Saturday, May 13 2023 (Day 6)
These blog posts still take a little too long to write. Day 5’s took about 2-2.5 hours or so and it really isn’t very long at all. This one took closer to 5 hours. Not like I’m constantly writing during that entire time though, there’s also looking at and uploading pictures, doing a bit of research, chatting with friends, and so on. I think at this point it’s about getting used to it and polishing the methodology over and over. I could be less verbose, but I’d also basically be discarding small parts of my memory forever by doing so.
I did finally fix a terrible bug that was breaking uploads and having me redo random ones over and over again because of a “The server cannot process the image.” error, this was apparently because of one of the two built-in WordPress image processing plugins called ImageMagick, and disabling that garbage (which forces all the images to be processed by the other built-in image processing plugin, called GD Library) did the trick. This site (local) helped me do this, specifically the 4th option with the code snippet.
One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post is that I had to buy a pair of white socks because our event this upcoming Monday is a tea ceremony thing, and that apparenetly requires white socks. I wish they had been more thorough in including things like this in the pre-instruction guide that we received. I’d just have brought a pair if I had known. Instead, I only brought black and grey coloured ones. Anyway this was a mere 230 yen at Lawson, basically the same price as a regular bus fare, so this didn’t exactly break the bank or anything.
Another thing was a neat almost-perfect coincidence about Kiyomizu Temple that I noticed afterwards — last year, I had visited it on Nov 11 2022. This year, I visited it on May 12 2023 — nearly 6 months to the day after my first visit.
Finally, I want to list the seven other students taking the RSJP with me, so that I can give them hover text entries too. Aurora, Aubrey, Cameron, and myself are in one class, and Zian, Sara, Evan, and Julian are in the other class.
Breakfast this morning was a mikan pan, or orange bread, part of yesterday’s loot from the nearby Gyomu Super Saiin supermarket. See yesterday’s page for its picture.
The weather forecast today had cloudy skies for the first part of the day, until about 1-2 pm or so, and then rain for the rest of the day. This turned out to be accurate. I had noticed a pile of umbrellas in a holder at the front lobby of my building though, so I grabbed a yellow daimaru umbrella with permission from the front desk guy who answered in Chinese to my Japanese query… anyway, I still haven’t bothered buying an umbrella and likely am going to manage to avoid doing so on this trip yet again. I’ve yet to buy an umbrella on my Japan trips, because I’d feel bad lugging one back to Canada only to then have to lock it away somewhere and buy another one when I return here. That and I hope to have the luxury of actually finding a nice, cute one once I come here again later this year, to keep for good.
During lunch break on Friday, Mr Tanaka and Ms Nishioka, our RSJP host coordinators, had handed us a sheet with information on a couple events that were happening around town this weekend. One of the things happening on Saturday was the Heian Raku Ichi Market, but I had already been here before last year, oddly enough. Also almost six months to the day. I didn’t really enjoy that handicrafts market, so I had no intention of going back, and instead made plans to go to the other recommended Saturday event, the Ichihime Shrine Shunki Taisai, or Spring Festival.
But before that, I needed to get some food. As part of Ritsumeikan Buddy conversations and introductions, I’ve heard and/or asked about local food place recommendations, and I aimed for one right off the bat, a steamed bun shop called 551 Horai that I not only heard a Buddy mention last week, but also had written down from seeing it in a recent anime just before the trip — either a seasonal that’s currently going on or one of my last 3 or so group watches with Saitnel and Nak. I forget which. It’s a Kansai regional store, mostly located in Osaka, though obviously there are a handful in Kyoto as well, and anyway their buns are supposedly really good.
I can happily confirm that it was excellent — I bought a nikuman (pork bun) from them for 210 yen, and it was very savoury, and also came with a small pack of karashi (Japanese spicy mustard) that went supremely well with it. I also bought a kaisen chimaki, or seafood glutinous rice dumpling (wrapped in bamboo leaf), that was really, really good too, although it cost 390 yen but yet was around the same size or slightly smaller than the nikuman after unwrapping the bamboo leaf from it.
This store was in a shopping mall area called Porta that was right next to Kyoto Station. Oddly, it seemed like there were three different 551 Horai stores in the area.
