series : my spring in Japan 9

20th May..

This is my last day in Kyoto and i haven’t done the two most popular things in Kyoto, tea ceremony and wearing a kimono/yukata, which i save for the last day. Like people usually say, save the best for the last. There are several places in Kyoto to do this. They also come with several variations, either only rent a kimono, witness a tea ceremony, and also both. Usually people renting a kimono for a day and walk towards Kyoto with it. Depends on your preference, wearing kimono/yukata and walking around Kyoto a lot might not be the most convenient choice, especially for woman. But, certainly, the choice is yours.

For me, i decide to do both. I want to wear kimono and do tea ceremony at the same time. If i can, i also want to visit an old Kyoto house and have a chat with the local. This lead me to Nishijin Tondaya (www.tondaya.co.jp/english/). I booked for the group tea ceremony, kimono wearing, and house tour in the morning since a few days ago by using their booking inquiry in their website. I even secretly hope that there is no one that book the house that day so i can get a private tour and tea ceremony.

So, i pack my big bag, check out from the hostel, and check my bag in the receptionist. I will be back in the afternoon just before going to the train station and after going to Tondaya. Reaching Tondaya is not a big hassle. Once again, thanks go Google Map, all i do is search for Tondaya Kyoto and it find it for me. I take the 101 Kyoto bus to nearest stop and then walk for 7 mins.

A bit about Tondaya from their website. Tondaya is a kimono wholesaler by Tanaka family for generations. Initially, Tanaka family had run a money exchanger in Fushimi during Edo Era. Due to the battle of Toba-Fushimi, Tondaya had to move to Nishijin, where kimono  industry was growing, and built the existing house in 1885. The house is consists of a workshop front and living space in the rear, which is a typical large-scale kimono wholesaler during the Meiji Era. Tondaya was registered as National Cultural heritage in 1999 and also as Structure of Landscape Importance in Kyoto in 2007. Currently, Tondaya is open as Nishijin Lifestyle Museum to promote the eduction of traditional Kyoto lifestyle culture.

My wish is granted by the universe and i am the only guest on that hour. A sweet lady wearing kimono greet me with her sweet smile in the front authentic Japanese door to confirm my booking. Once it is confirmed, she bring me to the centre of living room. She shows me 9 sets of kimono and ask which one i preferred. I take a look for a minute and choose a red soft kimono with black stripes.

A minute later, she help me wearing kimono. As far as i know, there are two types of traditional Japanese outfit for woman, its kimono and yukata. The model is the same. The difference is yukata is usually wear in summer or warmer weather because it is thinner and lighter than kimono.

There are several parts of kimono such as juban, koshi himo belt, datejime, obi makura belt, and white tabi socks. Juban is a white cotton “robe” that we wear as a first layer. Then, we wear the kimono. Once it is settled, we wear koshi himo belt and datejime belt. This is to make sure the waist is tightly wrap. Last, we wear the obi makura belt.

In my visit, i wear my own white socks so i don’t wear the white tabi socks. It is recommended to wear the sock first before wearing the full set of kimono. Why? Because it is really hard to bend after wearing all the koshi himo belt, datejime belt, and obi makura belt. My waist is nicely and tightly wrapped. I think this is why when wearing the kimono, the posture of Japanese woman is very good. It somehow prevent me to bent my lower spine.

Wearing the kimono also make me feel that i need to behave myself. I certainly can not run due to the “robe” and need to make a small step when i walk. My posture is also become better with the help of tight belts. My tour guide then mentions that when i am wearing kimono, i look like Japanese. Thanks!

The Machima house tour begins on the living room itself. It is quite a large room with tatami wooden floor. The interior design inside the house is simple and elegant. It has a shrine in the corner of the house pillar. The window of the living room is still using the antique glass from old days. We can see that the glass surface is wavy, instead of smooth like nowadays glass. She says that this is the last one in the house. If it is broken, then they can not replace it with the same glass since no one produce it anymore.

Inside, there are several small gardens. This is what i like with Japanese house. Even though it is typically a small house, its usually has a garden, a balance of mother earth and human design. It is not only found in traditional house, like Tondaya or the guesthouse, but also in the modern architecture.

After walking through the garden facing the living room, the tour continue to the back to the house. She shows me what used to be a food storage room. In front of the door, there is an extra slice of wood in the bottom of the door. They use this method to prevent the rats come to the storage room. I ask the question innocently, “Oh, do you also have rats in here?”. She replies, “Yes.” then she smile. Back in the guesthouse, i also saw Takeshi light up a burnt mosquito repellent. My first reaction also the same, “Do you have mosquito in Japan?” In my mind mosquitos is live in tropical countries only, like Indonesia. I sometimes forget that even though Japan has cooler weather now and winter, it also has hot summer. The kind of weather that insects love, including mosquitos.

