Jun 14

Reminiscences and Lessons of Japan, Part 2

In Brief— Reminiscences of Japan and the experiences of a couple of westerners in a different culture. Photos, too. Part 2 of 2.


IMPORTANT NOTE!   As I said in Part 1, to liven up my blog, I am adding photos to occasional blog pieces. This is the first. Thanks to Pinterest, you will get to enjoy some of the sights I experienced in Japan. To add depth, I’ve written comments below each photo.

Click here to be transported back in time to Japan.

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Strangers in a Different Land—

In the first Part, I described our weeks in Japan in the autumn of 1975 during which we sampled the sights and experiences of a country quite different from anything we had ever seen. Our visit had been arranged by my friends and included the bustling city of Tokyo, the tranquility of Nikko and included learning from one of the great master potters of our time. This week, I will relate my memories of that visit. These did not necessarily occur in the order presented, but they reflect the reality of that visit.


Through special arrangement of my friends, we were permitted by the Imperial Household Ministry to visit the Katsura Detached Palace, considered to be a cultural treasure. Located not far from central Kyoto, the villa and its exquisite Zen gardens are in an area of sumptuous Edo era villas where royalty could get away from Tokyo and enjoy the peaceful harmony and beauty of the area. The Detached Palace is comprised of several traditional buildings and tea houses that are superb examples of Japanese architecture as well as the beautiful surrounding gardens that dazzle the eye with the changing of the seasons. There is no place on the property that does other than reflect the reverent beauty that went into its construction.

Built during the Seventeenth Century, The Nijo Castle in Kyoto is one of the best examples of Edo period architecture from the days of Ieyasu Tokugawa’s Shogunate and has been designated one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A fascinating element of the Ninomaru Palace, one of the central buildings housing the Shogun’s living quarters, is the nightingale floor that was designed to chirp or squeak like a bird if an assassin tried to sneak up on and attack the Shogun. It goes without saying that the castle gardens are extensive and exquisite.

We were honored to stay in one of Kyoto’s ryokan, traditional inns originating during the Edo period. We slept on comfortable futon on the tatami floor and bathed in a wooden tub. The woman instructed us that we were to rinse off before climbing into the tub to soak away our cares. I was a bit annoyed that the owner felt it mandatory to instruct a pair of gaijin (foreigners) on how to use the tub, but I realized that it was a necessary precaution.

Warm water in a tub was not enough to dispel the tension that had built up between us. Though the particulars have long since faded, what remains is a memory of unpleasantness that may have had its roots in our stay with Banura-san. A few months later, Alison returned to her family leaving behind only the beautiful piece of pottery she had bought following our visit to the home of Kanjiro Kawai…and the haunting awareness that I’ll never be able to apologize for my thoughtless insensitivity.

That bit of personal feeling aside, because of my great admiration of Japanese pottery, no stay in Kyoto would have been complete without visiting the home of the Mingei potter Kanjiro Kawai, one of the greats in Japanese ceramics. The interior of his home—now a museum—is one of the architectural wonders of Kyoto and was to some extent designed by Kawai himself. Much of the woodwork within still radiates the velvet warmth and skill of his hands. Pieces of his pottery decorate both the interior and yard of his home. His climbing kiln still stands. This great man, refused to accept the honor of being a National Living Treasure, preferring to think of himself as simply a humble potter whose soul was reflected in his work.

Himeji and Kamakura—

Transported by Japan’s bullet train (America still doesn’t have one), we visited Himeji Castle, probably the best example of Edo period castles. It was built by the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa and may be seen in the film “Shogun.”

Himeji Castle

The famous Thirteenth Century Kamakura Buddha en route to Tokyo was one of the last stops we made before returning to Tokyo and on to California. Along with many others, I was able to explore the graffitied hollow interior of the huge bronze statue that stands almost 44 feet tall.

Japanese Honesty—

One last example of Japanese honesty—or at least it was in 1975—can be seen in our experience when our train was delayed more than an hour after a visit to the mountains. We were on our way up the street when the winded pursuing station master stopped us to refund the full price of our ticket. National policy was that passengers were to be refunded if their train was more than an hour late in arriving at their destination. We were unaware of that policy and had left the station. Any bets on whether that would happen in America… then or now?

I hope you enjoyed the trip and the photos. I certainly enjoyed the sights and learned about a different part of the world. And thanks again to our friends in Japan for their generosity and suggestions.


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    • Linda on June 14, 2015 at 19:15

    Beautifully written. Enjoyed the trip. Thank you for this, Don.

      • Don Bay on June 15, 2015 at 10:22

      Thanks for the kind words. The blog says it all. Pottery will follow. Stay tuned.

    • Donna Boe on June 17, 2015 at 00:33

    I enjoyed your trip and our memories of Japan.

      • Don Bay on June 17, 2015 at 17:04

      While mine was just a vacation trip, yours was a stay. Yours was much more valuable even though both will be with us for a lifetime. Thanks for the kind words. Stay tuned for one on my pottery.

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