Monday, November 28, 2005

A taste of the floating world

Karyukai means the flower and willow world aka the floating world. It is a world of art, desire, pleasure, beauty and a painted mask that leaves reality at the door.

I’ve always been fascinated by geisha (geiko – as known in Kyoto, maiko – apprentice geiko) among other things like rooftop ninjas and committed-to-the-death samurais.

I’ve read books about them and their way of life (Geisha by Liz Dalby – the first foreigner to become a geisha, Geisha: The secret history of a vanishing world by Lesley Downer, Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki - a very successful geisha who Arthur Golden interviewed while writing his book, Memoirs of a Geisha) and think they truly are artists, whether it be in conversation, music, dance or seduction.

So of course I’ve always wanted to dress up as one. White painted face, red petal lips, heavy elaborate kimono – the works.

Convincing Sue Yen to join me, I made a reservation and on Sunday we headed to a photo studio in Kyoto. There are many of these studios around that get you fitted out like a maiko/geisha, take photos and you can also pay extra for the chance to walk around for about an hour fooling tourists that you actually are the real deal.

Kyoto is always crowded but was even more so when we went because it’s the season of changing leaves. Just as crowds flock to see Spring’s cherry blossoms, crowds love just as much to gaze at Autumn’s trees that look aflame with red, orange and yellow leaves. It really is beautiful.

So the studio was fully booked and we lined up to get our makeup done after we changed into white, cotton slips and tabi socks. First my own makeup was removed with baby oil and a kind of wax was rubbed all over my face and neck. I accidentally touched my nose and was told not to touch my face and my nose had to re-waxed. Then a thick brush dipped into a cold, white, liquid was painted onto my entire face and neck, leaving a forked tongue of unpainted skin at the back of the neck. Then a white powder was padded onto my face so as to set the foundation. I tried hard not to laugh when I saw Sue Yen being bashed in the face with this giant powder puff – it wasn’t dusted on, it was smacked on. Then my eyes were lined in black and highlighted with a bit of pink. Finally my lips were painted full. A little too full I thought, as traditionally maiko only paint their top lips 3 months after their debut.

Sue Yen getting her make up done

I look like one of those chinese opera monkeys

Then it was down to the dresser’s room where our under robes were wrapped on nice and tight. After choosing a kimono we liked, the staff helped us get dressed. Pulling, tucking, wrapping, tying, padding – then finally with our obi belted around us and heavily weighing our backs down, as if that wasn’t hard enough to balance in, we were given the ridiculously high wooden geta to walk around in. Next a wig was chosen and fitted onto our heads. The wire framing in the wig was PAINFUL. I didn’t like my wig because it was more of a dark brown shade in colour. Voila ~ instant maiko (poser)!

The ninja geisha wannabe

(My flying kick was restricted by my kimono)

We were then ushered into the photo studio room, directed a few poses and had our photos taken. I don’t like my photos very much. I look like I’m about to crack up in every shot, maybe because that’s exactly what I did. It was too funny. Tilt your head. Just a little. No, back a bit. Step back. OK. Now smile with no teeth. Not so much. Look here. Look there. Tilt a little to the left. Back to the right. I had no idea what I was doing and the photographers explanations in Japanese/minimal English were just too funny. It reminded me of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

After that we went for a little walk around the area as instant maiko posers. But without lunch in our stomachs and feeling faint, really bad headaches from the wigs, difficult breathing in the mega tight kimonos and trying to balance in the geta whilst being pulled backwards by the obi, we didn’t go very far. Our instructions before we left: “No eating, drinking, touching your face, pulling the kimono, touching the wig, shopping, smoking, going to the toilet. Just walking and taking photos. Okay?"

We took a few photos but were way too tired, hungry and exhausted to do our initial plan of walking to a temple. It felt very strange - people staring and taking photos while you’re walking. We got asked to take a few photos with some people, Japanese and non-Japanese. A Thai couple asked us in Japanese to take a photo with them so I replied back in Japanese. After the photo they said “Thank You” in English to which I replied “No worries. You’re welcome!” The expressions on their faces were money.
“Oh. You are not Japanese?”
“No, we’re Australian” and you just got jipped.

It was so good to get out of the geta, wig, kimono, robes and take off the make up. We collected our photos then went to the nearest restaurant and had some okonomiyaki and super delicious green tea ice cream. I recommend not going on a weekend because it is just way too crowded. Also Summer would be way too hot in all the gear and your make up would probably melt off. It was quite cold when we went but luckily the robes kept us warm.

