Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Birthday 40 to Karen in Kyoto

Woke up this morning before the kids and relaxed with Karen for a while before waking the kids up. Had the breakfast buffet in the Holiday Inn, which gave Elwyn the first time in days to have a North American-style breakfast. The boys presented Karen with her birthday presents and sang her happy birthday at the hotel breakfast room.

We met my old friend Oki Nakamura after breakfast. Oki is an archaeologist who specializes in the Japanese Jomon period. He was the student of the famous professor Kobayashi Tatsuo in the 1990s and organized my paid position as an archaeologist when I was here in the summer of 1992 in Akita prefecture. In the summer of 1994 Oki came to Canada to work on the archaeological excavations at Hatzic Rock near Mission, BC, where I was working as a teaching assistant. Oki now works for the RIHN, an independent, multidisciplinary research institute established by the Japanese government shortly after the Kyoto protocol talks concluded to work on problems related to the environment. Oki just returned from a conference in Portugal and has taken a couple days off to spend with us. It was absolutely great to see him again.

Oki made a plan to take us to a couple of very famous Kyoto temples: Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and are remarkable. Kinkaku-ji, the 'Golden Temple' was built by a Shogun in the 15th century (during the Maromachi Period) as his summer house, which was later bequested to a local Buddist order. The temple, which is plated in a lustrous gold, has a Noh Theatre at the bottom level, and some private rooms on the upper level. The grounds of Kinkaku-ji are an expansive classical Japanese garden, with a tea house and a small Buddist temple. At the exit gate there are some tasteful souvenir shops. It has the stately aura of a national treasure, not a tacky tourist site. The views of the golden temple reflecting in the central pond of the garden are quite remarkable.

Ryoan-ji is another place originally built in the 16th century and has a very famous japanese rock garden. The zen garden, which has carefully raked gravel and 15 expertly placed stones is clearly the main feature, though the surrounding landscape gardens are every bit as impressive, particularly the massive pond with thousands of brightly flowering lotus roots. One can not normally see all 15 stones at the same time, except from one particular viewing point. This point is said to reflect perfection, as 15 (the sum of the lucky numbers 3+5+7) is a very important number. It is also said that the placement of rocks behind others symbolizes the invisible, meaning one cannot know everything by merely looking but one must study to find the true answers.

The boys enjoyed running around the paths of the gardens, exploring the different little bridges and ponds with giant carps. At Kinkaku-ji the real star was a tokage, a small lizard that Alden spotted as we were walking toward the exit of the garden. The lizard was walking down the path and into a mossy patch, looking for some sunshine. Alden and Elwyn must have spend 20 minutes enjoying its little journey.

After the historic sites, we stopped at a tiny noodle shop run by an elderly couple. We had a lovely lunch of udon noodle soups, while the boys devoured their plates of zaru udon.

After lunch we taxied back to the hotel, did a bit of grocery shopping, and I left Karen and the boys so Oki and I could go to his research institute. There I met with the project director (a zooarchaeologist) and another archaeologial researcher (an expert in very early agriculture in China). We talked for a couple of hours about our respective research projects on 'landscape' and 'place'. The research director, a man in his 40s, told me about his wife's grandparents, who had moved to Canada before the War and who had narrowly escaped back to Japan during the period of the Japanese internment camps.

Wehn Oki and I got back to the hotel, the boys and Karen were playing trains in the room, having had a quiet afternoon.

We then headed downtown to Kyoto station for Karen's birthday party dinner. We met Oki's wife Naoko. It was good to see her again too; she and Oki have been together for nearly 20 years! They had make arrangements at a fancy tofu restaurant, including having pre-ordered a full multi-course meal for us. It was the most amazing tofu feast that can be imagined -- dish after dish of deliciously prepared tofu finished by green tea. They got Karen a nice birthday gift of hand-painted towels. It was a lovely evening.

Returned to the hotel by taxi happy, tired and over-full.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

YAY! Happy Birthday from Neil, Jackie, Jake, Simon, Lucy, Rancik, and Ubu!