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Published: April 4th 2016
Today was another special and memorable day, in which we had a chance to experience the classic Kyoto culture in the Southern Higashiyama area, a district filled with temples, steep winding alleys and flowering cherries.
We began at Kiyomizudera Temple, a huge temple complex more than 1200 years old, though much rebuilt. It was certainly striking though we thought the towering orange pagodas rather clashed with the soft pink of the many cherry blossoms. The name means Temple of Pure Water and the complex is built around a small waterfall where the faithful can catch water to wash before praying in the main hall. In one of the other halls we met two artists whose work was displayed, both themed around water. One was a young woman who makes cut outs which were skillful but didn't particularly appeal. She was a lovely person though, spoke English and explained the work of an older man named Goh Shigetomi who creates wonderful ink art works capturing the flow of water. The work is made by throwing ink in water and then catching it with paper. They are very beautiful monochromatic works that reference the Zen painting traditions with contemporary twist.
From Kiyumizudera we
walked along the winding alleys of the old quarter filled with traditional wooden buildings occupied by amazing Japanese sweet shops as well as lots of shops selling tourist tat. There were many young Japanese women in kimono posing all over the area.
The highlight of the day was the Miyako Odori dances performed by Meiko (apprentice Geisha or Geiko as they are known in Kyoto dialect). We first had tea and a traditional red bean sweet in an ante room where we were able to take a few quick photos then went into the impressive concert hall where about 50 magnificently costumed maiko and geisha sang, played traditional instruments and performed colourful dances. We had an excellent English audio guide to accompany the performance which really helped us understand the art form. It is very refined and subtle, reliant on gesture, costume and the use of fans and fabric with no facial expression, so different from European dance. We are very lucky to be able to see it because only in early spring do geisha give these public performances- usually one can only see them by hiring them privatel. Most of the dances evoked seasons through flower motifs and refence
to significant temples - plum blossom for early spring, wisteria for summer, maples in autumn and the solitude and snow of winter. But there was also a Cinderella-like fairy tale and a dance evoking the imperial court in which the maiko played men of the Heian era very effectively. The finale was a magnificent chorus piece featuring (surprise) masses of cherry blossom.
Afterwards we wandered through Maruyama Park where there is a famous weeping cherry. The original tree was 200 years old when it died and this one, grown from its seed, is now 80 years old. It really is magnificent- we were prompted to say a shechecheyanu while those around made their acknowlegment at the various shrines and temples in the park.
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