Kita- a Japanese Mountain Village

Janine and I are currently on the indigo trail. We have visited two indigo workshops in Kyoto and one in the north in Mashiko. Today we are making the trip to the Miyama Valley and the little village of Kita. This is rumoured to be a very pretty village of thatched roofed houses a few hours north of Kyoto in a mountainous region. although this sounds gorgeous, it is not the real reason to search it out.

The valley isn’t on any main road or train line, so the trip can be quite a long one, even though the distance isn’t particularly great. The isolation of the village has been its saving grace in terms of architecture, as not much has changed there in a long time.

We are advised to allow 3 to 4 hours for the trip. We can’t know the exact time, as we don’t know all the service times and connections. The journey will involve 2 train journeys and two bus trips. As it turns out, we seem to end up catching the wrong train, even with advice from the tourist information bureau. Our train stops a few stations short of the station that we need to get to in order to connect with the next train. We are a bit lost and bewildered by this, so by the time we get to ask the station master which platform we need to be on to get the next train north, he tells us that it has just left on the other side of the station.

This is a bit of a bummer, as the next train isn’t for another hour, then we need to connect with a local bus, that connects with a much smaller local bus to get us up the mountain to where we need to be. Our incompetence with the language and life in general puts a bit of a limit on our travels sometimes, but our optimism and luck is a good counter-balance on many an occasion, so we make the best of our situation. We decide to sit in the sun outside the station, but on the way out we see this sign.

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Luckily for us we have time to burn, so I decide to try and decipher it. Luckier still, it has some English on it. We march back in and ask the station master. He nods, Yes, the bus departs from outside in half an hour and goes direct. It has nothing to do with the railways. We will have to work it out for our selves. We sit and wait in the sun and as 10.30 arrives, a big coach pulls into the parking area. I wander over and ask in my clumsey, half-baked, abreviated Japanese. “Miyama desuKa”. The driver nods, “Hi desunae”.

It’s all good. We’re off again.

As it turns out, it just happens to be the first day of the summer tourist coach service company’s new offering to run a coach from this station to Kita village direct. It turns out to be a very comfortable one hour luxury coach service. As I remember, it cost us just $12 each. Excellent!

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We arrive in the village cool and relaxed. As we desend from the bus, the driver is there at the foot of the steps holding a sign in Japanese that i can see has the time 15:30 written on it. I understand from this that we had better be back here a few minutes earlier than that time. I look at the driver and point at the ground at our feet. He nods. Here!

The village looks beautiful. I love Japanese thatched roofed houses at any time. The loverly and I made the pilgrimage to Shirakawago village up in the snow country a few years ago. That was a great experience. Staying overnight in an ancient thatched roofed minka house was a real cultural experience. The ancient lady who owned the ancient house cooked us a lovely multi-course dinner from an ancient recipe. I wrote about it at the time, it will be here on this blog back in the ancient past-posts somewhere, so I won’t bore you with it again here. Only to say that there are some similarities with Kita.

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The big difference between them is that where as Shirakawago is all a ‘level 2 national trust preservation environment’, so nothing can be changed, up dated or altered, only maintained as-is. The up-side there is that you have to pay a fee to enter the ‘National Park’ status environment and all the money goes to the village to pay for it’s up-keep and re-thatching. Here in Kita Village, everything is privately owned and all the buildings are just peoples ordinary houses. The residents are farmers and some are commuters, so there are signs everywhere to remind us that we are on private property and not to disturb the residents or try to enter gardens or houses.

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Kita is beautiful, but the main reason to come all this way is to visit the ‘Little Indigo Museum’. Hiroyuki Shindo came to live here many years ago to site his indigo dyeing workshop here. He has been working here ever since. His museum is situated at the top of the village and was once the village Headman’s house. It’s a large house with room for him to raise his family in one half, while his workshop is in the other side of the ground floor. His private museum is located in the roof, and what a beautiful roof it is. All bamboo poles lashed together with rice straw rope. A traditional thatched roof is a truely exquisite piece of craftsmanship.

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Shindo san is an internationally recognised indigo dye artist and luckily for us, he is a really nice guy who speaks quite good English. We get a tour of his workshop and some work in progress. He shows us how he winds the cotton fabric to get a striped effect in the dye bath and also shows us a finished piece of the work.