There are several tea ceremony rooms in Tondaya. It varies per usage. For e.g. in Asian countries, sit on our knee is a common practice in some sacred event, such as praying. But, since this practice is not common in Westerner, they have a room that the guest can sit normally in a chair while watching the tea ceremony. For my case, they prepare the traditional room upstairs where i can sit on my knee, like the traditional tea ceremony. They even say that if i am tired on that sitting position, i can sit in other pose that i am comfortable with.

They also have a kind of dining room for traditional Japanese performance, usually involving Geisha. Geisha is traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various arts such as classical music, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. (Source: wikipedia)

She then explains some gesture in tea ceremony, such as bow and rotate the bowl. Bow as sign of respect and bowl rotation as sign of caring, too avoid drinking it from its front. Then, she leaves the room. She comes back with a small plate of confectionary to accompany the tea. She wishes me a great tea ceremony and leave the room.

The tea ceremony begins with the host enter the tea ceremony room. The host and the guest bow to each other. The host starts to clean the utensils used for preparing and delivering the thin tea. Bow is exchanged again before the host serve the tea to the guest. The guest then raise the bowl as a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front and take a sip. The bowl then return to the host, who cleanse the equipment and leave the room.

Depends on the type of ceremony you attend, they can serve you both thick and thin tea. Usually the host will return with confectionary to accompany the second tea (not in the beginning of the tea ceremony). The second tea ritual follows the same procedure. At the end of the tea ceremony, the host and guest also bow to each other. In term of the time, it depends on the how many person attend the tea ceremony. Mine is very fast because i am just alone. This allows me to observe the tea ceremony steps and also have a conversation with the host.

The way the host preparing the tea is amazing. She takes every step with a great gesture to show her respect to the guest. The gesture is tender and elegant. She uses the utensil with great care. When i observe people, i usually feel like in different world. So, when she politely asks me to don’t be shy to eat the confectionary, i am a bit stunned, awake from my “daydreaming” state.

Another thing i find in the house is a secret passage on the tea ceremony room to the room downstairs. It has a secret hidden stairs that camouflage behind a sliding door. It is a bit small but enough for average person.

The last part of the tour is going back to living room to remove the kimono. On this process, i ask some questions to the host to know more about the tradition. She learnt the tea ceremony and other Japanese traditional performance for years. She learnt English in San Francisco for several months, this is part of their training. In her spare time, she like to sew. I mention to her about Nomura tailor in Nishiki Market and she expresses her genuine excitement. Its really good to find someone that share the same interest.

Happy with the experience, i continue the journey by taking my bag from hostel to Kyoto train station. I’ve been in Kyoto for 6 days. The day gone too fast. The sign that i really enjoy the journey. Now, its time for Tokyo.

Buying the shinkansen ticket is not difficult. Once i arrive in the ticket office, there is an officer with English sign on his left arms. When i queue, the officer comes to me and ask where will i go and which payment method i use. Then, he checks the schedule with me, fills a form and give it to me. Then, i just need to hand the form to the cashier and get my ticket. When i take a look on the form, it is a Japanese filled form. A great system to bridge the communication barrier between Japanese and non Japanese.

Shinkansen is a must do experience in Japan. The train is not much different than the general train. There are areas where we put our bags. There are passenger seats. The passenger seat interior will depend on the train class, more space and comfort in higher class. There is also food and drink cart in case of thirst or hunger.

The amazing thing is this train  runs on maximum operating speed for 320 km per hour with great balance. It only took 3.5 hours from Kyoto to Tokyo. For me, its time for nap, which what most people do in the train. Before i left you on my nap, it is common to see most of Japanese passenger are wearing suits. The shinkansen ticket costs me about 13,500 yen which is quite pricey, even for Japanese.  I asked my friend who live in Japan, he said that most Japanese people use shinkansen for business purpose.

I arrive in Tokyo around 5.30 pm. I book a ryokan-style hotel in Asakusa area. I show the address to the taxi driver. In short time, we arrive in Asakusa’s area, but we are a bit confused on where exactly the hotel is. The taxi driver call the hotel’s phone line and he then stop not far from the front gate of Asakusa Temple. No sign of the hotel sign. With puzzled face, i ask the driver if this is the right address. I get out from the taxi and follow him. He walks across the front gate to Asakusa Temple and turn a bit left. Here we are, in front of Hotel Kaminarimon. He shows the hotel sign and greet the hotel receptionist. Its always a fun part when you try to understand people by sign language because of language barrier, especially when you find your destination afterwards. Thank you!

What made me decide to stay on this hotel is because it is ryokan in the middle of modern Tokyo. Its is living in traditional mode in the model of modern world. It is like find something different in a midst of normal environment. Even though this is a traditional Japanese-style accommodation, it has 4 story with private and shared bathroom.

I check in, take a quick rest, and then do a night walk around the hotel. The place is perfectly located near metro station, convenience store, restaurants, and the popular Asakusa Temple. There is not many people walking in Asakusa Market as the shops close at night, but i still find tourist stop in front of Asakusa gate and take some pictures. I call it a day on 9 pm and go back to the hotel to get a good rest. Looking forward to explore Tokyo tomorrow!

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