Morning was breakfast at Murmur Coffee. A gorgeous and cozy little find by F and T as it was near their Bnb. Situated right by the Takasekawa canal, perhaps on a quiet day one would be able to hear the murmuring of the canal water while indulging in a freshly brewed coffee and toast set. Seems that by default it’s almost always packed, especially right after opening hours for breakfast. Not surprising though, because their toast sets. There was one foreigner though who smartly brought along his breakfast to sit right by the canal. Quite a good idea especially on a day with good weather.) There’s something about the soft fluffiness of Japanese bread that I absolutely adore and when it’s been lightly toasted and only the exterior takes on a layer of crispiness, the sound of the knife scraping across the surface as you butter it… Just a slice of heaven for me. This time I had just that – black coffee, classic toast set which consisted of toast, lightly drizzled with honey and topped with a soft shredded cube of butter, complete with small salad and soup. I definitely started getting very hooked onto that sort of simple breakfast after this trip to Japan.
Nearby was the legendary tea caddy Kaikado‘s store (they’re a company that has been in operation since 1875 and are known for their gorgeous metal tea caddies – tin, brass, copper and silver), and they brought me there to drool at the beautiful copper tea caddies that definitely took on an even greater beauty with the patina of age. (Every time I picked one item up though, a tear fell from my heart because the price was equally unbelievable. Nothing less than 15,000 yen in there it seemed.)
We parted for a bit after that because I went off to Ryoan-Ji temple which they’d already been to before. It was fairly easy, taking a straight bus from Kyoto Station to the temple. It was a place I’d been dreaming of visiting for a while now, especially after getting more interested in Zen Buddhism. I’d seen so many photos of the famous rock garden, a seeming paragon of tranquility. I’d imagined myself sitting by the viewing deck, staring out at the rock formation and perhaps contemplating life and gaining some epiphanies from these few weeks of travel.
Should have known of course, that the higher the expectations you have of a ‘quiet’ world famous tourist spot in Kyoto, the more likely you’ll be disappointed, because there isn’t such a thing as a quietly famous place in Kyoto. ^^;; When I got there, the walk past the pond was lovely but once I got to the rock garden, I realised it was jam packed with tourists who were all seated close to cheek to jowl style on the viewing deck, taking photos on their phones/cameras/chatting with their travel partners, perhaps each attempting to experience their own enlightenment through that. It felt more like a marketplace than a temple.
(Loved this view, peeking through the foliage to glimpse at the endless lily pads floating on the pond in the temple grounds.)
What I loved most though, was seeing the stone Tsukubai washbasin on which had is carved 吾 唯 足 知, but only if you take the 口 shape in the centre of the wash basin and read it along with the characters. Separate from the hole in the middle, they don’t mean anything. Ware Tada Taru Shiru. Literally tranlated to “I only know enough” or it would also be interpreted as “I learn only to be satisfied”. That moment of looking at the description in the pamphlet and then at the Tsukubai, stilled my mind and comforted me far more than the view of the rock gardens. Perhaps because it was more of an accessible form of Zen for me. A saying that I could identify with and strive towards.
(Miniature version of the rock gardens, which have a total of 15 rocks.)
Went next to the souvenir shop and looooved it there. Something quite hilarious and Shopaholic-esque (reference to Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series) about the situation – of not being able to feel the tranquility of Zen from the rock gardens and searching instead for the feeling elsewhere… at the gift shop. But I love seeing those picture scrolls which have been drawn by a monk featuring an important Zen saying of wisdom. One which I was highly tempted to get was that of the Circle, the Enso. I loved the explanatory text by its side:
“The En So – symbol of true perfection and absolute enlightenment. For its form neither has the end nor the beginning, it also means the void and the whole universe which is said the infinity. Any words can express this circle as it does not belong in any character or represent any material things.
What this circle is – depends on who looks at it. Please look at it with your mind, not your eyes.”
I got instead, a small narrow cardboard scroll on which is written – 七起八をき (Nana Oki Ya o Ki) and features the Daruma. It literally means you may roll over/fall over 7 times but you get up 8 times, just like the Daruma. In the face of life’s setbacks, you always come back up. I always want to have that in my heart.