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We buy a small piece of his work, We have to think small as we are in the first week of a 5 week journey and we have to watch our weight limits. Interestingly, Shingo san’s daughter is a potter and has her own show room on site. However, unfortunately, she is away at the time and the show room is closed.

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Most of the houses have vegetable gardens in their back yards, it’s a nice place for me to wander, being a bit of a back yard gardener myself. The village has a restaurant – which you have to make advance booking for. That counts us out. Luckily for us it has a small cafe as well, right at the top of the hill. They use ‘illy’ coffee too, so the coffee is the best that we have had in Japan. The owners have spent time in Italy and the cafe is called the ‘Milan’ cafe.

We make our way back down the village and walk along the river to the bus stop, it’s quite idyllic. one of the beauties of living in a small village is the trust that the locals have for each other and everyone else here. The bus stop has a bunch of cushions provided by the residents for everybody to use while waiting. It’s a beautiful gesture.

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Japan Blues

Janine and I have spent a short time in Japan. We are on our way to the UK via Korea, so decided to spend a week or so in Kyoto on our way to break the trip. We love Japanese culture and often visit Kyoto when we go to Japan as it is a favourite of ours. While in Kyoto we do all the usual ceramic related things, and spend time in the Higashiyama pottery district, looking at the ceramics, galleries, potteries and Museums, I have written a lot about this in the past so won’t bore you with it here. However, on this occasion, we also take a little bit of time to explore the north-west of the city and the fabric district.

I have had an interest in indigo dyed fabric for many years and always go looking for old second-hand indigo dyed fabrics when we visit the antique markets that are held towards the end of the month in the temples around Kyoto. I usually organise our visits to Kyoto to coincide with these markets each time. Some years ago, on a previous visit to Japan, we spent some time traveling in the north of Japan and found a very old indigo workshop that had a 600 year-long history. It was in a very beautiful old building constructed from twisted and bent beams, all mortised together in that unique Japanese way with amazing craftsmanship. Janine bought a lovely fine shiburi patterned top on that occasion. She still wears it often and has actually brought it along on this trip.
We take the subway to the north and then walk half an hour across town to the west to find a small indigo dyeing workshop called ‘Aizenkobo’ hidden away in a very tiny back street, or possibly more properly described and a lane way. The workshop wasn’t particularly well-marked on the day that we first arrived there, as it was a bit overcast and showery, so there were no signs out. I knew that we had found it however, because I took the liberty of looking it up on the internet before we left, so I had an idea of what I was looking for. On subsequent visits, the day is clear and the signs are out, but I already know where I am on these later occasions.
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We are welcomed in by the owners, a husband and wife couple, possibly our age or a bit older? Janine gets to try on a 100 year old patchwork coat and an amazing fireproof, indigo dyed and hand stitched, multi-layered old fireman’s jacket and hat.
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Janine buys a scarf that has been tied in the amazing shiburi style of micro tying technique and then dyed in multiple different strengths of indigo. A truly astonishing piece of work. We get to handle the product in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ states.
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Before and after. This generous scarf which started life at 1.5 metres long, is reduced to 400 mm long after all the shiburi knots are tied, but before dying.
We are taken for a tour of the workshop and get to see the dying vats and hanging and drying areas out the back.
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One vat is slowly fading, as another is in full bloom, the older vat will be cleaned and re-charged with a new batch of indigo. It takes about two weeks to get the fermentation going and up to full strength. A vat lasts about a month, so the process is repeated on a regular basis to keep a continuous supply of fermenting indigo ready for use. As the traditional method requires a natural ferment of indigo, the temperature is critical to keep it alive and active. In the winter, the vats have to be kept wrapped in a doona-like cloth to keep them warm.
The workshop uses 4 x 60kg = 240kg packs of local composted and dried Japanese indigo leaf ‘cake’ each year.
Indigo is a very ancient dying technique and has been developed on most continents independently through time, with each continent using a different local plant material to obtain the blue dye. However, the resulting technique is remarkably similar. Washing the fresh leaves in water and thoroughly oxidising the watery mix, then reduction through fermentation, which is when the dye becomes active. The dye only affects natural fibres. So indigo is only used on silk, wool, hemp, cotton and/or other natural plant fibres. I saw one piece of cloth that had been stitched with nylon thread, so that after dying, the cloth was dark blue but all the stitching on the seams was stark white. I didn’t think that it was particularly attractive look, but I’m sure someone will love it. I didn’t.

