Sunday, November 4, 2018


I know that I used up a lot of words in the last few posts bitching about how unmotivated I was last week.  It took me til yesterday to figure out that the real problem was not, in fact, that vacation was over and I preferred lying in bed watching anime and reading to studying and going to work (although that is, of course, true).  It is one of the great ironies of my life that I like cool weather and dark days but the lack of light wreaks havoc on the feel-good chemicals in my brain.  Some years I'm better at coping than others.  This is starting off like an "other."

That said, serotonin's got nothing on a beat for making this girl happy.  Yesterday was a national holiday, Culture Day, and while it didn't get me a day off school because it fell on a Saturday, at least there were lots of cool things happening because of it.  Not that I cared about most of those things.  My priority was Asakusa's taiko festival, and I am serious when I say priority.  I rescheduled my nihonga lesson and everything in order to accommodate getting there from the other side of Tokyo.
I've written enough about taiko that it really shouldn't need an introduction, but in case you're new here, taiko is the most exciting music in Japan (and yes, that includes the first opening songs for Naruto Shippudden, Durarara!!!, and Noragami).  The taiko festival involves three-and-a-half hours of non-stop drums, with some shinobue (flute) and shamisen (that thing Kubo was playing in the movie) thrown in for good measure.  But really, the drums are what it's all about.

Each beat reverberates in your chest, shocking your heart harder than a defibrillator.  Merely watching taiko is hard, I think - the biofeedback pulls you into the music, makes you need to move, dance, do something.  Or maybe that's just me.
Besides the music itself being exciting there are several reasons why taiko is saikou.  There's something really playful about the performance of it.  It's not just people standing around making music - there's a lot of movement.  The musicians were jumping and dancing around, twirling their sticks and throwing them in the air.
I've taken lessons before, and am hoping to start doing so regularly this week.  I speak as the voice of experience when I tell you that it is hard, sweaty work.  There is a certain form you're supposed to have - not just the way that you hold the drum sticks, but the huge, exaggerated arm movements.  To be able to keep up the energy that it takes to play those drums is difficult, but just about every musician I looked at had a smile on their face.  They were having fun, and that was infectious.
I loved the fact that taiko really is for everyone.  There were kids banging those drums.  There were also old folks.  There were just as many women playing as men, and there were more than a couple musicians carrying extra weight, but they still rocked just as hard as anyone else.  It's hard not to love an art form that welcomes everyone.
Also, it occasionally involves boys with their shirts off, and I am definitely a fan of that.  Speaking of which, if any of the drummers who were there that day noticed me staring a little too intently, or thought that smile on my face was kind of creepy, rest assured, I'm no yandere.  It's just that you guys are my heroes.  Okay, maybe I'd be willing to date some of you, but I'd never resort to stalking (if only because I reserve that for the boys of Drum Tao).  All joking creepiness aside, it was one of the best things I've done this school year, and gave me the strength to get my homework done (mostly) and face another week of anklebiters.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Places of Worship

Back in my Mongolia days, I wrote more food posts than anything else.  As a Japan blogger, my bread and butter has become shrines and art.  And that's all well and good, but it can get a little boring, so I developed a strategy I cleverly (or not) call one-and-one.  Basically it means I tried to limit myself to one of each on any given day.  I've mentioned most of the art I went to see, and two of the museums I went to aren't really worth mentioning (hideous work, hideous building, but otherwise...).  I will give a shout out, though, to the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Forever Museum is set up in an old-style house in the heart of Gion.  Seeing the traditional architecture and gardens is nice, but I actually was most interested in it because they had a show of Kusama Yayoi's work.  This has sort of turned into an unintentional theme for my travels in Japan...I still haven't been to her Tokyo museum but every time I've gone out in search of adventure I've bumped into her work.
This time around had me wishing I could bring my IBDP students to it.  It was an excellent example of what a cohesive body of work looks like - not just because half of the images were her pumpkins but because the pieces that weren't still looked like hers.  I was a huge fan of the "garden" they put together with a variety of her prints of plants.  Who knew that spots could make even weeds so delightful?  But of course my favorite was the big boat o' dicks, or as she titled it, A Boat Carrying my Soul.  I mean, who doesn't love seafaring vessels covered in phalli?
Two of my shrine visits actually were really shopping trips.  I'm about 90% finished with my current plush projects, but I've been intending to make Immortal Sugimoto from Golden Kamuy.  That said, it just wouldn't be me if I didn't add an element of challenge, and I decided that I wanted to use antique fabric to make his clothes - particularly a military uniform, if I could find one.  So as soon as I got into Kyoto I went to Kobo-ichi - the monthly temple market.  This is where I bought the katana handguard the last time I came to Kyoto, so I had high hopes as I wandered through the stalls selling all sorts of things.  Sadly, the closest I got was some dark blue, handwoven fabric, but it would do in a pinch.

