Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fushimi Inari and Uji

Today was a "free" day, but Keiko offered to guide us to two local sites to visit and paint, and most (all) of the group took her up on the offer.

We first visited a nearby shrine, Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was just two train stops south.  The shrine sits at the foot of Inari mountain and is famous for its thousands of red torii, which wind up the trail up the mountain.  The shrine included many depictions of foxes (kitsune), which are known as messengers.

View of the shrine from the Inari train station -- quite close!

Kitsune in front of the shrine

Another kitsune in front of the shrine building
We had about 1.5 hours at the shrine, so I was able to follow the path of torii only partway up the mountain (the full hike would take 2 hours just to get up).  Not sure how many gates I walked through, but it was really cool and the surrounding forest was beautiful.  Along the way, and especially along the path back down the mountain, I saw many "mounds" for private worship, called tsuka.

One of the tsuka

Street food!

Look closely...
Those are octopus balls
More dango
Fish-shaped pastries to fill with sweet things

Some sort of...pancake?
After Inari, we headed further south to Uji, which is actually where Keiko's mom lives.  Uji is known for its high quality green tea.  As the train got closer to Uji (maybe about 2-3 stops away), we started to notice field of tea growing along the train tracks, with tea hedges living happily under protective tents.  Remember that shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (who lived in the Golden Pavilion)?  He encouraged the cultivation of green tea in Uji in the late 14th century, and its been known for its tea ever since.  We had heard that the whole town smells like tea, and it definitely did as we walked off the train -- a nice smell.  I certainly smelled it when we entered the tea shop "district", where tea was being ground and made and sold.  The best part was when we got back on the train home and I realized the smell had permeated my hands and hair!

Uji was the setting for parts of the Tale of Genji (said to be the world's first novel).  The story, written by the Lady Murasaki, which is pretty impressive for that time.  Keiko explained that it is the tale of a handsome aristocrat who basically becomes a bit of a player, and so it is a romance, which is perhaps surprisingly graphic, considering it was required reading for her as a high-school aged student.

Some of the group visited the local shrines and shops first, but we joined Keiko for lunch under the cherry blossom trees along the Uji River and then settled in to try to do some sketches and painting of the local scenery.  Afterwards, we made our way to the tea shops, a furoshiki shop, and then back to the train.

The Lady Murasaki 
View along the Uji River

Our lunch spot

Our lunch!

The end result

Kim sketching under the trees

View from the path as we walk toward the tea part of town

Grinding up the green tea to make matcha

The street of tea shops!
Matcha for sale
And sencha
And a perfect parking spot for Jettas

Dinner in Kyoto was ramen -- sort of an adventure to order, as we had to figure out the system.  You first select and pay for your meal in an automatic machine, then you get a meal ticket, then you stand in a long line and wait your turn.  Eventually you are invited to come sit at the ramen-eating-bar and presented with a huge bowl of ramen and all the necessary accompaniments.  We got regular pork ramen and some gyoza, but you can order special toppings, like hard boiled eggs, too.

My giant bowl of ramen (actually size "medium")
Kim with her ramen and cold oolong tea.
She won the ramen eating contest and was actually the only one to finish the whole bowl.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Value sketches and Miyako Odori

The beautiful garden at Gion Kobu
Today was mostly a stay-in-and-paint day.  Keiko did two demos and we then worked off of pics from yesterday (Ine/Miyama scenes).  We started with making basic value sketches (noting dark and light values throughout the scene), and then onto making a color-version of the same.  I didn't get to that point, though, because we had to leave a bit early to attend a show (!)