Magnitude 6 Earthquake

Janine and I find ourselves in Japan for a short time. Just in time to be here in Kyoto to wake up to a magnitude 6 earthquake, very exciting!
It’s the second time that I have been here and experienced an earthquake. Luckily we are staying in a 200-year-old wooden building that has survived worse than this, but it was exciting. After the 60 seconds of violent shaking and rumbling that started off slow and then increased to a maximum crescendo, the building was left rocking for another minute until the energy slowly dissipated.
We went down to the ground floor where we met our host in the corridor. I asked if we should go outside, but she said NO! We’ll go and watch it on TV and see what has happened.

I’m totally amazed that within 60 seconds of the quake dissipating the TV channel was broadcasting automated quake readings and a map showing the epicentre just to the southwest of us. It was a magnitude 6 and centred between Kyoto and Osaka. They even had live video coverage from the top of major city buildings showing the degree of  the rocking and shaking of the tower.

I’ve experienced 3 earthquakes and 2 of them have been here in Japan. We were in Mashiko just a few weeks before the big earthquake and tsunami at Sendai that caused so much devastation in that area and the ongoing radioactive problem that still isn’t fixed.
Interestingly, both times here in Japan I have been here with Janine and she has either been in the bath, or this time just returned from the bath, with only just her flimsy cotton ‘yakata’ gown. She was understandably reluctant to run out side! So I’ve learnt something, beware when Janine has a a bath, the earth can move.

The third earthquake was at home in Balmoral Village in 1976 or 77. It was short and sharp and came and went with a sudden ‘crack’ sound. It rattled the window panes but little else in the house. I rushed outside and every bird noise had stopped. It was almost totally silent – except for the sloshing sound of the water in our big water tank outside, up on the tank stand. Ten tonnes of water sloshing back and forwards in the tank. That took many minutes to slowly dissipate. It takes a lot of energy to move 10 tonnes of water so violently.

We are fine and so is everything and everyone else in this city it seems. It’s just another magnitude 6 quake. Just another day. We look forward to seeing a lot of pots, potters, pottery shops and galleries,  and eating a lot of sushi in the coming days.
Everything normal.

Later in the week in Kyoto

It’s a dull overcast Sunday morning, so we decide to stroll over to the National Museum. On the walk it starts to shower a light sprinkle of rain. A good reason to spend half the day inside the temple of culture, keeping dry and warm. Unfortunately everybody else in Kyoto is thinking the same thing, only they seem to have set off much earlier than we did.

So, by the time we arrive at the museum in mid morning, there is a queue zig zagging back and forth across the quadrangle, like the ones that you have to wait in at the air port bag drop. Then the queue isn’t finished yet, it snakes out of the gates of the museum and meanders up the street. Right up the street! I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Fortunately, there are plenty of security on hand to direct the glacially slow passage of humanity up the street.

Just for our information, we decide to follow it all the way around the corner and into the big car park, were it does another airport style flail. We don’t bother to follow it in there, we’ve see enough. This will be at least a four hour wait in the rain.

It does make me ask myself, what is so important in there that all these people are prepared to wait so long to see. All we know from the posters, is that it is a show of some National Treasure items. I don’t know exactly what they are, but they must be important.

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We decide to keep walking past the tail end of the queue. We’ll come back another day.

The Kawai Museum is just around the corner, so even though we have been there a number of times before, it’s still an interesting slice of history and there are some lovely pots displayed and some of the items are changed each time I’ve visited. I’m still impressed by the mans individuality and amazing creativity

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It’s a beautiful old kiln. I’m still amazed that they were able to keep on firing it right up until the mid sixties, right in the heart of the city like that. The kiln has a longer history than just Kawai. I was told that Kawai inherited it from one of his teachers and then built his house in front of it. It was far too big for him to fill alone, so he rented out space in the kiln to other local potters. The kiln was fired on the same day in the month, every month. All the potters knew the date to turn up and fill their own pre-booked space. It provided Kawai an income, and the local potters a chance to get their work wood fired. The house he had built is not a typical Japanese house. It was designed by Kawai to reflect his particular taste and has some unusual features.