While I was in the neighborhood I made a quick side trip.  This spring I read a bunch of (translated) Japanese literature (yes, I was watching Bungou Stray Dogs at the time.  By this point you should know I'm a weeb) and I got curious as to whether or not the gate referenced in the title of Akutagawa's Rashomon was a real thing.  The interwebs did not fail me, and I learned that once upon a time it was near To-Ji, but now there's just a stone marker where it used to be.  Apparently its state of decay was why he chose that as the setting for his story, and it's been gone a long time.  Still, the nerd in me loved getting to the root of a story like that.
Later in the week I tried my luck again at Kitano Tenman-Gu's market.  This one had a more festive atmosphere, but the end result was the same - no military uniforms.  I found a few swatches of fabric that made it worth my while, but moved on.
My last day was actually a double header - it began with a shrine and ended with a temple.  Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is actually pretty much my favorite place in the entire world, and I couldn't imagine leaving Kyoto without seeing it again.  Since I didn't feel like sharing, this meant another early roll-out, but one week away from the classroom is not enough to get back into night owl mode, so that wasn't too hard.
The quality of the light coming over the mountain at 7 in the morn is enough to break your heart, and the air was cool and still.  I knew then that I didn't want to come back.  As hard as it was to leave two years ago, without a guarantee that I'd have work in Japan the following year, at least I had my weebs waiting for me in UB.  I'm three days into the first week back, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get through the rest of the school year, and where to go from here.  But the fourth grader who asked me Monday about an anime she liked helped me to believe I'd somehow manage.
My last dance was with Shoren-in.  It was the first night of their autumn illumination, and while the trees weren't at their peak, there's still something to be said for a temple at night.  You take off your shoes and walk through the buildings, and just soak up the atmosphere.   And if you're really lucky, maybe you'll get to feel like you're finally standing on the beach at Toyama, watching the hotaruika washing up on the shore.  That's the feeling I got, anyways, as I stood in the garden with the blue lights shining around me.  Not that I'm not still planning to go back this May, because you gotta experience something like that in real life, not just your imagination.  But it was a nice way to end my trip.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Where the Wild Things Are

The post-vacation blues are hitting me hardcore right now.  With the exception of Sensei's fantastic Hallowgiving feast, I basically didn't leave the house the last two days.  I just slept and avoided my homework.  Now I'm sitting in my classroom, which is way too quiet because Horn Blower is on maternity leave, totally demotivated because I got to rehash the glory days during my discussions with the Kawaii Kingpin last week and I can't.  I just can't.  I'm sure I'll get over it eventually, but I can't even use the best holiday of all time to derail my funk because this is a "non-denominational school" so we don't celebrate it.  Sucks to be me.

I've been preparing on my own though, in my own way, by watching some spooky anime.  I started with the most gorgeous piece of horror you could imagine, Mononoke, and chased it with a more child-friendly anime with a long, distinguished history:  Gegege no Kitaro.  At the time, I didn't know that it was going to lead right into my vacation, but I started to figure it out on day 3, as I passed the Toei Studio and thought, "Wait a minute, why do I know that name?"