It was tiring and painful but fun, and dare I say I would do it again now that I know better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yay for National Holidays

Today is Labour Thanksgiving Day.

Boy, do I appreciate national holidays. I actually have time to do stuff while the sun is still out. Laundry, vacuuming, airing out futons, studying, ironing and other boring but necessary stuff.

I finally met up with Sue Yen for the first time since she's moved over here. We met up in Sanners and I took her to Sapna for lunch. Their lunch set (and dinner sets) are great value for money and super tasty. Nan bread, lamb curry, chicken tikka, tandori chicken, salad and chai. We were too full for dessert so we went shopping instead. It's so great to have someone from back home now a part of my life in Japan. It was just like we were back home out shopping, talking, laughing and catching up. I could get an honest opinion on the clothes I was trying on, rattle off in English at normal speed and just indulge in the little things that I used to be able to do back home.

I got a message from Warren and we headed to the Sky Buffet to join him and some mates for dinner. Melvin and Will were both visiting Kansai and staying with Warren. They had just come from a day trip in Himeji. I also bumped into a 1st year student having dinner with his parents - that's a first!

War - Thanks for the message, always a pleasure. So bummed that I can't make it to Electraglide with you guys. Boo.
Will - Hope you had an amazing time in Japan & enjoy Electraglide.
Mel - Good luck for the JLPT! will keep an eye out for more DIY Winter workouts *double time*
SY - When's our next shopping adventure?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hiking & Belly Dancing

Last year a few teachers and myself tried to conquer Mt. Hyono sen, the biggest mountain in the Hyogo prefecture. However due to the typhoons and landslides, we could only make it halfway.

So this year we decided to try again and I found myself up at 6am on a freezing Saturday morning getting ready for round 2. We were foiled again with the forecast of rain in that area. Hyono sen - 1. Us - 0. So instead we drove to Arima (famous for Arima Onsen) and hiked all the way up Mt. Rokko. It was so steep, so terribly cold and I was so knackered. Only the thought of exercise being good for me and keeping warm kept me going.

Mushrooms - just like in Mario!

We took a break for lunch - onigiri (I actually got organised and made my own, Chinese red wine, hot instant noodles and camenbert with fruit & nut bread - then trekked it up to the very top (931 metres). The view was really nice, you could see all of Ashiya and Rokko Island..or was it Port Island? After we made our way down a carpet of crunchy, burnt orange leaves, we walked around Arima and went to some-place-I-forgot-the-name-of and had zenzai (hot, sweet red bean soup with mochi) and green tea sitting under the brilliant red, Autumn leaves.

I was so tired after the drive home all I could think of was "hot shower, eat, sleep." But then I got a message from Hana and met up her, Sam, Leigh, Miwako and Farah later that evening for dinner in Sanners. We went to a restaurant called Istanbul (ahhh greasy hot chips and kebabs in Northbridge) and had a delicious dinner of bread, various dips, Turkish red wine and LAMB!!! The lamb was so good. The place is nice and cosy, the owner/chef is really friendly and the food was great. They also have fruit flavoured 'Mizu Tabako' - hookah/shisha. Just remember to make a reservation because the place was quite small so we had to sit along the counter.

Also it just so happened that some belly dancing action was going to happen after 8pm. The lights go dim, the music starts and this chick comes out and performs, then gets customers up to give it a go. Never one to refuse a dance off invitation, Sammy B was up there doing it like a pro. We even think he showed the girl a few new moves. There's always entertainment to be had when Sam hits the dancefloor! After some Turkish coffee and apple tea (it was so good I bought a tin of it from the guy) we headed home.

I had such a fun night. Good food (oh lamb!), great company, delcious apple tea - Thanks for dropping me a line, Hana!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hello Coldness

Complain, complain, complain.

First it was about the relentless hot, humid Summer, breaking a sweat just thinking about walking up the hill, and now it's the ranting of the freezing cold, sorry Autumn couldn't make it, why is there no insulation or central heating Winter.

I really think Autumn gave Japan the slip this year. Either that or Summer and Winter have teamed up because if I recall correctly, Spring didn't make an appearance either. My fans have been packed away and my itty-bitty electric heater is out and my reverse air-conditioner has been cranking. Soon I'll be whipping out my electric blanket and Winter quilt.