It’s lunch time by the time we finish up with Kawai. We walk up the chawanzaka street and start to look for a place to eat. Everything is so full that there are waiting queues out side. We keep on walking. We decide to head for the Museum of Cloisonné, up in the North of the city, so take the philosophers path that leads up in that direction. Everything is crowded and full. as we start to leave the shopping district We notice a sign in a very narrow ally. It looks new and I’m pretty sure that it   wasn’t there last year. Black painted Kanji on newly polished pine wood. It looks like the sort of sign that would indicate a restaurant. It’s in Japanese and I can’t read it literally, but I think that I can read its intension, so I walk up to investigate. It seems to lead to another little by-way and sure enough,  there is a new sushi bar. We go in. the chef welcomes us in. I ask how long he has been open and he tells us that he has only been here for one month. We order his sushi ‘set’ and a cold dry sake.

We are the only customers in the place. I don’t know how he is going to make a living. He seems a nice guy and the food and service were excellent. It was amazing to have the place to ourselves. The food starts to flow and continues. We spend a lovely hour chatting to him using charades, my very limited language and my phone translation app. He asks us where we are from and I tell him Australia. He replies, “Shiraz”!

I love os-torr-ray-re-a shiraz! We can only agree with him. So do we.

I ask if he has been there and he tells me No. But then goes on to tell me a very long wistful story that is in fast Japanese that I can’t follow. He’s a bit impassioned and speaks quite fast. He doesn’t realise that I can’t speak Japanese all that well – if at all, but I can sometimes work out what is going on around me after a week or so and I get my ‘ear in’ as it were. So now I think that he’s telling me that he wanted to travel, but there was the very long apprenticeship and this over-lapped with his marriage and then the kids came along, and now he has worked his way up to getting his own place! Life just Happens! I nod, Yes. I know!

Even though I don’t, but I think that I do.

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We try two different medium dry sakés as we progress through his courses of culinary delights. It’s a really worthwhile simple pleasure and an hour of my life well spent. Before we leave, he offers us a very small chilled glass of a sweet fruity after-dinner style saké to finish the meal. Really great mouth-filling flavour mmm! It’s a very beautiful gesture and  gratefully received and appreciated. If you ever go to Kyoto. Go there! Support this guy. – If you can find him?

I’m very pleased when another couple come in just as we are about to leave. I’d hate to think of him waiting there in an empty shop.

We continue on our way to the Museum of Cloisonné on the other side of town. The rain is clearing, so we keep on walking. It takes us about an hour, but is a very pleasant affair. I’ve never been there before, but a quick glance at the map tells me that if I follow a series of interconnected canals and streams, or the roads that follow along them rather closely, it will take me there, or to within 100 metres. So we do and it does.

 

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Along the way we get a few little glimpses of Sunday morning life in Kyoto’s back streets. There is a man down in one of the little streams along the way, that flows into the canal. He’s spending his morning cleaning out all the weeds and rubbish that have washed down during the week. Somehow, it is a nice warm feeling to see someone doing their ordinary civic duty. I appreciate his gesture, but can’t tell him. I wonder what people think when they drive past me on our dirt road and see me cleaning the gutters and picking up the MacDonald’s wrappers and beer bottles with my wheel barrow and shovel? The big difference is that I’m not doing any civic duty, I’m clearing the gutters because the water that will eventually flow down there when it rains, will end up in my dam. So I’m just being selfish. It’s not the same.

When they built this canal in Kyoto, someone thought to build in a small narrow set of stairs, so the locals can just duck down and access the water.

It is an interesting walk through a part of town that we hadn’t been before and really worthwhile. The cloisonné Museum is just where we expect it to be and we find it easily.

