Monday, April 14, 2008

Japan Trip April 14th (day 14): Washi, Hello Kitty, Knives, Fans, Umbrellas and the Gion

Okay, this is the big shopping adventure in Kyoto, the old and traditional Imperial City. First, for the guys, just so you hang in there, I will be talking about KNIVES, expensive and scary knives. I do need to make this short as I am late already in going to bed as I have an invitation tomorrow from the Royal Household to be one of the eight people to see the Imperial Palace: don’t want to miss!

I would like to say I leapt out of bed and into our great Kyoto adventure since it WAS NOT yet raining and our first stop was a PAPER shop (not well mixed with rain, particularly when you wheel there and get greasy wet hands). Except there was the exquisite pain, the “rushing but why is everything go so slow” shower and finally getting downstairs to approve comments and get breakfast (both up two freaking stairs). I managed to pass out three times in the lobby that morning (always the sign of a good day – sort of like a groundhog seeing it’s shadow). I remember coming to face down after I had crawled up the two stairs with a staff member saying, “Is there anything I can do?” and thinking, “Well, a RAMP might help.” Instead they want to get all possessive and say, “Don’t try to leave or go up to the computers without notifying us.” – oh, is that rule for ALL females or just the ones in wheelchairs?

Anyway, no matter how I tried it took over two hours to get to the subway and finally to the Mecca of Kyoto, Morita Washi Wagami-no-mise. This is less a “paper shop” than heaven on earth on what can be done with paper, what can be papered and some things that are mindblowing. For example, what greets the eye when walking in but these miniatures of silk folding screens, about six inches tall with original art or wood block print style on the front and decorative papered screening on the back. And all that for $9-12.

Then we have the papered boxes, using stiff Yuzen paper. Yuzen paper is only allowed to be sold in cities which are artistic centers for Kimono production as they use the same designs and colours as kimonos, which means only Kyoto and Kanazawa. So whether it is for love notes to bibles, nothing says totally unique craft AND good taste like these boxes. Did I get one? You have to ask?

Linda meanwhile was going crazy in the paper. She is into scrapbooking and we are going to have the most expensive scrapbook of the trip to Japan as she has sheets of black paper with real gold cranes as just ONE of her many sheets. Everywhere you looked there was rows of the paper you would need for every art project, from what looks like fabric but is really crepe paper to the “plain” hand made washi paper of solid colours.

There is paper here for calligraphy, for art projects, for paintings, for everything in your imagination. In the front for $2-$5 (500 yen) I found some great “backing” paper which was shaded purple clouds at top and bottom along with green and gold flecks, perfect for framing the Ghibli studio film cell passes: Especially as each came with a cardboard backing. I explained my plan to the owner who almost refused to sell them to me saying, “Calligraphy!” Interrupting my attempts to say it COULD be used that way or other ways. In the end I agreed (lied) to calligraphy and asked her to put them in plastic wraps (to avoid the paper getting smudges before the Ghibli framing….I mean calligraphy).

Here is a selection of the Yuzen Chiyagami (origami paper), the origami paper only sold here and Kanazawa as they are based on Kimono patterns. I, meanwhile was drawn across the shop shouting “mobiles!” as I had seen in a book a picture of an origami mobile, but had no idea where you could get it in Japan. It turns out that you could get it here, in Morita Washi, where they put it, as is, in a box for protection. I SO want to get this back home SAFELY.
Here is a selection of a few of the origami and paper mobiles they have for desks usually with geisha or samurai scenes (papered mini set of drawers in the back) – do you get the sense that we might have had a kind of giant pile on the counter at this time?

Oh yeah, and then there were these washi papers, about 5 feet across with full woodblock printing on them and looked like something far superior to gift wrap to……full art? I pulled out two, this one of woodblock prints in cobalt blue from the edo period and the full poster of cranes and flowers and gold. Linda took the ones with cranes as we plan to frame and put it on the wall, the quality is THAT good. Seriously what would a print like this cost, just as a poster? And this is hand made paper for $11. So yeah, we went a little crazy.

We finally escaped with two bags full of tubes of hand made poster wood blocks, boxes of art (oh, Linda showed me the ‘remainder” section where a tiny crimp and suddenly the 500 yen piece of paper is 100 yen – the pile kind of doubled) and bags and bags.