Also went to dinner with Cheryl, some of her teachers and her friend who was visiting from Perth en route to London. We went to this little restaurant nearby 'Umaimonya' which specializes in kushikatsu - things skewered on sticks and deep fried. Yummo. Then we went to 'Malibu', a hip and funky little cafe/bar for dessert. I always walk past it on my way to Porto Bazar but have never been there before. But after the cherry pie, mayple toast, yoghurt cheesecake and chocolate brownie we all tried, I think I'll be dropping by a lot more often.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bad Habits

Actions have consequences. Indeed they do.

Went to bed late.
Pressed my Snooze button more than usual in the morning.
Got up late.
Had a insane craving for French toast with mayple syrup and blueberry jam.
Thus proceeded to make this for breakfast.
Scoffed it down and headed out the door.
Forgot it was rubbish day but was running late so kept on walking.
Missed my bus (damn you, hill!).
Hailed a taxi and paid under 1,000 yen to get to school.
Having a Caramello Koala for tea time.
Ate a big lunch that made me really sleepy for the rest of the afternoon.
Missed my bus to go home.
Ending up walking home and being too knackered to do anything productive.
Dropping in by the shops and buying heaps of food because I'm really hungry at the time.
Cooking and eating dinner late.
Going to bed late.

And so the vicious cycle continues.

It's all your fault! Oh, how can I be mad at you.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I hate the F word

I've been down with a really, really, really bad Flu.

Here's a handy tip to all you other teachers out there, "After every class wash your hands AND gargle." It sucks getting sick - don't get sick, it sucks!

I spent all Sunday in bed.
Sleep. Wake up. Feel like crap. Take pills. Drink water. Sleep *repeat*
It was dreadful. I went to school on Monday and did one class but had to go see the doctor and go home. Now anti-biotics was chucked into the equation.

Thankfully I felt better by the weekend. I caught up with Cheryl for dinner on Friday night. She just got back from her whirlwind trip to Hong Kong to see Quidam. I was going to join her and Felicity but I have to save up on money and leave when Brendon gets here. We went to this really cool yakiniku place on the main street near our places, but ended up having bibimbap and this pork rib, chilli, rice, soup thing because we were way too buggered on a Friday to do our own yakiniku. It was taaaasty.

As always we were craving chocolate so we trekked it to the 7-eleven in the rain and bought a box each (so we could go halfsies) of the new Kit Kat flavours; wine and noir. The range of Kit Kat flavours here continues to amaze us. Every month or so they come up with a new flavour, it hits the shelves for a month or so then disappears. That's good when it's a crappy one like 'grape' flavour. (It's just way too weird. Tastes exactly like artificial grape flavoured lollies, think grape Hubba Bubba bubblegum.' However that's exactly how real grapes actually taste like in Japan - that topic deserves its very own post altogether!)

But when it's a totally tasty wicked new flavour one which should continue for ever and ever, like the Mayple syrup flavoured white chocolate one *YUMMM* it's always so distressing when you rock into your local 7-eleven ready to purchase one only to find that they've been taken off the shelf, never to resurface again.

So far I've had original and the King Size Big Finger ones (back in Australia), white chocolate (Hokkaido milk to be exact), grape, cappuccino, melon (as in rockmelon, a specialty of Hokkaido from Rui's trip - tasted exactly like rockmelon!), green tea and red bean, strawberry and now wine (tasted kinda like strawberry wine) and noir (just really bitter dark chocolate).

I'll keep you posted of new flavours.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

PTA Trip

Today is another National holiday, 'Bunka no hi' (Culture Day).

Last year I got 'cultured' by going shopping but this year I decided to join the school's PTA annual trip. When we received the forms on our desks I asked the teacher sitting next to me what it was for. He told me that every year the PTA organises a trip somewhere and mostly students' parents go.

I think they were a bit surprised when I signed up and handed over my 5,000 yen. I also think they were a little worried about how I would understand what was going on and if there were going to be any other people going who could speak English.

I saw it as a chance to get involved since I've been here for a year and know nothing about the PTA. Also it would be great practise for my Japanese and get to meet some of my students' parents. So on a public holiday, I hauled my ass to school at 8.30am and got on a tour bus headed to Awaji Island.

Most PTA members are the mothers. The head of the PTA is the father of one of our 3rd year students. He used to be a science teacher but is now an accountant. He was very nice and could speak some English too. Out of the teachers, Principal, Vice-Principal, Kendo-sensei and about 5 other male teachers came along. Thankfully Kendo-sensei was there. I sat next to him on the bus and he helped translate a lot of things to me. He also told me that most of the teachers were 'recommended' to attend the trip by Kocho-sensei.