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IMG_9362 Namikawa Yasuyuki was a very famous Cloisonné artist who lived and worked in Kyoto from 1868 to 1926. His museum is in his old house and is of the old-fashioned Kyoto style called ‘machiya’ . Namikawa became very wealthy from his work as he invented new styles of working and new techniques. I’m not particularly interested in Cloisonné, but I’m very impressed by the technical genius and level of skill. It’s hard to believe that this level of fine detail could have been achieved prior to the invention of oxy torches, plasma cutting and tig welding. As it turns out Namikawa didn’t actually do the manual work. He just designed it. He had a righthand man called Nakahara Tessen. He was the real genius! But as with all things, it’s a union that makes for a greater whole.

Still, I’m actually more interested in the garden. Namikawa had diverted the local small stream into his garden and had a pond built-in, under and around the house then through the garden. He was rather rich by his mid-career, he could afford it and had good sense of style and taste. It’s a beautiful space and a lasting credit to him.

I’m writing this up on Xmas day,  we spend a quiet day trying to restrain ourselves from doing any outside work. There is plenty that needs doing, but I put on clean clothes to stop my self from going down to the studio and working. We have a small restrained lunch of a small amount of cheese, some home-made hommus and beetroot dips, a few tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, toast and a glass of good red. Simple, fresh and wholesome.

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I went out yesterday and while cleaning the gravel from the gutters to improve the road drainage, I decided to wheel barrow the spoils up to my neighbours place and I filled in two big holes in his drive way with the gravel. He doesn’t know it yet, but that job needed doing for a couple of years. As the holes grew bigger, deeper and filled with water. I thought, I should do something about that. So as my Xmas gesture to my neighbour. I go up and fill in the pot holes in his drive. That will be his xmas surprise, the next time he drives out.

Its a very quiet peaceful and non-commercial xmas.

A Week in Kyoto

Our Poverty Air flight puts us down in Osaka and we make our way to the airport station to catch the train to Kyoto. It’s about an hour and a half to Kyoto central station, then we have to get to the North of the city with our bags, so we opt for a cab as it’s getting late and to top it off, it’s starting to rain. I know the way to where our inn ought to be, but it’s a good 30 to 40 mins walk in the dark with our wheely suitcases, so we hang the expense and choose comfort & speed.

We are now staying in a very small inn in the Gion District. This is where you are most likely to see real Geiko and Maiko (not just tourist maiko-overs), on their way to and from work in the specially designated places where they are employed.  This is a bit of a glam area for us, so I was quite surprised to find a very old house/workshop that had been converted into a very small inn. Only 5 rooms and still very reasonable, so much so that we can afford to stay there. It’s just off the main granite paved Geisha/Geiko/Maiko street and up a very narrow walking lane, just 1.2 m wide. It’s in an all wooden building area and because of its location in an ancient lane, off a pedestrian street, it is one of the quietest places that I have stayed in.

Each day as we come and go from our lodgings, we see the Maiko walking to and fro between jobs and training sessions. Sometimes alone, but nearly always with a minder. On this occasion, as one of the Geiko walks right past me I say quietly, “you are beautiful”.

She stops dead and turns to me, blank faced, no emotion in her practised impasto guise at all. Her minder, a much older lady, who is walking beside her says to me. “Do you want a picture?”. Her minder takes my phone and clicks this image. They turn and walk off, straight into one of the small doorways nearby and disappear inside.

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We make our way to the Nishiki street food markets one day to buy a special Japanese knife, as requested by a friend. We head for the Aritsugu knife shop. The Aritsugu family were originally sword smiths, founded in 1560, but as the need for Samurai declined they reinvented themselves as kitchen knife makers and have developed a remarkable reputation as one of the best. The current master is the 18th generation of the family to run the shop and business. They are certainly very accessible here in the Nishiki food market. The shop is alway packed and difficult to manoeuvre around in the narrow isle between the glass cabinets of beautiful trays of knives. I have bought 3 knives here over the years.

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While we are wandering, we notice that there is a new sushi restaurant opened up in the street. We can’t resist and take a peek inside past the noren. It’s very stylish and restrained. We like it, so go in. There are just two seats left at the bar. It’s meant to be.

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There are only two choices on the menu. 7 or 10 servings. We go for the full 10 pieces. We are served tea and a hot wash cloth. Our man speaks just a little English, which makes everything a lot easier. He asks us, “Wasabi OK”? We tell him, “Yes indeed, we’re fine with wasabi”. He makes each piece for us individually, one at a time and names the species of fish each time, once in Japanese and then in English. He also offers the advice of whether we should use soy with it or not. A couple of the servings have already been treated with a vinegar dressing and he suggests, “This one – No soy”.