I stopped on my way back, but overall I felt like it was a huge waste of money, and mama always said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."  However, you may infer from my backwards peace sign that I wasn't super happy.  That said, it at least got me thinking, and once I start thinking, that's when you have to watch out.  "And now," cried the Great One, "let the wild rumpus start!"
Because basically Kyoto is an old city filled with youkai, yurei, and all sorts of other spiritual beings.  My first encounter with them came courtesy of an article on Sora News.  It turns out that Kitaro's origin story comes from a shop in Higashiyama.  Four-hundred years ago this candy shop was repeatedly visited by a woman at midnight to buy candy.  When the curiosity of the shop owner finally got the best of him, he tailed her to a nearby graveyard, where she disappeared.  When he got to the spot where he vanished, he found a fresh grave and heard a baby crying from within.  The legend goes that the mother's ghost was trying to keep the child alive, and the shop now calls their specialty "ghost child-care candy."  Is this story full of holes?  Maybe, but supposedly it's true - the baby who was rescued from the grave went on to become a priest.  Or so they say.  I tracked the shop down and bought some of the candy, and it was alright, but I don't think I would come back as a ghost for it.
After that, I really had no choice but to visit the Mizuki Shigeru exhibit at the Ryukoku Museum.  I discovered a poster for it while wandering around Teramachi.  He's the mangaka responsible for Gegege no Kitaro, and it was interesting to see the artwork, and the ways his illustrations were different from more contemporary manga.  That said, nothing was in English.  I went in knowing that, so I don't really have any regrets especially since you don't have to read kanji to read art.  But it might have been nice to actually learn something...for example, why a museum devoted to Buddhism had an exhibit about a mangaka.  But I digress.  The art was good.  I got ideas.  It was not as crowded as many museums I've been to.  Overall it was a win.

If you're thinking this should probably be part of an Otaku Report, you're not wrong.  There's actually one coming up, but this post kind of turned into its own thing.
Let's hope that eyeball doesn't stand up...
I thought I'd seen everything after a trip to the bookstore my penultimate night in Kyoto, but then I went to the Hosomi Museum for their exhibition called "Shunga* and Youkai."  It's a slightly misleading title, because you think it's going to combine both themes simultaneously.  While there are some works that do - the scroll that showed a walking penis and vagina, for example, or the tanukis who were cuddled up under their own scrotums, giving new meaning to the phrase "hot as balls" - on the whole the exhibition showed either shunga or youkai in ukiyo-e.  Which is actually for the best...I'd already been scarred enough that week.
I had one last close encounter with the unseen world while I was on vacation, and it happened on Youkai Street.  Taishogun street - as it's officially called - is a shopping street near Kitano Tenmangu.  The catch is that many of the shops are inhabited by monsters.  According to yet another legend, once upon a time a bunch of discarded household objects felt hurt and abandoned by humanity, so they became youkai and returned to march on the area.  These days the sculptures, handmade by the shopkeepers, are pretty friendly and go about their business without causing any issues.  They hold events though, which I sadly missed - both the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons and the Mononoke Ichi happened before I got there.
With that, the school day is almost over.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and since I'm not dead yet I suppose I'll manage to get through tomorrow, too.  After all, it's only 35 working days til Christmas break...

*Shunga is a genre of Japanese erotic art, basically the forerunner of hentai.  So the next time someone tells you, "It's called hentai, and it's art," they're not totally inaccurate.  Just FYI.  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Child's Play

Ever since moving to Japan, my adventures have involved riding the rails.  This time around I was staying in one place, and while it is a nice change from several hotels in a week (or a new one every night) I was going to miss long trips on the tracks.  And maybe I even thought I might just take a couple of day trips - there's a cat island out on Lake Biwa, and I meant to take the scenic train out to Kameoka - but it didn't happen.*  And mostly that's just fine.
I also didn't do that doll workshop I mentioned, because sadly, I ain't rich people (we get paid tomorrow and maybe I kept debating up until last night if I could scrape the funds together.  This time maturity won out over my usual impulses).  That said, Ando Doll Shop very kindly invited me to visit the shop anyway and observe.  Since I had a little time to kill before meeting the Kawaii Kingpin this afternoon, I decided to drop in on them.  

The shop was kind of exactly what I would expect a shop selling traditional dolls to be, but haven't actually seen.  They were in the middle of shipping out a huge order when I stopped in, but the lady who had emailed with me about the workshop stopped to show me around, and invited me to take pictures.  The first floor had the workshop where the craftswomen were working on creating the dressing for the dolls.  There were an assortment of different dolls at the front of the shop, but the main showroom was on the second level.  We went up to the second floor and I was blown away by all the Hina dolls, their specialty.  Not only were there different sizes and colors, there were even different styles of faces, some more traditional, others more modern.  While we looked around my guide told me how each level represents something different - the emperor and empress are a wish for a happy marriage, the angry, sad, and happy courtiers on the bottom level, hope for an expressive face, the maidens serving food and drink represent a hope to never go hungry, and the musicians a wish for refinement and culture.  She explained that they currently had a display in a nearby hotel as we stood in front of a display costing 8.8 million yen.  The quality was simply astounding, and made me realize not only why the workshop was so expensive, but also that it was undoubtedly worth every yenny.

