Chores And Tea

Laying in bed, I realised just how long I ranted about the train station building in my last post… Apparently, bad / impractical architecture is a trigger of mine.

My apologies

But if I can just add one thing…

We went to go and see a light show in the train station. When you finally find your way to the correct side and level of the building, you can see all those unused steps near the top, being used. Each step has a length of addressable LEDs and the whole, wide, flight is turned into a giant dot matrix screen. 

We went up the opposite side of the train station valley to get a good look this evening. It’s very clever how your brain fills in the space between the lights to create a coherent image. From this distance it looks like your phone screen held at arms length. Its displaying a series of animated firework explosions and colours. When we came over to that side (via the skyway that also had funky LED lights) send stood on the steps, they just looked like flashing lights, you were too close to see any image. At least the steps are being used for something.

Again, we had managed to do a lot of walking today, or it felt like it. We had spent the morning laying in bed watching one of my favourite anime; Sword Art Online. We have watched several Ghibli anime movies while eating pot noodles in Hakone, so it was a nice change away from nursery stories. But it seems we did not rest enough, my legs were tired this evening.

Today we tackled some chores. I went and got our clothes washed at the laundrette down the street. Literally put them in, put money in, come back in an hour and they are washed and dried. No dicking about with powder or conditioner, the machine just does it – perfect.

Then we went into town towards where I’d booked a Geisha and Tea Ceremony demonstration. We found a long covered street that seemed to stretch on forever with lots of trendy shops. In amongst these was a ramen shop with a big queue of people. We waited out turn, paid for our meal at a vending machine and then the waitress asked us to leave. Having paid and not eaten. But she just wanted to keep the narrow entrance free till it was our turn.

Sitting down in the restaurant we were at a bench facing the open kitchen. A guy was stirring one of 4 huge pots in front of us. These pots made the broth for the ramen and were bigger than truck tyres, they were massive! He clearly had a system going because pretty soon he was clattering out bowls and noodles and passing them over the counter to customers. It all worked very quickly and smoothly and we got some really tasty ramen. I opted for the disposable paper bib to protect my shirt from the inevitable slurpy splashes of bone broth.

Full to the brim with ramen, we found a food market a little ways further on. We arrived at the tail end, when some of the stalls were packing up. But we still snagged some tasty honey ice cream. There is an interesting cultural quirk that you aren’t allowed to eat or drink and walk at the same time. There are takeaway cup/tray options, but then you must stand there and eat/drink the contents. Its very strange, but I suppose it comes from the more contemplative and respectful Japanese culture. When you walk and eat, you’re not fully concentrating on and therefore enjoying and respecting the food that has been prepared. Or at least, this is my theory.

From here we could walk to our booked activity for today, the Geisha Tea Ceremony demonstration. This was hosted in a 150 year old house, found at the end of a long, tree lined and cobbled alleyway between shops. It is constructed entirely from wood frames, a yellowy earthy plaster and paper screens. It was a beautiful building, with the wear of ages showing, but not tarnishing the finish. The room we were shown to, opened on both sides to small corner gardens with more delicately maintained trees, large rocks covered in moss and a stone lantern. I just wanted to sit (in a more comfy position than kneeling) and stare out at that garden in the rain for a while. It would have been so peaceful if not for the 15 other guests joining this demonstration. About half had clearly been here a couple hours already, dressed in kimonos and the ladies with their hair and makeup done beautifully.

The short but dignified old lady who hosted the event spoke pretty good English, and very quickly explained that there are 2 levels of Geisha. The Maiko, is the younger girl in training, or an apprentice. Dressed with more flowers in her hair and more deeply patterned robes to increase her entertainment because her training is not yet complete. And the Geiko who is fully qualified in the traditional arts so is dressed more demurely, but no less beautifully. The colouring of their face and neck white was because in the times before widespread lighting, they would appear more brightly attractive in dimly lit rooms.

We got to ask several questions of the Geiko, some of which changed meaning during the imperfect translation of the hostess. It was still interesting to learn but it was a somewhat clunky interaction. Part of me thought that the Geiko could speak some English, but was not, under instructions from the hostess for some reason. She was also referred to, sort of, as an object or possession which I’m sure was a side effect of imperfect translation, rather than intention. Altho, not knowing the culture, it was hard to be sure.

Then followed the Geiko’s performance of a traditional dance. We were told this one depicted beautiful fireflies in the evening air. As melodically musical as the hostesses voice was, I could not see any resemblance to a firefly in the geikos movements. It was a nice, and complicated, dance, but I think it lacked some context. Aimi was not convinced she didn’t just make it up on the spot and then throw on some sweatpants, grab a bag of crisps and watch love island all evening once the punters had gone home. I certainly couldn’t have maintained a straight face like her if I knew I was making it up, which is the only reason I thought it was authentic.

Lastly we had the Tea Ceremony. This was a short demonstration of the cleaning, preparation and making of Matcha tea for clients. It was precise and deliberate, but short. Then she left. The musical hostess and her helper took over the rest of the event distributing bowls of matcha powder and 2 small sweets on a plate. These were both very tasty, despite my previously bad experiences with sweet red bean paste based foods. She delivered some hot water and then using a small bamboo whisk, we frothed our Matcha tea to make “delicious tiny beautiful bubbles”. Then we had to drink it, which neither of us enjoyed much.

The experience over, we could wander around the house and take photos which I enjoyed doing. I quite boldly moved a few things around to get the photos I was looking for. Having not received any real understanding of the historical significance of what we had witnessed, I wanted to at least get some good photos before we left.

Walking away, we discussed what we thought of the experience. Aimi called it a scam for tourists, which I’m not sure she meant, because we got what we paid for. She was not convinced we were in the presence of a “real” Geisha. But then, because we have zero historical understanding, and the experience didn’t raise that understanding much either, we wouldn’t have known the difference anyway. This was what I was somewhat disappointed with. We got what was on the tin when I signed up for the experience. Maybe I inadvertently raised my expectations above that level, but I feel some historical educational was needed to give understanding to the significance of the actions we were witnessing. Without this, it was just a, pleasant, bit of superficial theatre. Aimi rightly pointed out we would probably have seen the same or more, with a lot more historical info at a museum, and it would likely have been free or a lot cheaper. Ah well.

The last chore of the day was to get Aimi’s nails done. Yawn. I went and had a wander around a shopping centre which, intriguingly, had a floor map sign saying “subculture” on level 6. Well, I had to check that out and discovered it was lots of anime comics, memorabilia and DVDs. There were also trading cards in glass cases with some very interestingly high prices against them. Beyond this about 20 guys (exclusively) sat at desks playing a game with these cards, all in transparent plastic slips. The only things I found in there, that I knew, were the Sword Art Online characters.