For lunch, I tried the famous vegetarian restaurant in the premises of the temple grounds. There’s a famous tofu hotpot dish with seven different herbs. Unfortunately, as I was by myself, I couldn’t eat such a big dish, so I ended up getting the smaller option of a simple tofu hotpot. The only problem with eating such a hot soup based dish on a hot day though, is that it just makes you feel even warmer. The most memorable bit of the lunch was the refreshing cold orange soda I ordered and gulped down in 2 seconds.
In the afternoon, went to a porcelain exhibition at a store/exhibition space called Kyoto Yamahon, which was featuring works by a famous porcelain artist called Taizo Kuroda. It was an exhibition recommended by M-san and was definitely one of the best parts of the trip. I’d never seen so many different styles of porcelain artworks and some of Kuroda’s works were incredibly… masculine and strapping, in a sexy way. Buff high shouldered vases with the tiniest cutest rim… large porcelain pedestals that you could use to display flower vases… or perhaps even use to serve a sushi platter… the lightest coffee mugs with their corresponding saucers that had these obviously imperfect rims and yet seemed to be so cool precisely because of those imperfections…
It’s hard for me at the moment to ‘get’ that idea of imperfection in my works. Looking at a famous artists works, I get that precisely because he’s so famous he doesn’t have to make everything perfect as if from a factory because there needs to be some traces of the craftsman’s hands on his works. But to do so in a style that is elegant, natural and still beautiful, is something that probably takes a lifetime of perfecting. Not something for a beginner like me to ‘aim for’ before I even have my basics down to pat. I remember reading something written by a ceramicist about the concept of people labelling their works as wabi sabi to explain the imperfections. While there is a certain style that would remind one of wabi sabi, he said it doesn’t do much for one’s craft to use wabi sabi as an excuse for any mistakes or imperfections rather than go through the work of practising and improving. Something I try to keep in mind as well.
F&T joined me at the porcelain exhibition, after which we strolled around the area checking out more tea shops, antique shops, and enjoyed a tea time treat of pastries from a bakery nearby, sitting on some stone seats by the roadside munching, looking like total wacky Gaijin *_*
We parted ways after that since I needed to board my return Shinkansen back to Seto. Unfortunately, I was so caught up with searching for the cosmetics store Yojiya to get some lipsticks/foundation that I ended up only having about 10 minutes to locate the coin locker I’d stored my bags in, and make it to the correct platform. Big mistake to assume that it would be easy because the station is so huge, with links to surrounding department stores and underground walkways that when I arrived there I realised I’d arrived at a completely different entrance from the usual one. All I remember of those 10 minutes was very heavy bags hanging from both arms, sweaty face, sweaty back, sweaty legs from running, and that feeling of dread mixed with panic… Those 10 minutes were such a frantic and sweaty rush. In the end…, I didn’t make it for the intended Shinkansen ride. The good thing though, was that the trains from Kyoto to Nagoya were so frequent that I was able to get onto another one in about 20 minutes. It’s not so much the trains in these big cities though that are the problem, but missing the arrival time back in Seto would mean I would miss the bus from the station for that hour and would have to wait till the next hour’s bus. Ohh, the perils of last minute shopping. I learnt a painful lesson that night~!
After the activity packed high paced trip to Kyoto, I was so happy to be back in Seto. There’s something about the lure of the big city for sure, with its endless possibilities for entertainment and activities and for me this time, Kyoto in particular sealed its place as the undisputed cultural capital of Japan. Pretty much everything traditionally Japanese that one might be interested in, you’d be able to find a door to a much deeper exploration of the art/craft in Kyoto. Precisely because there are seemingly limitless possibilities, there’s always the tendency to go overboard buying tons of stuff to maximise the amount of time there. In contrast though, to really just focus on one thing, it always helps to be away from too much stimulation (/distraction, one could say). Going back to Seto brought a sigh of relief for me because it was back to working hard and improving, and doing something I enjoyed.
Wrote in my journal that night:
“Happy to be back”