When I have money again, I'm totally coming back to make my own doll.  Besides the fact that they were that good, my new friend asked me if I liked anime as we went down the stairs.  She'd noticed Hoozuki hanging from my bag, and we had a bonding moment.  She also told me about the swords of Kyoto exhibit at the National Museum, and if I had more energy at this point in the game I'd definitely be checking that out.

I didn't really intend to turn this into doll week, but it kind of worked out that way.  Heading back from Kuuya-no-taki on Tuesday I passed the Sagano Doll House Museum, and decided I should check it out.

They had a huge assortment of dolls, and I can't remember any of them being Hina ningyo.  Some of them were bigger than actual children.  Others were so tiny I couldn't for the life of me tell you how they put the tiny little kimono together for them.  The ojii-san who sold me my ticket actually came over and showed me their collection of automatons, little mechanical dolls that did simple tasks like tumbling down the stairs.  It was very cool.

The upstairs level had even more dolls, and almost felt like a storage room.  The Japanese have a very broad definition of what a "doll" is - everything from puppets to clay figures could be considered a doll.  The upstairs room was lined with cabinets, and another ring of them divided the outer part of the room from the inner.  Literally all of them filled with clay figures.  Not in a, "Oh look, what a nice display, I can see your collection very clearly," sort of way, but rather in a "I hope you don't intend to bring any more of these home," way.

When you really understand the evolution of Japanese dolls, I think anime figurines actually make total sense.
What I loved the most about the museum was the air it had that reminded me of my Great-Mom's house, specifically her doll room.  Inside the museum time felt as if it were standing still.  The dolls were not new, but rather were old and showed wear.  I think I was the only patron during the time I was visiting, so the silence was thick and had a tangible sound.  The outside of the building was a traditional Japanese garden and you could wander around the grounds.  The plot behind it was a graveyard, adding to that slightly spooky sense of forgotten places.  It was perfect.
I had one more run-in with dolls, also - strangely enough - in Arashiyama.  Thursday morning I decided I would take the so-called "romantic" sightseeing train to Kameoka.  After riding nearly an hour out and wading through the tourists shooting in the bamboo grove I found my way to the train station.  Which was packed and I couldn't get a ticket for another hour and a half.  I decided I had better things to do and started towards what Google Maps told me was the nearest bus stop, conveniently outside of the central tourist area.  On my way, I came across Aightowa Doll Workshop and Cafe.  They had a small gallery where you could see their work, and while the cost of admission was 300 yen, you got three postcards with your admission.  Unlike the dolls in the shop or the museum, these weren't traditional Japanese dolls.  Some appeared to be made of felted wool, others seemed to be sculpted with silk, and there may have been some porcelain ones, too - it was hard to tell.
There were two things that particularly intrigued me.  First, the clothes on the dolls appeared to be all handmade, and were an extraordinary range of styles from around the world.  The fabric the clothes were made from seemed to have been collected from all over the world.  Since I went to two different markets this week looking for either a military uniform to cannibalize or cloth that could pass for it, I had great respect for their attention to detail.  The other thing that caught my attention was the backstory of the place, which was started by the owner to become self-sufficient.  It made me think maybe starting a doll business isn't all that far fetched.  In fact, a friend from my early Mongolia days messaged as I was going into the Saga Doll House to find out if I would be interested in a free Cricut Maker.  Apparently I'm their target audience, and I expect I'll experience a huge level up once I master this most powerful new weapon.  So you'll have that to look forward to reading about this winter.

*Because I puttered around too long in the first case, and because I wasn't willing to waste an hour and a half in Arashiyama waiting for my turn to be a bloody tourist.  But in both cases, I did try.  I'm not sure that makes either better.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Chasing Waterfalls

(Subtitle: That Time I Almost Rekt Myself Again )
If you're a longtime reader, you may remember that two years ago I tried to hike up to a waterfall.  Emphasis on tried, because some dumbass went up the wrong trail.  Originally I didn't plan to rectify that this go-round because I've become fairly lazy and also, I'm pink-blooded, which I'll probably explain some other time.  Then I started looking around the Arashiyama area, and realized I actually did want to hike that mother, particularly when I realized that I could take a single bus all the way to Kiyotaki.  That was my early roll-out I was trying to manage Tuesday - which probably I shouldn't have been quite so cloak-and-daggers about, I had a couple of worst-case scenario moments when I realized nobody would have a clue where to find my body - but believe it or not, I made it.

