Nijo Castle’s nightingale floors, Lugol’s retro furniture and a feast at Yuko’s

So yesterday I went to meet Katie after she’d visited the hospital. She had to stay longer than expected so I decided to check out cafe Lugol which is where I wrote a recent blog from; the trendy place. Have a look at the amazing retro interior and my yummy iced coffee and tasty cake below. It seems I’m always showing you my food, but I guess it’s as big a part of this culture adventure as anything else!

After that Katie and I went to Nijojo Castle, which was amazing. Famously, the floors throughout the castle have been built to make a light squeaking noise (like a nightingale?!) when you walk across them; this was a safety feature so that intruders could be detected. How atmospheric – imagine the crickets outside, the faint squeak of the wooden boards, the shogun’s bodyguards poised, the shadows creeping across paper screens… The bodyguards also had positions in concealed posts from which they could spring out at a moments’ notice. The thin walls were painted by eminent artists of the time and were absolutely stunning; many had golden backgrounds (gold leaf no doubt) and featured intricate depictions of blossoming trees, eagles, cranes, snarling tigers, leopards, lions, morning glory flowers, etc. Beautiful. You aren’t allowed to photograph inside but I took one sly photo just to show you- this wasn’t even the best room. Outside the gardens were lovely but sweltering as usual so we briefly admired the “island of eternal happiness” (which looked pretty unreachable to me…) before retreating to a more accessible island of happiness in the form of the gift shop in the shade with icy drinking water.

We then went to Katie’s new homestay house to see Yuko, a lovely woman who had kindly prepared us an amazing Japanese feast with baked sea bream, corn on the cob, tomato&pepper salad, cold noodles, rice, tofu soup, more fried tofu, and all kinds of yum. It was fantastic and I ate loads before we finished with some large grapes that looked like plums and tasted appley/grapey. I was meant to join Yuko and Katie on a trip to the sento (public baths) but couldn’t (womany things- “ew yuck” you scream) so maybe I’ll go another time, apparently they were really nice although Katie did not appreciate the electric bath they had as an option there. I agree that the idea seems somewhat counterintuitive…

Today we finally sorted out banking/hospital bill issues which involved a lot of trudging around, but had wonderful chats about boys and Japan and family and even had a laugh on the underground with my new socks as sock puppets, to the delight/dismay of everyone else around us. We feel that because we’re anthropologists we’re entitled to act inappropriately sometimes because the rest of the time we respect and take an interest in local custom…as Katie said, we painstakingly learn the social codes.. then break them! We also feel we have a license to engage in a little tongue in cheek Lacism now and again, discussing the worst possible name for a Japanese person to pronounce; so far we’ve decided on good old David Hasselhoff (Dabid Hahsewwhohhhh)?! No offence if you’re reading this and don’t know that we’re genuinely charming non-racists. Eawton Jonn is also a
favourite name, we saw an old Japanese guy who looked just like
him!

So apart from visiting banks and trying on silly reading glasses they make available for people whilst banking (“banking glasses” as I like to call them, we’ll see if I can get the photos from Katie), we chose a place called Doutor for coffee (a Japanese place) over Starbucks (wooo!), and had our first Bento box for lunch. Following the sound advice of the Lonely Planet guide (I live by it) we awkwardly shuffled into a traditional restaurant with no-one else in it and asked for Bento. We were given a curious and mostly unidentifiable selection in a plastic box with two layers and some small bowls of miso soup and a strange savoury tapioca type sloppy stuff. I admit I was scared of most of it but tried it and enjoyed the majority of things. We were pleased with ourselves but perplexed by an old woman who came out a few times and mumbled a lot in Japanese at us; I thought at first she hated us but I reckon she was just having a bit of a laugh at the timid foreign girls come in to try the bento! It was good if a bit nervewracking; she smiled as she waved us out the door though to the surprise of passers by (who probably expected us to live in starbucks.. don’t tell them that I usually do..)

Then after a spot of shopping and novelty Japanese sock buying (lacey socks for pumps, strange ones with hearts on and a pair with split big toe and small toes), we headed to Yukos again for dinner. Unfortunately we got there too late (damn transport) to MAKE sushi but we got to eat what Yuko had made as we talked about a well known tattooed character called Toyama no Kin-san, a character popular in the Edo period, a legend. Many films and tv programmes have been made about him: he was a highly ranked judge, but lived part of his life disguised as a commoner. Possibly as part of the disguise, he had a large cherry blossom tattoo on his back. He would infiltrate criminal gangs as a commoner. When criminals denied their guilt in front of him as a judge, not recognising him, he would reveal his secret knowledge of their criminal activities and true guilt by dramatically uncovering his spectacular tattoo to their horror. What a fantastic story; no surprise it’s still popular!

After the meal we headed over to meet Yuko’s lovely neighbours and their children. We met granny, grandad, mother, two kids, more kids, uncle and aunt, quite a group, who were all very intrigued and offered us Japanese sweets, chocolate cake, frothy bright green matcha (green tea powder mixed rapidly with hot water: nice but quite bitter), apple strudel and cookies, and cold green tea. I honestly shoved in as much as I possibly could on top of Yuko’s similarly generous offerings, it was TASTY.. But definitely feel like a ton of bricks as a result! We got to play on the kids’ Wii which was amazing; they have the new Wii Sports Resort game which I’ve been secretly lusting after (with 1:1 motion technology.. drool…snort…adjust thick rimmed glasses). Anyway we had loads of fun and they had a good chuckle watching us. The older man also explained his screen printing to us; he prints screens by hand and by machine. Interestingly, some linked up with my reading; ukiyo-e woodblock printing used limited colours, like his printing at the moment, because each colour use demands a separate application and so using many different colours is laborious. In the Edo period not many colours would have been available, and rarer ones would have been expensive, and in the current recession people are asking for more basic two-colour pattern screens to save money. This also reminded me of reports of the first contact between American and Japanese tattooists in one of my books; Japanese traditional tattoos, midellef on ukiyo-e woodblock prints, were also limited by lack of availability in ink colours- that’s why traditional tattoos were mostly red, black and a little green or blue and developed various subtle shading techniques for nice grey shading. Anyway when Americans like Sailor Jerry talked to traditional Japanese tattooists they gave over their range of colours- purple, for example, and in turn were taught how to shade, etc.

Before we left we were given beautiful fans from the Gion festival (which was in August) by the neighbours. I was really really amazed at how generous everyone is here, and flattered that they would be so kind to us.

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One Response to “Nijo Castle’s nightingale floors, Lugol’s retro furniture and a feast at Yuko’s”

  1. meg this made me laugh like a snorty drain. particularly about the banking glasses – “oh mr darcy! you’ve caught me in my banking glasses!”
    rots of ruv
    xxxx

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