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JAPAN [seven]: KYUSHU / KARATSU/ / YOYOKAKU… FINALE…

[NOTE: This is the seventh post about our trip to Japan. Click on the tab “JAPAN” in the cloud on the right to see earlier posts made in November & December.]

TRAIN TO KYUSHU:

Sunday morning: On the train from Kyoto to the southern island of Kyushu to the ryokan [a traditional Japanese inn] which has been recommended by our Island friend. The ride in the beginning was quite delightfully smooth even at something more than 150 mph… an hour & some dozens of tunnels later it became a bit less so. Rice fields whiz by interspersed with suburbs. It is harvest time. I saw one farmer cutting by hand… some sheaves are bundled & stacked vertical, while others are hung upside down from racks… I do not know if those had been already thrashed to then be saved for the straw. Numerous gardens large enough to be considered truck farms tucked in the lowlands. One assumes there was a much different proportion in earlier times.

Tunnel… a quick glimpse of a river gorge before the black of the next tunnel… repeat & repeat. Then the quick passage of a small city… tunnel… repeat. A very mountainous country! A very tidy & clean country! We find no trash bins, even in train stations… & NO litter. All is so clean as to make the States seem rather grubby by comparison. People working in order to keep order… 3 to 5 officers to direct both autos & pedestrians around even modest construction areas…. already informed by well defined & lighted barricades, which would put our similar totally unmanned situations to shame. Employment seems a high priority, which then seems to allow the thousands of small eating establishments & huge department stores everywhere full of patrons. I suggest we could take BIG lessons in the truth of a working aeconomie. Shame on us for blaming ordinary people for not working.

We are passing through Hiroshima. I see a skyscraper, one of many in evidence, being built for the Hotel Hiroshima… the city seems to have been thriving for decades. I cannot help but compare [although the time is much shorter] that to New Orleans.. “Heck of a job, US!”

 Glimpses from the speeding bullet train gave no chance to compose… I could only shoot wildly…
Our destination was Karatsu a small city on the  westernmost island of Japan, Kyushu. Here we would stay for our last three days at the ryokan… a traditional Japanese inn… named Yoyokatsu. Our Vashon friend Terry Welch met & became close to the owners when he spent time there teaching English. He is considered part of the family, known by all there as “Terry-San”. We were treated as honored guests…
 An entry behind this wall began the remove from the street into this stone floor to the single step up into the inn, where our hosts waited to greet us. Street shoes are forbidden, so we removed those to step into waiting deep red leather slippers.
 Our host is a devotee & collector of pottery & calligraphy… this screen met us first… at the important first step up from street level onto the floor of the building. No shoes can touch both, requiring one to step out of street shoes, leaving them on that level, stepping up into the leather slippers they provide.
There are several wing & building through which meandered the waters of a classic garden…

Covered corridors created wonderful adventure making connection between public spaces & guest rooms, with views onto that garden.
The door to our upstairs room overlooking the garden…
 A vestibule with another step beyond which our slippers were forbidden on the tatami matted floors beyond the privacy of shoji screens…
  This view shows that vestibule through the open shoji doorway in the first large room… with no furniture… our futon beds would be laid out here each night. The space through the shoji to the right had our low dining table…

There was a lovely ikebana [floral arrangement]… 

The dining room had the traditional tokonoma, a niche defined by a construct of a natural branch or root. These spaces are made to display art, usually a painted scroll, a floral arrangement & in our case a porcelain incense burner.

Another simpler version on the opposite wall held the phone & an incongruous television!
Another space, separated by more shoji was a veranda-like sitting area with windows opening onto the garden. We sat there with tea in the afternoon or drinks while waiting for our maid to bring dinner to our room or to relax while they made up our beds at night. Shoji would be closed to give privacy while we were being attended… I came to appreciate their function.
 
Our closet held robes for wearing to the fukuha?… the communal [segregated] bath… but we had our own full bath with a room off it offering a wooden soaking tub & another room for the toilet… Each area had its own pair of slippers, so one was challenged to change footwear even between the various areas in the bath!
Meal menus & timing were discussed before… dinner after breakfast & breakfast after dinner. Breakfast was served in a designated dining room on the ground floor…. ‘Just at the bottom of our stairs. We were seated at table prepared to look like this… porridge of rice or barley, vegetables, a custard, always a pickled dish… plus a small whole fish, fried very crispy!

Dinner… the riokan has a great kitchen… was usually served by our maid in the room, with a calligraphic menu… we still had little idea how those written items corresponded to what was served… Myoko would explain. All was delicious!
 

Karatsu is a small ancient port city with population of approximately 100,000. Small enough to walk from the riokan to the central district, taking-in it’s sweet small castle perched on a knob over the sea.

I loved this poster, obviously designed from a child’s drawing..
It had really impressive stone walls…

Walking over several bridges brought us to another version of OZ.
We discovered several surprising & satisfying adventures,  one close to the main temple…

They have an annual festival [a bit later in November than we were there.]which features large  “floats” several hundred years old. These are stored & displayed in a museum close to the shrine with this Tori gate. Each is built on a very heavy wood carriage with wooden wheels… weighing several tons, we read.

Atop these were made colorful figures of highly lacquered paper-mâché supported by bamboo frames. They looked like molded plastic. Dragons, fish, & other mythic creatures. Each is made &maintained by a neighborhood of the city to compete for presentation & handling during the parades, some of which are at night so there is lighting involved as well… plus music specific to each.

 I made several videos of a video being looped as part of the display which conveys more of the action, excitement & skill with which these huge constructions are pulled through the streets:
A sculpture noting that festival…
My eye found the geometry of this laid stone quite sensible… beautifully drawing observant strength in hexagonal gravity… adding possibility of three surfaces to the more usual two-axis polarity of piling blocks horizontally. I saw the concept useful in any number of situations. The vine loves this geometry as well!

One last discovery was the restored home of a worldly gentleman who was a local coal baron at the turn of the last century. The home he built, with a view of the sea, bridged East & West in several unusual ways. There were two facades. One mimicked .. in wood, it was explained… European stone.

It was, at every turn, an example of the amalgam of East & West on which we had been feasting for these rich recent days… the home is noted for having a rare private Noh Theater, 
with generous backstage spaces for actors & orchestra…
Japan holds a history celebrating these many contrasting aspects…


I observe deep grace in a culture which understands substance [time] 
with a third aspect transcending yes or no polarity.
Delicious geometries
The city seal…

The city viewed from above…

Walking a back way home we wandered onto the campus of a high school. I saw these archery targets as interesting sculpture. Severely spare compared to a wall of bales offering a paper target.
We had interrupted an archery class…
I respectfully requested a pose…
I appreciate the complexities of several traditions dancing together…
Next day we returned by train to Tokyo, meeting Ryan, after yet another memorable meal.
Arriving a bit too suddenly…

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