Ichihime Jinja (Shrine), where the spring festival event was taking place, was about a 15 minute walk away from the north side of Kyoto Station where I was, so after looking in horror at the number of people queueing up for buses at the bus terminal, I decided to hoof it. I enjoy walking and looking at urban scenery along the way, for example this interesting-looking local sandwich diner-like store called Hanabatake that I had never heard of up until then.
I continued on at a leisurely pace, but I was still about 45 minutes early once I arrived at the distressingly tiny shrine. There were benches laid out for guests, but no one was actually really there yet besides the attendants.
I bought a goshuin from the temple — they only had pre-written ones today due to the event, but that was fine. Ichihime Shrine has five enshrined deities, all female, and from what I can tell has two primary portfolios — the protection and safety of women, as well as markets and commerce, and the kanji on the top right side of the goshuin today refers to the former.
I guessed, though I am not 100% sure, that this event was meant to more or less coincide with Mother’s Day, which is tomorrow, Sunday May 14th 2023. Anyway, I decided to go for a 40 minute walk around the neighbourhood, and came back just before the event started. This time, the shrine was more or less full:
The first eight benches in front were shorter, but see how the back benches were longer and jutting out, and in particular see how there’s a spot in front of the man in the black and white optical illusion T-shirt in the middle of the picture? I nabbed that seat since no one was there, and I felt special — even though it was near the back, I had a direct line of sight down the aisle right into the central torii gate, and I felt like I was somehow being honoured during the 45 minute ceremony as some of the displays, like the speeches and the miko dancing later on, took place right in front of the torii gate and thus had the active person facing down the aisle right at me. This is somewhat evident in the camera angle for all the other following pictures of the event below.
The Shunki Taisai event started with a speech by one of the priests, and then a bunch of attendants came in, excused themselves to the head priest and the enshrined goddesses, and then went into the back room just inside the shrine itself and proceeded to take a number of sacred pots and other items off the shelves and into the back room, like they were removing old offerings and eventually going to be putting new ones back.
There was then an archery segment, that the handout had described as a “Kurabeyumi” archery contest, but was no contest at all, two people in ceremonial garb just took turns putting six arrows each into an archery board from close range.
A beautifully elegant miko (shrine maiden) then came out and did a mesmerizing dance with something that looked like a variation of kagura suzu bells, except these bells were just in a ring around the top of the stick. At one point about halfway through the dance, one of the bells came out and fell down on the right side of the torii gate, and a second one fell out shortly afterwards on the left side of the torii gate, and I had trouble deciding if this was done on purpose or not.
Through this segment, as well as the earlier part where the attendants were introducing themselves to the kami and then removing the old offerings, the Ichihime Gagaku-kai, or Gagaku group, performed gagaku, or traditional Japanese court music, letting the haunting tones of their wind instrument drift over the shrine. It more or less sounded like this video.
This was the second time I had heard gagaku, though I had no idea what it was called the first time. The first time I had heard this was at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, at night, during the Mikagura ritual on Nov 08 2022 which I attended on my previous trip to Japan. That time, it evoked and was heavily linked to the moon for me, while this time, it evoked and was heavily linked to wind — a constant, cleansing breeze funneled through and up the aisle in front of me, the goddesses fluttering my skirt around as I sat on the bench and watched and listened to the proceedings.
One of the priests was running commentary on the ritual using a microphone, although I barely understood any of it, but at many points during the ritual everyone in attendance was asked to bow their heads down for several seconds to a minute before we were told that it was OK to look up again.
Once the dance and other rituals were finished, two priests brought out a bunch of leaves of some kind and people were called up, one by one, by the announcer. They got to the front, turned and bowed to everyone, then turned back and received a frond of leaves from the priests. They then placed the leaves on the main altar, and then sipped some tea from a bowl, before returning to their seats. This entire process was really interesting. There were about 45 people in all in attendance, and about 30 of them were called up. Most of them were dressed in suits, and were linked to (and often presidents of) businesses — while I didn’t understand most of what was said, it was easily surmised (and especially so once I found out that the shrine was also dedicated to commerce and markets) that these were likely companies and people who had this shrine and their goddesses as their patron shrine/deity.