We wheeled one block over to….no snickering now….the Kyoto limited Hello Kitty shop, because like all Yuzen things, there is Yuzen Hello kitty too! So here is this high class Hello Kitty shop.
Inside there were a couple coin purses in Yuzen colours our nieces are going to die for (the kitty is hidden in the pattern) as well as another pen…..for…someone. I wanted to go wild but since I bought, well, a LOT of paper (try three digits), I restrained myself. Here are three of the Kimono Hello Kitties I did NOT buy! I am not even showing what I did buy lest I suffer the mocking.

We had a list of “traditional” places which had been in business for many generations (Some 400 years) and thus went next to the Miyawaki Baisen-an Fan store which has been selling fans for just under 200 years the best in fans. Neither Linda nor I could “get” the obsession with fans and hoped seeing them would illuminate or inspire us. There are paper fans, hand painted fans, fans painted on both sides, and fans with lacquer. Often there isn’t much fabric at all. We looked all over and Linda went up to the second floor but we were still mystified (and watched by the grandfather with suspicion). This little fan costs a mere $105-125. And is in the midrange of fans which go up to $300 plus. I would like to say I can explain why. But I can’t. If you are a fan obsessed person, visit here as it is the real deal, then explain to me the $300 thing.

We traversed the Kyoto Nishiki Market which is famous for food (a lot of it sea food) and we stopped at this cute candy store, where they had a “sushi bento box” in Candy I just HAD to have. Isn’t that the way of it with me. Linda while paying was introduced to the two young granddaughters (about 7-8) who were visiting from New Zealand. He was very pround of them, they had arrived yesterday and he was letting them give back the change and practicing counting in Japanese.

We went on and found a Kimono shop that said they sold “North American” sizes but actually they sold “Dressing gowns” – we said we wanted a Yukata and Obi and they were, “But you can’t tie a Yukata….you are North American.” And I explained that we had ALREADY gotten me a Yukata in Kanazawa with the Obi and a video on how to tie them and were looking for one for Linda. Suddenly the attitude changed and the “real” Yukata’s were brought out instead of the dressing gowns with a front tie. But Linda did not like the colours (pink or YELLOW). So no go. Later we found a place to hand make Geta shoes for me for only....wait for it....$450. Since I can get hand made leather anything for about half that I decided that my ballet slippers (which the owner suggested would work) will be JUST FINE.

A little further on we went into Aritsugu, which sells mostly traditional Japanese Kitchen Knives. Now these knives have fascinated me as you see them in Anime, in film and particularly in Japanese horror. Well, each family usually has one and now I know why. This case of knives and the shelf below are worth about half a million dollars. The cheapest knife is around $2,000 and is made of Carbon Steel and can only be sharpen with the “water method” (whatever that is). It was very impressive but I am not going to bring home a Japanese knife as a souvenir, which is actually a REALLY good idea. Why? Because I regularly (like every day) either smash myself in the face or dribble liquid down my front with a glass – I can’t tell if it is delayed motor neuron responses yet or just shot hand eye coordination. Linda did however buy some kitchen strainers and other utensils.

From there we crossed over to the Gion district, which was hustle and bustle of people (making Linda cranky), yet amidst it all stood, surrounded by a circle of space, a Zen monk, chanting to himself. I took Linda for lunch at a café for us to sit down and they did a sort of zany American style of things like “Hamburger hot-dog” and crème soda with ice cream. Still, a nice break before heading to our final shopping stop, Kasagen, an umbrella shop which has been selling genuine bamboo and paper umbrellas of quality for almost 200 years. They supply generations of Geishas. I did not get the oiled female umbrella but rather the thinner female umbrella which goes with the Yukata, for shade purposes. How exactly this is supposed to occur with a wheelchair has yet to be plotted. The top quality designs (most hand done) started at $50 and went up to $250 (that’s why I thought shade and style at affordable the best choice). I am not sure how exactly kimono’s and hand painted parasols go with goth but I expect the goth community to join me soon (hahahahha! Yeah, a real bunch of joiners them).

