Gem is officially licensed to tea!
Or in other words: Our last chance to run out and about, without any worrying about packing, posting or looking for jobs back home!
Long walks (at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto)
The return of outdoor life.
In more than one environment!
Happy times for Gem in her pots.
And for other gardners as well! (Wisteria festival, Shiga)
A return to green fields.
And outdoor living. And it’s always time for tea!
May was also a long, long time ago now! We’re sorry for our longish silence; as you may have guessed, June has thus far been very, very busy! May was outside-the-house time and a sudden jump from “Soon it will be warm enough to wear kimono” weather to “Good God, it’s far too hot to wear kimono” weather. May was also busy-time at work, so our jobs and our running around meant we’re both a bit disgusted with ourselves: not much drawing time for Kin (although he did lots of pottery!) and not much writing or music time for Gem.
Most importantly, May was Kin’s birthday! His brand new birthday-gift travel bag, helped make our May the runaround time it was. May was also time for long train trips, with all the time for thinking, planning and talking things out that they allow. You’ll see some of the results in June and July!
Kin and Gem
It’s spring alright! The rice fields are green and full of joy (for frogs) and the nights are dark and full of lurve… also for frogs. As well as having bats to watch, every evening we can also listen to the chorus of croaking from all directions.
Of course, all of this activity means that other creatures are becoming active too, including this fellow:
This is a Japanese rat snake (Elaphe climacophora) that I spotted while watering the beans. It seemed pretty determined to work its way up the canal, so we figured it was heading out to the big rice fields to find frogs like the one above. Being Australian, I immediately yelled for Kin to grab his camera and he raced up the canal in pursuit.
Unfortunately, his model did NOT feel cooperative. Rat snakes are quite timid (and, apparently, very bitey) so it decided to try and pretend that it wasn’t there and wait for the camera to go away.
Kin was a little disappointed but, as it turns out, he didn’t need to be! When I went for a run along the same canal, I found another friend for him to photograph!
Another rat snake! They must be everywhere at the moment! This one seemed a little less timid than the first and allowed Kin and his camera to get quite close. It was proceeding in the same direction as the other fellow, so there must be something attractive (to snakes) in that part of town.
It seems that Japanese people respond to rat snakes much the same way as Australians do to carpet pythons, so our friends should have a safe journey, wherever they’re going. It was lovely to see these beauties and we wish them well on their travels. It’s also fun giving our U.S. friends the screaming heebie-jeebies with these photos!
Is anyone interesting out and about in your area? Have they come to say hello?
…or maybe not. That is my school this morning. What the hell, man?
To an East-coast Australian, ice is NOT a substance that occurs in nature. Ice is produced by machinery and found in drinks. There is no good reason for it to just appear all over the place and even less reason for it to hang around for months at a time, getting thicker and meaner-looking every night. And there is absolutely NO possible excuse for it to roar back again NOW, when both the plum blossoms and my spirit were just starting to unfurl some tentative blooms.
…plum blossoms are tough and there have been some signs today that I may soon get my spring; like the honest-to-goodness waterfall tumbling off the roof of the gym. This morning, it was just beginning to trickle, but it was cascading by lunchtime and now it resembles alpine thaw in a nature documentary, just before the music turns to woodwinds and a time-lapsed field of edelweiss blooms.
I can only hope.
During the relatively snow-free weekend, though, Kin and I both popped on our coats (and hats and gloves and boots and scarves and mufflers and three layers of thermal underwear) and went to meet Gecko Sensei, my Tea Ceremony teacher in a watery little town to the south of Nagahama, called Gokasho.
To Grandmother’s House
Gokasho is one of Shiga’s Omi merchant towns from the Edo Period. The Omi merchants’ business took them all over Japan, but their families and their valuables remained safely installed in exquisite (not to mention highly secure) mansions in Shiga. Omihachiman is probably the most famous of these towns, but I find Gokasho with its spectacularly laid-out gardens and population of fat, friendly carp in the canals beside the roads, far, far more charming.