The rice is perfect. Not warm or cold just right, Goldilocks rice. There is a very long tradition of making sushi rice. It has a huge history and part of the 7 year apprenticeship to become a sushi chef is learning the vagaries of rice.

The special sticky rice used to make sushi varies from strain to strain and also from the differing climatic zones of Japan. It also has slight differences from year to year and harvest to harvest. Nothing is certain. the chef has to be able to understand these subtle variations and choose the rice of the season that best suits his approach to sushi. Then there is the preparation. The age of the rice has to be taken into consideration. To wash or not to wash, to soak or not to soak. How long to boil before the long slow simmer – if at all. The real skill is however involved, not in the cooking, but in the cooling. This involves fanning the rice to cool it and the secret additions of the vinegar, sugar, salt, sometimes sake and whatever else. Every sushi chef has an opinion and a secret recipe. The restaurant develops a house style that is appropriate to the clientelle, the district, the Ken, the island and the season. These variations are all considered to ensure consistency. In Kyoto, they seem to serve it a little bit sweeter than in Tokyo, a bit like the variations in Miso. The Kyoto speciality is white ‘shira’ miso which is sweeter then the northern saltier ‘aka’ red  style.

I been told that the best sushi chefs can dip their hand into the rice bowl without looking and scoop up the exact amount of rice everytime to within a gram. Then, and this part I don’t believe. He will scoop, round, pat, squeeze and swivel the little ball so that all the grains of rice face the same direction! I looked closely, my man wasn’t choosing to display this skill to me. Maybe I wasn’t paying him enough?

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We enjoy or sushi with the chef’s recommendation of a bowl of sake, not too dry and not at all sweet. On the dry side of the middle range. It’s a very nice accompaniment.

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We reflect on our beautiful day in Kyoto as we walk home along the Kamu.

Post-Conference Surprise

As part of the conference proceedings we are all asked to do a demonstration over two consecutive days. On the first day, we all make a few things that represent a sample of what we do. These pieces are left to stiffen overnight and the following day we finish them off before the assembled conference audience, who walk around and chat to us to get better informed about what we do. My translator shares herself between me and  Janine, who also demonstrates. Janine draws a much bigger audience than I do as her work is intricate, decorative so much more interesting to watch.
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After the conference is wound up. All the presenters, their translators and all the Museum staff are taken to dinner by the Museum Director, Mr Jung. We enjoy a full Korean banquet and after the meal, Mr Jung performs a traditional Korean drinking trick to amuse us. He mixes Korean choshu and beer in different ways, all of which amuse, entertain and surprise us.