I had Google maps plot out the bus route and watched my phone as I got closer and closer.  Finally we pulled into the last bus stop and as I hopped off the bus I clicked on the x that marked the spot (or, you know, the star, because Google Maps doesn't have an x), and hit the directions button.  And waited.  AND waited.  And looked up at the mountains surrounding me on all sides.  This was when I realized that I didn't have service, and would have to rely on my wits.  Which admittedly are not what they used to be.

That said, I have a damn good memory, and I'd looked at the course relatively recently, so I figured I might actually be okay.  I'd just stick beside the river until I got to a trail that seemed to go toward the star that I could at least see on Maps.  It didn't take long, though, to realize my lack of directions might not be my only problem.  Remember the other day how I said the typhoon had done enough damage to call off the Kurama Hi Matsuri?  Well, they didn't make that shit up.  Trees were down all over the place.  The first time the trail split, there was caution tape (aka, keep out if you know what's good for you), and although I was afraid that was the trail I needed, I took my chances on the main trail, marveling at the amount of work it must have taken to clear it.  Of course, it was too good to last, and I eventually  came to a couple of trees leaning against power lines.

All those deeply ingrained childhood warnings about falling trees and power lines were yelling at me to turn around.  You'll be glad to know I ignored them.  Unless, of course, you're one of my parents, in which case, hell, you've had plenty of time to get used to my dumbassery.
I finally got to a turning I could take, and referred to Google Maps to see roughly which direction the star was.  It seemed pretty close and to the west.  If that hadn't been my clue, there was a stream trickling down from that direction, and a family of tanuki was watching me from the side of the trail.  I was pretty sure I was going to make my mark.
Up to this point the hike had been - as Shaggy and I (on separate occasions) had proclaimed to our sainted mother about other hikes - "not that bad."  It was vaguely uphill, but paved the whole way.  I hadn't stopped to rest at all, and I'm not really in good shape.  As I branched off from the main path...well, it still wasn't that bad, but it was definitely uphill.  And the further along I got, the more trees were fallen all over the place.  Probably they hadn't gotten around to putting the caution tape up.  Maybe they didn't think they needed to, that nobody would be dumb enough to go trekking up to the waterfall given the condition of the rest of the forest.  Isn't it nice to surpass people's expectations???

Eventually I came to a stone torii and a couple of buildings that looked like they'd been abandoned long before the typhoon hit.  A bit beyond that I crested the top of the final staircase and found what I'd come looking for - Kuuya-no-taki, a mystical place where a waterfall rushes over the edge of a cliff behind a little shrine.  Standing in front of the gate, I felt a breeze coming from the force of the water, cooling me off from my hike.  It seemed like the kind of waterfall my  master would tell me to stand under as I trained to awaken my yokai powers.  (No, I didn't try it.  There was a rope at the bottom of the torii barring the way, and since I hadn't mentioned to anyone that I was planning to go there I figured I'd pushed my luck enough).
I did, on the other hand, drag Yato out of my backpack for a quick photoshoot.  I'm not 100% happy with him - the clothes are fine but the fleece I had when I started him wasn't very good and I didn't really like the way his hair turned out.  That said, the damage he and Yukine did in some of their battles provided a much more satisfying explanation for all the downed trees.

I made my way back down the hill, which is scarier than going up, by the way.  The trees are a lot closer to you and you're not working as hard to breathe.  Also, I stopped to dip my hand in the stream at one point and got the shit scared out of my by a crab.  Admittedly it was a very small one, but what the hell was a crab doing up beside a mountain stream?   I got back to the bus stop with plenty of time to massage my feet while waiting for the hourly bus back to Arashiyama.  I got off early so I could revisit the bamboo grove, which was sadly annihilated compared to two years ago.  Life lesson of the week: typhoons suck.  Luckily bamboo grows quickly and I had a different forest I wanted to check out: the kimono forest, a series of illuminated pillars set up in the train station.
Why is there a kimono forest at the train station?  Damned if I know.  I may have read somewhere that silk for kimonos was once dyed in Arashiyama, but my mind may also be making that up.  What I can tell you is that I would totally buy a kimono made in that skeleton fabric.  It was totally lit (pun totally intended.  Because.  You know.  The pillars are lit up from inside.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting Philosophical

Two years back I damn near missed my flight back to Mongolia.  That morning I was pondering whether I should make a quick run down to Fushimi to see my favorite shrine again or wander up and along the Philosopher's Path when I checked my email to be sure I knew when to be ready to go.

