Yeah, ok, I know the heading is extremely lame but I'm sorry, I'm just in a great mood, and Japan is the reason for that. If you're looking at the pics above, particualrly the second one and are thinking, don't I know that face? The answer is why yes, yes you do. That is the mug of actor Tommy Lee Jones (Coal Miners Daughter, Men In Black, Cobb) advertising for some Japanese alcopop vending machine – weird, but expected in Japan were loads of actors do adverts without worry it'll be seen in North America (with good reason too). Although why they still do it thinking it won't be seen anywhere else is beyond me. The internet kinda makes these "special appearances" not so anonymous anymore, ya know?
Anyway, I've been here for what, two days now? I just can't get enough of it. I'm surprised I have time to write anything, mostly because it's been so nice out lately (finally) that there is just so much to get out there and gawk at (and for once I'm gawking at the people, not the other way around – although I did get a group of guys who were impressed with the length of my ever growing afro lol that made me laugh). All I want to do is walk around, take a peek in traditional or even obscure stores, ANY store, eat and most importantly? People watch. I can sit and do that for hours here and never get bored. I am just loving it here so much (ed: ok Steve, calm down!). Oh, and a big shout out (do people still do that anymore?s Shout-outs?) to everyone at the Gael Pub for making me feel welcome and a special thanks to hot bartender Matt for the help with Japanese pronunciations (two alphabets are the reason and when they don't have a word that matches an English version, they make one up). I still not even come close to mastering the language but at least now I won't be thinking what the hell are you trying to say to me again?? haha I just wish it wasn't so pricey but that's the only downside to the fun and enjoyment of Japan – oh well.
So what have I done so far? Yesterday I took part in a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. The ceremony began in the early centuries as a time of wabi or peace for samurai warriors to who needed a bit if a break before they went out and killed people, (this is a true story but I know I'm totally condensing the history of the ceremony here). I really wanted to be a part of this tradition and like most things that I've looked forward to doing on this trip that was completely outside my comfort zone, I stressed about it. For this case, the stress was about my knees because they have been brutal the past couple of years. Wear and tear have rendered them useless so any kneeling on them is very painful not to mention the added fun and effort to get down and then back up again. It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic/painful. I'm done sounding like Grandpa Simpson.
So I did the enter the Chashitsu (tea room) the traditional way, crawling through a small door on the side, 'yes, on my knees', onto the tatami mats. The pics show me smiling but oh I was feeling that. The host then noticed my grimace of pain so she said I could just sit on my butt the rest of the ceremony which totally sucked because that is NOT the way to do it!!! Awkward. Anyway, the ceremony itself was amazing though. You could FEEL the hundreds of years of tradition of tea making. I loved every minute of it and I was so honoured to have been able to take part in. I'm telling you the education you get just by watching – I can look at tea bowls and chasens (bamboo whisks) in a completely different and understandable light now that I know their true origins. Here is the ceremony in pictures.
The tea ceremony sign and a picture of outside the Chishitsu or tea room.
Inside the Chishitsu - but before you enter you must wash and purify yourself with the water and bamboo ladle you see in the picture on the right.
One pot of steaming hot water in the earthen pot in the floor (left pic) of the Chishitsu and one of lukewarm water (right pic) to pour into the steaming water if it gets too hot.
The plate contained: natsume or a tea caddy to hold the tea powder; chashaku or tea scoop carved from a single piece of bamboo; chasen or bamboo whisk; tea bowl with the green tea leaf powder.
That's me bowing before I enter the room on very, very unsteady knees.
I'm thinking please hurry and take the picture because my knees are shaking!! The empty plate you see in the pic on the right was a plate of a traditional sweet offered to the guest before tea. After I ate it, my host then begins the process of making the tea.
The host continues to whisk the tea. I will then be offered that bowl. Then it's my turn to repeat what she did and here I am, whisking the tea.
Whisking away and finally, the wonderful rewards of all that whisking work!
Afterwards I went a tour with my guide Yahagi of some temples of Kyoto, Geishatown (ok that's not really what the area is called but it is where the majority of geisha girls are – that was cool) and this is the part that's killing me: shopping. I can't take it anymore. There is too much to see and buy I have to walk away FAST because as I ve said before this country ain't cheap! But there are some beautiful things and I did a few bits and pics here and there so it's all good. What am I going to do when I get to Tokyo??
Kyoto continued next post!