In theory, we were there to see the town’s Hinamatsuri displays. Sensei is the archetypal Yamato Nadeshiko, so a visit to a girl’s festival is exactly the sort of outing she enjoys. Kin finds Hinamatsuri dolls as creepy as hell, but is fond of Sensei and doesn’t trust her wobbling around unaccompanied when she’s wearing zori (which is pretty much all of the time). I find the displays fairly interesting, but mostly want any excuse to poke around in the magnificent gardens and old family homes (not to mention tickle a carp or two, should the opportunity arise).
For all of this meticulously planned magnificence, Gokasho isn’t imposing in the way that, say, Kakunodate or Nara can be. For one thing, it’s very obviously a little country village, even if it IS a little country village built and maintained by fabulously wealthy businesspeople. For another, any family home which has lasted for more than two generations develops a really awesome “Nan’s place” vibe ESPECIALLY if that home has since been making an effort to hang onto any item of potential historical value. That means that every old box that every Omi Mum has packed away for the last several hundred years has been unpacked and displayed, including the recent ones, so that next to each other are centuries-old teakettles, exquisitely lacquered furniture, plastic elephants on wheels and shelves of things like combs, old toys and tacky seaside ornaments made from shells, glue and googly eyes.
It’s an incredibly relaxing place for somewhere so interesting. And just look at this kitchen!
I’m always drawn to kitchens, but this was a particularly beautiful example of its breed. A person could really work in a kitchen like that.
The Gokasho gardens are surrounded by high walls and each one is different from all of the others.
I’m certain that the houses and gardens were planned simultaneously, as they complement each other so perfectly and each household seems to have chosen their own aesthetic. One family constructed a fascinatingly erratic landscape with hills, cliffs and a boulder-filled river. Another produced one that was peacefully flat, rambling and flower-filled, except where it rose around the lake (which the house was constructed to showcase).
My favourite garden looks like a small, dry forest with uneven stone paths winding through it. It’s kind of hard to explain what exactly is so breathtaking about that, but somehow this garden manages to feel completely peaceful and separate from the world outside its walls.
And any way, any town where the fish follow you around has to be pretty cool.
(A more complete album of Kin’s pictures can be found on our Facebook page.)
Keeping it cool (unfortunately).
EDIT: Ugh, I’ve just seen some of the photos of Gokasho available online and they give COMPLETELY the wrong idea of the place. It may be time to buy Kin that 32mm Prime lens and let him do it right.
…but it’s not here yet! We’re throwing off the outdoor chill along with our coats and enjoying afternoon tea together every day.
Kin is also doing a lot of drawing (since it’s too cold to play outdoors). Mostly for work, but a bit for fun as well. Keep an eye out; he will post some soon on our Facebook page.
Gem has resumed plunking at her guitar for the first time in over a decade and is playing lots of Beatles and Monkees songs.
We are enjoying our newly tidy apartment, eating a lot of soup and drinking a lot of tea. We are only very reluctantly leaving our warm futon on weekday mornings. Gem is reading Vanity Fair (and it’s AWESOME! It’s like Jane Austen, only everyone’s evil! – Gem) and Kin is working his way through a variety of old DC cartoon series.
We’re wrapping up closing lessons, marking exam papers and scratching our heads at some of the answers we see and hear….
In Kin’s case (junior high), most questions result in roars of “It’s orange!”, “I’m sunny!” and “I like pussy!” all of which require his gentle correction: A thump on the head with a rubber hammer and “I’m sorry, the answer was Tuesday.”
Gem’s (much younger) students offer sweeter, yet infinitely more perplexing answers:
“Momoka, where do you want to go?” “I want to go to Kenya! Because, I like black people!”
We’re looking forward to better fruit, to our spring holiday and to Shallow’s visit next month!
And in the meantime….
We’re breathing deeply and waiting for the warm.
Kin and Gem