First we went over Awaji Bridge, the one I can see from my apartment, and the sight was beautiful. We stopped off at 'Awaji Oasis,' a place which showcases Awaji-made goods and souvenirs. Awaji is famous for onions, so I bought a small onion pie. It tasted like a sweet curry puff. Kocho-sensei had made an announcement on the bus that it was okay to drink all thorughout this trip, so it wasn't surprising that he bought a few bottles of Awaji beer and fish sausage to chow down on in the bus.

We went to the Great Hanshin Earthquake Faultline Memorial/Educational Centre which shows the extent of the damage of the 1995 earthquake and how the land shifted. Every year our school's first year Environmental class goes there on an excursion. It was quite interesting and even had a room which you could sit in and when activated, could experience how the earthquake felt.

Then it was off to the Awaji Westin Hotel for a buffet lunch - the real highlight, in my opinion. It was a really nice hotel and many weddings were going on. The buffet was delicious with so many different types of food. The desserts weren't that great but the food, oh the food was so good. I was sitting on the principal, vice principal and teachers' table and I guess being the only female, they were surprised at how much I was eating and how many times I got up to do another round.

"It's delicious isn't it? You must be hungry." "Do you cook at home?" "You sure can eat a lot, can't you?" "Chris-san, let's get some more soup!"

To which I smiled and nodded with my mouth stuffed with tasty beef stew and mushroom risotto, cheese on crackers with smoked salmon and ham, creamy pumpkin soup, tender chicken pieces, sweet & sour fish and a whole lot more.

Flower chairs in the foyer

The Westin was also where the English soccer team stayed during the Japan/Korea World Cup. Their training grounds were the nearby soccer pitches which we played on last year for the Awaji Tournament (though I've haven't played any soccer this year because I don't think soccer is really my thing, well...basically, I suck big time). And they LOVE Beckham over here so here I am pointing out Beckham's signature (there is actually a little arrow sticker pointing to it on the glass) on the huge ass English soccer kit amongst other memorabilia.

With our bellies full and content, our last stop was this herb/flower perfumery craft place where we smelt a range of incense and perfumes, made herb soap...

and got to cut fresh cosmos flowers in a beautiful field!

I think Kocho-sensei was a tad tipsy because he was a little red and when we were outside and I was taking photos, he found this huge ass praying mantis, picked it up and stuck it in my face, "Look at this! Chris-san! Look at this!" eeeks!

We got dropped off at school and I walked home with Kendo-sensei and the Head of the PTA-san. Head of the PTA-san invited us to drop by his house to see his dog. It was an Irish Wolfhound aka freakin' huge! It was the biggest dog I've ever seen. It was like a miniture pony. It was bigger than me!

I really enjoyed and got a lot more out of this year's Culture Day.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Green peas and Rice

Katsu is one of my students in my adult night classes.

He has big, happy eyes, a warm chuckle, loves jazz, is good at English, likes to play his ukulele and is old enough to be my grandfather. But Katsu, is one cool cat.

One time we were talking and I asked him,
"What is your favourite food."
He tilted his head and thought long and hard as I sipped my tea.
He finally answered, "Green peas and rice."
I laughed into my tea,
"What? Green peas and rice? Really?"
"So out of all the foods, your favourite is green peas and rice?"
He could read the confusion in my raised eyebrows and polite smile.
"Why?" I asked.
With a knowing smile and a twinkle in his eyes, like a young child who "knew something you didn't know," he explained why.

During the war when Kobe was bombed and the city was burning, the houses of wood and paper didn't stand a chance. One day it was his house that was burning. There were many water holes around the neighbourhood because of the fires at that time, and luckily when his house burnt down, he and his parents jumped into one of these water holes. It saved their lives.

Many people were homeless and hungry. They had nothing but ashes to remind them of their lives before. His mother, a very smart women indeed, remembered that she had kept their rice in a pot underground as a precaution. They dug up the pot and thankfully the rice was still okay to eat. They used a burnt out kettle to cook the rice. "Everywhere was on fire so it was easy to cook." At that time, his aunt came looking for them to see if they were alive. She brought with her, green peas. His mother cooked these with the rice. They used their hands to eat the green peas and rice. "It was very delicious. I will never forget."

There were many other people in the neighbourhood without food and were hungry. So they found a big barrel and cooked the rest of the rice and gave it to the other survivors.
"Since then, every year on this date I must eat green peas and rice."