I didn't feel like I'd missed out too badly, especially since I did catch my flight, but Monday morning I decided to finally take that walk, since it's kind of in the vicinity of Heian Jingu.  Now, here's the thing about Kyoto.  Almost anywhere you walk is a good place to walk.  You'll find hidden surprises, temples and shrines where you didn't expect them, or little creeks to walk down.  The Philosopher's Path, though, beats them all.
I'm sure it's better in spring when all the cherry blossoms are doing their thing, but the hints of fall that were just beginning to show were perfect for me.  It wasn't too crowded - there were people, but either they weren't the usual brand of baka I seem to get stuck with or else there weren't enough to ruin my morning.
Now I've become kind of addicted to watching Colbert lately, and there's a segment he does called "Big Questions with Even Bigger Stars."  Since the trail in question is called the Philosopher's Path, I thought it would be apropos to do some deep thinking.  The problem was that I was feeling pretty shallow.  I mean, after a long-ass 9 weeks of school, who wants to be philosophical?  What I really wanted was a cozy nook to read (or watch anime) in, where I could feel the breeze while a hot megane dude brings me cherry cokes (and rubs my feet, because I tortured the hell out if then yesterday).
However - a student pointed out to me recently that I say this a lot.  Apparently it's my word, in much the same way actually belongs to Shaggy - however, as I walked along the path, beside a canal trickling with clear water, I chanced to look out to my left and saw the city stretched out below, and suddenly I felt above it all, not just literally but also metaphorically.  I felt the philosophical juices begin to flow.

What is my purpose in life?  Back in the days when a certain unnamed student's arrival in my classroom was heralded by the words, "MIZ M_____!" floating down the hall, I thought I'd finally figured that out.  My purpose was teaching.  Maybe it still is, but lately I've been wondering if maybe that's not all there is.

Why must we suffer?  Because in order for us to experience joy, we must also know bitterness.  If I weren't drudging day after day for students who (for the most part) don't appreciate art, or people who don't really appreciate their staff, would I truly feel the full extent of euphoria at leaving it all behind for a week?  And wouldn't it be a tragedy if I didn't?

Why can't Wotakoi come out any quicker?  How does one go about finding a rich patron?  Is there at least an ice cube's chance in hell that American democracy will survive two more years? Will my life get any better once school moves to the new building, or will there be a whole host of new problems - for example, being able to see the tsunami coming through my classroom window in the event the Big One happens while I'm still here?

Such were my thoughts.  Turns out philosophy really isn't my bag.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Unfinished Business

When I first decided that I would go to Kyoto yet again for this fall break, I may have questioned if there would be enough to keep me blogging.  For the record, I didn't really care if there wasn't - a week of relaxing and catching up with the Kawaii Kingpin was more than enough justification to scrap my half-baked plans of going up to Tohoku - but I was at least acknowledging the possibility.  After all, this was going to be my fourth trip to Kyoto.
However, as I sifted through websites last week - it takes real effort to avoid work as thoroughly as I do, but I'm proud to be able to say that I rose to the challenge - my doubts proved to be unfounded.  After all, there was still unfinished business from my last two trips.  First and fact, coming in at #1 in my top ten list of justifications to come back to Kyoto...was the Kurama Fire Festival.  After a full day of shopping in Osaka two years back I was in no state to be jammed into a train with a bunch of tourists, but I felt like this year I could suck it up.  Alas, it turned out that I'm missing it again.  When typhoon Jebi blew through last month it knocked down a lot of trees so they called it off this year.  I'm writing this off as a good excuse for the next trip, when hopefully I'll be able to afford the doll dressing workshop at Ando Doll Shop.