There were even two people called up very near the end who were just announced as being from Ritsumeikan and I think some other University and that’s it, I believe the two ladies that were called up in this manner were doing camera work throughout the ritual. Too bad they didn’t let everyone else in the extremely small audience present also take part in this ritual and bless/be blessed by the altar. What, us commoners are not company presidents or executives, so somehow our respect and time is worth less? Outside of the two girls working the cameras who were called up, pretty much everyone else was a middle-aged or older man or woman (and about 90% men at that). Very much Japan in a nutshell.
Upon watching the process, I had the thought, and I still do, that I would like to one day be enshrined as well. Perhaps as a chronicler or something similar. If this comes to pass, and if I have rituals, I would want it to focus on the young, the people of the future, and have them be the ones to pay their respects and be blessed, first. The older can still pay their respects, of course, but only after the younger.
Anyway, after these respects were paid, there was one more speech from the priest with the microphone, and one more speech from one of the business presidents, who said something about having been here for 50+ years or something.
Everyone then disbanded, and I wandered up to the front to take some photos, first of that archery board, and then of a table in front of the shrine, draped in fronds offered by old company presidents:
I then took a reverse picture, facing out, to show how small the shrine was:
It was a cozy sort of small though, and I’ve definitely still been in smaller shrines. On the way out, I met Aurora, who’s in that last picture there, the girl facing away from the camera and behind (nearer to me than) the lady in the yellow shirt on the left. I had no idea that anyone else from RSJP was coming to this event, as most of them had gone to and were still in the other Heian Raku Ichi Market, or had ventured out to meet other friends on predetermined outings, as far as I had known. Aurora had been there too, but she had gone there earlier than the rest of the group, and had stopped by this event afterwards. We greeted each other and chatted briefly, then went our separate ways, as she was headed south back to Kyoto Station where I had arrived from, and I was planning on heading north.
I went north for about 15 more minutes upon leaving the shrine, and ended up at Teramachi Shopping Arcade, where I passed by a pig cafe that Mr Tanaka had mentioned a few days ago.
And then I passed through an alley and ended up at the famous Nishiki Market adjacent to Teramachi, again. This was the first time visiting this area this trip for me, but I definitely went there a couple times back on my last trip in November.
Today, as always, it was dreadfully crowded, and got worse as the rain started to fall while I was there, so everyone walking nearby came in to seek shelter as well. Most of the food felt rather overpriced, a sentiment that I had also shared the last time I was here, but I bought a couple things from a shop that turned out to be eel sushi and eel skewer.
The skewers. drenched in salt, cost 600 yen, and the sushi cost 700. The sushi was meh, but the skewer was rather great. The kitchen staff person working behind the cashier was friendly too, flashing me a smile as I ate by a makeshift table that reminded me of an upturned barrel, and she said that the skewer (and sushi) were made of hame, or eel. Specifically a daggertooth pike conger eel, according to translation tools.
That was all I deigned to spend at Nishiki though, so from there I headed off into the rain to a bus stop to catch the bus to another place. Here, I took a picture of a phenomenon that i’ve seen in Kyoto several times now — there are these lineups for bus stops, and how it usually works (though it varies) is that there’s a back line where everyone stands in chronological order, and a front line there’s empty, but when a bus is approaching, people from the back line that want to take the bus will step out into that front line and queue up in that new secondary line. And everyone else left in the back line will move up to fill up any empty spots. Assuming the people in the front line manage to fit on the bus.
Anyway, at many of these more crowded bus stops, I’ve noticed that there often is a bus attendant person as well:
He directs the commuter traffic, announcing new buses as they approach and asking people to move up to fill in gaps if they don’t automatically do so, answering the odd question about a bus route that someone might have, and so on. It’s almost always a male in his 50s or older. This is probably a job that doesn’t need to exist though, similar to the person (or sometimes the plural — people!) that stands outside a building’s car park exit all day so that they can wave a flag or something to let pedestrians know a car was coming. There seems to be a whole sector of jobs that were created just for visibility or for show and nothing else, and that add dubious value to society at most.
