A Gaijin’s Paradise

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 14/10/2007)

Every time I go to Kyoto, I find myself internally conflicted.  It’s always really great, but it can never live up to the image I have of it from my first trip two-and-a-half years ago.More...
I went with my ceramics class to Kyoto on Sunday to visit some important historical ceramics sites.  We first went to the Kyoto National Museum and looked at the pottery collection.  The collection dates all the way back to the Jomon period (600BC) and stretches up to at least the Meiji Restoration (1868).  It was fun to see the pieces that I studied last year in my History of Japanese Art class back at Pacific.  We broke for an hour lunch and I was able to view the rest of the museum and I think I enjoyed the hanging scrolls and the lacquerware even more.  There were also some really cool robes from Noh theater.  I had a super bento (lunchbox) from Circle K across the street and sat with Willy and Derrin talking about rice and mosquitos.  After that we walked as a class to Kawai Kanjiro’s house.  Kawai Kanjiro was perhaps the greatest potter ever in Japan and the emperor wanted to make him a living national treasure but Kawai always refused, saying that his “throwing technique was not yet skillful.”  This was the man who could throw a round bowl and put perfectly round indentations in it evenly spaced WHILE continuing the wheel spinning.  He was absolutely incredible.  It was really fun to explore his house and to see his kiln out back.  After that we walked down to the Takashimaya department store downtown and went up to the seventh floor to view the art exhibition they have showing right now.  It was really amazing work and I really enjoyed the lacquerware, the woven baskets, and the glasswork as well.  I think I came away from all of this with some good ideas about what to try in my pottery.

I poked around downtown with Willy and Derrin for awhile and we got some taiyaki (fish-shaped waffle-like cakes filled with custard or anko) and browsed through some manga shops.  I got one manga with a really crazy art style that’s completely packed with crazy Japanese gags and I really enjoyed reading part of it while riding the train home last night.  It’s about a family of doves and their adventures with the neighbor cat.  I also picked up some sort of school manga just because the drawing style looked really cute and there was a deer standing on the desk of one of the students.  A deer.  Whoa.  I also noticed that there is a new series out playing off the success of the old Full Metal Panic series and this one is called Full Metal Panic: Sigma.  I bought the first volume because I love that series and the characters so much.  Whee!  So now I’ve got lots of cool manga in Japanese to read and most of it has very little furigana (small hiragana or katakana written next to kanji to help you figure out how they are supposed to be read) so it will be quite a learning experience as I’ll have to tote my kanji dictionary around with me whenever I want to read it.  Other interesting manga I saw while browsing:

Gourmet Fighter – a manga about a guy who goes around to eating competitions.
A single volume manga with a picture of a giant whale with the Japanese flag painted on it beaching itself on Tokyo.  Yes – on Tokyo.  This whale was huge.  Take that Japan!  How’s that for karma?  Continue your research whaling and big poppa whale is gonna come beach himself on top of your capitol.
Toire no hana-chan “Miss Toilet Flower” – I really don’t have any clue what this manga was about because all the manga are shrink-wrapped but each volume had a girl in a very compromising pose.
A historical manga about Alexander the Great’s secretariat.
A manga about some sort of vampire or something learning to make coffee.

Anyway, Willy left after awhile and Derrin and I poked around a little more.  We walked along the Kamogawa (Duck River) for awhile and stopped to watch a semi-rap group play.  I say semi-rap because it was only half-rap in my opinion.  They kept looking over at us and smiling and I think they were happy that we stopped to listen.  The main singer said, “Good evening, everyone!  I know it’s really cold out right now but please listen to us.”  Everyone seemed to think it was cold but I was quite comfortable in just my t-shirt and felt that this was the most beautiful day we’ve had yet in Japan.  After a little bit Derrin left but I still wanted to stick around Kyoto and explore a bit.  A girl from Mongolia came up to me and asked me how to get to the corner of Sanjo-dori and Kamihigashi-dori and I actually knew where that was.  I checked out some strange very Western-looking buildings and then found myself in a huge, dark park.  This park turned out to be the Kyoto Imperial Palace!  It was only 6:00PM but it was so dark and completely deserted.  The grounds were HUGE!  Really, really HUGE!  I began to see cats all over the place again and then a thought struck me.  Maybe the reason I never see people in the parks after dark or the reason no homeless people camp in the parks is because of the forces of the trained attack cats!  I picked up my pace a little bit and kept a close eye on all the yellow eyes flashing in the darkness.

After that, I walked around a bit more, feeling slightly disillusioned.  I wanted to see the parts of Kyoto that make it special from other cities.  I wanted to go walk on the mountains and see all the temples and shrines but it was too dark and too late to go there.  I walked through a long, bright, crowded shopping arcade and wondered why I didn’t just go home.  I ran into gaijin all over the place and I felt like everyone was looking at me like a tourist.  Finally, I found an Animate and spent a few enjoyable minutes in there browsing all the anime-related merchandise and listening to the happy hardcore playing in the background.  There was a Melon Books across the way from Animate and I stepped in briefly to check it out but it was not the kind of bookstore I expected.  There were indeed melons, a bountiful suppy of them, but they were not the melons I was hoping for.

It’s another beautiful day and I’m holed up in my room doing laundry and pretending to study for my midterm exams next week.  I can’t believe it’s already two weeks into October.  The time is just flying by.


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