Day 4 – Meeting the Takabayashi Family

I woke up this morning at 5, as I have been every day, proofreading my blog post from the night before and reading about what everyone else did. As I lay in bed thinking of what I might do today, I realized that I had been dreaming about Kyoto when I was sleeping. Since we’ve arrived, I’ve thought of little else besides the city and what I’d like to see here. When I think about the stress and mental exertion that accompanies a semester, I appreciate this experience all the more. I’m glad I’ve had this opportunity to lose myself in a city rather than inside my own head.

Because I woke up so early, I decided to finally do some exploring by myself. I knew that I wanted to visit a shrine, but I wanted to make sure I knew which kami I would be praying to if I were to visit one, and that I would be praying for something I cared about. I discovered that Ichihime shrine is directly south of the hostel, so I figured it would be easy to find. I ended up walking all the way around it and almost gave up when I saw a sign pointing to it in English.

Ichihime shrine is frequented by women in Japan, because the shrine has a dual purpose of protecting markets and protecting those women who pray at the shrine. All of the dieties enshrined there are female. It was rather small, and there were several small red dolls on a table next to some small statues of foxes. Nobody was there besides me, but I was positive that I had at least found the right place.

After I finished praying, I decided to walk back up toward the hostel so that there would be no risk that I’d be late for when we’d leave to meet the Takabayashi family. I was walking up a major street (I think it was Kawaramachi Dori), when I noticed that each of the lampposts had a picture of a Pokemon on it. They were all different, and it was incredible to me that it was in the city. I followed that street for a while, and of course got a bit lost, but I knew I had to keep going north and west. I was able to find Nishiki market and stopped in a FamilyMart to get my exact directions back. Then I arrived back at the hostel and ate breakfast and rested until we had to leave.

Today we had the privilege today of visiting the house of the Takabayashi family, who are well-respected Noh performers of the Kita school. They showed us a variety of Noh masks, fans, and costumes. They also explained the significance of various design elements in each facet of the costuming, which varies to evoke particular emotions or imagery. We were even given the opportunity to wear a Noh mask and walk across a stage. I have so much more respect for Noh performers after trying to walk across a floor with a mask on. I could barely see in front of me with the eye holes at level with my own eyes, and performers wear the masks with the holes above eye level. Yet they are able to make precise movements, walk in straight lines, and even jump and spin during the more action-oriented plays. Part of this is due to their ability to feel changes in the floor and to see the columns placed at critical points on the edge of the stage. However, their precision ultimately highlights the level at which actors must train before performing in front of an audience.

After visiting with the Takabayashi family, we went to Arashiyama. First we visited Tenryu-ji, which has a gorgeous garden with a shallow green pond. Kagaya-sensei told me that the pond used to contain more fish before an invasive turtle species eliminated their food source, and so the fish followed suit. The turtles had come from America and were pets that grew too large and so were released into the wild. It is definitely a series of unfortunate events. It makes me wonder how much of our appreciation of an illustrious history (like that of Kyoto) emerges because of its decay.

From the Tenryu-ji garden we entered the bamboo forest, which was shorter than I expected it to be, but nonetheless beautiful. At that point many of us were tired and hungry, so we returned into the shopping center to get some snacks and view the river from the Togetsu bridge. Afterwards, we returned to Sanjo to get dinner, did a little bit more shopping, and then returned to the hostel.

I’m currently exhausted. I also think I’ve exhausted my desire to do too many tourist activities while I’m here – at least those that involve random shopping. I think I might still want to get some clothes while I’m here, but honestly my favorite thing that I’ve done since we arrived is walk around the city by myself and pray at Ichihime shrine. Though that’s much easier to do in the morning; night is a good time for shopping and social activities.

Tomorrow we have our Zen lecture by Professor Ludvik, our visit to Daitoku-ji, and our meeting with Gakyu-san. So we are booked from 9:00-6:00. A long day. The group is leaving at 7:30, so tomorrow morning is not a good time for me to be exploring by myself. But that’s okay; I’m tired now and I think I’ll want to work on my Zen presentation a bit tomorrow morning.

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