them out?  Aren’t they glorious?

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I have read about European dyers using Cortinarius semisanguineus, and Leena from Riihivilla has written extensively about how she uses them. So I weighed my mushrooms and put them to soak on 30 June.  Well, after 9 days the mushrooms were fermenting.  Let’s not discuss the smell.  And, on second thoughts, they were so beautiful when they were whole, perhaps I won’t share a picture either.  I regret to report that no colour resulted from this experiment.  On the other hand, when I reported this to my neighbour, he offered me something else…

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Socks at last

It seems to me as though I’ve had three pairs of socks on the needles for a very long time.  At last this pair have emerged: 50/50 silk and wool from Kathys Fibres, a dyer local to me, in Forest colourway.  The sock is just the plain ribbed one that lives in my mind, but I’m hoping they’ll be warm and comfy for a fellow knitter and dear friend who is facing a tough time.  No one has ever knit her socks before, though we’ve compared notes on lots of pairs she has knit for other people.  It’s about time.

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Tie-dye

A friend from work told me her 6 year old had said he wanted to try tie-dye.  So I invited them over!  In the end there were two 6 year olds and a 3 year old, and 4 adults of varying ages and stages.  We were spoiled for colour choices but had only two pots, so after some lovely parental problem solving we ran a red pot and a blue pot and transferred one garment from red to blue to make purple.  I believe this t shirt was worn to childcare every day for some days after emerging in all its glory onto a towel designed with a tie dye aesthetic in mind.

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My random collection of op-shopped craft books came good when there was a request for a tie dyed square and after three readings of the instructions in Hilary Haywood’s Enjoying Dyes (1974) this emerged:

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Fancy having a Dad who is not intimidated when you say you want a monkey face on your tie dye and instead creates this!

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And of course, the classics reinterpreted:

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I think the last time I tie dyed in this style would have been with Mum, in the 1970s. Just once.  It was an honour to be in charge of the dye pots and watch such fine parents encourage and be encouraged by their lovely children.

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