Kyoto Day 2: Temples, Geishas, and Grub

May 23, 2016

The next morning, we fended off hoards of school children and Japanese & foreign tourists at the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha temple. This temple not only has the easiest name to memorize, but also is dedicated to the god of the rice harvest. It has since become a place to pray for business prosperity and success. The thousands of Torii (orange-red gates) that line the walking paths were donated by companies as a prayer for prosperity. The starting cost is 10K, and there’s no word on the ROI on that one. We tossed in our own coins and prayed for Shannan’s company and Michael’s success at grad school. We’ll take the help where we can get it!

Next up, at Kyoto’s oldest Zen Buddhist temple, we wandered around beautiful rock gardens and impressive works of art, including a beautiful eastern Vatican-esque ceiling where two dragons circle above your head as you pray, presumably for the dragons to not gain consciousness.

For lunch, we treated ourselves to Kaiseki – Japan’s multi-course haute cuisine that focuses as much on aesthetics as it does on taste. Our meal was both beautiful and delicious, with varying textures and tastes, and food almost too pretty to eat! (Almost.)

We wandered around the streets of Gion – Kyoto’s Geisha district, until we found a theater that was hosting a very rare Geisha dance! We bought tickets, and were treated to a performance, solely portrayed by Geishas and their younger apprentices, Meiko, that told two different stories in two different acts. 
Thanks to the English translation, here’s what we picked up on: The first story told one of the many tales of the popular folk hero, Genji, who has a way with the ladies. Genji’s wife was dying, and they figured out her illness was caused by the living ghost of his ex girlfriend, who had no idea she had an angry living ghost! When she found out her living ghost was out there, she moved to a nunnery? To atone for her sins. But too late! Genji’s wife had already passed on. Now, Genji was out two ladies, and was pretty upset about it. Some serious days of our lives shit.
The second play was about 2 geishas (played by geishas – meta) traveling to Kyoto to Tokyo on foot in olden times. Stuff happens along the way: falconry and pretty low-key bandits, weather stuff. No matter, in a weird turn of events they get a message that says to come home just before they reach Tokyo… And they do, and they’re frustratingly happy about it.
Though there was clearly a cultural barrier preventing me from ascertaining the morals of these stories, it was very cool to see Geishas in action. See, they usually work only in expensive tea houses where patrons need to purchase a membership.
The whole job of a Geisha is (basically) to be entertaining to rich people, particularly men, using witty banter, tea drinking games, and various performance skills – poetry recitation, story telling, singing, musicianship)… And their mind blowing knowledge of how to manipulate people. I see a lot of parallels with the decidedly lower class maid cafes.
While their goal is to allure and entertain men, they are lauded in Japan as being independent and respected women. In fact, historically, becoming a Geisha was one of the only ways for women to become financially and socially independent while remaining respectable to high society/men. I feel all sorts of things about the fact that the only option to be independent of men is to become a professional entertainer of men. But Geishas see men not as their superiors, but as their clients, and their entertaining them is a job, not an act of servitude. A bit like consulting, actually…

A bit more wandering around Kyoto’s romantic evening streets ended our evening happily, with full bellies and a grand total of 5 blisters on my feet. 
Can’t stop now!


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