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My friend Warren calls this kind of potters beer drinking performance trick “Beertrix Potter” Jokes!
We all assemble at our hotel the next morning for a final breakfast together. I had figured out how Janine and I would catch the series of busses back to the Incheon International airport in time to catch our flight back to Japan. But I shouldn’t have worried. Mr Jung has it all planned. He will deliver all of us to the airport by courtesy limousine provided by the conference. However, before we leave Mr Jung’s assistant, Mr Mun, comes around and gives each of the presenters an envelope. This is good, because I had come here on the understanding that my airfare would be paid, but I had to buy my own ticket and present the receipt to be reimbursed. Other than that, I knew very little else about the conference or its schedule before I arrived. All my information was relayed to me in Australia via Miss Kang in phone text messages. I had nothing in writing. So I was a bit relieved to see an envelope coming my way at this last moment.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the wad of wan that it contained! Apparently we were to be paid for our presentations and demonstrations. I wasn’t told this beforehand. When Mr. Jung asked me if I would take part in a conference if he organised one in the future. I agreed without hesitation. He then asked me how much I would charge. I replied that I’d be happy to do it for free, just as I have always done here in Australia over the past 40 years. He then offered to pay my fare, and asked me how much my airfare was to get there on that trip. I replied that it cost me about Au$1,200. He visibly recoiled! He sat and thought for a while and then said that he might only be able to afford a one way ticket. I said that would be OK. I’d still come. I really like this guy and feel that I owe him a debt for all the help that he had offered me in my prolonged ‘5 Stones’ project.
Australia is a very long way away from Korea, unlike China and Japan are in respect of Korea. These ‘local’ Asian airfares are in the low hundreds of dollars. So I understood the situation and didn’t expect anything more.
So when I felt the thickness of the envelope, then opened it and saw the massive bundle of notes. I was really quite shocked. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like it. But I was very pleased to receive it. I’ve never earned three million in cash before. Pity it was in Wan and not Dollars!
It’s an easy trip to be collected from our hotel and driven in comfort and style all the way directly to the terminal. Because we have travelled direct, even though we have left later then I would have planned to, we arrive earlier than I had expected.
Mr. Jung sees us into the terminal and checks the flight schedule for us. We are so early that we have time to share coffee and cake, before disappearing into the Airport system to be ‘processed’ through emigration and security. To keep the cost of the airfare as low as possible. We chose to fly with Poverty Air. I’ve flown with them before and we are prepared for the 200 mm leg room and no heating or oxygen to supplement the rarefied air at altitude. We decide not to buy the over priced water on the flight and we have come prepared with a sweater to keep us warm.
Having travelled well prepared, we arrive in Osaka in good shape, just a couple of hours later and make our way to Kyoto on the train. We were not able to book into our usual inn In the Higashiyama ‘pottery’ district, but find another one not too far away. It’s late by the time we get ourselves booked in and settled. We walk out to look for a place to eat, but there is only one place open at this hour in this more remote area, away from the usual tourist haunts. We walk in and sit down to discover that we are in an okonomiyaki cafe. It’s fabulous! It’s a really local little family place. It’s full of kiddies and families. Kids drawing with crayons and pencils on scrap paper with their parents. We are lucky to get two seats at the bar so we can watch the chef a work. At the end of the bar there is a teenage boy with text books out, doing his homework. It’s all so family oriented, noisey and chaotically wholesome.
We order okonomiyaki and omelette.
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It’s a great start to our next week in Kyoto.
Best wishes from
Steve and Janine in Korea and Kyoto

Bodoko

In the boro museum we get to understand some of the history of this amazingly time-consuming and beautiful example of enforced creative frugality.

In the north of Japan there was a history of recycled cloth called ‘bodoko’, sometimes shortened to ‘bodo’. Bodo are made by sewing many small pieces of used and worn cloth together to make a larger sheet. Bodoko sheets are primarily used in childbirth to lay the newborn baby on. They were also used as sleeping sheets when laid over layers of dried leaves or straw on the ground. Times were really tough back then! We live in luxury now and look upon these old fabrics today as cultural art objects, but they were originality created out of the necessities of poverty.

The items of the Boro Museum were collected by Mr. Chuzaburo Tanaka from the mid sixties onwards. He had a love of these old fabrics from his earliest days. Some of the museum displays are fortunately written in English and enlighten us as to more of the history. One of the panels tells us that when a baby died in child-birth, it was buried with nothing other than a stone. To make the baby tougher in its next life!
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It’s a great thrill to see all these old fabrics in a well-lit, well displayed place. There is a wealth of material here in this museum spread over several floors of the building.
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Later we make our way to the local sushi bar for lunch.
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The next morning we are up very early and off to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market for a wander around. The fish market is only a 15 minute walk from where we are staying in a cheap hotel. There are all sorts of stalls in and around the market. There is a very nice Japanese knife stand, but they are very expensive and out of my price range. However there is an enormous range of all sorts of fish and sea food products on sale. I’m particularly taken by the sea urchin pulp with wasabi paste and pickled ginger served in a lovely wooden box.
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There is fresh wasabi root, dried squid and lovely mushrooms. I wish that I had a kitchen, so that I could justify buying some of this.
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I’m quite taken with the fish eggs displayed all in a roe.
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We spend a few minutes watching a master fish chef de-boning a very large tuna. it’s a very skilful art. A big tuna like this cost thousands of dollars just an hour earlier, and is broken down now into smaller affordable pieces for the days sushi and sashimi restaurants.
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We can’t help ourselves. We have to have some more sushi and sashimi after this.
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Tokyo