Sakura, Geisha, and Atomic Bombs. Those are the three themes of my dad’s recent visit to Kyoto.
Those, and a lost suitcase.
In order make it to Kyoto on time for the cherry blossoms, the two of us agreed that we’d push his trip forwards by nearly a month from our original date. That meant one less month of surgery recovery, and an absolute necessity for the assistance of walking sticks and knee braces. Too bad the airline lost his luggage on the layover in San Francisco, leaving him in Tokyo with little more than a single change of clothes. And too bad the weather turned from clear skies to pouring rain, soaking that single change of clothes on the very day he arrived! Yeah, our luck wasn’t the best this time. But it was still a great visit.
Because of Sakura, Geisha, and Atomic Bombs.
We decided to spend our first of two weekends together just bumming around Kyoto – riding our bikes, checking out the cherry blossoms, and just sort of relaxing. This may sound like standard fare for me, but somehow having my dad around made a normal two-day weekend feel like I too was on vacation. It was nice to have another native English speaker with whom I could watch episodes of 24, laugh about Japan’s wackiness, and discuss life from a slightly less – let’s call it “island-oriented” perspective. And although the weather wasn’t as sunny as it had been during the preceding week, I was still very much appreciating the ability to go outside without having to choose between gloves or loss-of-fingers.
Plus I got to eat at much nicer restaurants than I usually do 😉
And although I had to work during the weekdays, I think we made pretty good use of my after-hours free time – by filling it with as much Geisha and Sakura as possible.
…By which I mean that we attended the Miyako Odori in Gion. For those of you who’ve read Memoirs of a Geisha (or seen the horribly inaccurate film Sayuri), you might recall a big-deal theatrical production in which Sayuri was given the lead role. Well, that very same performance – the Miyako Odori – continues to this very day, and is quite a spectacle if I do say so myself. My only regret is that I didn’t research the storyline beforehand – the beauty and grace of the geisha is indisputable, but having at least some idea of what was going on story-wise would’ve done wonders to supplement the visuals. (Note: Traditional shows are often performed in old-fashioned Japanese so difficult that many locals can’t even understand it.)
Then on Friday I was awarded the nice surprise of a half-day at work, in honor of my first ever company Hanami (“cherry-blossom viewing”) Party. Hanami is a very big deal in Japan, gathering people from far and wide to sit on riverbanks, in parks, and around shrines enjoying food and drink under the simple beauty of Mother Nature. These parties often last from midday to midnight, and in prime locations (aka Kyoto) things can get so busy that it starts feeling like one big outdoors party. Try to imagine a sky filled with pink flowers and illuminated by floodlights with groups of people sipping beers and Bar-B-Q’ing snacks as far as the eye can see. Just another one of those things that makes Japan so unique and special.
And so at 3pm on Friday, my coworkers and I shut down our workstations and hopped on our bikes to head to the Kamo River for an afternoon/evening of Hanami. I have to admit that my initial plan was to get out of there as early as possible – to use the party as an excuse to leave work and spend some time wandering around with my dad. But the more time passed the more I began to enjoy myself; even those coworkers whom I don’t particularly love working with became very pleasant in such a low-key and relaxed environment. It’s too bad most of them don’t go out and socialize much (ever?) on the weekends 😛
…And all that leaves to discuss are the Atomic Bombs. As you might have guessed, for our second weekend together my dad and I took a trip down to Hiroshima, home of the first Atomic Bomb ever to be used against a human target. And somewhat ironically, the “headquarters” of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia). Or so it is said. I didn’t see as many tattoo-covered, fingerless thugs as I was hoping to. By which I mean I didn’t see any.
During our visit, we acted out a virtually identical itinerary to that of my first trip to Japan back in 2003: an afternoon at the overwhelming and moving A-Bomb Museum and a day’s stroll around deer-covered Miyajima Island. I should mention that I don’t get moved to tears easily, but some of the stuff at that museum is just as powerful as being right inside a real-life Nazi concentration camp. Trust me, I’ve been to both.
We also had the pleasure of running into a really cool backpacker from Australia by the name of Wennie (like Wendy without the D, not like the Pooh) who hung out with us for much of our visit, and even accompanied us for a night out in Hiroshima’s surprisingly exciting nightlife district. Or I should say, accompanied me for a night out in Hiroshima’s surprisingly exciting nightlife district. My dad got tired and went home before midnight while I, being the genius I am, decided to stay out until morning and exhaust myself for the following day’s trek back to Kyoto.
When will I ever learn? 😕