David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

Hines does Japan, part one

Be honest: you thought I was making it up.

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As Wayne Campbell would say, my guess is their menu includes the Cream of Sum Yung Gai.

The cherry trees were in bloom during my trip, and so I got to observe a little quirk of Japanese culture. The Japanese love cherry trees. I mean, they're nuts about 'em. It is impossible to walk very far this time of year without coming across a cherry tree in bloom and Japanese staring at it in rapt admiration, or photographing it, or (like the folks on the blue tarps here) having drinking parties under it.

After a while I started to get heartily sick of cherry trees. They are pretty, though.

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This is the wooden gate at Chion'in, in Kyoto. It's the largest such critter in the world. If you go through it and up the steps, you get to the temple complex.

Note the cherry trees.

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These are the steps.

With cherry trees.

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Incense guy, outside Chion'in temple. (I couldn't take pictures inside.)

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The street party is now in full swing, with vendors and spectators and cherry trees.

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My griping aside, cherry trees can be really beautiful. Especially at night when they're lit from below; they really seem to glow.

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On the way down from Chion'in, we stopped at Yasaka Jinja, which is a shrine.

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Basically, it works like this: there are boxes for money in front of where the people are standing. You throw in a coin (the equivalent of a quarter or so), ring the bell, clap your hands twice, and pray.

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Of *course* I had to ring the bell.

(If you're wondering, I said the Shma. I didn't think the Buddha would mind. My cousin Chaim, who's a Hasid, probably would, though.)

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A little pedestrian mall. Once you get off the main drags, you'll see a lot of streets this size. Even ones permitting vehicle traffic.

The small streets are for two reasons. First, Japan is old. Second, Japan is dense. Lotta people very close together. This makes Japan pretty pedestrian-friendly. It also allows the Japanese to have a really good, extensive train system. (And, conversely, why Amtrak loses buckets of money: Americans are simply too spread out for profitable nationwide rail service.)

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This was a sign for a bar in Kyoto.

...y'know, looking at that logo, "glamour" isn't the word that comes to mind.

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For an ancient country, Japan doesn't have as many really old landmarks as you'd think. Case in point: the Imperial Palace at Kyoto. Like a lot of Japanese historical landmarks, it's a reconstruction.

Japan has a lot of reconstructions, for two reasons. The first is World War II. American bombing runs pounded Japan flat. If you visit Japan and go to landmarks and historical sites, you will read over and over again about these things being rebuilt after the war. This speaks to the massive impact of the bombardment, as well as the dedication and sense of history of the post-war Japanese.

The second reason is that the Japanese built pretty much all of their original landmarks out of wood. Reading the placards on some of them calls to mind the fellow's speech in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, with "destroyed by fire" being the equivalent of "fell into the swamp." Some Japanese landmarks were destroyed and rebuilt so often that you feel a little nervous standing there just waiting for a sinkhole to open up or something. Actually, it helps explain Japanese filmmakers' historically cavalier attitude toward having their cities destroyed by giant monsters. The Japanese are used to rebuilding.

In the case of the Kyoto palace, it was destroyed by fire in the late nineteenth century after standing for something like eight hundred years. Not long after the fire, the emperor of Japan moved the court to Tokyo, which had been rising in prominence while Kyoto was on the wane. So the fire wasn't all bad, at least if you were the emperor and needed a reason to move your court without flaunting tradition.

Cynical, me? Nahhh. Anyway, here are a few pictures from this particular palace.

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This was the garden, and my picture completely fails to do it justice:

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The Princess and I stayed with some Japanese friends of hers when we were in Kyoto. This was their garden, which is not as big as the Emperor's but is still quite cool.

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The house itself was very nice. It was also very cold. Japan is a nation largely devoid of central heating, and its houses -- particularly the traditional ones -- are very poorly insulated. It is a land of space heaters. You have maybe one warm small room, and the rest of the house is chilly.

Small rooms aren't as big a problem for the Japanese as they would for us. Why? No chairs, and comparatively little furniture. I'd never realized how much floorspace chairs eat up before.

Another memorable difference: the squat toilet.

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I used one of these in Kyoto. The only reason I could was that the floor was clean and dry, and so I could balance with my hands. If the floor is sticky, wet, or messy -- i.e., most highly-trafficed public restrooms -- forget it. I'm not sure how people use these things without a) falling over or b) excreting waste onto their clothing.

Toilets: one of those things the West just does better.

The Japanese, fortunately, are kind to visitors and you can usually find a Western toilet somewhere. They've also improved the Western toilet by adding the heated butt-cleaning seat. No joke. You get three buttons: one for bidet water, one for water directed in the region of your poop deck, and one to make the water stop when you want it to. Some seats have a button for hot-air drying. The heated seat is necessary because... um, remember how Japanese houses tend to be very poorly heated, if at all? Yup. Anyway, the automatic toilet seat is great. It pretty much renders toilet paper superfluous.

And finally, a Japanese Coppertone ad. Or something to that effect:

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More pictures to come as time permits. Including stupid Hines pictures. Oh, yes, there are stupid Hines pictures.

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