Be that as it may, the bus attendants are almost always pretty nice people, and this one ran the line rather efficiently at least, so there was an orderly line under the bus stop despite the rain. The bus I caught from here, the 12, was the single most crowded bus I’ve been on yet, with people packed from end to end because the bus was 25 minutes late, and getting later by the minute due to the weird propensity of Kyoto’s bus system to board from the rear door and exit through the front door of a bus only, which caused delays at each bus stop as people near the back of the bus desperately tried to plead their way through shoulder-to-shoulder blockades.
The bus took me to the middle of the Nakagyo district of Kyoto, where my last target for the evening was. This was a restaurant called Charming Chahan, which Mr Tanaka himself had recommended just the day before. The restaurant was apparently only open from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm though, and it was closed in the intermediate 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm period for preparation for the evening or somesuch. Not knowing this, I had arrived at 4:10 pm and was staring at a “Closed” sign from under my umbrella.
Looking on my phone for nearby interesting things to do, I saw an art gallery that was open until 5:00 pm nearly, so I wandered that way instead.
This Chushin Art Museum was a small museum currently hosting an exhibition by a painter named Ishimoto Sho, and more importantly it featured both free admittance as well as a ceiling, so I went in and wandered around in there. No pictures were allowed in the building itself, but two rooms were full of nature paintings and such, and the third room was full of frontal portraits of naked women in great detail, so that was quite the contrast. Two of the three exhibition rooms had an old person seated in there, watching me as I wandered around the room, as though to make sure I didn’t touch anything or take any photographs. That looked like another excruciatingly boring job that didn’t really need to exist. They didn’t have tables or even books or anything, just a chair that they sat on that faced the rest of the room. There was noticeably no guard in the room with the naked portraits though.
This took me all the way until 4:45 pm, at which point I came back out and slowly wandered my way back toward the restaurant, enjoying the sights of the neighbourhood along the way. Like this small garage tofu-making operation, for example:
I returned to the restaurant and finally got to place my order. The reason that Mr Tanaka had recommended this Charming Chahan restaurant was that it was somewhat famous for its fried rice, or chahan, a Chinese loan word for fried rice. More specifically, it was famous for having a system where you could order chahan as a side dish for any other dish on the menu for an additional 300 yen, no matter what dish it was. So a vegetable dish, plus a side dish of fried rice for an additional 300 yen. Or fried noodles, plus a side of fried rice for an additional 300 yen. Or, and this cracked us up when Mr Tanaka mentioned it the day before, you could specifically order fried rice with a side of fried rice. It was apparently a thing that they had been featured on local TV for before in the past. I absolutely needed to do that just for the sake of doing that, so I came here to do so.
They had an English menu as partially follows:
And this was the original Japanese menu (partial):
In this case, the English menu above was actually a little bit more difficult to decipher, and far less obvious that one could order fried rice with literally anything. I also had no idea if the side of fried rice (the +300 yen option) was the same portion size as actually ordering a fried rice dish (the 500 yen option), and so getting my request across was actually somewhat difficult at first because I was also ordering yakisoba on the side, and had planned to bring everything back home to my apartment to eat, and they kept asking me how many fried rices I wanted to have with my order. I don’t know — I was a bit reluctant to outright say 3 because I don’t know if that would mean I would get one yakisoba and three fried rice main portions and four extra fried rice side portions or anything like that! I didn’t need THAT much rice!
In hindsight it was pretty hilarious. In the end I got what I wanted though — an order of gomoku yakisoba for 800 yen, with a side of chahan for 300 yen, and then a separate order of chahan for 500 yen… with a side of chahan for 300 yen. Teehee. And the portions all turned out to be the same size:
I had the yakisoba and half of one of the fried rice bowls for dinner. The reason I did it this way is that I needed rice for my occasional soup dinner adventures anyway since I did not have a rice cooker in the apartment, and although I could (and did) buy small microwaveable satchels of plain white rice about half the size of each of these chahan portions for 80-90 yen a pop or so, I just also really wanted to experience the novelty of buying rice with a side of rice. The rice itself wasn’t bad, not overly oily or anything, though it also wasn’t as savory or tasty as I hoped. Somewhere around average or slightly over average though, which is perfectly fine for its price. And that little adventure concluded my exploits for the day!