This turned out to be the most wonderful day imaginable. We had contacted Mensa Japan’s SIGHT program, and Satoki volunteered to spend a day with us in Kyoto. Satoki had asked me what sorts of things we were interested in. I told him that we were interested in all of those things, that we really wanted to see Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and I knew that wasn’t much help. He put together a plan for the day: Kinkaku-ji, a Nishijin-Ori Art Museum (traditional silk textiles), lunch, a visit to the Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art, and then on to Sanjusangendo before dinner. After dinner, we went on a Comorant finishing tour.
Satoki is picking us up at 9:30 so we were all up and around by 8:30 to give us time for breakfast. There’s a coffee shop across the street from the hotel that we’d passed by several times but hadn’t stopped. Jennica suggested we have breakfast there and it was a good idea. I had a ham and cheese croissant, which I devoured all too quickly. Jennica devoured her ice tea with lemon quickly as well, and described herself as desolate. When I pointed out that the purpose of tea was to be devoured, and undevoured tea had no purpose, she pointed out that if she had undevoured tea she could devour it, which would give it purpose.
Satoki met us in the lobby of the hotel (we were about 2 minutes late coming down, which I felt bad about). We presented him with a gift of wine and cookies as a thank you for giving up his day to help us enjoy Kyoto, and then we headed off in his Honda Odyssey, which was quite different from the US Odyssey
Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion
Our first stop was Kingkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Fodor’s guidebook described it as “possibly the world’s most ostentatious retirement cottage”. Okay, so it was ostentatious—but amazing. We were looking at a reconstruction from the 1950s—a monk had set fire to the structure. We joined the many people taking pictures with the Pavilion as a background. The Pavilion wasn’t the only beautiful part of the temple area, though. We walked through the trees past several springs, which Satoki explained had specific purposes. One of the springs was used solely to make the Emperor’s tea. Another was dedicated to use for him to wash his hands. As we walked on, we encountered a small structure that had been built for the purpose of taking tea—that was its only use. It was a delightful setting in the trees.
Nishijin-Ori Art Museum
The curator of this traditional silk textiles museum didn’t speak English and Satoki translated as best he could. We slipped out of our shoes as the floors were all tatami mats. The first piece we saw was an incredible screen that was an emperor’s changing area; Satoki translated for us and he said that it took a year and a half to make, and that it would probably sell, if it was for sale, for 1M yen. Every piece we looked at was amazing—some were actually made with gold thread. When we went upstairs, there were textile reproductions of some very famous painting, including Van Gogh and Chagall.
She then took us into a room that was 3 sides around of Monet’s water lilies. The work would have been amazing if it had been paint, but the entire room was textile. Our hostess had us all sit and turned down the lights and then brought them up again with the time of the day, moving us from morning to day to night. We were all silent, just drowning in the beauty and were quiet for a while as we absorbed the beauty of the room.
We had been asked if we wanted to see the actual production area of the textiles and we jumped at the chance. A woman from the museum led us through the streets to the production facility, where we were given slippers and invited inside. It was one of those places where I wasn’t really sure what was ‘outside’ (shoes) and what was ‘inside’ (slippers). There was some older equipment—and the woman working there showed us the current work in progress and we saw the actual creation of what looked as if it was going to be an obi.
I had trouble following the details of the creation of the pattern for an elaborate textile—the old method involved paper and manual settings of machines to create the paper patterns. Even the new computerized methods take a long time and a lot of labor.
Satoki had picked a spot for lunch, but it turned out to be closed when we arrived. Instead, he parked where he works (there was a car elevator for parking) and we walked to his daily lunch spot. It was our first truly Japanese meal (other than eating in the Porta Mall), so we all watched Satoki and followed when and how he ate each dish and how to place the chopsticks when putting them down. Lunch was delicious, although I still sometimes struggled with chopsticks. We made the first of our slipper errors here—lunch was on tatami mats so we were all barefoot. The bathrooms had bathroom slippers though, and Stan had slipped them on. As we were leaving, the restaurant staff noticed that Stan was wearing the bathroom slippers and she tittered, as Stan slipped them off.
Museum of Contemporary Art Kyoto
After lunch, Satoki had planned a trip for modern art—the Museum of Contemporary Art Kyoto, which included Japanese artists who had traveled to France. I found I couldn’t read as much French as I once could, but I was able to puzzle some titles out. I think Jennica could have spent the entire day here.
Sanjusangendo is the Hall of 1000 Buddhas. I was looking at one of the 28 guardians and then looked up and the sight of the row after row of Buddhas was just amazing. As we walked, I was able to read the history of each of the guardians and marvel at the way each Buddah was different—no duplication of arms or what they were holding. Pictures weren’t permitted inside (the photo below is from a pamphlet).
We had time before dinner, so Satoki drove us up to Mt Hiei. The views of Kyoto were gorgeous.
Dinner at an Okanawan Restaurant
Other than our beverages, Satoki did all of the ordering, which led to us trying things we might never have ordered and tried—pickled item, pigs ears, fried fish that was served with a coarse seasoning salt. Stan and Bethy particularly loved the pork that followed. Noodles—but I couldn’t seem to force myself to slurp. I ordered plum wine and somehow seemed to manage ordered it watered down. One way or another, I decided plum wine wasn’t my favorite and I soon switched to water. Everything else was delicious, though!
Our final adventure of the day was a boat trip to view cormorant fishing, which leashed cormorants, prompted by fire (which also allows them to see the fish), dive for fish. Since the birds are leashed and wearing collars, they aren’t able to swallow the fish and the fish are retrieved by the fisherman. Interestingly enough, the boat we were on had tatami mats, and everyone went barefoot/socked in the boat. Since we were sitting on the ground, that worked out well, since unlike every US boat I’ve been on, the seating was dry!
At the end of the day, everyone was exhausted, but exhilarated. Even as she was fighting sleep, Jennica kept whispering “This is so cool.”
Unfortunately, we had a bit of adventure when we returned to the hotel. Somehow, the key to their room had left Jennica’s purse to stay in some place other than where we were. Fortunately, the hotel staff let the girls into their room. In the morning Satoki came to our rescue—the key had been left on the seat of his car and he dropped it off at the hotel in the morning.
The day with Satoki will always be very special to us—he gave so generously of his time translating skills, and practical organization that it was just a perfect day in Kyoto for us!