Yeah, that's a thing, and being that weirdo you know who is interested in dolls (or, more precisely, in learning how to improve my dolls), I really wanted to do it.  Sadly it just will not fit into the budget.  On the bright side, I'm getting to see all sorts of traditional dress firsthand.
Fortunately there were other festivals I ditched two years back.  I had to - there were so damn many that choices had to be made.  The Kasagake Shinji, for example.  This is a ritual featuring horseback archery at one of the most out-of-the-way shrines you could imagine, Kamigamo Jinja.  I'm exaggerating a little here, but when I told the Kawaii Kingpin where I was yesterday his response was, "Holy moly that's far."  On the bright side, this meant that it wasn't nearly as crowded as it could have been (as you'll read by the end of this post).
Now just for the record, you should be aware that horseback archery takes a while to get exciting when it's conceptually coupled with a ritual.  There was some processional stuff, leading up to the shrine proper, where there were purification rituals, and then there was MOAR processional stuff, coming out to the field that stretches between the first and second torii of the shrine.  Meanwhile, I was sitting in the sun roasting.  I mention this so that you know I'm not exactly anti-ritual.  Without the ritual part, I'm not sure if there would be a need for the archery part...but when you're melting because it is NOT this hot up in Yomaha, all you really want is to cut to the chase and see the damn archers hit some damn targets.
Which, eventually, they did.  Last fall I got to see Yabusame, a different kind of horseback archery, at a festival at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu in Kamakura.  The differences, as far as I could tell, were that for 500 yen I got a front row seat.  Seriously, they are different things - I think this had something to do with hitting a target on the ground, but my position a year ago didn't exactly lend itself to the finer details of the art.  This year, on the other hand, I was in a perfect position to be amused by the fact that one horse seemed to have some bowel issues (hey, when you gotta go, ya gotta go) or another was temperamental - the English-speaking announcer mentioned that he was from Hokkaido, and since I have yet to go to Hokkaido and my body of knowledge is based on the anime Golden Kamuy and A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami, we'll leave it at that.
I also ditched the Jidai Matsuri two years back.  I was shopping.  There were too many people.  These things happen.  Since I've been torturing...I mean, challenging...myself with more and more intricate designs in my dolls (and maybe I'm ready to try some bijinga portraits with my nihonga paintings...don't ever let anyone tell you I'm not a masochist) I thought it might behoove me to do some studying.  The name roughly translates to Festival of Ages and celebrates Kyoto's 1000 years of history as the capital of Japan.
Now, I could have bought seats for this one, too, but after the previous day's torture by sunlight your resident vampire blogger found a shady spot sitting under a pine tree across from Heian Jingu. (Also, the seats today cost more than yesterday).  I was pretty sure I had it figured out, and when FINALLY the first part of the parade made it to the shrine, I just got up and stood behind the seats.  Hell, I even let two little obaasans stand in front of was an awesome day and I was feeling generous.  Also, they were both so much shorter than me that it actually didn't matter, so why not?
It was about 2:15 when the lead part of the parade got to us, and I had heard that the whole thing took about two hours.  There were gaps between parts, which was nice because it gave me the opportunity to go back and erase some of the photos, but after standing on my feet I decided there was a better travel back through time, so to speak.  So when the next gap came to us, I rolled out in the opposite direction.
It's possible I missed some good shots that way, but I can't really regret it.  Watching the procession this way kept it interesting and got me to the museum I was hoping to make it to before any of the other tourists could get there.  It also allowed me to lurk in the shade, so hey, no spontaneous combustion for me today!
Sadly I don't know Japanese history nearly as well as I should to appreciate the Jidai Matsuri fully.  Names and dates and dead people just don't really hold my interest.  But as I watched the people of today walk down the street in shoes of yesterday, which seem like more trouble than they're worth (seriously, those straw sandals looked like hell, and the course of the procession wasn't exactly short), it wasn't hard to get a feeling for the scale of this city's history.
Finally two mikoshi came around the corner of Jingu Michi and Sanjo.  Apparently the first and last emperors to reign from Kyoto are enshrined in Heian Jingu and this is their yearly opportunity to get out and see how much everything has changed.  As they moved on toward the shrine I began to walk down the street.  If I could rewind the last two years I still wouldn't have missed out on my personal shopping tour, but I'm glad that I got the chance to see it this year.  And with that, I'm going to bed.  I have an early roll out tomorrow if I'm going to do what I think I'm going to do.