Here's my value sketch, though...(don't mind the hotel carpet borders)
We had tickets to the seasonal performance of the Geisha of Miyako Odori, which celebrates the beginning of spring.  The whole thing started with a brief "tea ceremony", but it was more of a "get rushed through drinking a cup of tea in 2 minutes in a giant room with about 100 other people while you can sorta see a geisha doing something if you get a good angle in between other peoples' heads".  The tea was tasty, though!  And I got a ceramic plate to take home :)

Kim, my mom, and Kari in front of Gion Kobu (where the show is performed)

At the ticket office

My tea and rice-cake thing (maybe daifuku?)
The show was really awesome in a lot of ways -- bright colors and very pretty costumes/kimonos, crazy but kind of amazing music (instruments and vocals), and beautiful dancing and performing by maiko and geisha.  If you want a taste of the intense visual and auditory experience, click here.  If you are more interested in the details and history of this performance (which started in 1872), then click here.  Sadly, no pics allowed during the performance, but if you just want to see some pretty pics taken by someone else, click here and here.

I did take a pic of the pretty stage curtain before the show started.
Nice, right?
 Anyway, the show was cool.  We had tempura for dinner at the top of a huge eleven-story mall,  Our meal came with sakura ice cream (tasted a bit like Cherries Garcia).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Miyama and Ine

Entering Miyama -- great shot by Kari!
Today we spent a lot of time on the bus, traveling to the north of Kyoto and viewing lots of cherry blossoms along the way.  Also, the weather improved dramatically -- chilly and rainy yesterday, bright and sunny and breezy today.

It was about 2 hours to our first stop, the rural village of Miyama.  This village is special because it is one of the only places to see houses with a type of traditional thatched roofs, called kayabuki, the majority of which are still being used as homes.  The village was pretty small, but very pretty.  Lots of picturesque photo opportunities, so we all wondered around trying to find some material to use for a painting later in the workshop.  Thanks to a tip from another traveler, I found my way in one house which apparently doubled as a "cafe"/gallery/studio for a lovely lady named Maki Mitsuko.  She had lots of her own beautiful art on display, and some from her deceased teacher.  I couldn't resist getting some.  She and the little old lady in her shop spoke very little English (and I speak pretty much no Japanese), so it was a challenge, but it was fun to have her show me her art.

View of Miyama
See the moss?  Really cool thatching.  Little things growing all through it... :)

This is Maki's cafe/studio!

Cherry blossoms
More cherry blossoms
This is the painting i got that was made by Maki's teacher.
Maki pointed out her house is the bright red roof toward the back right.
Maki's work
More from Maki
We had about an hour in Miyama before we hopped back on the bus and moved on to our next stop, a coastal village called Ine.  On the way, we enjoyed beautiful bento boxes full of interesting things, including dango and Kyoto style pickles and lots of semi-identifiable things. My mind flashes here, but actually I enjoyed almost everything in the little box (even though I suspect some of it was fishcake), and ended up very full.

Bento box!

As we got closer to Ine and the Japanese seaside, we passed one of Japan's three "most beautiful views" or nihon sankei, called ama-no-hashidate.  This sandbar is said to be the fallen ladder of one of the deities who created Japan.  One day, he fell asleep instead of returning up his ladder to the heavens, and the ladder fell, creating this sandbar.  Our guide, Aki, explained that visitors are supposed to stand on the sandbar and look upside-down through their legs, and doing so they will be able to see a view of both heaven and earth, just like that deity did.

As we neared Ine, our bus maneuvered through narrow, winding streets with houses and buildings pressed so close it seemed like we'd hit someone as they walked out their front door.  Ine is located along the Sea of Japan, on the tip of the Tango Peninsula, and it is known for its distinctive funaya architecture (wooden boathouses in which the lower level is a sort of boat garage, and the upper level(s) is the residence or shop).  It was a very pretty spot -- lots of interesting material for a painting!  Keiko did an amazing demo, going from a basic sketch to a completed painting in less than an hour.  We all took lots of pics and then headed back to the bus for the long trip back home.

Some info about Ine
Scenic Ine boathouses
....and on the other side

Keiko with the start of her painting

Working on the water -- she is known for her skill at creating water and reflections

Some final touches

This is the view the painting captures

The completed painting!
This is the view from the bus window....about to fall in the Sea of Japan.
More views from the bus
And more