We headed back through the protected Gion district, finally getting away from the hustle and bustle and finding a few spaces of quiet. In the district itself we found it much like Kanazawa but bordered on both sides by streams where upstairs the Geisha’s would perform at night. This was the late afternoon and we were alone when I wheeled onto the small bridge and saw….a crane, standing in the mid of the river here in this Gion district. I didn’t know that it was even real until it turned and started walking toward me. I snapped pictures like crazy and later, upon developing this one found that in the back, on the far bridge, are two of the genuine Geisha’s hurrying from their living quarter’s to the nights performance spaces in the Gion. Somehow, the crane and river, the two hundred year old performance spaces on the river and the Geisha in the background summed up perfectly the whole ethereal nature of what is referred to historically as “the floating world.”

The crane walked past me, looking here and there for fish and eventually disappeared from view while I never saw the Geisha (an indication they were the real thing as the real ones can really move on those high wooden Geta shoes) until developing the film (you may need to click on the picture to see them in the background).

We walked the district (or wheeled it) and returned to the shrine to find a few school girls having the equivalent of orgasms: panting, small shrieks, leaning against the wall and emailing phone photos. We rounded the shine to see these three dressed Geisha’s standing in front with schoolgirls going crazy. Are these real geisha or the popular attraction of older teens and young college females coming to live out the Geisha fantasy for a few hours (about $100). We have our suspicions but you take a look and decide for yourself.

From there it was back home, both of us exhausted from our long day. But no rain on us or on all our purchases all day (which is good because my new lovely handpainted parasol is useless in the rain). Unfortunately, with no muscle relaxants and my whole right side in spasm, I was unable to sleep more than a few minutes for the next three hours (hence this late post). But wanted to get everyone caught up before I head to bed. Poorer, but exhausted and clutching bags of loot, from Kyoto….signing out.

PS – if I live more than 9 months, I KNOW that I will come to regret not getting MORE at the paper shop today, but we all have our “oh I can’t spend that much” limits and I hit mine. Sigh. At least I have what I have….and the pictures.


Victor Kellar said...

OK, I admit it ... I was drawn in by the "knives" being both an aikido enthusiast and former chef

But the paper was so beautiful, it really caught my breath

And the monk

And the crane and the geishes and the district ... I suddenly didn't care about carbon steel

Beautiful. Thanks for another wonderful post

cheryl g said...

Oh the papershop - I am in lust...
The paper is exquisite! That sounds like such a great day of shopping!

Do take care with the muscle strain. Can you get more muscle relaxants once you get stateside? In the mean time can you try ibuprofen or aspirin for their anti-inflammatory properties?

kathz said...

That paper shop looks marvellous. And though I don't usually like shopping, the whole day sounds great. You are quite right to get many souvenirs as they will transform your home and keep reminding you of Japan.

FridaWrites said...

What beautiful paper, what beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing with all your readers. I feel like I get to take a mini-vacation each day.

And I do want to know what you purchased at the Hello Kitty store. ;)

Anonymous said...

" I am not even showing what I did buy lest I suffer the mocking."

I don't even need to see it, I mock you nevertheless! Mock mockity mock.

(As you can tell, I'm dying of envy. That paper shop looks like my wet dreams. I'm so glad you guys are having such a good time in Japan!)

KM said...

The Kimono Hello Kitties are adorable. I admire your restraint. :)

Donimo said...

Ahem, girls like knives, too!

Years ago, I saw someone who did an incredible, dark, sexy fan dance with two very large fans. I had never seen anything like it: she spun and flashed them like they were blades or wings. THAT, I get.

If the Mayor of Vancouver can rig a thing on his chair so he can wheel around with a very heavy Olympic flag (did you see him on stage at Nagano?), then surely a light parasol can be fitted onto your chair so you can wheel and have sun shade at the same time. I think goth and the Japanese aesthetic you've shown us go very well together! How about a kimono opened a bit to show a corset? Goth and Hello Kitty works, too. It just gives HK a bit of an edge.

I have almost passed out from paper bliss at our Paper Ya store on Granville Island, I can't imagine the paroxysms I would go into there! Gorgeous.

SharonMV said...

I posted a comment earlier but it didn't seem to go through, so I'm trying again.

What a fantastic shop! I am suffering severe paper envy. Love the parasol - so pretty. And your encounter with the crane & the hidden Geisha's crossing the bridge who were only revealed later in the photograph was truly an amazing moment, gazing from one world into another. Once during a heavy rain, I looked out the window down the hillside behind our suburban house to the field below which had become a huge puddle and I saw a heron, a great blue. A great blue heron standing there on one leg in that ephemeral pond, waiting out the rain.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences with me. Each day I look forward to reading your accounts. And to seeing the photos!


saraarts said...

Drooling uncontrollably over papergoods, umbrella, but maybe not so much the weird "American" sandwiches; the knives just make me think of this extraordinary cookbook in which a tiny Japanese lady wields as practically her only kitchen utensil a really nice one about two-thirds the size of her forearm.

That Hello Kitty store had me at the door. Look at those little curtains over the doorframe. Look at them. How friggin' cute are they?


No mockery here.

saraarts said...

Oh, and I almost forgot; for goth-y/kimono-ish style notes, visit Crimson Empress.

Lene Andersen said...

I'm glad I've decided to not go to Japan (due to the possible homicidal issues with the JR), becasue that paper shop? I'd spend every cent I have there. Move in, even. Roll around on the paper. Nekkid!!

'Scuse me. Drool.

Love the crane pic.

Victoria said...

Thanks so much for your great posts - just like your posts from home, your travel posts combine major and minor stuff into a blend that seems so ultimately real and unique. And of course your pictures of the paper store create a lust in all of us. Best wishes at holding on to the Japan trip for a long time.

Ruth said...

Little kitties in kimonos awww. The photos you are putting up are so great- am enjoying the vicarious travel soo much, thanks :)

Tammy said...

I am DROOLING over all the paper. GORGEOUS!!Linda will have to let you post some of the pages she creates with such paper. The paper itself is an art.
The geishes took my breath away. Awesome!
Beautiful pictures. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us.
Take care of each other!

cheryl g said...

Did you get any Goth or Goth-Loli Hello Kitty stuff?

Anonymous said...

You and Linda have a way with taking serendipitous pictures. The crane picture and the flowers and bamboo from the last set are gorgeous!

There's no shame in making dorky Sanrio purchases while you're in Japan. Or any other country, for that matter. I swear they circulate crack vapor inside all their stores...


Neil said...

You would use watercolour paper for framing? SACRILEGE! Heathen! May you and your parasol be rained oh my good god the photo!

All is forgiven, Beth, for that one Geisha and crane photo. Superlatives fail me; it's just, just...


I admit that I love knives. I like fans. I won't even mock your Hello Kitty purchases. And the monk standing on a busy street meditating is a beautiful portrait of Zen. But your photos and descriptions are awesome.

Sounds like a description of a day even I would love, and I hate "shopping." The paper really is jaw-dropping. But that crane photo is THE photo of the trip so far.

Thank you so much for taking us along on your trip, Beth and Linda.

Gack! Now I have to run to work.

Gaina said...

The paper shop is glorious! I think I would die of happiness, face-down in a pool of mulberry paper. This time next year you'll be saying 'I wish I'd bought more of that bloody paper!' you mark my words ;)

Re the parasol: You know those attachments you can get to attach a parasol to a baby stroller? I think that would work. If you have problems getting one, email me at home when you get back and I'll try to dig up some links for you.

It's a pity the genuine Japanese Crane doesn't migrate back there until fall, because their bonding rituals are quite beautiful LINK (hope that works!).

Marla said...

I would go crazy shopping there. The paper is gorgeous. I love those boxes too. I have a thing for boxes. I love the little Hello Kitty canopy thing over the door to the upscale Hello Kitty Shop.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love all the wonderful.
The crane and geishas were so beautiful...and the monk...but what was with his shoes? Haha
And the umbrella! It's purple! I want one.
As for the goth community joining...I am not goth anymore, but I will join you! Honestly, since you left, Neil and I have been having conversations about making kimonos (cause I want one) and cloaks (because we both want one, maybe we can start a fashion trend? But that's another story)
I'd even wear the geisha make up! (I almost never wear make up)

Perpetual Beginner said...

Love the cranes. The paper and geishas are beautiful. The monk is priceless.

Knives! Knives, knives, knives! Love the knives.

And now you know why I just spent three days beating myself up with exotic weaponry.

*Goes back to drooling over the knives*

Dawn Allenbach said...

You should print out a blow-up of that crane picture, frame it, and hang it on a wall. You can't get more traditional Japanese than that.

Artistic Soul said...

The paper shop looks awesome! I have always wanted one of those knives too as someone who likes to cook...but alas, too expensive (at least for now)!